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A Kind of Happiness

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Wanda was late.

He supposed that wasn’t that surprising. Rather, he had rather expected her not to arrive. He could not think of any reason why he would accept his invitation, if indeed his message had reached her at all.

There was a flash of something in the corner of his eye, a hint of red in the darkness. He spun around, trying to get another look. He could have sworn he saw a red cape. “Wanda?”

“Vision?” To his surprise her voice came from the opposite direction, and he spun again, seeing the familiar figure standing at the edge of the roof.

“You came.” If he’d actually had any cause for breathing, no doubt he would have exhaled at the sight of her. “I was not sure you would.”

“Nobody else knows where I’ve gone.” Wanda hugged herself even as she stepped forward. She looked awfully pale in the darkness, her slim figure drawn against the dark sky. “So if this is supposed to be a trap, they are not coming for me.”

“You do not trust me.” It pained him, though he supposed he couldn’t blame her after everything. “That is fair. However, I am not here to bring you back, and certainly not to harm you.” He paused, watching her reactions closely. “Rather… I wish to make amends.”

“And how would you do that?” Wanda’s voice sounded thin, almost hollow. “You can’t take back what happened.”

“True. I also cannot guarantee that what I aim to suggest will work, but I would like to try at least.” Vision paused. “I tried to give you the love you needed, but I can now see I went about it the wrong way. While I cannot undo my actions, I would like to try to give you something to make up for my mistakes.”

Wanda looked at him, sharp eyes unreadable. “What do you mean?”

“This stone gave me life.” He gestured at the gem embedded in his forehead. “Even so, I can tell it hasn’t been weakened. As such, it might be able to give life again.”

“You must be joking.” Wanda sounded disbelieving and yet desperately, painfully hopeful.

“As I said, I can offer no guarantee. I’m not sure if it is possible at all. However, if such a possibility exist, I am certain you could accomplish it with the power of the gem.”

“Pietro is gone.” She sounded so broken, so lonely and small. Vision ached to comfort her, but it wasn’t his place. “He is not coming back. I have to accept that.”

“Yet some of him remains in you.” Vision stepped closer. “I don’t know if it can be done. But if this power can do anything to help, I would offer it to you.”

Wanda gave him a suspicious gaze. “And what do you want in return?”

“Nothing. As I said, I am merely making amends.” Vision spread his arms. “I never meant to hurt you, and yet I failed you. Whether you take my offer or not, whether it succeeds or not, I will never bother you again.”

“I don’t think I can.” Wanda’s voice was hardly more than a whisper. “I can’t let myself hope if it will just cause more pain.”

“You are stronger than that.” Vision was certain of that, at least. “I understand that, and do not mean to cause you any pain. However, I am certain you could take bear even that disappointment, if it were to come to that.”

“You have more faith in me than I do.” And yet Wanda was stepping closer, still looking wary even as she reached her hands towards him.

He could feel the power vibrating under her skin as she touched him. It had always been there in some form or another, yet it seemed more powerful than ever right now. He could feel the raw power reaching out from her, enveloping the power in the gem and drawing it out. She took it from him and waved it into something complicated, something far beyond anything he could have ever hoped to accomplish.

He wasn’t sure how long they stood there, two quiet figures atop a building in the middle of the night. Neither of them said anything, Wanda too focused and Vision too afraid of distracting her. She was beautiful like this, he thought, beautiful and powerful and far beyond his reach even as her fingertips rested against his face.

He felt a wave of power, larger than the others, and a moment later she slumped, her hands falling down. “It won’t work,” she murmured. “I knew it would not. I was foolish to even try.”

“Do not blame yourself. If anything, blame me for giving you that false hope.” Vision sighed. He could not help her, as much as he would have wanted to. This had been his last hope of giving her some relief at least, and it seemed to have backfired. “I apologize. It was never my intention to bring you pain.”

“It’s not your fault.” Wanda smiled, though it didn’t reach her eyes. “Thank you. For letting me try at least.”

“It was the least I could do.” Vision inclined his head. “As I said, I will not ask you to remain, nor will I follow you. This was merely a foolish hope of mine, and I will bother you no further.”

“It was worth a try at least.” She stepped back, and Vision did his best to push his disappointment aside. “…Stay safe.”

He should have been the one telling her that, yet he couldn’t quite bring himself to do so. Instead, he just nodded, watching as she turned to go. A moment later, she was gone, leaving nothing but shadows in her wake.

He could have sworn he saw the red figure from the corner of his eye again, but that was clearly just a trick of his mind.

*

‘Charles?’

It was a good thing it was rather late, as Erik’s long strides would have left others scrambling to get out of his way. As it was, the corridor was more or less deserted, leaving him alone in his late stroll.

‘Erik.’ He had half expected Charles to sound exasperated at his concern, but Charles almost reflected his own sentiments. There was definite concern in the tone of his thoughts, not that Erik expected many people to be able to tell. ‘You’re back.’

‘I came as soon as I could. You sounded rather serious.’ Serious enough to leave Erik more worried than he would have liked to admit, particularly as Charles had not given him much in the way of details.

‘Yes, well, I don’t really know what to think of this. Your input would be much appreciated.’

That only made Erik more concerned, though he kept himself from actually breaking into a run. If it had been such an emergency, Charles would have let him know.

He found Charles in one of the spare bedrooms. There was someone sleeping in the bed, but Erik’s attention was drawn to Charles first of all. “What’s going on?”

“They found him lying on a couch in one of the living rooms.” Charles nodded towards the person in the bed. “No sign of how he got in, and he has not regained consciousness yet, so we haven’t gotten much in the way of explanations. According to a cursory physical exam, he is extremely weak, but has no apparent injuries.”

“Oh? And you haven’t managed to find anything?” Sure, Charles was very particular about respecting people’s privacy, but he would have thought a situation such as this would have merited making an exception.

“I tried, but all I got for my troubles was a headache.” Charles gave him a faint smile. “His thoughts are… I suppose I could say faster than usual.”

“A mutant?” It would be the most likely explanation. Erik turned to take a proper look at the mysterious man, then paused. “He looks… familiar.”

“I rather thought so, too.” Charles’s expression was unreadable. “I don’t think the students realized it, or most of the teachers for that matter. There are few of us who have been around for long enough.”

“Indeed.” The young man was a spitting image of him, though several decades younger. “…It’s not me, is it?” Though the mention of unusual thoughts rather spoke against that.

“No tattoo.” Which was a rather good confirmation. “Also… there was a note.”

“A note?” Erik blinked, turning to look at Charles. “Show me.”

Charles handed over a hand-written note without a word. Erik took it with a frown, quickly scanning the words.

“To Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr: I trust him in your hands. His name is Pietro Maximoff, and he will likely need a lengthy recovery. He may be scared or disoriented when he first wakes up, so be aware of that. As for why you should take him in — that should be obvious enough.”

There was no signature, no further explanation. Still, Erik stared at the note for a moment longer, a part of him hoping to find some sort of a hidden message within. At last he looked up at Charles, who was studying him.

“Maximoff.” The name felt strange on his tongue after so many years. “I wonder…”

“Yes?” Charles’s voice was almost gentle, as it was when he was trying to coax one of the students into admitting some misdeed, and goodness, that was not an association he needed right now.

“You remember when I… left.” It had been one of his darkest times, as he had managed to convince himself for several years that he would be better off without Charles. Or, rather, that Charles would be better off without him, which was probably closer to the actual truth anyway. “I spent some time in Europe.”

“I couldn’t forget.” There was no anger in Charles’s eyes, no blame, even though he probably already knew what Erik was about to say.

“There was a woman.” Erik paused, looking down at the young man again. He looked awfully frail. “A woman called Magda Maximoff.”

“That would explain some things.” Charles nodded slowly. “Not how he appeared here or what happened to him, but at least who he is.”

“Indeed.” Erik swallowed. “I never thought…” Had never thought he might have left something behind. Hadn’t even dreamed that a part of him might have been in danger when the country was engulfed in war not too many years later.

“Of course not. If you had known, you would not have left him behind.” Charles reached out to touch his arm. “We can help him now, Erik. We are not leaving him alone again.”

“Right.” He nodded. “We can do that.”

He had a feeling it would not be easy, but that had never stopped them before.

*

“Well! This is a change of pace.” Shuri grinned as she pranced out to the tarmac, spreading her arms to greet the guest walking out of the small plane. “When T’Challa said the Avengers needed our help again, I thought I’d be fixing up another white boy. Wanda, right?”

“Ah. I’m… sorry?” Wanda looked confused, which was kind of adorable, really. Not that she wasn’t cute in general.

“Don’t be! I like variety.” Shuri shooed off the guards and wrapped an arm around Wanda’s shoulders, nudging her towards the palace. “Come on, I’ll show off my lab while you explain what’s going on. Oh, and I’m Shuri. I don’t think we were introduced the last time you guys went through.”

“Right.” Wanda nodded, though she still looked rather uncertain. “I… don’t want to be any trouble.”

“Trouble? Please. It’s great to have another girl to talk to for once. The closest thing I get around here are the guards, and while Okoye is great, things get a little weird sometimes when someone is responsible for keeping you alive.”

“I suppose.” Wanda paused. “I’m… not entirely sure why I’m here. Well, I know why, I’m just not sure how it’s possible.”

“I’m assuming you don’t mean the plane.” Shuri hummed to herself as she quickly led Wanda toward her lab. “Well, hit me. Figuring out how things are possible is kind of my thing.”

“I think I’m pregnant.” Wanda drew a deep breath. “I mean, I have some symptoms, and a test said so, but… I don’t know how that would have happened.”

“Oh?” Shuri itched to ask more questions, but she refrained for now. There were too many ways to take that statement for her to start prodding too much just yet.

“I haven’t been with anyone.” Wanda looked anxious, and Shuri supposed she couldn’t blame her after such a statement. “The only person I’ve had any sort of a relationship with is Vision, and he wasn’t exactly… equipped.”

“Right.” Shuri nodded. “Well, we’ll figure that out soon enough. First we’ll do an ultrasound to see what’s going on, and if you are really pregnant, finding out the exact date should help in sorting things out.” She let Wanda go in favor of reaching for her kimoyo beads, sending a quick message to have a technician meet them at the lab. Not that Shuri wasn’t perfectly capable of doing an ultrasound by herself, but the technical bits of pregnancy were a bit out of her field of expertise.

Wanda still seemed rather unsure, but at least she nodded, which Shuri supposed was the best she could ask for. If what Wanda said was true, she had to be pretty anxious right now.

Wanda was mostly quiet the whole time, simply nodding or shaking her head whenever she was asked something. When a tiny image was drawn onto a screen, though, she gasped.

“See here? That’s the heartbeat.” The ultrasound technician pointed at the screen. “There is definitely something in there, no doubt about it.”

Shuri nodded, her eyes more on Wanda than the screen. “Can you tell how long it’s been?”

“Of course.” The technician nodded. “Here, we can measure the size of the fetus. At this size, I would say conception occurred six weeks ago, give or take a few days.”

Wanda gasped again, her eyes widening. Well, wasn’t that interesting.

“You think of something?” Shuri desperately hoped it wouldn’t turn out to be anything bad.

A moment later she found herself wondering if magical conception was really much better, but at least Wanda didn’t seem quite so upset anymore.

*

“Our guest seems to be doing well.”

It was not the kind of conversation starter Shuri had expected from her brother, exactly, but it was easy enough to go with. “I did spend two months convincing her that it’s fine for her to stay here while she’s working on this whole baby thing,” she pointed out, not taking her eyes away from her blueprints. “Considering I haven’t had to do that nearly so often lately, I’m pretty sure she has started to settle in.”

“It probably helps that you two seem to get along.” T’Challa walked closer, a strange tone in his voice. Shuri set down her tablet, turning to look at him with her hands on her hips.

“Right. What is this about?”

“So suspicious.” And yet T’Challa was giving her that smile. The smile that meant he thought he was being clever. “Perhaps I’m just happy to see that my dear sister is actually making friends.”

“There’s no need to make it sound like I’m impossible to befriend.”

“Of course not. However, you are rather picky about who you spend time with.” T’Challa picked up a little trinket on the worktable and turned it around in his hand. He was lucky it wasn’t anything actually hazardous.

“Wanda is nice and smart.” Not as smart as Shuri herself, of course, but that would have been a rather impossible bar to set. “Also, she’s suitably impressed by my stuff, but doesn’t get all difficult about my being a princess.” Well. Not since Shuri had made it clear that sort of thing would not be tolerated.

“And I suppose her being pretty doesn’t hurt, either.”

Shuri narrowed her eyes. “Do I have to tell Nakia to keep you in line?”

“What?” T’Challa blinked, then actually laughed. “No, no! I was talking about why you would like to spend time with her, not me.” He grinned, and okay, that was definitely a bad sign. “Remember when you told us you were going to marry Okoye when you grew up?”

Shuri scowled. “I was, like, six.” She was glad T’Challa was alive, of course, but she wouldn’t have minded if he’d gotten some sort of selective amnesia.

