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Wake Me Up Inside

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The nights around Halloween were always the worst. The nightmares would not let Wanda sleep. She used to tell her parents and brother about them, needing to air them in the light of day to free her mind from them. However, as they grew more disturbing, she felt the need to hold them close. She did not want her family to worry about her.

All the nightmares centered on a forest, sometimes the one at the edge of her hometown and others in forests full of trees that she couldn’t name. There had always been odd stories about the forest. Once every few years there were rumors of disappearances. Children daring each other to go in the woods would report stories of monstrous, giant figures and chilling laughter. It was something of a coming of age tradition to spend a few hours alone in the darkness, with scorn heaped upon those who failed to complete the task.

Wanda herself had never taken the dare. Her brother had gone into the forest one year and earned the record for the longest time alone, a record that still stood almost fifteen years later. He kept the other children from making fun of her. She went off to college and forgot the stories for a time. She deliberately chose a school a couple hours away, hoping that the nightmares would stay behind in her childhood home. Pietro accompanied her and her parents moved away also; they chose to rent out their old home rather than sell it.

Her plan to avoid the nightmares had largely worked, except for those nights closest to Halloween. When she graduated, Wanda stayed away. Her parents died shortly afterward and Pietro returned to the family home, but he could not convince Wanda to return with him. Instead, he would visit her frequently instead. She never told anyone, even Pietro, the reason that they moved away, but they settled into this new routine peaceably enough.

The first few years after she graduated, she focused on her career and her friends. She told no one that the nightmares continued. She told no one of the visions that filled her nights during those few days that were bad enough to haunt her for the rest of the year. Their content had changed as she grew older, but the ending was always the same.

The worst part was that her dreams always started out blissfully. She would be sitting in a clearing of the forest, the sun shining down on her, or cooking in a plain wooden house as arms wrapped around her waist from behind, a head resting on her shoulder. There was always another figure with her that she could not see. Wanda knew him, though. The beginnings of her dreams were filled with laughter and quiet conversations and soft caresses, more real to her than any failed relationship that she had tried to start.

Flames surround her. She can feel them licking at her feet, a gentle tickle at first, followed by a more persistent prickling. And then pain. So much pain she can hardly breathe. Smoke filling her nostrils. Fiery trails winding up her body, settling her clothes alight. Meanwhile, the judge with the chin that she would recognize anywhere stands by, nodding in satisfaction, acting as if he were only delivering sweet justice.

She sat bolt upright in the darkness of her bedroom.

The next night she is giving birth, but something is terribly wrong. There is so much blood and no cries rend the air. She can feel the presence of a figure hovering in the periphery of the room, wrapped in despair. Her vision begins to go black and hazy around the edges. Everything disappears.

She came to wakefulness curled in on herself, sobbing.

Then, she is drowning, rocks tied to her ankles, as people stand around watching. One woman standing on the shore is smiling cruelly, her skin so pale that her veins show blue through it. She instinctively tries to struggle upwards, but her hands are tied and she’s weighed down by her sodden dress.

This continued night after night. Death after death. Every morning she gasped or groaned or cried and was unspeakably grateful to find herself safe in her home. Sometimes she could swear she saw strange red wisps floating around her when she awoke. She feared that she was going mad or they were proof of the apparitions that haunted her. But they never attacked her, dissipating as soon as they appeared.

And still something was missing. Her life was full of good things, but the dreams did more than terrify her; they reminded her of all that she could have.

Wanda was grateful that her private counseling practice allowed her a certain amount of freedom. Wanda always scheduled her vacations during the week around Halloween, choosing to go someplace tropical and sunny where the sun would bake the cold, clammy feeling out of her skin.

Until the year of her tenth high school reunion. Pietro had been begging her to attend, saying that she had to go back eventually. He was inviting all their old high school friends to stay at the house. Wanda finally gave into him once he promised that he would not pressure her to return again.

