April 28, 2018:

Backscene, 2007. Driven away from their latest attempt to eke out a quiet life on the fringes of Paris, sixteen year-old Pietro and Wanda decide their best hopes for a better life lie in America… a land promised to be tolerant of those who are different.

Aveyron, France


NPCs: None.



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The Aubervilliers' mob tried to drown their witch.

It was the longest stretch the Maximoffs had of pretending normal life. The slum was overworked and underfed, busy with poverty, and gave the transient brother and sister their privacy. They were left alone, ignored, well enough to find crumbling housing and pay for it with daily trades' work. These were not prosperous months, but they were quiet — quiet enough to indulge a routine.

Wanda stayed home most of the time. The city made her sick, either pollution or failed sanitation or something else — a thick, greasy miasma of so much suffering packed into so small a place, pressing on her, eating into her like a slow-stripping acid.

But even this was far preferred to what has been, what was before, what could always be: no apartment, no food, no bed, no life worth living. Here was one advantage over the last, hard year: enough stability not to warrant a single episode.

When hope could be tasted on the palate with each breath of air, their apartment block neighbours began to have nightmares. Without her violent, cataclysmic episodes, there was little knowing and less preparation for the other, insidious ways the witch would turn on life around her. A slow, creeping infection — a spiritual gangrene to punish humanity too ignorant to sleep too close to a monster, and raise their families near her proximity.

Nightmares, first. Then visions. Children falling sick far more frequent than before. Unlucky police raids and deportations. Poisonous metal bleeding, at one point, into the water supply.

One day, a kindly, exhausted neighbour knocks on the Maximoffs' door when Pietro is at work, pretending to labour at a job at the agonizing speed men do. Wanda knows not to open it, but something compels her to. The woman at the door is plagued with five sick children, and promises a meal in exchange for help to cook.

It's the first time anyone has asked Wanda for anything. She cannot say no, even when she should have. Even when she goes to someone's home, surrounded by illness and noise and so, so, so many unanticipated, unknown variables. And open fire. She's not ready to come close to open fire.

It doesn't end well.

When the half-mad residents realize the culprit behind all their suffering and get their hands on her, it's the first time the witch is not immediately burned. Some want to, but the crowd cannot decide past ripping off her clothes and dragging her into the polluted Canal Saint-Denis.

The rest does not happen for long. When the brother finds out, nothing happens for long.

The Maximoffs are forced to leave another life behind.

A week later, the sun sets through the treetops in the wilderness outside Aveyron. On the steps of a green-concealed cabin, Wanda watches the light filter through the chlorophyll and veins of a fallen leaf, bringing life to all its yellow and green.

The pretty belle known as Paris wears skirts that are dingy at the edges.

Aubervilliers — busy, industrial, vibrant — is one such weathered hem. Some suburbs of Paris have their mother's same charm: this one does not. It was for that reason that Pietro chose it, when he finally felt safe enough to stop running from Stuttgart, where they wound up after Vienna… Vienna, where they wound up after Timișoara… Timișoara, after the Thing that began all of it. Timișoara, after the ashes of their childhood home in the heart of Transia.

He's found, over the last few years, the only thing that changes from city to city is the amount of time they are able to stay before they are driven on to the next place. Cities always turn on them in the end.

But this time, they make an extra effort to hide. Wanda keeps herself at home; Pietro wears hats, and badly dyes his hair. Pietro manages to get a job quickly, this time, which leads to housing and food, which leads to enough stability to keep Wanda's episodes at bay. The wilds may be safer, in some ways — no humans — but they are a hard, uncertain place to live, and nature has ten thousand hazards of its own with which to kill two underfed teenagers.

They make a sort of life in Aubervilliers. During the day, Pietro works; at night, he cares for his sister. He feeds her, diligently cooking her favorite meals; he bathes and clothes her, bringing her whatever modest dresses they can afford while his own clothes fade and wear holes; he reads to her, teaching her her letters and figures, and keeping the nightmares at bay.

Eventually men notice that Pietro learns their trades and tongues far too fast. He typically keeps his mouth shut — warehouse stockers are not often asked their opinions — and his work as slow as he can. But as slow as he can is still twice the rate of a normal man, and the thick, Transian-accented mangle he makes of French soon smoothes out into the fluency of a native speaker. Too soon.

