In one world, HYDRA agent Brock Rumlow would go after a biological agent, a weapon found only in a Lagos lab, only to blow himself up in the process. In another world, the biological weapon only catches his power-hungry gaze for half a second before something else does.
Or perhaps, more accurately, someone else.
If Steve is being honest, they find Rumlow by accident. He’d been tracking the man, of course, tracking him, and Bucky, and ever other agent involved since the mess of SHIELD’s downfall more than a year ago. But something had pinned on FRIDAY’s radar, a massive movement of HYDRA’s forces across Serbia that wasn’t even trying to be subtle.
For a bright, shining, singular moment, Steve had thought it was Bucky. But then Tony had pulled up a snapshot of footage, barely a single frame, and had to swallow his horror at what he saw: a streaking blur of white and green, a figure barely outlined at the front, dodging a wave of bullets sent his way.
Wanda had gasped, grasped her chest desperately , because the only person ever recorded to run even a fraction of that speed was Pietro, barely a year dead and buried in the ground.
It wasn’t even a question of whether or not to go after them (him), honestly.
But when they arrive on the scene, armored up with Wanda shaking out her hands to keep sparks of red flaring from them, it’s only too clear that the boy—because it’s a boy , a teenager, barely seventeen with a lanky frame and haggard eyes— isn’t Pietro.
If anything, he looks like Wanda, because bright white hair aside Steve sees that their bone structure is eerily similar and he has her green eyes, although they’re turning hazy, because their arrival was enough of a shock for a HYDRA agent to lunge at the boy and successfully dig a syringe into his upper arm.
He lets out a ragged cry, and if Steve knocks a HYDRA agent over the head a little harder than he meant to, well. Wanda is even more desperate, because while Steve looks at the boy and sees a kid , a probably experiment who tried to escape, Wanda looks at him and sees the second coming of her dead brother. A flick of her wrist and a violent twist of her fingers send half a dozen agents up into the air and down into the ground with a slam.
“We’ve got the boy,” And that’s when Steve recognizes Rumlow, helmet tucked underneath his arm and face destroyed by burn scars as he wraps one hand tightly around the flailing teenager and starts to drag him off. For a second, the boy’s hand blurs through the air, and Rumlow scowls, “He’s faster than Maximoff, alright. Give him another dose.”
“No!” Wanda cries, even as Natasha wheels her gun around to aim at Rumlow. But he manages to dodge three of her shots in quick succession, and the other agent stabs a needle into the boy’s shoulder and he screams .
“No!” He cries, thrashing more desperate, but body no longer blurring, no longer flickering with speed at the edges, “Not again— not again!”
“Don’t worry, kid!” Steve cries out, taking out the agent on the kid’s right with a ricochet of the shield, “We’ve got you!”
“You don’t, actually, Rogers,” Rumlow sneers, snagging the boy further as he stumbles and wrapping one arm tightly against his neck. He drops his helmet to the floor with a thump and Steve’s stomach twists as he places his gun against the boy’s head. “Now, back off or the kid gets it.”
Steve lowers his shield, but takes half a step forward, “You won’t,” He says, voice confident even if he doesn’t feel it, “You need him alive, don’t you?”
Rumlow laughs, and presses the barrel of the gun deeper into the kid’s temple, “It’s preferable that way,” He admits, “But the kid isn’t ours , Rogers. We didn’t make him, we just found him this way, and alive or dead his DNA is worth billions. Wanna test me some more?”
“No-no-no—“ The boy struggles in Rumlow’s grip, but he holds tight. Steve takes a step back, hesitant.
“Found him— “ Wanda interrupts, accent thick, “What do you mean, found him you had to give Pietro and me our powers.”
“I know,” Rumlow grins, “You two were made miracles, but this kid? He’s all natural. He’s an upgrade, too—“ Rumlow let’s out a wheeze as the boy jerks his elbow into his stomach, staggering away as Rumlow attempts to catch his missing breath. The boy’s gaze is hazy, his hair plastered to his forehead with sweat, and Steve thinks a stiff wind is at risk of blowing him over.
“Stay back!” The boy cries at him, hands shaking, “I’m not going back to another facility, I’m not, so stay away from me!”
Wanda takes a step towards him, hands lowered but red still glinting like concern in her eyes, “It’s alright,” She starts, but the boy scatters away from her too until his back is pressed up against the bark of a tree. He shakes his head repeatedly.
