Stand By Without Flinching
"When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching – they are your family." ~ Jim Butcher
Summary: Most of the story takes place post- Civil War. Black Widow and Captain America have seen it all – apocalyptic battles, aliens, crumbling governments, flying cities – and they've survived. Going into hiding with two teenagers with super powers and PTSD? They might have finally met their match.
Chapter 1 – Fire in her Soul
Almost a month has passed since Lagos. Wanda had spent most of that time in her room, torturing herself with news coverage that explicitly blamed her for all that had happened. Expert witnesses who had never met her talked about her fragile mental state and her dangerous abilities.
Steve had talked her out of her room that night for dinner – and it had mostly gone well – until Tony arrived to tell them that the Secretary of State wanted to meet with them. That could mean nothing good. Wanda fled the room as soon as she was able, back to the relative safety and security of her bedroom. She didn't leave again until late that night – she needed air and decided to hide on one of the balconies.
She expected Steve to eventually come and find her - or Sam. Vision was a possibility, but he still struggled with understanding emotion - especially hers. She and Rhody got along just fine, but she wouldn't have expected him – except – she would have anticipated him before her current companion. The teen was silent as Natasha entered the terrace and closed the door with an audible click. Wanda hugged her knees to her chest and allowed her dark auburn locks to fall in a curtain, doing a fine job of hiding her tear-stained cheeks.
Natasha sat in the chair next to Wanda very carefully, but with purpose. It was like all of her movements – measured, precise, and perfect. She relaxed into the chair, taking several deep breaths of the night air as she studied their surroundings. After what seemed like an eternity but probably measured only minutes, she spoke.
"Do you know how I got into this business?" She said, when she finally broke the silence.
"It is not my story to know," Wanda replied carefully. She desperately wanted to be left alone, but she didn't know anyone brave enough to tell Natasha Romanoff to go away. Not Clint, not Steve. Certainly not her.
"That's not what I asked," Natasha answered calmly. "I'm not here to lecture you – I know you hear things – what do you know?" Wanda had been like a ghost during her first six months at the Avenger's complex. She had been so broken over Pietro's death that she'd spoken very little. But Steve and Natasha had both noticed immediately that she was extremely observant. It was how they had begun teaching her before she even knew it was happening.
Wanda pursed her lips, thinking carefully before responding. "I know that you were young – and that it was not your choice. And that you worked for the Russians. I've heard the term Red Room but I don't know what it means."
Natasha nodded slightly. She knew Wanda was viewing her in the periphery. "Ivan claimed that he found me, orphaned, after a fire. I discovered later that he'd set the fire after killing my family inside our home. But, regardless, I was orphaned – and there was no one left to look for me. He took me to Madame Smerti," she said, smiling ruefully. "I was in black widow training in the Red Room before my mother's body was cold. I don't remember much about her – but I think I remember that she loved me. It might be just wishful thinking of a little girl, but – I like to think she did. My training did a lot to wipe away those memories. There were twenty-nine other girls in my age group who started training at the same time I did. Do you know how many of us become Black Widows?"
"One," Wanda said simply. She had heard this from Clint – or read it in his mind accidentally in the days before she had more control.
"You got it," Natasha said, nodding slowly. She sighed. "I watched two different girls who were shot – point-blank – for crying. There were three more that I was made to kill for the same offence."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"I'm not angry with you, when you cry. I don't think less of you. I know you think I do. But I don't. It is simply a luxury that I could not afford for a very, very long time."
Wanda gave her a sideways glance. "Was this to cheer me up? You are very bad at this."
Natasha smiled despite herself. "You're a brat sometimes, you know that, right?"
Wanda nodded, smiling through her tears. "Pietro used to tell me often." Natasha smiled sadly – it was not often the young woman chose to speak about her brother. There was a long silence between then – far more comfortable this time. They watched the stars come out and light up the sky. "How do you move on, knowing you have killed innocent people?"
"I try to save as many as I can – and hope that somehow, the ledger balances." She studied Wanda before speaking again. "I know that multiple people have told you that Nigeria was not your fault. Let's clarify, though. You did explode a large building with innocent civilians inside." Wanda flinched. "But back up a step – you did it to save the life of your captain – which is noble – and really gives you credit for every life he saves after that day."
"If I would have moved the explosion up more – if I had concentrated harder – "
"Ifs and buts get you nowhere. Let's take another step back. Maybe we shouldn't have been engaging Rumlo. Perhaps we should have allowed him to take that biological weapon. Do you know how many innocent people would have died? The result just came back from the lab – depending on where it was released, it would have killed over 3 billion people. Almost half of the world's population. What you did in Nigeria helped stop that from happening."
"People are still dead."
