The Beginning

September 08, 2018:

Directly after Walk All Over You Pt 2. The Maximoff twins run north, leaving Stark Tower behind, and come to a decision.

North Quebec, Canada


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Frenzy, Lorna, Magneto, Tony Stark, Rachel Summers, Hope Summers, Jean Grey

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

They ran, after. Or Pietro did, carrying his unconscious sister in his arms. The one thing he was always good at was running away.

They went north, after leaving a message for Frenzy to ensure the rest of the Brotherhood would be safe. North, up the Hudson, through the Catskills and the Adirondacks and the old-growth forests of upstate New York. Some part of Pietro expected to have hunters on his heels immediately… ravening drones or faceless soldiers engineered to sniff out mutant blood. Whatever new monstrosities mankind are making to hunt his kind down now…

He dared not slow from his top speed, all the way up into the wilds of Quebec where he finally, eventually stopped.

That was hours ago, now.

It is a peaceful spot, beside a small lake lost somewhere in the uncharted Canadian bush. Pietro quickly built shelter — a rudimentary cabin much like one he built them both many years ago, albeit much better constructed after long practice — checked his twin, and quickly ascertained that she was fine. Just completely exhausted. He's had long practice in analyzing that, too.

There was nothing for it but to wait.

Such it is that when Wanda finally awakens, it will be to feel her twin's mind knotted in pain. The familiar pain of her long absence — and a newer, fresher one.

It will not take her long to find him, sitting by the lakeside, watching the water lap in and out.

For the past twenty years, Wanda Maximoff's life has been a function of restraint.

Inhibition manifested in every way possible. If there is no capacity of control — not without her twin brother to stop her — then it is her duty to suppress. And while many of her kind honed their gifts through great and elaborate practice, testing their abilities to the precipice of its expression and refining down to careful management —

— Wanda was always afraid.

She did learn to take control over her chaos, weaving reality out of possibilities, but in the grand theatre of her power, her performances were always brief, transient — unimportant. The Scarlet Witch's reputation, as it was, forged off her many small miracles, and it seemed to Wanda that could be enough.

Not often has she ever been tested. Even less has Wanda ever dared to test herself.

The clash with Hope Summers, seamlessly reproducing her own chaos and hurtling it violently back on her — leaves Wanda pale and unconscious in Pietro's arms. Her body folds to his care, nonresponsive to his speed, her eyes lashed shut the entire duration of his breakneck run. She is alive and well, her mind running its processes through his, though she has all gone silent. Every last bit of her strength taken from a body that was always a little too frail for this world.

Hours later, she rouses, moving tentatively on a bed made of tree boughs. The familiar scrape of pine needles, and the morning smell of petrichor, takes Wanda back to years ago, that for a moment she believes it's then — just them, alone, surviving the Pontic Alps.

Then Pietro's mind floods hers, and Wanda remembers.

Footsteps register at Pietro's back, numb and shaky with weakness, but unrelenting on their approach. First it is his sister's presence he feels, the shape of her that travels entropy's leylines, then it is the flesh and blood of her, letting herself down to her knees to throw her arms around him. She is silent. Her tightening hands say it all.

Pietro does not immediately respond to her waking mind, nor to the sound of her approach. This in itself is unusual. He typically always turns immediately the moment she moves, attuned to her as surely as a sunflower towards the sun.

He is transparently lost in his own thoughts… and while usually his thoughts are an open book to her, now there is a screen between her mind and his, an indication of an especially troubled state in his soul. Not an impenetrable wall — the distant shapes of his thoughts can be seen moving, sad and harried — but the details of them are not on full display. Probably because so many of them are shame, and doubt, and guilt.

Shouldn't he be joyous and energized? He got rid of a possible threat. He knows his father would certainly feel nothing but fierce euphoria at having destroyed a foe.

This uncertainty he feels instead… it feels like weakness. His father told him not to be weak, that he'd lose Wanda if he was weak. Those words have been proved over and over in the hard, harrowed lives they'd led — in the way he's constantly almost lost Wanda whenever he let his guard down. And now it's all culminated in this latest from Tony Stark.

