Second Chances

April 08, 2018:

Sharon Carter, backed by Impulse, requests a meeting with the Twins to inform them of Coulson's death, and the truth of SHIELD's 'mutant-killing virus.'


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Phil Coulson

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

It took a little bit of work to find a place that would suffice for a meeting place. Something outside of population centers but not too remote. Empty and confidential but not rundown and gross. The compromise? An old public school theater built by the WPA back in the 1930s. It has always been almost useless for its theoretical purpose: whoever designed it was unaware that stages should have backstages more than a foot across, proportions less extreme than the average half-popsicle-stick, massive floor-to-ceiling windows, and linoleum floors.

Agent 13, aka Sharon Carter, has set up a wooden table and chairs on the stage. They may have come out of the props closet: they're sturdy and worn and not uncomfortable. Folders are arrayed across the table. There's also an overhead projector there and a projection screen has been pulled down on the stage. The windows are covered in blackout curtains, but the house and stage lights are on.

At the appointed time, she just sits and waits. She has looked better. She doesn't look like she's had much sleep lately, nor does she look like she's eaten very well.

The message to meet came, apparently, from Coulson — at least, it used his contact channels. But Phil doesn't look to be here.

It's one of those things you expect, but at the same time…don't really? Information had been exchanged, verbal agreements made, and now, contact. Whatever S.H.I.E.L.D.'s been up to of late has been their business alone, just as the Titans have been wading in the receding waves of the recent activity at tower. Impulse has no idea why he's been contact, save that it might have to do with the Terrible Two. That is, after all, why Coulson had gotten in touch with him. The message he'd received had been brief and to the point. And the easiest way to figure out what's going on so far as Bart is concerned is to just go.

One minute to the appointed time and a slender figure in red and white virtually appears in the small auditorium. He looks around, the door still in the process of swinging closed from his apparent passing.

"Uh…is this the place…?" Impulse wonders aloud as he looks about through yellow-tinted goggles, amber gaze swinging towards the stage area. He blinks. That…doesn't look like Phil Coulson, but he does recognize the woman who sits there. His confusion is clear on his face as he starts in her direction.

"Um, hey… I got a message…?"

Terrorists like the Maximoff siblings are surprisingly easy to contact. Drop word in Mutant Town or Hell's Kitchen among the mutant communities there, and wait.

From there, it's a gamble whether the twins known more publicly as 'Quicksilver' and 'Scarlet Witch' would even turn up. A message from a high official of the organization they just thieved from, wanting to have a nice sit-down meeting? Neither twin was born yesterday. They'd wondered briefly whether SHIELD had found out about their intent to raid Trask Industries facilities… but then, if that were the case, why just send a message?

And why from Phil Coulson?

Perhaps it's half curiosity that brings them to turn up, as a result, though both are obviously on high alert. Pietro did a run of the area prior, Wanda a scan, they have a few people standing by, but otherwise the precautions they take are the kind that are not visible.

Pietro is certainly operating mentally at the full speed which is normal to him, which is perhaps why his tone is already cross when he observes, "Neither of you are Phil Coulson."

In the many hours subsequent to the Twins' raid on SHIELD —

It is as equally expected as it is surprising to receive a diplomatic entreat from Special Agent Coulson. Through his channels, a simple wish of direct contact. To speak.

On one hand, such a request reads transparently as nothing but a trap: why would one of the world's greatest agencies not resort to any sort of tactic to hit back against assailants? On the other hand, Coulson was unusually receptive to the Maximoffs once before. Though his motivations could not be completely vetted whether genuine or some spymaster's elaborate production, action did back up the man's alleged sympathies.

He was there at the warehouse, caught in the fray of the Maximoffs' desires and SHIELD's countermeasures. At the least, this request merited some sort of response.

Thankfully, Wanda Maximoff is a create of unnatural surveillance. Beyond the building in question, she runs a trace of its interiors: only one life force within. She cannot detect Phil Coulson in congress, not his unique life-signature, but neither can she detect in long range the lives and souls of an inevitable ambush. Technology, unfortunately, is one of the few mediums that easily escapes the witch's sight and senses — she cannot glean radio transmissions like she can someone's thoughts or living energy — but both twins are built for quick getaways.

