It starts with a sneeze.
“Bless you,” Peter says automatically.
“Thank you, Peter.”
Peter freezes when he hears whose voice it is. He turns around to stare at Vision, who looks just as confused as Peter is. “Vision?”
“Did you just sneeze?”
“I believe I did, yes.”
Ten minutes later, they’re gathered in Bruce’s lab with a concerned Tony and Professor Hulk looking on, Vision laid out on one of Bruce’s workstations. “I can’t find anything wrong,” Tony’s saying. “And by that, I mean FRIDAY can’t find anything wrong. If you want me to, um, look under the hood I can, but I’m not…you know.”
“I am not thrilled about that idea either,” Vision finishes for him. “But if it is necessary, then do what you must.”
“Are you feeling off in any other way?” Bruce inquires.
“Are you asking if I am ill?”
“I don’t know. Is that even possible?”
Vision considers it. “I would not have thought so. But I have also evolved in ways neither yourself nor Tony ever planned on.”
“Planned on implies Tony didn’t do it two minutes after he thought of it,” Bruce mutters. “Not that we’re not pleased to have you around, Vis.”
“I’m aware that the circumstances surrounding my creation were not ideal.”
“Hey, it worked, didn’t it?” Tony starts scrolling through his screens almost faster than Peter can keep up.
Peter takes a tentative step forward. “Can I help?”
“Sure, kid. You got any theories?”
“Maybe it’s not biological or mechanical,” Peter suggests. “Which is why you guys can’t figure it out.”
“Figure it out yet,” Tony insists. “It’s only been a few hours—even we need time when it comes to this kind of stuff.”
“What do you mean?” Bruce presses Peter. “Not biological or mechanical?”
“I mean, what if it’s magical? Magic stuff is a thing too.”
Tony looks thoroughly put out. “Magic is just science we don’t understand yet. Ergo, I will understand what is going on here soon. Very soon. Magic hasn’t gotten the best of our science yet.”
“I think Stephen would disagree with you on that,” Bruce replies. “We should probably call Wanda anyway. She’ll want to know about this.”
“She is on a mission with Natasha and Clint overseas,” Vision provides. “She may be out of contact for some time.”
“She won’t be completely out of contact, even on a mission,” Tony points out. “And Bruce is right, she’d want to be here if she knew that…something is happening to you, Vis.”
“I am sure Dr. Strange will be more than able to fill in any gaps when it comes to magical knowledge.”
“Even if that’s true,” Bruce says. “She’ll want to know. She’s your partner.”
“I do not wish to disturb her work because of a couple of sneezes. Perhaps if it progresses, we can open up this discussion again.”
Tony sweeps away his screens, folding his arms. “Are you two having a lover’s spat or something?”
Vision’s expression turns uncomfortable. “We have been having a couple of minor difficulties. That is all.”
“What?” Peter starts forward. “But you guys are like, super in love. You never fight!”
Vision sends him a small smile. “Every couple fights, Peter.”
Tony’s not ready to let it go. “What did she do?”
“Tony,” Bruce tries to head him off. “It’s not our business.”
“I’m making it my business. What happened?”
“I may have made a suggestion that she did not agree with.”
“Such as?” Tony demands.
“That for a mortal human who ages, I may not be the ideal choice of partner.”
A silence falls over the room, broken finally by Bruce. “Oh shit.”
“Are you breaking up?” Peter asks. “But you two are so good together, and—”
“And it’s none of our business,” Bruce repeats. “I still think Wanda should be informed of the situation just in case—" Bruce breaks off, peering at Vision’s face. “Okay, please don’t get weird about this. Actually, scratch that, we’re definitely going to get weird about this.”
And he looks right up Vision’s nose.
“Yep, you made it weird,” Tony comments.
“Tony—come see this.”
“I am not checking for android boogers.”
“I mean it. Look.”
Screwing up his own nose, Tony bends down and follows suit. “Huh. Would you look at that?”
“Look at what?” Peter asks, still reeling a little at the idea of Wanda and Vision breaking up. The two of them had been inseparable for weeks after Shuri had finally worked out the combination of magic and science needed to bring Vision back from Thanos’s attack. Peter likes Tony and Pepper’s witty back and forth, the constant teasing and playful digs at each other, but he’s always had a kind of admiration for how Wanda and Vision show their affection for one another. Their love is gentle, soft and yet open, only made stronger after Vision’s death and resurrection.
And now it might be ending?
“Hey, Vis,” Tony’s saying. "Following the trend of weirdness—did you always have nose hairs?”
“Not that I have ever noticed.”
“Nose hairs?” Peter repeats. “Like…human ones?”
Tony and Bruce share a look. “Alright,” Tony decides. “Put everything else on hold. We’re figuring this out. You with us, kid?”
Peter nods, eager. “Of course.”
“Alright then.” Tony claps his hands together. “Three geniuses in the same room. How long can this take?”
