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Bright Artificial Girls

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Agnes’s carry-on bag was messy, a jumble of checkered outdoorsy shirts and spare underwear. A Ziploc bag with lipstick, toothpaste, perfume. Curling iron. A paperback copy of Outlander, with a TV tie-in cover. A squashed packet of Kleenex.

Agnes shouldn’t have been able to fuck with her—Agnes shouldn’t have wanted to fuck with her—but Wanda was getting impatient with this slow one-by-one extraction of items. It was like watching stage magic, with a string of scarves emerging from somebody’s sleeve one color at a time.

Flourish, she thought, and bit down hard on her lip. “Did you bring what I asked you to bring?” The question came out sharp.

Agnes laughed. “I did, hand to God. You just called me up out of the blue and said, ‘Agnes, get that sweet tush of yours out to the back-end of nowhere,’ and I tossed everything in a bag, because what are friends for? Ah—bingo.” She yanked a small denim jacket out by the sleeve.

Billy’s. Wanda snatched it out of Agnes’s hand, closing her fingers around it hard tightly that she was crushing the stiff fabric in her fist.

It had survived Westview’s shift back to normalcy. It even had the little rip in the cuff, where he’d torn it when he was playing.

In her mind, she flipped through the Darkhold, double-checking arcane footnotes written in blood. It occurred to her that that was where she really was now—where she really was all the time. There was the Wanda-shell that walked around the cabin and did things, and then there was the Scarlet Witch, who breathed in the dusty-rotten scent of the pages of the Book of the Damned and never tasted fresh air. She felt distant from herself—even from her son’s jacket, clasped so tightly in her hand.

It should work, though. The jacket. It would be a kind of hook for Billy and Tommy both, because their blood was one and the same.

She’d brought them into the world once, and that had been as unnatural as this. Who was to say she couldn’t do it again?

“You should see your face,” Agnes said. “Just—whoosh. Million miles away.”

“Not a million,” Wanda said, almost absently. “Not even one. I’m just in the bedroom.”

Some of the manic chipperness bled out of Agnes’s smile. Her lips seemed to soften, enough for Wanda to notice, suddenly, the perverse ordinariness of it all: Agnes had put on lipstick that morning, back in Westview, and she hadn’t freshened it up since then. It was worn now, blurred.

Agnes hadn’t gotten up yet. She was still kneeling in front of her suitcase, looking up at Wanda. Not through her eyelashes—not coy. She tilted her whole face up, twisting in Wanda’s direction like a sunflower looking for light.

And she said, “Now that I understand. Some part of my mind is always in the bedroom. Especially around you, toots.” She gave the kind of saucy wink that Wanda had only ever seen on TV—and went on kneeling there, her dark-washed jeans looking almost black against the rug. Black like ink. Like the less-dangerous spells in the Darkhold. Only there wasn’t anything less than dangerous about Agatha—about Agnes—even now.

Back in the bedroom, she’d lost her place. She was just here, looking down at Agnes looking up at her. She felt—something. Something she wasn’t sure she liked, but when was the last time she’d liked anything? So what did it matter?

She folded Billy’s jacket carefully, and slid it on a high shelf of the bookcase—like she’d be putting it out of Agnes’s reach.

But, of course, Agnes had brought it to her. Agnes was her creature, as the book in the bedroom would say.

Except Wanda could see her for herself that the book was wrong. You couldn’t expect chaos magic to work by the rules. Even if Agnes was supposed to just a broken-off extension of her, like a fingernail paring or a lock of hair, even if she wasn’t supposed to have any more independent thought than a Roomba—she’d lived for months now without micromanaged storytelling. Somewhere, off in Westview, Agnes had gossiped with neighbors Wanda had never really met; she’d done laundry and brushed her teeth and paid her phone bill. She’d done a thousand little unscripted things. For all Wanda knew, she even had a job by now, a whole subplot Wanda had never touched or even thought about.

Agnes was more real now. Wanda wondered absently if that was better or worse for Agatha, to find her role taking on a life of its own.

Wanda didn’t know what it meant for them. What it meant for—whatever this was.

She said, abruptly, “Did I make you this way?”

“You mean did you make me hot? You know you did, honey. You’re a five-alarm fire.”

That wasn’t what she meant, and she had the feeling Agnes somehow knew that. Her expression had stiffened up again, like a cheap plastic Halloween mask.

