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sirens in the beat of your heart

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One day, Wanda was meeting up with Viz in a hotel in Edinburgh, making love on borrowed sheets and borrowed time. For two years, she’d loved him in secret, and they spent that time building a relationship that only existed in clandestine rooms, a sacred, perfect, fragile thing that was theirs. And he stood there on the street and held her face in his hands and asked her to stay, and she almost said yes. She was going to say yes.

The next day, Wanda was in Wakanda, and Vision died in front of her. Twice.

A day later, and also five years later, she helped save the world.

And now it’s the day after that, and they are holding a funeral for Tony Stark, someone she has not considered an ally for two years, someone who had not considered her an ally for seven.

It’s a tricky puzzle at first, figuring out who stuck around and who vanished when she did. But she sees the weight on some of them. She sees how trauma has aged Steve, Clint, Bruce, and others. And she sees the shock in their faces when they look at Sam, Bucky, herself. And after that, it’s easy to sort them out. Not that it matters. Not that any of this matters. It’s just a puzzle to pass the time while she pretends that her grief has anything to do with this particular funeral.

She wonders if anyone grieved for her. She wonders if anyone grieved for Vision. Did either of them have a funeral? Were memorials set up for them, and if so, are they together? She knows that she was dust, but he was still a body. He was still here. What did they do with his body? Where is she supposed to go to mourn him?

What’s the point? They won the war, and Vision is still gone. For them, it was years. For her, it’s been days. It’s barely even been a day, and the pain is unbearable. Her grief beats inside her like a second monstrous heart, and she does not know if she can survive this. It is an irrefutable fact that she is strong; she just doesn’t know if she’s strong enough for this.

She remembers losing Pietro, watching them lower his body into the ground in Sokovia. She was alone for that, because no one else left really knew him. No one else loved him or would miss him, and she didn’t want anyone else to be there.

They won a war then, in Sokovia, and everyone else celebrated while Wanda buried someone she loved.

Every time they win a war, she loses the person she loves the most.

But now the joke is on them, because she doesn’t love anyone at all anymore.

*

I need to go.

She’s wandered back inside with everyone else, watching them comfort each other and share memories of Tony Stark and only Tony Stark, and not Vision, not even Natasha, the only woman Wanda has ever felt close to, who is also gone and also forgotten. Everyone is speaking in hushed tones, but the soft sounds build on one another until it’s like her head is wrapped in a fuzzy blanket of phonemes that don’t make any sense, and she’s sure she can’t bear it one second longer, and then a crystal clear thought appears in her mind, almost like someone else put it there.

I need to go. I need to leave. I can’t be here, I need to go.

She ran away from Tony Stark once, and she’s pretty sure she can do it again.

Car. She needs a car, or a plane, or a motorcycle, or a boat, something with an engine and a steering wheel that points the hell out of here. Tony will have vehicles. She can steal a vehicle from Tony. She can leave. She just needs to find a key.

She scans the room carefully as she makes her exit from it. No one seems to notice her, but just as she’s slipping out, Clint’s gaze drifts over to her. He wrinkles his brow, opens his mouth as if to say something, and that won’t do at all, so she flicks her wrist carefully, nudges his mind just a little, and he looks through her and doesn’t see her at all as she walks out.

She feels a fleeting moment of guilt. She knows Clint doesn’t like having his mind toyed with, and she’s assured him in the past that she’s not strong enough to do it because she’s wanted him to feel safe around her. But she is strong enough, and she does care about Clint, but not as much as she cares about leaving undetected. Clint will be fine.

The cabin is smaller than the Avengers Compound, but she still takes a few wrong turns into the kitchen and two bathrooms and a child’s playroom before she finally finds a room that looks promising. It’s part-office, part-workshop, and it’s clearly a space that belonged to Tony.

The desk seems as good a place as any to start. The drawers are locked, but of course that won’t stop her, and it’s just a simple flick of her fingers to open them up. The first key she finds is small, probably too small to power a vehicle, but she pockets it anyway and moves on to the next drawer.

She’s searched half the drawers when she hears the office door open. Her head snaps up, and Bucky Barnes slips inside. She raises her hands automatically, tries to nudge him back out, but he just squints at her and closes the door behind himself. Confused, she pushes at him harder, but his expression and his mind remain inscrutable to her as he saunters over to the credenza against the far wall.

“What do you think?” he asks, shooting her a crooked smile. “I’m looking for Tony’s good booze. Am I hot or cold?”

“You can see me?” she confirms warily.

“Yeah?” He fusses with the cuff of his jacket, shifts from foot to foot. “Sorry, was I not supposed to?”

