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After Running (I'm Coming Home)

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Natasha is sitting on the couch, working on her laptop that is rested on her lap, with a nine-month-old James playing with his wooden blocks on the mat in front of her. She would look up from her laptop frequently, just to watch James and chase after him should he crawl away from the mat, or should he call his mother’s attention to show her something he had built using his blocks, which is usually just a tower of three blocks in many different orientations, but whatever , her heart would still flutter at every achievement her son would proudly show her.

“Mama.” James calls, and Natasha looks away from her laptop and smiles when she sees James stretching out his small arms at her. She unfolds and rolls down the sleeves of her sweater, placing her laptop on the coffee table beside her and grins as she stands and walks over to pick her baby boy up, kissing his cheek and inhaling the scent of milk and vanilla from her son’s red hair that almost mirrors her own. It is still neatly combed and still slightly damp from his bath just before he started playing.

"Tired of playing, малыш?” Tired of playing, baby boy ? she asks, and James babbles, resting his head on her shoulder and wrapping his arms around Natasha’s neck. She chuckles softly and walks over back to the couch. She grabs two pillows and piles them up, resting it on the arm of the couch as she rests her back on it, shifting James so he is standing on her lap. James looks at his mother and smiles, his blue eyes sparkling, and Natasha can’t help but grin at how much her son reminds her of Steve.

“Mama, Dada?” James asks. Natasha pulls her son close and peppers his face with kisses, eliciting a laugh from the baby, as warmth spreads over Natasha’s chest at the most beautiful sound she has ever heard.

“Daddy is on a mission, little one,” she replies softly. “But he will be home soon, maybe tonight.”

James tilts his head, and Natasha chuckles. “Dada will come home, sweetie, don’t worry.” she says, smiling, and James bounces, clapping his hands, a sign that he understood that he will see his Dada anytime soon.

Come home , it’s one of the phrases James understands, as it is being said repeatedly at him by both his mother and father whenever Steve would be out for a mission with T’challa and Bucky. It’s funny and ironic, how, even while on the run from the rest of the world, both of them would still be out doing rogue missions. But ever since James was born, Natasha had stopped participating in missions, and T’challa would call Steve in only for big missions that would require more manpower than his team can offer. Natasha is called only when absolutely necessary, and even then, it was in the condition that at least one of them should stay home with their son.

While the two of them hoped to never once again go back on the battlefield, they knew it would be impossible. The Avengers may have disbanded, but that didn’t mean their urge to fight and answer the call to missions would disappear as well. Besides, the least thing they can do as thanks to T’challa for letting them stay since they got married and had James was to aid him in missions. Which is why it was important that they let James understand that they will always, always come home, even if it just adds more pressure to them to do well and get out of missions alive, however scathed, but alive back to their little family.

“Nemo.” James says, grinning widely at his mother. Natasha laughs, Finding Nemo has been one of James’ all-time favorite movies. They have watched it thousands of times, but somehow, it always seems to be James’ default suggestion every time he would want to cuddle with his Mama or Dada.

“Again, little one?” Natasha asks, a grin on her face, and James nods enthusiastically. “But it’s almost bedtime.”

“Nemo.” James says, softly this time, as his eyes widen and he sticks out his lower lip, a technique he uses if he wants something from his parents, which aren’t much—only more cuddling time way past his bedtime. Natasha would always tease Steve for always giving in to that look, but he would point out that she’s not that different. And who was she kidding? Who could resist such a cute face from a baby boy who is just asking to be cuddled by his parents before being transferred to his own crib?

“Okay, okay, but you have to promise Mommy that you will sleep after, alright?” she asks, and James coos in response, a big grin on his face. She chuckles and shifts in the couch so they are facing the huge television screen T’challa has provided them so kindly in their private unit. She sits James down on her lap so he is facing the screen as well.

Natasha picks up the remote, and navigates to the movies Shuri had downloaded for them (for James, mostly), and as soon as James saw the orange clownfish and the blue tang, he squeals in delight. Natasha laughs, pressing play on the remote and kissing the top of his head softly, her arms clutching around James’ body, as he leans back and rests his head on his mother’s chest.

And so they watch, well, mostly James watches the movie, and Natasha would just watch her son get all excited about the movie. She knows how the movie goes (she’s watched it thousands of times that she felt like she can basically recite the entire movie), and she is sure her baby also knows how the movie goes, but his reactions to different scenes still manage to surprise her and still make James the most adorable baby in the universe.

But knowing how the movie goes also didn’t mean that some scenes still get her, and hit close to home. Marlin losing his family would always remind her of how she was taken away from her own family in Russia, how the Avengers had disbanded over the Accords, or how she had almost lost Steve numerous times since they had been partners. Nemo being taken away by a scuba diver would always heighten her overprotectiveness over James. Marlin finally reuniting with Nemo would always hit her hard, because that’s how she would want to reunite with Steve every time he would be out on missions, and would be gone for hours to even days, which are, thankfully, practically nonexistent since they had James, to which Natasha is grateful to the king for.

But some scenes still manage to make her smile and laugh, just as it makes James giggle and laugh. She would always laugh at how James would imitate the whale sounds Dory made (and sometimes, like tonight, she would join him—it would always make him laugh louder, no matter how ridiculous she sounds), or how he would also join when the seagulls would make their sound. He would babble here and there, and it would always make Natasha’s heart flutter and her stomach do flips.

She loves her son so very much more than she can ever imagine.

By the reunion scene, Natasha notices James had fallen asleep in her arms, and she smiles. She gently smooths her son’s red hair and presses a soft kiss on his forehead. She reaches for the remote and pauses the movie, making sure that James is really fully asleep before shifting him in her arms. She slowly stands up from the couch, letting James’ head rest on her shoulder as she walks over to his nursery beside her and Steve’s bedroom.

She slowly lowers James down on his cot bed, making sure his head is rested on his pillow. She places the black panther plush Shuri had given James when he was born (mainly as a joke for her brother, but T’challa rather finds it adorable, he admitted to Natasha) beside him and pulls his blanket over him. She lowers herself to give a gentle and soft kiss on James’ forehead, and while the nine-month-old stirs at the kiss, he remains fast asleep, clutching the black panther against his chest.

“Good night, little one,” she whispers. “Mommy loves you, Daddy loves you.” She turns James’ night light on, and grabs the baby monitor before exiting the nursery and closing the door gently behind her.

And just in time, she hears the faint sound (thanks to the almost soundproof windows) of a jet landing in front of the palace. She places the baby monitor inside their bedroom and walks over to their huge window. She smiles when she sees T’challa and Steve, along with two women—Okoye and Nakia—walking down from the jet. T’challa and Steve are talking, both men staring at the tablet in T’challa’s hand, and Okoye and Nakia are not far behind them. They stop in front of the entrance, and Natasha watches as Steve gives T’challa a one-armed hug, and a nod towards the two women before entering the palace.

Natasha smiles, and she walks back from the window to clean up James’ toys, putting them inside his play bin that is just in their living room beside his playmat. She looks up when she sees the door open, and Steve enters, his expression tired, his suit dirty, but when his eyes landed on her, that expression is quickly replaced with a huge smile and sparkling eyes.

“Welcome home, soldier.” Natasha greets, her lips curling to her signature smirk, as she puts the last of James’ wooden blocks inside the toy bin. She stands up, as Steve closes the door behind him, meeting him halfway in the living room when Steve wraps his arms tightly around her.

“Good to be home.” Steve mumbles, burying his face in Natasha’s hair. He takes the time to inhale the scent of her hair, which smelled of her usual lemongrass shower gel. He presses a kiss to her temple, and moves to kiss her forehead, right cheek, nose and then her lips, like how he usually does whenever he gets home from a hard mission. Natasha hums against his lips and kisses him back softly before pulling away, wrapping her arms around his neck, as his arms fall to her waist.

“Are you okay? Are you hurt anywhere?” she asks softly, running a hand through his long brown hair, and resting the same hand on his cheek. He sighs and leans against her touch, shaking his head.

“Just a long day.” he answers, giving her a small smile. Natasha kisses him on the lips once again. “James is asleep?”

Natasha nods. “He just fell asleep. We watched Finding Nemo.” she says, and Steve arches an eyebrow. Natasha chuckles and shakes her head. “No, I did not resist the look, I couldn’t even try.”

Steve chuckles softly and kisses her forehead. “He’s his mother’s son after all.” he says, and Natasha smacks Steve’s arm lightly, making him laugh.

She threads her fingers in his and pulls him towards James’ nursery. They both smile when they stop at his cot bed, and he lets out a little snore as he stirs, snuggling closer to the black panther plush in his arms.

“He missed you.” Natasha whispers, leaning her head on Steve’s chest. His arm automatically snakes around her waist, pulling her closer.

“Would it be so bad if we can take him and he’ll sleep with us tonight?” Steve whispers back, grinning, and Natasha chuckles softly.

“You’ll wake him,” Natasha replies softly. “Spend the day with him tomorrow. I’ll be training with Okoye in the morning, and I promised to drop by at Queen Ramonda’s in the afternoon.” Steve smiles and nods.

He slowly lets go of Natasha as he leans in to give James a gentle kiss on the forehead. “Sweet dreams, buddy.” he whispers. The baby is undisturbed in his sleep, and lets out another snore just as Steve pulls away. Natasha smiles down at their son, and they walk out of the nursery quietly, with Steve closing the door gently behind him.

Natasha smiles at Steve as he wraps his arms around her waist again. Natasha runs her hand through his hair, and he leans in to give Natasha a kiss on the lips.

“I miss the blonde,” Natasha murmurs against his lips. Steve chuckles and pulls away, shaking his head. “But I’m not complaining about the beard. The beard can stay.” She grins and Steve runs a hand through her short blonde hair.

“I miss the red,” Steve replies. “But you’re beautiful in any hair color, so whatever.”

“Charmer,” Natasha says, grinning. “Go take a shower, you stink.” she tells him, leaning to kiss him again on the lips.

“But you still couldn’t resist me, huh?” Steve says, after Natasha pulls away to walk to their bedroom.

“You’re my son’s father after all.” Natasha, says, winking over her shoulder. Steve laughs, shaking his head and following Natasha to their bedroom.

Chapter Text

Steve had come home that night hearing muffled crying in their bedroom. He’d like to say that it was another normal evening for his small family—he sound of crying from a baby, but this time, as he closes the door gently behind him and put down the shield T’challa had made for him on their wooden floor, he listens closely. That wasn’t James’ muffled baby cries. Rather, that wasn’t the only crying he’s hearing.

He can also hear the muffled, however faint, crying of Natasha.

Steve quickly walks over to the bedroom and opens the door, and his heart aches when he sees his wife pacing back and forth the room, bouncing a fussy five-month-old in her arms as she tries to hush him with quiet words yet at the same time, trying to level her voice and muffle her own cries. Her blonde (that is slowly turning back to red) curly hair is tousled, the side of her head is glistening with sweat even though it’s relatively cold outside and inside their room, and her face is wet, and as she looks up at him, her green eyes are red-rimmed and glistening with yet unshed tears. The white towel on her shoulder is also damp, probably from James’ own tears.

She stops pacing when she sees him, tears still flowing down her face as her expression contorts into a pained expression washed with relief of seeing her husband. James also stops, albeit momentarily, and looks at the door, and he resumes crying as he reaches for his father.

“Hey, hey,” Steve says gently, walking over to gather their son in his arms. He bounces the baby and smooths his back, shushing him gently, and Natasha turns around, bringing her hands to her face to wipe away the tears. “Why are you crying, little buddy? Come on now.” Steve coos, gently wiping the baby’s tears with his thumb. He brushes away the red hair on the baby’s face and presses a soft kiss on his forehead as he bounces him in his arms. “It’s okay, James, it’s okay.” He looks at his wife questioningly once she turns back around, and he quietly hums a tune as he brings James’ head near his mouth.

“He’s been crying nonstop for two hours,” Natasha tells him softly, her voice breaking as a fresh wave of tears threaten to fill her eyes and fall. “I changed his diapers, fed him, played with him and everything, and he won’t stop.” Natasha sits down at the edge of the bed and watches, both in disbelief and relief (if possible) as the baby starts calming down in Steve’s arms. Steve looks down at the baby and sees him finally sleeping, his head rested on Steve’s shoulder, his left fist tucked under his chin and his right fist gripping Steve’s shirt.

Steve looks back at his wife, his chest tightening as he sees her lower lip quivering as she stands up, rests a hand on James’ back and presses her lips on his hair. Tears start flowing down her face and she closes her eyes, and Steve, with his free hand, pulls her by the waist, so she is burying her face on his other shoulder.

“He hates me,” Natasha murmurs against his chest, her voice hoarse and breaking. “My own son hates me.”

“Nat, no,” Steve replies softly. He pulls away a bit to look at his wife on the face. “No, James doesn’t hate you.”

“He likes you more than me, he calmed down when you picked him up for five minutes and I’ve been trying for two hours, two hours, Steve. If that’s not a sign that he hates me then I don’t know what is.” Natasha rants quietly, burying her face on her husband’s shoulder, her hands clutching his arm. “I knew I wasn’t made to be a mother.”

“Nat, don’t say that, please,” Steve pleads quietly. He sighs as he lets go of Natasha slowly to rest a sleeping James on the crib beside their bed, placing a soft kiss on his forehead. He then walks over back to his wife and pulls her again to an embrace, his arms tightening when he feels her shaking and his shirt getting damp because of the tears from his wife. He kisses the top of her head softly. “You are a wonderful and loving mother, Natasha, please believe me.”

He feels Natasha’s head shake against his chest and she looks up at him. “I’m a bad mother, Steve. I can’t figure out why my own son is crying, and I’m supposed to figure it out.” she says. Steve shakes his head and brings up his hand to brush the tears off her face gently with his thumb. He wipes off the stray hair on her face, and he leans down to press a kiss on her forehead.

“We’re not supposed to figure out everything, sweetheart,” Steve tells her softly, smoothing her hair lovingly as he gives her a soft smile. “Because if we do, then there’s no more thrill in parenting.” He grins at her, and she lets out a chuckle, sniffling as she shakes her head.

“You seem to have it figured out,” Natasha tells him, not meeting his eyes as she plays with the collar of his shirt. “You calmed him down without even trying.”

Steve chuckles and rests his hand back to her waist. “I did try. I hummed him a lullaby tune.” he tells her casually. Natasha’s eyebrows furrow, and she blinks, a confused expression on her face as she looks at her husband. Steve sighs and shakes his head, giving his wife a small smile. “My Ma used to tell me it usually did the trick on me when I would get fussy. She’d sing me to sleep.” Steve tilts his head. “Have you tried that?”

Natasha frowns and shakes her head. “I don’t know any lullaby.” she tells him. She does, but those were lullabies she had used in missions, memories from a broken childhood. She wasn’t about to sing any song from her past to her precious little boy.

“That’s alright, you can just sing to him any song, just as long as he hears your voice,” Steve tells her softly. “Maybe he just wants to listen to his mama sing.”

“Or his dada.” Natasha corrects, and Steve smiles.

“Please believe me when I say that James doesn’t hate you, and he never will,” Steve tells her softly. Natasha sighs and Steve cups her cheek, and she closes her eyes as she leans into his touch. “He loves you, and maybe our little one just wanted a little lullaby before he sleeps. But please don’t ever doubt your capability as a mother, sweetheart. You are loving, amazing and a natural. I know you said that it’s hard for you to become a mother because you never had one, but sweetheart, you are a natural to James.” Steve smiles and the corner of Natasha’s mouth twitches upward. He leans forward and rests his forehead on hers, and her eyes flutter close. “Do you trust me?” 

Natasha nods, and she leans forward to press a soft and gentle kiss on his lips. “I do.” she whispers as she pulls back. Steve smiles and kisses her again, and they embrace, with Natasha’s head buried in the crook of Steve’s neck, and Steve’s lips is resting on the side of her head. “I love you.” Natasha murmurs to him.

“I love you more,” Steve tells her softly, a smile on his mouth. “And I’ve missed you. Missions aren’t fun anymore without my partner.”

Natasha pulls back, her arms still around his neck, and he chuckles when she sees a smirk playing on her lips. “What, is T’challa boring you? Don’t say that aloud or we might get kicked out.” she says, and Steve laughs softly, careful not to wake their son up.

“Shut up.” Steve says, grinning as he leans to kiss his wife again on the lips. Natasha rewards him with an appreciative hum in response as she kisses him back.


Natasha is woken up by a soft whimper, a whimper that she is well aware will build up into a huge wailing sound if she doesn’t move fast. She sighs and slowly gets up to walk towards the crib. By the soft yellow color of the night light, she sees her son’s blue eyes, glistening with tears as he looks up at his mother. He starts reaching for her and she takes him in his arms.

“Are you hungry, малыш?” she asks softly. She pulls down one sleeve of her nightgown so she can start breastfeeding, but James shakes his head, his whimpers slowly building up to soft cries. She sighs and starts to panic. “What’s wrong, my love? Please.” she pleads quietly, bouncing the baby in her arms.

You can just sing to him any song, just as long as he hears your voice . She can practically hear Steve’s voice in her head saying that, that she has to look back to the bed to find her husband still asleep on their bed, his chest rising and falling in a constant pace with his breaths against his grey pajama shirt.

She quickly scans her brain for a song, any song, any melody she can hum to lull her son to sleep. She sits back down on the rocking chair beside their window, positioning her son so James is facing up at her. She wipes the tears gently off his cheeks and he lets out a soft cry as Natasha shushes James softly, tapping the baby’s small nose— her nose—softly, eliciting a soft whimper from her son.

She starts singing softly, “Dancing bears, painted wings, things I almost remember,” She remembers watching this movie while she was still pregnant with James. She chanced upon this movie when Shuri had dumped to her an entire drive of movies and musicals she can watch. She found the movie amusing, in a sense that she has the same last name as the fictional character, based on the late grand duchess Anastasia Romanov, and that both of them suffered from severe memory loss, grasping upon fragments of memories to remember their past life. “And a song someone sings once upon a December.”

The song stuck to her, and she ended up rewatching the movie several times because of the music, most especially this one. “Someone holds me safe and warm. Horses prance through a silver storm, figures dancing gracefully across my memory.” She smiles when James’ soft cries start dying down, and his blue eyes is just watching his mother peacefully, his eyes blinking and reaching up his mother’s face.

“Far away, long ago, glowing dim as an ember,” she continues singing softly, a smile on her face as she leans down so James can touch his mother’s nose. He lets out a soft gurgle and a smile, and Natasha’s heart swells at the beautiful sight that is her son’s smile.

“Things my heart used to know, things it yearns to remember, and a song someone sings,” James lets out a small yawn as he brings his hand down. He blinks several times and Natasha smiles when she sees James’ blinks get slower, until he closes his eyes. “Once upon a December.”

She smiles and leans down to press a soft kiss on her son’s forehead. “I love you, little one.” she whispers. She rocks on her chair for a few more moments, just staring at her son in her arms, marveling at how beautiful of a miracle he is, and how lucky she is to be able to have a son like him, and a husband like Steve. She had never thought this would be possible, that she could be a mother, that the body who takes away lives can actually create a beautiful life like her son, and yet here she is.

She eventually stands up and rests James back on his crib. She drapes his Captain America blanket over his small body and smooths his red hair before going back to bed. She feels the bed shift and Steve snake an arm around her waist.

“Steve.” Natasha whispers, a warning tone in her voice. Steve chuckles sleepily, and she turns around facing her husband. Steve presses a soft kiss on her nose, his eyes still closed and a small smile on his mouth.

“I’m not saying anything.” he says sleepily, but his smile is growing wider. Natasha smacks his arm playfully, burying her face on his chest as she pulls the blanket up to their bodies again.

“Good night, Steve.” she says softly, pressing a kiss on his jawline. Steve hums and smooths Natasha’s back.

“You sing beautifully,” Steve says. “Good night, my love.”

Chapter Text

Natasha is pressing her lips on her son’s patch of red hair, her eyes closed as she inhales the scent of milk and vanilla in his hair, and as she relishes the feel of her son in her arms. She didn’t want to leave, she couldn’t leave, but she should , because this is the whole universe they’re talking about, and this is a mad titan who wants to wipe out half of the universe, so even if she wanted to hide away with James in her arms, she shouldn’t. She should fight for the universe, for the people depending on them, and of course for James’ future.

James lets out a soft whimper, as if sensing his mother’s thoughts. Natasha pulls away and looks at the one-year-old in her arms. James puts his hands on both sides of Natasha’s face, making her smile. She rubs her nose gently against his, eliciting a soft giggle from James. Natasha kisses his forehead.

Maybe it’s not too late to run away.

“Natasha.” Steve calls out softly, and she lifts her eyes to see Steve walking towards them, his eyes determined, but there is a mixture of fear and anxiety, that she knows only she can see how the determination in his eyes is mixed with something else. Natasha purses her lips and sighs, and Steve sighs, his expression slowly breaking into full-on fear and uncertainty in front of his wife. “Can I hold him?” he asks softly, lifting his hands.

Natasha smiles down at James. “Go to Dada, little one.” she says softly, and James turns, babbling and reaching out his arms to his father.

Steve takes him and he does the same things Natasha did. He presses his lips on the side of James’ head as his eyes close, taking his time to inhale the scent of his baby. Natasha’s chest aches just watching them.

Maybe they can just run away.

“Steve.” Natasha whispers, walking over to her boys. She rests her forehead on James’, and Steve sighs as he presses his lips on Natasha’s head, as if knowing what’s running through his wife’s head.

“Mama, Dada, go?” James asks in his little voice, looking up at Steve, and it’s enough for Steve’s eyes to start watering.

“I’m afraid so, little man,” Steve says, trying his best to smile, and it hurts Natasha seeing him like this. “But Mommy and I will come back. We’ll be back, okay?”

“‘Kay.” James replies, smiling, oblivious to the tense and fearful atmosphere in the room caused by his parents. Oh , to be a child again, and to believe that everything will turn out fine in the end.

“I love you, James.” Steve says softly, kissing his son’s forehead once more, and pulling the baby closer to his chest.

“Luv you, Dada.” James replies, grinning. He puts both hands on either side of Steve’s face and presses his lips on Steve’s nose, making a loud kissing noise. Steve laughs softly, and kisses James’ nose, before transferring him back to Natasha’s arms.

She tucks James under her chin and looks back up at Steve as he sighs, his expression softening as he brushes Natasha’s hair, tucking it behind her ear. Yes, he definitely knows what she’s thinking. “Nat, we can’t,” he says softly. “I want to. Believe me, sweetheart, I want to...but we can’t…”

“We can , Steve,” she says stubbornly, her voice breaking slightly at the end. They can’t, Steve was right, there was no other choice nor other way to survive but to fight. There was no other way their son can have a future if they weren’t going to fight. She knew better than to run, but now? Now she’s not sure. “I don’t want to lose…” she trails off, unable to continue. She closes her eyes as she shifts and pulls James tighter in her arms, and the baby rests his head on his mother’s shoulder.

“We will come home, Nat,” Steve tells her softly, but firmly. “We will come home to James alive and whole, I promise.” Natasha opens her eyes and looks back up at Steve, her eyes wide and glistening with unshed tears.

She sighs and nods. Steve gives her a small smile and leans down to kiss her softly on the lips. “He’s in good hands. T’challa has a whole team of guards and sitters for him here. He will be okay.” he tells her softly.

Natasha’s bottom lip quivers, but she nods. If her husband promises that they will come home safe, then she believes him, she trusts him. She knows Steve to be a man who keeps his promises, and so she’ll do her part by doing her best to keep herself and her husband alive whatever it takes. She will do anything so they can come home to their son at all costs. She leans back and shifts James so she can look at her son. James looks back up at her and smiles.

“Mama, luv you.” James says, smiling. Natasha laughs softly and rests her forehead against her son’s. She presses a soft kiss on his nose.

“I love you too, little one,” Natasha replies softly. “Mama and Dada will come home, okay? We will come home.”

“Come home.” James repeats, and Natasha nods at him, smiling at her son, whispering ‘ that’s right’ as she leans to press another kiss on James’ forehead.

One of the guards approach Steve and whispers something, and Steve looks back at Natasha and nods at her. Natasha takes a deep breath and gives James one last kiss on the cheek before handing him over to Ayo, one of the nurses in charge of James.

“Be good, малыш.” Natasha says softly. She nods at Ayo who nods back as she takes James in her arms. James happily transfers to the warrior, having been acquainted with the woman as she is a good friend of his parents’.

“Good luck, Captain Rogers, and Miss Romanoff.” she says. Steve and Natasha smile gratefully, before they turn and leave the room.

As Steve closes the door behind him, Natasha leans back on the wall, closing her eyes and leaning her head back on the wall. Steve walks up to her and runs a hand through her hair, pressing a soft kiss on her forehead. Natasha reaches for his hand and threads their fingers together.

“We’ll come home whole, you and me,” Natasha tells him firmly, and Steve nods. “We will come home to our son whatever happens, and whatever it takes, understood?”

Despite everything, Steve had to smile at that, and he nods. “Yes, ma’am.” he replies. Natasha tiptoes to kiss him firmly on the lips before they walk down the hallway of the palace to the laboratory upstairs where Vision and the others are, where the battle is, hand in hand.

Chapter Text

“Come on, bud, just take a step towards Dada.” Steve smiles as he is sitting cross-legged on James’ playmat in their floor in the palace. He claps his hands and reaches his hands out to the baby.

It’s not that Steve is impatient. He isn’t, especially not with his baby boy, but he’s just excited. James had recently learned how to stand still on his own a few weeks ago, even if he is only on his seventh month. In his monthly baby checkup with the doctors of Wakanda, they had told Steve and Natasha that James’ physical development is a little more advanced than a normal baby’s development because he had inherited Steve’s super soldier serum. The enhancement slightly worried Steve and Natasha both, because, although they’re relieved that James would grow up healthy, they would still want him to live and grow normally just like any other child. Fortunately, the doctors told the parents that it wouldn’t mean that James would age or grow faster than normal kids, it’s just that his body and his muscle skills are more enhanced than a normal child’s, thus enabling him to learn how to crawl, stand and possibly walk, earlier than normal.

James had learned how to stand on his own when Steve and Natasha were playing with him one lazy afternoon on the palace lawn where they decided to have their family picnic. They wanted to expose their son to the outside world, and while they were a little reluctant at first, T’challa assured them that Wakanda is a safe place for the family, and they should live as normally as they can while they are there, including exposing James to nature in general.

Natasha and Steve talked about this once, about getting a normal shot at life for James, and while they hoped they could go back to America to settle and raise James in the place where Steve grew up in (home is home, you know?), they knew it was a long shot with their status as fugitives in the American government. Besides, they were grateful that the royal family of Wakanda was welcoming enough to the idea that they will raise their child there, let alone take them in for shelter and protection. So while they can’t exactly go home yet, they might as well make Wakanda a home where James can grow up in.

And James loved the outdoors, especially the palace garden. He loves to go bird watching, and squeals every time he sees a butterfly, which is probably what pushed the baby to stand up that same afternoon. A butterfly flew over the family just as when Steve was holding James and Natasha was preparing the sandwiches she had made for her and Steve, and mashed fruits for James. James babbled, and pointed at the butterfly, and Natasha stuck her hand out where the butterfly landed. James surprised both his parents when he pushed himself from Steve’s loose grasp and attempted to take a wobbly step to reach the butterfly. Steve caught him just in time before James fell over (because he couldn’t walk just yet), but James was happy enough the butterfly landed on his small finger.

James giggled as he tossed the butterfly and watched it fly, and both Natasha’s and Steve’s hearts fluttered at their son’s achievement in standing on his own, and also perhaps with the fact that the entire sight was just too damn adorable. The parents rewarded James with lots of kisses that same afternoon, and more cuddles in the evening.

And since then, they have been encouraging James to take his first few steps on his own. Shuri had given them a walker to help James aid in his first few steps, but so far there had been no progress nor any indication that James is ready to take his first few steps without any walker nor guidance from his parents. But then again, he’s not like any other baby, and since Steve and Natasha didn’t want to miss any of James’ milestones (especially not this one), they encourage him everyday to try.

James is smiling as he stands in front of his father, and tries to take wobbly step using his left leg but he ends up falling on his front, but Steve managed to catch him before he can hit the mats. “I got you, little guy,” Steve says, holding James in his arms. He attempts to straighten the baby up to a standing position, but the baby wiggles his legs, and sticks his lower lip at his father. Steve chuckles and pulls the baby to his lap, pressing a kiss on his forehead. “Got a little tired, huh?”

James babbles as he buries his face in Steve’s chest and he presses another kiss on James’ red hair. “You miss Mommy? Me too,” he says softly. “But she’ll be home really soon, and when she comes home, I want you to give her a big kiss, okay?” James looks up at him and he giggles, and Steve takes that as a yes from his son.

It’s the first time since James was born that Natasha was out for an all-day mission with Okoye and Nakia, and she’s due to come home any time that evening. It’s a local mission, and nothing too dangerous or difficult, and definitely nothing Natasha has not done hundreds of times, but it still took a toll on her that she had to leave her son for quite a longer time than normal. Sure, she’d spent an afternoon away from her little boy, but it was never an entire day, and, in Natasha’s own words, she “will never be ready to spend a lifetime away” from her little boy, and how she was worried she might miss his first steps. But Steve assured her that James would know to wait when he’ll take his steps, and it would be when his Mommy would be there to watch him.

It was the first time Steve had witnessed Natasha being so overly worried, and a tad bit dramatic, despite witnessing her be moody and hormonal being pregnant. But he found it rather adorable especially when it’s directed to their son.

And Steve has been with James since the baby woke up this morning, except when Bucky dropped by their floor after breakfast, he played with his godson while Steve did a bit of training with T’challa. But other than that, it was just Steve and James. They had lazed around in the palace garden, where Steve took James with his walker for a short walk to get some sun, and they went to see how Bucky was tending to his goats.

Steve had a mini heart attack where he thought James would take his first few steps when he was standing in front of the goats. But then he fell on his butt as soon as he tried to take a wobbly step forward. He blinked several times, and Steve and Bucky thought he was gonna cry, but he instead extended his arms to reach for Steve, who gladly picked him up.

“Mama?” James looks up at Steve and asks, his head tilting and his eyes widening. Steve smiles.

“Yeah, buddy, Mama’s coming home soon,” Steve says, and he lets James stand on his lap while he supports his body. The little boy’s face lights up. “But she’ll be really tired because she’s going home from a mission, so I need to give her a big hug, okay?”

“Mama ha?” James asks, and Steve nods, smiling, knowing that “ha” is “hug” in James’ dictionary. James grins up at his father. “Dada ha!”

James wraps his arms around Steve’s neck, burying his face in the crook of his neck and Steve laughs softly, smoothing James’ back with his hand and pressing a kiss on the side of his head. “My sweet boy,” he murmurs softly, smiling as he presses James closer to him. “Hope that when you grow up, you’ll never get tired of little things like this.”

James lifts his head and smiles, pressing his hands on both of Steve’s cheeks, and Steve smiles, leaning to press a kiss on James’ nose, eliciting a laugh from the baby. James wiggles his legs again, his toes reaching to touch the mat and Steve chuckles. “Wanna try again, huh?” he asks, and he kneels to place James down on his feet on the mat, giving a foot of distance between them.

The door opens, and Steve looks up and smiles when he sees Natasha, still in her stealth suit and a weary expression on her face, walk in. James squeals and claps her hands. “Hey, sweetheart.” Steve greets softly, just as Natasha closes the door and walks over to them and smiles at the sight of her boys. She quickly kneels and sits on her heels once she lands on the mat, and Steve wraps an arm around his wife’s shoulder, pulling her in for a kiss.

“You okay? We didn’t hear your jet come in.” Steve asks softly, and Natasha nods, smiling softly at her husband.

“Just a little tired, and I was just dropped off,” Natasha replies. “Okoye and Nakia took off in another mission.”

And when the two parents face their son, the baby boy is looking down at his feet just in time to take two successful steps forward. Natasha gasps, smiling widely as she opens her arms, and James giggles, taking two more steps before he stumbles into his mother’s arms.

“Oh my goodness,” Natasha breathes, laughing softly as she presses a kiss on James’ head. She looks up at Steve who is also smiling widely down at their son. “Is this his first time?”

“Yeah, it is.” Steve says, a proud smile on his face as Natasha laughs again and starts peppering James’ face with kisses. The baby laughs and he reaches for Natasha’s face.

“Oh,” Natasha says, and she looks up at her husband, grinning. She pulls James into her chest, and the baby babbles as he buries his face in the crook of her neck, grabbing a handful of her hair in his fist. “I didn’t miss anything?” Steve chuckles and shakes his head.

“He wouldn’t let his Mommy miss a thing,” Steve says softly, smiling. “He was excited to see you come home.”

Natasha smiles, leaning forward to press a kiss on Steve’s lips. “It’s good to be home.” she says softly.

Chapter Text

He’s never usually nervous.

Not usually, not ever. Even as a scrawny kid from Brooklyn whose bullies were twice the size of him before, Steve was never nervous to stand and fight against them, despite Bucky’s continuous pleas of standing down because he’ll end just end up wounded and bruised. He didn’t mind, even if it meant he’ll come home with another cut on his cheek or bruise on his side. Steve has always been a fighter, and over time, he got used to it. Fights are normal, so why should it faze him?

Perhaps it’s because he thought he had nothing left to lose.

“Steve?”

He releases a breath and allows himself to feel the warmth pool in his chest and relief wash over him at the sound of her voice— her , Natasha, his partner in more ways than one. Since the moment they had both expressed their immense love for each other (in more ways than just by words), they never left each other’s side. All fights are always fought by the two of them, neither of them willing to leave each other’s sides. They had gone through so much separations over the past years, and they have wasted so much time hiding what they really feel for each other, so even if they have more than a hundred countries looking for them as fugitives, they sure as hell won’t let them separate them from each other.

He can’t lose her.

Maybe that’s when the feeling of nervousness came in every time they have a mission, because even if they’re together, he already has something, someone to lose. He knows she’s capable, more capable than he can ever be, in protecting herself, but that doesn’t mean the possibility of losing her isn’t there anymore.

He feels strong arms circling around his waist from behind, and her head resting on his back. He rests his hand on her cold hands and gives them a squeeze. He turns around and meets her wide green eyes looking up at him, and he smiles, wrapping an arm around her waist and lifting one hand to tuck some hair behind her ear. He chuckles, getting a handful of hair in his fingers.

“This would take some more time of getting used to.” he says softly, and she chuckles, smiling that smile that he knows is only reserved for him—it’s the genuine, beautiful kind of smile that lights up her face, and he thinks he would never get tired of seeing it on her.

“You don’t like it?” Natasha teases, amusement glinting in her eyes, and Steve has to laugh softly at that, shaking his head. He smooths her cheek gently with his thumb as she tips her head up at him.

“I love it,” he responds. “I love you .”

Natasha smiles up at him as he leans down to press a chaste kiss on her lips, and rests his forehead against hers, his eyes closed. She takes the hand that is on her cheek and threads their fingers together, and Steve pulls Natasha closer to his body, not allowing any bit of space between them, as if afraid that if he lets go even a bit, he would lose her.

And like he said, there’s always a chance he might. They’re due for a mission, and they are to leave in a few minutes. It’s nothing big, really, as they’re just there to intervene a weapons dealing between mercs, and it’s nothing they haven’t done before, but the mission can still turn into a fight, and anything can happen in a fight. If Natasha can hear his heart hammering fast against his chest, she doesn’t say anything. She gives his hand a squeeze and leans up again to give him another kiss on the lips, this time lifting her other hand to run it through his long hair, massaging his scalp in the process. Steve closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, and Natasha smiles.

“Better now?” she asks, and Steve hums in satisfaction as Natasha continues to run her fingers through his hair.

“Few more minutes.” Steve replies lazily, leaning down to kiss Natasha on the lips again, and Natasha chuckles, giving his hand another squeeze as she pulls back and scrunches her nose.

“If I didn’t know you better, Rogers, I’d say you’re just stalling to get some,” she says, raising an eyebrow and Steve chuckles. “Maybe tonight when we get back home, alright? Don’t want to keep Sam waiting.”

“Let him wait,” Steve isn’t nervous anymore, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get to enjoy what little time he has with the love of his life before a mission. Natasha seems to know that, with the smug smile on Steve’s face, and she laughs softly, her hand that was on his hair going down to cup his cheek. He leans into her touch and she smiles up at him. “I love you.”

She scrunches her nose, but a smile creeps up on her face. “You said that already,” she says, and pecks his lips once more. “I love you too. Now let’s go.” She tugs on his hand and they walk out of the room, meeting Sam who was hunched on the table going over the floor plans in their living room.


Of course his nervousness would only heighten as time passes, especially now when he’s about to embark on a mission without his partner. Before, when he leaves for a mission, it didn’t matter whether he’ll come back home. Home is a matter of circumstance , and he was always someone who could make a small safe house a home if needed be. His only fear, when it comes to missions, was losing Natasha, losing his partner on the field, but luckily for both of them, that never happened.

But now, as he looks up and finds Natasha leaning against the doorframe, her hand resting on her six-month pregnant belly, he realized that even beyond the fear of losing her on field, he fears never coming back home. Home . Natasha and their baby, the baby that is growing strong inside his wife’s body, they are his home. And since taking refuge in Wakanda, getting married, and settling down, he hasn’t been on a mission that is not within the local area. But now T’challa and Bucky need him for a bigger mission overnight and outside of Wakanda, and Natasha is adamant to let him go, as the least payment they can both give to the King for accepting and housing them is to accompany and aid him in missions.

“James is waiting for you,” Natasha says softly. Steve sighs, resting his hands on the edge of their bed. “He said you’ll be leaving in ten.”

Steve doesn’t say anything, so Natasha walks over to him. Steve gives her a small smile as he wraps an arm around her waist, pulling her so she is sitting on his lap. He lets his hand rest on her pregnant belly, and Natasha smiles as she rests her hand over his.

“I can stay if you want.” Steve whispers, and Natasha smiles patiently, lifting a hand to smooth his hair and cup his cheek, making him look up at her.

“I do,” she replies softly. “But it’s okay. The world still needs you.”

“I can’t do it without my partner.”

Natasha chuckles, leaning to press a kiss on his forehead. Steve tilts his head, and Natasha gives him a soft and proper kiss on the lips. She rests her forehead against his, wrapping an arm around his shoulder and taking one of his hand in hers, giving it a light squeeze. She closes her eyes, and kisses the tip of his nose.

“I’ll be here waiting for you,” she says softly. “ We’ll be here waiting for you.” She smiles, pressing their intertwined hands on her belly again. “So as long as you come home to us.”

Steve feels his heart beating fast in his chest, his fear quelling up inside him. “I will.” he says quietly, his voice cracking in the end as he feels his throat go dry. He’s nervous, and fearful, and he shouldn’t be, because he’s capable of going home safe. He’s done it many times, this would be no different, right?

Natasha pulls away slightly and smiles. She untangles her hands from him, and presses both on the side of his head, her thumbs drawing smooth circles on his temples, and Steve sighs at the sensation. “At ease with your mind, soldier,” she says softly. “We’ll be okay.” She pulls him closer to press a kiss on his forehead. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Steve pulls Natasha closer to him and kisses her softly again on the lips. He leans down to press a kiss on Natasha’s belly, against the soft fabric of her shirt. “And I love you , little one.”

Natasha smiles and stands up, pulling Steve up by the hand. She gives his hand a light squeeze before going out of their room, where Bucky is on the couch, watching the last movie Natasha was watching before entering the bedroom, waiting for Steve.


They’re in the front line, slightly confident that the barrier will be enough to hold Thanos’ army down, but knew better than being too complacent in a fight against an army of aliens. The barrier is strong enough to be held down, but they knew they had to fight. They watch the creatures—beasts, whatever you call them—as they circle around their parameter, and knew T’challa had to make a call to open a portion of it so they can concentrate the fight to one area.

They won’t know if it’s going to work, but it might buy Shuri some time to work on Vision and destroying the mind stone, so it’s the best plan they have to keep Thanos and his allies away from the palace.

His mind immediately drifts to James, his one-year-old son, who is asleep in his cot bed inside the palace. They need to keep these guys away from him too.

He takes a deep breath and recomposes his stance, immediately feeling his fingers threaded with someone else’s. It’s not just someone else’s, it’s his wife’s gloved hand against his, giving his hand a light squeeze.

In moments like these, it’s normally her that anchors him back to the ground, away from his thoughts going far over his head, making up the worst case scenarios. But as he looks at her beside him, he can see how the determination in her eyes is mixed with fear and worry, and he knows it’s not just because they’re about to fight Thanos’ army, definitely not because they’re about as outnumbered compared to the extraterrestrials, but perhaps it’s because the fate of the universe in their hands. The fate of their son’s life is in their hands.

She usually squeezes his hand to assure him they will be okay, that this battle is just like any other, and it’s nothing the both of them can’t overcome. But now he feels that her squeeze is weaker, lighter than usual, and he knows that it’s his turn to anchor her, to anchor both of them out of the uncertainty of getting out of here alive. Because if anything, he will make sure, both of them will get out of here alive, and back to their son.

He will make sure they’ll win.

And as T’challa orders a portion of the barrier to open, Steve squeezes Natasha’s hand, and she looks up at him. He smiles at her, and she smiles back. She takes a deep breath and nods back when he does, and both fix their eyes on the fight coming to them.


James has been quiet.

