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dreams are just sweet nightmares

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Wanda Maximoff had never been particularly interested in her birth father.

There was no burning desire to meet him, no innate need to know where half of her DNA came from. At most, the man crossed her mind from time to time. Her Uncle Django was more of a father to her siblings and her, so her birth father faded away quickly whenever the thoughts popped up. When she had been little, before the–nonononopleasestopplEASESTOPit happened… before she went to live with Marya and Django, she’d asked her mother about him once, only to receive a bland response.

He was from Dusseldorf,” her mother had told her. “No one in town liked our families, so we all became close. His mother would help mine mend our clothes. He would watch sometimes.”

Wanda never got the chance to ask more. The twins had been taken by them, and their mother died not long after. Knowing about a man who she had never met and likely never would seemed rather unimportant in light of that.

Later, when she was almost seventeen and a man in maroon threatened to kill the President on live television, she almost regretted not asking more. Not, like Peter thought, because she was actually interested in the man, but because she was completely blindsided by the fact that he was a psycho killer intent on murdering humankind. If she’d bothered to investigate further, she’d be prepared for that fact, or so she reasoned to herself. Perhaps not for the extent of it, maybe, but definitely prepared for the fact that he was unstable.

Aunt Marya’s stories alone made that abundantly clear. The film footage from D.C. seared into Wanda’s brain, though, was what her lecturers would call “good corroboration”.

Unfortunately for Wanda however, her interests were not “good corroboration” on the “disinterested in Lehnsherr” front. She was painfully aware of that. Her relatives made sure she never lived it down. But by her account, none of her life choices were made with him in mind, and for her, that was that.

If she took German in college instead of Spanish, it had nothing to do with Lehnsherr and everything to do with feeling close to her dead mother who was also German. If the city of Dusseldorf made it onto hers and Lorna’s itinerary, it wasn’t because had been born there or anything, but because the Rhenish Carnival celebrations were said to be spectacular there. And if she sometimes joined Lorna and her friend Jacqueline at the synagogue, it was more about supporting Lorna than any interest with him or his background.

Any coincidental interests that could be linked back to him were just that: coincidental. No matter how much side-eyeing she got from her twin for it, Wanda had simply never been bothered with the idea of Erik Lehnsherr, and that was the truth.

(Or so she said. Wanda Maximoff would also never admit that she was a pretty good liar.)

It wasn’t until she was twenty-six that she had anything to do with him, and the experience certainly changed her views.

~

The tremor that shakes the world lasts only a moment, but its consequences, and the consequences of that which it heralds, would last a lifetime.

From her bed in D.C., Wanda Maximoff watches as it shakes a factory in Poland, upsetting the heavy machinery in use and almost crushing a worker. With a fraction of a second to spare, the equipment hovers instead of falling, sparing the man from his fate. She is not the only one to notice. Those not crowding around the man watch as another in flannel casts a furtive glance around his surroundings before going back to his work.

Tension hangs around him. From that moment on, his movements are stilted, almost mechanical in nature. The more his co-workers side-eye him, the stiffer he gets until finally his shift is over and he leaves in a hurry. As if possessed by the force that brought her there, Wanda follows him to his car.

Further away from the darkness of the factory, the man slowly grows in familiarity, though perhaps not in full. Parts of his visage is familiar to her – the hard jaw, the steely eyes, both features she sees in the mirror each day – but his face is not one she knows. Nevertheless, the same force that hijacked her dreams whispers that this is Erik Lehnsherr, her father, and she knows this to be true even if he is unknown to her.

She doesn’t need to know him to know that he is nervous and … afraid. It is strange to think of the man who had threatened to kill the president on live television as being afraid of something, yet the fear is almost palpable as his hands tighten on the steering wheel. He drives faster than he should, as if to beat the sky as it lightens around them. If so, he wins by a landslide, for it is still dark when he pulls up outside a quaint cottage in the middle of a forest, streaks of grey only starting to paint the sky.

He is quick then, getting out of his car with the fluidity of cat and banking it to the door like one. Unsure for the first time since appearing in the strange dreamscape, Wanda follows behind much more slowly, hyperaware of whose footsteps she dogs. The man who threatened to murder another for his cause, the extremist, the terroristHer father. To follow him meant to walk into his home, to walk into the home of a terrorist and confront how baffling strange dangerous normal he is.

The inside is not what she expects from a terrorist.

To be fair, Wanda isn’t sure what she expects from the insides of a terrorist’s home. It’s not the photos of a little girl as she grows from baby to child, or the woman’s coat hung on the stand by the door. It’s not the clean kitchen either, or the clock and calendar on the wall, or the clearly old bannisters that are nonetheless polished to shining. And it’s certainly not the brunette who meets Lehnsherr on the stairs, face contorted with concern at his almost wild appearance. Yet this is what Wanda sees when she follows her father into his home, and it is so normal that she finds herself taken aback.

