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Let's Meet Again In Five Years

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They were childhood friends—Steve and Natasha. 

Practically inseparable, too, as what their parents would describe them. They had met when Natasha and her parents had moved into the neighborhood Steve and his parents were in. They moved in next door, and the Rogers family were kind enough to bake a cake for them so as to welcome the new family in the neighborhood. Sarah and Joseph Rogers became instant friends with Ivan and Alena Romanoff, two Russian immigrants who had moved to America two years prior because of Ivan’s new job. The day the Rogers family welcomed the Romanoffs, the two couples hit it off right away—getting to know one another, and chatting the day away.

That was also when Steve, who was six years old, met little Natasha, who was five years old. He was hiding behind his mother when they welcomed the new family, and Natasha was hiding behind his father.

“Natalia, say hello,” Ivan nudged softly, taking her hand in his. Natasha’s green eyes were wide and looking up at his father and the man chuckled. “She’s a little shy around strangers, grown-ups especially, but not to worry, she’s a happy and nice little girl, aren’t you, malyshka?”

And Natasha’s eyes end up looking at Steve’s blue ones, who was looking at her curiously from behind Sarah. “Same with this little boy right here,” she said, smiling as she nudged Steve forward gently. “This is Steven. Say hi, young man.”

“Hello,” Steve greeted softly, waving his hand. Natasha blinked her eyes and tilted her head to the side, as she looked at Alena who smiled encouragingly. She looked back at Steve who smiled nervously at her. “I’m Steven, but you can call me Steve.”

“Hi,” she greeted back shyly. “I’m…” She looked back up at her father who nodded encouragingly, smiling down at her. She was taught her name would be different in America, a nickname of some sorts. “I’m Natalia, but please call me Natasha.”

And like the parents, the kids hit it off right away. That afternoon, when the adults hung around their shared lawn, Steve and Natasha ran around and played. Steve showed Natasha his toy trucks and cars, and as well as his little soldier figurines. Natasha didn’t have much of those kinds of toys, save for a few dolls her parents allowed her to bring to America, so she appreciated that Steve shared with her his toys, and he was especially proud of his soldier figurines. Natasha found it odd that such a young boy like Steve would have soldier figurines, because where she came from, people didn't like soldiers that much, so she asked him that.

“I wanna be a soldier when I grow up.” Steve told her, and Natasha tilted her head.

“Why? Soldiers have guns.” she pointed out, but Steve chuckled.

“Yeah, but they fight to protect their country,” he said. He gave a little two-finger salute, and Natasha giggled. “I wanna do that too.”

Natasha grinned and nodded, because she thought it made sense. Steve smiled at his newfound friend, and he ducked his head almost shyly. "What about you?" he asked. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Natasha smiled. “I wanna be a dancer,” she said. “I dance ballet when we used to be in Russia, and Mama said we can find a new ballet school here.”

“That’s cool,” Steve said, and he meant it. “Can you dance now?”

And she did. She was a small five-year-old little girl, but she danced gracefully even without the music. Her movements were precise, and her expression was peaceful when she did. It was a small performance, one that lasted for a minute, but in the end, Steve clapped his hands and even stood up from where they were.

“You dance really good. You’re gonna be a good dancer, Nat.” Steve said, and Natasha grinned, not really because of the compliment, but mostly for the nickname.

Nat. Her parents called her various nicknames, most of which are terms of endearment for one and only daughter—malyshka, little bird, little girl, and little love—but it was the first time someone ever called her a nickname derived from her real name. And she must admit, she liked it. She liked the sound of it, so American, yet so...her. It suited her, she supposed.

She decided to go by Nat right there and then.

They went to the same elementary school, and even if Steve was a year higher than Natasha, he’d still make it a point to hang out with her in lunches. He didn’t have much friends, since he was small and was mostly bullied, so he always had his best friend, Bucky Barnes, with him. Natasha, in contrast, had instantly attracted many friends, one of which was Yelena Belova, a fellow Russian immigrant in the same year as her, and while they attracted many friends, since Natasha opted to stick with Steve, both she and Yelena still chose to hang out with Steve and Bucky.

They would hang out after school, since Steve would bring Natasha back home as they live next door. As the years passed, they would pass by ice cream stores before going home, or somewhere where they can eat first before both of them can go home. Sometimes they would be accompanied by Bucky and Yelena, sometimes it would just be the two of them.

