The Tower

February 03, 2018:

HoM. Pietro dares what has been forbidden with his sister, Wanda.



NPCs: None.

Mentions: Magneto


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

There are places in Castle Magnus to which no one goes. It is a labyrinthine place, built much too large for the family of royals that inhabit it, though that size seems intended to accommodate the future growth of a lineage— of a dynasty.

If Erik Magnus can manage to keep his empire running for that long, anyway. Some men are more suited to conquest than rule.

Already the castle has come a long way from what it was when Erik Magnus took power, all those years ago, and its staff runs with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine. They part easily before Pietro as he walks down the halls, tailed by his ever-present pair of long-suffering Red Guards.

No one bothers or bars him. Even if he were not already owed such obeisance due to his status as crown prince, he is well known already for having a very short temper.

Especially when he is seen in this particular wing of the castle.

There is a certain point, at the base of a spire that spears sheerly up many hundreds of feet— no way in and out save one door at the bottom, no windows save a lonely one at the pinnacle— where he dismisses his Guards and proceeds alone. The way up is far, but Pietro is uniquely suited to cover far distances easily, and he has made this long climb many, many times before.

At the top of the tower is a door. Solid, worked steel, with no features save for the mechanisms set intricately around its edges. Most look like sensors. There are no guards stationed up here: only alarms.

Pietro rests his hand on one of the mechanisms, deft fingers working it until a panel glows blue on the interior side of the door.

"How is it today, Wanda?" he whispers, and watches for the reply.

There are places where things go to be forgotten.

This wing was cleared out purely to entrust the confinement and safekeeping of one. In the long years, the grand halls and open rooms arch tall and ornate, beautiful but empty, like a chiselled mausoleum cold of life. Sheets veil old furniture and time yellows forgotten, set-aside oil paintings, taken down from walls and left behind.

Dust gathers on those endless, marbled steps what carry up the crown prince. They are not used much in this cloistered spire, none save for the attendance of carefully-selected servants, and him — the only constant visitor.

Echoes repeat off every one of Pietro's footfalls, when he slows them enough to make each sound distinct. All noise carries here. That is the most prominent mark of this oubliette: every moment of every day is only this, the perpetual, pressing silence.

Thick steel waits at the top of the spire, allowing no easy way in or out, one last boundary to sever the world from whatever is held within.

The palm of the crown prince bypasses those security measures — his print only one of very few to allow access —

And, on the other side of that steel, there is a break in the quiet: the sound of gold beads ringing and chiming against each other as someone lifts her head.

Her eyes open, but she does not see the blue light beacon off that panel; she does not need to see it to know it is there.

Pietro speaks, and the speakers through the door transmit his voice, slightly distant, tinny, but absolutely familiar. His whisper fills that secret room.

For many moments, he is met is silence. Then, through the door, someone speaks back.

"Quiet," answers Wanda Magnus.

Pietro waits. For Wanda, it is but a minute before she replies. By her brother's reckoning, it is several hours… but several hours waited gladly.

Quiet, breathes back the answer.

Pietro exhales, and keys in the last code. The door grates open, a solid thing of pure metal smithed specifically so their father, at need, could open it himself without requiring such petty things as codes. Pietro thinks, perhaps, he could open it too if he truly wanted — by supersonic force — but his methods would be far more catastrophic. The resultant damage —

No. Doesn't bear thinking about.

He steps in, and the door hisses shut immediately behind him. Pietro fights a sudden claustrophobic twinge as the thing seals. His eyes search immediately for his sister, desperate for a glimpse of her. It has been too long since his last visit. His father frowns on their liaisons, thinking his heir's time to be better spent elsewhere, and strives to keep Pietro too busy to run off to see his mad sister.

"I intend to stay at least an hour, this time," he promises. "I will break the quiet. No one knows I am here. I was meant to meet with a delegation from Atlantis, but they were delayed." Pietro looks like he doesn't mind at all.

The steel door grinds open to permit the crown prince who should not even be here —

— and seals hermetically behind him, its locks spinning and bolting and securing in place.

Inside, the top room of the spire is a sprawling steel cage, cold and empty and grey, its walls sheeted by direction of the King, and they amplify each small sound in a concussive theatre of singing echoes. Against the faceless metal in many places, there are the oil smudges of a woman's lingering fingerprints.

Within those metal walls, there is the makings of a small suite — an attempt to dress up this room into something comfortable, something sweet — accented with here-and-there furniture, an ornate bed, and light streaming in through a single, small window — barred — that overlooks Castle Magnus's courtyard.

There are paintings, here and there, all made by the hand of she who lives here: the older ones tell vivid stories of city scenes, forest paths, or a palace bedroom where once freshly-cut roses wreathed every table. The newer paintings try to tell these same things, but all seem to be abandoned half-way through, sketches losing certainty, colours blurring with doubt, and both lost in fading memory.

The first Magnus princess sits amidst it all on her ornate cabriole, silent, unmoving, and no want to know for how long. Robes, heavy and red, conceal her, from too-long sleeves that hide her hands, to a headdress, ornamented with a rainfall of gold beads, covers her face to her lips and the point of her chin.

Her head bows nearly to disguise what little there is. Wanda is still, silent as Pietro speaks, never once in her life ever to interrupt him.

"You've seen the water?" she asks, just the movement of her lips, her voice low, hopeful. "How did it look?"

Steel. It is all made of steel. At need, the King could fold this entire place into a lethal gravity well of exploding, sharding metal… shred anyone within to pieces before they could, say, catastrophically lose control over their prodigious powers.