As such, she misses what the two first say to each other, and then they’re both a blur of activity, retrieving suitcases and clothes from cupboards. The woman – his wife, Lehnsherr’s wife, Wanda’s stepmother – appears to be arguing with him, but to describe Wanda’s Polish as non-existent would be too great a compliment, and so she misses that conversation too. It is only when they both panic, calling for someone named Nina, that she starts to feel in herself the same urgency that grips the couple.

Wanda follows them out to the yard as they call for Nina, that panic mounting. Into the forest, after them, she goes. Her feet pass like ghosts through the underbrush, the old trees ever watching on. Strangely, the further they go, the more unstable her dream becomes, as if that tremor has once more shaken the world. It makes it harder to concentrate on the path before her but something within guides her steps and keeps her father in sight.

Unlike his wife, he, of all things, is clear. None of the blurriness that affects Wanda’s dream touches him, his features still distinct and hauntingly familiar as he sprints through the forest, Wanda and his wife close on his heels. Oddity as it is, it’s welcome, and there is no time to question it as he slows down, his footsteps becoming the measured steps of a predator.

A moment later, Wanda sees why. Her stomach drops.

They have stopped in a small clearing. Trees grow sparsely here, and there is enough room for the ten or so men in plain grey uniforms to stand comfortably, although they look more nervous than anything. Some have wooden bows in hand, others batons, but it is the one who clasps a little girl by the shoulder that makes Wanda anxious. That he has the most potent weapon at hand is clear from looking at the little girl’s face.

It’s Lorna’s face.

Perhaps the nose is more European than Lorna’s, the skin a milky white rather than dark carnelian, but it is the face of Wanda’s baby sister. The same cheekbones, the same lips and forehead. Even honeyed freckles dart across this girl’s face too. To anyone who knows Lorna, the truth is plain as day, and so Wanda knows that the man who restrains her has the potential to kill all his men at hand.

Her ineptitude in Polish strikes again when the men and her father begin to converse, though Wanda need not speak the language to understand that the situation is dire. Uniforms of grey worn by the men more than highlight it. The men in grey are this country’s authorities, and worse, they know. All metal badges discarded and no guns in sight, they stare Lehnsherr down, a well-earned fear evident in sweating brows and trembling hands. Yet theirs are the eyes of men who have orders, and who are too weak to question them. Such men are just as dangerous as brave men.

Stories from her family has taught her that.

And then Lehnsherr is switching places with his daughter, surrendering in front of the police officers with only the barest of caresses to Nina’s face. If Wanda did not see it with her own eyes, she would believe him capable of surrender, yet here he is. No blood spilt, no violence wreaked, he submits peacefully, and for a moment, Wanda believes that the situation can be resolved somewhat amicably. For a moment, she forgets that Lehnsherr’s story has always been one of heartbreak and agony, and believes that the danger has abated and that all parties will leave alive.

It takes only Nina’s crying and a few shrieking birds to shatter the illusion. Everyone in the clearing turns to the little girl, her mounting distress in sync with that of the birds’. The shrieking quickly grows louder until it is almost a deafening howl. Panic overtakes the police then, and the leader exchanges harsh words with Lehnsherr which of course does nothing to resolve the situation. Nina continues to get more upset, with even her mother’s calming words doing nothing to still her.

What does is the arrow loosed by one of the officers as it thuds through mother and daughter both.

And the world wrenches itself apart.

Wood peels away, engulfed by a fire so terrible that it darkens the sky and casts what is left of the world into scarlet. The people dissolve, the birds disappear, everything does, until nothing is left but the fire. It tears at her too, scalding her face, turning her fingers, hands, feet, up and up her body, into ash. Nerve aflame, muscle and sinew screaming, she tries to flee, yet there is nowhere to flee to, and so she falls, burning, to a ground that is burning also.

She screams, and a voice in her ear replies–

~

“Wanda!”

As if awoken by a punch to the face, Wanda came to with a gasp. Bolting upwards in bed and lungs constricting horribly, she panted, unable to catch her breath as a worried face, framed by a curtain of vivid green hair, hovered in her line of vision. Without thought, she grabbed the hand outstretched to her with an almost bone-crushing grip and pulled Lorna into a tight hug.

“Woah– hey, it’s ok, it’s ok, it was just a dream,” soothed Lorna. She shifted. With a deftness that the older woman was bereft of, Lorna climbed onto the bed, her sister’s arms still around her. Mimicking Wanda, she tightened their embrace. “It was just a dream.”

“No,” Wanda said, voice catching. Something dripped down her cheek and she realised detachedly that she was crying. “Lorna, it was real, it was real!

“What do you mean it was real?” said Lorna sharply, pulling away so that the two were level. Lorna’s hands gripped her sister’s shoulders as she asked, “What, like you saw something happening?”

But Wanda was already shaking her head.

“No, no,” she replied, panic building in her chest again. She swallowed it down and locked onto her sister’s gaze. “It hasn’t happened yet.”

Lorna’s reaction was instantaneous. Her jaw went slack and her ochre eyes grew to the size of dinner plates. She spluttered, “It hasn’t– you saw the future?! What did you see?”

The tears came more freely then.

“I saw the end of the world – and it’s our father’s fault.”