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He arrives in São Paulo on a Tuesday, flying himself in under the cover of darkness. He pretends to sleep on a park bench. The next day, he scouts locations. It’s never the same type of place twice. He walks past a hookah lounge, dive cantina, hotel cocktail bar. Been there, done that. It’s always a puzzle with her. Then he rounds a corner and sees a sign: “A Fênix”. Yes, that will be it. She does have a sense of humor, despite it all.

It’s a nice place. Stylish, he supposes, with colored lights and chrome bar stools. He sits in a booth facing the entrance on Tuesday night, then Wednesday. He orders drinks of which he does not partake. He leaves cash in twice the amount of his tab. She does not appear. But she will.

On Thursday night, she walks through the front door. Her hair is jet black, almost like the first time he saw her the night he was born, all those years ago. She wears leather from head to toe. There, around her neck, is a bright red pendant. She is always different, but he never changes, for reasons he’s not quite sure he understands. Easier that way, he supposes, even though she would know any body into which he phased himself. He watches her scan the bar before alighting on him, there in the back booth. She smiles.

He stands up, the way he is meant to understand a gentleman should. “Mind if I join you?” she asks in English. Always English, though with that old hint of Sokovian. He nods, and they slide into opposite sides of the booth. Their legs collide under the table. She opens her mouth as if to mutter, “Sorry,” but bites her red-painted lip instead. Sometimes she slips and becomes the woman he technically remembers but has never experienced firsthand. That’s when she becomes a bit softer, more real. It always vanishes in the blink of her dark eyes, though, and then the game resumes.

He waits for her to introduce herself, but she simply raises an eyebrow. His turn this time, apparently. “My name is Gerald.”

“Oh?” She smirks. “Nice to meet you, Gerald. I’m Irina.”

That is a surprise: the nearest she has come to herself. She has been Katie, Celine, and Laura. He was Samuel in Sweden, Victor in Tangiers, and Antony in Taipei. Always too close, but he does not possess her creativity. Before he can find a way to subtly enquire about her choice of names, a bored waiter approaches the table. Wanda – Irina – looks up and says, “Cachaça. Neat.”

The woman turns to him. “Another sparkling water?” The same as the past two nights. He nods. He is a creature of habit, after all, even if those habits were formed in a body that still doesn’t feel like his own, all these months later.

As the waiter walks away, Irina looks back at him. “Sparkling water? C’mon, live a little.”

“Ah, but I’m not alive.”

Her eyes narrow, as if she’s going to wink. “Not alive? That’s interesting. Do tell.”

But he won’t. He never does. That’s the way this game is played.

 

*****

 

This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Not pushed up against a hotel room door, the handle digging into her lower back. Not teeth and nails and eyes screwed shut so that she can’t see what it really is.

Wanda dreamed of this, over and over and over. Those first few weeks in the cabin, unable to sleep, imagining he was still red, still alive. He would find her again, even across continents, because that’s the way the storybook romances always went. That white skin would be gone. No murderous gleam in his eyes, while everything else in him was dead. He would be Vision again. Her Vision. Warm and kind and beautiful as they made love, there in the cabin in the woods. He’d make her come over and over with soft touches. Then, in the afterglow, she’d apologize for killing him and for Westview, and he would whisper that it doesn’t matter because they’re together. They would find their sons and be a family. After all, family is forever.

Bullshit.

He’s not warm and kind, though he sure as hell pretends each time they find one another. And she’s not… well, let’s face it. She’s the Scarlet Witch. Harbinger and literal giver of death. There’s nothing soft and sweet left inside her. Maybe there never was. The Darkhold was just an excuse for what was there all along. Nope, she has killed with her bare hands, and at the time she didn’t regret a damn thing. She found her sons, and they screamed in terror. The other her granted mercy that Wanda would never, ever deserve. There in Wundagore, she brought down the literal house. Waited for death. Wanted it. A suicide pact between herself and that demon inside her. But at the last moment, she turned tail and poofed the hell out of there like a goddamn coward. She’s the strongest creature in the multiverse, but she is a fucking wimp when it really counts.

He still found her, though. There in that mountain lodge in Sweden. Then a few weeks later in Tangiers. A cat-and-mouse game, but she’s not sure who is which. They pretend to be other people, and then they fuck. He feigns sleep, and she bails. There’s no storybook romance to it. Despite the skin and the implanted memories (he’s never said, but she knows), he’s still the same Vision. He deserves so much better. But she deserves far, far worse.