Contingencies. Erik Magnus is made of them. It is how he ascended to reign dominant over the world.

His son, though he bears his father's austere face, his white hair, his blue eyes, has something in his features which Magnus does not have: a deep, abiding look of love for Wanda, where she sits in her pooling red in silent stillness. Her ornate robes, the heavy solid-gold headdress that cages her face under a fall of beads… both seem chosen specifically to weigh her in place. A shackle made of ostentation and wealth. A golden leash for this caged bird of a princess.

She looks rich, well-appointed… certainly well-cared for. Yet the metal prison in which she sits, so inadequately dressed up to affect the appearance of a comfortable suite, tells the full story of Wanda's existence. Yet the paintings scattered around, finished ones on walls and half-finished ones on easels, tell how long she has been in this one room, forgetting the feel of the wind and the sight of the world.

Her head bows to hide even more of her face. Pietro's breath catches. He hates every single time she does that. He talks to fill the silence, but his chatter brings only one reply, one want from his sister. Did he see the water? How did it look?

In answer, the Magnus crown prince comes closer, and leans down over his sister's seated form. His hands sift into the delicate curtain of beads obscuring her features, lifting her veil back from her face with a rustle of gold. He brushes in close, and lets her revealed eyes level with his. "See for yourself," he says, his voice gentle. "I made my memories as clear as I could."

His mind is open to hers, and as promised, Pietro looked extra-long at everything he thought she might like to see. The foaming white surf on the shores of Genosha. The aquamarine glow surrounding Atlantis' underwater cities. The foreign look of their flooded halls, ornamented with strange sea life. The blue expanse of the sky, and how blinding it is after too long beneath the waves.

"A diplomatic visit," he mentions. "We seem to be attempting to improve relations with them…" The sneer in his voice conveys his opinion.

Perfect stillness meets Pietro's determined approach. Seated in place, all the stiff, heavy layers of her robes fetters that throne her carefully in place, Wanda waits, her hooded head bowed.

She does not stand to receive him. She does not even turn her head to the smooth, fluid sounds of his footfalls. Possibly because Wanda does not trust either to be real, not truly, when up here she's spent years a slave to her dreams. She waits, expecting her twin brother to fade into the hypnagogic madness of most things, a play of the wind, a twist of her madness turned on her: she will reach out and find him gone, and herself alone.

It's how it usually goes.

Branked by her own doubt, Wanda does not move until moved. Deft hands reach out and tangle their long fingers in her veil, gossamer fabric and its gilded heraldry, and pull back its cover. Beneath the shroud is Wanda Magnus, young and pale, her veins blue along her sunless skin. Her eyes squeeze shut, unused to the light — it always helped her madness for the princess not to see — and she inhales sharply with the sting to adjust.

Moments pass, then her eyes flutter, opening blue: the same colour as his. The burn of light yields to colour and texture, and both shape into the face of her twin brother, looking down on her, drawing in so close to let her see him.

Not a figment, or a taunt of her madness. He is real, and he is here.

"Pietro," Wanda says, tightness loosening out of her voice. Only she ever speaks the prince's name like a plea. Fabric shifts, and her little hands creep out from her sleeves, and she reaches both of them to him. Her fingers, cold, brush Pietro's face in little glides of her fingertips, her touches too-light and shaky: the tremor in her hands seems to be worsening by the weeks. He is so warm, and she cups her palms to drink of it — the first warm thing she's touched in many days.

That alone — simply to be able to touch someone — engrosses Wanda entirely. She seems to take that alone as the gift he's brought to her — when, in addition to that, Pietro finds her eyes and declares he's brought more.

He brings her his memories. With searching eyes, Wanda gives Pietro an indescribable look, before her irises blink red, she pauses — a single hesitation in case he reconsiders letting her in — then looks inside.

Memories fill her eyes, as she looks out on the world through the medium of her twin brother. She looks out and sees as he did, as he saw, and takes in the rich colours and textures of a world long-denied. She forgets to breathe as she does this, and he can feel her moving through his mind — her presence like a breath through his synapses — and loses herself in the indescribable blue of the sea.

It's beautiful, she says, and not with her voice, though Wanda's words still current through Pietro's mind, as she sits on the cliffside of his memory and breathes in, tasting the salt off the distant water.

She sinks in, and there is a price to his permission: Wanda cannot look in this deeply, this disarmingly, into the mind without giving back of her own. She lays a highway to her own memories.

They are always in this room, of this room, alone to this room. She sits. She reads. She paints. She sings and she looks out her window. She looks at the sky. She looks down on the courtyard, and sometimes she sees people down there. Sometimes family, with their royal delegation. She sees Pietro once, and puts her hand to the glass. She talks to herself, has conversations, and she is unkind, calls herself terrible things. She paces in the same circle, over and over, to try to walk the pain away, crying for a moment's relief. She tries to dig with her hands through the metal walls, because she believes there's a tunnel on the other side. She dreams.

…She leans back and watches that same blue sea blur by, waves cutting its surface like a cut sapphire's hundred edges. Something aches in her like a disappointment, like a recent loss — until the two arms carrying her suddenly tilt, and playfully dip her head down to wet the ends of her hair on the moving water. She opens her eyes in surprise, and Pietro's same face, young and reckless, smirks down on her as he runs them both over the water. The action takes the darkness out of his face and the disappointment from her heart, and Wanda laughs as Genosha recedes and disappears at their backs. They leave it behind them.

She doesn't initially respond. She never initially responds. Early on, Pietro asked her why, and the answer led him to do what he now always does, when he visits Wanda.

