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Drawing Keys With Water

Chapter Text


"I am awful.

I am heartless.

I am scared those things are actually true."

-Unknown


 

Raw, agonized pain splits between the open gash, a fresh pool of blood beginning to trickle down his back like sorrowed tears.

He flinches, drawing away sharply away from the touch. The cool metal of Nebula's cybernetic hand stings against the open, salt-touched wound along his spine and he can't repress the shudder of agony that ripples through his shoulder blades. Nebula's fingers stop, but he's already done damage. The thin leather she was sewing between his skin yanks sharply and he hears it snap a moment later.

His sister swears, and then, "Stay still. Are you incapable of managing that?"

Yes.

It hurts. He wants to writhe, coil on the ground and howl, but that won't do any good. He holds his tongue when something nasty threatens to come pouring off of it, and straightens, dipping his head. "My apologies," he murmurs, his voice barely audible. He's learned better than to speak up now, and its hoarse anyway. At least this way she can't really tell.

Nebula sighs and he hears her shift behind him, grabbing something out of the bag she brought with her into his ce—his room. 'He's going to make infection inevitable if he'—her thoughts start off in a tangent of annoyance that's quickly quieted once she seems to realize she's blaring them everywhere. She's trained to keep her mind quiet, and unless he pushes, he won't have to listen.

The thoughts he can't stop reading.

The one's he'd rather can't.

But his magic—his punishment, and gift—is a hazardous waste now, and it's to be expected. Thoughts are just a byproduct of that, something Ebony promised would stop if he'd focus harder. He is focusing, but it isn't helping. He remembers having such control at some point, but he's lost it ever since Father—

"Don't apologize." Nebula demands sharply, moving towards him again. He feels her fingers lightly brush against the skin and he winces again, wrapping his arms around his ribcage and trying to ignore the smell. It's strangely sweet, when he thinks it should be tart and bitter.

Nebula shoves the needle in again, and he bites on his tongue. The skin is inflamed. He can feel it. Even with Midnight's merciful bucket of salt water thrown on top of him, infection feels like it's seconds from sprouting and conquering his back with a firm hand.

He has half a mind to let it. Maybe that's part of the reason he didn't try to do anything himself, and Nebula found him less than thirty minutes ago, feverish and attempting to sleep off the worst of the sting. The latter wasn't working. It has before, but it won't here.

"You need to be more careful, Nova," Nebula chides softly after a few more minutes of silence has passed. She's almost to the top of the wound, but he keeps holding his breath in anticipation for her to stop. The needle is making his skin crawl for reasons he can't pin down. He would have rather she simply used cauterization. "You're insubordination doesn't do anyone any favors." She continues, but her tone is slightly distant. He can tell she's focused on other things.

Nova sighs, blowing the breath between his teeth, but unwilling to admit she's right. He should have just listened to Father's orders and been where he should have, but, because he was a fool, he'd insisted that he'd known better. Even if Nova did get the mission done with less casualties, he wasn't where he ought to be when Midnight turned around for backup. That's unacceptable.

"It will when someone takes me seriously." Nova mutters, picking at a loose thread on the edge of his black glove. They don't cover all of his fingers, and he thinks that rather removes the point of them. His magic makes his veins glow when he uses them; they're supposed to be there for stealth.

Nebula huffs. "Father will never take your input. You're not Gamora."

The words sting, but he refrains from spinning around and saying something nasty, solely by the fact that she's attached to him. In him. "Because she turned out so well." Nova sneers. "A traitor and coward; running off with some pathetic vigilante group."

Nebula tugs digs the needle in deeper than she needs to pointedly, and Nova snaps his jaw shut.

There it is again.

Shut up.

"You barely knew her." Nebula says sharply. "Don't talk of her that way."

Because she's the favorite. The golden child. The one Nova is never going to be. He's fallen from Father's graces far too many times. Gamora was here for two years before she abandoned them for her Guardians. Nova knew her well enough that he's content to say he can judge her character. His magic may not have been such a mess then, if it had been, it would have offered him the advantage of a few of her stray thoughts, but she wasn't awfully complex.

She started his training, pulled him into the Order. And then she left him here to rot.

He shouldn't have been surprised by the abandonment, but it still hurt.

Nebula may have fond feelings for their wayward sister, but Nova suspects this isn't because they're friends. Nebula practically worships the woman like she was some sort of deity. Especially since she returned from her three-year rebel stint. Father had welcomed her back with wary, open arms, insisting that "I know that I'd done right by you." She took the vacant seat that Gamora was filling; hence, the fondness. If she hadn't left, then Nebula never would have risen in rank. Before then, she was hated almost as much as Nova. Now she is the prodigy.

The beloved.

Wanted.

(Unpunished.)

Perhaps this is why she feels the confidence to help him. She never would have lifted a finger for him before she left—Gamora had, but only once—yet Nebula now stands here; putting him back together even though he deserved the punishment. He'd been the fool. The idiot. And Midnight paid the price. Father will be most unpleased when Nova has to face him again, but this isn't much of a change, is it?

Nova is just a mess, and he's never going to land anywhere but being the annoying stain on Father's boot. How ungrateful Nova is to have failed him this much. Father saved him from death, forged him through the brutal fires and has made him something better. Stronger.

And Nova still makes a disaster of everything he touches.

"If you'd stop setting them off…" Nebula trails slightly, something almost forlorn in her tone. "You're making this worse for yourself."

"I don't mean to do it." Nova snaps, lifting his voice from the harsh whisper for the first time in weeks. It cracks, and he hates himself for it. "I could wipe out entire cities for him and Father would still be furious with me for breathing."

Nebula makes a quiet noise of agreement.

"I'm trying," Nova hisses, "what more does he want? He already has my undying fidelity."

Nebula is quiet for a moment, as if carefully thinking over his words or disturbed by them. "His patience is wearing thin with your attitude...he's talked of sending you back to the Other if you keep this up." Nebula warns after a moment. "I can only do so much to persuade him otherwise, you should know." Nova freezes, a placid panic swishing through him. His body burns at memories of the training, and his teeth set. "He said it might help your magic-problem."

"It won't." Nova breathes. "Sister, please, I can't—" he cuts himself off, biting on his lower lip.

Begging. Like the dog you are.

Nebula's needle stops moving, and he hears her fumble with the leather to tie it into a thick knot on the top. The thread cuts a moment later, indicating that she has at last finished. Nova releases a sigh under his breath in relief and shifts forward towards the abandoned cot, reaching for his shirt. He doesn't feel cold—never feels cold—but he hates leaving his scars exposed to the light. Not like other members of the Order. They bare their father's corrections with a sense of pride.

Nova is ashamed. There's so many, a network of proof to how much he slips up. How, even after the Other perfected him, he still can't get it right.

His shoulder burns from the movement and Nebula grabs his thin wrist to stop him. "Don't." She commands sharply, and Nova stiffens. "Let me get it." She appends and snatches the thick clothing from off of the cot and flicks it out before throwing the green shirt towards him. Nova reaches to grab it, but bites on his tongue to withhold a cry of pain and watches as the clothing lands in his lap when he can't get his limbs to catch it.

It's bloodied, but not terribly. Midnight, in a rare consideration, commanded him to remove his shirt while she delved out the reprimand. Nova rolls his shoulders, breathing out sharply and trying to ignore the hitch that keeps attaching itself to every inhale. Midnight did nothing to damage his lungs. He should be breathing fine.

"Is there still blood?" Nova questions, trying to keep his tone as calm and even as possible. "On my back?"

Nebula gives a small nod, moving towards him. "I'll clean it—no, stop. What did I tell you about moving?" his sister demands harshly, grabbing his shoulder and yanking him back into place when he tries to reach for her small bag.

He flinches, shoulder coiling beneath her touch.

Nebula sighs and draws in a breath like she's trying to gather patience together. "L—Nova." If he hadn't been listening so closely to the intones of her voice, then he would have missed the slip up. As it is, he brushes it off. People used to do it frequently in the past, their tongues locked onto that stupid "L" before remembering the name Father gifted him with.

Nebula's done it more and more frequently since she came back.

Her hand reaches to touch at something—the leather, stitching his back together—and he flinches, drawing away from her. He doesn't expect her to comply, or for her hand to snap away when he does so. Nebula is quiet for a moment, waiting for him to unclench before she murmurs softly, "I'm not going to hurt you."

Ha.

No one who says that keeps the promise.

Nova says nothing, pulling his gaze away from her familiar hard expression and lifts it to the room beyond her dark eyes. It's hardly anything above a cell, but he can choose when he leaves—most of the time—and that's enough for him. There's a small washroom, a cot and a pile of belongings thrown into one corner without any order. At one point he'd been bothered by the mess, but now he doesn't care.

Anything he doesn't store in his cache goes there, which is very little.

Nebula snatches her bag off the cot and moves behind him again. He hears her pour water before a rag begins to mop up the mess of blood again. Nova twitches, but manages to refrain from tearing himself away or cringing again. He's not a child. He shouldn't be shying away from pain, he's well accustomed to it now.

The room settles into silence again. Nova clenches his fists, digging his nails into his palms and breathes.

Nebula makes a slight clicking noise, sighing under her breath. Nova half turns around—carefully, the last thing he needs to do is break the stitching and start spurting blood again—a question on his lips about what the problem is, but it drowns in his throat as the door suddenly hisses open. He hadn't even heard someone coming and curses himself for his inattention.

Nebula's hand goes to her belt where Nova knows she keeps her sword and he snaps his wrist to slide the dagger up his sleeve to his open palm. He jerks up to his feet, but sways so much from the blood rush that Nebula has to grab his elbow to keep him upright.

A shadow stands in the doorway for a long moment before the light settles and Nova makes out the familiar features of Proxima Midnight. His stomach churns with apprehension and he hates the way that his gaze shifts up to Nebula for the briefest moment, seeking protection. Stop it. She won't save or protect you. You don't deserve it.

"Oh." Nebula's hand snaps away from her sword. "Just you."

Midnight bares her teeth, jaw clenching with something obviously unhappy. "What are you doing in here? Nova wasn't granted quarter for what he did to Father. Or to me."

Nebula shifts slightly, head tilting in a way Nova knows means she's furious. He shies away from her slightly, but knows that her anger is better than Midnight's. Nebula's is painful, but not as much since she returned from Ronan fiasco. "You dug an axe into his back. Father never gave you permission to delve out the punishment."

Nova's head whips up. He hadn't? But Midnight said—

Midnight's fists curl around the doorframe. Her chin lifts, "It won't matter anyway. He'll be pleased."

Nebula scoffs. "I doubt that. You keep playing harshly with Father's favorite pet and you'll find yourself on the wrong end of his wrath." Nova clenches at the words, and digs his teeth into his cheek. Pet? He's beyond that now. He's in the Order. He's one of Father's sons. A general. A trusted member.

Not a pet.

Midnight makes a face of visible disagreement and tosses her hair over one shoulder. "I guess we'll see. Father wants to talk with you, Nova. And me. He said it's urgent."

Nova says nothing. The only person he talks to anymore is Nebula, and Father when it's required. His voice has only brought him pain otherwise. He's learned. Survival is measured by obedience and staying away from enraging anyone. His blatant ignoral of Father's strategy on Ria is only going to get him into trouble, especially coupled with the fact that Midnight took the brunt of his mistake when the opposing soldiers ambushed her.

Nova was supposed to be protecting her flank.

He wasn't there.

Hence, the axe.

"So soon after Ria?" Nebula sounds skeptical. "What could possibly be so pressing?"

Midnight sneers, "I haven't the faintest. You'll have to keep wondering, sister, because you weren't on the guest list. Rat," she gestures at him, "get over here. I won't be late because you were lazy."

His back is splitting open. How is this "lazy"?

Nova sighs between his teeth and bites at the tip of his raw tongue before painfully slipping into his chest plate, strapping his staff into the sheath on it's back. The actions take less than a minute, but Midnight's expression makes it seem like he drew the task out for hours. Nebula grabs his arm when he moves for the exit.

"Don't be stupid." She demands.

Nova offers her a faint smirk in reassurance, but it falls flat. He says nothing because Midnight is still there and the Luphamoid's gaze briefly flicks to the other woman as if recognizing this. He nods once and squirms out of her cybernetic grip, moving for Midnight.

She grabs his arm as soon as he's close enough and yanks him forward, throwing him a few steps. He staggers, but manages to catch his balance and walks at a rapid pace, trying to figure out a way to balance his weight that doesn't make his upper body burn. Rolling his shoulders forward makes it worse, but simply letting them hang as they normally would isn't the solution. Nothing seems to help.

He's not going to be able to give Father his full attention if he's too focused on how much the wound hurts. Thanks a million, Midnight.

The walk is taken in mostly silence, the only break being when Midnight pauses to share a quick word with one of the Outrider's generals. The crypt language of their clicking tongues makes Nova's teeth grit, but he says nothing, waiting in silence. Their discussion is something regarding a weapon failure on Ria. Blasters seemed to be firing slower than normal and she wants him to fix that. Nova doesn't really pay attention. It doesn't concern him, so he doesn't care. Let her rant her little heart out.

At least this way it's not his fault that they'll be late. It's hers.

Midnight finishes and sends him a sneer when she sees his expression.

They reach their Father's throne room a little less than fifteen minutes after parting ways with Nebula. He has to grasp at the thoughts that softly bombard his head and throw them to the side, noticing that there's a strange humming power present. It wasn't here when he delivered his report yesterday, but a visual check confirms that the room has not changed since the last time Nova was here. The window opening to space beyond is almost blinding with all the colors and his gaze lingers on the sight for a long moment before he tugs it away.

The sight always unsettles him, even with the knowledge that Father caught him. He can still remember falling with no reassurance that he'd ever stop.

As expected of them, Nova and Midnight sink to their knees in front of the dais, heads bowed. Nova's shoulders burn in disagreement of the head movement, but he bites his tongue and quietly prays the hair falling from its messy braid hides enough of his face from view when he can't quite catch the grimace that escapes.

Their father remains seated for only a moment more. He slides to his feet with ease and Nova sees the Other, on the Titan's left, fidget from the corner of his eye. The room is empty—including guards—save them. It's strange. Whatever is on Father's mind must be something important. Nova's privately flattered he trusted him enough to tell them.

"Children," Father sighs the word as if it's the bane of his existence and Nova's fingers anxiously twitch. He keeps his head bowed. He wants to look up, but he doesn't. "My son and daughter. Proxima. Nova. I most unpleased with you."

Just before Nova's eyes squeeze shut with shame, he sees Midnight snap her head up from the corner of his eye. Anger. They will be punished. It is inevitable. Midnight's only going to make the severity of it worse by speaking up. Nova knows this well now.

"Father—" Midnight starts heatedly. Clothing rustles; he thinks she's starting to get to her feet. Nova resists the urge to grab her wrist and yank her back down, only because it would be breaking protocol himself. He opens his eyes and down turns his gaze, focusing on the polished floor beneath his feet, but far enough forward that he can ignore his reflection.

"Silence." The Other snarls. "Your father didn't give you permission to speak."

Midnight hisses angrily. It takes a moment before she finds her voice again, "You are not my commander, creature."

"Daughter." Father says stiffly. Midnight twitches, and turns to face him better. Nova keeps his eyes pinned religiously on the floor despite how much he wants to look up and openly gawk. Midnight has always been arrogant; he's not awfully surprised by her assuming control in this situation when she has none, but to attempt such with their father?

"What did he do to enrage you so, Father?" Midnight questions, jerking a finger back at him. Nova bites on his tongue, frustration pouring through him. Of course she'd try to pin the blame of this onto him. He's not even surprised. "I did nothing but follow your orders on Ria. He was the one who ran off—"

"I know very well of your brother's actions." Their father cuts in sharply, taking a slight step. Midnight draws back, and Nova's privately relieved to see that her sense of self preservation isn't completely dead. "As I know full-well of yours."

What did she do? Nova was the insubordinate idiot who tried to lessen their casualties and nearly got her killed. She didn't do anything that wasn't justified.

Midnight huffs angrily, but says nothing in response. If he were to look, Nova is more than certain that she would have been scowling at the back of his head.

Their father releases a heavy sigh.

"Nova, look at me." He jerks at the sound of his name and lifts his head with hesitation to his father. The Titan's expression is unreadable, as it often is, but there's the faintest edge of frustration around his eyes. Nova keeps his lips pressed together firmly. He won't talk unless it's required of him. His father is fully aware of everything Nova did; he gave the Titan a mission report when he returned back to Sanctuary yesterday.

He has no truths to hide.

"Your injury?" Father questions softly, and the rumble of his voice draws Nova back into attention. His thoughts wander far too much when he's in pain. It's a habit he needs to stop—and here he goes again.

Nova swallows along his suddenly dry throat. "Well enough off, my lord." He murmurs. He thinks about adding that Nebula helped him, but decides against it. If he wasn't granted a penance, getting his sister into trouble won't help anyone, favored or not.

Father's dark eyes shift to Midnight again, the edges of a frown tipping on his face. "That is good, my child. And yet, I cannot recall giving you, my daughter, the explicit command to deal out his punishment. You acted rashly, as you are so prone to when it comes to Nova."

Midnight coils. "You know he needed someone to bring his head down. He disobeyed a direct order."

"And I would have dealt with it. On my own terms." The Titan counters sharply. Both of them quiet, stiffening at his anger. Their father releases another heavy sigh, glancing towards the Other for a moment. "I wrestled with what to do regarding the two of you for some time now. This is not the first incident that has ended this way; but I want it to be the last."

Part of Nova wants to speak up, insist that their disagreements are not his fault and Midnight is constantly trying to blame him for everything that is of the slightest offense to her, but his words stick in his throat and get no further.

Midnight shoots him a scowl, "And I assume you've come to a conclusion."

"I have." Father promises, sitting back down on his throne. He looks between the two of them for a long moment, "It is of great importance to me that you succeed, failure to do so will only invoke my wrath further," he glances towards Nova pointedly at this and he remembers Nebula's earlier words with the beginnings of a panic. He's thinking of sending you back to the Other. "And you are treading on a very thin line as it is."

Midnight quiets, a remarkable feat.

Nova rolls his shoulders to ease some of the pressure and looks up towards their father, giving him his full attention. So he was right. This is of the utmost importance to their father. The trust he's placing in them is sobering. Nova refuses to disappoint him.

The Other takes a step forward, the metal plating in his clothing clinking together. "Your father has located not one, but two Infinity Stones."

Two? Nova feels his lips part with surprise. He glances up at Midnight for the briefest moment seeing a similar expression on her face. His sister snaps her jaw shut after a moment of gawking and asks, "Where?"

The Other sends her a scowl and Nova can almost hear his voice snarling speaking out of term. He's quiet a moment longer, glancing at their father before answering, "A backwater world. Terra."

Something in him stirs at the name as if he's vaguely familiar with it, but he can't place from where. He's heard of the world, he's positive about that. He just doesn't know from where. Perhaps this is from before. Before Gamora found him as little more than a gasping corpse and brought him to Father. Before he fell. Before the stars swallowed him.

He remembers scarce little about that time, a woman's gentle laughter and the scent of roses, red, blue, bright flashes of light, an old man's silver hair...mostly, though, just laughter. So much laughter, and so frequently mocking. He remembers the feelings of rejection, of so much pain, and though his curiosity aches about who he was, he's...grateful he has so little. Father has treated him better than they ever did, of that he's almost certain.

A sharp pain to the side of his knee jerks him back into reality and Nova realizes with a jolt that he'd wandered off again. Midnight's kick was nothing pleasant, but at least she did him the decency of bringing him back into focus.

Stop wandering off in your head.

There's nothing there.

Nova swallows and settles his gaze on the Other again. The creature is eyeing him in a way that makes him uncomfortable, but he brushes it to the side. His father is staring at him. Midnight is working valiantly to burn a hole into the side of his head with her scowl. Pinning his fists by his side, Nova swallows his embarrassment.

"As I was saying," the Other grits out, "their signatures have been collected on your father's scanning technology at long last. From what we can tell, it is Mind and Time. Your mission is to slip in and out of Terra with the Infinity Stones. Leave no trace of yourself. The Terrans should have no reason to suspect you were there."

Midnight makes an audible noise of annoyance as Nova gives a slight jerk of his head in acknowledgement. Nova shoots her an annoyed look from the corner of his eye. Why does she have to make everything harder? If she would just accept the terms their father gives them faster instead of fighting every step of the way, then perhaps their father would trust her.

Because he trusts you so much.

You, who have followed every order to the letter until Ria.

The Other shifts his heated stare to her. "Have you something to say, Proxima?"

"Why should we keep this silent? What is the worst that Terra will do to us? They're a primitive people. Ronan would have had successes there, and he barely had the intelligence to stand. We should purge the planet, cleanse them and take the Infinity Stones as a prize."

Something in his stomach opens with panic, but he doesn't know why. The back of his mind insists that Terra is precious and must be guarded, but reasoning evades him. He keeps his tongue pinned between his teeth before he can speak out of turn, but glances frantically towards their father.

"No." Father says firmly.

"Subtly is hardly my forte." Midnight submits through gritted teeth. Nova represses a snort of agreement. That is by far an understatement. Midnight runs through everything weapons blazing and hardly spares a moment for stratagem. It reminds him of...someone. He doesn't know who, will likely never know who, but it does.

"Do you even know where the Stones are on Terra?" Midnight presses.

"No." The Other admits and then points a long, pale finger in Nova's direction. "But he will." Nova feels himself pale. He swallows words, and resists the urge to demand what the Kriff he is talking about. "His magic is unique among the Order, it is different than any I or your father have encountered before. For all Ebony insists his control has slipped, he will be able to sense and locate the Infinity Stones."

He doesn't know how. They're making him track when he has no idea what he's doing? How is he supposed to succeed? He will only invoke Father's wrath by his failure, but he can't see any other outcome arriving. His magic has not been functioning as it should since Father tested...tested the Stone on him.

Their father drums his fingers pointedly, the metal of the Infinity Gauntlet clinking on the cold stone and Nova's gaze is drawn to the Power Stone nestled in the crook of the pointer finger's knuckle. He hadn't realized that their father was wearing it, but he'd known the Stone was in the room somehow. The Power Stone is their father's prized possession, a gift from Nebula when she returned. (How she earned his favor. How she is no longer hated among the Order, how she—)

"You will need one another." Their father inputs, "One cannot succeed without the other. Perhaps having to further rely on one another will give you a bond to rival Gamora and Nebula's."

Oh, a crowning achievement indeed. The last thing he wants is the hero worship Nebula bathes Gamora in for Midnight.

"Unless he abandons me in the middle of our journey with the insistence he knows better." Midnight snaps. Nova flinches, flicking his gaze to the floor. He shouldn't have left her flank. If he hadn't none of this would be happening. He wouldn't be sent off to a mission he has no idea how to complete. "If we fail because your favorite pet left me for dead, the blame for that falls onto you."

"Careful with your words, daughter." The Titan warns, "Your childish whining is beginning to bore me."

Midnight wisely snaps her jaw shut.

"You leave immediately." The Other says, voice harsh. "We do not know how long either Stone will remain on Terra. It could be decades, or it hours. Your father has nothing else to say to you. Go!" He points harshly towards the exit and Nova jerks up to his feet, biting back a cry of pain as his back explodes with pain. His vision goes white on the edges, his balance tipping as his lightheadedness returns with full force.

Barely managing to keep the noise inside his throat, he gives a low dip of his head and turns to exit the room, Midnight at his side. When they're halfway to the door, their father calls out, "And Proxima," his sister stiffens, but both of them turn, "leave the punishment to me when you return."

He thinks Nova is going to fail.

"As you wish." Midnight grits out and grabs his upper arm yanking him forward a step. He staggers, the stitches pulling, but he pretends not to notice. He shoots her an annoyed glance, tugging his arm from her tight grip. The two of them exit the throne ordinate room. The doors have no sooner closed than she grabs a fistful of his dark hair and yanks him down so they're eye level.

"Get your act together. Your distraction is only going to get us captured or killed because your magic is a mess. Everyone knows that."

Nova's teeth grit together. He shoots her a heated stare. He doesn't say anything, even though his tongue burns with the edges of words he could murmur. Silvertongue, they called him once, his father had said it with such disdain.

That silvertongue is nothing but a pointless weight in your mouth.

"I'm not going to bring home failure because you are a hopeless case." Midnight releases him and begins to storm forward. "Meet me at the ship in ten minutes. I'm not going to wait for you, taciturn."

Nova doesn't doubt that. He grits his teeth together and closes his eyes, digging his nails into his palms. His back is aching, but he can't give it any more focus than fleeting thoughts. He has more pressing things to worry about. His father's trust, as always, feels more like a burden than a blessing. He needs to pack, but he can't get himself to move just yet. His hands are trembling with what he thinks is belied panic.

Midnight's strained thoughts echo around in his head, and Nova feels something cold spread up on his skin. Frost. His magic is reacting, so uncontrolled. (It has been ever since Father—)

He is going to fail, and Father may—at long last—give up on him.

His back burns. Nova forces his feet to move. He packs methodically, but quickly. His vision seems to fuzz and one moment he's in his quarters, the next he's hobbling up onto the ramp for the ship behind Midnight leaving for Terra.

Chapter Text


"Wanda." The soft voice is accompanied by a shake to her shoulder and Wanda jerks, hand snapping out to grab the wrist and dig her fingernails into their skin. Power thrums at her fingertips, the familiar red haze tinting her vision as the magic surges through her.

"Calm yourself, it's just me." The voice murmurs quietly in reassurance. Her sluggish mind insists threat, but she shoves it off, squinting into the dark and props herself up on one elbow. The steady thrum of the Quinjet pokes at her other senses, but she can still focus enough to see her brother standing in front of the couch she crashed on.

His silver hair is slightly damp, but a quick glance towards the rest of his person assures her it isn't from pain or sickness. Realizing that she's still holding his wrist with the intent to snap it, she loosens her grip and lets her brother go.

"Pietro?" she questions quietly, voice thick with sleep. She shoves up into a proper seated position and the blanket she can't remember falling asleep with lands next to her on the cushions.

Her brother fidgets, blue eyes flicking to the floor as a breath quietly escapes him. Her brow furrows, "Is something amiss?"

She doesn't know what could be. As far as she's aware, nothing has happened. They aren't headed out for a mission, neither of them are injured, their teammates are all accounted for and with them. The only thing she can draw on is that he's worried about meeting up with the rest of the team since Germany.

Pietro bites on his lower lip for a moment. "It is nothing." A breath, and then, "The Captain said we'd be arriving soon." He shifts on his feet as if debating whether or not to leave.

Wanda hesitates, debating whether or not to push. Knowing her brother, he'll tell her eventually, but that's why he woke her in the first place. If they were getting closer to the Barton farm, one of the other Avengers or perhaps even FRIDAY would have told her. Not Pietro. He would have been checking over their luggage for the umpteenth time.

He keeps insisting they forgot something, but he always has. They didn't. She checked twice to appease him before they left New York two hours ago.

Wanda scoots over some, inviting her brother to fill the unoccupied space. "But?"

Pietro remains standing, looking towards the floor. He gives a low shake of his head. "I'm being stupid. Really, sestra, it is nothing," he promises, looking up to offer a grim sort of smile. It does nothing to reassure her. Wanda pointedly glances towards the empty space again and Pietro sighs before taking it with an obvious stiffness to his stance.

Why is he so tense?

Has she done something to upset him?

She wracks her brain for recent incidents, but nothing comes to mind immediately. Honestly, their time spent together as of the late has been...admittedly small. Between training, Vision, and the missions, she hasn't seen her brother much. So for something to have roused his ire like this would have to have been from close to four or five months ago.

It's one of the reasons she's staying with him at the Barton farm. The Captain had suggested it, said that they needed to take a week off from the exhausting life of the Avengers and "focus on being the stupid barely twenty-somethings that you are." Wanda has no idea how to fulfill this task, but she'd nodded with pretend enthusiasm and braced herself to a week left to her thoughts and Pietro's nagging.

Taking a break seems more like a punishment, but she'd kept her lips firmly pressed together and voiced none of her thoughts out loud. Pietro seemed excited, and she'd hated to rain all over his parade by being a grump. Lila won't appreciate her ruining her birthday in the first place; the real reason that they're going to the farm anyway.

According to Laura, all she'd wanted for her birthday was "the whole family to come. All of them!" and this, apparently, includes her, her twin, and the endless amount of extended family members through their teammates. Although some of them had been less than enthused by this, they'd all complied and stuffed themselves inside the small Quinjet.

That was that.

Wanda glances towards her brother's face, noting the slight shadows under his eyes and how pale his skin is. He looks waxy. Wane. Exhausted. When was the last time he slept properly? Or slept period? Wanda was on a mission with a few of the others and only returned yesterday. They'd meant to be home a few days earlier, but complications had arisen and the extended period had been the result of that.

It had taken a little over a fortnight. She and her brother share an apartment at the Tower (have always shared their housing), but she can't honestly recall the last time she saw him sleeping. Usually, he'd have been passed out over various bits of furniture that aren't meant to be beds, like tables or the floor. She'd have to drag him to a mattress and put him to bed properly.

"Are you angry with me?" Wanda questions, putting her thoughts to the side and deciding to stop beating around the bush.

Pietro stops fidgeting with his fingers and looks up at her. "I am sorry?"

"You are not talking." Wanda says by way of explanation. "Have I done something? Does this have to do with Germany?" A part of her wants to add, I'm wracking my brain for what I did, and I'm finding nothing. What have I missed, but she knows that won't help the situation any. Her ignorance won't be a blessing in this department. Only further the sudden rift between them.

When did this start? Weeks ago? A month? Months?

"No." Pietro mumbles, beginning to tug at his fingers again.

"Then why did you wake me up?" Wanda presses. Something is obviously bothering him.

His expression flickers for the briefest moment and she feels a heavy weariness settle into the telepathic bond that's linked them since HYDRA. He shakes his head, and she braces herself for him to say "nothing" again, but both of them flinch when a figure steps into the doorway of the small nook Wanda claimed for a few hours. It only takes her a moment to recognize it as Natasha, but it doesn't help much.

The assassin leans against the doorframe, arms folded across her chest, expression lifted the smallest edge. "Nat." Wanda says on recognition, and glances at her brother for a moment as frustration briefly pours through her. She was getting close to getting him to talk, but it's all for naught now. "What are you doing here?"

Natasha's expression is blank. "Cap sent me to tell you we're about five minutes out and to see if someone rose our resident Sleeping Beauty from the dead. Maximoff, if you plan on checking your suitcase again, now's probably the time."

Pietro shoots a scowl in the assassin's direction. "I do not check that frequently." He mutters.

Natasha smiles, but it doesn't quite reach her eyes. "You're cute." She promises, and tosses hair over her shoulder, walking out into the hall again. She stares at the back of Pietro's head for a moment, waiting for him to say something, but he doesn't. Wordlessly he offers her his hand, and she takes it, allowing him to pull her up to her feet.

The two of them quickly trek through the Quinjet to the main bridge in silence. Pietro doesn't check the luggage.

The rest of the Avengers not already on the farm are stuffed here, chatting idly among themselves or wasting away the time on electronics. She spots Vision standing beside the pilot's seat Clint is occupying and brightens somewhat, waving at him.

He nods in return, a faint smile on his lips.

Pietro's mood seems to darken further at this, and she shoots him the briefest look of confusion, but her twin is already left her side, moving to Bruce. Squinting at his back, she shakes off the vague sense of wrongness and instead focuses on moving towards the AI.

She steps up on her tiptoes to press a quick kiss on the side of his cheek and offers him a proper smile. "Hey, Vis." She greets. It's still so strange to her that they're a couple, even after all these months since it was made "official." Having spent so much of her life with no one but Pietro, the fact that someone wants her for her is almost magical. This man—machine—wants to spend the rest of his life with her.

He wants that. There is no obligation that she sometimes feels Pietro is weighted with. Maybe that's why he's angry with her. They're twenty now, almost twenty-one. He's spent so much time looking after her. He could be tired of it. Her stomach churns at the thoughts and she tries to brush them off, but can't.

"Hello." Vision answers, dipping his head in response and lightly taking her hand. "Did you sleep well?"

Wanda makes a face, humming under her breath. "The couch was discomfortable, but I slept well enough." After two all-nighters and the scramble to pack after returning, the hour and a half she'd managed to grab in the nook feels like nothing. Her head still feels heavy and the headache hasn't lessened, but she's no better off than Natasha or Steve are. They're all in the same boat.

Clint makes an obnoxious—but pointed—kissing noise.

Wanda feels a blush immediately heat her face and Vision tugs his hand away, glancing to the floor with embarrassment. Pietro's teasing she's beyond used to—he doesn't tease her about Vision. Hasn't since they started dating—but the other Avengers makes her feel like such a child. Clint snickers under his breath and Wanda lightly whacks the back of his sandy blond hair over the pilot's seat with the back of her hand.

"Not funny." She insists.

Clint only laughs, flicking up a few panels to prep the 'jet for landing. Wanda glances over his shoulder to see the familiar green patches of the Barton farm settle into view. The trees are beginning to yellow from the season and the crops look rich and full. She hasn't been here in autumn yet and it's already promising to be beautiful.

She breathes in the recycled air of the Quinjet and allows herself to relax the slightest bit. They're all off duty here, only to celebrate Lila's sixth birthday and spend a few days without their alter egos' jobs getting in the way.

No fighting.

No villains.

Just them, too much birthday cake, and the farm.

So why does she feel so much dread about seeing the familiar sights? Why does she want to be anywhere but here? A part of her suspects it's because Vision, like most of the other Avengers, is only staying one night. Another says she doesn't want to take a break. Too much time to think. An even quieter part of her suggests that Pietro's recent oddities and moods are the source.

The Quinjet lurches as it lands and Clint flicks off the power, locking the landing gear into place. He stands up and looks back at them, offering a half-grin. "Well, welcome back to paradise."

"Your paradise smells too much like sewer to be comfort." Pietro promises, moving to the shelves over the seats to grab for his luggage. He swings the suitcase over Bruce's head with ease and lets it land on the floor with a thunk as the other Avengers—Natasha, Sam, and Steve—grab for their overnight packs.

"You're just picky because you were raised in a garbage can." Clint snips, moving forward.

"No, I'm inclined to agree with Maximoff." Sam says, patting the archer on the shoulder as he passes. "Sorry Barton."

Clint scoffs, making a face. "Rude. Nat, tell them that they're wrong."

"You're wrong." The redhead says without conviction. Wanda rolls her eyes and moves to grab for her backpack as Bruce gets to his feet and squirms his way between her and her twin. He hasn't spoken since they entered the 'jet and Wanda briefly glances at him, but shakes it off. He's always been quiet. More so when Tony isn't around to bully him into talking.

But Tony, Rhodey and Pepper didn't come with them in the Quinjet. Tony had said it was because it would be cramped, but Wanda knows him a little better than to believe that now. Putting him and Steve into a small confined space for a few hours would have been a terrible idea, but none of them want to admit that.

Especially not after Germany and the Winter Solider.

And the Accords.