“What are you?” she asks, raising her arms fully. She can read him, his bemusement, and something chaotic roiling deeper with him that he has buried beneath a calm facade, but she can’t change him.

“I’m just a man trying to find alcohol strong enough to outpace my amped-up metabolism,” he says. He tries one of the cupboards, finds it locked, then forces his way in with a sharp jerk of his arm. He kneels and starts rifling through the contents of the cupboard. “Why, what are you?”

“Why can’t I affect you?” she asks, tense with frustration as she fails again and again to warp his perception of reality. If she can’t make him leave, then she can’t make her escape, and her hastily woven plans are unraveling to threads with each passing moment.

His head pops up, a glass flagon of some faintly glowing purple liquid in his hand. “What are you trying to do? Are you trying to attack me?” He sounds almost hurt. “If you’re looking for a fight, I don’t do that kind of shit anymore. I just wanted a drink.”

“Everyone else, I can….” She doesn’t know how to explain it. She has no idea how she does what she does, or what the rules are. “I can make them see things. Or not see things. But it’s not working for you.”

“Oh,” he says, uncorking the bottle and sniffing the contents inside. He shrugs and takes a gulp from the bottle. “That’s just my head. I’m tamper-proof now.”

“What does that mean?”

He’s been lighthearted to this point, but his face is somber when he meets her eyes, his voice serious and even. “It means no one controls me but me.” He takes another sip from the bottle, licking a stray drop from his lips. “Although I have to say, I knew they did a good job in Wakanda but I could never be completely sure. So it’s a bit of a relief to know it worked.”

In spite of Bucky’s obvious strength and power, something within him radiates harmlessness. There is something terrifying about being alone in a room with a man she can’t manipulate, but there is also something freeing in the knowledge that perhaps she doesn’t even have to. Maybe she can rest here for a moment and just be safe.

She probes his mind tentatively, seeing how deep within him she can reach.

He is tired. He is tired from not sleeping well last night, and he is tired from being alive for a hundred years and not understanding all the nuances of this world he found himself in when he was released from Hydra, only to have another five years stolen from him just as he was figuring himself out. He is a man who keeps losing time, and it is wearing him down.

He is sad and anxious about something, but he keeps that locked down, small and tight and heavily guarded, even from himself. Something is going to happen that he is dreading, but he doesn’t want anyone else to know about it.

He feels some kind of attraction for her, and it flits in and out of focus, never in the forefront of his mind but not completely latent either. He is vaguely aware of it but makes no attempt to act on it or confront his feelings directly.

There is so much grief, thready tendrils of it from all different parts of his life, for people he has lost, for things he has done, for things done to him. It’s sewn into the seams of his psyche, inextricable from the core of who he is.

And yet…

As she probes deeper, all she finds is layers and layers of goodness. Because beneath everything else, beneath his pain and loss and betrayal and heartbreak and trauma, Bucky Barnes is a good man trying to do the right thing.

She knows about the things that were done to him, but it’s been abstract and imprecise. They know the same people, but they don’t know each other, not really. This is the longest conversation they’ve ever had.

“Sorry,” she says softly. “For trying to manipulate you.”

“It’s okay,” he says, and she can tell that he means it. “We’ve all had a few rough... I don’t know, has it been days or years for you?”

“Days,” she says. For both of them, it’s just been days.

“Do you want a drink?” He extends the bottle to her, and she knows she was planning to drive soon, but a drink sounds good in this moment.

“Okay,” she says. She slumps to the floor across from him and takes the bottle from his hand. “Don’t judge me, but I’m going to disappear that door from everyone’s consciousness so no one else comes in. I can handle you, but I can’t handle anyone else.”

“Oh, can you handle me?” he asks with a lazy smirk, and there’s something kind and charming in his eyes that feels like it was dredged up from the deepest part of him, nearly forgotten.

She takes a swig from the bottle instead of answering him, and the liquid inside is sweet and heady, nothing she’s ever tasted before.

“Is it working?” she asks, passing the bottle back. “Is it making you drunk?”

“Can’t tell yet,” he says. “But there were lots of bottles in there. If this one doesn’t work, I can keep trying.”

“That’s audacious,” she says, and unbidden bitterness creeps into her voice. “Drinking your way through the private collection of the patron saint of the Avengers.”

She thinks at first that she’s gone too far, but he just chuckles and shakes his head.

“Right? But no one else was gonna. You know what they’re like. They won’t touch a thing in this room. They’ll just leave it pristine and frozen forever as a shrine, and all the good stuff was just gonna go to waste.”