He comes in close, and his hands slip into the curtain of her gold-bead veil. A vision could not touch her; a dream could not pull that veil back the way he does. Real or not real? He confirms it with the feel of his hands alongside her face, and the sensation and sound of all those beads sliding from her face.

The first Magnus princess is always kept shrouded — her madness worsens with too much visual stimulation, and it becomes too easy for her thoughts to overlay the world if she can see it — except for these few moments, when her brother visits her and lifts her veil away.

It takes her a long time, in his perception, to adjust. He waits patiently throughout. When she finally registers him, the first thing she sees in weeks — perhaps the only thing she sees, anymore — his name is the first thing off her lips. He smiles in answer, and patiently lets her reach up to touch him. To warm her cold hands on him. His metabolism runs so hot he always has warmth to spare.

The tremors in her hands bring his face to turn slightly, his eyes trying to look. "Your hands," he mentions. "The medications are not working? There is no sense to take them if they won't fix anything. I will have the doses stopped. Or adjusted."

He can tell she is wholly engrossed just to touch someone, just to feel someone else alive, but that is not all he has for her today. Today, he has brought her more: his memory, fresh with new things. Anyone else would be terrified to let the mad daughter into their mind, and even their father would curse Pietro for his recklessness, but what do they know? He is her twin. They could no more hurt each other than a mouse could jump to the moon.

Comfortable in that trust, he sits by her side, and lets her look through his recollections. It is a two-way bond they share, every time they do this, and the matching images that come to him from her own memories are well familiar. So well-familiar that he does not look too closely at them, because it hurts him to see them.

He only takes her hand with his own, and twines his fingers with hers, when he hears her memories of her cries and her self-hatred.

This time, however, something new comes to him. An image, a dream… the two of them leaving Genosha behind. The two of them running the Indian Ocean, carving a path through the salt spray, Wanda laughing in his arms at his play. It feels like a secret hope, a longing made manifest in a dream. But dreams do not so sharply impart the taste of salt and the beat of the tropic sun, experienced in a way neither of them ever have before. Or have they?

Disquieted, Pietro rises again. The longing of that one stray image twists in his chest until he cannot stand to see her sitting in this room any longer. If he is found out, he will pay heavily, but… if it makes Wanda laugh as she did in that vision, it will be worth it.

"Clear the gardens in the eastern courtyard," he gives order. His voice is snatched easily by the telepathic net linking communications through the palace, funneled to the appropriate recipients. "I want time there. Alone."

He turns back to his sister, leaning down, dropping her an affectionate kiss that brushes the corner of her mouth. "Change into something else," he says. "You stand out in that."

Her hands, despite their trembles, tighten against Pietro to hold on. Her eyes gaze up, light-stung but still rapt, desperation shining against her irises: certain if she closes them, if even for a moment, her twin brother will blink away back to non-existence.

Wanda can no longer trust what is real. And even if her brother has come to her as a hallucination, neither does she want to lose that: her madness makes her see so many things, but not enough of him.

Her fingertips run his sharp cheekbones, brush his lips, the face she grew up with and may well become a stranger to her, and worsening tremors hitch and catch her touches. Wanda cringes at the mention of medication. "It doesn't help me," she answers quietly. "It doesn't let me dream."

Her thumb traces the ridge of bone around Pietro's left eye. He settles himself down at her side, and her hands ghost away from his face, taken instead in her twin brother's hand. Like his, her fingers are long and slender, only shaky where his are strong, and similarly pale, though hers is not her choice. Twining their fingers, Wanda settles reflexively to her brother's side, her head making a pillow of his shoulder, transparently indulging in his solidity and warmth.

Her eyes drift unfocused, irises bleeding red, as she nudges into his mind, knotting their thoughts together in a hundred different crossroads. Feeling for feeling. Memory for memory.

Wanda intoxicates herself on what Pietro has to give her — the entire world she can no longer possess — while deeply-buried in her synapses, she shares fragment moments of her own. An instant of him, of them, together, and free, a life neither of them have known as twin children of a king. It must be a dream, and his sister, even before her madness, always had vivid imagination —

But the sensory deluge is real, from the heat of the sun on his skin to the unhitching of a weight — the unshackling of a son determined to rise beyond the limits of the father. And with his sister in his arms, lips at his ear, whispering how she will make him a god —

Through his mind runs Wanda's laughter, blissful, at peace.

Here, her hands shake in his.

Pietro Magnus, for once, makes a decision all of his own. Against the whim of the father as he rises and makes his intentions law to the palace administration. Wanda follows Pietro with her eyes, quiet and unable to comprehend — until he turns on her and gives her an order of her own. Something no one has attempted to give her in so, so long.

Trusting he will not disappear, she closes her eyes to that kiss.

"Pietro," she says, his name carrying both hope and wariness. What he offers her feels like a dream in itself, but even she knows the rules he breaks to satisfy her. But, in the end, Wanda cannot disobey her twin brother.

Rid of those heavy layers, she is breakably tiny, atrophied at the edges from a life of captivity, trading into a simple dress and shawl that dresses most of her away. Wanda considers her headdress, and proffers it to Pietro, if it is his will to blind her again.

It doesn't help me, Wanda says. Still leaned down in front of her so she can reach his face, Pietro extends his right hand to brace it lightly on her left thigh, fingers curling in the heavy fabric of her robes. A physical reassurance of his existence. He saw her straining her eyes open to keep sight of him; he knows what she fears. "I'll have them stopped," he comforts. "Nothing should be in your veins that doesn't help you."