He hasn’t been totally quiet. He still interacts and plays with Cooper, Nathaniel and Morgan, and he responds well to his aunts and uncles, especially to Steve. He still allows Steve to cuddle with him, and he cuddles back. He responds when Steve tells him he loves him, and he still has his own fair share of stories of his games with the rest of the kids.

But he’s been quieter, in a sense that his laughters have decreased almost significantly, both in number of instances and in volume. It’s become a rare sight, James smiling, and him being the first one to tell his fair share of stories. When he does, he tries his best to lengthen them so as to appear normal, but Steve can see that James just couldn’t. He’s more comfortable curled up beside his father, or even just alone on his bed. He’s been more secluded, quieter, a little withdrawn since…

Since he went home without his mother.

James asked where she was the moment Steve went back home and his son sees him without her, and because James is old enough to understand the basic concepts of life and death, he told him the truth: that his Mommy sacrificed her life so they can bring the others who were affected by The Blip (it’s what they call it in school). Steve said his Mommy was a hero, and that she loved him, both of them. He never knew what went down in that planet because she was with Clint, but he didn’t think he’d like to know, and he didn’t think James would also like to know. James had cried that night, and so did Steve. James bargained, and asked if it would be possible she would come back. Steve didn’t answer, and he just held his son tight.

James had been sensitive and perceptive enough to also know that Steve was as affected as he is with the loss, which is why Steve thought that James had been trying so hard to appear normal when with the kids and with Steve, in an effort to quell up the mood. He takes after his mother in that way. He puts other people’s feelings and emotions before his, even if it kills him that he’d no longer see his mother smile when he wakes up, or that she’d never be able to play with him outdoors if he wants to. He takes those feelings and bottle it inside him, and puts in an effort to lift his father’s spirits up, as well as his aunts and uncles.

It goes on for a week, until one night when Steve passed by his son’s bedroom in the Tower, he heard muffled cries and whimpers.

“I miss Mommy.” James had said when Steve came in and gathered his son in his arms. James is turning seven in a month, but he’s not big enough yet that he can’t fit in Steve’s arms when he cradled him. Steve pressed a kiss on his son’s head, restraining his own tears from falling.

“Me too, buddy, so much,” Steve said, clutching his son tighter to him. “And it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to miss her.”

“Bring her back, Daddy,” James pleaded, looking up at him, his blue eyes wide and pleading. “Bring Mommy back from the stars, or ask Uncle Tony to bring her back from space. He goes to space a lot, Daddy.” It had been one of Tony's stories to the kids: that he had been to space for a long time, and when it was his turn to explain to the kid why his Mommy isn't with them, he simply said that she's somewhere in space as one of the stars. He buried his face in his father’s shirt, and just kept on murmuring to Steve, pleading him to bring his mother back.

Steve couldn’t promise, not if he’s sure it would come true. So he just murmured loving words to his son, rocking him as he fell asleep in his arms. He decided to carry him to their bed, partly so should James would wake up because of a nightmare, he’d be there to comfort him, and partly because he needs proof to know that his family is still here. Natasha may have been gone, but their son isn’t.

When Rocket and Bruce assembled the glove and is ready to be used, Steve wanted him to be with Pepper and Morgan, anywhere far from the Tower. So that morning, Tony drove both of them to their house to drop James off. He squatted down to his son’s level and smoothed his mussy red hair.

“You be good, okay? I’ll see you later.” Steve said, and James nodded. James tilted his head and took his father’s hand, giving it a light squeeze, and Steve had once again been reminded of his late wife, and his son’s late mother.

“Love you, Daddy.” James said. Steve pulled his son in his arms, embracing him, relishing the feeling of his son in his arms.

“I love you, James,” Steve said, and he pulled back, and he gave his son a smile. “I’ll come home, okay? I’ll come home to you.” James nodded, and off they went.

And now as Steve stands alone in front of Thanos and his army, he lets out a breath, offering up a prayer that James would forgive him if he doesn’t come home, and that he will grow up to be big, strong, kind and compassionate. He offers a prayer that Natasha would forgive him for letting her down, and that maybe someday, they can meet—

“Hey, Cap, do you hear me?” He stops, as he carefully listens to his earpiece, above the static. “Cap, it’s Sam, do you hear me? On your left.”

And slowly everyone else comes in through portals. T’challa, Okoye, Shuri, and the rest of the Wakandian warriors, Sam flying in, the kid Steve recognized to be the one from Queens, Bucky, Wanda, and many others coming up behind him. He turns, and he sees Thor get up, summoning Stormbreaker, and Tony gets up as well when he sees Pepper fly in her own suit. Scott emerges from the ruins, bringing in Bruce, Rhodes and Rocket.

He finally turns when everyone is in position. “Avengers!” he shouts. And immediately, he feels a hand—a gloved hand, the feeling of the fabric and leather familiar in his hand—slip in his. His heart hammers in his chest, and he turns to find Natasha, whole, beautiful, in all her glory, in her stealth suit, as if she had just been out for a while, and not for a week, as if she hadn't died and came back with him. Her batons are at her back, and her Widow Bites are charged at her wrists, her stance ready for battle, and she is right there with him, beside him, smiling up at him.

"Sorry it took me more than a minute, soldier." she says softly, and he chuckles, not taking his eyes off of her. Every inch of his body is buzzing, both with anticipation for the battle and the feeling of the love of his life—whom he once thought was gone forever without even saying goodbye—beside him, alive and whole.

Her eyes are glistening with unshed tears, but her face is determined and proud, especially when he lifts his hand to summon Mjolnir. He smiles, feeling his own tears come in as she feels her hand squeeze his.

She came back. She is real, and she is here. She is ready to fight beside, and alongside him, and now he feels invincible.

Thanos and his army be damned.

He turns his head and looks at the titan straight in the eye, not letting go of Natasha’s hand. He takes a deep breath, and squeezes Natasha’s hand. “Assemble.”

Chapter Text

Natasha sees them in the palace garden, hunched down behind a bush, as Steve is holding a pair of binoculars in front of James’ eyes. He is murmuring something to his ear, and James mumbles back, and even in the distance, she can hear her son’s small voice babbling to his father, and that enough makes her heart swell.

She’s not sure what they’re watching this time, a new bird maybe, since that’s what’s Steve has been reading about as of late, since he’d seen how fascinated their son is on animals and wildlife, and luckily for them, Wakanda is rich in their biodiversity. He had been the one to ask Shuri for a pair of binoculars, and she happily gave them one, explaining that it’s better used for bird watching as it can be adjusted to see more clearly from a distance.

“If you’re interested in animal watching,” the princess said. “I think I can help. I have a scientist in the lab who specializes in taxonomy too. He can come with you guys if you want.”

“I kinda wanted it to be an intimate family thing if it’s alright,” Steve said almost sheepishly. “Since James loves watching them, and he’s still a baby, so I don’t think he’ll need all those complicated...science stuff.”

Shuri chuckled and nodded. “Okay, but if you want to know more,” She got up to retrieve one of the books in her shelves. “Here’s a book, a guide of the birds seen in Wakanda. Maybe it’ll aid you as time passes.”

And so that’s what Steve reads in his free time, when James is napping or having his usual quality time with Natasha, or when he’s waiting for Natasha to come back from a meeting, a mission or just a simple girls’ hangout with the Dora Milaje. It helps that the super soldier serum also enhanced his memory, so he can remember the birds so easily that one day while Steve and Natasha were taking a stroll in the gardens, he pointed at a bird and was able to easily mention the name.

“My favorite is the Red and Yellow Barbet,” he told his wife one time. “‘Cause they usually go in pairs when they sing, and their songs are kind of territorial too.”

A bird of that kind did pass by, and Steve smiled and shrugged. “Guess I’ve always got a thing for redheads.” And Natasha burst out in laughter at that.

She found out from Steve that James’ favorite bird is the Lilac Breasted Roller. He’d pointed it to her once, and she smiled and marveled as the bird spread its light blue-colored wings. “I see why,” she told Steve, looking up at him. “James had always been so fond of colors, just like his Daddy.”

Apart from bird watching, Steve had also taken it upon himself to introduce James to coloring and art. Shuri had given James a set of coloring crayons and pencils when she found out James had started walking (“It won’t make sense if the boy knew how to walk but didn’t know how to hold a crayon.” she had said, despite Natasha’s insistence on the fact that James is just a ten-month-old baby.), so Steve also showed James how to color and write in their down time, or when it’s his turn to have quality time with his son. Natasha and Steve would also do it together to release some stress, but mostly Steve wanted to expose James to art, of course because he is a lover of art himself.

And because of it, James had been able to somehow babble the names of basic colors like blue (to which he says, “boo”), red (“ed”, sometimes “eh”), yellow (“neno”, most of the time he just points at it), and green (“ee”, and sometimes “een”). Even if he can’t say it, though, he’s able to point and distinguish it when Steve would say it. He loves the color blue, so he always picks the blue crayon first when it’s his turn to color, followed by the purple one, because of course, he thinks it’s also blue.

So yeah, it made sense that James’ favorite bird was the Lilac Breasted Roller, and that’s probably what they’re observing now as Natasha watches them from afar with a fond smile, judging by the way James is bouncing on his feet on Steve’s lap.

And Steve…

She’s been lucky enough to have him since the day they met. Even as partners, he had been nurturing and caring, able to handle her at her worst, and was always there when she needed him to be. He was never afraid of her, not even when she gets angry (to which, normally, lots of people would be scared), but he also acknowledges her leadership capabilities and follows her lead when necessary. He had always been gentle, sensitive and attuned to her mood, able to give her some space if she needed it, or some company if she was up for it.

And even as they became romantically involved, he was still the same, only this time, he always made sure to tell her how much he loves her, and remind her everyday that she’s beautiful, amazing and wonderful. He was always so supportive, especially in being a new mother, and had always been very caring and careful when he took care of her all throughout her pregnancy and even until now. He makes time for her, makes sure that he listens to everything she has to say, from her stories to her rants and sentiments, and he would always know the right thing to say to her. He comforts her in difficult times, and celebrates with her in good times. Even as they fight in their marriage, he’s always the first to ask for forgiveness, even if she’s the one who’s at fault. At times, she feels guilty, and she tells him that, so he allows her to apologize and ask for forgiveness, even if he had already forgiven her. He would be the one to initiate their talk, because he knows Natasha is still working her way through the issue of asking for forgiveness and forgiving herself, so he understands, and they would be okay.

When she thought she’d spent the rest of her life alone, especially after the Accords, where the only family she ever had had been taken away from her, she found Steve because he is her family, always has been from the beginning, and now she doesn’t know what to do if he's not with her.

She snaps out of her thoughts when she hears the familiar and melodious sound of James’ laughter, and she smiles when she sees James tackling Steve, and Steve lying on his back with James on top of him. He carries the baby up in the air, and James continues to laugh as the baby reaches down for his father’s face. Steve says something, bringing James down to give the baby a kiss on the nose, before bringing him back up, eliciting a giggle from the ten-month-old.

With James, he always finds a way to make him laugh. He’s a good father, always caring and making time to play with James even when he comes home tired after missions. When he found out how much James loves going outdoors and watching birds and insects, he took it upon himself to learn more about them.

“So I’d know what to teach James when he gets older,” he once said, when Natasha asked him about it. “I know he can learn about all these things in school, but I’d want to let him know he has someone to share it with at home, you know?” He smiled so shyly about it, and she couldn’t help but give him a soft kiss for it.

He focuses on James’ growth, always so proud of every milestone James hits, and is always the first one to share it with T’challa, Shuri or Bucky. Sure, James’ is a big mama’s boy, and he prefers cuddling with her more than him on occasion, or he prefers that Natasha be the one to hold him when he gets sleepy or tired, but she’s sure enough that he shares the same bond with Steve, only in selected spectrum of things, like nature and art, or anything that will contribute to his intellectual growth and pique his interest. Steve understands that, and he cherishes it, expanding his array of interests to accommodate his son's, and nurturing it as he grows.

How did they get so damn lucky?

“Mama!” she hears James squeal, and she smiles when she sees Steve holding James up, probably restraining him from running too fast until Natasha is in a safe distance to do so. Natasha chuckles as she walks, and when she got close enough, Steve puts James down, and the baby almost makes a wobbly beeline at his mother, extending his small arms as he giggles and toddles towards Natasha.

“Hey, little guy,” Natasha coos, scooping James up in her arms, and giving him a big kiss on the cheek. The baby giggles, his blue eyes that mirror his father's sparkling, and his red hair mussed. “Enjoyed your day with Daddy today?”

The baby claps his hands and babbles, and Natasha walks over to where Steve is sitting on their mat, still behind the bush, a soft smile on his face as he watches them. Even as he doesn’t say anything, Natasha can feel the love in his gaze whenever he looks at her, whenever he looks at them . Even when he doesn't say anything, she knows that he's telling her that he loves her, that he loves them.

That's the thing about Steve: in everything that he does, he does it with love radiating off of him. He doesn't need words to tell them how much he loves them. He just...he just does, and he makes sure the people around him know and understand that.

She removes her sandals and sits beside Steve, settling James on her lap. Steve's smile widens as he straightens himself when Natasha settles, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her close.  “Hey, beautiful.” Steve greets softly, and Natasha hums, leaning in to kiss him softly on the lips.

“Hey yourself,” Natasha says, kissing him again, and she feels him smile against her mouth. “Had fun with James today? Did you get to see his favorite bird?”

“We did, we saw two, all beautiful as ever,” he replies softly, and he lifts a hand to tuck some of her hair behind her ear. “But even better, we got to see our favorite girl, and she’s more beautiful than all of those birds combined.” Natasha giggles, shaking her head.

“My boys are such charmers, huh,” she says, and Steve laughs softly, smiling at her. She smiles up at him and kisses his cheek. “I love you.”

Steve smiles cheekily, his face lightening up. “I love you too, Nat.” he replies, leaning again to kiss her on the lips.

Chapter Text

Natasha had just come out of the bathroom when her phone lights up, and she remembered hearing it ring earlier, but James had become fussy so she allowed it to go to voicemail while she fed him and put him to sleep. She had eventually forgotten since she also fell asleep when James napped. But now both of them are awake, she’s free to check her voicemails.

She grabs the phone and sits back down on the couch in front of the mat where James is crawling to grab a handful of crayons so he can draw on the paper in front of him. She smiles, and makes sure that James wouldn’t put any of the crayons in his mouth before checking her phone. Steve had been the one calling her earlier, and now he left a series of voicemails. She presses the first one, and puts it on loudspeaker.

“Hey, sweetheart,” Steve’s voice comes in, and James perks up at the sound of his father’s voice. Natasha smiles at her baby. “You’re probably asleep, or James became fussy, probably why you haven’t picked up when I called. It’s nothing urgent, by the way. T’challa, Bucky, Nakia and I are on our way back, and the mission had been a success. But I think you’d have to give us another few hours before we actually do get back. We’re not in a jet after all, and it’s a long drive from Nkhotakota to Wakanda, so hope I’ll be home before James falls asleep.”

“Dada?” James asks, looking up at his mother with wide blue eyes, and Natasha nods.

“Yeah, baby, come here.” Natasha puts the phone down carefully before she leans down to scoop James up in her arms, pressing a soft kiss on his hair before settling him down on her lap. She takes the phone in her hand again.

“The mountains here are beautiful, Nat,” Steve continues. “And the lake, God , the lake here in Nkhotakota, it’s a beautiful view. And the trees, the wildlife, James would love it here.” James perks up when he hears her name and Natasha chuckles, pressing another kiss on her son’s soft hair. “I’ve asked T’challa about it, the places we could go to that can be safe, so we could also go out for a quick trip, maybe show James more of the outside world beyond Wakanda. He said he could ask us to be accompanied, but maybe wait for a few months just to be safe, because we’ll never know where Ross’ trails reach, you know. Told him I understand, and we’ve yet to explore more of Wakanda anyway.”

Natasha laughs softly, resting her head on top of James’. If this were a normal conversation, she’d probably tease Steve for asking T’challa for an out, telling him he’s probably sick of the place already, and the king might kick them out if he finds out. He wouldn’t, of course, Natasha knows that, but it’s still quite a sight to see Steve get all worked up in taking the joke back, even if it was the two of them only.

Besides, they receive a well amount of support here as a family. In exchange for aiding in missions, they’re getting shelter and food for free, and some necessary amenities like gym, clinics when necessary, and all that. They’re treated as royal guests, now turned as residents in the royal palace. Plus, they have a good amount of friends already in the place. They’re living as normally as they’re permitted to, and their living conditions are better than when they were on the run, so there’s nothing they could complain about in this place.

“You hear that, Jamie? Daddy said we might go out more.” Natasha says softly, her finger stroking lightly on James’ chubby cheek. The baby gurgles and smiles up at his mother, and Natasha smiles.

“And I think we’ve yet to go to our honeymoon, you know,” Steve says, and Natasha chuckles. “I know it’s been more than a year since we got married, but I still feel bad about not taking my wife for a honeymoon. But a late honeymoon is better than none, right? So I’ll just take note of that and remember that. Maybe when all of this is over, and the dust settles, I’ll take you to a proper honeymoon, just you and me. James can stay with Bucky, he’ll know what to do with him.” Natasha hears a faint ‘hey!’ that sounded like Bucky, and she hears Steve chuckle, making her smile. “Yeah, he’ll say yes. He loves James too much to say no.”

Natasha hears Bucky in the background, “If that kid is indeed a combination of you and Natalia, I swear, Rogers, your kid will be the death of me. You had the gall to name him after me.” Natasha laughs softly, and she hears Steve does the same, with a few muffled snickers, probably coming from T’challa and Nakia. She blushes. Did he really say all of these in front of their friends? She knows it’s nothing too intimate, but it feels too personal to have an audience. Nevertheless, she smiles, because she knows Steve would always love to show his wife off to his friends.

“For the record, if James would be half as you would ever be, then I’d be lucky to call him my son,” he continues. “And even if he wasn’t, I’d still love him, because he’s our son. He’s you and me, yet also...him? You get what I mean.” She smiles and looks down at James, who is snuggling in Natasha’s chest, grabbing the hem of her shirt in his fist. “If Buck won’t take up the offer, I could always call in T’challa.”

“And Shuri would love that.” She hears T’challa say, and Natasha chuckles, because it’s true. Shuri had been spoiling James rotten since the kid had been born, always ready to give him toys and all gizmos she had come up with. She would always drop by their floor just to see the baby and hold him for a bit before going back to work, and if she’s too busy, Natasha would visit her in the lab with James to ease the princess off of the stress.

“I didn’t say I won’t do it.” Bucky says in the background, and Steve chuckles, probably waving them off.

“Guess we have babysitters now. So it’s just the where and when,” Steve says lightly, making Natasha’s heart flutter. “I was thinking maybe a beach somewhere? We’ve yet to expose James to the sand and the sea. I’m sure he’ll love that as much as forests and grass where we are now.”

“Mama.” James says softly, reaching up to his mother’s face, like how he usually does when he’s sleepy and about to go to nap or sleep. Natasha smiles, leaning down and James smiles when he touches her face. She presses a kiss on the tip of James’ nose, eliciting a giggle from the baby, before burying his face to her shirt.

“Do you know what day it is today, though? I just remembered,” Steve continues softly, and Natasha furrows her eyebrows in confusion. “It’s March 8, the anniversary of the Battle of New York.” Natasha’s face lights up into a smile. “It’s the day I just knew I was going to fall in love with you since you’ve jumped off my shield and into a Chitauri ship,” Steve chuckles. “I remember thinking ‘how crazy is Romanoff, riding in a ship she doesn’t even know how to drive with some aliens who are determined to kill her off in an instant?’, but then you managed, as you always do, and you found a way to close the portal and save us. And I figured, ‘man, she’s good ’, and then I was intrigued by you since then. I think that’s how we started, you know, you and me, the weird partnership we had and the beautiful relationship we have now. Yeah, that was the day, five years ago today.”

Five years, huh? And they only got married sixteen months ago, got together nine months before that. If what Steve said was true, then she’d say they’ve been dancing around each other’s feelings for almost a good three years?

“Think we’ve wasted time not acting on our feelings?” Steve chuckles. “You’ve always tried setting me up with other girls, but I was never interested, ‘cause I only wanted you. But I don’t want to dwell on the what-ifs, or the fact that maybe we could have acted on our feelings sooner, because it gave us time to build on our friendship, you know, and we’re strong now because of it. We’re here now, and we’re going to move forward and that’s it."

Natasha leans back on the couch, allowing James to rest his head on her chest. She can see his eyes slowly fluttering close, but she can also see how determined he is to keep his eyes open, wanting to hear his Daddy’s voice, probably. He lets out a small yawn and Natasha rubs his back gently with her hand, patting his back softly.

“I’d say it to you personally too, but while we’re at it, I’ll say it anyway. I’m the luckiest man to ever have you as my wife, and James as our son. You gave me a life when I thought I could never have one anymore, and you gave me a reason to push through even if I thought I’m too tired to continue living. I’m lucky enough that you’re the first person I see in the morning, and the last person I see at night, and I’m lucky enough to also get the chance to hold you in my arms, and get to know you better everyday,” Natasha smiles, feeling tears well up in her eyes. “Thank you for giving me a life, and for giving me James. I know our circumstances aren’t as great and normal than we’d hoped, and we’ve been lucky because of T’challa, but thank you for making every day the best one I’ve ever had yet.”

The door opens, and Natasha looks up to find Steve walking in, a soft smile on his face. James lifts his head and gurgles when he sees his father. “I love you, Nat, and it’s not official but...happy anniversary to the day I knew I’d fall in love with you. I’ll see you later. Give James a kiss for me.” Steve’s voice on the phone says, and Natasha’s smile widens when Steve closes the door and walks over to sit on the couch beside her.

“Five years ago today, huh?” Natasha asks softly, and Steve nods, leaning to kiss her on the lips.

“Yeah, crazy five years, huh?” he responds, and Natasha hums, leaning to kiss him again. James babbles and extends his arms to Steve, who takes him happily in his arms, pressing a kiss on the baby’s forehead.

Natasha runs her hand through Steve’s hair, and when he looks at her, with James’ head resting on his shoulder, she smiles. “I love you, Steve,” she says softly. “And I’m the luckiest woman to have ever found you.” Steve’s smile widens and Natasha laughs softly, pulling him in closer for another kiss. “Happy unofficial anniversary.” Steve chuckles.

“Happy unofficial anniversary.”

Chapter Text

Natasha looks through the blinds of the windows in her small motel room again as she sighs, letting the tears run down her face as she closes the blinds and leans her forehead against the window. She leans against the wall and slides down, looking down at her hands.

These hands that have killed when she swore to herself, to her son and to her husband that she wouldn’t.

It had been a difficult mission. T’challa had sent her, Nakia, Okoye and Ayo for a rescue mission of a group of hostaged girls in Nigeria. Natasha was tasked to extract the team and the girls, as the three Wakandian warriors were tasked to go undercover as part of the hostaged girls. The main plan was to take the heads from the inside, and Natasha would extract them when Okoye would give her a signal. In the meantime, she was in charge of overseeing, signalling the women of when to enter and where through the comms, as she watches the situation from afar using one of Shuri’s new inventions that allow her to take a view of the facility even from outside.

It was going well at first, with the women able to take the men out from the inside, and Natasha was called in to take the security out. It was easy, and it was nothing she hadn’t done before. Despite being months off of the field since being pregnant with James, her skills were still sharp and her kicks and punches trained and precise. She had no difficulty getting in, but when she did get in the facility, she forgot her navigator and so had to manually find the girls and her team.

That was when she heard muffled screams, cries and moans, and muffled grunts as well. She knows those sounds.

She didn't like those sounds.

So she kicked the door open, and the sight of a young girl crying under a man’s body was enough for her to lose it. She was filled with rage, and attacked without even thinking twice about it. She remembered instructing the girl to stay in the hallway, and her kicking and punching the man as she allowed the girl to grab her discarded clothes shakily and ran to the hallway.

She doesn’t remember the fight that much, but she does remember him fighting back, his kicks landing hard on her stomach and side. She remembers thinking about the girl being abused at such a young age, of how she can see herself in the horrors of the Red Room being done to the girl now. She remembers not wanting the girl to grow up the way she did: secluded, detached and numb from all the violence and trauma she received as a young girl.

Of course, she remembered seeing the bloody, limp figure of the man on the floor, almost all of his teeth knocked out and bruises forming on his neck where her hands were.

She killed him. When she promised to be better, and when she actually was becoming better, another red was added to her ledger.

She didn’t feel the weight of it, or the fatigue that washed over her until she brought the girl and reunited with her team. It was then that Nakia saw the tears slowly forming in Natasha’s eyes. Nakia didn’t mention it, not until they were running down the hall behind the girls that Natasha stopped in her tracks to look at the mess she had left.

“Nat, we don’t have time.” Nakia said, her hand gripping Natasha’s arm as she dragged Natasha to run. Natasha followed, but her vision becomes blurry and her head starts spinning, but she managed to stick with the group.

On the way back, when they made sure the girls were safe and fast asleep, Nakia made her way to Natasha, wrapping her arms around the woman, and that was when the nonstop tears started to fall.

“It’s okay,” Nakia whispers, tightening her arms around the woman. “We did it, it’s over.”

No, she doesn’t get it. “I’ve killed,” Natasha lets out a sob. “I killed a man.” As if it was her first time, but it’s not. But she did make a promise to be better, that is, to hurt only when necessary and to never kill. She made a promise to herself to wipe the red off her ledger by focusing on being a good person, a good wife and a good mother.

She had broken that promise.

“He was meant for the worst,” Nakia says softly. “He was hurting the girls. He is no man. There is no humanity inside him, with what he had done to those girls.”

She’s got a point, but a life is still a life, and she had taken one. When she promised to never take a life, she meant it. But at that moment, she felt like she had regressed, that all progress and promises she had made to herself and to her family had meant nothing. That after this one kill, she would do it over again until the guilt eventually passes, and it would become a normal thing for her once again.

You know what they say: once a monster, always a monster.

Natasha shakes her head and removes the gloves from her hands. It still had blood stains on, and she put it on the floor beside her. She looks at her hands which are shaking as she rests it on her pulled up knees. These hands are those that hold her son in her arms, cradling him closer to her chest, playing with him every morning and every night, have killed. These hands are those that run through her husband’s hair every morning when he wakes up beside her, pulling him closer to her for a kiss, cupping his face so she can comfort him, and tell her she loves him, have killed. These hands don’t deserve to hold her son nor her husband, not anymore. Not when there’s more blood, more red, more lives taken because of her hands.

She jolts when she hears a knock on the door, and she freezes in her place.

“Nat?” Tears start to gather in her eyes when she hears the soft, smooth and familiar voice of her husband. “Nat, it’s me. Please open the door.”

She starts sobbing, pulling her knees closer to her chest. He must have heard what happened, Nakia must have told him what happened, and why she is here instead of home with them. If he knows what happened, why is he here? He shouldn’t be here.

“Nat, sweetheart, please,” Steve’s voice becomes desperate, but it’s still soft. “Please open up, please let me in.”

Natasha stands, her legs shaky, but she is unable to move closer to the door. “Nakia told me, and she’s been worried,” Steve continues softly. “And when I found out, I also got worried. Why didn’t you come home?”

Because I don’t deserve to come home. I don’t deserve James, I don’t deserve you. She takes a few steps closer to the door, but stops just a few feet before it, leaning her body against the wall for support before she lets out a sob, one that she knows Steve would hear on the other side.

“I’m worried, Nat. I miss you, and James misses you,” Steve pleads, as if hearing her thoughts. “Please open up. Let me hold you, please.”

Natasha takes a shaky breath as she slowly moves forward, her hand resting on the knob. Her hands are shaking as she slowly undos the locks, and she turns the knob, opening it partially to see Steve on the other side of the door, his blue eyes worried and glistening with tears. He pushes the door wider and before she can even say anything, Steve rushes in and wraps his arms around her, while she sobs against his firm chest as she grips his arms firmly for support.

“Oh, sweetheart,” Steve says softly, pressing a kiss on her hair, and forehead, before resting his cheek against the side of her head. He presses her closer to his chest, wrapping his arms around her tightly. “I got you. It’s okay.”

Natasha sobs harder and louder, and she feels her legs giving up again. Steve seems to have sensed this also, as he lifts her up bridal style, carrying her to the bed. He whispers soothing words to her, telling her that he loves her, and that he’s got her, and it’s okay. And even as he sits down on the edge of the bed, she still doesn’t let him go, afraid that if she does, he’ll realize what a monster she is and walk away to leave her there. She knows she doesn’t deserve him, but she’s not ready to see him walk away with her son just yet.

Steve rocks her back and forth, as she buries her face further in the crook of his neck, her hands clutching his shirt tightly. He’s still whispering soothing words to her, pressing light kisses on her forehead and her cheeks, as he wipes away her tears gently with his thumb. Her sobs eventually died down to soft whimpers and hiccups, and even then, he doesn’t let her go.

“I’m sorry.” Natasha whispers, and Steve shakes his head.

“You have nothing to be sorry for, Nat.” he assures her softly, but she shakes her head, looking up at her husband.

“I’ve killed, Steve,” Natasha says, her voice breaking as tears begin to gather in her eyes. “I’ve killed. I promised you that I won’t, but I did.” She shakes her head, clutching Steve’s shirt tightly. “I’ve killed.”

Steve shakes his head and runs a hand through her hair, pulling her head closer so he can press a gentle kiss on her forehead. “By what Nakia told me, he deserved it.” he says, and Natasha just shakes her head.

“I’m a monster.” she whispers.

He’s the monster,” he assures her firmly. “He hurt those girls, and you saved the girls from people like him. You prevented people like him from terrorizing more young girls."

“That still doesn’t make me killing him alright,” she says. “I failed, Steve. I let myself get out of control. When I saw...when I saw what he was doing to the girl…” she trails off, images of the horrors of what she saw in that room filled her mind, and she closes her eyes, shaking her head. “I let myself get out of control, and I killed him.” She looks down at her hands, closing them in fists. “My hands killed him.”

“You were angry, and rightfully so,” Steve says softly, tucking some of her hair behind her ear. “What he did to the girl, and all those other girls, it was cruel. I know you didn’t want to kill, and I know you think this is a mistake, but that doesn’t make you a terrible person, Nat. You are not terrible, and you are not a monster. You never were, and you never will be one.”

Natasha sniffles, and Steve takes her hands, opening them up and smoothing his thumb over her palms. “These hands have taken care of our little boy so much and so well,” he says softly. “And these are also the same hands that take care of me whenever I’m hurt, and comfort me when I’m in need of comforting. I know you see these hands now as the ones that have killed, but remember, without these hands, those girls wouldn’t have been saved. Without these hands, James wouldn’t be a good and healthy little boy. Without these hands…” Steve takes a shaky breath as he squeezes her hands. “I wouldn’t want to know where I’d be if you weren’t there with me.”

Natasha reaches up to cup Steve’s cheek, and he looks at her, a soft smile on his face. He rests a hand on hers on his face, squeezing it. “You’re a good person, Nat. You are a good mother, a good wife, a good friend and a good fighter. Don’t let anyone, not even that dead man make you believe otherwise,” he continues softly, and Natasha sighs. “Or you’re letting him win. You might make him believe that he was right in hurting those girls.”

She shakes her head. “He’s not right.” she whispers, and Steve nods.

“And we make mistakes, even as we try to become better people,” he continues softly. “It’s okay to make mistakes, so as long as we learn from it, and be better because of it.”

Natasha’s lower lip quivers. “Will you help me?” Help me be better, she asks in a small voice, and Steve smiles, stroking her cheek with the back of his hand gently.

“Of course,” he answers. “I’ll be here to hold your hand as we do so together.”

Natasha gives him a small smile, and he leans in to press a soft kiss on her lips. “Now let’s go home, alright? Our baby boy is waiting for his Mommy.”

And even at the mention of his son, Natasha’s heart flutters. She nods, and Steve leans in to give her another soft kiss on the lips. She still hasn’t recovered from earlier’s incident, and she doesn’t think she ever will in an instant, but if her husband—her kind hearted, compassionate and heroic husband—told her that she’s not a monster, she would believe him. If he told her that she would be okay, she would believe him. He’s willing to go down the road with her, and for her, no matter how many mistakes she had done, and because of that, she loves him and believes in him.

And if, at the end of the day, her son would still give her one of his most beautiful smiles that radiates the love she knows her baby has for her as if she’s the best person in the universe out there, then she would believe him too.

Chapter Text

Natasha hums as she rocks her chair, smiling down at little James in her arms, his blue eyes wide and blinking as he watches his mother, and his small mouth forming into a smile as he reaches his small arms up at his mother. Natasha grins, still humming her tune as she leans forward, allowing her son to touch her cheek, and the baby gurgles in her arms. Natasha uses her other hand to smooth the baby’s red hair, and the baby gurgles again, giving his mother the most beautiful smile she had ever seen in her life.

Three months. It’s been three months since her son was born, and she had never imagined herself being happier than she is now. Sure, she and Steve would rather skip the part where James would wake up on random hours at night because he was hungry, or needed the attention of either of her parents, and she would pretty much prefer that he would wake them up when it was time for a normal human being to wake, but she didn’t mind. Every minute, and every hour spent with her little boy is a blessing, no matter what time of the day is, and no matter what mood their little James is in.

She feels James squirming in her arms, and she finds him reaching out for her face, his face contorting into an expression where she knows he’s about to cry any time. She chuckles and leans down to press a soft kiss on his forehead. “You want some cuddle time with Mommy, little one?” she asks softly, and James whimpers in response, as if understanding his mother.

“Okay, cuddle time with Mommy.” Natasha says softly, shifting James in her arms so his head is now resting on her shoulder, and his little arms are draped on her shoulders. James wiggles his feet, tucking his face further in Natasha’s neck and Natasha laughs softly, shifting her head to press a kiss on James’ soft hair, inhaling the scent of milk and vanilla from her little boy. She stands up from her rocking chair and slowly paces the nursery, smoothing her hand on James’ back as she continues to hum, her eyes closing as she lets herself fall in the moment of just her and her son.

Steve had gone in on a radio silent mission with Tony and Clint yesterday, and they are not due to come back for another day. It had been the first time Steve had been apart from his family for quite a long time since James was born, let alone this was Steve’s first mission that he had participated in since James was born. When the call to mission came in, Steve had been hesitant to leave, but Natasha was adamant about his departure, telling him that they will be fine, and that this mission must be important that Tony had to call in Steve. They had agreed to call either Steve or Natasha in missions only when absolutely necessary, and since Natasha still couldn’t as her body is still recovering from childbirth, Steve was the better option for the mission.

“We’ll be okay,” Natasha had told her husband. She remembered him holding James in his arms when his wide blue eyes, that which mirror his son’s, are staring at her. Natasha smiles at how their three-month-old baby looks extra smaller compared to his father’s big stature. “Wanda’s here, and so are Peter, Bucky and Bruce. We’ll be okay.”

And it had been difficult, because last night had been the first night they had been apart since James was born, not because James was fussy, but because she just missed him. And it’s ridiculous, really, because even before they had James, they had been apart for so long because of missions, and while they missed each other during the nights they waited on each other, she was pretty sure she never reached the point where she was last night that she was close to tears as she stared at the window of their bedroom, praying their quinjet will fly over and declare the mission a success.

It’s ridiculous, what marriage and motherhood had done to her. But both had been so wonderful also, so who was she to complain, really?

She turns and opens her eyes when she hears the door behind the nursery open and smiles. “I didn’t think you’d be home until later.” she says softly, and Peter smiles widely straightening himself by the door.

“Mister Stark told me to come home early if I can ‘cause he said Wanda’s gonna be out today. No one’s gonna watch over you and James,” he explains, smiling. “And I told MJ that, and she seemed cool with it, so.” He shrugs and Natasha chuckles, shaking her head.

“You know I don’t need you to watch over us, маленький паук.” Little spider, she grins as she says it softly, raising an eyebrow and Peter chuckles, his hand rubbing the back of his neck.

“I...I know, but I want to,” he answers. “Besides, I missed the little guy.”

Natasha grins and pulls her head back just as James looks up at his mother with wide eyes, a smile forming on his mouth as he sees his mother. “Look who’s here, little one, it’s Uncle Peter.”

The baby takes his time to lift his head as Natasha turns, and the baby smiles brightly and squeals when he sees Peter. Peter grins and walks over as James raises his arms, wiggling to be taken away by Peter who takes him happily in his arms.

“Hey, buddy, how’re you doing?” Peter coos, adjusting James in his arms so he is facing the three-month-old. “You doing okay? You treating Мама паук alright?”

Natasha grins as she crosses her arms and watches the exchange. Ever since Peter had come in to the team, she had always found an easy connection with the young man, and even saw him as more of a foster son rather than a little brother, just like how Steve probably saw Peter. She found it so easy kidding around him, playing with him because they had the same wavelength and sense of humor. She would encourage Peter to pull pranks on their teammates (majority of which focused on Clint, whom Natasha thinks secretly enjoyed being pranked at by Peter and Natasha), and she would watch movies with him on nights she found him unable to sleep and alone in the communal room. Over time, she found that the young man had clung unto her so easily, with him being more open about telling Natasha about his day, opening up about his nightmares, and even asking her advice on how he should ask MJ out.

She enjoyed every moment spent with Peter, that she started calling him “little spider” in Russian: маленький паук. He hadn’t picked it up at first, but she wasn’t surprised as well when he later called her “Mama spider” in Russian as well. It made her heart flutter, and it still does now, even as James is now here, and she still continues to call Peter her “little spider” and her his “Mama spider”.

It’s probably the lack of sleep, or the fact that she has been extremely hormonal since James was born, but she thought that her special connection with Peter was kind of a foreshadowing of her destiny to be a mother to a beautiful baby boy.

“He’s so little,” Peter comments softly as he cuddles James closer to his chest and he looks up at Natasha and smiles. “But when he cries, he cries so loud it’s hard to believe it’s coming from a small human being like him.”

Natasha laughs softly, shaking her head. “He’s a baby, Peter, cut him some slack.” she says teasingly and Peter laughs.

“He’s an enhanced baby,” Peter says, and he pulls away slightly to look at James who is eyeing him curiously, his little fist stuck in his mouth. “Aren’t you, James? You’re gonna grow up just like your Mommy and Daddy?”

James squeals and pulls his fist filled with saliva, resting it on Peter’s chest and Natasha chuckles at the tight-lipped smile Peter gives as he looks down on the spot where James is now crumpling a portion of his shirt with the same fist. “Wow, you got a strong grip there, buddy. Got that from Mama, huh?”

“Hey,” Natasha says, chuckling and Peter grins up at her. “Come on. I’ll go make you a sandwich.”

Natasha walks to the kitchen while Peter follows, bouncing on his feet and continuing to talk and babble to James. He takes a seat by one of the chairs on the kitchen counter, letting James stand wobbling on his legs on Peter’s lap as he grins at the baby who is giggling and cooing at his Uncle Peter.

Natasha smiles and watches fondly (as much as she can while making a peanut butter sandwich and fixing some orange juice) as Peter begins to sing and beatbox, encouraging baby James to dance. The baby giggles, and tries his best to move his legs and arms to the beat, and thankfully, Peter has a strong grip on the baby as he continues to support him on his wobbling legs.

“You dance great, little buddy!” Peter exclaims, earning a squeal from the baby. “Maybe soon when you’re older you can teach me some of your moves, huh?”

Peter looks up at Natasha who lays a plate of sandwich on a glass of orange juice in front of Peter and the young man’s face lightens. She walks over and takes James in her arms. “Come here, little one. Let маленький паук eat his snacks.” She places a kiss on James’ forehead and chuckles when she sees Peter grinning and bouncing in his seat as he sets his eyes on his snacks.

This was also part of their routine: Peter would drop by and Natasha or Steve would fix him a snack, or he would join them for dinner. Sometimes, Wanda would join them, and they would volunteer to play with James while the parents rest. Of course, they wouldn’t just barge in. They respect the family’s privacy as much as anyone, but neither Steve nor Natasha would mind—in fact, they kind of like the idea of having one or both of them around, as they treat both young members of their team like their own children as well. While Natasha has the softest heart for Peter, Steve has the softest heart for Wanda.

“So how was school today?” Natasha begins, as how she would always begin. She takes a seat beside Peter, facing him as she rests James on her lap, and the baby begins to play with the hem of his mother’s shirt.

“It was okay,” Peter says, his mouth full of food. He smiles sheepishly and takes a moment to chew and swallow. “It was okay. Normal, usual. I had an exam in Physics earlier, and I think I did pretty great, I found it really easy.”

Natasha grins. “Well, I guess you had to thank Tony for the extra tutorial. But then again, I didn’t think you needed it.” she says, and Peter chuckles.

“I’m not that smart, Мама паук,” Peter says sheepishly. “Mister Stark helped me a lot in the exam. I don’t think I would’ve answered it smoothly if not for the tutorial.”

“You always sell yourself short. If you were really my son, I’d say you picked that up from Steve, and maybe you still did with the amount of time you’re spending with him,” Natasha says, smiling, and Peter laughs. “How about Ned? And his girlfriend, Betty, was it? How are they?”

“Oh they kind of broke up again, so there’s that,” Peter says, laughing. “But they said they’re still be friends, but they always say that, but they still end up dating and breaking up and the cycle just goes on and on and on.” Peter takes a sip from his orange juice and Natasha chuckles, shaking her head. “I don’t know why they do that, you know? I mean will they end up together? Is that even a good thing?”

“Just give them time, maybe they just need to sort out their feelings for each other, you know,” Natasha says. “Are you worried Ned might get hurt?”

