Natasha had paused in her note taking when Nebula explained to them how Thanos gained possession of the Soul Stone. The others hadn’t caught on, but she knew what would have to happen.
One of them would have to sacrifice their life for the mission.
For Natasha it was an easy choice to make.
Whatever it takes.
Natasha lovingly hand-washed and dried the vest during the precious hours she should have spent sleeping. The vest was no longer in the condition she had received it, evidence of battle adorning the fabric and scuffed buckles, but Natasha was glad for it. Each scuff and severed thread would tell a story Natasha herself would not be able to.
She filled each pocket with a little something: a group picture of the Avengers taken in early hours after one of Tony’s parties, a few pairs of her nicest earrings, some other jewelry, her strongest widow bites, favorite garrote, the keys to her Ferrari, the Fanny Longbottom alias credentials, a bank draft for her life savings, a USB filled with songs she remembered listening to in Ohio as a kid, a blister pack of ibuprofen, a mini bottle of vodka, a power bar, her favorite belt, the bottle of perfume she always wore, and a handwritten letter.
Natasha wrapped the vest in her favorite leather jacket for protection and packed it in a courier box. It was picked up the day before the time heist.
It was not sent to Yelena, Melina, or Alexi. They had all been snapped five years prior.
Natasha had sent it to Mason for safe keeping. She knew he would find Yelena when the time came. One last favor for old times’ sake.
And when the Avengers prevailed and all of the missing returned, when Yelena was whole and alive again, Mason gave her the package. He didn’t need to tell her who it was from. She knew before she even opened it.
She ran her fingers across the scuffs and snags on the vest on all three flights and two train rides out West.
The first thing Yelena bought when she arrived in Ohio was Natasha’s gravestone and plot in a cemetery near the town they lived in as children. She paid extra to ensure it was under a beautiful tree. She likes to think the tree provided Natasha protection when she can’t be there.
Yelena visits Natasha’s gravesite weekly unless she’s on a mission, but she makes sure the shrine of prayer cards and gifts from grateful survivors stays tidy. It’s where she goes when she feels most lost and unsure of her future.
Pressing her forehead to Natasha’s gravestone is a small comfort, reminding her of the last time she saw Natasha alive - standing stoic and brave amongst the wreckage of the Red Room, eyes welling unabashedly with tears, shining with the love and affection Yelena had spent the last twenty years yearning for. It is that memory that she draws on when she needs it - her sister’s strength and unwavering courage, her limitless grace and incredible capacity to love in spite of everything.
It’s what holds Yelena together like the scuffed bindings of her…their vest.