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the stardust she left behind

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Natasha never liked to label it as self-harm. It wasn't, really, it was just relief . It gave her something to focus on that wasn't the constant fire inside of her. For that moment, it would just go away and she could just feel the physical pain. It was an escape.

It started after Ultron, manifesting itself in the form of a knife against her wrist. Natasha always had a large collection of weapons so it wasn't hard to find something to do it with. The moment the blade opened her skin, she could feel again. It hurt, but that wasn't a problem. Despite the pain, the moment the blade reached the end of her wrist, she felt the urge to do it again. To feel, again.

In the back of her head, Natasha knew that it wasn't healthy, that it would eventually destroy her, but she wasn't sure what to do, how to stop. It seemed impossible. All she knew is that she didn't want anyone to know, especially not the Avengers. She didn't need anyone judging her or pestering her about it, and most of all, she didn't want anyone trying to get her to stop.

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Soon enough, the assassin found herself hiding. She stopped showing to Tony's parties and Steve's movie nights that they both claimed would help with "team bonding". No, it hurt too much to look into any of their eyes knowing that she had been sitting in the bathroom with tears streaming down her face and a knife at her wrist just a few hours before. She hated that she was doing this to herself, and she hated not being able to stop. She hated herself.

It wasn't until Steve got so pissed off at her for skipping movie night that anyone found out. He had plans to binge Game of Thrones (which he knew Natasha loved) in an attempt to coax his teammate out of her room. When the attempt failed, Steve didn't waste time storming up to her room to drag her out himself. He fucking missed hanging out with her and he'd be damned if he let her hide any longer.

"Natasha?" Steve's voice floated through the door, deciding to give her a chance to come out before he came in.

Much to the super soldier's dismay, there was no response. He sighed before speaking again.

"FRIDAY, is Natasha in her room?"

"Yes she is, sir."

"What is she doing?" he inquired.

"Miss Romanoff has requested for her current actions to not be disclosed."

Steve sighed in frustration. He quickly typed in her code that she had given him a while back when he had left something in her room and she wasn't there to give it to him. He doubted that she would've changed it, and he was grateful that he was correct. The door opened with a click and Steve was greeted by Natasha's little-decorated suite.

"Nat?" he called again, worry starting to flood through him. No response again. Steve quickly scanned the first room and didn't see her, so he stepped into her bedroom. He didn't see her at first before noticing the light was on in the bathroom and the door was cracked. The blonde quickly rushed towards the room, pushing open the door to find his former partner leabing against the vanity, a knife dangling loosely from her slumped hand and her eyes glazed over as she stared at the wall in front of her.

For a moment Steve didn't notice the blood and thought she may have just been sick. That was, until he looked down and noticed the pool of blood beneath her.

"Oh my god, Natasha." The soldier's voice cracked as he desperately searched for something to put pressure on her arm, where he could see the blood was flowing out of. He eventually settled on a towel and pressed it against her wrist frantically.

"Nat, come on. Wake up," he pressed a hand to her cheek, which seemed to snap her out of her daze. Upon noticing Steve, she stumbled back, pushing him away from her as fast as possible.

"Hey, it's okay Nat, it's just me," he whispered, holding his hand out as if it would show her that he wasn't going go hurt her. A second later, recognition flooded through her eyes and tears returned, spilling down onto her cheeks as she leaned her head back again, letting out a strangled sob.

Steve wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms around her and tell her it was okay, but he was much too concerned about the blood all over her arm to indulge. When she showed recognition of him again, he scrambled back over to her to press the rag against her arm. She flinched slightly, but he didn't let up, knowing it was the only way to stop her from possibly bleeding out. The wounds weren't pouring blood, thankfully, but there was still enough on her arm and the floor for him to be concerned. He was grateful when the he could see the bleeding slow down soon enough and inwardly thanked the gods above that this wasn't the end.

However, when the bleeding stopped, so did his panicked trance, and the realization of the situation that he was in began go sink in. Natasha seemed to recognize this because he refused to meet his eyes.

Finally Steve sighed and let go of her arm to reach for a wrap of bandages that she kept on a shelf above the toilet for easy access. He quickly wrapped it around her arm where the cuts were visible. Tucking the end under, he finally let go of her, sitting back for a moment and watching her.

"Where are the rest of the knives, Natasha?"

She looked up abruptly, meeting his eyes for the first time since he arrived. He was met with a look of fear and sorrow, and it terrified him. Before he could say anything, she had gotten up off the floor and was rushing for the main door of her suite. The moment Steve registered, he stood up and followed her.

"Natasha if you step out that door, I'm calling Fury." He threatened, trying his best to not let his voice waver. She spun around at his statement, unshed tears glistening in her eyes.

"It's not like he would care," the spy sneered, but the self-deprecating tone of voice didn't escape Steve.

"You sure about that?"

When Natasha's hand left the doorknob and she stepped back, sitting on the bed and drawing her knees up. Her eyes focused on the ground, not wanting to address the obvious elephant in the room. Realizing that she had given in, Steve's gaze softened and he went to sit beside her, wrapping both arms around her as her head fell onto his chest.

