Actions

Work Header

Everything Stays

Chapter Text

At sunset, the compound was swathed in red, pink, and orange.

The colors bounced off the windows and shone off the metal, blinding to anybody standing outside but comforting to the people inside. All those blobs of warmth spilled out across the floor, and, though the thermostat on the wall was there and the little number on it was blinked out 77, the compound stayed as warm as the sunset. It wasn’t that the compound didn’t have air conditioning—even in upstate New York, Stark had insisted on getting it—it was just that it was too nice outside for the temperature to matter. The air conditioning had been turned off.

Upstate in the summer was just the right amount of cool after sunset, situated nicely between cold enough for a jacket and hot enough to feel the sweat stick to your skin till you kick the comforter off the bed. Turning on the A/C would be nothing but a waste of energy. Once the sun came down and darkness enveloped the compound, everything would settle down, the temperature would dip, and people would wonder why they’d thought the A/C was a good idea in the first place. At that moment, warm sunset just crept into the building and soaked into the walls, letting that same red, pink, and orange through the windows. The whole building glowed like the warm embers of a fire. Windows were opened, where they were allowed to be. 77 ticked up to 78.

A plane was landing on the runway.

In the common room, Wanda was playing a game of blackjack.

Clint sat across from her. Sam was on her left. Banner sat on her right. Clint and Sam looked like they were having the time of their lives, occasionally tugging their cards closer to their bodies, slamming down the occasional good card and laughing at the look of defeat on the other’s face as they did it, a smug look on their face. Banner looked, somehow, even more disinterested than when they’d started. Every now and then, his face would dip in confusion, and he’d lean over to ask someone whether his cards were good or not. If he was lucky, he would turn to her, and she would smile or frown based on whatever it was, betraying nothing to anyone who wasn’t paying just the right amount of attention. If he was unlucky, he’d turn to Clint, and he’d bark out how bad Banner’s cards to the whole table, whether they really were bad or not.

Bucky was there too, leaned against the wall. On his face was a carefully neutral expression—a poker face meant for a game of blackjack. Occasionally, he’d drop the look and he’d let out a snigger, his whole ‘watchdog’ demeanor vanishing just about as quickly as it could. He’d point out how terrible Sam’s cards were and Sam would complain, Clint would crane his neck to look and laugh at it, and Banner would just look even more confused from the other side of the table—but then the moment would pass, and the hand would pass, and they’d be back to the way they were. Bucky would lean back against the wall and descend back into silence, his face back to that neutral expression. He would remember what he thought he was supposed to be doing.

The game was relaxed. No real bets were made—besides the kind that were irrelevant to the game—and no real stakes were there. Occasionally, Clint and Sam would pass around a dollar or two, sending Bucky’s eyebrow raising and Banner’s eyes flicking down to his own cards, but that was it. They were just playing a game of cards as the sun set behind the trees and the thermostat clicked higher, the window cracked open to let the breeze in as they all lost and won and cheered and complained about whatever hand they’d been dealt. The room had been getting darker over the course of the last twenty minutes, but nobody was getting up to turn on the lights. As long as they could vaguely see their cards, they didn’t care. Wanda certainly didn’t.

“I wouldn’t bet this round,” Bucky said, out of nowhere.

“How bout I do, then,” Sam said. He slapped a twenty in the middle of the table—pocket change, considering where they were sitting and who’d owned it, but it was still the biggest bet anyone had made so far.

Bucky shrugged. “Bad idea, just saying.”

A new hand was dealt out, and Wanda examined her cards laying up on the table.

“Man, just because you think it’s a bad idea-”

It was rare that they did things like this anymore, just sitting around and playing cards. Not too many came around the compound anymore, all off doing their own thing now that the world didn’t need quite so much saving, going off to live their own lives when they didn’t have to save others’. Thor was settling the second half of Asgard, Scott was taking care of his kids, Rhodey had business in DC, Banner had his research all over the globe. Sometimes, they’d drop by unprompted, like Clint and Wanda herself tended to do, but generally, they were off doing their own things. Most days, the compound was all but deserted.

One time, when Wanda dropped by, it was deserted. Just her and the staff and a couple echo-ey hallways. She didn’t go back for a while after that, even when Clint invited her.

Banner sighed. “What’s the point of this game again?”

“To make money,” Sam said. “Clint, hit me.”

Clint smacked Sam on the shoulder, a too-wide smile on his face.

“C’mon, you know what I meant.”

“If we’re playing blackjack,” Clint said, “Then you’re gonna play it right.”

Sam sighed, relented, and did the hand motion on the table instead. It was his first time playing, yet Clint kept insisting he do it “like you’d do in a casino. You know, with the hand motions.” Sam made it clear he wasn’t going to any casinos any time soon, but still, he got smacked every time he said ‘hit me’ out loud.

Clint passed Sam another card.

Banner sighed. “I give up.”

“You just don’t like losing,” Clint said.

“Who does?”

“I dunno, but it’s not you,” he said, waggling his face down card around under a finger. “Don’t you wanna see what this is?”

“Most likely a face card. It’s only basic probability.”

Wanda raised a brow. “Counting cards, Banner?”

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said. “But it’s pointless anyways.”

She could share the sentiment. She didn’t quite care for the game, didn’t really see a point in it if nobody was really having fun playing it. They were all just sitting there at the table, playing because Clint had something to prove and nobody had anything better to be doing, the only talking being that bickering that she didn’t really want to insert herself into.

The compound always felt too big when they were together like they were. Like putting on somebody else’s jacket and expecting it to fit the same: off and wrong. Something—a couple somethings—was missing, and they just kept on trying to go on and pretend it wasn’t, even though they were just making the hole where it used to be grow wider. The compound was empty, its halls hollow. They didn’t want to think about it.

That was another reason why nobody swung by. If they could help it, they always had an excuse at the ready—Clint had his kids, Banner had his research, and Wanda had her wandering around. There was always a babysitter that couldn’t stay or an experiment they had to finish or a flight they couldn’t get tickets to and no, don’t send the new quinjet, not without Ross’ permission or they’d get in trouble for it. Always something, some reason they didn’t come back to the compound. None of them wanted to come back. They didn’t want to feel how hollowed out it was, how it didn’t quite fit like it was supposed to.

Sam threw a light elbow at Bruce. “Lighten up, Brucie. It’s supposed to be fun,” he said. “And lean back, I can see that card you got down your sleeve.”

“I wouldn’t be having fun either, if I had that hand,” Clint said, shrugging. “What is that, 16? And I’ve got up… a 10?”

“Bad luck,” Bucky piped in.

“It’s not luck, it’s basic-”

“This is blackjack, man. Leave the math out of it,” Sam said. “And lean back before I slap those cards outta you.”

“You can’t do that.”

“Clint’s peeked at that down card every hand, I can do whatever I want.” He pointed at the twenty still sitting, lonesome, in the middle of the table. “And my bet still stands, by the way.”

“Buck’s right, you know,” Clint said. “Betting is a terrible idea.”

In a weird kind of way, she liked the compound more this way. Sometimes.

It was easier for her to wander when the compound was empty. Her whole life, she’d never really stayed in one place for long—even before Stark Industries dropped that bomb on her house and it never went off, before her parents had died and she’d been left behind with her brother, she’d always been on the move. One building to the next, then another building, then another, always moving and never settling. From then on there were the protests and then HYDRA and then Ultron, on and on to her brief stint with the Avengers, until she’d become a fugitive, she was always on the move. Moving was her whole life. Staying made her restless, and being restless made her anxious.

Thanks to that empty compound, she could keep going. Everybody was gone. There was no reason for her to need to put her roots down, let alone a reason for her to want to. Everybody who had ever had a chance of holding her down was gone now. Her parents, all those years ago. Her brother. Vision. Natasha, who’d become an unlikely friend when they were on the run. All of them were gone, and, because of it, she had less of a reason to stick her roots down than ever. The empty compound just made it easier.

According to Bucky, who’d heard it down the line from Banner, Steve had done the same thing—after the attack on New York all those years ago, he’d spent a good chunk of time just moving around, exploring a world he’d never really gotten to experience, trying to figure out what to do next. Eventually, he’d settled with SHIELD, but it’d taken some time for him to get there.

“He got lost. Nothing left for him in New York, so he went out looking for it,” Bucky had told her the day before, crossing his arms over his chest. His eyes had flicked down to her. “I guess you can say the same.”

She’d met his eyes and leveled her chin at him. “I guess I can.”

He’d nodded, slowly and silently. There was a certain pain in his eyes that Wanda recognized from the face in the mirror—the kind she’d learned to recognize as loss. Bucky stayed in Wakanda when he wasn’t at the compound, living out on the outskirts some days and settling in a room at the palace on other days, just being a wandering soul like her and floating along. Steve wasn’t there to hold him down, and it wasn’t like he’d gotten to know the rest of them too well. Even now, he was stoic most times, only a glimpse of humor peeking through like she’d been told it used to, with his arms always crossed and his body always angled towards the nearest exit in the room.

He’d lost everyone too—his everyone. Just like her and just like Steve, he was trying to get lost.

“Or maybe we’re running from something,” she’d said, after a moment.

He’d shrugged again. “Maybe.”

Running from what, she hadn’t really known for sure, but it’d sent that same pain glinting in Bucky’s eyes all over again.

Loss. They were running from loss.

Steve was gone. Natasha and Vision too. Though she supposed everybody on the team—if it could even be called that anymore—had that same thing in common. They’d all lost something to Thanos. Clint lost Natasha, Banner had been close to Stark, and, if Sam had been close enough to Steve to get the shield, then they had to have been close. All of them had that same pain in their eyes, just like her eyes and Bucky’s eyes did as they stared back at her, pain that Wanda could feel on the edges of their minds and see in the hallows of their faces whenever they came to the compound for games like these. Always that emptiness just lurking around, waiting for a lapse in conversation to strike.

And she and Bucky were running from it.

They were all running from it.

It was buried beneath excuses, genuine and not, beneath idle conversations and card games. Every game of blackjack was just a moment they spent trying to ignore the holes where the people they’d lost were supposed to be.

“You guys are bluffing. Hit me.”

Again, Clint smacked Sam on the shoulder.

Wanda sighed, looking out the window. With an ace and a nine staring up at her, she’d already held up her hand and elected not to take any more cards, meaning there was nothing she could do till the rest of them figured out whatever they were doing.