“Of course. That wasn’t my point.” T’Challa’s grin softened into a smile, and somehow that was even worse. “I was referring more to the fact that our parents sat you down and explained that if one day you find a lovely young lady you wish to marry when you’re actually grown up, that would be just fine.”

“Wait.” Shuri narrowed her eyes further. “Are you insinuating that I like Wanda?”

“I could say like-like, if you’d prefer. But yes, that is what it looks like to me.” T’Challa folded his arms, still smiling. “Don’t take me wrong, I’m not trying to probe too much. Just reminding you that all we care about is whether you are happy.”

“Well, just don’t start probing, either.” Shuri huffed. “Wanda’s got more than enough on her plate already. I’m not going to give her anything else to worry about.”

“Of course, of course.” T’Challa patted her shoulder. “You still have plenty of time to grow up, too.”

“Oh, please. I’m more of an adult than most people around here.”

“I know. Doesn’t mean you can’t just be a teenager every now and then.” T’Challa shook his head. “Either way, Wanda is welcome to stay here as long as she needs. Goodness knows that wherever the Captain and his friends might be, it’s probably not safe for a pregnant lady, and it certainly won’t be safe for a small child.”

“Right.” On that, at least, they could agree. “And I’m going to make sure they’re safe and happy here, no matter what.”

“And when you set your mind on something, you tend to succeed.” T’Challa chuckled. “Well. As long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters.”

“If I’m unhappy, I’ll make sure you know it.”

And, really. It was not at all suitable for a king to make that sort of a face.

*

Wanda was gone.

He didn’t think she was dead, at least, was confident he would have known if that were the case. However, all he knew was that she had sided with the Avengers, only to then disappear. And even now, all traces seemed to come to nothing.

“I’m sorry I could not help you.” The professor — Charles, he had insisted — sighed. “I can keep looking for her with Cerebro, but at the moment I can’t reach her. From what you have told me about her abilities, she is probably shielding her mind.”

“I… suppose.” It felt like far too little, but he knew it was all he could ask for. He was still wary of trusting anyone, but so far these people had been nothing but helpful. Not like he had much of a choice, anyway. Even after two months, he could barely even walk across the room, never mind go out searching for her. “Ah. Thank you for trying.”

“There’s no need to thank me.” Charles smiled. “We would help a mutant in need no matter what, but even besides that, you are family.”

“Right.” He still wasn’t sure what to think of that particular claim, yet he couldn’t deny the resemblance. They even claimed they had done a DNA test to confirm this, and while he only had their word of it, he couldn’t imagine why anyone would try to falsely claim him of all people. “I wish I could do something.”

“Well, from what we can tell, you have quite literally come back from the dead. It is only natural that it would take you some time to recover.” Charles still had that infuriatingly calm smile. “Once you are strong enough to go look for your sister, I’m sure Erik would be more than happy to join you on your search.”

“It’s going to take a while.” Pietro sighed. “At the rate I’m recovering, Hank said it might take me a year to get back to normal.” It was an agonizing thought, but he’d also been told that trying to push his body might make things even worse. As much as he ached to find Wanda, he didn’t want to simply turn into a burden on her when she was already on the run.

“I would tell you to be patient, but somehow I don’t think that would be very useful.” Charles shook his head. “I will continue looking for her whenever I’m using Cerebro anyway, but if she is indeed shielding her mind, I can’t make any promises.”

“I suppose that’s a good thing. Means she’s less likely to be found by someone who’d want to harm her.” Pietro closed his eyes. “I should be the one protecting her.”

“I’m sure her current companions are looking after her.” Charles paused. “I do believe some of the staff and older students are planning on a movie night after dinner. If you’d like to join them, I’m sure Kurt would be happy to take you there.”

“…Fine.” Kurt was the best option, really. Getting teleported made him nauseous sometimes, but it was much better than having to lean on someone just to walk around the place.

“I’ll let him know, then.” Charles nodded. “Was there anything else you needed for now?”

“I think I just need some sleep.” Which was ridiculous, they were barely halfway through the day, but he’d already managed to exhaust himself with what little he had done.

“Very well.” There was no question in Charles’s voice, no surprise at his weakness. He supposed it was for the best, really. It was bad enough he needed help; he wouldn’t have liked to receive pity as well.

He’d just have to get stronger, for Wanda’s sake.

*

“You should not push yourself so, Mein Freund.”

Pietro did his best to glare at Kurt, but couldn’t quite bring himself to do so. He knew Kurt was simply concerned for him, after all, and it was hard to feel any actual annoyance over such sincere concern. “I am not pushing.”

“Yes, you are.” Kurt frowned, his tail swishing anxiously from side to side. “You are not recovered yet. You certainly shouldn’t be exhausting yourself.”

“Training doesn’t do anything if you don’t feel it.”

“But it might break you if you don’t know your limits.” A puff of smoke, and then Kurt was right next to him, a hand on Pietro’s arm. “I worry for you.”

“I’m fine.” He did not feel fine, he was exhausted and aching, something that Kurt no doubt knew. It wasn’t hard to deduce that, really, what with Pietro leaning against a wall to catch his breath.

“Pietro, bitte.” Kurt’s eyes were a shining gold in his dark face, his expression pleading. “Wherever your sister is, I’m sure she is safe.”

“Wherever she is, she’s a wanted international terrorist.” Which was wrong, it was all wrong. He knew Wanda would not have wanted to hurt anyone, not after they had realized their folly with Ultron.

“Ja. Which means that if she had been found, the information would be out there somewhere. And yet even our best have not found any mention of her.”

Pietro let out a long breath. “If you are trying to reassure me, you are doing a strange job of it.”

“If I told you anything more certain, you would accuse me of lying to placate you.” Which, well. He couldn’t argue with that. “You have to trust in her ability and in her friends until you have recovered. And once you have, we will find her.”

“I do not need your help.” Pietro almost regretted his sharp words. Only almost, though. It would be for the best of everyone if Kurt decided to stay away from him.

Instead of backing away or even looking hurt, though, Kurt tilted his head to the side. “Regardless of whether you need it, you have it.”

“I will only bring you grief.” And yet he couldn’t bring himself to push Kurt’s hand away.

“Then it will be grief of my own choosing.” How could Kurt actually say such things with a straight face? “Come on. Let’s get you some rest.”

“…I doubt I could stop you anyway.” And not just because Kurt could simply teleport him away at will. For some reason, he found it rather had to say no to those bright golden eyes.

Clearly he was feeling even more faint than he’d thought.

*

“Why am I not surprised that you would manage to make things just that little bit more impossible?”

Wanda managed a faint smile as she looked up from her sleeping babies. “Now, what ever do you mean?”

“I was around for all the ultrasounds. Not once was there any sign of a second baby.” Shuri huffed, sitting down next to Wanda’s bed. “My mother will never let go of this. You’d think she’s taking personal credit for the other one!”

“Well, too bad for her that I’m very fond of them both.” Wanda chuckled faintly. “Let me guess. You are still bitter about her telling you this isn’t a matter for science?” Shuri had certainly seemed rather annoyed when the queen mother had announced that childbirth did not require any technological marvels unless something went badly wrong.

“Which is nonsense, mind you. It’s thanks to medical science that it’s more or less safe these days!” Shuri’s frown melted into a smile as she glanced at the sleeping children. “I suppose I should have expected something like this. After all, this whole thing defies any scientific understanding.”

“I would say something, but I really can’t disagree with that.” And yet, Wanda found herself smiling. The babies were so tiny, two little boys swaddled in colorful blankets, and she was sure she was going to burst into tears out of sheer happiness. They weren’t Pietro, whatever wishes she might have held at some point, but they were hers and they were here.

“So. Do they have names yet?”

“Ah. Thomas for the lighter one, and William for the dark.” The two were identical, as far as they could tell, except one had a few strands of almost white hair and blue eyes while the other’s hair and eyes were nearly black. She supposed it was an excellent identificator.

“Right.” Shuri fiddled with something in her hand, then reached closer. Working little William’s arm out of the blankets, she slipped something around his wrist, then did the same for Thomas.

“Kimoyo beads?” Wanda blinked. “Why?”

“It’s not just for using tech. The prime bead stores medical information, so everyone gets it at birth.” Shuri tapped her finger lightly against the bead at Thomas’s wrist. “They can get more later when they can actually use them.”

“Are you sure that’s all right?” Wanda frowned. “I mean, I know there are already people who don’t like that you’ve given me a set.”

"Hm, good point. Let me check with the one in charge.” Shuri put on a ridiculously serious expression. “Hey, Your Highness? Is it okay for the kids to have beads? Why, yes, Shuri, you absolutely have permission. Great, I thought so.”

“You’re being impossible.” Which really shouldn’t have surprised her, knowing Shuri.

“Correction: I’m being right.” Shuri leaned closer and pressed a light kiss to Wanda’s forehead. “You should get some sleep, mom. You’ve had a tough day.”

“Right.” As much as she didn’t want to let go of her babies just yet, she supposed it was for the best. “Just let me get them to bed.”

“No, you just rest. I can handle carrying a baby or two.” Shuri grinned as she picked up William, settling him into the crib next to Wanda’s bed. Thomas was next, and Wanda already felt terribly lonely. “Now, there’s going to be a nurse on call all night, so if you need anything, just call. I’ll be back in the morning.”

“Right. Thank you.” Wanda smiled, blinking sleepily. She really was tired, which she supposed was only natural. “I couldn’t have done all this without you.”

“Nonsense. But I’ll take the thanks anyway.” Shuri grinned, then left the room. Wanda was left alone, staring at the ceiling and listening to the soft breaths of her babies.

It took her a while to fall asleep, but that was fine. She wasn’t alone, anyway.

*

“I’m worried about Wanda.”

“Oh?” T’Challa frowned, turning to look at Shuri. “Why so? I thought the birth went without any problems.”

“Oh, yes, and she’s recovered just fine. That’s not the point.” Shuri flopped down in a chair as though defying him to tell her to act like a princess. Too bad he wasn’t going to take the bait. “The point is, now that the babies are here, she’s scared. Sure, she was worried before, being pregnant on the run and all, but that’s why she came here.”

“And now? I should hope the defenses of Wakanda are yet strong enough to protect her and her children.”

“Sure, but she’s worried people don’t like her raising her kids here. And I get that, there’s always going to be idiots who think they know what’s right. But I think Wanda’s scared that someone might try to, well. Fix the problem.”

“I would not allow that.” T’Challa’s frown deepened. “She is here as our guest. I will increase the security around her quarters if that would soothe her mind.”

“I’m sure it’ll help, but I doubt it’s going to make her calm down entirely.” Shuri sighed. “It’s not like I can blame her, considering she’s had every other family member taken from her. Of course she would be worried. But still, there’s a limit to everything.”

“Well, you can assure her that I will be tightening the security.” T’Challa allowed himself a small smile. “And that she no doubt has a fierce princess protector, but then she probably already knows that.”

And really, for a super genius who was very nearly an adult at her seventeen years, Shuri could certainly pull a very childish face.

*

Wanda couldn’t sleep.

This was becoming a problem. Her babies were barely a week old and she was already entirely deprived of rest. It wasn’t their fault at all, they spent most of their time asleep, but every time she tried to go to sleep she found her mind struggling to settle down. There were too many worries, too many fears, and even if she managed to fall asleep she didn’t get any rest for her nightmares.

It was pathetic, of course. She knew she was perfectly safe, that there was probably no safer place on Earth for them. She had also been assured by Shuri that she was more than welcome to stay in Wakanda for the time being. Wanda wasn’t sure what she had done to deserve such consideration, couldn’t help but wonder what price that kindness would have, but for now she had been told not to worry. And yet, that was precisely what she did.

Giving up on sleep for the moment, she got out of bed, walking softly over to the crib. The babies were both sleeping quietly, their soft breaths the only sound in the room. Wanda leaned against the edge of the crib, focusing on their breathing. As long as she heard this, she knew they were all right.

Someone moved behind her.

Wanda spun around, hands already raised to blast at any unwitting attacker. However, no attack came, not even an approach. All she saw was a dark figure in the shadows, still now that she had caught them.

“Peace.” The voice was unfamiliar, but it didn’t seem threatening. “I mean no harm.”

“What are you doing here?” Wanda took a step to the side, placing herself between the intruder and the crib. “There are guards right outside!”

“Indeed. Which is why I did not use a door.” The figure stepped out of the shadows, into a beam of moonlight flowing in through the window. His face was still shadowed, but she could tell he was a white man with black hair, his body hidden in the folds of a red cape that seemed to move on its own. “You are welcome to call for them if you fear a threat, but I would be gone before they got in.”

“If you’re trying to make me calm down, you’re doing an awful job of it.” She felt her power tickling at her fingertips, small sparks lighting up the darkness. The next moment her breath caught in her throat as she saw a similar flame respond.

“I will come no closer without your permission. All I wish to do is talk.” After a beat of silence, the man let his power fizzle out to darkness again. Wanda did not follow suit. “You are afraid.”