Still, if it were just Pietro, it could be excused as simple precociousness, trapped tragically in a young man of few means and fewer prospects. Their peace only truly reaches its end when Wanda's own gifts start to say hello, too.

He comes home one day to find her gone. But they didn't take her far. He can hear the familiar shouting just a few blocks away.

This time, as he did every other time, he chooses for them to run. But he knows there will come a day when the anger seething in his blood will be too great for him to simply turn and obligingly run from humankind.

The cabin where they wind up is one constructed by Pietro's own hands, with a day's worth of trial and error and a stolen axe. The walls are poorly chinked, the steps unevenly hewn, but the walls serve well enough for mild spring weather. It is a profoundly ugly affair, poorly-built, no more than a haphazard box that keeps out some of the elements.

It still demanded its price out of Pietro's body. He is perhaps two hundred feet distant, down a small slope, soaking his bleeding hands in a small stream in an attempt to hide them from Wanda. He knows enough to be aware this is not a good idea, but the cool water is enough of a relief for him not to care.

The ambery sunlight lights gold through the leaf's living membrane; it glows translucent to show her all its intricate, webbing life.

Wanda looks at it. She looks through it. So much of life, made by design, to be seen through. The hand of God lets her eyes look through flesh and blood, and guess beyond both the shape of the soul. There are so many things who live and die without ever needing to hide.

So why must they?

A gust of wind steals the leaf from her fingers, catching its fan and wresting its stem free. It blows away from her opened hand, and silent, Wanda's eyes chase its escape. It is a small thing, but a crease comes between her blue eyes; the witch can see the signs of something else.

Her gaze turns down as that same breeze scatters the earth between her feet, a spinning tableau of soil, debris, and green. It means nothing to many eyes — just another detail in an ending entropy — but it compels her to run a hand over the loam, letting dirt brush between her fingers. Her fingertips run a long, meandering line through the dirt, drawing the picture she sees.

The land sometimes whispers things to her. Here is finally quiet enough that Wanda can hear.

Sensing something amiss, she stands to that warning, lifting her long skirts to help see her careful path. The brush is treacherous, but Wanda is used to it, and she walks the roots of trees down the direction that the world bids of her — before she takes eye on the reason why.

Pietro's shape, long and lean and so familiar she'd know it a million times, stands against the forest that encloses them on all sides. The sunlight can neither make translucent the dark way he has coloured his hair; not the white God's grace also gave him, the white she prefers.

Something is wrong if just to glimpse him for a moment. Never by choice is her twin brother this still.

Dry wood snaps at his turned back; a twig broken under the soft-footed step of some little thing. Moments later, Wanda joins Pietro, tucking in her skirts, her chest braced against her knees, her kneeling weight supported on her heels.

The long, meandering line is the trail of red curling through the running water. Red off her brother's hands.

"Kham," she says, " ce-ai făcut?"

Wanda dips her hands into the stream, where the water mixes with his blood, to take her brother's hands within her own.

Wanda looks through the physical trappings of the world around them, and sees down to their spiritual heart. Pietro, too, sees the world in a different way, and has ever since they came into their powers. He cannot see through things, cannot read their true shapes under their mortal shells… but he can watch them move orders of magnitude more slowly than they should.

What is a long, lingering pause for him, seated by the stream's side with his hands cooling in the water, is a few beats of a moth's wings to the rest of the world. His sped perceptions watch the water swirl by at a hundredth of its true speed. He can see every eddy form, curl, and unknot. He can watch bubbles shape, float by, and slowly rupture upon encountering rocks in the stream.

His powers did not come on him all at once. Fortunate — he might have gone mad, if they did. For him, they came in increments. Each day, he would wake to a world that moved just that much more slowly. One day, the slowing hit some nadir and stopped, leaving him alone in a near-frozen world.

There, in that slow solitude, he had to wait a month of his own time for his sister to come to him, finish her analysis with her own latent powers, and to tell him what had become of him.

He grew used to it, over time: the interminable waiting, the boredom and isolation, the pain and effort involved in suppressing his powers long enough to interact with the world as a normal man would. He would have missed his human childhood — those times he could see the world clip briskly past at its normal pace without having to dampen his powers — but he soon enough realized what he was given in exchange: free run of the world.

