She hasn’t left Pietro’s body for a moment, her grief tearing out of her in keening wails. The sound hits somewhere deep in Steve’s chest. He may not have ever made those sounds himself, but he knows firsthand the pain that causes them.
The red rims of her eyes and the blood on her hands match her scarlet coat. He wonders if it makes it harder or easier, having a body to mourn over.
They land on the unblemished lawn of the Avengers compound and still she doesn’t move. She's quiet now, at least, tears rolling slowly down her cheeks as she cradles Pietro's cold, greying hand in her own.
He pitches his voice low. "Wanda.”
She doesn't look up, but her head twitches minutely in his direction.
He slips a hand under her arm and eases her to her feet, and when her knees won't take her weight, he takes it for her. She sniffs and clings to him with desperate fingers, light as a child in his arms. The sorceress has retreated, leaving a broken young woman in her place.
He doesn’t know where she’ll go from here, whether they’ll invite her to stay, whether she’d even want to, but for now there’s nothing to be done but for everyone to get cleaned up.
He takes her inside to an empty suite, and this time when he puts her on her feet she manages to stay standing.
He releases her arm by degrees, just to be sure. "You can stay here for now. The kitchen is stocked with food and you’ll find spare clothes in the closet.”
She takes a few slow, halting steps into the room, then turns to look back at him. Her eyeliner has made grey-black trails of her tears, there is battle dust in her hair and blood on her clothes and skin. The soul looking out through her eyes is at once young and lost, ancient and tired.
"Have a shower," he prompts. "If you need anything, I'm two doors down."
He steps out and closes the door behind him, hoping he's doing the right thing by giving her some space. It's what he’d wanted.
He heads straight for his own bathroom, pausing only long enough to get the coffee brewing first. He washes the grime from his skin and the gravel from his hair under a spray of steaming water. He’s tempted to spend an hour in there, savouring the therapeutic drum of the water on his fatigued muscles, but he’s not sure his aching legs would keep him upright that long.
As he towels off he inspects his already healing wounds in the mirror. Thoughts of the battle and the events leading up to it try to push their way to the forefront, but he pushes back until they are little more than white noise. There will be plenty of time to sort through it all later. Coffee, food, sleep, then think.
He’s in the middle of scrambling most of a carton of eggs when he hears a knock at the door. He opens it to find Wanda standing there in a black singlet top and leggings. Her hair is damp and the make-up is gone from her face, her eyes accentuated now only by the dark circles beneath them.
When she speaks, her Slavic accent sounds even stronger than usual.
"I have never been alone before," she says simply.
Wrong call, then, leaving her on her own. Not sure what else to do, he steps back and lets her in.
She drifts into the room, a boat without a rudder, but at least she no longer looks like she’s walking on knives.
The silence in the room builds steadily from awkward to oppressive. Steve caves under the weight of it, reaching for the remote and turning on the music channel he had on the other day.
Like a moth to fire, her big, dull eyes latch onto the bright screen. She perches carefully on the end of the couch as Steve heads back into the kitchen, his empty stomach unleashing an ornery growl.
The only response he gets is the tiny hitch of one shoulder.
“How ‘bout coffee, then?”
This time her gaze finds his and she nods.
As he pours the freshly brewed coffee into two big mugs, he remembers the way Natasha has black coffee before a mission, but cream and sugar after. One invigorating, the other restorative. He adds a good dollop of cream and a heaped teaspoon of sugar to Wanda’s mug, gives it a stir and takes it to her.
She wraps both hands around the mug, closes her eyes and inhales, seeming to find some comfort in it. He leaves her to her little ritual and goes back to check on his eggs. He toasts half a loaf of bread, then dishes out a modest serving for her—even if it’s likely go untouched—and piles the rest on a plate for himself.
He sets her plate down next to her on the couch, then digs into his own meal up at the table. It’s more satisfying than it should be when he glances up halfway through his eggs to see her nestled into a corner of the couch and nibbling absently on a piece of toast, unseeing eyes still glued to the screen.
He cleans his plate and leaves the dirty dishes where they lay in favour of flopping down onto the bed. He has a good view of the TV from here, and mindlessly watching music videos has a certain appeal right now, if he can manage to keep his eyes open...
He wakes sometime later to a quiet room, aware only of the fact that he could use a blanket. Without thinking, without remembering, he gets under the covers and buries himself in the warmth of the bedclothes. Eyes almost closed again, he rolls onto his side. His sleep-blurred vision makes out the shape of a dark head on the pillow beside him. That’s right—Wanda. He must have fallen asleep on her. Rather rude of him, but probably no ruder than falling asleep in someone else’s bed without asking first, he thinks, as sleep claims him once again.
The next time he wakes it’s dark outside and Wanda’s small form is curled against his side. Everything about her is soft in sleep—the expression on her face, the breath on his cheek, the palm of her hand on his arm. Due to some sense of propriety he edges carefully away, tries to put at least a few inches of sheet between them, but she only follows him, crowding in even closer. He gives in, and now that he’s more awake, he notices the dried paths of new tears on her cheeks and the corresponding damp spot on the shoulder of his t-shirt.
She had cried herself to sleep on his shoulder and he hadn’t even been awake to comfort her.
I’m sorry, he thinks, gently manoeuvring an arm under her neck so their bodies fit more easily together. Sorry she’s all alone, sorry she lost the most important person in the world to her, sorry that it’s going to hurt so bad for a long time still to come.
She settles more comfortably against his chest with a little sigh. He smooths her hair away from her face as gently as he can. He doesn’t want to wake her now that she’s found a modicum of peace. The small comforts he can offer are pitiable in the face of her pain, but he’ll be damned if he won’t at least try.
With the smell of her clean hair in his nostrils and his strong arms wrapped around her, he falls asleep once more.