"You have gone berserk, Rogers. This is not up to discussion. Do I need to remind you once more that we are not your soldiers?"
Tony Stark seems livid with the legendary Captain America as they clash over her. Her, out of all people. Not one in a million would she have ever imagined she would be in the same place with Tony Stark and not feel the need to kill him. Which makes the conversation in front of her even more surrealistic.
Steve Rogers and Clint Barton want to enroll her into the Avengers.
The very team she had tried to destroyed.
The very people she had exploited in a way almost sacrilegious. Only now, after Pietro's death, can she understand what she did to them. If anyone played with her mind and showed her her death brother in a vision, she would kill them on the spot with almost no hesitation.
Pietro...Pietro, my brother...
He is gone. Because of their stupidity. Because a vicious, evil man exploited their hate for Tony Stark and made them believe he would give them the chance to avenge their parents. Because she hadn't been there when Pietro needed her. It takes all of her remaining courage not to break down in front of the Avengers.
"This has nothing to do with you, Tony. She has no place to go, and she has proved she has no ill intentions anymore." Rogers' voice is louder now, showing his growing irritation and bringing her out of her miserable thoughts.
Tony Stark laughs, a haunted, soulless laugh. "You are really funny, Cap. After so many years, you are still the naive boy from NY. Let's be clear, shall we?" He turns his eyes on her, and it feels as if he is the one who can read her mind now. A million emotions course through her, none of them being hate anymore.
He is fascinating.
Tony Stark is a mystery of his own. Nobody knew much about him, except from the fact that he was a weapon manufacturer,now a hero in a bright red-gold armor, a notorious playboy and a genius, much like his late father, if not more.
After Sokovia,though, after what she has seen in his head...
She could literally feel the scars in his soul as she delved into his most sensitive memories. The disdain he held for his father, the coldness the late man showed to his only son and heir. The love he held for his mother and the indescribable pain he felt after their deaths. Even if he had tried to put on a stony facade and pretend he didn't care much for losing his father, the event had deeply scarred him. Perhaps more than he knew, or he was willing to admit.
When he was finally free from his shackles, women followed. An endless number of them, so many that it almost made her uncomfortable. Nameless faces coming and going. He had been desperate to feel something other than hollowness, anything at all. Sleeping with random slags became a habit, and he just stopped caring after some point.
His weapon industry was another matter altogether. Not rarely, he had had many inner turmoils, many doubts about his actions. Afghanistan was just the catalyst for him to stop what he already knew it was wrong. His advisors were those who kept him going, appeasing his fears and lying about the recipients of his weapons. Obadiah Stane was the most sinister of them all, and he had been also the one who had provided Stryker with Stark's bombs, so it would appear as Stark's crime against Sokovia.
Pepper Potts. The ginger woman was another sore part of his history. In the beginning, it seemed as if she would stay with him forever. God, how he had clunged on this hope. Potts was his lifebuoy, or so he thought. As she searched deeper and deeper, she saw their breakup, another hit in Tony's already vulnerable heart. She couldn't accept his hero status, the fact he was in constant danger. She could understand her, to an extent. She was afraid for her life and wanted serenity and certainty. That didn't justify her running away from the man she supposedly loved, however.
She should have stopped by then, the memories so overwhelming she couldn't take it anymore.
Wanda played her little games with him, showing him of a future that was pretty much possible to come to fruition. Honestly, she didn't know where these visions came from. The huge alien monsters flying above the dead Avengers, combined with those strange six stones... They must have a hidden meaning. There is a connection between the visions.
"...and you can't possibly imagine what will happen to me if she falls into her old habits again. What will happen to all of us. I don't know about you, Rogers, but I don't fancy dealing with the Supreme Court any time soon. Nor do I fancy the idea of being exiled from my country and losing all I have fought so hard for. My head has been under the guillotine since the very moment I signed those papers. Like it or not, I am responsible for any shit she causes from now on. Isn't that enough, Rogers? And seriously, that excuse of yours for her not having a home? Pure. Horseshit. Natasha didn't have a home,too. If that's Maximoff's biggest problem, I will buy her a mansion and we will never have to deal with her again. Did SHIELD give you free pass for all those shit you did as Black Widow, Nat?"