“I’d say I have every reason to be afraid, with creeps invading my bedroom.” She should have called for help, should have alerted the guards, but something held her back. For all that she was scared, some part of her believed his assurances that she was not in danger.

“That’s not what I mean.” His head moved, and though she still couldn’t make out his face she knew with a chilling certainty he was looking at the crib. “You are afraid you can’t protect your children.”

“Of course.” Her voice came out in a strangled whisper. “What mother would not be afraid of that?”

“Indeed. And most mothers do not have as many enemies as you do.” The man nodded. “I am here to offer you a solution.”

It was too good to be true, of course. People didn’t just offer solutions without asking for anything in return. And yet, Wanda found her hands falling lower. “…I’m listening.”

“Thank you.” The man nodded, yet still didn’t approach. “I can take your children somewhere safe. A place where no enemy can reach them, a place where you can watch them grow without fear or need.”

“They are safe here.” She had to keep telling herself that, or else she would break.

“Certainly. And yet, Wakanda itself might draw enemies too powerful for even their might.” The man paused. “Is that what you want for your children? Growing up in the shadow of war?”

“I have no alternative.” Not any she could accept, anyway. “I have nowhere else to go, and I refuse to raise them on the run. That life is not suited for a child.”

“I just offered you an alternative, though.”

“You want to take my children away.” Which she could not allow.

“Give me a day.” He wasn’t even denying it. “A day. If you are not satisfied with my solution by then, I will return everything to exactly how it was.”

“And how do I know I can trust you?” Her voice trembled, but she couldn’t help it. “What if you never return them?”

“If I was simply going to steal them, I could have done so without you ever knowing.” Which was not exactly calming, yet she couldn’t help but admit it was true. If he’d managed to get into her room past the guards and security systems, he could have done so while she was asleep.

“…Are you sure they will be safe?” She couldn’t believe she was already leaning towards such a thing. “And happy?”

“I swear.” He nodded seriously. “I only need a day, and after that, I will bother you no more.”

“…That’s all I want.” Wanda clasped a hand to her chest. “I just… don’t want to be afraid anymore.”

“You won’t have to.” He didn’t move, yet suddenly he was standing next to the crib, looking down. Wanda spun on her heels, chillingly aware all of a sudden that he did not, in fact, need her permission to do anything. “Thomas and William, am I correct?”

“I… yes.” She felt her throat closing up with fear. For all his assurances, she had no idea who this man was, nor what he planned to do.

“I rather thought so.” Somehow, she got the impression he was smiling, though she still couldn’t see that much detail. “That, at least, remains consistant.”

Wanda was about to ask what he meant, but was interrupted by the red cape suddenly flying up, obscuring her vision. Once she could see again, the man was gone, and the crib was empty.

The guards rushed in the moment she screamed, but there was nothing they could do.

*

“What do you mean, we can’t find them?”

“Exactly what I said.” Shuri sighed, running a hand over her face. She felt still half asleep, but she needed to be sharp. This was not something she could fail. “There’s no sign of anyone entering or leaving on the security cameras. Also, the twins’ kimoyo beads are not anywhere within our radar.”

“That shouldn’t be possible.” T’Challa looked about as baffled as Shuri herself felt. “The guards saw nothing, the tech is picking up nothing. Were they spirited away by a ghost or something?”

“Well, Wanda said there was some kind of magic at play.” Not that Wanda could explain anything very coherently right now. She was choking on tears when she wasn’t just staring at a wall, not that Shuri could blame her. For all that Wanda said she had given her permission, she was clearly not entirely happy about the situation. How could she have been? Her precious babies had been whisked away from her in the middle of the night.

“Magic. I would be tempted to call it all nonsense, but I do owe my own abilities to some less than natural sources.” T’Challa sighed. “Are you sure it’s not… no, forget that.”

“What?” Shuri narrowed her eyes. “Out with it. Clearly you’re thinking of something.”

“Well, according to Wanda, she got pregnant by magic.” T’Challa still sounded dubious about that, which was fair enough. Shuri saw no reason to doubt Wanda’s word, but she realized it was not exactly an easy statement to approach. “If that’s how the children appeared, could they not have disappeared the same way?”

“How dare you.” She might have been hissing, but clearly he deserved it. “Wanda would never hurt her kids!”

“I’m not saying she would. However, what if there never was such a thing?” T’Challa sighed. “We already had a second child who could not be picked up with ultrasound. Perhaps they were both illusions all along.”

“I hope not.” She had a bad feeling such a revelation might have broken Wanda. And yet at the same time she knew all too well just how badly Wanda had wanted someone to love. “If that’s what happened, she just might break.”

“Well, it doesn’t seem like we can do anything about it either way.” T’Challa shook his head. “I’ll have people on the lookout; not like there are a lot of white babies around here. I’m assuming you will keep your sensors looking for them as well.”

“Of course.” Shuri was not going to give up that easily. “And if I find that man, I’m going to make him wish he’d been caught by the guards instead.”

T’Challa didn’t even comment on her vengeful tone, which was all the indication she needed on his agreement.

*

Wanda did not quite run through the house, but it was a near thing.

She had no idea how she had ended up here, or where exactly was “here”. The last thing she remembered was crying herself to sleep, and the next moment she woke up in this strange house. It seemed like a dream, except it didn’t feel like a dream, and her elbow hurt as she banged it on a doorframe in her hurry to look for explanations.

The house seemed empty of all life, though it was clearly lived in. There was furniture and little knick-knacks, even a forgotten cup on the kitchen table. She expected to turn a corner any moment now and find herself face to face with a stranger, one who would no doubt be furious at her for invading their home.

When she did finally find someone, she couldn’t breathe.

The nursery was beautiful, pastel colors washed in sunlight trailing in through the large windows. The main thing she noticed were the two cribs, though, standing side by side, tiny forms visible between the bars. Rushing forward, she gasped as she saw two familiar little boys slumbering away in the cribs. She would have recognized her sons anywhere.

Torn between wanting to let them rest and wishing to pick them up and never let them go, Wanda didn’t notice the presence behind herself until someone cleared their throat. She spun around, ready to fight to protect her babies, only to find the red-cloaked stranger standing behind her again.

“I assure you they are both perfectly fine.” Well. At least he knew what she wanted to know first of all. “This is a… safe space of sorts. A pocket dimension, some might say. They are safe from any enemies you might have gained, and nobody around here has any reason to fear you.”

“Pocket dimension?” Wanda echoed, disbelieving. “You can do that?”

“I can do many things. This is hardly a grand feat, merely a little twist in the laws that govern the worlds.” He glanced away, or at least she was pretty sure he did. It could be hard to tell with the hood. “My apologies for not explaining things in advance.”

“…No.” She couldn’t blame him, not for that. “I never asked for explanations. I just wanted my children to be safe.” And just with that, with no further knowledge, she had let him whisk them away.

“Indeed.” The man paused. “I hope I have not disappointed.”

“They are here, safe and unharmed.” As though to prove this, Thomas gave a little huff in his sleep. “That is all I could ever ask for.”

“A word of warning.” The man’s voice turned grave all of a sudden. “While this place may seem like the world you know, it is still fundamentally separate. Another branch of the same tree, if you will. You must not try to interfere with your original fate, or everything may break.”

“What do you mean?” Wanda frowned. That sounded awfully ominous.

“The world outside these walls is your past.” That made her heart sink and beat faster all at once. “You may hear news of things you remember happening before. However, you have to resist the temptation to interfere in any way. If you try to change the events that brought you here in the first place, this little world will crumble. If that happens, I can’t guarantee what happens.”

“You mean… I cannot save my family.” Her parents. Pietro. Everything she had lost once already.

“I’m afraid not.” He nodded slowly. “There is only so much we can do to change the world. No matter how hard I try I can’t give you a second chance, not without risking erasing the events that brought me to you in the first place. What I can give you, however, is this.” He waved his hand to indicate the house. “A peaceful place, to raise your family. No fear of the war reaching your doorstep, no hunger or cold or desperation. I can’t promise it will be easy, because it won’t, but I can at least make it possible.”

“Why?” Wanda couldn’t help but whisper. “Why would you do all this? I don’t even know who you are!”

“Let’s just say I like the world in one piece. Unhappy witches tend to mess with that.” He reached inside his cape, then brought out a black purse. “This will have anything you need — money, paperwork, anything. I would point out there is a difference between want and need, but you don’t seem like the type for ostentatious spending, anyway.” As she took the purse, still slightly wary, he simply nodded. “You and your children are legal immigrants. You are from Sokovia, though the boys were born in Wakanda. Their father is unfortunately deceased. I’ll leave the rest to you.”

“Ah — right.” She could remember that much, at least. And really, keeping a backstory straight wasn’t exactly new for her. “…Thank you.”

“No need to thank me. I assure you, my motivations are quite selfish.” He turned as though to go, then paused. “Ah, one more thing. Don’t panic if you wake up in Wakanda again. I’m taking advantage of the way dreams warp time so you won’t lose too much of your present, but a night can only last so long. You’ll be back here the next time you fall asleep.”

“I — right.” That didn’t sound like something she could brush aside so easily, but she would have to try at least. “So… am I actually here? Or back in Wakanda?”

“Oh, please.” She could practically hear the smirk in the man’s voice. “Why on Earth could the answer not be both?”

One of the babies made a sound and Wanda turned, only to find them both sleeping on. As she glanced back, the man was gone. Somehow, she wasn’t terribly surprised.

Wanda wasn’t sure how long she spent just watching the babies, drinking in every detail. She knew it hadn’t been that long since they had been separated, less than a day, yet it felt like forever. She needed to take in everything about them now, needed to assure herself that they truly were here, that she hadn’t lost the one thing in her life that was still good and happy.

Wanda was startled by the sound of the doorbell echoing through the house. With one last glance at the babies, making sure they were fast asleep, she grabbed the baby monitor on the nearby table and hurried to the front door. Who would be at the door, she had no idea, but she should probably find out.

More nervous than she wanted to admit, Wanda drew a deep breath before opening her door. “Um. Hello?”

“Ah, good afternoon!” The two people standing at her door smiled brilliantly at her. “Hope we’re not interrupting you, goodness knows unpacking can be a project.”

“No, ah, not at all.” Wanda blinked. “What can I do for you?”

“Oh, we’re your new neighbors from across the street!” The woman of the couple thrust out a covered plate, which Wanda took out of instinct more than anything. “I’m Rebecca Kaplan, and this is my husband Jeff. We noticed the house seemed to be inhabited at last and thought we’d come by with some cookies.”

“Ah, that’s… really nice of you. Thank you.” Wanda suddenly felt awfully self-conscious about, well, everything about her. There was such honest good will radiating from the two that she was feeling quite overwhelmed. “I’m sorry, I’m still a bit preoccupied. Everything is still rather messy.”

“Oh, that’s quite understandable. Don’t mind us, we just wanted to say welcome.” Jeff smiled, then glanced at something past her. “Ah! You have children?”

Wanda glanced over her shoulder, seeing a bassinet tucked away in a corner. “Yes — yes, I do. Little twins.” Despite her nerves, she couldn’t help but smile. “They’re just tiny things, still. They keep me quite busy.”

Jeff looked like he was about to ask something else, but his wife spoke up first. “Well, we won’t keep you any longer, then. Don’t worry about the plate, just drop it by whenever you’ve settled in. And don’t hesitate to ask if you need any babysitting help sometimes, all right?”

“Thank you. I’ll — I’ll keep that in mind.” Wanda had no idea how to tell them goodbye without making an utter fool of herself, but they saved her that trouble by making their own exit. Wanda stared after them for a moment, then returned inside with the plate. Carrying it into the kitchen in something of a daze, she set the plate down on the counter and peeked under the foil cover. The cookies it was hiding were a lovely golden brown and peppered with chocolate.

She burst in tears at the taste of sweetness and warmth, but really, she supposed she had every excuse.

*

Wanda was acting strange.

Well, it wasn’t all that strange that she would be out of sorts, considering the situation. Really, Shuri wasn’t sure if there was a logical way to react to your newborn children disappearing into thin air. Still, after Wanda had cried herself to sleep in Shuri’s arms, she seemed oddly calm the next morning.

Shuri tried not to prod, but she did keep an eye on Wanda throughout the day. More than once she thought Wanda was going to say something, only to fall quiet again. As the day went on, though, Wanda seemed to grow more distressed.

“Are you all right?” Shuri reached to touch Wanda’s hand. “No, sorry, that was a stupid question. But is there anything I can do?”

“I… I don’t know.” Wanda sighed, staring down at the dinner she had barely touched. “It’s… I don’t know what’s true. Maybe I’m just losing my mind.”

“What do you mean?” Shuri frowned. As Wanda visibly hesitated, Shuri squeezed her hand. “You can tell me. I promise I won’t think you’re crazy or anything like that.”

“…Right. But you have promised.”

As it turned out, Shuri couldn’t blame Wanda for her hesitance. Not that Shuri was going to call her mad either way, but it was a bit of a far-fetched tale. Though then, everything about Wanda and her children seemed far-fetched to the scientific mind.