As much fun as they seemed to be having with their bickering, she could tell their hearts weren’t in it. Banner had yet to smile, Clint was tucked back into himself, Bucky had yet to mutter more than a few words, and Sam was just playing it all up to keep that silence from coming back out. They weren’t really saying anything to each other, just filling up the space. Banner didn’t want to play, but neither did anybody else—all they wanted to do was keep themselves from going back to that too-quiet, too-empty area of the compound where their steps echoed and the sunset just kept failing to keep them warm. So they kept playing. They ignored the empty seats at the common room table, and they kept playing.

And she was sick of it.

She was sick of all the pretending, of sitting on her side of the table and watching Clint smack Sam or Banner whine or any of the other stuff she’d seen over the past half hour. Sick of just sitting there while the sun set outside the windows and the room was painted red, pink, and orange.

She was sick of playing.

Her eyes met Bucky’s. He nodded slightly, and she nodded back. It was a neutral kind of nod, filled with the same kind of tentative understanding they’d had from before Thanos, when they somehow ended up on the same side of the so-called ‘Civil War’. They’d charged against Stark’s little team at that airport in Germany for completely different reasons, but they’d done it on the same side nonetheless. It was that kind of understanding nod.

Banner, Clint, and Sam kept bickering as she rose from the table.

“I’m going to bed,” she stated.

Clint flipped the other card up on the table, and the others fell silent. It was a good card to have alongside that ten he had out on the table, but not the ace he needed for blackjack. Just an eight. Enough for Wanda to win and everyone else to lose and nothing more, the reason Bucky had discouraged the others from betting on that particular round.

“Huh. There goes your ‘probability,’ Banner,” Clint said, chuckling. As if he hadn’t known what card it was. How else would Bucky have seen it too? He went on, “Good night, don’t let the bed bugs bite, all that mumbo jumbo.”

“Who says ‘mumbo jumbo’ anymore? What are you, sixty?” Sam asked. “Sound like-”

Banner winced before Sam could even spit out whatever name he wanted to spit out. Stark was the one that came to mind when those ‘mumbo jumbo’ kinds of peculiar phrases were mentioned—the man had had his own vocabulary, his own dialect of English that you had to learn if you wanted to make two bits of sense out of whatever he’d ended up saying. They all knew whose name Sam was going to mention, and despite it being unavoidable when one came by the compound, nobody wanted anybody to say it.

FRIDAY interrupted. Sam got lucky this time.

“Dr. Banner, a plane has landed on the strip outside,” FRIDAY said idly. Maybe the AI had wanted to keep Sam from making Stark’s name a known presence in the room, or maybe it was all just a coincidence, but it had the whole room letting out a collective sigh of relief.

Wanda cast a look outside. In fact, there was a plane out there on the landing strip, glinting in the dwindling sunlight as the darkness tried to swallow it up.

“That’s either good news or bad news,” Sam said, angling his head to look out the window. “Wanna put money on which one?”

The landing strip was hard to see in the near-dark, but the faint outline of a plane and the blink of the lights along it could still be seen. It looked like one of Stark’s planes, meaning it was most likely good news, all things considered. Still, she knew better than to jump to conclusions.

“Who is it?” Clint asked.

“Happy Hogan, Peter Parker, and May Parker are on board, as well as two others who address themselves as friends of Peter Parker,” FRIDAY chirped.

Wanda knew of this ‘Happy’ character, had seen him around enough times to know that he had been close to Tony and still worked under Stark Industries, but she didn’t know the ‘Parker’ troupe that seemed to be making an appearance. Outside, the door to the plane opened, and Happy stepped out with a brown-haired someone following after him. She couldn’t make out his face, but she could tell he wasn’t exactly a prisoner of any type—no cuffs, no guards, no nothing—which raised about as many questions as it answered.

Banner’s eyebrows narrowed over his eyes. “Well who’s Peter Parker?”

“Classified,” FRIDAY said.

“Classified?” Clint echoed. “To us?”

“Only Mrs. Potts, Miss Stark, Peter Parker, and May Parker can access that file. Boss’ orders.”

Not much was classified to the Avengers unless there was a good reason for it. It was part of the whole ‘open door’ policy that Pepper had decided to open up to them, an extension of the ‘do whatever you want’ that Stark had (apparently) agreed to when he’d gotten back from Titan. All of it was some kind of attempt to just keep questions from being asked when the people with answers were busy, on top of a metaphorical olive branch that nobody had really known what to do with—but regardless, point was: there wasn’t much that was classified to the Avengers, even when it came to Stark’s files. Hearing FRIDAY say something was classified, especially when it concerned this random boy none of them had ever heard of, was very strange.

“FRIDAY, do a google for Peter Parker,” Bucky said.

“It’s called googling,” Sam said.

Bucky, once again, just shrugged.

“Peter Parker is, according to recent headlines, a former personal intern of Tony Stark. Exactly 92 minutes ago, he was mentioned in a broadcast by the Daily Bugle where he was revealed to be the true identity of Spider-Man. These-”

“Spider-Man?” Sam asked. “That twerp from Germany?”

“The one that kicked your ass?” Clint asked.

“He did not kick my-”

“Hey, he beat old Buck up too. No reason to be ashamed. Kid’s got skill, apparently,” Clint said, smiling. “FRI, mind asking Happy what’s going on here?”

FRIDAY was silent for a moment. It was tense as they waited.

“Mr. Hogan has informed me of an APB calling for Peter’s arrest in the state of New York. He has also informed me that Peter is innocent of the charges.”

Silence settled over the room again.

Sam was the first to speak. “How old is this kid? 12?”

“Peter Parker is currently 16 years old.”

She’d seen him fling himself across a battlefield, the fate of the universe in his hands as he fought to keep that gauntlet away from the hordes of Thanos’ troops, seen him get bounced around through the air until Captain Marvel had gotten her hands on him, and he was a child.

A child.

16 years old.

Wanda had seen a lot when she was 16, going to every protest she could get her hands on in an attempt to help her country, but she hadn’t seen what Peter Parker had seen. When she was 16, there were no superheroes or accords or infinity stones or weekly world-ending disasters, or any of the other things that she’d gone through later in life. She, and her world along with her, was normal until HYDRA got their hands on her.

“I was told to inform you that Boss was at MIT at that age, and that Boss had Peter under control in Germany.”

“And who told you to say that?” Sam asked.

“Boss.”

Stark had brought a child into this, and he was trying to defend it.

“That son of a bitch,” Clint said, shaking his head. He stood from the table and cast a glance outside, where four people, including that brown-haired teenager, were trailing after Happy’s round shape across the tarmac. “Stark, what have you gotten us into this time?”

Chapter Text

Whatever Stark had gotten them into, it wasn’t good.

Wanda could tell as soon as Peter Parker walked into the room.

He had a duffel bag in his hand—plain, red in color, not much appeal to it but for the sturdiness of the fabric and the size of its pockets. Nothing off about it, until she saw the way a zipper was half-closed around a t-shirt, the way a pocket on the side hung open, how it was near-empty, his hand too tense around the strap.

His eyes told the same story. They were hardened, yet filled with the same anxiety that rolled off of him in long, slow waves, with tension and fear and worry sunk, low and dark, behind the shine the fluorescent light cast on his face. Any second, it seemed like a wave was going to come up and wrench him under, and he wouldn’t be able to fight it off. He’d be dragged under, with nothing to keep him afloat and nobody to call for help, flounder, and drown.

Then there was the way Happy stood at his side like a guard dog, waiting for the signal to bite. The other three, whose names Wanda didn’t know, were a pack of wolves—close and reserved, yet fierce if you were unfortunate enough to get too close. They wouldn’t need a signal to tell them when to strike; no, they’d know the exact moment, strike in the exact place they needed to, and they wouldn’t have the slightest regret about it. The brunette woman’s hands were gentle from their place on Peter’s shoulders, each set of fingers as relaxed as could be, yet her eyes burned with a protective intensity Wanda hadn’t seen since Pietro had been alive.

So yes, it was easy to see that something bad had happened. From Peter himself to the way the group crowded around him, everything screamed a bad situation. She didn’t need her kind of powers to understand—despite the brave face Peter was trying on, and despite her position across the room—just simple human empathy and the mindfulness to look in the right places.

She could see it in everybody’s reactions, too. From the way Sam’s eyes flicked over to Clint, an eyebrow cocked in question, to the way Clint’s shrug answered, to the way Bucky was tense at her side. Even in the way Bruce got up from the table with a searching look on his face, his hand held out for a shake. It was all there, and it all pointed to a grave situation, one that didn’t lend Peter Parker a good range of options.

Still, Bruce greeted Happy like an old friend.

“Hey Hap,” he said. “Long time no see. What brings you around?”

“Can we talk later?” Happy said, dropping his voice. It wasn’t soft by any means, just quiet in Happy’s own right, a low mutter that carried to the other ears in the room all the same. “It’s been a long day.”

Peter’s hand tightened around the duffel bag. It was like a lifeline, and if there was any chance of it slipping out of his hand, he wasn’t going to risk it—all thanks to the vague, muttered words from Happy’s mouth.

Talking about it, even just those few words, was enough to make it real. In your head, you could deny it and push it away and try and try to forget about it, and sometimes it would work, and you would feel better just like that—but out loud, everything was real. It was living, it was breathing, and it was terrifyingly real.

And whatever had happened, whatever bad thing had sent him there, he was already struggling to hold on. His grip was white-knuckled now, heavy with the effort of keeping that bag from slipping through his fingertips as those waves of emotion kept trying to pull him under, his eyes dipping down to the floor. That faked brave face cracked. His free hand fidgeted with the edge of his shirt.

He was a child, something in the back of her brain reminded her. Sixteen years old, and there he was, with that look on his face and that anxiety wafting off of him.

Her heart sank.

She didn’t move, though, just stayed in her spot at the edge of the room, her face as carefully neutral as could be.

And—as if to prove her choice was the right one—the brunette woman at Peter’s side seemed to notice Peter’s reaction. Her hands dropped from where they’d been at the top of his shoulders, down to his biceps, rubbing back and forth in some semblance of a hug. Wanda assumed she was ‘May Parker,’ just from the way she stood, and from the way Peter leaned, almost imperceptibly, into her touch.

“Yeah, yeah. Of course,” Banner said. “You know where to go, down the hall to the-”

“Now wait one sec.”

Sam’s voice.

Happy looked back, eyeing Sam. “What?”

“What do we look like, a B&B?” he said. “You can’t just waltz in here without an explanation.”

“Sam, you’ve met Happy before,” Bruce said, trying, with a desperate look in his eyes, to placate the situation.

“Yeah, and I’ve met Spider-Kid too, but you know who I haven’t met? That APB they’ve got with them.”

Happy tensed, and his tongue seemed to get caught in his throat. “I’ll explain later.”