Even if that video isn't true… it's so tiring to have to wonder if it is. To be on guard. To keep having to doubt those you were starting to trust. Those who you wanted to trust…

Will they ever be able to trust any human?

He can almost hear his father laugh at the very question.

He only responds to Wanda, finally, when she gets close enough to touch. Pietro starts to turn, only to find her down on her knees, her arms thrown around him, head buried to his shoulder. She says with her embrace all she doesn't say aloud. His heart breaks, and for a few peaceful moments the doubts disappear.

"They won't get you," he promises. "They won't have you."

Where there usually is nothing dividing their joined minds, now there is a barrier. An uprooted, jagged body of rock, separating a river into two meandering paths, and though Wanda can turn to feel the direction Pietro's own current takes, knows the shape of its path, she cannot feel the temperature of the water, or know how violent its undertow churns. She drifts along, together but separate, and worried.

She hates every time he does this.

Her psychic touch runs his mind, but Wanda does not force. Probably does not possess the strength to, and definitely would not even attempt it even if she could — never once has she ever, with her gift, pushed hard enough to force him to cede to her.

So what she cannot do with mind, she does with her body, and sinks down at the riverbank to take Pietro into her arms.

The action is so unlike their embraces — Wanda, usually so small and frail and haunted by the world turning on her again, trembling somewhere within Pietro's arms — as she comes in, pressed to his turned back, winding her arms about his chest, and leaning her head to her brother's shoulder. She clings tightly, offering up pressure and warmth of her body. Her, supporting him.

Pietro's despair is hers.

Even if Wanda cannot hear Pietro's thoughts, she knows, more than anything else, the shape of his soul. It was not formed to endure the harshness of their lives. It was never cut out of cruelty. Was he intended a different path? Who would her brother have made of himself, given his every opportunity, were he not sacrificing himself to keep them together?

She is not sure. Most paths she sees of him end in darkness. The futures — possibilities — she will not tell him.

His words gut her out. Her hands fist on his clothing. She breathes into him, tired, shivery at the edges, but resolute.

"Let me see you," pleads Wanda in answer. "Please. Don't hide from me. Everything you've done is to keep us together."

Pietro normally does not shut his sister out. He only does so if he fears hurting her with the raw shape of his thoughts. Even twins as close as they are sometimes need time alone to process things.

Especially when one of them can still hear the sound of Tony Stark's voice lifted in odd empathy, can still see Rachel Summers giving up everything that made her her to shield him with her own body, can still hear Lorna begging him not to become the father they both fear and long for, can still recall the exact words of Hope's impassioned speech…

It all shook Pietro, down to his core. Pietro, who has rarely — if ever — gotten to experience the better parts of human nature. He has only ever known hatred and pain, and the years calcified a desire to give it back. But now he has, it's ashes in his mouth.

His father told him to be strong. But it brings him no joy to be strong the way his father is.

Still, what does his joy matter? Is this not necessary? What does his happiness matter if this is who he needs to be, for the protection of his twin and the protection of all their kind?

He rouses only to the uncharacteristic feeling of Wanda wrapping her arms around him, stooping down to cover him in her smaller body. It's not the usual way they cling together; usually it's her sheltering her smaller body in his, guarding her bodily from the predations of a too-harsh, too-loud world. He doesn't object to it, however, and after a moment he leans back against her and closes his eyes.

What would he have been if life had been kinder to him? Hard to say. He would have probably run off from the village eventually — his curiosity and restlessness were not solely a product of his mutant powers, but were always there before — so the possibilities are near-endless. Perhaps he would have been an actor, or a musician… perhaps even something less dramatic but still enabling of his wanderlust, like a pilot. Perhaps he would even have been a superhero, if he still trod a life path on which he acquired powers.

But the world saw fit to be cruel to him and his twin.

His twin — who begs him not to hide from her. Who tells him everything he's done is to keep them together.

He slowly relaxes that barrier, bit by bit. All those thoughts wink into clear resolution, like stars emerging from cloud cover. "It was," he says. "And I hope it is enough."