“Well yeah, I mean it had to hurt, right? Even if it’s an on-and-off relationship and you kind of expect that someday you’ll end up with that person, but the waiting must hurt, right? And the fact that you’re not sure if you will end up together, and the constant attachment and detachment,” Peter says. “I mean I’ve talked to him about it and said that he’s fine, but...is he?”

Natasha smiles. “I was like that with Steve before you know, on and off,” she says, and Peter’s eyes widen that Natasha has to chuckle. “Some of the offs would be on me, some would be on him. It took us a while to really establish the relationship, but before that even happened, we had a fragile connection.”

“Did it hurt?” Peter asks softly, and Natasha tilts her head.

“It didn’t for the first few times for my part. I was used to detachment and running away, so for me it was just another normal thing to happen. I mean I thought, sure the guy could have been good, but it can’t work, so,” Natasha shrugs. “But I found out sooner that it did hurt Steve a lot, even in those first few times. Might have something to do with how soft your Captain is at heart,” Peter chuckles. “And when I found that out, how much it hurt him, I found myself also hurting whenever an off comes in. After that, we really tried our best to work through and establish ourselves, and I guess it worked—seeing as we’re still married and all.” Natasha grins and Peter smiles widely.

“What helped you and Cap? You know, in those rough times?” Peter asks.

“Friends mostly. For me, it was Pepper, Sharon and Maria, and for Steve, it was Bucky, Sam and Tony. For the most part, they allowed us to be distracted from the hurt, and the fact that we yet again failed at another attempt to a real relationship, but soon, they became tougher on us—really giving us real talks on what we really wanted, how we should work on it, and giving us the push to never give up,” Natasha says, and smiles at Peter. “Maybe you could be that friend to Ned if you want to.”

Peter nods, as if taking in and digesting what Natasha had said. “Ned was like that with me when it comes to MJ.” he says, and Natasha smiles.

“Maybe you could be like that too with him and Betty if you want, and if he wants, of course,” Natasha says, and Peter nods and smiles. “And speaking of MJ, how are the two of you?” Peter laughs softly, and he begins to recount his story of his earlier lunch date with MJ, and all the dates they’ve had for the last week he may have forgotten to tell Natasha.

James begins to babble, burying his face on Natasha’s chest and she chuckles as she continues to listen to Peter’s animated stories. He even stood up so he can properly show and demonstrate his story, making Natasha laugh softly. She shifts James in her arms so the baby is resting his head on her shoulder, his face buried in the crook of her neck. James lets out a small gurgle as Natasha rubs on his back soothingly.

“And I’m boring James, aren’t I?” Peter asks, and Natasha laughs softly, looking down at her son.

“He’s just sleepy, he missed his nap earlier,” Natasha says softly. “And you’re about the least person he would be bored with the way you tell your stories, маленький паук.”

Peter’s face lights up and he begins to tell a story of how he used to babysit other kids and tell him stories that way so they would behave and wouldn’t get bored. Natasha laughs, telling him that maybe when James is old enough, he can babysit James.

“I don’t know how to take care of super enhanced babies.” Peter says teasingly, and Natasha laughs softly.

“Please stop referring to my son as a super enhanced baby. And you should be nice to him, young man, he’s like your little brother.” Natasha says, winking, and she is rewarded with a wide and soft smile from Peter.

“I’ll teach him how to climb ceilings so he can escape in the middle of the night to be with his friends.” Peter teases and Natasha raises an eyebrow, failing to suppress a grin.

“Not if you can find him first. Clint called dibs first in teaching my son how to build a nest in the vents.” Natasha says, and Peter laughs, sitting back down on his chair. He leans forward to give James’ small foot a light squeeze.

“You’ll be a great mom to him, Nat.” Peter says softly, smiling up at her. Natasha’s heart actually flutters, and normally, she wouldn’t care less about how others would think about her being a mother—whether it be a compliment or not—but this was coming from Peter, one of the few people whom she cared for when it comes to their opinion. Peter, who had become like her own son before she had her own. So it’s different, and it’s a big deal to be told that.

“You think?” Natasha asks softly, and Peter nods quickly, a big grin forming on his face.

“You are to me, and I’m not even your son. I could only imagine how you’ll be with James.” Peter says, and Natasha smiles, pressing James closer to her chest.

“Thank you, маленький паук.” Natasha says, and Peter grins, before he proceeds to tell another one of his stories again. Natasha smiles and listens, cuddling James closer to her chest as her heart continues to flutter for the family she has.

Chapter Text

“I’d offer to cook you dinner,” She lifts her head from her hands and sees him leaning against the shelf, his jacket flung over one arm, and his bike keys in another. He gives her a rueful smile. “But you seem pretty miserable already.”

She takes a deep breath and leans back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest. She smiles tightly at him, the best she can muster. “Here to do your laundry?” she asks.

“Came to see a friend.”

Friend . She laughs bitterly at that. After everything they have gone through, after all the hardships and battles they have won over together, in the end, she was reduced to a friend. Even after sharing vows with their friends as witnesses, and even after raising a child together, she just became a friend. And it hurts hearing it, hurts admitting it.

But then again, so was he, and she can see the same pain in his glistening eyes.

“Clearly your friend is fine.” she replies, and Steve looks down at his feet, juggling his keys between both of his hands.

“You know I saw a pod of whales when I was coming up the bridge.”

“In the Hudson?” Natasha asks, nodding, as she leans back in her chair and rests her head, looking up at the ceiling.

“There’s fewer ships, cleaner water…”

“You know, if you’re about to tell me to look on the bright side…” she trails off, now finding herself unable to get rid of the tears gathering in her eyes, because who was she kidding? There is no bright side. She looks back at him and forms a tight smile. "I'm about to hit you in the head with a peanut butter sandwich."

Steve doesn’t laugh at that, but he does shake his head, and a ghost of a smile forms on his lips. “Sorry,” he adds softly, walking over to the chair across his wife... ex-wife ? No, he thinks. That’s pathetic . “Force of habit.”

He lays his jacket on the table and sits down in front of her with a sigh. Natasha pushes the plate of half-eaten peanut butter sandwich over to him, and leans back down in her chair.

And it’s different, seeing him now after a couple of days. She rarely sees him like this, in front of her, willing to speak to her, actually speaking to her. She barely recognizes him anymore, this hollow shell of a man who keeps on looking older every time she sees him. She barely sees the man she fell in love with all those years ago anymore, much less the man she had married six years prior, and had a son with as well. He must have been taken away during the Snap too.

If you’re about to tell me to look on the bright side , she had said. There isn’t any , she wanted to say, and he knows that. He knows that too, because as he looks up at her, he barely recognizes her too, this hollow shell of a woman who was once fierce and strong, but now spends most of her free time just crying and working until she passes out. But since nightmares pass just as normally as how the sun rises and sets, she barely gets any decent sleep, making her look older and appear more hollow on the outside as well. He barely sees the woman she fell in love with all those years ago anymore, much less the woman he had married six years prior, and had a son with as well. She must have been taken away during the Snap too. Both of them.

Maybe it’s why they couldn’t work anymore.

“James with Tony?” he asks, and she nods, swallowing and unable to speak. He’s more capable , she wants to say. He’s more whole, and he could take care of him better than I can , she wants to add. Better than both of us. He sighs, as if he understands, and nods. “It’s better this way.”

Natasha raises a hand and rests the tip of her fingers to her lips. “What is?” she asks quietly, her voice breaking at the end as more tears gather in her eyes, because she needs to know: What is better this way? Their broken marriage? This separation that disabled them to take care of their son properly by themselves because of how badly Thanos had broken them too? This separation that led to their inability to look each other in the eye without crying or breaking down?

This broken relationship that inevitably led to their inability to hold on to each other?

He doesn’t answer, and he isn’t quite looking at her either. She follows where he is looking, and sees that the light must have been caught in the ring that she’s still wearing on her left ring finger. She doesn’t remove it, even if they had agreed to be separated, and are in the process of filing a divorce.

A divorce, God, even that leaves a bitter taste in her mouth, as her eyes flicker to one of the drawers in her desk.

But it needs to be done , she thinks, and he follows the same thought process as she. It needs to be done, or they will just end up as complete shells of the people they used to be, just further hurting the other with their absence and inability to ground themselves back, ground the other back. They put in so much effort to put up a show, a face for James to recognize, and that in itself is draining enough to show another face to each other.

They’re just too tired, and they just couldn’t do this anymore.

She puts her hand down and rests it on her arm, and he looks back at her. “You know, I keep telling everybody they should move on, grow. Some do,” he pauses and sighs. “But not us.” Not us .

Natasha shakes her head, tears threatening to spill from her eyes. “If I move on, who does this?” This , finding a way to reverse the Snap. This , keeping the remaining members of the Avengers together. This , keeping an eye on Clint who had gone as a rogue killer in revenge for his family. 

This , holding on to brink of hope with her pinky, with every nerve in her body telling her to give up because she’s just tired.

“Maybe it doesn’t need to be done.” he finally says, and she stares at his eyes. His eyes had always been so blue, so beautiful, the color of the ocean which she loved the most. She still sees the beauty of it when she looks at his eyes, even amidst the hollowness she sees behind it. She still sees pieces of him that is in there, and she wants to reach through it, reach through him . God , she wants her husband back. She wants him back, and she sees him, but she’s too far out and she’s too tired to reach and grasp and pull him out. She doesn’t know how long she can last if she does it, and even when she does, she’s sure that it would be her turn to fall into a pit if she wasn’t even already there. If she falls, she won’t know if he’d be as willing as her to pull her out.

And so in the end, it won’t work. It won’t work even if a small portion of her still wants it to.

That’s the thing that scares her, too: the small portion who's willing to work it out even if she thinks it’s helpless, even if she thinks he’s not willing to fight for her in the same way anymore. The small portion grows bigger every time she sees the beautiful blueness of his eyes that are also mirrored by their son, and she’s scared of it because she couldn’t escape it. She’s scared that this want will soon turn into an aching need that will continue to consume her if she doesn’t do anything about it.

“Do you really believe that?” she asks softly, and it’s enough for a tear to escape her eyes. She doesn’t bother wiping it, and she sees him close his eyes, as tears finally fall down his cheeks. She takes a shaky breath, her fingernails digging in her flesh.

“I don’t want to,” he responds softly, and his lower lip quivers, as he takes a sharp shaky breath. “But I don’t know how to anymore. I don’t know how to not believe in it anymore.”

So that’s it , she thinks. It doesn’t need to be done, he said . So Natasha nods, and she feels the corners of her mouth turning downward, more tears flowing down her cheeks. She removes her feet off the table and leans down to open one of the drawers. With a shaky breath, she pulls out a folder and rests it on the desk, and she sees Steve’s expression contort into an expression of further pain, his eyes allowing a few more tears to fall silently, and his mouth frowning.

“Your lawyer came by. They’ve processed it, even said it was one of the easiest divorces he’d seen,” she says quietly, and she clears her throat. “Since there aren’t any court hearings because of the pre-arrangements thanks to Tony, this should be smoother than other divorces, he said. Polly called, and she said the same.” She chuckles quietly. “Good to know we made things easier for the divorce lawyers, hm? You picked good ones too.”

He was the one who suggested it, a few weeks back, when they’ve finally come to the conclusion of ending it. He’d been the one to first come up to a lawyer named Lucas, who was part of his group therapy sessions, and asked his help for the process. Lucas referred Polly, his colleague, to Natasha, and they’d been communicating too. But they didn’t need to communicate much, neither did Steve and Lucas. They just needed the legal help for the divorce to come through, after all, it’s not a complicated process. No court hearings, just signing of documents to completely dissolve their marriage.

Lucas came in earlier in the day when Steve was out, asking her to review the terms, and if they were up for it, sign it too. It’s that simple , Lucas had told her with a shrug. What he doesn’t know is that it’s not as simple as either lawyers make it seem.

It’s hard. It’s difficult, as if the many years they have spent as best friends, partners and lovers had meant nothing. So of course, it breaks her heart. Of course, it’s not that simple.

She looks at him now as he stares at the folder, that hollowness inside Steve slowly being filled up by a sad man, just a sad and pained man who clearly didn’t want this, clearly still loved his family, but just simply can’t do it anymore. After five years of trying to work through this grief that drew a chasm in their relationship and drifted them apart, she knows he’s sure it’s impossible to take this any further, to try anymore at all.

It’s done .

“Do you want this?” he asks her softly, and she then chokes out a sob, pressing a hand on her mouth as if to prevent any more sobs from escaping. She closes her eyes momentarily and takes a deep breath. “Do you really want this?”

She takes another shaky breath. “You know I don’t,” she replies quietly, honestly, and all she feels is pain . Sheer, blinding pain that makes her feel after feeling nothing for so long because as he asks her if she wants it, she finally, finally sees him breaking out of hollowness, but maybe it’s too late. Too late . “But I don’t know what to do anymore.”

And it probably did the same for him, because as she looks back at him, she doesn’t see a shell of a man anymore. She sees him, him , not just pieces of him anymore, but him , her husband, the father of her son, who is looking right at her as if finally, after five years, he sees her too. After years of looking past her, he finally looks at her, and for once, really sees her, as she sees him , after spending years looking past him.

And he is in pain, deep pain that had struck him just now after feeling nothing. Now, as she looks into his eyes, she sees the eyes of the man she had left for Tony’s side almost eight years ago, sees the man who lost his best friend when he decided to go back to cryo, sees the man who thought lost his son as well in the Snap.

She sees the man who briefly looked at her those nights ago when she told him she couldn’t do it anymore.

She thought that was the last she’d seen of him, even if the last time was simply a glimpse, but he’s here now. He’s here now, and it hurts , because the process only grew harder.

“Not this,” he says softly, pushing the folder away. “Not this, definitely not this.”

“Steve—”

“We’re not doing this.”

“Steve, please— ” She closes her eyes as more tears flow down her face. I’m tired , she wants to say. It hurts, she thinks.

“Do you remember what I told you? During our wedding, what I promised you?” he asks, and she opens her eyes and blinks, because of course she remembers, she remembers everything. She remembers, yet she never stopped to think of it.

What was it that he said, the most memorable line that had been etched in her heart since?

When I admitted to falling in love with you, I started counting time based on you , he had said.

“And every time I would try to start counting time again, whether backwards or upwards, I would fail, because counting just makes things end, and I never... never wanted us to end,” he recites, and tears fall from his eyes as he does. She lets out a soft sob, as if she were hearing it for the first time again. “I promise to love you, with every fiber of my being, and to let you know that through every way I can everyday.”

To which her response to that was a line that had been etched in his own heart as well.

I learned about love, real, intense, overwhelming and overflowing love from Steve Rogers, who has held my heart ever since and still continues to hold it until now , she said.

“And when you finally told me that you loved me all those nights ago, I knew right away that maybe... maybe I was made to love you, and perhaps I was worthy of receiving love,” she recites softly, and a few tears fall from her eyes as well. “I promise to do whatever it takes to let you know how much I love you, and to tell you that every day, and show you in every way I can.”

She lets out a small sob as the tears on Steve’s eyes become warmer, flowing more and more as each second passes. “Whatever it takes.” she repeats.

And Steve nods. “Whatever it takes.” he whispers.

She doesn’t really know who got up first, or who made the first move, but the next thing she knows, she’s crashing in his arms as she sobs against his chest, and he’s wrapping his arms tightly around her, as if trying his best, with the littlest energy and hope he has left in him, to keep her together, prevent her from falling further apart. She feels safe in his arms, never foreign but rather natural, even when it had been a long time since the last time she was in his arms. She sags, until she felt like her legs are slowly giving up on her. She feels him sitting down on the chair she had been occupying, pulling her to his lap, as she buries her face in his chest, grabbing his shirt and just sobbing.

And he does the same. He sobs as he presses soft kisses on her head, on every inch he can find on her head, on her hair, and on the small amount of surface of her forehead that’s exposed.

“I love you,” he sobs against her hair, still kissing her head albeit sloppily. “I love you. I love you, Nat. I love you.” He hears her sob harder, and he continues to murmur the same things over and over, as if like a prayer, a hushed prayer that he tries to deliver despite tears of his own. He cradles her as he cries against her vanilla-scented hair, and God did he miss the scent, did he miss her in his arms. And boy, did it feel so right to hold her once again. He pulls her closer, closer to his body, but even when there’s no more space between them, he still feels that she’s too far. He allows her to bury her face on his chest, as she used to do every night when she has nightmares or when she was upset. He presses his lips on her hair as he sobs.

“Don’t go,” he hears her sob. “Don’t go, Steve, don’t go. I…” She sobs harder against his chest, crumpling his shirt in her fists. “I love you. I love you, Steve, please don’t go.”

“I won’t,” he whispers, pressing a kiss on the side of her head. “I won’t, okay? I won’t. I’m here. I’m here, and I love you. I love you, okay?”

“Don’t give up,” she whispers, sniffling and failing to stifle yet another sob. “Don’t give up on me, please? Don’t give up on us.”

He presses another kiss on her hair, as more tears flow from his eyes, and he feels his chest ache and constrict, because how could he give up on her? How could he ever think of giving up on them ? “I won’t,” he tells her firmly, yet somehow still softly. “I won’t , okay? Never. You hear me, Nat? Never giving up.”

And he holds her, her , the woman he finally recognizes as his wife, the woman whom he fell in love with all those years ago and never stopped, the woman who is the mother of his son. She is crumbling now, upset, heartbroken, hurt and crying in his arms, but she is still the same strong woman he met more than a decade ago. He sees her again, and he just knows she sees him too.

How could they not have seen each other in the last five years?

And they spent the rest of the night like that, holding each other in their arms, pressing soft and lazy kisses on anywhere and everywhere they can find on the other’s bodies. Neither of them let go, as both of them promise to hold on. Hold on to their love, to hope, to each other.

Whatever it takes.

Chapter Text

She was on her own when she found out.

Steve had gone to Belvianes-et-Cavirac, a small community in Southern France, where Wanda and Vision were staying, and Sam had met up with him along the way. She was supposed to come, but she wasn’t feeling well, hadn’t been feeling well for the last week. They are staying in a small apartment in Ordino in Andorra because they figured it would be one of the safest countries they can lay low until they can figure out a plan. Andorra is nice, and the people are friendly, but not too friendly that they are still able to isolate themselves in their own world without anybody having to notice anything suspicious about them. Besides, Andorra didn’t participate in the Accords, so they’re on neutral territory.

So when she told Steve she wouldn’t join them, she hadn’t been worried at the very least. Andorra is near France, and if things go according to plan, Steve could easily come back home to her.

But of course, it hadn’t been easy convincing Steve that she was fine. She’d been throwing up in the last couple of days, and have been increasingly picky with the food she eats because any smell of the wrong kind of food can make her throw up. She’d also been fatigued, easily tired even in their leisurely walks and morning runs, to which she attributed it to just a lack of proper training.

“I can call it off, tell Sam he can go ahead and we can follow until you get better,” Steve told her when he pulled her hair out of her face, watching helplessly as she slumped against the bathroom wall. He reached up to flush the toilet and gave her tissues so she can wipe her mouth and the tears in her eyes. “It’s food poisoning, I know it.”

“No, Steve, they need you,” she said, even though every fiber of her being wanted to beg for her boyfriend to stay with her, protect her and take care of her. “Wanda and Vision, they need you for their next move. And neither you and Sam can go alone, you have to be together.”

“But you’re gonna be alone,” he pointed out, and he sounded genuinely upset at the thought. “Nat, it’s okay. I can tell Wanda and Vision maybe we can delay it.”

“Steve, there’s no time, and you know it.”

Which was true. Sharon had given word to both Steve and Natasha through the burner phone Steve gave her that Ross detected their movements in Europe, but he had yet to confirm where , and that he also put Vision on his hit list since he became affiliated with Wanda. Tony was out of the investigations, that much Sharon told them, saying he knew about the Raft breakout but kept quiet about it. That was two days prior to their supposed departure for France, but they needed a plan, and once they did, they had to run immediately.

But yeah, Natasha hadn’t been feeling all too well since Sharon gave them the intel.

“I can take care of myself.” she said firmly, cupping Steve’s cheek with her hand.

“But you don’t have to.”

Steve ,” And her look should’ve been enough to make him back down, but this was Steve Rogers she was dealing with, a man who’s as stubborn, if not more, and hard-headed as her. So she sighed. “If something really bad happens, I’ll call. I promise that much.”

And it was enough to make him go. So after a lengthy goodbye, with Steve telling her over and over again to call him if anything remotely inconvenient happens to her, he went, and she was alone.

And she made her way to a small nearby hospital two days after, because she knew, contrary to what Steve thought, this wasn’t food poisoning. She knew better, and even as she knew it, she was still firm in what she believed was impossible because she knew what the Red Room had done to her body. She knew how they manipulated and played with her body so they can ensure she’ll be the perfect, ruthless killer she ended up being. Which is why she had accepted it in her that even though she had defected, and started to build a life for herself, despite the changes she’ll force in her life, she can never, ever be a mother.

And as she became romantically involved with Steve, as they started building a life together, that hurt her most of all.

But she had been unable to keep it out of her mind that same week Steve thought she was suffering from food poisoning. Her breasts became more tender and started hurting a little, especially when they made love and Steve would put his hands on her. She thought she might have added a little weight since she couldn’t close the buttons of her skintight jeans anymore, so she resorted to wearing her yoga pants instead. She knew the symptoms, and she knew it well enough that she was aware she was having the symptoms of an expecting mother. She didn’t need a pregnancy test, didn’t want a pregnancy test because it was either she was or wasn’t, and she needed to be sure if she was either.

She was greeted by a small raven-haired nurse, and spoke to her in Catalan, a language in which she had learned as a spy, and explained to her that she wanted an ultrasound, because she had suspicions that she was pregnant. She was introduced to a doctor, a much older woman, friendly, who asked for her details.

Ainoa Oriol, she said, presenting her fake ID. The doctor—Costa, Doctor Costa—smiled at her, observing her blonde hair, and explained how apt it was that her last name was meant for people who had blonde hair like her. Ainoa is thirty-two years old, single and living alone. She was sterilized, but it’s possible it failed, she said, thus she has irregular period. She just moved in to Ordino from Encamp a week ago for a fresh start. A busive boyfriend , she said, finding an excuse immediately to possibly beg the doctor to delete the existing files afterwards. He might find me, she said, to which the doctor believed and agreed with a sympathetic and pitied smile, not even suspecting that everything that her patient had said were all lies.

Everything about her was a lie, but there’s one thing that’s probably not, but then again, she’s yet to find out.

And they proceeded with the ultrasound, Natasha lying down tentatively on the bed and lifting her shirt. She closed her eyes as she cool gel came in contact with her skin, and Costa started the ultrasound.

“There it is,” Costa said, speaking in Catalan, and Natasha opened her eyes. “You are about five weeks along, from what I can tell.”

“Five weeks?” she repeated, and Costa nodded. Five weeks , she’d been pregnant for five weeks.

“Do you want to hear the heartbeat?” She did, and the sound filled the small room, filling her eyes with tears, and it was beautiful. There’s a child growing inside of her. She was pregnant, actually pregnant.

Pregnant with Steve’s child.

She’s going to be a mother.

She asked for two copies of the ultrasound, and immediately asked Costa to delete the files before she paid and ducked out of the hospital.

So here she is, alone, reeling with nervousness and excitement because of what she just found out. She is holding her phone in one hand, and a photo of her ultrasound—a first photo of her baby—in the other. She contemplates calling Steve, telling him to come home, but she thought of Wanda and Vision, and their need to provide a solid plan so they can get away safely. Their safety is important, more urgent, this can wait. This can.

Can it?

Her eyes start filling with tears. She needs Steve. She needs him to tell her it’s going to be okay, that despite their living conditions and their current situation, they can do this, they can protect their child, they will be a normal family. She needs him to tell her that he loves her all the same, even if she put them in a difficult situation by being pregnant with a child. Their situation is no situation for a child, and this baby—Captain America’s, Steve Rogers’ baby—deserves better than being on a constant run.

She puts her phone down and lays a hand on her belly. It’s still flat, but she knows life is growing inside of it, inside of her . When she thought the sole purpose of her body was to take away life, she turned herself around and instead, her body is now creating life, nurturing life, loving life.

She chuckles at the irony and the failure of the KGB. She was the best of her class, their Black Widow. They tried making her the perfect assassin, but they failed in every aspect of it.

The Red Room's failure, as she likes to put it. When the Red Room thought they made a perfect killer out of her, they failed, and she grinned at the thought.

A tear slips as she looks down at the photo of her ultrasound. “Мой ребенок.” My baby, she whispers. She smiles and smooths her belly. Somehow, despite the situation they are in, there is light and there is hope. This baby, this miracle that she and Steve had created, is their light, their sign that they should continue to hold on to hope.

“I love you, мое маленькое чудо,” I love you, my little miracle , she says. “Mommy and Daddy both do.”

She goes on to cook herself dinner while she hums, and while she murmurs to herself, but mostly it’s for the baby. So she talks to the baby, because that’s what mothers do, right? Laura certainly did, she remembered, while pregnant with Cooper, and with Lila, and with Nathaniel, she talked to them and sang to them too, and that’s what she did all evening.

Later that night, after taking a shower, she lays back down on the bed and grabs her cell phone, dialing Steve’s burner phone where Sharon told her has a secure line, allowing her to call freely. She prays that this isn’t a bad time, that wherever they are, they are okay, and they are fine. She hears the phone ring once...twice…

“Hello?”

Hearing his voice only made her smile more. “Steve,” she breathes. “It’s...it’s Nat.”

“Yeah, hey, sweetheart,” he says softly, and she’s sure she can hear the smile lacing through his voice. “How are you? Everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, everything’s...everything’s okay,” she says softly. “What about you? How’s the situation there?”

“We found a place in Edinburgh, might be safe for Wanda and Vis to move in,” he replies. “They’ll be moving tomorrow. I’m...I’m supposed to come with them, me and Sam. Is that...is it okay? I mean, it’s just for more security purposes, but it’s secondary really, I can...I can go back.”

For once, Natasha wants to be selfish. She needs him, she needs Steve. If Steve’s presence is second priority for them, then they’d be fine. She’s not being selfish, right? “I...I need you to come back.” she says.

“Is everything okay?” She hears the urgency in his voice, and she can imagine him sitting up, frowning, furrowing his eyebrows. “I can go now. I can go now, Nat, but...what’s wrong? Are you still sick?”

“No, no,” she chuckles lightly. “No, come home tomorrow when they start moving, make sure they’re okay now.” She smiles a little. “Nothing’s wrong, sweetheart. I just...I just need you to come home, okay? Will you trust me on that?”

“Nat…” he trails off, and she can hear the hesitation in his voice. “I can go now.”

“It’s late now, and you’re going to catch me asleep. I need my rest too,” she says lightly. “And so do you.”

“I can’t rest now you’re telling me to come home,” She hears some shuffling in the other line. “It’s a two and a half hour drive, sweetheart. I just...let me come tonight, okay?”

It’s probably her fault for making him feel on edge, but she couldn’t deny that she wants to see him, to tell him now. She needs to let it out, to share this joy that she’s harboring inside, that’s growing inside of her. “Okay,” she relents softly. “Tell Wanda, Vis and Sam I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Steve tells her. “I’ll be there in a few hours, okay? Wait for me.”

She always will. “Okay,” she replies. “I love you, Steve.”

“I love you too, Nat. I’ll see you, alright?”

And so she sighs, putting her phone back on the nightstand and smoothing her belly again. “Guess we’ll tell your father about you tonight since he can’t wait,” she says softly, smiling. “If you come out as impatient as your father, then God help me, you better not, little one.”

She stands and moves herself to the living room, grabbing a book and opening the television for the background noise. She turns the pages, but she doesn’t read, instead letting her mind wander on the little child growing inside of her. Will it be a boy, or a girl? Either is fine, and she’ll love them either way. Will it grow up to look like Steve, with blonde hair and blue eyes, or just like her, with red fiery hair and green eyes? Or perhaps a combination of both of them, and she smiles because she can imagine a little boy with red hair and blue eyes running around their small apartment, or perhaps a little girl with blonde hair and green eyes dancing around on the floor with her parents.

She hopes that they’ll grow up good and strong. She prays that she and Steve will do a great job in raising them, helping them learn to be good and have a heart for the world. Despite everything, despite this situation they are in, they will make it right.

Make it right for them.

She doesn’t even notice the hours pass by, but then she hears the knob of the door turning, and when she looks up, she sees Steve, his duffle bag hung on his shoulder and he looks relieved to see her at home.

“You made it.” Natasha whispers, and Steve smiles, closing the door behind him. He drops the bag, going over to the couch and kneeling down in front of her, taking her face in his hands and kissing her.

“Of course I did,” he replies softly, kissing her again. “When my best girl asks me to come home, I’ll do it in a heartbeat.”

“If you count three hours as a heartbeat then sure.” she teases and Steve chuckles, kissing her again.

This is it, she thinks, I can tell him right now.

“Are you okay?” Steve asks, inspecting her face as he cups her cheeks, brushing the apple of her cheeks with his thumbs gently. “Do you still feel sick?”

“I still do,” she says, and then she smiles. “But I know why now.”

Steve has a confused expression on his face, until Natasha takes out the photo that she tucked at the back of the book, giving it to Steve. “I went to the hospital earlier, because...because I had my suspicions, and I didn’t think it was possible,” she says, and she smiles when Steve furrows his eyebrows at the photo. Natasha chuckles. “This circle thing right here...” She smiles. "The small bean."

“The small bean?” Steve asks, confused, and Natasha laughs softly.

“The small bean,” she repeats. “Is our baby.” Steve looks up at her, his eyes wide, and his lips slightly apart. “I’m pregnant, Steve. We’re gonna have a baby.”

Steve’s mouth slowly turns upward, and in the low light of their small living room, Natasha can see the tears glistening in his eyes. “A baby,” he whispers, and his smile is growing wider. “A baby. We’re…” He looks back at the photo again, and a tear escapes from his eyes. He laughs softly and looks back up at Natasha. “We’re gonna have a baby.”

“We are.” she says, nodding, her smile widening. Steve laughs softly again.

“We’re gonna be parents,” he whispers, and Natasha nods again. “We’re gonna be parents, Nat. You and me, we’re going to be parents. Oh God...I didn't think it was possible. You said...the Red Room, they..."

Natasha shakes her head, and she is unable to wipe the smile off her face. She lifts a hand to caress his cheek gently. "Neither did I," she admits softly. "But we’re gonna have a baby, and it's real, Steve. The Red Room failed." It feels good saying it, feels good repeating it. The monsters that haunted her childhood, and haunted her in her nightmares even as she grew older, they failed.

Steve leans up and captures her lips once again, and she kisses him back with the same passion. Steve moves to sit on the couch beside Natasha and he pulls her closer. She giggles against his mouth as she drapes her legs over his, and his arm wraps around her waist, and his hand resting on her belly.

Their baby, an evidence of the Red Room's failure.

“Thank you,” Steve whispers, kissing her again softly once, then twice. He smiles against her mouth. “Thank you. Oh God, Nat, we’re going to be parents and... wow , this is just wonderful.”

Natasha nods and giggles softly, running her hand through his hair and pulling him in closer to kiss him again. “The most wonderful thing ever,” she says softly. A second chance, a life growing out of her. Both of which are given to her by the man she loves, truly loves. “I love you, Steve.”

“I love you,” he replies, smiling. He opens his eyes at her and she smiles when she sees his blue eyes, those beautiful blue eyes still glistening and sparkling with happy tears. “I love you so much, both of you. I love you both.”

Chapter Text

She smiles at the baby sleeping in her arms, allowing her fingers to run through the thick patch of soft red hair on his head. She leans down and inhales his scent. He smells of milk, but she supposed that it’s only natural he does since she just fed him an hour ago. She presses a soft and light kiss on his forehead, then on his small and closed fists under his chin. His eyes are shut, and his small lips puckered, and she wonders what he’s dreaming about, or if he is at all.

It amazes her, just looking at him.

“Hey,” She looks up from her bed and smiles. “Got held up a bit. I ran into Queen Ramonda, told me to tell you congratulations, and that she’d visit tomorrow.”

“Sounds good.” Natasha replies softly. Steve smiles and walks over to the bed, where she inches sideways to make room for him. He slides down on the bed beside her and wraps an arm around her waist, pulling her closer to place a kiss on the side of her head. She hums lightly.

“He’s so tiny,” she says softly, and he smiles. “And so fragile. Never thought this is the baby that used to kick hard inside me just a couple of nights ago.”

He chuckles softly as he places a hand to rest on his head— his son’s head. He smiles widely at the thought. He has a son now, they both do. They created a life amidst the chaos of the Accords, and their team breaking up, and them being global fugitives. They created a beautiful baby boy, and he is here in his wife’s—his beautiful wife’s—arms.

“Bet he’d grow up to be big and strong.” he replies quietly, and she looks up at him and smiles. Her smile is tired, after going into labor merely two hours ago and giving birth to their son, but her smile is genuine and so beautiful. He runs a hand through her hair and wipes away the sweat that had gathered on the edge of her hairline.

“Like his Daddy,” she says softly, and she looks back down at their sleeping son. “But I don’t want him to grow up yet. Not yet.” She presses a soft kiss again on his forehead. “If he could be a baby forever, I won’t complain.”

Steve chuckles. “Getting our son to be a Mama’s boy already, hm?” he teases softly and she laughs softly. “I was a Mama’s boy myself. I think it’s a Rogers men kind of thing.” He grins and she smiles up at him, but it quickly fades.

“You think he’ll like me?” she asks softly, and in a small voice, as if she’s afraid to ask. Steve furrows his eyebrows and pulls her closer to him.

“Of course he will,” he replies. “He’s our baby. Why wouldn’t he?”

Natasha shrugs, and tears start pooling in her eyes. He raises his hands to wipe the spots under her eyes gently with his thumbs and she smiles up at him. “I don’t know,” she replies softly. “I’ve never had a Mom, never remembered having one.” She sighs. “And I don’t know how to be one. I’ve watched Laura with the kids, and she’s a good mother but…” she trails off and shakes her head. “She must have learned it from her mother, and...I didn’t have that.”

Steve shakes his head and strokes her cheek gently with the back of his hand. “I don’t think not having one means you’ll be bad,” he says softly. “And I don’t see how you can be bad, Nat. You’re a natural. Even with dealing with Barton’s kids. They love you.”

“I’m their Auntie Nat,” she replies. “It’s different.”

“Not necessarily,” he offers, smiling a little. “You know, I grew up with a good mother. My Ma...she was amazing, and I think I turned out well enough to say that she really did a great job even if she was a single mother.” He smiles, and Natasha nods, smiling as well. “And everyday I see her in you, Nat. Not exactly in how she treated me, I can’t say that yet since we only had our son, what, a few hours ago.” Natasha chuckles softly. “But in the way you treat others. The way you show your love to Wanda, and Bucky and Sam when we were on the run. The way you hold Wanda through her nightmares and stay with her until she feels better. The way you care so much for Bucky whenever he gets his episodes, and with Sam especially when he goes out on solo missions of his own.” Steve smiles and kisses the side of her head. “And the way you loved me and cared for me. You love in such a way that it’s all you , yet somehow you still remind me of my mother. And I think that’s saying something.”

“What, that you see me as your mother? Did I get the wrong signals all this time, Rogers?”

Steve laughs softly and shakes his head, and Natasha smirks. “You know what I mean,” he says softly, and Natasha smiles softly. “Our son’s going to be a lucky boy with a mother like you.”

“Could never do it without you, though,” she says softly. “You’d be a good father, Steve, and if there’s one thing I’m really really sure of, it’s that.”

Steve smiles. “You think?”

She nods, and grins. “I think he’ll like you better than me, but it’s fine,” she says, resting her head on his shoulder as she looks down at their son in her arms. “I won’t take it against him. If I were him, I’d like you better than me.”

“Nat…”

“It’s not meant to be a deprecating comment, Steve, I mean it,” she says softly, chuckling as she looks up at him. “Remember what I said in our wedding? I learned love through you , felt real love because of you . I want our son to experience that from you too.”

He feels tears welling up in his eyes as he leans down to press a kiss on her lips. He presses another kiss on her forehead and she hums, smiling as she closes her eyes at the feel of his lips on her forehead.

The baby stirs awake in her arms, and she straightens herself up as she looks down at their baby. He opens his eyes, his beautiful blue eyes that mirror his father’s, and blinks several times as he looks at Natasha’s face. She grins, leaning down to press a light kiss on the tip of his nose, and the newborn just flails his arms to touch his mother’s face.

“Hey, little guy,” she greets softly. “Sleep well? Did Mommy and Daddy wake you up?”

Steve holds one of the newborn’s fists, and as if it’s automatic that he wraps his small hand around his thumb, bringing it to his mouth with all his strength. Steve chuckles.

“Hungry again, buddy?” he asks, and the newborn raises his eyes slowly to look at Steve and the new father grins and cooed. “Hey, what are you looking at?”

The newborn gurgles and smiles and the parents chuckle. The newborn looks around the room, and even as he can’t turn his head yet nor move his neck, his eyes roam, as if inspecting his surroundings, or whatever it is he can see with his eyes. He doesn’t let go of Steve’s finger, and he puts it again in his mouth.

“Curious about your surroundings, little one?” Natasha asks softly, and she watches until the baby’s eyes land on the big window of the hospital room that oversees the garden. “You wanna see outside the window?”

The baby gurgles softly, as if responding to his mother’s question. “I’ll go show him,” Steve offers softly. “Just by the window, where he can see outside.” Natasha nods, leaning down to press a kiss on his forehead once more before transferring him to Steve’s arms. The baby squirms a little as Steve shifts him until he calms and makes himself comfortable in his father’s arms. He stands and walks toward the window, where he shifts so he’s showing James outside the window.

Outside, it is beautiful. It’s nearly dusk, and the sun is about to set in an hour or so, which only gives the sky a more orange hue. Natasha watches as Steve bounces the newborn in his arms, and she smiles when he leans down and murmurs something to him, something light perhaps, something in which his voice comes out as airy and light. She leans back in her bed and just watches them—her boys, her son and her husband as they watch the sun set.

He’s probably telling him about the different shades of orange as seen in the sky, or the trees that surround the area and the birds that fly. He’s that type of father, she thinks, who’s always so excited to show his son the world outside. She wouldn’t want to. If she can, she would protect her boy, always cuddle him in his arms and never let him leave her side. Steve would be the opposite, perhaps. He’d be the type who will let their son be exposed to different kinds of things the world can offer—nature, for one. She trusts him to never let their son get hurt, but won’t coddle him too much that he won’t be exposed to the outside world.

Maybe it’s just mother’s instincts, but she just can’t imagine letting her baby out of the four walls of their room. But she knows she can’t do that.

And it’s true enough that Steve is indeed showing their son the outside world. “When you’re a little bigger, and the doctors say Mommy can go, we’ll take you outside,” he murmurs lovingly to the baby in his arms, whose blue eyes are wide as they look at the sky. “And then you can feel the sun, hear the birds sing, and maybe when you’re old enough you can run around on the grass.” He smiles when the newborn starts flailing his arms. “But like Mommy said, don’t grow up too fast just yet. We just had you. Allow your folks to just treat you like a baby, hm?”

And when he looks back at his wife, he sees Natasha watching them, a small and fond smile on her face, which widens when she catches his eye. He pauses, and smiles wider, marveling for a moment at how beautiful she is. Even as she’s tired, and her eyes are droopy and she’s about to fall asleep any second now, she’s still beautiful, and she gets more beautiful as time passes. He also wonders why she wouldn’t just allow herself to sleep. She’s not holding their baby, she can freely—

Oh, he muses. That's the thing with Natasha. She won't rest, not until she has her baby back in her arms. Steve grins, and just wonders for a second how long her clinginess with their son will last. This is only the beginning, and he’s sure enough this feeling won’t pass.

He prays it never will, not for both of them.

“You should take a rest, sweetheart,” he says softly. “Get some sleep. It’s been a long day.”

She hums and just smiles widely and a bit sleepily when he sits on the edge of the bed, adjusting their newborn son in his arms. “Not when the little one is still awake,” she says, smiling. “Don’t want to miss a second with him.”

Steve chuckles. “You know, we should start calling him by his name.” he says, and Natasha laughs softly.

“I still prefer calling him my ‘little one’, because he is,” she says. “But I suppose I can change it to ‘little James’.” She grins, as if testing the name out in her mouth, and liking it. Steve laughs, and looks down at their son.

“James Iosef Rogers,” he says, smiling. James , for Bucky, Steve’s best friend and a piece of Natasha’s past which both of them redeemed from. Iosef , a Russian version of Steve’s father’s name, both giving tribute to Natasha’s Russian blood and Steve’s late father. “It suits him. It’s as beautiful as him.”

Steve transfers little James back to his mother’s arms, and as if in an instant, the newborn lets out a small yawn and settles in a comfortable sleep in her arms. Steve presses a soft kiss on Natasha’s lips and she gives him a sleepy and beautiful smile.

“I love you.” she whispers, her eyelids dropping heavily. Steve smiles, leaning to press a kiss on her forehead, and down on their son’s forehead as well.

“I love you too,” he whispers back. “Both of you.”

Chapter Text

According to the clock beside their bed, it’s half past two in the morning. Natasha groans inwardly, burrowing her face deeper into Steve’s chest, clutching his shirt with her fist, and she feels his arm around her waist stiffen and tighten, as if securing her in his arms. She presses a soft kiss on his jaw, and runs a hand through his blonde hair and his hold on her loosens. She smiles, stroking his hair through her fingers, effectively relaxing his furrowed eyebrows and the frown on his mouth.