"Yes, they are. It's unfortunate. But sometimes it's unavoidable. You know what happened in Sokovia. You were there. Did we have any options that would have saved every single innocent person?"
"No," Wanda agreed.
"And if we have done nothing – allowed Sokovia to come crashing down to earth again?"
"Millions would have died," Wanda said, parroting back the figured she already knew and had heard countless times. She shook her head. "That doesn't make those people less dead. It doesn't make me feel any better."
Natasha offered her an apologetic smile. "That just means you're a good person, kid. Trust me, that's not something you want to change. The guilt doesn't go away – but it gets easier to carry. I know it's cliché – but time does help."
The rest of the week wasn't perfect, but those unusual words from Natasha helped Wanda feel a bit more grounded. Until, of course, Ross showed up. His eyes were what bothered Wanda the most. He glared at them all - without looking at them. She could feel his hatred – without even attempting to read his mind. She sat quietly in her seat next to vision and listened as Steve, Tony, and Natasha spoke. She allowed herself one slip into Ross's mind – and he was too preoccupied to notice. It was long enough for her to understand the score. She saw what he intended for her – and it shook her to her core. She said little as they left his presence and regathered in the living area of the compound.
Ross intended to take her away – no matter what they decided to do. There was no end to this that meant freedom for her. She knew Natasha and Steve understood that in the way they looked at her. Vision and Sam, sweet that they were, believed they could stop it if the government came for her. She couldn't read Tony – but she wasn't sure he cared. He was so preoccupied with fixing what he believed to be his own wrongdoings that he couldn't see the cost of what he was proposing.
Wanda went to bed without speaking to anyone - and she tossed all night long, imagining herself back in the labs in Sokovia. New, shinny labs replaced those that had been familiar during her time with Baron Strucker and Dr. List. Sounds echoed – she must have fallen asleep at some point, because she woke at four in the morning, drenched in sweat.
Three days later, Wanda had slept very little and left her room even less. Natasha stood in the doorway to Wanda's room, observing the younger woman as she absently fingered the guitar that had been a recent birthday present from the Barton family. Almost no sound was coming from it – Wanda was simply going through the motions. Natasha raised her hand to knock on the molding of the door frame. Red energy flared but retracted almost as quickly – she was getting better at it. Wanda looked up and studied her. The older spy was dressed formally.
"Are you sure I can't talk you into coming with?" Natasha offered, smiling invitingly. "It's in Brussels. Not the most exciting city on earth – but it is somewhere outside your bedroom."
Wanda rolled her eyes. "I haven't decided," she reminded her in a thickly accented, tired voice. "If I decide to sign, it doesn't need to be at a fancy ceremony."
"I'm going to stop in London first. Peggy Carter's funeral is later today. I thought Steve could use the support."
Wanda appeared thoughtful and her expression was reluctant when she finally answered. "I'm sorry – I can't." Natasha nodded.
"I get it. I'll text when I'm headed back. Try not to burn the place down – and please, get out of this room." Wanda rolled her eyes but smiled.
"Be safe," she called after the older woman in her mother tongue.
"You too," Natasha called back.
The two women did not cross paths again until the battle in Berlin. Wanda regretted knocking Natasha to the ground almost immediately – but she had been in the heat of battle. Now, the battle was over, and she found herself in the middle of a firing squad, every man in sight seeming to just be begging her to move. She could sense that their rounds were live – and deadly. There were no tranquilizer darts being pointed at Wanda Maximoff.
The man who seemed to be in charge pointed a different type of weapon at her and – before she knew what had happened, she was on the ground, convulsing. She heard Clint screaming at the men – "She's not fighting you – you don't need to do that. You're hurting her!" She wanted to thank him – to tell him to save his energy – but she couldn't speak – and then, it all went dark.
Natasha was in contact the moment she knew where they were. She was sick when she discovered that her friends – her family – had been transferred to the raft. Blowing every protocol she had regarding going off the grid, she reached out to Steve. She started moving as soon as he called her back, grabbing her bag and heading to the car she'd purchased with cash.
"Natasha? Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," she replied. "In the wind. Well, I almost was – but I just got intel from a friend. Wanda and the boys are being held in the raft."
"The raft?" Steve said, audibly angry. "That's the highest security prison in the world."
"I'm aware," Natasha answered sharply. "A friend will be in contact – you'll need transport. I'm sending structural blueprints. I can't make it there, Steve." She knew that she would complicate matters – she knew that Ross already had additional agents out looking for her. She needed to lead them away from the raft, not to it.
"You've done enough," he told her. "I'll take it from here. Will I find you again?"
"If you remember what we said at Lila's birthday, you'll be on the right track." He smiled wistfully, remembering the conversation and its contents well. It had been on a day when none of this seemed even remotely possible. A day of happiness and family.