“I would say this is progress.”
“Brucie, hun. It’s gotten worse.”
“Which gives us more data to work with! I count this as an absolute win.”
Tony snorts, rapping a screwdriver against his palm in frustration as he hovers his hands over his network of screens. It’s been three days now, and none of them are any closer to figuring out what is happening to Vision.
Or, more accurately, the cause of it. Because what is happening has become apparent.
Vision is turning human.
Tony leaves the screens to poke a finger into the organic skin now covering a portion of Vision’s chin. “You can feel that?”
“Yes. Also, ow.”
“Stop prodding him,” Bruce chides. “It’s not helping anything.”
“It’s part of my process.”
“Actually, I am with Dr. Banner on that one.” Vision raises his hand when Tony’s comes for him again. “And while I appreciate all you have done, I believe it might be time to admit that this is not within your areas of expertise.”
“Stephen will be here tomorrow,” Bruce replies. “It was the earliest he could get here. Until then, we might as well keep trying.”
“And we still don’t know it’s magic,” Tony puts in. “It’s—I can fix this.”
Vision touches a patch of skin on his cheek. “I have been thinking a lot over these past few days. And I am beginning to question…perhaps it is not something that needs to be fixed at all.”
There’s a long pause. Then Tony shuts down all his screens at once. “Explain.”
“You want to be human?” Bruce asks. “Vis, that’s…we don’t know what that will do to you.”
“I am aware there are risks,” Vision replies. “But it would a make a number of things…less complicated."
Tony folds his arms, looking suspicious. “You mean you and Wanda wouldn’t have to break up.”
“Knowing I would age with her would be a comfort, yes.”
“And whose idea was this, exactly?”
“Tony,” Bruce warns him, as Peter shifts uncomfortably. Most of the team get on fine these days, the events that had happened over the Accords well overshadowed by the loss and devastation caused by Thanos, but Tony and Wanda have never quite been able to put their differences to rest.
“It’s okay,” Vision says. “I understand you are trying to look out for me, Tony, and I’m grateful for that—but it was my idea. Not Wanda’s.”
“Unless it was,” Tony argues. “Think about it. You say to Wanda that you want to call it quits on your relationship status because she ages and you don’t. Next minute, you’re growing squishy bits and sneezing all over Bruce’s lab, and we can’t figure out why.”
“Wanda wouldn’t do that,” Peter cuts in. “She wouldn’t.”
“I’m not saying she did it on purpose,” Tony presses. “But Wanda’s magic has applications that she doesn’t even understand. What if it was unconscious? Boyfriend says they can’t be together unless he’s mortal. Next, boom—he’s turning mortal.”
“I also know what Wanda’s power feels like,” Vision replies. “And this does not feel like her.”
Bruce looks torn. “Tony’s theory isn’t baseless,” he points out. “Whenever Wanda used her powers on you in the past, Vis, it was always at a pretty high capacity. Maybe this is more low-level.”
“And,” Tony adds. “You don’t have the Mind Stone anymore, buddy. What if the reason you can’t feel her magic anymore is because Shuri put you back together without it?”
Vision hesitates. “You make good points,” he allows. “But if this is something Wanda wants, surely that’s all the more reason to let it continue? While I understand that it would compromise my position on the team, I do not feel as though my departure would leave you short-staffed at this stage.”
Tony isn’t convinced. “So out of nowhere C3PO stands to grow skin and hair, and we’re just going to let it continue? Not knowing anything about what’s causing it?”
“That’s not what’s being suggested,” Bruce calms him. “Whatever decision we end up making, we’ll be sure to get to the bottom of this. Make sure it’s not anything damaging, intentional or not.”
“I don’t like it,” Tony says bluntly. “Whenever life seems to hand you something you want this easily, it goes wrong. Every time. Because the universe is crappy like that.”
Vision looks as though he’s going to make a counterargument, but sneezes again instead. “Excuse me.”
“No problem.” Bruce locates a box of tissues, holding them gently between his large thumb and forefinger as he passes them over.
“Thank you,” Vision says as he takes one. “I must say, having human symptoms is very…odd.”
“Yeah, we still don’t know how to manage them all either.” Tony’s pulled his screens back up, brow furrowed. “What, is human you getting a cold? Is that a thing that’s possible now?”
“Perhaps.” Vision blows his nose. “Do you have a trash can?”
“Um,” Bruce says, reaching behind him for a petri dish. “Actually, can I keep it?”
“Gross,” Tony states.
Bruce rolls his eyes. “Tony, take this seriously.”
“Fine. Gross, but necessary, because science!”
“Of course, Dr. Banner.” Vision deposits the tissue in the dish. “I’m happy to assist in any way I can.”
Bruce takes it over to his station, getting to work. “Let us know if there are any other…body fluids.”
“Shall do.” Vision swallows, testing. “Perhaps saliva?”