Once she's taken her fill of reading his face with her hands, he settles beside her, letting her lean against him and rest her head to his shoulder. His hand laces with hers, and he lets her into his head. She lets him into hers.

His eyes half-shut, a matching scarlet with her own. He gives her the world outside, a world she can no longer see for herself, and she gives him… a dream. A memory? No, it must be a dream. They have never lived a life free of their father. They have never traveled alone together, across continents, persecuted and alone — but self-sufficient and self-contained. (Or have they?)

A small line knots between his brows. Puzzlement. He touches the images, and finds in them a level of tactile detail that does not exist in dreams. The feel of freedom, the world open for them to take. The feel of her hair carding through his fingers. The feel of her in his arms as she promises him everything.

Her laughter. He's never heard her laugh like that before (or has he?).

He shakes his head, and withdraws. And to the list of small defiances he has made against his father over the years, he adds this larger one: he will take his sister out of her room, at least for an hour. At least to sit in the garden. Such a defiance requires some precautions… he orders the area cleared, and orders her changed into something much more plain. If they are seen, better than the crown prince be caught dallying with an unknown woman, than for him to be caught bringing his sister from her tower.

He is patient throughout the process — it does not take long — and once she is ready, she offers him her headdress. He takes it… and places it to one side. No veil for the princess. Not today. "A minor glamour," he suggests instead. "But do not include me. There is no point to this if I don't get to see your face for what it is."

He offers her a crooked smile, even as he keys the door open. Once the way is clear, he has her in his arms in an instant, and the world blurs past as he races them down to the gardens. In this life, Wanda has had very few opportunities to ride passenger to her twin's great speed, and the experience is novel, exhilarating.

Why does she feel as if she's does it many times before?

That light physical touch is a grounding, an anchor that helps hold Wanda to the here and now.

She curls against her twin the moment she can, her hand in his, her head on his shoulder. Every ounce of her speaks of someone starved for physical contact — whose only source these days may be by the forced exams of royal clinicians — and especially starved for that of her twin brother. They were twins who grew up close, always together, every day hand-in-hand inseparable, and now just to hold Pietro's hand is a rare treat for Wanda.

Her hands shake in his worse now than they were months ago in his memory, but they endure to hold onto his fingers.

Wanda loses herself into Pietro's open mind, walking through its many halls of rich memory — so many things she cannot take for herself — and in return, in trust, opens hers to him. It may not be deliberate, as all she has to reciprocate is with tedium, madness, and episodes where the pain is too much to bear, but nothing of her can close to her brother. He's always been her other half.

What he offers her, in these few moments, is so beautiful that all Wanda can do is close her eyes and relent, relaxing in a way she has not allowed herself in so long. It is a moment's anathema from the pain, a distraction from the circling thoughts in her head, and a gift she'll not let her broken mind forget. Pietro, with her, just for a little while.

But it's not enough for him.

The crown prince already comes to his own private decision, and stolen from her half-drowse, Wanda follows Pietro's purposeful pacing and summoned commands with her blue eyes. Her breath catches; he means to remove her from her room. It's not allowed. Every inch of its steel is designed to keep her in, hold her — make sure there is not a single repeat of what she did. Make sure none of King Magnus' world, alliances, and enemies can see the sickness in his bloodline.

"Pietro, it's not permitted," Wanda hears herself speaking, whispered like it's a secret, a moment's fear weighing her expression. She looks down at her hands in her lap, their involuntary trembling, then back up at him. "We shouldn't."

But she wants to. So badly. More than anything. Just a moment to see anything but walls made of metal. And though she hesitates, Pietro is anything but forceful and insistent, his words final. They've always been, even when they were children. She obeyed everything he asked of her.

Reluctantly, she does this. She changes her clothes from those ornate robes to something simple, and listens to Pietro's request of a glamour. Wanda gives her hands another glance. She thinks she can. It's been so long —

Her shaking hands curl their fingers, until red light bathes her skin: telling, the only instant Wanda's hands do not tremble, are fluid and precise, are when she gestures forward a small hex.

It conceals her identity, changes her face, but not to her brother. His words to her make her dip her head, her smile back shyly, quietly pleased.

And then, too quick to prepare, Pietro has Wanda in his arms. She inhales with surprise as he blurs them forward under his speed, her own arms wrapped around him to hold on. Her heart hammers, but not in fear. Velocity throws them forward and down, and though his sister does not laugh like in that dream, she relaxes with that same, exhilerated trust. She keeps her eyes open the entire time, rapt.

It's not permitted, Wanda falters. Pietro turns a thin look towards her, a wordless glance that rhymes with his peremptory commands and the demanding, arrogant way he carries himself. "It isn't," he says, and their father's mortality reflects in his cool blue eyes. "For now. Things don't last forever, Wanda."

He falls silent after that near-blasphemy, his mouth thinning, his eyes narrowed. He seems to think about his own boldness for a moment.

Then he resumes all his restless movement, pacing throughout the time Wanda takes to change and to apply that requested glamour. He only pauses long enough to watch her work her hexes. It is a rare sight these days, something that he regrets. He has always loved watching his twin change the world; more so when she does it at his command.

He doesn't know if it worked. She looks the same to him. But his trust in her capabilities is plain his eyes when he reaches to touch her chin, and angle her bowed head back up. "It'll be fine," he reassures her. He may even believe it.

A moment later, he has the door open, and her in his arms. The world blurs past, too fast for anyone but her twin to register, but Wanda's open eyes can at least perceive a smear of colors: more than she's seen in many long years.