She feels her stomach grumble again, and she frowns.

She knows it’s half past two in the morning, but her stomach apparently doesn’t.

The two of them had just come home from a mission, along with them Clint and Wanda. The mission had ended in the early evening, so Clint and Wanda were able to retire early, possibly even join the team at dinner, but Steve and Natasha had to go straight to Maria for debriefing and reporting. The debriefing was long and grueling, with so many questions coming from Maria that neither Steve nor Natasha had the answer to, as the mission was simply preliminary to yet another bigger mission.

They were effectively released when Natasha began to get grumpy, and refused to talk any further, her arms crossed and her lips pouting, and her eyes are already drooping. It was already half past twelve, and Steve had practically dragged her back to their bedroom when she claimed she was too tired to walk. Halfway through their walk from the debriefing room to the communal room leading to their floor, Steve had already carried her, and she was less grumpy.

They passed out almost immediately after washing themselves, both too tired to even think about doing anything tonight other than sleep. They got to sleep at around one in the morning, neither of them having eaten anything since the morning they left.

And now Natasha’s stomach has a way of making its statement.

“Molchi ,” Natasha mutters in Russian under her breath, closing her eyes as she buries her face in the crook of Steve’s neck. “No.”

“Hm?” Steve asks sleepily, and when Natasha looks up at him, his eyes slowly open to look down at her, his arm around her waist tightening as he presses a sleepy kiss on the top of her head. “D’you say something?”

“Not to you,” she tells him softly, leaning to press a kiss on his jaw again. “Go back to sleep.”

“You said shut up,” Steve replies sleepily, his eyes closing again, but he opens them again, and he smiles sleepily. “Molchi, shut up. Was I snoring too loud?”

“Not you, Steve,” Natasha tells him, raising a hand to run her fingers through his hair, and he hums appreciatively, his voice raspy. “Now go to sleep.”

But then her stomach rumbles loudly, and Steve’s sleepy smile turns into a wide grin, and he chuckles softly, the vibrations of his laughter sending up in her body. Natasha pouts when Steve looks down at her. “Now you know it’s not you.” she tells him, and Steve only laughs.

“Mhm,” he says softly. “I can fix you some food.”

“No,” she tells him gently. “It’s okay. It can wait until morning.”

Steve looks at the clock. “It’s half past two in the morning.” he tells her.

“Steve.”

“Nat.”

Natasha huffs, and Steve grins, and her frown immediately turns upward it’s ridiculous. He leans down to kiss her on her forehead. “Let me cook you something.” he tells her, but she shakes her head.

“I’ll just grab a quick bite in the communal room,” she says. “They should have leftovers. Wanda left a note.”

“Mhm,” Steve says, and his eyes begin to droop again. “I’d join you, but…”

“I know, babe,” she says, smiling, as she leans up to press a chaste kiss on his lips. Steve had carried all the fights in their mission, and she knows how much Steve still needs his rest despite being a super soldier. “Get some sleep, alright? I’ll be back in a jiffy.” Steve hums against her mouth and then smiles.

“Did you just say jiffy?”

“Go back to sleep, Steve.”

Steve laughs again and releases her from his arms. She crawls above him, then out of the bed, before leaning down to press another kiss on his lips. She grabs one of Steve’s shirts and wears it on top of her camisole and she exits their bedroom and into the elevator.

She doesn’t expect company at almost a quarter to three in the morning, so she never bothered to even fix her disheveled hair. She was surprised, however, when she found the television in the living room open, and a familiar smaller figure huddled on the couch, wrapped in a blanket draped over his shoulders.

Said figure looks at the elevator when it opened. “Nat!” Peter exclaims, surprised but grinning widely, and Natasha furrows her eyebrows in surprise. 

“Hey, little guy,” Natasha greets, smirking when she sees cartoons being shown on the television. “It’s almost three in the morning. What are you doing awake?”

Peter shrugs. “Couldn’t sleep,” he replies, then he tilts his head to the side. “When did you guys get here?”

Natasha opens the refrigerator. “From debriefing? Almost one in the morning.” she replies, regarding the contents of their nearly-filled refrigerator. “Did Wanda tell you where the leftovers are?”

Peter’s face brightens as he hops off the couch and walks quickly to the kitchen, his blanket dropping on the floor. “I can heat it, I can heat it!” he exclaims as he rushes to Natasha’s side. Natasha laughs softly and steps aside as Peter retrieves a big tupperware with pizza and fried chicken inside. “How many can you eat of each? Mister Stark said to leave a lot for Cap, but since it’s just you here…”

“Just one of each would be fine,” Natasha says. “And Steve will eat his leftovers in the morning. He’s beat.”

“Must be a hard mission, huh?” Peter asks, closing the fridge with his foot as he walks over to the counter by the microwave and retrieves a plate and utensils from the cupboard. “Clint and Wanda told us about it. Cap got most of the hit?”

“Not too serious,” she replies, walking over to sit on one of the high chairs in the counter. “Just a few bruises and scratches, nothing his serum won’t heal by the time he wakes up.”

Peter sets the timer and puts a slice of cheese pizza and fried chicken inside it. He walks back to the refrigerator and puts the tupperware back inside. “What about you? Did you get hurt?” he asks softly as he leans back on the counter by the microwave. Natasha smiles and shakes her head.

“Not much,” she replies. and Peter smiles. “You worry too much, young man.” She smirks and raises an eyebrow.

Peter shrugs and smiles sheepishly. “You worry about everyone, but you don’t let anyone else get worried for you,” he says, and then he grins. “And I know Cap does, but you worry about him too. I rarely get involved in missions now because of school, so it’s my turn to worry for you.”

Natasha’s heart flutters in her chest as she feels herself laughing softly at the young man’s statement. “And what makes you think I don’t worry about you even when you’re at school, hm? How about those bullies you told me about before. What’s his name again? Eugene, or Brad? Or both of them?”

Peter chuckles softly and rubs the back of his neck with his hand. “Both, but it’s really no big deal, they’re nobody I couldn’t handle,” he says almost too quickly. “And Eugene is a huge Spiderman fan, so I think that makes him okay.”

The microwave alarms and Peter grabs a mitten to take the food out, transferring it to the plate. He grabs the utensils and brings it over to the counter where Natasha is sitting by, and she grins. Peter sits across from her. “Mister Stark got lazy, and Bruce was craving for pizza, so we got a lot . Luckily we didn’t get to finish all of them, so we got some leftovers,” he says. “And then we waited for you until eleven, but then everyone else got sleepy. I did, too, so we all just stored it in the fridge.”

Natasha laughs softly. “Thanks, little guy,” she says, taking a bite off her pizza. “Oh my, this is good. This is good food right here. Tony definitely knows which pizza flavor to get.”

“Didn’t expect the Black Widow to be a lover of an all-cheese pizza.” Peter teases, and Natasha chuckles, shaking her head.

“It’s the best invention there is, besides the one with shrimp and garlic, topped with mozzarella,” she says, and she takes another bite. “ That one’s pretty top tier.”

Peter’s face lights up and he grins. “I like that one too! I requested that flavor from Mister Stark, but we didn’t have anything left because I practically hogged more than half of it.” Natasha laughs and Peter’s grin widens as he watches.

“Wouldn’t be surprised knowing your big appetite,” she says, and finishes the rest of her pizza. “You’re just like Steve. Both your appetites are big, and one average meal of yours is good enough for two full meals for an average human being. No wonder we keep on running out of groceries.”

“Cap hogs majority of the chocolates,” he defends. “I just eat majority of whatever’s laid out on the table.”

Natasha hums as she picks up her utensils to dig in her fried chicken. “That you do,” she says, and then smiles. “You doing okay? What’s keeping you up tonight?”

Peter blushes and ducks his head, but he recovers fast enough to look up at Natasha. “It’s no big deal, really,” he says. “I mean I do it a lot, staying up all night. Sometimes I do my homework, or I read some comic books.” He shrugs and gives a small smile. “Not an unusual thing.”

Natasha smiles and puts the utensils down. “You know, take it from someone who has spent more than half of her life unable to sleep because of nightmares,” she says. “But sometimes, or most of the time, it’s better when things like these are talked about to someone.”

Peter shakes his head. “It’s...I don’t know if you’ll understand.” he admits quietly. Natasha leans back in her seat.

“Try me, then,” she urges softly. “So I’m right in assuming it’s nightmares, hm?”

Peter sighs and nods. “I, uh...I dreamt of them, my parents, I mean,” he says quietly. “I don’t remember much about them because I was a baby when they died. They died in a crash you see, a plane crash, but I wasn’t there so I wouldn’t...I wouldn’t really know. I dreamt about them, and I remember their faces because I still have pictures of them. They crashed again, and...this time, I was watching.”

Peter shakes his head and gives a sad smile. “I used to not understand, not really know why they died, but as I grew, Aunt May told me and...well, you already know from my file,” he says, and Natasha gives him a sad smile. “And now I know why, and I just...I know it’s not my fault and I had nothing to do with how the spy ring got them, but I just...I still feel like it is, and I can’t shake the feeling off. I watch them die in my dreams, and I...I save everyone now that I’m Spiderman but I couldn’t save them, not before. And I thought maybe it’s why I do this whole saving thing and superhero thing. If I couldn’t save them, you know, might as well save the others.”

She frowns slightly as she regards him. He’s sixteen, and he’s young, still has a lot of life and hope in his heart. Sixteen-year-olds are supposed to be studying for calculus tests in high school, supposed to be awkwardly asking girls they like out for awkward ice cream dates. They were supposed to hang out with friends after school for video games all night. They were supposed to be scolded by their parents for coming home late from a friend’s house after a night of video games, supposed to be kissed good night, still, by their moms and still go out with their dads for boys’ day out.

As she looks at Peter, she realizes he doesn’t do those things. He’s an Avenger, a superhero, forced to become one by his own guilt that shouldn’t even exist, forced to take on the responsibility because by fate or whatever, he was bitten by a radioactive spider and is now a superhuman. He wanted to save others because he couldn’t save his parents.

He’s not an average sixteen-year-old, and she gets that. She understands that. Because when she was sixteen, trained and surveyed under the KGB, neither was she. When she lost memories of her past, was forced to seduce and kill anyone who comes across the KGB, forced to live a lonely life when she lost the one man she thought she can live a good life with, she never became a normal sixteen-year-old.

“I’m sorry.” she whispers, and Peter looks up and gives her a small smile. He straightens himself and nods.

“What were your parents like?” he asks, and she pauses. This boy doesn’t really know much about her, not really. But it’s just an innocent question, one that doesn’t leave an innocent taste in her mouth when she says the truth.

“I don’t...I don’t know,” she says honestly, openly, and she gives him a small smile. “I don’t remember much about them, you see. When they took me in the Red Room, they altered my memories, got rid of the life I lived before they took me. But I was young, about four when the Red Room took me in.”

“I didn’t...I didn’t know.” Peter whispers, and Natasha nods.

“It’s not really public knowledge,” she says softly, smiling sincerely now. “But when I got to S.H.I.E.L.D., I dug up my file, dug anything about them because I had access to their files. I got to know their names, and at some point I got to visit their graves too when Steve and I went to Russia.”

“Cap knows?”

“Of course,” she says, chuckling softly. “When we started dating, I told him everything.”

Peter nods and then he swallows down his throat. “Did you...did you ever get the feeling that you could’ve...you could’ve done something to save them too?” he asks quietly.

All the time. She smiles and looks up at the ceiling, and she remembers the dreams, of course, the nightmares. She never had any idea how they looked like, but she always imagined a redheaded man, tall, slender who looks at her so lovingly and kindly, and beside her a smaller blonde woman with beautiful curly hair, green eyes who looks like her, and who looks at her like she’s proud of her. She imagines going up to them, and she can even feel their embrace before they get shot.

She remembers waking up screaming, of course, and crying because she didn’t see the bullet coming to kill both her parents. Steve would embrace her, soothe her with loving words, but on some nights, not even his embrace nor his words can eliminate the pain and guilt weighing in her heart.

Even if she knows it wasn’t her fault, that she had nothing to do with why they were gone, she can’t help but feel it.

“I did,” she answers softly, looking back at Peter. “I still do, sometimes. It never goes away, you know, even if I never really knew what happened. But I’m sure that even if I did, I would still feel the same amount of guilt.”

“No matter how many times people assure you it’s not your fault…” Peter continues softly, and she nods. “I didn’t know you also felt it.”

Natasha smiles. “I’m full of surprises, you know,” she says and Peter chuckles softly. “How long? With those nightmares, how long?”

Peter shakes his head. “For as long as I can remember being Spiderman,” he tells her softly. “You?”

“For as long as I can remember being me.” she repeats quietly. 

“It never goes away, huh?” Peter asks quietly, and Natasha smiles sadly, shaking her head.

“But it eases when you’re with people sometimes,” she says softly. “Being with Steve helped a lot, of course, because I had someone to talk it with. He couldn’t get rid of his habit of assurance, to the point that it’s sometimes annoying, but it’s still nice to have someone there. It’s nice to have someone to be with when those nightmares come.”

Peter stays silent, and Natasha smiles as she leans forward to extend her arm on the counter, and Peter looks at it, taking her hand as he looks at her with uncertainty. She gives his hand a light squeeze. “When those nightmares come, promise me you’ll call me,” she tells him softly. “No matter what time of night it is, I promise I’ll be there, alright? We’ll get through it together.”

Peter begins to smile, and he nods, squeezing Natasha’s hand as well. “I...I will,” he answers softly. “I will. Thanks, Nat.” Natasha lets go of his hand and smiles widely, leaning back in her chair.

“No problem, маленький паук.” she says, and her smile widens when she says it. Маленький паук, little spider, she’d been dying to call Peter that, ever since they started spending more time just kidding and joking around with each other. But now as she feels a part of him has opened up to her, and as she allowed herself to open a part of herself to him, she feels a sort of connection, a maternal one, even.

And she kind of...loves it.

“Thought you said a moment.” Natasha turns and smiles when she sees Steve leaning against the doorway, smiling with his arms crossed over his chest. He walks over to them and stands beside Peter, ruffling his hair, and the sixteen-year-old laughs softly, shaking his head off of Steve’s hands, muttering a quiet “hey” at Steve.

“Got caught up with the little guy here,” she says and Peter grins. “What, you got hungry too?”

“Well, I got cold because you were taking too long out of the bed,” he says. “Then I got hungry.”

“I’ll heat another one!” Peter exclaims, hopping off the chair. Natasha laughs softly as she and Steve watch the boy skip towards the fridge, telling Steve about the pizza, and how the team waited for them; the things he told Natasha too. Steve chuckles and reaches up to hold Natasha’s hand. She gives his hand a light squeeze.

“How long have you been standing there?” she asks, smiling, and Steve smiles widely.

“Just enough,” he says quietly, smiling knowingly. “Don’t tell me we’re planning to adopt Peter now, hm?”

Natasha laughs softly, as he looks at Peter who is transferring three slices of pizza and two pieces of chicken on a tray to be heated. Of course, Steve heard it. He’s learned Russian so quickly, he was able to hear his nickname for Peter and now he understands it. “Don’t tell him yet. It’s why I said it in Russian.” she says.

Peter comes in with the plate and puts it in front of Steve as he lets go of Natasha’s hand. “Thank you, Маленький паук.” Natasha tells Peter, and the teenager pauses, as Steve looks up at him and smiles.

“What does that mean?” he asks innocently, and Natasha chuckles, shaking her head.

“Nothing bad, anyway.” she tells him, winking.

Chapter Text

Natasha wants to scream.

She instead lets out a loud huff as she looks up the ceiling and crosses her arms over her chest. She purses her lips together, crossing her right leg over her left as she pinches herself in the arm. Don’t cry. She wills herself to let the tears stay where they are. Don’t panic. She wills the panic and anger rising from her stomach to stay where it is and to dissolve on its own.

“Nat,” Bucky approaches her cautiously. “Natalia.”

She swallows and licks her lips as she puts her head down and meets Bucky’s light blue eyes. He sits on the seat across from her while she rests her elbows on the table, clasping her hands and resting her chin on it. “Have you heard anything?” she asks quietly.

Bucky shakes his head. “Last update was they’re scouring over Hornsundtind. Stark said it was the last location before Steve’s tracker went off.” he says.

Natasha shakes her head and buries her face in her hands. Steve hates the cold, and Svalbard is nothing but mercilessly freezing on February. She’s confident enough that Steve would survive anything, and not even the cold can destroy his body. If seventy years in the ice can prove anything, it’s that. Seventeen hours (and maybe a couple more, she’s not entirely sure) is nothing compared to seventy years.

But she worries. Because when he went under for seventy years, it’s not like he was hurt. It’s not like he had bleeding stab wounds or any signs of physical torture, and that’s probably a huge chunk of the reason how he survived. His body was still intact, not broken, still whole.

She worries that this time, he won’t be, because God knows what the mercs did to her husband, and God knows what injuries he sustained that he became weak enough to be captured by ordinary men.

“He hates the cold,” Natasha says quietly. She looks up again and meets Bucky’s eyes, looking at her sadly. “Steve hates the cold, and he’s out there, in the cold.”

“They’ll find him,” he tells her firmly, but his voice is soft. “They’re out there looking for him, and none of them have stopped. They’re going to find him, Nat.”

But what if they find him dead?

“He’s not gonna leave,” he continues, as if sensing and reading her thoughts. “He won’t leave. Not like that, not like...not now, not there, not ever. They’ll find him, and he’s going to come home alive.”

When Steve hasn’t been checking in on her, and he hasn’t been answering to any of her messages or attempts at contact for far more than twenty-four hours (it’s not like she’s a clingy wife, but it’s standard for both of them to check in on each other especially in missions when they’d be without each other), she decided to call Tony. But Bucky came in their floor when she was doing so, and he told her that a report from Sam came in: Steve had gone missing—knocked out and kidnapped, and the team is in pursuit. However, they were a little delayed, having been knocked unconscious by the men themselves, but they had an idea of where to go, as Steve’s tracker was still active. That was the report seventeen hours ago, at three in the afternoon in New York.

Natasha paid little attention to it. The team can find him. This isn’t the first time any one of them had gone missing and the team had to pursue a kidnapper. She expected they would find him and report to them that evening that they were on their way back, and they would be okay. She would get her husband back, and James would get his father back. He would be a little injured and hurt, but he’ll be here.

When Natasha tucked little James into bed at half past nine in the evening, Bucky came in and said that Steve’s tracks had gone cold, and his tracker had stopped. And then she worried.

She was unable to sleep that evening, and Bucky stayed up with her. They were mostly quiet, and there were no conversations at all, save for Bucky asking Natasha what movie she wanted to watch, or if she’d like anything to drink or anything to eat that he can make. All her answers were short, as she couldn’t bring herself to think of anything other than the fact that her husband is missing.

Steve could be dead.

“Natalia,” Bucky had snapped her out of her thoughts last night. She looked at him, and he winced a little at the sight of her green bloodshot eyes filled with unshed tears. “It’s okay to cry.”

She swallowed down the urge to cry and shook her head. “Not gonna. No need to,” she said, and her voice broke. “No need to cry ‘cause he’ll be here.” Yet she was betrayed by her own statement when she felt a tear slip from her eyes, and the tears continued and never stopped. She allowed Bucky to hold her as she cried, and she soon fell asleep afterwards. Bucky carried her back to her bedroom, and that was where she woke up.

Now at eight in the morning, seventeen hours since Sam gave the update, none of the team on the search for Steve had said anything yet.

She wipes her eyes and sighs and looks at Bucky. “How do I look?” she asks weakly, and Bucky tilts his head sideways.

“Well, like shit,” he says honestly, and Natasha huffs out a weak laugh. “But if it’s for James, then you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Natasha nods. James may be three years old, but he is already incredibly perceptive, especially when it concerns his parents’ emotions and feelings. He is oddly attuned to them, most especially with Natasha. James is quick to hug and cuddle with her when he feels her mother getting upset or stressed, but he’d also be quick to worry and get upset once he senses it too. (Steve had once mused at how she can never try to hide how she feels around James no matter what spy technique she tries, and it’s a consequence of how James is a huge Mama’s boy.)

So if she wants to keep her son in his best mood and not want to worry him, she’ll have to do extra work to keep her mood, and effectively his mood, upbeat and worry-free.

“I have to go back down, check in with the team,” Bucky tells her. “Unless y-you need me to stay, or…” he trails off, and Natasha shakes her head and gives him a small smile.

“It’s okay. Thank you, James.”

Bucky nods and stands, walking over to the door. “Call if you need anything, alright?” he asks, and she nods.

“You’ll tell me if there’s any update?” she asks, and Bucky nods, opening the door and closing it behind him.

She buries her face in her hands and she lets out a loud sigh. She runs her hands through her hair and stands to walk over to James’ room. She opens the door and smiles genuinely when she sees his mussed red hair sticking out from under his light blue comforter.

He’s too much like his father that way, not a lover of the cold.

She sits on the edge of the bed, and gently tugs the comforter down revealing a sleeping James, his eyes still shut tight, with his long lashes touching his rosy cheeks lightly. His fists are tucked under his chin, and one of his thumbs are sticking out, and resting on his bottom lip, as he probably sucked on it while he was sleeping. She smiles and runs a hand through his hair, leaning down to press a soft and gentle kiss on his forehead, the tip of his nose and both of his cheeks—her usual kissing pattern for her son, no matter if it’s to wake him up or to just express her love to him.

James groans, his eyebrows furrowing as he squirms. “Hey, little guy,” Natasha greets softly, smoothing James’ soft hair. “Time to wake up.”

James’ eyes flutter open, until Natasha sees those beautiful blue eyes that mirror her husband’s, and she smiles widely. She leans down to kiss the spot between his eyebrows again and James buries his face in the crook of Natasha’s neck, wrapping his arms around her. She chuckles softly as she carries him to her lap.

“You’re getting big and heavy now,” she grunts, as James shifts so his legs are also wrapped around his mother’s waist, as he clings closer to her. “You’re growing up too fast, little man.”

James mumbles something inaudible and Natasha smiles, pressing a kiss on his red hair as she runs her hand up and down James’ back. They stay like that for a while, and if Natasha was being honest, it’s one of the best things about her morning apart from, of course, waking up beside Steve. She loves the morning cuddling, how James would wrap his arms around her and just tuck his face in the crook of her neck. Sometimes, he’d fall back to sleep in that position, and she would just hold him until he wakes up again, or she would continue to soothe him awake if he needs to be up immediately. It’s one of her best moments of every day.

And for this day in particular, it’s her only best moment yet.

James lifts his head and pulls away slightly to look at his mother. Natasha smiles and rubs their noses together, and James lets out a soft giggle. “Kiss Mommy on the cheek?” she asks, pointing to her right cheek. James pecks her cheek and smiles and Natasha grins. “You hungry, hm? How about I cook some pancakes for us, would you like that?”

James nods enthusiastically and Natasha kisses his cheek before standing up, adjusting the three-year-old on her hip as they proceed to the kitchen. While Natasha and Steve were informed by Bruce that James had inherited both his parents’ serum (Steve’s serum dominating over hers, naturally), he told them that effects of which will still be evident when he reaches kindergarten. So at three years old, he is still small, small enough that Natasha can still carry him and treat him like her little boy.

And he always will be her little boy, three years old or not, with the serum or not.

Natasha sets him down on his high chair and opens the refrigerator where his milk bottles are stored. She gets one and gives it to James who takes it happily, immediately drinking the milk from the bottle.

He looks around their floor, just as Natasha begins to retrieve a bowl from the cupboard to prepare the batter. James looks back at his mother. “Mommy, where’s Daddy?” he asks in his small voice.

And Natasha tries not to freeze, tries not to pause, because any sort of odd movement might alert James that something is wrong. So she takes a couple of seconds as she opens the ready-made batter with a pair of scissors. She hums, and looks back at James and smiles. “Not yet here, babe. Remember when Daddy said him, Uncle Tony, Uncle Sam, Auntie Wanda and Vision will be working?” she asks lightly, and James nods. “Well, they’re still there, and they’re probably kicking more of the bad guys’ butts.”

“But Daddy said he’ll be back today,” James says softly, frowning slightly. But he suddenly perks up. “Are they saving lots and lots of other people’s lives?”

It’s not like what they do for a living is a secret to James. It’s kinda hard to keep it a secret, really. Steve or Natasha would be out for hours, days even when they are assigned on overseas missions, so it’s kind of hard for them to come up with excuses for their smart little guy to explain where either of his parents are when they would be gone for quite some time. Besides, Tony’s technology and gear, as well as Sam’s flying equipment are kind of hard to hide inside the Tower, and Steve couldn’t find a better way to explain James why he couldn’t play with his shield or why he couldn’t touch Natasha’s Widow bites when they’re spread somewhere inside their floor.

The injuries are also hard to explain when they come home with one, though they try not to sustain as much because when James sees it, it will only upset him. (One time, Natasha had come home with a bandaged abdomen because she was shot, and she was unable to walk properly without Steve’s assistance. James never left her side, and had been crying silently because he’s worried Natasha was still hurting and bleeding, which she was, but it’s relatively better when she got home. Steve and Natasha promised to never come home hurt.)

And Natasha’s afraid that Steve is going to break that promise.

“Yeah, honey,” she answers softly, slightly relieved. “Lots and lots of people’s lives, that’s why it’s taking them quite a long time to go back.”

Natasha walks over back to the refrigerator, retrieving the container of chocolate chips and closes it. She stops in front of James to lean down and touch the tip of his nose lightly, smiling. “Which is why when Daddy comes home, he’s going to be super tired. I want you to give him lots of cuddles and kisses, okay?” she asks. James grins widely and nods excitedly. Natasha smiles wider and kisses the tip of James’ nose and proceeds back to the counter where she’s preparing the pancakes. James proceeds to his usual babble, and Natasha does her best to listen attentively, asking questions and adding more things like how James would want her to. She does her best to make this morning as normal for James. She does her best to keep up the happy mother facade for her son.

She does her best to hope brightly and positively for Steve, even if every inch of her body is shaking with the uncertainty and anxiety of the worst possible case.

They start eating at nine in the morning, eighteen hours since the team declared Steve as missing on the field. She vainly attempts a call after laying James’ second round of pancakes on his plate. For the past couple of hours, she heard ringing, but now it’s absolutely nothing.

She closes her eyes and sighs as she puts her phone down. Her back is facing James, as Natasha pinches the bridge of her nose in an attempt to quell her worry.

“Mommy, are you okay?”

She turns around and finds James frowning slightly, his eyes wide and worried as he watches his mother. His hands are clasped together on his lap under the table of his high seat, his thumbs fumbling with each other. Natasha immediately recovers, and she walks over to James.

“Hey, yeah, of course,” she says softly, leaning to cup her son’s cheeks, her thumbs brushing the apple of his rosy cheeks gently. “Why won’t I be?” She smiles, but James pouts.

“You look sad, Mommy.” he points out quietly, sounding very upset himself, but Natasha shakes her head.

“No, no, baby, I’m okay, Mommy’s okay, see?” Natasha smiles widely, sticking her tongue out and making faces that make James smile a little. She sits down on the chair beside James’ high chair and she smooths his hair neatly. “Mommy’s not sad, hm? So no need to be sad.” She puts her thumb on the corners of James’ mouth and gently turns it upwards, and James giggles softly, making Natasha grin. “No need to be sad, okay?”

James nods and Natasha leans to kiss James’ forehead lovingly. “How about you finish your pancakes, let’s take a bath and then we go play? Uncle Bucky is also downstairs. Sound good?” she asks lightly.

“Yeah!” James exclaims excitedly, bouncing in his seat. Natasha laughs softly.


It has been approximately thirty-one hours since Steve was reported missing, and Natasha had put James to bed, after spending the entire day playing and evading her emotions. Bucky had received reports from Sam when Natasha and James had come down to the communal that morning, and reported that they have scouted the entire Svalbard and are splitting up to the rest of the Arctic Circle, with reports centralized toward Sam and Tony, both of which are exploring Greenland and Iceland respectively. Tony called in the rest of his Iron Troops to scout as well, so their perimeter should be wide.

By three in the afternoon, twenty-four hours since Steve was reported missing, Tony reported that one of his Iron Armors detected movements in Keilir, and are in pursuit when they found Steve, who was reported as still alive but almost unconscious and beaten. That had Natasha’s heart clench and her chest constrict, but still, she needed to put on a happy face for James. She needed to be strong for James.

Steve is alive, and they have seen him. They are in pursuit. It’s all that matters.

But that was the last report that they had heard from the team, according to Bucky. Natasha made sure James had exhausted all his energy in playing so as to make him sleep early as well, so Natasha and Bucky can focus on the team abroad.

“Mommy, is Daddy okay?” James asks when Natasha tucks him under his comforter. The three-year-old’s eyes are wide, and Natasha is almost, almost tempted to tell him the truth. Her chest constricts and her heart clenches, but she knows that if he tells him so, he won’t be able to sleep, and all he will do is worry.

Natasha sighs. There’s a difference, she thinks, between being strong and appearing strong, and right now, she can’t do either. She’s appearing to be strong, even when her insides are being crushed and squeezed at every hour that passes since Steve had gone missing. She wasn’t strong enough, however, to escape past her son’s perceptive eyes. She thinks it’s not even the fact that he is attuned to his parents anymore, but rather it was just that obvious with how she acted the whole day: about being on-edge all the time, jittery and nervous, even as she plays with James. But she’s not teaching her son to be strong if she continues to lie like this, ignore the problem like this.

But James shouldn’t have to be strong. He’s only three years old.

Natasha smooths his hair and leans down to kiss his forehead gently. She takes a deep breath. “Daddy is a bit hurt in the mission, baby,” she says quietly. “It just worries Mommy, that’s all.” Understatement of the year, but she figures it was the best she can do.

James frowns. “Will he be okay?” he asks in a small voice.

“Yeah, babe. Remember Uncle Tony, Uncle Sam, Auntie Wanda and Vision are with him, right? They’re taking good care of Daddy now before they have to go home.” she explains lightly, but James’ frown just deepens.

“But why can’t they take care of Daddy here at home? You can take care of Daddy better.” he points out softly, and Natasha chuckles lightly.

“I do, hm?” she asks, and James nods. “Well, that doesn’t mean that when he comes home, I won’t take care of him anymore. That just means that they have to make sure Daddy is okay enough so they can come home. Remember they’re going back with the airplane, right? And Daddy has to drive the airplane because no one else can.”

Again, a lie, but not entirely a lie. But James takes it, and he lets out a small chuckle when Natasha winks. “Don’t worry about Daddy, okay? He’s going to be fine, and he’s going to come home soon, alright?” she tells James, who nods. “Good night, my love.” She presses another kiss on his forehead.

“Good night, Mommy. Love you.” James replies after letting out a small yawn. Natasha smiles.

“I love you too.” She presses another kiss on the tip of his nose and turns the night light on before standing up to turn the lights in his bedroom off.

She doesn’t allow herself to fall asleep, plagued with more worry and anxiety than she felt the rest of the day. Did Tony get the people who kidnapped Steve? Were they able to get Steve on time? What did they want with Steve? She stands up and pours herself a glass of red wine, drinking it in one go. She grabs the whole bottle and plops down on the couch of their living room.

By the time the bottle is empty, she checks the clock, and it’s half past eleven in the evening, thirty-two hours since Steve was reported missing. She turns the television on, and she cries, as silently as she could, so as to not wake James up. She muffles her sobs with the sleeve of her sweater, and wipes tears that are pouring from her eyes. She held her tears back the entire day, and now that she’s tired, and James is asleep, she couldn’t stop it. Not anymore. She’s gone past the stage of worrying and is now just filled with frustration—for not being there, for not being able to do enough to look for him and find him, for her inadequacy to do anything at all to find her husband, that all she can do is cry. She lets the tears flow, and lets out small and quiet sobs.

It’s okay to be weak. It’s okay to be weak when no one’s watching.

And so she cries, because she couldn’t do it earlier that day, and she couldn’t do it when the rises the following day either. And as she does, she doesn’t hear the quinjet landing in the Tower, nor does she hear the commotion of the team’s arrival. And when the door opens to her floor, she doesn’t look, because Bucky will just ask her how she is, and this is enough an answer for him.

But when two big, calloused yet familiar hands rest on her cheeks, she opens her eyes, and she sees those beautiful blue eyes that she thought she would never see again. His eyes are tired, and his face is filled with cuts and bruises, that when she rests her hands to cup her cheeks, he winces slightly, and she sees a bruise forming on the apple of his cheek. His blonde hair is mussed and dirty, and when she regards him, his uniform is covered in dirt and torn, and bandages around his abdomen and right thigh are seen, both of which have red spots.

But he is here, and he is whole.

“Steve.” she whispers, and he nods, smiling despite the tears gathering in his eyes. She lets out a choked sob as she wraps her arms around his neck, burying her face in the crook of his neck. He moves with great difficulty so he can sit on the couch beside her, and he adjusts himself so she can put her legs over his and bury her face on his chest—over his heart, a sign that he is alive, and that he is okay, and that he is home.

He holds her, murmurs loving words to her as she cries. And she cries until she falls asleep in his arms.

He does, too. And it’s the first sleep he had since more than thirty-two hours ago, and he is home, safe with his wife in his arms, and his son asleep in his room.

Chapter Text

Looking back, it all probably started when Natasha had come home with four stab wounds on her abdomen.

Well, four stab wounds apart from the broken left leg, head trauma, a few broken ribs and bruised sides, that is.

And in hindsight, they probably should have not let Natasha back in their floor until she was completely healed (or at least until her wounds are bleeding significantly less even when they’re bandaged), but even Steve could not resist her when she started crying and begging that she be allowed to recover in their floor so she can be in the same room as James. She had been pale and weak when they brought her back in from a long mission, and she was almost unconscious because of the massive amount of blood that she had lost and the head trauma she experienced.

But even after her surgery, and she slowly started getting a better grasp on reality the following day, she started begging to be moved back to their floor so she can be with James.

Even if Steve supported her request of being moved back to the floor, Helen Cho was not at all comfortable with getting her back up. “There’s also a reason why we’re not allowing James to visit you yet down here,” she told them both with a raised eyebrow. “We could wait until you’re at least able to get up from the bed by yourself, or at least your head bandage will be removed.”

“Nat doesn’t look that bad,” Steve argued weakly. “She’s still whole, and James will still easily recognize her. I’ll just tell him to be careful around her.”

Helen looked skeptical, but Natasha was about to throw yet another crying fit for being too far away from her son, so she didn’t argue any further. Though Natasha still had tender ribs, healing wounds, head bandages and a cast on her leg, she remained more or less the same, if not excited to see James again.

Steve told her that he had already explained to James that Natasha was hurt, and that he would be careful around her. James had been quick to understand (or so he thought, but he later figured his agreement to understanding the injuries was mostly because he just wanted to see his mother no matter what). He helped her up on their floor, and she was greeted by their two-year-old son, who was drawing on his sketchbook on the floor and grinned to greet his mother, but his face instantly fell when he saw the injuries she sustained.

“Mommy hurt?” James asked in a small voice, his eyes growing wide and filling with tears. Steve guided Natasha on the couch and she ignored the immense pain she felt when she tried to get up on her own to reach for her son. James toddled hesitantly, but she can see it in his eyes how much he wanted to be held by his mother.

“Yeah, Jamie, just a bit,” Natasha said. “But I’ll be okay soon, alright?”

“Remember what I said, little guy? Hugs and kisses will make Mommy feel better.” Steve added softly.

James frowned a little, his bottom lip quivering slightly as he ran to his mother’s arms. Steve frowned slightly when he saw the tears gathering in Natasha’s eyes as she winced silently upon James’ impact to her body. Nevertheless, she lifted him to her lap and put a smile on her face as she cuddled with James in her arms, peppering the toddler’s face with kisses until their son was just giggling and cuddling further into Natasha’s body.

“Jamie, careful with Mommy.” Steve warned.

“It’s okay,” Natasha said, pressing a kiss on James’ forehead as the two-year-old started to pull away slightly, confused as to what he was supposed to do. “It’s okay. The cuddles make it better.”

Steve had to pull James away half an hour later when he started crying because he found Natasha’s shirt was starting to stain red. Steve lifted James off from Natasha and sat down beside her, and when he lifted her shirt, she had pulled one of the stitches from her abdomen when she lifted James to her lap. They had come down to Helen to have her stitches fixed, and James was adamant to cling to his mother’s good side. James had also become upset the entire day, and never left his mother’s side, the sight of which broke Natasha’s and Steve’s hearts. Even then, he would cry silent tears when he saw his mother winced at every movement as she moved back to her bedroom with Steve upon Helen’s strict instructions.

Which was how Helen ended up being smug about her instructions and warnings, and how Natasha ended up in bed rest, and how James also ended up spending the majority of his day curled up beside his mother. Natasha would read him storybooks and they would play with his toys on their bed, and it would bring a smile on James’ face, and his laughter would be back, but there’s no denying that he’s also one to keep a keen eye on his mother’s reactions to the pain in her body, and how upset he becomes at every instance of pain.

James is very perceptive, and even as a two-year-old, it amazed Steve and Natasha at how attuned he is with his mother’s and father’s emotions.

But slowly, as the day passes, her injuries had become less, mostly thanks to her Red Room serum which hastens the healing process in her body. In no time, she’s able to get out of bed without pain, lift James in her arms and play with him outside of the bedroom. James had been happy about this, of course, and Steve, too, because it meant they could also go back to their usual nightly activities. Things are going back to normal.

Well, most things, at least.

Natasha is awakened when she hears small whimpers and cries from the other room. Her eyes become wide and alert, and she tugs Steve’s collar. “Do you hear that?” she asks quietly.

Steve stirs awake, tightening his arm around his wife’s waist to pull her closer. “Hear what?” he asks sleepily, his eyes still closed as he buries his face in the crook of her neck.

A small and faint whimper is heard again, and Steve lifts his head, his eyebrows furrowed as he blinks and looks down at Natasha. “Is that James?” he asks.

“Yeah? Unless there’s another baby in this floor…”

“Nat.”

And then small footsteps are heard approaching their bedroom, and both Steve and Natasha slowly get up to turn on the lamps on their nightstands. The door opens, and little James pads in tentatively. “Mommy? Daddy?” he asks in a small voice. His red hair is mussed and he is rubbing his eyes with his closed fists. His Captain America pajamas are wrinkled from his sleep (or, short-lived sleep).

“Hey, baby, come here.” Natasha says softly, moving to sit on the edge of the foot of their bed and extend her arms. James runs over to his mother as she lifts her son to sit on her lap. James buries his face in the crook of his mother’s neck and whimpers, wrapping his arms around her neck.

“What’s going on, buddy?” Steve asks softly, moving over beside Natasha to rub his hand on James’ back.

“Is it a bad dream?” Natasha asks softly, pressing her lips on James’ hair. “Hm? Monsters under the bed again?”

James shakes his head and he lifts his head and pulls away from his mother to crawl over to Steve’s lap. Steve wraps an arm around him as James reaches again over to Natasha, tugging the hem of her (Steve’s) shirt over her cotton shorts. “What is it, baby?” Natasha asks, wrapping her hand around James’.

James whimpers, his bottom lip quivering as he points at her abdomen. She furrows her eyebrows and looks at Steve, but he seemed to have gotten what their son is trying to say, so he just nods, smiling sadly at her. “Look.” James urges softly, in his small voice, still pointing at her abdomen.

And while Natasha’s first thought is to think that James might know more than her whether she’s pregnant or not (just out of the top of her mind—it is two in the morning after all), when she lifts her shirt, exposing her abdomen. James frowns as more tears threaten to fill his eyes, and when she follows his line of sight, she spots the faint marks of her stitches from her stab wounds on her abdomen.

He dreamt about it. Her injuries, her pulling off her stitches when she picked him up. He awoke because of it.

“Mommy hurt.” James whimpers softly, his eyes wide and looking up at his mother, his bottom lip sticking out and quivering.

“Hey,” Natasha says softly, putting her shirt down as she smooths James’ hair. “I’m okay now. Mommy’s not hurt anymore, you see?” She leans down so she can let James’ hand touch her face. “No more hurting.”

Natasha’s heart aches when James’ frown deepens and his eyes begin to fill with tears. “Come here,” she says. James extends his arms and Natasha moves him back to her lap. She sits him down and lifts her shirt again. “No more red, you see?” She runs her fingers smoothly over the stitch marks. “No more boo-boos too.”

James sniffles and moves his hand to rest on Natasha’s over her abdomen. He pulls it away and looks at it, perhaps making sure if there was no red on his hand or on his mother’s shirt anymore. “Mommy’s not hurt anymore.” she says softly, taking his hand in hers and smiling down at him.

Steve smooths his son’s hair. “Is that what you dreamed of, hm? That Mommy was hurt?” he asks softly, and James nods, pouting.

“Daddy too,” James adds softly, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “Mommy and Daddy hurt fight.”

And it breaks both of Natasha’s and Steve’s hearts, because they know that, as much as they try their best to stay out of danger, it’s their line of work. The very least they can do is to go on lesser missions, those where their expertise are most needed, and to ensure that at least one of them would stay at home to take care of James. Even if they say that they will do their best to minimize the injuries they would acquire, moments like the one Natasha had encountered days ago in missions are still inevitable, and the very least they can do is to at least get home alive.

They know how much their line of work takes a toll on each other, and they knew how it would somehow take a toll on their son, but they never knew how it can take a toll on him. Until now.