Or the pardoning ceremony that nearly started the second publicly dubbed "Civil War."

They're just masters at ignoring everything now. Wanda reaches up for the backpack and ignores the familiar sounds of her teammates banter in the background. It sounds almost tired, though, and she knows that the dread hanging in her stomach must be shared. Her fingers have scarcely touched the familiar black fabric before Vision's red hands take the strap and tug it down for her. Her heart does that hopeless flutter thing that her beloved can always seem to bring when he does something like this for her. She feels twelve every time it happens, not in her twenties.

His mouth opens to say something, but Pietro's familiar tanned skin and black jacket snakes up and snatches one of the straps, tugging it from Vision's hand wordlessly. He swings it over his shoulder and grabs her elbow, hauling her forward before she can say something to protest or apologize for Pietro's behavior.

"Thank you." Pietro says, clipped.

Mood.

It hasn't really stopped since she told him that she and Vision were considering marriage a month ago. If anything, it's gotten worse. What does he think will happen if they do marry? They're twins. They've been a part of each other's lives since the first heartbeat and will be to the last. He's as much a permanent fixture in her life as she is in his. They'll still be friends. Marriage won't change that.

"Pietro," she grumbles under her breath, but allows herself to be led out of the Quinjet past the other Avengers. They're staring. Her back itches with this, but she says nothing. "He was just trying to help."

"I can help just as good." Pietro snaps, and then forces a breath. He attempts for the familiar smirk, but she sees how tight it is around the edges. "You were making googly eyes at him. He lifted a bag, sestra, not present you with a box of chocolates." His tongue slides funnily over the last word, their accent swallowing the "ch" sound for a "sh." Normally it would only make her smile, but this time all it does is rouse a faint wisp of annoyance.

"He's my vozlyublennyy, Pietro. That's what he does."

Pietro only makes a noise of disagreement, but releases her elbow. Wanda grits her teeth and swallows a frustrated cry of stop it! and instead focuses on staring forward, pretending that she's not angry at him. Pretending that they're still close. That the strain on their relationship will go away instead of destined to get worse.

She doesn't know how to fix this. Can it be fixed?

She throws the troubles with her moody sibling to the side when a young girl's voice screeches, "Pi! Wanda!" at the top of her lungs and Lila comes crashing into her. Wanda staggers back a step at the sheer force of the brunette (her body tenses, honed fighting instincts ingrained, but she waves it off, because this is Lila) and a small smile spreads up her lips before she returns the hug.

"I hear it is someone's birthday." Wanda says knowingly, and Lila releases a few giggles, looking up at her with adoring eyes.

"It's mine." She says, grinning ear to ear. "'M seven today, Wanda. I'm almost as old as you now." No, she's not. Wanda feels ancient. "Because it's my birthday."

She sees her brother smirk from the corner of her eye. "Are you so certain of that?"

"Yes!"

"Then why do I not get a hug from this special girl?" Pietro questions, opening his arms. Lila laughs and releases her, all but throwing herself into the silver-haired man's arms. Pietro takes her weight with ease and hefts her into his arms, listening as she begins to talk rapidly about everything she's done today. Wanda watches, but her smile is slipping.

There was a time—

Stop it.

Wanda turns as the other Avengers approach. First is Clint, then Steve and Sam standing side-by-side. Beyond them she spots the dark hair of Bruce and Natasha's familiar red. Past that is Vision trailing behind quietly. The stiffness in their stances is obvious. None of them want to be here. And why would they? It's going to be a disaster. Tony and Steve have stood face-to-face since the pardoning.

Clint smiles brightly at the sight of his daughter and walks up to her, making an offended noise when they lock eyes. "What? You ran to them instead of me first? They're hobos. I'm the parent."

Pietro sticks his tongue out and Wanda resists the urge to bury her head into her hands. They're adults. Sometimes he can be such a child. "She has chosen the favorite, Clint. Reap your rewards." Pietro promises.

"Oooh," Clint draws out. Wanda stops listening with full intent, focusing on the house in the distance and the dread coiling in her stomach. Breathing out slowly, she continues to move forward, spotting Clint steal his daughter from Pietro. Her brother steps into pace with her again, but keeps a noticeable distance between the two of them.

Wanda represses a sigh.

He's still angry.

They quickly cross the distance to the house. In the driveway, stuffed into the small space next to Clint's old barely-kept-together truck is one of Tony's less flashy cars. A part of her is curious how far ahead he was of them if he drove, but she quickly determines it doesn't matter.

Wanda hangs back with the others on the porch as Clint pushes open the door and releases his daughter to the floor. She rushes forward, shouting something excitedly at the top of her lungs. Wanda's not paying as much attention as she should be. She can hear the faint noise of Tony's laughter and Pepper's.

Clint glances back at them, shoulders braced, expression grim. After waiting a moment, he takes a step into the house.

(The battlezone.)

Wanda follows after the archer with reluctance, her brother at her side. Laura immediately envelopes her and Pietro into a hug as soon as they're close enough, smiling widely. "Piet! Wanda." She exclaims and pulls back, resting her hands on their shoulders. She looks between the two of them, studying their faces.

Wanda realizes with a pang that she hasn't seen Laura since before Germany.

That was more than eight months ago.

"Hi." Wanda says, trying to come up with a more intelligible response, but finding herself incapable. None of the words that want to tip off her tongue will. They remain stuck.

Pietro only gives a slight dip of his head. Laura offers a wave to someone behind them and then bites on her lip, "Oh," she says, pointing to the luggage Pietro is carrying for the both of them. "I have the guest bedroom upstairs set up. You can take it or you can share with the others in the living room and I'll give it to someone else." The woman gives a slight laugh, "We don't really have all the space we need."

Pietro shrugs, looking to her. The thought of being cramped inside a single room makes something in her stomach churn, the stale smell of the recycled air of the Raft ghosting over her senses for a moment.

Wake up.

Wanda jerks her head a little to right herself and glances towards the living room. "I'd be more comfortable on the couch." She admits. Her voice feels small. Pietro nods without question and turns to the living room to drop their bags off in a corner that won't be in the way. She follows after him, spotting Natasha move to grab a chair at the table from the corner of her eye.

The others are occupying one of the couches, sprawled out in a way that suggests they've been there for a while. Tony is squished between Pepper and a teenager Wanda doesn't recognize, phone in hand. He looks uncomfortable. Rhodey is on Pepper's left and gives a slight nod to her when she makes eye contact with him. Her eyes stray to the braces guarding his legs and she worries her lip between her teeth, pulling her eyes away with effort.

She wasn't near the vicinity of this, but she still feels responsible.

However apprehensive she feels about seeing Pepper, Tony, and Rhodey again, Pietro doesn't share it. He drops the luggage off, steps across the room and pointedly drags the coffee table a little closer to the couch before plopping down on it. Pepper stops talking quietly with Rhodey to stare at him.

Pietro jabs Tony's knee with a pointer finger. She sees the teenager twitch from the corner of her eye, as if he wanted to stop Pietro's hand from making contact. Her lips thin. Power thrums on the tips of her fingers in a precaution, but she watches her brother from afar. He will not be the next cripple if she can help it.

"Did you get stuck on babysitting duty, Stark?" Pietro questions cheekily.

Tony looks up from his phone to glance at her brother, sigh, and then return to the device. "Hi, 3.14."

Pietro pokes him again. "Who is the kid?"

"He's right there." Tony gestures vaguely towards the teenager. "Ask him. He's my intern. And yeah, I did get stuck on babysitting duty. What's it to you?"

"'3.14'?" The teenager questions, looking between the two in confusion. "I thought you were Quicksilver. Not...are you some sort of math genius?"

Pietro laughs as she openly snorts. Their education is shoddy at best. They hardly went to school past ten in Sokovia and beyond the brief stint of schooling the Avengers provided for them in America, they are fairly helpless at basic concepts like math. Wanda can utilize it if she must, but it's not exactly a requirement with her job.

Tony sits up and lowers the phone. "No. Ha. That would be hilarious because he's an idiot. Lila couldn't pronounce his name right when they first met so she always called him 'Pi'."

"I'm not stupid." Pietro argues, folding his arms across his chest. "You just think everyone's an idiot."

"That's true." Tony concedes. "But not everyone. Mostly just you."

"Ha." Pietro says dryly. Through their bond, she can sense the slightest edge of unease, but it's heavily overshadowed. Something in her chest eases with relief as she sees how calm he is. He doesn't look worried about being stabbed through the middle or betrayed. Pietro has always had that with people, though. He trusts so deeply. Wanda can't. She doesn't know how; she's seen too much to have anything more than pessimism as a constant companion.

Her twin turns to the teenager, holding out a hand. "Zdorovat'sya. I'm Pietro Maximoff."

Looking a little frazzled, the teenager takes his hand, giving a polite shake. "I'd, uh, I'd put that together. Um, hi? I'm Peter. Peter Parker. What is zadtras...zadtraveste...strasvetche?"

Wanda's lip quirks. "It means hello." She inputs before her brother can offer another translation that will leave him confused and embarrassed if Peter tries to repeat this in front of another. Peter's eyes lift to her and his eyebrows shoot up as if he hadn't realized she was in the room. Tony tenses the slightest bit, gaze flitting across her for a moment.

Wanda pretends not to notice.

"Oh." Peter intones quietly and then looks up.

She feels rather than hears Steve take a hesitant step into the space behind her. A side effect of having linked their minds a few times when comms weren't working or would have been dangerous. She's done it with everyone on the team now since she joined. She doesn't need to turn to know they're there.

Pepper rests a hand on Tony's forearm and gives it a squeeze as Pietro quiets, twisting around. When Steve remains in the doorway behind her, Tony sighs with audible annoyance and looks past her towards the captain. "Clint's little demons are going to come running down that hall any moment now and unless you want to be barreled into, I suggest you take a step forward, Cap."

Steve remains still for a few seconds longer before taking the needed steps into the living room and positioning himself against the wall on her right. He folds his arms across his chest and frowns, lips almost white with how hard he's pressing them together. Wanda draws her gaze away, letting her eyes rove over the familiar layout and pictures.

The awkward silence only lasts for a few more minutes before Lila comes bursting down the stairs yelling at the top of her lungs. Wanda startles, twisting around and seeing a very unhappy Bruce being dragged down the steps behind the child. "We're all going to have so much fun! Mommy promised me a kitty!" she exclaims.

Wanda's eyebrow lifts. Did she now?

Lila drags Bruce past the doorway, wiggling her way into the room with ease and smiles cheerfully. "Who doesn't want a kitty? When I'm old, I'm going to have so many kitties that I won't be able to count them. Like the big fields filled up with cows, but it's kitties instead."

"Oh?" Tony asks, leaning forward on the couch. "And what does your dad think about this?"

"He agreed." Lila promises. "He said he'd help."

Of that Wanda has her doubts. Clint is a dog person. She doesn't think she's ever seen him go near a cat willingly before. Lila smiles innocently and turns around so she can stare at everyone in the room. The rest of the Avengers are huddled in the kitchen, if Wanda pulled her hair back she'd be able to see them with her peripheral vision. As it is, she doesn't need to. She can sense them well enough.

Lila offers a large smile. "I'm so glad all of you came, even though you hate each other now." Wanda openly sputters as a few of her teammates make similar noises. If Lila notices, she says nothing, "Let's celebrate!"

000o000

Wanda spends the following few hours making painful small talk with the others and almost clinging to Vision's side. She learns that if she nudges him to look like they're engaging in some sort of deep physiological discussion, that the other Avengers will mostly leave them alone. The party involves dinner, which is taken outside given the small space of the house. There's a wooden picnic table that's permanent, something that Pietro helped Clint repair when they stayed for a few weeks after he was shot. On top of that is a few foldable tables set up with flimsy chairs that are uneven and rock if she leans back too far.

It is, overall, a miserable experience.

This might have to do with the fact that she's not a people person, but the tenseness is so prominent between everyone and she wants to claw at it until it goes away. Will it help? She has her doubts. There's something deeply rooted here, and it isn't going to go away.

Vision, at least, doesn't seem to mind her sudden clinginess. He sits next to her at the table and, though he doesn't participate in eating anything, he engages in conversation and manages to keep it deflected off of her. She appreciates it. The meal is supposed to be some sort of sandwich bar, but she spends a majority of it flicking salad around her plate with a fork and watching Pietro do the same from the corner of her eye. She doesn't know if she's seen so much food be gathered onto plates and then ignored.

Lila wrangles a few of the others, including her brother and Peter, into some sort of ball game—she can tell that Pietro is cheating with his speed, even if the others don't—and they play that well until the sun has begun to set.

With dinner over and (thankfully) nothing beyond the presents and cake, Wanda tugs her sleeves down and wishes for warmer clothing as she scowls out towards where the sun set more than ten minutes. She's forgotten how cold the farm can get in the winter. It may be autumn, but the wind seems to have ignored that fact because a bitter breeze is sweeping over the field.

She rubs her hands together for warmth and scoots a little so she can lean against Vision's side. He wordlessly wraps his arm around her, letting her lean into his warmth. The other's are all gathered around the wooden picnic table as Lila opens her gifts, but Wanda hadn't been too inclined to move.

"Are you cold?" her beloved asks.

She nods, looking at him with a soft smile that feels more like a grimace. "It is not terrible. I will live."

Vision's head tips slightly. "I wish I had something to offer you. As it is, I can give nothing."

Lila makes an oohing noise and Wanda shifts some, trying to see over Laura's shoulder into the gathering, but can't. Whatever has made the seven-year-old offer this reaction is unknown to her. Wanda blows out a heavy breath and breathes into her palms.

The air around her jerks, but it's not a breeze and Wanda looks up to see her brother standing there. His silver hair is falling over his eyes, and the poor lighting shades his face with harsh, angry lines. He's holding a piece of cake out on a small plate with a plastic fork sticking off the top.

"Laura told me to give you this." He says.

She doesn't need the light to know that his gaze is lingering on Vision. She sighs and takes the cake from her brother and rests it on the picnic table without an intention of eating it. "Thank you." She says with as much sincerity as she can muster.

Pietro, as expected, doesn't move. "Why didn't you bring a jacket?" he asks.

Wanda raises an eyebrow. Both of them are well aware that Pietro watched her pack her bag silently from afar this morning. "I did. It didn't occur to me to bring it out here. I thought it would be warmer."

Pietro looks at Vision, something frustrated in his stare. "Well, your beloved seems to be more than enough of a personal heater, isn't he? I thought that metal would be colder."

"Do you need something?" she asks. She tries to keep the snap out of her voice but fails.

"My sister." He mutters. She doesn't think she was supposed to hear it, but even with the loud noises of the ongoing party, it doesn't deafen her. Her fists curl and she jerks a hand out to grab his wrist when he begins to move away.

"Stop. What are you talking about?" she demands. "Moe brat, I'm right here."

Pietro's shoulders tense, but he looks back at her, then Vision. "It's nothing. It just slipped out."

"That doesn't—" Wanda starts in frustration before breathing out slowly. "Listen. Vision and I aren't going to change anything. We are still family. You just don't seem to get that. You're always—"

"Stop it." Pietro cuts in, visibly tense. "Wanda, I don't want to talk about this now."

She shoves up to her feet, aware of how tense Vision is behind her. "We need to. You're becoming unbearable. Stop protecting me from him."

"I am not—"

"Yes, you are!" Wanda's aware that her voice is rising, but she doesn't care. This isn't the most opportune moment to have this discussion, but if it isn't now, when? They hardly see each other anymore since Pietro has been working his utmost to both ignore her and spend as much time as possible with her.

It's trying her insane.

Pietro's teeth grit. "Do you believe it would kill you to be less selfish?"

"'Selfish'—!" Wanda makes a noise she can't quite interpret. A sharp sensation washes through her, like she's been kicked in the stomach. "You're being ridiculous. How is me finding my vozlyublennaya selfish?"

Pietro throws up his hands. "He's a robot, Wanda. He rusts. He's not your one and only. He's barely above a vacuum."

Wanda bristles, feeling Vision backdown behind her. He was getting to his feet, and through the rolls of their telepathic link she can feel the hurt. Living things feel emotion, automated ones do not. "He is not!" she argues. "I love him!"

Pietro scoffs loudly. "How can you love a program?"

"He is not a program!"

"He is not even alive!" Her brother throws up his hands. "You do not have a future with him!"

How dare—!

Wanda grabs the front of his shirt and hauls him towards her. Her other fist is moving before she realizes what is happening, and for a wild, terrifying moment, she believes that she's actually going to hit her brother.

A hand grabs her forearm, and the moment passes.

Wanda struggles in the grip, attempting to wiggle free so she can properly tackle her sibling. "Take it back! How can you say that!?" Wanda shouts.

Pietro is yanked from her grip harshly by another figure, but her brother's eyes are wild.

"Wanda, enough." Steve's voice is flat and unamused. He pulls her away from her brother completely. She wants to protest, opens her mouth to do so, but Steve's heavy hand rests on her shoulder. Tony grabs Pietro's bicep and pulls his back a few steps. Wanda hadn't realized that her fist was beginning to glow until Steve's fingers sent a jolt through the limb.

She shakes her hand to ease the pressure.

"Wanda," Steve says quietly. His tone is almost pleading. She meets his eyes and he gives a small shake of his head in warning. Not here. Not now.

Wanda takes in the surroundings. The Barton farm. The decorations. This is supposed to be for Lila, and she's made a mess of it. Wanda exhales sharply through her nose and shakes off the remains of the power, shrugging off the hand from her shoulder. She sees the wide-eyed look of the Bartons behind Tony and realizes she must have been speaking louder than she thought. Only a handful of the Avengers are standing, the remainder still seated around Lila. Everyone is still.

Pietro is quiet, and then breathes out slowly in an attempt to calm himself. Wanda's muscles are beginning to ache from how hard she's clenched.

"Wanda, I am sorry." Pietro starts softly. His anger is still there. "That was out of line."

She scoffs, turning sharply on her heal. "No, you are not."

"I am!" Pietro shouts at her back. She doesn't turn and he swears. "Why are you so unsufferable!?"

The temptation to say something equally nasty crosses her mind, but she bites it back. She's said more than enough tonight. Their argument may have been brief, but it doesn't matter. They never fight.

They used to never fight.

But sometimes (often) she doesn't recognize her brother as of late. Especially since he fought against her in Germany.

000o000

She storms off to the barn and angrily grabs an empty milk tin. She hurls it across the room, but catches it with her powers before she can damage anything. This isn't hers to break. Clint is already on edge and frustrated enough. She doesn't need to add anything to his worries. She drops the tin and it clatters loudly, but is undamaged.

She's always been a better judge of her anger though. Her actions—if not words—are rarely something she'll regret when she's calmer. Pietro doesn't do that. He breaks things.

She rubs her temples and sighs heavily, leaning against a stall. One of Clint's two cows is present, watching her with soulless eyes as if casting judgement. She sneers at the animal, and then realizes how ridiculous she's being for doing so.

What good is angering the cow going to be?

The animal flicks her tail in annoyance.

Wanda remains in the quiet barn for some time, thinking, until she feels the familiar touches of Vision's mind growing closer. She turns towards the door, waiting expectantly. His red features slip into her line of sight a few moments later.

"Vis." She says tonelessly.

Vision sighs. "You're still upset."

Wanda pulls her gaze from him. "Pietro was being a brat. He didn't have cause to accuse you of being anything less than human."

Vision comes closer and gently takes her hand. "His words did not harm me."

"Liar. I felt your pain. What he said wounded you here," she taps his chest where, had he been made of flesh, a heart would have been beneath. It's never bothered her that he doesn't have a pulse, but she's suddenly very aware of it. His skin is cold beneath her touch. As if he's dead.

Vision catches her hand. "I am not alive, Wanda."

"How can you—?"

"Not in the traditional sense." He finishes. "Your brother spoke truth he tried to explain to me last month. It's nothing I have never heard before."

Wanda gapes at him. "When were you two discussing this? Did he—"

"It was my choice. I approached him, Wanda." Vision says carefully.

"Why?" she asks cautiously. "I can try and talk to him if he's bothering you."

His brow creases before he sighs and lifts her fingers to his lips. The sensation is faintly tingling, but her heart does that stupid fluttering again. "No. I…" he pauses, gaze locked with hers. "I asked...I asked his permission for your hand in marriage."

She gapes at him.

He…

It…

What?

They'd discussed it wistfully, but never seriously. She'd thought they would take more time. Perhaps it would never come, but he asked.

He asked for her.

"You…" she breathes out. Her fingers curl around his palm, and she suddenly feels dizzy. "We...us?"

"I want to stay with you, Wanda. For the rest of my days," Vision says softly.

Wanda's eyes feel wet. She wants to laugh and cry at the same time. "I do, too." She promises.

Vision looks around the barn before returning his gaze to her. "This isn't exactly how I envisioned this would go, but…" he slowly lowers to one knee, hand still gripping hers as his other lifts to his back pocket and Wanda feels her breath clench. Her hand lifts to her mouth. She knows her eyes are practically bulging from her face, but she can't—

Vision is—

He's—

Now?

"Wanda, will you do me the pleasure of being my—" the moment ends. The soft magic and light that had been surging between the two of them snaps shut. There's a brief moment where she feels two other minds touch her own, unfamiliar, before Vision makes a horrible gasping noise and a spear's edge is shoved through his chest.

The two of them stand still for a moment.

Wanda can't breathe.

What is going on!?

The blade twists and Vision gasps, trying to stagger away. She sees light flicker across his body as he tries to phase, but fails. How is that even possible? A scream of agony slips through his lips and Wanda snaps from her daze, magic thrumming on her fingertips. With a twist of her wrist, she sends red light across the open but dark barn, trying to see who the attacker is.

A tall woman with black scales etched around her yellow eyes meets Wanda's gaze. She flinches back from the light and sneers, but grabs the AI's shoulder and shoves him to the earth.

"Get off him!" Wanda demands, grabbing the woman with coils of the red and throwing her back.

"Nova!" the woman shouts as she slams against the wall. Wanda jerks, spinning around to try and find the other attacker, but thin, cold fingers wrap around her mouth and she's dragged back against a chest.

A dagger is pressed against her throat.

Wanda struggles against the grip, spitting out a curse in her native tongue that's muffled through his grip. She reaches for her magic, attempting to grab the knife, the man's boot—something, but the fingers around her mouth dig deeper, breaking skin and just as she's wrapping her red around his throat, everything seems to just...stop. A rush of cold smashes through her, causing her to shiver violently.

It's as if she's slammed into a wall at full force.

And it burns.

She gasps, hands wrapping around her gut. The light dies, bathing them in darkness again. The suddenness of it in contrast with the familiar red hue leaves her momentarily blinded.

"Wanda!" Vision says and attempts to get up to his feet. The woman is there again, and shoves her staff further through him. Vision cries out in pain and Wanda panics. She slams her foot against her captor's and shoves back with all her weight. Clearly unexpecting this, the two of them go tumbling backwards together onto the barn floor.

Wanda elbows her captor in the gut and twists, grabbing the dagger from his grip and rolling up to her feet. She moves for her beloved, trying to do something, but only sees him get thrown to the earth and the woman rip her staff from his chest only to attempt to dig it inside his head. Where the Mind Stone is. Vision lets out a howl of agony, and Wanda's veins alight with rage.

She reaches for her magic again, only to stagger into that wall again. Her free hand wraps around her gut and she tries to ignore the frantic panicking whirring through her mind. What did that man do to her!? It's not like the drugs the Raft gave to stop her. Those were ineffective. This is not. What did he do?

An audible noise escapes her, but she grips the dagger tighter and takes hazy aim. She only nicks the side of the woman's head, but it's enough to break her concentration. Wanda leaps forward and tackles the woman to the earth beside her beloved.

"Hands off!" she shouts, attempting to land her fist somewhere that will hurt. The woman makes a noise of pain and Wanda feels blood pool onto her fingertips.

"Wan…" Vision groans behind her.

The woman makes a noise of frustration before pain explodes through Wanda's gut and she's thrown backwards. Her back hits the ground before her head follows with a cla-clumping noise. The world spins. A moan slips through her lips and she attempts to breathe through the sudden tightness in her chest. Get. Up. Get up.

Vision. Vision. Vision.

She can't breathe. She reaches for the magic and cries out when the sharp pain coils in her gut. She can't do this. These people are here to kill Vision and she can't stop them on her own. She's useless. The man did something to her and now…

Wanda inhales deeply, swallows, and tries to shove up a little, but fails landing on her elbows. Praying that the group is still gathered in the yard, and doing her best to cast something mentally, "PIETRO!" she screams. "PIETRO! BRAT! HELP! HELP! WE'RE—mmmph!" The woman's fingers slam over her mouth and Wanda viciously brings her leg up to smash into her side, but the same fingers tear her lips open and grab for her tongue.

The sensation is sharp and painful. The woman's nails dig into the muscle when her grip slips from how wet it is.

"Try anything and I'll tear it out." The woman promises.

Wanda doesn't doubt her.

Her stomach plummets, but she remains firm. Please, please…

The other man does something to Vision—she can't see it in the dark—and he makes a harsh gasping noise, "Please," her beloved begs, "please…"

"We need to go." The man murmurs. Go where? What are they doing!?

There's the sound of a weapon being drawn. "Let me kill this one first. She'll cause a racket and Father told us to go quietly."

Fear pools in her stomach. Leather smacks against skin. "No, you idiot," the man argues, "a dead body isn't quiet. Give me a moment, I'll work with her head."

What—wait—

The woman openly scoffs. "Of course. Because you've done so well thus far."

Fingers brush against her temples and Wanda nearly snaps back, but remembers at the last moment that the woman is holding her tongue. The fingers are cold, almost painfully so and she flinches. A foreign presence touches at her head and Wanda panics.

What are they doing?

He said...he said that he was going to mess with her head. Her memories. He's going to—no! No!

"Wanda!" her brother cries. The fingers snap away from her temples and the man releases a swear under his breath. "Wanda, what—!?"

Pietro is here. He can help her fix this. He'll have the two defeated before they can exhale again. Relief smashes into her and Wanda grabs the forearm of her captor, attempting to loosen her grip by applying enough pressure. The woman hisses, and she feels her brother through their bond. He's near the entrance. He can almost see inside.

"Sestra? I swear—"

A wall of green light flares and she hears her brother let out a noise of pain. "He's enhanced," the man says roughly, "he's been touched by the Stone like she has."

The woman releases an expletive, pulling on her tongue for a moment. Wanda makes a gagging noise, both her hands moving to grab for the forearm in panic. "We don't have time for this. We'll have to take her, too." The woman hisses.

"We can't." The man argues. "She's dead weight."

"You're the one who didn't want to kill her!"

"Wanda!" Pietro cries. She flicks her gaze towards the source of the noise and through an awkward angle can see her brother smashing his fist against what looks like a wall of sheer power. It only glows a deep green when his skin makes contact with it, otherwise it's invisible.

Pietro.

No! No!

"Others are coming," the man hisses, "I can feel them. Let her go and let's take the creature. We can handle a few witnesses."

"Fine!" the woman releases her mouth and shoves her back. Wanda staggers several steps, hands going to her jaw by reflex as her tongue alights with a burning sensation. She hears the two move across the room and attempts to reach for her magic again.

Nothing.

Blue light whirls her peripheral vision, but Pietro only meets the same problem on the other side of the barn. "Captain!" her brother shouts, "Captain, help!"

Steve.

She doesn't let the relief distract her. A wave of light has begun to circle around the figures—Vision is slung over the man's shoulder—reminding her vaguely of the Bifrost. No! They're taking him. They're taking him and if she doesn't stop them now, there may not be another chance. She doesn't think, she just reacts. Throwing herself forward as far as she can, she grabs at an arm with a vice-like grip. The last thing she sees is her brother's wide eyes meeting her own.

And then, there's nothing, and she's jerked up in the light with the others.


 

Chapter Text

 


"Welcome to the panic room. "

-Au/Ra "Panic Room."

 


Nova scarcely has a moment to catch himself when he tumbles from the tracking beam's pull after they stagger on board the ship before Midnight lets out a noise. It's a screech mixed with a scream and Nova hears the distinct sound of bones breaking or, at the very least, leaving their proper joint, and a woman lets out a rasped gasp of pain.

Not Midnight.

Nova gyrates widely, his eyes flitting across the familiar space of the Exception's empty bridge before he locates the source of the noise. Midnight has her spear snapped out and pointed towards the witch that was with their target. He can't remember her name despite the fact they'd been watching the mortals for hours, but he knows her voice. The Witch's left hand is clutched to her chest and she's propped up on one elbow, wide green-brown eyes looking between the two of them.

She's not meant to be here.

Nova had tried to shove her off as a mercy, even though he knew it would be frowned upon.

What is she doing here?

She...she must have grabbed at Midnight when they left and their sister couldn't rip her off until they landed. Nova bites back a swear, swallowing further words of frustration. The Witch's eyes land on their target and linger, something hard setting into her gaze. Nova bites back a wave of annoyance, pointedly swinging the machine off of his shoulder and slams it against the metal floor.

With aim he hardly has to think about, he flings several daggers into the clothing to keep the creature into place and then one into the machine's shoulder. It groans, shifting weakly and attempting to whisper out a name, the Witch's, he's guessing. Nova doesn't care. It's not his problem. The machine's eyes are squeezed shut with pain, and Nova pulls his gaze away.

He forces up apathy, and shoves down everything else.

Sympathy for their captive will only get him punished. He doesn't need another reason for his wound to tear and leak more blood between his shoulder blades. He's already enough of a mess as it is. If infection isn't the death of him, blood loss surely will be.

Nova grounds himself. His mind is floating away again. He can't deal with that now.

He turns, stepping up beside his sister, and stares at the Witch. She's still propped up on her right elbow, left hand clutched against her chest. A single look at her left hand's pale, ringed fingers assures Nova that Midnight must have snapped all but the thumb when she ripped the Witch's hand from her arm.

Nova glances at his sister, waiting for instruction.

Midnight is already looking at him. He recognizes that gaze, and his stomach hardens inside of him. The meager food he was able to consume this morning rolls and he thinks he might be sick. Her gaze is clear. This is your fault. She's furious. Their mission had almost gone off without any complications until this.

If he had just—

The Witch attempts to scramble forward, getting up to her feet with impressive speed, but Midnight rears. She flips her weapon, drawing it up and clearly intends to simply bash the Witch's head in or something equally destructive. He reacts. Nova catches her wrist, latching his fingers deep around her forearm before she can cause any permanent damage.

"Wait," he breathes. He hates using his voice, but he doesn't have another option.

"She's only going to cause problems." Midnight spits, straining against his grip. She's switched to the common tongue of their father's native race, likely in an attempt to keep their captives from the conversation. "I think your mercy has been delved out enough today, runt."

She calls that mercy?

"Think, sister," Nova instructs softly. His father's native tongue is rough and doesn't want to flow as smoothly off his tongue. He manages. "She's been touched by the Stone, she reeks of it," he reminds, the scar beneath his hair burns in memory as he continues, "you know that Father was looking for a way to make the effects of the Stones permanent inside of him so he could destroy them when he's finished. She," he points at the Witch, frozen in place and looking at Midnight's buzzing weapon, without looking at her, "is living proof that it's possible. Terra's primitive means managed it."

He has no idea why he's so insistent about this. The Witch has done nothing to warrant his mercy. He has no reason to—

Except…except...Nebula brought their father a gift regarding the Stones and was offered mercy. She was given praise and raised to the position of second-in-command. Father rarely allows any harm to come to her now, and he...he doesn't...doesn't always act as just a general. Sometimes he is truly her father, and a Nova hates that he wants the same so desperately.

Perhaps his intentions are far less heroic than he meant for them to be. He's not saving an innocent because it's the "right thing to do." He's saving her in hopes that their father will reward them. And honestly? He doesn't feel terribly bothered about this. Life in the Sanctuary has taught him one thing: anything that can be done for survival must be taken.

If he doesn't do something to please Father soon, he will send Nova back to the Other.

And, Kriff, he can't—

Ghost knives trail down in between his shoulder blades and near his ribcage, splitting him open and preparing for—Midnight swears viciously under her breath, but he can tell she sees his logic. She opens her mouth to reply, likely with something biting, but it doesn't come out. The Witch takes their moment of distraction and kicks Midnight's weapon to the side, jumping to her feet. Midnight's arm jerks painfully and Nova twists in a vain attempt to grab at the woman before she can get past the two of them.

He fails.

The Witch lands beside the machine on her knees, lifting her unbroken hand up to hover over him. "Vis," she breathes, a thin thread of panic overwhelming her voice. Her accent is thick and unfamiliar to him. It must be native to Terra.

The machine reaches for her hand weakly, eyes managing to settle on the Witch's eyes. "Wan...Wand…" he whispers. "I'm sorry."

"No," the Witch shakes her head as Nova begins to move towards them quickly, "net, don't say that, we're going to be fine. We're going—" Nova grabs her around her waist and hauls her up and away from the machine. The Witch lets out a feral shriek, struggling in his grip. She digs her nails against his forearm guards and pounds against the metal plates with her right fist as she twists desperately to get free. He can feel her reaching for her magic only to shy away, panting.

"Vision!" she yells.

He strengthens the block he cast, hoping it will hold. The witch's power is formidable, but he's not worried about that. It's the fact that his magic might spontaneously decide to give up and the spell fail. The unsteadiness...it's so unpredictable now. He never knows if a spell will hold or if he'll be left scrambling to find another option.

Nova hauls her back another step, wincing when the Witch lands a blow hard enough to sting. Her thoughts are chaos, and it takes him considerable effort to keep them out of his head.

Midnight walks towards the machine slowly, almost leisurely, and digs her boot against the dagger Nova lodged into his shoulder to pin him there. The machine heaves, breath thick. "You seemed so much stronger from afar," Midnight sneers, "and yet now you can't handle a little pain."

A quiet part of him wants to sneer pathetic right along with his sister. A little pain is nothing to shy away from. He, as usual, remains silent. Keeps his lips pressed together to keep anything from spilling out on accident.

"Wh-what...what do y-you—" the machine spasms, words failing when Midnight sinks the weapon deeper.

"Hands off!" the Witch shouts, struggling harder. Nova hauls her back a few more steps, snapping the dagger down from his inner sleeve and lifting it to her throat, just below the chin. She stills abruptly, and Nova keeps the weapon trained there, waiting for Midnight's next command. She is, loathe he is to admit this, his superior for the mission. He's bound by word to his father to listen to her.

Which is what made the incident on Ria so much worse. He's lucky that the only reprimand he got was from Midnight.

This whole mess with the Witch is his fault. If he had just—if he'd been thinking they could have slipped in and out without a problem. He just hadn't been able to stay quiet. Midnight is furious, and no matter what Father said to her before they left, she is going to do something to appease her temper. She's like that. She can't think clearly until her rage has been vented. So often it is physically.

Midnight slips a dagger out from her boot and the sharp blade gleams in the light. It's double bladed, perfectly weighted in the center. A similar weapon was given to him a few months ago. Everyone in the Order has one. It is a testament to their common goal of balance. Gamora was given the first, and the tradition has followed since her.

