[The Black Widow]

Natasha Romanov, or the woman who used to be Natalia Romanova, has no family to speak of.

Fury already knows this. He's seen the files, knows both the Black Widow of the then and the Black Widow of the now. Any family she's ever had is either dead or missing, and any of them that happens to be the latter is more than likely both if anything else.

It makes sense, though. All the baby black widows leave the nest as soon as they're able, else the mother will swallow them whole. Not for the first time, Nick Fury wonders if maybe that alias had more of a meaning than Natasha Romanov had ever let on.

She has no family, which means the only people he has to inform are friends.

Besides the Avengers, though, Natasha is alone. She's always been alone.

Which means there is only one person to tell, before them. Because it's what Agent Romanov would have wanted.

Nick Fury fills up the doorframe of Hawkeye's room, and he knows already that Clint Barton knows. Clint is waiting for him, in the single chair of his sparsely decorated room.

"I guess you know why I'm here, Agent Barton." Fury says, to start.

Clint just says, as softly as possible, "Nat's gone. Isn't she?" And his head jerks up, to watch Fury for any sign, any reaction. Gone he'd said. Not dead.

He didn't want to believe she was dead.

"Agent Romanov passed, just last week, during a mission." And he tells Clint about a strange man that called himself Bullseye, and an attempt to apprehend him gone horribly wrong.

All Clint says is, "I'll kill him."

And what Fury has to say to that is, "I'll make sure that you do, Barton."

[The Iron Man]

Heroes don't die.

Bruce Banner watched as Iron Man fell from the sky, but he couldn't remember what came after.

He remembers rage, and hate, and the next thing he knew he was knee-deep in red blood with limbs and guts all around and tears making their slow crawl down his face.

Later, he is walking to Stark Tower with nothing but the heavy weight of loss and loathing in his mind. There is always the thought of I could have done something, anything to save him.

Bruce knows, though, he knows that there was absolutely nothing he could have done, but he'll blame it on himself anyway, because loss is irrational, and he's going to blame himself for the longest time.

It doesn't matter, though.

When he gets to Stark Tower, Pepper will greet him with a smile and a, "Is Tony coming? He's got to sign off on these—" And Bruce will block her out, and just stare at her, wide-eyed with a heartbeat that is slowly, steadily rising.

He can hear it in his head, and he knows he needs to be calm.

"Bruce? Bruce? Are you okay?"

And he'll say, breathless, "Tony is… Tony's…"

He doesn't even have to finish it, because Pepper's face changes. Her eyes go wide and glassy, a hand shoots straight up to her throat.

"Oh my God."

Bruce Banner holds her while she cries, and while he does he'll hate himself a little more because it should have been him, not Tony.

Heroes just don't die.

[The Prince of Asgard]

The Isle of Silence is a land completely in greyscale. Loki's at its summit, sitting, waiting for them. And when he sees them, his eyes go wide in his skull, and he sneers, but makes no sound. The six of them, plus Amora, the Enchantress, watch the Trickster god for a long while.

Amora chants the spell, creating a bubble that allows them to hear. Everything within returns to color.

"I have nothing to do with whatever has befallen your pitiful, vulnerable realm this time," Loki says, before they can speak. "Leave me." And in a second he has fingers pressed against his throat. The rest of them wonder how long it has been since he's heard anything, even his own voice.

It is then that Loki sees.

"And where is Thor? Too cowardly to even face his own brother," Loki lets out a small scoff. "Such a good king for Asgard."

They are silent, because maybe – they hope – silence is all that's needed.

Loki looks at them, with searching eyes, probing about in their heads – looking, looking, looking—

Tony breaks it for them, because leave it to Tony to say the things they don't want to, "Thor's gone."

They expected something—

They didn't expect laughter.

Bubbling, rough and unsteady, hysterical beyond belief. Loki shook, shuddered, and they could feel the air around them change, a temperature drop that was disorienting at best. Amora flung her arms in front of her, ready, steadying herself.

It's when those giggles become hitched with something, catching on air and throat that they realize it's not laughter.

A god is crying.

[The Incredible Hulk]

Tony doesn't go to the funeral. He knows SHIELD's hauled the body away – for testing, and he makes plans to make sure that that doesn't happen.

It's what Bruce would've wanted. It's all he would've wanted, and Tony knows he's gotta make do on that.

He owes Bruce that much.

It is his fault, after all.

Tony ruminates on that, chews on it for a bit, and decides to fill the great big person-sized hole in his chest with other things. Distractions.

One last thing to do, though. And he knew he had to do it.

One Betty Ross is living in Virginia, and he has to tell her something that Tony himself doesn't want to be told. He shows up at her door, with the rain pouring outside. Of course it fucking rains this day.

If Tony believed in gods or angels or the beyond, he'd think it was Bruce himself.

When she opens the door, Tony feels himself start to break, shatter.

And then: "Dr. Banner's dead."

Don't sugarcoat it.

"And it's my fault, sorry."

[The Hawk]

The Widow knows.

Fury can tell, because she's waiting for him in her room, hands on her knees, leaning forward like she's been kicked in the gut. Nick Fury doesn't say a word, waits for Natasha to speak.

And she does.

"I owed him a debt." She says. Her eyes are unfocused, unclear. Not red-rimmed, though. Natasha Romanov does not cry. "What do I do now?"

And Fury says, in no uncertain, "You live. That's all Agent Barton wanted."

"You think so, Director?" And those eyes are raised to him. She tests the word, rolling it over her tongue, "Live." Like its foreign, unsuited to her lips. "Just live."

Inside she's thinking, how?

[The Super Soldier]

Tony Stark doesn't want to be the one to do this. They could have picked anyone – anyone else – but they picked him.

He's not good for stuff like this, never been good at stuff like this. When he has to tell people, tell anyone at all that so-and-so is dead, Tony delegates. He likes to think it doesn't bother him that much, that death is just this overarching thing that touches other people but can't touch him.

Well, he's wrong. So wrong.


Dead wrong.

But he has to do this – has to – in person, because Steve made him promise.

"A good man keeps his promises. You keep promises, Stark?"

Peggy Carter is in a nursing home in Great Britain, and Tony Stark has a promise to deliver to her. The receptionist gives him weird looks when he comes in, directs him to the last room in the left wing, and Tony's not sure what to expect, when he opens that door.

There's a woman, sitting, and her head is slow. She looks young, really young, for her age. Tony tries to imagine her as Captain America once saw her.

No. That's wrong.

As Steve Rogers saw her.

Turns out, Tony's glad that Steve didn't get to see her one last time. Because Peggy Carter is losing herself – a late onset of Alzheimer's – and it takes a bit of convincing to make her realize that he's not a doctor.

"I'm Tony Stark." He says, softly. There isn't room for jokes in this stifling room. She looks at him blankly. And he tries, "Howard Stark's son."

There's a hint of remembrance there, in her eyes.

"I'm friends with Captain America." He says. Friends isn't really the right word – him and Steve's personalities have always been too different for them to really be close.

"Who?" She replies, hollowly. Her head tilts to the side.

"Captain America."

Her eyebrows scrunch together, wrinkles pulling at her face, "Who?"

And Tony realizes, and feels like an idiot for not realizing, "Steve Rogers."

The woman grins, but as soon as she does her smile falls, "Steve Rogers is gone, sir. He's been M.I.A for three months now."

No, that's wrong. He's been gone for years, and you just don't know.

"He's dead, Peggy." Tony says, flatly. "He's dead."

And Peggy says, angrily, "No. You're wrong."

You just don't know.

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