"Avenging the Ultimate"

Chapter 2: "Drop the Bombshells"

Disclaimer: The characters depicted in this story belong to Marvel Comics, Marvel Studios, Marvel Animation, and the studios that have their film rights. I make no money whatsoever from this story and receive no other compensation than the satisfaction of knowing there are people who've read and enjoyed my work.

Author's note: It's right about that time, so I might as well post to celebrate the coming of summer and Independence Day. Spider-Man will be springing into action in Ultimate New York, and that'll be worth some fun with some unfamiliar-yet-familiar faces. Aside from the web-slinger, the Ultimates will be in for quite the surprise when they meet their Avengers counterparts from Marvel-616. Will they be able to work together to send Spider-Man, Bucky, and Black Widow back home, or is there going to be another violent confrontation between the worlds of 616 and Ultimate?

Also, speaking of confrontations, I'm revising the timeline for this story. In light of certain ideas I've come up with, albeit with help from good friends like JOUNOUCHI-sama, Cloud Link Zero, and Harbinger of Kaos, this story is now set at a nebulous point after Spider-Island and ignores Bucky's "death" in Fear Itself and the Human Torch's in Fantastic Four #587. Aside from those minor shifts, most of MU-616 canon at that point still applies, including a certain breakup that had a fair few Spider-Fans rejoicing. Enough talk, though; on with the story, and Happy Independence Day!

Spider-Man swung through the alternate New York City, concurrently at home and like a stranger in a city that was simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. As he swung, his thoughts kept coming back to the alternate Captain America, to how that cracked-mirror image of the man he had come to respect the most had so callously dismissed him as a selfish brat unwilling to make sacrifices for the "greater good." In Spider-Man's eyes, what had really been sacrificed in this world for the so-called "greater good" was basic humanity. This world was what the X-Men and Captain America had feared for so long – anybody with powers forced under the control of the government, whether as enforcing agents thereof or as outlaws to be imprisoned and stripped of their human rights just for the "crime" of their genetics. It sickened him.

His dark musings were interrupted by the sound of an explosion, and he looked down to see a crashing armored car with a smoldering hole in its side. Instantly realizing that a crashing armored car with a trail of burning smoke coming from its side was nothing good, Spider-Man swung down, spinning a web between the skyscrapers to catch the car before its inevitable collision caused any more damage. The web held, easily absorbing the momentum of the armored car and halting its uncontrolled path.

A loud curse let Spider-Man know that whoever was responsible for the armored car's crash was far from happy with his interference. Not that concerned for the cause yet, he dropped onto the armored car and ripped the door open to peer inside. "You guys ok in there?" he asked.

"Spider-Man?!" the still-conscious passenger exclaimed in surprise.

"Yeah, don't worry, I'm the one who saved you," Spider-Man quipped, "and not the one who made you crash. Tell that to J. Jonah Jameson if he asks, ok?"

"Spider-Man!" the voice that had been cursing before exclaimed in irate surprise, prompting Spider-Man to look up and see a brown-haired woman in a deep red athletic jacket with white accents running down the shoulders and arms over a matching shirt with a yellowish-orange midsection and matching pants. Standing beside her was a brown-haired teenage girl in a similar outfit, but as a pink-and-black two-piece, the top piece being colored primarily pink but with black accents that looked almost like a bra when extended to her torso. The bottom piece was a pair of pink-and-black athletic shorts, coupled with black thigh-high socks with off-white kneepads and pink shoes. Both of them wore domino masks to conceal their eyes, with the girl's outfit accented by a white cape-like mantle over her shoulders and a pink headband in her hair.

"You sure that's Spider-Man, Mom?" the girl asked suspiciously.

"So he changed his freaking costume!" the woman snapped irritably. "Who gives a flying crap?! It's the same wall-crawling punk-ass who should have kept his web-head out of our business!"

The girl snorted. "Yeah, Mom. Frigging wall-crawling ass-hat. The hell you doing here?!"

"Apparently, about to teach you to watch that mouth, young lady," the web-slinger retorted. "And to not knock over armored cars."

"Watch this, web-douche!" the woman shouted at him, stretching her arms forward to hit him with some kind of kinetic force beam. Spider-Man quickly dodged the blast and dropped himself between her and her daughter, sweeping his legs out in a capoeira-esque spin for the sake of knocking their legs out from under them. To his surprise, mother and daughter pushed kinetic energy out of their hands and used it to almost literally rocket themselves at him. Fortunately, his surprise didn't keep him from reacting to his spider-sense's warnings and dodging their attacks.