He never liked human company anyway. He would not trade the feel of running the Mediterranean Sea at night — the experience of running the spine of the Alps — to go back to living among them.

Besides, he has always privately entertained a thought as to why the hand of God gave him such powers. They were chosen to complement his sister's. He has used them countless times to guard and guide her.

They tell him, even now, that she is coming. The sound of that twig breaking stretches out, in his perception, to a warning crack a minute long. He glances back, one dark brown lock of hair falling into his eyes. It's already stubbornly shedding the dye, the natural white peeking back out from beneath.

She reaches to take his hands, and he lets her. His gaze turns down to their joined fingers. "Am făcut ce trebuia să fac, Ćerxai," he answers.

His fingers tense around hers, before he pulls away and rises. "You should be resting," he continues, his low voice remaining in their native Romanian. It tests the familiar syllables after too long spent forming French. "It was bad, this time."

The pain of waiting is his loudest, brightest beacon to her. A way to always find her brother were the day to come they would burn her eyes from her skull.

It is a fixture of his soul, strong, constant, and unending.

And yet it is still pain. Pain, impatience, and frustration for Pietro to endure the world he lives. Why must such things be?

Why a world where to feel her only brother is as a function of suffering? Why a world where she helps cut wounds into his hands?

Beneath the cold current, her fingers run the lines of his cuts and lacerations, mapping their wicked shapes. His fingers twine hers in answer, and her hands go still. Wanda stares down despairingly into the water.

She needs to do something. To right it, fix it — mend rather than curse. She thinks she can take his hands into her skirts and let his hurts bleed themselves out onto her — tie them with the fabric somehow. But Wanda thinks a little too long, and already Pietro's hands pull away.

Even as he rises, his twin sister remains kneeling, leaving her hands dipped in the stream. Just as cold now as when they dunked her in. "You do everything right," she answers Pietro softly. "Over and over again."

He chides her to be resting. Her mouth tightens stubbornly, and she deliberately abstains from acknowledging him. She's rested enough, and she's tired of dreaming.

It was bad, he says.

"It was," Wanda concurs. There is no French that needs to leave her voice; she needed not speak much of it. Wanda Maximoff, princess of the same four, suffocating walls. She barely complained about this this time; she is getting used, after a childhood of meandering freedom, to live like a battery animal in a safe series of cages. The only way she can seem to endure any sort of city, and all it brings.

"I'm sorry. It was my fault. I should be building this. My hands should be hurting."

Her hands run his, under the water. She can feel the pain of his cut hands flaring, each time her fingertips disturb the raw wounds. Yet those are as pinpricks, compared to the greater agony in which her brother lives his life; the agony of having to wait, all the time, endlessly, for the world to catch up to his too-quick existence.

Even the time Wanda takes to think a few stray thoughts, to wonder a few errant questions, is too long for him. He pulls away, already restless, before she finishes her first meandering thought. He stands, looking down on her, that perpetual frown on his features as he regards her. Not a frown of dislike, nor burden, nor even irritation. Her brother never wears those emotions with her. Merely a frown of worry, as sixteen year-old shoulders try to work out how to carry responsibilities that have broken men twice his age.

Not even her assurances give him license to let himself relax.

"If I did everything right," he says lowly, "we'd have found someplace we could stay by now." He pushes both hands into his hair, impatient and frustrated, forgetting their condition: he winces visibly and abandons the gesture, his hands dropping back down to his sides.

She tries to apologize to him, and he is already shaking his head before she even finishes. "It's the fault of people who think murdering a girl is a solution to anything," he says shortly, reaching down to hand her up. "Come. I built it, terrible as it is, it may as well be used."

Insistent, he draws her back to the cabin. There's nothing to speak of within save the few things they could carry on their backs as they fled. He's built a makeshift bed out of piled pine boughs, and a banked fire that he cannot fully light in Wanda's presence unless he is there to keep her calm. It doesn't ventilate well — the only flue to speak of is a hole in a corner of the ceiling — and the smell of smoke is pervasive.

"I've decided… once I have the strength back," he plans, "we will go to Madrid. From there, Lisbon… and then we can take a ship to New York." They do not have the credentials to fly — not that he would let his sister on a plane — and he does not trust his own strength to cross the Atlantic. Not yet.