Nova has his hidden in his cache to keep it safe. It's treasured. He hasn't used it once since he joined the Order and he doesn't know if he ever will. He can't bare the thought of damaging it.

"What are…?" the Witch breathes. She's stopped struggling for the moment, watching the machine and Nova's sister with wide, mesmerized eyes.

"Wanda…" the machine whispers. He sounds desperate. The machine's eyes open and hazily lift towards the woman. Nova steals himself, forcing the apathy up further. He knows what's coming. It's obvious that these two don't. Are they truly so ignorant? Were they not paying attention when he and his sister lept at them in the barn?

Midnight twists her wrist before digging the edge of the blade into the base of the Mind Stone. The machine shrieks, his body writhing as golden wisps wash over him. It looks like shudders of data, groaning beneath the strain. Nova tears his eyes away, not wanting to watch Midnight dig deeper.

The Witch gasps, still for a moment longer before she begins to fight against him earnestly. She pounds against his block hard enough to make him stagger, a sharp pain whispering through his head. He winces, stumbling back a step to lift a hand up to his forehead and squeezes his eyes shut. He tries to keep a grip on the Witch, but she pounds harder, enough to make him lift both hands up to his head to try and appease the pressure. She's released in the struggle.

It burns.

If he had full control of his power...if Father had never attempted to make him take on so much from the Power Stone, then holding this block would have barely taken a thought. Everything was so effortless before the Power Stone.

He was almost hopelessly powerful. Even still, compared to him, the Witch is but a squawking child. (Which is what makes this so much worse. It should take nothing from him to stop her.) It's a miracle he and Midnight made it the Stones, even if he led them in circles for a few days as he tried to figure out an algorithm that would work and cloaked them from any magic-sensitive Terrans.

A desperate noise slips through his lips, but he holds the block.

He keeps his hands pressed against his forehead and hears something buzz before the power of the Mind Stone washes through him like a physical wave to the gut. Someonethingis using it. How—? Midnight isn't—

Everything comes to a stuttering halt when Midnight lets out a yell of pain.

Nova fights the headache, panic washing through him. Midnight can't be hurt. Father will kill him if Midnight was damaged. She may not be Nebula or Gamora, but Midnight is not useless to Father. Not like he is. He tears his eyes open and sees Midnight gripping her hand close to her chest. It's smoking. The machine is attempting to sit up, but the dagger in his shoulder is impeding any progress.

The Witch is moving towards him.

"Nova!" Midnight barks, drawing her sword with her undamaged hand and snapping it out. She begins to move towards the Witch and Nova's anxiety worsens. He can't let her kill the Witch! Father can still use her! She's living proof of merged life with Infinity Stones where he failed. Father will be able to further his plans. He needs this.

Nova lifts out a hand and flicks his wrist, the first spell that comes to mind searing through his fingers. It makes the ends tingle, his wrist aching as the familiar thrum of power slips through his fingers. The magic flashes through the air—true evidence of his exhaustion, if he had been fully rested, it would be its usual translucent—slamming into the Witch's back.

She crumples before she reaches the machine, limbs flaying out when she doesn't catch herself. The paralysis spell shouldn't be permanent, but he winces all the same when the Witch's head smacks against the metal plating of the ship with a ka-thump.

"Wanda!" the machine yells, fury slipping into his tone. The creature looks towards him, eyes heated. The Mind Stone begins to glow inside his head, buzzing with a familiar humming power and Nova feels his breath constrict in his throat. It wields the Stone? Truly? Something created by Terrans has the ability to wield an Infinity Stone? His lips part wordlessly.

The Power Stone. Digging into his head. Hair never grew on top of the scar. If he lifts his hair up above his left ear, there's nothing but a scalded burn mark, half as long as finger, but just as wide. Father nearly destroyed him that day, but he kept pushing and pushing and Nova thought he was going to die and—

It's instinct that keeps him from the blazing ray, years of his siblings throwing objects at him in random to test his reflexes saving him from taking the blast of light to the chest. It doesn't even clip him. He lands in a roll and jumps up to his feet smoothly, if a little dizzy.

Midnight slams her spear inside of the machine's chest. The beam stops immediately, a groan of pain taking its place. Midnight breathes out heavily, hand still clutched against her stomach. "We don't need you or her"—Midnight jerks her head towards the Witch—"alive. Remember that. Try something. Really. Test me."

The machine's wide eyes don't move from her.

Nova takes a step forward hesitantly, uncertain as to what she wants him to do. "Take her to the detention wing," Midnight says without looking back at him. She twists the blade and the machine stops breathing.

He doesn't suspect that the creature needed it in the first place. Perhaps it just felt obligated to do so because everything around it was, too.

"I'll deal with this." His sister spits.

Nova nods, lifting a fisted hand to his chest and giving a slight bow of respect. He moves towards the Witch and rolls her over with the edge of his boot. Her eyes stare up as the rest of her rolls weightlessly. Nova exhales through his nose before squatting down and gathering her into his arms. His back immediately burns, another few stitches giving.

He has to bite down sharply on his tongue to keep himself from crying out, but his breath does hitch in his chest at the sheer agony.

More blood pools down his back, staining his shirt. If it wasn't for the armor wrapped around him, his shame would be visible for everyone to see.

The paralysis holds and the Witch remains unmoving in his arms. He probably should have done this from the start, but in the wild frenzy to capture the machine and the fight that followed, it hadn't occurred to him. Nova blows out a breath and rises up to his feet. The burn increases, the skin around the wound stretching before snapping and he feels another few stitches give.

Kriff, he can't do this. He can't do this. He can't—

He moves towards the door with ease, elbowing the pad and watching as it opens automatically. Distantly, he registers that the machine is beginning to scream, but he doesn't look back. He's learned it's easier that way. There's less of a chance he'll try and interfere, ruining Father's plans. Father needs the Mind Stone, and the machine is going to have to die for Father's cause.

Just like the wizard had.

Nova passes the Outriders standing guard, scrambling through the halls and avoiding him, moving towards the detention block.

When he's entered an empty cell, he sets the Witch down carefully against the floor and lifts her hands up to snap the manacles onto pale wrists. Her long brown-auburn hair is hanging down around her shoulders, falling in front of her face and likely obscuring her vision. He can see blood staining some of it and hopes that whatever the injury was it won't have permanent aftereffects. He notes that her fingers are already beginning to bruise with a distant dispassion, sighing softly.

She shouldn't have gotten dragged into this.

Hopefully Father will be pleased. If he's not, Nova will likely have to split her blood himself for trying to warrant quarter where it wasn't needed.

He leans back and considers removing the paralysis. It won't drain him to keep it, but the journey from Terra to the Sanctuary is almost three days time. That's a long time to be helpless. He looks at the Witch over and bites on his tongue, shaking his head. It would be a pointless mercy. She'll be easier to contain this way, and he will not give Father any more reasons to be angry with him.

He's not under any obligations to be nice to her regardless. She's a stowaway. A tool. A gift.

Nova gets to his feet and turns, striding from the room. He doesn't look back as he closes the cell door, leaving the Witch trapped in the dark.

000o000

Nova meets Midnight on the bridge nearly twenty minutes later.

The machine is, remarkably, still alive and slumped against the wall near the windows. He's not restrained, but laying limply. It says enough of his state that Midnight left him free. She doesn't believe that he'll be able to escape. While his sister may struggle with overconfidence from time to time, he can see that the machine is going nowhere.

The Mind Stone remains in its head, however.

Nova comes to a stop a few feet behind Midnight, pulling his gaze from the machine. In her left hand is the dagger Father gave her. She's spinning it slowly, fingering the ridges where the design is crafted with metal. Her damaged hand has been wrapped and he feels relief at the sight. The wound wasn't permanent. It may sting, but she will recover. Eventually.

He holds his tongue to stop any questions from spilling out. He doesn't need to speak here, so he won't. He's already said far too much since this whole fiasco started anyway. There's no need to continue that.

As if she can sense his thoughts, Midnight looks back at him, yellow gaze piercing. "The machine is proving more resistant than I first thought. The Stone doesn't want to part from him." She lifts up her hand as evidence to back her statement.

He glances towards the machine, swallowing anger. Midnight had done nothing to deserve the pain it gave her. It had no reason to touch her. If Father does not make him suffer before he dies, Nova will.

Midnight releases an aggravated noise, turning back to the windows with stars whirling past them. Nova follows her gaze and realizes they must have entered the jump point while he was detaining the Witch. "I'm certain Father will be able to devise a way to take it from him. One that doesn't end with someone's incineration." She reassures. Nova nods, letting his gaze linger on their captive for a moment more.

When he'd done a brief study of Terra—trying to remember why it's so familiar—-for the mission, everything that he'd learned had insisted that it was primitive. The only reason it's listed among the more common names is because it was part of a collective called "the Nine." The term had meant nothing to him beyond a faint, wispy recognition. He feels as though he's heard it in a dream before, but Ria was a territory under the protection of this "Nine", so it's more likely where he'd come across it before. He searched for information on Ria before they attacked that settlement, too. He always does. The pattern feels familiar to him, as if he's done it scores of time before.

He hadn't had the time to study the Nine further, and now it doesn't really matter. (But it does. Why is Terra so advanced? How do they have the ability to harness Infinity Stones? From what Gamora told him, Father found a master builder to forge the Gauntlet, and they barely succeeded. The Gauntlet can only take the strain of all Stones once or twice. So how did Terra—?)

Midnight claps her hands together and it snaps him into attention. She's looking at him, hands lifted in front of his face and he flinches back from them despite himself. He blinks. He must have zoned out again. It's getting more frequent. His illness is getting worse.

"Are you listening?" Midnight demands.

He is now.

Nova lifts his gaze up to her, holding her yellow eyes. Midnight makes a clicking noise, clenching her fists. Her eyes are tight with pain around the edges and he knows that the burn must bother her more than he first thought. "You could have been killed," Midnight snaps, lifting out a finger to jab in him the chest with a finger. "I told you not to run off into the barn without me. You're impulsiveness will be the death of you. Father would have been most unpleased with me if I had dragged your smoldering corpse before his feet."

Nova grits his teeth. He knows that he's not high on her list of priorities, but it stings to have that reaffirmed. He swallows his apprehension and then questions, stiffly, "How is your hand?"

Midnight's gaze flicks towards the wound. She looks back up at him, lips pressed together. "Nothing that won't heal with time."

"You should see a medic." Nova says. Her skin was smoking. The burn must be terrible. She won't let him help her, but she needs help.

Midnight's expression hardens before she takes a step forward, jaw set. "On one condition," he lifts his head to look at her only for her violently backhand him across the face. He stumbles, his head swinging in the direction of the hand as he lifts out his hands a little for balance. "You listen next time. I'm not dragging your corpse back."

Nova grits his teeth, rubbing at his jaw and winces as the tender skin pulses beneath his fingers. His tongue is bleeding from where he bit it. He is but an inconvenience. The point has been made. A distraction to keep her from focusing on Father's wants, and that can't happen.

"Do you have anything to say?" Midnight asks, and Nova looks up at her. He doesn't. He's waiting. If she'd wanted a report, she would have asked for one, but there's nothing for him to say. They've been on this blasted thing together since the start. "Then why are you still here? You're dismissed." Midnight says flippantly, turning back to the windows.

Nova digs his teeth together, refusing to give into his annoyance and dips his head. He feels the machine's eyes on him, and lets his gaze lift to it for a moment. His stare makes it pull its own away, and Nova represses an eye roll, slipping from the room. Midnight will keep an eye on it. Probably both eyes. Not that she has a need to; with how easily the machine is intimidated, they likely won't have a problem with it.

For something that holds a Stone, it's hopelessly pathetic.

They're so close to fulfilling their father's mission. Only a few days of travel and then they can present their success to their father. They may have slipped some at the end, but if Nova hadn't slipped off from Midnight then they might have gotten the machine alone and avoided this whole thing. Nova had insisted that the machine being alone would take weeks.

Father wanted the Stones now, so he left.

Midnight caught him before he snuck into the barn. She had attacked first, even if she was irritated. They had just assumed that the Witch could be easily taken care of. Obviously she's attempting to prove herself otherwise.

But if Nova hadn't been impulsive and waited then…

He's so tired. Kriff, he doesn't care about any of this. His back hurts. His face hurts. All he wants to do is sleep and eat something.

Breathing out slowly, he opens the door to the guest quarters he's been staying in for the last week when they weren't running around Terra. Nothing overly glamorous, but he doesn't really care. It has somewhere to sleep and that's all he really cares about right now.

The door hisses shut behind him automatically and Nova steps forward, allowing himself to feel the exhaustion. He and Midnight have been up for the better part of the last four days as they tracked the wizard. Nova's algorithm made a mess of getting anywhere, much to Midnight's verbal and physical annoyance, but they got Mind and Time.

It was more than Nova expected of himself.

Or his magic.

He eyes the cot with longing before stepping past it into the washroom. His back is wet, and he's not stupid enough to leave it like this and ignorantly hope that nothing happened. Nova sighs and elbows on the light before struggling to remove his armor and then his shirt. His back is fiery with pain and he has to stop several times to catch his breath and try not to vomit.

He'd felt something give when the Witch forced them both to the floor in the barn. Between the activity of this week he hasn't been given the time to let his body heal on its own. He keeps pulling and breaking the stitches. If Nebula sees this, she's going to be furious. She did tell him leave it alone. But how could he?

His father's mission—his trust—is far more important than anything that Nova's small discomfort.

Nova finally manages to shrug the bloodied clothing off and twists around to see the wound in the mirror. The angle is funny, given that he's looking over his shoulder, but he can see that blood is beginning to leak from the top. The stitches, like many others, have snapped and he's going to have to leave it for scabbing over. He can't fix it himself from this angle, and the thought of asking Midnight for assistance makes him sick.

She'd make it worse. There have been only four times he's had to submit to begging for her help and he remembers, vividly, the instance when she'd poisoned him.

He can only hope and pray that Nebula wasn't sent off by their father while they were gone. She's the only one he can trust to not make things worse. Funny how things change. He would have sooner cut out his own tongue than even consider going to her before Ronan happened.

Nova's vision blurs for a moment and he squeezes his eyes shut when the world violently spins, trying to ground himself. Blood loss, an unhelpful part of him offers for a diagnosis. He's just exhausted. This isn't anything serious.

There's nothing he can do to clean or bandage it without a lot of movement and he can't handle that right now. He can't breathe.

Nova grabs his clothing and half staggers to the cot. His knees give and he collapses bodily into it, barely managing to avoid smashing his head against the opposing wall. Nova releases a low moan and bites at his tongue to stifle it. He may be alone, but that's no excuse for showing weakness.

He grips the edge of the blanket weakly, trying to breathe.

It's all fine.

(He's going to die.)

000o000

He spends the next few days in a haze. If he's being honest, he hardly remembers half of what happens. He knows that his back finally begins to show physical signs of infection—it's leaking pus now, and a lot if it—that Midnight nearly strangles the Outrider captain with them, and the machine makes a failed attempt at escape that he wasn't present for. (Midnight stopped him with ease and now Nova privately thinks that the machine will be dead before they arrive at the Sanctuary from his injuries.)

And then one moment he's attempting to stomach something that tastes like ash on his tongue, the next he's standing in front of the detention wing with instructions to retrieve the Witch. They're docking on the Sanctuary. They're here. Their father is waiting. He doesn't have time to dawdle.

He needs...to lay down. He needs to vomit. He needs to…needs to...

Nova grits his teeth and braces himself before opening the door and stepping inside. The Witch is still laying limply where he left her, head hanging and arms raised, wrists clasped in the cuffs. Nova rubs his thumb over his knuckles for a moment, resisting the urge to pick at his palm.

He can do this.

He's going to vomit.

It's only a short journey to Father.

Please let Nebula still be there.

Nova lifts his hand and draws the spell away from the Witch's body. The wisps of golden light return to his fingers, sinking beneath his skin to rejoin his bloodstream. His headache lessons a little at the release of the spell, but not by much. The back of his skull is threatening to tear itself open.

The Witch doesn't move. Her fingers twitch at first, as if she's attempting to assess her condition before making any big movements. Nova knows from past experience that she must be miserable. The body aches, testy limbs and so on. If she's standing in the next ten minutes he'll be impressed.

The Witch's fists clench, but her head doesn't raise. "Where—" her voice cracks, dry and hardly above a rasp. A shudder washes down her spine. "Where is Vision?"

Nova lifts up the spare pair of clothing and a water bottle he collected before arriving here, saying nothing.

"Where is he?" the Witch's voice is harsh. Hard. Something promising pain, but Nova has stared down worse than this mortal. "Answer—can you understand me?"

"Freshen up. Join me outside." He says instead, dropping the supplies next to her limp legs and touching one of the cuffs to release both of them. They click before her hands fall by her sides, flopping to the ground bonelessly. She doesn't lift them. He suspects that she can't.

Her broken fingers look worse than they did a few days ago, and Nova realizes that Midnight must have had no one sent to her. He only meant to keep her contained. It wasn't his intent to keep her in pain. The swelling is terrible and clearly visible, even from the distance he is from her.

(It doesn't matter. Let it go.)

(It matters.)

Nova turns, exiting the cell without another word and grounds himself for the wait. The world spins violently and he has to grab at the wall to keep himself upright. His stomach heaves and he bites down on his tongue sharply to stop the vomit from spilling out. He wants to lay down. He doesn't want to do this.

The infection is getting worse.

Please let Nebula be there.

He's going to...he can't remember. He can't...he's...it…?

He tilts his head back and squeezes his eyes with relief when the cool metal eases some of the pressure in his head. It's a momentary lapse, but one nonetheless.

Time blurs and he doesn't know how long it's been before the door opens and the Witch, looking only marginally better, steps out. She's still wearing the boots she arrived in, but the other clothing is the spares he gave her. Her hair has been tucked back into a loose ponytail, leaving some strands to hang around her pale face.

Nova blinks, attempting to process this as he pulls his head away from the wall, swallowing heavily. His vision does something funny and then suddenly the Witch's hand is flying towards his face. He catches her fist, twisting the limb enough to hurt, but not break. The woman's eyes are wide, though, as if she suspects that he'll break her remaining fingers.

Tempting.

But no.

The woman's eyes narrow. "Where is Vision?"

Nova sighs, drawing restraints Midnight lent him out and dragging the Witch's wrists together before snapping the cuffs on. He grabs her elbow and hauls her forward a step, nearly pitching face-first into the metal floor.

He's closer. He's much closer now. Kriff, he hasn't felt this terrible since the Other was training him. Or when Father used the Stone to—

Nova keeps walking. He doesn't answers her questions and ignores her persistent pestering about this Vision. The machine, he suspects, but he doesn't understand why something would be named "vision." It seems...it seems pointless. Father chooses his names carefully. This seems to have been an afterthought.

The woman's annoyance with him clearly grows, but he's unaffected by it. Her attempts at a struggle are considerably less than before, likely since she's concluded he's taking her to the machine. As if she'll somehow escape by simply being her beloved's presence. Naive.

Time does another haze and he only snaps back into focus when Midnight's fingers brush on his upper arm. They're standing at the front of the Outriders, the creature being dragged by the captain. Nova is still gripping the Witch. The woman's attention is on the machine behind them, eyes wary. The gravity of the situation seems to be settling in.

She won't stop picking at the block. It's not enough to tear it down, but it's a nagging pain that does nothing to help his headache or mood.

Midnight's yellow eyes are narrowed.

Nova pulls his gaze away, unwilling to relent. He needs to try harder if he's giving himself away so easily. He rolls his shoulders back, straightens his posture, and forces his gait to be less of a mimic of an intoxicated creature.

They cross through the Sanctuary's familiar halls and passages quickly, the walls blurring. Midnight doesn't stop when they reach the throne room, waiting to be called in. She shoves open the doors and takes the needed steps inside, moving towards the throne. Their father is seated there, regal as ever. His eyes trace them across the room, expression blank.

Nova's stomach drops when he realizes that Ebony and Obsidian are present. His eyes slide towards Obsidian's right, where Glaive would have been had he not been dead. (Father was disappointed in Glaive's performance. Gamora had tried to appease his temper, but it ended poorly. Nova wasn't a member of the Order yet, but he had noticed the tension.)

The Other, as always, is hovering near Father's right. Nebula's sharp eyes land on him and don't leave. Relief crashes through him when he sees the familiar hue of her skin. She's here. She's here. Father didn't send her away while he was gone.

She can help him. (She has to help him.)

"Father," Midnight greets and lifts a fist to her heart, giving a dip of her head. Nova comes to a stop, but thinks if he does anything beyond stand here, breathing, he's going to snap. He'll burst out all over this ugly floor and they won't be able to put him back together again.

The thought shouldn't be a relief.

Nova lifts his shaking hand towards his chest, hoping that his discomfort isn't as obvious as he feels it is. His hand is shaking and dipping his head stretches the skin of his back so sharply his gaze goes white at the edges for a moment.

"We were successful in our mission, my lord." Midnight says, "We have brought you Time and Mind." She glances behind them towards the Outrider captain and the creature takes a step forward, throwing the machine at their father's feet. He lands weightlessly.

The Witch twitches.

Their father looks towards the machine and then lifts his piercing gaze up to them. He has says nothing. He usually says something by now. Have they done something to rouse his ire? Did he want more? What have they done? What must they do to—

"I see that." Their father states flatly. "At least, I see Mind. Where is Time?"

Midnight looks back at him.

Father's gaze lifts up. Nova represses a shudder, but the idea of trying to draw anything from his cache causes his stomach to flip violently. He makes a choking noise as he tries to hold back the vomit. No one comments, but he feels Nebula's gaze on him once more. Nova lifts his trembling hand and curses himself for showing such weakness.

With effort, he slowly pulls the Infinity Stone from within the confines of his magic. The green light hums between his fingertips as he touches the edges of the crystal. The Stone feels funny against his skin, but strangely calming. It's humming. Calling for him.

The Witch's eyes have gone wide.

Nova lifts the Stone to hover before he directs it towards his father's awaiting fingers. The Titan's expression is carefully concealed, but he thinks that he sees a small edge of anticipation in his eyes. Father clasps the Stone between two fingers when it's close enough and rolls his wrist to lift the Gauntlet up towards the Stone.

With the Stone buzzing energy, Father shoves against the Infinity Stone's initial reaction to get as far as possible from its brother, pushing it inside the Gauntlet. The power ripples across his skin and Father's expression washes with open agony for a moment. Nova rocks on his feet, prepared to interfere should the need arise and sees his siblings do much the same.

The Stone settles inside Father's bloodstream and the Titan releases a soft noise.

Nebula takes a step forward. "Father?"

"I am well, daughter." Their father says, waving a hand. His movement is careful; an attempt to hide his discomfort that Nova sees through easily. Father releases a heavy breath before his gaze lands on the Witch. Nova feels breath tangle inside of him, bracing for what must be done. "I told you to take no prisoners. You best pray you have a good reason for her impediment, my children."

"She is the living proof you have been looking for." Midnight begins carefully. "She and Mind have been successfully merged."

"On Terra?" the Other spits with clear disbelief.

Their father's gaze perks. He shifts in his throne. "Is that so? Little girl, what is your name?"

The Witch looks uncomfortable beneath the stare, rocking her weight forward. Her lips part once before her gaze flits towards the machine and her resolve appears to harden. "Let us go or you'll regret it."

Nova's expression lifts the slightest, unimpressed.

Father snorts. With a dismissive tone, he says, "Child. I admire your resilience, but you must understand that we are no longer on your world. Your status means nothing here."

The Witch rams against the block again, harder, and Nova winces, straightening his posture sharply. Ebony's lands on him, eyes narrowing. Nova knows that the man can't sense magic to save his life—the telekinesis he wields is part of his species, not magic—but he's not stupid.

"I am not wielding status. This has nothing to do with status." The Witch says, her voice admirably steady. "You do not know me. I will tear all of you apart limb by limb if you lay a hand on him."

"Wanda…" the machine whispers from his position at the bottom of the dais. He hasn't moved once since Midnight threw him there. "Wanda, please..."

"Wanda." Father tries the name on his tongue. "That is your name, then, child?"

"Does it matter?" the Witch hisses, lifting her chin slightly. She's smaller than everyone in the room, but it's obvious she's desperately attempting to make herself seem bigger. She's terrified. "You—"

"Yes. I can sense that Mind has had an influence on you." Their father interrupts. His head tilts, "Curious." He looks from Nova to Midnight several times before giving an approving nod of his head. "You have done well, my children. I am impressed."

Impressed.

Impressed.

Relief drops like a weight inside his stomach. There will be no punishment for failing. They did well.

"Now," their father rises from their throne and all of them flinch back involuntarily. Nova ducks his head down the slightest bit to avoid eye contact, watching as Father slowly descends the dais. The machine makes a weak attempt to crawl away, but light shudders through it.

The Witch makes a noise, attempting a step forward, but Nova grips her arm harder and stops her. "For the other Stone, I'm afraid that this day will have to be one of loss," their father says and leans down, grabbing the machine by its neck. Hauling it upright, the machine gargles, gripping at Father's forearm.

"No, don't—" the Witch begins, jerking in his grip. Their father glances at her for the briefest moment, a smirk tipping the edges of his lips. Nova guards himself, inhaling deeply and allowing all his protests to escape him in a single exhale. It's not his place to say.

The machine's looking towards the Witch, their eyes locked desperately. The Mind Stone begins to hum, power thrumming as the machine prepares to use it. "I'm sorry," he's mouthing to the Witch. Unlike Midnight, Father isn't burned by the blaze. He merely lifts the Gauntlet and the light reflects in the machine's head. Pushing through the blaze and digging deep, Father tears through the creature's forehead, electing a scream from it.

The Witch scrambles forward desperately, slipping over her feet, but unable to go anywhere because of his grip. He tears his eyes away from the scene, focusing on his feet instead. The Witch is bubbling out protests, pleads, threats, but it's meaningless.

The machine's agony grows higher before cutting off completely and Nova feels the full power of the Mind Stone wash through them, no longer hindered by the Terran technology attached to it. It's finished. He lifts his eyes in time to see the machine, gray and lifeless, dropping dead at their father's feet. The Mind Stone is clasped in between Father's fingers and with a familiar movement, he inserts it into the Gauntlet as the Witch drops to her knees and screams.

Chapter Text


She can't feel her legs. Wanda doesn't know why, in the face of all of this, that's what stands out to her the most. Vision is a crumpled mass of gray, lifeless machinery, and she can hardly focus on anything beyond how numb below her hips is.

Vision is—

What just—?

It's...

The man's grip around her arm is tight and painful, not supportive. He means to do harm. He already has. His fingernails are roughly digging into her skin, and Wanda wishes that she had grabbed her jacket before exiting Clint's house on Lila's birthday. That feels like it was a lifetime ago, and she can't make a good judgement about how long it has been.

Her toes are tingling, her calf muscles straining beneath skin as if trying to tear their way out from underneath and breathe fresh air. They've been like this since the man released his spell, but now she can hardly feel the pain anymore.

Because she can't feel below her legs.

And Vision is dead.

Sobs swallow her scream quickly and she gasps, heavy and hard, trying to breathe. She can't. Her lungs might as well be paralyzed for all the good they're doing her. They won't expand, constantly retracting and tightening inside of her, curling around her heart as if attempting to protect it.

Because Vision is dead, and it hurts.

Eyes are on her, but she can't take her gaze off her beloved. Vision. This can't be happening. It has to be some sort of awful dream. When she wakes up, she'll be on the plane about to land on the Barton farm. She and Pietro—the thought of her brother makes another part of her ache—will be talking. She'll never get into the stupid argument and storm off like a petty children.

They'll never be ambushed.

Vision will never be taken.

Vision won't be killed. She creates nightmares; she knows them, and she knows that this...wake up, she pleads with herself silently, wake up.

Nothing happens.

This is real.

She needs to get to Vision's body. She needs to see if there's still hope for him, or if the damage will be irreversible. She needs to hold him. Sobs still rattling through her, Wanda jerks roughly with her captured arm and the man gives after a moment. Her brute force did nothing. He released her. She doesn't know why, doesn't care, and crawls the few feet between herself and Vision, collapsing on top of him.

"Vision," her voice is surprisingly steady. She wants to howl and shatter. She traces his face gently with her right hand, tears causing the world to blur. He's so cold. He never radiated much warmth before, but it had been enough to reassure her that he was alive.

He's dead.

He's dead and she needs to stop pretending otherwise.

He is dead.

His forehead is caved in, letting her see a glimpse into his skull. There isn't a brain, and she didn't expect one. There's only a network of wiring with what she suspects is a central hard drive where he stores the data. It looks like a crude mess of what she remembers the inside of Ultrons looking like. There's a giant burned gash into his left eye socket, still smoking, and she suspects it's from when their enemy's leader—king?—reflected the Mind Stone with his glove.

He's lifeless. There is no way he could have survived that without access to another computer. She knows that Ultron made his escape through the internet. Vision does not have that option. Not in deep space and as weak as he was.

He's gone. No part of him is going to live on.

"Vis, please. Please, it's time to wake up now," Wanda whispers, trying to keep her voice steady. She's failing. Her tone is a rasp and tears streaming down her face cloud her view, making it hard to distinguish anything in the blurred mess. Vision's remaining lifeless gray eye stares up toward the heavens. He's never going to see anything again. He's dead.

"Please." She strangles out. She traces his broken cheek again and gasps, a sob working its way from her throat.

Vision doesn't move. He doesn't twitch. He stays there, dead weight, limbs lifeless, eye open towards nothing. Wanda's hands are shaking, the broken, swollen bones of her left hand aching with every rattle. She is unable to catch her breath with how heavy the tears are in her chest.

She remembers with sudden clarity how it felt when Pietro had been shot. How every part of her body had been on fire, but she'd been so cold inside. As if someone had poured liquid nitrogen down her esophagus and told her to hold it there. She hadn't been able to breathe, flinching back. She'd never seen his body fall. She'd only felt him die. The first time she saw him was in the hospital at the Helicarrier.

This is so much worse.

She can feel how still Vision is. How dead. She can't do this. She can not do this.

Something touches her hair and Wanda flinches, jerking forward slightly—further on top of Vision's boneless body—and twists around for a source. Her captors' leader is behind her, large purple hand lifted a little over her head and expression blank. He's kneeling beside her on one knee, looking strangely soft.

Wanda's never been more tempted to rip through someone's throat and keep going down until she grabs something vital to yank at.

Wanda's fingers curl around Vision and she hiccups between sobs. She feels so pathetic. This is hardly her first captive situation. Showing weakness isn't how it's dealt with. Bursting into tears was not her wisest move, but what was she supposed to do? She can't steady herself. She can't calm down. She wants to keep screaming.

Behind the large purple man she sees the horned woman and pale man she stowed away with fidget uncomfortably. Everyone beyond the leader looks uncomfortable, as if uncertain what to do in the face of such emotion. A part of her is snidely satisfied by that. Good. Let them be uncomfortable. It's the least they deserve for murdering an innocent.

Her…

The leader gives a sympathetic sounding sigh, drawing her attention back to him. He drops his heavy hand on her head again, stroking her ratty hair.

Her entire body goes rigid beneath him.

"I understand, little girl," he murmurs quietly.

Wanda's lips tremble and she can barely choke out the words. "You could never…"

"Oh, but I do." He interrupts, voice somehow soft despite the deep rumble of it. She feels sick. She thinks she's going to vomit all over this reflecting floor and she can't say she'll be all too upset about it. "I have lost those I love as well."

Wanda chokes, lifting her right hand to her mouth to muffle her crying.

"There is no shame in grief," the leader assures, pressing harder against her scalp. She hates his touch. It's uncomfortably smooth, like it doesn't hold the ridges her own does. Without blisters, calluses, or identifying finger traits. "Do not hide your tears."

"I hate you," Wanda whispers, pulling her hand back. Saying the words gives her strength. Anger is easier than grief. Hate is easier than loss. Anything is easier than this despondency threatening to drown her. She turns to him and raises her fists, slamming them against his broad chest. "I hate you!" she screams.

Her broken hand burns beneath the physical aggression, but she slams her knuckles against him again. The block refuses to let her touch at her magic, and that's a mercy for his sake. She would have torn him to pieces if she could. Grabbed at anything inside his chest and yanked on it like he's pulled at her heart. He killed her vozlyublennaya.

She hits him again, and again, and again, only stopping when she sees him lift up a hand from the corner of her eye. The other has not stopped stroking her head, and it makes her sick. Through her tears she sees everyone in the room still, stopping their advance. Many have drawn weapons, moving towards them, likely with the intent to stop her from permanently damaging the leader.

If only she could push through his thick skin and break his ribcage with her bear hands.

Without looking towards the others, the leader gives a small smile down at her. "One day you will thank me. You'll see."

Disgust sharply smashes into her gut and she grabs for her magic intending to actually do harm, yanking and yanking, but nothing comes beyond the pulsing pain. Not even a small trickle of the familiar hum that has followed her since HYDRA. She sees the pale man she came with grimace openly the further she pulls, but his block holds.

That little—

No. She's not going to do this. She's an Avenger. She avenges. Vision's death will not go without retribution!

She jerks up to her feet, intending to rush at him—not really sure where to go beyond there, but bodily harm is likely—but her feet give out before she even takes a full step. They're still numb, yet weirdly stinging. The leader's large hand catches her before she can hit the ground and she recoils from it.

"Little girl, be at ease—"

"Khvatit menya trogat'!" Wanda shouts, pushing back from him. No one seems confused by her switch in tongue which startles her. They'd been speaking almost perfect English for a majority of her capture, she hadn't expected them to understand Russian. Where did they even learn either in the first place?

The leader only sighs a little and lets her go. She falls to her knees almost immediately, ramming them against the hard, reflecting floor and wincing inwardly at the pain.

Her palms take her upper body's weight, stopping her from smacking her forehead against the ground. The last thing she needs is to embarrass herself further in front of these people. She's already done plenty to lose sleep over.

Breathing heavy, Wanda stares at the floor and refuses to look anywhere else until the leader's voice catches her attention. She looks up by habit to the noise. "Ebony," the purple man says and a tall man with a flat face and long silver hair looks up, snapping to attention. His fingers go to his sides from where they were pressing together at his front. "Take Wanda—" she hates that he knows her name. Hates how it slides off his tongue like he has a right to be speaking it, "—to a cell. I think it would be best to let her sort out her thoughts, don't you agree?"

"Of course." The man, presumably Ebony, says. His voice is higher than she expected it would be.

Sort out her thoughts!?

"Let me." A voice cuts in before Ebony finishes his first step. One of the only two women in the room lifts up her head. She's blue, Wanda realizes. Not the kind of blue that poor lighting would cause, but her skin is actually the deep hue. Her left hand is glittering metal, one of her eyes in a similar condition. Between everyone in the room, she's one of the few without horns or scales.

The leader pauses.

The blue woman takes a step forward. "It won't be any trouble, Father."

Father!? This is her—what? Wanda realizes numbly that when they'd walked into the room, the horned woman had addressed the purple man the same way. Father. This is their father? They're sisters?

