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A Study in Humanity

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Wanda joined the New Avengers, not out of some desire to save the world, but because she had nothing else to live for. How else could she live, when her heart had been ripped from her body, from her soul?

No one else at the Facility really understood that sort of loss, not even Hawkeye. But he knew something of what that kind of loss could be. She saw it on his face, when he carried the limp and lifeless body of her brother to her. The anguish. The concern. The guilt in his eyes, for ever having wished her and her brother harm. He knew what loss was, because he had something to lose - a family, children, people who relied on him to stay alive.

He didn't realize her powers could be more subtle than awakening worst fears. She didn't want him, or any of the others, to realize that since she'd felt her brother's death, her powers had been growing - growing to a point that scared her. Wanda had no anchor, not with Pietro gone. There was no one to keep her grounded in reality.

So when he handed her the body, and reached out to touch her arm, Wanda had not realized she'd be able to get a sense of Clint's scattered thoughts, had not realized the guilt he harbored for even joking about the boy's death. She'd choked back tears when he let go, and allowed him to think the tears were solely because of the loss of her brother - not that she now feared that without her anchor, she might lose her sanity too, if she hadn't already.

The New Avengers Facility had still been under construction when Clint decided to file for paternity leave - the kind of bureaucratic paperwork, he'd complained, that he thought the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. had entitled him to never bother with again. Tony Stark had quipped something about this being his job, and corporations, and something something Pepper, and that had been that.

In the wake of his absence, Wanda realized how hollow she'd truly become. Clint hadn't bothered her much while they'd set up temporary shop in the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, but he'd been a constant, nagging presence in her side, a voice that reminded her that as long as she was alive, there was a job to be done. He'd filled at least something of the hole in her heart.

She supposed she was grateful for that purpose. Whenever she felt the grief might overwhelm her, she thought back to what Hawkeye said to her, in Sokovia - that if she decided to walk out of that building, she walked out as an Avenger. She'd never be married to the cause, of course, but she would fight. She wouldn't fight for honor or because of her moral compass like the others, nor because she wanted to avenge her brother's death.

Avenging her brother wouldn't bring him back to life.

No, she joined the Avengers because the entire world was a war, and she a fighter.

 

As the New Avengers Facility came together, so did the new team, as Tony suggested Rhodey take a chance and a step up, and Steve called Falcon to say they needed him, and as the Vision - well, as the Vision needed somewhere to be and needed a purpose in life. Even Natasha Romanoff stuck around - not because there was a job to be done, but because she still worried about the red in her ledger. Because she feared nothing would ever make up for the harm she caused as an assassin. Wanda tried not to peak into their thoughts, to invade their privacy, but she still hadn't figured out how to contain her new strength. If Pietro were here, he'd hold her tight, tell her everything would be alright, that they'd figure it out together, and she would believe him - and that belief would make everything a reality.

But Pietro would never be there for her again.

So Wanda kept to herself, making minimal contact with the others, and focusing instead on the job, on training. In future fights, it wouldn't be enough to make a forcefield or shoot blasts out of her finger tips. She'll need to be ready for the fight. She'll need to be ready to fight with a bow and arrow and win, just like Clint.

Because that was her lot in life. It had been her lot in life since she was ten, waiting for that Stark equipment to kill her and her brother. She'd fought to survive, to take care of her brother. Pietro had been her world. Even at twelve minutes older, he'd been more like the younger brother, really. His helplessness and immaturity had given Wanda a sense of purpose. Pietro would never admit it, but Wanda always had the plan. Wanda always gave the go ahead. And Wanda always won the fight.

Yes, that was right, wasn't it? She always won the fight. Just like she won the fight against Ultron, and her brother - her heart - didn't.

She shook her head, as if that would clear away the sadness and confusion.

Vision's soft voice startled her as he asked, "Is something wrong, Wanda?"

She looked up into those blue eyes, noticing as always the stark contract against his purple skin, and instinctively reached a hand out to gently touch his arm. The genuine concern and distress on his face made her want to comfort him, to tell him everything would be okay, even though that was exactly what he was trying to do to her. Vision often joked that he was still but a newborn, and Wanda knew it was the self-deprecating sort of humor used to mask the weight of the world - that he felt the crushing burden of the protocols Stark had instilled in him. He might not be J.A.R.V.I.S., and he might not be Ultron, but their legacy added years to his voice.

