October 26, 2018:

Pietro and Wanda return to their Brotherhood. Vengeance against Illyana is set in motion.

Mutant Town, New York


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Illyana Rasputina


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

It has only been weeks since the Twins were broken apart, stolen from one another even in the very heart of Mutant Town… but given all that has happened to them in the intervening time, it feels like a gap of years.

The portal did not return them straight to the neighborhood, but rather left them outside the city to make their way back in. Pietro walked every step, and for most of those steps he carried his fragile sister in his arms.

They came back to Mutant Town when the sun was setting, and its dying rays dressed the demon-infested city in a bloody light. They are met first by their most loyal, and then tricklingly by the rest of the Brotherhood, who emerge from their posts and their appointed rounds. Their people gather around them, some loud in their joy, some silent, all relieved.

Pietro thanks them for their loyalty and their work protecting the people, in their absence. For those few moments, he seems unchanged for his ordeal: a younger, kinder, more earnest version of the man who once led the Brotherhood, years before. But then he falls briefly silent. His back straightens, and his gaze grows cold.

Now he is simply a young version of the man who once led the Brotherhood. Now, he begins to give orders.

Some of them are a continuation of their existing duties to patrol and defend. Most of them, however, turn the Brotherhood to one purpose: finding Illyana Rasputina. Information on her and her recent activities is to be secured at any cost, by any means.

When the Twins are finished, they finally retire.

For the first time in weeks, they are alone — truly alone. Pietro seems relieved to return to at least one familiar thing — creaking old tenement apartments, drafty and earthy and familiar after the opulence of Genosha's beautiful chambers, though he is currently very concerned with bundling Wanda into a chair against New York's fall chill.

For Wanda Maximoff, it feels like lifetimes ago. A many brief lifetimes, all of them suffered, let go, and ended.

Dying on the rocky spires of Wundagore, trying to pull herself to the edge if only to throw herself over — let it be quick, let her last moments spent in the same rush of speed familiar to her — only to find herself frozen to the ice, rooted in place to take her torture. No mercy for the witch.

Bleeding out under the darkened starfield over Transia, mapped with all the same stars from her childhood. The way she drops, she cannot see them. Her last few, remembered moments, with her unfocusing eyes pointed down at the dirt. They buried the impure facedown for this reason. No light for the witch.

Staring through the barred window of her cage in Genosha, night after night, broken from any small thing that ever spared her pain in this world. No Pietro. Not even her traitorous scarlet, pulled away from her flesh, and erased. No hope too, despite how her father forces her to endure his lessons each day — lessons to make her learn control. His demands on her is worrying her down, her body barely able to keep up with it all — as Genosha's shoreline gleams distant by moonlight. She wonders, if all this fails, Magneto will let her die. She wonders, if nothing changes, she will be made to spend her life here, inside this cold steel. No freedom for the witch.

Those memories are a constant haunt against Wanda's eyes, as she takes her first look at their invaded New York.

But there are changes among her lifetimes, and where Wanda would have been quick to give up before, and defer, she seems stubbornly set to endure under her own power. The initial few of Pietro's offers to carry her are met with a shake of her head — she needs to do this — until the infernal taint presses too much on her, and her weakness shakes her close to a collapse. Only then does Wanda give in to be carried, no strength left to object.

Even then, she feels quietly ashamed.

The sensation carries her entire way back into the fold of the Brotherhood. Their people are delighted and energized to see the Twins' return, and though Wanda answers their welcomes with her quiet thank-yous, grateful for their help, she ends up hanging back like a shadow. Ashamed of how she was. Ashamed, still, to be seen the way she is. She only seems to find herself again within Pietro's authoritarian chill; when he gives orders, she holds his eyes.

Now they are alone, the Maximoffs left to their privacy, and Wanda seems to have remembered her earlier stubborness. She folds easily in that chair — she's tinier now than before, as if she wasted away in their separation — and trembles with remembered cold after Genosha's heat, but doesn't seem satisfied with sitting or blankets. "I should be working," she murmurs. "I need to craft stronger wards. I need to dispell all this from our land, and fortify. There's so many things I should be doing."

Pietro does not remember everything he did while in the thrall of the Darkchilde. He remembers feelings more than he does specific events: the weight of the armor on his lithe body, the hiss the chain made as it dragged behind him, the heft of a longsword as he swung it through the flesh of those who came to save him. He remembers long hours spent staring into the darkness, empty in the absence of direct orders to follow, with only the vague sensation that something was missing to haunt his waking sleep.

Those are the memories that became available to Wanda, once their bond was reforged. And the memories that became available to Pietro, from her?

Wanda is not the only one nursing a deep shame.