It's only a few seconds before they stop again, already at their destination. Pietro slows to a walk with shocking seamlessness, for a deceleration of several hundred miles an hour. The greenery of the promised garden spreads around and over them, shrouding them from easy view. This particular garden is no orderly collection of flowers planted in rows, but a wild tangle of trees and ornamental shrubs ringing a small fish-pond.

Pietro could put her down, but he doesn't at first. He just holds her a little closer, as he heads down the small footpath towards the pond.

"An hour," he promises. "Then we'll go back. It will be safe." Few people come to this part of the castle.

Worry straits Wanda's face to talk of disobedience, the wilful breaking of their father's laws —

But as Pietro speaks words that walk the line of treason, she looks up at him, patient, impassive, and says nothing. His twin sister's face is vacant, and her blue eyes dreamy, no trace of admonishment or judgment burdening a single one of her features. It's possible she did not hear, or if she did, did not understand. Royal attendants and guards have laughed in private of the mad Magnus princess, divorced from reality, unable to comprehend a single thing anyone says.

If there is anything certain in Wanda's face, it is trust and faith in her twin brother. When Pietro tips up her chin, she looks back, and believes every word he says.

And then, between heartbeats, he has her swept up and, on the prince's unmatched speed, has them both beyond that metal room. Wanda has neither time nor the breath to manage more than a surprised cry, and tightens around Pietro, though not an inch of her locks up in fear. There is nothing to be feared in what he gives her: pure, unadulterated freedom, and the world blurring by, giving Wanda nothing but the feel of the wind in her hair.

It's been so long since she remembers him doing this — years? long years — but she meets it without terror. There's a strange ease with the way Wanda yields to the momentum, curled against Pietro's body, like she's used to this, like it's second-nature — like he has run them places every single day.

She knows this. She holds her brother close.

Eventually, his blinding run slows, no jerk of inertia but a gentle, fluid deceleration, and the world appears around them both — there, sudden, in bright colours and the earthly smell of green.

All Wanda can do is look. Look at it all. Her hands tighten unconsciously on Pietro, needing to make certain this is real. He could let her walk on her own, but he does not. Neither does she seem hurried to separate.

"I forgot," is all she says, her voice tight. "I thought I knew — how it. I forgot."

Wanda transparently worries to break their father's laws. There is a moment where Pietro worries too, as a son who has fought for and beside his father often enough to be well-acquainted with how brutal he can be in his rages… and then, his expression steels.

His gives his sister a new set of laws, a new frame of reference to obey: his own. He says she can go out. He will bear the consequences from their father if they are discovered. The trust in Wanda's face for all he says, all the reassurances he gives her of her safety… he would bear anything their father has to hand down, if just to spare that innocence from paying for his decisions.

Of course, he has no intention of being discovered in the first place.

For that reason, he clears the area. For that reason, he has her hide her appearance. And for that reason, he takes them both there at speed, bearing her in his arms with — surprising fluency. She yields as if they've done this every day, all their lives. But that's impossible, isn't it? Once they came to the castle, all that stopped.

He doesn't think about it. He concentrates on checking the area, ensuring it is cleared as he demanded, before decelerating to let her look at the world again. He could let her go, let her down, but for now he is content to hold her, and she is content to cling to him to ensure what she sees is real.

She forgot, she said.

"I know," he answers. "You can't take anything back — he'd find it — but you can look." He kisses her hair, before finally letting her down to stand in the grass. He himself retreats to sit on a bench by the pond, allowing himself this moment of uncharacteristic stillness to watch his sister. Time never seems to grind on his nerves so badly when he has her to preoccupy his attention.

It is one of the basest instincts of the body to tense up against something novel, something unexpected, or something unnatural… such as being abruptly hurtled forward at a speed so fast it thins the waters the eyes, flips the stomach, and thins the breath to nothing.

Most brace and simply wait for it to be over.

Wanda Magnus yields to Pietro and lets his speed take her. In his arms, she feels as relaxed as her tiny body can be, for a few moments docile, at home, and free.

The world shifts between his steps, all that metal melting away in that long distance to something the opposite: in just a few seconds for the prince is all the difference for the princess, returned so easily, so simply, to something so long denied.

The outside world with all its colours, all its textures, all its variables, all its permutations, all its stimuli, and all its dangers: threats upon threats upon threats to an unstable young woman who can erase entire lives with a single, errant thought. For now, however, the only thought in Wanda's head — surrounded now in green and water and blossoming gardens of flowers — is to realize how beautiful it is.

She thought she took every memory of places like these, and held them so close to keep them preserved. She was wrong. What she cradled in her mind was a poor replica to the world pulled out-of-reach.

It's not fair, Wanda wants to think. She does not, instead tightening her hands on the back of Pietro's neck, burying her face in the cradle of his shoulder as he bears her along. Her eyes shine, and her hands squeeze a tiny gratitude her voice cannot muster. So beautiful.

The princess cannot take of her would-be kingdom, but she may look, and with that caution, Pietro finally sets his twin sister down. She stands tall and unsure, looking down on the grass, trying to comprehend the softness of the earth after so many years of steel. Determinedly, she slips free of her slippers and lets her feet touch the cool grass — simply standing there, her head bowed down to look, her dark hair shrouding her face in its heavy waves. She takes one step, then two, and finally sinks down, crouched to her heels, the skirt of her dress pooled along the verdant green, as she reaches one hand to brush the petals of a growing flower.

For minutes — hours to him — Wanda spends this way, silent, motionless. Then she looks back and up on Pietro, and there are tears on her face. She reaches one hand out to him, a demand that he join her.