When Natasha found that Steve had a growing bruise and a black eye because of a bully during his fifth grade, and on her fourth grade, she stayed with him and took care of him in the infirmary. She held his hand even as he cried, telling him that it’s okay if he does.

“This is why I get bullied,” Steve said, still attempting to hold back his tears. “Other boys don’t cry.”

“You’re not like any other boy, Steve,” Natasha responded casually. “You're different. You’re my best friend. And you don’t deserve to be bullied.”

Natasha told Bucky and Yelena about this incident, and the next day, Bucky had beat up the bully who beat Steve, and Yelena helped too. Both of them were called in for trouble, but they didn’t mind. When Steve exited his last class for that day, he saw Bucky and Yelena being escorted into detention classroom, both of them giving him winks and thumbs-up. Natasha told him what happened as they were escorted in, and Steve smiled.

He never felt alone since Natasha came in his life.

They thought things would change between them in middle school to high school, with Steve apparently hitting puberty a little later than normal (and quite frankly, he hit it beautifully), he was, in no time, the quarterback of their high school football team with Bucky, with high school girls fawning over them and flirting especially with Steve. Natasha grew beautifully, and because of her natural charm, as well as her skills in ballet and gymnastics, she instantly became part of the cheerleading squad along with Yelena, the two girls being the apple of the eyes of many high school boys, most especially Natasha. They were part of the popular kids in school, all four of them, but they still managed to create their own clique with just the four of them eating lunch together and hanging out together in breaks.

The boys would wait for the girls after their training, and they would hang out just a little more until evening before going their separate ways home. Steve and Natasha would still hang around each other’s company until evening, and they would do homework together too.

Their bond never escaped the high school gossip, of course, and they were aware of it. Bucky and Yelena had been the first ones to ask them about it, hoping to confirm the circulating gossip in their high school, but Steve and Natasha just shrugged the gossip off.

“We’re not dating,” Natasha said, looking over at Steve who nodded while sipping from his juice box. “Quite the contrary, really. I’m looking for a girl Steve might be interested in.”

“If it’s a girl who’s interested in you, Steven Rogers, then we know plenty,” Yelena said, smirking, flipping her long blonde hair to the side as she looked over at the cheerleaders’ table in the cafeteria. “Sharon Carter, right there. She’s a bit sloppy on the moves, sometimes falls off the pyramid, but she’ll do.”

“‘Lena.” Natasha chided, but she couldn’t hide her smile and chuckle, and Bucky snorted and Yelena grinned. She looked back at Steve.

“She’s hot, friendly and smart. She’s my classmate in Math, and she helps me a lot,” Yelena said. “But of course, not as hot, friendly and smart as Nat, but she doesn’t seem to be your type.” Steve had blushed furiously, and Natasha laughed loudly. “Do you want us to set up a date for you and Sharon Carter?” Natasha asked. “But you gotta be the one to ask her. Can't always expect we'll do all the work for you, did you?”

“I...I don’t know, guys.” Steve stammered, rubbing his neck with his hand. He looked over at Sharon who was looking at him, and she smiled, and when he smiled back, Sharon turned back to the girls she was with and started giggling. Steve’s eyes widened, and looked back at Natasha who smirked. Yelena rolled her eyes, but she chuckled, muttering about how giggly the girls were.

“You know, for someone who did manage to hit puberty even if it was a bit late, you never managed to escape the shy boy facade,” Bucky remarked. “Come on, punk. You’re hot enough, and Carter’s obvious enough to never turn you down.”

“What do you say, Rogers? Gonna say yes to the date?” Yelena asked, raising an eyebrow. Natasha smiled and looked at Steve who sighed, but gave his friends a small smile.

“Let’s give it a go.”

And so Sharon and Steve started dating in tenth grade. It turned out it was the only push the rest of them needed so they can go on and explore their own love lives as well. Yelena had started dating Matt Murdock, a junior, after Steve and Sharon started going out. And surprisingly for all of them, the whole school included, Bucky and Natasha started going out as well.

Natasha had been the first one to tell Steve about this one evening when they were hanging out. “It doesn’t bother you, does it?” she asked nervously, when Steve was painting her toenails, as he was insistent to do so. He’d been practicing for art class, specifically in precision in strokes, he said, and who was Natasha to turn down an offer when she needed a change of nail color anyway? “That Bucky and I are dating?”