He looks wistful: the closest he ever comes, these days, to hope. "In America, everyone looks different from one another. Everyone is a little strange. They will not be able to pick us out there."

The sun in the sky is a stranger to her. A far more permanent orbit is the frown she sees now, dominating Pietro's face.

It's all he does these days. That frown.

Wanda never frowns back. Every time, it is her same, searching look, the play of her eyes yet unable to articulate how and what it is she must see — trying to find between the features of her twin's face. Her gaze ambles carefully as if afraid to accidentally step on an answer she seeks, and she watches him silently for what could be an hour in his passage of time.

"Pietro," she says to his self-castigation. "Don't say that."

He built them a life a hundred times. She tore it down a hundred times.

Guilt weighs her, but he has no time for that. The brother offers his hand to his sister. The gesture gives her his palm, rubbed raw and bloody from his recent frustration, and the sight brings a mote of pain to her blue eyes.

Still, she obeys, reaching up to take it, her hand trying to be so careful as not to disturb his wounds. The action pulls Wanda to her feet, but she takes a stubborn pause, opening Pietro's same hand to pull up the hem of her long skirt and bundle it carefully to his palm as she relents to twine his fingers.

She pauses, again, when her searching eyes double-take on something on their path home. Wanda insists for a moment to collect a handful of lavender.

The Maximoff witch learned years ago to gather from the giving world, what medicines to make for her brother's battered body.

"It's not terrible," is all she says, in defence to his cabin. Her head rests briefly to his arm. "I like it."

Led into its little space, Wanda seems to declare it home within the first moment — home is Pietro, and anything that comes of him — and retreats to that bough bed. Her skirts catch on its needles and branches as she sits, but she seems not to notice, instead gathering the lavender in her lap to begin plucking and processing its flowers.

Wanda's eyes watch Pietro through his plans. She assents as quickly as he declares; it has always been their way. She absorbs his story of America, drunk on his expression: not hope, but close. "It's not too big?" she asks. "It won't hate us?"

Don't say that, Wanda implores.

Pietro's gaze refocuses on her, her brother coming back to her from whatever place of bitter frustration he inhabits. His frown doesn't fully relent, but its intensity abates a few degrees. He can see the guilt threatening to cloud her features, and he has neither the time nor the spirit to push it away again; instead he preempts it, pulling her to her feet and imploring her back to the cabin instead.

Well, if it can even be called such. Even 'shelter' is a charitable word. Nonetheless, Wanda looks upon it, and declares that she likes it. Pietro looks askance at her, before his expression finally breaks into half a brief smile. He leans against her, closing his eyes a few moments, snatching a few moments just to enjoy the company of the last person on the planet who doesn't look at him — or the works of his hands — like trash. Like some dirty lesser race. He doesn't look Romani, but somehow people always know.

Leaving Wanda briefly to their own devices once they settle, he kneels to build the fire back up. He keeps himself between it and his sister, mindful of her fears, and once it's crackled back to life he stacks some rocks in an effort to block some of the sight of it.

He speaks as he works, his quick mind long since habituated to multitasking. The disappointment of their lost life is already fading — there isn't far for expectations to fall when they never rose high to begin with — and already, Pietro is trying to look to the future again. Already, he's trying to run from this failure, to find the next thing which might finally be a success.

He seems to have set his sights on America. Pietro Maximoff, sixteen, still young enough to hope.

Wanda's question gives him pause. He leans back on his heels, thinking a moment, before he rises and crosses back towards her. "Big is good, sometimes," he says, sitting beside her. "You can disappear more easily, somewhere big. And… somewhere big, there's all kinds of people. They won't hate us for being what we are. Everyone will be different from each other. How can they single us out, then?"

Her compliment comes with no guile, no humour, no tender white lie. Wanda looks upon their little, ramshackle cabin — built of next-to-nothing and swallowed among the trees — and loves it.

Loves it because it's made by Pietro's hands, and inherent in that work is one thing she can never receive from anywhere else: safety. She cares for not how things look, how they feel, their affluence or comfort, but how safe she is.

It is the roots of their greatest disagreement, for as much as he yearns to ascend the rungs of populated cities, Wanda looks back on the solitary, nothing life in the wilderness as her favourite of many homes. Always cold — lethally so in the winter — and always hungry, it is still safe.