And yet, there were moments like this, when he looked so innocent, so ignorant of the world and its horrors.

Wanda smiled, finally replying, "Everything's fine, Vision. Thank you. You're trying the pork today?"

At lunch, like today, she couldn't escape her coworkers. The Facility insisted that no food leave the cafeteria, so she found herself forced to eat as expediently as possible so that she wouldn't overhear more than she wanted to. Some people thought so loudly, she heard them even when she didn't want to. Some people like Rhodey.

But Vision - Vision was blessedly quiet. All men revealed themselves in time, and as much as Captain America and Stark tried to pretend he was just advanced machinery, the compassion and confusion that inevitably made its presence known in his mind spoke otherwise. Vision was a man, like any other, except that he was simply not as tiring as the rest.

Again, the Vision's softly lilting voice distracted her from her musings. "Yes, I think it is time to expand my repertoire from chicken and beef. Rosita recommended it."

She smiled again - this time the sort of sincere smile that reached her eyes - because who else but Vision would be on first name basis with the cafeteria server? He was so very interested in each human's unique experience, as though he thought he could acclimate himself to human behavior through the lives of others. As if understanding their struggles could help him make sense of the feelings and desires he was starting to recognize within himself.

He was still standing beside her, and the quirk of his lips betrayed that he understood her first smile had been fake. She blushed, and his eyes shifted from her face to her hand, still resting on his arm.

The blush deepened, and her thoughts scrambled to try to understand what had made her touch his arm in the first place, or why she'd left it there so long. The compassion in his eyes? The concern? The fact that the strength in his arm was undeniable? She'd felt it that day, after all, when she'd stood in the wrecked train car, staring down at the thing that murdered her brother, when she'd felt herself float upwards as the ground around her shifted - as she'd stood, weightless, accepting of her fate and prepared to join her brother in the afterlife, and those very same strong arms had grasped her, and carried her like some kind of princess back to the helicarrier, the arms that had held her so delicately as if she might break if he gripped too hard.

Yes, he was a man. A good man.

Shaking from her reverie, she smiled and gestured for the Vision to sit, pointedly ignoring his confusion as she suspected the Vision didn't understand the reason for the prolonged physical contact either.

Good. They could both be confused about it, and they could both refuse to talk about it, the way they refused to talk about her rescue.

Unlike Sam or Rhodey, lunch with the Vision was quiet. No unnecessary thoughts invaded her senses, and the Vision did not expect her to discuss the latest episode of Dancing with the Stars or Game of Thrones. As with Wanda, Vision spent his waking hours at the Facility, so he did not try to regale her with stories from his day to day the way that Rhodey did.

Time spent with Vision was blessed relief. With him, she didn't feel compelled to pretend that her brother hadn't just died, defending a man who barely liked him, on a suicide mission that she had set in motion.

After a few moments of silent chewing, Vision stated flatly, "I think I prefer beef."

 

Months on a farm after spending years as a super spy meant that every so often, Clint would come up to visit the New Avengers Facility for a training refresher, and, Wanda suspected, to check on her and experience civilization. She knew he only bothered because of the guilt about her brother, which made their interactions depressing to say the least, but also meant that she could actually grieve, instead of pretending that she was able to keep herself together.

"Laura's going to kill me, you know," he said, stabbing at the chicken fried steak Rosita'd served him for dinner. "The baby's barely three months old, and here I am, pretending to be a superhero again."

Wanda smiled, because she knew the next stage in this conversation would be baby photos, and watching as the man who'd told her that she would have to be ready to kill someone cooed over a photo of his newborn son was simply too much of a contrast to not be funny. "I'm sure she understands. If you do not stay in shape, you cannot come home to her and the baby, yes?"

Clint grinned. "See! You get it. She's just mad because I started remodeling the dining room without telling her. But look, she texted me this photo of Nathaniel this morning. I think he's about to start smiling."

Clint spent the next few minutes scrolling through various photos and videos of his youngest son until finally he looked her directly in the eyes and said, "You know they don't expect you to pretend that you don't miss him, right?" She looked at him, disturbed.