"Take care of yourself, Nat."
"You too, Cap." She hung up and dropped her phone, smashing it against a streetlight pole before dropping it into a nearby garbage can.
It was Sharon who called Steve to offer transport. He tried to refuse because he didn't want to get her into trouble, but she wasn't hearing it. She wanted to help; it was the right thing to do in her book. And once she offered to help, she was as much a fugitive as they were. In addition to transport, Sharon had a direct and private link to Maria Hill, who knew everything – and was invaluable (even at a distance) in both strategy and knowledge.
It took them over a week to plan the break out – and every day was more painful than the last. Steve couldn't sleep, knowing where his friends were. But the planning helped create a smooth escape. Within five minutes of entry, every guard was knocked out and Bucky had already unlocked the cells from inside the control room. Steve opened Clint's cell first. "You're a sight for sore eyes, Cap." He hurried out of the cell and immediately went to the cell where Wanda was slumped to the floor. Steve forced it open while Bucky worked on freeing Scott and Sam. Once the door was open, her eyes flickered open just a bit. Her soft blue irises rolled – she couldn't focus.
"They've had her drugged most of the time," Clint said, the disgust clear in his voice. He reached for the straps of the straight jacket and began loosening them. Wanda started to whimper. "It's okay, kid. We're going to get you out of here. Cap came to save the day." Steve, careful not to hurt her, took the next strap and snapped it in half. Clint moved his hands so he could do the same with the others.
Sam was kneeling in front of Wanda now, looking at the collar as Steve and Clint got her out of the jacket. "Guys – we have to go," Bucky told them.
Steve was able to get his fingers on either side of the collar just in time to feel it shock him. He hissed as Wanda cried out, but he didn't loosen his grip. He pulled it apart and dropped it to the floor before he lifted her into his arms just as she sagged into unconsciousness. Bucky and Scott had gotten all of their gear and handed weapons to Clint and Sam. Despite Bucky's fears of it wearing off sooner, the sleeping gas kept the guards and soldiers out of their way – and the journey back up to the quinjet was quick and easy.
T'Challa met them on board and took Bucky with him back to Wakanda. He and Steve had already said their goodbyes, so they hugged one more time - and Steve promised him they would meet again. Once the two men were gone, Sam began flying the quinjet to the coordinates Sharon and Maria had provided.
"What happened to her?" Steve asked Clint in the back of the quinjet. He hadn't tried to look as he'd helped Wanda out of the prison uniform and into the yoga pants, t-shirt, and sweater that Sharon had packed. But it was difficult not to see the bruises littering her pale skin and the pain she was in when she moved.
"That's her story to tell," Clint responded, his voice bitter and his expression pained. "But she needs to get checked out – I know that's not going to be easy while being on the run – but the sooner the better."
They flew all night and landed in the place where they would part ways. It was an empty field and Wanda didn't even know what continent they were on – and she didn't ask. Clint knelt in front of Wanda and tried to meet her eyes. She avoided his, so he settled instead for taking her hands. "Wanda, you're safe now. I've gotta go check on Laura and the kids – but you'll be safe with Steve. Take care of yourself, kid. We'll catch up soon – and I want to see that beautiful smile when we do." He dropped a familial kiss to her temple and left quickly, before he could change his mind. It was too dangerous for all of them for Clint to take Wanda with him, but that didn't mean he didn't want to.
On his way off the craft, he looked Steve directly in the eye. "You take care of her," he ordered.
"Like she's your daughter. Like she's my daughter," Clint warned him.
"I promise," Steve said. "Go – take care of your family." He and Clint hugged and parted ways.
Sam was the next to leave after kneeling at Wanda's side to speak with her quietly. Then he joined his best friend and told him to be careful.
"You too," Steve said. "You know where you're going?"
"I know a few options," Sam answered. "And I'm taking Scott – I'll get him settled first. You take care of our girl."
"I'll try my best," Steve promised.
Sam, Scott, and Clint were gone within minutes of landing – it was more dangerous to hide together. But Steve kept Wanda by his side – she was frighteningly silent and passive. She barely moved on her own, only walking when Steve led her. He took her on two more flights, a train, and in a car before they reached their final – if temporary – destination. He only hoped it was the right place.
I've written a lot in the past – but never for this fandom. It's my first foray into it – and my first fanfiction to be posted in over a year. I hope you enjoy. Please let me know what you think and if you'd like to read more. I adore Wanda and have often thought that - despite their rocky introduction - she and Natasha have a lot in common. I've also made her a bit younger in this story - eighteen or nineteen when it opens. The first chapter was a bit disjointed because it covered pieces of Civil War, but starting with chapter 2, everything is Post-Civil War.