The effects of such speed would be even worse on Wanda if not for Pietro's protection. Something about his powers protects people he holds near enough to him when he moves, and he holds her as close to his chest as he can bring her. Close enough he can bury the lower half of his face down into the softness of her hair.

For him, that moment of contact lasts a few precious minutes. For her, barely a second passes before the speed of his movement slows enough that the world around them resolves again. The roar of passing wind dwindles, the smoothness of her ride jostling down into the feel of individual steps — still fluid, in the way a body perfectly tuned to run must be.

He knows it will take her a few moments to adjust, so he continues to carry her for their first few steps into the shrouded garden.

It is a bower of greenery. Designed specifically to emulate the randomness of natural life, the plants have been allowed to grow freely with minimal pruning. The trees hang their lush leaf-heavy branches low, the flowers grow and twine where they will, and the brush twines between both: tended, but largely unrestrained. It is chaos, literally flowering from the earth.

The reality of it is so much more than she could possibly remember, possibly hold in her head as a memory. Pietro closes his eyes briefly to Wanda's wordless thanks, pressing his lips to her hair in a way that says: none needed.

Pietro finally sets her down, and takes a seat himself, watching her intently as she looks around with the uncertainty of a colt. His eyes soften as she finally opts to step out of her slippers and crouch to examine a flower. She spends minutes just staring at it. Under any other circumstances, he would be pulling out his hair; under these, he simply watches her with as much focus as she watches her flower.

Finally, she turns and reaches for him. Her demand is barely complete before he's already answering, rising to close the distance and sit down in the dirt beside her — prince's finery and all. He reaches for a stone, and skips it idly across the surface of the pond.

"I don't know how soon I can be back," he admits. "The humans are getting more bold. They raided a prison. At least twenty of ours are dead." He picks up another stone, turns it over in his hand. "An example must be made."

Beneath a knotted bough, and close to the bank where water shines as blue as Pietro's memories, there the mad princess sits.

Her scarlet dress bleeds into the love-lies-bleeding that hangs all around her. Her skirts tangle in with her knees, bent at the knees, pulled protectively into her body, and her uncut hair, still windswept from his run, is a dark wing down her back. Unglamoured to Pietro's eyes, Wanda still looks every bit well-bred royalty: they have not let her insanity take away the appearance she must maintain.

Even if so few get to see it, these days.

Wanda reaches back to Pietro, and immediately he is at her side, joining to sit with her in the grass, in the earth, if only by her whim. His close presence takes the last knot of tension away between her shoulders.

Her fingers run the hanging shapes of flowers, and he skips stones. Silence holds both twins together in a brief bubble.

Eventually, Pietro must speak. He tells her he's not certain when he can visit again, and Wanda's fingers go still — trembling only in their way beyond her control — her breath held to take it in. Worse than the pang that runs through her, fear and grief, is the acceptance: that things like these are the way now, that they are their — are her — reality. It brings a different, truer shape to the gift her twin brother gave her. A kindness within a good bye.

Her head lowers, and she looks down at her own hands, pooled together in her lap, a drying, wilted flower loosely clasped in her palms: something she found of the earth. She will not pluck one fresher, still living, and see it dead.

"If you must," Wanda says. She makes no comment of the prison, of an insurgency, of humanity. The mad princess has no place in politics.

Her shaking thumbs run dead petals. "You're not happy."

Few see it. Pietro reserves the sight for himself. She is a striking one, a black and red-draped ruinous princess, seated among the weeping fall of flowers as scarlet as she.

He drinks in the sight of her. He gets to see her so infrequently that his mental image will have to last.

She reaches back for him, and instantly he is at her side. Her wish becomes reality so quickly she might have hexed him to sit beside her. There is a brief silence, as the twins lean together in the sort of companionable closeness they must have had before their father found them, so many years ago, and changed both their lives.

Finally, he speaks. They are petty concerns that no longer have much bearing on Wanda — worries about politics, about insurgency, about human revolts. What concerns her is that this little gift is his goodbye before what may be an extended absence. Even then, there is so little she can do that it is barely a concern at all. If he must, is all she says. "I must," he sighs, watching her hands turn to cup a dead flower.

She says he is not happy.

The silence that follows is uncommonly long even for him. "I guess not," he eventually answers. The implicit follow-up question hangs heavily in the air between them. What would make him happy?

His expression closes down, and his mouth presses into a line. Some things are not safe to say, not safe to even breathe in a whisper. But when his blue eyes turn towards hers, stealing her gaze and holding it, the way into the mind beyond them is clear.

His thoughts offer her an image. One single image, an abstract snapshot compositing three things. A cleansing fire burning away blood. A world broken to its knees, obedient and ordered. The twins themselves, Wanda free of her cage to take her place at Pietro's side; her hand twined with his, and her power fused with his will.

He must.

Wanda has nothing more to say to that. Nothing to argue. Nothing to convince.

There was once a time she would have, fierce and persistent, when she was younger, louder, and alive. Even obedient to her more dominant twin brother, Wanda knew how to give Pietro his most infuriating of arguments. She knew how to make his existence a small, insufferable hell until he heard and understood all of her fiery feelings. Even if she eventually bowed to his judgment — he would know.

Now, the mad princess is an echo of once was, a living binary of two opposite states. There are her episodes, when her madness comes upon her in its pain and confusion, and then there is this. The emptiness. The failure to have anything to say when Pietro speaks of politics, events, their kingdom. The inability to join him back in the world he occupies.