Originally, the reunion had been scheduled for earlier in October, but last-minute problems had caused the organizers to reschedule for the night of Halloween. The weekend passed uneventfully enough. Wanda was somewhat drained by all the new, old people that she met, but her dreams were quiet.

After the reunion itself, Wanda and Pietro’s friends returned to their house. Alcohol was consumed, teasing abounded, and challenges were accepted. Somehow, they ended up in the woods, carrying nothing but a few flashlights between them.

The dark forest seemed to swallow up all available light. Wanda’s flashlight spread only a thin beam of brightness onto the ground in front of her. Natasha clutched her arm while Pietro, Clint, and the others had already moved further into the trees. Quiet settled between them, leaving only the slight rustling of dead leaves under foot.

They continued walking, stumbling only slightly and leaning into each other for support. Time lost meaning in the deep of night until she heard one of the voices that had haunted her dreams for years. “She is here.”

Suddenly, a tall, thin woman who was holding a staff of some sort emerged from the gloom and gazed directly at Wanda. “Come with me, and we will leave the others alone.” Wanda freezes, the alcohol and fear clouding her mind, but she knew that going with her would be a mistake.

Somehow an idea formed in her mind. She stepped forward, away from Natasha, and said, “Come with you where?”

The woman held out her hand. “That is no concern of yours.” Wanda moved forward a few more paces, until she was just out of arm’s reach. Suddenly she veered to the side and ran deeper into the woods, attempting to push her away as she streaks by. The sounds of distant screams that were immediately cut off echo through the darkness. She could hear footsteps rushing after her, but she put all her focus on forward momentum.

She did risk one glance behind her. The woman is too close for comfort, and three other figures were converging behind them. Wanda continued running, but there was a stitch in her side and her breath was coming and going in great, shuddering gasps. She did not know how much longer she would be able to force her legs to keep moving.

She almost tripped into a doorway that opened up in the ground near her. A head and shoulders rose out of the ground, and a hand reached out to her. A voice tinged with panic said, “Come with me, please.” Wanda didn’t have any time to think, so she instinctively accepted the offer, and the figure pulled her down with him, slamming the door shut above their heads. Seconds later pounding started on the door, but the man appeared unbothered. “Do not worry. They cannot get in here.”

She takes a few moments to study her rescuer. At first she thought that the red glow filling the room was coloring his skin crimson, but she realized that it was just his skin tone. The hand that was still holding hers was smooth and warm, something about it familiar and comforting. Silver patterns were etched into his skin, and she found herself desiring to trace them with her fingertips. When she raised her eyes to meet his, she found him staring at her, unblinking, the blue of his eyes entrancing her.

“Are you the devil?” The words left her mouth without her permission. She had never set much store by the image of the devil in pop culture, the concept far removed from the Judaism that she was raised with. But shining through her fading terror was the thought that he could easily tempt her in a number of ways.

“The answer to that is more complicated than you might think.” Lips quirking up slightly, he continued. “The stories about what came to be known as Satan or the devil lead from my past interactions with humans, but those stories have twisted the truth of what happened out of all recognition.”

“And are those things out there demons?”

“That would be a fair assessment.”

They fell silent for some time. He released her hand, instantly leaving her colder. “And why did you rescue me?”

His face took on a pained expression, lips pressed into a thin line, and he looked away from her. “That is a long story. Perhaps we should sit down. If you’ll follow me.” She nodded. The steps faded into the darkness as far as the eye could see. Eventually, they reached a landing with an open doorway, and he ushered her inside. The doorway led to an office, complete with filing cabinets, bookshelves, and a desk full of papers.

He conjured a chair for her across from him. Sitting down at the desk chair, he asked, “Would you like some tea?”

“Is this a Hades and Persephone thing? I don’t want to be trapped down here.” A well-remembered story floats through her mind, someone reading to her and telling her that they’ve reversed the myth, Wanda’s Persephone luring Hades to the surface. Someone reading to her in this voice.

His smile grew less pinched. “No, I assure you, you are free to leave as soon as it is safe outside.”