“Cheers,” she says with a quirk of her lips. The alcohol is good, and it’s softening out some of her feelings and intensifying others. It won’t last, but this feels like a good place to hide for a while, with this odd companion. “So you don’t think he was a saint either, then?”

“Our relationship was complicated,” Bucky says slowly. “We were not friends, that’s for sure. And he was no fan of mine. But I, you know” - he swallows uneasily - “killed his parents.”

“He killed my parents,” she says evenly.

“How’s that?”

“A bomb he built.” She pictures it in her mind as she says it, and she feels that same paralyzing terror she felt as a young girl, and she forgives herself for never fully forgiving Tony in spite of the good he did for her and the world. “His weapon.”

“Is that really the same thing?”

“Who is really to blame?” she asks, cocking her head. “The weapon, or the one who wields it?”

“I think you’re trying to make this about me, and how the things I did for Hydra aren’t really my fault,” Bucky says, blowing some of his hair out of his eyes, “but I’m just going to ignore you and keep drinking.”

“That’s fair.” She sips at the glowing purple liquid. “What do you think this is?”

“I dunno,” he says, running his tongue over his teeth. “Tastes real purple though, doesn’t it?”

Her laughter seems to surprise him as much as it does her. “Yeah,” she agrees. “It’s purple as fuck.” He laughs, too, and it feels like approval, and that settles warm inside her just like the alcohol. “What’s next? Anything blue? Green?”

“Can we save green for last?” he asks, wrinkling his nose. “Let’s drink the prettier shit first.”

She tests his mind again. The grief is still there, but deeper, farther away. He is at peace, and there is warmth for her, affection and care, and still some casual, incidental attraction.

“You’re attracted to me,” she finds her tongue is loose enough to reveal.

“Sure,” he says amiably, and his guilelessness is endearing. “You’re very pretty.”

“Are you going to do something about it?” It’s not an invitation from her, but she is curious about his intentions.

“Not trying to brag,” he says, “but I actually pride myself on having self control these days.”

“And what if I wanted you to do something about it?”

He raises an eyebrow at her, unimpressed. “Do you?” he asks, clearly not buying it.

“No,” she says primly. “So don’t try anything with me.” She finishes off the bottle and places it carefully on the floor beside her, secretly thrilled by the feeling of naming her boundaries.

“Ma’am,” he says, nodding. “Wouldn’t dream of it.” He twists his torso to hunt for a new bottle in the cupboard behind him, emerging with something clear and shimmery. “This one?”

“Sure.”

He extends it to her with his left hand. As she takes it, their fingertips brush, and she gasps and jerks back, her whole body suddenly radiating with something, like she accidentally touched a stove she didn’t know would be hot.

Like she accidentally touched an arm she didn’t know would be vibranium.

“Are you okay?” Bucky asks nervously, quickly setting down the bottle and then putting up his hands, palms towards her, like he’s expecting to be accused of something. “Sorry, I’m- sorry, I don’t know what.” He closes his eyes and shakes his head slowly. “Sorry, fuck, sorry.”

“I’m okay,” she whispers. She’s not. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I’m okay.”

She’s not okay, she’s not okay, she’s not okay.

Her whole arm is tingling. She looks down at it, and it looks normal, and that feels wrong, too. It feels like she should be shooting off sparks, or flames, or energy. Her fingertips should be singed. She looks normal, all of her, but she’s rotting and burning and no one can even tell.

“I…” she starts to say, but then she’s crying, and he chews on his lip, his fingers subtly twitching as he very deliberately makes no move to touch her.

“I’m sorry,” he says again, and there is a depth of his despair in his voice that she can’t bear, she cannot bear letting this man think he has harmed one more person when once again, he has done absolutely nothing wrong.

“Viz,” she says, roughly brushing away her tears. “Did you know him?”

“No,” Bucky says carefully, his eyes huge and dark and unmoving. “But he’s not…. No one told me what happened to him, but he’s not here.”

“No,” she whispers. “No, he isn’t.”

If she could manipulate his mind, she could show him. If she could show him, she wouldn’t have to tell him.

She doesn’t want to say any of it out loud.

She sniffles inelegantly and then reaches for the bottle next to Bucky’s thigh, retrieving it without touching him. She uncorks it and has a long pull, and whatever’s inside burns like hell on the way down, but maybe that’s good. Maybe this part is supposed to hurt.

And it does hurt. Every word she speaks to him feels like shards of glass carving up her larynx. But she knows that Bucky is good, knows this is a man who can keep a secret and will treat her pain gingerly like the precious and monstrous thing that it is. And so, haltingly, she tells him of her own time in Wakanda, of how she lost Vision twice.