Only enroute tot the building in question does Wanda detect a second soul there: Bart.

When the twins do arrive — quick, thanks to Pietro's speed — Wanda stands at her brother's side, dressed in black, red in her eyes. Her ability called forward — quick to react if she needs be. Through Pietro's question, her face is stone, and her gaze slips first over Bart and then on Sharon — recognizing her, at least.

"Yet we believed Coulson respectful enough to meet us in person," she concurs, voice low, agitated.

She'd really wanted to break things more gently to Bart, who she only mildly knows. They've been in the same place before. They've been on the same side. They both know — knew — Phil. So she sits up to greet him, raising a hand: "Impulse," she says. "Phil's told me a lot about you. Everything will be clear soon, but he suggested I bring you in on this meeting. I may have some need of a very fast man."

Speak of the Devil and he appears. The place is actually no more fortified than a sturdy building usually is, with no more security (and possibly less) than any other rural school outbuilding a mile or two away from the rest of the campus. Sharon's face hardens visibly when Pietro appears; she sits a little straighter, which barely seems possible, and flicks on the light for the overhead projector. Whatever transparency is on there, it's covered with a manila folder, so all that shows up on the projector screen is a black rectangle.

"Phil said you were smart," Sharon replies, her tone crisp. "Thanks for taking the time to meet. I'm afraid Agent Coulson couldn't make it today, so you get Agent 13 instead. This is not an ambush, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch." Left unsaid: she knew they'd take the time to do the reconnaissance to confirm that. She isn't underestimating them. She also knows that this meeting could get her killed in sixteen ways, but today, she's beyond caring.

"I need your help," she says, "in finding the murderer of Phil Coulson."

Sharon's words confirm what he'd expected, but there's just something about the way this all is that has Impulse still a little uncertain. All the same he offers a careful nod, looking about to reply when the other two enter the building. The shift in the woman's expression doesn't go amiss.

The young speedster whips around, blinking as he looks between Pietro and Wanda. He recognizes them only because of the files Coulson had shared with him, his brow furrowing behind his yellow-tinted lenses. So much for having it all figured out. By Sharon's words, it looks like the Twins have been expected. "So what's going on here?" he asks as he swings his attention back towards the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.

It's a good several seconds that those words sink in once Sharon gets right to the point. Impulse is sure he'd heard right. But that's just the problem.

"Wh…" He gapes at Sharon, eyes wide. It's too cruel a thing to say as a joke, and Sharon doesn't seem like one to do so, especially not under the current circumstances and with present company. Slowly he starts to shake his head, still uncomprehending, or rather not wanting to. "Phil's…dead?"

Sharon's quip brings Pietro to the brink of a sigh. Humans. "I tend to be capable of basic observations," he says, his voice dry enough to strip paint. At the least she's quick to cut to the chase afterwards; if she hadn't been, his temper might just have worsened. And what she has to say…

I need your help in finding the murderer of Phil Coulson.

Pietro's expression flinches. He casts an uncertain look at his sister, eyes Bart suspiciously — no idea why the boy is here — before his narrowed gaze swings back on Sharon Carter. The news seems to disturb him. "Agent Coulson is dead?"

Coulson was the one human in SHIELD I thought to face about this virus, he speaks in his sister's mind, agitated. Now he is dead?

He gaze refocuses on Sharon. A slight tension builds in him, something instantly recognizable to a kindred spirit like Bart: the restlessness to run. "When and how? Why come to us?"

From the corners of her eyes, Wanda holds a long, silent regard of Impulse.

Red burns in her irises; the witch employs her extra sight, trying to feel out among his life energies, his soul, and the world's many "imprints" on both: as Pietro speaks, her job is to glean. He does not feel entirely human. Neither does he feel like a mutant. Metahuman? Obviously of SHIELD alliance?

She felt a mutant in their employ. Another metahuman, as well, that night. Do they even know with whom they ally? Do they even know what the agency intends for the world's non-humans?