Did they do this to her? Did Wanda do this to herself?

Pietro must leave, and she accepts. She finds a dead blossom and holds it in her hands, tremoring thumbs petting its crumbling petals. By all appearances, Wanda seems to retreat, her blue eyes looking down and shining far-away —

But she speaks her next inference as fact. The mad princess can sense things.

Wanda stares down at her shaking hands, listening as her brother speaks. Her silence is a holding one, waiting for explanation.

He seeks her eyes. Drawn by nothing but an urge sparked through her mind, Wanda draws up her head, and through the hanging locks of her dark hair return her eyes. She looks back, their irises first blue, then red.

She sees.

For many seconds, Wanda does nothing. Her gentle face betrays little.

Then she reaches one hand for Pietro's, not to take, but to open. She carefully lays the dead love-lies-bleeding to his palm, and covers it with her own. Their fingers mingle with filaments of red light, drawing across them —

And in Pietro's hand, the bloom lives again, draping red petals down his wrist like running blood.

He waits for the arguments. They don't come. They haven't come, for many years.

The emptiness drags on, where there should be something. Pietro averts his eyes, looking out over the pond as it ripples in the faint breeze.

They used to be so close. It all changed that day, years ago, after the incident. After their father shut her away as a result.

Eventually she finally makes her next remark. Not a question, but a statement of fact. He eventually agrees, but her waiting silence asks for more. Deserves more.

So he leans in, and he lets her see his thoughts.

He yields her hand to her response easily enough, letting her take and open it. Letting her lay the dead love-lies-bleeding in his hand. Her own hand sparks with red light as she lays it down, and while most would jerk away, most twitch back in fear of the witch, Pietro only watches with a curiosity to see what miracle his sister will work this time. She takes her hand away to yield the sight of the bloom revived, fresh flowers cascading down his wrist, and he smiles. Picking one of the long red streamers of petals from the bloom, he reaches to carefully tuck it into her hair, letting the vivid red panicle trail among the strands.

"Someday," he says.

His gaze goes troubled. So much time already gone. Why does it only flow quickly for him when he is with his sister? "But today, I have to take you back."

The accent of scarlet stands against her dark hair.

That small touch demurs Wanda, and she averts her eyes shyly, though pleasure toys at the curve of her mouth. Her hand brushes from his, letting her brother have that resurrected flower, as she instead brushes fingertips along his face, her weight leaning in, her head tilting back, to bring her lips close to his ear.

She murmurs something to him.

Then, Wanda gentles, her head pillowed to Pietro's shoulder, her smaller weight tilted into his side, happy to drink of his presence as the greenery of this little world cloisters them in. Surrounded in the warmth of the skin, the yield of grass under her feet, and the whisper of a breeze, run occasionally through her hair, the mad princess softens into her most peaceful in a long time.

Someday, he tells them both. The word runs over her, no reaction from the mad princess — though she hears it well enough. And knows it even more.

Time slips out of Wanda's hands as well. She is not sure how long she spends this way, curled into her twin brother's side, but she knows it's not long enough. It's never long enough.

He has to take her back, and she exhales more deeply than necessary, silent. Her body shifts, no doubt to obey wordlessly, mindlessly as she always does — give in, anticipate, accept.

Then Wanda imagines that lonely room what awaits her, metal everywhere, hard and cold. Nothing to make it bearable, not even to expect Pietro's soon, secret return. He is saying good-bye, and taking all the warmth in her with him.

Disquiet tightens her jaw a moment. Her hands circle his closest wrist. "I don't want to," Wanda suddenly assets, though her voice twists it into a plea. "Stay with me."

Pietro takes the flower from her when she lets it go. His head turns slightly as she leans up to seek his ear, giving her easier access to whisper him what she has to say.

It tightens the look in his eyes. He hesitates visibly, his jaw gritting down. The hand he still has tangled with hers closes its grip down harder.

He could.

After a few moments, he withdraws his hand. The world ticks on placidly in its way, minutes sliding past into the silence that is all he answers. That unhappiness she observed settles on his shoulders, and remains. It shares space with Wanda, curled against him to enjoy her last moments of stolen freedom.

Because of course — it must end. THe alternative…

He expects Wanda to obey. She has always obeyed. It is her first impulse to, in fact, and she begins to move.

But then she stops. Pietro looks at her, worried, and for the first time seems to grasp the magnitude of what he might have done. He winces, especially when she takes his wrist and refuses; his other hand, freed now, slips over to rest over hers where she holds him. In so doing, he lets the bloom drop away into the grass.

"If we are caught," he says, "it will so much worse for you. We can't now. You have to, until…" He stops whatever he was going to say. "Until there is a better way."

For all the time of Pietro's indecision, Wanda waits.

The mad princess is patient. Her cheek nudges to the bone of his shoulder. Her drowsy eyes peek through her shuttered lashes. Her hand waits atop his, fingertips to fingertips, for the crown prince to command.

He takes his hand away, and hers relents to let him keep the gift of her flower. Wanda says nothing, instead taking the rest offered to her — here, these moments, and him — and yields to her twin's side, looking out on the pond water as the sun beats down on them both.

Time slips from them.

Until now — when their small window has ended, and she must go back. Until this moment she has been permissive and docile, but something about having the world given back to her — just this eyeblink of it — breaks her yoke. It might well be a beautiful thing, seeing Wanda make some small defiance against the way things are, but it is also dangerous —

And heartbreaking — the way she pleads the only person who has always obliged her, no matter what.