"You know, I like to think that I'm a fairly nice guy," the web-slinger quipped as he contorted out of their way. "I recycle, I chat with the postman, I help little old ladies across the street, I save little girls' cats from trees . . . so why are you calling me a douche? Do you even know me?"

"Will you shut your freaking mouth?!" the girl yelled, shooting another kinetic blast at him, which he dodged, too.

"Sorry, I have fans, they expect a certain amount of talking each fight I get into," Spider-Man retorted. "And speaking of mouths, does your mother wash yours out after every time you go outside?"

"Don't talk to my freaking daughter about how I freaking handle her!" the woman shouted, blasting Spider-Man from behind, only for him to dodge.

"Wow, touchy, much?" Spider-Man remarked. "Who are you people, anyway?"

"The Bombshells!" the woman replied.

"And when we're done with your stupid punk ass, you'll need a tube to so much as piss sideways, you annoying freaking bug!" the girl joined in, blasting him as well. "Will you stay still so we can fricking hit you, you spidery son of a spidery bitch?!"

"You seriously expect me to stay still for that?" Spider-Man inquired sarcastically. "You're even dumber than you think I am." He shot a glob of web at her mouth to silence her rants, much to her muffled fury and disgust as she tried to rip the webbing off her mouth. Just then, the mother Bombshell rocketed herself after him with a kinetic blast aimed beneath her, but Spider-Man caught her with a barrage of restraining webs. Giving up on freeing her mouth from the webs, the daughter Bombshell attempted to blast Spider-Man to avenge her mother, only for Spider-Man to catch her outstretched hands with a tight web-vise. He then used the line trailing from said web-vise to swing her up onto a street lamp and leave her trapped there, as her outraged curses were still muffled by the webbing over her mouth.

"Wow . . ." said the armored car passenger as he climbed out of the downed car and helped the driver out as well, looking astonished at how Spider-Man had managed to deal with the mother-daughter duo of kinetically powered armored car robbers. "Is that really you, Spider-Man?"

"Who else would it be?" Spider-Man asked. "Captain America?"

"Nice costume!" the driver shouted, sounding genuinely appreciative.

"Thanks, I watched TRON Legacy one too many times while I was making it!" Spider-Man joked. He looked at the Bombshells, solidly entrapped by his webbing even as the mother, whose mouth was still free, was yelling all sorts of creative obscenities at him. Feeling a tad giddy, he shouted, "All in a day's work for your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!"

"Sure glad you're back, Webs," the passenger breathed out.

Spider-Man cocked his head. "Yeah, thanks. You got a cell to call the cops with for those two? I still got places."

"Sure, Spidey!" the passenger excitedly affirmed.

"Good," Spider-Man replied. "And tell the cops when they get here to bring soap to wash these ladies' mouths out." He then fired a web to swing off on, said web catching itself on a news copter that had been watching the fight and pulling him up.

Elsewhere in this familiar yet unfamiliar facsimile of New York City, a S.H.I.E.L.D. car was moving the parallel Captain Americas, Steve Rogers and James Barnes, and the Black Widow to their destination. There were three agents with them, one driving, a second beside the driver, and a third sitting with Steve, James, and Widow. The driving agent was Clay Quartermain, the agent in the passenger seat was Jimmy Woo, and the agent riding along with Steve, Bucky, and the Black Widow was Sharon Carter. Silence reigned in the car, no one willing to take the chance of speaking up and causing another confrontation like the one between Steve and the adult Spider-Man.

Widow and Bucky were staring out the windows, looking out at a cityscape simultaneously familiar and foreign to them, while Steve and Sharon warily eyed the two visitors from another universe. It was still something for Steve to adjust to, seeing his best friend from World War II looking in his prime as opposed to the old man he'd come to familiarize himself with. It was also hard to adjust to seeing him in the company of the Black Widow, who had turned out to be a traitor even if this virtually identical replica was from a different reality where she had proven herself loyal.

"Alternate realities . . ." Sharon muttered. "What a trip."

"We live in a world where men claiming to be ancient thunder gods turn out to actually be ancient thunder gods," Steve remarked. "As odd as this is, it's one of the lesser surprises I've had to deal with since waking up."