Her jaw tightens briefly — but the moment is brief. Eradicated when Sharon speaks.

Wanda shares Pietro's glance in a perfect mirror. Phil Coulson is dead, and her first reaction is shock.

The last I felt of him, he was alive, answers Wanda through Pietro's thoughts. Her mental voice is slow, searching her own memory. She had lost control, briefly… I — made sure —

Wanda holds her tongue; Pietro's questions speak for them both.

"I'm sorry that you're finding out like this." That seems genuine. Sharon looks to Impulse with sincere sympathy and takes a deep breath: "I was his XO. His second in command," she adds for clarity. "I knew a lot of what he was doing. He left me instructions to carry on his work. He had a lot of work he was doing, so you can imagine that's taking a while; I also have projects of my own that have come up in the last week, and I suspect he would approve of them."

Sharon's jaw tightens when Pietro answers his questions. She raises one pale eyebrow. "Funny," she says. "I thought you'd know. For the first twenty-four hours, I felt like a damned chump for using nonlethal means against you two. You were some of the last people to see him alive, after all. Your fire — " This to Wanda. "Shielded him from our ability to see him, but one of our agents reported afterward that she saw the man who killed him. Coulson knew him; called him Benjamin. I assume you brought him with you. It's entirely possible you didn't know how badly you were being played, but given that Coulson was the highest-ranking SHIELD operative willing to work with you, you probably hadn't planned on shooting yourselves in the foot as badly as you have."

Furious. She's visibly furious, and she's visibly restraining herself. It takes her a second to breathe and become a little more composed.

"Phil and I," she says, her voice softening minutely, "were of one mind about metahumans. He is… he was… the finest man it's ever been my privilege to know, and certainly the best man in SHIELD. He was a better person than I am. I've come to you because I'm willing to convince myself you didn't know that the man you brought murdered Margaret Carter and came to murder Phil Coulson. I'm generous like that. But you know who he is better than I do."

Oh, how he wants to just run. But there's nothing and no one to run to, not to get the answers he wants. His fingers twitch anxiously at his sides before curling to palms into fists. Sharon has explanations to a point, and she wouldn't have said what she had if she knew what to do next. At the moment Impulse isn't even sure what he's supposed to do. He hadn't come prepared for something like this.

The Twins, or at least one of them sounds just as shocked at the news. The boy speedster drags his attention back towards the two as though he'd find answers there from them, but it seems they're all in the same boat, and Sharon's the only one that can clarify anything else.

He meets Sharon's eye, lips pressing thinly together as he doesn't know what he's supposed to say, if he should say anything. He hadn't known Phil Coulson nearly as well as any of those gathered, but he'd liked the man that he'd gotten to know, even from one conversation. That man is gone now, and saying it wasn't fair just seems childish. His gaze sinks towards the floor, but he's listening as Sharon resumes, addressing the Twins. A recent confrontation with them. No wonder she'd asked them here. Normally he'd be fidgeting, asking questions, eyeing the Twins suspiciously. Sharon had opened up things with words that felt like the entire floor had opened up beneath him. He still hasn't found his feet.

Sharon's tirade narrows Quicksilver's blue eyes. Already at the limits of his patience from the get-go of this interaction…

"Enough," Pietro says, his tone like the closing of a door. "Did you come to us for help, or to deliver a lecture on what is done? If you are genuine — then silence. Ask what you came to ask, plainly, without wasting our time on puerile barbs."

He struggles a moment with his own temper, before he visibly bites it back. The anger cools into a coldness of his eyes, a tightness of his jaw. "We did not bring him. If he was there, he brought himself, and Agent Coulson either crossed into his path or was his target. We had our desires. We always presumed he had his own. For us to have been "played"… as you put it… we would have had to value a relationship with SHIELD in the first place."

His eyes study Sharon. "But you have much to explain before we would ever wish to cooperate with an organization like yours. And much as Agent Coulson seemed amenable, he went no farther than 'being kinder to us than the average human.'"

