"It's the only way. One has magic and the other has control. Together, they can protect each other. Apart, neither one stands a chance."
It turned out that their mother cast far more than a simple protection spell on them before sending them to the depths of the woods to face their future. She thought she was keeping them safe and, in a way, she was. She was also setting them up for lifetimes' worth of consequences they never signed on for.
Hansel had control. He could sit and wait and calculate and line up the perfect shot all while staying completely and totally undetected from even the person who was supposedly showing him how to do so. He learned how to prepare their dinner from trap to table with nary a nick to his own flesh at an impossibly young age. His temper was fierce, but short-lived when there were more important things to be seen to, pushed to the side to deal with at a later time under more ideal circumstances.
Gretel had magic. It practically bled from her when you knew to look for it. Her shots, her prey, they all fell into line with just a little more than chance at play, circumstances bending to her will instead of the other way around. The magic portion of it in no way surprised Hansel when he discovered their mother's legacy. Gretel was really bad at said magic though, as in painfully so when it was anything more than the most basic of basics. This surprised the hell out of Hansel given how much she excelled at everything else in her life. Gretel was worse at it in certain situations versus others, stressors and timeliness being key. This led Hansel to do some research and discover just how fucked they were.
Their mother had a plethora of spells to choose from to protect them. Some worked best on those with an innate knowledge of magic, and some worked best on the mundane. One of her children leaned one way, and the other the other, but she wanted them both to be safe and sound and, more importantly, together given that she had a fair idea the two of them would be the only family they would have left in the world.
The most powerful of protection spells fed off of the magic one held within themselves. That would have been good and well for Gretel, but Hansel would have been screwed. So, instead, their mother first took the bond they had as siblings, and made it deeper, tied them together by more than blood and instead by their very souls. Gretel's magic bled into him and his control bled into her and together they made a complete set. Said set worked best when together, as in physically near and consciously working together. When apart, well, he's sure the magistrate's hair would grow back eventually, and it was easy enough to convince some peon that the candle had simply been too close to the drapes that started the whole chain reaction in the first place.
When Hansel first found the book with the series of spells their mother had used on them, he was beyond skeptical. Usually such things were used on those to be betrothed and, more importantly, involved the consent of all parties involved. He understood at some level that his mother had been desperate, but he really wished there had been time for her to explain what she had done and why. Maybe she had hoped to survive and planned to undo it later. They would never know. As it stood, they were intrinsically tied to each other in ways neither of them fully comprehended but played more and more of a role in their everyday life with each passing day.
It started with little things. Gretel always knew exactly when Hansel needed his injection. Hansel had the unpleasant knowledge of always knowing when Gretel was going through her moon phase. They could never hide injuries from each other, and could locate each other through miles of forest and stone, with or without the addition of outwardly obvious magical means. Thankfully there was still some freedom associated with it, such as the times Hansel really fancied a tavern wench and Gretel would roll here eyes and order herself another round, but facts were facts and they were stuck with each other in ways no one including themselves could ever understand.
This was all well and good until they ran across some Grand Evil Something-or-Another who managed to actually corner them both. Hansel was damn near gushing blood from a wound to his thigh, and he was overdue for his injection by a good twenty minutes in the least. Gretel was chained down about to become some sacrifice on an altar that supposedly channeled specific magics at specific times in specific ways. The Grand Whatever planned to make herself damn near immortal, at the cost of Hansel's sister.
Needless to say, he was not on board with that. He was barely moving and they hadn't seen Ben or Edward since about three towns before. He had a broken crossbow and two arrows left and pretty much no strength to use them with. Gretel stared at him though, as if she was willing him her very own strength and he swore he felt a rush through his blood, a feeling he had only experienced when she somehow tapped into the part of herself that was tied up within him, and so he tried anyway.
The arrow hit its mark, mostly. The witch sputtered and faltered and collapsed, but not before she drove her ceremonial dagger deep into its own mark. All the pent up magic, the swirling chaos that had surrounded them, had nowhere to go. One body dead, another dying, another on its way - it chose the most likely to survive and Hansel found himself the focal point of what he could only call a deluge. His wounds were ripped open and sewn back together again, his bones felt like they were pounded into ashes and rebuilt, and his very blood burned within him.
When it passed, he crawled to the altar, having no strength left to do any more than that. He pushed the body off of his sister and tried to hold on to her, tried to be there for her when she needed it most. She gasped and a thin line of blood fell from her lips. "I saved you," she whispered, the relief in her tone a tangible thing.