Clint sighed. "They're worried about you, Wanda. Especially Steve. He keeps complaining that you don't open up to him."

"Why would I show these people my weakness? It is mine to know. They're afraid I will try to destroy them. If my fight with Ultron did not prove my loyalty, then they do not deserve to have me on their side. I owe them nothing but my skills as a fighter."

Clint ran his fingers through his hair and sighed again, ultimately resting his forehead in his hands. "It helps people realize you're human, that's why. No one knows what to make of you. You're just this crazy powerful teenage witch, which you'd know is never a good combination if you'd watched those movies I'd told you to."

She took in a sharp breath, frustrated, because this wasn't the first time they'd had this conversation, and she was beginning to realize it wouldn't be the last. "Those movies are silly, and I have better things to do with my time. Like my job. You remember the one. The one you recruited me for. Saving the world."

Clint glared at her through his lashes and rolled his eyes. "Look, promise me you'll at least watch Teen Witch, okay? Watch it with Vision. Both of you need to learn what the real world is like, so you can blend in while on a mission. Watch some Sabrina too, that's recent, and girls your age love it. Think of it as job training, if you'd like. It's easier to send you into the field if you understand how to interact with the people around you."

 

Clint slipped her the username and password for his Netflix account before he headed home, and included a list of movies she should watch too. Teen Witch, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings were the first on the list, and she immediately sent him a text message informing him she was not a child, thank you very much, and that at eighteen she barely could be classified as a teenage witch anyway. Further, how were fantasy movies supposed to help her learn about how to interact with normal human beings?

Still, she also sent a text to the Vision asking if he wanted to join her movie marathon, since she knew he was interested in learning more about human culture. The Vision accepted almost immediately.

She should have known, really. Vision didn't know she'd noticed the scraps of paper in Steve's handwriting lying on his nightstand, under his iPad, with suggestions for Things to Experience - but she had. He was desperate to understand the world he'd been born into, but where he would never truly fit in.

Teen Witch's premise was ridiculous, and Wanda stated as much heavily during the first thirty minutes, causing Vision to finally, politely, ask her to hold her thoughts for after the movie, when they could properly reflect. Which was such a Vision way to ask her to shut up that she actually smiled when he told her. So she watched quietly, only half paying attention, until at the hour mark she realized she had become invested in the teen witch's struggle to find someone to accept her and love her. Because who had loved and accepted Wanda, besides her parents and Pietro? Who other than Pietro would have accepted her when the grief of their parents' deaths had turned them into mad science experiments?

No one. No one had. And in that moment, she realized that she didn't think anyone ever would.

Oh sure, Clint liked her alright. But it was the guilt that made him stick around, that made him try to bring her out of her shell. He had a wife, a family, and a best friend. He didn't need her. No one needed her like Pietro had needed her.

She didn't even realize she had teared up at the girl's rejection until she felt soft, cool skin flutter across her cheek, and turned to realize that the Vision had wiped away a tear. She blushed, and stammered, and her insides became all twisty. Somehow the movie's ridiculousness had caused her to become ridiculous.

He held that same cool finger to her lips and said, with his utmost Serious Vision Expression, "I understand. It's quite sad, isn't it? But I have watched many of these romantic films, and I promise you she will find love in the end."

She nodded, dumbly, her stomach still fluttering because his finger hadn't left her lips yet. But also because she wasn't sure how to react to the idea that the Vision had spent the months since his birth watching romantic comedies on Netflix. "You will too, you know," he continued, so softly that had they not been alone in her bedroom, she might not have heard.

He was right, of course. About the movie at least.

 

It became an easy routine, after that. It became such an easy routine that Wanda found herself able to tolerate her team members for longer periods of time, because she knew at the end of the day she could unwind with the Vision at her side. She even enjoyed Rhodey's stories at lunch, and genuinely laughed when he told his "BOOM! You looking for this?" story for the fifth time.

The more time she spent with the Vision, the more she got used to not listening into the thoughts of those around her. It was as if knowing that she had someone she could rely on to listen to her helped her to keep her powers in check. If Vision was around, she didn't need to peek into the thoughts of others. All she needed was a shoulder to rest her head on, when it was ten at night and they were on their third episode of Gilmore Girls. "I do not think that Jess is very good for Rory," the Vision announced, frowning. "He is a criminal."