Pietro glances left at his sister, a habitual check of her status. "Before we determine to tell you anything, you must answer for the crime SHIELD would perpetrate against our kind. We would have asked Agent Coulson. Now it seems we must make do with you."

Your fire.

Wanda is a stone against the sea, hard and immovable as tide after tide of information washes over her. Sharon's voice, measured, careful, but by no means empty of outrage that the witch can sense — can see as rising synaesthetic embers sparking in and around the woman, passion and emotion poured straight from the soul — says it all.

And Wanda absorbs it, passive and enduring, as she has all things. The world has handed her much to bear, and this dressing-down is just another. Until those two words: your fire.

Upset moves through her mind, pulling on the twins' psychic bond; a memory of their mother, dying in Wanda's fire — powerful and uncontrolled — flickers through their minds. She draws back, a half-pace taking her behind Pietro's shoulder, taking unconscious sanctuary to deal with the racing of her mind.

She lost control. Did her fire help take another life? Did she do this again?

If there is anything grounding in these moments, bringing light back to Wanda's dull eyes, it is the familiar sound of Pietro's disapproval. What might have been despair moves from Wanda's face, as she centers herself back, remembers her anger. Even as she hurts.

"If we had wished to be lethal," finally speaks Wanda to Sharon, her voice a little airy at first — shaken, "we would have acted much differently that night." There is little venom in the Scarlet Witch's red eyes. She does not mean this as a threat.

They were ready to take of SHIELD as much as they wished, but not to murder.

One of her hands drifts to lay over Pietro's wrist. Wanda's eyes move between Impulse, and back to Agent Carter. "We have stayed our hand despite SHIELD's sins. Their — your — intent to eradicate the mutant race. Trask engineered his collars to silence the living. You crafted your science to murder the mutant unborn. How do you justify your cause?"

"I don't."

Sharon's statement is simple and short. At least she's not trying to pretend she doesn't know anything about it. "I found out about the mutant genophage the day before your break-in. The idea that SHIELD would fund something like this sickens me, though to my knowledge we didn't. I suspect Trask is behind that, too, but I'm not making any assumptions until I have evidence. I am dragging what I have to the highest levels. I intend to do everything I can to end that genocidal virus. Of course," she adds, a wry and humorless smile twisting her mouth, "I'm not supposed to know about it, I don't have rank over whoever's in charge of the project, and I'm not sure how well the head of SHIELD is going to respond to threats or guilt from me, so that's going to be an interesting challenge. But I promise you this: whatever is in my power to do, I will do to prevent one single person being injected with that filth."

A deep breath, and she goes on: "I know you didn't come to kill anyone. There's a difference between theft and murder. I'm here as Phil's colleague; more than that, I'm here as his friend. He believed in you. He wanted to change SHIELD's course, to announce publicly that we are against any kind of mutant registration or anything of that nature."

Sharon spreads her hands. "I have no illusions that you're on SHIELD's side or that you support us in any way. You have no reason to. Logically, you had no reason to bring about Phil's death, either. That's why I've asked you to meet with me. I don't care if you declare that the moral high ground is yours. You know the man who killed Coulson. Whether he found his own way in or whether you opened the door for him is immaterial. He killed your ally and let you take the blame. I'm asking for your help in bringing him to justice. I recognize that you have no value in a relationship with SHIELD. I ask you to consider if you had any value in your relationship with Phil Coulson."

Another look to Bart, and she adds: "We can talk after this, too, if you like. I'm sorry to shock you like this. I've spent the last forty-eight hours gathering up all the information I have. The evidence is here: the official report, the… postmortem, the — " She shakes her head sharply. It's still too fresh. Anger is easier than grief. "I… inherited you, in a sense. The documents he sent me included your contact information. He spoke well of you. When he finds someone promising, he doesn't forget them."

Forcing his fingers to relax, Impulse lifts his head, shifting to better look between the two parties as they continue. This seems more like Red Robin's sort of thing, deliberating between information and what to do with it. He's already been told to be careful with S.H.I.E.L.D., and it helps put things more into perspective as he hears from Wanda her concerns, what makes the organization's stance questionable, and even Sharon admits that in such things, she does not agree with.

