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The Days Are Getting Colder and So Am I

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“I’ve done something.”

Steve looks up from the book he isn’t reading. His fingers are loosely thumbing the pages, so much so that the ‘94’ has been worn from the bottom corner of the thick paper.

“Wanda?” he says, resting the book spine down on his knee. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?”

She gives a minute shake of her head, made all the harder for Steve to see by the way she’s holding herself, standing half-shadowed in the dark room. Her hair is illuminated by the streetlamps outside, the light cuts the small room into sharp edges and lines. It makes the faint red glow of her eyes seem colder than Steve is used to.

“I’ve done something,” Wanda repeats. “I – a while ago.”

Steve watches as she runs a gentle finger along the window molding. The peeling paint catches under her nail. It becomes clear after a few moments that she isn’t going to follow up on what exactly she did, so Steve closes his book and sets it aside. He can hear Sam’s soft breathing behind him and Scott’s half-snore, half-night mumbling. Clint is as silent as ever from where he’s slotted himself on top of a high cupboard, and Steve’s not sure Bucky is even asleep at all. Maybe he just doesn’t recognize how his best friend sleeps anymore, which hurts more to think about than thinking Bucky’s just sat upright, eyes closed and ears open.

Steve keeps his voice down nonetheless, cautious of disturbing the little sleep they’ve managed to get since going on the run.

“What did you do?” he asks, not wanting to skirt the issue. It comes out rougher than he’d wanted, but he’s tired of unnecessary niceties that distract from the matters at hand. They’ve all started to sound like lies in the last few months.

Wanda hums softly.

“Stark,” she says. She’s kept her voice low, but still it cuts somewhere in Steve’s chest, like a bullet lodged somewhere deep in the muscle, making it hard to breathe. She pulls at the chipping paint just that much more, enough to peel a piece from the wood.

“Do you remember what I did to you?” Wanda asks. “Back in the abandoned freight ship?”

“It’s hard to forget something like that.” Warm bodies, his hands on Peggy’s hips. The way her smile reached to her eyes had a manic gleam to them as he spun her along a bloody dance floor.

“I did it to Stark, too,” she says, thoughtfully.

Steve blinks. “When? He was in the armor at the freighter. I never saw you touch him.”

“Before.” Wanda brushes a strand of hair behind her ear. “It was before that, back in Sokovia when you first infiltrated the base.”

There’s a flicker of movement across the window, a bird flying past their small safe house. It makes the room feel less surreal, more like they’re settled in reality and not on some long, never ending chase from an unknowable force. What they’re running from, whom they’re avoiding, where they’re going – it’s all beginning to blur together. The only reprieve from running or fighting is at this time of day, when the world settles into soft darkness. For some reason it only ever serves to make Steve that much more nervous, as though simply knowing the world is asleep makes the air around him crackle with energy.

He lets a breath out through his nose. “What did you show him?”

“The same as you – his fears.” She doesn’t elaborate, but Steve’s first thought is something akin to Tony’s company crumbling beneath his feet. It’s hardly generous, but Tony’s never inspired the best in him. Often it was just fighting and silence between them, one often leading to the other. He shakes the feeling off, remembering the times Tony made Steve feel lighter, just by smiling. The feelings he refuses to examine beyond frustration.

“What did you show him?” he repeats, curious as to why Tony never shared. He wouldn’t stop bringing up that damn wormhole, but Wanda disturbs his mind and he doesn’t complain once? He can’t help but wonder why they never got an earful on what nightmare Tony had to live through.

“We were in the rubble of our apartment for three days,” Wanda says, abruptly. “Pietro shielded me from the worst of it. He had the kitchen table pressing into his side as a shield. He told me not to look, but my mother’s hand was lying there, reaching out to us from under the rock. I watched it turn grey in the heat.”

“Wanda – ”

“I thought of that when I saw him, my family and that bomb, sitting there, waiting for us to make the wrong move, or to breathe to hard. I thought the men who dug us out were going to set it off and kill us all. That they would get us so close to freedom, only to kill us in the end.

Tony Stark. I thought of nothing but his name for years and what I would do to him when I found him.” Wanda finally looks at Steve, wide eyed. “And then I did, and I made him feel how I felt when I was waiting for my death.”

“How long have you been in his head?” Steve asks, suddenly knowing where this might be going.

“Since the moment I met him.”

Steve gapes for a second before he shuts his gob and fumbles to properly grasp what Wanda is saying, that Tony has been feeling the anguish and rage and sheer, heavy sorrow that he’d felt when he held Peggy in his arms on that bloody dance floor all this time.

“That was three years ago.”

“I guess – ” Wanda purses her lips for a moment. “I knew it was always there. I planted the seed right in the center of his very being. Who knew the Merchant of Death felt such grief?” she says over a humorless chuckle. She glances briefly towards him before turning her eyes back on the window. “He was everything, Steve. I planted a seed and it fed off his guilt and his fear. There was so much fear, and I knew if I just nurtured it he would feel the same way I felt back in that apartment.”

“How could you do that to a teammate?”

“He wasn’t a teammate then! He’s hardly ever been one.” She sneers, an ugly little thing crossing her painfully young face. “He gave us money and some concrete walls, expecting it to be home. That does not bring back lives. Apologies do not bring back loved ones.”

“Tell me you stopped, Wanda.” He can’t imagine having the Scarlet Witch in his head for days, let alone years. “Tell me it wore off.”

“I tried,” Wanda says. “But every time I began to let go I saw it again, my mother’s hand reaching for me, my brother on the carrier. And it became easier and easier, until my hold on his fear became a part of me. I almost forgot it was there.”

Wanda must see something in his face, because she seems to forget the others are sleeping, that they’re still in hiding, her voice growing louder by the second.

“He wasn’t anything to me, just some rich man I heard about when I was a child. Then he was a rich man in a red suit of armor when I was older. He is just a ghost of The Merchant of Death that killed my family! If it weren’t for him, I would not be here! I would not be this!” Wanda’s hands explode with red light, crushing the table beside her. It’s enough to startle the rest of the team awake, three guns pointed at Wanda’s head and the sound of Scott falling onto the floor with a thud.

“I am not sorry,” she says, earnestly. “He deserved it.” Red eyes turn on him, gleaming like fire in the void. “He killed my mother, Steve. My mother, my father, and Pietro in the end.”

Steve raises one hand towards Sam and one towards Wanda, hoping he doesn’t look too much like he’s trying to calm skittish animals. He feels it though, that and a growing sense of dread.

“Why are you telling me this now?”

“I felt it.” Wanda raises a hand to the base of her skull. “Right here, like a light going out.” She blinks for a long moment and Steve can barely make out her expression, blank as it is.

“I finally killed him,” she finally says. “I killed Tony Stark.”