“So you’re worried it was just a dream after all.” Which was a logical concern, really.

“Exactly.” Wanda clasped a hand to her chest. “I know he told me not to worry if I woke up here again, and that I would be back to them as soon as I go to sleep again, but… at this point, I’m not sure I dare sleep.”

“Because you’re worried you won’t be back there.” Shuri nodded slowly. “Right. It’s understandable that you’d be concerned, given the situation.”

“The longer the day goes, the more worried I get.” Wanda worried her lip, and Shuri had to hold herself back from reaching out to tap at it. “I… it’s not like a dream in my mind. I remember it all like I would any days that have passed, and the day they disappeared is likewise more distant than if it were simply yesterday. But… I can’t know for sure.”

“Not until you test it, you mean.” Shuri nodded. “Would it help if you weren’t alone?”

“What do you mean?” Wanda blinked.

“Spend the night in my rooms.” Shuri shrugged. “If you get too anxious, I will be there to distract you. If anyone asks, we can just say you’re worried about sleeping alone because of the intruder.”

“You wouldn’t mind?” Wanda looked almost painfully hopeful. “I… don’t think I’m going to be very good company.”

“Eh, we’re hoping for sleep, not deep conversation.” Shuri took Wanda’s hand in her own. “I can’t help with your fears in any other way. If being around eases your mind at all, I’d be happy to do that.”

“Ah. If you wouldn’t mind, I… I think that would be a good idea.” Wanda gave her a faint smile. “It wouldn’t hurt at least.”

“That’s what I’m hoping, too.” Shuri returned Wanda’s smile. “Now, come on. Let’s finish dinner. You’re hardly going to sleep well on an empty stomach.”

Nobody commented when Shuri led Wanda to her room later in the evening, not even T’Challa, which probably said something about the general atmosphere. Wanda was awfully quiet, but that was rather to be expected.

Shuri had offered to have another bed brought into her room, but Wanda had insisted she didn’t want to be such trouble. Clearly this had been a good decision, since Wanda drew close to her soon after they both settled into bed.

“Ah. You don’t mind, do you?” Wanda murmured, lying close enough that Shuri could feel her breath, warm and sweet.

“Do I look like I mind?” Shuri couldn’t help but pet Wanda’s hair. Surely she’d be forgiven her weakness just this once. “Go to sleep, you silly thing. Your babies are waiting for you.”

It took a while, but eventually Wanda drifted off to sleep. Shuri watched her for a moment, hoping it didn’t make her too creepy, until sleep claimed her as well.

The next thing she knew, she woke up in a strange place.

This was no place she had ever been, probably not even in Wakanda, judging by the style of the room and furnishings. Well, wasn’t that a curious observation. Furthermore, the other side of the bed she was lying in had clearly been disturbed.

“Wanda?” It was absurd, of course, but she had a hypothesis and she needed to test it.

There was silence for a moment, then approaching footsteps. A very confused-looking Wanda appeared in the doorway, holding a baby in her arms. “…Shuri?”

“Well! It looks like this is contagious.” Shuri got up from the bed, stretching herself. “Ah, this would be Thomas, right? He’s definitely grown since the last time I saw him.”

“How are you here?” Wanda still stared at her, then shook her head. “No, of course you wouldn’t know. I’m so sorry, Shuri! I never meant to drag you along.”

“Sorry? Why would you be sorry?” Shuri couldn’t help the grin that was taking over her face. “If what you said is true, this is basically free time with no responsibilities aside from the occasional diaper change. I can focus on my designs rather than worry about being a proper princess all the time.”

“It’s — I don’t have that kind of tech here, though.” Wanda looked terribly worried about this. “Besides, last time I was here for a few months. Wouldn’t you need your medicine long before that?”

“I checked the logs, last night your body was always present in your room, and your vitals didn’t deviate. Whatever this place is, I don’t think it directly correlates to our physical presence back in Wakanda. Even if that’s not true, my implant should be good for a long while. I can run some tests once we get back to see how my hormone levels are doing, but for the time being it shouldn’t be a concern.” Shuri smiled. “Though it is sweet of you to think of that.”

“You’ve told me how important it is to your happiness to feel right in your body. I wouldn’t want you to be unhappy.” There was a faint sound from somewhere, and Wanda startled. “Ah, I need to go check on Billy. My clothes should fit you well enough for now, right? We’ll figure everything out later.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Even with her concern over Shuri’s appearance, she noted, Wanda looked happy. Happy, and completely free of her earlier worries. It was a wonderful look on her.

Shuri was going to do everything she could to see more of that every day.

*

“Right!” Wanda was startled awake by the sound of Shuri’s voice. “Time to get to work!”

It took Wanda a moment of blinking to realize she was back in Shuri’s bedroom in the royal palace. A momentary panic caught her chest again, but she forced herself to calm down. This time, she was not alone, surely.

“Shuri?” She sat up, rubbing at her eyes. “You… please tell me you remember, too.”

“Hm?” Shuri whirled around, looking at her quizzically. Shuri was apparently half done dressing herself, a mad sort of gleam in her eyes. “Oh, the kids? Yeah, I remember it all, don’t worry. It’s not just you dreaming weird things.”

“Right.” Wanda allowed herself a sigh of relief. “I… I’m still sorry, though.”

“I told you not to apologize, didn’t I?” Shuri shook her head. “Anyway, I’ve got a day to get prepared for the next trip. Since my nightgown and kimoyo beads came over, I want to experiment with what else I can bring through.”

“Huh?” Wanda blinked. She wasn’t surprised to hear Shuri talking about her beloved tech, but this… “You mean… you want to go back?”

“Of course!” Shuri looked surprised that Wanda would question her. “I’m not leaving you to deal with two babies and a house all by yourself! Also, uninterrupted design time. Very important.” Shuri hummed to herself. “Ah, right, I need to get some bloodwork done to see how the physical side works out. Drop by the lab later, okay? We’ll see if there’s any wearable tech you like so we can try to bring that over, too.”

“Is all that really all right?” Wanda was still feeling a little uncertain that this was even real. She certainly wasn’t up to making big plans just yet.

“Of course. Ah, I’ll probably be busy for a bit, but I’ll try to catch up with you for lunch, okay?” Shuri flashed her a smile. “Oh, and I tweaked the permissions. Your kimoyo beads should now give you access to my room at any time if you need to get away from everything for a little while.”

Wanda was about to protest, but before she could get anything out, Shuri had already rushed out of the room. Not that she would have held any hope of actually changing Shuri’s mind, of course.

Well. Apparently this was happening, then.

*

“So, I’ve been thinking.”

“Uh-oh. Those are dangerous words.” Wanda suppressed a smile as she looked up from wiping Tommy’s face. He seemed convinced that pureed apples belonged anywhere but inside his mouth. “Thinking about what?”

“Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but… you haven’t done a lot of studying, have you?” Shrui’s eyes were a bit too sharp for Wanda to be comfortable.

“Not really, no.” Wanda frowned. “Losing our parents during a war wasn’t exactly good for going to school. We learned some things from Hydra, like English, but other than that we mostly focused on surviving.” And then, it was just her.

“How would you feel about going back to school?” Wanda must have looked startled, because Shuri immediately rushed to reassure her. “Not if you don’t want to, of course! Clearly you’re doing just fine in life. Still, you’re a smart woman, and I think you’d enjoy at least finishing your basic education, even if you never go further than that.”

“Ah.” It was true she sometimes felt rather uneducated, even when she wasn’t comparing herself to Shuri’s genius. “I’m… not sure that would be a good idea. I mean, it’s been so long since I last went to any kind of school, and I’m too old to go back anymore.”

“Nonsense.” Shuri shook her head. “People are never too old to learn. Now, you might feel a bit awkward to be so much older, but we can deal with that.”

“Why do I feel like you have a plan already?” Shuri always seemed to have a plan.

“Perhaps because I do.” Shuri grinned. “See, I’ve been thinking. We could start with having you catch up on the basics at home. I can tutor you as needed. Then, when you’re ready, you could go to a proper high school.”

“But… wouldn’t people think I’m strange?” She already felt like an outsider in this quiet little neighborhood. She wasn’t sure she wanted to draw any more attention to herself.

“Maybe, but strange doesn’t mean bad. Besides, you have two babies and have spent most of your life running from war. I think people will understand if you are a bit behind the regular schedule.”

“You think so?” She still felt rather unsure, but Shuri seemed convinced.

“Sure. You don’t have to, of course, but it would give you something to do when you’re not looking after the boys.” Shuri smiled. “At least think about it, okay?”

And, really. It wasn’t like Wanda could tell her no anyway.

*

As much as she loved her boys, Wanda had to say she was relieved to get them to bed at last.

Shuri certainly seemed to agree with her, heaving an exaggerated sigh as she dropped down on the couch next to Wanda. “I swear, if I didn’t love those brats so much, I would toss them out the window.”

“Now, don’t joke about things like that.” Wanda nudged Shuri. “I like my boys where they belong. Besides, Tommy would probably just enjoy getting thrown around.”

“Aw, you know I wouldn’t actually do that.” Shuri grinned at her. “I’ve grown quite attached to them. And their cute mom, of course.”

Wanda flushed. “Oh, stop teasing me. …You know, you really don’t need to help me with them so much.”

“Nonsense. If I’m living here, it’s only fair I share the responsibilities.” Shuri paused. “Besides, who said I’m just teasing you?”

“You’re always teasing me. Or your brother, or Okoye, or your mother, or —”

“Right, I get the picture.” Well. At least Shuri had some sort of self-awareness. “But… I really do think you’re cute.”

“Ah.” What was she even supposed to say in response to that? “You… do?”

“Of course I do.” Shuri turned to face her, leaning a little closer. “You’re cute, determined, and a wonderful mom besides. Also smart, but you’re just going to tell me that’s not true.”

“Well, I really don’t feel very smart compared with you.” Wanda paused. “Though to be fair, I doubt many people would compared with you.”

“What can I say? I’m a genius.” Shuri grinned, and somehow leaned even closer. Their faces were mere inches apart, now.

Wanda shivered. She tried to find something to say, but the words seemed stuck in her throat, swallowed by the sheer weight of Shuri’s presence.

“Hey. Is this okay?” Shuri’s breath was warm as it washed against her lips, her eyes dark and piercing.

“Ah… very okay.” Wanda managed a small smile. She probably should have felt awkward, even uncomfortable, yet here she was, feeling nothing as much as a temptation to lean into the warmth of Shuri’s presence.

Shuri’s lips were soft against her, warm and sweet. Wanda sighed into the kiss, her eyes falling closed. She felt Shuri’s hand sinking into her hair, cradling her head. It felt nice, as nice as Shuri’s smooth skin under her hand as Wanda’s questing fingers found Shuri’s arm, sliding up and down.

It felt like she was lost in the moment, unable to keep track of how long she spent tasting the sweetness of Shuri’s lips. At last Shuri broke the kiss, leaning her forehead against Wanda’s.

“I’ve wanted to do that for ages,” she murmured, and Wanda gasped despite herself. “Just, you know. I didn’t want to push when you already had so much on her plate.”

“So you decided that helping me raise my infant twins while living with me in a twisted magical dimension would be more casual.” Wanda grinned, a sort of shining delight bubbling up from her chest. “Shuri, the one of genius plans.”

“Hey, I did mean it when I said I like the opportunity to spend more time on my designs. And if this doesn’t convince you that I’m serious, what would?” Shuri slowly combed her hand through Wanda’s hair. “I’m here. I’ll be here as long as you’ll let me. And not just because I’m still determined to figure out exactly how all this magic stuff works.” The last remark was accompanied by a grin that made Wanda chuckle despite herself.

“I guess I should hope it all stays terribly mysterious for as long as possible.”

Shuri’s answer to that was apparently a small kiss, and really, Wanda wasn’t about to argue.

*

“Wanda? Could I talk to you about something?”

“Huh?” Wanda looked up from her textbook. She had gotten very serious about her studies recently. It delighted Shuri to see that, as long as she trusted Wanda was doing it for herself. It had taken her long enough to get started, but Shuri was doing her best not to push. “Sure. What is it?”

“Well, you know. The boys are starting to learn words.” Of course, it was nothing but babbling yet, but they were working on it. Sometimes Shuri was convinced they were speaking a language all their own, gibberish to anyone else but perfectly understandable to each other.

“Yes, they are.” Wanda smiled a little. “They’re growing up so fast.”

“They are. Anyway, I was wondering.” Shuri took a seat opposite to Wanda. “Would you mind if I tried teaching them Xhosa?”

“Oh?” Wanda blinked. “Ah. That’s your language, right?”

“Exactly.” Shuri nodded. “Nothing too intense, I wouldn’t want to mess with their primary language acquisition, but I think it would be fun. Only if they like it, of course.”

“Are you sure?” Wanda frowned. “I mean, you really don’t need to go to that much trouble. I couldn’t help you with that, after all.”

“Well, I could start by teaching you.” Shuri grinned. “And maybe you could teach me some Sokovian in return?”