“Fine, I’ll take some then.” The man busied himself pulling out a kettle and some cups. He conjured a small fire to heat the water. His eyes flicked back and forth between her and the kettle. Wanda wished she could break the silence, but she couldn’t think of anything to say. The sounds of boiling water finally reached her ears.

“Earl Grey, two sugars?” She nodded. The man steeped a tea bag and conjured a box of sugar packets and several spoons.

Her suspicions were instantly aroused. “How did you know that?”

“A fortunate surmise.” If possible, he looked even more troubled and gazed off into the distance as he waited for the tea to brew. After a few more minutes, he set the cup, which was steaming almost cheerfully, in front of her.

Sipping the tea calmed Wanda until she realized that was not alone in danger. “My brother and my friends! They’re still out there.” She jumped up to run back up the stairs, but he held out a hand.

“They are safe. I transported them back to your house, and the Black Order are far more interested in you than them.”

“Is that what those creatures are called?”

“Well, it is not an official designation, but that is what…a friend and I decided to call them many ages ago.”

She finished her tea, the warmth seeping into her bones now that she knew the others were safe. But there were still so many questions. “So are you going to tell me that story now? And why are the Black Order so interested in me?”

“Yes.” He turned his eyes back to her, and she began to grow uncomfortable under his scrutiny. Despite his intensity, a softness was growing in his expression, making her breath catch in her throat. “You may not believe me, but what I am going to tell you is the complete truth.” He paused to take a breath; she wondered if he even needed to breathe, or if it was an affectation. “I have existed since the beginning of the universe. I explored vast planets and galaxies throughout my years and saw every variety of life imaginable. I thought that nothing could fascinate me any longer, but when humans arrived, I found a new source of intrigue.”

“Could I interrupt you to ask questions?” The story seemed implausible, but when he turned back to her, she could see the truth of it in his eyes. They held unspeakable years of sorrow and joy, wonder and dismay.

“Yes.” When he began to speak again, Wanda could see him bringing himself back to the mundane world. “I will tell you whatever you would like to know.”

“Have the Black Order existed as long as you?”

“Yes, I did not know that at first, but I later learned that all six of us came into existence at the same moment when the universe began.”

“I still don’t understand what they want with me.”

“I will get to that.” He steepled his fingers together. “When I was created, I had a great deal of knowledge about the universe, but I did not know why I was here or what my purpose was supposed to be. So I merely observed the workings of the universe. Eventually humans came along. I found myself fascinated by everything about them. I only wanted to know more, and after long observation, I decided to attempt to live among you.”

“Did this cause any problems?” She gestured toward his bright skin and silver designs. Glancing down at himself, he shook his head.

“I learned that I could disguise myself as a human. Although I have been caught in my natural form at times, hence the stories.” He smiled at her, but his face quickly fell. “And after many ages of humanity, I met you.” She didn’t want to name the look in his eyes when he reached this part of the story.

Wanda brought her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs. “You don’t mean just now, do you?”

“No, we have come to the part you will likely have trouble believing. You always have in the past. I first met you in 1133 A.D., according to the current Gregorian calendar system.”

“That’s impossible. I was born in 1990.”

“Your current life began in 1990. You were in a different form and a different life the first time we met, of course, but it was still you.”

Despite the fact that her mind rebelled against what he was telling her, she felt a certain rightness in his story. It all began to make sense. Why her dreams always felt so real. How she knew the woman that was chasing her. The familiarity of the strange man before her. “So you’re saying reincarnation is real?”

He seemed pleased that she was catching on, and his smile made her ridiculously proud of herself. “Yes, your soul has returned to earth to be born again many times.”

“That still doesn’t tell me why the Black Order are chasing me or why you went out of your way to rescue me and my friends.”

“No, it does not.” He stood and went to one of the filing cabinets, leaning against it as if for balance. “We did not just meet.” His pause lengthened into a charged silence as he turned around and stared at her. “We fell in love.”