Pietro is quiet a moment.

"Whether it was real or not… whether it was Stark pulling the strings, or someone who hates him enough to use that many people just for their grudge," he says eventually, "Someone was playing games with us." He opens and closes his right hand, looking at it. "That's what we are to them. A game."

His hand closes and stays closed. "I'm tired of it."

And where would Wanda be if the world gave them kindness>

With her gift, and her sight, she sees beyond the horizon of human comprehension: she looks, and looks, and sees so far away that her sight doubles back on herself, crossing time and overlapping layer of possibility over possibility. She sees chaos in all directions, and can provide her vague answers to many of its questions —

But this? She cannot say. She cannot see a possibility where she anything but two states: hated or dead. Sometimes, she wonders if it exists, but she incomplete to calculate it; she cannot think of the variables and constants to see it so, and —

Wanda lets it remain unanswered. She exhales to feel Pietro lean back, and curls around him, her head settled between his shoulderblades. Slowly, she sinks down, like a warm stone at his back to brace him still against an invisible current, unable at her vantage to be seen by the eye, but still felt in every palpable way.

Like so many times before, her obliges her plea. He lets down the resistance between their minds, and Wanda inhales against her twin's onrush of memory, feeling, and thought. All at once, she knows; all at once, she understands. The doubt. The shame. The regret — regret, if not for his actions, but for an inhospitable world that forced his hand against the shape of his soul.

And his soul —

Not the same now as it was before.

He knows himself well enough to mourn the loss of something true to his heart. Silently stricken, Wanda mourns it too.

Her eyes close, and her presence seizes as tightly on his thoughts as her arms do around his body. There is no judgment in her, no revulsion or horror; no source in his twin sister for him to feel ashamed. Wanda accepts her brother just the same, change and all.

She hates he had to do it. Hates to know there's no other survival for them in this word. Jean Grey, who pleaded with her to fold into the current of life and death, to accept of its cycle —

Is it so wrong not to give in? Is it so wrong to not let them take, and take, and take?

"I ask myself why he came to both of us," speaks Wanda, and though she does not say the name, the shadow of their father looms over her thoughts — Magneto. "To warn us of the same end, should we not steel ourselves. Was it to manipulate us? Or was it to spare us from making his mistake? When I saw that recording, I felt cold steel. Your absence, and the cold."

Wanda wonders, and Pietro is sure. That has always been their dichotomy. When she wondered if there was any reality out there in which the world was kind to her, he told her he was certain there was and she was simply unable to calculate her way to its coordinate probabilities. He has always had decisive answers to all her questions. He has always been the stable rock for this lost wanderer.

That is perhaps why it is all the more unnerving that now, when Pietro finally lets down his resistance and lets her back in, Wanda sees in him the kind of significant doubts and uncertainties that she has not seen in her brother in many years.

Extreme events and extreme people have a way of making a man question themselves. Pietro and Wanda have faced so many of the former, in the past year; of the latter, they have faced only one, but Magneto is more than enough to make any man quail in his own surety with a mere conversation. Much less when that man is his blood son, long lost and newly reclaimed.

Much less… when Magneto has already begun to insinuate himself into all three of his children's lives. To guide them, if one were to refer to it charitably… or to cajole them along into his machinations, if one were to refer to it uncharitably. Perhaps both are even true at once. No one will contest that Magneto is a complex man.

The fears he has seeded in his son are plain for Wanda to see now… but the doubt and guilt and regret, those are all Pietro's alone.

Magneto would never have felt regret. But that is where the father and son differ, isn't it? Both of them nurse a significant rage and struggle with dark impulses, but it is in the nature of one to give in to them… and in the nature of the other to try to reject and rise beyond them. Yet perhaps he only rose beyond for so long, Pietro thinks, because he never faced that one intolerable thing that finally broke his father, in the end…

What would be his own 'one intolerable thing?' Has he met it yet? Has he met it already? Is he already gone? He looks at his hands, and feels he is already different.

Wanda feels it too. She mourns with him, over this step he took further away from whatever is true about himself.