“I… you’d want that?”

“Of course.” Shuri smiled, reaching to touch Wanda’s hand over the table. “I want to learn more about your background, too. And it will be good for the boys to learn both sides of where they come from.”

“They aren’t really from Wakanda, though.” Wanda looked somewhat dubious.

“Of course they are. You spent most of your pregnancy in Wakanda, they were born in Wakanda, and they have the Princess of Wakanda as their other mommy.” It wasn’t until she saw Wanda’s eyes widening that she realized what she’d said. “…Ah. I’m overstepping, aren’t I?”

“…No. I don’t think so.” Wanda smiled, turning her hand to clasp Shuri’s. “Though if that’s what you want, we probably shouldn’t call both of us mommy.”

“Now that?” Shuri chuckled. “That’s the kind of problem I would be all too happy to turn my genius to.”

She would do anything to make Wanda smile like that.

*

“Mama Shuri?” The voice was soft enough that for a moment she was sure it was Billy. As she turned to look, though, she found herself looking at Tommy instead. Curious. He wasn’t exactly known for being particularly soft-spoken.

“Yes, Tommy?” Shuri flicked her tablet screen off to give him her full attention. Not only was it the nice thing to do, she knew all too well she would not get anything productive done if he was bothering her.

Tommy frowned, looking unusually serious. “Do you think Mom hates me?”

“What?” Shuri blinked. “Why on Earth would you think that?”

“It’s just… sometimes Mom looks at me and she gets really sad. She doesn’t get sad like that with Billy.” Tommy sidled up to her, still frowning. “…Is it because I’m bad?”

“Oh, Tommy, it’s nothing like that.” Shuri reached out her arms, waiting until he climbed up into her lap. Tommy liked to think he was too old for hugs, but clearly this was an exception. “I think I know what’s going on, though. But I promise, it’s nothing you’ve done.”

“What is it, then?” Tommy sighed. “I don’t want to make Mom sad…”

“You know how your mom sometimes talks about your Uncle Pietro?”

“Right.” Tommy nodded, still frowning. “He was Mom’s big brother, like I’m Billy’s big brother.”

“Exactly. Now, I never met your uncle, but I’ve seen some pictures, and he really looks like you. Or, well, I suppose it’s more that you look like him.” Shuri combed a hand through Tommy’s hair. “He had light hair and eyes, just like you.”

“So is that why Mom looks sad?”

“I think so, yes.” Shuri nodded. “It’s not that you make her sad. She just sometimes remembers her brother, and she misses him very much. Your mom could never be sad to have you, she loves you both more than anything.”

“Are you sure?” Tommy turned to stare at her with intense eyes. “Really really sure?”

“Absolutely.” Shuri nodded again. “Your mom made you out of magic and love. She would do anything for you two.”

Tommy looked thoughtful for a while. Then, he looked at her again. “Do you love us too?”

“Now, what sort of a question is that?” Shuri chuckled. “Do you really think I would take a break from my designs for just anyone?”

Tommy paused, then suddenly lunged forward to catch her in a hug. “Please don’t go anywhere, Mama Shuri,” he murmured. “Because — because Mom and Billy would be really sad.”

“Oh, Tommy.” Shuri chuckled. “Even if I tried to go, you’d probably just chase me down.”

Good thing she had no plans of doing so.

*

“Hi there, pretty.”

“Why, hello there.” Wanda smiled as Shuri draped herself over Wanda’s lap, pressing a kiss to her cheek. “I thought you’d still be in your lab for a while.”

“I missed you.” At Wanda’s dubious gaze, Shuri chuckled. “Also, I got an idea.”

“Should I even ask?” Whenever Shuri had an idea it usually ended up with something strange happening. Like building a miniature lab in a spare room out of tiny pieces of Wakandan tech she had brought over as accessories, or convincing the Kaplan kids she was a witch. Which apparently amused Shuri simply because Wanda was the one with actual magic, and really, Wanda wasn’t going to argue with such logic.

“Of course. My ideas are always awesome.” Shuri grinned. “You know how we’ve been together for a while?”

“Yes, I’ve noticed.” Wanda returned the grin. “You do an excellent job at reminding me every day.”

“Good to know.” Shuri sank a hand in Wanda’s hair, combing through it with her fingers. “So, how about we make it official?”

Wanda blinked. “We live together and raise children together. I’m not sure how much more official we could make it.”

“Easy.” Shuri stole another quick kiss. “We’ll get married.”

“What?” Wanda’s eyes widened. “…Are you proposing to me?”

“Was I not clear enough?” Shuri chuckled. “I probably should have made a bigger deal out of this, but I wanted to tell you right away when this occurred to me.”

“But… do you really want that?” It seemed rather unlikely, yet she knew that for all her snarky words Shuri would not joke about such things. “I mean, you are a literal princess and I’m just… me.”

“One, around here we’re just a young couple, no royalty or Avengers involved. And two, I happen to be the smartest person in the world, so I think I know what I want.”

“Well, good thing you’re not claiming to be the most humble person in the world.” Wanda reached her arms around Shuri. “I… think I would like to marry you. If that really is what you want.”

“Of course it is.” Shuri kissed the tip of her nose this time, then chuckled. “Though we should probably keep it to just here for a bit. My brother might be teasing me about our relationship, but I’m not sure he’s quite ready for the idea of me married just yet.”

“Well, as far as he knows, you are seventeen years old.” Not that Wanda was much older, but she wasn’t quite that young at least. “And… older brothers tend to be protective.” Hers certainly had been.

“Indeed.” Shuri’s smile faded a little, though it didn’t disappear entirely. “Tommy’s certainly already doing it.”

“I suppose it runs in the family.” Wanda was the one to steal a kiss this time. “…I love you. I have no idea why you would stick with me, but I do.”

“I’d be happy to list all the reasons why.” Now, Shuri’s smile turned into a smirk. “You know, the boys won’t be home from school for a while yet.”

“Indeed they won’t.” Wanda chuckled, the hint of old grief fading into cherished memories. “Perhaps we should take the opportunity to celebrate, then?”

“Sometimes, you’re almost as smart as me.” And, really. From Shuri there was no point in hoping for higher praise than that. Not that Wanda could wish for anything more.

The murmured “I love you too” was everything she could have ever hoped to hear.

*

As long as Wanda could remember, Tommy had always been on the move.

It had hurt, once upon a time, to see him take after Pietro so much in not only appearance but also personality. Over the years in their strange space she had learned to see it as a delight, though, a reminder that at least some part of her brother still existed even if she could not bring him back.

Now, that didn’t mean it wasn’t sometimes rather bothersome to deal with her older son rushing about, but nobody had ever said that being a mother would be easy. It was just another aspect of Tommy being Tommy, no different from Billy’s love of comic books or Shuri’s passion for science.

Of course, none of this prepared her for the day when twelve-year-old Tommy appeared in the kitchen without warning, his hands moving too fast for her to see and his voice a frantic, hurried mess.

It took Wanda a moment to calm down, a moment during which she was even more grateful than usual for Shuri. Her lovely Shuri immediately understood what was going on, stepped forward to help Tommy calm down while Wanda herself fought against the ghost she was sure she had seen. This was still Tommy, this was still her little boy, even if he had just become even more like Pietro than she had ever thought possible. He needed her to be calm, to help him understand what was going on, even if that meant she would just wait until later to cry out her pain against Shuri’s shoulder.

Billy, bless him, had an altogether less dramatic awakening. One day she simply found him snapping his fingers, watching a shining blue light go on and off. As he noticed her presence, he gave her a bright smile.

“Hey, Mom,” Billy said, and Wanda found her heart aching at the sheer joy in his eyes. “I think I’m magic!”

Summoning up a smile for him, she woved with all her strength that nobody would ever get the chance to make her babies into their weapons.

*

“Mom? How do you know if you really like someone?”

“Hm?” Wanda looked up from her cooking, smiling as she saw Billy sitting at the kitchen table, looking rather thoughtful. “Aren’t you a little young to be worrying about that, sweetheart?”

“I’m fourteen, not four!” And oh, that was true. Her babies were not actually babies anymore.

“I suppose you are, yes.” Wanda paused. “I’m not sure what to say, really. When I was your age, I was more worried about surviving.” Of course, she was glad her children didn’t have to concern themselves with such things, but it did mean she could not quite connect with some of their experiences.

“How’d you know you liked Mama, though?”

“It… grew over time, I suppose.” Wanda smiled, thinking back. “She was a wonderful friend to me when I was expecting you, and when you finally showed up, she didn’t hesitate to help.” Which was skipping over some of the details, but Billy already knew their presence here wasn’t entirely simple. “I’m not sure how or when things changed from being just friends. Just, one day I glanced at her and realized I wanted her to be part of my life always.”

“Aw, and here I thought it was my kissing skills that convinced you.” Shuri grinned as she walked into the kitchen, swooping in to steal a kiss from Wanda. “What are we talking about?”

“Oh, Billy was just wondering how to tell if he likes someone.” Wanda smiled. “I think our baby boy has a crush.”

“Ohhh? Now, this is interesting.” Shuri grinned almost predatorially, taking a seat opposite to the rather flustered Billy. “The answer, by the way, varies a bit. For my brother, the best sign is that he’d freeze when trying to talk to her.” She gave a dramatic sigh, stretching her arms over the table. Shuri might have had the mental age of an adult and the intelligence of a genius, but she still insisted on acting rather childish every now and then. “For me? Wanda was really cute and I just wanted to make sure she was happy and safe forever and ever.”

“And then she did just that.” Wanda smiled. “And here we are still.”

“Indeed.” Shuri gave her an impish grin. “You know, my brother keeps teasing me about how close we have grown in such a short time.”

“Yes, well, he’s barely seen us being around each other for a year or so.” Which was still strange to think about, but as Shuri had decided long ago, magic was a very complicated thing that badly needed to be studied some more. “I still can’t quite believe you keep coming back.”

“I couldn’t very well leave you to deal with these brats on your own, now could I?” Shuri smirked. “Speaking of which, who is it that has you thinking about these things? Come on, Billy. You can trust Mama Shuri.”

“Ah.” Billy flushed, glancing away. “It’s… there’s this boy at our school. He’s on the basketball team, and he’s really cute, and he’s really nice too.”

“It sounds to me like you already know the answer to your question.” Shuri looked an awful lot like she wanted to laugh, but she held herself back. Wanda supposed she should get some reward kisses for that later. “Well, if you decide to be more bold than just admire him from afar, bring him over some time. I’ll promise to do my best not to embarrass you.” Breaking into a grin, she added, “Not too much, anyway.”

Billy whined at that, but he was smiling as well, so clearly he didn’t mind too much. A moment later he was launching into another bit of praise for this apparently miraculous young man called Teddy.

Her babies truly were growing up all too fast.

*

“So.” Shuri glanced at Billy over her ice cream. “How long exactly has this boy been bullying you?”

“Ah.” Billy didn’t meet her eyes. “For… a while?”

“I’d tell you to be more specific, but I think that tells me everything I need to know.” Shuri sighed. “And it never occurred to you to tell us?”

“I didn’t want to make you worry.” Billy shrugged awkwardly. “I mean, it’s mostly just him saying stupid shit. I know he’s hit others before, but Tommy’s kept him away from me so far.”

“Except Tommy wasn’t around today.”

“Right.” Billy stared down at his own ice cream. He had barely even touched it. “I was just going to keep my distance, but… well. He was about to punch this kid, and I…”

“And you are your mother’s son, always more heroism than sense. Right.” Shuri shook her head with a fond smile. “I suppose we’re lucky your abilities came in at the right time.”

“Lucky?” Billy’s eyes shot up to her. “He’s in hospital now! I could have killed him!”

“You didn’t, though. You protected yourself, and you protected another, and there is nothing wrong with that.” Shuri reached over the table to touch Billy’s hand. “He’s the one who started the violence.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt him so badly, though.” Billy worried his lip, the very image of his mother. “I just wanted to stop him, I never thought…”

“You stopped him. He’s going to recover in time. I’m not blaming you for anything, Billy.” Shuri hummed thoughtfully. “Neither is the school, by the way. I mean, it’s not like they could pin it on you. Far as they can tell the little asshole had some sort of a seizure.” At Billy’s scandalized look, she snorted. “What? Just because he’s a kid doesn’t mean I’m not going to call him what he is.”

“You’re being awfully relaxed about this.” Still, some of the tension fled Billy’s shoulders.

“I fought in a civil war when I was sixteen. I can’t really call you out on using force to protect yourself.” Shuri licked at her spoon, then waved it in the air. “Now, that doesn’t mean I’m just going to ignore this. You clearly need to learn to use your powers safely, we wouldn’t want any more accidents after all.”

“Right.” Billy nodded. “I… I’m not sure what exactly I can do, still, but I want to figure that out. I don’t want to hurt anyone else by accident.”

“That’s my boy.” Shuri grinned. “Now, finish your ice cream, and then you can tell me more about the cute blond guy who seemed awfully worried about you when I came to pick you up.”