Wanda did not know how to respond. Part of her sang in recognition at his statement, but this was so far outside her daily life that her mind shrank from the possibility that he was telling the truth. He didn’t seem to expect her to speak and continued, “We began living as husband and wife. It was only after we had lived together for a few years that I learned the others were hunting you.”

“What happened?” she managed to whisper. Based on her dreams and the tears beginning to fall from his eyes, it can’t be anything good.

“The five of them confronted me one day. They told me to give you up, and I refused. They hunted us incessantly. No matter what we did they always found us.” He returned to his chair and bowed his head.

“Why do they want me so badly?”

He raised his head to look her directly in the eye. “Forgive a small detour please. When I first decided to settle near your village, I sensed a source of tremendous power, but I could not decipher where exactly it was coming from. Then, I met you, and I stopped caring about that mystery. Until the Black Order came. They were channeling all their abilities together to find that power, and they told me that it was you.”

Despite his deadly seriousness, Wanda laughed. “But I’m just a regular person. There’s nothing special about me.”

“That is not true,” he states with absolute conviction, voice firm. “You have borne more grief in your lives than most, and it has not broken you. You may not see your full power, but it is there. Their plan relies on your giving into despair, and you have not succumbed. They want you to tear apart the world and remake it in their image.”

“I could do that?”

“I believe so, if you lost all inhibitions and simply let your power consume you.” Much as the thought was horrifying, part of her was also intrigued at the possibility of having that much power. Not having to face fear ever again. Being in control of her own destiny.

“That woman. I’ve seen her laughing at me in my dreams as I drown or burn at the stake.”

“Yes, Proxima Midnight. Out of all of them, she seems to take the most glee in hunting you.”

“Huh. That’s some name.” It was odd detail to latch onto in this tale, but at least it’s within her realm of comprehension.

“Yes, we are all prone to dramatic names. I typically go by Vision.”

“Vision,” Wanda tested the name on her tongue. “I like it.”

“Thank you.” The new lightness fled the room when Vision sighed. “All that aside, even though the Black Order are the ones hunting you, much of your pain has been my fault. They were able to find you the first time because of me. They were able to accuse you of being a being a witch because of me.”

She sensed that he was holding back. “I am sorry. I will be back in just a moment; I have to check on the door.” It seemed that he was only trying to escape, but she did not protest. He returned a few minutes later, looking calmer than he had. “Everything is still secure.”

After long moments of silence, she prodded, “Before you left, I thought you were going to say something else.”

He pressed his hands into his desk and looked down at them. “I…I don’t…Our…” He stopped, tears now falling down his cheeks. His voice was only a croak as he continued, “It is all my fault. I should have known. It-.”

Wanda could not take it anymore. “You blame yourself for our child and me dying.” Vision looked stunned at her bluntness but merely nodded. “That’s been one of my most frequent dreams.” He winced at that. “But there was only version of it, unlike the others. I must have been tried as a witch at least half a dozen times.”

His face was still pained, but his voice was steadier as he said, “After realizing that you could bear my child, which we had initially thought was impossible, we were very careful to ensure that you did not become pregnant again.”

“So you found me again every time I came back to life?”

“Almost every time. Several times I broke my promise.” He bowed his head. “We always discussed it. I offered to stay away because your life always ended in tragedy, but you assured me that the good parts made the sorrow worthwhile.”

“The last time I remember being alive, from my dreams, is in the 1950s. What happened between then and now?”

He sighed deeply, and it was such a human gesture, despite his strangeness. It only emphasized the odd sense of familiarity she felt with him. “During your last life, we were married. One day we were arguing. About the future. We both said terrible things to each other and you stormed out. A couple hours later I received a call, saying that you had been in an accident. I drove to the place, but you were already gone by then.”

His hands were shaking. “I’ve never been so close to blind rage. The driver came over to me and made a show of being deeply apologetic, but it was Proxima in her human guise. I began to strangle her with my bare hands until one of the officers on the scene pulled me away. I vowed never to meet you again.”