How could they just let their father murder a living being infront of them and be so unaffected!?

"I think," the leader's gaze flicks to the pale man for a moment, "that you are rather needed elsewhere."

The pale man's fists clench, his head dropping lower than it already was. Black hair so dark it's almost blue covers his thin face. Wanda's eyes narrow with suspicion, but she hardly has time to contemplate it further before long fingers brush against her shoulder. Wanda jerks, hobbling up to her feet in a jerky movement, instinctively raising as her fists clench. She attempts to draw on her magic to further the defensive posture, but the stab of pain that smacks against her gut makes her release a squeaked wheeze.

Ebony's eyes narrow the slightest. He's tall. Wanda has to look up to see his face properly. She's never been exactly short—a few inches taller than Pietro for most of their early teen years before he finally hit his growth spurt and over took her—but everyone around her seems so massive. She feels like a child barely coming up to their knees.

She wept like one, too.

Vision.

Her heart gives a twist, the gnawing numbness settling below her knees again.

"Come, child." Ebony says. His high, but surprisingly frail voice is strangely flat. He tips his head in the direction of the exit, and Wanda plants her heals and grinds her teeth against one another. She looks towards Vision; ignores the leader's heavy stare.

"I am not leaving him." She tries to make her words heavy and commanding, but they barely come out as a whisper. It sounds like she's asking a question.

Ebony's lips don't quite smile. His long fingers reach for her again, wrapping around her bicep before she can swerve out of the way and he hauls her forward a step. She staggers, trying to balance, but finding the action harder than she really cares to admit.

Ebony pulls her again, like a mother yanking on their child's hand to move them in the direction that they want to go. Wanda's cheeks heat at the thought, but all embarrassment is brushed aside as she looks back and sees Vision's lifeless gray body once more.

If she leaves him, what will become of him? Will they give him a proper funeral? Is there still a way to revive him? If she got the Mind Stone and the...the corpse back to Earth, could Tony and Bruce...could they…

Ebony yanks on her harder, obviously impatient. Wanda stumbles over herself, nearly tumbling face-first onto the floor. Curse these legs!

"Wait, I—" she tries to protest. Plead.

"He is no longer your concern." Ebony says smoothly. He keeps pulling. Pushing. Yanking. When they exit the room, she feels something in her chest give with relief. The suffocating presence of the Infinity Stones immediately lessons and she draws a deep breath, suddenly realizing how much her eyes hurt. They're puffy but sharp, leaving her to suspect that they're red and swelling.

That purple man had three Stones. Wanda has never seen so many gathered in one place. The only time she's known of Stones being in close proximity was when New York was attacked, but the Tesseract and Mind Stone weren't exactly side by side for very long.

He had them in a glove.

What is he doing?

"Take me back." Wanda commands, looking towards the room frantically. "I have to—I have—" how can she explain that she needs to remain by her lover's corpse just in case there is a way to bring him back? She needs to make sure that the body remains in one piece so if she can get the Mind Stone back, Tony and Bruce will be able to fix him. "You have to let me—"

"I don't have to let you do anything," Ebony says, not even bothering to glance towards her. His steps are even and long, forcing her to pick up the pace to stop herself from being dragged. A part of her is sorely tempted to grow lax and force him to carry her, just to be an inconvenience. "It would be for the best if you would stop making demands, child."

"You killed him." Wanda says. She doesn't know what her point is. Maybe she's in shock. Her mind doesn't feel cloudy enough for that. She can't process this. It doesn't feel real. She'll wake up in a few hours, uncomfortable, but able to rise from her bed in the Compound and go find Vision. Or he'll phase through another wall and make Pietro curse him to into purgatory for the umpteenth time.

They lapse into silence. Their feet dread the ground in a rhythm, but she's not paying attention to it. She focuses on the corridors of the ship, trying to memorize the layout even if she knows it's pointless. Even if she does escape...she's in space.

Space.

She knew, of course, that Thor was from another planet and therefore other life exist beyond her homeworld, but it's a different thing to know that and to see it. She has spent so much of her life in the small clustered area of Sokovia that she can't comprehend how vast the universe has suddenly gotten. These people are not from Earth. This isn't a simple fix where she can take them out and then get herself to the nearest phone, calling for a pickup.

Even if she does manage to overpower them, something she's reluctant to admit isn't very likely without her magic, she has no idea how to man a spaceship. Her experience with mind control is rudimentary and fails more often than not. She's not the Mind Stone incarnate. She took some of its abilities, not everything.

Escape back to Earth is looking impossible. Not without help or a rescue; the former is ridiculous and the latter she strongly suspects will take months, if not years. (If ever.) She's stuck here. All because she was an idiot and tried to play hero. She's not going home, and neither is Vision.

Ebony leads on, and Wanda follows in silence. After going down a few levels on the ship they come to a stop on what she suspects is the detention wing. The ship, from what Wanda has picked out in their traveling, is massive. It must be the size of a small town. Wanda could get lost for the better part of a week trying to navigate through the mess. Pietro has always been better at keeping a mental map between the two of them.

And he's always been there to keep it.

Why did she have to be such an idiot? So petty? If she had just been thinking, would any of this have happened? She knows with certainty that her last words to her brother wouldn't have been something she would regret. Wounds that they slashed open mean so little now. She'd give almost anything to go back to the Barton farm before this whole debacle started.

When Vision was alive.

The detention wing smells similar to what she remembers HYDRA's experimentation rooms to: human suffering. Vomit, blood, other bodily fluids, molding soup, infection, and—oddly enough—a persistent tangy baking smell. It's...it's almost like cinnamon, but stronger. Maybe nutmeg or orange slices. That one's different. HYDRA didn't smell like baking, and the Raft was bleach or salt.

But tangy?

She makes a noise in the back of her throat as the first whiff hits her, but Ebony doesn't seem to notice or is unaffected by the strong scent. The long hallway stretches out in almost complete darkness, only the occasional flickering, hanging bulb offering enough light to illuminate the near walls with.

It's an attempt to disorientate, she thinks; no will get far in the dark like this.

Wanda digs her heals into the ground, suddenly realizing how much she doesn't want to be here. Her mind has been a scattered, frantic mess since the leader picked Vision up by his throat—before that, sitting in the cell unable to move for hours upon hours—and suddenly seems to snap back together somewhat.

She struggles against the grip, her protesting movement echoing down the mostly silent long hall. She hears a few bodies shuffling behind locked doors, coughing, moans of pain. It seems so little in comparison to her riot. She might as well have invited a marching band to follow after her. She's heard them in July in New York. They're so loud and it—

Something heavy slams against a door on her right, a prisoner moaning for help.

Wanda jumps, nearly pressing herself against Ebony in her surprise. The tall man makes a soft shushing noise, but whether or not it's for the prisoner or her, she can't tell. He shoves her away, her fear obviously unwelcome.

Wanda takes in a shuddering deep breath. She knows fear. She uses fear. She should be comfortable here. Something close to a whimper sounds on her right. She thinks she can hear someone praying, but the language isn't one she recognizes. Her stomach is seeping with an awful dread, her heart frantically fluttering around in her chest screaming.

She is going to die.

What are they doing? Who is the leader? Who are her captors period? She has no idea what's going on. Who they are. Their endgame. Why they took Vision. How they found him. She has so many questions, but she gets the feeling that Ebony won't be open for an interrogation.

If she didn't have the block, she would have chanced a mind search. Tapping at her powers is something she doesn't want to tempt right now. Her headache is bad enough as it is.

Ebony turns sharply and Wanda bites on her tongue to withhold her surprise. She hadn't realized that the corridor was longer than a single hall. The lack of lighting is a terrible stroke of genius.

At long last, Ebony comes to a stop. It's sudden enough that she nearly walks past him, her feet used to moving as her mind addled elsewhere. Ebony keeps her beside him, lifting out his other hand towards something. She hears a scanner beep, a low light flickering in the dark bright enough to momentarily blind her.

Ebony releases her arm and shoves her towards something. Wanda lets out a yelp of surprise as the ground suddenly drops a good two feet and lands hard on her left arm. Nothing gives, but a stab of pain rockets up her broken fingers, reminding her of their plight. Her shoulder will definitely be bruised tomorrow, but at least there's no more broken bones.

Wanda presses her lips together, twisting around to look back at Ebony. She half expects him to step inside the cell himself and drag her towards more chains and shackles, but he only stands in the doorway. Wanda swallows warily.

She wants him to stay, but she wants him as far away as possible, too.

"You are peculiar." Ebony murmurs, "I can see that the Stone has left her blessing on you."

Why does everyone keep going on about that!?

"Thanos will return to speak with you," he continues, voice that careful even tone. Thanos. That's the leader's name, then? When Ebony speaks again, it's dropped low and almost pained. "You are acting foolish with your protesting and fighting. In all the years I have served him, I have never seen my father give mercy to the undeserving...if you want to survive this, do try to pull yourself off that list."

Wanda eyes him. Her breath twists in her chest, lungs compacting. "Why are you telling me this?"

Ebony's quiet for a long moment. "A word of caution, perhaps. I have never seen something quite like you. Touched by the Stone, yet unblemished. I am, of course, curious."

Her eyes narrow. Her hands burn with the memory of HYDRA's scientists digging their blades inside and whispering try again, I think we must have missed— "I am not a thing for you to study." She says flatly. Her voice is steady. She didn't expect it to be.

"You seem quite convinced about that."

Dozens of things threaten to spit off her tongue. None of them are pleasant, or exactly something her mother would be proud to know came out of her mouth. She's tempted, very much so, to spit at Ebony's feet. Instead, she breathes, and says, "Let me have Vision's—" she has to work her mouth around the word; it tastes like ash in her throat, "—body. I'll cooperate."

Ebony laughs. Short and harsh. It makes the hairs of her neck stand up. "You believe you have a choice? You misunderstand this situation completely."

"I do not—"

"Rejoice," Ebony interrupts, and in the poor lighting of a lightbulb a few paces away, she sees as he places his fingers together, letting his thumb tip against the edge of his chest. "For although you may not see it yet, you have been gifted with salvation. Thanos will redeem you. He will make you better. And in the end, you will owe him your life as I do my own. You may see this as suffering, but no. It is not. My father—" there's pride in those last two words, as if he worked hard to earn it "—will see to you when he pleases. Until then, Miss Wanda, I do recommend you keep quiet."

He backs up, and the door automatically slides shut behind him without another word.

The last bit of light drains away, leaving her completely alone in the pitch-black dark. It's heavy enough it seems to weigh on her shoulders, inky and thick. Her first instinct is to panic, throw up her hands and flail them up and down frantically, but it won't help. She swallows, pressing her hands against the metal beneath them in grounding.

Breathe. Think. Concentrate.

It's dark.

Don't lose control.

It's dark.

You're going to be fine.

Where is the light!?

Vision is dead. She's not going home. Vision is dead. She's not going home. Vision is…

Wanda collapses onto her side, curls into fetal position and panics. Grieves. She remains in the dark and no one comes. There will be no rescue this time. She's on her own now.

There's a pipe dripping in the background. An unpredictable rhythm, sometimes pouring water out frantically or slowly. The sound lulls her mind into a dazed haze; gaze focused forward on nothing. She listens. Drowns out the sounds of the other prisoners moaning and weeping to listen for the water.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

000o000

"This is infected."

"I know."

"I told you not to do anything stupid."

"I know."

He feels, rather than sees, Nebula's scowl into his back. "Then why is it infected?"

Nova sighs, looking down at his fingers. He's picking at his right palm with his left hand, a nervous habit he can't remember the origin of. Not much of a surprise, given everything. Nebula's deft fingers wipe up his spine and he winces, biting on the inside of his cheek as the wound burns against the open air.

"I didn't have time to clean it between everything else." Nova mumbles out. "Midnight kept us busy."

"She nearly killed you." Nebula counters darkly, wringing out the rag into the sink on his left. The water comes out mostly red. Blood. "Again. Does she have no sense of self preservation? If she had killed you, Father would have wrung her neck."

And he'd be dead, but that's not important.

"She's not at fault," Nova argues, but his voice is quiet. "We had to get it done as quickly as possible. Father is pleased with us. That's enough."

Nebula's heavy stare lands on his head. He can tell she disagrees, even if she says nothing. The realization startles him somewhat. Nebula, who has done everything to land inside their father's good graces, is arguing against doing that? Hypocritical.

"It's going to need more stitches—" Nova's shoulders slump "—and your inactivity for at least a week."

His head snaps up. He feels color drain from his face. "I can't just—"

"You can and you will." Nebula argues, throwing the rag inside of the sink. The small washroom of her quarters suddenly drops in space. The walls feel like they're closing in and he thinks he's going to be sick. He can't...unless he's unconscious or dead, his father always has work for him to do. To simply slack off of that…

Father doesn't need any more reasons to send him back to the Other.

He can't go back.

"I'll speak with Father." Nebula promises, tone somehow placid. "Given the circumstances, I think that he'll—"

"What will I do?" Both of them startle, whipping around to look towards the exit of the washroom. Neither Nova nor Nebula heard something enter the room, let alone tread the ground to the entrance. They'd been so focused on the wound and it…

"Father," Nebula's head dips, hand snapping to her cover her heart in respect.

Nova attempts to follow, but his movements are slower and obviously stiff. He feels his face heat at the realization that his bare chest is visible for Thanos to see. It's not the first time it's happened, but only when he intends to cause harm. It's different when it's by choice.

Nebula was trying to help him. He'd barely made it two steps out of the throne room, on an adrenaline high with the realization he and Midnight had made Father proud, but it had come to a crashing halt when Nebula grabbed his arm. She'd noticed his stiff movements. Her intention was only to help, but it feels like he's been cornered and trapped, waiting for the final blow.

Thanos ducks underneath the doorway, stepping into the small space. Nova sees Nebula's entire body stiffen, but she hides it well. He inhales—not nearly as deeply as he'd like, given his back—trying to keep his breath from freezing inside of him.

"I wasn't expecting you." Nebula recovers herself quickly. "What are you doing here?"

"I wanted to speak with Nova," their father says, head tipping somewhat. "Is that the same wound Midnight gave you rashly before you left for Terra?"

He and Nebula share a look. When it becomes clear she's not going to speak, he tries to, "I…I'm...it." Nova hates his father's stare. It makes everything in his chest seize, his head burn with the reminding ache of the Power Stone against his skull. He clears his throat.

"I see." Thanos rumbles, a frown tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Unfortunate."

He swallows, apprehension eating away at him. When the silence stretches, Nova speaks, even if he knows it's breaking protocol. He wasn't addressed first. "Father? What is it you need of from me?"

Nebula's gaze frantically flits to him.

Thanos's yes are studying him heavily. Looking for something. What has he done? "I am curious, my son, what you know of Terra."

Nova pauses. The question throws him, but he blinks and tries to right himself. It wasn't what he expected at all. A demand of what he did wrong. A chastising. What he can do better in the future. A failure of expectations. A report. Something normal. This isn't…

Normal.

Then again, when has his father ever sought him out unless it was in anger?

"I…" he stops, thinking, before he manages to claim his voice again. "I'm not terribly familiar with it. I researched it before we landed, but I didn't…don't…"

He bites at his tongue. Speak up. Stop stuttering. Rambling.

"Excellent." His father says suddenly, and Nova lifts his gaze up, brow furrowed.

"I beg your pardon, my lord?" Nova questions.

"You have done very well, child," Thanos assures, "quell your fidgeting. This is not chastisement. I need someone to look after the girl." Nova's stomach does something funny. The Witch. He hasn't seen her since Ebony dragged her from the throne room, and he was rather alright with that. He was trying to be. Fretting over her condition is distracting. She's fine. Likely.

"Someone to study how the Stone entered her. You kept her contained and you know enough about Terrans—" since when!? "—to find success in the endeavor. Search out what the mortals did to achieve the bonding and report back to me. You have a fortnight."

A quiet voice in the back of his head insists that two measly weeks isn't nearly enough time to collect the data he's asking for, but he doesn't know the source. He hasn't studied something like this before. Two weeks is reasonable. A challenge. It's not like he's terribly busy anyway.

Father is trusting him with something else.

Nebula fidgets visibly. Father's heavy gaze lands on her and she straightens out, answering before Thanos can ask. "He's sick. A fortnight isn't enough time. He needs to recover."

Father looks him up and down. "He's well enough off."

"I am." Nova agrees, nodding. He glances towards Nebula. "Your concern is appreciated, sister, but unwarranted. I'll—"

Nebula jabs a metallic finger on the inflamed skin on his back and he gasps, words drawing short. His fingers dig against his knees as he attempts to breathe. When his vision settles, Father's staring at him. His gaze is so heavy. "Your weakness is pathetic. You have survived much worse than this."

Nova's teeth grit together.

"You have three days for rest." He spits the word like it's physically painful to say. "Then your fortnight begins."

Panic claws up his throat. He starts to stand, protesting, "Wait, I can start now—"

His father nearly sneers. "Sit down. Your sister was right in attempting to provide medical care for you. You can do nothing until you're more put together. You're barely standing as it is. Remember, Nova, I have entrusted Wanda's care to you." Thanos says and Nova feels the words settle on his shoulders. More responsibility. Shouldn't he be proud? There's only so much dread.

"Yes, Father." Nova murmurs, looking down.

Father exits the room without another word, and Nova doesn't look up until Nebula relaxes from the corner of his eye, indicating that Father has left completely. Nova releases a shuddering breath, placing his head in his hands. "I'm going to fail." He whispers. "Why can't I ever please him?"

Please anyone?

Nebula is quiet.

"I can't do this…" he breathes out, squeezing his eyes shut, "I can't...I wish Gamora had left me to die." That slipped out. He hadn't meant to say it. The admittance feels raw, like it's being torn off of his soul without his consent. Nebula stills in the corner of his eye.

When she finally moves again, its to rest a hand on his shoulder. He tenses beneath the touch, but forces himself to relax. It's just Nebula. She...she'll still hurt him, but it won't be terribly. He won't be crippled.

"Nova…" her voice is low. Her lips are pinched together. He's drawn her up speechless. Great. This is why it's better to be quiet.

Nova shrugs off her hand, pulling his head up. "Just start the stitches. We don't need to talk." He'd rather they not. He can't control what's slipping off his tongue. He thinks he might scream at her. If she had just shut up then Father wouldn't have had any reason to be angry with his wound. She pointed out that he needed rest. And now Father is angry with him.

Again.

He wishes this would all just stop.

Nebula remains still for a long moment before sighing heavily and moving behind him. She seems to be debating on whether or not to say something, but thankfully stays quiet. She stitches up his back, and he doesn't fidget once.


 

Chapter Text


It takes Nova the better part of four days doing nothing but rest before he can function. He's no longer swaying when he stands and his vision has cleared considerably. The wound is still there, red and raw, but the muscle that was flayed open appears to finally be making progress towards permanent healing. Loathe he is to admit it, Nebula appears to have been right in her assessment of his health. He spent a majority of the first two days asleep, and felt far less like a half-dead thing crawling its way from the grave afterwards.

Four days was one longer than Father wanted.

But Nova doesn't even know if he—no, he does care. He must. He has to please Thanos. He doesn't get the option of apathy. He never has. And why would he want to in the first place? What else is important beyond his father's wishes?

Despite his lazing, his father says nothing (doesn't even talk to him, but that is nothing new). Nova suspects this is the work of Nebula, but can't even gather enough energy together to be annoyed. He doesn't need a protector, he's on the Order because he is worthy of it, not to be coddled. Nebula thinks him weak. This is mockery, even if it is disguised as mercy.

When he can walk without swaying like a drunk, Nova exits his quarters and gathers the necessary supplies for the Witch. He doesn't even know where to begin on his study, but he has to make progress. He has only a fortnight to accomplish this. He just hopes that he has something by the time the two weeks have met their conclusion.

He gets portion packs, water, and wracks his brain for anything else humans may need. When he did his study before Terra, he was looking at their biology—but only because he needed to know how to kill them. He doesn't remember what the Witch will need to stay alive, but he does need to know. She's his responsibility now. He's not above asking when she'll need, he just wants to keep talking to a minimum, if it could be possible.

He blows out a frustrated sigh and turns, storming towards the prison levels. He doesn't want to listen to the Witch whine about the death of her lover. He doesn't want to talk with her. Or discover the source of her power. Or deal with this. He doesn't know what he wants.

Not this.

(Any of this.)

When he finally steps into the dark, dank prison depths, he allows himself to breathe out very slowly to collect himself. The dark isn't something he struggles to navigate through. It feels weirdly familiar, like a friend he's known since before birth. A strange sentiment for a child of Thanos. Friendship.

His footsteps, despite his best efforts, still manage to echo within the tight space among and the moans of prisoners and whispers of the mad. He ducks his head and casts a brief spell on his person so they'll pay no second thought to him.

He isn't like the rest of the Order in this regard. They seem to take great pride in how the prisoners scream for mercy, for death, for anything to release them. He doesn't. He can't. He's been on the inside of those cells, begging for much the same. It doesn't fill him with power to know how much they're suffering. It makes him sick.

That was me once.

Nova's ceaseless footsteps stop abruptly as he picks out a different noise among the prisoners and himself. It's voices. His brow knits together with confusion. It must be the middle of the night now and Nebula should be sleeping, not wandering the prison decks. Even with her enhancements, Father allowed her to keep that one small need. Although his sister often refers to it as "shutting down" now, as if she is more machine than a living creature.

But it isn't Nebula that makes him pause, it's who she's talking to.

His footsteps, not as silent as they could have been, alert Nebula of his presence quickly and he barely hears half of a clipped sentence "you have to keep—" before it stops abruptly, shut down. He blinks, not realizing he's holding his breath until he exhales sharply. He forces the thought to form because he's only going to drive himself insane if he denies it.

That sounded like Gamora.

Gamora, who left the Order, their father, left everything two years ago for a group of measly thieves. Why would Nebula, who pledged allegiance to their father and his quest once more, ever think to contact a traitor?

It doesn't make sense.

But that was Gamora. He's positive of that fact.

A gun whirs and Nova suddenly finds himself staring down the barrel of Nebula's familiar blaster. Her eyes have an odd shine in the faint lighting, but her stance relaxes somewhat on seeing him. "Oh." She says at length, pulling her hand back. She doesn't pocket the weapon, he notes, her body still tense like a coiled spring. "You. What are you doing down here?"

"Who were you talking to?" Nova counters, voice even. It's all he can do to stop himself from coughing. His throat is raw from it the last few days, as if admitting to himself that he wasn't quite well gave his entire body permission to give into sickness. The cough persists, even if the rest of him is...not hale, but okay.

"You should be laying down." Nebula says flatly. They're just going in a circle now. Evade, evade, evade.

"That sounded like Gamora." He says at length.

Nebula doesn't even blink. If her face shows discomfort, she hides it well enough when she slaps him. "How dare you suggest I would betray Thanos!" Nebula's tone is dark. "I swore my life to service to him. I came back. Do you really think I would commune with a filthy liar after all that?"

Yes.

But he doesn't say that. Instead he rubs his jaw with one hand, keeping his supplies clutched close to his stomach with the other. He watched them when Gamora was here. He knows that their relationship was poor, but it was as functional as it could be among the Order. Nebula, though she'd never admit it, desires connection. It's her biggest weakness.

(Is it not your own?)

Nova lifts his face to look at her. "That was Gamora."

No denial. The slightest twitch of her lip. Nova, for reasons he's never been able to determine, has always been exceptionally skilled at worming out mistruths. Thanos never taught them to lie, he needs honesty among the Order. Distrust among the soldiers crumbles an empire. But it doesn't matter if its in the Order or not, he always knows.

"And this is why you should be sleeping." Nebula sneers, trying to recover herself. "You're hallucinating voices. It's a wonder you haven't gotten yourself killed yet." She starts to storm past him, frustrated, and he twists to avoid her rampage and watches her move before calling out:

"I have to report treason, sister. To our father." Nebula stiffens, stopping in her tracks entirely. He feels a sick sort of pleasure wash through him at having caught her, but sick at realizing that he's caught her. Nebula is his only sort-of-ally among the Order. If she leaves, he has no one.

Nebula looks back at him. Her hand is still on her gun, finger curled around the trigger. If I shoot him now, will the consequences be long-lasting? Her thoughts broadcast across the small space. She's slipped, the control she had on her mental barriers falling and releasing everything into the wild. We need him alive, but I can't—The thought cuts off, hesitant. Don't let him die.

Nova's expression furrows. "Need him alive"? What is she talking about?

He'll report me. Thanos will know. I can't let him tear down everything—The thoughts cut off abruptly as Nebula gains ahold of herself. What he's heard has left him deeply unsettled and uncertain. Nebula has always been...if she had her frustrations with the life Thanos created for them all, he never heard them. Gamora was free with her opinions. It came as no big surprise to anyone but Father when she deserted. It was a bigger one when Nebula left shortly afterwards, too.

"Fine. You win," Nebula takes a step forward, hand releasing her weapon with what looks like effort. He resists the sudden, but very strong urge to back up. "It was Gamora. We still talk sometimes. She thinks she can pull me to the light." Nebula sneers the last word and rolls her eyes. "Save my soul, the works. Obviously, she's not having a lot of success."

"Father's looking for her." Great, he is backing up now, like some sort of uncertain prey. "He could trace the comm signal. Why haven't you told him?"

"Who says I didn't?" Nebula asks.

Your thoughts. You. You are an awful liar. He bites on his tongue.

"You were going to shoot me." Nova points out the obvious. "Because I know. If Father already knew, why would you have been worried about it?"

Nebula hesitates, and then sighs, her shoulders slumping. "Fine. I didn't tell him. But there's a small group of people not on the end of Father's wrath, and that's us," she gestures vaguely between them, but he knows she means the Order. "He'll keep us alive. I'd rather that Gamora wasn't out on the wrong end of Father's rage. Her betrayal stings, but she is still my sister."

His lip curls. "Sentiment."

Nebula's jaw tightens. "Not even I am above it."

You should be. We all should be. Attachments aren't allowed. Nebula glances at his supplies and then towards his face. "You should get to her. I have things to take care of."

Like treason? A part of him wants to sneer, but he keeps quiet. He knows better than to invoke her wrath. He knows better than to do a lot of things now. Part of him wonders what would happened if he pushed them over the edge. Would they finally kill him, or just leave him in enough pain that he'd wish he was dead?

They've done it before.

He doesn't say anything. He doesn't know what to do with this information, and that seems oddly fitting. Just another thing to add to the ever growing pile of things he can't handle.

000o000

He enters the Witch's cell and drops the few feet into the small space, landing with practiced ease. He hears the door click shut behind him and swallows the initial dread that eats at him. What if the door doesn't open, and he's left in here?

(Like before?)

He shakes away the treacherous thoughts. He must have full faith in Thanos. He isn't going to be trapped here. Not now.

He takes a look around the cell. His heightened vision allows him to see the space with clarity, and he forces out a steady breath when memories threaten to tumble from his subconscious and spill across his concentration. This isn't the first time he's been back in these cells since his release.

But the smell. Bodily fluids, salt, the acidic rot of the metal. The sound of the drain in the middle of the room, for blood and everything else, slowing slurping up something. His gaze lifts up to a broken pipe in the corner, leaking water at an unsteady rate. There's a puddle it's dripping into, but the floor is angled enough that it's created a small stream towards the drain. The drain that is stained with blood and rust. He can't help when his eyes lift to the dangling shackles above it, and his own wrists burn with familiarity.

The very metal beneath his boots seems to groan in displeasure. Everything within this room speaks of misery. He squeezes his eyes shut and tries to breathe for a moment to ground himself, but it doesn't help.

("Please, I can't move."

"You think that begging like a sniveling dog will grant you quarter?")

"What did you do with the body?" He startles at the accented voice, his head whipping away from the drain towards the far west of the room. Unlike the east which is wet and generally unpleasant, the left side appears to be the only part of this cell that is partially livable. It isn't wet, and appears to have been somewhat scrubbed down.

There, laying on her side facing him, is the Witch. Her hair is pulled away from her face in one of the worst braids he's ever seen. It's sloppy and twisted, as if she isn't aware how to do something so simple. Another problem might be the lack of ties. He doesn't know why this bothers him so much, only that it does, a quiet part of him insisting that he can do better, even if he has no memories of it.

She's still in the clothing he gave her before taking her to Thanos, and appears to be cold from how she's curled in on herself.

Her question registers with him and he pauses, "'The body'?" he repeats. He doesn't want to talk. He doesn't want it so deeply that his entire body aches as his tongue moves inside his mouth. His wrists ache, the smells of this cell messing with his perception of time.

Are you going to quiet now? The sick laughter of the Other when he opened his mouth and the only thing that bubbled out was blood. He remembers the humiliation. And the horror. And crying for a person whose identity he's forgotten.

Her eyes narrow. "Vision," there's a burning fire hidden beneath the defeat of her words, "the man that you killed a few days ago. Who else did you think I was talking about?"

Ah. He wars with himself a moment. "I am uncertain what became of it," he admits as quietly as he can. His words sound forced and stiff. "I imagine that Ebony took it for study."

She shifts, "You let him take—" she stops as her lips press together, and he sees her eyes fill with tears. He bites on his inner lip, uncomfortable in the face of such emotion. If she had been angry, that would have been familiar. Upset is a concept he doesn't really understand.

He forces out another breath and takes a step away from the door—the wall beneath it—towards the Witch. She stiffens, and her eyes flit widely towards him, but won't quite settle. A part of him is filled with a surge of pity for her. She can't see in the dark. To her, all of this is a blackness with no distinctions.

Maybe that would have been better. But he thinks of falling through the stars, and how everything had been black and nothingness, and quickly discards that notion.

He drops the supplies in front of her, the water canteen bouncing once. She flinches back from it, nearly ramming her head on the wall behind her. She's quiet a moment, obviously expecting him to explain, but when he doesn't, says, "I do not want your charity."

He nearly rolls his eyes.

"You misunderstand me then." He says and squats down in front of her prone form. "I'm not here because I want to see you survive this."

Her jaw tightens, her fist curling by her side. Her right hand, because her left is curled up next to her body, deformed. It looks no closer to healing than it did a few days previous. Shades of color are his one weakness in the dark, he mostly sees everything in grays and white. But comparing her two hands shows the obvious malformation of bones.

No one gave her medical treatment then.

As is expected.

"Then what are you here for?" the Witch demands sharply. She's tense.

The scar from the Power Stone burns on his head, and his magic rolls with disgust and despair. If only they had known about her before Thanos destroyed him. He breathes out slowly and then tilts his head, "You have been gifted with something truly rare to have become an extension of an Infinity Stone," he explains, "I am here to discover how it happened."

He doesn't tell her why. She doesn't need to know why. Something tells him that if she is to learn that his father is attempting to do the same thing to himself, she will withhold answers.

The Witch huffs. "You killed my beloved. The last thing I'm going to do is help you."

Yes, well, they all think that in the beginning, don't they? And then the pain begins, and so crumples any resistance.

"Hm." Nova voices. He pushes the canteen towards her, but she doesn't take it. "Your hand looks quite painful," he notes conversationally, "it would be unfortunate if something worse were to occur, wouldn't it?"

Using a bit of magic, but without moving a muscle, Nova reaches out for her hand and grabs at the nerves. He twists them enough that her broken fingers flex, and leaves it there long enough that she's aware it was him before letting go. The Witch's breath escapes her fast, and he sees her clutch the limb close to her stomach, wild eyes flitting up to him.

He senses her try to pick at the block again to reach her magic, but her fingernails are scraping against solid stone pointlessly. They can do this where she talks or he tears it from her head. He'd rather the latter was a last resort, but he will achieve what his father wants. No matter the cost, to her...or him.

"Drink." Nova says flatly. "All I'm going to do is ask you a few questions."

Maybe. He doesn't know. He doesn't know what he's doing. How to start, when to end.

The Witch looks doubtful, but sits up so he's no longer towering above her. "I told you that I won't help you. Vision will not have died in vain if I don't."

"You seem certain of that."

"I'm not going to talk with you." She says flatly. Firmly. Her dark eyes flash towards his face again, but land off-center. She's still tense and tight. "If you're going to kill me, just do it. Don't learn all my weaknesses first."

He nearly laughs. That's not how Thanos works. He rests his hands on his knees, breathing out carefully. "I haven't been given orders to kill you."

"What a relief." The Witch's voice is thick with sarcasm. "I am nothing more than a lab study, then?"

In a way, yes. She should be grateful, if she wasn't, she would be dead. The bitterness of her tone throws him slightly; it's as if she's already dealt with something similar before and the very idea of doing it again exhausts her. His eyebrows raise with surprise. Did the Terrans not understand what happened either and they studied her there? Was her connection to the Mind Stone an accident?

"You don't completely understand your powers yourself, do you?" he questions. His eyebrows raise with surprise. Did she not choose this path for herself? How can she not understand? "They didn't either. They studied you there."

The strangest sensation washes through him. Sympathy. To be set at variance for a gift that you didn't choose is something he understands all too well.

"I—" her mouth closes. She looks away, angry.

What questions does he begin with? Where does he start? How does he do this? He feels that he knows how, but when he touches at using the information, it shies away from him like it belongs to another person. A ghost.

"What can you do with your powers?" he asks. She keeps her lips pressed together, refusing to look at him. She doesn't answer.

"Do you hate it?" he questions at last. He bites on his tongue, frustrated. This is going to involve far more talking than he's used to.

Still nothing.

"Have you seen an increase of powers since your enhancement, or has it been much the same?"

Silence.

"Your lover carried it in his forehead. Is he at fault for it?"

She glares at him for that, which he takes as a small margin of success. No.

"Were you born with your gift?" he questions. I was. It's been my burden to bear since I was held for the first time. He doesn't know how he knows that. Only that he does. The Witch still does nothing, and his frustration sparks. He could have grabbed a knife and slashed her across the face, he's certain that Midnight would have done nothing less, but blood is messy.

(The last thing he wants is to smell fresh blood here, lingering with the scent of everything else that haunts him.)

Instead, he reaches out with his mind and taps against her thoughts. It's subtle enough—or she isn't paying enough attention—that he slips inside without too much restraint. He keeps his consciousness split between his body and her head, only listening.

"No," he tilts his head, letting dark hair falling onto his face, "no I don't think so, because something that was inherited would make sense to you. Who were your parents? Do you have any family?"

The question makes him ache, strangely, as if missing something. He shakes off the sensation. The Order is the only family that he has ever had, or will need.

Pietro.

It's the first distinct thought that he can make out. There's memories attached to it. Hiding beneath a small space—a bed—with arms wrapped around her stomach. She's sobbing, staring at a weapon seated in the rubble where a hand is sticking out from beneath the crushed rubble. Mamochka.

"Who is Pietro?" he questions.

Twins. Brother.

The word hurts, but Nova doesn't understand why.

"How did you get like this?"

"Stop," the Witch pushes back. She tries to resist, but he hears the echo of screaming in her head, and sees a memory where she's strapped to something like a chair as they dig the edge of a weapon into her skin. He recognizes that weapon. It is the scepter Father had crafted for the invasion to Terra. Her vision is flooding with light and then there's darkness. Hands wrapped around her shoulders.