She takes his wrist; he covers her hand. It drops the flower she gave him — resurrected for him — to the earth. Wanda's eyes do not miss the way the bloom falls. She shudders with a stab of hurt.

But Pietro speaks the inevitability that will take them — take her — and memory of their father loosens her hands. Her resolve bends to the thought of Pietro hurt on her behalf, and worse — they will be separated beyond any way he could find her.

And yet — the thought of going back. Metal. Metal on all sides. A box closing in. Steel to dull the whisper that breathes in: it's not real.

"Then we go," Wanda begs, finding Pietro's eyes. "Right now. Only us. On the water. They'll never find us. I promise I'll be good."

The twins split their inheritance from their father. For Pietro, his rage. For Wanda, his patience. It is a glacial thing, a thing that can sit and make chess moves over months, years. Their father used it to subjugate the world.

Wanda uses it, now, only to wait on her twin brother's word. One command. It is all she needs.

He pulls his hand away. His eyes avert. Some things must stay dreams. Not all things that can be done, should. For now, all they have is this small window of time, and even that is so tenuously snatched from under the watchful eye of their father. It pours away before they both know it… the only circumstance under which Pietro has ever felt time to pass too quickly.

She has to go back. He will be punished if they are discovered. She will be punished worse. She will be removed somewhere else, and his access will be revoked. His ability to visit her periodically is thinly-granted as it is. Yet it is hard to return a bird to a cage after it has felt the wind and sun.

Wanda starts to plead. In his haste to quell and comfort her, he drops the revived flower she gave him. Still, she resists — she cannot picture that dead steel box after having this. This one hour amidst so much life, and the sun. They could go. Over the water, like her dream (not dream?), and be away before anyone knew it. Her promise to be good lowers his eyes.

"He'll just find us," he says, and his voice is small. "He will."

He moves, gathering her back into his arms. He gathers up the dropped flower too. His expression… shifts, turning a little distant, a little strange with some distant thought. "Let me think of something else," he finally says. "I'll figure it out. I'll make another war if I have to. This…" He wilts, afraid his father might hear even here, but says it anyway. "This life isn't what I set out to make, when I fought so hard for him."

He pauses, long enough for her to know he is letting her say goodbye. Then the world blurs.

He'll just find us.

The life of a crown prince is one of absolutes: the certainty of his birthright, his reign, his power, his authority.

But even then, this single certainty overshadows all else. Even with years confined in a single room, partitioned from the rest of the forward-moving world, the words equally reach and stay Wanda.

Some things must stay dreams, and Pietro bears a close and painful witness to the way this one dies on his twin sister's face. For a moment, her blue eyes reflect only that image she sees — the image she showed him — where they are together and free and unbound by the world — but reality reasserts like a slap, dashing the hope away. Pietro is correct, she knows, and Wanda averts her eyes, deferring, obedient.

Even though all of her rails in disagreement. She doesn't want this. She doesn't want to go back to the box. She doesn't want to be alone, and Pietro unhappy.

Why is this their lives? Why does she have no control over her mind, and him his future?

It always comes back to those thoughts: it's not right. It's not right because it's not right.

Wanda is docile to Pietro's next touch, light and, for a moment, unresponsive in his arms, hanging like another frond of love-lies-bleeding with no guiding touch to resurrect her. Her empty hands tremor against her lap.

She waits, presumably for him to move, to bear her back — when instead her brother speaks. His voice is not as it usually sounds, strained and unsure, though at the same time, decided of something — it steals her eyes. Her face turns him to find his, trying to search something out from his matching blue eyes. He promises to make war to unite them, if he must.

Even if there is no hope, there is a place for faith, and one of Wanda's shaking hands lift to brush a lock of silvery hair back from Pietro's face. He holds quiet, and she knows why. Pietro, who pauses for no one, for whom waiting is pain — is doing so for her. A chance for her to tell him good-bye.

The thought of the words choke her. So she wraps her arms around him instead, pulls her twin brother into her body, and doesn't let go.

The breadth of Pietro Magnus' power and authority, in the new regime built brick by brick by the blood and struggle of their family, is nominally without limit. But in reality, there is one single damning limit that renders all his dominion almost illusory.

That limit is his father. It is Erik Magnus who is truly without limit, and Pietro's certainty that his father can do anything — up to and including finding his errant twin children were they to flee — is a cage that keeps him small and unwilling to to boldly test his cage bars. Wanda, knowing this too, similarly falls silent.

The futility of their dream does not make it easier for Pietro to watch it die off his sister's face. That distant imagery of them together, free and unfettered, fades. He bids it a quiet goodbye — for now. For while it is their life now… does it have to be forever? His plan was to wait for time to reap his father, whether naturally or in some bloody struggle, but…

He intimates it to Wanda. He is not bold enough to make a staunch promise or statement of it… but the gears are turning in his head. He knows his father to be suffering in this peace, with no war to sate his urge for conquest. If he were to quietly… press matters, to instigate a second war —

It's enough for faith. And a flicker of it, renewed, shows in Wanda's eyes as she takes that small pause he gives her to say goodbye.

Words fail her. Her arms around him, pulling him close, will have to suffice. The desperation of her hold puts deep cracks in his own resolve, and he lingers a few minutes past the hour he promised, letting time stretch on in his perception until each second is an hour. He kisses her hair, the lids of her closed eyes, the tip of her nose: blind affectionate gestures that both soothe and apologize.

"Imi pare rau," he tells her.

A moment and a rush of wind later, they are back in encasing steel, and he is placing her back to her bed. Some bandages are best ripped off quickly.

"I will come back for you," he promises.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License