A moment passed. Happy and Sam stared at each other, both of them just waiting and waiting and waiting for Sam to challenge it, as they both knew he would, Happy’s eyebrows inching lower and lower. His eyes were resentful and cold, and with some semblance of peace and the end of their so-called ‘long day’ awaiting them on the other side of that hallway, she didn’t blame them. In fact, she felt the same way, wanted Sam to shut up and leave it at that.

Yet they kept staring at each other—Happy waiting to see what Sam would do, if he would do anything in response, while Sam simply stared back. Sam’s mouth was set in a hard line across his face, stilled for the first time in a long while.

“Hate to say it,” another voice, Clint’s, interrupted. “But he’s right.”

Sam’s eyes widened. “Did I hear that right?”

“APBs don’t go out for nothing,” Clint shrugged, turning to look at Happy. “What’s it for?”

“I’m sure Peter did nothing wrong,” Banner said. “Clint, you know how wrong these things can be.”

Banner was right, Clint of all people should know better than to trust the whims of any old government official—Wanda knew she certainly didn’t, and she’d had far less experience with the bad end of it all. It wasn’t right, not at all.

Wanda narrowed her eyes, but remained silent, watching from her corner of the room as Clint went on.

“Doesn’t matter if he did it or not,” Clint said. His eyes were cold and harsh, but not in the resentful, almost annoyed way that Happy’s had been. Instead, his eyes were steel, almost apologetic.

“How does it not-”

“He’s being charged with it. That’s that.”

“Since when do you believe what the governme-”

“All I’m saying is,” Clint said, watching Bruce carefully, “If Ross gets wind of this-”

Bruce sputtered. “Oh, we’re bringing Ross into this?”

“Yeah, we’re bringing Ross into this. Or, hell, Fury’s probably got his panties in a twist right now.” Clint lifted his chin up a little higher, leaning a little further back in his chair. “We need to know what we’re keeping their noses out of—if we should keep their noses out of it in the first place—regardless of whether lil ole Pete did anything. Wrong move’s got us on a one-way ticket to the raft.”

Clint’s face was hardened, his posture suddenly stiff and his eyes drained of that remorse. It was a sudden shift from the laid back demeanor and easy smiles that she’d seen just minutes ago, a far cry from the ease she was used to seeing on his face. He was still leaned back in his chair like he trusted it with his life, but it was all just a mask, all faked to hide just what was going on.

“Clint, you and I both know that’s an exaggeration,” Banner went on.

“Is it?”

“He’s not a dictator, or whatever you think he is. The committee-”

“Screw the committee. They’re all puppets—do whatever he wants, when he wants it. The only things they care about are their own asses,” Clint said. “We give them one chance, and they’ll be jumping at the chance to cart us off to international waters. One little slip-up; that’s it.” He turned to look at Happy. “No offense to the kid, but I’m not risking it.”

Clint, always the one to make light of a serious situation, always the one to make sure the higher-ups saw his middle finger up as he walked away, didn’t want to risk it. Clint Barton—the one who’d broken her out of the compound without thinking twice about what would come of it.

Oddly enough, Wanda understood.

Ross, along with Fury and the US government and the UN, had information, and they had control, and they had power—power that they could do whatever they wanted with, revised accords aside. Clint was right: one little mistake, one little step in the wrong direction was all it’d take. For once, he wasn’t ready to test what they’d do, given the chance. The fact that it was Peter Parker getting the short end of the stick didn’t seem to matter, just that there was a chance, and he knew somebody was going to take it the second they could.

He’d already lost his family twice—once when he’d been sent to the raft the first time, and again when Thanos had won. Twice, he’d had them, and twice, he’d had to give them up because of something he couldn’t control. Twice, he’d lost the people loved. Sure, he’d gotten off the raft and Thanos’ deed had been undone, but the fact that it had happened could never be erased.

So yes.

Wanda understood.

But she didn’t feel the same way.

She still remembered the way the cold floor felt under her, the way her mind felt blank, the way the walls of the cell seemed to get closer and closer with each passing day, but, somehow, she didn’t find it in herself to care. That particular set of consequences didn’t mean anything—not when she had nothing to be scared of, nothing to lose or be afraid of losing. Clint had his family and his home—a family and home that Ross knew about, that was all at risk if he so much as tried to step out of line. For her, there was just the way Peter Parker stood there in front of her, his brave face falling and failing, cracking wide open like a glass shattering on a hard tile floor, and the way her heart ached at the sight of it.

But, despite that, she said nothing. She just stayed tucked away in her corner of the room, staring at Clint. No objections to his words, no defending Happy’s want to talk later, not even a cursory remark on how Peter was about to crumble right there in front of them. She just stood there, watching May Parker and Happy and those other two friends stand close, like the coiled up springs they were. She knew very well that she wasn’t scared, not of Ross, but she still said nothing.

“We need to know what we’re dealing with,” Clint said, eyes meeting Happy’s. “I’m sure the kid’s good—I trust you Hap, otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten past the front door—but the rest of the world isn’t too sure.”

Happy met Clint’s eyes.

Nobody moved or said anything, just stood there and watched as something seemed to change in Happy’s face, silently, as his eyes searched around the room, roaming from Clint to Banner to Sam, and then to her and Bucky standing at the edge of the room, on to May Parker, with Peter in her arms.

She didn’t know what he was searching for, why he decided to freeze with his gaze on Peter’s face, but it didn’t matter. Maybe he was looking for a sign to tell him what to do, maybe he was looking for the words to respond, but he froze there nonetheless.

A heartbeat passed, in silence.

“Kid?” he asked, his voice low.

Peter’s knuckles went white around the duffel bag again.

For a long moment, Peter was frozen just as Happy was—stuck there, with words unspoken on his tongue and his hand trembling from the tension, his eyes still staring back at Happy’s while the fluorescent lights cast long, deep shadows along the hollows of his face.

Wanda wanted to tell Clint how unreasonable he was being, to point out just how Peter obviously didn’t want to talk about whatever it was so soon after it’d happened, how they should just send him and his friends along, leave Happy to discuss it with them on his own, get Peter’s word on it later.

Maybe it was her trusting Happy’s word too much, or maybe it was just her failing to keep that ache in her heart from commanding every single thought that crossed her mind, but she wanted to say it. She knew very well why Clint wasn’t just letting Peter loose in the compound right then, she knew, but she just wanted to tell him anyways, get him to just sit down and keep playing cards and wait for Happy to fill them all in once Peter was gone.

Her mouth stayed shut, though, and all she did was watch with gentle eyes, her eyebrows no longer angled down at Clint, but trying with all their might to help in any way they could as she looked on at Peter. She didn’t say anything.

“It’s alright if you-” Happy tried.

“No. No, yeah, it makes sense.” Peter’s jaw was tense and stiff as he talked, and his voice didn’t quite match the false confidence on his face, but he said it. Clint pushed, and Peter said it.

Happy’s brow dipped in concern. “You sure?”

There was a moment of hesitation, where Peter’s eyes darted down to the floor and his hand clenched up on that duffel bag’s handle all over again, where momentary indecision flooded his face. But then it was passed, and he let loose the slightest, reassuring smile. “I’m sure,” he said.

Happy offered him a slight smile in return, along with a soft nod.

Then, Happy was sighing and tearing his eyes away from Peter’s, looking out over the rest of the room again. This time, his eyes weren’t searching, but they were just watching and waiting, waiting for his mind to catch up and for Peter’s words to process, for his mouth to work and start the story they all so desperately wanted to hear.

“Alright kid. Here we go,” he said. His eyes settled on Clint, and he glared.

Clint didn’t so much as twitch in response.

“I take you guys heard about those elemental things? Happy asked. “There was a rock one, water one, fire one, you know. Really big, kinda hard to miss.”

“Yeah,” Banner nodded. “Fury said it was handled.”

Happy looked right over at Banner, a bitter smile on his face.

“Was it not?”

“Doesn’t matter anyways,” he said. “It was all fake.”

Sam looked confused, but he didn’t say anything.

Happy went on, “Bad guy, called himself Mysterio, was pulling one over on half the Northern Hemisphere, fooled Fury and everything. Peter shut him down, saved the day, you know.”

May offered Peter a slight, proud smile. He tried to smile back—but it was just tight and forced, not enough to do anything but sadden the look on her face. His eyes dipped back down to the floor, slowly, as May gave him another reassuring squeeze.

Clint raised an eyebrow. “I’m guessing something went to shit.”

“Yeah, Mysterio decided he’d get the last straw,” the girl in the back spoke up. She was tall, with a certain confident set to her mouth and a curly mess of hair tucked into a ponytail at the nape of her neck. “He framed Spider-Man for his mess.”

“And gave him a face, I’m guessing,” Sam said.

The girl looked to Sam with nothing more than the slightest nod. If you weren’t looking for it—and even then, if you so much as blinked—you would’ve missed it.

Wanda’s heart sunk lower, and she crossed her arms over her chest. As if that would do anything.

“MJ,” May said, giving her a warm glance.

But it seemed MJ didn’t care. Her eyes just flicked to Peter, then back over to the rest of them, slowly but surely settling on Clint. And then she stared at him, cold and intense as could be, burning with a determined fire, yet still standing there as if she were anything but bothered by the situation.

They were backed into a corner. There was nowhere else for them to go, not with Peter’s face among them and the whole of New York on the lookout for Spider-Man, not after ‘Mysterio’ had let people know who exactly they were supposed to be looking for. She was a teenager, in the middle of superhero-sized mess, staring down an Avenger without even thinking twice about it, and she didn’t seem to be concerned in the slightest.

“Peter didn’t do anything wrong,” she said, tearing her eyes away from Clint’s. “That APB shouldn’t exist.”

“MJ, later,” May said.

MJ’s mouth set, relaxed, and she nodded softly.

Only then did Wanda notice how her hand was slipped in with Peter’s, how her eyes kept burning.

How all of their eyes were burning just the same.

They were unconventional, but they’d come there for a reason. The fourth kid, still lurking in the back, had yet to speak—instead, he’d been spending his time seeming to grapple with himself, his eyes going wide whenever one of the Avengers spoke in his direction, then narrowing as he realized what they were saying. His eyes flicked back and forth, from Clint and Sam and Banner back to May and Peter and Happy, going through that cycle over and over again. Still, he was silent, but Wanda could see where he stood.

She could still see the fire, there, lurking in his eyes.

In all of their eyes.

All except Peter.

But he was another story. Wanda could still feel that steady stream of anxiety and worry practically radiating off of him—again, she didn’t need to have the powers she did to understand what was going on in his brain, not when it was all so clear in the expression on his face, in the way he carried himself, in the way his hand clasped that bag in his hand, in the way he’d spoken.

