It was time. They stepped onto the platform, as Bruce set the machine. Natasha met Steve’s gaze with a bright smile, that old familiar mischievous glint in her eyes. “See you in a minute.” She said, her voice full of laughter, like she knew something he didn’t. Did she know?- Before he could reply, she activated her bracelet and vanished.
The stench of New York City, brimming with life and wrought with turmoil and chaos, hit Steve like a punch in the face. Scott and Tony had already began their trek towards Stark Tower, but Natasha held him back with a gentle hand on his arm. He turned to her, the question on his lips dying at the look in her eyes.
“I know.” She said. “I know what you’re about to do. And it works – for them, and for us.”
“Natasha – “
“The timeline splits, but I can still access some of her thoughts, especially now that we’re here. Thoughts, actions, memories. They feel like waking dreams in someone else’s body.” She frowned. “I dreamt sometimes, over the past five years, of you and me – together, happy, with a family. It seemed so real…and now I know why.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he breathed, stunned.
“Because it felt like someone else’s life. The cruelty of fate, taunting me with what I could never have. My penance, for all the remaining red in my ledger. It was enough that you became my friend.” She smiled ironically. “My partner, my brother and shieldmate.” She met his gaze fondly. “And your heart belongs to another, man out of time.”
He leaned down, touched his forehead to hers, and let himself just breathe. She was right. They were brothers-in-arms, bound by war and death. And they weren’t done fighting. He knew it, and so did she. Reversing the snap was a desperation play. Wakanda had been the first siege. The soldier knew it, down to his bones, just like he knew that she would be there at his side, as she had always been.
“I do love you, you know,” he murmured, needing to say the words, just once.
She pulled back to look up at him, before leaning up to kiss him, achingly soft and bittersweet.
“Well. Someone has obviously snuck in some practice after all.” She murmured, laughter in her tone, but Steve felt the way she let herself lean into him, be completely vulnerable. I love you too. She wouldn’t couldn’t say the words – Red Room conditioning had burned any concept of love out of her long ago, deeming it a weakness and distraction, unnecessary and dangerous – but he knew that she cared as deeply for him as she could.
“Way to ruin the moment, Romanoff,” he countered lightly after a moment, letting her put some space between them.
“C’mon Rogers.” She said, tugging him along wit her. “Let’s go save the world, so at least one version of ourselves can have a happy ending…”