He grabbed onto her hand, still chained into place, and begged, "Take it back. Whatever you did, take enough to heal yourself. Take it all. I need you, Gretel. We're so much more when we're together." His blood mingled with her own, but that was fine, that was the way it should be.
She smiled, ghastly and pale, and promised, "I'll always be there for you, you know that."
It was a lie, but neither of them knew how much of one until the altar lit bright and blinding. He found himself thrown back against one of the many thick stone slabs that surrounded the place, dazed and inept as the light flooded the area only to coalesce into ball of blue and white and simply wink out of existence.
When he was able to, he climbed to his feet, felt dried blood scratch against woundless skin, and stared at the now empty place where his sister once laid. She was gone, and he didn't even have a body to bury or single trace of her to mourn.
He wandered for a while after that. Snuck back to the homestead to gather supplies, hide the books that he knew were his mother's, covet the ones that he knew Gretel had left with her own notes upon the margins. He saw Ben and Edward from a distance, knew the troll probably smelled him but let him go anyway, let him have the space he wanted more than needed.
He took out an entire coven on his own, made sure it was the one that had raised and supported the witch that had taken Gretel. He found the others hid from him after that, where the slightest trace would disappear the moment he thought he found them. His sister was gone, his mission was gone, and he found himself lost in the rapidly changing world around him.
He also found that he really didn't change along with it.
His hair would grow, he'd eat and shave and do all those normal things, but he didn't age, not really. Maybe a year for every twenty or so, maybe less. The spell had worked. He had never asked it to.
There was an odd happenstance though. He had returned to the stones three years to the day that Gretel had been taken from him, and felt a pull like he had only ever felt when she was nearby. He knew his mind was playing tricks on him, even as he knew he wished it really was not. He hit the nearest village and planned to get himself as drunk as humanly possible, regretting that he rarely even had a hangover anymore even if he really appreciated the lack of injections and the way any slice would disappear within an hour or so.
A child wandered up to him, a toddler really, steps shaky and uncertain. Her dark hair was knotted and her dress filthy and she looked him right in the eyes with a gaze far too familiar. "Hansel," she announced as clearly as a child so young could manage. She reached out one grubby little hand and he found himself offering a finger to hold on to. There was a rush of warmth unlike anything he had felt for three years' time and then, just as suddenly, it was gone.
The child's mother apologized profusely and took her away and for the first time in three years, Hansel had hope.
According to his mother's books and scrolls, those bonded in the way he and his sister had been tended to find each other again and again, lifetime after lifetime. They may be friends, they may be lovers, they may be worst enemies that couldn't stand to actually off each other. The only constant was that their paths would cross time and time again. He knew he was grasping for something that probably wasn't actually there, but he also knew he needed something to ground himself else he find himself drifting away again.
He fixed up a small abandoned homestead not far from the village and made a life for himself there. He was careful not to visit the village proper too often, and to disguise himself when he did. He made it his duty to keep that single village safe, and that one child within it in particular would come to no harm. He watched her grow, he watched her flourish, he held hushed conversations with her in the darkened alley behind her house when upon her sixteenth birthday she lit a candle with nothing more than her force of will. And every time, regardless of his disguise, she would see right through it all and greet him with a simple, "Hansel."
She died in childbirth and some small and shameful part of him hoped her daughter would inherit her ties to him, but it was not to be. Instead, he left an anonymous gift for her grieving husband and found himself let loose on the world once more.
It took nearly thirty years before he found her again, long hair chopped to her shoulders and face smeared with dirt and grease as she rode with highwaymen and challenged others for their purses. She looked nothing like Gretel, of course. Hair was a different color, skin too pale and body scarred by the life she lived. But she stopped a brigand from shooting him outright, stepped close and looked at this with far too familiar eyes, and greeted him with, "Hansel."
She took his cash and one of the pistols he carried, smacked him over the head with the butt of it and he pretended to collapse from it. He took comfort in the fact that she was alive and that he technically would have a role in protecting her, even if he never did see that incarnation of her again.