It didn’t matter, though. The people around him were going to help regardless, were going to support him and try to fix everything that ‘Mysterio’ had destroyed no matter what Peter thought about it. They were backed into a corner, but Wanda knew they weren’t going to stay like that for long, not if they had any say in it.

“Well shit,” Clint said, finally. “Kid saves the world—I’m assuming that’s whatcha did?”

May looked to Peter, expectant, but Peter didn’t respond. So she answered for him, resting her arm on the small of his back and pulling him close instead. “That’s exactly what he did,” she said.

Clint chuckled bitterly. “Kid saves the world—at least twice—and now the whole damn thing’s turning on you.”

“Clint, have some tact. We’ve bothered them enough as is,” Banner said. He sighed, looking up at the gathered party for a moment, then at Bucky, still leaned against the wall next to Wanda. “Bucky, could you see if you can get rooms for everyone?”

There was no question about whether they had enough space, not when most of the rooms stood empty and unused nowadays. Whether their occupants were dead or off living their lives outside of superhero-ing, the rooms were empty nonetheless, and they had more than enough of them to accommodate four new people—three, if Peter already had his own room like Wanda assumed he did. She couldn’t say for sure—she didn’t know much about what Stark did in those years she spent in hiding, while she was tucked away from the rest of the world—but she knew they could find him a room just as easily if he didn’t.

And it seemed nobody was going to push the APB anymore.

Wanda sighed in relief.

“C’mon,” Bucky said, pushing himself off the wall. He waved a hand towards the hallway on his right, as if he were beckoning the rest of them along—completely unnecessary, considering Happy knew the compound better than any of the rest of them did, but it wasn’t like there were any objections. Peter Parker’s little ensemble started up slowly, following.

Happy pulled Peter closer just the tiniest bit, pulling him into a sideways hug and pressing what looked like a kiss to the top of his head. “We’ll figure it out, kid. We’ll figure it out,” he said.

Peter didn’t say anything, just let himself collapse into the hug, standing there for a moment. Then, Bucky was noticing how they’d stopped, Peter was muttering an apology, and Happy was pulling away, left standing there in their wake. Just like that, they were gone.

Happy watched them as they retreated down the hallway, Bucky’s arm gleaming like a beacon even as the light faded.

Then, after they’d turned the corner and he was left staring after nothing, he turned and sank into a chair. “Now, any questions?” Happy said, glaring at Clint for a second.

Clint just shrugged, not saying anything. They sat there as silence dragged out—now that the subject of it all was gone, it seemed they didn’t have too much to say. The question had left the room, slowly, like the air whistling out through a pinprick-sized hole in a balloon. The silence dragged on, and the hole got bigger, until there was nothing left anybody had to ask, it seemed, and they were all just sitting there and staring at Happy in silence, nobody quite knowing what to say. Her cards still lay out on the table, Sam’s $20 smacked in the middle, her eyes fixed on the way Happy seemed to melt back into his chair, even as he sat there, motionless.

The way that Peter Parker had stood there was still marked in the back of her brain, everything blank but for that. All except for one thought, the one that had been nagging her since he’d walked through the door, the one was responsible for the way her heart sank and the way her eyes softened when she looked at him. The one she didn’t want to think about.

“He is very young.”

Heads swiveled to stare at her, as if they’d forgotten she was there.

She didn’t even know why she said it. It wasn’t as if it was the most pressing aspect of the whole situation, though it did need some sort of acknowledgement at some point down the line. In fact, it hardly had to do with what was going on at all. It wasn’t even a question, just a statement.

But apparently, it was enough to break the silence.

“Too young for this kinda bullshit,” Clint said, letting out a sharp huff. “Where’d Stark find him, the playground?”

Nobody even froze, this time, as Clint flippantly said the man’s name.

“The kid was doing what he was doing long before Tony interfered. He just gave him a couple more tools for his tool belt,” Happy said, waving a hand through the air. He’d told the story a few more times than he would’ve cared to, it seemed, was bored of spitting it out again as he explained a dead man’s actions to people who wouldn’t really doubt his judgement—at least, not as much as they would’ve if Tony was there with them.

Death had that effect. All of a sudden, Natasha never lied, Tony was and always had been, irrevocably, a hero, and Steve, despite being named a fugitive at least twice, was practically going to get his own holiday. Nobody really questioned Tony’s choice in Peter, just accepted it as something probably done with a plan in mind, despite the fact that Tony was never one to fully think things through when he did them, and they moved on. They would forget that Peter was 14 when he fought against the rest of them in Germany, would just pick up the pieces and run with them, fit them together in a way that made Stark’s actions seem like the wise choices of a wise man.

“Those glasses, on the kid’s shirt,” Banner said, “They were…”

“Yeah. Yeah they were.” Happy’s voice was soft, but he punctuated it with a soft chuckle.

“Kid’s causing the same amount of trouble as Tony did, too. Figures,” Clint said. “Even when we get rid of him, we don’t get rid of him.”

Sam butt in. “Amen to that.”

“Says the man with Cap’s shield in his closet.”

“Hey, kid just got Tony off his shoulder.” Happy said. “Don’t put him back on, would you?”

Wanda wanted to ask why Tony was on Peter’s shoulders to begin with. An answer was easy, but it wasn’t right, like saying that incident in Nigeria had been all her fault. She was at the forefront of it, but there were many, many reasons why it’d happened the way it’d happened, and though it’d taken her a long time and a lot of guilt to accept that, she knew now that it wasn’t all on one person, just as Tony’s presence on Peter’s shoulders wasn’t. So she didn’t question it. She just crossed her arms over her chest, watching the rest of the room like she’d been doing the whole time, settling back into her own realm of silence.

Clint leaned back further in his chair. If he pushed another inch, she was sure he would topple right out. “Now,” he said, eye’s focused on Happy. “Start from the beginning, everything you know.”

“Come again?” Happy sputtered.

“If we’re gonna help this kid—which I’m guessing you want us to do, since you brought him here—then we’re gonna need more than the Sparknotes version,” Clint said. “So c’mon, tell us whatcha got.”

Happy sighed.

The fluorescent lights buzzed quietly overhead. As the last wisps of red and pink and orange finally disappeared from the night sky, the sound of crickets filled the silence—apparently, making the glass bulletproof did not make it cricket proof. It wasn’t like Wanda was complaining about it though, nor was she complaining as the windows opened of their own volition, courtesy of a protocol set in place by some staff member some night that she couldn’t remember very clearly. It was peaceful, easy silence, as they waited for Happy to start.

“Alright,” he said, sucking in a breath. His eyes floated around the room, lingering on each of them for half a second, before settling down on Banner. “Alright.”

And then.

He told them everything.

It seemed even Happy could be forthcoming when someone he cared about was on the line.

Chapter Text

By the time Happy was finished, the sun had long-since set. He’d told the story from the beginning—from the spider-bite and Germany to the field of tulips and the Queen’s vault, everything he could remember Peter telling him that he thought might be relevant—so it was only bound to take up a lot of time. Wanda went to sleep at 1 o’clock, just after they’d set a time the next afternoon to figure out what exactly they were going to do.

She woke early anyways, the next morning.

She’d tossed and turned all night, shifting between laying there with her eyes open, her eyes drifting off as she stared at the ceiling, and laying there with her eyes closed, trying to keep the flashes of nightmares from appearing right there in front of her eyes. Every time she managed to fall asleep, she was haunted by images of Pietro and Vision and Natasha and Rogers, and, to her surprise, even Stark himself. The nightmares always paraded themselves as dreams, starting off from far away, before they inched their way closer, and suddenly Pietro’s corpse was limping towards her. She would see calm eyes in front of hers, or maybe she’d be holding a hand, or she’d be running her fingers through hair—everything would be at peace. But then, things would change. She never really knew where they did, but they always did, dissolving away from blissful gazes at beautiful blue skies and the feeling of holding someone close, to disasters and guilt and worry. Every time she thought she’d have a nice night, it would slip away. And every time, she’d wonder why.

Usually, she was exhausted enough that the nightmares left her alone, especially if she’d been up later than she normally was. That night had been different, though.

Maybe it was nothing, maybe it was something.

Maybe it was Peter Parker, and his stunning ability to make her feel all those emotions she’d tried to shove down, time after time. Maybe it was the protective ferocity with which she’d latched onto him, and the way her mind tried to convince her it was reasonable when it was so clearly anything but. The way her heart had clenched had been too much already.

“People don’t last forever.

It was one of Natasha’s few words of wisdom, a tidbit of insight into her brain that Wanda only got whispers and straws of—never enough to fully grasp what went on behind those forest-green eyes of hers. Wanda had spilled her heart out about the stress and the fear and everything that she’d had on her shoulders while they were out there, on the run, and Natasha would comfort her. But she would never return, only offer those little bits of advice. Wanda tried to fit them together, but Natasha Romanoff wasn’t a puzzle to be solved. She was a person, whose tight lips were all-too used to keeping things locked up, who didn’t share a single piece of information about herself unless she wanted you to know it.

Wanda now saw just how right Natasha could be, in those little moments.

At the time, she’d just stared, confused. “What do you mean?” she’d asked, frowning.

Natasha had looked down, her eyes watching the steam floating up off the top of her mug. “Everybody goes, at some point. Never at the right point. I’m sure you understand.”

“I understand.”

Wanda’s voice had been heavy, saddened at the thought of Natasha’s words being true. Now, she saw what Natasha really meant, and she saw just how right Natasha could be.

So many had died, so many that Wanda had held close—not just in her dreams, not just in the moments before the nightmare took over and hope dashed out the door, but in real life. Those moments where she’d wrapped them in her arms or fallen into theirs or even those where they seemed to embrace at the exact moment, they were all dreams just the same, waiting for everything to take a turn for the worse. Waiting for something bad to happen, for their deaths to come just after Wanda would see the smile on their face.

It’d taken all night, hours plagued by nightmares and swirling, meaningless thoughts that kept pressing and pressing into every corner of her consciousness, but she’d realized what she was supposed to do with Peter Parker.

She made her way into the common room. Her feet were soft, nothing more than a gentle tap against the tiles of the floor.

It was dark, but not the pitch black that she would’ve expected at that hour. The TV was on, the lights still off as it played some quiet show she didn’t recognize—not that she recognized many TV shows, really, but it was still something she’d never seen in passing, never heard or saw as she breezed her way around the compound on the days someone else happened to be at the compound. Two figures were slumped across the couch, one with May Parker’s middle part and turbulent, unceasing worry, and the other with Peter’s curly mop of hair poking out the top of a blanket. Peter’s mind wasn’t calm either, but still filled with that anxiety she’d sensed wafting off of him in waves before.