Steve shook his head and looked up at her after he finished her big toenail on her left foot. She wiggled her right toes and smiled at his smooth work. “Why would it, though? I mean if you really love each other, and think it’s going to work, it should be good, right?” he asked. “Besides, two of my best friends dating each other? It’s the best thing I can ask for, knowing two of the people who mean a lot to me have each other’s backs.”

Natasha smiled. “This won’t change things between us, right?” she asked in a small voice, as if afraid. Steve would think it was ridiculous to ask, but when he looked at her, and saw her wide eyes raw with emotion and sincerity, he smiled reassuringly at her.

“I wouldn’t be painting your nails tonight if it did, right?” he asked, and she chuckled, nodding, as she proceeded to tell her story about how Bucky had asked her out.

Steve did his best to listen, but he felt a tug pulling down in his stomach as he did. But when he looked at Natasha, whose smile was wide and her green eyes sparkling with love and happiness, he was captivated. She was beautiful, always have been, and most likely always will, and she is his best friend. He swallowed down his throat and proceeded to paint her nails again, and that was when he figured, it might not really be okay with him.

But of course, he doesn’t say it, because who was he to interfere with his best friend's happiness?

And in Steve and Bucky’s eleventh grade, and Natasha and Yelena’s tenth grade, everything and everyone started falling apart, starting with Yelena and Matt. Yelena had gotten pregnant and aborted it, without letting Matt know, and when he did, he threw a violent fit that had him in jail and a restraining order from Yelena. Natasha, Bucky and Steve were with her through it all, from the abortion clinic to the hospitals, therapies, counseling and court proceedings, and Yelena was grateful.

Natasha was the one who stuck by Yelena’s side through all of it from the very start. She was the one who informed the boys of what happened too. So when Steve visited Yelena in the hospital room after Matt's violent fit, he wasn’t at all surprised to find Natasha sitting on the visitors’ chair fast asleep. He smiled, and grabbed a blanket and draped it over her, and she began to stir awake.

“I brought coffee,” he said softly, handing over a cup to Natasha, who took it gratefully. He noticed that she hadn’t changed the clothes she wore from the previous day in school. “You haven’t left her side?”

Natasha shook her head and took a sip of coffee as she looked at her unconscious best friend. She sighed sadly. “Her parents are flying here this afternoon, and her aunt went to work,” She looked at Steve and sighed as she shook her head. “I couldn’t leave her alone, Steve, not when...not when he’s still out there.”

Steve nodded. “I know,” he said. “I know that.”

Steve had stayed with her, and made sure Natasha was looked after while she was looking after Yelena. Bucky came around a little later, and Steve left when he stood up and took his place beside Natasha. Steve watched Bucky dote over Natasha, bringing her an extra change of clothes and some breakfast food, and he watched as she smiled and thanked him softly for it. Steve felt the tug, so he decided to leave, promising to come back later that day, but not without telling Natasha he’ll catch her later that evening for their usual evening hangout.

Then shortly after followed Steve and Sharon, for reasons quite unknown, at least for the three of his friends. But the next thing Natasha knew, Steve was knocking on her front door that evening, when she recalled Steve telling her earlier that day that he’d be out with Sharon until evening so he might miss out their usual evening hangouts.

“I was,” Steve said, when Natasha asked. “Wanted to say goodbye.” When Natasha asked why, Steve just grew silent. Natasha cooked some popcorn and they watched a movie in her room.

The last who fell apart were Bucky and Natasha, breaking up a month after Steve and Sharon did. Natasha appeared in front of Steve’s doorstep one Saturday evening all sad, her eyes red-rimmed and hair disheveled. He took her in, and when they were in the middle of their favorite rom-com movie, Natasha began crying, and Steve held her through it, when she told him she and Bucky had broken up. He didn't ask why, and Natasha appreciated it, so they continued on with the movie until Natasha fell asleep, and he brought her back to their home.

Steve thought that it was Bucky who had broken up with Natasha, but he found out on that week’s Monday afternoon, that it was the other way around. He didn’t know why, either, but Natasha apparently wanted to break up, so they did.