Bucky snorted quietly in amusement. "How long ago?"

"How long ago what?" Steve prompted.

"How long ago did you get unfrozen?" Bucky asked.

"A year . . . getting closer to two," Steve admitted.

"Almost the same for me," Bucky confessed. "I've been . . . I was kept on ice between my missions, for all those decades. When I finally got my own mind back, it was more than a year ago, in my world."

"So you're saying you know how I feel," Steve deduced, staring down Bucky like he was trying to divine something from him.

"Displaced," Bucky said. "Misplaced. Man out of time. Yes, I do know. I have to remind myself constantly that things aren't the same as they were when I was growing up."

Steve snorted. "Tell me something I don't know."

"We're here," Clay interrupted, as the S.H.I.E.L.D. car came to a stop by a retirement home.

"Is this where . . . ?" Bucky asked.

"Yes," Steve replied. He, Natasha, and Bucky got out of the car, both Captain Americas bearing their shields. Nothing needed to be said of why Steve was accompanying them. He still didn't trust them, not to the point of leaving them alone with the one connection he had left to his past, even if one of them was an alternate version of that beloved friend.

A knock on the door later, Gail Barnes had come to welcome Steve in, but was surprised to see Bucky and Natasha. "Gail," Steve said, "they want to meet Bucky, too."

"Oh . . ." Gail uttered. "You certainly keep strange company these days, Steve. Is the boy your new protégé?"

Bucky chuckled ironically. If only she knew.

"It's a long story, Gail," Steve replied, "better told away from prying eyes and ears."

"Sure, sure," Gail said.

Upon letting the trio inside, Gail turned around to see James Barnes the elder, her husband, coming down the stairs. "Hey, Steve," James greeted him amiably. "Who's your new partner?"

"A visitor," Steve answered.

"Visitor, huh?" James remarked sardonically. "Who's he supposed to be, the president of your fan club? Good replica shield, though. Real high quality stuff, I can tell by looking at it."

"Be nice, James," Gail admonished, though good-humoredly.

"It's all right, Mrs. Barnes," Bucky said, odd as the words felt coming out of his mouth.

"Something about you feels kinda familiar, though," James observed. "Just can't place it, though."

"It's a long story," Steve said.

"Then tell me," James suggested. "Not like you came here just for a friendly talk about the good old days if you're gonna be all in uniform like that."

"Fine," Steve said, summoning up his famous nerves of steel. "James Buchanan Barnes, meet James Buchanan Barnes."

"Is this like time travel or something?" James asked.

"Now that I think about it, I do see the resemblance," Gail remarked. "It's all in the eyes. You two have the same eyes, and his jaw looks just like yours at that age, James."

"No, more like he's you from a different universe," Steve clarified. "A universe where you and I fought side-by-side in World War II, only he was there to do the dirty work needed to win the war that an icon like Captain America couldn't be associated with. Then, when he gave his life for his world's Steve Rogers, he didn't exactly die. He got picked up by the Soviets while barely clinging to life and reprogrammed into an assassin called the Winter Soldier, kept on ice between missions, so by the time sixty years passed, he'd only physically aged five or ten years."

"Steve, my world's Steve, found me on one of my missions," Bucky continued. "He recognized me, and when our next confrontation put him in the position to acquire a cube containing a sliver of a cosmic force that could rewrite reality according to the holder's desires, he wished for me to remember who I was. I remembered, all right, and I remembered all the things I'd been made to do, things that would've shattered my mind completely if Steve, Sam, and Natasha hadn't been there to help me put myself back together. That was when he passed on the shield and title of Captain America to me, something I took as an opportunity to redeem myself for the things I'd done as the Winter Soldier."

"Come to think of it, you look familiar, too," James commented to the Black Widow.

"I get that sometimes," Natasha answered.

"What's your story?" the older James Barnes wondered.

"I spent my childhood and adolescence in the Red Room training program for the ultimate spy and assassin, codename Black Widow," Natasha replied. "It was a Soviet program that went into disuse after the fall of the Soviet Union, but it was revived quite a few times by renegades and criminals wanting new Black Widow operatives to restore the 'glory' of Soviet Russia or just take power for themselves. I was pretty much the only one that stood the test of time, and I say that in more ways than one. They sent me to seduce Tony Stark and steal the schematics for the Iron Man armors so that they could boost their own forces, improve their Crimson Dynamos and Titanium Men. Stark figured me out, and despite me believing that I knew enough of his Iron Man's vulnerabilities to stymie and ultimately defeat him, it was I who got defeated.