“Really?” Tony perks up again in interest, moving out from behind his screens. “Pete, move over so I can look in Vision’s mouth.”
Peter’s phone pings as he steps out of Tony’s way, and he sighs when he sees the notification. “Mr. Stark? May says I’ve skipped too many dinners with her and I can’t skip this one too. Sorry, Vision.”
“No apologies needed, Peter. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.”
“Less talking,” Tony chides him. “More going ahhh so I can shine this light down your—”
“I’m taking things seriously, god!”
But Bruce is already across the room, gripping Tony’s upper arm in a giant green hand and tugging him away, ignoring Tony’s yelp of surprise. “Get out, right now. You too, Peter.”
Peter looks up from his phone. “I was headed back to May’s anyway—”
“No, you’re not. Both of you are going to the isolation ward, now. And I’m taking your blood. Actually, maybe I should take your blood first.”
“Bruce!” Tony manages to wriggle out of Bruce’s grip, throwing a concerned look at Peter. “What is going on?”
“The thing that’s making Vision sneeze,” Bruce says grimly. “It's not a cold.”
“So? How’s solitary?”
Peter sighs, hearing it crackle down the phone line. “Boring. Wish you were here.”
“You wish I had some exotic virus? Some boyfriend you are.”
“I’ve stopped falling for that, MJ.” Peter flops back on his bed, huffing his hair out of his eyes. There are worse things than being trapped in the med bay, and he gets why Bruce is so worried about him after what happened to Tony. But it’s been days, Peter’s fine, and yet Bruce still won’t let him leave.
“When are you getting out?”
“Who knows? I don’t even get sick!”
“True,” MJ says. “But Tony could have died if Bruce hadn’t caught the virus when he did. Can you really blame him for being so cautious?”
Peter sobers. “I know,” he mutters.
“Are Tony and Vision going to be alright?”
“We think so. Dr. Strange seems to have worked out a way to reverse the magic transforming Vision and Tony’s on the mend. We’re going to be okay.”
“So it was magic?”
“And they are turning him back?”
Peter pushes himself off the bed, starting to pace. “They have to. Every time a new part of him turns human the virus targets it. And the android parts of him are preventing us from treating the virus as a whole. So if they let him keep turn human, he’ll die.”
“Wild. So when he’s back to normal, does that mean he and Wanda are going to…you know. Split?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Peter sighs. “Vision seemed pretty set on it.”
“And what does Wanda think about that?”
“I…don’t know, actually.”
“Sounds like maybe she should get a say in the relationship she’s part of. Especially as Vision’s argument is stupid anyway.”
“Um, you know Vision is like a few steps removed from being a supercomputer right?”
“So? Relationships aren’t about building a logical argument and then forcing the other person to agree with you. They’re about listening to each other.”
“Sorry, I didn’t catch that. What did you say?”
“Ha ha. I’m just saying, if Vision’s whole thing is that he’s going to outlive her, then someone needs to remind him that he didn’t. Twice. If he doesn’t want to go through seeing her age and die that’s another story, but if he’s doing it for her benefit only? I call bullshit.”
They chat for a while longer, catching up on school and gossip, and then MJ is gone and Peter is left alone in his room again.
He lasts all of five seconds before he’s lonely again. He’s confined to the isolation ward, but not to his room, and Tony is still weak but is at least allowed visitors now. Perking up at the idea that he can talk to his mentor again, Peter makes his way out of his room and down to Tony’s, only to hear voices floating down the corridor.
“Stephen says he should be able to return you to normal.”
Peter hesitates at the sound of Wanda’s voice. He doesn’t want to eavesdrop, but it’s quiet in the isolation ward, and with his enhanced hearing sound tends to travel. “It can’t be helped,” he hears Vision reply. Or at least, he’s pretty sure it’s Vision. The voice is raspy, straining, coming in between ragged breaths. “I am sorry this did not work out the way we had hoped.”
“The way you had hoped. Or did you forget the part where I told you I’d love you no matter what form you were in?”
“That is what worries me. Perhaps Tony was correct when he said the universe does not hand you the things you want so easily.”
“Tony Stark doesn’t know anything about us,” Wanda snaps back. “We make each other happy. What else matters?”
“I’m not sure I really can, Wanda. Make you happy.”
“Please don’t say that. It’s not true.”
“Wanda. For the first time since we have met, we are not constantly fighting evils or living in stolen moments. It has given me time to think.”
“To think about what?”
“About us. About how, in the long term, I am not what is best for you.”
“I am not human, Wanda. I do not age. I do not grow like they do.”
“That’s not true. You have said yourself that you’re evolving beyond what was made to fight Ultron. You don’t even have the Mind Stone anymore. We don’t know what’s waiting for us in the future. All I want is for us to face it together. You don’t need to be human for us to do that.”
“Tony did suggest…”
“What did he say now?”