Her heart gave a half-hearted ache at that realization. She ignored it.

The two were slumped on the corner of the sectional, May’s arms wrapped tight around Peter. They were an organized mess of arms and legs tangled together, with Peter’s body practically tossed on top of May’s, both of them asleep anyways despite it all. One blanket, which now seemed to belong mostly to Peter, was draped across them. Despite the faint emotions Wanda could sense under their consciousness, they looked calm. Peaceful.

Wanda kept away from the couch, clicking on the electric kettle on the kitchen counter instead. It only took a minute or two for the water to simmer, and by then, she had her favorite mug ready to go, with a tea bag looped around the handle. The mug had been a gift from Natasha, with looping Sokovian letters on the side and a little silhouette of a character from a movie Wanda had never seen.

“You’ve never heard of Lilo and Stitch?”

Natasha had wanted to watch it with her, a new part two to Wanda’s gift that neither of them had ever planned for there to be, but they never got around to doing it. The next morning, they’d had to pick themselves up and move again. Wanda had been lucky she remembered to take the mug with her.

“You never told me what ‘ohana’ means.”

“It says it right there, red.” Natasha had smiled, just slightly.

By the time they settled down again, they hadn’t had the chance to watch it. They never did. Apparently, it wasn’t important enough to either of them for them to remember it, or, if they managed to remember it, they didn’t think it was important enough to bring it up, to bother figuring out a time or trying to get together again so Wanda could make sense of the words scrawled on her mug. Wanda still didn’t really know what it meant—she knew what it meant, but she didn’t know why it said what it said. Like Natasha herself, in a way. Wanda knew what Natasha would say sometimes, would pick up on the odd vulnerable moment shining through that murky facade of hers, but she never got the fully story behind it all, never understood.

Wanda still hadn’t seen the movie. She didn’t think she ever would.

The kettle whistled, but she was quick. The room was quiet again as she poured the water and her tea steeped on the counter, the light green of the bag slowly seeping out into the rest of the water as it sat there, still in every other way. She watched it for a moment, idly swirling the tea bag around, silent.

Normally, she would take her tea and go—there was no point to standing there, no point to her hovering over this situation that she had little to no part in—but something in her conscious just didn’t want her to leave. She just stood there, her tea still swirling around in the water as she tugged the bag this way and that.

Across the room, Peter Parker dozed.

Before she’d gone to bed last night, she’d looked into him more. She knew not to, but she did.

Underneath all the news reports and accusations and lies was a normal kid with a normal life, a boy named Peter Parker who lived in Queens with his Aunt May. Spider-Man was a side job, was supposed to stick around Queens and keep out of the big leagues and help people there, not take on big things like Mysterio and Thanos. Most of his deeds weren’t the type Wanda was familiar with—that is, the world-ending kind, where some kind of aliens or some kind of evil something wanted to ‘save’ the world in some perverted kind of way—but normal, everyday kind of things. The newspapers from a week ago called him their ‘Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man’.

Now, they either called him a ‘menace to society’ or ‘Peter Parker’. Some were more critical than others, while a few even stood by Spider-Man completely, but, all the same, they weren’t exactly unanimously agreeing like they’d been doing just the day before. He fled the scene, they said, just like a guilty man would. Why else would he have made a break for it?

The press was divided on that exact question. Wanda didn’t blame them, not when she’d seen with her own eyes how malicious they could really be if they felt like it. Just as with Clint just a handful of hours ago, she understood.

She just didn’t like it.

She wanted to help him. Not Spider-Man, but Peter Parker, the one who too much heaped on his shoulders too soon and half the world out for his blood, the one with his address circulating through the internet and his classmates sharing how they all apparently ‘knew it’ as soon as Spider-Man showed up in DC. He deserved better than the plate of bullshit Mysterio had dished up to him, and she knew that.

And yet, just as with the night before, just as when she’d watched them come and go without saying a word, she just stood there. Her eyes zoned out on the TV, not really watching, and she just stood there. No sound, no nothing.

From somewhere in the room, a quiet alarm went off. It was barely audible, hardly even a series of quiet beeps from where she stood, a noise that she hardly even processed. From the couch, a hand reached out, fumbling, and grabbed a phone off the coffee table. There was a grumble, the blanket was flicked off of a head, revealing one of the messiest bedheads she’d seen in a while, and then the alarm was off just as soon as it’d come on—hadn’t even had a chance. The bedhead sat up, hands rubbing at eyes.

Peter Parker checked the time on his phone.

“Three hours,” he said, mumbling to himself. “That’s enough, right?”

“I wouldn’t say so,” Wanda said.

She didn’t know why she said it, but she did have a thousand reasons why she shouldn’t have, stored away in some far reaches of her brain where her common sense couldn’t quite reach them. Her mouth had moved before her mind could.

Peter jumped about a foot in the air, landing on his feet. His hands were up before he seemed to realize what was going on, his eyes narrowed into the dim light. His silhouette was nothing more than a barely-visible outline against the lightening sky behind him, his face only a crescent in the light the TV cast on it.

A second passed. His hands dropped to his side. “Holy crap,” he said, staring at her. “You’re Scarlet Witch.”

She nodded her head in his direction. “And you’re Peter Parker.”

“Wow,” he said. He looked up, eyes wandering around the compound, going this way and that way and all over the place, as if he hadn’t just woken up from 3 hours of sleep less than a minute ago. Slowly but surely, he took in the compound around him, his focus eventually settling back on Wanda herself. “I’m at the compound.” It was a statement, yet some part of it sounded like a question.

She nodded.

“Why…” His eyes went wide. “Oh.”

He deflated slowly, excitement flatlining just as quickly as it’d come, his eyes falling right back on down to the thumbs he was twiddling in front of him. It was such a massive difference from the still, fake-brave Peter she’d seen the night before—he was animated, switching between thoughts and emotions faster than Wanda could process what was really happening. Even as the thoughts of what happened and why he was there seemed to catch up with him, he was still moving, constantly, like a fidgety puppy that couldn’t sit still.

After Ultron, Wanda was told to stop looking into people’s minds unless there was a good reason. Steve said it was crossing a boundary, Tony called it creepy, and everyone else just had a general distaste for it. She understood—She’d stopped, sworn to them that she wouldn’t look. Whether they’d trusted her on that or not was their decision and their decision only.

Still, she couldn’t help it when she felt other’s emotions—like the sorrow at Stark’s funeral or fear from Clint the night before—when people gathered around and her powers reached out of their own accord. She was like a magnet for emotions, just sucked them all up without meaning to, as long as their pull was strong enough.

That was why, as Peter looked up from his twiddling thumbs and back over to her, she could practically feel the way his heart sank in his chest.

Or maybe it was her heart doing the sinking, and she just couldn’t tell the difference.

Or both.

Unlike a magnet, she didn’t tend to attract opposites, just emotions in general as they floated along on the breeze.

She pushed it away all the same, taking a sip of her tea. It was bitter and harsh, didn’t warm up that cold feeling in her chest. She grimaced and looked down at the mug for a moment, before looking up to meet Peter’s eyes. He was across the room, still only visable by outline of his shape and the whites of his eyes, but she met his eyes anyways.

“You guys know,” Peter blurted.

“Happy explained everything,” she said, putting her mug down on the counter. “But his everything is not your everything.”

“Still, you know-”

She nodded.

“Right. Yeah, yeah, I guess you do. Everyone does.” A thoughtful look passed over his face, and he chuckled softly. “Makes sense.”

Her heart gave another squeeze, and Wanda turned, taking her tea bag out and putting it on a napkin, dumping the too-strong tea out in the sink. Still, she didn’t respond. Telling him it would be alright would be nothing but a blatant lie, one that she knew she wouldn’t be able to tell with confidence, one that he didn’t need to hear from her. It would just remind him just how bad the situation was. So she went about dumping her tea out instead, filling up the electric kettle at the sink.

She changed the subject.

“What show is this?” she asked.

He snapped his gaze away from her, to the TV. “Oh, it’s uh- it’s called Tidying up with Marie Kondo. It’s this little lady, she helps people clean their houses out,” he said, a soft smile coming to the corners of his mouth. It was there for a moment, before it faded, and he looked back to her. “It’s kind of stupid, but May likes it. I like the noise.”

Wanda watched, quiet, for a moment as Marie Kondo got down on her knees in the middle of the house. She’d already looked tiny, like all of the furniture was scaled up a couple too many inches, but when she sat down, she just looked like a little doll in the middle of the house, settling down with her knees tucked underneath her skirt.

“What is she doing?” Wanda asked. On screen, Marie closed her eyes, and the music swelled up ever-so-slightly, still barely-audible even in the quiet of the common room.

“She’s thanking the house,” Peter said. “It, uh, it’s a thing she does.”

“Thanking the house?”

He shrugged. Wanda didn’t push it.

For a long moment, they were silent. Wanda watched from across the room as Marie Kondo went on and helped the couple with their cleaning process, as they talked about wanting to impress parents that were coming over and needing to feel like adults in their own homes, on and on through the interviews. It was only about a minute, but it felt so long, so stifled, and Wanda hardly noticed the TV show playing on.

Then, Peter looked away. “The water’s about to boil,” he said, softly.

The kettle whistled for a moment, before the kettle clicked itself off and settled into silence. Only the dull, softened sounds of Marie Kondo filled the space. She didn’t question him calling the kettle like he did, just stood there with her elbows propped up on the counter, knowing full well she wouldn’t be able to drink the tea for at least ten minutes anyways.

“Thank you,” she said. Her voice was stiff as she spoke—she didn’t really know what to say, if thanking him was too much or too little—but she just poured fresh water into her mug anyways. The tea bag was used, but it worked just as well, no problem.

She wanted to leave. Get away from Peter Parker and that feeling in her chest and the way he looked at her in the low light, with empathy and emotion in his eyes, deep and genuine in a way that she hadn’t seen in a while. Away from just standing there in silence, neither of them talking, feeling the pressure on her lungs like she was being strangled and she couldn’t quite get enough air into her lungs. And it wasn’t like she couldn’t just walk away—no, she could very easily make up a bullshit excuse and wander off. She didn’t have to stand there, waiting for something she didn’t know she was waiting for.

Yet she did anyways. And, for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why. Instead, she just remained in silence, at a sort of standoff with the boy across from her, with bullets aimed at each other with the threat of pulling the trigger and releasing everything she didn’t want released, including that deep, sinking feeling in her stomach. She stood there, swirling the tea bag in her mug just as she had the first time. Her eyes fazed out on the mug, almost hypnotized on the swirl circling round and round in her mug, while she tried desperately to get her tea bag to work as well as it probably had the first time.