We're all protecting the same people, right? That's the last thing he'd said to Coulson. Incredibly naive of him, but that's just the way Bart is about things. You helped people that were in trouble. But even he knows the tensions that have been rising between those with powers and those without.

He licks his lips, shifting in place as he folds his arms. It's not until Sharon turns a look towards him that he speaks up again. "I…" He tries again, running a hand through his hair. "…talk. Yeah. That's probably the best thing. I told Phil I'd help if I could with anything, so…" A glance is cast back towards the Twins. Curious rather than the initial suspicion before all had been overridden with the shock of Coulson's death.

Wanda's distress draws her twin's attention instantly. His head turns to her as she retreats behind his shoulder, his hand taking hers and twining their fingers, the brother visibly soothing the sister with that physical contact and a few psychic words. It was not you. This 'Seneschal' has that blood on his hands. He doesn't let go of her even after she's composed herself a bit. His hand stays tangled with hers. It's a comfort to them both.

If we had wished to be lethal, Wanda eventually gathers herself to say, we would have acted much differently. Pietro says nothing, himself, but half an oblique smile crosses his features like a cloud passing across the sun.

He doesn't interrupt, for once, as Wanda poses their question far more bluntly, and Sharon makes her answer. That she does not try to deny is in fact a plus, but — as Faora said — Sharon does not seem to know any more about this 'genophage' than they do. This woman, high-ranking enough to inherit all Phil Coulson's caseload, and yet she is unaware? Something is rotten in the state of SHIELD. Sharon makes her promises, her vows, but —

"Many promises have been made to us, over the years," Pietro says, his voice low. "The earliest ones were ones we were foolish enough to believe. My sister and I were thirteen, fresh orphans, with nowhere to go except 'away from our murdered parents.' We stopped for shelter one night, on the basis of a promise so small and simple as a roof and some food. I was tired… I slept. I woke to find my sister being tied on a witch's stake."

He killed your ally and let you take the blame. "So you will understand why his duplicity, in and of itself, is no particular shock. I do not care if we are blamed. We are already blamed, every minute of our lives, for our genetics. What's a little more?" His mouth thins in scorn. "What I care about is what will bring about the destruction of this virus the fastest. If his head is the price for SHIELD to destroy this genophage and oppose registration — TRULY oppose it — " His shrug is profoundly indifferent. "He killed one of the few humans who showed us kindness. I wouldn't weep in taking it."

It still seems to me that total eradication of SHIELD would be faster and simpler, he grouses in Wanda's thoughts. But if what this woman says is true, there is someone else manipulating them from behind the scenes. Destroying SHIELD loses us a potential ally against registration, and leaves the root cause untouched to reappear again in some other shape.

Aloud, he continues, "But we must know you are not lying." His gaze flicks to his left. "Wanda."

The motion as automatic as it is needy, Wanda accepts Pietro's hands. The twins twine their fingers, and the action draws the sister closer to her brother's shoulder, her red eyes guarded, watchful.

His psychic reassurances are a balm. Her knotted thoughts relent, though an old guilt still pangs strong.

Her quiet holds as Pietro speaks; they are like twins of one mind, halves long seamed into a single whole. They seem to know better than to interrupt each other, intervene into the other's dominant role. Pietro's words are Wanda's thoughts, by and large —

And he speaks them well.

That Sharon Carter makes no move to deny or obfuscate SHIELD's crimes — that holds Wanda's burnt-red eyes. It is a last concession of the Scarlet Witch to a woman whose people — whose institution — has trespassed so deeply to earn an enemy of the Brotherhood for generations to come. It is enough that, even with this great gulf between them, she still listens.

In reply, Pietro tells a story. Wanda averts her eyes for a moment, a flicker of emotion crossing them — not shame, but strain of memory — before she lifts her face again. No human again shall ever see her weak.

I agree, she answers Pietro's thoughts. Worse, if this manipulation intended us to be the blunt weapon to help destroy SHIELD. It could mean us helping conceive smething more horrible to rise in its place.