“Perhaps this was your power. An unconscious wish, to keep us together.”
There’s a heavy pause. “But I don’t wish that. For you to be human, at least.”
“My transformation was a rather convenient solution to the problem at hand.”
“So our relationship is a problem now?”
“For you, yes. I believe it is.”
“So you’re deciding what’s best for me now?”
“I’ve looked at all the scenarios, at all the outcomes, and I cannot help but draw the conclusion that this will end with you hurt. You know I would do everything in my power to avoid that happening.”
“Everything in your power except listen to what I want.”
“You think taking yourself out of the equation is going to make me happy? As if losing you for a fourth time would be good for me?”
“I did not intend to insinuate that.”
“I hated that I had to choose between leaving you and obeying the Accords. And then what Thanos did—what I had to do destroyed me, Vis. The grief was fathomless. I left, then I killed you, then Thanos killed you. And now you’re suggesting we just end things, when we can finally be happy?”
“I’m not sure we will be.”
“I don’t know what I would have done if Shuri hadn’t found a way to bring you back without the Mind Stone. You know that, right?”
“Which makes me worry. About you. About the impact I’m having on you.”
“And I think I’m an adult and can make my own decisions.”
“I believe we should at least consider all the options. Because I care about you and I want what is best for you. And when I look at all the scenarios, the best one for you is the one without me in it.”
Another nasty pause, before there’s the sound of a chair scraping backward. “You may not be fully human, Vis, but you are being such a man right now.”
Peter barely has time to scramble out of the way before those footsteps are coming right at him. Before he knows it, a teary Wanda Maximoff is almost walking into him, coming to a halt when she realizes she’s not alone.
“I’m sorry,” Peter says quickly. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. Just. Super-hearing. Sorry.”
Wanda sniffs, digging a tissue out of her pocket. She’s dressed more casually than Peter’s ever seen her, in faded jeans and a red hoodie, limp hair pulled into a low ponytail. She looks absolutely exhausted, and Peter can’t blame her. He can’t imagine what it would be like to watch MJ slowly dying, and then on top of that having MJ tell him that they should break up. “It’s fine, Peter. Sounds like the whole team is going to know soon anyway.” She changes the subject. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay. No symptoms. You?”
“None here either. Death always seems to skip me.”
“I mean, you got Snapped.”
Wanda gives a wet laugh. “I suppose so.”
“Can I, um, help in any way?”
Wanda’s miles away but she blinks as she takes in the offer. “Are you busy?”
“The exact opposite.”
“Can you sit with Vis for a little bit? He shouldn’t be alone and I just need…a moment.”
“Of course I can do that. Easy peasy.”
Wanda smiles at him, but Peter can see the sadness there. “Thanks, Peter. You've always been good to me. To both of us.”
"I think you're someone who deserves being good to."
Wanda's smile fades. "Not everyone thinks so." And she's gone before Peter can reply.
Peter makes his way up the corridor, knocking on Vision’s door to make his presence known. “Vision? It’s Peter. Can I come in?”
“Of course. As long as you stay on the other side of the glass.”
“Yeah, Bruce has told me like a million times, I got it.” Peter steps into the room, only to freeze when he sees the figure in the bed before him, jaw dropping.
“Apologies,” Vision says. “Perhaps I should have warned you that I do not look myself.”
“That’s one way of putting it, I guess.” Peter makes his way into the room. Vision is laid out in a hospital bed, surrounded by tempered glass that has been acting as a barrier between him and the virus spreading any further. There are sheets pulled up to his chest, but that still leaves his face and arms bare. The purple metal is now dotted at various intervals with pale human flesh, stretched tight and clammy with fever. Half of Vision’s lips have turned human, as well as one eye, one ear, but not on the same side. It’s scattered throughout him in a way that looks almost painful, and Peter has to swallow back something that feels like disgust as he pulls up the visitor’s chair. “A little, um, uncanny valley. Does it hurt?”
Vision shifts, wincing. “Well, one of the benefits of having human body parts is that painkillers are now somewhat effective, so—” He breaks off in a round of coughing, harsh and coarse.
“Dr. Strange is turning you back tomorrow?”
“He’s putting the final touches on the spell tonight.”
“That’s good, at least. And they still don’t know how this happened? Or why?”
“Not as of yet, no. I did press Dr. Strange if it could be replicated, but it’s not a kind of magic he is overly familiar with. As for the why, I do have a theory.”
“I believe whoever did this intended the virus to spread further than it did before it was detected. After all, if you were suspecting any of the Tower occupants to be carrying a contagious disease, I would likely not come to mind.”
“So they turn you human, make you sick, and then you make others sick?” Peter twists his fingers together. “I guess? I mean, they got Tony. But he’s going to be okay,” Peter adds quickly. “Like you said. Bruce caught it in time. So we’re all going to be fine.”