That is Pietro. He knows this only because she does.

"Is he like you?"

The Witch flails. She grabs at her thoughts, but he still manages to catch the briefest memory of a blue blur before it's ripped away from him. So she'll protect this Pietro with a fury, but not herself? Strange.

"Where is he?"

The Witch physically shoves up to her knees, eyes dark. When she speaks, her voice is a dagger wielded with precision. "Get out of my head."

He feels the briefest flare of amusement. "Are you threatening me?"

"No. Warning you." She swings the water canteen at his head. He ducks backwards, falling onto his elbows hard with surprise. He didn't see her grab it, his focus split. He doubts that she could do any real harm to him with the metal bottle, but his body saw something coming and demanded he move away.

In between his shoulders spikes with discomfort, but not the stabbing pain it would have been a few days ago.

The Witch throws the bottle at him, and he catches it. Frustration spikes through him, but he forces it down, instead settling the container on the ground and getting up. She's scowling at him, hand fisted around one of the ration packs as if that's next.

He weighs his options before deciding it would probably be better to wait. He's not stupid enough to test these waters any more than he has to. He has a few days. He can do this. He'll come back tomorrow. He gets to his feet, and her eyes follow him, but poorly. Still blind in this lighting. He starts to move for the exit.

"I'm going to kill you." He stops and glances back at her. Her lower lip trembles. He thinks she's going to cry again. "You took everything from me. You're a monster."

Nova's lips part, words dry for a moment. His tongue feels heavy. "I know." He submits. He's not proud of it. The admittance seems to throw her, as if she was expecting him to deny it and rage against her. But something inside of him knows that this has always been his identity. He clenches his left fist and leaves without another word.

000o000

The next day doesn't go much better than the first. The Witch is stubborn, he will admit that, but that's not the problem. The problem is how little she knows. His questions lead them to no answers. Even with him touching at her thoughts.

They don't go in circles.

They go nowhere.

He will admit that the fault may be largely his because he doesn't fully understand what he's doing, but he thinks it would help if she had a small inkling of what he was trying to ask her. She's hopelessly naive about the entire thing.

But drawing up the memories yanks on one in particular, and Nova feels sick to his stomach because of it. A man is there and--Nova shakes of the thoughts sharply, stuffing it down, deep, because he's not allowed to explore this line of thinking. It draws up too many thoughts, and kriff, it hurts. 

He leaves frustrated, and finds himself wandering the halls of the Sanctuary until realizing that he's hungry and determining that the doesn't think he's eaten since he and Midnight left Terra. Annoyed with himself, he turns on his heel and moves towards the cafeteria.

Thanos has demanded that they take care of themselves. Inadvertently starving himself is not following under those whims.

He scowls at anyone that attempts to look at him, grabs a bowl of some sort of sloppy mush and takes a seat at an empty table. The cafeteria isn't loud, only a few clicks and growls of the native tongues of Outrider captains. For the most part, the only noise is his thoughts and the scraping of his spoon against the side of the bowl.

The mush—whatever it is—does not appeal any more than eating the spoon does. It takes bland and dry, but the texture is wet and chewy. The two don't merge very well, leaving his stomach rolling and his mouth refusing any more.

It's sort of funny, because he remembers that before he joined the Order, the very concept of eating anything would have been enough. The texture or taste aside. Most of the time, he lives by that same principle, all too aware what happens when it's taken from him. But not today. Today his mind is elsewhere.

Wandering among an interrogation that he has no idea the point of.

Why can't he just conduct this magical study and then move on? Why does he feel like he's doing it wrong? How did the Stone give the Witch her power? How? She's a Terran, with no real sense of power. She's just some woman in the midst of billions on that world. Why would the Stone choose her?

He tries another bite of the mush and does not feel any more enthused about it than he did before.

Close to ten minutes later, Midnight drops down in front of him abruptly, flanked by Obsidian. The latter isn't much of a surprise to Nova. He's noticed that she tends to keep a heavy hitter with her. (Before it was Glaive, but that's no longer possible after Terra.)

"I heard that you're stuck dealing with the Witch." Midnight says, settling onto the bench like it's a throne. "Father put you on caretaker duty? Does he really trust your abilities so little?"

Any remaining appetite sours. He releases the spoon and looks up at her properly, settling his hands on the tabletop to stop himself from hitting her. She's tucked her blue hair up into some sort of sloppy bun that sharpens the features of her face. He might have even called her beautiful if it wasn't for the lingering scowl and haunted edge of her eyes. Instead, she looks tired.

Obsidian, as ever, looks angry. He always has since Glaive's death; before that he was blank until he was bloodthirsty.

Nova glances around the cafeteria for a brief moment, but sees no respite from the conversation. Realizing that unless he gets up and walks away he's stuck, he sighs and focuses back on his siblings. He doesn't want to talk.

"What do you want?" he questions. His voice is barely audible.

Obsidian's eyebrows raise. "You're talking today?" he questions snappily. "A rarity indeed. Look, sister," he nudges Midnight's shoulder, "we have stumbled upon a treasure."

He bites on his tongue, even as his face heats. He keeps his expression smooth, though, unwilling to let them know how much the taunt frustrates him. They're the ones that proved to him why he shouldn't speak, and now they laugh at him because of it?

Midnight scowls at Obsidian, scooting somewhat. She turns her attention back to him, tipping her head. There's something unreadable in her face. "How's your back?"

His hand clenches. "Your handiwork is as fine as ever." Nova says. (He wants to leave.) He doesn't ask why. He knows it's not out of concern. Midnight doesn't know what that is. Maybe I don't either. She's likely trying to mess with him. She's done it before. Her sense of humor is often wicked or sadistic.

Obsidian snorts. "Is that your backwards way of saying that she got you good?"

Nova looks up at his brother, wondering very briefly what would happen if he threw the bowl at Obsidian's head. Eventually he decides he'd get into more trouble than it would be worth, and his back is finally manageable again. He can't lose that so soon. Besides, causing drama between the Black Order is something that Father is never pleased about. They are supposed to be a functioning unit.

What a joke.

Nova gets to his feet. He can't let them break his patience. "Running off?" Midnight demands, lips tightening. "Not in a talking mood?"

Obsidian's mouth tugs at a smile. His eyes are still burning with furious embers.

"With you?" Nova looks between them, letting his face twist briefly with his displeasure. "No. I think not."

He flinches a little when Obsidian moves his hand, and knows by the way that is brother huffs that it was intentional. A threat.

"You should know," Midnight starts conversationally, rubbing a finger along the table, "that Father told us what you're doing." He freezes. There's something heavy in her stare, the weight of the scars they all bare from the Stones hidden inside her eyes. Inside of Obsidian's. "For your sake, I hope you succeed."

Because if he doesn't, there will be not just Thanos to answer to, but them as well. Succeeding means that the experiments are done. That all of them will be free of that burden, but failure...Thanos has the Mind Stone know. Perhaps he will try on them all again.

His magic burns inside his veins with fear. Because Nova is afraid. He is afraid of what Father will do to him now. He took the worst of it. His siblings had only one session, and they volunteered. He had six. He didn't agree to any of them.

Nova's hands clench around the bowl. His breath feels hot and sticky in his mouth, like he's breathing in air thicker than what's being filtered through the vents. His failure is not an option, but it almost feels as inevitable as all his others.

He doesn't say anything as he moves to deal with his bowl.

000o000

In the six days since he started, he hasn't seen Nebula since he learned about Gamora. Despite the impression that he left with her, he didn't tell Father anything. He hasn't seen his Father since he was given his assignment, which isn't anything out of the ordinary. Sometimes he can go as far as weeks without having any contact with him. But even though he doesn't see his sister, he sees the aftermath of her.

Midnight's sudden broken nose, the irritation of Ebony, the Outriders' silence. She's wound tight. When she's upset, she yells and punches. Nova's been on the end of it a few times before he joined the Order. Before she and Gamora ran off and only Nebula and the Power Stone came back. Something is bothering her, but what?

She seemed so insistent on getting Gamora to their side. Sentiment. If she's so concerned, Thanos must be moving faster. Or planning an attack on another world. But why would that concern Gamora?

It doesn't. That's the problem.

Nova knows she was lying, but he doesn't know what to do with the knowledge. Does he confront her, demand answers about the thoughts he overhead on accident? We need him alive. It was so certain so...strange. He and his siblings were made to be expendable. If one of them dies, there will be others to take their place eventually. It would be an honor to lay down their lives for Thanos.

So why would she care? And who is "we"?

Gamora isn't something he should be—

Fingers snap in front of his face and Nova snaps into attention, jerking upright. Back tight, head down, muscles stiff. His hand snatches out and catches the wrist of his attacker, squeezing. A woman gives a slight gasp, and he blinks as he tries to focus.

"So you're not dead." The Witch sounds disappointed. She probably is.

His teeth set. He forces himself to settle and his thoughts to stop running around. He's in an interrogation. He's...he can't remember anything that's happened since he got here. He can't remember when he slipped. How long he's been dazed. His mind is a mess. (He hates that Thanos did this to him. He hates it so much sometimes he thinks he'll suffocate on it.)

"Do that again and I'll take your wrist." He snarls. Her green-brown eyes widen the slightest bit, lips pressing together in her fear. She can hear the truth in his voice. Good.

He releases her forcefully and sees her rub at her arm idly, saying nothing.

His face aches. He tries to ignore the raw sting, but he bit his tongue with surprise and now his mouth tastes like blood. Blood, here, in the cell. Stop it. This is not The Cell, it's cell. He breathes out, frustrated, and resists the urge to rub at his eyes. He can't remember what they were doing before she hit him. He only has vague memories of entering.

This isn't working.

In order to understand, he'd need to see it, and he can't do that without releasing the block, which he's in no hurry to do. He only has seven days left. He needs to pick up the pace. But pick it up doing what?

"You zone out a lot." The Witch says after nearly two minutes of complete silence. Her head tips, "Have you been hit in the head too many times?"

Something like that.

A flush of embarrassment washes through him. He didn't realize that it'd been happening enough that she'd notice. It's worse here, where his mind has something to go back to. All the memories he can't shake off.

("Nebula stop. Father wants him alive when this is through."

"Please...I can't...can't breathe.")

"You don't ask questions here." Nova reminds her stiffly. He still hates all this talking. In the six days since this started, he's asked so many questions that he's starting to lose track of what he has and hasn't. He forces himself to steady, list what he does know. Her magic was not intuitive, her brother, Pietro, received powers the same way, but they are not like hers. What they are, he doesn't know yet. He thinks speed or teleportation.

Filtering through her memories he's seen that she can read minds, manipulate thoughts, cause a type of drugged-state where she sees the fears of her victims, move things with her mind, and uses a type of red wisp as a weapon like a whip or a blaster. This, he's gained before she shoved him from her head.

An impressive feat, if not for the fact that he's letting her do so. Her push is impressive, and he knows that if she was able to access her power, she'd probably be a formidable enemy. But she's not, and still a child. He doesn't know how old he is, but something tells him that his experience with these arts tops her measly few easily.

"Yes." The Witch is nodding to herself. "You have problem."

She's in a good mood today. Normally she'll just sit and scowl at him with a glare that would be frightening if he hadn't seen Thanos angry. He blows out a long breath. His energy level is low today, he doesn't know if he can pull enough together to do another head swipe. He looks away from her pale face.

"Can you sense the presence of other people before they enter the room?" he questions. He might have already asked this question before, but he doesn't think so.

The Witch, as ever, stubbornly presses her lips together and tilts her face away from him.

He wants to scream. But that would be breaking protocol. He doesn't know why he keeps asking, expecting a verbal response. Maybe it's because he would never dare to withhold the answer from anyone.

But not everyone is like him.

He gives up. He gets to his feet and exits the cell without another word. He feels the Witch's surprised eyes on his back the entire way out.

000o000

He dreams that night. As of the late, his sleep has been an empty void of thoughts or feelings. It's a strange sensation. He doesn't think that it's a dream, more so than a memory to a man who died when Gamora found him six years ago. He doesn't know what triggered the memory, but he parses it all the same. Anything from who he used to be is a treasure to be kept hidden and quiet.

It's nothing significant. The dream—or memory—is merely him sitting at a table. The place he'd been looking out on was golden and bright. There was laughter flowing around the room, and the sound of a deep voice engaging everyone in the tale of a battle. He wasn't paying attention, scribbling down on a napkin words he intended to take for study. Thought vs. inner mind.

Without the context, the note makes little sense to him. His concentration had been broken when a dark-haired woman nudged him in the side and told him to pay attention. Her face was blurred beyond any recognition and he'd woken up as she'd been reprimanding him. He doesn't know what it means, but he doesn't really care. Sometimes the reassurance that he existed before this is...nice.

It shouldn't be.

He should be happy here. Among the Order, serving one of the most powerful beings in the universe.

But he can't help the ever pressing want for something else. Something that he had. Maybe someone. He hates that he can't shake the childish need from himself. Attachment is not allowed. It's not needed. He doesn't need to be happy. He just needs to serve.

He pulls himself together, gets up, and prepares for the day. He slides his knifes into place and glances back at his small room. Something knotted in his stomach tells him that he really shouldn't get used to the view for much longer. The implications of that make him feel sick.

All too soon he finds himself back with the Witch, rifling through her head.

The Witch hits the floor, hard, and sees a redheaded woman get off of her. The Witch's muscles are burning, an achy fire that makes the entire world seem a little less bright. "You're sloppy." The other woman says. "Did you learn how to fight in playground?"

The Witch feels humiliation tint her face. A voice, Pietro, Nova has come to learn, laughs to their left. "Close enough."

No. The thought is distinct, I learned how to fight in a Hydra facility when they handed us knives and told us to stay alive. She doesn't—

Nova moves on. This isn't what he's looking for. He taps at another memory, flooding her head with images of what he's searching for: Show me how they made you. His request works much like a beacon, sending other thoughts and memories forward. His body is trembling now, he can feel it. He's done too much with the damaged, wild thing inside of him.

The Power Stone left far more scars than any of them thought.

(How could Thanos have done this to him!?)

He hears the Witch's brother screaming. She's crying, on her knees and begging them to stop. She's restrained with cuffs on her wrists. There are men holding her arms and she's afraid—He pushes harder, searching around the memory. They're in a lab, the twin is restrained to a chair. His arm is split open, blood gushing everywhere as they tap against his nerves with the golden tip of the Mind Stone's staff.

They're holding paper and calmly talking to one another as the Witch and her brother fall apart in front of them.

He can see a screen the scientists are working on. He squints, struggling to read unfamiliar text, but managing well enough. Despite never having studied the alphabet before, it's familiar to him, along with some of their terms. Strange, because before a few weeks ago, he didn't even care about Terra's existence. They've listed electron vibrations, both of the Terran body cell and the scepter. Why would they be—?

The shove comes unexpectedly, and he's thrown from the Witch's mind and back into his body with a snap. His entire frame is buzzing, and the Witch is seething in front of him. She threw him from her head?

Not much of an achievement, considering this is you.

"Get out!" the Witch is furious and on her feet. "Get out of my head! I've told you again and again that you are not welcome there!"

He breathes out, reminding himself that he is captor here, not the prisoner. "If you wanted me to stop, you should have started answering verbally days ago." His voice is slick, but sharp. "I would have left your mind to be your own."

He resists the urge to vomit. Ebony promised the same thing to him. Nova started talking and it didn't save him.

She draws back slightly, but is clearly still angry. "You don't get to see that! You don't get to know that!"

"And yet, here I am."

The Witch's eyes flash.

"Perhaps your brother would be more cooperative. He's like you isn't he?" Neither one of them is the Mind Stone, he realizes then. The Terrans failed, just like Thanos has. Still, he can't stop the words as they tumble out of his mouth. "I should make arrangements to bring him here. Maybe he'd be more inclined to talking."

Rage unlike anything he's seen on her before splits across her features. It crackles in the air like electricity between them and the Witch makes a move for his throat. She doesn't touch him. He lifts up a hand and grabs the nerves of her broken fingers, yanking sharply to cause an outbreak of agony that drives her to her knees immediately.

A sharp scream is torn from her throat and she shakes her left hand, clutching at the wrist.

He stops, breathing out harsh and quick. He releases his fist and the pain stops just as quickly. She's gasping, trying not to cry and it doesn't make him feel powerful. He think he really will be sick now. But still, he is a child of Thanos. He has seen and caused worse things than a girl crying.

"You do not get to make demands here," he says carefully, slowly, "we are not allies."

A sob bubbles out of her lips. She's still gripping her swollen fingers and looks up at him through narrowed eyes. "I hate you." She whispers.

His jaw is beginning to ache from how tight it is. "That's probably for the best." He returns in a tone just as quiet.

"If you touch one hair on my brother, I will destroy you." Her voice is a low promise. Her eyes bear the weight of that statement.

She is useless. His mercy of saving her was pointless. The Mind Stone is not who she is. Thanos will use the Stones on them again. He hates this. He will have saved no one. She is going to die, because Thanos will see no point to her.

What is he supposed to do?

He tips his head. "There's nothing left to destroy. I wish you the best of luck with that." Oddly, his tone is bitter. He gets up. He leaves the sobbing woman alone, and barely keeps himself together.

He wanted something different than this.

000o000

Time slips away. One moment he's standing outside the Witch's cell and trying to keep himself together, the next Nova is outside the throne room to give his report to Thanos. The fortnight has come to a close. What he says in there will determine if the Mind Stone is used. If the Witch survives.

It's just a Terran girl.

He doesn't know why this matters so much.

Nova comes to a stop in front of the throne on one knee, head bowed. The position feels familiar to him, as though he's been doing it since he was born. Odd, since he hasn't actually been in Father's throne room too many times. Probably less than ten since he joined the Order.

"Nova, my son." Thanos says. He hears the slight sniff the Other makes, always at his Father's side. He resists the urge to clench his hands and keeps his head bowed. "I trust that you have accomplished your task? How fares Wanda?"

Strange to hear the name spoken from his lips so readily, when Nova himself has never said it. It makes him slightly uneasy for reasons he can't quite determine.

He bites at the inside of his lip. "She is alive, my lord." He murmurs.

"Is that the best you can say regarding her health?" Thanos sounds skeptical.

"No." Nova is quick to correct. "What else would you like to know?" Even if he doesn't know the answer, he can just make something up. But the very idea makes his tongue stiff and his throat taste like ash and blood. The Other's gaze bores down on him like a very heavy weight.

"Nothing." Thanos waves a dismissive hand. Nova only sees the shadow of it, eyes still pinned to the floor. "What I want to know is the result of your task. How were the Mind Stone and Wanda merged together?"

Nova hesitates. He almost wants to say I don't know than give the actual answer, but he forces it off his lips anyway. "The Terrans used a type of technology that measured the vibrations of electrons. They did so to the Mind Stone. When they had determined what it was, they leached it to the frequencies of her cells. Through her hands. The chemical build up her brain and the forefront of her psyche appear to have played an important role in determining what skills she got."

This is more talking than he normally does. Is he doing too much? Couldn't he condense this more? Why is he rambling?

"But…" he clears his throat. Don't sound uncertain. Uncertainty gets you killed. "But the Witch is not the Mind Stone reincarnate, Father. She is a child of it. All the skills the Mind Stone is and possesses...that is not what she was given."

The room is quiet.

Nova has the sudden, but terrible feeling that he's disappointed him somehow. Disappointment brings punishment.

"I see." Thanos says at length, "Nova, rise."

He does so unsteadily, his palms slick. His entire body feels stiff and unresponsive. If one of them lashes out, he won't be able to move fast enough out of the way. His eyes slide to the exit for the briefest moment as his mind flails around, trying to find an escape route.

Father's gaze pins him into place. "You're certain of this? That the Terrans did not clone the Stone within her?"

He nods wordlessly.

The Other is scowling at him, as if the Terran's failure is Nova's fault.

"She is useless then, and an empty mouth to feed." Father glances at the Other. "I suppose that there's really only one thing that can be done with her now. She'll be happy, of course. Joined with her lover once more."

Nova feels his face go white. An awful feeling settles in his stomach. This doesn't sit well with him, but he doesn't understand why. Father has always been the judge on whether or not someone was going to live. He's always been okay—never been okay—with...with that. Why does he care about a woman that he has only interrogated? Why her?

"How merciful." The Other purrs.

Thanos hums slightly and then turns to him. "Gather your siblings. We have an execution to attend. And you, my child, will have the honor of swinging the blade."

He tries to feel flattered.

But he only feels sick.


 

Chapter Text


Wanda jerks awake when light pours across her face. She flinches, her body automatically curling further against the wall like if she remains swathed in shadows for long enough, she'll be kept safe. She knows that this isn't the case realistically, but she can't help the primal instinct of hide that surges through her.

Is it her interrogator? Is he back?

She hasn't seen him in a...while. She can't tell time here anymore. She only goes by when she gets food, but she knows that it hasn't been regular since her interrogator left her. He threatened her twin, and then left with an empty promise. Had he done something to Pietro? Is that why they've waited so long? Did they kill him? Or are they tearing into his mind and rattling everything around until they find what they want? (But part of her insists that if Pietro was here, she would know, and he's not. Not yet. Not ever.)

There are multiple voices talking now, sniping at each other, and Wanda presses her back into the wall, but doesn't get up. She's...afraid. This hasn't happened before. She hasn't seen many of these figures since Vision was murdered.

They enter the cell, pooling inside like water. The woman she stowed away with. Their leader, Thanos, the blue woman, others. Her interrogator. She never learned his name, and suspects that it was on purpose. They weren't—and aren't—bosom friends in the making. She sets a scowl on her face to hide her fear and watches them all warily.

What are they doing here?

Why are all of them here?

Her interrogator faces her, his thin face blank. Green eyes are watching her with an exhaustion that speaks more of dread than anything else. Wanda takes a moment to study him, noting for the first time how haggard he looks. Before, she'd noted that he was thin, but not that he looked ready to topple at the first gust of wind that hits him hard enough.

No.

Stop it.

She can't pity the man she's vowed to kill. She's an Avenger, she's going to avenge Vision's death, and that will involve her interrogator's death, the blue-haired woman, and Thanos. All of them will be dead by her hand because of what they did. She swears on her life. And if she takes out the rest of this fleet in the process, she won't mourn their loss.

She remains quiet, waiting for someone to explain what's going on.

No one does.

All waiting, hungry with their anticipation.

"Wanda," the name sounds strange coming from the interrogator's lips, as if he's never spoken it out loud before. Thinking back, Wanda can't remember a time that he has. She wasn't even aware that he knew it. He breathes out shakily, as if trying to steady himself.

Wanda sits up slowly, suddenly wary. All the eyes in the room follow her. Her hair spills over her shoulders like a comforting embrace, but she ignores it.

The young man swallows thickly, and Wanda realizes suddenly that he can't be much older than she is. But Thor looks in his mid-twenties and is over fifteen hundred, so how can she properly judge aliens. This doesn't matter, Maximoff. Stop distracting yourself and focus.

"When you first stepped into Thanos's care, you were thought to be something of legend. A living Infinity Stone, but that was proven false, and you have little purpose to serve us now. You may think that you have suffered, but in truth, you have been rewarded. For there is no better mercy, no better fate, than to die a child of Thanos." The man continues, his voice toneless.

To die a child—

Wanda feels herself blanch. This isn't some sort of strange ritual.

They're going to kill her. This is an execution.

Wanda jerks, attempting to scramble up to her feet and bolt for the door, but Ebony waves his hand slightly, almost stultified, and she's frozen in place, her entire body locking in a way that is unnatural. Her muscles are stiff and yanked, producing an agony that she can't breathe through.

They're going to kill her.

She can only watch, helpless, as her interrogator grasps a sword hilt and pulls the weapon from its sheath. There's a hum in the air as if the vibrations of sound have been poked at sharply and a pale purple light slowly lights the cracks in the cell. She glances up to see that one of the stones on Thanos's glove is glowing softly. Her interrogator's weapon gleams in the lighting, and he takes even steps towards her, gripping it in both hands.

Hands, she notices almost frantically, that are shaking.

When he's close enough, Ebony seems to release whatever hold he had on her because she tumbles to her knees, muscles spasming. "Rejoice, Wanda," the tone still flat, as if the words were rehearsed so much they've lost all meaning, "and embrace the warmth of those who came before you."

A sharp breath escapes her nose, but she refuses to face this with her neck open for the kill and looks up through her messy hair to see the man over her, sword poised for a final swing. The edge is sharp enough to draw blood by merely skimming fingers across it.

Their eyes meet.

His green is raw and red, something desperate bleeding into his features. He looks like he's the one about to have a sword cleave his head from their shoulders, not her. There's nothing left to destroy, she remembers him saying to her, and the words make a little more sense now. There's nothing left to destroy because there's nothing there. He looks empty.

And for the briefest moment, Wanda wonders what has been done to him to make him like this. What seeped every drop of life from his body and left a functioning corpse, rather than a living man. But the moment passes when he re-adjusts his grip and she remembers who this is.

It isn't some lost soldier on the wrong side of a battlefield. This man is responsible for Vision's death. If it wasn't for his binding on her magic, her beloved would be with her. They would have never left that barn so long ago and been safe. Instead, here they are, Vision dead and she about to join him.

She drops her head, closing her eyes and waits for the final sting to take her. She mouths a silent prayer, accepting the end. There is nothing she can do to fight this. Nothing meaningful.

At least this way she'll be with her parents again. With Vision. She only wishes she wasn't leaving her brother and team behind. But there's very little she can do, the chances of her returning at all were slim to none anyway.

The weapon shings through the air, and she waits with baited breath.

And waits.

And waits.

The sword doesn't touch her neck. The pain of a beheading doesn't crawl across her skin and rage through her brain. She is left alone, barely breathing as she waits for her execution. An execution that isn't coming.

The sword clatters to the floor in front of her and Wanda startles, looking up sharply to see that her interrogator is shaking and gasping, but doesn't make a move to pick up the weapon. He doesn't seem to have lost it on accident. Almost like he threw it.

But why would...?

Behind him, the rest of the party share confused looks, obvioulsy not expecting this. Thanos takes a weighted step forward. The sound of his boot lapping against the ground causes her interrogator's face to lose all remaining color. The terror that shines in his deep emerald causes something in her to stir.

"My child," Thanos says, voice even. "What are you doing?"

"I can't." Her interrogator whispers. Wanda watches him, confused. She doesn't understand. Why did he spare her? He had no qualms about everything else before, but he draws the line at execution?

"I gave you an explicit order. This is an honor to be performing such an act and yet you throw it away as if I have given you a burden." Thanos's voice is a warning.

"I won't." Her interrogator squeezes his eyes shut.

"Brother," a woman hisses, "don't be an idiot."

"I won't." The man repeats, taking a step back from her and the sword as if it has wounded him personally.

"I see." Thanos glances once at the creature beside him, a hooded thing with two thumbs and pale, marble skin. It—he—releases a snarl and takes several steps forward, wrapping a hand around her interrogator's arm. The dark-haired man flinches, his expression flaring with open pain.

"It would appear that you and I have some discussing to do then." The creature hisses. His voice is old and grainy, as if his tongue is forked.

"No," her interrogator whispers, his eyes popping open. They jerk away from Wanda still next to the fallen sword and rest on the creature beside him. He struggles slightly, attempting to wrench his arm from the grasp of the creature, but has little success. "No!"

"Then pick up your sword and kill the witch." The creature growls between clenched teeth.

Her interrogator breathes in and out, hard and fast.

But he does not pick up the sword.

He doesn't even move to, as if considering her death again is the farthest thing from his mind. Wanda eyes him, flabbergasted. He would choose to let her live at the cost of himself? She, who has done nothing to even warrant this rescue? She promised to kill him, and he…

The creature huffs, grip tightening and yanks sharply on her interrogator, obviously moving for the door. The man stumbles in his grip, his face pale and eyes hunted. He's afraid. What will they do to him, now that he has spared her?

Will they kill him, too?

"No! Please, please—Father, please, don't—" her interrogator turns to Thanos desperately, twisting his arm up in a way that must dislocate his shoulder, but he doesn't seem to care.

"Father," the blue woman hisses in disapproval.

"Silence, daughter. Proxima," Thanos's voice is level, but still threatening. The blue-haired woman glances up to the large man, "Deal with the witch. Your brother and I need to have a discussion about insubordination."

"No," the man is openly sobbing now, falling to his knees as if he can't bare his own weight anymore and Wanda watches it. She can't seem to stop. The terror on his features makes her want to help him. It disgusts her, this compassion, but she can't shove it down into the pit of her stomach and never think about it again.

She is going to kill him.

She can't help him.

He killed Vision. He tore through her mind. He is not her ally. She hates him.

"Of course, Father." Proxima says, fisting a hand over her heart and giving a slight bow. She moves across the cell and grasps the fallen weapon, holding it out for a moment as if feeling the balance.

Then, she looks up at Wanda and snears angrily.

As if this entire thing is her fault.

She raises it up and Wanda sees the sword arc through the air, wondering why she's just sitting here. She could move, attempt to scramble—something, but she remains idle.

(Shock, a part of her diagnosis. You're in shock.)

"Wait." Thanos says, and Wanda sees Proxima's muscles coil, stopping the sword just as it touches at Wanda's neck. The metal is cold, and Wanda flinches sharply, scraping her skin against the sharp edge. She feels blood draw and begin to pool down her neck. "On second thought," Thanos continues, voice deep and contemplative. Wanda can't look up to read his expression, but she can almost hear the gleam in it. "Let her live."

"Father," Proxima sounds annoyed.

Wanda decides at that moment that, when she gets the chance to avenge Vision, this woman is going first.

"Hush, child." Thanos chides. He takes a few more steps and Wanda sees him draw closer to where the creature and her interrogator are standing. Metal creaks, and her interrogator's tears stifle themselves sharply. "You have served me well, my son. You are loyal, if hardheaded. A simple lesson should be enough. Your compassion has gotten you into this mess, and when it dies, you will be free."

"I don't...understand." The voice is soft.

Blood drips onto the floor beneath her, and Wanda tries not to panic. Did an artery get clipped? Is she going to die anyway?

"You will." Thanos promises. After a moment, he adds, "Bind him."

"Wait—" her interrogator starts in panic, but there's a loud scuffle. The sound of flesh hitting flesh and her interrogator releasing a sharp gasp of pain, but it's over quickly. Wanda wants to look up, to see what is happening, but the weapon remains at her neck, a promise of what will happen if she attempts to interfere or do something they don't want.

The man is thrown to the floor sharply, and if Wanda strains she can see him. He's been stripped of the armor he was bound in, left to bare feet, and there's manacles of some sort wrapped around his wrists.

Thanos's shadow falls over her and Wanda tries not to jerk back, but she doesn't quite stop her sharp exhale.

The weapon is removed from her neck and thrown at the man's feet. "When she is dead, you will be free." Thanos says. "Compassion," he snears the word with disgust, "has no place in the Black Order. You will learn this, or you will die here."

Oddly, her interrogator makes no verbal reply. He isn't facing her, but shudders sharply.

Wanda glances up, her neck spilling more blood, and notes with some surprise that the generals that were with Thanos in that room made no move to help him incapacitate her interrogator. It was the guards with four arms that click and hiss that did so. Instead, they watched in stoney silence, but the disapproval is obvious on the blue woman's face.

Thanos's words catch up with her, and Wanda struggles to comprehend them for a moment.

Thanos is…

Thanos is leaving the man here until he kills her? That his his grand plan? To wait it out and hope that enough time of sitting together in silence will convince her interrogator to kill her? What's stopping her from picking up the weapon and killing him herself?

Nothing.

(And everything.)

"Children," Thanos addresses the rest of the group. "Come. It would appear that we will not have an execution today, but soon." The creatures begin to make for the exit, but the generals linger, gazes locked onto the crumpled, shuddering figure. Wanda can't hear him gasping, but his breath seems to be blowing against something.

"Children."

The group shifts slightly, moving towards the exit after their father.

They exit the cell and leave them alone in the dark. The dark that doesn't stop eating. That is always hungry to chew on her and spit back up remains of the person she used to be before it started to feast.

The pipe drips in the corner.

Wanda allows herself to tremble, lifting a hand up to her wet neck. The cut appears to be only shallow, but she can still smell the blood clearly. She wants to cry, but can't. Not here. Not with her interrogator in the room with her.

A prisoner, because he refused to kill her.

And look where that mercy got them both. Nowhere. Now it's only a waiting game. Wanda would have preferred the sudden surprise of her inevitable death and then the nothingness that would follow. Dragging it out is only making her sick with anticipation. Now she knows it's going to happen, because the interrogator is loyal to Thanos.

He won't choose her twice.

The dark claws.

The pipe drips.

Wanda breathes.

She has to get out of here. She can't wait for them to finish the deed. They left a weapon in the cell with them, and she may not have even held a sword that wasn't Thor's before, but it can't be that hard to stab someone. She crawls across the floor, trying to remember where they dropped it. She passes the drain, and the wet river of the pipe touches at her hands.

Drip, drip, drip.

Wanda's fingers brush against the sword's blade and she follows it down until she's touching the hilt. She grasps it with both hands and hobbles up to her feet, squinting into the dark, but it doesn't help. The dark is too thick. Too heavy. Too hungry. It refuses to let her see her target.

The sword isn't as heavy as she thought it would be.

She listens, moving closer to the ragged, muffled breathing. When her boot touches at the edge of a body part—elbow—she raises the weapon. This is for Vision. For herself. She wouldn't do it if he hadn't forced her hand.

She raises the weapon awkwardly—

There's nothing left to destroy.

—and stops. Her hands tremble and she stares down at the figure she can barely make out. He saved her life, and she is going to repay him by ending his? But it's not just honor that stops her. It's a quiet, nagging voice in the back of her head that whispers something is not right with him and she can't get the sword to move. It feels like her magic would when it touches a mind and glimpses the inside. Like so long ago, when she felt Vision's mind for the first time.

In a way, perhaps she is studying him. He is holding her magic captive—but it's still inside her—and because of that, their two powers are colliding and she is reading him.

Something is not right with him.

But he does not fill her with fear. He doesn't strike against her and scream and lash out. Not like Ultron inside of her beloved did. There is very little there, as if he is...not entirely whole. As if there is something wrong. Something powerful has touched at his mind and burned away the edges, leaving only a small circle of sanity intact.

Something—

Wanda drops the sword.

She moves away from her interrogator as quickly as she can, nearly stumbling over him in her haste. She slumps against the far wall and draws her knees up to her chest, rings digging against her knees. She cradles her broken hand, and rests her forehead on her knees, trying to breathe.

Her interrogator breathes heavily into the dark, and the pipe continues to leak.

Drip, drip, drip.

000o000

They don't talk, interact, or even acknowledge each other for about three days. The only reason that this breaks is when the guards come to give them rations—some bread and water—and the door is yanked open harshly. Both of them flinch, and Wanda looking up towards the creature standing in the doorway and the dim light behind him.