“It wasn't that I didn't want her anymore, Steve,” Bucky told him quietly. “Quite the opposite, really. But she was insistent in ending it, and she didn't wanna tell me why. She was upset, incredibly so, and it felt wrong to beg when she was very insistent. You know how she is.” Steve did know. When Natasha insists on something, she makes sure it happens, and he supposed it was what happened.

But in no time, Bucky and Natasha had reconciled, and the four of them had gone back in their own groove. Bucky had more relationships afterwards, and so did Natasha and Yelena. Steve never seemed to find it in himself to find a relationship himself, as he was perfectly content with being his friends’ go-to every time a breakup would ensue. Which would be quite frequent, mostly for Bucky and Natasha, and when Yelena had decided to stay single for quite some time as well, Natasha would mostly go to Yelena.

On the boys’ twelfth grade, and on the girls’ eleventh, they went out of town for a weekend beach trip. They stayed in one of the Belovas’ rest houses in Staten Island. They enjoyed, because they figured that after the boys’ graduation, nothing might ever be the same anymore.

“We keep on saying that for the past, what, decade? Every time we move up a year level,” Bucky said, after taking a swig from his beer bottle. “But hey, even after everything that’s happened, here we are, aren’t we?” He looked at Natasha who smiled at him and he smiled back. “So I don’t think things will change even when we get outta high school.”

“Even when you boys will be off to the army?” Yelena asked, frowning. “When’s your enlistment?”

“We’ll go through it next week,” Steve said. “Then if we get lucky, we’ll be serving after graduation.”

“How long?” Natasha asked softly. Steve shrugged.

“Depends on where they put us. Two to five years?” he asked, looking at Bucky for confirmation, who nodded.

“That’s a long time,” Yelena commented. “By the time you get back, Nat’s gonna be a dancer, and I’m just gonna be rich, you know?” Natasha laughed and shook her head at her best friend. “SATs will be coming up for us.”

“You’re gonna kill it, you know, both of you will.” Bucky said, and they talked more after that: about Yelena’s plans to pursue a business degree at Harvard to continue her family’s business, and about Natasha’s plans to pursue dance at Juilliard.

Bucky and Yelena immediately passed out after rounds of drinks, games and dances, and after he laid Bucky properly on the couch, Steve found Natasha sitting by the porch facing the sea, her wavy red hair down, and her knees pulled closer to her chest. He sat down beside her, and she looked at him and smiled, and he was floored by how beautiful she looked that evening.

“You look beautiful, Nat,” he said, and Steve wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol, but he couldn’t quite figure out how he had come to that realization, let alone have the guts to say it out loud. He’d always known she was beautiful, of course, but it never hit him how beautiful she was until now. The moonlight is shining down on her red curly hair and her green eyes are shining, and her cheeks are tinted rosy, probably with the alcohol she consumed. “You always have, of course, since we were kids.”

She smiled, and laughed softly. “You're drunk.” she pointed out, but he waved his hand with a chuckle.

“I can still think clearly,” he said dismissively. “And I stand by what I said.” He smiled.

She laughed, and she looked back at the sea with a sigh. He looked back at the sea too, and they allowed a few moments of comfortable silence hover over them.

“Why haven’t you asked me out, Steve?” she asked softly, as if it was just a casual question. But he wasn’t thrown off guard, deep down he’d always known this question was bound to be asked. Maybe he hoped it would be asked another way, but he figured there was no other way. “Why didn’t you say anything? About wanting to date me?”

Steve ducked his head and looked back at her, then back to the sea, listening to the soft crashing of waves against the shore and the low hustling of the wind. “How did you know?” he asked, looking back at her, and he immediately thought of the things he told Sharon when he broke up with her, and she asked why.

There's someone else, he remembered telling her, at the same time thinking of Natasha's beautiful green eyes, long wavy hair and beautiful smile. It didn't seem right to be with someone else that's not her. He remembered Sharon asking him if it was Natasha, and it didn't surprise him that she picked it up so quickly.

Everyone was rooting for you two, she told him. I just thought it would be a little different, we'd be a little different.

Looking at Natasha now, her expression was peaceful, happy and content, even, contrary to her question that might have came off as confused. But she wasn't, didn't sound like one, nor looked like one. She was at peace, contented with where she was, it seemed. She looked back at him, and gave him a small smile.

“Sharon Carter told me why you broke up,” she said softly. “Two weeks after you did, she told me why.”