Even though Vision very much does not look fine. Peter swallows, dropping his gaze to his shoes. It isn’t as though he’s not used to near-death calls—they’re unavoidable with the work the team does—but it’s nearly always an injury, a shot that gets too close, or a stunt miscalculated. He hasn’t had to sit through one of his teammates dying of illness before, and the fact that it’s Vision, who Peter had considered all but invulnerable, makes it even worse.
“My appearance is upsetting for you,” Vision comments. “I can summon Dr. Banner if you would prefer to return to your own room.”
“No!” Peter says quickly. “No, I’m fine to stay, really.” He pulls the sleeves of his hoodie over his hands, fiddling with them. “Just…I guess wrestling a bit with the idea that anyone on this team could just randomly. You know. Even you. Kind of scary.”
Vision looks a little surprised. “I will be fully healed by tomorrow. There is no need to worry.”
“Yeah, but…what if Bruce hadn’t asked for your tissue? Or what if Dr. Strange couldn’t figure out how to turn you back?”
“But they did. Peter, I am going to be fine.”
Peter tightens the hoodie sleeves. “I guess I’m just saying…” He recalls MJ’s words. “You’re so worried about outliving Wanda because you don’t age. But you’ve died before she has—twice. And if this proved anything, it’s that either of you could die at any moment. Wait, no that’s super depressing, let me rephrase. Maybe you should make the most of the time you do have with each other you know? Yeah, that's better. And, you know…I’ve lost people. But I wouldn’t trade the time I had with them for anything.”
Vision sighs. Peter notices that one side of his chest expands more than the other, as though there’s now a lung in there somewhere. “I am sorry. I do not mean to bring up painful memories for you.”
“It’s okay. I mean, it’s still sad, and I miss them a lot. But, you know. I’m glad I had them in my life for a bit, even though I lost them. I'd still choose to have loved them. Even though I’m going to…well, unless an accident or something happens, I’m going to outlive May and Tony. Which I don’t like thinking about. So I just enjoy having the time I have with them now.”
Vision takes that in. “You enjoy the time you have with them now,” he repeats.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to overstep, I just...I really ship you guys. You and Wanda. OTP level of ship.”
“Thank you, Peter,” Vision says softly. “That’s…something to consider, I suppose.”
“Okay. Cool. You know, I just really want you two to be—” Peter breaks off, all the hairs on his arm standing on end.
“Peter? Are you well?”
“Spider-sense," Peter breathes. "It’s—danger. Close and huge and it just came out of nowhere and—” Peter jerks his head around to the door. “Tony. It’s near Tony.”
Peter’s barely out of his chair before the door to the room is bursting open an explosion of purple light, a woman stepping through it with wild brown hair dressed in a violet cloak. The woman floats into the room, hauling in a bound and cursing Tony Stark behind her. “Hello, dears.”
Danger danger DANGER. Peter listens to his instincts and acts without thinking, using the chair as a springboard to dive forward and attack.
He barely makes it a few feet before something latches around his ankles, pulling him back. He stumbles, throwing his hands out to catch himself, but then there’s something wrapping around them too, pulling them so tightly behind his back that he feels his shoulders pop. He’s sure he’s going to go nose-first into the floor, but the strings binding him yank him upright, hovering a couple of feet off the ground as he struggles to get free, vaguely aware of Tony calling out his name. “Let me go!”
“No, I think I’ll keep you right…here.” The woman makes a sweeping gesture, and Peter feels himself jerked sideways, to the corner of the room. He wriggles in the bindings, which feel no thicker than dental floss, but the purple loops of light aren’t budging. A second later Tony's sprawled on the floor below him, wrists and ankles bound in the same way.
Despite being on the mend, Tony still looks awful, pale and clammy, blinking rapidly as though he’s fighting to stay conscious. “Kid. You…you good?”
Peter struggles to get free, but he’s well and truly trapped. The woman is approaching Vision’s bed. “Now to get rid of this.”
Another wave of her hand, and the glass partition separating Vision from them vanishes, Peter redoubling his escape efforts. “Leave him alone!”
Vision manages to sit up in the bed, albeit with visible effort. “Am I correct in assuming you are the cause of my current ailment?”
“Oooh, how proper. I can see why she likes you, all British and gentleman-like. Very suave.”
Vision narrows his eyes, one human, one mechanical, at her. “If you are referring to Wanda, if you are here to harm her in any way, I would highly recommend reconsidering.”
“Oh, that’s sweet.” She turns to Peter and Tony. “Isn’t he sweet? I can see why losing him made Wanda a little…” She twists her finger next to her temple. “You know.”
“Wanda’s not crazy!” Peter fires at her.
“Not in this timeline she’s not.” The woman takes a few steps closer to Vision, and there is nothing Peter can do to stop her. He glances down at Tony, seeing if he has a plan instead, but Tony's barely able to sit up right now. “No, this is not the timeline that was meant to occur at all. So really, I don’t feel too bad about all of this, considering the android is supposed to be long dead anyway.”