"Definitely not." The woman's voice is colder than the country she was born.
Tony's words are enough to bring her back to reality, though. "What...what papers did you sign?"
He looks at her. "Finally, you honor us with your voice, Miss Maximoff. For a moment there I thought you had decided to stay mute for the rest of the meeting."
"Can you please stop being an arse, Stark? Just for a second." Barton's voice reveals his irritation.
"No one is talking to you, Barton. As to Miss Maximoff's question..." Tony gets up and slowly walks towards her, each step deliberate and careful.
Is he afraid I will hurt him again?
"...I have signed all the necessary legal documents that make me the only one responsible for your actions here in USA. From yesterday and until the Supreme Court deems you harmless or at least trustworthy enough, I will be your supervisor. I have also signed the papers for you to acquire the American citizenship. A full-fledged nationality, with the rights that every American enjoys, since Sokovia deduced your citizenship, thus making you stateless and equating you with refugees and immigrants without passport. Those papers, my lawyers and my ability of masterfully lying are the reasons you are standing here right now, without CIA agents hovering above your head. As if these are not enough, Cap and Barton here want you to join the team. Without a vote from the rest of us. Because apparently Nazi terrorists get a free pass nowadays. Oh, poor Adolf, if only you had been born in the 21st century." he drawls sarcastically.
During his speech, she has firmly remained fixated on him.
He is not just fascinating. He is beautiful. He is charming.
He is not very tall or overly muscular, like Rogers and Thor, but he is definitely well built, his body sculpted and lean. His aura, his posture, his very presence compensate for the lack of height. His black hair is lustrous and messy, giving him the air of a naughty boy. And his eyes...Haunting, sad and enraged at the same time, his eyes make no effort to hide his feelings. He would be an open book, if he weren't so closed and reserved.
Such a mystery.
Managing to find her voice, she dares to ask the most obvious question.
"Why did you offer your protection to me? Why did you sign all those papers?"
He smiles sadly. "You are a smart woman, Maximoff. You tell me. I'll give you three chances."
She exhales heavily, immediately understanding what he implies. The room grows silent and Romanoff walks towards Tony, resting her palm on his shoulder for comfort. The simple gesture of camaraderie and friendly support makes her stomach churn inexplicably. It's almost as if she doesn't want Romanoff to touch Tony. Or any other woman to touch him ever again.
Her parents. The bomb.
"You are still young, Wanda." It's the very first time he calls her by her given name. "If you become an Avenger, if you dedicate yourself in saving people, you will soon find out that there is nothing worse than the guilt of knowing you are responsible for other people's deaths, directly or inadvertedly. I could accept Cap's logic, to be honest. I could accept you were misled, driven by rage and revenge against me. Because I made you feel like this. If I had never been involved into the weapon industry, if I had never trusted Obadiah, I would have never had blood of innocents staining my hands. Hell...I have killed so many people and I don't even know their names, their nationality, their families. I don't know if they wanted to go to university, to apply for a job the next day, to get a cat or a dog. But now I know you, Wanda. I met your brother. For the first time after so many years, I have a victim of my decisions standing in front of me. And contrary to what Cap believes, I have a heart. It took me long to unbury it, but I found it. And my heart, my conscience doesn't allow me to let you get eaten alive by CIA, FBI or any other secret governmental organisation that will surely come after you. I have caused you enough pain for a lifetime. I won't be responsible for more heartache in your life, not if I can help it."
The silence is deafening. Rogers is looking at Tony with wide eyes, while Barton and Romanoff have lowered their heads. Perhaps they are all fucked in some way, others more and others less. Tony's scars run deep,though, deeper than he lets anyone to see. The beautiful,haunted man in front of her is definitely not the monster she expected to find.
Which makes it even more difficult to not be drawn to him.
Like a moth to the flame.