But she does not judge him. She doesn't pull away. He loves her for that, and he leans back into her with a sigh that seems to exhale all the tension out of his body.

She speaks of their father — whether he came to manipulate them, or whether perhaps he came to warn them of this very thing. To guide them away from making his mistake of trusting? Was their father right? Was he trying to reach out to them in his own stunted way? Was their distrust unwarranted?

"I am afraid to go near him to ask the answer," Pietro finally admits. He chose to take these burdens to spare his sisters, to allow them to retain their… innocence, in a way, far from the shadow of their father, but that does not mean he is eager to roll down that slippery slope any faster than he must. "Whatever his intentions, his warning was right, wasn't it? When we trust… when we are weak… we give them all the openings they could ever need."

His closed eyes open, blue as the lake in front of them. "You saw me dead?"

Such has always been their way. The sister who sees so much that her own path gets lost to the noise; the brother who sets his course by intent alone, lead by his iron will. Wanda the wanderer and Pietro the rock.

Every time she wonders, has doubts, or suffers under the weight of so much possibility, Pietro provides their answers. So here, now, when she searches all his mind and feels only that familiar void staring back at her — possibilities returned unto hers — Wanda goes still.

It hurts her, beyond belief, to imagine her twin brother facing her same uncertainty. It hurts, blinds, cripples — it cannot have him too.

She thinks on the next best memory what exemplified resolve — a steely rigidity of belief. There are many Wanda can look to. Jean Grey, who died once for it. Her daughter, who was ready to do the same hours ago.

And Magneto.

Her blood father, returned, steeping her dreamless mind with his return. Her kin, bearing her no welcome, but only warning — looking down through Wanda, past their shared flesh, to one straight look into her soul. The look on his face; did he see a mirror, himself looking back? Did he look into her and have reflected his own mistake? Would she repeat it?

She spent months never sparing him a single thought. And now his image burns against the backs of her eyes.

Pietro's brittle words on their father lay Wanda's hand, palm-down, against his back. A bracing touch, and one that does not entirely disagree. She closes her eyes, if just to center herself, eschewing possibility for her twin brother at the center of it, needing certainty for these rare questions of his own. Wanda presses against him, wanting to be a hundred kinds of warm weight against his back — all of them, save a burden.

His muscles cord to the touch. Burden or not, her brother's back suffers unseen burdens, trying to shoulder weights he believes his obligation. Wanda would argue them to feel his duty more palpably; she does not consider herself innocent, not since the day she forgot herself, if just for a moment, and let someone's baby disappear into nothingness inside her hands. Not since her curse has brought others so much pain, Pietro included. After all, they are twins, and must share all things — burden, included.

Pietro's question comes met with a beat's silence. Wanda breathes pensively against him, in and out, the constant cycle.

"Absent," she corrects, always forced to speak within her vagaries. There is only one condition where Pietro would be absent in Wanda's life. "Sometimes I am absent, and there is only you," continues Wanda, speaking of a same future implied before — one they both choose Pietro not to hear, not to know.

Her blue eyes darken with the things only she sees; the things she consents to pass the bridge between their minds: flickers of ever-changing image and sensation for Pietro to take as his own.

Wanda, cold and empty. Wanda, burned by freezing metal. Wanda, nothing left but to endure the pain. her voice thins to a whisper. "Sometimes you are absent, and there is only me. And then my only wish is to be dead. I don't know if he's right. I don't know if Stark is without sin. But all I see — are our endings they give us — can we not make one ours?"

They have always covered one another's weaknesses. Not just in combat, where their matched synchronicity becomes the most obvious, but in all aspects of life. She sees all the possibilities. He leads their way to just one. It is a habit they have gotten into that is very hard to break, that has meant their survival countless times over.

So Pietro can feel her hurt, to look to him for his usual stability and find another but her own void of uncertainties and potentialities staring back.

He finally disentangles from her, turning to fully face her, and reaching to draw her closer in the way they are more accustomed to sit. If they cannot have familiarity in one way, they will in another. He pulls her into his arms, instead of hiding in hers, and he rests his chin on top of her head as he thinks about what she has said.