“Timeline?” Peter asks. “What does she mean, there’s another timeline?”
“You are referring to a multiverse,” Vision says. “That is purely theoretical.”
“Was purely theoretical,” the woman corrects him. “And as a little bit of divination magic told me that a very different outcome was meant to occur from your dust-up with the big purple guy, I’m betting I’m on a divergent timeline, which is not really working out for me. Really threw a wrench into my plans, so to speak.”
“And what are your plans?” Vision demands. “What do you want with Wanda?”
“See, I could explain,” the woman goes on. “But the star of the show is about to arrive, and I hate having to repeat myself, and so let’s wait until everyone is present, shall we? Speaking of—time to set the scene.”
This time Peter sees it coming, but with the way he’s suspended in the air he doesn’t have a chance to dodge the purple noose that encircles his throat. Tony yells out, pulling at his bindings, but the witch sends him slamming against the wall with a flick of her fingers. Tony hits his head with a groan, slumping forward. “Mr. Stark!” Peter calls, alarmed, but then Tony’s stirring, not quite unconscious yet.
“You just stay out of the way now, dear,” the witch is saying. “These two will give me plenty to work with."
Peter sees the second noose being thrown towards the bed, tries to shout a warning, but the sickness ravaging Vision’s mostly-human body is keeping him weak enough that there’s nothing he can do as the magic grabs him by the neck. There’s a cry of pain as the woman hauls him out of the bed, not giving him a second to recover as she drags both him and Peter towards her, using them as shields just as Wanda bursts into the isolation room.
“Ah, there’s my girl! Oh, no you don’t.”
Red magic is pouring from Wanda’s hands, but she freezes as the purple witch jerks on the threads looped around Peter and Vision’s necks, tugging them closer. Wanda’s eyes go wide, quickly clocking Tony in the corner before she refocuses on the witch. “Let them go.”
“We need to have a little chat first. Girl to girl, you know?”
“Wanda,” Vision gets out. “She’s after you—you need to run.”
“I think we both know she’s not going to do that. Not while I have her precious love in my grasp.”
Wanda’s magic flares before she reels it back in, not wanting to risk it. “Who are you?”
“The name is Agatha Harkness, dear, but the much more interesting question is—who are you?”
Wanda glances behind her, as though debating going for help, but with a snap of Agatha’s fingers, the door slams shut.
“None of that. I’ve waited a long time to meet you, Wanda Maximoff. This isn’t how I expected it to go, but when our deadline came and went and you were still here, living it up in Avengers Tower of all places, I decided—screw destiny. Might as well take matters into my own hands. That’s kind of more my style, anyway.”
Peter’s completely lost now, and judging by Wanda’s expression, she’s not far behind. “I don’t believe in destiny.”
“As you shouldn’t. Not anymore. Not since the sacred timeline was broken. Now any outcome is possible. Which sounds wonderful and all, but when you have waited millennia for one particular moment, only to realize that moment could be on any one of hundreds of diverging timelines and you’re on the wrong one? Not fun. Not fun at all.”
Peter twists his wrists together, trying to get free, but they’re not budging. Wanda's eyes are darting between them, trying to puzzle out how to fight without anyone getting hurt. “You’re going to be okay. Both of you are going to be okay.”
“Well,” Agatha says. “That’s half-true.”
There’s a yank on Peter’s neck, and he yelps as he’s dragged backward, the cord acting like a leash. Wanda’s magic flares again, but she doesn’t dare move closer. “If you hurt him—any of them—I will hurt you back, worse.”
“Hm, little late to stop anyone getting hurt. I have to say, Wanda—couldn’t you have fallen in love with a nice human boy? Someone squishy and, I don’t know, easy to kill? You really made me work for this one, although I am quite proud of my little solution. Find a spell to turn your precious boyfriend human, and then pump a nasty virus into those newly organic veins. Was working just fine until you got the Sorcerer Supreme involved, that hack. I know he’s on his way to undo my little spell here, so I decided—why not speed things up on my end? Bit more of a hands-on approach, you know?”
“Why?” Wanda demands. “I don’t even know you!”
“Which is a shame, really—I actually think under different circumstances we’d be excellent friends. But it’s not a different circumstance, is it? You have something I want, and something you are going to give me. I know Stark’s life probably isn’t much incentive for you, but I’m betting you want this cute little teenager to live, don’t you?” The noose around Peter’s neck tightens a little, making him gasp. “Really, look at those big brown eyes. And those curls, my word. Bet you have the prettiest girlfriend, don’t you, sweetheart? Maybe you should ask Wanda there to follow my next instructions so you’ll get to see her again.”
“Don’t you dare touch him!” Peter hears Tony call out from behind them. “I don’t care who you are, Sabrina, you are not hurting—”
“Oh shut up and let the women speak.”