And she remembered what Sharon Carter had told her that time, when she confronted Natasha in the girls' bathroom after training. Steve Rogers has always been in love with you, she told her. Everyone in school knows it, and you're stupid if you think it's not true. So do yourself and everyone else a favor and open your fucking eyes, Romanoff. Steve is in love with you.

She wasn't surprised, because she had a hunch. What surprised her was the fact that she felt the same.

And Steve nodded. Again, he figured it was inevitable, her finding out. They belonged to a small high school, and they were in the same cheerleading team. She was going to know. She was bound to know what destroyed his relationship with Sharon Carter, and if she wasn’t going to find out from him, she’d find out from her. “Is that why you broke up with Bucky too?” he asked, and she nodded solemnly. “Why?”

Natasha smiled and looked down at her feet. “I didn’t think I did, but I felt the same, I guess,” she answered softly. “I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life with anyone other than you. I’ve always imagined it would be you, Steve, and I think I always will.”

But Steve sighed. He knew, deep down, he did, but he never convinced himself for it to be true. “Then why’d you go out with all the other boys all this time?” he asked softly.

Natasha’s smile faded as she looked back at the sea and sighed. “‘Cause I hoped it wouldn’t...wouldn’t be you,” she admitted quietly. “So I went from one guy to the next, trying to get rid of the feeling, but it never worked. And eventually, when I gave up it up, when I realized that it was you, inevitably you, I didn’t want to make a mistake. So I maxed my mistakes on others instead, I guess,” She looked up at Steve and gave him a small smile. “Took my time to learn a lesson on relationships, tried to be as perfect as I can for one man to another, because I didn’t want to make a mistake on you, Steve.”

“You don’t have to try to be perfect, Nat,” Steve said softly, reaching his hand out and tucking some of her hair behind her ear, his hand lingering on the side of her face. “If we did date, we’ll be figuring this out together, anyway. Besides, you’re already perfect.”

Natasha giggled and shook her head. “You didn’t answer my question, Steve,” she reminded. “Why didn’t you ask me out? It’s been over a year.”

Steve sighed, and looked at Natasha’s beautiful green eyes. “You ever think about how we hope to meet the right person, but then you also have to think you have to meet that right person in the right time?” he asked, and Natasha nodded. “So I just thought...what if we’re both the right person, but this is the wrong place and time? We’d miss our chance and regret it.” He shook his head. “I don’t want to miss the chance, Nat.”

Because there’s always a danger that they might. Steve was eighteen, and Natasha was seventeen, both of them were still in a young and tender age where things can happen that can change their courses in their lives. If they felt like they were made for each other, they had to make sure. They had to make sure they weren’t going to miss the chance.

Natasha nodded understandingly, ducking her head and looking down at her toes, as she hugged her knees closer to her chest. But Steve smiled. He reached for her hand and took it, threading their fingers together.

“Make me a promise?” he asked, and she looked up at him and nodded, allowing him to proceed. “Let’s meet again in five years, after my tour, and you’ll be a successful dancer, when I’ll be twenty-three, and you’ll be twenty-two.” he said, and Natasha smiled. “Let me take you out on a proper date, one evening, and then we’ll watch tons of movies together, and I’ll ask to spend the rest of my life with you.”

Natasha blushed, and she giggled softly. Steve smiled widely and continued, “And you will say yes, and we’ll get married in a nice and beautiful place overseeing the seas, and we’ll remember tonight, tonight when we made this promise.” Natasha smiled, and Steve grinned before continuing, “And we’ll settle down in a nice house, have a few kids, watch our kids have kids, and we’ll take care of them too.” Natasha smiled, her cheeks tinted pink now, and Steve swore she never looked more beautiful than tonight. “Because I love you, and I know you love me, always have, so let’s make this love last a lifetime.”

“A lifetime?” she whispered, and Steve nodded.

“A lifetime.” he repeated in a hushed whisper, a hushed promise.

She grinned widely. “Okay.”

“Okay.” Steve responded softly, and they continued to watch the sea.

Steve asked Natasha to be his prom date, and he picked her up from next door. She wore an off-shoulder a-line velvet dress with a deep cut on the chest, and her red hair is tied to a half ponytail with small white flowers on her wavy hair. Ivan and Alena took pictures of them, as well as Sarah and Joseph, both couples looking at their children happily, and a bit knowingly as well, especially when Steve tied the corsage around her wrist, and she looked at him like he was her whole world, and she was his.

