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see you in a minute (just one minute more)

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“See you in a minute.”

 

Steve won’t pretend to know the science behind their so-called “Time heist.” He’d been in the room when Tony and Bruce had been talking about the different theories, about paradoxes and realities and coninuums and so many things that Steve couldn’t even begin to understand, and he’s still reeling from the fact that Tony decided to help them at all. But somehow, that’s what they’re doing- they could take days, years even getting the infinity stones, but they’d come back exactly one minute later in their time, and he can see the same delighted confusion on Nat’s face as she grins cheekily at them all. 

 

See you in a minute.”

 

One minute later, and all of them are back- except for Nat. 

 

And Steve’s heart falls into his chest when he sees the heartbreak on Clint’s face. 

 

Because- they should have known. There should have been that inner sense of wrong, that foreboding dread that one of them wasn’t going to be coming home. No matter that it’s never happened before, this is Nat. And of the original six Avengers, Nat had been the one he’d spent the most time with, the one who’d had his back through the fall of SHIELD and looking for Bucky, who’d sided with Tony but turned up on his doorstep anyway after the Civil War, who’d been as good as his second in command in the years after, the only one left who’d stayed after they’d come home from defeating Thanos as the others had gone their separate ways. He should have had more time with her, the woman he’d come to see as a younger sister of sorts. 

 

He should have had time to say goodbye. 

 

See you in a minute.”

 

Clint’s already on his knees, and Thor looks so confused and angry, and Bruce slams a closed fist onto the floor of the quantum portal as if that will open it and bring Nat back, and Steve looks at Tony and sees the grief in his eyes that reflects the speed of a million thought processes running through his brain as he thinks and rethinks if there’s anyway to fix this (even though he can see in Tony’s eyes what Steve already knows deep in his soul: Natasha simply isn’t coming back.)

 

See you in a minute.”

 

He can still see her, and his mind desperately grabs on to the little details that had seemed so insignificant before- the way her lips automatically curved upward into a small but genuine smile whenever she saw him, ready with a quickwitted quip to hurl his way, how she’d relax just the tiniest bit whenever classical music was being played on the speakers, how much nicer her hair looked in its normal shade of red, with the tips retaining the blonde shade she’d dyed it in so many years ago. The sound of her laugh, the sparkle of her eyes, the surprised expression that always made its way into her laughter as if she was surprised that she could find it in herself to enjoy and have fun, all bits and pieces of a beautiful, brave woman that Steve had treasured so dearly.

 

See you in a minute.”

 

 

He bows his head and closes his eyes, wishing, more than anything that he could go back in time for just a minute, long enough to say goodbye to Natasha and thank her. For sticking around for the past five years, for having his back in the years before. For the movie nights and the blind dates she’d set him up on, for hilariously disastrous homemade dinners and nights spent curled up in each other’s rooms when the nightmares and the losses were too much to bear. For being a comrade, a friend, a sister, for love and and life and laughter and sorrow and pain and loss. 

 

More than anything, he wishes he’d took the time to take Nat aside before they’d stepped onto the quantum portal and tell her all the things he’d left unsaid all those years. He wishes he’d told her that she was better, that she was a hero and that she had more than made up for the sins of her past. He wishes he could tell her that she was his family too, and there was nothing he wouldn’t do for her.

 

See you in a minute.”

 

But that had been an entire minute (hours, days, weeks, months, years, lifetimes) ago, and Natasha Alianovna Romanov, the Black Widow, was gone. 

 

And not even the Infinity Stones could bring her back.