He can feel her thinking of their father, and he dwells momentarily on the image himself. The idea of him draws Wanda more, lately, than he ever did before. And why not? They looked up to him once, when he exemplified everything they thought mutantkind should be when it came to taking their own survival by the horns. It took him abandoning them twice over for that admiration to dim…

…and now the tantalization of blood has arisen to prevent it from fully extinguishing.

Pietro doesn't talk about him any more, however. There does not seem to be anything to discuss they have not already shared in half-formed thoughts. Absent, she corrects him, and he doesn't say anything in response. He just lets her finish speaking: Wanda, the one person Pietro is never inclined to interrupt.

"It is not a matter of 'can' at this point," he finally says, at the end of it all. "It is a matter of 'how.' Because I refuse all these other endings. They seem to see fit only to separate us. They destroy one of of us, or they destroy the other. None of them allow us to be together."

He leans back so he can look down into her face. "We'll make this one the one where we are. Whatever I have to do." Whoever I have to become, though it might tarnish all the rest of what is innocent about me.

Pliant, and without resistance, Wanda yields to Pietro's insistence. He pulls her off his back, and arranges her into his arms. Here is the most familiar place left for her, imbued with embryonic memory, and her only place of retreat for the duration of her short, tortured life.

She settles her head to Pietro's chest, ear turned to listen to the too-quick meter of his heart. For all their lives have changed, with losses and gains along the way, and the blood on their hands switched from the own to that spilled of others, this moment is their constant: twins holding onto each other, two against the world.

Her blue eyes gaze on, open and searching, as Pietro pulls her closer. Face close to his collarbone, Wanda looks out beyond her brother's shoulder, her eyes and thoughts slouching westward — toward their distant father.

Is this what he had warned?

But her twin wishes no further talk on Magneto, and Wanda concedes, settling, letting herself go lighter of a deep breath. She can see no farther or clearer than her infinite possibilities, too blinded by so many futures, that it is up to Pietro to steer their course. For them both, he decides what is — and how their next step shall be.

His quiet words warm the air between them. Wanda closes her eyes, then opens them again, releasing her sight to chase the endless, ever-shifting variables — as they change, mutating some, culling others, bearing the brand new.

By the force of his will, Pietro shapes the very boundaries of their future. And Wanda witnesses it all.

Her hands move, lifting from her brother's shoulders to brush her fingertips down the bones of his face. Within that touch, Wanda lets him see it too.

"Whatever we have to do," she corrects him again. Her eyes turn between blinks, and regain their focus, the instant she looks up into his. "We do this together, or not at all."

Is this what he had warned? Wanda wonders.

Pietro wonders something a little different: did he somehow know? He had spoken to them both as if they would soon find themselves tested… their will to act weighed and measured against the lingering softnesses of mercy or doubt. And sure enough, it came to pass.

Was it merely long experience, and the tendency history has to repeat, which made Magneto able to predict this? Or was it something else?

Pietro finds himself not wanting to dwell on it. Not wanting to dwell on their father. He finds his sister thinking of him, and he subtly pressures the topic away, wanting only to hide in these brief few moments where everything is crystal clear. There is nothing ambiguous about the way they have always held one another. There is nothing complicated about the way they protect each other.

And from that place of stability, he finally speaks again. As has always been his role, he decides their course of action. Wanda, watching the flow of their thousands of possible futures, can see them all roulette-spin and mutate even as he speaks… until, finally, he finishes, and their many potential fates settle into their tentative final forms. A list of possible endings, to the beginning he has just declared.

She reaches up, taking his face, and lets him see them all. His gaze unfocuses as he parses through them, and whatever he sees, it puts a strange light in his blue eyes.

Whatever we have to do, Wanda corrects. Her brother blinks away those many futures, and looks back down at her. "I forget sometimes," he admits, "that you are not still a little girl." He says it as if he were never young himself. The look in his eyes is rueful, as if some part of him regrets the passing of that simpler time.

"Together," he agrees, and leans down to kiss her upturned face.

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