"I was turned in to S.H.I.E.L.D., where I had plenty of time to think about my path in life, and Nick Fury offered me a deal. If I worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. instead of the Red Room, I'd get a chance to wipe the red off my ledger, so to speak. I took that deal, and that eventually led me to the Avengers. It's what we call ourselves in our world, instead of 'the Ultimates.'"

"How do you and James know each other?" Gail asked.

"During the times he was unfrozen, he would teach me," Natasha admitted. "A good part of what I know, I know because of him. And when he was back to himself, I gravitated toward him because I knew what he was going through, that need to atone for all the blood on our hands, the people who'd died at our hands that didn't need to."

"As I said, she was a big part of the reason I didn't completely fall apart," Bucky confessed.

James and Gail looked at Bucky and Natasha, uncomprehendingly at first, though understanding slowly but surely took hold in place of their confusion. It was Gail that found her voice first, though. "Let me get this straight. You're James from another world, one where you fought beside Steve before getting captured by the Soviets after being left for dead and rebuilt into their Winter Soldier assassin, then you came back in the modern day just like Steve and he made you remember who you were with some cosmic cube. And you're Captain America now. Am I right?"

"That about sums it up," Bucky responded.

"So why come here?" James asked. "What's there to see?"

"A lot, actually," Bucky admitted. "I wanted to know what it might have been like to live out a full and natural lifetime. To get married. To grow old with the one you love. To not be forced to become a killer and a tool for others . . . In short, I wanted to know what happiness looked like."

"You mixed-up kid," James commented, his tone warm as opposed to sardonic. "Just 'cause you had a lot of crap happen to you and been done to you, doesn't mean you're never gonna be happy. That you don't deserve a chance at it. You got a pretty heavy cross, but there aren't many people that don't, and from what Natasha said, she's got a heavy one of her own to match yours."

"Comes with the territory," Natasha replied, her tone more blasé than she actually felt.

"Goes for you, too, honey," James said. "You're still alive, you and him, so you might as well make the best of it. You might not ever be normal, but that doesn't mean you don't ever get the chance to be happy."

Bucky smiled. "Means a lot, coming from you."

"Not too much, I hope," James answered wryly. "I'm just an old man, after all. But Steve, try to take care of them while you're here. If he's as close to his version of you as you and I were, then he's probably looking to you for some kind of anchor, even if he won't say it out loud."

Steve let out a low chuckle, but managed to smile. "I'll see about it, James."

"What's there to see?" James asked. "He's right in front of you."

Gail smiled, glad to see them all getting along so well. "If no one minds, I'll be making some tea. Best thing to welcome some weary travelers with."

"Thanks," James said. "Tea would be nice."

"By the way, I was watching the news before you all came by, and I saw Spider-Man swinging around," Gail remarked. "Strange costume he was in, but I'm happy to see that young man didn't die in that wave after all. The world could use more like him."

Steve paled slightly, while James just looked curiously at him. "What is it, Steve?" James asked. "Something she said?"

"Something," Steve repeated distantly.

Back inside the Triskelion, Tony Stark and Sue Storm were using the advanced analytical systems invented by Stark to observe the obelisk that had spat out the alternate versions of James Barnes, Natasha Romanoff, and Peter Parker. Sue had been brought in since next to Reed Richards, she had the most knowledge of dimensional gaps and gateways, given the N-Zone's role in reshaping her, her younger brother Johnny, Reed himself, and his best friend Ben Grimm into the superhuman heroes they were now known as.

"All right, we know that obelisk is a dimensional crux connecting our world to theirs," Stark said. "What we don't know is who put it there and what they were intending to do with it."

"Shouldn't we try asking our visitors?" Sue suggested.

"Yeah, except Spider-Man went off on his own and Steve's off making introductions between our James Barnes and the James Barnes from the other world, and the other Natasha's tagging along with them," Stark explained.

"Having a hard time seeing you ex-wife?" Sue wondered.

"No," Stark replied. "It's not a big deal. She's a different person from a different universe who just happens to look and sound like my ex-wife and answer to the same name. No big deal."

Sue snorted. "Long as you're not bothered by it."