Wanda laughed. "This is why you are not a teenage girl, if you cannot understand the appeal of someone who is wrong for you."

He turned to face her, his blue eyes so intently focused on reading her face that she shifted uncomfortably under his gaze. "You understand the appeal of men like Jess?" he asked, softly.

Vision frowned as she nodded her head dumbly, unsure of how to respond to the intensity of his question, as if somehow there was a stake in all of this. For the first time, Wanda wished it was easier to understand the Vision's mind - that she didn't need to physically touch him to understand his thoughts.

They returned to finish watching the episode, but the words I also understand the appeal of serious androids hung on the tip of her tongue, too awkward to say or explain, her desire to comfort the Vision confusing her all the same.

 

The never-ending death and destruction in Sokovia meant that Wanda had never had time for things like crushes, or boyfriends, or anyone, really, outside of her brother. She couldn't claim to have a single note of affection for anyone she met after the age of ten. Not the scientists she saw day after day for years, or for the families that had kept her and her brother fed and alive until the day they donated themselves to science.

So when she'd first made eye contact with the Vision after he'd been - well, birthed - from the cradle, she'd felt the strangest mix of fear and attraction that she'd hidden it away as something too complicated to deal with in the midst of war, as she had all the crushes that had popped up in her life up to that point.

Not only had his presence commanded attention, but he'd come out of that cradle and had such respect and reverence for humanity, had been so very different from the Ultron she'd believed could save the world from the horrors of men like Tony Stark, that she'd been appreciative of that too.

But that had been where it ended, because she and the rest of the world could have been killed at any moment, and then - then her brother had been killed.

So she never really thought about it again.

But three months since she'd started the movie nights with Vision had passed relatively quietly, and a new routine had formed. She still grieved her brother daily, but found distractions in morning training sessions, lunch with Rhodey, and nights with the Vision. Wanda now asked Clint for movie recommendations whenever he was on the base because really, there were only so many episodes of Gilmore Girls to watch. Steve and Natasha had suggested others as well, clearly eager to encourage any interest Wanda might have in the world outside of the New Avengers Facility.

It felt silly, really, to pretend that these movies were "training", but Wanda had to admit that both she and the Vision, as they compared notes about the movies, began to have more vibrant and stimulating discussions about human motivation, and that with each month, she'd witnessed the Vision's growing empathy for the human race. In the beginning, he had looked at the world from such a distant viewpoint, that his relative age and origin had been ever at the forefront of Wanda's thoughts. But as the days passed, the Vision began to argue not as an outsider to the stories unfolding, but instead as from the point of view of the protagonist, as if he understood their struggles and motivations. His passion and staunchness of belief made her, quite frankly, a little hot and bothered sometimes.

Because, see, sometimes, as they talked, he would grip his hands into a fist, and she'd see the muscles in his arm tighten. And then she couldn't help remembering the feel of those arms around hers, as he'd lifted her from the train wreckage in Sokovia. And during their daily Avengers training, she couldn't help but remember the feel of his strong hands, catching her when she stumbled as a gun blaster caught her by surprise.

The others had started to notice too.

Not the musculature, of course. But the fact that in every simulation, the Vision took the most care to protect her above the others. He was by her side in an instant, for every stumble, every fall, and if she wasn't quick enough with a force field to miss a blast, he'd take out whatever weapon had struck her.

As much as she liked the thought of his arms wrapped around her, she didn't need anyone to take care of her.

She told him as much when she confronted him before watching His Girl Friday, at Steve's recommendation.

Well, she left out the part about his arms.

Vision frowned in response, clearly unnerved by her ire. "I apologize, Wanda. I did not realize my behavior appeared as such. I will endeavor to let you defend yourself."

He paused, folding his hands in his lap, staring down and not looking Wanda in the eyes. She waited several moments before assuming the conversation over, and shrugged, reaching for the remote. "As long as--"

"I don't know that I can promise the same in an actual battle," he said, finally looking at her, clearly not realizing she'd tried to speak as well.

She blinked. "What does that mean?"

He took a deep steadying breath, something that amused her, as she hadn't seen the Vision unsettled before. Confused, yes. Bewildered, of course. But unsettled?

