A fill for the cottoncandy_bingo prompt "Four Seasons (one or all)". Thanks to EuphoricSound for helping me plot this one out and fix the initial ickiness.
This one is for brbshittoavenge because she's awesome and fabulous and all manner of other wonderful things that I can't describe sufficiently well. Happy belated!
Many thanks as always to all the lovely people who read and review and favorite, etc. Love you guys!
She was 4 when she became Natalia, and she didn't remember who she was before then.
She could call up bits and pieces sometimes, fractions of glimpses into the life that she must have had before her parents were killed. It was strange, really, the details she remembered. They were not the things she would have chosen had she been given the choice, but then, she had only rarely ever been given a choice about anything.
She remembered the scratch of wool on her face as she played with the pattern on an old sweater, clutched to the chest of what she could only assume was some relative. She remembered a dog, yellow with dirty paws that played with her in streets and parks. She remembered ice cream and coloring pictures in the newspaper, drawing patterns with pastel chalk on the sidewalk outside her house.
If she really tried, she could even dredge up what (she thought) her mother looked like, the dark mass of her hair as it spilled around her shoulders, the softness of her eyes, the way she stood above her, so tall, and smiled.
Since then, she'd learned enough about how the human brain works to know that half of what she remembered was probably a lie created by her mind to fill in the gaps, that humans tended to make up their own truths when necessary, but she clung to the idea that at least the vague impression, the overall theme must be true, had to be true, even if the details were specious.
In her heart, she knew that even the vague impression probably wasn't real.
She was not sure, never sure, couldn't be sure because later she sat still and allowed them put memories into her head, memories that turned her into other people, memories that made her a highly efficient killer.
She was positive that she once danced for a prince and his new princess, remembered all the moves to her dance, still could hear the music playing in her head. Except she knew it never happened, could remember selecting that memory from a list along with a dozen others to be inserted into her mind. She could recall with perfect clarity the way it felt as her brain reformed around the new events, as it incorporated them into her past because it was weird and kind of uncomfortable and afterward she threw up in the metal wastebasket by the door to the med lab.
So when, on occasion, she thought about the hot, late summer day when she returned home with fingers sticky with sugar and dirt, when she found her parents laying face down in pools of their own blood and forgot how to breathe, she didn't totally trust the memory. Or, at least, she didn't trust it any more than she really trusted the man with the metal arm that took her away from her former home and handed her over to the Red Room.
She still isn't sure that the man ever existed.
Yet she let herself believe in those old memories anyway, ones so old that they served no purpose except to keep her sane at night, to keep her company when everything else fell away and she was just Natalia again, the girl with no past or future, just a present drenched in blood, never ending, stretching out into infinity.
Her clearest memories have always been of blood, but maybe that's just because blood is all she's good for.
She was 15 when she became Black Widow, master spy and assassin, perfect professional, cold hearted killer. Maybe she was all of those things or maybe none of those things, maybe she could slip in and out of that name like it was a mask, maybe she was supposed to be able to, but she didn't think so.
Once they let her out of the compound, once she started taking missions on her own, she started to think for herself. Just little things, nothing much, but she would take the scenic was to the rendezvous, even though it was longer. She would stop into the druggist and buy chocolate bars. She would take an extra an hour to survey a target because it was a nice day and the trees in the park were pretty.
She never told anyone, never acknowledged it, not even to herself, she just acted and immediately put it out of her mind. She thought that if they knew, if they had any idea, they would either beat it out of her or just kill her.
They didn't make mistakes like her.
So she kept her mouth shut and did her damn job because that was what she was trained to do, and she was damned good at it. She killed and killed and killed, mark after mark dropping to the cold earth before her feet, and she didn't feel nothing but neither did she feel something. It was something of a mystery, but she had never been good at riddles, so she didn't even bother trying to solve the one that made up her life.
One fine spring day (What did she know about spring? What did she know about fine things?), she killed a girl, younger than her, a child, a wide-eyed waif in pigtails who could properly be called a girl (Had she herself ever been a girl? A child? No, surely not her. There had never been a time when she was not the Widow, never a time when she was not Natalia. She had always been the avenging angel of her country).
She learned regret in a back alley behind a butcher shop with the heavy rain washing the blood from her hands and swirling it on the pavement.
The target had gone down easily, hadn't believed that someone her size could take him down; he'd been large in life, tall and wide and muscular in ways that she could never hope to be. Small as she was, though, she was fast, strong in her own way, and very, very deadly.
He'd let her get too close in his arrogance, and she'd sliced through his jugular neatly, killing him before he'd even realized he'd been cut. She wiped his blood off her knife on his apron and stepped back to look upon her work with grim satisfaction.
And then the little girl walked into the alley, calling for her father.