“So much for that.” She grinned at him. The panic was fading now and she felt comfortable enough with him to tease him a bit.

“Yes, I consider breaking my promise a better option than letting them take you.”

“Thank you. I don’t think I’ve said that properly yet.”

“You are very welcome.” Wanda finished the last few swallows of tea, even though it had gone cold.

Some hours later, Wanda and Vision finally emerged back into the woods. Wanda had to look at her watch to realize how much time had passed. The hours sitting with Vision passed quickly, sharing tales of the modern world and the many decades that had gone before. “How do you know they’re gone?”

“Their power wanes significantly once Halloween is over. They only ever attack during their strongest times.” He raised his head, gaze growing distant again. “And I cannot feel their presence nearby. My sense of them is much fainter than it was a few hours ago. Still, I would feel far better if you allowed me to accompany you to your home.”

Wanda purposefully kept her reply subdued, though she was quite happy to agree to his request. “Okay.”

When they reached the front door of her childhood home, Pietro rushed outside, enveloping Wanda in a crushing embrace. “Where were you? We panicked.”

“I’m fine.” She pulled away just enough to gesture to Vision. He seemed much more unassuming and meek in his human guise, so she pulled him forward a bit. “This is Vision. He rescued me.”

“Thank you.” Pietro nodded toward him and held out his hand to shake.

“Of course. It was the least I could do.”

Seeing Pietro’s confused stare, she chose to distract him rather than explain. “Go inside, Pietro. I’ll be right there.”

Pietro stared at her suspiciously, but didn’t argue. He did smirk at her, though. “You have sixty seconds, young lady.”

She shoved him. The door closed behind him with a click. Wanda turned back to Vision, who had been observing their interactions with bemusement. “Um, sorry about that.”

“Not at all. Pietro and I typically do not get along very well. This is the most promising introduction we have had.”

"So maybe this lifetime will have a better result.” She could only hope that this life did not end in the fiery despair of her dreams.

“Perhaps.” Vision’s eyes were shadowed, but he attempted a smile. “I would like to believe that.”

“So maybe you should come back soon.”

“Do you want me to?”

“I invited you, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did.” It looked as if he were preparing a negative reply, trying to keep his words soft but his resolve firm.

Wanda’s heart hung in her chest when it seemed that he would still refuse out of some misplaced sense of honor. She always held herself back from people and was slow to trust, but she decided to take a leap. “I want to get to know you in more than fragments.”

Vision’s smile returned in full force, and she had never been more glad to take a chance. “I want to know you in more than memories.”

They established a time to meet again before Wanda returned inside.

As the next year went on, Vision came to the surface more and more frequently, and his visits lasted longer. He and Wanda fell so naturally into a rhythm that it was difficult to remember that they hadn’t always been together. Despite all their history, Wanda was charmed when Vision stammered his way through a request for her to join him on an official date a few months into their renewed acquaintance.

The night ended with their first kiss. Wanda was eager to repeat it, but Vision had to return below the surface. He did agree to come back the next week, though. Their relationship only progressed from there. The ensuing months brought the best parts of her dreams to life. Fear of the next Halloween lingered in the back of her mind, but Vision’s presence soothed her. He told her stories of them that made them seem more real and fallible than terrifying nightmare creatures.

She relished being able to show him the modern world. Vision made a game of disapproving of all the changes to the world since he was last among humans, but he did a poor job of hiding how impressed he was. Wanda also introduced him to her friends, who all accepted him immediately. During the first half of the year, Wanda could almost forget about her dreams entirely.

Pietro resisted Vision’s new place in her life at first. However, he did come around. He couldn’t deny how Vision cared for Wanda, and his gentle, giving nature wore Pietro down over time. Wanda and Vision finally told Pietro the truth of their past lives. Pietro had difficulty understanding, but believed them. Telling him the truth only strengthened their bond. He still visited Wanda frequently. The three of them gradually became the closest of friends. Pietro even grew more tolerant of Wanda and Vision’s need for alone time some days.