Billy’s blush, Shuri decided, was absolutely adorable.

 

*

“So, you’re Teddy, huh?” Wanda smiled at the somewhat flustered boy lingering in the kitchen doorway. “I’ve heard a lot about you, you know.”

“Ah.” Teddy looked awkward, scratching at the back of his neck. “You… have?”

“Of course.” Wanda turned her gaze back to the vegetables she was chopping. Probably best not to pressure the poor boy with too much attention. “Billy seems to think you are very nice, and from what I have heard, I have to agree. Shuri told me you seemed worried about Billy after the incident recently.”

“Of course I was worried!” The answer was instantaneous. “That guy hurts people all the time, for whatever reason he can think up. I… knew he’d picked on Billy before.”

“I see.” Wanda sighed. “Billy is… not always great about speaking up when he is in need, I’m afraid. Which is why I’m all the more glad to hear he has friends he can rely on.”

She half expected the boy to protest again, to point out that he had hardly been much help before, but instead she got a moment’s silence. “…I hope I can be that for him.”

“I’m sure you can.” Wanda glanced at the boy again. He looked awfully sincere, and that was good enough for her right now. “Now, don’t let me keep you. You’ve done your duty and introduced yourself, and I’m sure the boys have already set up whatever game they’ve tricked you into playing with them. We can speak some more later if you’re staying for dinner.”

“I… would like that, Mrs. Maximoff.”

“Please, just call me Wanda.” She allowed herself a small grin. It had been a few years in this strange place, yet the thought of her happiness still made her somewhat giddy. “Mrs. Maximoff gets so awfully confusing when there are two of us in the house.”

Teddy smiled in response, and really, Wanda was probably getting old because she was far too tempted to pat him on the head.

*

Kurt was soft to the touch.

This was hardly a surprise, considering the fur and all. Even so, Pietro found himself fascinated by the velvety feel of it under his fingertips as he caressed Kurt’s arm. He went against the fur, lifting up the tiny bristles, then smoothed them back down. Kurt didn’t react, simply mumbling something in his sleep and curling up closer to Pietro’s side. He could certainly fold himself into a surprisingly small space, Pietro mused, early fitting under Pietro’s arm.

“I see you are enjoying the company.”

Pietro glanced to where he heard Erik’s voice, glaring at him. “We’re watching a movie.”

“Right. Which is why Kurt is asleep and you’re not looking anywhere near the screen.” Erik smirked, walking closer. “Especially considering that you haven’t even noticed the movie is over.”

Pietro blinked, glancing over at the TV screen. Indeed, he found credits rolling down the screen. Refusing to let that affect him, he shrugged with one shoulder. “It wasn’t a very good movie.”

“Evidently not.” Erik turned off the screen, pausing. “Kurt is a good young man.”

“Is this where you tell me not to hurt him or else?”

“Why? Far as I am aware, you are both adults. Besides, if anyone was going to threaten you, it would be Raven, and she is a big proponent of personal choice.” Erik folded his arms over his chest. “All I wanted to say is that you could do much worse.”

Pietro was tempted to deny any such insinuations, but he had no particular wish to do so. He’d done enough hiding in his life. “He could do much better than me.”

“Perhaps.” Ah, such a supportive father he had. “Even so, he seems to have chosen you, and if he takes after his parents at all, he won’t be easily convinced otherwise.” Erik glanced to the side, lips curling. “Rather similar to Charles, in fact.”

“Have you tried to convince him, then?”

“When I was younger and more foolish.” Erik shrugged. “Mostly by removing myself from the picture so he would see how much better he would be without me. You are the result of one such trip.”

“I don’t think I need any more details about that, thanks.” Pietro resisted the urge to groan. “You came back to him, though.”

“I did. And he took me back.” Erik glanced at Kurt’s slumbering form. “If there’s anything you might learn from my mistakes, let it be this: trust him to know his own best. If he thinks being with you is making him happy, don’t be a fool and try to convince him otherwise.”

“You’re supposing we’re terribly serious about this.” Not that he had any particular intention of not making the most of his time with Kurt, but they weren’t exactly an old married couple like Charles and Erik.

“If you take after me at all? Of course you are. You wouldn’t have that look in your eyes otherwise.” Erik smiled faintly. “I’ll leave you be. No more attempts at fatherly advice tonight.”

“As though I need it anyway.” He waited until Erik’s footsteps faded, then turned his head toward Kurt. Pressing a kiss to the messy curls, he pulled Kurt just a little closer. He’d have to wake Kurt soon enough to get them both to bed, but for now, he was content to simply enjoy the rare moment of silence in the usually lively school.

Besides, Kurt was awfully soft and warm to the touch.

*

“Hey, boys? Is Teddy staying for dinner?”

“Ah. If that’s all right.” Teddy was adorable when he was flustered, Billy decided, though really he should have been used to this by now. It wasn’t like their mothers had ever made a big deal of Teddy coming over. …Well, aside from all the teasing, of course, but that was mostly directed at Billy.

“Of course, dear. I’ll let you know when it’s ready.” Wanda smiled. “And Tommy, it’s your turn to set the table.”

“Ugh, fine.” Tommy made a big show of rolling his eyes before vanishing, appearing again mere moments later. “Done.”

“Thank you, dear.” Their mom still looked a bit too amused, not that Billy could blame her. Tommy enjoyed showing off, and Teddy was currently the only person outside their family who knew there was anything out of the ordinary about them.

“Yeah, yeah. Now, let’s see if I can’t beat blondie here to the ground, again.”

“I would say something about how your hair is way lighter than mine, but I’m more concerned about the challenge.” Teddy smiled, taking a controller into his hands. “To which I say, bring it on, Maximoff.”

They were halfway through their second match when there was a crash from the kitchen. The boys all glanced at each other before Billy raised his voice. “All right, mom?”

There was no response. This, Billy decided, was rather suspect and definitely merited investigating. He’d already been knocked out of the game, so he took it upon himself to do so. It meant moving away from where he had been sitting rather close to Teddy, but sometimes sacrifices had to be made.

He still wasn’t thinking much of it as he stepped into the kitchen. The culprit of the crash was immediately obvious, with what he suspected were the remnants of a drinking glass shattered all over the floor. Dinner was clearly underway, a pot on the stove boiling merrily away, but there was no sign of his mom.

“Mom?” Billy called out again, but still got no response. That was… troubling. Fearing the worst, he rushed back to the living room, where Tommy and Teddy were still playing.

“Well?” Tommy lifted an eyebrow at him without moving his eyes from the screen.

“Mom’s not in the kitchen.” Teddy frowned, and Billy found himself reflecting the expression. “There was a broken glass on the floor but no sign of her.”

“Okay, that’s weird.” Tommy frowned, pausing the game. “Okay, blondie, your defeat will have to wait a moment.”

“Please, I was totally beating you,” Teddy replied, though he didn’t sound quite as amused as before. As Tommy sped off, Teddy reached a hand up from where he was sitting on the floor. Billy took it, searching for at least some comfort. “You okay?”

“I don’t know.” Billy sighed. “I’d say I have a bad feeling about this, but that’s probably a cliché.”

“Still valid if it’s true.” Teddy stood up, still holding onto Billy’s hand. “Maybe she went to look for something to clean it up?”

“She could have done that herself.” Maybe one day Billy would be as adept at morphing the world around him as his mother was, but for now, he could only admire her skills. “I just… I don’t like this, Tee.”

Teddy reached a hand to touch the side of Billy’s face, looking like he was about to say something encouraging, but just then Tommy reappeared.

“Bad news. I checked the entire house, no sign of anyone but us.”

“Are you sure?” It was foolish to hope, he knew Tommy would have certainly had more than enough time to check everywhere, but this just didn’t make sense.

“Absolutely. I also checked Mama’s workroom.” Tommy snapped his fingers. “No sign of her either. There was a blueprint still open, too.”

“Shit.” Billy was vaguely aware that his hand squeezed Teddy’s maybe a bit too hard, but Teddy didn’t complain. “Shit, shit, shit.”

Now what were they supposed to do?

*

Wanda was startled awake by someone shaking her and calling her name. This would have been alarming enough without the fact that she did not, in fact, recall falling asleep. Rather, she was fairly sure she had just been home in the middle of the day, making dinner.

Opening her eyes, she found herself looking at the grim face of Okoye. Meaning she had to be in Wakanda.

“Wanda, get up.” Okoye’s voice left no room for protest. “We need to get moving.”

“I — what’s happening?” Wanda sat up in the bed, trying to gather her thoughts. It was still dark outside, with moon shining high above the capital. “It’s still night!”

“I’m afraid there is no time to dally.” Another guard stood at the door of the room, looking equally grim. Shuri, Wanda noted, was already out of bed, quickly dressing herself. “We are under attack. While there is no immediate threat, we need to get you somewhere more secure.”

“But… my boys.” Wanda swallowed. She knew they weren’t little children anymore, but that didn’t mean she could just disappear. They must have been terribly worried.

“Wanda, dear, we’ll worry about that later.” Shuri gave her a serious look. “Get dressed, we need to get moving. I have some things in my lab that should suffice for armor.”

“How can you be so calm?” Even so, Wanda forced herself to get out of bed and get dressed in something more decent. “We’ve never left in the middle of the day before! We have no way of knowing when we’ll be back!” She had no idea what Okoye and the other guard had to be thinking of their discussion, but at the moment, she didn’t care. Her babies were more important than whether someone thought she was still half asleep.

“Wanda, I don’t think it would have made much of a difference.” Shuri gave her an odd look. “Say. What day is it?”

“Here or there?” As soon as she’d said that, though, Wanda gasped. She hadn’t paid attention to it before, but now that she was thinking about it… the date back in New York, and the date the last time they had been in Wakanda.

“Right.” Shuri gave her an almost manic grin, trying her long braids back to get them out of the way. “I have a feeling that once we’ve dealt with this mess, it might be about time to bring them home.”

Well. That was, Wanda supposed, a rather good motivation.

Now she just had to survive.

*

Wanda was in danger.

Pietro knew this, as surely as he would have known if he himself was in pain. He could feel the weight at the back of his mind, urging him to rush off, to find her, to protect her from everything and anything. Yet here he was, stuck in this place with no idea where to find his sister, back to his usual strength yet without a direction to run.

If Kurt hadn’t been here, taking agitated leaps around him, he might have blown something up in frustration. Which was, he suspected, precisely why Kurt hadn’t backed off from his anger yet. He could be awfully perceptive sometimes.

“We’ll figure something out,” Kurt assured him, even though they both knew it was just meaningless babbling at this point. “If she is calling out to you, surely she’s not shielding herself from the professor anymore.”

“If that was true, he would have found her already.” Pietro’s hands flexed and clenched, itching to punch something, anything. He hated feeling so helpless when Wanda needed him, when Wanda didn’t even know he could be coming to his aid. “I need to get to her. She needs me.”

“Ja, clearly. But we will gain nothing by simply rushing out without a destination.”

“We?” Pietro spun around to face Kurt, who was currently clinging to the wall like a particularly agitated housecat with a gravity problem. “Since when was this about anyone but me?”

“Oh, Mein Freund.” Kurt flashed a smile, though the lack of humor in his eyes made the sight of white teeth more threatening than anything. Good thing Pietro wasn’t easily startled. “If you think I’m going to let you go off on a rescue mission all by yourself, you have another think coming.”

“As though you could catch up to me.”

“I wouldn’t need to, because you are taking me with you.” Kurt returned to the floor, stalking closer. “I will not be left behind, Schazi. Especially not if you are rushing off to danger.”

Pietro swallowed, trying to steel himself against the wave of emotions. “…Maybe I don’t want to endanger you, too.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t have gotten involved with someone as stubborn as yourself.” Kurt smirked, and Pietro thought he was going to say something else. The next moment, though, Kurt leaped back, staring at something behind Pietro. “Mein Gott!”

Pietro spun around, ready to fight. The person he saw did not seem about to attack, but their mere presence was enough of a threat. Pietro knew for a fact they had been alone just moments before, and the only door to the room had been in his field of view. There shouldn’t have been any way for someone to enter.

Well. There shouldn’t have been any way, if not for the fact they were living surrounded by people who could do extraordinary things.

“I’m not a threat.” Right. Because that was guaranteed to be true. “I’m only here to deliver a message.”

“And what message would we need from you?” Pietro had never seen the man before. Well, he was fairly sure he hadn’t, but it was hard to say for sure considering the man’s face seemed to be shrouded in shadows. His voice had a strange quality to it as well, almost echoing in the small room. All Pietro could truly make out was the red cape floating around him.

“I have an address.” The man held out a slip of paper. “You might want to check it out.”

Pietro frowned, then shot forward to grab the paper. If it was a trap, he could always back out before anything happened; even in this strange school, he had yet to find anyone who could match his speed. There was no such attempt, though, as the man simply let him take the note.

“What’s this?” It was an address somewhere in New York, without any other identifiers.

“As I said, it’s somewhere you might want to see.” The man’s gaze flicked over to Kurt. Well, it probably did, somewhere beneath the shadows. “Do take your friend along. Things might go easier if at least someone has some manners.”