She wonders what his dream showed him, that he got up at two in the morning to his parents’ room, and repeatedly ensure that the blood stains he saw on his mother’s shirt days ago was gone.

“I’ll be more careful next time,” Natasha says softly, cuddling James closer to her chest. “I promise to be more careful, okay? So Mommy won’t be hurt anymore, and Daddy won’t be hurt too.”

“Promise?” James asks in a small voice, looking at both of his parents, his eyes wide and glistening with tears.

Natasha looks at Steve who sighs and nods, and he pulls her closer to press a kiss on the side of her head. She knows how much Steve hates having to falsely promise to his family, to Natasha and James mostly, but also knew the importance of it—to keep his family members sane, and to promise the same thing to himself.

This is one of the moments they need to make another one of those promises.

“We promise,” Steve says softly, leaning to press a kiss on James’ hair. “We promise, Jamie.”

And they’re determined to keep this promise true.

James doesn’t let go of Natasha so she lay him down on their bed, him in between his parents. Natasha turns to turn the lamp off on her side and cuddles closer to hold James to her chest as she presses her lips on his forehead. She pulls away slightly to watch James’ eyes flutter close, and looks up at Steve and nods. Steve turns the lamp off on his side and drapes an arm over his son and wife, pulling them closer as if to protect them from the dangers of outside, and nightmares looming from the windows.

It’s also the least thing he can do to try to protect his family.

“Good night.” Steve whispers, both to James and Natasha. James is fast asleep between them, and Natasha smiles up at Steve, reaching over to run her fingers through his blonde hair. Steve’s eyes start to flutter, and her smile widens because she knows how much this gesture soothes him back to slumber. She rests her hand on his cheek, her thumb brushing over the apple of his cheek gently. She does her best to assure him, assure both of her boys, that she’ll do anything to fulfill the promise they’ve made.

It’s also the least thing she can do to try and protect her family.

“Good night.” she whispers.

Chapter Text

James, at a young age of four years old, can pride himself in three things: 1) he can count up to a hundred (with some prompting from his Uncle Bucky); 2) he can climb up and down the stairs without his parents’ help, and; 3) his parents are Captain America and Black Widow.

And James is most especially proud of the third fact.

And it was funny how he came to know about it. He knew his parents were superheroes because they told him so—they save lives, and sometimes they get hurt in the process, but they always come back home. He knew his Daddy has a big shield with a star in the middle (that he’s allowed to play with only if his Daddy is watching him), and his Mommy had these gauntlets and batons that glow and “stings” (it’s what his Mommy said, which is why he’s not allowed to play with any of it). Over time, he learned that they fight for a living, along with his uncles and aunties, and he finds it really cool.

But then his friends at daycare start bringing with them lunch boxes and bags that had his Daddy’s shield, or had a drawing of his Mommy (complete with her usual suit, red hair and batons), then he started getting confused.

“What’s that?” he asked one of his classmates that had a lunch box with his Daddy’s shield on it.

“It’s a Captain America lunch box,” his classmate, Brandon, responded. “He’s my favorite superhero.”

And the same happened when, during their art time, his girl classmate drew a picture of a woman that resembled his mother’s suit, red hair and batons.

“Someday, I want to be like Black Widow,” his classmate, Daisy, said. “She’s my favorite Avenger.”

Then his classmates started talking about all the different Avengers, who apparently were a group of superheroes saving other people’s lives—like his Mommy and Daddy!—and they started bringing out their different pencil cases that had his Uncle Thor’s face on it, as well as his Uncle Tony’s helmet. He wondered how they knew about his parents, as well as his Uncles, let alone how they got bags and lunch boxes with their faces on it (James personally found it weird—was he also supposed to own a bag with his parents’ faces on it?). He wondered what the Avengers are, and if these superheroes knew his parents too, since they’re also superheroes.

And then came the day when, instead of his Uncle Bucky, Uncle Sam or Happy who picked him up from daycare, it was his parents. He was excited when he saw them, immediately running towards his mother’s arms where she lifted him to press a small kiss on his cheek, and where his father mussed his hair and kissed his forehead.

And when he looked around, the kids were staring at them in awe, and the parents were staring at them as well. James looked at his parents confusedly, while Natasha and Steve just looked at each other and smiled sheepishly. “Mommy, why are they looking?” James asked in a small voice, as he wrapped his arms around his mother’s neck. Surely, if something bad were to happen, his parents will protect him, and they will get out of it alive. His parents are superheroes, and they save lives, so they should be able to save him too.

And then suddenly, Brandon pointed at Steve. “That’s Captain America!”

And then followed Daisy, and other girls, pointed at Natasha. “That’s Black Widow!”

And then the parents took turns in asking if James’ Mommy and Daddy can take pictures with their children, and they also asked if they can sign their “Captain America lunch boxes” or “Black Widow bags”. Steve and Natasha agreed politely, of course, as they smiled at photos and signed lunch boxes and bags. Some of James’ classmates also hugged his parents, which confused him more, because don’t they have parents whom they hug too? Why did they have to hug his parents?

“Jamie, you didn’t tell us your parents are superheroes!” Daisy exclaimed, and his classmates nodded in agreement. “And that Captain America is your Dad, and Black Widow is your Mom.”

“Yeah, being their kid is kind of really cool!” Brandon exclaimed.

And many more of his classmates started joining in, and that was how James kind of pieced it together by himself that his parents’ names were also Captain America and Black Widow, apart from them being Steve and Natasha Rogers, of course. His Daddy’s shield meant so much more than something he uses in missions or something that James asks to play with, and his Mommy’s gauntlets and batons, as well as her ability to do somersaults and high kicks from when he watches her “dance” (sooner he found that his Mommy doesn’t only dance, but also trains to fight) meant so much more than just for show-and-tell and talent.

And he finds it pretty cool when he found out that his Uncle Tony is called Iron Man because of his whole robot gear (as what James calls it), his Uncle Thor is just called Thor, but he has a cool power to summon lightning, his Uncle Bruce is called the Hulk (though he’s not particularly sure why because his Uncle Bruce doesn’t want to show him what his powers are), his Uncle Clint is called Hawkeye because of his super sharp shooting with his bow and arrow, and even his Auntie Wanda is called Scarlet Witch because of her cool superpowers when her hands give out red sparks. There’s a lot of names other people call his other uncles too, like Falcon and War Machine and Spiderman, and so he thought this superhero life must be pretty cool.

So yeah, he’s pretty proud of the fact that his parents are Captain America and Black Widow.

But since he’s a big Mommy’s boy, he’s a little bit more biased towards Black Widow.

James adores his Mommy for many things and many reasons. He finds his Mommy very loving, and someone who loves cuddles very much. She always manages to make his mornings brighter by smiling at him and cuddling with him even when he falls asleep fast in her arms if she does so. She doesn’t get mad at him that much, and when she does, she doesn’t get mad for long, and teaches him his lesson from his mistake as gently as she can. She talks to him too when he gets upset and sad, and she always tries to make him laugh so easily. She makes his favorite breakfasts, plays with him all the time, listens to stories of his dreams and his day, and she sings to him too to make him fall asleep. He likes listening to her voice because it’s beautiful, gentle and soothing, just like how he sees his Mommy.

And he also sees how his Mommy interacts with his Daddy. She always makes sure that his Daddy eats his favorite breakfast too, and sometimes when he would be out to fight, she would cook his favorite meal and wait for him to come home. When his Daddy would come home, the first thing she does is to make sure that he’s not hurt, and she kisses him and hugs him, and takes care of him when he is hurt. He finds that his Daddy also adores his Mommy very much, as he would catch him hugging her from behind when she’s in the kitchen cooking, and he would give her kisses all over her face until she giggles and laughs. James also likes hearing his Mommy laugh because she always makes him and his Daddy laugh all the time too.

He thinks his Mommy is pretty perfect, and to learn that she is also a famous superhero called the Black Widow? He’s one pretty damn proud four-year-old for it.

He thinks about it pretty constantly too, how proud he is of being the son of Captain America and Black Widow, and he feels as if should there be a shirt that says that, he’d probably wear it all the time.

He looks up from his drawing while he’s on the floor of his bedroom when his father comes in and he smiles up at his Daddy. “Hey, Jamie, you hungry?” he asks, kneeling down in front of his son.

James nods enthusiastically. “Yeah!” he exclaims. “Are we going to eat with Mommy today?”

Steve nods. “But we have to wait for her a bit,” he says. “She’s still in training, you see. Because remember when Uncle Tony was saying there will be a lot of new people coming in so they can learn how to fight?” He does remember. His Uncle Tony said that they wanted to be superheroes too like his parents. “Well, she’s the one teaching them how to be heroes, so we have to wait for her for a little while. Sound good?”

And James smiles widely at that, because his mother is generous and compassionate enough to teach other people how to be like her. So he nods. “Are we going downstairs?” he asks, and Steve nods.

“Yeah, we are,” Steve answers, smiling at his son. “Why don’t you bring your paper and crayons too? So you can have something to do while we wait?” His smile widens. “Maybe give Mommy a drawing, or something.”

James grins and bounces in his seat. “Give Mommy a drawing! Give Mommy a drawing!” He starts gathering all of his crayons and putting it in the pencil case his Uncle Bucky gave him. Steve chuckles as he watches James stand and retrieve yet again another clean sheet of paper from his table. He grabs the one he’s been drawing on as well and looks up at Steve and tiptoes.

Steve smiles as he stands and lifts James to his hip, pressing a kiss on his son’s cheek. James smiles as he holds the two pieces of paper in his hands as well as the pencil case filled with his art materials, as they walk out of their floor and down to the hall. Steve walks some more to reach the other building connected to the Avengers Tower to the new S.H.I.E.L.D. facility. James watches as agents nod at Steve and smile at James, and he lights up when he recognizes his Auntie Sharon approaching them.

“Hey, you both, especially to you, little guy” Sharon greets, and she grins at James. “You here to wait for your Mommy?”

“Yeah, Daddy said she’s teaching new people how to be superheroes, and then we’re going to eat lunch after.” James answers, and Sharon chuckles, nodding.

“Training’s not over yet?” Steve asks, and Sharon sighs.

“It kinda is, but it wasn’t good,” she answers truthfully. “Nat’s still inside, beating them into shape and all that. We might convene afterwards, though.”

Steve nods. “It’s fine, we’ll wait, won’t we, Jamie?” he asks, and James nods. “That bad, huh?”

Sharon chuckles quietly, shaking her head. “Haven’t seen Nat lose her patience since forever,” she responds quietly. “Gotta go, though. Nice seeing you two.”

“You too. Say bye to Auntie Sharon.”

“Bye, Auntie Sharon!” James says, waving his hand, and Sharon waves back, grinning as she walks past them.

“Well, little guy,” Steve says softly, pulling down James’ shirt that is slightly lifting and revealing his belly button. “It looks like we have to wait a little longer for Mommy. That okay?” James nods. As long as he’ll see his Mommy really soon, he can wait.

And so he and Steve proceed to the training facility’s new cafeteria. They sit on one of the tables, with James sitting on Steve’s lap, with Steve’s one hand holding James steady to him, while his other hand rests on the table, where James had spread all his art materials and paper on it. Steve retrieves whatever color James points to, and he watches fondly as James starts his new drawing. He explains that he wants to draw the three of them as a family holding hands, with Natasha in the middle, so James starts with drawing his mother first, of course.

He just started finishing his mother’s red hair and black suit, about to proceed with a drawing of his Daddy, when they hear a group of people gathering and sitting on the table behind them. “God, that training was hard,” someone, a man, exclaims exasperatedly as they sit down. “And they say it gets easier the longer you stay here.”

Steve stifles a chuckle, as he rests his chin on top of James’ head. He watches as James colors his own red hair, one that mirrors his mother’s, and when James looks up at his father, he smiles, and James grins, bouncing on Steve’s lap as he proceeds to finish his own drawing of himself. Steve doesn’t mean to eavesdrop, but he couldn’t help but continue to listen, his back still facing them, as he also watches James finish his drawing.

“I think it’s supposed to be the other way around,” someone else, a woman, says. “They just keep on adding more stuff for us to do, and train on. And not that I’m complaining, I do get they’re all necessary and stuff, but to put us in such a high bar of expectations? I don’t think so.”

“I think it’s doable, though,” another woman says. “I mean, sure, today might have been a little worse than we’ve imagined it to be, but it was our first day in hand combat and weapons training. Of course, the Black Widow and Agent 13 would be a little...out of patience.”

A man, different from the first one who spoke, scoffs. “It would’ve been doable, really, if it weren’t for Perez pissing the Black Widow off,” he answers, and Steve raises an eyebrow at that. “And screw that, you managed to piss Agent 13 and the Black Widow off.”

“Oh man, you are screwed, Perez,” the same woman from earlier snickers. “You just pissed off two of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top agents on your first day with them.”

A woman, the second one who spoke earlier—Perez, Steve presumes because of the voice—lets out a scoff. “Big deal, Davis. So what?” she exclaims. “They should expect that when it comes to newcomers and fresh trainees like us! It’s not like they were as perfect when they started.”

“No, they weren’t,” the woman—Davis, Steve again presumes—responds calmly. “Agent 13 also started out as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who underwent training like us, while the Black Widow had gone through her own training as well, and they’re both remarkable agents and fighters now, Black Widow, especially since she’s literally S.H.I.E.L.D.’s number one agent in espionage and in combat, and she’s an Avenger. She’s the epitome of remarkable, really.”

And Steve feels his chest swell with pride, as he presses a kiss on top of James’ head when he starts to draw Steve now. James has a smile on his face, and Steve assumes that he could be listening to the conversation in the other table as well, especially since he knows how much he adores his mother’s alter ego.

“Remarkable? Did you hear any of the words she just said to us earlier?” Perez continues, letting out a bitter scoff. “She literally told us we wouldn’t be S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, threatened us with more training routines and laps, and even power-tripped us by saying she has the power to remove all of us from being agents. How is that remarkable?”

“Perez, your shots were inaccurate and you literally tried to shoot Smith and Bower,” the first man who spoke says. “And to top that, you also tried to shoot Agent 13 when she tried to correct your stance and form. It’s a good thing Agent Romanoff saw it first before you actually injured her.”

“Agent 13 is a goddamn agent and she should know when someone is pointing a gun at her or not. If I wasn’t stopped, she should know someone was aiming at her if she was that ‘remarkable’,” Perez rambles on loudly, and Steve clenches his jaw and takes a deep breath, but James looks up at him and he puts on a small smile for James, kissing the top of his head and urging him to continue his drawing. “And don’t call her Agent Romanoff. She’s the Black Widow! And you know what Black Widows do, right?”

“You mean the spider or the former KGB agents?” Davis asks.

“Both! They kill, and they take pleasure from it,” Perez answers. “And Romanoff deserves to be called the Black Widow because that’s exactly what she is. That’s exactly who she is, and it shows, from the training down to the field, and down to her files, it shows.”

“You read her files?” the second man who spoke earlier asks.

“What, like you didn’t? It's  literally  just there on the Internet,” Perez scoffs. “You call her remarkable, but she’s actually ruthless, the worst one of them all, which is how she became the Black Widow. Her first kill was at six years old, and it was her roommate in the Red Room. Even before she joined S.H.I.E.L.D., her main objective was to seduce men and kill them after screwing with them. The file released had the number of the men she killed in her life and the count there was said to not even be the final one. The Black Widow is a murderous whore who enjoys nothing more than sex and murder. And people around here say that she’s Captain America’s wife, and is the mother of a kid? Well guess what, I’d hate to be the Black Widow’s kid, and Captain America deserves more and better.”

James puts the crayon he’s holding down on the table, and Steve sees that the drawing is still unfinished. He looks up at Steve, his eyes wide and glistening with tears, his bottom lip sticking out and wobbling. “Daddy, why are they being mean?” he asks quietly. “Why are they saying mean things about Mommy?”

And on top of the seething anger Steve is feeling from hearing all of these from a new S.H.I.E.L.D. trainee, his heart breaks when he realizes that James had understood, and had become upset because a majority of what they said about his mother, and all of it, whether understood fully or partially were all mean. James is smart, a bit smarter for his age, so he understands better and speaks better than any other normal four-year-old boy. And even at his age, it’s easy to understand that the things Perez had mentioned about the Black Widow, whom James know by now is his Mommy, are all mean, even without fully understanding every single word of it.

Steve sighs and presses a kiss on James’ forehead as the little boy whimpers and adjusts himself so he can bury his face in his father’s shirt. Steve uses one hand to rub James’ back gently, as he uses the other to put all of James’ crayons back to his pencil case, as he continues to listen to the trainees Perez is with defend Natasha’s name, telling her that her past in the Red Room was a past she’s making up for now by doing good, that she is a good person, friend and teammate, and that she is a loving wife and mother to her family based on the stories they hear from their co-trainees (from their trainers, apparently, all of which are their co-teams in the Avengers, and Steve gives himself a mental note to thank all of them for viewing Natasha in the best way).

But Perez is apparently having none of it, and frankly, so is Steve. He adjusts James so he wraps his arms around his father’s neck and buries his face in the crook of his neck. He takes his son’s pencil case and papers in his free hand. “Whatever, you know what? Read her file. Watch some documentaries about the Red Room,” she says as a finality. “You’ll see that the Black Widow? She’s not as good as you think, and she will never be good as how you think she is now. If I were the one who runs S.H.I.E.L.D., she wouldn’t be top agent. They should consider moral standards as part of the assessment, you know.”

Steve stands. “You know what, they should,” he says, turning around to meet the faces of the four trainees on the table behind them. Their eyes go wide, and they all put their sandwiches down on their respective trays. “They should consider moral standards as part of the assessment, especially in considering which trainees deserve to be called agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..” Steve’s eyes narrow, and his eyes land on a blonde woman, who is probably the same age as Wanda, with her face pale, and her eyes unable to meet Steve’s.

“C-Captain Rogers.” one of the male trainees stammer as a greeting, and Steve nods.

“Sorry to interrupt. But Perez, right? Did I get that right?” Steve asks, and she nods, without meeting his eyes. “Look at me when I’m speaking to you.” Perez lifts her eyes slowly, afraidly to meet Steve’s narrowed cold blue eyes.

Steve thinks of getting mad, laying out a litany, an ultimatum, that if he ever hears another person speak ill of his wife, or the mother of his son, he will do this and that that will make their lives miserable, but then he realizes he may not be taken too seriously since he has his son on his hip with a pencil case filled with art materials and papers filled with drawings. And he realizes that he’s bigger than that, better than that, especially now he knows his son is listening to him, and he is upset by what he had just heard, and he doesn’t want to make what James is feeling now become worse.

So instead, he nudges James slightly. “This is James,” he says softly, and James lifts his head to look at the four trainees, his eyes still moist and cheeks a bit damp. “James Iosef Rogers, my son with Agent Romanoff, the Black Widow, my wife.” He looks at Perez who swallows, and is sweating profusely as her eyes are still trained on Steve’s. “He just heard what you’ve been saying about her earlier, especially you, Perez. James heard everything, I heard everything.” He looks at James who is now frowning at them. “What do you say to that, Jamie?”

James looks at his father and furrows his eyebrows, his frown deepening as he looks back at them. “Why are you being mean to Mommy?” he asks in a small voice, but then his voice grows louder. “Why are you being mean to my Mommy?”

The four trainees freeze in their seats, and Steve narrows his eyes at them. “Answer the kid, Perez.” he says in a low voice.

He feels petty, and in hindsight, maybe he should be dealing with this in another way, but he finds this one more satisfactory and better.

Perez gulps and takes a shaky breath. “I...I didn’t mean to.” she says quietly.

“You’re being mean to my Mommy!” James exclaims, his eyes filling with tears again. “Because you don’t know my Mommy! She’s the nicest and kindest and bestest Mommy there is, and you’re saying bad things about her. My Mommy is not bad! You are! Because you keep saying bad things about other people, and my Mommy said you shouldn’t do that!”

“I’m sorry.” Perez whispers.

“Say that to my Mommy!” James exclaims as more tears fall from his eyes, and he lays his head on his father’s shoulder, pulling himself closer to him.

Perez winces and looks away, and Steve looks at all of them. “As a husband who had just overheard all the things you said about my wife,” he starts, and he looks at the three trainees. “Thank you for thinking that she is remarkable, because she is. And thank you for thinking that she is good, because she is, most of the time even beyond what good can cover.” The three trainees smile tentatively at him but they still look down.

“And as for you who said all of those mean things about my wife, I hope that meeting me, and meeting James, can prove at least what you thought about her otherwise,” Steve continues as he looks at Perez. “Because if it were up to me, it’s me who doesn’t deserve her, not the other way around. She’s too loving, too patient and too compassionate, and if you’re quick to judge someone whom you barely know if you are to say otherwise.”

Steve takes a deep breath. “And as Captain America, the Black Widow’s teammate and partner, as well as Agent 13’s teammate as well,” he says. “I suggest that if you were to talk about your instructors, do it so among yourselves in your private quarters. Follow your instructors during trainings, because, contrary to what some of you may think, we do know better.” Perez looks up at him, her eyes wide and afraid. “And for the record, S.H.I.E.L.D. takes into account moral standards when they rank their agents into levels.” He smirks. “And Agent Romanoff is still on a higher level than me even then.”

The trainees’ eyes widen as they look at each other, save for Perez, whose eyes widen in surprise. “Perez, report to your team leader immediately, and report to him or her what you just did in your training with Agent 13 and Agent Romanoff. The three of you, I want you to make sure it happens,” he says, and the three nod quickly as Perez looks away. “Report as well that you outrightly disrespected an Avenger, and tell him or her that it was Captain Rogers who sent you.”

Steve takes one last look at the four new trainees and he turns and walks toward the exit door, but despite the seething and burning anger and irritation he feels inside his chest, his heart still flutters when he sees Natasha enter the cafeteria. He sighs and stops, and looks back at the four trainees who watch as Natasha walks over to where Steve and James are. His eyes land on Perez, who looks at Natasha almost disbelievingly. But Natasha doesn’t seem to mind them nor notice them, and she smiles when she sees her boys.

“There you two are,” she says softly, smiling. And when James heard her voice, his head lifts and he pouts, extending his arms to be carried by Natasha, who takes him and presses soft kisses on his forehead, the tip of his nose and his two cheeks. Steve sighs as he wraps an arm around her waist, pulling her close as he leans down to press a chaste kiss on her lips. “I’m sorry it took a while, I promise I’ll tell everything later.”

But Steve shakes his head. “No need,” he says quietly, and he looks back at the four trainees who are still watching them cautiously but carefully. “I think I heard what happened.”

Natasha furrows her eyebrows in confusion and follows his line of sight, landing to the four trainees who, upon her eyes landing on them, had quickly turned to resume their lunch. Natasha takes a moment of pause and then her expression softens and she sighs as she turns back to look up at Steve who is looking at her sadly.

“Steve,” she says softly, lifting a hand to run it through her husband’s hair, her hand resting on the side of his face. She smiles, as her thumb brushes his cheek gently. “You know I don’t care. I don’t care whatever they say about me, whether it be good or bad. Only what you and James, and our close friends say matter.” She shakes her head. “I don’t care.”

“But I do,” Steve answers quietly, resting a hand over hers. “I do, and James does too.”

Natasha frowns, and she pulls her hand away to rub James’ back gently. “Is that why my little boy is so upset?” she asks quietly, and James whimpers, burying his face in the crook of Natasha’s neck. “Did the new trainees make you upset, little one?” She feels James nod against her neck, and she presses a kiss on his head as she sighs, closing her eyes to rest her head against her son’s.

Steve sighs and takes her hand in his, intertwining their fingers together, as Natasha opens her eyes. “Come on, how about a good lunch, hm?” he asks softly, giving Natasha a small smile. “Let’s invite Sam, Bucky, Sharon and Wanda, we’ll have takeout and all in the communal kitchen.”

Natasha smiles and nods. “I like that,” she says softly. She pulls away slightly to look at James. “You hear that, baby? We’ll have lunch with Uncle Sam, Uncle Bucky, Auntie Sharon and Auntie Wanda.”

James lifts his head at the mention of his favorite uncles and aunts and he smiles and nods. Natasha presses a kiss on the tip of James’ nose and the boy giggles. “Sounds good.” Natasha tells Steve softly with a smile.


That night, as his Mommy tucks him in bed, she sits down on the edge of his bed beside him, smiling down as she leans to press a kiss on his forehead. James smiles, and she runs her fingers through his red hair, one that mirrors hers. The gesture soothes him, and he almost falls asleep too immediately.

“Hey, little guy,” James opens his eyes and hums as he looks at his mother who smiles at him. “Daddy told me what you said to those trainees a while ago, when they were saying bad things about me.”

Is he in trouble? He didn’t really say anything bad to them, none that would upset his Mommy, anyway. And he was upset at what happened, at what they said about his Mommy, so he was just trying to defend her, protect her, like how she protects him. “They were being mean to you, Mommy,” he says in a small voice. “They say you’re bad, but you’re not. You’re good, Mommy, good like Daddy and all other superheroes.”

Natasha’s eyes start filling with tears as she smiles sweetly at James. “Thank you, baby,” she says softly. James smiles up at his Mommy and she leans down to press another kiss on his forehead. “Thank you for saying that about me.” She runs her fingers through his hair again. “I hope when you grow up, you don’t become like them, okay? Don’t say bad things about other people, and always, always try to see the good in them, okay? Because there is always something good in all people, always.

“Okay, Mommy,” James says, and Natasha smiles and nods. “Love you, Mommy.”

Natasha’s eyes sparkle and her smile widens. “I love you too, little one,” she answers softly, and she taps her cheek. “Give Mommy a kiss?” James leans to peck her on the cheek. She then taps the tip of her nose. “Kiss Mommy again?” James giggles as he leans up to peck Natasha on the tip of the nose, and she laughs softly.

And like James said, he likes hearing his Mommy laugh.

“Mommy, sing?” he asks, and his Mommy nods and positions to lie down beside James, pulling him in closer to her, as he rests his head on the pillow beside Natasha’s. She presses another kiss on the side of his head as she begins to hum, and he listens, as he allows his eyes to fall close, the thoughts and drama of the day fade and dissipate away, as he focuses only on his mother’s love conveyed through her voice, and through the fingers stroking his hair softly, her thumb brushing her cheek gently and lovingly, and he allows himself to fall into a peaceful sleep.

That Perez girl is wrong about everything she said about his Mommy. But he’s sure that she’s very wrong about one thing she assumed, because he’s pretty damn proud and happy to be the Black Widow’s son.

Chapter Text

“Come here, James, come to Mommy.”

Steve smiles as he looks up from his laptop, and finds James on the mat slowly walking towards Natasha’s open arms. The baby gurgles and giggles and squeals when Natasha catches him in her arms, pulling him to her chest as she praises him, peppering his face with kisses and murmurs of love.

“Now go to Daddy,” Natasha says, looking up at him with a wide smile and sparkling eyes. He grins as he watches her put James back down on his feet, orienting him towards Steve’s direction on the couch. James giggles as he waves his arms around as he looks up at Steve, who puts his laptop beside him and extends his arm at the baby. “Come on, Jamie, now go to Daddy.” Natasha follows on her knees as James takes his wobbly steps towards Steve, always ready to catch her baby when he falls. When he doesn’t, relief washes over her face, and a proud smile appears as well.

“Good job, buddy.” Steve praises, gathering James in his arms and pressing a kiss on his cheek. James giggles and claps his hands as he sits James down on his lap. He takes Steve’s thumb and sucks on it and Steve laughs, looking over at Natasha, sitting on her heels on the floor, smiling widely as she watches James.

And Steve doesn’t think she’d ever seen her more beautiful than she is now (and he thinks about that every single day, but he figured maybe it’s just because Natasha just becomes more beautiful as the days pass. Motherhood and domesticity suit her well). He remembers telling her this when she was still pregnant with James, telling her how beautiful she is as each day passes.

“You just tell me that to shut me up about how fat I’m becoming.” she replied once, on the verge of tears as she pouted at him while she was sitting on the edge of the bed. She was a week away from her due date back then, and had called him in while he was in the kitchen to help her stand since she needed to go to the bathroom (again).

“You’re not fat,” Steve told her, walking over to her as he pulled her up from the bed. “You’re carrying our child, our son. It’s the most beautiful sight to see.”

“You mean to say I was less beautiful on our wedding day? Smooth talk, Rogers.”

Steve chuckled and shook his head, kissing the side of her head. “You become more beautiful every day, and you’ve been beautiful since the day we met,” he said, holding her hand in his as he walks with her slowly to the bathroom. “So yeah, you’re more beautiful today than on our wedding day.”

And Natasha attributed his words to his lack of sleep the past few weeks, but Steve knew she believed his words to be true, if not for the blush creeping up on her cheeks and the smile she was trying her best to hide. He was rewarded later that night for his words.

James wiggles in Steve’s grip as he leans down, wanting to go back down on the floor. Steve chuckles as he puts James down again, and he giggles when he starts wobbling his way back to Natasha.

“Mama!” James squeals as he extends his arms towards his mother. Natasha’s face lights up as she opens her arms and eventually catches the baby who giggles when he feels his mother’s arms lift him up.

“He likes you more.” Steve says, smirking, and Natasha laughs, shaking her head as she stands. Steve takes the laptop from the space on the couch beside him, resting it on the table in front of them, and Natasha sits beside him, pulling James to sit on her lap, letting his head rest back on her chest. The baby burrows himself, shifting so he is facing up at his father. Steve grins, and James gurgles, reaching for his father’s hand again.

“I’m the milk giver, so of course he likes me more.” she teases, raising an eyebrow and Steve laughs, smoothing his thumb over James’ small hand that’s wrapping around his finger. He extends his other arm to wrap around Natasha’s shoulder, pulling her closer to kiss the side of her head.

“He’s a Rogers too,” he points out. “Which means it’s only natural he likes you a lot .” Natasha laughs softly, shaking her head as she leans up to press a chaste kiss on her husband’s lips.

“What’s got you all smooth in your words today, hm?” she asks softly, her smile wide and genuinely happy. Steve grins and shrugs.

“I just want to let my wife know how amazing she is, that’s all,” he says and Natasha smiles.

James looks up at his mother and smiles, as if understanding Steve’s words and agreeing to it, and Natasha chuckles, leaning down to press a kiss on the tip of his nose. Steve smiles. “She’s amazing, isn’t she, little one? Your Mommy’s the best Mommy there is, yeah?” he coos, leaning down to press a kiss on his cheek. James squeals and giggles, clapping his hands, and Natasha laughs, her laugh melodious and beautiful in Steve’s ears.

“You’re just biased,” Natasha tells Steve, her smile not fading from her face. “And you , little man, you’re just as biased as your Daddy, huh?” She leans to pepper James’ face with kisses, making the baby laugh, his arms reaching out to press on either side of Natasha’s face, James’ smile toothless but wide and beautiful.

He’s not biased, neither of them are. Steve smiles and shakes his head. She’s an amazing mother, and it’s seen through James’ numerous laughter and frequent smiles. He’s seen great mothers, and he grew up with one, so he knows that Natasha’s a great mother, and an amazing one at that.

He remembers Natasha crying one night, on the day they found out she was pregnant with James. They were taking shelter in a small apartment in Ordino, when she decided to check in a nearby hospital because she had been feeling sick for a few weeks. They had been excited at first, of course, especially when Steve came home and Natasha was able to show an ultrasound photo to him, explaining to him that that was the picture of their five-week old baby growing inside of her. They celebrated as much as they can, when Steve decided to risk going out by taking her out to a nice restaurant the following day.

They had been careful, of course, because this was the first time in a long time that they would treat themselves out of their safe house. Their apartment in Andorra was the seventh safe house they had since Bucky, Sam and Wanda separated from them, and they’re planning to move again soon. Despite Andorra’s neutrality in the Accords, they still couldn’t afford to risk it especially when Ross tracks their movement. So they worked to make sure they weren’t as recognizable, with Natasha dyeing her hair once again to ensure the blonde will cover any traces of red hair, and Steve had dyed his hair and beard again to brown. The night went by smoothly, with the couple celebrating a new addition to their family, like a light in the midst of the darkness they’re experiencing by being on the run and hiding from the government hunting them down.

And that night, the reality seemed to have hit Natasha. She cried, as silently as she could, when she thought Steve was asleep after a very intimate night that followed after dinner. But Steve had grown to be more attuned to what Natasha was feeling, so of course, he woke up to feel her slightly trembling in his arms, and when she turned, he felt wetness on her cheeks.

“I can’t do this, Steve,” she cried. “I’m scared. This isn’t the life for a child, this isn’t the life for our child.”

Our child . Steve pushed down the flutter in his heart as she said it, as Steve kissed the tears on her cheeks, holding her close. “You don’t have to do it alone, sweetheart,” he said softly, letting her sob on his chest. “I’m here. We can do it. We will do it together, I promise.”

“I don’t know how to be a mother, Steve,” she mumbled, amidst sniffles and sobs. “I don’t know how, and I don’t want to screw this one up.” She sobs harder. “I don’t want to be a bad mother, but I know I will be a bad mother, Steve.”

Steve kissed the top of Natasha’s head, and pulled away slightly to kiss the tip of her nose, both of her cheeks. “Look at me,” he said softly, and Natasha took deep breaths before she looked at him, her eyes wide, red-rimmed and still glistening with unshed tears. Steve’s heart broke at how small and helpless she looked, when he knows she’s not, when he knows she’s the strongest, fiercest and most loving woman he had ever come to know, and so he told her that.

“You are strong, you are beautiful, you are compassionate, and you are loving. I should know, because I’ve been on the other end of your love and compassion. You care so much, and you have a lot of love in your heart,” His hand slides down to rest on her still flat belly. “And this baby, our baby will be the luckiest child there is to be on the receiving end of that love and care that you are so capable of giving. I know I’m lucky enough to receive your love and care everyday, so I can only imagine how much love you’ll give our baby.” Natasha hiccuped, and another wave of fresh tears ran down her cheeks. “You love our baby, yeah? You love him or her, even now when he or she’s not here yet?” Natasha nodded quickly, and with confidence, mouthing a small ‘yes’ to Steve. “Yeah? Then I’m just excited to how much you’ll be able to love them when they get here. You’re already a great mother by loving them, Nat. Please believe me.”

Steve wiped away her tears and smiled down at her. “And I’ll be here,” he said softly. “I’ll be here to protect you, both of you. We’ll do this together, okay? We’ll be a team, and we’ll do this right together.”

It had been a promise, which is how they got to Wakanda, because Steve had reached out to T’challa, taking up the offer the king had offered to them quite some time ago. They figured they would be safe here, and when Steve told the king of their situation, he wholeheartedly took them in, and they had been safe and sound ever since.

Natasha looks up at him, and finds him looking at her, a fond and soft smile on his face. Her face immediately colors into a blush and she giggles, pulling James closer to her body. “What?” she asks softly, and Steve chuckles, shaking his head as he leans to press a soft kiss on her lips.

“Nothing.” he replies, and Natasha hums, pressing a kiss again on his lips.

“Doesn’t seem like nothing.” she replies and Steve chuckles.

“Just remembering how lucky we are,” he says softly. “How lucky James and I are to have you.”

Natasha smiles at that, ducking her head at the compliment. He’s said it many times before since James was born, and even before that. She’s probably sick of hearing it, and on some days, she’d believe him, and some days she won’t, but he won’t get sick of telling her that if it meant that at the end of everything, she’ll believe it in herself too.

And that evening, after dinner, when he walks out of the kitchen to find Natasha carrying James close to her chest, swaying and dancing with their baby to an old slow song in the living room, her forehead resting against James’, a contented and wide smile on her face as she hums and sings softly to the baby, her one hand holding James’ small one, he feels warmth spreading in his chest as he can’t help the smile forming on his face at the sight in front of him. He had never seen Natasha more content, at peace, and so beautiful with their son clutched to her chest, swaying along to the music she must have played on their stereo.

James giggles and Natasha presses a kiss on the tip of his nose, and Steve just couldn’t help but grin.

Yeah, they’re pretty damn lucky to have Natasha in their lives.

He walks over to them, one hand resting on the small of Natasha’s back, and she smiles up at him as he takes her hand clutching James’ in his. He sways them along to the music, pulling his family closer to him, as he leans down to press a kiss on James’ head, and on Natasha’s lips. James claps his hands between them and the two adults laugh softly, as they dance the night away in their living room.

Chapter Text

When Natasha first found out she was pregnant with James, she remembered thinking, “How the hell am I supposed to be a mother?”

And it wasn’t at all because she thought of herself so lowly, unworthy and uncaring for to be one (she did, of course, but she forced herself to push those thoughts aside when Steve eased her into the idea of parenthood, and when he kept on convincing her that she was going to be good, she became okay), but it was really because she had absolutely no idea how to be one.

She made a mental checklist of the things she knew about babies, learning from her experience with handling the Barton kids when Cooper and Lila were still babies. She knew how to hold one (Laura taught her the proper way how to), she knew they cried a lot, pooped a lot, drank a lot of milk, and slept a lot too. She knew they needed to be talked to, cuddled with all the time because they couldn’t understand the words “I love you” yet, but they can understand it through the way their mothers would hold and handle them. She also knew that newborns have to be held close against their mother’s skin, just near her heart because it’s the only sound they’re familiar with, and it was the only way to let them know that the person holding them is their mother.

And so when James was born, she kept in mind all those things, as she and Steve instantly fell in love with their little baby boy, their light in the dark world they thought they lived in, hope at the end of their dark tunnel. Natasha held him near her heart, her bare chest in contact with his head so he can listen to her heart that was beating for him, beating for her little James. And as time passed, she got to experience the rest: James’ constant crying (and her and Steve’s lack of sleeping time and alone quality time with each other), her nursing him, cleaning him up when he pooped and watching him as he slept, and her cuddling and playing with him constantly, and even if he couldn’t understand her, she still constantly whispers to him how much Mommy loves him, and how much Daddy loves him, and she thinks that he would understand too, because of the smiles he would give them.

But over time, she got to learn a lot of other things too. She learned that James would sometimes be content if he wouldn’t be playing with his toys, but would spend time just babbling and playing with his Mommy and Daddy. She learned how important it is to expose James to the outside world, and Wakanda was a perfect place to expose James to their lovely environment. She learned how to encourage and teach James how to say Mama and Dada, how to roll, sit up, crawl, and even toddle a few steps on his own. She also learned that it was okay if he would fall flat on his face in an attempt to take a few steps, since it was a way for him to learn independently on his own how to walk, and he did, and his Mommy and Daddy were proud of him because of it.

But if there was one thing she has yet to learn how to deal with in her almost one year of motherhood, it was on how to take care of a baby when he’s sick.

And it happened when Steve happened to be out in a mission with T’challa and Bucky, one of those rare overseas missions the king promised to the family would be less. He did fulfill the promise, it was just that this particular one was off-timing.

James had been sleepy and grumpy the previous day, and Natasha figured that maybe it was because he was tired, or he missed his Daddy. He slept a bit earlier than his normal sleeping time, and Natasha didn’t pay much attention to it. But she was woken up that morning crying, and it was before the sun even rose. So Natasha woke up to her baby softly calling for her amid his small and soft cries. “Mama,” he called in his small and weak voice. “Mama.” She opened the lamp on the nightstand beside their bed and blinked several times, willing herself to be alert at such an ungodly hour in the morning.

“Hey, little guy,” she cooed softly, getting up to walk over to his cot bed she transferred to her and Steve’s room in moments when he’d be out for missions. She picked him up, and James whimpered, wrapping his arms around his mother’s neck and burying his face in the crook of her neck. “What’s wrong, baby? You hungry?”

“Mama.” James cried softly, and when she tried to pull away, James just pulled his mother closer, wrapping his arms around her neck a little tighter, and crying even harder.

“What’s wrong, Jamie?” she asked, and only when she rested her hand on James’ head that she felt it.

He was warm, and it wasn’t the warmth that she usually felt when she was with Steve, or not even the natural body heat her son emitted. He was alarmingly warmer, like he was sick.

James cried harder, squirming in her arms, clinging tighter to his mother, as Natasha rubbed his back gently. “Hey, hey, it’s okay,” she shushed, but her mind was running a million miles per minute, trying to figure out what was wrong, what she could do, what she was supposed to do because she’d never done this. This never happened, and she never imagined it would happen either. “It’s okay, baby, Mommy’s here. Mommy’s got you.”

And then James started coughing, his head turning away from his mother’s neck as he coughed loudly, and it wasn’t even the dry coughs Natasha was familiar with. It was the other one, the mucus-filled one, and as James breathed for another fit of coughs above his soft whimpers and cries, she heard wheezing. James cried harder, but he was wheezing, and he was coughing, and as she shushed and rubbed her hand on James’ small back, she felt his back rise and fall almost with great difficulty, as if he was heaving, as if he was having difficulty breathing.

“Mama,” James cried, as another wave of coughs filled him, and Natasha’s heart broke as he wheezed and breathed deeply, with great difficulty. “Mama.”

“I’m here, Jamie,” Natasha said softly, rubbing his back and bouncing and swaying him gently, her mind still reeling, willing herself to move, do something to make her baby feel better, but she has to know what’s happening. She pressed her lips on James’ head, pulling him closer to her chest. “Does it hurt, baby? Where does it hurt? Tell Mommy where it hurts.”