"How long?" he whispered and he could feel her stiffen in his arms.

"Please don't call Fury. Or Clint. Just don't tell anyone, okay?" she pleaded, completely ignoring his question.

Steve decided to just let it go, figuring he would have to wait until she was in a better space of mind to ask.

"I can't just sit by and watch you do this to yourself and not say anything, Natasha." Steve sighed quietly. His arms tightened around her a fraction and he could swear that he heard a soft sigh escape her.

"I- just please don't Steve. Please. I'm okay, I just- I don't want anyone else worrying about me." She replied, her voice small.

The soldier stepped back, letting go of her and running a hand through his hair, appearing agitated. "Damn it, Nat, did you just say you're okay?" He faced her again, the pain for her running through his heart. "You're not okay! I just found you on the floor of the bathroom with blood all over and you were perfectly content to just sit there and watch yourself bleed out! That's not okay!" Steve was on the verge of tears by then and Natasha couldn't bring herself to try to comfort him, so struck by his words.

"Why won't you just admit that you need help sometimes?" his voice dropping to a mere whisper again.

Natasha lets her face drop, realizing that he's probably right. She knew that she could've avoided this all had she just crawled into his bed that first night and let him hold her as opposed to turning to a knife to chase the hurt away. She was just so used to not needing help that it seemed impossible to speak up, daunting in a way.

Steve seemed to sense the conflict of emotions running through her and softened again, realizing that she needed a friend more than someone to be angry at her.

"Come on, Nat. Will you just watch a movie with us at least?"

"I'm not in the mood," she replied shortly, glancing up at him with a challenge in her eyes. He raised an eyebrow at that and didn't say anything, not backing down.

"Just go Steve, I'll be okay." She said, looking at the door pointedly. Steve just shook his head.

"Nope. I'm not letting you out of my sight. So either you come downstairs with us or with me to my room or we both stay here. Your choice."

"Your room," she muttered shorty, standing to brush past him and head for the door. Steve waited for a minute, scanning the room one last time before following her out and to his own room. He quickly sent a text to Clint, telling him that Nat was fine (a lie, he reminded himself) and not to wait for them. The archer quickly replied with a thumbs up emoji and Steve took it as a good sign that he believed the blatant lie he had just told. He was torn between being glad that Clint believed him and wishing that he wouldn't and come help him comfort Natasha. Either way, he knew it was too late to specify and that Natasha would probably kill him if he told Clint. He wanted her to trust him, and he thought this would be the best way to do it.

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It wasn't long before they found themselves on Steve's bed, her curled up into him as his arms were wrapped around her, one hand caressing her side and the other playing with her hair idly.

Steve didn't know what to do. He wasn't sure whether to keep it to himself like Natasha had asked or to tell the other Avengers. It was between doing what he thought was best for her and betraying her trust or doing what she wanted to do and possibly putting her life in danger. In reality, there was only one choice.

So, he pulled out his phone and made a group chat with Clint, Tony, and Fury. He knew that she was extremely close with Clint and he also knew that Tony saw her like a sister. Fury on the other hand he knew to be almost a father figure to Natasha and Steve knew that he would want to be involved in what was going on with Natasha.

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Steve: Hey guys, there's something I need to talk to you guys about.

Fury: It's 1 in the motherfucking morning, Cap. This better be important.

Steve: It's Nat. There's something wrong.

Tony: what's wrong with her? you told Clint she was fine

Steve: I know, but she's not. She told me not to tell you guys, but I'm using my best judgement and not listening.

Clint: do tell

Steve: Not over text. She's asleep right now so I'll meet you all in the living room at 8 tomorrow.

Tony: K. We'll be there

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Steve fell asleep soon enough, but it was restless. When he woke a few hours later, he still felt the same he had when he fell asleep. Ultimately, the soldier decided to get up and go to the meeting spot early, anxious to tell the others as soon as possible. He wasn't sure what to do and it was weighing on him.

"FRIDAY," Steve called when he had closed the door to his room. "Please alert me if Natasha leaves." He didn't expect her to wake up, but just for good measure.

When the soldier arrived in the living room, he wasn't surprised that there was someone else there. He was, however, surprised that the other person was Fury. The director looked as if he hadn't slept a second and Steve had a hunch that he was worried. He always knew that his former boss had a soft spot for the redhead but he didn't realize just how much he cared for her.

"Hey Cap." Fury's voice was low and gravely, emphasizing his clear lack of sleep.

"Hey." Steve wasn't really in the mood for small talk and it was clear that Fury wasn't either. The two men just sat in silence until Clint and Tony both walked through the door a few minutes later. It was clear that the other two men were also anxious and Steve almost wished Natasha could be there to see, just so she knew how much they all cared for her.

"Alright Stevie, spill the beans." Tony announced, plopping down in an arm chair. Clint sat more cautiously on the couch across from Steve and Fury, looking nervous. Steve cleared his throat.

"So, I- I went to go find Natasha last night when she didn't show for movie night," Steve started.

"Yeah and then you both ended up ditching us, I remember," Tony joked lightly, but with the tension in the room so high, no one laughed.