Until Peter spoke, his voice quiet.

“Ms Scarlet Witch?”

She looked up. She didn’t know how or why her brain recognized ‘Ms Scarlet Witch’ as a moniker of hers, let alone why her head had jerked up the way it had at the sound of his voice, but it didn’t matter. She just looked up, meeting Peter’s eyes in the near-dark.

Peter was staring at her, his eyes wide and shining blue in the light of the TV. Wanda didn’t know when he’d paused it, hadn’t noticed the sound cut out, but he had, and he stood there with the remote still clamped in his hand and that look in his eyes. Behind him, outside of the big floor-to-ceiling windows that made up half the compound’s walls, the sun was just starting to peek over the horizon. Still, Peter was cast in a pale blue light.

He met her eyes, a worried expression on his face. “Can I… ask you something?”

She paused for a moment, then nodded.

He stared at the floor for a moment, silent. A long moment dragged out between them, heavy and tense, with no other sounds to fill the void of quiet in the room. No TV show, no kettle rising to a simmer, no voices coming from the empty chairs where they’d all sat the night before—just silence, eerie and lurking over them, as Peter stood there next to the couch. She didn’t know why she didn’t make any sort of attempt to leave, but she didn’t, just stood there in silence with the hot mug in her hands, burning hot on the rough skin of her palms.

Slowly, Peter got up off the couch and made his way to the kitchen island where Wanda stood, his feet barely audible as they padded against the floor. He propped himself up on his elbows and leaned on the counter across from her. They were both still, just as the compound was. Not even so much as a breath from either of them, not one that could be heard. Just silence.

Her mug was tight in her hands, both of her hands wrapped around the warm of the ceramic, with one finger absently playing with the string of the tea bag. It was almost hot, burning, with the way she was holding it, but she still held onto it.

“Was… was Clint telling the truth?”

She stared at Peter for a moment, stunned, with her voice caught tight in her throat. “What?”

“Do you… do you guys get sent to the raft if someone knows I’m here?”

Her answer, again, got stuck in her throat. She pursed her lips, and yet she just stared at him for a long, drawn out moment, with Marie Kondo’s face was still frozen on the TV screen, just as frozen as Wanda knew hers was as she stared at Peter. She stood there, and she stared at him.

How badly she wanted to lie, to stare down his eyes and tell him that they wouldn’t get in trouble, Clint was just exaggerating like Banner said, and it was fine if he stayed there. She couldn’t lie though.

“It’s not for sure,” she said.

“But it’s close.”

Gravely, she nodded. It wasn’t like she had another choice.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted. He stood up straight, burying a hand in his hair. “I didn’t think- I didn’t think, and now everyone’s in danger. I’m so, so sorry Ms- I didn’t even think until Clint brought it up, and now I just- I’m putting you guys in danger, like raft-level danger, because I somehow thought this would be a good idea.” He stilled, his hands falling back to his sides, his eyes going back to hers. “I’m… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“We let you in,” she said slowly, mulling over each word. “We accepted the risk.”

“You shouldn’t have- you shouldn’t have had to.”

“Peter-”

“And it wasn’t like I gave you much of a choice, was it? And now, you guys are in danger. If I hadn’t- If we’d figured out something else, then, then-” He stopped himself, looking down. “Shit, what did I do?”

It was still for a long moment. Peter’s breaths were coming in short gasps, panic on his face as he just stood there, with Wanda across from him.

Every cell of her body fought the urge to comfort him, while her heart just kept thudding out that same thump thump thump, trying with all its might to get her to pull him close and tell him just how they’d fix everything. Instead, she just put her mug down on the counter, staying still.

“I saw the footage from the raft,” he went on. “You were… you guys were locked up, until Tony came, and- and you were stuck in a cage.” His hands were shaking, the stress weighing down on him, breathing juttering like a flag in the wind. “I can’t do that to you. I can’t.”

“Peter, the raft was a long time ago,” she said, slowly stepping around the island. “And it’s not happening again. We’re not-”

“You are in danger. You just said it, you said Clint was right,” he said. “And he was right.”

“Listen-”

“I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t have even thought this was a good option. What did I-”

She couldn’t get to him. He was having what looked like a panic attack, and she couldn’t get to him. Goodness knows she couldn’t comfort him, couldn’t pull him close like she wanted to and tell him just how everything would be alright, how he didn’t have to worry about the kind of stuff he was worrying about, how she wanted him to stay if only so she could make sure he was okay. But she couldn’t. She wouldn’t let herself. People didn’t last forever—Peter Parker was another person, and he would be gone just as soon as he’d come.

She couldn’t. She couldn’t, she couldn’t, she couldn’t.

So she did the only thing she knew to do—her old last-ditch, when Pietro had started screaming from the nightmares and the guards threatened to beat him if he didn’t shut up.

Red danced around her fingers.

And Peter froze where he stood. The shaking, the anxiety in his eyes, the stress and the rambling—all of it was gone, just stopped as his eyes rolled back into his head and he slumped to the floor. He hadn’t even known what was happening. His hands unfurled from the fists they’d curled themselves into, his face melting away into a blissful peace he hadn’t even had when she’d first walked in, when he was asleep. His thoughts were silent—no nightmares, not when he was out like this. Not when she knocked him out.

And, just like that, the room was quiet again.

“Shit,” she muttered.

What had she just done?

What had she just done?

She’d knocked him out. He was there, silent, on the floor, all because she couldn’t deal with a panic attack. She should’ve sucked it up and helped him, like she so desperately wanted to do, not just given up as soon as it’d escalated. But she couldn’t. She just couldn’t. She knew it was wrong to use her powers on someone like that, but her brain just hadn’t seen another choice. It was scary, how fast she’d switched—like turning on a light. Or turning it off.

“Everybody goes.”

She hadn’t realized she’d said it out loud. Not until she was kneeling down next to him, muttering it over and over like a mantra, her hands hovering over his unconscious form as she tried to figure out what to do next. 

Everything happened in flashes after that.

The light switch seemed to have been flipped again, and she was left to pick up the pieces, to float along on the current as she tried to forget what she’d just done, how she’d betrayed his trust before he could even give it to her. She didn’t remember floating Peter across the room, putting the blanket over his head, nor did she remember picking up her mug and leaving, burning her tongue as she tried to take a sip from it. She was too busy trying to ignore the way her hands were shaking, the way Peter Parker was snoring gently from the couch.

Guilt settled around her shoulders. It was cold, but it was familiar.

Look what happens when she tried, it seemed to say.

Look what happens to the people around her.

In a way, Wanda knew she deserved it. She knew that, in some kind of sick, twisted way, it was right. People around her always got hurt, ended up dead or knocked out like that. Always, always, always. She didn't want Peter Parker's name on that list.

So she would stay away. For sure, now. No ifs, no buts, and no maybes—just the distance she could manage and the effort to keep him away.

As she walked off down the hallway, she ignored the thump thump thump as her heart tried to drag her right on back. Her mug burned in her hands.

Chapter Text

Wanda tried to avoid Peter Parker. 

She knew that, if they met again, she wouldn’t be able to look him in the eyes. She’d only see that panicked look on his face, the way his body had relaxed all at once and lurched to the floor. She’d feel the horror as she realized what she had done to him—to a child on the brink of panic, who just needed someone to tell them how it would be okay. She’d just feel guilty.

Call her a coward for it, but she didn’t want to feel that way, didn’t want to feel it weigh down on her shoulders again as she realized and re-realized what she’d done. So she avoided him, avoided his friends. She stayed in her room till noon. Only then did she dart out to get something to eat, have a short conversation with Bruce, and grab the book that’d been delivered that morning, before retreating back to her room in record time.

Her plan was to stay there until he left. She wanted to help—after all, wasn’t that why she started talking to him, really talking to him, in the way that led to the panic attack in the first place? That urge was still there, telling her to throw her door open, apologize, and ask him what she could do to help. But she ignored it. 

Look what happened when she followed it, when she tried to comfort him: he’d seen right through her half-truths, panicked, and then she’d knocked him out. It’d been a disaster. Now, she knew better than to try to help, wouldn’t go out there and make the situation worse like she knew she would. So instead, she stayed in her room and, for lack of a better word, ignored it.

Or, at least, that was the plan.

At around 5 pm, well after Wanda believed she was in the clear with her not-at-all-thought-out plan, Clint poked his head into her room. There was a meeting. And Wanda would be going. No choice, just a tight smile and a bit of apologetic sarcasm she wasn’t listening close enough to remember. He was gone before she could object.

That was how Wanda found herself sitting in a conference room—the same one where Ross had handed out the accords and told them, in no uncertain terms, to sign them and accept the fact that there were no other options—waiting for Peter and May to sit in the two empty chairs positioned at the head. One of those chairs had been pulled over from where Tony had sat before, at the edge, watching. Where Ross once stood was now where Rhodey’s chair awaited his arrival—he was on his way in from DC—while the screen that had shown them the destruction they’d caused awaited a video call from Pepper, who was still in NYC trying to sort through the press. There was no chair for Bucky; he’d rather stand, everyone knew, and there he was waiting in the corner as if to prove them right.

It almost made Wanda nauseous, sitting in that room after so long. She tapped one hand against the desk as they waited, in silence, for everybody else to pool in, trying her hardest not to think about the dominoes that had fallen into place after they’d last left it.

It seemed everyone else was thinking something along the same lines, if not the same thing. Bruce was fiddling with his phone across from her, Sam gazing around aimlessly as if he, too, didn’t like the feeling of that particular conference room, while Clint just stared out the window, his face hardened with something Wanda couldn’t quite describe. All of them were sitting there, waiting and trying not to think about it, leaving it quiet in the room—but not in the unsettling, anticipatory way you’d hear in horror movies, rather in the way that you knew things shouldn’t be, when you knew something bad was coming and had no way to stop it, in dread. It wasn’t that they didn’t know what was coming, but rather that they did know. Something about it sent that same ball sinking down in Wanda’s gut all over again.

“Sorry we’re late,” a woman’s voice said. “We got a bit lost.”

Wanda looked up to see May Parker tugging Peter into the room, a slight, polite smile on her face. Wanda couldn’t help but stare; they were both so far from the pajama-clad figures she’d seen draped across the couch that morning, yet still the same—Peter was still thrumming with anxious energy, while May’s worry still shined bright through her calm demeanor. Wanda watched as they both settled down at the head of the table, watched as May hovered over Peter, watched as Peter acknowledged her. His brave face had reassembled itself since the night before, but it was still cracked. Wanda could still see the lines in his face and the worry in his eyes, all of it just as bright as it was that morning.