It expresses itself mostly in the way he dotes on her even more than usual; as if he could atone for his failure by doing all he once did for her twice as assiduously, twice as tenderly. He normally does not nag her more than twice past her refusals of his aid, tending to try to respect her few shows of autonomy when they appear; now, he does not quite stop until she must admit the infernal taint is too much for her frail limbs.

"I told you, Ćerxai," he whispers to her as he carries her, cradling her close as if he never intends to let go again. "No shame."

He does put her back down before any of their Brotherhood see them. He knows she does not want to return to their people as an invalid in arms. Ultimately she still hangs back, however, and this time her brother does not immediately notice. Back among his people, his father's words burn in the forefront of his mind as if graven there: you are a man who is my son. Implicit in those words is this: act the part.

When he lifts his voice to them, it is no longer in speeches and encouragements, but in commands. He watches his sister the entire time, grounding himself with the gaze of her blue eyes.

The mask of cold authority lasts up until they are alone. It only falls away when the door closes behind them, and Pietro promptly helps his sister to a chair to cover her in a worn blanket. Her protestations draw his eye. "These things can wait until the morning," he says. "You have already burned through a significant amount of your strength, draga mea. The city has kept for a few weeks; it will keep a few hours more."

He seats himself on the arm of her chair beside her, balancing with one heel pushed against the floor. "Besides, I did not leave empty-handed."

Perhaps Pietro's truest memory of his imprisonment — his corruption — comes wholly from his twin sister.

His recollection of himself is vague and distant, weighed in absence and denial rather than action and grounding. Wanda's recollection, however, is far more visceral.

Through her eyes, Pietro can see himself standing before her, tall, barbed in eldritch steel, and just as lethally cold — his face a stranger, empty of himself, and his eyes vacant, removed. He looms down over her, nothing gentle in his presence, nothing tender, nothing protective — nothing left of her twin brother inside this cold, empty shell.

I see nothing, he says down unto her, statement and proclamation both, and at that moment, Wanda Maximoff wants to die.

For her, she submerges herself into Pietro's memory, facing her own fears to absorb it all — feel it all and take into herself all of him she missed. The burn of that armor. The reminder of that chain, and its purpose — she bound him like a thing. His gutted-out person, nothing left of Pietro Maximoff than what would be forced onto him.

It is for that reason alone, Wanda forces herself to walk. She will never allow herself to be weak again.

But even still, her recent gains in control demand their price, and defeat comes only when Wanda can no longer fight it back. As Pietro holds her close, she tries to return all she can, curling a hand protectively over the back of his neck. Neither does she wish to let go. "No shame from you, either," she whispers back.

In front of their Brotherhood, she lets Pietro take the forefront, delivering the first commands of his reassumed leadership. Standing up there, even Wanda could mistake him for their father. He is Magneto in those moments, and she cannot look away.

Her brother's steadfast impetus centers Wanda's world. Her upended world of the last few weeks seem to suddenly make sense, like a light shining down on her drowning: telling her which way up to swim. His cold authority feels like the only thing left that makes sense.

But out of the eyes of the Brotherhood, and the world beyond, comes the return of Pietro's tenderness. Some part of Wanda wonders if she will be the only soul left to see it.

His staying words press her back into the armchair, weighted in place by both the blanket and Wanda's own fatigue. She leans back her head, a gesture of surrender, though the restless shine to her eyes reveals she is none too content about it. Newly free of her father's routines, lessons, and many layers of controls — it feels alien now for her to stay still. "Do not let me tarry past morning," she requests of him. "I cannot repeat my mistakes."

The chair creaks its old frame with Pietro's added weight, and his close presence turns Wanda's head, eyes drawn up. She looks like a shadow, curled there, her dark hair pooling over her shoulders like a shroud. Her only light seems to come from her pale eyes, turned up, watchful.

She lays a hand on his leg. "Empty-handed?"

Looking into her memory, he saw himself through her eyes: a monster sheathed in demonic steel. A total stranger wearing her brother's skin. A complete caricature of everything he ever wanted to be to his twin. Perhaps a lifetime of his penance will be enough to erase that memory; perhaps not. Pietro seems determined to do everything he can to remove the horror of that image from his sister's mind. To remove the sin of what he said to her.

And in Pietro's memory? It is the chain, perhaps, which weighs most heavily about the entire ordeal: the chain, and what it represented. Her brother is such a proud creature, a young man who has clawed his way up from nothing to stake true claim to the bloodline in his veins. To collar him and chain him like a dog was to spit on all that which made him him. To make a mockery of his presence and his pride.

Wanda, struck by that memory, promises herself never to be weak again, so such a thing never repeats. Pietro, at her side, vows the same thing to himself, for the same reason. Their father had reproached them both for their weakness… but his reproofs worked chiefly because they both had already accepted their own fault.

Pietro's long path of resistance against becoming his father finally ends here: in front of their Brotherhood, promising retribution against those who have made the past few weeks a living hell for them all. He embodies his father as fully as he can, so much so that the lines blur even for his twin. He makes of himself a lightning rod, a pillar of conviction to which others can look.