She’s too aware of Bucky’s vibranium arm hanging at his side, crackling and sparking like a live wire she is daring herself to touch, and she chokes on her tears as she speaks, but she tells him everything.

“Shit,” he says when she finishes. His eyes are so expressive and mournful, and having someone else witness her pain and deem it terrible is almost a relief at this point. “I didn’t know. He…. I didn’t know him, but he seemed like a good person, and I’m sorry for what you’ve lost.”

Maybe it’s the ease with which he calls Vision a person, when so many others struggle to do the same. That, plus the vibranium arm, plus her tears, plus the alcohol. All of that together must be what does it.

“Would you hold me, if I asked you to?” she asks quietly. “You’re the only other living vibranium I know, and I just…. I miss him so much, and I know you’re not him, but….”

“Yes,” he says, just as softly. “Yes, if you asked me to, then of course I would.”

“Please,” she whispers. “Please, I just miss him so much.”

He opens his arms to her without saying a word, and she scrambles over to him, crawling into his lap and tucking her face into his neck like a child. He loosely wraps his arms around her, and she feels the vibranium humming at her body, through his clothing and hers, and she weeps.

Vision was more than just the metal. There was always some energy that was uniquely him, something she felt inside that can’t be replicated just by being near vibranium. She knows that’s gone forever, but still. Still. This is the closest thing she’s felt to comfort since she lost him. It’s not enough, it will never be enough, but there is still a flicker of something good in this moment.

“Am I being punished?” she whispers, and she feels him shake his head and tighten his arms around her. They’ve both hurt a lot of people they didn’t intend to, and they’ve both suffered a lot, and does one ever equal the other?

She wonders if she and Bucky would have been friends if they’d met under difference circumstances. Maybe they were too similar and would have repelled each other like magnetic poles. Maybe it had to be like this, right now in this particular ghastly instance.

Bucky Barnes is a good man. She feels his care for her and how it eclipses his own worries for himself. He is anxious about something. He has so much dread beneath his calm exterior, and he doesn’t show any of it to her.

“What are you worried about?” she murmurs, and he tenses.

“I’m not supposed to talk about it,” he says finally. “I suppose you could pull it out of my head if you really wanted to, but I’d prefer that you didn’t.”

“I won’t,” she says. “Is that why you were drinking? To forget?”

“Something like that.” He rubs his left palm over her back in small circles, and she sighs and lets herself be soothed. “Do you want to tell me what you were doing when I came in?”

“Oh.” The plan seems so faraway now, trapped in amber in another lifetime. “Oh, I was looking for keys so I could steal one of Tony’s cars and get out of here.”

“Of course you were,” he chuckles, and she smiles in spite of herself. “Sam has a rental. I can lift the keys from him if you want.”

“Yeah?”

“Of course.”

She closes her eyes. Of course. This man is offering her kindnesses that she can’t even fathom while acting like it’s commonplace, like anyone would do the same, when she knows very keenly that they would not.

“Do you want to come with me?” she asks, unsure if she’s being polite or if she would prefer a companion at this point.

“I can’t right now,” he says haltingly, and she appreciates the regret in his voice. “I have to stick around another day or so while Steve does the whole Quantum Tunnel thing to return the stones or… I know you don’t know what I’m talking about, and I don’t know what I’m talking about either,” he says, trailing off. “Steve’s doing some time travel shit, and I should be here when he gets back.”

“That’s okay,” she says. She feels his heartbeat thunking solidly in his chest, and it makes her feel strangely hollow. “I think I should do the first part of this alone, and you should be here for Steve.” Of course this is only temporary respite. She knew that all along.

“I could meet you afterwards,” he says softly a minute later. “If you wanted company, I could meet you somewhere.”

“Yeah?” she asks, her heart rate speeding up.

“Seems like we could both use a friend. And maybe a vacation.”

“That would be incredible,” she says. Her face is still stiff and hot from tears, and she knows it’s not okay, and it’s probably never going to be okay, but… “I would really love to have something to look forward to.”

“I’ll meet you,” he says, giving her a squeeze, and she sniffs messily into his neck. “We’ll go wherever you want.”

“Thank you,” she says.

His arm is so solid around her, and his heart is so good and strong. He rocks her gently in his arms, probably without meaning to, and she lets herself be lulled.

“Do you have to leave now?” he asks, murmuring the words into her hair, and she sighs and wraps her hand around his left wrist, feeling the heat and the power and the safety of him, the metal and the man and the memory of things she has lost. And maybe a hope for something new, someday.

“Not yet,” she whispers. “I can stay a little longer.”