Her eyes blink slowly to the audible call of her name. Wanda tilts her head, immediately and utterly obedient.

"We are raised on the lies of humans," she speaks to Sharon, not ungently, a chill in her eyes moderated by patience in her accented words. "So you must understand that we cannot accept your promises. However, we have other ways of finding the truth."

Her hand slips free of Pietro's with a brush of her fingers down his. Red comes to her fingers, thin, gossamer strands of light — like the very stuff of this world pulling away from its weave in cut, unravelling threads.

"Nothing so harmful," says the witch, with a meaningful glance turned on Impulse. She weighs him, knowing there is more to him — but unsure what that is. He is an unknown. Keep watch of that one, brother.

Red eyes back on Sharon, Wanda opens both hands, palms up, moving scarlet twining and eeling through her fingers. "I will look into your mind. It cannot lie to us. It cannot disguise or deceit. It will be brief, I assure you." No 'can I.' No 'may I'. No permission asked. None needed for the Maximoffs.

There is one last pause. Wanda, it seems, has promises of her own. "It will hurt."

Her eyes flicker with sympathy but not apology. And then, unless an action is made to violently stop her — the witch flicks one hand to fire a lancet of scarlet light to Agent Carter. A hex to tunnel an astral opening into her consciousness, into her very mind. It is pressure and pain, none of the gentle care of a telepath, but a boring, pushing force of something undeniably powerful. She wants today's thoughts, today's feelings, today's truths.

She'd expected something like this, but Sharon is momentarily wary. That moment lasts all the time she has before Wanda reaches out, but rather than make a protest, rather than tell her to wait, Agent 13 merely frowns and looks resolute.

The expression dissolves into pain when that beam of red light strikes her. She bites her teeth over a scream, bowing over the table, her hands clutching at her temples.

The Carter woman is peeled like an apple. She is a child, staring up in amazed and worshipful wonder at Peggy Carter, grey-haired and smiling, the doting auntie. She is holding the withered hand of her aunt, sitting at her deathbed, attention moving from the peaceful face to the vase of cultivated black roses at her bedside. A gentleman assassin's mark.

The hands she holds are cold and still. Skeletal, even. Peggy's white hair is spread like a cloud over her pillows. She lies in her coffin, and black-clad mourners stand around her grave as she's lowered in. Sharon stands at the edge, tears hidden by the rain that turns the earth into mud.

Sharon is running toward the fallen Coulson as Wanda's flames dissipate. She skids to a halt, kneeling at his side, seeing the wreck his murderer has made. His heart has been cut to ribbons and Sharon is weeping, sobbing, screaming within, even though all the time her face is solid and careful.

Her aunt is handing her a tiny box. Two pins inside, lapel pins modeled after the old SSR pins but bearing the SHIELD logo. Her aunt whispers to her that Sharon must protect what she has made. She must make sure SHIELD is what Peggy always meant it to be. The responsibility is both empowering and frightening, but it never even crosses Sharon's mind to disobey or disavow the burden as too much.

Coulson is dead. She is furious, beyond livid, beyond incandescent with rage. At first, the rage was directed to the Maximoffs; even as she admitted, Sharon had at first believed them truly responsible. When she discovered the truth, the compassion natural to her turned her heart. The Maximoffs hadn't intended to murder the SHIELD agents. They'd come for artifacts, not for blood.

Coulson is alive. It's weeks ago and the two are talking about his plans. He wants SHIELD to disavow the registration act. He wants freedom and equality for the mutants, for the other metahumans. They discuss this as if it were the most natural and obvious thing.

Coulson is dead and Sharon is faced with Faora and Faora is showing her the evidence of SHIELD's complicity in the genophage. She doesn't trust Faora. She likes her nevertheless, though, even though she knows the brutality of the woman. She knows Faora is dangerous; even so, she believes the woman is being honest with her. A pang of regret that Faora's also put herself on the international radar after attacking Superman: there's an APB out for her after whatever happened.