It's enough to see her interrogator with. His head has tilted up towards the door and she feels color drain from her face. Instead, he turns revealing his angled profile. His hair is dripping water, but his green eyes are narrowed with frustration. The most prominent thing, however, isn't the fact that he's wet, but rather the muzzle strapped to the lower half of his face. Wanda is immediately drawn aback.

muzzle.

They muzzled him.

Like a dog?

She doesn't understand. What did he do to earn that?

The dark-haired man wipes water from his face (where he can), heated eyes flickering towards her for a brief second before he looks up. The creature throws the water and food to the floor of the cell and the door is shut and locked again. The darkness hums hungrily, and Wanda tries to shake off her need for light.

She has lived in the dark before. There is nothing dangerous about it. The only thing here is her interrogator.

Wanda's stomach twists hopefully, reminding her that she's ravenous. She can't bring up the willpower to move, however. She'd have to crawl, slowly, to find the food or water without crushing it, and she doesn't want to lower herself to such standards with another person in the room. Her pride will be her downfall, but she doesn't care.

She doesn't hear her interrogator make any move for the supplies, either, and realizes that it would be pointless if he did. He can't exactly consume either with a muzzle. They did that to him. Because he wouldn't kill her. She squeezes her eyes shut, burying her face into her knees. She's not hungry...she's not as hungry as she thinks. No. She can last a little longer. She doesn't need to move, no, she can remain here and fall asleep forgetting about the pangs for a little longer and—

She is not hungry.

She curls around her stomach and tries to ignore the borborygmi, but doesn't find much success.

A few hours later, she gives in and grabs the water because she can find it, but she doesn't know where the food ended up and she doesn't want to search. She downs the water bottle, then returns back to sleep. Her interrogator doesn't talk or interact with her and they remain in this cycle for a little over three days. Wanda hasn't eaten in two, now, and her vision is beginning to fuzz at the edges.

It hurts.

Pain and pain and pain.

But the pain is better than the worry, the dark, and now she's too tired—too hungry—to think about anything but how numb her toes are. The meals are sprattic, and Wanda feels herself caving even if she's sick at it.

She feels like a feral animal, locked in the dark until it consumes her entirely.

She wants to scream. To shout. For something other than the dripping of that stupid pipe and the ragged noises of their breathing to feel the empty air. The darkness eats, but the silence hurts. It bleeds into her ears and laughs, causing her to wonder if she's ever been without it.

She has to have been.

She can remember Vision's warm hands on her face. How his lips felt when he kissed her. She remembers her brother holding her. She remembers. She can't forget.

The silence still stretches on.

The darkness keeps eating.

It won't stop.

She doesn't bother trying to interact with her soon-to-be-killer. There isn't a point. They aren't going to be friends. She's...she doesn't know what she's going to do to him, but they haven't spoken a word to one another.

Wanda is fine with this.

She passes the time by sleeping and thinking, but her thoughts grow heavy and loud. They don't come with water for long enough that she feels sick and nauseous. She hears her interrogator get up to his feet and pace restlessly, back and forth across the small cell like he can burn a hole through the floor if he tries hard enough.

Drip, drip, drip.

The darkness keeps gnawing at their bones.

She doesn't know how long they've been here together—days. Weeks—when she hears the sound of a sword scraping against the ground. She freezes, her body tensing in preparation for the other man to come rushing at her and lop her head off then cheer merily because he's been returned to his previous duties, but it doesn't happen.

She stops and listens, her heart banging against her chest in an obnoxious, panicked rhythm.

There is no further movement.

The sword drops against the ground, clattering loudly, and the dark-haired man begins his pacing again. It's faster, as if he's disgusted with himself. But it isn't the last time that he picks it up. There's two others that she's awake for, and she wonders how many times he contemplates killing her while she's asleep.

She rubs a hand against her chest, an ache setting into her lungs. A slight cough has begun to form, and Wanda wonders if she's getting ill. That would be the highlight of all of this, wouldn't it? He won't even have to feel guilt—or whatever it is that stops him from killing her—about her dying because the bacteria will finish that job long before he ever gets around to chopping her neck in two.

She rubs against her chest.

Breathless.

And coughs.

000o000

Things don't get better from there. She can't breathe deeply without hacking, she's congested, a fever wracks her body with chills. Her vision begins to grow hazy and she can't stay away for long periods of time. She rubs at her chest, at her ribs, trying to make the ache go away, but it never does.

She stares blankly into the dark, hearing the man pace.

His company is...strange. After the weeks—days?—alone, it's almost a relief to have someone present. But it's always short lived, because then she remembers why he's here, and she sobers. The only reason she is alive is so he'll kill her. She hates him for it. Just like she hates him for Vision.

Wanda coughs miserably.

When the guard gives them the rations for the first time in what must be days, Wanda only rolls over and does her best to ignore it. She's too exhausted to move, even if she is thirsty. Or hungry.

The pacing stops.

Wanda doesn't care. Let him take up the stupid sword. At least this will be over for both of them, then. She squeezes her eyes shut and attempts to fall asleep, curled around her aching stomach and tight lungs.

She makes it about five minutes before flinching back from a sudden touch on her shoulder and gasps with pain, coughing sharply several times. She twists around, attempting to elbow her assailant, but stops when her elbow meets empty air.

She bites sharply at her lip and remains still.

The darkness sits between them.

"What?" She questions, her voice is a low croak. She hasn't spoken in days—weeks—and its hoarse. It's then that she remembers that he is still wearing the muzzle and cannot speak back to her. Wanda mentally kicks herself for her thoughtlessness. The man seems undeterred, however, and merely reaches for her palm despite her open protest and something is pushed inside. Bread. Food. Rations. He's...

Wanda's stomach twists sharply, reminding her how hollow it is.

She coughs weakly. The man, strangely, offers it towards her more firmly. She shakes her head no, and attempts to rest her hand on her elbow again, intent on sleeping some more, but the man jabs her upper arm. Wanda hisses sharply at the sensation and looks back at him with a scowl.

He shoves the bread at her more urgently.

"I'm not going to eat it," she promises, accent thick and voice dry, "save your strength."

The man slumps with defeat, sighing through his nose, resigned.

Wanda coughs.

And the pipe drips in the distance.

The dark swallows her whole.

000o000

It's later when he attempts to force water on her, but Wanda takes the strangely shaped bottle from him without too much argument. She drinks it in one go, her stomach empty and sharp as it makes contact with the liquid. Annoyed, her digestive system begins to process it, but not without sending sharp pangs through her body as often as possible.

Wanda ends up expelling it later, but the strangeness of this situation hits her.

This man should leave her to succumb to dehydration and malnutrition. He shouldn't help her. And he is.

The darkness teeters on the edge of her vision and Wanda coughs sharply, tired and cold. She wants to sleep, but lying prostrate doesn't help her body's incessant hacking.

Drip...drip…

"Are you going to kill me?" Wanda whispers into the Stygian. The pacing stops. "Just do it. Stop waiting."

Her fellow captive doesn't say anything. He can't. He's been voiceless since this started. He resumes pacing, and she listens to the patter of his feet until she falls asleep.

The darkness nibbles on her.

She wakes up, surprised to be alive, and blinks with confusion when she sees that there's a faint light source coming from inside the cell.

It's green and misty, almost like a glowing fog. She tilts her head to the left and sees that the man is seated cross legged next to the small river from the pipe. His hand is glowing in the darkness, veins alight with the power of his magic. His other is tracing something onto the floor.

Wanda sees that the sword is laying near the door, as if someone attempted to use it to scale the wall. Given the fact that she's not in a climbing state, she can only guess he got desperate enough to try.

The lack of the dark makes her eyes sting, but her body surge with a sudden, desperate want.

She can see her fellow captive in the darkness. His eyes are shadowed, his face gaunt. His skin is pale and waxy, dark hair clinging to the sides of his face. He looks hollow. She feels hollow.

Light.

No more darkness.

Wanda coughs softly, but rolls to her hands and knees, crawling bit by slow bit towards the light source like it is her one salvation in this life. She moves, dragging her dead feet and exhausted limbs to the light, her body needing to touch it. To hold it. To see it. To be where the dark is not.

She stops beside the man, breathless and coughing, but her trembling fingers reach for his glowing palm.

It's not dark.

She can't stand the dark.

The man stills when her fingers make contact with his palm. His skin is cold, almost biting, but she doesn't care. She traces the light, a soft sob escaping her. She cradles his fingers between her own, seeing the deformity of her left hand that has long since begun to heal. The swelling has gone down, but her fingers don't move right.

She can feel his eyes on her, but she doesn't care. She wants to keep this light forever.

Please don't make it go away again.

The pipe drips.

Her fellow captive sighs softly, almost sympathetically, and slowly curls his fingers around her hand. The light is not bright enough to cast away all the shadows, but it's a start.

She and the prisoner stay like that for long enough that she begins to nod off, but refusing to leave the light behind, slumps against his arm. He's tense and coiled beneath her touch at first, but slowly calms. Not relaxed, but he's less sharp.

The light lingers between them.

Wanda breathes easier because of it, even if she does cough and her ribs hurt.

She watches through tired, fever-hazy eyes as the man slowly dips a finger into the water of the pipe and shifts some without disturbing her so he can scribble text across the ground in a text that's hasty and sloppy.

It takes her exhausted brain a moment to interpret what he wrote.

No.

Her brow furrows. She blinks tiredly. "I don't understand," she whispers in the dark. The silence eats her words greedily.

More dripping. He writes above it.

Kill. Order.

He's not going to kill her. Wanda stares at him, her stomach releasing in relief, even though she knows that it should not. Her body is slumping further against him, too exhausted to keep itself upright. The sword is behind them, a haunting presence.

Wanda forces herself to nod. She coughs. "And I you." She promises softly.

He chased the dark away.

The man traces his wet fingers across the ground, scraping lines like claw marks. Wanda watches him for a few long moments before questioning in a softer tone, "What is your name?"

She rubs her fingers against his hand.

The light.

It chases the darkness away.

The man hesitates before dipping his finger into the water and begins to trace out. It takes a moment before she can read what he wrote, scribbled with the dirty pipe-water onto the floor.

They told me I am Nova.


 

Chapter Text


 

"Tonight I saw a side of him I've not seen in a long while."

-Unknown


 

They told me…

They told me.

Told. Not I am.

The words confuse him, even though it's been hours since he traced them out on the floor. The phrasing. It isn't what it should be. It's...it's the conflicted mess of someone who doesn't even know their own identity. But Nova doesn't. This, for some reason, is what sticks out among everything else in the dark, wet cell. As he stared into the awaiting abyss and tried to quell his rolling stomach.

Wanda has fallen back asleep, the wet rattle of her breaths not boding well for her well-being. Distantly, he thinks he should keep her awake for fear that if he doesn't, she won't awaken again, but she needs the rest. He thinks. Her breathing is getting worse. She's curled up on her side beside him, using one elbow as a pillow for her head and the other is tucked up close to her chest as if trying to preserve warmth. She's faced at an angle that she could still see his hand, the only source of light in this cell, until she fell asleep.

It's almost funny, because Nova knows that it wasn't the torture that the Other inflicted on him that broke him. It was the silence. And here he is, teetering on the edge of another collapse and about to drag the Witch along with him.

They told me.

He doesn't even know his name. The name that his mother—whoever she is—spoke upon seeing him for the first time. Or his father. Whoever it was that chose it. The name he was given is a poor replacement for what he had. It's meant to be an honor. Everything with the Black Order is meant to be an honor.

It is a burden.

Weighing him down.

Drowning him.

And Nova doesn't want to die, but if he doesn't kill Wanda, his father will have little use for him. She's so close to succumbing to the illness within her anyway, if he waits a few more days—perhaps a few hours—she will have given up the ghost. But that wasn't his decision, and Father will know that. He would see her dead either way, but how is what's important to him. He's supposed to do anything his father demands without question, but he couldn't do this.

After everything else, he draws the line at what was meant to be his first execution?

There's another hitch of breath and an alarmingly long pause before Wanda intakes again. This breath sounds heavier than the last, and the one after is dragged. Wanda is dying. This isn't some sort of imagined illness, if he doesn't do anything, she's going to die. And for reasons he doesn't understand completely himself, he can't let that happen. Not that he won't. He can't.

What good would it do him if he saved her? She'll recover and have no need of him. Perhaps she'll succeed in her next attempt at killing him. But then it would be over. Even if she does kill you, it's better than being slain in Thanos's name, isn't it?

No. Thanos is…

Nova doesn't know anymore. He's so confused. He can't betray his father, but he can't keep pretending that this is fine. That he doesn't hate every moment in this tangible darkness that won't go away even with the brightest of lights. It's inside him. Tainting his very soul.

He needs to get Wanda back to her people. The only reason she is here is because of him. If he isn't going to kill her, he'll free her and get her to Terra. He has to. If he doesn't, she'll die, and he's already suffered enough to simply let her go now.

But why? A soft part of him cries, why would you risk so much to save her?

Nova hesitates, squeezing his eyes shut. A truth he has refused to admit, but will not stop spinning around in his head begins to break the surface. He looked through her memories, rifling through anything and everything he could to find the Stones. And there was a very distinct, sharp one where a man lept atop the cradle of her lover and Nova remembers stopping because he knew that man.

He'd pulled out quickly.

He wasn't—isn't—allowed to know that man. It hurt.

He'd chased it off as quickly as it had appeared, frightened of the implications. He'd shoved it down, and refused to parse over it, but days in the dark with nothing but the Witch's ragged breathing for company has forced him to think.

He'd dreamt because he found that memory with the man. About the golden room with the woman who nudged him and the scribbling down of thought vs. inner mind in a tight scrawl he's not familiar with. But Pietro kept making his head ache because Wanda so often called him brother in her thoughts.

Brother.

The blond man he's not supposed to know, but does, and the quiet, selfish reason for the Witch's rescue: she knows him. Nova remembers scarce little, but she knows him. This man that Nova...Nova tentatively believes is his brother. His birth brother. Blood brother. Not the sibling-hood the Order share, one of pain and panic, but a different kind. Bond and blood.

Nova needs to find him. He has so many questionsHas to know why he fell among the stars.

Why did you let me go?

He wrings his hands anxiously, picking at his palms and trying to ignore the clicking of the cuffs.

As much as he wants to pretend that his rescue of this woman was because he's some sort of noble hero, he knows deep down that isn't it. He's a wretched monster, and he's beyond any hope of redemption. But that man is his brother, and Wanda knows him. Nova needs to know him, too. And if getting Wanda to Terra for no other reason than the hope that she'll mention him to Nova's brother, than...he has to take that chance.

(And somewhere, somehow, he knows that even if this wasn't the case, he couldn't let her die.)

The Witch's breathing hitches, and it doesn't start again. Nova turns his gaze towards her, a flaring panic rousing in his chest. Flerkin. He shifts so he's closer and lifts up a hand to her face, trying to feel for breath. There's nothing. He can hear the sluggish thrum of her heartbeat, but it's weak and exhausted.

She's going to die. The thought really settles with him properly. If he doesn't do anything, Wanda will be dead within minutes.

When he was still with the Other, Nova did not spare any chance at escape. He nearly succeeded twice before the Other began to leave him in too much pain to think, let alone move. When the agony had begun to subside, Nova was too afraid to try anything else. The binding hold they'd had on his magic hadn't helped, either.

But this time will be different. He knows the Sanctuary and he doesn't care if he survives or not. And he has magic. His father didn't think to take it from him. Or maybe, a quiet, pragmatic voice whispers for the thresholds of his mind, he left it because he trusts you, and you are breaking that with your plans.

He shakes his head to clear the thoughts, trying to think through the haze of panic. What does he do? If she dies, he'll have lost any and all possible connections to the man who might be his brother. If she dies, this will be on his head. He'll have killed this woman inadvertently. He can save her. He will. He just…

Treason, then?

The snide thought is tired.

Nova closes his eyes for a moment. Doing this is a point of no return. He cannot come back here. His father will hunt him to the edge of the universe to slaughter him. No where will be safe. Nova is not Gamora. He does not have the same protections his sister does, simply because he is the failed experiment, and she is the glorified daughter.

But, he...all these days in the dark have made one thing clear. The words he scribbled out to the Witch were a silent promise. He's not going to kill her. He will do all that he can on the contrary. And...

They told me I was Nova.

But the words that had followed are what leave him shaking and vaguely sick to his stomach: I don't believe them anymore.

Treason, then, he supposes.

Nova exhales sharply through his nose before squeezing his fingers into tight fists and wrapping his magic around the shackles. He digs into the molecules, slowing the vibrations until they're all but stopped, and delves sharply throughout the scattered space, giving a pull. The shackles burst into a dozen metal fragments, ice-chipped at the edges.

They're meant to hold magic, and they do. But creating ice is an inherent ability he can't remember the source of. It's not magic. It's the one loophole he found, and refused to say anything of. If Ebony noticed when he pranced across his mind, he never said.

Nova turns his attention immediately to Wanda, resting a hand on her stomach and closing his eyes. His magic wiggles around in her, floundering out of his control and he has to snatch it sharply to keep it from doing permanent damage. Her body isn't strong enough to hold the power he wields, if he slips up, she'll be dead. The sickness sits inside her lungs, heavy with bacteria.

Before he can decide what to do about that, he wills the muscles to contract and expand. Wanda breathes a forced breath. He lets his magic continue the work absentmindedly, trying to think. He's rubbish at healing magic without remembering how to do it. The concept seems familiar, and he knows that if he could just grasp the memories he'd understand, but it's out of his reach now.

If he did a rushed purge, maybe...shove the bacteria out of her lungs and up through her throat? Dangerous, given than she could suffocate if he doesn't do it fast enough, but he doesn't exactly have many options. If he could just remember…

He shakes his head, praying to anything listening that he doesn't make this worse, grasps around what he can determine is harmful and shoves up. The Witch sputters, hacking and choking as he draws the sickness from her like pulling a very long ribbon from her mouth. The entire process is nothing short of disgusting, and Nova is privately grateful for the darkness. He doesn't have to see what he's removing.

After a few moments, Wanda's eyes snap open and she coughs deeply, spitting up whatever he didn't manage to remove. She inhales raggedly, as if breathing for the first time after nearly drowning to death. Nova bites on his tongue for a moment, uncertain what to do. He removes his hand from her stomach and watches as she shifts somewhat, looking up at him and squinting.

"Nova?" her voice is hoarse. He flinches at the name, something in him wanting to insist that's not mine, but he's not allowed to. Nova is the name that Father gave him. It's his now. (But it doesn't belong to me.) She seems to determine that he is what she's looking at at slumps somewhat. "I feel terrible," the raw admission after their days of muted silence speaks a testament to her state.

He grits his teeth on top of the plastic mouthpiece of the muzzle, but is unable to respond.

"I think I'm going to die," her voice is quiet. Young. Nova only stares at her. She closes her eyes and coughs a few more times. "You can kill me now."

Ha, hilarious. She really thinks that after everything, he'll be so swift to delve the death blow?

He breathes out through his nose once before lifting his hands to his mouth and tearing against the matter. He slows the atoms, wincing somewhat as ice spreads up his cheeks, but the metal snaps with a harsh clicking sound. He throws the separate pieces to the floor and stretches his stiff jaw. His throat is dry and his tongue tired, but he's free.

Free. That's what this is? As if freedom has not been given to him by his father in the first place?

He hesitates again. Father has done everything for him. He rescued him from the stars, gave him purpose, a name…to do this would be to discard all of that. Is he really so ungrateful? Can he really just walk away from all this mercy?

He glances at the Witch. Miserable and dying on the floor, a product of his actions. If he stays here, things will not get better. He's been fooling himself for months hoping it would. He wanted it to, and he clung to that like somehow it would be a savior amid the nightmare. But it's not. Because there's nothing but death for him.

Whether it is his own, or someone else's.

Treason.

He opens his eyes and fumbles for a moment until he grasps Wanda's cold hand. The misshapen bones poke out starkly against the smooth skin and he winces inwardly. She may be crippled in these fingers because he decided to drag her along rather than giving her an execution on Terra.

"Wanda," his voice is dry. Somehow, it sounds worse than hers.

Wanda stills, before she looks at him through hazy lids. Her eyes are wide, "You…" she tilts her head, seeming to notice that he is no longer bound for the first time. "I don't understand. How…"

"We're leaving." He winces. The words hurt. She still doesn't seem to comprehend. Nova releases a breath through his nose and shifts until he can swing her arm around his shoulder entirely and pull them both up to their feet. He staggers and she can't hold her weight, but they remain upright. Nova pulls her towards the door and toes the edge of the sword hilt until it's resting on hit foot. With a sharp jerk of his leg, he flips the weapon into his waiting hand and clings to it.

He's going to get them both caught.

He can't do this.

He's failed every other time.

(How can he be leaving? How can he be choosing this over everything else? How can he just run away because the Witch may know a man that could be his brother?) 

"Wait," Wanda's voice is frantic. She looks towards him, "We won't make it out; not like this. I'm going to die anyway, just kill me and leave."

He shakes his head, bracing himself. There aren't guards on this level, everyone here is either too near-death to attempt an escape, or too afraid. The next level will be harder, because that's where Thanos keeps the active interrogations going. There are Outriders stationed by the dozen there. The escape pods are only available from the bridge. To get there, they have to go through the second level.

If he can make it to the elevator, on the second level of the prison, that's...still not great odds. But it's better than nothing. But even if he gets to the elevator, it only functions for the DNA of the Black Order. If Thanos removed his—though Nova doesn't know why he would have—then they'll be stuck down here until one of his siblings comes for them.

Which they haven't. No one has even checked to see if he's murdered the Witch yet. What have they been doing? Surely this would have taken precedence unless Thanos found another world to purge or a Stone. He must've. Nova can't see them ignoring him like this unless he had. Which is...good, isn't it? That means they'll be distracted with that and won't have time to look for him until he's got Wanda well on her way to Terra.

He leans down somewhat, tensing his muscles, preparing for the jump.

"You don't need to do this." Wanda whispers. "You hate me."

"Are you so desperate to die?" he hisses hoarsely. He needs water. No, he wants water. He can go much longer than a week—eight, nine days?—without substance. The Other tested those limits with glee when he was still with him.

"No." Her voice has gained an edge. "Is this some sort of ploy?"

He laughs tiredly, making sure he has a steady grip around her waist before he leaps. She clings to his shoulder sharply, gasping slightly when he lands on the small lip next to the door. It doesn't buzz open, but he didn't expect it to. He's already tried this. He slashed at it with the sword for the better part of ten minutes before giving up.

But he hadn't been trying to leave, only get someone's attention.

"Believe me, witch; if it was, I would be just as much in the dark about it as you." He swallows, trying to work moisture down, but it's not enough. He tips his head down and feels the chill rush down his spine as he gathers his magic. He grasps at the lock with it, attempting to open it, but slips with his control and the door blasts off of its hinges, smacking against the far wall with a loud clang.

He winces. Oops.

Wanda inhales stiffly, squinting into the hall and trying to see if there's anyone. As he expected, there isn't. He grips the sword tighter before hauling her up a little and staggering into the dark corridor. Not for the first time, he's grateful for his ability to see through the inky blackness. He turns left, moving as quickly as he can and dares to. The sound of their feet shuffling is a relief after hours of his ears straining for any other noise than heartbeats and breathing. She fumbles with her feet a moment, trying to catch her balance before she manages to keep pace with him.

"You have been able to leave this whole time?" she questions.

"Yes." He says through his teeth. "I didn't want to."

"You didn't…" the Witch sounds incredulous. "How could you choose this!? They were going to kill me—they did kill my beloved, and you just—"

"Shut up or I will make you," he promises, his voice cracking somewhat. Water, his mind pleads. "We will get nowhere if you keep up this inane prattle."

"'Inane'—" she starts to repeat, clearly annoyed. He jostles her on purpose and she quiets with a sharp gasp. He bites on his tongue and blows out a heavy breath, moving forward through the long hall. He passes the familiar cells and focuses stalwartly on the staircase towards the end. This is designed as a labyrinth so anyone attempting an escape will be lost, but he's been down here too many times to fall prey to its whims.

They reach the stairs. He allows himself one small breath. Checkpoint one.

He grips the sword harder. His knuckle is beginning to ache and his fingers go numb. Treeeason that voice rings off in the back of his head. Liar, traitor. Thanos did everything for you and this is—

Stick it.

He struggles up the stairs, nearly losing his grip on Wanda twice. Her breaths are getting harsher. She's afraid. He is, too, but he'd sooner die than admit that outloud.

Keep pushing. It's too late to go back now.

It's not. He could still haul them around and climb into the cell, pretending nothing happened. The blasted door might take a moment to repair, but no one would ever have to know what he planned on doing. What he is doing. Smuggling a Terran out simply because she knows someone he does. The man who might be his brother. Who has no face and no name, but a presence in his head all the same.

He's running away.

The realization nearly makes him stop, but he keeps pushing. He's running. Like a coward. Like someone who doesn't want to die here. He has something out there this time. Something he can run to. All his other attempts were fruitless in part because he had no destination in mind other than away. He never made it to the bridge. But this time, it's not just him.

There's something to go to. Something beyond this. His brother, whoever he is, if he's even real.

The end of the stairs comes too soon for his frantic heart. He chances a look down the corrider and quickly draws back, yanking Wanda into the shaodws beside him. He only saw vague shadows at the end, but he hears the approaching Outriders before he sees them. There's a scraping noise. A body. Whoever this is is dragging a body. He grits his teeth and hears Wanda inhale sharply as the Outriders and the poor idiot pass by them. The blue-headed figure seems vaguely familiar, but almost from a dream.

He catches a glimpse of a crest hidden on the inside of the man's coat and grimaces slightly. Ravager. Thanos has been merciless in his capture of them since Gamora left. He kept insisting that the Ravagers would know where she hopped off to because someone in her new "team" used to be one. It never rewarded anything beyond a headache.

Nova tastes blood and loosens his hold on his tongue. When the noises are far enough away, he chances a look down one of the corridors towards the awaiting lift. There's two guards posted next to every cell and about two dozen cells on this block. He swears violently and progressively in his head. That's about forty eight. How is he supposed to get past that? And this is only one hall. There's three others adjoined to this staircase. Two of which are more cells.

That's more than a hundred. He squeezes his eyes shut. Great. Their odds are low to the point of nothing and they haven't even started. All he has is a sword, jittery magic, and a woman who can barely stand.

They'll be dead before they step foot in that lift. He can't risk it. Why did he think this was possible in the first place? Why did he even bother to try?

Because he has to. He has to find his brother, and get Wanda back to Midgard. He freezes. Mid...what? How did he...that's not a name he's even remotely familiar with, why did he just assign it to Terra? Why would...stop it. Stop it, now. He has more pressing matters at hand.

Nova takes in the scene again, sweeping his eyes carefully over the guards and the hall, picking out what he can. This is not his first stealth mission. If he just...he doesn't know if he can trust his magic to hold an invisibility spell that long, but he doesn't really have a choice. He can't risk open battle. Not with this many Outriders.

He glances once at his charge before spreading his fingers around the sword hilt and tapping himself and Wanda with the edge. She jerks somewhat and a rather foul taste fills his mouth, but when he looks down at himself, he can see nothing. It's a little disorenting, but he forces himself forward. He casts a silencing spell on their feet and their breath, sends a very quick prayer up to anything listening, and takes a step out of the stairwell into the hall.

Nothing turns to look at them.

There's only the scratching yank of the body and the Outriders hissing at each other further to their left. Nova moves to the right, down the hall towards the lift. The hall directly in front of the stairs appears to have an exit, but it's an illusion. Trick. Captives who think they're close to freedom, but then fail when their last hope proves to be misplaced.

He drags them forward another step.

Nothing.

And another.

Wanda's not breathing, but neither is he. They pass the first set of stained guards who don't bat an eye at their presence. No sense of smell, a weakness that few know of. He still doesn't breathe, but keeps pulling. He keeps the sword above the ground so it won't scratch, but wishes he had somewhere to sheath it because he doesn't know if he's about to jab someone with the weapon on accident or not.

They pass another set. Three. Four. Six. Twelve.

This feels too easy, but he knows the fight won't be here. It will be on the bridge, where the Black Order is usually stationed. All his other attempts either failed when he ran to the wrong door, or the bridge. Not this time. He won't let it happen this time. And he needn't worry about the next time because there won't be one. His father always executes traitors.

Except for Nebula. And Gamora, whenever Father does manage to find her.

Fifteen. Sixteen. Twenty.

Four left.

He can see the doors in vivid detail now. All the little scratches on the metal and the blood. The large dent that he never did learn the source of. They're so close. A bit further, a few more steps...just a bit further, he can—Kriff!

Wanda's foot catches on something and she tumbles forward. Unexpecting it, he lands with a heap beside her. He enchanted their bodies, but not the sword. It clatters loudly against the ground and escapes his grip, revealing itself to the light. They might have gotten away with just falling, but the sword is a death sentence.

Wanda swears in a language he doesn't recognize. That's about the only thing she has time to do before the Outriders draw their blasters and various assortment of weapons, swarming on them. Nova releases the spell and scrambles up to his feet, yanking her to her own. "Go!" he shouts, shoving her towards the lift. He summons the sword into his hand and dodges a blaster bolt aimed for his head. The creatures are moving rapidly, snarling and reaching out with their long claws and four hands.

The hissing, clicking sound of their language is guttural and angry. He can only pick out bits and pieces of sentences, and what they say chills him.

"I can't," Wanda gasps, accent thick. She pushes up against him. "I can't."

The Outriders have circled them. They hadn't made it to the lift yet. Close enough to almost touch, but not enough to use.

He swears and swings the sword, bringing it up to cut off the arm of one of the creatures. Blood is drawn, smearing down the blade. The blood that was supposed to stain this was meant to be Wanda's. Now it is drawn in defense of her.

The hands reach for them. Long claws rake against his face and stomach. His vision goes white for a moment as Wanda releases a howl behind him.

The odds were never in their favor. They're going to die here.

He has to get her to the lift. He can't let...can't let this—stop it. He shakes his head, trying to snap back into focus. The sword moves, but he can't feel his hands. He's going numb with panic. The adrenaline is doing nothing for him now. A bolt hits him in the side and he drops the sword in favor of gripping at he burning flesh, only for a hand to wrap around his dark hair and yank. A knife is pressed against his throat and his breath catches.

Someone slams a hand against the warning bells, and the lights begin to flicker as the familiar dull ring pounds through his skull. He can't breathe. The pain is making his vision flutter. He sees Wanda in a similar state of captivity to his, but she's bleeding from her nose and favoring her left foot. Well, he thinks almost dazedly, at least he can say that they tried.

It's not enough. They were meant to leave. He can't stay here. He can't stand another minute and—

They told me…

Wanda.

Wanda.

His lips move in a stiff prayer. Please don't let him be making a mistake. Nova digs into his magic, grasping around the block that he holds around Wanda's like a choke hold and let's go. The surge of cold that washes through him makes him shudder and the knife scrapes against his throat.

Wanda gasps, heaving like she's been hit in the stomach. For a moment, he panics. He's killed her. He should have let it trickle back in instead of dumping it all on her and expecting her to drink it, but then Wanda's head lifts, and her eyes open, glowing a dull red.

The hum of magic is thick in the air. The Witch exhales slowly before she moves. Slamming a hand against her stomach, a red pulse shoots through her chest against the creature holding her. She dives out of the way of the knife like she's been trained to do so since birth. The Outriders leap at her, but she waves a red-misted shield to block their bolts and throws a hand forward.

She throws them against the wall with the red energy, and glances down the hall, throwing her hand up. He hears several Outriders slam against some sort of shield and they begin to hiss and screech in earnest, scratching at it. The sound is awful.

She moves with grace, but a slight fumble in her work, speaking of her inexperience.

Then she turns towards him. With a jerk of her wrist, the Outrider's knife is pulled into her own hand and he feels something dig into his shoulders before he's pulled forward by her energy before the Outrider can reach for him with any of its arms. He can't hold his weight, and a low moan slips through his lips as his burned side stretches. He crumples to his knees.

Fire.

It's hot.

The Other loved fire.

He's dragged across the bodies and the floor as Wanda does something else he can't make out. A haze of red tumbles over him and an Outrider yells. The Witch's stiff fingers grab at his arms and haul him up. It's awkward. He's a good few inches taller than her, and the weight distribution is funny, but she makes it work.

As if she hadn't been sick and nearly dying twenty minutes ago. The release of her magic seems to have given her new life, but Nova knows it isn't going to last. Her adrenaline will wear off and then the crash will be worse than anything she's ever experienced in her life. He has an unwanted acquaintanceship with this cycle. The high is dangerous. It's hard to know when to stop.

"C'mon." She commands, dragging him towards the lift.

He doesn't understand. She could leave him. She has no reason to take him.

She grimaces suddenly, as if something has struck her, but when he chances a glance behind them, he can only see her wall of red. The Outriders are piling up against it angrily, smashing their fists and weapons upon it. He grimaces for her sake, knowing that the sensation must be painful.

Wanda hauls him forward towards the doors. She looks around for a moment, but obviously has no idea what to do. "How do I—!?" she starts, frantic.

He lifts his bloody palm away from his side and all but drops it against the scanner. It reads through his blood or perhaps reads his blood, and mercy of mercies, the door shudders open. Thanos really thought he would come back. He believed that enough time would cure him of his ailment.

You see, the silky voice accuses, he had faith in you. You're the one that broke this trust. Traitor. Liesmith. Snake.

Wanda says something he doesn't quite catch and all but pushes him inside the lift. She follows after, staring at the foreign technology like he just asked her to recite the first page of a political document she's never heard of before: Disdain. Panic.

He blinks through his tears, leaning forward to smash a bloody fist against the wall to close the doors, then scrambling to spin the hologram reading floors to the one they want. The doors shut with a thud and Wanda breathes out.

"We made it." She exhales.

He snorts, wiping blood away from the side of his mouth. His throat hurts, his side is burning, and he thinks he's in danger of vomiting or passing out. "No. We got out of the prisons. Now we have to get to the escape pods. Through the bridge."

She blanches, then rubs a hand across her face. "Alright," she doesn't have nearly the amount of confidence for him to take her seriously. She's leaning against the wall for support, her leg bleeding into her clothing. She's stiff and in pain. They aren't in any state to face the Order. Or, if the fates truly deem them so unworthy, Thanos himself. "We can do that. It's not problem. I can move things with my mind, I can handle a few more of those things."

It won't be those "things." It will be the Order. She couldn't even handle him. She won't last ten seconds against them. He doesn't say that outloud, letting her cling to her misguided hopes. He should have thought this through a little better. But he'd been impulsive. And stupid. Just like at Ria, and that's what got an axe in his back.

The elevator slowly climbs. Floor by aching floor. He hears the shudders as the cables groan, and a quiet worry settles into the back of his mind that they're simply going to cut them and let he and the Witch fall to their untimely deaths.

But it holds, and they keep moving up.

"They'll be waiting," he warns quietly. He's swaying, and it's getting hard to focus. His vision is beginning to tunnel. All he can smell is the coppery scent of his blood. His heart beats raggedly inside his chest, fighting for survival, but seems oddly uncertain as to what the point is. "They'll fire when the door opens."