“Look at me,” she said, even though Agnes already was.

“Oh,” Agnes said softly, as traces of magic started to play around Wanda’s fingers. “I get the laser light show. God help me, I’m reliving my glory days. It’s like I’m at a Phish concert.”

The magic lanced into her temples, forking like lightning, and Agnes sighed.

Wanda said, “When I called and told you to come here, why did you do it?”

“You’re my best friend. You can’t let a little thing like distance get in the way of something special.” Her eyes were blankly red: there wasn’t any room for her to lie.

“What do you know?” Wanda said, and as Agnes opened her mouth to give some meaningless answer, sugary and silly as a candy bracelet, Wanda pressed in harder, boring in. “What do you know that you think I don’t want you to?”

Agnes answered slowly now. “You did something to me. You left town, and you should hear the things people say about you.”

“What do you say to them?”

“I don’t tell them where you are,” Agnes said, looking at her with those flat red eyes. “I just say, ‘You never can tell about people.’ And that’s true, isn’t it? But you—I think about you all the time, Wanda. Like I can feel my heart pounding in my chest, only it’s all you, sweetcakes. When you say jump, I grab a rope. I do Double Dutch.”

“Because I’m your best friend?” She drove the magic skewers in again, feeling Agnes’s mind tight around her. She couldn’t believe Agnes wasn’t trying to buck her out; Agnes was just letting her do this.

All I’ll feel is you, Vision had told her. That was all Agnes was feeling, and she liked it, and that there was any goddamn parallel between Vis and Agnes—Agatha—at all made her want to tear everything in two.

But Agnes was all around her, hot and tight and slippery, and—

Talking. Wanda struggled to focus.

“Because you’re my best friend,” Agnes said. “You’re the meaning in my life, you’re the inspiration. And if you did that to me—if the only reason I feel you all the time is just some stupid magic trick, something you did to every Judy and Joe Blow—then I’m nothing. I’d rather be head over heels for you. Gives it more meaning, you know?”

Her eyes were still plain scarlet, not even red-violet. There was no hint of Agatha pressing back. If all Agnes could feel was Wanda, doing this, all Wanda could feel was her: the shallow, gossipy neighbor who’d become something more. A stalker, maybe. A lovelorn cultist.

Wanda let go. Her body felt unwelcomely heavy, all sensitive and flushed. It was like someone’s hand was cupping her, a constant warm pressure against her now-aching cunt. It had been like this before, when she’d really been deep in a spell, but not… not quite. Not so intensely.

“Ah.” Agnes rolled her shoulders back. “You do know how to give a girl the third degree. So…”

“You’re not in love with me,” Wanda said. Even to her ears, it sounded weak.

Agnes didn’t even flinch. “Eye of the beholder,” she said lightly. “I like a good tragic love story. You had that whole sitcom phase, right? I’m thinking more—trashy paperback. Twilight, maybe. The uncannily beautiful, sparkly, charismatic weirdo who just thinks the ordinary brunette smells too damned good to pass up.”

“You’re not ordinary.” She meant it. If she did this, she’d have to convince herself that it was fine because Agnes wasn’t someone she should have been protecting.

Agnes just smiled. “I bet you say that to all the girls.”

Wanda still had all of Agatha Harkness’s power seething around inside her, tumbling into her own. She’d turned a whole town into her own personal puppet theater. Making up for all that—doing the next thing, doing better, trying to follow Clint and Steve and Monica Rambeau’s lesson plan—that had to wait until she had the boys back. For right now, she was on hold. And she didn’t owe Agnes a goddamned thing. She didn’t. Agnes wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for her.

And she was so sick and tired of being lonely.

“No,” Wanda said. “I think I’m only going to say that to you.”

She took Agnes’s chin between her thumb and finger, forcing herself to handle her with some kind of gentleness, and guided Agnes’s face between her legs.

She was wearing drawstring sweatpants, and by the happy little noise Agnes gave as she rubbed her nose against them, she was guessing the scent of her arousal had made its way through the layers. Agnes nuzzled against her, mouthing and biting at the cotton before she rolled the sweatpants down Wanda’s hips. The boyish briefs next.

“How about that,” Agnes murmured. “Carpet does match the drapes. You know, that’s all the internet could talk about for a while.” She parted the lips of Wanda’s cunt with her thumbs, drawing her open; her breath was light against her, warmer than the air around it. Her tongue was hotter still.