There's a part of Sharon that wants to be something like the violent Kryptonian. She wishes sometimes that she could exact her own justice on those who deserve it. Images of Trask being collared by his own inventions. Images of herself storming into Fury's office, demanding to know who authorized the development of the genophage. Images of herself burning the lab and every bit of the research behind it. Grief, horror, disgust at the idea that anyone would genocide the next evolution of humanity while it lies in the womb, as if to neuter the future was some justifiable alternative to collars and slavery.

The knowledge, too, that SHIELD has been infiltrated. That the shield meant to protect humanity is hollow, that its surface is nothing but a veneer. The stubborn determination to rebuild it, piece by piece if she must. With one agent at a time, if she must. The knowledge that she can trust practically nobody and must be ready to lose those she can trust. The grief and exhaustion and determination. The desperation, frankly, for the help of the Maximoffs. The sincere belief that they will do the right thing, even if she doesn't thoroughly trust them. The sympathy for them, or at least the empathy: she knows enough about them and the lives they've led to know that they have no reason to trust her. It's why she came without any backup except Impulse. Impulse, who didn't deserve to find out about Phil like this.

There's a lot there, but in short, Agent 13 is telling the truth. And when the moment is over, she sits, fists clenched on the table, eyes turning back up to Wanda.

"Do you have your answers?" she grates.

You should be aware that his sister has some sort of mind-altering or telepathic power we don't fully understand. That's the only warning that Impulse had really gotten from Coulson about Wanda, not very helpful in retrospect, and certainly not helpful now. Despite her reassurance and the look cast in his direction, Bart tenses as he looks from the Twins to Sharon and then back again, to those hands as the Scarlet Witch focuses on the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.

And the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent makes her decision.

It's easier to react to something like this, and while he doesn't know what to expect in the resulting, there's not a split-second of hesitation once he sees Sharon Carter begin to crumple. It's not even a split-second that the teenager in white and red with the yellow lightning accents cupping his ears is just gone from the spot he'd been (perhaps amazingly) rooted to for this entire time, suddenly just there beside Sharon, hands reaching out, resting upon her shoulders to brace her. She's fighting to keep upright, but Impulse can't just stand there to watch from afar. That he can't do anything more tears at him internally, but it's not a glare that he casts in the direction of the Maximoffs, though his brow is furrowed behind his mask.

The world shapes you. Experience shapes you. What the Twins shared of their past, in fragments as it were, is still a sad thing to hear. He can understand why they would feel so strongly in wanting to protect their own. He just doesn't agree on their methods.

"Agent Thirteen…?" he says quietly, once Sharon manages to lift her head to speak again, the speedster still hovering at her shoulder.

Keep watch of that one, Wanda says of Impulse. Of course, Pietro answers, standing physically between Bart and his sister — though when Impulse finally moves, he does so swiftly even in Pietro's perception. Affront flickers over Quicksilver's expression. They brought another fast one, he complains indignantly to his sister, as if mortally offended that others even exist.

But Impulse doesn't appear to be attacking. Pietro keeps a wary eye on him, but presently allows his focus to split to examine the results of Wanda's delve. What she takes, Pietro sees. All she rips free is funneled over their link to him.

He views in silence, with little of his usual impatience and mockery. There are some things too private and sacrosanct even for his derision. In fact, at some points, there is even jealousy at the images of the deep family ties between Sharon and Peggy: the ease of interaction, the natural bonds almost mother-and-daughter in nature, the hero worship that is returned with love, acknowledgement, and… simply being there.

It stings, to a boy who lost one father years ago, and found another only to be sorely disappointed. To a boy who had to give his own adoptive mother to the flames.

The rest he absorbs with more reserve, more faceless impassiveness. The truth of Sharon Carter's motivations and beliefs — and Phil Coulson's, before her — cannot be denied. The question now… what to do about them?

They have a choice. Simply destroy SHIELD wholesale with the aid of a man they do not know… and risk the gamble that he — as Wanda cautioned — could, in fact, be using their power as the instrument of the organization's eradication, to ensure something worse rises in its place. Or… assist those known to be sympathetic to their cause, make common cause in destroying whatever infiltration is behind this genophage, and press for the creation of a SHIELD properly dedicated to the opposition of such atrocities as Bolivar Trask and his collars. A slower method, with its own risks.