That morning. The pit of nausea in her stomach made itself known again.

A hand lay itself down on top of hers, stilling her twitching fingers. She hadn’t even realized they were twitching, let alone that they were tapping with the determination to wear her nails down to stubs. 

She looked up, meeting Clint’s eyes.

It was his hand on hers, soft and reassuring, firm and comforting. Unmoving. Stoic, but only in the way that an anchor was, enough to keep her grounded. It wasn’t there to just stop her tapping on the desk, but to help her calm down, to help her breathe and take it easy—while still helping her make the decision to calm down on her own. She nodded a slight nod as thanks, letting out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding and trying to steady herself. Clint nodded back.

“Rhodey won’t be in for another hour, and Pepper’s got a situation with Morgan at school,” Bruce said, finally putting his phone down.

The statement seemed to bring unease to the rest of the room; Wanda could feel it as soon as Bruce said the words. Pepper and Rhodey were stoic, soothing presences, radiated a certain calm none of them could ever hope to replicate. Not having them there made everything unstable, brought another lens of uneasiness to the whole room.

“What kind of situation are we talking about?” Sam asked. “Alien attack or-”

“Just an entitled mom defending her entitled kid. Pep’s got it handled,” Bruce said, shuffling around a folder on the table. “So I guess we’ll start.” He looked up, out over the rest of the table. “Any ideas?”

The room fell silent—not for lack of wanting to help, but lack of thought on the issue, lack of a plan. The Avengers didn’t really do planning, and when they did, they often had a bit of trouble sticking to it. Improvising was an art, and over the years, they’d perfected it.

“Nothing?” Bruce asked, desperate for some kind of answer.

“I can give you one, but you probably won’t like it,” Clint said. He pulled his hand off of Wanda’s as he leaned back in his chair.

Wanda didn’t like the absence of his touch, how brief and fleeting his comfort had been. Her anchor had up and vanished and she was free to drift out to sea once again—but she didn’t say anything, just sat up a little straighter in her chair.

Bruce clicked his pen, ready to write down Clint’s suggestion. “Bad ideas are still ideas,” he said. “Go for it.”

“I say we head on down to DC,” Clint started, the picture of ease, “You know, play it cool. Then, boom, we shove a stick up Ross’ a-”

“Don’t even bother finishing that sentence.”

“In that case,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “I got nothing.”

Bruce fixed Clint with a look. “Nothing at all?”

“Unless we stick the kid in some remote part of Russia, give ‘im a new name, and-”

“That’s not happening,” Bruce said, frowning.

“Why not?”

“We’re not sending him to Russia,” Bruce said, sighing and wiping his face with his hand. “Anything else?” He looked up at the rest of the conference room, his eyes pleading for anybody, except Clint, to step in.

But unfortunately for him, he was, again, greeted with nothing but silence.

“Well,” Clint’s eyes flicked around the room, from person to person, as if making sure he wasn’t going to interrupt. Then, he crossed his arms and pursed his lips, ever-so-slightly. “We haven’t had much time to consider our options,” he said.

“I’m sure you can think of something besides Russia, Clint,” Bruce said.

“I did. We go on down to DC, grab ourselves a stick, and we-”

Wanda tuned them out as they dissolved into heated bickering. Bruce would say something rational, or at least half rational, but then Clint would dig back in, reinforce his claim, say something just to get back at Bruce. Nobody interrupted, not really. Sam would pipe up from time to time, but mostly watched the shit show go on, quiet just as Wanda was. Bucky was still silent in the corner—wary, understanding that this wasn’t the way things should be going, but silent.
At the end of the table, Peter’s face fell. May rubbed a supportive hand along his back. 

It seemed he was just as worried as ever—and with his last hopes going on to fight about whether or not lynching Ross was a good idea, Wanda didn’t blame him. Though it wasn’t like the moment wasn’t far off from how the old Avengers used to plot and plan; not in the slightest, no. The chaos was nothing new, Clint was just more bitter than he used to be, and, while Bruce was trying his best to make up for it, Steve wasn’t there to keep the rest of them in check. Wanda’s role hadn’t changed much—she’d always preferred to listen rather than to give her input, to process the information before opening her mouth—but she wasn’t exactly helping either, sitting there in silence and watching it all go downhill. Put it all together, and Peter had every right to look as worried as he did. He was at the end of the line, and this was all he had left: a couple tired Avengers more focused on arguing to focus on the real issue.

“All I’m saying is, if we get the timing just right, then maybe nobody’ll notice. We got ourselves plenty of time to get the hell outta dodge, everything turns out alright,” Clint said, as if his argument was anything but a stupid, endless, and pointless tirade, as if its only point wasn’t to just fill up the space.

Bruce grew more exasperated. “Clint, we can’t-”

“Enough of this.”

Heads turned to look at May, sitting there at the end of the table with her hand still rubbing circles on Peter’s back. Her face was cold, her voice too, in a way that seemed to radiate off of her. 

“We came here for help,” she went on, “Not to listen to childish bickering.”

Clint’s brows narrowed, his arms crossing over his chest. “I don’t see you coming up with ideas.”

Clint.” Bruce’s voice was a warning.

But Clint stood his ground, his jaw working and his eyes flicking back from Bruce to May—May who was still there, cold and seething and angry, at the end of the table.

“This is how you ‘come up with ideas’?” she said.

Shock filled Peter’s face at his aunt’s words, sending his head jerking up to look at May. He tried to object, saying “May-”

But Clint didn’t seem to notice, his eyes still trained on May’s face just as the rest of theirs were.

“Look, lady, you came to us,” he said, going on as if Peter hadn’t said anything. “We’re gonna help, like I told Hap last night. But you can’t expect us to have a plan right off the bat—not when we just heard about all this a couple hours ago. We need time to-”

“You want more time? Why don’t you stop wasting mine first?”

“May-” Peter tried to interject again, but he was stopped. This time it was not Clint’s, but rather May’s voice that interrupted his.

“Peter.” May’s voice was firm. “I was told that you would stay out of their messes. No more crashing planes and fighting Captain America until you’re done with school. That was the deal. It may have gotten thrown off-” Peter winced at her side, and she hesitated. “But I can excuse that situation. Now, I’m hearing that Nick Fury himself asked for your help, despite the fact that there was a perfectly good team of Avengers capable of handling it?”

“May, please. They’re-”

May was quick, her anger there in the sharp narrow of her brows, but her voice was still gentle. “Peter, if any of them had taken a split second to think about this situation, then your face wouldn’t be plastered across Times Square. You wouldn’t be in this situation,” she said. “They left you to handle their type of mess, didn’t even lift a finger, even though you were alone out there—and now they want more time to figure out how to fix it?”

“Fury told them-”

“It doesn’t matter what Fury said. They saw what was happening, and they did nothing.” She crossed her arms over her chest, turning back to glare at the rest of the room. “The least they can do is help us fix this mess without wasting our time bickering.”

The blame settled heavy over the room.

Quiet followed—the only sound was the gentle hum of the air conditioning. There was shock, there was guilt, but there was quiet nonetheless, all of them just waiting for someone to speak a word and break it.

As much as Wanda, and even Peter, didn’t seem to want to admit it, there was truth to May’s words. They’d all heard about the monsters, there was no pretending they hadn’t. But they’d decided to lay low, keep themselves tucked away from the rest of the world and the press that came with it—especially after Fury told them it was handled. 

There was no need to call in the Avengers, Fury said, not when they had this new guy and Spider-Man on it. So they’d stood down—not because of a formal decision of any kind, but only with a mutual, unspoken agreement that they didn’t need to get involved.

But that new guy hadn’t been so good. And that Spider-Man was just a kid.

The Avengers hadn’t stepped in.

But they should’ve.

The blame still fell on Fury’s shoulders, on Mysterio’s shoulders, but it also fell on theirs—on the Avengers, or what was left of them, for letting the days go by as a kid tried to fight their battles. 

On Wanda’s shoulders, for not doing something sooner.

The pit sunk impossibly further down into her gut, realization slipping through her thoughts like the air slipping slowly out of a balloon.

She’d left him. Done nothing. May was right—Peter had been out there, alone, and Wanda hadn’t done anything about it. They hadn’t known the full scope of the situation, sure, but that was just a cheap excuse. They should have known. They should have stepped in. It was their job to handle those world-ending-type disasters, to swoop in and save the day when they were needed most. But they hadn’t. 

Wanda hadn’t. 

Like it or not, she had a hand in causing this whole situation. And still there she’d been, sitting there, watching the bickering go by. Doing nothing.

She’d done nothing. Before, she’d done nothing too.

She’d made it worse anyways.

Worse.

Something buzzed, snapping Wanda back to the table—Peter’s phone, Wanda saw as he slipped it out of his pocket. It rung in his hand for a moment, and he frowned at the caller ID before trying to shove it back in his pocket.

But before he could, May’s hands, gentle despite how the rest of her seemed to thrum with anger, moved to stop him, and her eyes narrowed at the screen. 

The two of them exchanged a glance—Peter, unsure; May with those same waves radiating off of her. All centered around that phone screen.

“We’ll be back in fifteen,” she said, her voice short. “I expect a plan—a good one—by the time we get back.”

The threat hung over the air as she got up, Peter’s phone in her hand, and left the room. Peter trailed after her with an apologetic look in his eyes. The words were so far from the gentle and caring May Parker of the night before that Wanda could almost feel the whiplash across her face. But they were only there because they needed to be, a necessity, against people that had done her and Peter wrong.

That feeling—that guilt Wanda had tried to avoid since that morning, now tripled with her realization at May Parker’s words—drowned it out. It drowned everything out. She sat there, her thoughts racing too fast as the door slid shut, silent, behind the Parkers. 

Clint clicked the pen that had, at some point in the conversation, appeared in his hand—he was fidgeting, despite the cool exterior he tried to give off. Even he had been shaken by May Parker’s words. But, rather than show it, he just kept clicking that pen, over and over and over.

“So…” he started, pausing his clicking, “What-”

“That’s enough out of you,” Sam said.

Bruce took off his glasses to give his face a scrub with his palm, then perched them back on his nose. “I second that,” he said, looking up.

Along the wall, Bucky’s face was thoughtful.

“What do you want me to say?” Clint said. “I get it, she’s concerned. I would be too, if Pete was my kid. But we didn’t ask to get pulled into this mess—she can’t expect us to have a plan-”

“He didn’t ask to be in it either,” Wanda said, her voice low.

“What?”

“Peter didn’t ask to be in this mess either,” she said, looking down to her hands. “He wouldn’t be, if we’d stepped in.”