Pietro was about to demand what that was supposed to mean, but as he glanced at the paper and then back up, the man was gone. Kurt appeared next to his shoulder the next moment, looking at the note.

“Mein Gott.” Kurt’s hand grasped on his shoulder, squeezing a bit too tight.

“You know where this is?” Pietro tensed.

“Not as such, no. It’s just…” Kurt shook his head. “I couldn’t say for entirely sure, but the handwriting looks the same as that note that was left with you.”

Pietro froze. He still had no idea how he had ended up here of all places, or who was responsible for his arrival. What he did know was that whoever had done that had known exactly who he was, had apparently known more about him and his background than Pietro himself.

It stood to reason, then, that he might know something about Wanda, too.

“Right.” He quickly memorized the address — he did everything quickly, after all — and glanced at Kurt. “Ready to go?”

“A moment.” Kurt fiddled with his holographic device, his appearance changing a moment later. Pietro hated the thing, didn’t like seeing Kurt’s brilliant eyes and soft fur hidden behind the bland disguise, but he wasn’t about to ask Kurt to compromise his safety. Not when he had no idea where they were actually headed.

Not when Wanda was in danger.

Pietro waited for no further confirmation, easily lifting Kurt’s lithe body in his arms. The next moment he took off running, not bothering with informing anyone. They could do that later, once he’d found Wanda.

They had to find Wanda.

It wasn’t terribly hard to track down the address. There were no hidden codes or anything, just a straightforward destination, and Pietro was good at reaching destinations. A moment later in regular time he came to a halt in front of a seemingly ordinary house, setting Kurt down to his feet. “Here we are.”

“I would complain about being queasy, but that would be pretty hypocritical of me.” Kurt eyed the house with curiosity in his eyes. “Nice place.”

“I suppose.” The house was rather nice, he supposed, blending in with the neighborhood without trouble, the garden well-tended and tidy. It was the sort of house Wanda would have loved to live in. “Shall we?”

“As though I could hold you back.”

As tempted as he was to rush inside, Pietro forced himself to stick to regular speeds in case someone was watching. If Wanda was in danger, the last thing he wanted to do was draw any unwanted attention to them. With Kurt hovering behind his shoulder, he pressed the doorbell.

Pietro tried to listen for footsteps, but there was nothing. Even so, a moment later the door seemed to open of its own accord, sliding quietly open. Pietro exchanged wary glances with Kurt, then stepped in. Perhaps it was a trap, but it wasn’t like he had much of a choice.

They made it only a few steps inside before the door slammed shut behind Kurt, again without anyone in sight. Pietro spun around, alarmed, only to find someone grabbing him from behind. He struggled with all his not exactly average strength, which should have been enough to shake off any ordinary human, but the grib held on tight.

He glanced down, and saw large, green-scaled hands clutching his arms, well, then.

“Who are you?” A threatening voice growled in his ear. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, fuck you.” Polite? He wasn’t going to be polite when he'd been attacked. “I’m here for my sister!”

“Funny. You don’t look like Shuri’s brother to me.” Shuri? Who the hell was Shuri? Pietro glanced at Kurt, who was clearly ready to pounce. For now, though, Kurt held back, staring at whoever was holding Pietro with wide, frightened eyes. Silly thing, he shouldn’t have worried about Pietro’s safety here. All that mattered was finding Wanda.

“Wait!” A new voice spoke up, and a young boy appeared in the hallway. Pietro could have sworn he hadn’t been there before, yet suddenly he stood there, clear as day. He couldn’t have just run up fast; Pietro would have seen that. “You. What’s your name?”

Pietro shouldn’t have answered, shouldn’t have trusted a complete stranger. However, the boy didn’t look like a stranger. If it hadn’t been for the dark hair and eyes, Pietro could have sworn he was staring at himself from a few years back. The curly mess of dark hair was familiar, too, though, the eyes fauntingly familiar. It might have been a while since he had seen his sister, but he could have never forgotten those eyes.

“Pietro.” He met the eyes, Wanda’s eyes, without flinching. “Pietro Maximoff.”

“Tee?” The growling voice from behind him sounded questioning. The boy in front of him didn’t speak, though, just lifted a hand.

Transfixed, Pietro watched as he wove a mist of light in the air, blue instead of Wanda’s red yet calling to him all the same.

He wasn’t sure what the boy thought he saw in his expression, but a moment later the boy nodded, letting the light fade. “Let him go.” Instantly the hands released Pietro’s arms. “Doesn’t mean we trust them yet, though. This guy’s supposed to be dead.”

They knew him. They knew him, that was the only explanation, and he had no idea who they were. As soon as he was released he turned and backed away, wanting to see who had held him. If he set himself between Kurt and the threat, well, that was surely just a coincidence. After all, Kurt could certainly keep himself safe just fine.

Seeing the huge green monster who all but filled the hallway, Pietro suddenly found himself wondering if that was true after all.

“Hulk?” It couldn’t be, not with the blond hair and the scales, but it was eerily similar.

“Not quite.” The growl was replaced by a more ordinary voice, younger than he would have expected from someone who looked like he could tear the whole house in half. “But trust me, you still wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

“Right, I don’t think any of us should be getting angry here, at least not until we know what’s going on.” The boy glanced past the green monster thing. “Besides, I think Tommy’s about ready to literally climb over him if we don’t move.”

In response to this, the green monster apparently shrank in size, until he looked like nothing more than an ordinary, if rather well-built and still green teenage boy. However, Pietro had no time for wondering about this, not when he saw the person who had been hiding behind the monster.

If he’d found the other boy familiar, this time it was like looking in the mirror. Well, a mirror from a few years and some facial hair ago. Clearly the boy noticed the resemblance as well, judging by the way he first froze and then scowled.

“Okay, there’d better be a very good explanation.” The younger Pietro marched up to him, glaring at him. “Right. If you’re really Pietro Maximoff, tell me what the hell you’re doing here.”

It took Pietro a moment to realize the boy was suddenly speaking faster, too fast for an ordinary human. Without losing a beat, he replied in turn. “I’m supposed to be dead, but apparently I came back to life somehow a year or so ago. Someone dropped me off at a place for kids with weird abilities because my father lived there, and then that someone gave me this address because Wanda is in danger.”

For a split second, there was still glaring, before the boy nodded almost reluctantly. “Well, if you’re a fake, you’re a damn good fake.” Closing his eyes, the boy took a visible effort to slow himself down for the benefit of those around them. “Right. Let’s get this over with.” His eyes shifted past Pietro, and he blinked. “Well. More surprises, I see.”

Pietro didn’t need to turn to know Kurt had turned off his disguise. It was the only explanation for such a reaction. “I figure if we’re all showing off, I shouldn’t be any worse.” Kurt set a hand on Pietro’s shoulder, and somehow that made him feel slightly less awful. “Kurt Wagner. I would say I’m here as backup for Pietro, but he’d just claim he needs no such thing.”

“Well, if he’s really our uncle, that’s probably true.” The darkhaired boy nodded. “I’m Billy, this is Tommy.”

“And baby brother’s boyfriend is Teddy.” The younger Pietro — Tommy, apparently, jerked a hand to point at him. “And if you are who you say you are, you’re our uncle.”

“Uncle.” Pietro frowned. “I don’t see how that would be possible. I was certainly not dead long enough for Wanda to have children your age.”

“There’s time travel involved. Or magic, or both. It’s kind of messy.” Tommy frowned. “Now, you don’t know where Wanda is?”

“If I did, I would be there.” Damn. He’d been hoping, hoping so much, and yet things had only gotten more complicated. “Shouldn’t you know?”

“Ordinarily, yes, but unfortunately our parents disappeared just a bit ago. Which kind of explains why we’re slightly on the edge.” Billy frowned, his arms folded over his chest. “And if you feel she’s in danger, that’s probably not a good sign.”

“You have no way of finding them?” Kurt spoke up, which was probably for the best. Pietro was far too tempted to catch onto the mention of multiple parents. Did that mean Wanda had found someone? Well, obviously, she couldn’t have very well had children on their own, but that still seemed strange.

“…We might, now that you’re here.” And what was that supposed to mean? “Well. At least something we could try. If you’re willing to help, that is.”

“Anything.” It was an easy promise to make. He still wasn’t sure this wasn’t all some strange delusion, but he would do anything to find his sister.

“Right.” Billy turned to walk down the hallway. “Let’s get somewhere with a bit more space.”

“Oi! What are you planning?” Tommy sped off after his brother, far too reminiscent of Pietro himself in their younger days. The one called Teddy gave Pietro and Kurt one last wary — or perhaps warning — glance before moving after them.

“Just a little experiment.” Billy glanced over his shoulder, and something in his expression was so similar to Wanda it made him ache. “Now that we have three people connected to Mom here, I could try to do a magic circle. Um. Not that I’m as good as her, but I’ve been practising.”

…It was better than anything Pietro could offer, at least.

*

Wanda was not supposed to fight.

Not because she could not, of course. It might have only been a few months in this physical form since the boys had been born, but she was more than recovered, and it wasn’t like she used her body much in battle anyway. No, the problem here was the fact that the trouble had even reached her in the first place. The plan had been for the far reaches of the palace to be safe from the attackers, yet here she was, holding back enraged enemies.

She would have thought this was nothing compared with Ultron’s army, but she remembered far too well how that fight had ended.

“I suppose we should send M’Baku some sort of a thank-you for at least warning us,” Shuri said with a far too casual tone as she blasted another White Gorilla rebel with sonic waves. “I mean, it would have been even better if he’d actually stopped them from coming, but at least he didn’t sit back and let them surprise us.”

“I think Okoye would protest at the idea that we would have been taken by surprise.” Wanda flung another rebel against the nearest wall. She did not want to kill if she didn’t need to, but her enemies had no such qualms. Right now she focused on taking them down. She could grieve later over anyone she might have hit harder than expected.

As concentrated as she was on the fight, Wanda failed to notice the attacker coming from behind her. Shuri’s cry made her sidestep at the last moment, but a spear still got her arm, leaving a deep gash. It wasn’t going to kill her, not right away at least, but the pain distracted her from trying to weave her magic.

“How dare you!” Shuri spat, rushing to Wanda’s side. “I’ll take down every last one of you and make a carpet out of your stinky gorilla hides!”

Wanda tried to focus enough to stop the bleeding, to at least bring up a shield, but the pain muddled her thoughts. She vaguely heard Shuri shouting for back-up even as she held back two enemies at once, ever Wanda’s fierce warrior princess.

Then the air opened into blue light, and Wanda was sure she was dreaming as she saw a familiar face appearing.

There was no time for greetings as Tommy immediately rushed past her, shouting some very creative insults in Xhosa that meant she would need to have a serious talk with Shuri later about where the boys would have learned such language. Billy was next, his words less crude but no less fierce as he immediately threw up a shield of light, yelling at the rebels to stay away from his moms.

Wanda thought she was dreaming, or perhaps her wishes had come true, but the unbelievable moment had not yet ended. She hardly even registered Teddy arriving, or the strange man with blue skin and a tail of all things, her attention entirely caught by the sight of someone she had never thought she would see.

“Pietro?” It couldn’t be, she had to be dreaming, perhaps this was all just a horrible, horrible dream that decided to follow the pain by taunting her with her fiercest dreams. The next moment, though, Pietro was by her side, taking her hand.

“Wanda,” he breathed, and Wanda only barely felt the pain anymore. “You — are you all right?”

“I will be.” That much she knew, now that her family was here. All of her family. “You — how —”

“Later.” Pietro leaned in to press a kiss to her temple, then glanced at Shuri. “I’m assuming the creeps with the furs are the bad guys?”

“You’d assume right.” Shuri grinned almost maliciously as Pietro nodded with determination. “If you want to help clean up elsewhere as well, Billy and Tommy should have access to the entire palace.”

Pietro didn’t stop to question that, didn’t even say anything. He simply rushed off, leaving them within Billy’s shield. Not that it was needed anymore, considering her boys and their friends seemed to have taken care of most of the Gorillas in the room.

“Mom?” Billy glanced at her, a worried frown on his face and his eyes shining with magic, and for a moment Wanda almost forgot to breathe. “You all right?”

“I’ll be fine, boys. Better than fine.” She smiled, unable to hold back the joy within. “Now, it’s probably useless to tell you to stay out of trouble, but… stay safe, okay?”

“Right.” Billy nodded, then glanced at Shuri. “You’ve got her, right, Mama?”

“Always.” Shuri nodded firmly. “Now go kick some gorilla ass while I patch her up. We can all catch up later.”

“Got it.” Billy flew off, and oh, he was truly beautiful with the shine of his magic.

“Your kimoyo beads should be active now!” Shuri shouted after him. “Don’t forget to keep us updated!”

“Do they even know how to use any of that?” Wanda hissed a bit as Shuri turned her attention to Wanda’s wounded arm. “I mean, they’ve never been here before.”