Things are never simple, he sighs to his sister.

Sharon's gritted query draws his eyes. She speaks to the sister, but as she might have come to expect, it is the brother who answers. "Yes," he says. "We have seen enough. We will afford SHIELD a second chance… but without you, there is no hope even for that."

He moves to pick up his sister, as easily as breathing, clearly making ready to depart. "So don't get yourself killed," he says, dry and cynical. "It seems much rides upon you now."

And the fourth in the room, in a wink of speed, demonstrates immediately while Agent Carter asked him here.

Wanda's eyes widen, her attention simultaneously stolen by Impulse's display of speed. He is so fast her eyes cannot follow him until he, across the room, flickers back to shape, but she has enough experience with a lifetime of Pietro Maximoff to be well-acquainted with the nature of speedsters.

She cannot disagree with Bart's role here: possibly the only way to circumvent a speedster is with another one.

Quick or not, soothes Wanda to Pietro's grousing, equal parts dismissive of the world and worshipful of him, there is no one in this world like you.

And then the witch opens the agent's mind.

Her eyes slip unfocused, then sightless, then gone — all their humanity stripped away as they glow with that incandescant red light. The Scarlet Witch, in that moment, is aptly-named: looking less a woman than some creature woven out from ephemeral fabric, existing both as its vessel and guiding hand, reaching out into the world and whispering it into the shape of her will. The late Agent Coulson's estimation of her power feels like only a superficial gleaning of what she is: something the world has attempted many times to burn away, murder, and destroy.

Witches have no place in its order.

But she has a place now in Sharon Carter's mind, front and center seat, picking it apart, and though she takes care in its excision not to leave damage, she does not yield any of its pain. Of course, some of it becomes mutual. It stings Pietro, and aches Wanda. His yearning shapes into a jealousy, whereas for Wanda, it twists back into guilt: condemning herself the reason they both had to do without.

She holds no derision for Sharon's memories; her careful hands let those memories slip away and take safety back in the privacy of her mind. She sorts through until she finds fire, familiar as it was a day ago, and the shape of the warehouse seen through another's eyes. She looks through Sharon's. She sees her barricaded by fire — hex-fire — and feels her suffering a second loss in so many days.

A new feeling moves through Wanda. Regret, and it comes with an impatient, agitated sister, fraying even her significant calm. None of this should have happened.

The truth comes free from Sharon Carter's mind, a human who means every one of her sympathies —

And, just like that, needing no more, Wanda ends the hex. She closes her hand, and the last flicker of red snuffs away.

As mutants come from humans, we will never get to wander too far from human interests, answers Wanda. We will take care with this, my brother.

"And answers for those answers," replies Wanda aloud to Sharon. "I do. You shall have our assistance."

Testament to his quickness, in a heartbeat Pietro bears his twin sister into his arms; the suddenness is routine to her, every moment of every day, and she slips one hand over the back of his neck. Her eyes, blue for the first time, meet her brother's in one silent look, before they turn aside, appraising Sharon Carter, then Impulse.

Pietro's blunt words close with Wanda's tempered diplomacy. "You will hear from us soon."

She doesn't need to say 'also, SHIELD will have my guts for garters if they know I'm working closely with mutant terrorists so if you could not?' or 'wait, are you going to tell me now or — ' for two reasons. One, Wanda's already in her skull. Two, she's having trouble saying anything right now.

But as Wanda withdraws and Pietro grudgingly agrees to be of help, Sharon's brow smooths and she nods once.

"Thank you," she murmurs. They probably aren't going to be best friends, but whether they like it or not, she's at least mildly to moderately on their side.

Sharon looks briefly to Impulse, nodding her thanks and rising slowly. "Lucky I didn't need the visual aids," she adds. Nothing says guilt like a full color picture of a human heart shredded by a sharp knife. "I'll make this up to you," she adds. "After… this migraine."

Somewhere, there is Excedrin. And a warm bath and a quiet room. Wherever that fine place is, Sharon will be there soon.

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