His voice is desperate as he goes on, brown eyes focused on her. "No matter how hard you messed up with my mind, I don't hold you responsible. Ultron was my idea from the start. I am the main culprit for the destruction of your home country. And because of our shared past, because of what my lack of insight did to you and your brother, I fully understand your actions against us. That's why I took this decision. Letting you join the Avengers, however, is a totally different issue. You proved you had no moral barriers, at least at the beginning. You helped HYDRA, you assisted Ultron. Granted, you abandoned him when you found out his true plans, but your initial stance remains. You assisted a genocidal AI just because you wanted to destroy me. That was way beyond the limits. So, no." He turns to Rogers again, eyes cold and calculating. "Wanda Maximoff will stay under my protection for a year, and I say one year because this is what the protocol determines for accepting newcomers. Twelve months is the minimum time limit for any new Avenger. If she proves herself trustworthy enough, we can vote. Mind,Cap, that the decision must be unanimous, either we accept her or not. I am asking nothing more than the legal procedures."
"So, she will spend the next twelve months as a criminal under supervision? That's crap, Stark. She is just a child." Barton cuts in.
"She won't spend the next year as you described. I give you my word on that. She can live in my house with me or I can buy her a house of her own. She will have no guards hovering above her 24/7, but if she shows any sign of terrorist actions, the State will act accordingly. Even I can not protect her from the State. I am not the fucking President, Barton, in case you have forgotten. And no, she is not a child. She is 23, fully capable of making her own decisions and ethically evaluating them. Neither HYDRA, nor Ultron lured her with candies and chocolates. So stop treating her like some fragile little girl. Because she is not. A fragile little girl wouldn't fuck up with our minds, with memories that she has no idea what they mean. Do you really want to do this here, Barton? Do you want me to bring vodka and whiskey and discuss about what she showed us, like a happy little family? I guarantee you, we will be in dire need of psychotherapy by the end of the conversation."
That is enough to deflate Barton and he sits down with a scowl.
"I agree with Tony. There is no reason to rush, not when Sokovia is still raw in our minds. Maximoff has done terrible things. Actions completely opposite to our moral code and to how an Avenger acts. But we won't abandon her either. Tony has already offered his assistance and protection. His word is more valid than the USA Seal itself. He won't let any harm come to her, if she proves herself harmless, of course. This is the only way. I would also add, that the Protocol says there is the possibility of lessening the trial period from twelve to eight months, if the trainee is exceptionally trustworthy and skilled. We can revisit the issue in eight months. What do you say?"
Rogers relents, sighing and looking at Tony. "I can't say I disagree with this logic. But what if the governent decide to come after her?"
"There is no reason to get themselves involved if Miss Maximoff here proves herself willing to cooperate. For that, I will take her tomorrow at the FBI headquarters, where she will give an extensive description of her connection with HYDRA, her collaborations with Stryker and Ultron, as well as a detailed description of her powers and abilities. Can you do that, Wanda?"
She merely nods, astounded by Tony's willingness to help her at any possible way, at any personal cost. "Yes. It's the least I can do. My powers, however...I mean, I'm still in the process of discovering them. Truthfully speaking, they are constantly developing. I'm not fully aware of my true capabilities, and I can't foresee how they will evolve in the future."
"This is fine." Tony's eyes soften, the first time the man has shown any sympathy towards her as a person and not as a victim of circumstances. If she wants to be honest with herself, she is tired of playing the victim. Her actions had consequences, and she will never be able to face them if she keeps pushing them to the back of her mind, constantly repeating the mantra that it wasn't her fault. "You will report this,too. In that way you will be covered for any powers that will appear in the future. I will be by your side with my lawyers, Wanda. I will give my own testimony about Sokovia, seeing I was the one who initiated Ultron's creation. If they show any sign of disrespectfulness or ask more questions than they are allowed, we will leave immediately and our testimonies will take place another day and time, with different interrogators."
"Thank you. I will prove myself worthy of your trust. I won't dissapoint you. Any of you."
"That's all we ask. For now, you can temporarily stay with me. You can decide later if you want a house of your own, and where."
"Tony is fine."
"Thank you, Tony."
He nods and exits the room, leaving the rest behind.
"Well..." Romanoff sighs and looks at her suspiciously. "Let's see how this experiment will go."
"I trust her. She changed sides and helped us against Ultron. I know you won't let us down, Wanda." Steve Rogers looks at her, a reassuring smile on his lips.
"I will try my best."
Especially for the man who is risking everything for me.