The little girl had screamed (What was wrong with her? Why was the child screaming? She didn't scream when she found her parents this way), and Natalia stabbed the girl silent before she could draw more unwanted attention.
It wasn't much, and she didn't feel guilty about it, not then, not for a very long time, but her chest grew tighter and it was as if the world had run out of air, or, at least, there was none left for her.
She was 19 when she became Natasha, a name crafted for the American organization that brought her in, something that they could pronounce without her wincing.
She'd thought about staying Natalia, thought about keeping it, but she'd hesitated when the archer asked for her name (she found out later he already knew her name, already knew everything about her, or at least as much as she knew, anyway, and it was like a punch to the gut that he'd cared enough to even bother asking).
They worked together for two years before anything happened, and even then, it wasn't much, not by normal standards. She'd never been anyone's definition of normal, though, and she'd slowly learned that he wasn't either, that they were more alike than different, that they both had a lot of shit to make up for and that it was easier with a partner who had your back.
They both were tired, bone-weary and filthy, ready to fall asleep on their feet by the time they got back to the safe house, so when they ended up collapsing into the same bed, it wasn't really a surprise.
Waking up with his arms around her waist and his nose pressed into her forehead was.
Not long after, she became Nat, then sweetheart, baby, darlin' and a thousand other stupid names she resented and scoffed at during the day, but let inside to warm her in the dark of the night because if she had a nickname then she had a friend, and she had never had one of those before.
She discovered that if she shut everything else out, if she forgot about her mother and the Red Room, and little girls with pigtails and pink dresses, she could almost breathe, could almost make herself believe that she was worthy of it.
Over time she adjusted, over time she learned how to close both of her eyes at night without having her hand on a gun underneath the pillow. Over time, she figured out that even though she would never make up for the things she has done in her life, even though she would never be able to balance her books because you cannot atone for the death of innocents, despite all of that, she figured out that she had to try.
So she did.
Across countries and continents, islands and oceans they fought tyrants and dictators and would-be kings, both of them desperate to wipe the blood from their ledgers. It didn't happen, couldn't happen, wouldn't happen, but every time the right person lived, she could feel the cords around her heart loosen, could breathe a little more, and at some point, she learned how to smile.
And on the cool fall day when at last she let him in, too, not just his words, but him, she felt herself shift, change like the leaves on the trees around her.
She was 30 when she became mom, and it kind of made her sick inside to think that she was responsible for a child, a baby, a little life that could not survive without her. She hadn't wanted the stifling responsibility, the burden of that. She could barely keep Clint out of the damn infirmary, how was she supposed to watch a baby, too? She was too busy, too old, too screwed up for a baby, and he wasn't much better, not at all.
They didn't deserve it, neither one of them.
In the end, though, she couldn't go through with what she'd intended, she couldn't end the life that by all rights should not have existed, couldn't bear to destroy something of Clint when she'd only barely gotten him back from gods and magic and shit she didn't understand. So she told him, and he cried and he clasped her to him, and she felt like the world was reforming itself around her anew.
If the look on his face when she told him broke her heart, then the look he gave her when he felt the baby kick turned it to dust.
He liked to talk to the baby, the growing swell of her belly, and it terrified her and delighted her and disgusted her and enraptured her, and she didn't really know how to feel about it, not at all except that she thought that perhaps this was the feeling that people tried to approximate when they talked about love.
She discovered that she was entirely wrong about what love was, what it meant to love something, someone when her daughter was born, when Clint sat down beside her on the bed and laid their daughter on her chest. She loved him, her archer, she would die for him, yes, but even that paled in comparison with the depth of emotion she felt for this tiny creature. From the way Clint was staring, it was obvious he felt the same way.
They laid like that for hours, staring in awe at the little, wrinkled thing they'd created, both of them wondering aloud what they'd done right in a previous life to deserve such happiness in this one. It occurred to her that maybe this was their best chance for atonement, that in this way alone they could contribute positively to the world, that they could add something special and honest and good, something that no one else could add.
It snowed the night they took her home, back to their little apartment in the city, the two bedroom flat close (but not too close) to the Tower and SHIELD and all the places they were eventually going to have to pretend to give two shits about.
Clint guided her up the stairs with a hand at the small of her back, wrapped his other arm around the baby in her carrier, and by some small miracle, they managed to make it home (home)without incident.
He led her to the window when they got inside, put the baby in her arms and pulled her back against him. He wrapped his arms around her, holding both of them in his embrace, and she didn't feel stifled, not at all, but warm and safe and happy and all kinds of terrifying, wonderful, aching things that wrapped around her heart and stomach and squeezed.
They watched the snow fall, the three of them, and she felt the constrictions in her chest ease and drift away into the night.