Wanda nods, glancing at him once. She doesn't, thankfully, mention that he's not in any state to be standing or fighting. That he should be unconscious, but is too stubborn to pass out right now. Her green-brown eyes only parse him for a moment, lingering on the gash against his stomach before she turns her attention towards the door. She waves a hand, bending at her elbow and bracing her body like she's preparing to be struck by a hammer. A wave of red light blinks into life in front of them. A shield.

The elevator stops, and Nova holds his breath.

The doors grind open.

No bolts fire. This, he feels, is worse than the expected hemorrhage of weapons and blasters going off. Wanda doesn't drop her guard, and Nova grits his teeth and forces himself to focus. He summons a dagger and blinks until his vision focuses a little better.

There, standing in front of the entrance, are his siblings. Ebony stands in the center, his fingers pressed together lightly. Midnight is on his left with her staff, Obsidian a thick axe on his left. Nebula stands on the other side of Ebony, her sword lowered in front of her.

They face each other for a long moment before Ebony takes a light step forward. The red grows in thickness, a wall between them. Ebony touches it with a delicate finger, and though the Witch shudders, Ebony does not break through.

"Hello, Nova," Ebony says softly. He tips his head towards Wanda, "Miss Wanda."

Wanda glances at him for direction, but he doesn't know what to do. They're cornered. The most he can offer as a suggestion is to throw their hands wildly into the air and surrender. Nova can't get his tongue to move, and Wanda doesn't say anything to the comment. He can feel his sisters and Obsidian burning their gazes into the him, and the intensity of their combined stare makes him feel oddly hot.

Ebony, oddly, sighs as if battle-worn. Nova's eyes won't focus enough for him to see much more than blurry figures and half-expressions. He doesn't know what they've done to make Ebony do that.

"Our father knows you have left. He has demanded your capture, and in all the years I have served our father, I have never failed him," Ebony whispers. Nova stiffens. He forces out a breath, pressing his fingers deeper against his wound. The pain, unlike the many times before, does not help him focus. It just hurts enough to make him stagger forward a step. Wanda's hand twitches, but she offers him no help.

"Will you kill us both then?" Nova questions. Water, please, his throat pleads. He longs for that dripping pipe, even if he wouldn't dare to drink any of the water. "Drag our corpses to Thanos and let him rejoice at your quarry?"

To his surprise, Ebony laughs. Then he gestures to himself and the rest of the Order, "You misunderstand. We have little desire to kill you, Nova."

"That's not my—" he starts to snap, attempting a step forward to drive his point home, but a flare of agony ripples up through his stomach and he's driven hard to his knees, gasping. Wanda flails slightly, grabbing hold of his arm. She tries to move him, but every jerk makes it worse.

"Nova," she pleads, "get up, come on,"

He doesn't know if he can.

You've suffered worse than this. Stop being pathetic.

"I…" Blood drips down the side of his mouth.

"Witch," Nebula. "Drop your shield. Now. Unless you want to see him dead."

"No," Wanda refuses, "I am not stupid. I won't let you kill us." She pushes out with her magic, causing them to stumble back somewhat. He coughs harshly, but forces himself to remain present. He's close. His brother. Terra. Wanda's release. They're so, so close and they—

Wait. Why does Nebula—?

The Luphomoid swears. "Drop it, or we will make you." To accentuate her point, Ebony raises a fist and clenches it slightly. Wanda chokes, hand moving to her throat, but it's over just as quickly as it started. After a hesitation, Wanda drops the shield, but steps in front of him, hands raised. The red energy pulses around her hands.

"Don't get any closer." She warns.

Nebula gives a pointed glance to her left and Ebony lifts his hand. Obsidian and Midnight relax somewhat. Nebula sheaths her blade and lifts up her hands, approaching them. This doesn't...what are they…? Wanda tightens, but doesn't make any attempt to stop them.

Nebula squats down in front of him and lifts her flesh hand to his face. It's cold. He flinches back from it. She stares into his eyes for a long moment, searching, before she swings his arm around her shoulders, and slides the other to his knees. In a swift move, she hauls him upright. His burned side splits anew.

He must have blacked out, because the next thing he knows, he's on top of some sort of table and Nebula rapidly patching up his side. He can sense Wanda behind him, and feels one of her hands on his head. Her magic is thrumming in his brain. She's trying to calm him. It's an adorable attempt, but she is no empath.

When his vision isn't doubling about a minute later, he bats away his sister's hand and props himself up. The Black Order stares at him from behind Nebula's stoic form. They haven't killed him. They haven't imprisoned them or reported them to Thanos. They're just...standing. He can't get his tongue to move. Finally, "Why?" he croaks. "You should kill me."

Midnight offers a bitter smile, her eyes cold. "What good would that do us? You're no use if you're dead."

Use. He's only kept alive because he's useful.

Nebula finishes her field dressing despite his annoyed swatting and takes a step back. "We don't have much time. As far as Father is aware, you're still in the prison levels."

"You're—"

Midnight slaps a hand over his mouth, and Wanda twitches. "Shut up. You are our only hope in this war. You can save us. No one else would bother. Father found the Tesseract."

Oh.

Well. That explains where they were.

He bites back a swear, even though he should be rejoicing. He should leap to his feet and praise his father's name and his mission, and though some part of him is afraid not to, he's...tired.

"Father is two Stones away from finishing," Midnight continues, voice grim, "but he won't stop there. You know he won't. He wants this to be permanent, and you know who is going to be the lab rat for him?"

Nova's stomach sinks.

"He'll use the Stones on us." Nebula says lowly, "Without remorse. We're waiting at the gallows or insanity's doorstep."

Like him.

"Are you not under the impression it would be an honor to die for him?" Nova questions.

Obsidian snorts. "That's what he'd like to believe."

The open, treasonous words startle him. None of them even seem remotely surprised by the thoughts. They've discussed this before. They are not so loyal. They...are like...him. Always teetering on the edge of complete loyalty or mutiny because the fear was never enough to bind him to Thanos. They kill and maim in the name of a man that does the same to them. He calls it mercy. He's hardly more than a sadist.

"In your past life, you were allies with powerful beings," Nebula explains quickly, all of them tensing as the elevator groans. It remains open, empty. "We don't have time to explain who, but they'll know who you are. You need to find them and bring them here. Stop us. I've made contact with Gamora, she'll explain everything."

She pushes a device into his hands. Nova tries not to gape. He heard her speaking to Gamora, and though he knew she lied about what she said, this was the last thing that he would have thought. Midnight wanted him to find a way that would release them of the sentencing with Wanda. They've been hinting this for weeks, he's just been too stupid to put two and two together. They'd all pled for the end with the Stones. Nova endured it more than they did and became a bubbling mess, barely a shell of what he once was, and that was only after days of reprieve. Another go would kill him.

Thanos won't stop with the snap.

He'll never be satisfied.

Midnight grabs his right arm and hauls him upright. He sways and the world spins, but the oddly-silent Wanda catches him before he can fall. Midnight pulls him to his feet, and between the two women, they begin to move towards the escape pods.

Treason. They're helping him escape. He owes them. They'll be killed if they're found out.

They reach the pods and Midnight releases him to set it up, Wanda standing next to him, silent and obviously as confused as he is about this whole mess.

"Nova," Ebony says, and he glances back before his brother lifts up a hand. The Tesseract is gleaming in his long fingers, a delicate object that radiates enough power that he's afraid he'll vomit. Their father's newest prize, and Ebony is giving it to him. They're serious. "Take this. It will delay him."

Nova reaches a hand out and takes the object from him. "If you're so afraid, just leave," he whispers.

Ebony looks amused, but sick. "Where would we go?" he asks, "What barren moon could hide us from his all-seeing eyes? There is nowhere we could run that he would not find and slaughter us. Do not fail us, Nova. Our lives rest in your hands."

He nods grimly.

Midnight steps away from the pod and Nebula holds his gaze for a long moment. "We all did what we had to survive here," she says after a moment, "but for what it's worth, I regret what happened to you."

He narrows his eyes somewhat, wondering if this is all some sort of bizarre dream. He doesn't ask what she's apologizing for. He doesn't really want to know.

"Thank you," Wanda says after a moment, "we owe our lives to you."

Midnight scowls at her. "Keep him alive, or you'll live to regret it."

He doesn't quite catch the Witch's expression, but she dips her head somewhat and a blast of red energy snakes from her palms like a concussion wave, smashing into his siblings harshly. They go flailing backwards, slamming into various desks and screens. It's at this moment that he notices the Outrider bodies laying in the room haphazardly. Mutiny. They did that, because they knew they would be coming. They killed.

They are afraid.

As he is.

Thanos does nothing but instill terror, and he wants nothing more than to give his all up and run back.

"Wanda—" he hisses sharply, angrily.

She shakes her head, pulling him towards the pod. "They asked me to. They needed it to look like we won. Come on, we need to go, we haven't much time."

She pulls him forward, and together they step inside the pod. The Tesseract hums in his hand, happy, and the cold communication device feels like a ploy. A lie. They told me I am Nova...Gamora knows who he is. His name. He takes a seat in the pilot's chair as Wanda slumps gratefully into the co-pilot's seat. He detaches them from the mothership and shakily flips up the coordinates for Mid—Terra. He turns on autopilot in case he passes out, and blasts the engines at full power, turning up the shields.

He barely remembers the flee from the Sanctuary to open space, but without anyone at the bridge to command the fleet, the most they have to deal with is the outer torrents. More of an annoyance than a worry. They quickly break range and Nova spots a heavy gathering of debris off to their left. It looks like a planet exploded, the bits to clustered together to be a normal asteroid field.

He ignores it, turning his attention forward and wrapping his shaking hands around the controls. Treason. He ran away. He left. (He's going to find his maybe-brother.)

Wanda grips at her scalp and leans against her knees. They hit the nearest jump point, and Nova pushes them inside. The jolt makes the Witch gasp, but he doesn't really care. He wants to laugh with giddy relief or panic. They're gone. They left. The Sanctuary is behind them now.

Tentatively, he takes the first breaths of freedom he can remember.


 

Chapter Text


It takes them about two days—at least according to Nova, who's counting the hours on the odd alien clock she can't read—before they spot Earth in the distance. Her stomach is doing flip flops of relief and panic as she sees her home approaching. The Avengers will be there. Her brother. They'll ask questions she's not sure she has the answers to. But they'll be there.

She's on Earth.

They survived.

She's home.

Wanda manages to direct them both to New York, and Nova, hazy and mostly unresponsive, flicks on a switch to let the ship land on autopilot on Avengers Tower. The Quinjet that should be there isn't, leaving them ample space. She silently prays that someone is still in the Tower, because she doesn't know if she can handle coming all this way for it to be empty.

FRIDAY should be, though, since she exists in several places at once. It will be something. She can work with something.

The lights dim in the ship once they land, and Wanda's gut churns in apprehension, not wanting to be in the dark. She hobbles to her feet and stretches stiff muscles for a second as best she can before moving to Nova. She grabs his arm without asking for permission and hauls him up to his feet. He moans a little listlessly, hand straying somewhat to his side.

He's leaking blood everywhere. She tried to patch the blaster wound with the poorly stuffed first-aid kit she found, but it only did so much. She thinks it's infected.

Wanda grits her teeth at the weight. Nova might be raggedly thin, but he's tall. Bones are heavy.

The two of them stagger through the pod, then down the ramp she kicks the button for to open. Wanda adjusts Nova's arm around her shoulders, slowly shuffling them out onto the deck. Her mouth tastes oddly dry, and the weight is making her balance tip. The gash on her leg is straining beneath it all, but she's hardly about to go and drop Nova. He can barely stand, let alone cross the short distance to the inside of the Tower.

A little closer, and then they can get medical aid.

Just a few more steps.

She squints into the glass doors, trying to see if there's anyone upstairs. She can't immediately spot any of her teammates, and feels her heart sink with disappointment. She wants someone to be here, childish as it is. She doesn't want to deal with this herself.

Wanda exhales and inhales deeply, continuing to slowly move forward. Step by aching step. They don't stop, despite her desire to sit down and give up.

It's as she's reaching for the handle to the penthouse that Nova suddenly stiffens. Her hand stills over the handle, and she looks up at him for an explanation. His eyes are still half-lidded, but not quite as listless as they were before. She blinks heavily, trying to keep herself awake.

"What—?" she starts to question, letting her powers surge to her fingertips. She can't sense any threats nearby, only—

Oh.

Oh.

Wanda's eyes brim with thick tears as the familiar presence touches against her own, and she turns towards the door, throat thick. She swallows, but tears still leak down her cheeks before the door is thrust open sharply and a figure blurs in her vision before she's wrapped in a tight hug. It's a little awkward, given her position and Nova still leaning against her, but Wanda buries her face into her brother's shoulder and lets him cling to her.

"Wanda," Pietro whispers, gripping the back of her head tightly. His arms are strong, the promise of protection they've been since they were born. His voice is thick with disbelief, as if he doesn't believe what he's seeing. Wanda doesn't know if she believes it herself. A part of her is waiting for the pain to snap her back into that cell, alone and losing her mind.

"Pietro," she says in turn, and a sob escapes her in relief. She inhales the scent of him deeply. Coffee, bed, and old books. There's a faint scent of one of the air fresheners that she normally keeps open in their room. Bruce introduced them to her, and Wanda's been addicted ever since. She forgot about it. It's raspberry scented.

Pietro smells like home.

Her brother pulls back and grips her face with one hand, resting a hand on her shoulder with the other. "Are you hurt? What happened? You're pale. Where are you hurt? Strelyat', you look terrible, sestra."

She can't get herself to answer. She's too busy staring at his face, trying to memorize every detail. His eyes are shadowed, heavily, leaving them oddly dim and red-rimmed. He's lost weight, leaving him looking a little haggard and tired. He cut his hair recently, but it's cropped and uneven. She normally cut it for him. Their natural brown is poking at the roots of the white that appeared after HYDRA.

He's dressed in a Star Wars T-shirt and sweatpants, with that stupid black jacket with white streaks up the arms over his shoulders. Given the hour, she imagines he was sleeping before they arrived. FRIDAY, she suspects, is how he knew they were here. The AI doesn't have speakers on the roof, normally the only reason they're out here is for silence or post-mission. Tony didn't see a need.

Her brother is right there.

She wants to reach a hand up and touch him, to confirm that she's not dreaming, but she can't let go of Nova. Instead, she leans into his hand on her face and forces her lips to part. Her words are soft, "We need medical. Now. Can you get ahold of Dr. Cho or Bruce?"

"'We…'" Pietro repeats, head tilting somewhat before he looks to her left and sees Nova. His face flickers through a dozen emotions all at once. Surprise, resignation, anger, frustration, and others. But he doesn't take it in stride like she half-hoped he would. He doesn't just nod and agree to get them both treatment. His eyes widen with recognition, the faintest, "you…" being whispered.

Then he releases her face and yanks a gun from somewhere on his person, and fires.

Wanda throws up a shield before she can remember moving, and the bullet smacks against her magic. Normally, when she isn't as tired and running off of empty fumes, the sensation is little more than raindrops, now it feels like a punch to the gut. She crumples with a cry, letting go of Nova. The two of them land in a heap, the bullet between them.

"Wanda," Pietro kneels down next to her, hand hovering over her arm. "I'm sorry," he stammers, "I'm sorry. I didn't...oh gosh,"

She grabs for his wrist. Her fingers feel raw and strange. His skin is cold, but she keeps eye-contact with her brother. "Pietro," she says carefully, trying to keep her words from slurring. "Don't. He helped me. He's my…" she pauses for a moment. What is he? They're allies, in a way, she guesses, but it's something more now. He got her out. He betrayed his father for her. His family, even if the rebellion was mutual. "Friend."

"'Friend,'" Pietro sounds a little doubtful.

She gives a small nod. "Please help him. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him."

"You wouldn't have left if it wasn't for him." Pietro snaps.

She squeezes his wrist pleadingly, "Brat, please, trust me. I owe him my life."

Pietro rocks a little, but relents with a sigh and nod. He sags, seeming to age a decade in front of her. "Fine. For you, not him...Let's just...get you both to medical." He gathers her into his arms, carefully cradling her as if she's something precious. She squeezes her eyes shut and wraps her arms around his neck. Pietro stands up, and hesitates for a moment before pressing a kiss against her forehead. "You're safe now, I promise,"

The wind blares past her ears, snapping harshly against her skin. She winces. It's been awhile since she traveled like this. As quickly as it started, it's over, and Pietro is setting her down on a cot, the lights to the room already on. FRIDAY. She smiles faintly, wanting to keep gripping when he lets go. But she doesn't, because he needs to get Nova.

Pietro squeezes her hand before vanishing. There's a faint whisper of noise, the shuffle of feet. Wanda forces her eyes open, and squints up towards the white ceiling. The overhead lights hurt, but not enough that she immediately pulls her gaze away.

"Welcome home, Ms. Maximoff," FRIDAY says softly.

She's in Avengers Tower.

She's not on Thanos's ship anymore. It's over. It's actually over.

"Thank you, FRIDAY," Wanda whispers. She hesitates for a moment, curiosity spiking, but dread sinking into her stomach. She flicks her gaze around the room until she spots one of the AI's cameras. She doesn't have to find it to address her, but it feels strange if she doesn't. "FRIDAY," she says quietly, "what day is it?"

FRIDAY is silent. Then, still in that soft tone—as if trying to spare her feelings—answers, "It's October the second, Ms. Maximoff. You've been missing for a little over five weeks."

Five.

Lila's birthday is August twenty-second. She missed all of September. The rest of August. It's October. The jolt of this is somewhat startling. The weeks spent on the ship felt like both an eternity and a heartbeat. Weeks. That's more than a month. A month, spent in that cell, having her brain parsed, torn apart, and then stuffed back together looking for information that she didn't have.

Pietro shoves through the door, blue blur coming to a stop behind him. He lays Nova down on the patient bed across from her, electing a soft moan from the young man. She half expects Pietro to leave it at that and return to her, but he doesn't, lifting up some of hastily wrapped bandages that Nova's blue sister did. Wanda can't see the skin from this angle, but she imagines that it's not good from the way that Pietro's hand still.

Her brother swears softly in their native tongue. "FRIDAY, what's the status on Dr. Cho?"

FRIDAY takes a moment to answer, "She says that she's about twenty minutes out. I don't know if we have that time, Mr. Maximoff, his vitals are dropping rapidly."

"He hasn't been truly conscious for the better part of two days," Wanda admits. She shoves up, forcing her aching body to keep going for just a little longer. She needs to make sure Nova will be okay, then she can sleep. Or pass out. Whatever of the two her body decides.

Her brother swears again.

"Ms. Maximoff, I don't recommend that course of action," FRIDAY warns. Pietro glances back at her, scowling somewhat, but she doesn't back down. Her leg is throbbing, but not enough to dissuade her. Pietro sighs, resigned, and turns back to Nova.

"What can I do?" Pietro asks, "Is there anything I can do?"

"He needs blood," FRIDAY answers, clipped. "But neither of your blood will be compatible with his biological system, from what my scanners are reading. Ms. Maximoff dropping him appears to have reopened the wound. It needs to be cleaned and stitched...and the blood."

"We don't have his blood." Pietro snaps, flicking from one end of the room to the other as he gathers medical supplies. Rags, water, antiseptic, needles, thread. Wanda sits there for a moment longer, trying to get herself to stand up. They have medical field training, everyone on the Avengers does, but that doesn't mean that a crash-course surgery was what they're been trained for.

"I know," FRIDAY says patiently, "I'm running a diagnostics on the other Avengers' stored bags."

Right. She'll have much better luck with that, considering most of them are human, and Bruce's blood is toxic. The only one she could possibly find any luck with is Steve. Or Thor.

Pietro grabs a pair of medical shears, moving back towards the cot. Wanda finally gets to her feet and staggers towards him, nearly face planting if not for her brother turning around and grabbing her by the shoulders. "You need to lay down." He says.

"I can't just sit there." She argues, shaking her head. "I can help. Let me help."

"Wanda," Pietro sighs, shutting his eyes for a brief moment as if trying to gather his patience together. "You're hurt. You're bleeding. The last thing you should be doing is playing doctor with me."

"I'm going to help," she says firmly. When his expression doesn't relent, she does, sagging somewhat. She rarely wins these fights with her brother. "At least let me sit next to him."

Pietro guides her towards the end of the hospital bed, and she sits down next to Nova's boots. Pietro eyes her for a moment once she's settled, as if expecting her to simply tip over. She doesn't, and he picks up the medical shears again. He grabs the edge of Nova's shirt before slipping the blade up the material. Wanda is a little more surprised than she cares to admit. She'd just sort of assumed that the sheers might break on impact.

But it's just cloth. Not armor. Nova lost that when Thanos demanded he remain in the cell.

Pietro pushes the clothing away from Nova's wound, then cuts the sodden fabric, pulling it away from the charred skin. He grimaces, and Wanda leans forward some, feeling her expression match his a moment later. The skin is blackened, red, blistered, charred, and weeping pus. It looks infected. It probably is. Above that are four gashes across his chest that closed a few hours after the initial injury. They aren't her main concern. That, though.

"What happened?" Pietro asks, picking up one of the rags and twisting off the cap of a water bottle. He dumps some of the water onto the rag before dabbing at the blaster wound. Nova flinches, but doesn't stir.

"Blaster wound," Wanda says, rubbing her fingers against her knee. "I think. It happened during our escape. Everything is blurred."

Everything up to that elevator, when Nova's siblings were supposed to kill them, but didn't. That is burned into her eyelids, something she can't stop thinking about. Especially the way that Nebula had gently picked Nova up and carried him towards that desk while Ebony swept everything off of it with a flick of his fingers.

They had seemed concerned. These people that tried to kill them. That were one of the sources of their suffering.

"'Our'?" Pietro repeats, wiping more grime away. The rag is coming away black.

"He defected," Wanda answers, eyeing the wound with disgust and horror. "They told him that he had to kill me, and he...wouldn't."

Pietro pauses for a second, then continues his work.

He finishes cleaning the wound as best he can, lips pressed together tightly. The silence is grating, but not because there's nothing to say. It's because there's too much, and not enough time. She wants to explain every gritty detail of her imprisonment, because Pietro would want it all, and she wants to know everything that's happened since she left with him, but they can't do that now.

Not until Nova is a little better. And her leg is treated.

Pietro takes the needle and threads it, turning back towards the long gash. She's not certain where he's going to stitch it given the damaged skin, but it is weeping blood sluggishly, so there's a need. Her brother wipes some sort of cream against the wound, then flickers. Even after two years, it's still weird seeing him jump into a faster speed than her normal plane of existence. The blue light follows him when he's running, but only if he jumps on that wavelength of light.

Because that what he does. He travels on different wavelengths of light like it's as normal as breathing. He couldn't do the faster speeds at first, after HYDRA finished with them, and Ultron, but it's been the better part of two years. While she's developed most of her abilities instantly, Pietro's came a little slower, but they came. And with it came the increased speed.

Nova's stitches are completed in between a single blink.

Pietro snips the thread, wiping the bloody needle. "That's going to make a mess," he mutters, "I don't think that I should have pushed so much against the burned skin."

"I don't think there was much of a choice," she sighs.

"Maybe not," Pietro submits, but still pushes his lips together, unhappy. He wipes more blood away and looks up at her, studying her face.

"What did they do to you?" His tone is soft, but his eyes are lethal.

She hesitates, her gaze flicking towards her mangled fingers without her consent. Her leg aches dully, and the small cuts on her face sting a little, but beyond that...she's just tired. A little hungry.

She shakes her head. "Nothing much."

Pietro snorts. "Wanda."

Her brow flickers and she looks at her twin. "Really, Pietro. I've come away worse from some of the missions."

He still looks doubtful. When she doesn't add, he points to Nova's bare chest. "Then why is he covered in scars? They're old, but not enough. If he defected and that's what they did to him than you—"

"What scars?" Wanda interrupts. Pietro silences, a brief flicker of surprise shadowing his face. She leans forward, towards Nova, and feels her face go white. She'd only been looking at the wound earlier. Not this.

It's a web work of scars. Some are long, others short. Stab wounds, burns, ugly patch jobs. He looks like someone sliced him open a dozen times then put him back together only because it was a necessity. Though the shirt is covering his shoulders, she thinks she spots the edge of a long laceration mark.

All of these are too red to be recent. The oldest are just barely beginning to whiten.

Wanda thinks she might be sick. "Oh." She whispers. She looks at her brother, and suddenly feels very young. "I didn't...I didn't know."

Pietro moves to her side, resting a hand against her face and letting her fall against his chest. His fingers slowly run across her hair. They sit in silence for a long minute.

These aren't the marks of war.

Wanda has scars of war.

That was torture.

There's nothing left. The words feel heavier now. She'd never thought...this wouldn't have been her first guess as to why he said that. Who did that to him? Who could do that? A quiet part of her says that she already knows.A quieter part wants to keep hiding from the truth. Wanda touched his head, when his blue sister was healing him. It was only for a moment, in an effort to calm, but she'd glimpsed his fears. And Nova was afraid of no one more than Thanos. Thanos, who cut him apart and put him back together until there was nothing left.

000o000

Dr. Cho arrives a few minutes later, when Pietro has settled her back into the other cot and is sitting with her. The woman moves in a flurry of nearly frantic action as she sets up IV's and double checks Pietro's work. She wraps the blaster wound unhappily, then double checks that the gashes aren't in need of anything, before leaving the room for a moment, only to return with blood bags.

"FRIDAY explained what was going on," Dr. Cho explains to their confused looks. She gestures vaguely to the bag. "It's Thor's. We think it will be the most compatible. Under normal circumstances, I'd want more time to run a few tests, but we don't have that leisure."

She sets up the drip, and Wanda keeps her lips pressed together, even though a part of her wants to ask why she doesn't have Bruce or Tony look at it. And for that matter, where are her teammates? It's been the better part of fifteen minutes, shouldn't one of them besides her brother have at least poked their head in?

When Dr. Cho is finished with Nova, she moves to Wanda's leg. Rolling up her pant leg reveals more dirt and grime than she's seen in a while. Wanda grimaces. "I need a shower." She announces, looking up and trying to gain a smile from either her brother or the doctor. She doesn't get one.

Dr. Cho ignores her, looking at the long gash from the creature's claw through pursed lips. Pietro, though, snorts softly. "I don't know if that would do enough." He remarks and runs a hand through her knotted hair pointedly. His fingers get caught more than they slide through.

She sighs, resigned. "You'll have to cut off."

"I don't think we need to mourn it just yet," Dr. Cho interjects, "a comb and a shower would do you some good. Speaking of, Pietro, go get some milk from upstairs and bring it down here."

"Milk?" Pietro repeats.

"When was the last time you ate, Miss Maximoff?" Dr. Cho answers instead.

She bites on her lower lip. "I…"

"Exactly. Warm it. Room temperature, not boiling." Dr. Cho adds. Pietro nods and gives her hand a quick squeeze before vanishing. Dr. Cho watches where he went off to, then turns back to her. "Do you have any other injuries you'd rather your brother not know about?"

It's cute that she thinks Wanda could hide something like that from Pietro, even if she wanted to.

"No." Wanda says, rubbing her rings across the top of her knee. It hurts dully, like a bruise that's a few days old.

Dr. Cho takes her mangled hand gently, studying the fingers with a doctor's critical eye, then says in a soft voice, "Vision isn't here."

Wanda turns her head away, her heart aching as her eyes burn. "He didn't make it."

"I see." Dr. Cho's voice is measured. "I'm sorry, Wanda."

She is, too.

000o000

Dr. Cho has to re-break the bones of her fingers to set them, and the sensation is as uncomfortable as it is painful. She's not hopeful that there won't be complications without some form of surgery, but Wanda isn't too keen in getting that scheduled and dealt with right now. Not until this mess is cleaned up somewhat.

Once the doctor is somewhat satisfied with her work, she hands Wanda a waterbottle, tells Pietro to keep an eye on her, and says she'll be back in a few hours. Dr. Cho looks hesitant about the whole thing, though, like she wants to stay and monitor, but a part of her must understand that given everything that Wanda has been pushed through the last couple weeks, some breathing room would be nice.

The door laps shut behind the doctor, and the only noise for a long minute is the machines in the room and the faint dripping of Thor's blood slowly leaking into Nova's. FRIDAY is watching for any ill effects, but thus far the transition has run smoothly. Well, as much as can be expected.

Pietro takes a seat on the edge of her bed and lifts up a hairbrush in silent question. The relief at seeing the simple object nearly drives her to tears; she leans forward without another word, intending to take it from him with her right hand, but he moves before she can. He shifts so he's behind her and slowly splits her hair into two even sections.

It hurts, and a part of her is tempted to tell her brother to simply hack it all off with some scissors to her chin.

"I'm sorry about Vision," he says into the empty silence. Wanda's shoulders slump somewhat. Her brother isn't stupid, even if she'd wanted him to remain ignorant. He can put two and two together. She and Vision leave, and only she comes back. It's not the most difficult equation to solve.

"They murdered him," she says tonelessly. "He hadn't done anything wrong, and they just…"

The sound of his screaming will haunt her for the rest of her life. It was wailing unlike anything she'd ever heard before, guttural and raw. And Thanos had just kept pushing until he'd simply ripped the Stone from his forehead. Like he wasn't anything but a bug to swat out of the way. She hates that man, with everything she possesses. She's going to kill him.

Pietro begins to slide the brush down her hair as slowly as he can. His fingers against her scalp feel strange after so many weeks without any contact from anyone. "I'm sorry," he repeats, then asks, "what were they after? What happened?"

Wanda bites on her lower lip. A part of her wants to ask for the rest of the Avengers, so she only has to share this once, but the story she tells her brother will be different than the one she gives the Avengers. That will be a mission report. More will come with time, but Pietro wont take a report. It reminds her vaguely of being inside HYDRA, and the small snippets they saw of each other for those long months, where their conversation would be what have they done to you this time?

"They took us for Vision. I was just collateral," she starts, and stumbles her way across the rest of the story. Pietro is silent as he works through her ratty hair, slowly smoothing out the dirty strands and listening patiently. It takes her almost until the end when she realizes that he strategically placed himself behind her. If she could see his expressions, she would have stopped or omitted things. She still does, or shortens the long hours and days that blurred together, but she explains what she knows about Thanos, then Nova, and then the mutiny that occurred before they left.

Miracle of miracles, she doesn't cry once.

"We have the Tesseract," she ends with, then tips her head, "Nova does. With his magic. I though it was on Asgard. Didn't Thor take it after the whole mess of New York? What do you think that means? Has anyone checked up on Thor recently? Or got in contact with Jane?"

Pietro's fingers stop. They were weaving a complicated fishtail braid that Natasha taught him to do—because Wanda knows Natasha privately enjoys letting people play with her hair, even though she'd die first before admitting it—and he sighs heavily. She can almost see him tip his head back for a moment.

"Well. That explains it."

"What?" Wanda asks. A knot tightens in her stomach as she slowly stops laying inside her happy bubble of ignorance. Stops ignoring the clues, and starts putting the puzzle together. She hasn't seen any of the other Avengers since coming here, and that was the better part of two, almost three, hours ago. Even if they were sleeping, they wouldn't have taken this long. And Bruce never showed up to insist that he's not a certified doctor and then run medical tests and other anyway while arguing back and forth with Dr. Cho.

She doesn't look back at her brother as she asks, with a voice that's softer than she wanted, "The team isn't here, are they?"

Pietro takes a second, "No." He admits after a moment, and his fingers begin to weave down her hair again. "No, they're not. It's just me at the Tower right now. Rhodey's dropped by twice to make sure I'm still alive, but,"

"How long have they been gone?" Wanda asks, trying not to sound as helpless as she feels.

"The better part of ten days." Pietro says, "Thor tried to leave us a message, but there was too much static and interference. We think it was an attack, but it could have just as much been a plague or a power outage. I'm guessing it was Thanos, though, knowing what was going on with you. It would make sense. They had the Tesseract, and if this man is so intent on collecting the Stones, why not try for Asgard?"

Wanda releases the inside of her cheek. A part of her wants to simply say because it's Asgard, but that's not really an explanation. "They should have been able to hold them off." She says quietly, "Thanos's army isn't that big." But she doesn't know. She never saw it. The only part of the army she knows of was Nova's siblings and Nova himself. And they were some sort of generals.

"He had three Infinity Stones," Pietro reminds her gently, "I'm not sure what he could have done. I got a half message from Tony about two days ago. They were still looking for Thor from what I understand. I'll let you listen to it later, see if you can come up with something better than what me and FRIDAY did. It's...a mess. The distance is making it almost impossible. I think Tony's going to need to come up with a better means of communication if we're going to be pulling more Apollo missions."

The joke is only half lipped, and neither of them laugh.

A thought strikes her then, and Wanda lifts her head and looks back at her brother, letting the finished braid fall over her shoulder as Pietro awkwardly moves his hands to compensate for the second. She lifts up her hand to gently grip his wrist to stop him, letting the hair fall. She stares at his haunted, tired face.

"Why are you still here?"

His eyes flit.

"Pietro," she says, softer.

He bites on his bottom lip, and lets his hands fall into his lap, then his eyes follow. She lifts up her left hand, brushing his bangs away, then letting her hand linger on his shoulder. The contact seems to reassure him, maybe break him, because he parts his lips and whispers, "I have a little picture." Her heart sinks, knowing this story. How it ends. "And I pull it out, and I look at it, everyday."

He doesn't. The original he gave to Pepper some time ago for safe keeping. A copy of it is sitting in their apartment, above the sink. They both look at it everyday. But Pietro doesn't keep one of their parents most prized possessions on him anymore. It took their father's entire paycheck for one month to get the photo for their mother for Christmas the year before the bomb.

Wanda lowers her hand to grip his.

"You were gone," Pietro's voice cracks. He swallows heavily. "And the last thing we did was argue over something petty. I just...I wanted to stay behind, in case you came back…" he shakes his head and still refuses to look at her. "They didn't know how long they'd be gone and needed someone behind to deal with everything. Clint was going to stay behind with me, but decided against it last minute. You had to come back." His voice breaks, and he squeezes his eyes shut.

"I did," Wanda promises softly, "we're fine now."

"No, we're not." Pietro argues, taking a deep, steadying breath. "This is only the beginning. We still have to talk to Nova's sister, and find out what she knows. Then we need to find a way to speak with the Avengers, and figure out how to pull us all together to stop Thanos from getting the Infinity Stones, but you're still sick and Nova flattened, and I don't know what to do!"

Wanda bites on her tongue.

"You were missing for a month, and everyone was convinced you were either dead or not coming back, because we had the briefest signal from Vision for those few days before it skittered out of existence, and everyone was trying to scramble to get ahold of Dr. Foster to try and get Thor to go after him, but nothing was happening, and they had to assume you were deceased. Dead, Wanda, we thought...and I couldn't...you're my sister. I'm supposed to protect you. You're my best friend, and you were gone. Just like our roditeli and I was alone. You weren't coming..."