She always missed Vision when he went away, but they found ways to keep in touch when they were apart. Wanda would find notes in random places in her apartment telling her a joke or providing a thought-provoking observation or expressing his devotion. She would send him emails with thoughts about her day or comments about how she missed him. When they were able to come back together again, they were inseparable.

Despite her happiness, dread crept on Wanda anew. As the year waxed and waned, she feared that this life would end like all the others. With the beginning of the next October, Wanda’s dreams became stronger again. But unlike all the other years of her life, now she had Vision to help chase them away. When she woke from horrific nightmares, Vision talked with her about happier times. Each conversation unlocked more of her own memories. If that did not work, he would at least happily distract her.

Pietro also helped her. They played boardgames, went to museums, and hung out with their other friends. Vision did become more worried about what the Black Order would do while their power was growing, but there were no signs of danger. The plus side was that Vision began living with her fulltime. Pietro visited for Halloween weekend. The three of them made plans to stay secure in Wanda’s apartment, handing out candy to all the kids in the building.

On the morning of Halloween, Wanda stretched upon waking. She rolled over to smile at Vision. For an immortal being, he had taken extremely well to sleep. Feeling her eyes on him, he finally opened his eyes a few minutes later. He reached for her and she cuddled up to him. Their plan was to spend the whole day together in the apartment. Pietro had agreed to leave them alone for the whole day, doing some sightseeing in the city.

The day was disrupted when Wanda received a text from one of her clients around noon. They said it was an emergency and to please go to them immediately. Vision instantly grew wary and asked to accompany her. But Wanda insisted that it was important she go alone, that she would call if she encountered any trouble.

Wanda drove to the location that her client had sent. As she approached them, the world wavered around her. Her client dissolved into nothingness and five towering figures stood before her. Wanda clenched her fists and steeled her spine.

The central figure, who she assumed must be the leader Thanos, began to speak, a satisfied smirk on his face. “Hello, my child. It’s wonderful to finally meet you.”

“I can’t say the same.” Wanda projected as much confidence and scorn as she could despite the trembling in her limbs that she was trying to suppress.

“You may change your mind once I make my offer.”

“I’m not interested in anything you have to offer.”

“I suggest you listen first.” He gazed at her thoughtfully for a moment, and the look sent shivers down her spine. “But one more thing. We wouldn’t want you escaping before you find your way to our side.” Wanda immediately found herself tied to a chair. She struggled against her bonds, but it was no use. The others all circled her more closely. The one she recognized as Proxima smiled evilly down at her. The leader attempted to be kind, which was even worse. He stroked his hand over her hair and down her cheek despite her snapping her teeth at him. “Now, now, Wanda, none of that. Just listen.”

“The world is a terrible place. You of all people should know that. You’ve been murdered, persecuted, tortured, chased from one end of the world to the other.”

“By you!”

“If it had not been us, it would have been someone else. I know you remember. There were hundreds of townspeople willing to kill you on numerous occasions. Someone else would have carried out the sentence.” Wanda had no response to this; she knew the truth of what he said. He smiled more widely and continued, “But if you come with us, you will never have to fear that again.”

“That may have been true in the past, but things are different now.”

He gave her an almost pitying look. “Do you truly believe humans have changed so much?” Much as she wanted to deny him out of sheer principle, Wanda faltered. In her darker moments, she still doubted the inherent goodness of humanity. “I didn’t think so. So why don’t you stop this charade and let us show you true power?”

Wanda pretended to consider it. “What would you want me to do?”

“Unleash chaos.” She began to feel a hum vibrating under her skin. The worst part of this was that a small piece of Wanda wanted to give in. “Humans have been in control of this planet for too long, and they have squandered their opportunities. We think new leadership is needed.”

“And then what?”

“Then you will rule beside us, given the respect you deserve.”