"It makes me wonder, though," Stark admitted. "What am I like in that other world? I mean, according to them, I was on the side of a civil war that was all for enforcing a registration act on superheroes and Steve was on the other side. Sounds like some kind of Bizarro World to me."

"Like you said, different person from a different universe who answers to the same name as you," Sue said. "No big deal, right?"

"I've known enough women to know when someone's trying to use my own words against me," Stark replied. "Not working. Not working one bit."

Carol snorted. "For Christ's sake, Stark. Must you act like you're so unflappable all the time?"

"I am so unflappable all the time," Stark answered. "Part of my charm, remember?"

"Just figure that damn tower out," Carol grumbled.

Back in the universe that Spider-Man, Bucky, and the Black Widow had come from, Iron Man, Reed Richards, and Hank Pym were hard at work trying to analyze the tower that those three were investigating before their untimely disappearance. "According to the readings here, that tower seems to be some kind of trans-dimensional gateway," Iron Man concluded.

"A trans-dimensional gateway?" Ms. Marvel, a.k.a. Carol Danvers, repeated. "You're saying that they're in another universe?"

"The likeliest outcome," Reed replied. "The issue is whether or not they're in a dimension that's inhabitable by or hospitable for humans."

"Not to mention what sort of trouble they could run into while they're in that other dimension," Hank added. "Given our experiences for all these years, they could easily have landed in a world taken over by Sentinels, taken over by Kang, taken over by Doctor Doom, taken over by Magneto, taken over by even Norman Osborn or Ultron."

"Nothing in there about a reality where they achieved world peace?" Jessica Drew, a.k.a. Spider-Woman, inquired sardonically.

"And where do you think we'll find one like that?" Wolverine, a.k.a. Logan, a.k.a. James Howlett, cynically rejoined.

Iron Man sighed. "As much as I pride myself on being someone who looks to the future and believes there's something better up ahead if we're willing to head toward it, I can kind of see Logan's point. We've tried everything to save the world, to keep it from being annihilated by some crazed super-terrorist or deluded idiot wanting to conquer it, but every time we get a glimpse of the future, it's just another downward spiral. What gives us any right to think we might have lucked out this time?"

"Bleak talk from a futurist," Hank sniped. "But wherever they are, we can at least get them back here, if we can pinpoint the dimensional wavelength they're on."

"Sure, and in the meantime, we'll be praying for a miracle," Wolverine quipped bitterly.

Reed found it in himself to chuckle slightly. "I think we might have just gotten that miracle. I can at least open a dimensional window through that tower and see where they are."

"Go for it," Steve Rogers spoke up.

"Dimensional window opening now," Hank called out. Once it opened, though . . .

"It doesn't look that different," Reed observed. "A little cleaner, but not much different."

"No bombed-out skyscrapers? No Sentinels or Iron Man drones in the skies? I'm disappointed," Wolverine morbidly joked.

Iron Man gave Wolverine a sidelong glance before turning back to the dimensional window. "Hmm, there's Spider-Man. Really is a different universe."

"No, Tony, the dimensional wavelength from him matches ours," Reed corrected. "It's our Spider-Man."

"So what, he's making himself new costumes just like I make new armors?" Iron Man wondered, before chuckling amusedly.

"You're feeling really proud of yourself, aren't you?" Ms. Marvel dryly remarked.

"Maybe," Iron Man answered nonchalantly as he continued to watch Spider-Man.

"Tony Stark, techno-fetishist extraordinaire," Spider-Woman jibed.

"What do my fetishes have to do with this?" Iron Man mocked.

"If you have to ask . . ." Spider-Woman muttered, while Ms. Marvel palmed her face in silent, frustrated dismay.

Within the alternate universe currently glimpsed by the Avengers and Reed Richards, a younger, shorter, and rather ganglier Peter Parker had come home from the afternoon shift of his new job at a certain fast-food joint. It was tiresome, dirty, and unrewarding, but at least it was the kind of work that didn't require him to go out and risk a fatal encounter with a super-villain or support a newspaper that spent its time bashing his wall-crawling alter ego. That, however, was over and done with; after nearly dying when the Ultimatum Wave, he'd decided that it was time to throw in the towel, acknowledge that he'd done his part for as long as he could, and try to lead a life that wouldn't end at the age of 18 thanks to S.H.I.E.L.D. deciding that an "illegal genetic mutation" like him had had enough freebies.

"Hi, Aunt May, Gwen, I'm home," Peter greeted.