Tony’s voice cuts off with a strangled yelp. Peter twists around, panicked, but Tony’s unhurt. His mouth is still moving, but no sound is coming out, and then Peter’s being jerked around to face Wanda again.
Wanda’s eyes narrow. “You’ll let everyone live.”
“See, here’s the thing, dear.” Agatha pulls on Vision’s noose instead, drawing out a sharp inhale as he’s dragged until he’s almost leaning against the witch's leg. “What I want, you don’t have yet. Because in the timeline we were supposed to be on, your boyfriend here—” She tugs on Vision’s throat again. “Is very dead. As in being deconstructed in a SWORD base dead. And when he died, your grief consumed you, allowing you to access the full potential of your power. Allowing you to become what you were always meant to be.”
“I’m already who I’m meant to be,” Wanda retorts. The magic in her hands intensifies until the room is crackling with it. “Now let them go. Last warning.”
“Oh,” Agatha breathes. “You don’t even know what you are capable of, do you? All that power. All that potential. And you don’t even know what it is. But don’t worry, dear. I know.”
“You don’t know anything about me.”
“On the contrary, Wanda. I know more about you than you know about yourself. You have no idea how dangerous you are. You’re supposed to be a myth. A being capable of spontaneous creation. And here you are, using it to play dress-up with your little hero friends.”
Red sparks burst from Wanda’s hands. “I told you to let them go!”
Agatha just pulls her captives closer to her instead, Peter unable to bite back the gasp as the chord digs into his throat with the movement. “Oh yes. Your friends. Vision. This whole little life you’ve made for yourself here. It’s built on the back of chaos magic, Wanda. And that makes you the Scarlet Witch. Or at least it almost does. You’re not quite there yet. But don’t worry—Auntie Agatha’s here to help you along. Your power is activated when your grief is. Let me help you Wanda, and no one but Vision dies today.”
But Wanda’s done holding back. A red burst of energy floods the room, and Peter feels the strings binding him burn. The pain rips a scream out of his throat as his wrists, ankles, and throat all light up as though on fire, but through it he can feel the bonds loosening, weakening, so he makes the most of the moment and pulls.
Peter tastes freedom for all of two seconds before the magical ropes tighten again. They're joined by new ones, this time snaking around his arms and torso, forcing him to his knees as the noose tightens until it hurts to swallow.
“Let’s try that again, shall we?” Agatha cups a hand under Peter’s chin, gripping it and forcing his head upright so he has no choice but to look right at a furious and scared Wanda. There’s movement in the corner of his eye, and Peter can just make out Vision collapsed on the floor behind him. “Vision is meant to die, Wanda. That’s how things were always supposed to happen. I’m just putting the world back to rights.”
“No!” Wanda starts forward, but Agatha tightens her grip on Peter in response, making her freeze again.
“That’s right, dear. Just let me do what I need to do here and the little cutie here can go, no harm done.”
“Wanda.” There’s a shuffle to Peter’s left as Vision struggles to push himself upright, coming into Peter’s eye line, and Peter’s heart drops when he sees the human transformation is almost complete now. “It’s okay. Save Peter.”
“Wait—” Peter starts, but fingernails bite into his cheeks, cutting him off.
“It’s okay,” Vision says again. “I want you to have a life. I don’t want to hold you back.”
Wanda falters. “Vis…you have only ever helped me move forward. After Pietro, joining the Avengers, helping me through the Accords fallout. I want to keep moving forward with you. Always.”
Comprehension dawns on Vision’s face. “I know. And I shouldn’t have threatened to take that away from you, without even giving you a say. I’m sorry.”
“Aw, how sweet,” Agatha coos at them. “You two really are in love, aren’t you?”
Vision’s eyes are locked on Wanda’s. “Yes. Yes we are.”
“Wow. Just, wow, you two,” Agatha says. “True love. So rare. No wonder this loss will be enough to break you and unlock all of that power.”
“Why?” Wanda rounds on her. “Why do you care how powerful I am?”
“Well, I’m not going to steal your power unless I get the most out of it, now am I?” Agatha tightens the hand not holding Peter on the noose around Vision’s neck, pulling it taut. “Do you two lovebirds have any last words before I turn this one’s lights off?”
“I unlock my power when I lose Vision?” Wanda says. “That’s what’s meant to happen? My grief consumes me?”
“That’s the ticket, dear. For the record, I don’t want to do this. You two are very sweet together. But I want your power more. Come on, look around—you don’t even know what you’re doing with it. Better pass it along to a real witch, don’t you think?”
Wanda and Vision are still looking at each other, an understanding passing between them. “Well,” Wanda breathes. “What is grief, but not love persevering.” She turns to Agatha, eyes blazing red. “I don’t care what happened in that other timeline. This is my life, and I choose how it goes. And I choose that this time, it won’t be grief that unlocks that power. It’s going to be love.”