As safe as what can be, at least.

Wanda feels Pietro lean on her. Her heart twists, and she steps up to her toes, taking an inch of height to come close. She nudges away a lock of hair with her nose to leave a kiss over one of his closed eyes.

Once inside, she takes refuge on what is to be their bed, and gets to work. Wanda, who never seems able to do much, jumps at any chance to help.

It prickles her often, and worse with the last two years — some instinctive curdling in her soul that she could do more. She just doesn't know how. And when she thinks she can try —

Manually, she collects medicinal lavender flowers in her lap. Her eyes lift away from her work only to watch Pietro — with great pains, and a greater routine — see to the fire. Wanda's tension is an added ozone through the room, palpable and electric, stayed only by her brother's presence. He keeps her at the precipice of her own control, emotions restrained to safety, and she trusts him too much to wander into worse anxiety. It is only him doing this. No one else in this world can bridle the Maximoff witch.

Her hands twitch against the first, exhaling plume of the file, shutting her eyes to ignore it — but when it settles, so does she.

When Pietro settles at Wanda's side, she automatically takes his closest hand, carefully rehoming it between her knees — held steady for her medical attention. Here, even that is a threadbare thing, with first aid stripped down to lavender she applies to his wounds. An antiseptic for now; the tea later will be to relieve the pain.

Pietro's words reflect against Wanda's eyes, his hope like a drug. "All kinds of people?" she echoes. "Our kinds of people?" She is silent a moment, contemplative, something heart-wrenching about a girl trying to envision a world that may not turn on them. "I would be able to go out? It would be safe?" She pauses. More questions come, bubbling out of her. "We could go places together? Or — I could work? You could stay home this time. And rest."

The twins have only ever disagreed on one thing, but it is a thing of great import. They disagree on their basic desires.

Wanda, desiring only safety, would be happy to fold away into the forests forever with her brother, far away from mankind and far away from the cities that bring her nothing but pain. To some degree, Pietro does share her fondness for the wilderness: time loses meaning out there, where things are measured in the rise and set of the sun and moon, the whirling procession of stars across the sky, and the gradual wearing of rock by the constant rush of running water. Without any precise measurements of the passage of time, occasionally he can almost forget he's living completely out of sync with the world. Cities afford him no such luxury, though he still prefers them to towns for how much faster they move, how much more active they are at all times of the day.

Yet there is a desire in him greater than that for safety, for lack of pain, for the unmetered silence of the forest. Seeded deeply in him — whether an inheritance from the father he does not yet know, or simply an inherent part of him — is a desire for relevancy, for legitimacy, for treatment in accordance with what he feels to be his due. Seeded in him is a deep, furious rage which has as of yet had no outlet. He has lived all his life at the bottom rungs of society… born into a stigmatized people, before his manifesting powers ensured his exile even from their ranks. First Romani, then a mutant, Pietro has tasted the contempt and hatred of humanity twice over.

And it does not make sense. Even young as he is, the extent of his powers as of yet unexplored, he already knows himself to have surpassed far beyond any normal human… and he is tired of still being treated as trash.

That much Wanda can feel in him, at all times, beneath the pain of his powers. Her brother is a pressure cooker of unexpressed rage, and she can only soothe it away from him for the briefest of times. Her happiness out here, isolated and safe in his protection, sometimes makes the fury abate, and she can feel it recede when he leans against her — when she gives him that affectionate kiss — but it always comes back, sooner or later. Stronger and more bitter.

This time, thankfully, it appears it will be 'later.' Thoughts of America, of lingering hopeful dreams, keep the anger temporarily at bay. He comes to sit beside her, and even lets her have his hand without grousing or complaint. Perhaps he knows giving her something to do will take her attention from the fire she so fears. Perhaps he just likes moments like these, where he commands her sole attention.

His eyes hood to her questions. "Our kind," he confirms. "I've heard there are more mutants in New York than anywhere else." The siblings are briefly silent, considering that: trying to picture such a life. "We definitely wouldn't be caught out for being Romani. They don't care about that, there. They can't even tell. You could go out anytime you wanted. We could."

A pause. "Though you wouldn't need to work. I would still do that." Pietro, not about to contemplate his little sister being his breadwinner.