But James couldn’t speak anything more clearly than “Mama” and “Dada”, and a few other words. So he babbled in syllables, as James cried more, wheezed and coughed more, and clung to his mother tightly, as if almost pleading her to help him, make him feel better. He called for her again, and babbled again, and Natasha’s heart broke because she couldn’t understand him. He was trying to tell her what’s wrong, where it hurt, but she couldn’t understand him.

She went over to the bathroom, opened the lights and retrieved a towel. She continued to shush and press kisses on his head as she used her one hand to wet the cloth on the sink. She walked back into the bedroom and laid on the bed, resting James on top of her chest. The baby clung tightly to her, as he continued to cry and squirm. He whimpered for her again.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, baby,” Natasha said, adjusting James on her chest as she folded the cold wet towel in thirds. “I’m not going anywhere, Mommy’s not going anywhere.”

She rested the cool towel against James’ warm forehead. The baby flinched at first, but later relaxed in her arms. “It’s good?” she asked softly, and James’ cries soften, turning into whimpers. He still wheezed as he breathed, but his breathing later relaxed. “Feeling a bit better?”

She thought of waking up Shuri, perhaps to ask her what was wrong, ask her to check on James, but thought better against it when James started to loosen his grip on her. Natasha wrapped both of her arms around her son, pulling a blanket over them, and pressing kisses on top of his head. She watched as his eyes slowly flutter close, as he further relaxed in his mother’s arms. Natasha hummed a soft lullaby, effectively making James fall asleep in her arms. Maybe it was just a small, passing fever. James was going to be fine, he’s not that sick.

Or so she thought.

She wakes up again, and this time she finds James, while still asleep, shaking in her arms. She wraps the blanket around James tighter, thinking that maybe he is feeling cold, but it wasn’t even that cold inside the room. She puts away the towel on James’ forehead, and when her hand rests on his forehead, she flinches her hand away.

Her son is burning up.

So she immediately wraps James in her blanket, her heart hammering inside her chest as she gets up from the bed. She balances James in one arm as she puts on one of her coats hanging by the door of their bedroom. And in the process, James starts to squirm awake in her arms, and starts crying, clinging to his mother tightly as he calls for her softly.

“Mommy’s here, Jamie,” Natasha says, rubbing her hand on the baby’s back, and James just starts crying and screaming louder, his cries tied with wheezes more evident and worse than this morning. He calls for his Mama again, and Natasha’s heart breaks as all she can do is rub her hand on his back as he coughs and wheezes and shakes in his arms. “It’s going to be okay. We’ll make it okay.”

James starts talking in vague syllables, his little fists rubbing on his eyes and all over his head as he lifts his head and faces his mother, and his face scrunches up further as he wails and cries, and Natasha wants to cry, and break down because James is trying to tell her something, point out what was wrong, but she couldn’t understand. James can’t say anything clearly beyond Mama, and it’s all she can understand. James is imploring his mother to make him feel better, ease whatever pain he is feeling, but she can’t understand. She doesn’t know what to do, because she cannot understand whatever it is her baby is telling her.

She can’t understand, and it makes her feel like the worst mother for not doing so.

“James, please tell Mommy what’s wrong,” Natasha can do nothing but plead as she brushes James’ mussed red hair, and the baby just cries and coughs and shakes. “Please, little one, I’m trying, Mommy’s trying to figure it out.”

And James’ head falls on her shoulder as his little arms wrap around her neck. He squirms yet again, and gets into another fit of wet coughs, as he wheezes and cries, and his back arches and squirms as Natasha rubs her hand against his back. Natasha holds the tears back, and walk over to the living room, ready to walk down the hall into Shuri’s lab to ask for the princess’ help. And so she opens the door, and there she finds Shuri, her hand lifted to knock on the door, and she feels a weight lift off her chest.

Shuri’s eyes widen in surprise, as she meets with Natasha’s wide green eyes glistening with unshed tears, but she quickly recovers. “I am sorry, I was passing by, and I heard crying and screaming,” she says softly, and her eyes land on James wrapped up in a blanket and still clinging to his mother. “Is everything alright?”

“No,” Natasha says, shaking her head as her voice breaks, as she pulls her son closer to her. “N-no, I think James is sick, and he’s...he’s been burning up since last night, and I thought-I thought he was fine, and Steve’s not here, and—” She pauses as she feels her throat constrict as her heart starts breaking because James starts crying louder, squirming and shaking in her arms.

“We are going to be fine,” Shuri assures her softly, resting her hand on Natasha’s arm, and giving her a small smile. “Come on, let us have the doctors to take a quick look at James.”

So Natasha follows Shuri down the hall and into the palace medical wing. She speaks to a few doctors in their native language, probably laying them some instructions, grabbing a lab coat as two male doctors follow her, with Natasha behind them as she shushes and murmurs to James in her arms, still shaking and whimpering softly.

They lead her to a small check-up room, and one of the doctors lead Natasha to the small bed where she sits down on the edge. “We will just be doing some routine procedures with James, just to find out what is wrong,” Shuri says. “Is it okay if you let James sit on your lap?”

Natasha nods and gently pulls away from James who cries when she pulls away. “No, no, it’s okay, baby,” she coos. “I’m not going to leave, okay? Mommy’s just here.” She pulls away gently and sits James on her lap, as the baby looks up, his eyes landing on Shuri who crouches down in eye level with James. He whimpers a bit and pouts, his bottom lip sticking out and wobbling as more tears fill his eyes.

“Hello, little one,” Shuri greets softly. She pulls out an ear thermometer and puts it in James’ ear, as James rubs his eyes with his fists, Natasha holding him closer to her by his small body. “Your Mama said you are a little sick? We will see about that.”

Shuri pulls the thermometer away when it beeped, and she frowns. “What is it?” Natasha asks softly.

“100.4, low fever, but fever still,” the princess answers softly. “Did you say he has been having fever since last night?” Natasha nods.

“H-he’s also been coughing, and wheezing, and I think he’s in pain because he’s been squirming and crying,” she answers quietly, and she feels her heart break as James adjusts himself so he is burrowing himself against his mother’s shirt. “And this morning, when he woke up he’s been having chills, I think.”

James lets out a coughing fit, as one of the doctors produce an oximeter. He speaks to Shuri in their native language and she nods. “We will be clipping something on his toe,” she tells Natasha. “It will help if you would maybe hold him, and this is to help us monitor James, maybe find out what is wrong.”

Shuri removes one of James’ socks slowly as Natasha presses a kiss on top of James’ head. He sniffles and Shuri notices this, so she grabs a piece of tissue and gently wipes James’ nose. She gives the tissue to one of the doctors who nods and steps out of the room.

“James, open up your mouth and say ‘ah’,” Shuri tells James. James opens his mouth obediently, and Shuri uses her small flashlight to check inside James’ mouth, and the princess frowns, telling something again to the male doctor, who retrieves his stethoscope and looks at Natasha for approval and permission, as Natasha nods. “We will be checking his breathing, something in his lungs maybe, because you said he was wheezing?”

“Yeah, had a difficult time breathing too.” Natasha says. The male doctor listens as he moves his stethoscope on James’ back, and the baby just continues to breathe and wheeze uneasily on his mother’s lap, his face cuddled against his mother’s shirt. The doctor moves to check on his chest.

“Your baby has a slight wheezing sound when he breathes out, yes?” the male doctor asks, and Natasha nods. “There is this sort of rattling sound in his lungs when he breathes, usually because of a clogged airway.” The male doctor looks at Shuri then back at James. “Princess Shuri had retrieved a mucus sample from the baby’s nose, so we have yet to find out what is happening.”

“But what’s...what’s the initial diagnosis?” Natasha asks quietly, holding James closer to his arms.

The other doctor comes back, and the three speak in their native language as they discuss. James looks up at his mother and pouts. “Mama.” he calls out softly, extending his arms to reach for his mother’s face. Natasha leans down to press a small kiss on James’ forehead, and on the tip of his nose, and she rubs their noses together as James rests his small warm hands on Natasha’s cheeks.

“It’s gonna be okay, baby,” she whispers, kissing the tip of his nose again, and James sniffles. “Mommy’s going to fix this, okay? Mommy’s going to fix you.”

James whimpers as Natasha adjusts him so he can rest his head on Natasha’s shoulder as she lifts him back to his earlier position. She hears him wheeze as he breathes, and her heart breaks as she thinks of how difficult it must be to breathe in James’ position.

Her baby just wants to breathe, how can the universe be so cruel in making it hard for him to do so?

“Our initial diagnosis is correct,” Shuri says, and Natasha looks up at the three doctors again. “Acute bronchitis. Nothing serious, but we do have to take some measures for James to feel better.”

Natasha blinks. “W-what can we do? Are there some medicine for it?” she asks quietly.

Shuri hums as she looks up at the male doctor speaking to Natasha earlier. “There are no medicines yet for the baby, since he is very young, so he is not allowed yet to take tablets,” he explains gently. “We do suggest a humidifier in your baby’s room to keep the air clean, and also plenty of fluids. We will also suggest you accompany your baby to inhale steam.”

“Steam?” Natasha asks dumbly.

“It will help make the baby breathe easier, the mucus in his lungs better to cough up,” the doctor answers. “It will be uncomfortable, of course, but it is necessary, and it will help speed up the process for healing.”

“Plenty of rest too for the little one,” Shuri adds. “So no playing outside a room without a humidifier, which I will give later when you go up in your room.” Natasha nods. “We will give you a cooling pad to help lower the fever, and some medicine too.” Shuri nods at the two doctors who nod and step out of the room, probably to retrieve the medicine James needs. She turns back at Natasha and Shuri smiles. “It will be okay, Nat. James is going to be okay.”

Natasha sighs, rubbing James’ back gently. “I didn’t know what to do,” she tells her softly, honestly. “I-I didn’t think he was going to get sick, but he did.”

Shuri nods. “Captain’s super soldier serum is yet to kick in inside James’ body, so his immune system is that of a normal baby’s still, and normal babies get sick,” she explains. “This is not your fault, Nat.”

Natasha’s eyes start filling with tears as she presses James closer to her chest. “He was trying to tell me what’s wrong, but I couldn’t understand him,” she says quietly. “He can’t talk yet, so I couldn’t...I couldn’t understand he was in pain, or...or he couldn’t breathe.”

My baby just wanted to breathe, she thinks, and I didn’t even understand that.

Shuri nods understandingly. “But that does not make you a bad mother, Nat,” she tells her softly, a small smile on her face as if she heard what Natasha was thinking. “James is a baby, and even though you cannot understand what he was saying, you knew something was wrong, and you did something about it. You also held him through it, did everything you can to make him feel better, and even asked for help. Most mothers in Wakanda do not do that, because they think they know everything, but they really do not.”

“They did what they could,” Natasha says quietly. “I didn’t. I didn’t know what to do.”

“You did. You never left James,” she answers, and the princess smiles widely. “You are a good mother, Nat. I have seen great mothers, even happened to grow up with one. You are a good mother.”

The validation had always meant something to Natasha, especially when it comes from Steve, but she supposed that it’s different when someone else says it. It meant more, and objective in a sense, which meant that she probably was doing okay. She probably is good, in a sense.

And it makes her smile.

The two doctors come back, and one of them administer a liquid medicine to James, while the other one gives Natasha the cooling pads and the liquid medicine to give James every four hours to lower the fever and make the mucus lighter. They instruct Natasha to let James have his rest first, and how the cooling pad should be prepared, and when he wakes up, to let him breathe some warm steam in their bathroom. After she expresses her gratitude, and James eventually calms in her arms, Shuri leads them back into their room, where she promises she will be back with the humidifier in a few hours.

Natasha lays James down on their bed after giving him a sippy cup full of water to drink and a small bowl of fruits for his breakfast that she feeds him. James takes a deep breath, and while Natasha still hears the wheeze, she calms herself down, because she knows what she is doing now, and she knows that James will be fine. She wipes James’ body with a cool towel before changing his clothes and diaper into newer and fresher ones, before laying the cooling pad on his small forehead. She lays beside him, and cuddles him against her as she presses a kiss on the side of his head, humming a lullaby and gently patting his leg until James eventually falls asleep again.

She stays beside her son for a while, before she cooks breakfast for herself and taking a quick bath for her own change of clothes. Shuri comes in after a while, bringing with her the humidifier she promised, and Natasha sets it up inside the room. Afterwards, she sits beside James on the bed and grabs her phone, dialing Steve’s number, praying to God that she is not interrupting anything.

“Hello?” Steve’s voice comes in on the second ring, and Natasha feels like she can breathe again.

“Hey,” Natasha greets softly. “Just checking in. How are you?”

“Great, we’re fine,” Steve says lightly, and Natasha can hear the smile lacing in her husband’s voice. “We’re off in a while, so it’s a good thing you called now. How are you and James?”

Natasha takes a deep breath as she looks down at her sleeping son wrapped in his own blanket beside her. “James is sick,” she says quietly. “Bronchitis, just this morning. Shuri and the doctors said.”

“Is-is he okay? I thought he’s not supposed to get sick.” Steve says, worry lacing in his voice.

“He’s...he’s fine now. I’ll tell the story when you get home, but he’s fine now, asleep,” she answers softly. “Shuri said the serum’s not yet kicked in, so he’s still prone to getting sick, but he’ll be okay. He’s...he’s okay now.”

“Are you sure? I-I can get back,” Steve says. “I can tell T’challa and Bucky, I can go home. I can go home, help take care of you and James—”

“Sweetheart, it’s okay,” she says, chuckling softly. “We’re fine now, James is getting better. We’ll be waiting for you, okay?”

There is a pause on the other line and Natasha hears a sigh. “Okay,” he says softly. “But how are you holding up?”

Natasha sighs and leans her head back. “I was scared, Steve,” she admits quietly. “James was...he was shaking, and he was crying, and he couldn’t speak yet, and I got scared. I didn’t know what to do.”

“But he’s fine now, isn’t he? I think you knew exactly what to do, Nat,” he says softly. “You asked for help.”

“I could’ve done something.” Natasha says weakly, and Steve chuckles softly in the other line.

“You did, sweetheart, you did everything,” he says softly. “Listen, I gotta go. We’ll be leaving. But I’ll check up again later, okay?”

Natasha sniffles. “Okay,” she says softly. “I love you, Steve. Be safe."

“I love you too,” he replies softly. “And kiss James for me, okay? We’ll be home soon.”

Natasha hangs up and sighs as she puts her phone down. She lies back down beside James and presses a kiss on his cheek, pulling him closer to her body. He’s less warm now, and Natasha smiles because her baby’s fever is going down. She can still hear the wheezing, but seeing as he is still asleep, she figures that perhaps he can breathe more easily now.

She falls asleep beside him, cuddled beside her baby, and wakes an hour later to find James is still sleeping soundly beside her. She presses another kiss on the baby’s cheek, and gets up to the bathroom to prepare for the hot steam.

She comes back inside the bedroom, and removes the cooling pad on James’ forehead. She presses a small kiss on it. “Jamie,” she calls softly. “Jamie, wake up.” She shakes her baby lightly, until James’ face scrunches and he yawns, stretching his arms and legs, until he opens his eyes.

Natasha smiles and carries him into her arms, pressing soft kisses on the baby’s face as James whimpers slightly, wrapping his arms around Natasha’s neck and burying his face in the crook of his neck. Natasha continues to plant soft kisses on his head as she rubs his back.

“Mama?” James calls, pulling away slightly to face Natasha. She smiles and presses a kiss on the tip of his nose, and James lets out a soft giggle, making Natasha’s smile wider.

“You feeling okay, baby?” she asks softly, and James hums softly. She presses another kiss on his forehead.

“Mum...Dada?” he asks.

“Dada is still out, but he’ll be home soon,” Natasha explains softly. “But for now, baby, we have to make your coughs a bit better, okay?”

She carries him into the bathroom, where the steam from the hot shower area makes the room a bit stuffy and uncomfortable. James whimpers and clings to his mother, but Natasha adjusts James so he won’t be covering his face. “No, no, Jamie,” she says softly. “Just breathe with Mommy, okay? Breathe with Mommy.”

“Mama.” James whimpers softly, sticking out his lower lip as his eyes fill with tears. Natasha sighs and presses a kiss on the side of his head.

“It’s okay, baby,” Natasha coos softly. “It’s okay.”

She sits on the closed toilet, adjusting James on her lap as she coaches James to breathe, rubbing his back gently as he does. He coughs, and Natasha encourages James to spit the mucus, and when James sees this, and becomes more comfortable in breathing, he looks up at his mother with wide eyes.

“Better, baby?” Natasha asks. James babbles lightly as he sits more comfortably on Natasha’s lap. He breathes, and Natasha holds him, even when the room becomes really warm and stuffy, she holds James, rubs his back gently even as he coughs and spits.

She’s doing what she can, she thinks, as she watches James bounce as his breathing becomes more even, and he becomes more lively. Natasha smiles, leaning down to press a kiss on top of his head. It’s stuffy, uncomfortable and she’s sweating all throughout but she watches James become more lively as he is able to breathe better and more comfortably, she’s okay. As long as she sees her baby being able to breathe again, she’s fine.

She is doing what she can, everything she can, and she is enough.

Chapter Text

Steve noticed it on the first anniversary of the decimation, one year since the Snap. In hindsight, he should have tried harder.

It started with the Snap, the decimation in itself. She froze, became unable to move as she knelt down when she saw Bucky’s gun beside a pile of ashes. Steve watched as she stared in disbelief at Bucky’s ashes. She took them in her hand, and let it fall through her fingers, tears filling her eyes as she choked back a sob, when she looked up and found Vision’s dead and grey bot with dust on top of it—Wanda. He held her as she sobbed, and she buried her face on his chest, wrapping her arms around his neck, pulling him close to her, clutching to him as if any moment he, too, can also turn to dust.

But he doesn’t.

He carried her back to the palace when she was unable to stand, and inside the palace, the Dora Milaje were wailing for the loss of their fellow warriors, as well as their king, princess, and queen. Okoye took charge for the meantime, and that evening, they listened as the people of Wakanda gathered in front of the palace to honor the death of their fallen leaders.

It was also that same evening that Natasha was unable to sleep.

Steve held her as she cried, and he’d never seen her cry like this. She couldn’t stop, couldn’t stop the tears from falling, couldn’t stop the sobs coming out of her mouth. He bathed her, and while they were in the tub, she kissed him, but she still cried, and he slowly kissed her back, and moved to kiss the tears falling from her eyes, as he washed her hair gently, and she rested her head in the crook of his neck. They held each other like that in their own private bathroom, all while listening to the teary chants and songs of the Wakandan people.

Five days after, they moved back to the Tower. Another eighteen days after, Tony came back, and shortly after, he moved out with Pepper, established a new life together after expressing that they had lost, and that he never wanted to have anything to do with the Avengers anymore. It hurt Steve, but when he looked at Natasha, he knew it hurt her too, but she never showed it.

On the twenty-eighth day, they raided Thanos, but it was there that they lost all hope when they all found out the Snap was irreversible. They left, and little by little, they went their own separate ways.

Except for Steve and Natasha. When Natasha told Steve she wanted to stay in the Tower, he agreed, and they did.

They tried to be as normal as they could, as normal as how they were before the Snap, when they were on the run. They would still lay beside each other, kiss, cuddle and make love. Steve would still cook for Natasha, and they would still do their trainings and spar. They would still talk to each other about their day, especially when Steve established a support group for those who had lost their loved ones in the decimation. He would be out for the majority of the day, and would come home, and he would share to Natasha what they talked about.

“I think it’s good that people can talk about what they feel,” Natasha told him once. “And it’s good they have someone like you they can talk to.”

Steve nodded, and reached out to hold her hand from across their dining table. “You know you can always talk to me too, right?” he asked, but Natasha didn’t answer, and instead gave his hand a squeeze.

While Steve was on support group, Natasha would take a walk, and it was then she found a group of kids, who were apparently children of those who perished in the Snap. “They were a lot, and I talked to Rhodey,” she told Steve. “He’s gonna help establish a small orphanage for them, gather around people who would wanna help support it, maybe look for other kids whose parents were gone too.”

“I think that’s great, Nat,” Steve said softly, smiling. “The kids won’t have to be left alone fending for themselves.”

“Yeah.” Natasha said quietly, and that was the end of the conversation.

And as the weeks turned into months, he noticed Natasha becoming more withdrawn on most days. On other days, she would be fine, like on Valentine’s Day, on Steve’s birthday, on Thanksgiving and her birthday, and on Christmas, but on the other days, a majority of the days, she was distant, distraught, silent and withdrawn. When he would ask her what’s wrong, she would frown, furrow her eyebrows, as if in confusion, and she would tell him she’s fine. He would find out as soon as he would get home that she never touched the prepared meals he made for her before he left for support group, or on some days, he would get calls from Rhodey telling him Natasha never showed up in the orphanage, or she wasn’t picking up her phone.

“I was asleep.” she would say, whenever he would tell her that Rhodey called him.

“I wasn’t hungry.” she would say, whenever he would point out that the meals he prepared for her breakfast and lunch were untouched and cold.

But even if Natasha was withdrawn from Rhodey and the orphanage, they would still spend the night together, where Natasha would tell Steve as much as she can about her day working closely with the orphanage (whenever she actually will show up), and Steve would tell her about his day in support group. They would watch a movie, and Steve would notice it again: how distant Natasha’s eyes were, how withdrawn she was, and she would turn their evening into a full-on make-out session until they would end up in their bedroom making love.

But Steve, of course, saw through it all.

One evening, near the anniversary of the Snap, he tried to refuse her advances, her way of avoiding his question of what was wrong. “Talk to me, Nat,” he pleaded. “Please, tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing’s wrong,” she said, her voice rough and husky, as her hands touch his chest, and she straddled him. “I just want you.” She leaned in to press a kiss on his neck, and he groaned as he felt her hips grinding against him.

No. “Nat.” Steve whispered, his hand resting on her waist, and he felt his eyes flutter close as she nibbled on the skin just above his pulse, and when he lifted his hand, he felt it.

She was getting thin.

“Nat,” he whispered again as he pulled away, and when he did, he faced her. Her face was thinner, bags under her eyes larger and darker, and he frowned because how can he not see it before? The changes in her body, how thin she was because of her refusal to eat. What was happening? What was wrong? “Nat, what...what’s happening?”

“I want you, ” she said. “I want you, Steve, please. ” She said it almost too pleadingly, that Steve thought her pleading really was that—a plea, and not a sultry one at that.

So Steve gave himself to her, and they made love, passionate and heated love, and when they were sated, lying on their bed, Steve ran his fingers through her hair, and on her face, her cheekbones more prominent and sticking out than before. He kissed her, and she kissed him back, and his fingers slither down to the area below her breasts, and she shivered under his touch. He rested his hand on her waist, and he could feel her ribs sticking against her skin.

Too thin.

By the time the first anniversary came to pass, she had reached the point that she was unable to get up from bed. He would leave the Tower in the morning while she still lay on the bed in her pajamas, and he would get home near dusk to find that she never left, nor showered nor changed her clothes. He prodded her to get up and take a shower, and she did, sluggishly, almost forcefully, that he saw tears in her eyes when he asked her the first time.

“How are you feeling?” he asked her when she was out of the shower dressed in one of his loose shirts, one side slipping off to reveal her bare shoulder. He furrowed his eyebrows. “Is that my shirt?” He never had a shirt like that, he recalled.

Natasha furrowed her eyebrows and frowned. “It’s mine,” she said. “It’s always been mine, look.” She held out her shirt, and he sighed because he noticed her arms were too thin now.

“Nat, what’s happening?” he asked him softly. “You haven’t left the Tower.”

“I was too tired.” she told him quietly, shrugging.

“You barely left the house this month, the past few months, and you barely showed up too in the orphanage,” he pointed out quietly, and she looked away. “Rhodey’s worried about you, I’m worried about you.”

“Well, you shouldn’t,” she said, looking back up at him. “I’m fine.”

“Nat…”

“I said I’m fine, Steve,” she said more firmly, standing up. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m fine.” She walked out of the dining room and back to their bedroom.

That evening, after Steve cleaned up his dinner, he washed up and went back to bed where Natasha was already laying. He laid beside her, facing her as she faced away from him. After a while, she turned and looked him in the eye. “Steve?” she called in a soft voice.

“Yeah?”

There was a moment of pause, and Steve only focused on Natasha’s green eyes in the little light entering their bedroom. “You should find somebody else,” she told him quietly. “Someone else to take care of you.”

Steve’s heart hammered against his chest. “Who’s gonna take care of you?” he asked.

“I can.”

“You can’t.”

“You don’t get to say that.”

“Nat,” Steve sighed, and he inched closer to her, but she never pulled back. “Is it because you don’t love me anymore?” he asked quietly.

She sighed and closed her eyes. “Love won’t fix me, Steve.” she said quietly.

“I know,” he answered quietly. “I’m not here to fix you. I know I can’t, I know love can’t.” He paused, and she opened her eyes, looking at him. “I can’t fix you, but I’m not gonna give up on you either.”

Her jaw clenched, and he took a deep breath, tucking some of her hair behind her ear. “You didn’t answer my question. Is it because you don’t love me anymore?” he asked quietly again, feeling his heart hammering inside his chest, and as the room became silent, he wondered if Natasha can hear how fast his heart is beating, pounding against his chest now.

Natasha blinked, pausing. “Yes.” she answered quietly, and Steve can feel his heart aching, his chest constricting.

“Is that true?” he asked. Another pause, and as he looked into Natasha’s eyes, he saw tears filling up.

“No.” she whispered. Steve felt his heart lighten as he sighed.

“Then what’s wrong?” he asked, and there’s another pause.

“Everything.”

“What are you feeling?”

She paused, and she buried her face in his chest. “Everything.”

Steve called off support group the next day. He woke up, cooked breakfast, before woke Natasha up. When he was about to wake her up, he noticed three orange bottles in the drawer of her side of the bed. He furrowed his eyebrows, and opened it to find two of the bottles empty and one of them was only half-full. When he saw the labels, he saw her name, and the dates filled were in the last three weeks.

One bottle for one week. One bottle of Eszopiclone per week, in a dose that’s definitely not one per day, contrary to what the label said.

He took the bottles, and stored it in the bathroom cabinets. What was even happening? Steve woke her up, and she did. She was grumpy, annoyed at being woken up, and refused to get up, but he carried her in the dining room. She tried kicking him off, but her kicks were weak, she was weak, and he sat her down on the chair beside him. He attempted to feed her, but she swatted off his hand.

“I’m not hungry.” she said.

“I don’t believe that.” he said, and she didn’t argue anymore, as she opened her mouth to let him feed her.

“I’m not sick.” she told him, and Steve sighed sadly as he stared at her, brushing her unkempt and tousled hair that was growing longer and slowly turning back to her natural red hair now, the tips of her hair being the ones left to be dyed blonde.

“Then why have you been taking sleeping pills all this time?” he asked softly, and she didn’t say anything more. “I think you might be wrong, Nat.”

“I’m fine, and you should stop snooping around my things.”

“Why do you have them?” he asked, and Natasha huffed out in frustration.

“Why do you ask so many questions?” she shot back.

“You have to tell me what’s wrong, Nat!” he shot back, his voice raising. “You have to tell me, please, I need to know what’s wrong. What is happening?”

“I don’t know, Steve!” she shouted back, tears forming in her eyes. “I don’t know! I don’t know what’s wrong and I want to so badly to know but I don’t know! Maybe, everything is!”

And Steve stayed silent, as he watched Natasha break down. He held her in his arms, as she muttered an apology, and he kissed her and told her it was going to be okay.

Was it?

Two days later, he brings her to one of the clinics his support group co-leader referred him to. He’s a psychologist, a professional one, and when Steve opened up to him about his concerns for Natasha, he wrote down a recommendation for the psychologist who happened to be his colleague. His name is Maggie Smith, a psychologist specializing in anxiety, depression and co-occurring mental disorders. Natasha refused initially, but Steve eventually convinced her she needed some fresh air, and she needed some help.

“There’s nothing wrong with me.” she told him, and Steve sighed.

“It’s okay if there is,” he said, and he pressed a kiss on the side of her head. “It’s okay to say there is.”

And so Steve and Natasha wait for Maggie Smith in her clinic, and when the secretary called them, they stand. Steve takes her hand as they follow the secretary and into her office.

The introductions are made, and Natasha attempts a smile as she shakes Maggie’s hand, and they sit down again. Maggie Smith is a little older than them, and she has grey hair but has a young-looking face, smiley and welcoming. “So, Alfred told me you were coming, said it was something of a personal concern,” she says, looking at Steve. “What seems to be the problem?”

Steve looks at Natasha who is looking down at her hands, and she is picking on her nails. Steve takes one of her hands in hers and she looks up at him. “I...I’m Steve Rogers, and this is Nat, Natasha Romanoff, my girlfriend.” Natasha looks back at Maggie. “It’s been...more than a year since the Snap,” Steve starts. “And...and things have been tough."

“Tough how?” Maggie asks gently.

Steve looks at Natasha who slowly looks at Steve and shrugs. Steve sighs and looks back at Maggie. “Well, it’s...it’s been tough ‘cause...you know,” he says softly, his eyes flickering at Natasha, and he clears his throat. “We kinda failed. But...uh, I’m not...I’m not here for me. I’m...I wanna…” He stammers and sighs and Maggie smiles understandingly.

“I understand,” she says patiently. “Would it be okay if you step outside for a while so me and Natasha can talk?”

Steve looks at Natasha who sighs as she closes her eyes. “Can he stay here?” she asks softly. 

“I think you might find it more comfortable if you were alone,” Maggie suggests patiently. “But still, he can, depends on you.” She smiles gently.

Natasha contemplates for a while, as she looks at Steve. “Can you wait for a while?” she asks softly, and Steve nods.

“Of course,” he says softly, leaning to press a kiss on the side of her head. “Of course. I’ll be outside, okay?”

And so here Steve is, waiting. It’s been more than an hour since Natasha has been inside, and he can do nothing but hope that everything is okay, that everything is going well. He allows his mind to drift off to the Snap more than a year ago, how it could have been a trigger to whatever is running through Natasha’s head for quite a while. He thinks back to the past year, how he could have not seen that something was wrong, and it was only now that he brought her here for help. Anything could have happened, anything that he is afraid of happening might have happened if he hadn’t noticed it sooner.

How could he not? How could he almost lose her, the one good thing he has left in the world?

Natasha and Maggie step out into the waiting area, and Steve stands up, as he holds out his arms so Natasha can go there. Her eyes are red-rimmed and glistening with tears, but she allows herself to be kissed by Steve on the side of her head, and to be held by him, as she buries her face in the crook of his neck, and he wraps his arms around her body.

“We’ll have another session tomorrow, at the same time you came here too,” Maggie tells Steve gently. “It would mean a lot if you accompany her to these, just wait for her here when our sessions are ongoing.”

Steve nods. “Of course,” he says softly. “Of course. Do we...do we have to buy anything, some...some medicine?”

Maggie shakes her head. “Not yet,” she says. “We’ll still have to go through the sessions, run tests so we can know what kind of treatment we can do for her.” She smiles gently. “Just be patient with her, okay?”

“I will,” Steve says softly. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“I’ll see you both tomorrow.”

Steve takes Natasha’s hand as they step out of the clinic and they start walking on the sidewalk. “We have to grab dinner,” Steve says gently. “What do you want to eat?”

Natasha sighs and looks up at Steve. “Takeout for delivery? Maybe we can eat at home?” she asks quietly, and Steve nods.

“Okay, okay, we’ll do that.” he says, giving Natasha a small smile, which she returns, as they walk towards the Tower.

Weeks pass by as Steve continues encouraging Natasha to get up from bed, letting her eat and accompanying her to her regular therapy. He is gentle in reminding her to take her antidepressants, and patient whenever she is in her depressive episodes. He celebrates small victories with her too, like when she manages to get up by herself, take a shower and get dressed, and it usually does the trick in bringing a smile on her face, and earning him a kiss. She is significantly becoming better, as she starts gaining weight again and her eating patterns become regular. She also starts seeing Rhodey in the orphanage again, and Steve would also go back to support groups, but he also managed to convince Alfred to alternate with him in case he needs to get home to take care of Natasha.

When Steve had asked Maggie what was wrong, Maggie patiently explained to Steve about Natasha’s MDD. “It’s possible it was triggered during the Snap, and everything that happened after,” she told him. “Even in therapy, she had a hard time pointing it out, but it was a huge part of it—the feeling of not being enough to stop it.”

Maggie also smiled gently and was quick to remind Steve. “I told Natasha this too, during our therapy,” she said. “But you did enough, all of you did, and you did what you could do.” She smiled sadly. “But we’re the few lucky ones to be alive, and we have to try to make the best out of it as much as we can.”

It meant a lot to Steve hearing those words, and knowing that someone else other than Steve told Natasha that as well.

One evening, Natasha rests her head on Steve’s chest, after a night of making love. Steve presses his lips on top of her head, as he traces circles on the small of her bare back. Natasha opens her eyes and looks at Steve.

“Steve?” she calls softly, and Steve hums, opening his eyes to meet hers. “When the rest of the world fades, and I’m left, do you think I’d be enough?”

Steve furrows his eyebrows slightly, and lifts his hand to brush her hair. “And don’t sugarcoat it, just because you know I’m...you know,” she says softly, and Steve presses a kiss on her forehead. “Be honest with me.”

Steve smiles, and leans to press a kiss on the tip of her nose. “You are enough,” he tells her softly. “And you know I’m always honest.”

And she looks at him the way she did in Sam’s guest bedroom all those years ago, when he told her that he trusted her with his life. For the first time in a long time, she smiles widely, as she leans to press a long kiss on his lips.

“Even when I’m not fixed?” she asks softly.

“Even then,” he answers softly. “And you’re getting there, Nat, slowly. You’re being ‘fixed’, as you call it.” He doesn’t like it when she refers to herself as unfixed, broken, like she’s an object of some kind, and not a warrior who had gone through a lot, but he supposes it’s as close as both of them can get in acknowledging the brokenness their loss had on them. It will have to do for now.

“Thank you for being patient with me.” she whispers, and Steve kisses her again.

“Thank you for still holding on.” he whispers.

It doesn’t cure her instantly. Love doesn’t work that way, Steve supposes, and neither do mental health issues like the one Natasha has. But it helps in the process, the patience, the company and the continuous love and support he gives her, and the smiles, albeit small sometimes, she gives back to him, it helps. It helps in knowing that there could be a light at the end of the tunnel, hope in the midst of a dark storm, some bit of warmth in the cold winter. It helps in the process of recovery, and of self-forgiveness and acceptance, and in the process of moving forward.

No, they don’t know if things will become better, but, like Maggie told them, the least they can do is live as much as they can, in the best way they can with whatever is left with them.

Chapter Text

“In the car,” Natasha says firmly, her eyes narrowed and cold. “Now.”

The ten-year-old huffs and opens the door to the backseat just as Natasha opens the driver’s seat of the car and gets inside. James bangs the door close, his strength enhanced by the serum he inherited from his father, and the whole car practically shook. But he doesn’t care. His arms are crossed and he is looking out the window, not even daring to look into his mother’s cold green eyes as she looks back at her son after he shut the door with force.

He feels her stare, can practically see her stare in his peripherals but he refuses to look, his own blue eyes narrowed, his eyebrows furrowed and his mouth turned into a frown as he looks out, as his mother refuses to back down.

But eventually, she does, when he hears her close the door and the car engine starts.

Natasha takes a deep breath, willing herself to calm down as she grips the steering wheel of the car tightly. She was in the middle of a debriefing session when she was called by James’ school’s principal’s office, informing her that James was involved in a fight, and because of his enhanced strength because of the super serum, the boy he got in a fight with was immediately sent to the infirmary when he was thrown back by the impact of James’ punch on his face. James got a suspension for three days because of it.

And Natasha was fuming all throughout.

James hadn’t said a word, not when he got caught and went to the principal’s office, not when he was asked why he did it, not when Natasha came in, and not until now, as Natasha drives them back home to the Tower. He watches the familiar scenery of the ride back home with his Uncle Bucky and Uncle Sam, watches as the high-rise buildings of Manhattan become more and more familiar as they near the Tower. He watches the gate automatically open to them, watches the S.H.I.E.L.D. trainees do their running routine as they pass by the training facility.

And finally they halt in their usual parking lot.

“You will go back to our floor, and you will tell your father what happened,” Natasha instructs firmly as she looks back at him, but James still refuses to look, his gaze hardening at nothing in particular outside the window, anywhere but meet his mother’s gaze. “You will tell him everything, right now as you go straight up to our floor.”

His father is home? Huh.

“Do you understand?” she asks firmly. James nods, without turning to meet his mother’s eyes, and it only made Natasha more furious. “Look at me when I talk, James, do you understand?”

And so James looks at his mother, his frown deepening, as he narrows his eyes. “Yes, Mom. ” he answers firmly. He immediately opens the car door and closes it, a little gentler than earlier, and he marches up to the Tower and Natasha sighs in frustration, resting her head on the headrest and groaning.

Natasha is well-aware of how young boys, upon reaching a certain age, can become more moody, more inclined to incite and do more trouble. She is aware that it’s also normal, and her friends had also warned her about that, especially when it comes to James. But she wasn’t ready when her little boy had become such a moody and troublesome boy for the past few weeks at a tender age of ten. Ten years old.

She asked Steve once what he was like at ten. “Sickly, small, thin, bullied. I don’t think I’m the right comparison when it comes to James, sweetheart.” he told her. Point taken.

She asked Sam instead, and he chuckled and shook his head. “Man, I had detention almost every time,” he said. “But it’s probably ‘cause I knew how to have a good time.” Not helpful at all.

And his behavior at school is the least thing Natasha is worried about at this point, honestly. He’s been moody, irritated and angry most of the time, especially when he starts dealing with his parents for the past few weeks. Of course, he is still a sweet, good and happy brother to Sarah, and he always puts on a happy face whenever she sees him, or he sees her, but when Sarah’s not in the picture, he’s gone back to his withdrawn, irritated self who doesn't look up anymore when his parents come in, and only speaks a word or two when being spoken to. She tried speaking to him, coaxing him into telling her what was wrong, but he wouldn’t speak. He would, instead, just kiss her good night on the cheek (if she was lucky to coax one from him) when she would still catch him awake when they come back to their floor, and turn his back on her so he can sleep.

And at this point, Natasha is at a loss on what to do.

James is in there somewhere, she allows herself to think. Somewhere inside that grumpy and moody boy’s body is her little happy and upbeat son, the son she raised and loved so very much. She lets out a final huff and shakes her head. But she is at a loss of what to do now, she thinks, as she recomposes herself and steps out of the car and back in the training facility to resume her debriefing and pending trainings.

James, meanwhile, goes straight up to their floor, as what his mother instructed him to do.

He is greeted by Jarvis in the elevator, and he greets the A.I. back, as he resumes his scowling. Since when was his father home? And now that he is, he has to tell him what happened.

But then again, it’s not like his mother won’t tell him later tonight, right?

The elevator door opens and he steps out. “Dad?” he calls out as he walks in their living room. “Sarah?” He removes his backpack and drops it on the living room couch.

His younger sister walks in to the living room coming from the direction of the room's hallways, her eyes sparkling and her face lighting up as she sees her brother. James grins and kneels down. “Hey, Sarah!” he greets. The five-year-old runs giggling towards her brother, her arms extended as James catches her in his arms. He presses a small kiss on his sister’s blonde hair as a form of greeting, as he embraces her. “What have you been up to, hm? Is Dad home?”

“He’s on the phone,” she answers softly, as she pulls away. “Mission.”

James sighs, because even though Sarah is only five years old, she was already familiar with what the words “mission”, “fighting” and “superheroes” meant, and how all of it are connected to their parents. She knew it was an excuse, something they always say whenever they're busy, whenever either James or Sarah would ask them to play, and they couldn't because they have a "mission" or "training" or they have to "fight" because they're "superheroes".  He once thought it was normal, that it was something cool and all that.

But really, now it's just tiring.

“Why are you home early?” Sarah asks him softly, tilting her head and looking up at her brother with her wide green eyes. James shrugs.

“Just home early from school,” he answers nonchalantly. “But hey, since I'm home, d'you wanna play?” The little girl nods enthusiastically, a big grin on her face that makes James laugh softly. He stands up and takes his sister’s hand, and he allows her to drag him to her room filled with all her toys so they can play.

While playing James looks at his fist, and is dismayed to find his bruises from the earlier fisticuffs gone. It’s one of the things his super serum did: makes bruises heal fast and scars heal faster, apart from the super strength and slightly advanced muscle coordination and development, of course. James is smart, smarter than most kids his age, and Sarah is almost the same as him in that department, only that Sarah had inherited, instead, their mother’s Red Room serum, which had lesser effects than that of their father’s super soldier serum, making Sarah less “extraordinary” in a physical sense. She is petite, like their mother, and James is slightly short, too, but his Uncle Bruce had told him he’ll grow taller when he reaches twelve or thirteen. His muscles are slowly developing along with his built, and it helps that he actively plays soccer in their school too.

It took his father two hours since his arrival to ever notice he was home. But it's not like James was surprised. “James,” he says in slight surprise when he passes by Sarah’s room. “I-I didn’t know you’d be here so early.”

“Jamie says he’s home from school early,” Sarah answers, smiling up at her father. “He’s been playing with me since he got here.”

Steve looks at James who refuses to meet his father’s eyes, instead busying himself with the train tracks he and Sarah are constructing for her new train. “James?” he asks softly, gently, that James’ heart clenches at his own guilt for even refusing to meet his father’s eyes.

But every time he would look, it would just get worse. “Mom brought me home,” he answers quietly. “She’s back in training...or debriefing, I don’t know. Might wanna go check on her.”