Bucky was with someone else, and Yelena was also with another, but neither of their friends were surprised when they came in together. Bucky shared a wink and a smile at Steve, and Yelena gave Natasha knowing smile, as if their two best friends had also known they would end up here—together, absolutely in love and ready to face the rest of the world together no matter how long it takes.

And after they danced in the hall, Steve took her out in the football field, and they danced on their own without any music. Natasha laughed while Steve hummed a tune badly, but they still danced. Steve twirled Natasha, and she held onto him, pulling him close to her as their foreheads rest against each other.

“I have something for you,” Steve said. He pulled away slightly and took out a small velvet box from his tux. Natasha’s eyes widened, but Steve chuckled and shook his head. “It’s not what you think. Well...not yet, though.” He opened it to reveal a beautiful rose gold floral ring. It’s simple enough that it’s not lined with diamonds, but the ring is shaped like a small floral leaf crown. “Take it as a promise.” Natasha chuckled.

“You’re a very persistent man, aren’t you?” Natasha teased, and Steve laughed and shrugged.

“When it comes to my best girl, yeah, I kinda am,” he said, and Natasha smiled. He takes her right hand and puts it on her right finger. She inspected it, and felt tears filling in her eyes. “I promise to buy you a better one when I get back.”

“It’s beautiful enough, Steve.” she told him, but he shook his head and smiled wider.

“You deserve better, of course,” he told her. He tucked a few strands of her hair behind her ear. “It’s a promise from me that you’re the only woman I’ll spend the rest of my life with. And I ask you to wait for me. Five years, it’’s a long time and a lot of things can happen, lots of changes will happen over the years, but...but promise me that I'll be the one constant thing in your life, because you will always be mine. I ask you to wait for me, Nat. Wait for me.”

Natasha nodded and giggled, as she wrapped her arms around his neck again, pulling him closer. “You’re worth the wait, Steve,” she whispered. “Five years is nothing compared to a lifetime, right?”

Steve grinned and nodded. And that was also when they shared their first kiss.

The first of, apparently, many more.

Natasha looks at herself once again in the mirror and smiles as she runs a hand through her red wavy hair, the ring on her right finger catching the glint of the light in her dressing room. She had just finished her final performance of the fall gala for the American Ballet Theatre, who had immediately gotten her after she graduated from Juilliard. Her room is filled with roses and bouquets of flowers, and her smile widens as she looks around.

She could clean it up, but it would have to wait.

Steve is coming home tonight. After three tours, four years in service and one year of therapy and counseling, he is back. They had been exchanging letters since he had enlisted, so he had known she got into Juilliard and the American Ballet Theatre, and she had known where he was in each tour. He also managed to let her know about his developing traumas and PTSD, which is how she became aware of the one year he spent to mental and emotional recovery that prompted him to go home.

He told her in his last letter that he’d be back tonight, on this exact date, and she had never been more excited. I’ve decided what I’m gonna do when I get back there and when we start our life together, he had written, and it put a big smile on her face as she thinks about it. I’m gonna be an artist. You’ve always known about my love for art. Maybe someday, while you dance I’ll make paintings and portraits of you.

Two artists in love. Five years of waiting, and five years in the making. Who would’ve thought?

Nobody else knew about their five-year arrangement. Nobody knew why Natasha stayed single for so long since graduating from high school, why she turned down opportunities to date other men, or why she preferred to wait for Steve after his tour. Nobody knew, save for her mother. Her mother saw the ring she wore when Steve brought her home from prom, and, she supposed it was fine to tell her mother.

“Five years is a long time, little bird,” her mother tried to warn her. “You must remember life is not a movie, and real life doesn’t work that way. Many things can happen in five years.”

“I'm not trying to live life like a movie, Mama,” Natasha told her mother softly. “But I love him, and I have faith in him.”

Her mother tried to persuade her daughter to move forward in her love life, but Natasha didn’t listen nor did she agree. She was confident that Steve would show up after his tour, and that he wouldn’t just leave and settle down with another woman. She had faith in him, the same way she hoped he would have faith in her. She was optimistic their plan would work, that they would spend the rest of their lives together, and that this love that they have will last a lifetime. She was optimistic in believing that they were meant to be.