“I hate this,” He groans. “I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I want to go home! ”
“We can take you home,” Natasha offers gently, gun still raised at Rumlow but her posture otherwise as unthreatening as she can make it. Natasha is good, Steve knows, but having Sam for this would be better. The kid is clearly PTSD-ridden, hyped up as his adrenaline and metabolism battle the tranquilizer, but the Falcon is holding back the other forces so they aren’t swarmed, which leaves Nat to talk the kid down as she attempts to emulate Clint, “If you just tell us your name—“
“You can’t!” The boy blurts, panicked, “Oh my god , how am I supposed to get back? Billy!” He shouts, suddenly, “Hey, asshole! Billy! Come get me! Please!”
The word tears itself out of his throat, guttural and desperate, and pity flickers in Natasha’s eyes. “He’s not coming,” She says gently, and Steve almost winces at the blunt let-down, “But we can take you to him. Who’s Billy? Your friend.”
The boy shakes his head, and out of the corner of his eye Steve sees Rumlow recover and steps threateningly towards him, raising his shield.
“Brother,” The boy admits, if a bit reluctantly, but his chest is still heaving. His metabolism must be working through the drugs fast, keeping him in a panic, because Steve sees the edge of his twitching fingers blur. “Twin. He should be able to hear me, BILLY!” The boy cries again, face turned towards the sky, “BILLY!”
At the word twin, Wanda’s shoulders tense, and Steve feels a pang of sympathy towards her because the combination has to fee like a kick to the chest. She steps in front of Natasha, “Twin?” She asks, in the same tone of voice, “Does he—“
“He can’t hear me!” The boy thunks his head back against the tree, “The idiot! He can’t hear me, how the hell am I supposed to get out of here?”
“We can help you,” Natasha repeats,“We’ll take you home to your brother, we can get you out of here, kid.”
The boy ignores her though, seemingly done with listening and instead stumbles forward to fast that he thumps down on his knees. His fingers dig into the dirt, and Wanda takes another step forward but he shrieks again, desperate, loud, and earsplitting: ”MOM!”
Steve expects nothing, just as the cry to his brother, but he has to throw his shield arm up to cover his face as a sudden blast of red radiates around them all.
Steve digs his heels into the ground but he doesn’t move, even as he faintly makes out the figures of Rumlow’s men as they go flying off their feet. The red burns, a flame washing across the battle field in a surge of righteous anger that makes his skin itch beneath the uniform.
It’s almost like Wanda’ psionic powers, but it’s heavier, denser, and a thousand times more chaotic, yet tightly controlled. A dam that’s been opened instead of burst.
A second later the wave of red crashes, the fire burns out, and Steve is left breathing heavily in the embers as he cautiously moves his shield back. In front of him Natasha uncrosses her arms from their protective guard of her face, and just a few steps away Wanda’s own psychic shield dissolves into thin red wisps.
His vision blurs slightly, spots swimming from the flash of light. Steve blinks, squeezes his eyes shut for another moment, and reopens them.
The world clears. Wreathes of glowing red bind each operative in his line of sight, twisting tight against their chests, mouths, and ankles. They struggle hopelessly, hovering just a few scant inches above the grass, but their guns lie useless on the ground beneath their feet. Rumlow has been bound as well, and curses viciously through the gag even as he attempts to wiggle free. But the scarlet only sparks at him with a vicious hiss, and doesn’t show any sign of letting loose.
And the boy. The teenage boy kneeling on the grass with his shaking fingers dug into the dirt, white hair plastered to his forehead with sweat, and a warm, scarlet gloved arm hovering protectively above his back.
Steve almost recoils.
There’s a woman there. She’s young, not yet forty, but with hard lines set around her mouth and a pink-red power pulsating in her eyes and illuminating her face. She’s dressed in the exact same scarlet of the power that flowed over the battle field barely a second ago, from the sharp points of the crown framing her face and pushing back a mane of dark brown curls, to the cloak that half hides her and the boy’s form. Her free hand is raised, wreathed in an electric scarlet-pink that refracts in the light.
She breaths out, angling her face down at the boy, and the red fades from around her hands and eyes, but stays in binding cords around the HYDRA operatives. Steve doesn’t risk moving.
“There you are, Tommy,” The woman speaks softly, lightly chastising, moving to cup his cheek gently, “Billy and I have been looking for you.”
Tommy’s laugh sounds like a cough wracking his chest, “That asshole wouldn’t pick up,” He says, voice jittery but steadier now. Stable. “HYDRA chased me all over Europe.”
The lines around the women’s mouth deepen, but her hands don’t tense, “Don’t talk about Billy that way,” She says, squishing Tommy’s cheeks slightly, and then, “He’s currently chasing Patri-not across the multiverse to bring you back ever since your friend David told him what happened. I’ve been scrying for your energy signature as well. We’re lucky he dropped you into this universe and not one of the… odder ones, I suppose.” She gives him a wry smile, and Tommy’s hands go flat against the grass. He sucks in a shaky breath, before turning an almost identical grin on her.