"Hey, Peter," Gwen Stacy replied, half-crouched on the sofa as she did her homework.

"Work go all right, Peter?" May Parker asked.

"Yeah, same old, same old," Peter replied.

"It's only been a month," May remarked. "It's a little early for 'same old, same old.'"

"And besides, big brain, I could use your help with this bit of science here," Gwen casually requested.

"Sure, just let me get changed and washed up," Peter replied, moving toward the stairway to go and do exactly that. When he reached his room, though, he saw a pair of wide, reflective eyes much like those on his mask glimmering at him from the shadows. "What the –?!" With blinding speed, the figure cut him off by planting a gloved hand over his mouth.

"Damn it, Peter," the figure whispered, in a very familiar tone even if the voice was more feminine. "You wanna blow this up?"

Peter struggled to speak, realizing who it was covering his mouth. "At least promise you're not gonna scream," the figure demanded.

Peter nodded, so the hand came off his mouth. "Jessica!" he snapped out in a whisper. "What the hell? Couldn't you have just come through the front door like a normal person?"

"Didn't want to give May a scare, having some strange girl come to her house," Spider-Woman, alias Jessica Drew, answered back in a whisper.

"You know you're always welcome here, right?" Peter offered.

"Nice to know you care, but it's not something I want you to get your Aunt May involved in," Spider-Woman replied. "It's not my life. Never was. I don't wanna intrude on what you've got here."

"Fine, if you're not gonna unmask and stay, you can at least tell me what you're doing here waiting in my room like some kind of stalker," Peter demanded.

"Have you seen the news?" Jessica asked.

"No time, why?" Peter prompted.

"There's another clone," Jessica replied. "Earlier this afternoon, there was a Spider-Man sighting, of him fighting a new criminal duo calling themselves the Bombshells. He was in a black costume with TRON lights, and he was quipping and flipping and web-slinging just like us. Footage is on YouTube if you wanna scrounge it up on your laptop real quick."

Peter went to his laptop, opened it up, and booted it up. Once it was on, he inputted his password to access his computer files, proceeding to access his browser and then pull up YouTube. He typed "Spider-Man sighting" into the search engine, and after clicking the Search button, a video advertised with the present date came up first. Almost choking on his own dread, Peter nonetheless clicked on the video link and the video began to play, showing "Spider-Man" fighting the new mother-daughter criminal duo. The camera found it hard to keep up with "Spider-Man's" rapid movements, but his quips and jibes were far easier to follow. The footage ended with him swinging away on a web-line caught on a news copter.

"Who . . . who is he?" Peter asked.

"Probably another clone," Jessica replied.

"But why . . . why didn't he sound . . . his voice . . ." Peter couldn't put together a sentence, so shocked he was at this sight of another clone surviving the fallout of Otto Octavius's experiments.

"Something might have been done to him," Jessica surmised. "Would explain why he's taller than you."

"Whoever this guy is . . . I'm gonna find him first," Peter vowed. "And then I'm going to get some answers." He paused, contemplating for a moment. "Jess? Do you think S.H.I.E.L.D.'s involved in this? I mean, since Carol Danvers took over from Fury, considering Harry got killed thanks to her, she doesn't seem entirely on the up-and-up."

"Funny, considering Fury had Spider-Slayers to take us out," Jessica dryly observed.

"Something's not right here, Jess, and like all the other rotten crap in my life, it starts and ends at S.H.I.E.L.D.," Peter answered grimly. "So that's where we go."

Endnotes: There you have it. 616 Spider-Man meets the Bombshells (good name for a rock band), the Avengers and the Ultimates both try to figure out a way to get 616 Spidey, Bucky, and Black Widow back home, Bucky gets a look at what his life could have been like, and the Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Woman are on the trail of what they think is a clone. Collisions are a guarantee in the next chapter, but will there be even more (un)pleasant surprises for the heroes of both realities when they meet? That's a question to be answered next time around, when we reach the conclusion of this short story.

Also, for those that find fault with Natasha's recounting of her story as the Black Widow here, I should mention that the sliding timescale renders the Cold War elements in her backstory fairly anachronistic, so I did my best to keep it as accurate as I could while accounting for the downfall of the Soviet Union. If you've still got problems, you're free to mention that in your reviews or PMs and I'll do my utmost to reply. Thank you very much for sticking with me, and apologies for taking this long. Happy Fourth of July!