Back to his moody state.

Steve purses his lips and nods, taking a moment’s pause. “She’s in the facility?” he asks instead, and James nods. “You both good here? I’ll just go see your Mom.”

“Yeah.” James answers, while Sarah answers an excited “yes”. Steve gives both of them a small smile before he leaves, stepping out of Sarah’s room, and out of the apartment.

Their Uncle Bucky comes in a few hours later, and by that time, Sarah was already asleep for her late afternoon nap on the living room couch while James watches television, his eyes flickering every now and then to check if his sister is still asleep or not.

“Hey, you guys,” Bucky greets, letting himself in. James looks at him and gives him a small smile in acknowledgment. “The little princess is asleep?” James nods.

“Where’s Mom and Dad?” he asks in a small voice. Bucky closes the door behind him and walks over to him.

“Training, as usual,” Bucky says, sitting beside his namesake and resting his arm on the couch backrest. “Jamie, I heard what happened.” he says softly.

James takes a deep breath and looks away from his Uncle Bucky. He likes his Uncle Bucky, he really does. But he doesn’t need to know about what he did, much less why he did it. Plus, he really didn't wanna talk about it. “Does Dad know?” he asks quietly.

“Did you tell him?” Bucky asks, and James shakes his head. “Then he doesn’t know. But your Mom told me, ‘cause she thought I’d know what’s happening, you know, why it's happening, since I was quite the troublemaker myself when I was your age.”

James fumbles with his thumbs, staring at the television screen in front of him and Bucky sighs. “Care to tell your Uncle Bucky what’s wrong?” he asks softly, nudging James gently. “What’s been happening? Why don’t you talk to your Mom and Dad about it?”

James purses his lips. “They’re always in training.” he answers quietly.

“Well, I’m sure if you ask them to they’ll make some time to hear you out,” Bucky says. “They’re your Mom and Dad, of course they’ll make time for you if you ask them to.”

James stays silent, and Bucky sighs. “It’s just a busy time with S.H.I.E.L.D. lately, you know, especially for the past few months,” he says. “More and more trainees are coming in, and training is more extensive as before, which is why we’ve all been out and busy for quite a while. We need all hands on deck, and we need your parents' hands, especially. You understand that, right?”

How long is a while? James wonders, because he may be ten, but he does know for sure that “a while” is not a long time. And everyone he knows in this Tower has been busy for a long time. Am I always supposed to understand only?

He doesn’t get it. James sighs and looks up at his Uncle Bucky. “Did Mom tell you to talk to me about it?” he asks softly.

“Not really,” he answers, leaning back to watch the television. “I just got bored downstairs, and the others took over different trainings so I figured, hey, why not go see my favorite godson?” Bucky grins and James scrunches his nose.

“I’m your only godson.” he points out, smirking, and Bucky raises an eyebrow, feigning a surprise, attempting to hide the smile betraying his “surprise”.

“Are you now?” Bucky asks, and James chuckles softly, leaning back to watch the television with his Uncle Bucky, his eyes flickering to watch his younger sister sleeping beside him.

Sarah wakes up by the time Steve and Natasha come back up to their floor, and Bucky leaves. “Remember what I said, alright?” he tells his godson quietly. “Just go talk to ‘em. It’s gonna be fine.”

Was it?

And so they have dinner, and they go through the usual—Sarah babbles about everything, this time mostly it’s about the games she and James played, and Natasha would have the sparkle in her eyes that’s always present whenever she would hear her children tell her stories, and Steve has the smile on his face, seen mostly in instances where he is with his family. James listens intently to his sister, as he eats and quietly observes and watches his parents. The sparkle in his mother’s eyes is quite less than normal, and Steve’s smile seems tense. He wonders why.

Right, he thinks. It’s because one of their kids had turned into a grumpy young boy.

He snaps out of his thoughts when he hears Sarah ask, “Why are you home early, Jamie?” Her eyes are wide as she looks at her brother.

James looks up from his sister, and his eyes land on his father, who is gazing at him questioningly, his eyes imploring his eldest son on why he was home so early today (and most probably why he’s been acting the way he was). His eyes then land on his mother, and his chest aches because his mother—whom he then lovingly calls his Mommy, now she’s just Mom—is watching him expectantly and almost sadly. He feels almost guilty, ashamed, at the way he’s acting, and the way he’s feeling that he feels his throat constrict.

But he pushes all of it down—the heavy weight on his chest, the feeling of the coming of a wave of fresh tears, the feeling of guilt and shame, and instead focuses on the frustration that has been building up inside him. What he feels is important too. What he feels matters too. He turns back to look at his sister, putting his utensils down to face her completely.

Talk to your Mom and Dad, his Uncle Bucky said. It needs to be said.

“I got into a fight,” he explains to his sister calmly, and Sarah’s eyes widen. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Steve’s eyes widen in surprise as well as he looks at Natasha whose eyes are just trained on her son. “In school, I got into a fight with this other boy.”

“Did he hurt you?” Sarah asks, almost afraid. James shakes his head and sighs shakily. His sister always looks after him, and he’s thankful for that, but she’s wrong to look after him this time.

“No, he didn’t,” James responds calmly. “I hurt him.”

“James.” Steve calls him quietly, and his tone indicating that he’s calling for a warning to stop. He looks, and he sees Steve’s eyebrows furrowed slightly, and his mother’s eyes slowly filling with tears, but he faces Sarah again.

“You know what that means, right?” he asks, and Sarah blinks at him. “Fighting? You know what it means?”

“James.” His father’s voice is a bit louder now, but his eyes train on Sarah’s, who is looking back and forth between her father and brother. James raises his eyebrows at his sister, and she nods.

“It’s what superheroes do,” she answers softly. “Like what Mommy and Daddy do.” Yes, James thinks. It’s how he learned about the definition of fighting too, at a young age like Sarah.

“That’s right,” he responds, nodding. “But this time, I got into a fight in school, and I got in trouble. I got in trouble for fighting.”

“Why?” Sarah asks softly, pouting.

Why?

James feels his throat constricting again, and feels his heart hammering against his chest. He feels his parents’ waiting gaze on them, waiting for his father to tell him to stop, or his mother to shout at him as well. He waits, but neither comes.

All three of them are waiting for him.

“Because I wanted to be like them,” James answers, fighting to keep his voice even. “I want to be like Mommy and Daddy. But I promise you, Sarah, that if I become a superhero, I won’t leave you. I won’t leave you alone at home and I won’t be too busy to play with you.” What I feel matters too.

He feels his heart drop when he says it, a weight off his chest as he does, and he feels a fresh wave of tears fill his eyes when he hears his mother call in a hushed tone. “James.” And he’s almost too afraid to look, because he’s afraid to look into the look of disappointment his mother and father might be giving him, afraid to see the hurt he’s put on his mother’s eyes as he says it.

“I’ll make time to pick you up from school, and play with you outside if you ask me to.” he continues, and he sees Sarah’s eyes slowly filling with tears.

“James, stop.” Steve says firmly, but James shakes his head, his eyes not leaving his sister’s.

“And I’ll make time to go to school so I can watch your soccer games, and I’ll have lunch with you on weekends and breakfasts too,” he continues, and his voice starts to break. “Because you’re my sister, and you’re important to me. And I will do all of these even when I am a superhero. I won’t be too busy for you.”

He wants to say more, but he holds his tongue, because he knows it's going to hurt. It'll hurt him and them.

What I feel matters.

“James.” Natasha’s voice is firm and loud and he flinches in surprise as he looks at his mother, her eyes red-rimmed and glistening with unshed tears. But James frowns and furrows his eyebrows, looking at his mother in the eye.

And he says it, continuing from his litany. “Unlike other superheroes who are too busy to do all of these things.” he says in a low voice, staring into his mother’s cold green eyes.

That soften as he says it. It was only for a moment, though, before she narrows her eyes again at him. “Go to your room,” Natasha orders firmly. “Go to your room and think about what you said.”

“Why don’t you think about what I said!” he exclaims, his eyes filling with tears. He barely registers Sarah flinching in surprise at her brother’s outburst. “You asked me why, and I said it! If you don’t get it, then maybe you’re the one with the problem!”

“Don’t talk to your mother like that!” Steve shouts, banging his hand on the table. His frown is deep, and his blue eyes are deep in anger further shown by his furrowed eyebrows. Beside James, Sarah begins to cry silently. “And you don't get to raise your voice like that at your mother or at me especially at the dinner table. Now listen to her and go to your room.”

James hops off his seat, but Sarah hops off from hers in an attempt to follow her brother. “Jamie.” she calls softly. stopping behind him.

Despite the burning anger he’s feeling, James takes a deep breath and kneels down in front of his sister, his hands resting on her shoulders as he gives her a small smile. “It’ll be alright, Sarah,” he tells her softly. “I’ll catch you later, okay? Play before we sleep.”

Sarah’s bottom lip wobbles. “Jamie, you’re hurt.” she points out softly. James starts to shake his head, but then he realizes that he is, and his sister can see it, even if it wasn't a physical manifestation of hurt. Sarah is perceptive, deep and smart and emotionally attuned like that.

“I’m alright.” he says softly. He stands and Sarah continues to look up at him. Without looking at the table, he walks towards his room, feeling the eyes of his family on him.

And with every step he takes, he feels the tears slowly coming in, his chest feeling heavier and heavier until he can only choke a sob as he opens the door to his bedroom. He closes it, and leans on the door.

And then he feels all the tears flowing down as he feels the load on his chest lift, but only to be replaced by a painful clench in the heart at the altogether feeling of frustration, shame and guilt stirring in his heart.

He said it. He finally said it.

It’s even worse to admit it out loud: the change he experienced from his parents when he was younger and them now. Even as they had Sarah, all they lived and breathed is S.H.I.E.L.D., and they had lesser time to spend time with both of their children, much less pick them up from school and kindergarten.

He missed his father. He missed playing with him, running outside with him, playing with his shield. Nowadays, especially for the past few months, he’s always out, and when he’s in, he’s too tired to play, much less too busy to even play, sometimes even look at his children. 

He missed his cuddly and playful mother—his Mommy. He missed waking up in the mornings only to fall asleep in her arms being kissed all over his face. He missed her asking him what’s wrong, and her making him laugh. He missed hearing her laugh, making her laugh. She’s always out like his Daddy, always busy like his uncles and aunties, too busy to talk or play or pick them up from school.

And James knows Sarah misses them too. But she is young, and she is sweet, and she couldn’t express frustration and anger like James can. He wants his sister to experience the same kind of love and care he experienced from them. He wants her to feel the morning kisses, and experience their plays in the parks like how he did, how he used to when he was at her age.

Sarah couldn’t experience all of these if James won’t do anything about it.

He crashes to his bed as he sobs. He didn’t mean to hurt his friend, he never did. But it was all about the bouts of his sadness, anger and frustration, as well as his helplessness that led him to do what he did.

He hears the door open and close, and he looks up to find Natasha by his door, her eyes red-rimmed, livid as she looks at him. “What was that?” she demands. “Huh? What was that? What was—what is even happening, James?”

James huffs in frustration, and he begins to raise his voice. “I just said what I—”

“Don’t you raise your voice at me like that, young man! I am your mother, and you don’t get to shout at me like that, ever again!” she scolds, holding her index finger as she points at him. And he sees the tears flowing from her eyes, the hurt, angry tears as she tries to keep her voice even—her voice, what he remembered as calm, soft and light, which is now loud, hoarse and rough. “You made your sister cry, you ruined dinner which is the only time we ever get to spend time as a family—”

“That’s the thing!” James exclaims, sitting up on the edge of his bed as he faces his mother. “The only time we ever get to see each other, spend time with each other. We never see you anymore because you never come home!”

“That’s not—”

“And you never play with me when I ask, and you never even get to play with Sarah anymore! Sarah doesn’t get to see you until dinner and you know how sometimes she sleeps really early so she never sees you at all sometimes,” James continues, and his vision blurs as the tears continue to fall. James lets out a choked sob as his face scrunches. “And you never pick me up from school anymore, and you never pick Sarah up from daycare too. You never get to wake us up every morning or give us kisses goodnight anymore because you and Daddy are always busy, you and Daddy are always with S.H.I.E.L.D., so you ask Uncle Bucky or Uncle Sam or Auntie Sharon to do those things even if you're literally in the next building!”

Natasha’s gaze start to soften in surprise and slow and realization, hearing every word her son is telling her. But James continues, amid his short breaths and sobs. “But we don’t want Uncle Bucky or Uncle Sam or Auntie Sharon. We don’t want anyone to do those things. We just wanted you, you and Daddy,” he says, and then he lets out a whimper as he tries in vain to wipe the tears from his eyes. His frown deepens as he narrows his eyes at his mother. “And if I wouldn’t do anything, then you wouldn’t pick me up from school even if I asked! You wouldn’t even be there if nothing happened!” he shouts.

Natasha pauses as she shakes her head and her tears continue to flow, her bottom lip wobbling as she approaches her sobbing son slowly. “James,” she whispers, choking back a sob as she kneels in front of James sitting on the edge of his bed. Her hands rest on James’ shoulders, but he shrugs them away, and Natasha winces, allowing her hands to rest on the bed, on either side of James. She watches her son wipe the tears flowing from his eyes as he continues to sob. “Jamie, is that...is that why you got in trouble?” she asks softly. “In school, is that why you punched Alex?”

James whimpers as he nods, and more tears flow. “I didn’t mean to hurt Alex.” he says, his voice breaking as more tears flow.

And Natasha’s heart breaks as she watches as her son continues to cry, as more tears flow from her eyes as well. She takes a shaky breath, and tries again to lift her hands to rest on both of her son’s cheeks. He doesn’t flinch away this time, so she takes this chance to wipe the tears off from his cheeks with her thumbs.

“Jamie,” she says softly, her voice breaking as she holds back a sob. “Jamie, you know how important S.H.I.E.L.D. is to me and Daddy, and how much they need us—”

“But we’re important too!” he exclaims, and he attempts to remove her hands from his face. “Me and Sarah are important too. Me and Sarah need you too!” Natasha doesn’t move her hands off from James’ face as her face scrunches and more tears flow, and she lets out a quiet sob, but she doesn’t let go, no matter how much force he puts in to remove her hands from his face, she always brings it back, and no matter how much he scratches the back of her hands, she doesn’t back down. “Get off me! Get off me!”

“James,” Natasha whispers, but James just keeps on sobbing, yelling for his mother to get off of him. “James, James, please, please. ” she pleads softly, fighting to keep her voice even, fighting to hold the tears back so she can look at her son; her son who is just hurt and heartbroken all because of her, her and Steve, who were both blind to all of this, to all of these emotions stirring inside their children.

Their eldest, especially.

“James, look at me,” she says, a little louder, but as gently as she can, as she holds her son’s blotchy face firmly in her hands. James stops wriggling from her touch, but continues to scratch the back of her hands. Natasha lets out a choked sob as more tears start to flow. “Look at Mommy, please, Jamie. Look at Mommy.”

James lets out a whimper as he looks at his mother in the eye, his hands resting on her mother’s that are on his face. His eyes are wide, blue, red-rimmed and glistening with tears, and in that moment, she sees him again—the son she loves, the son she raised, her beautiful and happy little boy that had been gone for quite some time. She never knew why he was gone, where he went, but now she knows. Now she knows that it was her that drove him away, she had driven him away, when she forced him to become strong and independent at his age, when she forced him to be a big boy for his sister because she had been gone, and Steve had been gone too.

What had she done?

“I’m sorry,” she says softly, as more tears start flowing from her eyes. She feels her heart clench, her chest constrict as she shakes her head, brushing her thumbs on her son’s cheeks. “I’m so sorry, Jamie, I’m sorry.” She takes a shaky breath as she fights to keep her voice even. “I didn’t know. I-I didn’t know you felt that way. I didn’t…” She lets out a choked sob, as James watches her, silent tears flowing from his eyes as his heart breaks seeing his mother cry.

He hates seeing his Mommy cry.

“I know me and Daddy have been gone a lot,” she says softly. “And I know me and Daddy aren’t always with you and Sarah, but w-why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t you tell me?” She sniffles as her face scrunches into another sob. “Why didn’t you tell me you were getting sad?”

“You’re not always here,” James answers softly, as he starts crying again. “You and Daddy, you’re always busy being superheroes. You’re not here anymore.”

“Oh, James,” Natasha sobs, as she closes her eyes as more tears flow. She leans in to rest her forehead against her son’s. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

And James listens as his mother whispers her apologies, watches the tears flow from his mother’s eyes. He hates seeing her like this. He hates shouting, he hates fighting, and he hates seeing his Mommy cry. He only ever wants her, her and waking up in the morning to find her there, her and her smiles and laughs as she plays with them. He never wanted to see her upset.

But she made him upset.

“Can you forgive me?” Natasha asks, sniffling as she implores her son’s eyes. She uses one hand to run through his mussed red hair, wiping away the hair sticking on his forehead and the sides of his head. “Can you forgive Mommy? Please, Jamie?” She takes a shaky breath as she leans to press a kiss on his forehead. “I’m so sorry, baby, I’m so so sorry.”

It wasn’t even a question, really, of whether he will forgive her, because of course he will. He loves his Mommy and Daddy, so of course, he will forgive them.

But is that all there is?

“And I will make it up,” she continues softly, as if reading her son’s mind. “We will make it up, okay? Me and Daddy, we’ll make it up to you and Sarah. No missions for the meantime, no S.H.I.E.L.D., no training, not until we can settle this, okay? And then we’ll fix it. We’ll fix this, okay?”

There it is, but will it be true?

“We’ll make it up,” she repeats again, almost pleadingly as she looks at her son’s eyes. “I promise, James, I promise we will make it up. We will fix this.”

James whimpers. “You promise?” he asks in a small voice.

“Yes,” his mother tells him, softly and without hesitation as she lets out a small smile, stroking his cheeks gently with her thumbs as she places her hands on either side of her head again. “A million times yes, Jamie, I promise we will make up to you.”

And almost instantly, James wraps his arms around his mother’s neck, and Natasha embraces him tightly, holding him against her chest as she presses her lips on his mussed red hair. James buries his face in the crook of his mother’s neck, as tears flow from his eyes. “I’m sorry, Mommy,” he whimpers, and Natasha only tightens her arms around her son. “I’m sorry too, Mommy.”

“I know,” Natasha whispers, pressing a kiss on James’ hair, as she takes a shaky breath and closes her eyes to rest her head against her son’s. “I know, my love, I know.”

Natasha moves to sit on James’ bed, adjusting James so he can sit on her lap, like how he did before when he was younger. He’s a bit taller than before, of course, but even then, he can still fit sitting on his Mommy’s lap, and he can still wrap his arms around her neck and bury his face in the crook of her neck. Natasha presses kisses on his head, on the side of his face exposed to his mother, as she hums a tune quietly to calm James down in her arms, until his quiet cries turn into small whimpers, until he completely calms down in her arms.

“What do you say, tomorrow,” Natasha starts softly. “Daddy and I will bring you and Sarah to Coney Island, hm? D’you remember it there? The one with plenty of rides and games?” James lifts his head to look at his mother. “Where we can buy some hotdogs and lots of ice cream.” She smiles. “What do you say?”

James sniffles. “W-what about training?” he asks in a small voice. Natasha shakes her head and brushes his hair with her hand, as she smiles wider.

“We’ll figure it out,” she answers him. “No more missions and trainings for the meantime, right? You first. You and Sarah first, no more trainings and missions. Not until me and Daddy can fix this. So for now, it’s just us. Just the four of us, as a family.” She kisses his forehead, brushing his hair off his face. “You first.”

James gives his mother a small smile and Natasha leans to press a kiss on her son’s forehead again. “I don’t remember Coney,” he admits quietly. “I don’t remember it.”

“Then you’ll see it again tomorrow,” she says softly, pressing a kiss on his forehead, brushing his hair through her fingers. “What do you say, hm?”

James nods, and Natasha smiles, and James feels his heart flutter at seeing his mother smile again. The door to his bedroom opens, and they both look up to find Sarah and Steve enter in. Sarah is now dressed in her pajamas as she runs towards her brother, and James hops off Natasha’s lap so he can kneel down and catch Sarah in his arms.

“Are you okay, Jamie?” Sarah asks in a small voice, and James nods, smiling down at his sister, and embracing her.

“Yeah, Sarah,” James answers softly, pulling away slightly as he smiles, and Sarah smiles widely. “Hey, remember when you were talking about how you wanna eat cotton candy? And ride the ferris wheel and play some games?” Sarah nods. “Mommy just told me we’re going to Coney tomorrow, so we get to ride the ferris wheel and play really cool games!”

Sarah’s eyes widen in surprise and excitement as she looks at her mother who is smiling at her children, and she nods when her daughter looks at her. “For real?” she asks, in awe. She looks back at Steve who is looking at Natasha, confused and raised an eyebrow, but then he smiles and nods when Sarah looks at him. Sarah looks back at her big brother with a grin. “We’re gonna ride the ferris wheel!” she squeals in excitement.

Steve looks back at Natasha, his eyebrows slightly furrowed in confusion, but Natasha just smiles at him and nods, telling him that she’ll explain later. Her smile widens when Sarah walks and babbles over to her as Natasha lifts her daughter to let her sit on her lap, pressing a kiss on her blonde hair as Sarah bounces in excitement, and Natasha laughs softly, trying to quell her daughter’s excitement so she can still sleep the night properly.

James walks over to Steve who crouches down in level with his son, and James gives Steve a small and apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, Daddy,” he says in a small voice. “I was really upset.”

Steve gives his son a smile and extends his arms to embrace James. James wraps his arms around his father’s neck as Steve rubs James’ back gently with his hand. “It’s alright,” he says softly. “It's alright, Jamie. But we have to talk about it still, okay? We have to talk about what you did.”

James nods, because he knows, and Steve embraces his son tighter. “We're alright,” Steve tells him softly, pressing a kiss on his son's hair. “We're okay.”

Not quite yet, they think. But they'll get there, of course. Slowly, they will, and for sure, they will be okay.

Chapter Text

“Auntie Sharon,” James says in a small voice, tugging her hand, and Sharon looks down and smiles at the little boy as they walk towards the car. “Where are we going?”

His Auntie Sharon came by early to pick him up from daycare, which is odd, because: 1) his Daddy is usually the one to pick him up from daycare; 2) she picked him up too early, and; 3) his teacher let him go so easily. It’s not that he’s complaining though, because he likes spending the day with his Auntie Sharon. She makes him laugh all the time, and sometimes, she, along with Uncle Sam and Uncle Bucky, take him to the park too and buy him ice cream behind his parents’ backs. It’s their little secret, they said, and so he keeps it, even when he gets all giggly and excited when he gets home and ends up not keeping it a secret from his parents. But they don’t seem mad about it, on the contrary, it makes his Mommy laugh hard when he says it, so it’s fine.

They both stop by in front of the car as Sharon crouches down in front of him to his level, and she smiles and smooths his mussed hair (“always mussed hair” like how his Mommy says it). “Remember your Mommy told you two months ago in your birthday? That you’ll be getting your baby sister really soon?” she asks.

He does, actually. He knows his Mommy has a baby in her tummy, a baby sister, his parents said. He was excited to have one, and he asked if he can have his baby sister so he can finally have a playmate on his birthday two months ago, when he finally turned five.

His Mommy and Daddy laughed fondly, and his Mommy told him patiently, “She’s my and Daddy’s little gift to you. But you have to wait for a little more time because she’s still getting ready to meet her best brother.”

“Yeah,” James tells Sharon. “Mommy said she’s still growing and getting ready to meet me.” His eyes then widen in realization. “Is she here?”

Sharon chuckles softly. “She’s on her way,” she tells James. “That’s why me and Uncle Sam came to get you early, because your sister wanted to come out early in the day too. Maybe ‘cause she’s excited to meet you too.”

“Where is she? Where is she?” James asks excitedly, bouncing on his feet, and making his Auntie Sharon laugh softly.

“She’s not here yet, but your Mommy is trying her best to...to get her out of her tummy,” she says, and James figures it makes sense. Her Mommy had a big tummy for the past few months, and she explained to James how his sister is inside there, and when she is ready, she will get her out. “So she’s in the hospital with your Dad, and Uncle Bucky is there waiting too. We’ll be bringing you there. That okay?”

James nods, unable to hide his grin on his face. “Alright then,” Sharon says, smiling as she stands up and opens the backdoor of the car to the passenger seat. “In you go, little mister.” James climbs inside and Sharon helps in buckling him to the seat.

“Hi, Uncle Sam.” James greets when Sam looks back at him from the driver’s seat as the passenger door closes.

“Ready to meet your sister, Jamie?” Sam asks him, grinning, and James nods, bouncing on his seat and grinning ever so widely.

“Off we go, then.” Sharon says, as she takes her seat in front and closes the door of the car, looking back at James with a smile, as James nods again.

To say James was excited to have a baby sister is an understatement, and even his parents, along with his uncles and aunties can attest to this sentiment.

Steve and Natasha had been nervous about telling James he was going to have a baby sibling at the start. It’s not really because they thought he would be a big brother, but more of they were scared James might take it differently, that they were trying to replace him or some sorts. The thought loomed more over Natasha’s head rather than Steve, because she didn’t want her little boy to think they were replacing him, nor would she want him to think that they will love him less because a new baby is coming.

But they were wrong in thinking that, because when Natasha had told her eldest son that he was going to be a big brother because “Mommy is carrying a baby in her tummy”, one evening when the three of them were having dinner, James’ eyes had widened in both surprise and delight.

“I’m gonna be a big brother!” he exclaimed in excitement. He knew what being a brother meant because his classmates in daycare talked about having one or being one. He understood that being a brother or having one meant having a playmate too, and he really wanted to have one so badly that he once contemplated of asking one from his parents if he can have one, or if he can be a big brother instead. Guess he didn’t need to ask anymore.

Both Steve’s and Natasha’s hearts swelled in both relief and love, especially when James hopped off his seat and went over to hug his mother, who carried him to her lap and peppered his face with kisses. That evening, he slept between both his parents because he insisted so because he wanted to talk to the baby, and mostly so he can ask his parents questions about being a brother.

And when they thought the excitement would only last for that night when the official announcement was made, Natasha and Steve woke to James’ murmurs the following morning, and they woke up to find their son slumped over his mother, his head resting on Natasha’s chest as he murmured quietly, even giggled by himself.

“Jamie,” Steve chuckled as he smoothed his son’s back and leaned over to kiss his hair. “What are you doing?”

James lifted his head off his mother’s chest and grinned widely at his father. “I’m telling the baby lots of stories! So when it comes out, it will know lots of things about me and about you and Mommy!” he answered, proceeding to rest his head back on his mother’s chest as Natasha chuckled, pulling James closer to her face, and while James groaned and whined at first at being pulled away from his “conversation” with his baby sibling, he dissolved into a fit of giggles when Natasha peppered his face with kisses and Steve started tickling him on his tummy.

He was also the first one to announce to his uncles and aunties later that day that he was going to be a big brother (Steve and Natasha had a plan to how they’ll announce the second Rogers’ coming to their friends, but they figured James’ announcement was better), and had been one to tell Natasha that she shouldn’t be off to missions and trainings anymore because the baby might get hurt (which James learned about through his Daddy’s lessons on how to take care of his Mommy while she’s pregnant).

He was also one to ask his uncles and aunties lots of questions about babies.

He first asked, “What do babies eat?”

To which, depending on his uncles, answers vary.

Uncle Bucky would say, “Mostly milk and water. They don’t eat anything until they have teeth which will grow over time.”

Uncle Sam would respond, “Anything soft, maybe ice cream and marshmallows. Gotta ask for your Dad lots and lots of marshmallows.”

And his Uncle Tony smirked, and his eyes sparkled with mischief, but he would be smacked by James’ Auntie Pepper before he can respond. He settled for, “Your Uncle Buck’s right. Babies only drink milk.”

He then asked, “What do babies do?”

His Auntie Sharon responded, “They mostly sleep, but they also play a lot and say lots of things that might not make sense yet so you have to be the one to teach her how to talk.”

His Auntie Wanda answered, “Babies love to play! And they crawl a lot too, so you have to be a good brother by making sure she doesn’t bump into lots of things.”

His Uncle Clint told him, “They poop a lot, Jamie, and get really really stinky.” which earned him a glare from James’ Mommy, so his Uncle Clint was quick to say, “But they do love to play a lot! And your aunties are right, you have to be a good brother by making sure she doesn’t hurt herself.”

When he found out he was going to have a baby sister, another one of his questions was, “How do I become a good big brother?”

His Auntie Pepper told him, “You take care of your sister, love her and protect her. Make sure you don’t fight with her a lot even if she steals your food and toys, because that only means she wants to play with you.”

His Uncle Rhodey told him, “So as long as you don’t fight with her, then you’ll be a good big brother.”

When he asked his Mommy and Daddy that, they looked at each other and smiled sheepishly. “We didn’t really have a baby sister or a brother when we were kids, Jamie,” his Daddy told him. “But I agree with Auntie Pepper and Uncle Rhodey, so as long as you love her and protect her, and you don’t fight with her, you’re already a good big brother.”

And the most important question was, “What would Mommy and Daddy name my little sister?”

To which each of them responded with their own names. From Antonia to Virginia, Samantha to Sharon, Wanda (she did suggest Pietra for his brother) to Clintonia (James scrunched his nose at that), to Natalia and Stephanie (James didn’t like it for some reason, because it lacked originality perhaps), and to Maria and Carolina (James tilted his head at that, as if considering). Bucky and Rhodey had been smug their name got picked first for the eldest Rogers, so they didn’t put their names in the pot. Steve and Natasha rolled their eyes and laughed at the name suggestions, and James looked up at them and asked in horror if his sister would be named any of those.

“What do you think, Jamie?” Natasha asked softly. “D’you think we should get any of the names your aunties and uncles have suggested?”

James shook his head and smiled sheepishly at them. “I’m sure there are other names, Mommy.” he said quietly, making Steve and Natasha laugh loudly.

Steve and James had teamed up in taking care of her too, from bringing her breakfast in bed, bringing her water after her morning sickness, accompanying her to the doctor and reminding her to rest whenever she insisted on working. Natasha found her two boys doting over her adorable and at times, to the point where she started tearing up (pregnancy hormones, something James had later learned when he thought Natasha got upset when he brought her water to drink after her morning sickness). But Steve found that James hovered around Natasha and the baby more especially when her bump started showing and began growing. He was more careful when it came to running towards his mother whenever he would come home and she’ll be waiting for him, or whenever they would cuddle.

On his fifth birthday two months ago, James grew impatient and asked his Mommy if he can have his baby sister as a birthday gift. “I wanna have a playmate for my birthday.” he said, pouting. Natasha chuckled and leaned down carefully to press a kiss on her son’s hair, her hand resting on her very big baby bump.

“Patience, my little one,” she told him softly and lovingly. “Your little sister is just getting ready so she can meet you. I think she’s pretty excited too.”

“But why won’t she come out if she’s excited too?” he asked quietly. 

“Because she still needs more time to grow,” Steve answered him patiently. “So that when she comes out, she’ll be ready to play with you too, but not quite yet, because she’ll need to learn how to walk and talk properly first.”

“I can teach her to walk!” James says, perking up, and both his parents laughed softly. “When will she come out?”

“Maybe in two months, sweetie.”

So James, as he watches the scenery from outside the car window, figures that time must be up and that his baby sister is ready to come out and meet him. He smiles and bounces lightly in his seat in excitement of finally meeting her. Unbeknownst to him, Sam and Sharon are watching him through the rearview mirror, both of which are smiling fondly as they watch their first nephew get excited over his baby sister’s arrival.

Sam parks his car in the hospital parking lot, and Sharon helps James get off his seat from the car. “Where are they?” he asks as Sharon laughs softly, crouching down once again to straighten his shirt and pants and smooth his hair.

“They’re upstairs, and we have yet to find out if your little sister has come out,” Sharon answers softly. “But don’t you worry, alright? All we have to do is wait. Uncle Bucky is already up there waiting too.”

“And Mommy and Daddy?” he asks, confused. Sam chuckles as he picks up the five-year-old boy to his hip, and Sharon stands and straightens herself.

“Your Mommy’s trying her best so your sister can come out safely, and your Dad well…” Sam looks over at Sharon and she gives him a pointed look, trying to hide a smirk of her own. “Let’s just say he’s there to cheer your Mommy on.”

“I wanna cheer Mommy too.” James points out.

“Might wanna rethink that, Jamie,” Sam says, pressing a kiss on James’ hair and bouncing him. “Come on, let’s go see what your Uncle Bucky’s been up to, and maybe we’ll get some ice cream too.”

But they didn’t get to, because once Sam, Sharon and James had reached the floor where Bucky was waiting in, Steve had come out into the hall with a huge smile on his face, especially upon seeing his son. “There you are.” Steve greets, just as James wiggles down from his Uncle Sam’s arms and starts running towards his father’s arms. Steve lifts him and kisses his son on the cheek, just as the three hover around Steve.

“Everything good?” Sharon asks, smiling, and Steve nods, adjusting James to his hip, unable to keep the huge smile off his face.

“She’s here. Nat did it,” Steve says, grinning. “Beautiful baby girl that looks like her.”

The three adults cheer and share their congratulations to Steve, giving him side hugs as to not crush James in his arms, as James looks at his father confusedly. “Daddy, where’s Mommy?” he asks softly.

“She’s with your little sister, Jamie,” Steve answers, and James’ eyes widen in delight. “Wanna go see ‘em?”

James nods, and Steve presses another kiss on his son’s cheek as he turns to his friends. “Thanks for bringing James over, and for coming here too,” he says, smiling. “We’ll be in 3043, if you guys wanna come up.”

“We’ll be up there in a while,” Bucky says, grinning. “Just gonna grab some lunch.” He nods over at James. “And to give you guys some alone time too.”

Steve chuckles and nods. “I’ll catch you guys later.”

Steve and James proceed to the elevator, and James looks at his father. “Daddy, is my sister here?” he asks.

“Yeah, buddy. You’re a big brother now,” Steve answers, grinning and James smiles widely. “You’re gonna meet her once we get there. She’s beautiful like Mommy. But she’s really small so you have to be careful when you meet her, okay? Just like what we talked about?”

“Okay.” James answers, bouncing in his father’s arms. Steve laughs softly and presses his lips on his head. The elevator door opens, and they proceed to walk down the hall, and stop in front of a room. Steve turns the knob and opens it, and James’ face lights up when he sees Natasha on the bed carrying a baby wrapped in a pink blanket. She looks tired, some of her hair sticking on the side of her head, but she is absolutely glowing as she looks down at the baby in her arms, and she smiles widely when she looks up and finds Steve with James.

“There’s my little man,” she says, and James grins just as Steve closes the door behind them. Natasha adjusts the baby in her arms so she is facing the direction of James and Steve. Natasha leans down to press a kiss on the baby’s forehead, just as Steve walks over beside Natasha’s bed. “Your big brother is here, little one.” she says softly, rubbing her nose on the baby’s forehead.

The pink blanket over her head falls off, and James grins when he sees the baby’s tuft of blonde hair. Just like his Daddy’s hair, their Daddy’s hair. “She’s so tiny.” James comments, leaning over to take a better look at his small and sleeping baby sister.

Steve gently puts James on the bed beside Natasha, and Natasha smiles as she presses a kiss on the side of James’ head, but he is too awe-struck to notice as he watches his sister. “What’s her name, Mommy?” he asks softly.

Natasha looks over at Steve and smiles, and Steve’s eyes start filling with tears as he nods. “Her name is Sarah Rose,” Natasha tells James softly, carefully bouncing the baby in her arms. “Our little Sarah.”

Sarah. James grins widely and looks up at his mother. Sarah Rose. “It’s a beautiful name, Mommy.” he says softly, and Natasha nods, leaning to press a kiss on James head again. He flinches slightly when the baby starts to gurgle and stir in Natasha’s arms as he looks up at Steve who chuckles softly and perches on the bedside beside James, rubbing his back gently.

“Looks like your sister recognized your voice, buddy,” Steve says softly. “Look. She’s waking up.”

Sarah lets out a soft gurgle and a small yawn and James watches in awe. The baby slowly opens her eyes and James is delighted to find that it’s green like his Mommy’s, their Mommy’s. And she kind of looks like his Mommy too! Only she’s really tiny and a bit wrinkly, but James supposed that maybe it’s normal. The baby rubs her eyes with her small closed fists and Natasha chuckles softly, pressing a kiss on Sarah’s small forehead.

“Hey, little girl,” she whispers, adjusting Sarah in her arms so it looks like she is slightly facing James. “This is your big brother, Jamie.”

Sarah blinks her green eyes as she lets out a gurgle and James grins. He reaches to take one of her hands slowly, and Sarah wraps her tiny hand around one of his fingers. “You’re so tiny,” he tells Sarah softly, and his parents laugh softly. “But a good kind of tiny.” He then grins wider. “My tiny sister.”

Natasha feels like her heart is about to explode as James reaches out another one of his hands to take another one of Sarah’s, and she wraps her hand around another one of her brother’s fingers too. James giggles softly, and Sarah gurgles. He looks up at Natasha and asks, “Can I hold her, Mommy?”

“Of course, baby,” Natasha answers softly, smiling. James withdraws his hands from his sister gently and sits properly, just like how he and Steve had talked about way before. “Okay, hold your hands out on your lap.” James does as he is told as Natasha transfers Sarah to James. Steve rests Sarah on his lap, and helps James support Sarah’s head by his arm. James grins widely as he uses his free hand to touch Sarah’s nose, as the baby gurgles and almost smiles at James.

James comments softly again, “You’re so tiny, Sarah.” The baby gurgles again, and he takes her hand in his, and she wraps her hand around his finger again, as James laughs softly.

And Steve walks over to the other side of the bed beside Natasha, pressing a kiss on the side of her head as he sits beside her, wrapping an arm around her waist to pull her close to him. Natasha hums and rests her head back on his shoulder as they both watch fondly at their children interacting for the first time. Natasha feels her heart is going to explode with the cuteness and love at the sight beside her as she couldn’t help the smile forming on her face, and the tears filling her eyes. It seems that Steve feels the same way too, as he smiles and leans down to kiss Natasha on her head again.

“Thank you,” he whispers. Natasha turns her head and smiles at her husband, and Steve presses a soft chaste kiss on her lips. “Thank you. For James and Sarah. Thank you.”

“Thank you.” she whispers back as she presses a kiss on his lips too. Thank you for choosing me, for loving me, for giving me our beautiful and wonderful children. Steve seemed to have gotten that, and he kisses her again on the lips, and on the side of her head before both of them turn to watch their children.

“Hey, Sarah,” James says softly, looking down at his sister on his lap. “I’m Jamie, your big brother. And this is our Mommy and Daddy, but you’ve met them already.” He smiles widely as Sarah just stares up at her brother curiously. “We’re gonna be best friends, you know, because I promise I’m going to be the best big brother there is.”

He remembers the words his uncles and aunties have told him, the advice they gave when he asked them how he could be a good big brother. “I promise I’m going to be a good brother, and share with you my toys and food, and tell you lots of stories, so you can learn how to talk too,” he says softly. “And I promise I’ll play lots of games with you, and teach you to walk so we can go to the park real soon to play, and maybe we can meet other kids too who would like to play with us. I had lots of friends when Mommy and Daddy used to bring me to the park, and I’ll let you meet them so they can be your friends too.”

Steve and Natasha listen to James tell all these promises to his sister, their daughter, and they feel their chest swell with love and pride at how James seems determined in keeping all of these promises. Their little boy is still a little boy at five years old, but they’re happy to find him all doting over his sister. It’s too cute for them, how James talks to Sarah, and how Sarah is watching her brother curiously and listening to him almost attentively, like she can understand what his brother is telling her.

“I promise to protect you too, and not let yourself get hurt,” James continues and he pauses. “But don’t hurt yourself too. That’s kind of dumb, but it’s okay, I won’t laugh at you or anything.” Steve and Natasha laugh softly at that, but James didn’t seem to hear them, as he leans closely to his sister and presses a kiss on her small forehead.

“We’re going to be best friends, Sarah, you and me. We’ll be best friends.”

Chapter Text

“Tatowfwy?”

Sarah looks up at his father with wide green eyes as Steve chuckles and crouches down in front of his daughter, as both of them watch the blue-winged butterfly hover over them. Steve sticks out his index finger, and they watch as the butterfly lands on his finger, and Sarah gasps, her eyes wide and her mouth turning into a grin as she bounces on her little feet to watch the butterfly’s wings fold and unfold.

“Beautiful butterfly, right, baby?” Steve asks softly. Sarah nods, her grin widening.

“Fwy, fwy!” she cheers in her small voice, and Steve laughs softly, tossing his hand up as the butterfly flies, and Sarah starts giggling as she watches the butterfly fly up to the sky.

It’s one of the most beautiful sounds he has ever heard, and it’s from one of his most beautiful girls.

Steve picks Sarah up in his arms, resting her on his hip as he tucks some of her hair behind her ear, and presses a soft kiss on her cheek and the tip of her nose. Sarah smiles at his father, and Steve feels his heart flutter inside his chest. His daughter is beautiful, absolutely gorgeous looking just like her mother. The only thing Sarah probably got from him was his blonde hair color, and even then, she got her mother’s wavy hair, but he’s really not one to complain. Her daughter is the spitting image of his wife, if not more beautiful than her (it’s the only time he allows himself to say it, that someone else is more beautiful than Natasha, and it’s their daughter, Sarah. Natasha wholeheartedly agrees with him too, so he feels less guilty about it.)