"Yeah, well when I found her, she was uh-"

"Just spill it Cap, we don't have all day," Fury muttered.

"Guys she's hurting herself."

The room immediately fell silent. Clint buried his head in his hands and both Tony and Fury looked like they had been shot.

"Where is she?" Fury's voice was hard and dangerously close to cracking, but he managed to hold it together.

"My room. I told FRIDAY to alert me if she leaves." Steve replied, and Fury nodded in response.

"How long?" Clint spoke, him failing to keep his voice steady.

Steve just sighed and looked down. "I don't know. She wouldn't tell me, and I didn't press."

Tony said nothing, instead getting up and heading straight for the door.

"Tony!" Steve called, getting up and following the smaller man. "Where are you going?"

"I gotta talk to her, Cap. I gotta see her."

Before Steve could protest, Fury got up and joined him, followed closely by Clint. Tony gave him a look, daring him to challenge and the blonde chose not to, instead reserving to follow them to his room.

When they reached Steve's room, Tony wasted no time opening door and hurrying toward Steve's bed, where Natasha was still curled up. He sat down at the edge of it gently and Clint joined him, Fury standing in the corner of the room alongside Steve. Clint gently put a hand on her shoulder and Natasha slowly came to, jumping a little at the sudden contact. In an instant, she rolled over to face them, surprise filling her eyes. It wasn't long before Steve's eyes found hers, and he was met with a look of betrayal.

"You told them," she whispered, directing the statement entirely at Steve. The captain looked at the floor, not entirely sure how to defend himself in the moment. Thankfully, Clint came to his defense.

"He was right to, Nat."

Natasha didn't say anything, realizing that she had no idea what to say. She didn't have to.

Tony didn't say anything else, just wrapping his arms around her. She stiffened for a moment before melting into it, finally letting her guard down for them. Clint soon joined in, burying his face into her shoulder.

"I love you, Tasha. We love you." Clint whispered softly. She didn't respond, but a single tear escaped her, one that she was sure no one in the room could see.

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Eventually, Clint, Tony, and Steve left the room, giving Fury and Natasha some time alone. At first, no word were spoken until finally Nick walked over and pulled Natasha into a hug before she could even protest. It was unexpected, as Natasha didn't think she'd ever seen Fury give anyone a hug, but she accepted it, realizing how much it meant.

"We'd all be pretty screwed without you, Romanoff." The words didn't seem like much but Natasha knew better than anyone that it was his way of telling her he cared about her. And that meant something.

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When Fury left, Steve returned soon after, sitting back on the bed beside her. The moment he approached, she got up, standing on the opposite side of the room from him.

"That wasn't your place to tell them." The spy muttered.

Steve looked down.

"So I was just supposed go sit by and wait for you to slowly slip away and not do anything about it?" he replied, his voice hardening but the concern still evident.

"I'm not going to kill myself, Steve."

"I don't believe you."

▪︎▪︎▪︎

For the next three months, they all watched her like a hawk.

Every since that night, she stayed in Steve's room. She would appear there every night, and they would either watch a movie or just talk before going to sleep. At first, he did the talking, telling her about his childhood stories and about Bucky. A few weeks after, she started talking too, and she had to admit, it was relieving.

She told him about the Red Room, about Ivan, Yelena, Madame B., and so many others. She told him about the first time she killed someone. Eventually, she told him about the first time she was raped. She broke down at that one, and found herself wrapped in Steve's arms as she cried herself to sleep. During the days, she would spar with Clint or sit with Tony as he ranted off about his latest inventions. Fury would stop by occasionally, claiming to be making sure that everyone was behaving but they all knew that it was really just to check on Natasha.

Three months. For three months, she was surrounded by people who loved her, being told every minute that they wanted her around. In a perfect world, that would be enough to chase away her demons, and she would be okay.

If only this was a perfect world.

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Three months. It was three months until she broke. It was just too much.

Natasha found herself back in her own room, with a knife in her hand. This was it. The end . She just couldn't do it anymore.

She always had high pain tolerance, it wasn't that she was worried about. It was just the moment of wondering whether she was really ready to take her last breath. She thought back to the Red Room, to Ivan, to graduation, to joining SHIELD, to New York, to the fall of SHIELD, to Ultron, to here. Now. This room where she was fully ready to kill herself. She thought of Steve, of Tony, of Clint, of Nick. And then, it occured to her to leave a note. She felt like she owed them that at least.

So, five minutes later, she had the note beside her on the nightstand and didn't hesitate. She was done. Done fighting.

She was just tired of hurting.

▪︎▪︎▪︎

When Clint, Steve, and Tony found her, she had a knife buried into her chest and a lost tear stranded on her cheek.

The archer let out a muffled sob, falling to the ground as Steve went to cradle her body to his chest, tears flooding down his cheeks silently. Tony couldn't do anything but stand, frozen in place with his eyes full of disbelief. That's when he saw the note, slipping off the side of the nightstand. He caught it, opened it, and there she had layed her heart out for them, one last time.

Thank you for loving me.