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How to Say Goodbye (One Last Time)

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Natasha read the headline once, then again. Then she closed her eyes. Not yet. She picked up her phone and texted Clint who was out grocery shopping. Get beer. And vodka.

He texted her back. What happened?

I’ll tell you when you get home. Home, being relative. Their Brooklyn apartment was under construction so they’d temporarily moved back into the Avengers Tower. Natasha considered a sort of hell, as did Clint, but right then, right now, Natasha was grateful. She slipped her feet into the fuzzy spider slippers Clint had found her for Christmas, their eight legs each slapping against the ground as she left their room and walked down the hall to the common room. Tony was standing there, stunned in the middle of the room, while FRIDAY played clips from his phone. His face was ashen.

“I was seven when it came out,” he said. “The first one. Which is actually the fourth one. Or fifth, now, I guess, depends on how you look at the new one.”

“That was the first movie I saw after I defected and joined SHIELD,” Natasha said softly, sinking onto the sofa and pulling the blanket around her.

Tony’s eyes flickered to her. “Barton?”

Natasha nodded. “He had a list of things he considered the height of American culture, crucial to being a part of this.”

She meant, America, SHIELD, his life. My life. Our life. Alive. On the right side of history. All of it. Tony seemed to understand. He nodded, moving over to the couch and sitting beside her.

Natasha closed her eyes. How much of herself did she pull from the people she admired? When she left the Red Room, there was no Natasha Romanoff. There was Natalia and there was Romanov, and there was an assassin and there was a ledger dipped in red. But there was no Natasha. Once, Clint had asked her what she liked, and she hadn’t known the answer. He’d asked her later what she loved about herself, and she had said her hair, and he said that wasn’t real because she changed it all the time. She’d pieced together who she was, a Natasha that loved and was loved, a Natasha who knew how she stood and where she stood, from people she admired. She had become a kleptomaniac of personality traits and habits. Over the years, those had melded together and she’d made them her own.

But how many had she borrowed from the women she’d admired, the ones in the pages of books and on the screen and in real life? Too many to count.

Steve appeared in the doorway, phone in hand, his eyes on Natasha, then Tony. “I saw.”

Tony nodded. Natasha just stared at the images in front of her. Steve sank down onto the couch next to her and said, “Are you okay?”

Natasha hesitated, then shook her head. “No.”

Steve’s hands gripped his knees. “What can I do?”

Tony said, his voice flat. “Nothing. Unless you can raise the dead.”

Steve sighed. “I wish I could.”

The door opened again and Clint came back into the Tower, cautious and worried, his brow furrowed with concern. He put a bag of groceries on the counter and another bag on the floor with a clink, but Natasha didn’t get up to join him. He’d understand, as soon as she told him. He might even be as devastated as she was. She wanted to lean against him, to rewind fifteen years to her defection and remember watching the movies with him on a couch in his shitty Bed-Stuy apartment while rats ate the leftover pizza in the kitchen. The way he watched her watching them, desperate for her to love what he loved, and thus, love him. It’d taken her years to understand that was what had happened. That he’d shared something with her because it was the only way, then, he knew how to share a part of himself. That when they shared things they loved together, they understood each other more completely.

He sank to the floor at her feet, leaning against her legs and handing her a small glass of vodka. He handed Tony one too, and cracked open a beer for Steve. He glanced at the video Tony was playing and then froze, his eyes flicking over to Natasha’s.

“Carrie Fisher died,” Natasha said, her voice sounding not at all like her own.

“They said she was stable,” said Clint, his hand paused over the beer he’d brought over for himself. “Yesterday. They said she was stable.”

“I know,” whispered Natasha. “But she’s gone now.”

He set the beer on the coffee table and slid into the space on the couch between her and Tony. He was warm, and smelled of winter and the city, and she wanted to open her eyes and find out she was dreaming. He kissed her hair. “I’m sorry, Tasha.”

Natasha let him pull her against him. “She’s so young. They can’t let her go. We need her. She knew what was happening. We need her.”

“She taught us everything we need to know,” Clint said. “We’ve got this. I’ve watched those movies about a thousand times and I’ve read every one of her books and I saw her play. Want me to write a textbook on Carrie Fisher’s Guide to Kicking Ass, Taking Names, and Fighting Fascism?”

“Yes,” said Tony, Natasha, and Steve at the same time.

“First, we’re going to drink to her memory. Then we’re going to get out there and fight fascism wherever we find it. Even if it’s right here. Right in New York City. We’re going to bring fascism down using its own chains. We’re going to be leaders, even if it makes us outcasts. And when we bicker, we’re going to remember we’re on the same side. We’re not going to play by someone else’s rulebook. We’re going to play by our own, one we make together when we’re honest and open and determined. We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to do good.”

Natasha shook her head. “This year’s taken too much. I don’t know how.”

“I know,” Steve said quietly from her other side. “But trust those who do know how to go forward. Follow them.”

“Like you,” Natasha said.

“No,” Steve said. “I know how to fight fascism, but I’m still learning how to fight grief. I’m following Barton in this next step.”

“And I’m following Carrie’s lead,” said Clint. “See? We’re going to be sad tonight. And tomorrow, we’re going to fight.”

Tony shook his head. “Bowie. Prince. Rickman. George Michael. Carrie Fisher. It’s like getting kicked in the teeth every time.”

“Every time,” echoed Natasha. “I don’t even know how I am without those people. Literally. I don’t know who I am. I wouldn’t be me without them. I cobbled myself together from things that I loved and people I admired when I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be. And now those people are gone.”

“Except for the parts of them you saved in yourself,” said Steve.

Tony stood up so abruptly Natasha almost scrambled to her feet. He looked around and shut off the feed. “I’m going to go get better booze, because Barton, you have the worst taste in alcohol.”

“I don’t drink,” Clint pointed out.

“And then I’m going to come back. We’re going to watch A New Hope, and then we’re going to watch Empire Strikes Back, and then tomorrow, I want to blow shit up.”

“That sounds like a plan,” said Clint.

“I’ll help you carry up booze,” Steve said, climbing off the couch.

Natasha opened her phone and scrolled back to Twitter, reading tribute after tribute. Clint closed his hand around her phone and slipped it behind him on the couch. “It’s not going to help. Some people that helps but you’re just going to fall farther down. Check it later.”

She nodded a little bit then quietly said, “I love you.”

She felt his smile against her hair. “I know.”