“Ready to go see grandma, hm?” Steve asks softly, pulling her shirt down and smoothing it as Sarah wraps her small arms around his neck. “You’re gonna get to meet the woman you were named after.”

Sarah nods and smiles, and Steve proceeds to walk through the tombstones as the two-year-old scans the surroundings, her arms wound tightly around her father. A cold wind passes them and she shudders and Steve smiles as he pulls her jacket around her body tightly.

“Cowd.” Sarah says softly, pulling herself closer to her father and Steve chuckles. Their little girl just gets more and more adorable, even with her speech impediment, turning her L’s and R’s into W’s. Just like him before, he thinks fondly.

“It is, hm?” he responds softly. “That’s because it’s fall, which is why the leaves are red and orange.”

“‘Ed, ‘wange.” she repeats. Red, orange. Steve grins and presses a kiss on her cheek.

“Good job, baby.” Steve praises and Sarah giggles, burying her face in the crook of Steve’s neck as she wiggles her feet happily, pulling herself closer to Steve.

Steve continues to walk, and he stops when he sees a familiar tombstone, the name of his mother, along with her birthday and the date of her death below it. It’s on stone, and over time, since he got out of the ice, he made it a point to ask someone to maintain it for him, at least until he could drop by to visit, either by himself or, as the years pass, with Natasha, so the stone and his mother’s grave, even though it’s old and had survived the war, is still well-maintained and cleaned.

“We’re here.” Steve says softly, and he smiles and looks at Sarah who lifts her head to look around the place, and eventually down at the tombstone.

“Gwama?” she asks softly, looking back at her father. Steve nods.

“Yeah, baby, here,” Steve says softly. He crouches down and guides Sarah back on her feet on the ground. “You still have our small flowers for Grandma?”

Grandma, something Steve knew her mother would love hearing, but never got to. Sarah nods and opens the inside of her small jacket, bringing out the small bouquet of wildflowers Sarah had picked earlier this morning before they left. It’s pressed, probably because it was crushed inside his daughter’s jacket, but Steve still smiles and presses a kiss on her forehead.

“Fawow Gwama?” she asks, and Steve nods again.

“Just put it right there, sweetie.” Steve says gently, pointing at the tombstone. Sarah toddles over and crouches to rest the flowers on the ground in front of the tombstone, and she toddles back at Steve, who sits down on the grass and catches his daughter in his arms, letting her sit on his lap.

“Hey, Ma,” Steve greets softly, smiling as he looks at the tombstone. “Sorry it took me a long time.”

Steve hadn’t really gotten the chance to visit his parents’ grave, not since James was born and they got more involved with S.H.I.E.L.D.. He did get the chance to bring Natasha here plenty of times before, the first time before they even got together, another time when they did get together, and another before they got married. Steve knew Natasha had dropped by here at some point too before they got married, since at some point when he dropped by on his own, he saw a wilting bouquet of flowers by the tombstone, and he knew it would come from none other than Natasha.

Now they had some free time from S.H.I.E.L.D., so he decided to use this day to visit his mother’s grave. “Bring Sarah with you,” Natasha told him earlier this morning. “I think she’d love to see her namesake.”

“She’d want to see you too, you and James.” Steve told her, and she chuckled softly, leaning to give her husband a soft kiss on the lips.

“Another day, I promise,” she said softly. “Or your son is about to start throwing fits.”

Steve chuckled, because James had asked his parents if he could hang out and play with one of his classmates, whose mother Natasha was well-acquainted with too. They agreed, with the condition that Natasha will come and accompany him, as it would give her the opportunity to get to know her son’s friends’ parents too. (Besides, she was invited by the mother, so it’s not like she could say no to that.)

So Steve decided to take their daughter with him to a drive in Brooklyn, to his parents’ graves.

“This is Sarah, my and Nat’s daughter,” Steve says softly, nudging Sarah gently who perks up at the mention of her name. Steve laughs softly and smiles at his daughter. “She’s beautiful, Ma. She takes after Nat a lot, but she has my hair, she has your hair.”

Sarah hums as she looks up at her father. “Dada, talk?” she asks softly, and Steve smiles.

“Daddy’s talking to grandma, sweetie, right here,” he says, gesturing over at the tombstone. “Grandma’s in there somewhere.”

Sarah looks back at the tombstone again and waves her hand at it, as if she is waving at somebody. “‘Wo.” she says in her small voice, and Steve laughs, pulling Sarah closer to his body and pressing a kiss on the girl’s hair and cheek.

“Gwama name?” Sarah asks.

“Sarah,” Steve answers softly, smiling. “Her name is Sarah, like you.”

Sarah tilts her head and looks back at the tombstone. “Gwama Sawah.” she says softly, and Steve has to laugh at how adorable his daughter said it.

You’ll love her, Ma. You’ll love both of them so much.

Sarah wiggles and buries herself further in her father’s arms, and she looks up at Steve. “Dada, stowy,” she says softly. “Tell Gwama.”

Tell a story about Grandma, she wanted to say, and Steve gets it and understands it. He hums and presses a kiss on top of Sarah’s head. “Well,” Steve starts, letting his mind wander to the face of his mother: a beautiful, small woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, those of which he got from her, a loving and strong mother to a small sickly young boy who also did everything she can to make sure they survived and lived well. “Okay, I have one.” Steve smiles.

His eyes flicker over to his father’s graveyard beside his mother’s, and he sighs. “When Daddy was young, really young,” he starts softly. “Grandma used to get hurt a lot, you see. She was always hurt.”

Why didn’t you just stay down, Mama? He remembers himself crying, wrapping his small arms around his mother who was bleeding through her nose, whose one eye was swollen from one of his father’s drunken punch that evening. He remembers the sensation of her arms around him, the arms that made him feel loved and safe all the days of his life until her death, until he eventually found another set of arms who made him feel safe and warm, and at home and loved.

“Why howt?” Sarah asks softly, looking up at her father with wide eyes.

“Someone hurts her a lot, Sarah,” Steve explains softly. “Because of lots of fights, and shouting and...and hurting.”

Do you hear what you’re saying to me, trying to break my heart? Steve sighs and closes his eyes as he recalls his father’s shouts towards his mother, after hitting her and she falls beside the table where Steve was hiding under. Making my boy think I’m some kind of laggard? How dare you compare me to that man?

“Bad?” Sarah asks, and Steve smiles sadly, brushing his daughter’s hair gently.

“Not really,” he responds softly, and he meant it, as he looks over at his father’s grave. “He was kind of bad at first, but then afterwards, he became a good man. He changed.”

Sarah hums and Steve smiles. Come out, dear. It’s okay. “She was a strong woman, your Grandma. One time, she got really hurt, you see,” he says softly. “Because the man...the man hurt her, after they had a fight, the man punched her, and she got hurt. And...and I was under the table, and she fell down, and I got scared and I started crying.”

“Dada howt?” Sarah asks, her eyes wide and her bottom lip sticking out. Steve chuckles and shakes his head, leaning to press a kiss on the tip of her nose.

“Not me, baby,” he tells his daughter softly. “Grandma was, but Grandma was strong, you see. When she fell down, Grandma hugged me when she saw I was crying. And you know what she said to me?”

“What?” Sarah asks softly.

Why didn’t you just stay down, Mama? Why didn’t she just stay down, so she couldn’t get hurt, so she wouldn’t have been hurt by her own father in another one of his bouts of alcoholism? Because, and you listen close, Steven…

“You always stand up,” Steve says softly, smiling. “She told me to always stand up. Remember it’s also one of the things me and Mommy always tell you whenever you fall while trying to walk?”

Sarah nods, and Steve’s smile widens. “That one’s from Grandma,” he says. “Grandma taught me that.”

He can also remember many other things his mother taught her, remember the way she loved too, and tried his best to replicate that kind of love he felt from her to his children. But he remembers one of the things he had told her after he had become Captain America, shortly before she died, when he told her who he was going to be, and what he wanted to do.

You’re so much like your father, Stevey, she told him, and he frowned, because he never wanted to be compared to his father who had hurt his mother like that. But Sarah Rogers had smiled at her son and continued, A born dreamer. But there’s something you’ve got to remember. Even if your every dream comes true—it won’t mean a thing unless you’ve reached out, and helped someone else along the way. He closes his eyes and smiles as he remembers his mother’s smile at him, the beautiful and loving smile that encouraged him to become the man who he is now.

Don’t ever forget that, Stevey.

I won’t, Mama.

“Gwama bwave?” Sarah asks, and Steve smiles. Sarah, his sweet and beautiful and loving Sarah, likes saying that, the word “brave”. She likes saying it to describe her brother, and her mother and father as well. She likes saying that she wants to be that too, but Steve thinks she already is, much like her Grandma, her namesake.

He can never begin to fathom how brave her mother was. “She was brave, yeah,” Steve says softly, nodding. “And she’s also very beautiful too, beautiful like you.”

“Wook...wike Mama?” she asks, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion, and Steve has to chuckle. She has been told by her aunties and uncles, as well as her brother and parents, several times that she looks like her Mommy: everything from her green eyes to her nose and cheekbones, she is a little blonde Natasha through and through.

“Beautiful like Mommy too, yeah,” Steve says, nodding. “But you look like Mommy. Grandma doesn’t, but she’s just as beautiful as you and Mommy too.”

“Mow Gwama stowies!” Sarah exclaims, grinning up at his father and Steve chuckles, nodding.

“Okay, then.” Steve agrees, smiling, and he proceeds to tell more stories about his mother to his daughter. He tells her a story of how his mother would bring home treats she bought from the small amount of money she earned as a nurse, on occasions when she would have more money than needed. Sarah would listen attentively, and Steve would tell more stories about his mother’s love for art and nature, most especially flowers that he would buy her some whenever he gets home and he has spare money from his allowance from school, or just flowers he’d decide to pick whenever he passed by parks on his way home.

He misses her, of course. Steve misses his mother, especially when he came out of the ice and woke up into a completely different era. He misses her embraces, the lessons she taught him, the way she talks so soothingly and gently, and the way she smiles and laughs too. He’s grateful that, in some way, he still got to see traces of her from the way Natasha treats and loves their children, the way she would use that voice (that gentle, soothing and smooth voice his mother used on him before) when speaking to James and Sarah, and the way she would hold them and cuddle with them until they would fall asleep.

He is grateful that even after all these years, in some way, he can see that she is still alive in his life through Natasha. Now he will forever remember her through his daughter too, the one both he and Natasha named after her, her namesake.

His phone buzzes, and when he takes a look at it, Sarah gets up and Steve lets her as he checks his phone and smiles, when he sees Natasha text him, asking him how they were doing, followed by a picture of James and his friend, both of them in Captain America costumes. He laughs softly at that. He types a quick reply, and is about to call Sarah so he can snap a photo of her, when he sees his daughter walk over back to him, a couple of red flowers that probably fell from the tree in her hands.

And his heart melts. “What d’you got there, Sarah?” he asks softly, and Sarah smiles up at him.

“Fawow Gwama.” Sarah responds softly, crouching over in front of the tombstone, and dropping the flowers in front of it. Steve smiles widely and snaps a photo of Sarah crouching down in front of the tombstone and dropping the flowers in front of it.

Sarah giving flowers to Grandma. We miss you right here. Steve puts his phone back inside his coat and smiles as Sarah straightens herself and runs back to Steve’s arms, as he kisses her cheek and she giggles.

“Alright, guess we better go,” Steve says, standing up and getting rid of the leaves stuck on his coat and pants. “Say bye bye to Grandma, Sarah.”

Sarah turns to the tombstone and waves again. “Bye bye, Gwama.” she says in a small voice. She then walks up to Steve again and reaches for his hand, and he takes her hand in his, his one hand tucking inside the pocket of his coat as he sighs and smiles.

Thank you, Mama. “Bye, Ma. I’ll see you again soon.” Thank you for making me who I am today.

Sarah, on their way back home, convinces Steve to drive by a flower shop so they can buy flowers for her Mommy too, since they gave flowers to Steve’s mother. “Mama wuv fawow too?” she asks, and Steve happily agrees, of course, and asks his daughter to pick the flowers they would give to Natasha. They drive by McDonald’s for a quick snack, and he receives a text from Natasha telling Steve that she and James are home in the Tower. Steve smiles, and after eating, they drive home.

“Give the flowers to Mommy when we get there, okay?” Steve asks, and Sarah nods enthusiastically, bouncing on her feet as she looks up at the elevator, waiting for them to get to the floor.

The elevator door opens, and Sarah makes a beeline to their living room, where she sees Natasha and James cuddling on the couch. Natasha’s face lights up when she hears Sarah call for her, and present the small bouquet of flowers to her.

“Oh, are these for me?” she asks her daughter, her eyes sparkling and her smile wide as Sarah giggles and nods. “This is so sweet. Thank you, baby.” She picks Sarah up to sit her on the couch and peppers her face with kisses, making Sarah dissolve in a bubble of laughter before she crawls off to the couch and embrace her brother, exclaiming his name.

Steve walks over to his family, smiling as he leans down to press a kiss on James’ head after he greets him and extends his arms at his father after Sarah crawls off of him. Steve carries James to his hip, and James presses a kiss on Steve’s cheek when Steve taps on it. Natasha smiles fondly as she inspects the small bouquet, and she looks up at Steve who smiles down at her.

“Gwama wuv fawow,” Sarah babbles, looking up at her mother. “Mama wuv fawow.”

“I do love them too,” Natasha says softly, leaning down to rub their noses together, and Sarah giggles again. “Is this your idea, baby?”

“Yup, all her idea,” Steve says softly, sitting down beside Natasha, resting James on his lap as he leans to press a kiss on the side of his wife’s head. “‘Cause she’s very sweet like that.”

“Both of them are,” Natasha says, running her fingers through Sarah’s blonde hair and leaning to press a kiss on the tip of James’ nose, who giggles softly in Steve’s arms. “Both our babies are.”

All because of their Mommy, Steve thinks, as he smiles fondly, as if he can see his mother’s eyes in Natasha’s in the way she looks at their children. He’d like to think he was who he was because of his mother: a kind and gentle father and husband, sweet and loving to his children and his wife, all because she showed him how to be one.

He hopes his children will get that too, and he thinks he will. He thinks they’ll become like that too, even better perhaps, because of their mother, because of Natasha. Maybe they'll get her love, gentleness, bravery and passion from her too, the same way he got all of those from his own mother.

Chapter Text

Natasha steps aside from her routine, and she watches with a proud smile on her face as Sarah finishes their act with the final set of fouettes. She checks her form, and her smile widens as Sarah stretches her arms in perfect form, her loose bun falling off, but her daughter just laughs it off, continuing her turns with her long blonde wavy hair flying off with her every turn, a beautiful and natural smile plastered on her face as she finishes her turns and the music ends, and she ends with her final position, panting, and smiling as Natasha claps her hands.

“Beautiful, Sarah,” Natasha praises, and Sarah smiles widely as she straightens herself, bouncing on her feet as Natasha approaches her daughter, embracing her and smoothing her blonde hair. Sarah giggles, embracing her mother back. “Your fouettes are perfect, so perfect, my love.”

“Thank you, Mom.” the fifteen-year-old replies softly, pulling away. Natasha presses a kiss on her daughter’s forehead, smoothing the stray strands of hair off of her face.

“Rest for ten?” Natasha asks, and Sarah nods. “And then we can move on to the next act.”

“Can you do it with me too?” Sarah asks softly. “The whole one, I mean?”

“Of course, babe,” Natasha replies softly, smoothing her daughter’s rosy cheeks as she smiles widely. “Let’s do the whole thing together, hm?”

Sarah nods, and follows Natasha as she sits on the floor under the barre, retrieving her own water bottle and drinking it as she leans on the wall. Sarah fumbles with her fingers and takes a deep breath, as she retrieves her oversized long-sleeved shirt and puts it on, retrieving as well her hair tie that fell on the floor earlier. She sits on the floor beside her mother, and Natasha smiles as she extends her hand to get the hair tie from Sarah, who gives it to her happily. She turns her back on Natasha, and her mother straightens her back as she combs Sarah’s blonde hair with her fingers, taking a few portions from the side to braid it.

Sarah smiles, and she takes another deep breath. This is it, she thinks. She looks up at the cream ceiling of their ballet studio in their floor, and she sighs. It’s all gonna be okay.

“Mom?” Sarah asks softly, and Natasha hums in acknowledgment, continuing her work on her daughter’s hair. “When you...when you met Dad for the first time, what did you feel?”

Natasha pauses, and her eyebrows furrow slightly in confusion and amusement, and her lips twitching upwards to a smirk. “What do you mean?” she asks, and Sarah lets out a small chuckle.

“I mean...you said before when you met Dad you didn’t know he was going to...that you were going to get married,” Sarah says, fumbling with her fingers, and wincing slightly when Natasha accidentally pulls her hair tightly. Natasha mumbles a soft sorry, and Sarah smiles. “But when...when you knew, what did you feel?”

Natasha ties her daughter’s hair neatly and smiles, and Sarah slowly turns, looking at her mother. Natasha smiles and laughs softly, looking down at her feet as she pulls her legs closer to her chest. She tries to remember, more than two decades ago, what it felt, something her daughter is asking for. She tries to remember the butterflies in her stomach every time she would see Steve, the tingling in her skin every time their elbows grazed each other during team bonding nights, and the way her heart would flutter and beat fast against her chest when he would look at her.

She wonders why Sarah is asking her that.

“I didn’t know your Dad was the one I was going to marry when I first met him,” she agrees, nodding, a small smile on her face as she looks at her daughter who is looking at her with her wide green eyes that mirror hers. “Nor did I think we were getting married either when I thought, hey, I kind of have a crush on Captain America.” Sarah giggles, and Natasha’s smile widens.

“But...it was good, and terrifying for me at the same time,” she tells Sarah honestly. “Mostly it was because I thought your Dad wouldn’t want to be with someone like me, let alone someone like him have feelings for someone like me.

Sarah scrunches her nose, and Natasha laughs. “How could you think that, though?” she asks, and she smirks. “Dad’s really, really in love with you now.”

Natasha laughs loudly, and Sarah smiles. “He is now, isn’t he?” she asks, and Sarah laughs softly, nodding. “But back then, it didn’t seem like it, mostly because your Dad was apparently just as scared in admitting how he felt. It wasn’t until your Uncle Tony had to lock us in a room together for a supposed prank did he say so.”

Sarah chuckles softly, and Natasha smiles, fondly remembering the memory. “But that’s what I felt,” she tells Sarah softly. “And it’s...also all the cliches you and Jamie watch so very often nowadays.” Sarah laughs. “The butterflies, and the heart beating against your chest, and you forgetting what to say, where you are or what you do just because he’s there. It’s all that. And it was annoying, most of the time, it really is, but with your Dad, oh, Sarah, it felt right. It felt awfully right to feel all of those with him.”

Sarah smiles widely as she looks back down at her feet and nod. And Natasha smirks, nudging her daughter gently by the elbow. “What made you ask that question, Sarah?” she asks softly, smiling teasingly at her daughter who laughs softly, and Natasha grins. “You know you can tell me anything. It is Ballet Time, you know.”

Sarah figures that her mother is right. It is Ballet Time, a time where she can have her mother all for herself, where they dance together and talk in-between. They’ve had this since Sarah was four, since Sarah watched her mother do a routine dance for the first time, and deciding for herself that she wants to be just like her Mommy. Ever since, they take four hours of everyday (as much as they can, when Natasha isn’t off abroad for long missions and Sarah isn’t busy cramming for final exams) just for themselves, where they talk about half of the time, and dance in the other. It gave Natasha the opportunity to get to know about her daughter more, and it gave Sarah the opportunity to connect with her mother more beyond the mother that she is, and the agent facade she usually shows around S.H.I.E.L.D. most of the time.

They’re pretty close, Natasha and Sarah, as she considers her mother as her best friend besides James. She feels comfortable telling her mother everything, especially during their personal Ballet Time, as what Natasha said.

Which is why she’s doing this now.

“You promise not to tell anyone?” she asks, and even Sarah finds it silly, because she knows her mother will keep a secret as just that: a secret. But nonetheless, Natasha nods, and Sarah smiles. “Especially not with James, and not with Dad.”

Natasha feigns a surprised expression. “Oh no, is this what I think it is?” she asks, and Sarah bursts out laughing as Natasha chuckles and nods.

“I think it is,” Sarah confesses, smiling up at her mother, and Natasha smiles. “You remember David, right? The smart boy in my class that me and Hope are really close friends with?”

And Natasha nods, because she does remember David—David Alleyne, a handsome young man, also an enhanced mutant, whom Sarah gushes about as one of the smartest in their class. He was in Sarah’s fifteenth birthday celebration, when she gathered all her friends to have an intimate birthday dinner sponsored by Tony inside the Tower. She remembers him from her own daughter’s stories of her friends too, alongside Hope Summers and Billy Kaplan, both of which are (apparently) enhanced by mutant DNA, just like Sarah was with her parents’ serums. She remembers Sarah telling her the four of them are all close because of their similarity of being enhanced beings who just wants to live as normally as they can.

“I do, yeah,” Natasha replies softly, nodding, and she smiles widely. “He was the one who bought you a necklace for your fifteenth birthday.”

Sarah smiles, and Natasha observes that her daughter is blushing— blushing! Her fifteen-year-old is blushing!— as she nods. “Yeah, that’s...that’s him.” she says.

Natasha tries to hide her smile as she nods encouragingly. “Okay, what about David?” she asks, and Sarah looks up at her mother and chuckles.

“Like you don’t know it already, Mom,” Sarah says, laughing, and Natasha laughs alongside her. “I mean, he’s cute, and...and he’s really smart, and really friendly, and…” she trails off, and smiles widely, that Natasha has to smile because her daughter’s smile is really infectious and beautiful. “Okay, I’m just gonna say it.”

“Okay.” Natasha laughs softly, nodding, and Sarah chuckles.

“I really like David, Mom,” she says softly, smiling up at her mother. “And it’s not really just because...just ‘cause he’s cute, and smart and really friendly, and he understands what it’s like being an enhanced. It’s...I don’t know.” She laughs softly, and Natasha smiles, waiting patiently for her daughter to continue. “It’s everything about him, and I’ve been having a crush on him for a long time, and—”

“How long is a long time?”

“Mom!” Sarah exclaims, laughing, and Natasha chuckles softly. “You can’t ask that.”

“Why not?” Natasha asks, smirking teasingly, shrugging. “It’s a valid question.”

“Oh, Mom!” Sarah groans, but she continues laughing, and Natasha laughs, trying her best to contain her fit of laughter at seeing her almost-lovestruck daughter. Is this what she looked like before when she liked Steve? “You are such a mom.

“I am your mom, young lady,” Natasha responds, nudging Sarah’s elbow. “Now come on, how long have you liked him?”

Sarah laughs softly. “Just after my fifteenth birthday,” she responds, smiling. Natasha thinks back—her birthday had been eight months ago. “So it’s...quite some time.”

“Quite some time, yeah,” Natasha agrees, nodding, but she doesn’t let her smile fade. “You didn’t tell me before about this, hm?”

“Well, ‘cause I thought it wouldn’t go anywhere,” Sarah explains. “But...but two days ago, during lunch period, when we were alone, he told me he liked me.” Sarah’s smile widens as she looks up at Natasha, her eyes wide and sparkling and her smile wide and beautiful. “David likes me, Mom.”

At this point, Natasha feels like she should be wailing, begging for all gods listening to her to not let her baby girl fall for any man who can possibly hurt her and break her heart, but as she looks at Sarah, she knows that this is one of the many good things in her life that she’d hate to be taken away from her. As far as she knew, Sarah never liked any other boy before, not even when she was younger and childhood crushes were possible. She hated young boys that aren’t her brother, and she only ever got over it when she got a bit older. But now, she has a crush on someone, who also likes her back.

Besides, Natasha couldn’t blame the young man either. Her daughter is beautiful, kind-hearted, smart and compassionate. Any man would be a fool to not like a lady like her.

“What did you tell him when he said that?” Natasha asks softly.

“I said I did too,” Sarah responds softly, smiling. “And after school, he took me to Black Tap, before walking me back home.” Natasha smiles (Black Tap was where she and Steve also had their first date). “And yesterday, he asked me if I could be his girlfriend.”

What?

“What?” Natasha asks, her eyes widening, and Sarah’s did too.

“N-not that I said anything,” she stammers. “I didn’t, I didn’t say anything. Well...not yet. ” She pauses, and looks at Natasha cautiously. “I-I said I have to ask you first, and I have to ask Dad and Jamie first too, because you have to say yes before I do.”

Natasha’s heart swells with pride and love. Natasha looks at her daughter, and she can see the immense trust and love she has for her family, the way she wants them to like the boy she likes before she decides she would want to be with him. She can see how much it meant to Sarah that they would be with her in every decision she makes, especially this one that involves love and relationships.

And there, Natasha also realizes, her baby girl is not a baby anymore.

“And I figured,” Sarah continues softly. “It would be easy to tell you first, well easier than Dad and Jamie. Because I know how Dad will react, and Jamie too.” She chuckles, and Natasha smiles, because she does know too, how they will react, and she imagines it will be a handful to deal with. “And I...I wanna know, Mom, if you’ll say yes to me dating David first, so I can at least have someone behind my back.” She smiles and shrugs. “I know you don’t...you never really had the whole thing, of...of having a Dad when you decided you’d want to say yes to Dad at first, but I know you’d still understand. ‘Cause you’re my Mom.”

She does, actually, and not only because she is Sarah’s mother and she empathizes with her daughter in the same way of how Sarah is always attuned to her mother’s emotions more than anyone. She understands having the same kind of brother and father figure James and Steve are to Sarah, the same way Clint and Nick had been to her, especially when she confided to both of them that she and Steve were together (she did this, unlike what Sarah did, because she was less confident about what they will say, and her second argument was that they had no choice but to agree because they had already done the do, and were officially together). She knew what it was like to be absolutely terrified of telling them this, because she was scared they may not like Steve as her boyfriend, and not like a teammate and co-worker, much like what Sarah may have been feeling with regards to James and Steve liking David.

She never had a Mom figure, but she’s glad that she was able to be one for Sarah especially in this situation.

“Do you like David?” Natasha asks gently, and Sarah nods.

“Yeah, Mom.” she responds. Natasha nods, and quirks the corner of her mouth as she raises an eyebrow at Sarah.

“Do you love David?” she asks, and Sarah scrunches her nose as she looks at her mother incredulously.

“I think love is a strong word, Mom,” she says, laughing softly, and Natasha nods, as she smiles proudly. That’s my girl. “Probably not in the level of you and Dad, but I love him as...as I love Hope, and as I love Billy.” As a friend, but a little more.

“Do you want to be with him, still?” she asks. “Even if you don’t love him yet, do you want to try and be with him?”

Sarah nods almost immediately. “Yeah,” she responds softly. “Maybe I’ll learn to love him when we get together, and maybe he’ll learn to love me too in that way.”

Natasha smiles, but she needs to know one more thing. “Does David make you happy?” she asks softly. It’s a bit of a stretch, she knows, a loaded question when she thinks about it, but maybe for a lovestruck fifteen-year-old, it would only be a simple yes-or-no question.

And it is simple. At least for now, it is. Because Sarah nods, and smiles beautifully at her mother. “He does, Mom,” she answers softly. “And I think I make him happy too.”

Natasha smiles, reaching to cup her daughter’s face, and brushing her cheek with her thumb gently. Her baby girl is not a baby anymore, and is now a beautiful and grown young lady, but Natasha stops herself from getting too emotional, because even if she has grown, she would still need her. Sarah might still need her mother, and she will always be here at every moment she does.

“Then you have my yes,” Natasha responds softly, and Sarah grins widely. “You have my yes, Sarah.”

Sarah giggles, and Natasha grins, leaning in to press a kiss on the tip of her daughter’s nose, as Sarah laughs, scrunching her nose. “Thank you, Mommy.” Sarah says, rubbing her nose against her mother’s, laughing softly. Natasha hums, and presses another kiss on her forehead.

“Now,” Natasha says, straightening herself on her seat. “The real work begins. We have to figure out how to tell your Dad and your brother.”

Sarah groans, but she is unable to keep the smile off her face. “Well, how did you tell Uncle Clint and Uncle Nick about you and Dad?” she asks.

Natasha laughs loudly, shaking her head. “I didn’t need to talk, sweetie,” she says, a teasing smile on her face. “They’ve seen it before I can say it.”

Sarah furrows her eyebrows in confusion. “How— oh God, Mom!” Sarah exclaims, realizing what her mother meant, and she covers her face with her hands as Natasha falls on the floor, laughing at her daughter’s reaction. “Oh my God, I didn’t— Mom!” Sarah groans, as Natasha laughs, and Sarah puts her hands down, unable to keep the smile on her face and the laughter coming out of her mouth. “That’s the worst advice you can ever give.”

“It’s not advice, sweetie, you asked for it,” Natasha says, getting back up, a huge smile on her face. “My advice would be to not let them know that way, or we might deal with something way bigger than what was intended.”

“Duly noted, Mom.” Sarah responds, laughing softly, and Natasha chuckles.

She takes Sarah’s hands in hers, and gives it a light squeeze, and Sarah looks up at her mother from their hands and smiles. “Just remember whatever it is your Dad and your brother will say or however they will react, it only means that they love you and they just want what’s best for you,” she says softly, and Sarah nods. “And I have your back on this, okay? In everything, babe, I will always always have your back.”

And Sarah smiles and nods. “I know, Mom.” she says sincerely, and Natasha smiles, because she knows that her little girl knows that, but it feels good to say it nonetheless, immortalize it through words and through the real thing.

She looks up at the clock and grins. “And our ten is up,” she says, and Sarah smiles widely as Natasha stands, pulling her daughter up on her feet. “Continue this later?”

“Of course.” Sarah answers, smiling as she watches Natasha smile and turn to change the music on her phone for their next routine. Sarah stretches her legs and feet, and removes her long-sleeved shirt, thinking about how lucky she is to have a mother like Natasha, who loves her and understands her like how she does now.

The music starts to play, and she proceeds on the middle of the dance floor, and Natasha positions beside her, and they look at the mirror as they both smile and stand in position. Natasha smiles widely as she looks at Sarah who smiles back at her mother. They both watch themselves as they dance, both of them graceful and in sync and beautiful, both of them lucky to have each other in their lives.

Chapter Text

When Natasha first found out she was having a daughter, she was terrified.

“Mama.” Sarah calls for her softly, and Natasha looks up from her laptop, and smiles when she sees Sarah toddling slowly towards the couch. Natasha is working, deciding to do so on the couch so she can watch Sarah play on her playmat in the living room while she completes training evaluations for S.H.I.E.L.D.. Natasha puts her laptop aside, and leans down when her two-year-old gets to the edge of the couch, pressing a kiss on her forehead and smoothing her daughter’s hair. Sarah lifts a hand, presenting to Natasha a piece of paper.

Natasha feigns a gasp, as she looks at the paper Sarah is holding. “What’d you got there, baby?” she asks, and Sarah giggles, bouncing on her feet as she gives to Natasha the paper. Natasha lifts Sarah, pressing a kiss on the side of her head and sitting her on Natasha’s lap as she takes the paper from her daughter’s hand.

It’s a picture of a butterfly.

“Tatowfwy,” Sarah tells her mother softly, looking up at her with her beautiful smile. “Tatowfwy fow Mama.”

It is a butterfly. Even though Sarah is only two years old, Natasha can sincerely say that she’s pretty damn proud that her daughter can already somehow know how to draw basic shapes and draw the things she sees, like flowers and leaves (usually drawn as circles, but since she colors it green, Natasha figures that they’re leaves), and even rough drawings of trees. Steve had mentioned to Natasha before about their daughter’s current obsession with butterflies, especially when they brought her and James to a Butterfly Sanctuary once and she had fallen in love with all the colorful creatures she saw. She was practically squealing and vibrating in excitement in Steve’s arms back then.

Her daughter drew her a butterfly, one with blue wings, rough lines, curves and offset coloring like that of a two-year-old’s, but she doesn’t care. It’s one of the most beautiful butterflies she has ever seen.

“It’s beautiful, little one,” Natasha praises, and Sarah giggles as Natasha leans her head against her daughter’s, pressing another kiss on her forehead as she looks at it, sincerely unable to keep the smile off her face as she stares at her daughter’s beautiful drawing. And it’s hers, she thinks. This drawing and this beautiful little girl, both are hers. “Thank you so much.”

“Wuv it?” Sarah asks and Natasha chuckles, nodding.

“I love it so much,” she says, rubbing her nose against Sarah’s, and the girl dissolves into giggles as Natasha pulls her closer to her body. “I love you, my little Sarah.”

“Wuv you, Mama.” Sarah replies softly, and she lifts her hands, placing it on either side of Natasha’s face and pressing a loud kiss on Natasha’s nose, and Natasha squeals, making Sarah laugh loudly, especially when Natasha presses a kiss on the girl’s nose, as Sarah cuddles closer to her mother.

Natasha swears she can feel her heart fluttering and her chest swelling with the overwhelming love she feels for her daughter. She smooths her daughter’s blonde wavy hair, as the two-year-old hums contentedly, letting out a small yawn and closing her eyes and snuggling closer to her mother.

“You getting sleepy, baby?” she asks softly, and Sarah nods, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand as she snuggles closer to her mother’s chest. Natasha chuckles, putting her drawing on top of her laptop, and rubbing her hand over the little girl’s arm.

Natasha presses soft kisses on the toddler’s head and face, knowing very well that her little girl is really close to sleeping and passing out in her Mommy’s arms. Natasha looks at the clock and smiles, because it is time for her little girl’s afternoon nap. She continues to smooth Sarah’s hair, adjusting her in her arms and leaning back on the couch, so her baby girl’s head is leaning on her chest, just right above where her heart is, where she knows it will automatically lull Sarah to sleep, and where she can feel her daughter’s chest rise slowly as she breathes in her sleep. She looks down, and she smiles when she sees her daughter’s face is so peaceful, innocent and so, so beautiful.

For a second, it makes her wonder why she had ever been so terrified of having her in the first place.

And it wasn’t really much because she thought she was going to be a bad mother because she had long ago come to terms with the fact that she wasn’t. Ever since having James, she had gained more and more confidence everyday to think that she was anything but a terrible mother. She started to believe she was good, boosted further by Steve’s encouragement and support, their friends’ reinforcements, and James’ smiles, kisses and laughter for her.

So no, when she found out she was having a girl, it’s not really because she thought she was going to be a bad mother.

“Спи спокойно, любовь моя,” Sleep tight, my love, she whispers those familiar words, pressing a kiss on Sarah’s head as she feels her chest ache slightly. “Мама любит тебя.” Mama loves you.

She tightens her arms around her daughter securely, smoothing her back gently as the little girl stirs in her arms into a more comfortable position, with Sarah snuggling her head further in the crook of Natasha’s neck. Natasha hums a tune softly, until Sarah calms down in her arms, and Natasha closes her eyes and leans her head on her daughter’s.

Sleep tight, my love. Mama loves you.

It doesn’t usually make her emotional, the way she always says it to lull James to his naps when he used to call him Mama before he can say Mommy, but now, with Sarah, she finds that she does.

Because the last time she whispered that to a baby girl in her arms: Спи спокойно, любовь моя, Мама любит тебя, Sleep tight, my love. Mama loves you, she kissed her small head and hummed a tune, a lullaby of some sorts as she pressed her closer to her chest, where she can feel her chest against her own. She kept her voice even, because she knew it would be her last memory of her Mama, so she fought to keep her voice even and soft even if her voice was threatening to break as tears threatened to fall, and her song beautiful and soothing as she gently lulled the baby to her final sleep, to her last moments. She felt her small chest rise and contract, and counted the minutes until she couldn’t feel it anymore.

She didn’t make it to a minute. Twenty-two seconds. She felt her breathe for twenty-two seconds before she was gone.

She looks down at Sarah, and she knows she didn’t have to count, because she is healthy, and she is happy and vibrant like how any normal baby girl should be. But she still counts: one, two, three... because even if her baby girl is two years old, she still fears when she holds her against her chest, she will be gone in twenty-two seconds the same way as before. She sighs in relief every time the twenty-two seconds are up, and she is still breathing in her arms. But she feels a pang in her chest every time, still, because she remembers, and she gets terrified.

She remembers Rose.

I think you should hold her, Natasha. Natasha can still remember Elena, the only woman beside her as she gave birth, telling her that, and when she refused, she scoffed and called her, “трус”, coward. But she is anything but that, so she did, albeit struggling at first because she was young, and she had never held a baby before. The baby squirmed and struggled too, and when she settled comfortably in her arms, that’s when she started counting.

One, two, three…, she started counting. The thought of it made her remember why she was terrified of having a baby girl in the first place.

Steve knew about this, of course, because she told him, one time when they were talking about the future of the two of them, and having kids. “It had been a long time ago, sweetheart,” Steve told her gently, the first time she confessed to him about the deeper parts of her past nobody ever got to know. She was initially afraid he would think differently of her, not love her anymore the way he did, but of course, she was wrong. “She would’ve wanted her Mama to live, even though she didn’t get to.”

Even though her Mama buried her even before she got to live. It had been a long time ago, as what Steve said, when she was sixteen and Nikolai was seventeen, when he was still alive, and she was still the Red Room’s pawn. It was a long time ago, when the gold wedding ring on her finger now used to be a silk ribbon tied around it, when she got married to someone without anyone presiding it, when her vows were childlike and idealistic, unfulfilled and futile because he had died not long after that.

“A little piece of ribbon kept me together after that,” Natasha confessed to Steve, who looked at her with so much understanding and unwavering love that she felt ashamed for ever even thinking he was going to change how he loved her just because of something from her past. “I was hurt, and devastated and grieving, but the ribbon around my finger kept me together.”

The same way her gold wedding ring, her two beautiful children and loving husband is keeping her together now.

He asked her to show him where she buried her baby. They were in Russia for a mission, where she confessed to him about things from her past nobody else knew, and they were about to go home when Steve had asked her about that, so she took him there. She took him deep into the forest, where she started breathing shakily, and he held her together by holding her hand as she guided him through, and to an unmarked grave under a willow tree by the clearing, between two large boulders, where a small patch of grass seemed to grow differently than the rest.

“What was her name?” he asked her, and Natasha’s eyes filled with tears at the memory of a beautiful baby girl who had just been born, but had to leave immediately. She had to leave because her mother didn’t protect her, because her father had died, and she wanted to go with him immediately.

“Rose,” she answered. “Her name was Rose.”

She had been terrified of having kids, that much was clear to Steve before, not because she thought it was impossible for her to have one, but it was because she already had one, and she didn’t make it.

It was a miracle enough that she was able to deliver her first child with Steve, James, healthily without thinking about her, because when she delivered her, she wasn’t healthy, nor was she going to live for a long time, but she didn’t think that as she held James in her arms for the first time. But when she found out she was having a second child, and that she was a girl, she was absolutely terrified. Because the last time she had a baby girl, she had died after holding her for twenty-two seconds in her arms. Her body had failed her—her precious little baby girl—didn’t protect her when her body should have been the safest space for her to grow and live. But instead, it failed her, she failed her, and she died there too—in her arms, after twenty-two seconds.

So when little Sarah was born, she gave herself the moment when Steve went to get their little boy from their friends, and counted to twenty-two, as she watched her new baby girl suckle on her breast hungrily, giving her life instead of taking it away from her like how it happened with her little Rose. After the count of twenty-two, and she found her little Sarah was still breathing, drinking and living in her arms, her eyes filled with tears as she held back a sob.

Because she felt as if a little bit of Rose had lived through Sarah too, even just in that moment, the first time Natasha counted to twenty-two and Sarah was still her living little girl. Natasha felt a huge weight had been lifted off her chest, as if she was being released by the ghost of grief over Nikolai, and by the ghost of her haunting grief over Rose.

She would’ve wanted her Mama to live, even though she didn’t get to.

She never wanted to forget her either, and Steve didn't want that either. So he insisted on naming their daughter Sarah Rose, two girls that had impacted both of their lives in so many different ways, and two girls whom they miss so much. They allowed these two to live through their little girl, so she can be who they were, who they were supposed to be, and even better.

And she loves Sarah for it, because she embodies the young innocence of her little Rose, and the love of Sarah Rogers, even at such a young age, at the same time while being her own person.

“Mama loves you,” she whispers to her sleeping daughter in her arms, pressing a kiss on top of her blonde wavy hair. “Mama loves you so much, little one.” She whispers it to both Sarah and Rose, wherever she is, surely looking down from heaven watching over her Mama and her two siblings.

She still dreams about Rose time and time again, and most of which will only make her more terrified about Sarah, who always sleeps so closely between her parents just because she likes too. So she would pull her little girl closer to her and listen to her breathe, and she would be assured. But these dreams won’t end either, even if it meant counting to twenty-two and still feeling her baby girl breathing against her. The dreams won’t end, and she wouldn’t want them to, not if it meant forgetting. She can never forget, never about Nikolai and especially never about her Rose.

She would live those dreams again and again no matter how much it hurts her, but she finds that it can hurt less as each day passes, as she continues to find that her daughter's breaths as she sleeps can still go way past twenty-two seconds, and never stop . She hopes for the day the pain will ease and eventually disappear, but until then, she thinks, when it hurts, she knows she is alive, and through her, they live too. Wherever they are, they live through her.

Wherever her little Rose is, she still lives, even if it be through her Mama, or her sister.