And so even in those years, she consistently wrote to Steve, while she consistently received letters from him. She never lost contact with Sarah and Joseph, of course. She didn't know if they knew about their arrangement, but Natasha can see how both Steve's parents appreciated her presence every time she would drop by their home when she would come home, or when she would call and ask if they had received the letters Steve sent once she received hers.

“Nat?” a woman, Maria, one of the company’s stage managers, enters her dressing room, effectively snapping her off of her misery. “Your parents, and Mister Barnes and Miss Belova are here.”

Natasha grins. “Let them in, but I won’t be here for too long.” she says, and Maria smiles knowingly.

“I’m sure they already know.” Maria says, and Natasha chuckles.

“My little bird,” Ivan, her father, comes in and embraces her. “You were so beautiful tonight, and so amazing, as you always were.”

“Thank you, Papa.” she answers, smiling.

“We promised we won’t be here for too long,” Alena says softly, embracing her daughter and pressing her lips on her daughter’s hair. “Scratch that, we promised we wouldn’t be here, but here we are.”

Natasha chuckles as she looks at her two best friends. “No plus ones tonight?” she asks, grinning. Bucky had come in a year earlier than Steve, when he ended his tour earlier so he can start a family immediately with Wanda Maximoff, someone he met when his tour landed in Sokovia. Yelena, on the other hand, is seeing someone from her childhood in Russia, whom she met again at Harvard when she started college.

“We do, but they’re outside,” Yelena tells her after pulling away from their embrace. “Valery wanted me to tell you you were amazing, and you are, always have been.”

“Wanda said too,” Bucky says, embracing Natasha. “Always been beautiful too.”

“Thanks, guys. Really meant a lot you came in,” she says softly, smiling. She looks at her phone and looks up at her parents and friends sheepishly. “But I really have to go.”

Alena chuckles, because again, she knows about the five-year plan, one that expires today, one that should happen today. “We know,” she says softly. “But you don’t really have to go anywhere, sweetie.”

Natasha frowns. “What do you mean?” she asks. The four people in her room all share knowing smiles, and Alena turns to the door of her dressing room and opens it.

And her eyes immediately fill with tears, because there he enters, smiling, dressed in a three-piece suit, holding a bouquet of roses in his hand. He looks good—with his blonde hair, although longer, smoothed down, and his face well-shaved and his blue eyes sparkling. He looks a bit bigger than the last time she saw him, and she figures it must be what the army does to a man, apart from the development of PTSD and probably physical trauma.

“Hey, Nat,” he greets softly, and he chuckles when a tear slips from her eyes. “You looked really beautiful tonight.”

Natasha doesn’t respond, but she lets out a soft laugh as she walks over to Steve. He puts the bouquet down and catches her in his arms. He twirls her around, and she laughs, wrapping her arms around his neck. When he puts her down, he presses a chaste kiss on her lips and rubs their noses together.

“You’re here,” Natasha whispers, pulling away so she can hold his face in her hands. She brushes her thumbs on his cheeks and giggles softly. “You’re really here.”

“I am,” he responds softly, and his mouth breaks into a grin. “Ready to spend the rest of your life with me? But that’s not the final question yet, though.”

Natasha laughs and nods, pressing a chaste kiss on his lips. Neither of them cares that Natasha’s parents are there, or their friends are here. They figured they’re allowed to witness this—witness the long love they’ve had for each other finally unfold after many, many years together, witness the start of a beautiful and blossoming life of many more years together.

“I’m ready.” she responds softly.

They were practically inseparable since they were kids, always had each other’s backs no matter what happened, no matter who loved who, or who went where. It was only natural, they figured, how one afternoon when a six-year-old boy introduced himself to a five-year-old girl led to such an amazing once-in-a-lifetime friendship, and produced such a wonderful and absolute form of love even almost twenty years later. 

How serendipitous it had been—the way they met, and the way they found each other, fell in love, waited for each other and still ended up together so perfectly, as if they were both just meant for each other, like two missing puzzle pieces meant to be. With a beautiful story such as theirs, they can’t help but stick by each other until their very last breaths. A shared past, and a shared story such as theirs, can help keep them in place and find their equilibrium when life becomes difficult, as if holding on to each other was the only thing that made sense, the only way you can tread through life and love. They were considered inseparable then, and more so inseparable now as they begin their love that will last a lifetime they will share together.