Clint’s eyebrows, which had fixed themselves up high on his forehead at the sound of Wanda’s voice, dropped down low in concern. He reached out to try and take her hand again, his other hand stilling on his pen. “Hey, Wands, don’t feel-”

She pulled away, looking up to meet his eyes. “Clint,” she said. “She was right.”

Clint worked at his jaw.

Nobody came to his defense.

It seemed like a unanimous agreement, of sorts. Nobody wanted to speak those damning words—the ones they all knew were true—for themselves. They all knew that Spider-Man shouldn’t have been involved with Mysterio, not when the Avengers were supposed to handle those kinds of situations—the world-ending, big stakes kind, where someone wanted to take over some part of the world, where the bad guys had big guns they weren’t afraid to use. The Avengers didn’t have what Peter Parker had to lose, wouldn’t have let Beck fool them so easily when they could just brush him out of the way, do their job, and realize what was really going on before the first monster was gone. They should have stepped in, but they didn’t, the silence seemed to say.

“Maybe, yeah. But we’re not the bad guys, we’re not that Beck asshole—Wanda, you- we didn’t do anything wrong,” Clint argued. 

“Ignoring it makes us just as guilty,” Bucky spoke up, from the side of the room.

At that point, Clint was just trying to reassure her. He was trying to tell her it wasn’t her fault, that she shouldn’t feel guilty, offer up the support that her withdrawn hand had kept him from providing. It was the same kind of thing he’d done before the whole ‘Civil War’ fiasco happened, when he’d lifted her up and pushed her forward. But this wasn’t the same situation—this was different. And in this situation, Bucky’s words just rung true.

Before, she had done something—she had actions to excuse herself from, reasons to let herself forgive her actions. Now, she had nothing. 

Nothing.

She had done nothing, and that was what made her guilt real.

From somewhere all at once, Wanda was overcome with the urge to leave. Guilt—at her realization, at her actions, at her thoughts—all crashed down over her at once, like a tidal wave she couldn’t swim away from. It was just something new to pile on, another bit of evidence, of truth, to throw on top and watch as it weighed down on her, too heavy, too much.

She couldn’t help; she knew that. She’d only make it all worse. Just like she’d done that morning, like she’d done with the Accords and Vision and all those other times she’d tried to help and it hadn’t worked. 

But she couldn’t not help. She’d be guilty then, too.

Doing something wouldn’t help. Doing nothing wouldn’t help either. 

She was stuck. 

She was trapped

And she couldn’t get out.

It triggered some sort of fight-or-flight response in her brain, sent her standing up slowly, ramrod straight, with the door out of that conference room—that conference room that only ever meant bad things and more guilt and more pain—in the front of her mind. The guilt weighed heavy on her shoulders, her mind scattered as she tried to think of what to do. How she should do something. How she could do something. How she shouldn’t do something. How she should just get away, not even try to help. How she’d make it worse.

Clint jerked to attention. “Wanda, are you-”

Wanda barely heard him—she was too busy setting her eyes on the door, trying to ignore his words, fleeing before that sinking feeling in her gut finally pulled her under. But, somehow, she managed to give him a slight, tense look of reassurance.

“I’ll be right back,” she said. Her tone was steady, but fake. Even the most gullible of them could tell it was a lie.

Still, nobody tried to stop her. 

_________________

Now, Wanda wanted nothing more than to avoid Peter Parker. If she’d wanted to stay away from him before, now her brain was panicking at the thought of them being in the same building, at the slightest chance of them coming into contact. All she could hear was his aunt’s low, accusing voice, pointing out just what the Avengers were supposed to be, how they were supposed to help people and fix things. How they had a responsibility and they’d failed. They’d failed, again. 

But Wanda couldn’t help fix it. She’d make it worse just by trying. She’d learned that enough times.

But she couldn’t not help fix it. She’d be at fault all the same.

As the conference room door slid shut behind her, she felt that feeling in her stomach only grow, sink itself further down. It was a numb kind of panic, a fear and an uncertainty that had sent her brain spiraling off into nothingness as it fought with itself on what to do.

What was she supposed to do?

How could she even call herself a hero anymore, if she’d sat back and left Peter—a child who’d been out there alone—to handle everything? If she wasn’t even going to try to fix her mistake? If she didn’t know how? If she’d only make it worse anyways?

She didn’t know.

Now, it wasn’t that she was trying to keep away from Peter Parker—not for the same reason she had before, at least. It was more than just a fear of messing up, more than simple aversion. It was the uncertainty, the unknown, the panic at the thought of seeing his face and having no response to give him. She didn’t know what to say, what to do, how to help. She simply didn’t know, and it triggered some primal fear deep in her conscious. 

But it seemed as if, again, she would be forced near him whether she wanted to or not. It seemed the universe wanted her to fully understand—as if she didn’t understand enough already—what she’d done and what she hadn’t done.

As Wanda stepped out of the conference room, she was almost immediately greeted with the sound of voices. Two voices, to be specific, coming from the group of two near the end of the hallway.

It was May and Peter. They were close to each other, Peter’s phone still in May’s hands—she was still peering down at it, her eyebrows drawn together.

Wanda froze.

“-has been calling you? Peter, why didn’t you tell me?” May looked up at Peter.

He didn’t answer. He stood there, fidgeting with the sleeve of his shirt, the silence settling in as May waited on answer that wasn’t coming.

Wanda should’ve left. She should’ve gotten far away from Peter and May and the guilt in her head, never see it again, figure it out on her own. But that fight or flight response had gotten stuck somewhere in her brain—like some kind of switch was stuck between the two, and she settled for some third option that just left her standing there, not moving, not sure what to do as her brain just stopped. If she tried to leave, her brain seemed to say, they could notice her. If she didn’t, well, they’d have to look that way at some point. So she stood there. Still frozen, watching silently.

“Peter?”

Still, he hesitated. He opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again before finally getting his words out.“I didn’t want you to worry,” he said, voice small and quiet.

“Peter,” May’s voice softened. “It’s my job to worry about you.”

“I know.”

“I love worrying about you. I love you,” she said, smiling softly. 

“But you shouldn’t have to-”

“Peter Parker, don’t even think about finishing that sentence.” She sighed. “Just- next time, tell me when this kind of stuff is happening, alright?” she said. 

He nodded. “I’m sorry, May.”

“No need to apologize, it’s alright.” Her smile widened, and she held her arms out for a hug. “Now come here.”

He seemed to hesitate for half a second, standing there as May held her hands out, staring but not processing her words. But then they were hugging—May’s arms were warm, soft, and inviting, and Peter collapsed right into them like he’d been waiting for the chance since they’d left that conference room.

“I can’t believe you just yelled at the Avengers,” Peter muttered against her chest.

May let out a soft chuckle. “I can’t believe it either,” she said. “But I’m glad I did. Somebody needed to.”

“But May,” Peter said, pulling away, “They’re letting us-”

“You have just as much of a right to be here as they do, Peter.”

“We’re putting them in danger, though. I’m putting them in danger. If Secretary Ross comes here, then that’s it, they’ll all-”

“I don’t care what Ross says. And, frankly, I don’t care if the Avengers are in danger—if they’d done their job, none of us would be in danger in the first place,” she said, her voice still quiet, reassuring, and soft. “Peter, you’re allowed to be here.”

They hugged for a moment longer, Peter muttering a soft “thanks, May” against her, before they pulled away. Peter looked up.

Maybe it was his enhanced senses, maybe it was just some random chance, or maybe it was because Wanda had moved in some way and it’d caught the corner of his eye—she didn’t know. But, as Peter looked up, he noticed her all the same.

“Ms. Scarlet Witch?” he asked, his brows dipping in concern. A split-second analysis had been all it took to realize something was wrong. “Is everything alright?” he asked.

It sent May’s gaze over too, and still, Wanda stood there like a deer in headlights, staring back.

“Ms-” Peter went to ask again. Somehow, it was enough to flick that switch right back where it belonged, to put that need to run right back in her head. 

“Yes,” she said, her voice unsteady and rushed. She hated the sound of it, but carried on anyways, not really aware of what she was saying. “Everything’s alright. I only needed-” She wasn’t sure what she needed, so she stood there for a moment longer, her mouth moving but no words coming out of it. Frozen again. Just like that.

Peter stepped forward.

That was enough. That reverie was gone just as soon as it’d come.

“I’m sorry,” she said. As with everything she did or said concerning Peter Parker, she wasn’t quite sure why she said it. But some anxious feeling in her gut had sent it boiling up, like the hot white froth of a pot about to boil over and burn when the heat was too high.

Peter looked quickly between her and May, then kept stepping forward. “Ms-”

The walls of the conference room were clear—Stark had been smart enough to make them soundproof, but not opaque, for some god-forsaken reason—and she could practically feel the eyes of the team on her as she stood there.

She felt them, all of them, staring at her.

Could feel the worry and confusion and shock, radiating off of them, rolling along like harsh, jagged waves that hit her all at once. Her powers seemed to soak them in, her panic only growing, and yet, still, she stood there for a long and drawn out moment, her eyes darting from person to person—from Clint’s concern to Bucky’s broken poker face to May Parker’s worry, then all the way over to Peter.

She knew it wasn’t all her fault—again, just like everything with the Accords and Ultron wasn’t her all fault—but her mind kept blaring out at her, that feeling just getting stronger and stronger in her gut, sinking down and down. All she could see was that look on Peter’s face that morning, the panic and the fear all mingling together as he looked back at her. And then there was the look in May’s eyes—it was enough to send the guilt crashing down all over again.

Her brain kept refusing to move, still stuck on that same spot as the instincts responsible for saving her just short-circuited and left her, standing there. She was stuck, still stuck. Unsure, scared, panicking, her mind moving a million miles a minute but her body standing perfectly still.

Her hands trembled at her side. 

Peter stepped forward again.

He must remember what she did, how she’d knocked him out and used her power against him. He knew, too, what she hadn’t done—how she hadn’t helped him with Mysterio, how she’d sat there and let it happen without so much as lifting a finger. He knew just as well as she did.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered, not sure of what else to say.

“I-it’s oka-”

But, before Peter could say anything else, Wanda made a split second decision—the same one she always made, when she was scared and confused and felt this way, felt that sinking growing in her stomach with each second that passed. That switch in her brain seemed flip again.

She turned, and she left.

No part of her was sure where she was going or why her brain had suddenly decided to kick it into high gear, but she was leaving, and Peter Parker wasn’t chasing after her, but none of it even mattered because that guilt was still pounding hard in her stomach.

Maybe she was right before, when she’d chatted with Bucky. She wasn’t looking for something when she left and went her own way.

She was running from it.

And, right now, “it” was Peter Parker.