“No. But I’ve told them what each bead does, just in case.” Shuri gave her an impish grin. “What kind of a mommy would I be if I didn’t look out for my kids?”

“Right.” Wanda closed her eyes, exhaling. “…If anyone dies today, I will drag them back from the grave just to kill them myself.”

“Duly noted.” Shuri paused, then turned to her own beads and tapped one of them. “Speaking of which. Brother?”

“Shuri?” T’Challa’s voice sounded hurried, but Wanda supposed that was understandable. “You all right?”

“Oh, just fine. Just thought I’d tell you there’s a couple of white kids running around. If there’s a scratch on them? I’m going to strangle you with your own entrails.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” And really, T’Challa sounded rather too amused for someone who had just been threatened. “I would hate for you to be guilty of treason.”

“Please. If you die, I’m next in line. I’m pretty sure I can pardon myself.” Shuri clicked her tongue. “Oh, and the kids apparently brought some friends over. One white, one green, one blue. I’m pretty sure you can tell them apart from the gorilla trash.”

“Shuri. What the hell is going on?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Shuri grinned at Wanda, leaning in to kiss her briefly before turning back to her call. “I brought my kids home to see their uncle.”

Wanda was pretty sure a king was not supposed to use that kind of language.

*

Ramonda had once thought nothing could surprise her anymore.

She had married a king with superhuman abilities, and raised two very exceptional children. She had lost her husband and thought her son to be dead, all the while being involved in the politics of the country, and seen her country reclaimed. Her son was a king and her daughter was a genius, and she had long since decided not to be surprised by anything they might spring on her.

Sometimes, though, her children truly stretched her ability to take everything in a stride.

“You know, Shuri, when you told me you’re a girl, I thought it at least meant I wouldn’t have to worry about you bringing home unexpected grandchildren.” She made sure not to sound reproachful, but really, she would have appreciated at least a little warning.

“What can I say? I like to exceed expectations.” Shuri gave her a grin, her arms wrapped around Wanda. For once, Wanda didn’t get flustered; in fact, she hardly even seemed to notice. Her attention was entirely caught by their guests.

“So it certainly seems.” Ramonda shook her head, smiling a little. “So. Am I going to get introduced at all?”

“Ah, right! Should do that.” Shuri pecked Wanda’s cheek and then stepped away. “Everyone, this is Ramonda, my mother and the Queen Mother of Wakanda. Mother, you already know my sons Tommy and Billy, though they were somewhat smaller when you last saw them.” She indicated the two teenage boys, who were apparently the same children she had seen born just a few months before. “Their friend and probably my future son-in-law, Teddy Altman.”

“Mama!” Billy protested with a flush. “Stop that!”

Ramonda’s lips curled up. “You know, children, if you do not wish others to think that you are involved, you might want to show less affection.” She nodded towards Billy, who was currently leaning against Teddy’s chest despite all his protest.

“Now, there’s a thought.” Teddy glanced down at Billy, smiling. “Nah, don’t think that’s going to happen.” He hugged Billy, who squeaked and blushed even more before relaxing into the embrace.

“See? Excellent son-in-law material.” Shuri grinned before indicating the two older arrivals. “Pietro, my brother-in-law. He was supposed to be dead but apparently things are not so simple. And this would be his… friend?” The last word hung in the air as a question.

“…Boyfriend.” The man who was apparently Pietro said this with an expression that made it look like he’d just tasted something foul, but the soft glance he then gave his friend revealed this was not at the idea itself. “And his name is Kurt.” His next look around the room was clearly a challenge. It wasn’t hard to guess why, considering the rather… unusual… appearance of said friend, who looked rather overwhelmed at the moment.

“Well, whoever they are, Wakanda welcomes the family of the princess.” Ramonda let her gaze rest on the unusual-looking man, then slid it along with nothing but a smile. Hopefully it would help him relax a little. “Though I have to wonder how literal you are when naming them your family.”

“Oh, didn’t I mention?” Shuri’s grin made it clear she knew very well she hadn’t. “I married Wanda and officially adopted the kids about six years ago. Not sure how binding that is since it was under a fake identity at a time when I wasn’t supposed to be old enough for that, but I’m sure we can fix that soon enough.”

“You know, sister,” T’Challa said, his words measured, “I’m almost tempted to think you’re springing all this on us at once just to distract us from something even more shocking.”

“Oh, please. If I had anything more shocking in store than raising a secret family for fifteen years in the last few months, I would be rubbing it in your face.”

“I suppose that is true enough.” T’Challa nodded with admirable calmness. “Very well. Since we do not currently need to fear an active uprising, I suppose it’s time for a proper family reunion at last.”

“Ah, right, that reminds me.” Pietro’s head shot up from where he had been glancing at his friend, an arm wrapped around Kurt’s shoulders as though defying anyone to comment on it. “Wanda, I might have kind of found our biological father.”

Well. Ramonda supposed it was a good thing she was rather used to dealing with surprising circumstances.

*

Kurt was feeling rather overwhelmed.

It wasn’t the number of people that was doing it, of course, not when he was used to life at the school. Sure, these were all people he didn’t know, but they all seemed friendly enough.

Really, perhaps that was the problem. He was used to always staying in disguise outside the school, knowing the reactions to his true appearance wouldn’t be pleasant. Here, people did look twice when they first met him, but upon being reassured that he was not in fact a monster moved on as though he wasn’t a special sight at all. According to Shuri — because apparently he was on a first-name basis with an actual princess — Wakandans were used to seeing things that would have seemed strange anywhere else in the world, while her own family was even more well acquaintanced with such things. Kurt wasn’t going to doubt her, not when he saw a somewhat embarrassed Teddy demonstrating his shapeshifting abilities to a curious Charles and an admiring Billy.

Kurt wasn’t going to ask how or even why they had managed to bring Erik and Charles over all the way to Wakanda for an introduction in a matter of hours. Clearly nothing could stop Shuri on a mission, not even the prospect of introducing herself to Erik as his daughter-in-law.

With introductions and any initial tensions out of the way, people were now mingling in what had turned into a surprisingly casual party considering there were royals present. Tommy was rushing around like the miniature Pietro he seemed to be, Erik was apparently discussing vibranium with Shuri and a couple of very intimidating women from the royal guard, and Pietro was hovering around Wanda as though afraid she might disappear any moment now. Not that Kurt was going to blame him, not after how long he had spent looking for her. Kurt himself was quite content to sit at the side of the room and watch the people mixing around. He wasn’t directly involved in any of this, anyway, and after the initial curiosity people seemed content to leave him alone for the most part.

This was, Kurt decided, fine. He rather needed a break to process all this.

“Are you not enjoying yourself?”

Kurt started, turning to look at whoever had managed to approach without his notice. To his shock, this was none other than the King of Wakanda himself. “Your Majesty?”

“Please. I think considering the circumstances, you are rather welcome to simply call me T’Challa.” The king was holding a half-finished drink. “And you are Kurt, right?”

“Ah. Ja, that’s me.” Kurt couldn’t quite stop his tail from swishing around nervously. Being treated politely by strangers was one thing, but receiving such treatment from a reigning monarch was something else entirely.

“And is there a reason you are not joining the rest of us?” T’Challa’s gaze turned to where Pietro was standing very close to Wanda, watching her speak with the queen mother. “Missing your partner?”

“Nah, he needs this.” Kurt gave a small shrug. “He’s been aching for information about her for the past year or so, ever since he came back to life. I’ll join him soon, I just… need a break.” He managed a faint smile. “I’m not used to dealing with so many strangers at once, definitely not without disguises.”

“Well, we will probably not remain strangers forever. After all, my sister seems to have tied our family to that of your partner.”

“So it seems.” Kurt’s smile widened before he thought that the sight of his fangs might startle T’Challa. However, the king either didn’t notice or chose not to comment. “…It will probably take Pietro a while to adjust to that. All this time he’s been focusing on finding Wanda, and now he’s found more than he bargained for.”

“He’ll have time to adjust to it all now.” T’Challa took a sip of his drink. “And hopefully you will become more comfortable with this chaos as well.”

“I hope I’ll have the chance to do that.” He certainly wanted to get to know everything that was dear to Pietro.

“If my sister has her way, you are never getting away.” It should have sounded like a threat, but somehow T’Challa almost made it reassuring. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe there is something that requires my attention.”

“Ah. Sure.” He watched the king walk off, then turned his gaze back to Pietro and his sister. A moment later Pietro seemed to notice him, as he turned to look at Kurt and grinned. Kurt grinned back, then decided he had been resting enough for the moment. Teleporting himself over to Pietro, he wrapped an arm around Pietro’s shoulders. He doubted he had much to add to the conversation, but that was fine. He didn’t need any more attention than Pietro’s warmth next to him.

Besides, he had a feeling Pietro would be rewarding his patience once they had some privacy later.

*

“Not joining the party?”

To his credit, the stranger didn’t seem to even flinch at T’Challa’s approach. He simply leaned against the railing, looking down at the happy people gathered below. By all rights he should have been clearly visible from below, his bright red cape not exactly the height of camouflage, yet somehow it seemed everyone was completely ignoring him.

“I don’t think it’s my place.” The man didn’t turn towards him, didn’t lower his hood, but that didn’t matter. T’Challa had a feeling he wouldn’t have seen anything noteworthy anyway.

“I find all this rather hard to take in, still.” He walked up to join the man, leaning on the railing next to him. From below Shuri caught his eye and smiled, seeming to entirely ignore the man next to him. “Even aside from Wanda’s sudden family reunion, it just seems… unlikely. What would you do if you suddenly found out that your little sister is not only mentally older than you, but a mother to two children not much younger than herself?”

“I wouldn’t know.” The man sounded amused. “I don’t have a sister.”

“But you do have a brother.” T’Challa paused, waiting for a denial that did not come. “Don’t you, Billy?”

This only earned him a chuckle, though the man did finally lower his hood. His face was familiar, though clearly older than the boy at the party below, with eyes even older than his apparent years. “Should I even ask?”

“I’m the Black Panther.” T’Challa gave a small shrug. “You may have masked your face and your voice, but you forgot to do anything about your scent.” It wasn’t identical, not quite, but it was close enough.

“Huh. Not something I’d thought of, but I suppose it does make sense.” The man — Billy — shrugged. “That teaches me to get complacent.”

“Or perhaps you shouldn’t be trying so hard to deceive others.” T’Challa paused. “Are you…” He trailed off, not sure exactly how to finish his sentence.

“Him?” The adult Billy gestured toward the younger one at the party below. “Yes and no. I am… an alternative, I suppose.”

“Ah. Another world, then.” Which should have been utterly ludicrous, but there was plenty of things he couldn’t explain at work here already. “And I assume you’ve had your hand in all this?”

“Here and there.” Billy smiled faintly. “Pietro was too weak when he returned, so I took him somewhere safe until he recovered. I gave Wanda the chance to raise her babies in safety. I brought them all together once it was safe to do so. Now, my work here is done.”

“What is your purpose?” Which was probably useless to ask at this point, considering everything had already happened, but T’Challa was rather curious.

Billy paused for a moment, his eyes locked in the distance. Then he spoke, his voice quiet even to T’Challa’s sharp ears. “In my world, Wanda didn’t get to raise her children in peace. I didn’t even meet her until I was about the age your Billy is now. There are things in my past I could not change, but I thought I might as well try to give this family a chance in at least one world.”

“That… seems noble enough.” At least, it didn’t seem like there was much reason to doubt him. “And now, you are leaving?”

“In as much as I ever was here.” Billy shrugged. “I’m merely an observer. What magic I may have wrought was simply little nudges here and there; I only gave them time and place, that was all. Now they’re more than capable of keeping themselves safe, so there shouldn’t be need for any more nudging.”

“I get the feeling you aren’t lacking in power yourself, though.”

“It would be impolite to lie to the king, I suppose.” He looked awfully amused. “Fear not, I have no further intentions upon your reality. Now that I know everyone made it this far in one piece, I’ll leave you all be. Just an observer, remember.”

“Hm.” T’Challa paused. “I suppose I should thank you, for giving my sister this chance at happiness.” He would have had to be a fool not to see how happy Shuri was, after all. Wanda complemented her in all the best ways, balancing out his sister’s more fiery streak. At one point he had wondered if the two weren’t moving too fast; now that he knew the truth of it, he could only wonder at their continued bond.

“As though she wouldn’t have taken that happiness either way, if that was to happen.” Billy lifted his hood again, stepping away from the railing. “I should thank you instead, for giving Wanda shelter when she needed it most. Not many would have taken that risk.”

“As though Shuri would have let me do anything else.” T’Challa found his lips curling a bit. “Should I pass on any message?”

For the first time, Billy seemed to hesitate, the old eyes gazing at him from the young face. “Tell them Wiccan wishes them all happiness.” His cape fluttered in an unseen wind, and T’Challa could have sworn he saw distant stars glittering beneath. The next moment, T’Challa was alone.

Well, then. That had been… interesting.

Looking down at the gathering that was his extended family, he got the feeling things weren’t going to get any more boring from now on, either.