His eyes half-close, brother drowsing against his sister. "I just need… some rest. It was a long run here. It will be a long one to get to Lisbon."

While many little girls wish to become the princess, Wanda Maximoff is born to be the witch.

There are no dreams for someone whose existence is proven, over and over again, to be a blight on this world. At every opportunity, it sees her as what she is — a mistake in the design — and wants only to erase this error. She is dangerous in her perfect storm of powerful and uncontrolled, a girl whose briefest pains or fears can twist and tear down the heavens around her. She burned her mother. She burdens her brother. She curses innocent life around her. She barely has her own mind, these days, and when she does —

— she cannot think many steps beyond the question whether she deserves to be alive. Whether it would not be the best for everyone, Pietro included, if Wanda simply solved everyone's problem.

It is their greatest difference, in a day-and-night dichotomy. The sun brother wishes for relevance to shine brightly in the sky, and the moon sister wishes to wane until she is gone from the night. Wanda cannot conceive of relevancy, when she can barely take a step away from hating herself.

Here would be nice. Quiet, clean life — no taints of suffering, pollution, and sickness burning her eyes and throat. None of humanity to look, judge, and hate. Just them, and the simplest form of living that she would always be able to control.

But it is not what Pietro wants, and Wanda hasn't the heart to convince him. He's denied himself, before, for her sake. Too many times.

Instead, she rips a tatter off her skirt and carefully binds his palm, her motions careful and deft, years of knowledge in the way her wrapping holds the medicine into his wounds and seals them shut: they will not cause him further pain to use his hand. When finished, she reaches for his second hand, and tenderly repeats the process.

Instead, she listens as her brother speaks to her, a look in his eyes and distance in his voice to suggest he's already long gone from here — his heart is in America.

The picture he paints is intoxicating that not even Wanda can dismiss it. A land of people like them? A place of safety to have a home? They could go out where they wanted.

Wanda, who wants so little, feels her heart twist to imagine it. That settles that. Her hands finish the last of her mending, and fold over his. "Then we will go."

But first, he is fatigued, and her head turns as his weight leans into her side. All he does is work, all to keep them both alive.

"You need sleep," Wanda corrects, her eyes half-lidding, reaching up to brush back the fallen locks of her brother's hair. Her thumb strokes his temple. Then, gently, insistently, she turns to push him flat to that pine bough bed. "You never sleep enough. I'll be here."

Ever since their father died, those many years ago, Pietro had charge of their small family. It was the way of things, among their people… one of those persistent old customs that was hard to shake in the absence of outside influences. The eldest son leads, even if his shoulders are too small for the burden. They were too small for someone like Wanda, but they squared to take her anyway.

Take care of your sister, their parents always told him, and he has always taken that injunction straight to heart. Even when it meant sitting up all night beside her, holding her hands through an episode. Even when it meant breaking his back on work to support her. Even when it meant, in their most desperate hours, thieving to keep them fed and clothed.

With time, Pietro formed his entire identity around it. He was a brother. He was her brother. She was his to protect. Any time her thoughts dared too close to self-destruction, he pulled her back.

But not even Pietro is perfect in his selflessness, and a man who has given up his entire life for his sister must sometimes wish for some way his own in which to be selfish. Aware as he is that Wanda would prefer to hide from the rest of the world, he cannot share her desire. To be alone out here, accepting exile from society, feels too much to him like admitting defeat to the humans who have persecuted them all these years.

Wanda wants peace. Some part of Pietro just wants justice. Their fair due. The ability to live in accordance with how he feels they deserve.

So he speaks of America. Tells her what he hopes it might be for them, as she binds up his raw hands. It is an enticing picture, as only naivete can paint, and Wanda agrees to follow him in pursuit of it. His eyes gentle in answer — and in sudden exhaustion. He is still young, and hours of burning his powers take their toll.

Thus he doesn't resist, for once, when Wanda insists that he sleep. He lays back under her insistent instruction, eyes half-closing, watching her as lingering resistance to letting down his guard wars with drowsiness. His right hand strays forward to twine into her dress, as if to give himself an anchoring reassurance she is still there, and that seems to placate him. "Wake me in an hour," he compromises. "That'll be enough for me, and I want to be moving soon."

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