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Natasha Romanoff finds a little girl buried in rubble.

Under normal circumstances, she would have left rescue operations to the professionals, who were determined to save as many lives as possible in the aftermath of what would later be known as the Battle of New York. She was supposed to be finding the rest of her team anyways; the plan was to regroup and figure out where to go from there. But walking the streets of rubble, dirt, and blood, Natasha can't shake the thought that New York City eerily resembles a warzone.

Natasha Romanoff has a big heart, though closely guarded. The Red Room was an era of brutal training and hardships, the horrors never leaving her mind and never passing her lips. Nobody needed to know what she had to do to survive in there, nobody had to learn of the lives she'd taken to preserve her own. And nobody asked. They especially didn't ask why she paused in the presence of children, face softening in an almost longing gaze. Natasha Romanoff was an agent and a killer, and though she knows it's better this way— that she could never be a real mother—, the fact that she didn't have a choice in the surgery that would prevent her from ever bearing a child of her own was something to grieve.

So when she finds a little girl wedged between a building and cement blocks, hysterically crying for her help, she feels herself panic. She feels her heart stutter a beat as she radios in for assistance, approaching the shaking child that is bruised and broken and bleeding and so young.

"My mom," the child cries out to Natasha, her voice hoarse as she fights uselessly against the bricks pressing on her chest. "Where's my mom? Please,"

"I don't know," Natasha says in a breathless voice, her eyes darting wildly and her throat closing up. I did this. I did this. She quickly attempts to ignore her guilt by trying to drag the first block from the pile that pins the girl, but her muscles protest. "Could you tell me your name, honey?" Natasha almost begs, hoping to distract the child from the pain. She grunts as she manages to yank the first block from its balance, the cement brick rolling away loudly.

"It hurts." The girl replies instead, tears streaking her dusty cheeks. "I can't breathe. It hurts."

"I know, I know, and I'm getting you help, okay? What's your name, sweetheart?" Natasha hates the desperation in her voice, the fear that coats her words as she watches this little girl so close to the end of her life, but she can't seem to detach it from her like she usually does.

"Maia," the child finally says. She stutters as she speaks, her lips quivering and her breathing hitching. "Maia Webb." Seconds later, Natasha watches, horrified, as she coughs up a splatter of blood onto the rubble that weighs heavily against her tiny chest. A child. A little kid. She's just a child.

"Okay, Maia, we can do this, but you gotta push back with me." Natasha's voice shakes as she pulls at the bricks, hands working through the rubble that leave her fingertips raw, aching and smarting. Maia nods her head, but her face contorts as a loud, shuddering sob rips through her as she tries to work with the agent.

Natasha doesn't know how she manages to pull the little girl out, but she does. She holds her broken body close to her chest, soothing the sobbing child with secure arms and gentle strokes on her head. It feels like ages before help reaches them, and then ages in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and then ages for Natasha to finally tell the doctors that the mother of that precious child is gone; missing or dead, she was unsure.

"What are you gonna do with a child, Nat?" Steve Rogers asks her later that night, handing over a styrofoam cup of coffee as he settles into the uncomfortable plastic chair next to her. Natasha shakes her head, never breaking gaze with the child laying in a hospital bed on the opposite side of the glass. She had just gotten out of surgery and would have a number of other operations and procedures to go through in the days coming.

"She needs someone, Steve." Natasha says in a small voice.

"And there are systems in place to handle that sort of thing." Steve replies in a matter-of-fact tone.

"I held her in my arms, Steve." She chokes the words out, and after the momentary show of weakness, she steels her voice and decides crying won't do them any good. "I held her. Her entire world is destroyed. She lost her mother because, sure, we saved the world, but we couldn't save the city. I can't shake the feeling that something— fate, destiny, I don't really care— led me to her; led me to a fragment of the impact my mistakes have." Natasha finally looks to the man on her right, face twisted with unreadable emotion. "Even if it can't be me... Even if it can't be me that raises her, that protects her... she needs someone, and I don't see anyone else. So I'm going to be there."

Steve Rogers nods his head slowly, thinking carefully as he turns back to look at the little girl. He takes a slow sip of his coffee, letting the weight of Natasha's words sink in.

The day that New York was reduced to rubble was a turning point for Maia Webb, her life uprooted and the only family she had left dead. But in that same instance, she was met with new people that wanted to protect her; to take care of her and give her the life they claimed she deserved. It didn't matter though, because no matter what they thought they could possibly do to make things better— she lost her mom, who had been the only constant left in her life. And who had been taken away because the very people that protect her now should have been able to protect them then.

It shouldn't have been a surprise when it was decided that she would be put in the care of a close friend of Tony's, because she'd been expecting it. The excuses were what hurt her the most. A normal life, a normal teenager, a normal home.

Because Natasha Romanoff wasn't normal and Maia Webb had to be.

THE GRAND DELUSION [ PETER PARKER ]Where stories live. Discover now