The others’ eyes glinted as they imagined the world that Thanos was painting. But Thanos was growing impatient. “What say you? We only have so much time.” She remained silent, trying to look thoughtful, buying herself a little time. “And no tricks, little one. I offer a place at my side, equal to me in power, but you will not be happy if you cross me.” Wanda nodded; she had no doubt, based on her past lives.

When several more minutes had passed, Thanos gestured to the rest of the Black Order. “Perhaps you need a more personal consideration.” Two figures materialized in the circle. One was fiercely struggling against his bonds and the other stood still as a stone statue. The blood froze in Wanda’s veins. “Let me make this simpler for you. If you join us, you can save one of them. If you refuse, we destroy both of them. You have one minute to decide.”

Wanda gazed at the two most important people in her life. Pietro was still trying to escape to no avail. Proxima and Corvus merely looked on, amused. Vision, meanwhile, was running his eyes over her anxiously. She smiled at him a bit. “Wanda, whatever you decide, I will understand.” Wanda stared back at him, trying to convey all her love.

Pietro finally gave up and looked to Wanda. “Yeah, Wanda, I’m with you always.”

Wanda felt that hum growing. Looking at those she loved, she realized that she had another option. She finally turned back to Thanos just as he said, “Your time has come to an end, Wanda. Make your choice.”

“You want me to unleash chaos?” The Black Order looked gleeful, clearly convinced that they had won. “Be careful what you wish for.” By instinct, she stretched out all her senses. A scarlet glow expanded from within her. She could feel it tingling in her fingertips and through her blood. The mocking smiles on her enemies’ faces faded. They lunged for her, but they were a second too late.

Wanda released Vision and Pietro, sending up a shield over the latter and pushing him out of harm’s way. Vision immediately sent a bolt of energy toward Proxima. She lashed out with her staff, but he dodged easily. Vision glanced toward Wanda during a brief pause while she was focused on holding Thanos back.

She reached into the well of chaos deep within her. A sensation that was both familiar and unfamiliar enveloped her. She suddenly knew what to do. Wanda reached out to Vision. It felt similar to the few times Vision had reached into her mind during their year together to show her a particular memory. She felt him react, though he did not waver from his current fight with Corvus. She urged him to bring them together, and he gave her a brief flick of his head.

Together Wanda and Vision herded them into a tight circle. Wanda slowly let her powers expand. She felt a pulse in one corner of her consciousness. Focusing her entire will on sending the Black Order away, Wanda surrounded them with a crimson cloud. They struggled, but it was too late. Wanda felt a crack form in the universe. She was not entirely sure what lay beyond it, but she sent her captured enemies there. Once they were through, the crack closed as quickly and smoothly as it had opened.

Then, the world went black.

Wanda slowly opened her eyes. She found herself lying on the ground while Vision and Pietro were hovering over her. Pietro was clutching her right hand. “They’re gone. That was awesome, Wanda.” She smiled at him weakly.

Vision placed a hand on her shoulder, his gaze full of warmth and adoration. “Well done, love.”

They both helped her to sit up. “It’s over?”

“I believe so. I cannot feel them at all.” Wanda shrugged them off and pushed herself to her feet. Dusting herself off as Vision and Pietro rose beside her, Wanda pulled them into a hug. The feeling of their arms around her helped ease the terror and anger of the fight. Eventually she pulled away, but kept hold of Vision.

Vision looked down at her smugly. “I told you that you were special.” She could feel the power just underneath her skin, though it was calming.

“Maybe I am.” She smiled more fully as Vision drew her closer. She put her arms around his neck. “And there’s nothing to keep us from being together now. Will you stay with me?”

“Gladly.” Vision dipped his head to kiss her. They didn’t break apart until Pietro made exaggerated gagging noises behind them.

Wanda turned her head to stick her tongue out at her brother. “Grow up.” Her elation led her to be more amused than annoyed, though. Keeping one arm around Vision, she reached for Pietro’s hand. “Let’s go home.” She smiled up at Vision, letting herself believe that this time they could live together for the rest of her long, peaceful life.

His return smile was so delighted that it took her breath away. “Yes, home.”