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nothing left to prove

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Sharon knows that her name has weight. She’s not sure when she first realized it - maybe when she was eight and a woman in a uniform saluted Aunt Peggy in an elevator, or when she was thirteen and found a picture of a young Peggy standing next to Captain America in her history textbook. Maybe she’s just always known it instinctively, that Aunt Peggy is someone, and that maybe she’s someone too. At school, people don’t believe her when she says her great aunt fought with Captain America, but in the halls of Peggy’s work people say the name Carter like it’s the final authority.

Natasha knows that her name has weight. Romanov, the name of the imperial family deposed before she was born. They were killed, she knows, shot in a basement in order to ensure the success of the revolution. People look twice when Natasha says her name, as if they have the nonsensical thought that she’s the smallest daughter returned. But she’s too young, much too young, and the world doesn’t work that way. Natasha knows she’s not related to those poor dead girls, but she can’t help feeling that her name has death in it.

Sharon becomes a SHIELD field agent when she’s twenty-one. She busts her ass at the SHIELD Academy until nobody would dare suggest she’s riding on legacy. Still, when Fury tells her that it’s good to have an Agent Carter back in the ranks, she feels her chest swell. Later, she and Aunt Peggy have a good laugh about it on the phone - “Hello, Agent Carter” “Good afternoon, Agent Carter” - but Sharon finds her throat catches on everything she’d like to say.

Natasha is in her early twenties when she first trades in her name for another. The name Black Widow is meant to make a legend out of smoke, something for men to whisper while looking over their shoulders at night. Other people have carried it before, she knows, but they don’t matter. It’s hers now. At night, she dreams of her mother scrubbing laundry in Stalingrad and four girls with precious stones in their clothes.

Even as an adult, Sharon can’t help but think of Captain America as a guest star in Aunt Peggy’s story. Whenever she hears anything about his adventures, she wonders what Peggy was doing at that moment. All the movies about him from the 50s and 60s have this Betty Carver character who does nothing but swoon, and even the most recent biopic only has her in one or two scenes. It’s only at SHIELD that people tell stories about Peggy, of the way she’d raise her eyebrows at you when you doubted her judgment or the way, once she started getting older, the tap of her cane on the floor of the Triskelion meant everyone had better get ready to stand at attention.

Sometimes, people expect Sharon to be more like Peggy than she is. They’re alike, sure - Peggy was the person who taught her how to throw a punch, after all. But people who served with Peggy expect Sharon to talk like her, all wit and charm and constant testing of authority. It seems to almost disappoint them when Sharon is reserved and serious. They think it means she’s someone that can be overlooked, a competent but unremarkable soldier. They’re wrong.

Fury shakes Natasha’s hand and looks her in the eye and tells her she could be Agent Romanoff, if she wanted, and she feels like collapsing. Like she’s worn out her bones from trying on so many different skins and now they’re ready to crumble. His hand is steady, though, and his gaze is strong and in it there’s something bizarrely like faith, so she doesn’t. People think this is easy for her, burying the past and remaking herself, but they’re wrong. It has never stopped being the hardest thing she’s ever had to do. In the corner of the room, Clint looks down at his shoes.

For a while, Natasha’s involvement with SHIELD is high clearance level. That works for her - she knows to expect mistrust, even confrontation from most agents. It surprises her when after she’s made a full agent, that doesn’t happen. Mostly, crowds just part to let her by on the way to Fury’s office, their conversations dying as if on cue. It takes her some time to figure out why, but she realizes eventually that many of these people think she’s something more than human. They’ve heard the stories, probably since they were in the academy. The first time Agent Weaver hears Natasha make a joke, she spits out her coffee. Natasha files this away as something she can use to her advantage.

Sharon once told Peggy that her name felt heavy, then worried that Peggy would be hurt.

“Good,” Peggy said. “Women’s names should carry weight.”

Natasha stands in the shower and tries to scrub off every name she’s ever had.

They meet for the first time on a mission in Saudi Arabia, Sharon and Natasha. It’s years before Captain America is resurrected from the ice, before Natasha is pulled into the Avengers, before SHIELD falls apart like a house of cards. Sharon’s first thought is that Romanoff is so much younger than she would have expected, and Natasha’s is that Agent 13 is going to be a complete hardass. Seriously, she looks like Captain America if Captain America were hotter and female and much more reasonably dressed. The handler muses to himself that Peggy Carter’s niece working side by side with a Black Widow agent is some kind of historic moment. Maybe it marks the true end of the Cold War. He wonders if he should say something.

“Heard you’re good with extractions,” Sharon says.

Natasha nods. “You heard right.”

“Alright,” Sharon says. “Let’s go get the job done.”

Natasha watches the roof get smaller and smaller as the helicopter takes them further up. The handler is talking, but there’s something wrong with his headset and she can’t hear him over the blades. Sharon’s hair is whipping over her face, and Natasha thinks there’s something about her that looks like a hero.