He looks he feels… safe, Steve realizes. Like the touch of her gloved hand against his skin is the most soothing thing in the world, and like he trusts her to protect him from the world.
“Oh?” He shoots back, still breathless and sweaty with a glassy gleam in his eyes, “Then I guess Uncle Pie is just as useless as ever, huh?” The woman laughs so hard she snorts , but Steve’s shoulders tense and in front of him Wanda flinches violently.
“Hush, Tommy!” The woman laughs, gently tucking him closer to her, “I’ll have you know, my brother is running himself sick with worry, even if he won’t admit it.”
My brother is running himself sick.
Wanda looks like she can’t decide whether to step forward or backward, foot half-way raised off the ground, and Natasha’s hand pressed soothingly against her shoulder. A simultaneous comfort and stop gate.
There’s a rush of wind, a snap of metal against metal, and a the hum of an engine as Falcon sets down next to Steve. The wings tuck back, folding in on each other, and Sam lifts his red goggles and places them on his forehead.
“Hey, Cap,” He says, voice easy-going as always but a crease forming between his eyebrows, “Any particular reason why all the HYDRA goons are suddenly bound with weird red Wanda-energy? Or is it just Thursday.”
Before Steve can process how right Sam is about the similarities in power, there’s a slight muffled shout of surprise from the boy, something that sounds like Mom! and Steve snaps his gaze from Sam back to Tommy, who’s been reflexively tucked deeper against the woman’s chest in protection as she snapped her gaze up at the sound of Falcon landing.
Steve meets her eyes: blue against green-brown, and something clicks into place.
She’s older. By ten, fifteen years at the least. Features sharper and less rounded with age, and darker too, making her less an exact aged copy and more like their version’s older aunt with warm brown skin, a poof of dark ringlet curls, and dark eyes that look like they could be both the color of the leaves and the bark of an old forest tree.
He’s currently chasing Patri-not across the multiverse.
We’re lucky he dropped you into this universe.
It’s Wanda, he realizes, almost instantly. More older and more hardened and more in control of the chaotic power she can tap into, with at least two sons and a brother she’ll fight for.
She loosens her grip on Tommy, who only moves enough to breathe and see, but keeps her arms wound around him. His eyes are clear now, Steve realizes, crystal clear and emerald green and as heavy with exhaustion as his leaden limbs. He stares at Steve blankly, and Tommy’s gaze crawls like ants on his skin. The woman, his mother, Wanda , rubs unconscious circles through the sleeve of his shirt as she stares at them.
“Sorry,” She apologizes, gaze dragging over to her counterpart, “Alternative universes, the multiverse. You know how it is. Or you will, anyway.” She smiles wryly at Tommy again, “C’mon, let’s get you home and into better clothes. What happened to your uniform, anyway?”
“Under this,” Tommy tells her, picking at the sleeves of his oversized sweatshirt, “The silver was too eye catching. The goggles got shattered somewhere in Romania.”
The other Wanda laughs a little. She does that a lot, Steve notices, laughs. It’s been barely five minutes but she laughs and smiles and holds onto Tommy like he’s her entire world and she’s blessed just to have him here in her arms. It may just be a result of left over worry, but it still warms Steve down to his bones. He’s not a suspicious person by nature, but even if he was he doesn’t think there’s a way to fake the kind of love a mother has for her child. Not to this extent anyways.
The other Wanda moves her gloves hand and taps it against Tommy’s forehead. He squeezes his eyes shut against the brief burst of light, but the moment passes and there’s a pair of orange-lensed silver goggles sitting perched on his face.
“Your welcome, dear,” She says, then calls over to the others, “We’ll be going now. I suggest you ready your weapons, Avengers.” She doesn’t move to stand, but scarlet pools in her gloves and Tommy closes his eyes against the light and Wanda— their Wanda, the one with straight brown hair, an army green jacket and too much eyeliner—stumbles forward at last with a shout of, “Wait!”
Too late. The alternate Wanda and her speedster son disappear in a rippling portal of red waves. A breeze drifts through the air, and they're all silent. Staring.
“Not to be insensitive,” Sam says, which Steve finds slightly funny because he rarely is, “But before we worry about alternate realities shouldn’t we be worrying about this—”
Wanda shouts in frustration; a wave of rippling red slashes out from her hands and knocks the wind out of the just-freed HYDRA agents as they reach for their guns. Rumlow, Steve notes, is both unconscious spectacularly flipped ass over tea-kettle.
“Never mind,” Sam says, “Does anyone have any zip-ties?”