He breathes out, and looks up at her. His eyes are wet, and red rimmed and Wanda's heart twists. She scoots forward somewhat, adjusting herself so she's not bending over the top of her ankle as much, then gathers her brother into her arms. Pietro crumples, resting his head against her shoulder and holding her close.

"You're not alone, moe brat," she promises. "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere, I promise."

"Please don't leave me," he whispers, "please."

She squeezes her eyes shut, letting the stray tears fall into Pietro's jacket. With soft, muffled words, she chides softly, "You'd think with those twelve minutes of wisdom you'd have over me, you'd know that I won't."

Pietro snorts a laugh, dry and broken. Then he falls apart, and Wanda follows. One day they'll look back on this and laugh at the absurdity of it, she's certain. Them clinging to each other like children, as they did when they waited for two days for the missile to explode and kill them both. But they're not children. They're in their twenties, and adults, but it doesn't matter.

They cry anyway.


 

Chapter Text



When Nova finally gains consciousness again-enough that he's no longer flitting in and out as if he's trying to decide to enter a room, but keeps stopping at the doorway-he becomes aware of the smell. It's...medical. There's blood. Beeping machines. Someone breathing, a faint humming in the wall. Dripping.

Everything feels too loud. Bright. Clawing at his senses. Even behind his eyelids, the light is too bright. It must be dimmed, because it's not burning, but it still hurts.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

What is that? There's so much blood. It's dripping...water? Wait. No. That's not right. He and the Witch...they left. Didn't they? There was the attack. And then the Order let them go, and then-then what? Then he landed and passed out and Wanda dragged him and-

Backtrack. That doesn't make sense. The Order would never let them-drip, drip, drip-go. They're far too loyal to Thanos. They would sooner kill him than let him walk. He betrayed their father. He committed treason and-(he's not sorry)-that is an unforgivable act. He must've-will someone silence that stupid pipe!?

Pipe.

Drain.

The cell.

They...they left. They left. He was so certain of it. But how can he be? With that stupid dripping noise!? Wanda. She was sick. That wasn't his imagination, he's certain. Is she still alive? When did he fall asleep-?

Noise. Sound. Threat.

Something shifts off to his left, a leg brushing against cloth maybe, but it doesn't matter. Nova's eyes snap open and he's moving before the blurring colors can focus. There's-things, stuck in his arms. They're yanked out unintentionally as he tumbles off of the-cot?-and slams against the ground, hard. His side aches, exhausted muscles pulling. His breathing strains.

He wants to remain there forever, but he can't. Panic wraps around him like puppet strings giving a harsh yank and he's rolling over so he can scramble back, trying to assess his surroundings with his blurring vision. Everything is bland. White. His arm is bleeding. In multiple places. He shakes it off, pulling himself to his feet.

When he's mostly upright, he sees a blurry figure step into his line of sight. He doesn't know them immediately, but they're too short to be Ebony. That's the last member of the Order he can-maybe-remember seeing. He scrambles to his feet, lifting his hand out and trying to get his voice to work.

It won't, stubbornly remaining locked in his throat.

He hears something move again and breathes out. There's two separate sets of lungs beyond his own in this room. Voices, but they're muffled. All he can hear is that stupid dripping sound. He shakes his head sharply, trying to help the blurring, but it only makes the world spin. He staggers back into something, ramming his hip sharply against the edge of some sort of small table. Maybe a desk.

The voices get louder. The shape-white hair, black jacket, a pair of obnoxiously bright blue shoes-is getting closer. The other, who he still can't find in the room, isn't approaching Nova. Too close. He's-he doesn't understand what's going on. This isn't the cell, but it isn't better. Not really. Why is it so clean?

Drip, drip-

Nova's gaze flits left for half a second, spotting the source of the dripping. Some sort of bag. Blood. Not his. It's a small, easy-to-follow pattern. The slight plop the blood makes every time it falls. Nova clenches his fist and the bag-is that glass? No. It can't be-holding the blood bursts apart, going blessedly silent. Blood spurts everywhere. Someone yelps. Female.

He tries to shake his head again, raising his other hand to his whirring vision. Nothing is really helping. He feels...sick. He thinks he's going to vomit. He can't. Not now. He doesn't know these people, he's not allowed to show weakness.

Where is Wanda? What have they done with her?

Nova pulls his hand back and flicks his wrist, summoning a dagger into his awaiting fingers. He raises it towards the white-no, more silver-haired shape and says something he doesn't understand. He knows he's making the noise, but it's garbled when it reaches his ears. He's breathing heavily. Too sharp, too short. It's probably why his vision is fuzzing.

His side hurts.

The weapon is torn from his grip sharply. He flinches back-he didn't even see the silver-man move, how-slamming his hip against the table again. It's enough to offset his balance and he should have tumbled, but there's the faintest ghost-like feeling at his arms before in between a single blink, he's yanked across the room and deposited in front of another cot he couldn't distinguish in the haze.

He crumples to his knees, unable to support his weight, and the blurring figure-teleporter?-isn't helping. Voices. Still loud. He flinches, not understanding, but not caring, and slaps his hands over his ears and squeezes his eyes shut. It hurts. Too much, too much, too much-

'Nova.'

He startles somewhat, but doesn't remove his hands or open his eyes. The voice was in his mind. Telepathy. The Witch. Her voice is soft, as if hesitant, and trying to be quieter than she normally projects. It only makes it seem like she's at the end of a very long tunnel.

'Wanda.' He answers in turn. Something twitches on the outside, and he flinches again.

'Do you know where you are?'

His brow furrows.

'No. Where are you?'

She's silent for a second before answering: 'About a foot in front of you.'

Nova snaps his eyes open and looks up, trying to see through the blurring. There, he can make out her thin face. Green-brown eyes. Her hair has been pulled back and is slightly damp, but brushed and braided. Her face is hollow, but pale and lacking the dirt he vaguely remembers. She looks, well, clean. She's dressed in a loose shirt he doesn't recognize with words he can't read and her right hand is pressed against her right temple as she stares directly at him.

He doesn't remove his hands, but they hold the stare for a long moment. Then, Nova exhales. Oh. They made it, then. None of that was a dream. It feels like it should be. Some sort of strange, realistic dream. But it wasn't.

Wanda blinks. 'You're bleeding,' she transmits, a little louder this time. Less tunnel-like, as if not so afraid of shattering his skull apart if she's louder. 'We should take care of that. You need to lay down. Will you let us help you?'

He hesitates. He knows that he's bleeding. He can feel it leaking down his arms, but 'Who's we?'

Wanda's brow furrows a little, but she portrays none of her confusion when she answers. 'My brother. Pietro. You...know of him.'

He does. Without her consent. Nova blinks several times, trying to help clear everything a little further, then twists around as best he can to look at the other person. The figure. Wanda's brother. Pietro. He's standing a few feet away, muscles braced like he intends to interfere at the slightest sign of trouble. He catches Nova's eye for a moment, doing a quick parse of Nova's expression with a closed off one of his own.

But one needs look no further than his rigid shoulders to know he's anxious.

Nova swallows thickly, and slowly turns to face Wanda again. 'I think I'm going to be sick.'

Wanda's head lifts, mouth opening as she says something that still sounds muffled and wrong. There's a slight shift of the air behind him before something is placed in front of him. Some sort of lined plastic waste bin. Nova isn't picky. As soon as it's placed before him, he leans over and vomits. There isn't anything beyond bile and some water that Wanda managed to find on the pod. It burns as it passes up his throat, and he coughs harshly, spitting.

His entire body seems to just...snap, after that. His hearing returns to normal levels, the ache of the cuts and various injuries sinking deeply into his senses. His vision still isn't quite right, but it's only a little hazy now.

Nova dry heaves twice before he manages to catch hold of himself and groans, wrapping his arms around his stomach and leaning back against Wanda's patient bed. It's at this moment that he becomes acutely aware of the fact that he's not wearing a shirt. His back tenses somewhat despite himself, but he bites sharply on his inner cheek, refusing to be embarrassed.

There's another flicker and the wastebasket vanishes. He lifts his head, trying to follow the path and only sees Pietro come to a stop, a blue-ish light following him like a trail of his path.

Pietro looks at him. "Sorry, were you done?" He bears the same accent as Wanda, but it's slightly thicker.

"Yes," Nova's voice is hoarse. His body insists otherwise, but has very little desire to continue. He feels oddly lightheaded. And just...strange. He presses the palms of his hands against his eyes and breathes out sharply.

"Are you alright?" Wanda asks out loud, her voice soft behind him.

He wants to laugh. "What do you think?" his voice more flat than he wanted. He sighs. "No. I'm not."

"Hardly unexpected," Pietro says, "you lost a lot of blood. Here, let me help you-" there's that slight buzz and Nova reaches up a hand, snatching the wrist of the Terran before he can lay a hand on him. He raises his head slowly, trying to keep his expression neutral when all he wants to do is scowl. Wanda's brother stares at him, something akin to surprise on his face.

"Strelyat', reflexes," he mutters.

"Touch me and I'll break your wrist." Nova says flatly.

"Nova," Wanda hisses in warning.

Nova releases her brother, breathing out sharply. He closes his eyes and tips his head forward, frustrated. He hearts Pietro shift, then there's the slight jerk in the air before something nudges his knee. He does scowl then, lifting his head and wondering how far his tolerance can be pushed today before he breaks something. Pietro is kneeling next to him, some sort of box in hand. It reads BAND-AID in red, but he has no idea what a band-aid is.

"Look," Pietro's voice is patient, but only just, "you've been unconscious for the better part of eleven hours. Your blood levels are only just scraping against normal. Any that you lose now is not good. So," he lifts up the box, "let me put this on, then you go back to hissing in your corner."

He doesn't need to see it to know of the light glare Wanda shoots her sibling. It shows in the slight flinch of Pietro's face.

Nova chews on his inner lip for a long moment and then, fighting against every self preservation instinct he possesses, lowers his hands. The blood starts to trickle down his forearm, and Pietro lifts up some sort of long white thing first, pressing it against both of the small puncture marks on either elbow. He holds it there, the pressure just short of painful.

Pietro presses his lips together tightly, taut. "We need Bruce," he mutters. The faintest memory, not his, flicks through his head at the name. A man who can summon a creature from inside him. "I'm no good at this."

"Where's Dr. Cho?" Wanda asks.

"Work. She was going to drop in later in the afternoon." Pietro says. The names are unfamiliar to him. He thinks this Dr. Cho is a healer, though. Maybe Bruce is, too. Wanda doesn't seem surprised that the man, Bruce, is unavailable. She and Pietro likely talked...about...everything while he was unconscious. For some reason, the thought makes him uncomfortable.

Bruce. Isn't that one of her teammates for that group she's apart of? A...something. Advantage? Aggravation? No. Maybe it doesn't start with A.

Nova glances up at Wanda, watching them both from her perch on the bed. "Where is everyone else? Your Bruce? Shouldn't there be more…" he isn't sure what word to use. Hassle? People?

Pietro sighs, looking weary. He pushes harder against the white balls. "Long story. Short version? I stayed behind to-I stayed, and everyone else hopped up and went to space."

Nova feels his eyebrows raise. "Space."

Pietro gives a tight-lipped smile. "One of our space friends needed help. It was urgent, and no one wanted to sit around and do nothing." Pietro pulls the white balls back, and squints. When the blood continues to leak, he glances up at his sister. "Get medical tape?"

She lifts her head and he sees a slight flare of red around her fingers before something comes flinging through the air. Nova flinches back by instinct, but Pietro catches something without a problem. He tears off a long strip of the cream "tape" and wraps it around the white ball and Nova's bare skin. He repeats the process with the other elbow, then lifts up the band-aid box.

"When you've graduated, we can use this." He says.

Nova releases a long, weighted breath and looks between the two siblings. They don't look identical, but they share similar faces. And eyes. Pietro's, too, are weighted with scars beyond his years. Nova shakes his head a little and focuses on Wanda. She meets his gaze without prompting, her head tipping the slightest bit, a frown pulling on the edges of her lips.

Her brother's stare makes him uncomfortable, but he forces the words out. "Are you alright?"

Wanda gives a nod, "Yes. I'm fine. As well as can be expected." Every answer she gave makes it seem less and less like she is.

He runs his tongue along the inside of his mouth for a moment, trying to wipe some of the blood from his teeth. "Your leg?" he guesses, and she glances towards her feet, confirming his hunch without ever having said a word. "I can heal it." He says.

He can be useful.

They won't have a reason to remove him yet.

"With what? We have doctors," Pietro says flatly. Nova glances at him for a moment. Still taut and slightly irritated. Nova doesn't know why, and he's too tired to guess.

"I have"-his tongue scrambles around a word. A curse. Magic. Oddly, he wants to say sedir, but he can't remember ever having heard the term before in his life-"powers." Is what he settles on. "Just let me-" he reaches for Wanda, but is cut off when Wanda grabs his wrist. He flinches, eyes flitting up to her. Why is she slanting? She's...no that's him. He's listing to the left.

"Not now." Wanda says. "You can barely keep yourself up. Go to sleep, Nova. We can talk later."

"I-"

"I mean it." Her voice is hard, but he still wants to argue. Thanos only kept him alive because he was useful. The Black Order did, too. How does he know that the twins will be any different? He doesn't...want to die. It's an odd feeling. For the longest time, he's just kept pushing because no one would let him stop.

But the thought of being free…

If they can kill Thanos, then he doesn't have to die.

But he can't help if they've killed him because he wasn't useful enough.

"It isn't too much trouble. Really, just give me a moment and then-" he starts again, but Wanda shakes her head.

"No. No, just lay down. Please." It's the slight pleading in her voice that makes him hesitate, and he bites on the inside of his cheek. He's torn. He doesn't know whether or not to comply with her wishes or fix the problem. Her brother might like him better if he can prove he can do something else beyond get his sister injured.
She gives him another look and his resistance crumples. He gives a nod of complacency and she releases him. He grips the edge of her bed and starts to haul himself upright. He makes it as far as standing before he starts to crumple. Pietro grabs him before he can fall completely, taking most of his weight.

Nova's face heats with embarrassment, but he allows Pietro to swing one of his arms around his shoulders before helping him towards the other bed. It takes some awkward maneuvering, but he manages to make it back onto the bed and still sit up.

Pietro stares at him oddly before backing up and glancing towards his sister. "I'm going to call Dr. Cho and let her know he's awake. You good?"

She nods. Pietro blinks in and out, vanishing from the room, that little trail lingering for a moment before vanishing. Nova follows his path, then looks at Wanda. "What is he? Teleporter?"

The faintest of smirks twitches on her lip. "Not exactly. He's just fast."

Fast? Wait. That blinking in and out he does is just him...moving? That...doesn't seem natural. The Stone's effect on him was drastically different than what it did to his sister. Distantly, he wonders who received their powers first, and if that had an effect on what they got.

"Are you in pain?" Wanda asks after a moment.

Nova looks down at his hands as if that can tell him the answer. He aches a little, but there's no where near the agony that he should be feeling. He stares at the gauze wrapped around his torso and then up at her. He gives a slight shake of his head, and her face crumples slightly.

He doesn't understand why.

There's a lot of things he doesn't understand anymore.

000o000

His impression of Dr. Cho isn't very fond. She isn't exactly nasty, but her professionalism bleeds into every aspect of her treatment, making him feel more like a project than a living creature. She sets up the drips again, (IV, he learns is the name of it) and goes for another bag of blood. The dripping starts up again, and when she sees him grimace, offers to get him a pair of earplugs.

Having spent as much of the examination over doing his best to ignore her, he only glares and doesn't answer.

Dr. Cho pulls Pietro out to speak with him for a moment in the hall, and though Nova could normally hear to that distance without a problem, the stupid plopping of the blood is a distraction. Dr. Cho doesn't come back into the room after that, but Nova gets the impression she'll be back.

Pietro plops into a chair beside Wanda's beside and watches him for a while, one hand idly rubbing against the back of Wanda's knuckles. Nova rolls onto his side as best he's able, facing away from the siblings.

Pietro is still watching him. He can't puzzle out any reason why, beyond the idea that he may consider him a threat. Warranted, given the fact that this entire mess is his fault.

Wanda's breathing slowly evens out after a long time, but sleeping evades him. The blood is the only thing he has to count the time by, and he's bored enough to consider counting by it, but doesn't.

When the Witch is far enough into unconsciousness that he doesn't think he'll wake her by talking, he rolls over somewhat so he's facing Pietro. The silver-haired young man looks up at the movement, and their eyes meet before Nova pulls his gaze away.

Wetting his lips, he has to work to get the soft words out. "May I ask you a question?" Wanda's brother doesn't outright deny him, which he takes as a good sign, and pushes on: "I...has Wanda...explained about me?"

"You're Thanos's child." Pietro says, voice equally low. Somehow, he manages to make the statement seem like a threat.

Nova winces. His first instinct is to outright deny the statement loudly and with violence, but he swallows, "Captive," he says, and the words make him feel awful, but it's the truth. He can't keep running around in his lies anymore, the protection they offered has been taken away.

He was never my father. And I was never his son.

"But that doesn't matter. You know that I...went through her memories?"

He's working up to what he wants to ask.

Slowly.

But the phrasing makes it seem more innocent than it was.

Pietro's eyes narrow at the phrasing, about mentioning what he did to his sister, and Nova wonders what it would be like to have someone want to protect him. It must be nice. He shakes off the thought, disgusted with himself. He's not a child. He doesn't need anyone to look after him.

"I am aware, yes. What is your point with this? Are you planning to do the same to me, but you wanted to ask first?" Pietro's jab is pointed.

Nova's fists clench. Drip, drip, drip, fills the empty silence as he gathers his thoughts. "No. I wouldn't have done it to her in the first place if my father...if Thanos hadn't-" he cuts off the anger, stuffing it down. Pietro is staring at him heatedly. Anger means punishment. He doesn't...why couldn't he have kept quiet?

He catches his words and though he despairs at losing the opportunity to ask the question he was getting to, self preservation insists he keep his mouth shut to survive.

Pietro releases a breath when he doesn't continue, obviously trying to be patient. "Sorry."

It's an invitation, but he's wary.

Drip, drip, drip.

His resistance breaks. "In her memories, I saw a man. I think he might be my brother."

There. It's out. His selfish reason for saving her in the first place. At least, if Pietro is willing, he'll know about his brother before he dies.

Pietro blinks, then tips his head a little, staring at Nova as if he's just uttered something in a different language. Messy bangs fall over his eyes. "What do you mean you think? Don't you know?"

Nova pulls his gaze up to the ceiling, "No. I don't. My head is…" he gestures vaguely, then regrets the decision when a sharp ache shoots up his arm. "I don't have many memories from before six years ago."

Silence.

Drip. Drip-

"Did Thanos do that?" Pietro sounds calmer than he was expecting.

"I don't know," Nova admits, voice barely above a breath. He looks up at the ceiling valiantly. "I can't remember." The admittance of this makes him feel oddly ashamed, but he swallows it down, desperation overpowering him. Without looking at Pietro, or giving the young man a chance to comment on that, he says, "My brother. I think he was here...if he is my brother. I'm...not certain. Tall, blond, wielded a hammer and electricity? Red? Do you know him? Please, he's the only person I have left."

If his brother-maybe brother-isn't here, or even alive anymore, he doesn't know what he'll do.

This is all he has.

This hope that he can find his family before this whole mess is over.

Pietro swears sharply, suddenly, and he sees movement from the edge of his vision. He tips his head and sees Pietro on his feet, anxiously moving back and forth up and down the length of Wanda's bed as he stares into some sort of device, lips pinched together and face scrunched up like Nova just asked for help burying a body. After a long minute, he flicks to Nova's bed, holding his device in front of Nova.

It's some sort of still of Pietro, Wanda, the man in question, and a younger woman. Nova doesn't recognize where they are, but they're laughing. Someone is lifting two fingers to the back of Wanda's head as they stand in front of what looks like a tall, green statue of a woman holding a torch.

Nova's breath catches. He knows that face. The slight crackling next to the eyes, the blond hair swept back. The eyes. Clear blue. He knows him. Wanda's memories were too fast for him to pick out distinct features, but this is like staring into his past.

This is goodbye, brother.

Pietro points at the unknown man beside the brunette. "Him? Do you mean him?" His voice is strained.

Nova gives a hesitant nod.

Pietro swears again, pulling the device back. Nova bites back the urge to tell him to bring it back so he can touch it, as if that will somehow let him be closer to his brother. Pietro clicks the thing off and begins to pace back and forth, agitated. Nova's fingers are beginning to hurt from how deeply he's digging his nails inside his palms.

"Have...have I upset you?"

Pietro shakes his head, turning around to face him. "You don't remember anything?"

"Just...sensations, sometimes. Flashes. Sometimes a few words."

Pietro cusses, running a hand through his bangs. Nova feels like he's shot something Pietro cared for, then left the man to deal with the consequences. Pietro presses the back of his hand against his mouth and bites at the skin for a moment before flitting across the room again. And again. "This is ridiculous," he mutters under his breath.

Patience thinned, Nova questions tightly, "Can you get in contact with him or not?"

It's clear that Pietro knows him.

Pietro stares at him for a long second. "You don't even know his name. You don't…" The hand goes up through the tangled hair again, gripping at it sharply like the pain will help him focus. He exhales, visibly gathering himself together. He rubs at his forehead and groans softly before playing with the edge of his jacket.

"I know your brother," Pietro says, "and I know that he has an assumed deceased sibling, which I am assuming is you." The relief that floods through him at that shouldn't be as strong as it is. Thanos provided-

"His name is Thor," Pietro explains, tone a little softer. "The woman in the photo is his wife, Jane. They...don't live on Earth." Nova's stomach plummets a little with disappointment, "And, unfortunately, talking is going to have to wait. Do you remember that friend that me and my sister's are running out for? Yeah, that was your brother. We don't...know where he is. Or even how he is. I'm sorry."

They lost him.

Nova lost him, after having just found him.

(Thanos lied to him. He said that Nova had nothing but him. Six years he lived in that illusion-)

Pietro rubs a hand against his face. "I think that if you want to see your sibling again, we're all going to have to figure out where the Avengers are. And to do that, you need to contact your...ah, sister," he trails slightly, as if confused by the term, and Nova can understand why, given recent events. As far as Pietro is concerned, Nova's only sibling is Thor. "In order to figure out what's going on with the Stones."

"What does my brother have to do with the Infinity Stones?" Nova hisses. It's odd to use that term and not think of Obsidian or Ebony. No. This time it's for Thor.Thor. A name that sounds so familiar and foreign and the same time.

"I let Wanda look over the message that he left us. Having a context that we didn't, she picked out a term we didn't: Tesseract. It's fuzzy, and we're still not sure about the translation, but if he is referring to an Infinity Stone…"

Horror flits through him.

No. Not so soon. Not now.

"Thanos will be after them," Nova whispers. Thanos will kill them.

000o000

It's the better part of two days before he feels strong enough to do anything beyond lay in bed or sleep. Wanda's leg is still a mess, but he heals what he can when she's asleep and nearly passes out himself. She's at least free to wander now, no longer having any injuries worth pinning her down for. Dr. Cho seems amazed at his progress, even if Nova feels he's slacking.

But with nothing to do but sit in the bed, he's had plenty of time to think.

And thinking is painful.

And worrisome.

He can't stop his thoughts from revolving around his sibling. About what might have happened. How he has family, even if they do think him deceased. Thor. His brother. Pietro must've shared what he learned with Wanda, because she keeps looking at him oddly, with a titled expression as if trying to see the person Thor described to them.

Thor talked about him.

Thor missed him.

Thor knows who he is. (Thor will know his name. His true name. The name that the twins don't, because they hadn't been with Thor long enough to hear him mentioned as anything other than "brother.")

But eventually the restless anxiety has him slipping out of the medical room at the first chance he receives and finding an empty one down the hall. This one is different than where he and Wanda were located. It has a window. Nova is drawn to it without thinking, and lifts up a hand to touch the glass carefully. A city stretches out beneath him, open streets filled with machines and people. And life. There's clouds covering the sun, but it's not stars.

It's...alive.

It's beautiful.

Nova bites on the inside of his cheek and forces himself to focus, pulling up one of the plastic chairs as close to the window as he can, resting a hand up against it as he slowly tugs the communicator Nebula gave him out of his cache.

He holds it for a long moment, breathing. Childishly, he wishes that Wanda or even her brother were here. He doesn't really want to do this by himself. But he's always been alone since Thanos. This shouldn't be any different.

(But it is.)

He sighs heavily and then forces himself to connect before he can back out. His stomach clenches into an anxious knot as he waits, fingers scraping against the glass as he curls his other hand against it. This is for Thor. He needs to know what happened so he can help him.

And the Order. And Wanda and her brother.

He has to know.

He can't use ignorance as a shield anymore. This will be fine. It has to be. He'll make it be.

"Nebula. We only have a few minutes. What do you have to report?" The sound of Gamora's voice is jarring. He hasn't heard it in close to two years. It's lighter, somehow, as if a great weight she'd been bearing had been removed.

Nova lets his breath go. He didn't realize he'd been holding it. "Nebula was fine last I saw her." He says after a moment. But that was four days ago, and anything could have happened since then.

Gamora is quiet, then, slowly, she asks: "Nova?"

"Yes." He answers. He wants to keep talking, to ask what she's doing, what Nebula was doing. To add some sort of snippy comment that will make her feel foolish. But in the end, the single word is all he can get out. His jaw is suddenly tight. Gamora is the only reason that he ended up like this. And she left him.

"Nebula moved forward with the plan, then," Gamora sighs. "She said that we had a few days before she was going to spring you out. Any reason she moved it forward?"

She was-Nebula was going to break him out? He can't see her doing that. No. He can. He's witnessed enough of her stubborn streak to know that if she'd set her mind to it, he would have been free regardless of whether or not the attempt was by his hand. So it wasn't just something taken by chance.

"I broke out." Nova answers, stiff.

Gamora exhales. "I see." There's a lingering silence before she asks with a tone much softer, "Are you alright?"

He blinks, pulling the device away from him for a moment. Why does she care? She never cared before. What is-stop. He can round up all his theories about her being a traitor later, for now, he needs the information Nebula didn't give him. "I'm alright."

"Fibbing, Nova."

He flinches. "I've seen worse." He corrects. And it's true. His side may ache, but it's nothing that won't be fixed with time. And the Other did much worse things than simply shoot him.

"How bad is it?" Gamora pushes.

Will she stop that!?

"I hardly think that my wellbeing is what should be on our list of priorities at the moment." Nova interrupts, mildly irritated. He bites on his tongue a moment later, expecting a reprimand, but Gamora doesn't snap at him. She doesn't say anything. Nova slumps. "I have the Tesseract. Father has three of the Stones now."

"I know," Gamora sighs, "Nebula contacted me after they found the Tesseract a few days ago. She and the Order didn't tell Thanos. She said they were going to give it to you."

They didn't-Nova stops. Of course they didn't tell him. If Thanos had known about the Tesseract, he would have had it. The Space Stone would be sitting amid its other brethren. They hid it. From their father. They hid an Infinity Stone. The Order. Gamora knows about the mutiny, then. Is he the only one that was in the dark?

Give. They were going to give it to him. They'd planned this. They told Gamora. He suddenly remembers Nebula's stray thoughts about keeping him alive. Kriff, how has he missed all of this? (But he hadn't. He'd been ignoring putting the pieces together because he didn't want to have to admit anything to Thanos.)

"Why me?" Nova asks, more confusion than he would care for slipping into his tone. "Any one of you could have left, why am the scapegoat?"

Gamora is silent for a long second. Then she releases a longsuffering breath. "I'm guessing that Nebula didn't explain much, then?"

"Try anything." He mutters, rubbing his finger against the edge of the window. There's grime that's built up.

He can almost see Gamora nod in exasperation. Or that little head tilt she does when she's thinking. "I would have been surprised if she had said something." Another breath, "I'm not even sure where to begin."

Nova rubs against the dirt harder, trying to scrape it off with the edge of his nail.

Start with my brother, he wants to say, who did you take me from?

"I guess...when I found you six, no it's been closer seven now, hasn't it? Years ago, it was by accident. You'd landed on the Chitauri homeworld, and they'd dragged your body to one of the camps. They were debating how to, ah, eat you. Nothing terribly uncommon, most anything that lands there is already dead anyway, so I was going to let them, but two things stopped me: You were breathing, and I recognized an insignia on the armor you were wearing."

Nova's brow furrows. He doesn't remember any of this. He doesn't even know what armor she's talking about.

"It was of Asgard."

Nova blinks. The name sounds familiar, but from a dream. Not anything he's heard spoken of before, at least, not openly. Wasn't Ria a territory of theirs? "Asgard?" he asks, feeling slightly embarrassed that he needs to.

Gamora shifts somewhat over the line. "You still...no. You wouldn't. Asgard is one of the most powerful worlds within the galaxy. They've been guarding three of the Stones for the better part of two millenia. In short, a formidable ally or enemy for Thanos. They are what chased Thanos to the outer rim."

They-that was Asgard? Asgard is the reason that Thanos has spent the last few hundred years scampering around in the dark and pulling on strings to his various puppets across the galaxy? That's why he was reduced to slaughter of planet by planet?

"I fell from there?" Nova asks.

"Yes." Gamora sounds a little sullen. "You did. I took you back to Thanos. You were a bargaining chip at the time, for Asgard-"

"Me?" Nova says, not bothering to hide his doubt. "Why?"

Another hesitation. "You're...an important political figure."

She makes it sound as if he still is. As if he just stepped out for a moment, and when-if-he goes back, he'll just be able to slip into the place that was left behind easily. It's been six years. Whatever position he had would have been taken by now. That's how the political game works.

"When Thanos recognized who you were, he saw a way to get the other Stones within Asgard's territory. What he did to you…" she trails, and Nova's fingers clench against the glass. "It was barbaric. Understand something, Nova," her voice has dropped, "everyone on the Order, we were taken as children. He molded us as we grew up. He tore you apart and made us watch it. Help with it. I think that's when we all concluded we didn't want any part in this anymore."

Shame licks at him, and he doesn't know why. He thinks, dully, it's because of their pity. Pity wasn't something Thanos did. Much less sympathy. And the Order, the Order, felt it for him.

"But the point is, as the Other had you for the better part of three years, I made plans to betray Thanos. A year later, I left. Nebula followed me. It didn't last. Thanos sent his agents after us, and nearly succeeded in killing us, or dragging both of us to him again. It's exhausting. The only reason I'm still alive is because of my team. Nebula said that we had to remove Thanos, and we began to plan. The central part of that became you."

"Because of my connection to Asgard." Nova supplies, sighing. He closes his eyes and tips his head back, rubbing at his forehead. It would be nice, he thinks, for once, to not be kept alive because he can serve a use to someone.

"If we could get you to Asgard, you could explain what was going on, and they could succeed where we failed. Nebula didn't go back to join Thanos again, she did it to free you."

She did?

"The Order caught her, though. And when they interrogated her, and discovered what she was doing, they agreed to help."

Nebula returned months ago. They've been planning this for months and no one bothered to mention it to him? What if he hadn't agreed? What if he'd been loyal to Thanos, and refused to leave? What if he didn't want to save them? What would they have done then?

A part of him, though, is bitterly unsurprised by the withheld information. When have they ever told him anything anyway?

Gamora is silent, apparently done for the moment, and Nova chews on his lower lip before he leans forward, resting his hand across his legs. "Let me get this straight," he says, his tone level when he really wants to scream. "Your plan to kill Thanos was to send me-a man half crazed by the Stones and essentially memory-less-to plead to a home I can't even remember? Because I'm an 'important political figure'? What even makes you think that they'd listen? Or fight for me? I'm just some citizen, Gamora. Kings don't wage war for that."

His sister breathes out very slowly, then says softly, "But fathers will for their sons."

Nova blinks. "What? Why would my father"-it stings a little, that the first thought that comes to mind is Thanos, not whoever this man that sired him is supposed to be-"do that? Even if he was some sort of lord, he can't exactly drag an entire planet to war because-"

"Nova. Stop," Gamora's voice is harder. "Your father could. And would."

Nova turns his head somewhat, "Because what? He's the king?" he asks it in mockery, but his face loses color when Gamora doesn't say anything snide in return. Kriff. Nova's nails dig into his leg. He exhales sharply, barely daring to breathe. "I'm...my father...my real father is the King of Asgard?"

He's a prince?

"He is," Gamora confirms.

Nova sits back, lips parting somewhat. All this time...he's thought he had nothing. His father is a king. His mother queen. Thor is a prince, Jane his princess. He's royalty. He has people. A world. There's somewhere that he belongs to. Somewhere that would claim him.

Home.

He has a home. Somewhere that isn't a cell.

He swallows heavily, biting back thousands of questions that want to spill from him all at once. Now is not the time. It may never be the time. He's wanted to ask the twins about Thor, but he's never been awake long enough with them present to do so. "You want me to plead with my father to go to war against Thanos?"

Gamora gives a hollow laugh, "Trust me. After everything Thanos did, I don't think you'll need to ask. You've been missing for the better part of a decade, Nova. They believe you dead. Your resurrection will be a welcomed bosom to them."

He flinches. Dead. His family-his real family-isn't searching for him. They aren't waiting for him to come home. They grieved. They moved on. He's dead. But...but he's not. He can still go back. They might still welcome him.

"I keep the Tesseract away from Thanos, and raise an army. That's the plan, then?" Nova tries to keep himself focused. The world feels like it's crumbling. As if he's just been pushed off a very steep cliff and told to learn how to fly before he reaches the bottom.

"Part of it. The only part you need to know." Gamora promises.

He narrows his eyes. "Will you forever keep in the dark?"

"Your part in this will be over when you talk to Asgard." She says, tone flat. "You've already suffered enough. You're not a pawn, Nova. If you must know the basics, the Order is planning a mutiny. We need to keep as many Stones away from Thanos as we can."

They're going to make a bid for the three Thanos does have.

They're going to steal them.

They're going to die.

Nova bites on his lower lip. "I see. Is there anything else you'd have me do, then?"

"No." Gamora says, "Just let me know when you reach Asgard. I'll contact the Order and let them know when to make their move. Be safe, Nova." She lingers for a moment and he chokes on the words he wants to say.

The question that has been burning on his tongue since she said she knew who he was.

If she knows he's a prince, and who his father is, then she has to know who he is.

His name.

"Gamora," Nova hesitates, biting sharply on his tongue. He tries to get the question out twice before he finally manages to make it audible. "Gamora, what...what is my name?" He whispers the last part, shame touching at him. It seems like such a childish thing. To ask. To not know. No, not childish. Treacherous. To reject the name that Thaons gave him, because he wants something else. To touch on who he was before.

My name.

Not Thanos's name.

Mine.

Gamora is silent for a long moment. Long enough that his breath catches in disappointment. She's not going to tell him. Maybe she doesn't know. Even if she did, why would she give it to him anyway? She owes him nothing, least of all his name. "Loki." Gamora slides the syllables across her mouth as if unfamiliar with it. "Your name is Loki."