It was good. Better than good—it was like a circuit inside her had finally been connected, like some electric loop of power was completed now. Red-violet.

She’d squeezed her eyes shut, and she didn’t even realize it until she groped for Agnes’s hair and found it like a shock against her palm. She curled her fingers her fingers in it, so heavy and thick.

It was like she’d been ice for months now, and Agnes was thawing her out. It came close to hurting, getting back to feeling again, but she couldn’t regret it. Not now.

Agnes was holding Wanda’s thighs now—was almost the only reason Wanda was still on her feet. Even as out of it as she was, even feeling like her whole body was throbbing, Wanda didn’t want to count on her that much. She didn’t want to start trusting Agnes and then get her trust rewarded. She sent out a whip-snap of power to tug a chair over to her, and she collapsed into it, opening her legs even wider.

It didn’t seem like she needed to stop there. With her hand in Agnes’s hair, she sent branching tendrils into her mind again, feeling that infuriating, intoxicating permission to go wherever she wanted, take whatever she wanted. Be whoever she wanted, as long as she let Agnes be special. Be a monster, as long as she had a soft spot for the right brunette.

She’d taken Agatha Harkness’s power away. She hadn’t made her good. Agnes was only—innocent. Wanda had given her a mind too frictionless for morality to ever stick to it. All that was there, as Agnes had said, was Wanda, a haunted thud inside her chest that was louder than her own heartbeat. Everything Agnes had become, she’d built around that.

She was a person, at least by now. But she was Wanda’s person.

The idea made her breath come short.

You’re not Agatha. You’re mine. I was wrong, you are like Vis, you’re something alive, something real that happened by accident, you love me—

She came hard, snapping her hips forward into Agnes’s hands. Agnes kept hold of her—and this time, Wanda let her.

Her mind was a blur, and she didn’t want to think too closely about any of it. She just wanted to hold onto this, onto the hot breaking point inside her, onto the idea that this was always where she was meant to be. Wanda Maximoff and someone other people wouldn’t think was real. Wanda and someone whose love seemed like a basic fact of their existence. Wanda and a good story. And who was going to come looking for Agnes? Who was going to show up to tell her any of this was wrong? Nobody. Nobody at all.

Least of all Agnes herself. Agnes loved her enough that she wouldn’t mind Wanda making her love her even more. She wouldn’t mind Wanda not letting her stop.

And she could make herself forget that there was a reason she shouldn’t be doing this. She’d made herself forget things before, after all.

She slid out of the chair and got down on her knees, face-to-face with Agnes.

There were no tears in the corners of Agnes’s eyes, no sign of Agatha breaking through. There was just devotion, shining out like a spotlight. Agnes’s lips and chin and cheeks were marked from Wanda; she was glistening with her. Wanda kissed her softly, breathing even more devotion into her.

“I want you to stay,” Wanda said. “Would you like that?” She undid Agnes’s jeans and pushed her hand down against Agnes’s belly until her fingers hooked under the band of her underwear. She caught a glimpse of them, a triangular patch of cloth with her fingers rigid beneath it: Agnes had dressed up for her. She’d worn scarlet lace.

She found Agnes’s clit, slightly stiff with arousal; Agnes moaned as she rubbed against it.

“Oh, I’m all yours, babe. You know that.”

Yes, she did. Wanda spun a hard disc of red light off her fingertips and set it vibrating against Agnes’s clit. It freed up Wanda’s hands so she could undress her, leaving her naked on the rug, her legs spread out as she ground up against the little spot of magic. Wanda flicked it away and replaced it with her fingers.

“You’re not nothing,” Wanda said, because she wanted to be kind. She’d always wanted to be kind—to be the kind of person who wouldn’t have to think about kindness, who wouldn’t have to relearn it, over and over again, like some forgotten native language. “I’m not still like this with anyone else. And—” She tried to think of the only promise that had ever meant that much to her, deep down. “I won’t leave you if you won’t leave me.”

She pressed her free hand against Agnes’s cheek, and Agnes turned her head against Wanda’s palm and kissed it: Never. No matter what.

A good script, but it was the performances that really sold it. The dwindling part of Wanda that was only the audience for this almost applauded it: so convincing. You could really believe that they were in love.