For Wanda at least, this is already familiar. She has always grounded her wandering around his immutable, decisive conviction. To have it back again makes the world once again make sense.

Their father's coldness is still something he must practice, however — must take out and wear — rather than his true nature. Here, in private, his tenderness finally returns as he sees to Wanda's comfort. It seems all the more precious a thing to witness, now that she knows he has killed almost all of what was gentle about him. Locked it away at their father's demand.

She is changed, too. She asks him not to let her tarry, not to let her repeat her mistakes; he pauses, and then nods just once.

Yet he does not seem overly troubled. There is something almost playful about the way he settles on the arm of her chair, balanced there with one foot to brace him. His eyes soften to the touch of her hand on his thigh.

"I had something of hers while I was with her. I was charged to guard it," he says. His smiling turns wicked. "It is bound to me yet. I do not think she realizes; her hold over me broke in such a messy way when you threw her into the abyss."

He lifts his right hand as if about to pluck a harpstring, fingers crooked, before said hand turns and curls in its fingers in a beckon. A hilt pulls from thin air in response, familiar and runic; then a crossguard; then a bare inch of blackened, demonic steel.

"The exterior is just a physical disguise," he says of it. "The real prize is within. Her Soulsword."

The tenderness manifests here where it can no longer exist in their world beyond; Wanda does not reject an ounce of it. The Pietro he was, the Pietro he must become — she will keep both close to her. She will love these two men forever.

She knows some part of her will mourn the change, perhaps even grieve the sort of thoughts she hears already in her twin's mind — but Wanda now knows them to be necessary. Their hope simply to survive in this world sundered them, and they nearly lost each other — like their other iterations, spread across chaos. It is not enough now to endure.

An instant before Pietro pulls the weapon out of nothing, Wanda senses. Her pupils dilate, and her gaze slips out of focus.

Her back comes off the armchair, every muscle coiling tight in her body — locking her shut in a moment of dangerous tension. The Scarlet Witch goes still, the way a lioness does when she smells hyena in her den.

The infernal taint comes close. Wanda does not like it. And she especially does not like that it remains lingeringly bound to her twin.

But she does not react, not immediately; any further prickling of Wanda's presence mollifies to the slow smile that eels across Pietro's mouth. Before he even speaks, before he even thinks — she knows that smile, and what it means.

Her own head tilts.

The sword unsheathes from its immaterial scabbard, pulled by Pietro's will from the very straits of Limbo to space before them. The cruel shape of it reflects against her eyes.

They slip from blue to red.

Scarlet hisses to life, twining around her fingers; Wanda lifts one hand, and gestures the way one would to pull away a screen.

The disguise disintegrates, pulling apart piece by piece, the infernal glamour dispelling under her chaos. It peels away to reveal a second sword underneath, the blade seething with power — with life. With a soul.

Pietro's smile is Wanda's smile, spreading across her lips like an infection.

"How fascinating," she says of it.

With that, Wanda moves, painstakingly pushing herself upward. The blanket falls away, pooling to the floor as she rises, flesh still so weak, as the red currents with unfathomable power up her hands, lighting the veins in her wrists up like embers.

"First, I will sever the bond. I will not have that — " her words stutter, as if it hurts her to speak them, " — part of you. Then, a punishment to the monsters who reject their souls."

Perhaps Pietro expresses that tenderness with Wanda all the more here, because of his awareness that it can no longer exist anywhere else. She will be the last person who will ever see him this way — completely gentle, completely good, with nothing of his father's cold mercilessness in the way he looks at her.

Magneto played his hand cleverly, throughout. He warned his son of the price of mercy, just before an object lesson landed on his doorstep; and once his children suffered for their softness, all he had to do was come in afterwards, fix it all — and leave them both with a few choice words. They could reach the obvious conclusion themselves.

Pietro certainly needed no more convincing, after that.

His head turns to the shape of Wanda's thoughts. "Those other realities you saw," he ruminates, combing his hand through his sister's hair in an absent stroke. "They were all realities where we tried to just survive. Where we tried to be good. It doesn't work. We are always killed, that way." His eyes grow distant. "We have a chance to correct it, here. We have a chance here to become so strong we will never lose one another again."

His right hand lifts. A smile knifes across his mouth. "We'll start here."

He pulls the Soulsword of Illyana Rasputina from its safe berth. It hangs there in the air, disguised within the larger shape of a physical blade, until Wanda lifts a hand and wipes that outer shell away.

His head lifts and his eyes follow her, attentive, as Wanda rises and lights with the currents of her scarlet power. First a severance, she says — then a punishment.

"Yes," Pietro says, his hand rising to brace her at the small of her back, "And then, after that — we will find her."

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