And the room explodes with scarlet chaos magic, just as the noose holding Vision turns white-hot.
This time when the strings holding Peter break, they don’t burn. Instead, they melt away like cool water. Peter doesn’t waste a moment in pulling himself out of the witch’s grip, throwing himself across the floor towards Vision. The now human man is splayed out on the floor, free of Agatha’s grasp but not breathing.
“Vis!” Wanda drops down to Vision’s side, throwing out a hand as she does so. This time, it’s Agatha caught up in magical strings, these ones red.
The witch doesn’t even seem to care, smiling down at Vision’s still form. “Whoops. Looks like you’re too late.”
“No.” Tears fill Wanda’s eyes as she cradles Vision’s head in her lap, running her hands through the blond hair now covering his head. “No, I’m not losing him again.”
A hand touches Peter's shoulder and he flinches, only to see that Tony’s made his way towards them, out of breath and shivering. Peter maneuvers them so Tony can lean heavily on his shoulder, both of them staring in horror at Vision’s lifeless body. “Wanda,” Tony croaks. “I’m so sorry. I—”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about yet,” Wanda interrupts him, turning fiery eyes on Agatha. “Turn him back. Now.”
Agatha shifts in the strings, unfazed. “Too late, dear. What is done cannot be undone.”
Tentatively, Peter reaches out to take Wanda’s wrist. “Wanda, she said it herself. You’re stronger than she is.”
“I’m stronger than she is,” Wanda repeats.
“She said you were capable of spontaneous creation. That you had chaos magic.”
“Chaos magic,” Wanda breathes. “But not based on grief. My power is based on love.”
And she leans down and kisses Vision.
For one heart-stopping moment, nothing happens. Then, slowly, Vision’s eyes flutter open. Vision’s mechanical eyes.
It begins slowly and then all at once, purple flooding the pale skin. Wanda changes too, the faded jeans and hoodies turning into a deep crimson battle dress, a headdress forming to push her hair out of her red-glowing eyes.
“Impossible,” Agatha states. “That’s—no! That’s not how this goes! He dies and you become the Scarlet Witch and then I take your power, that’s what’s meant to happen!”
“I’m done with being told who I am,” Wanda retorts. “Or who I’m supposed to be, or who I’m not. I choose who I am from now on. And who I’m with. If he’ll have me.”
“Wanda,” Vision says, voice low, filled with so much wonder that Peter backs away, helping him and Tony retreat so as to let them have their moment. “I’ll always have you. I only wish…” He looks down at his metal hands again. “I wish I could be more for you.”
“You have always been more than enough for me,” Wanda replies “In any form. In any timeline. I know that comes with challenges. But I’m willing to face them if you are. Together.”
They’re interrupted by a hacking sound near the door, as Agatha mimes throwing up. “Ugh. If you’re going to do the soppy romance stuff please do it after you let me go.”
“Who says I’m letting you go?”
Agatha laughs. “Please. Do whatever you want. I’ll get away eventually, and then I’ll be back, I’ll always be—"
Magic flares up the red ropes, and then Agatha is unconscious, hanging in the air like a disused puppet.
“Yeah, shut up,” Tony mutters. “See how you like it.”
“What are you going to do with her?” Peter asks.
Wanda consider. “Right now? I don’t care. Maybe I’ll never wake her up.”
Peter whistles. “Wow. That’s cold.”
“Wanda.” Vision lets her pull him in a sitting position. “I see now I was wrong to force a choice that affects both of us. But are you sure? About us? Considering our…differences.”
“I’ve lost you too many times now to be anything but, Vis. I’m sure.”
“Then perhaps we can make it more official, so to speak.”
Wanda’s face lights up, realizing. “Really? You mean it?”
“If you want to.”
“If you want to what?” Peter asks, then backs off. “Sorry. Intruding on the moment. My bad.”
Wanda is beaming, eyes wet. “Of course I want to!”
“Then we have preparations to begin.”
Peter raises a hand like he’s in class. “Still lost. What are we doing?”
“Maybe you should ask properly,” Wanda suggests. “Just to make sure we’re on the same page.”
“Of course, darling.” Vision maneuvers himself around so he’s on one knee. “Wanda Maximoff, will you marry me?”
Wanda takes his hand, and Peter's never seen her this happy before. “Yes,” Wanda breathes. “A hundred times, in any timeline—yes.”
A cleared throat brings their attention to Tony. “I don’t care that you don’t approve,” Wanda says drily. “Don’t ruin my moment.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Tony says. “And please consider any reservations I had about the two of you officially revoked. That’s my bad. Let me make it up to you with an extravagant wedding gift. Like, let’s say, paying for the entire thing. That might be a good start.”
“It’s more than enough,” Vision assures him. “Thank you, Tony.”
“Well then,” Tony says. “Looks like we have a wedding to plan.”