Time and time again, he ran across her. Time and time again, he lost her again. Sometimes it was from afar, and sometimes it was while she gasped her last breaths while he held her in his arms. Ages varied, faces varied, locations varied, but they seemed to always run across each other at least once per generation, whether for a moment or for the duration of her remaining lifetime. Once, in a fevered haze, she spoke to him of dreams that he knew were reality, tales of their pasts together. The next time, she denied ever having any inkling of such a thing, even as she tied her hair back the same way he used to help her create for mornings on end.
He thought that was how life was going to be, at least until some force tired of him and put him out of his misery, but then things changed yet again.
He didn't find her. His mind spoke of cold and loneliness, but he could not find her no matter where he searched or how hard he tried. He settled in a small town across the sea for a few years, traveled with a group of wanderers for a while more in hopes of increasing his chances of coming across her than to forget. He came across something else entirely instead.
He was recruited by an organization that valued his skills, honed as they were by his many lifetimes of practice. They fought evil, but not in the ways he was accustomed to. They did not seem surprised in the least by his healing abilities and he soon found out they held far more secrets than that in their repertoire. He worked for them, fought the good fight, and in exchange they pretended not to notice when he ran searches of his own or went dark for days or months at a time chasing leads that always came up empty. The world was too big, there were far too many people spread out over far too much land for him to use the tricks that had gotten him as far as he had, and so he used technology to assist, just as he always had.
And then he was sent on one more mission. There was a spy, an assassin like no other. The rumors of her training, of the serum she had been given to improve her mind and memory, to improve her speed and endurance, to make her damn near unstoppable and rumored to be damn near immortal were worrisome in the least. She sounded like the witches of old, deadly and corrupt despite often only taking out the worst of the worst of the competition, nearly doing his job for him if she hadn't been stealing valuable intel to gift to their enemies in the process.
She wasn't corrupt like the old witches though, the evil had not eaten away at her from the inside and she still shone with a beauty that was either naturally alluring or a simple spell to fool the weak like Muriel had tried so long ago, though this one was powerful enough to stay constant throughout all surveillance photos if that was the case.
He was sent to destroy her. He brought with far more than the usual weaponry, tucked charms and protections about him that his superiors probably would have laughed at had they known about them. Those charms made her shot go wide even as his own announced his presence in the first place. Those charms were the reason he was able to get close enough to look her in her very surprised eyes.
"Barton, do you have the shot?" a voice sounded in his ear.
That faded into nothing, however, when the redhead before him whispered, "Hansel?"
He didn't take the shot, not then and not ever again. With her, yes. At her, never. There were consequences to face with his new employers, consequences made only slightly easier by the sheer number of supposedly extinct White Witches disguised as "Mystics" on their staff. The names Clint and Natalia meant nothing to them, but the legend of the sibling Witch Hunters had been passed from generation to generation without him ever realizing it. His clearance was raised and any punishment withheld at the cost of telling his tale, or at least what he dared to tell them. They knew there was more just as he knew they were holding back from him, had stores of knowledge about those he had hunted and their ilk and just where they stood in the world today. They allowed him slivers of information, enough the whet his appetite but never enough to for him to go rogue after they also showed him they knew precisely how to stop him should the time ever come. Not kill, as they still weren't certain about that, but to put him out of commission until they saw fit to allow him out into the world again.
Centuries from the day he lost a part of himself, he was reunited with it again. Side by side they stood as they always had, facing evils no one else could manage. They made a few friends along the way, and lost a few others, but the super-secret spy agency that everyone knew about managed to keep at least their secret safe for decades to come. When asked what made them loyal to it, they would simply look at each other with identical smirks on their faces and reply, "Family."
When that agency eventually fell like all agencies were destined to do, he received a data burst of warning, as well as a promise that he and his sister's true pasts had been wiped clean from the system long ago. She verified this and buried any remaining traces even deeper still, kept a copy solely for herself in case they found they needed it some day. The only file that remained remotely public included scans of parchment not much more than dust, the faded handwriting familiar and familial. It spoke of how two souls could be bound together to strengthen them both and how the breaking of that bond would destroy them both for eternity. No reincarnation, no second chances, only oblivion.
Target practice that night offered a new sort of challenge, a data drive of the latest tech holding the secrets of the deepest past, anything and everything that the new leading organization of evil may possibly be able to tie to either one of them. As always, he didn't miss. As always, the promise of the person at his side made certain of that fact.
Unknown futures and ageless destinies loomed heavy and terrifying, but none of that mattered. They were together. As they should be. Forever. Or at least as long as the universe allowed.