"I have become very fond of you, Wanda. From the beginning, I could tell that only you saw me as a human being. The others still wished to classify me as a machine. Even today, they comfort themselves by saying I am not truly human. But you - you see me as a man. You help me to believe that I can become a part of this team, and not just a tool to aid in the fight against those that wish innocents harm."

He paused again, and Wanda gripped the remote tightly in her hands. She swallowed, waiting for him to speak - wondering if he would speak again.

He unfolded his hands, and slowly reached out to grasp Wanda's hand, releasing the remote from her grip and folding her small fingers in his. "I have yet to quantify many of the human emotions I now experience, but based on the movies and TV shows we have watched, I believe this might be what one files under 'like' or 'love'." He drew in another breath, this time releasing it as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. "Yes. I like you, Wanda. Very much."

She flushed. She hadn't heard those words since she had been eight years old, and one of the boys in her class had confessed to her.

Pietro had punched him.

Wanda glanced around the room, half expecting Pietro to zoom in and punch the Vision for daring to have feelings for her. Which was silly, of course. Pietro would never again defend her honor from men who might deceive her. So she took a calculated risk, and grabbed the Vision's face in her hands, noticing that his usually slow breathing quickly jumped its pace to that of a normal human's - unreasonably fast for the Vision.

She didn't have to look into the Vision's mind to know that he would not deceive her, but the butterflies in her stomach made her so nervous that she unconsciously took a peek.

Yes, he did like her very much, and he was considering quite seriously how soft her lips were, and if he could expertly kiss her with only knowledge from TV and movies.

She liked Vision, of course. But she didn't love him, and she suspected he did, with the passion and confusion of someone so young and inexperienced in life. For all the knowledge that he had, his naivety left him capable of loving someone so deeply and with such faith that Wanda almost felt guilty for merely liking him. The hollowness in her heart after Pietro's death couldn't be filled with that kind of half-assed affection, but she also couldn't risk offering anything more to the Vision. What would happen, if the Avengers decided he was too close to Ultron for comfort? What if they decided his programming should be rewritten?

She couldn't afford to love anyone as completely as she'd loved her brother, because she had nothing left to give.

But here, with the Vision, she finally had another human connection with someone, with someone who, unlike Clint, didn't come with any kind of baggage or guilt. The Vision had never expected anything of Wanda, except that she be herself. He loved her as she was - broken, hollow, and distant.

Someone broke, but she wasn't sure who broke first. All she knew was that she was eighteen years old and finally kissing someone other than her brother, and it was awkward and sensitive all at once. The Vision's skin still felt cool to the touch, as if he was letting his mind control everything about this moment, instead of simply feeling it. Which perhaps should not have surprised her. He was a machine come to life via an Infinity Gem. He might never truly be human. In this moment, though, she didn't care what he might never be. She knew who he was right now - and that was someone she was very, very attracted to.

Wanda pulled herself away, noting that somehow she had ended up on top of him in her bed. Not that the specifics really mattered. She giggled.

"Vision," she said, breathily, her whole body heating as she saw in his eyes how single-mindedly focused on her he was. He scanned her body, her face, searching for what she might say next, with the desperation of a man eager to please. Wanda almost would have described him as nervous. Another first for the android. She now wondered if his desire to overthink this - this whatever they were doing - could be due more to concern for her enjoyment than the fact that he wasn't really human. Which was so sweet she couldn't emotionally cope with it in this moment. If she thought about it too deeply, she'd feel guilty for her hollow heart, and how even this could be considered as taking advantage of his feelings. Maybe she would come to care for him with the depth of feeling he held now. Maybe he would help her let go of the baggage of her childhood.

She would save those thoughts for another day, hopefully months away, when maybe she didn't think about Pietro's limp body every morning when she woke up, and every night when she went to bed.

"Vision," she said again, and at that, he absent-mindedly ran one hand down her arm, and she shivered. She closed her eyes, feeling the blush creeping into her cheeks again. "I need you to stop thinking."

When he didn't respond, she kissed him again, and whispering directly into his ear, said, "Neither of us know what we're doing. That's what makes it so much fun."

With that, one of his arms encircled her shoulders and dragged her down close to his body. He growled and nibbled at her ear, and she laughed, thinking briefly, Yes, he gets it now, before he made her unable to think at all.