This is the only thing she can manage, though, in the broken shell that purports to be her body and soul. Except her soul shattered into a million shards of glass a long time ago, maybe even before Westview. And all that’s left is this.

So she curls her arms around his neck and hoists herself up, legs wrapped around his waist. Stiletto heels digging into his thighs. Wedged between him and the door of this hotel room she’s booked so that she can fuck him and forget. Nice game. Easy to play, if she forgets everything else.

He’s still in his human suit. She bites his fake earlobe and growls, “Change.” His whole body glows and vibrates as he obeys. Then there he is, white and harsh instead of soft and red, but she knows his body so well. She’s dreamed of it in a thousand universes. Her brain is numb, but her body is so turned-on that she might catch fire.

“Fuck me,” she demands.

He flinches, the bastard. Something flashes over his face. Hurt, maybe. Regret, probably. But in these past three meetings, she has trained him that this is all they are ever going to have.

He sets her down too gently. She wobbles on those stupid heels then kicks them off. Her leather pants and corset are sexy but a bitch to shed. He wraps a finger around the laces, as if he’s going to undress her gently. She slaps his hand away. Then she flicks red magic and the clothes vanish. She walks over to the edge of the bed. Back then, he never fucked her from behind. No, he was all about face-to-face. Slow and sweet. Making love. That’s not what she needs tonight, though, and it’s sure as hell not what she has earned.

She turns around to face him, her eyes red and magic sliding around her fingers. He just stands there, that same expression on his face. Like he doesn’t know who she is. Makes sense. She lost herself a long time ago.

 

*****

 

After Westview, he fought like hell to find himself. Determine who he was and who he would be from now on. He spent months in solitude, in locations no human had ever been. He searched every unlocked memory for context and cause/effect. He examined each millimeter of this new skin, stitched and welded together without care, and grew to accept the white in place of red. He began to feel. As he slowly became Vision again, Wanda lost herself.

He knows the bare bones of what happened at Kamar-Taj and other universes. He has slipped inside computerized records, then established surreptitious communication with Mr. Wong, after each swore the other to secrecy. He knows that Wanda grieved, and that she broke. According to the Sorcerer Supreme, the accepted explanation is that the Scarlet Witch was corrupted and brainwashed by the Darkhold. Believing that is easier, of course, but Vision owes her more respect than that. Still, although his morality is borrowed instead of ingrained, he cannot quite accept it. Loving Wanda – and he knows now that he loves her again – means loving all of her, even the parts he cannot reconcile.

As far as the world is concerned, she is dead. Buried atop a mountain that no human had ever climbed. Vision did not have to fly to the summit to know that she was alive. Against all scientific reason, he could feel her here on earth. So he followed her scent. He first found her at a mountain lodge in Sweden. They did not speak then, but both of them knew. Then a hotel bar in Tangiers, a hookah lounge in Amsterdam, a fake British pub in Taipei. They pretend to be other people. They are id instead of superego. They fuck. And in the morning, she is gone.

They have never met as themselves, not since his rebirth and hers. He does not know what would happen if they did. The game is all they have, and he has learned to play it well.

“So, Gerald. Are you in São Paulo on business or pleasure?”

He could say pleasure, given how this night will inevitably end. But that never seems quite right. While up in the air, flying over the Atlantic, he constructed his guise: a businessman negotiating a new contract for his company. Three nights in Brazil, primarily in an office but perhaps a bit of sightseeing after work. It’s a safe story. Simple. Yet now the words sit on his synthetic tongue. Instead, he finds himself saying, “I’m in law enforcement, actually. I’m pursuing a fugitive.”

She blinks.

He waits for her to frown. Or leave. He glances down at her hands cupping the glass tumbler, and is almost surprised not to see red tendrils floating up. She slowly raises it to her lips and takes a sip. Her eyes remain on his. The tendons in her throat tense as she swallows.

“Really? What did he do?”

“She … did some terrible things. That is all I am at liberty to say.”

“Mmm,” she hums, twirling the swizzle stick. “I’ve done some terrible things too. A lot of people died.”

He notices the passive voice. No, he wants to say, you killed them. But he does not. Neither does she, though he can feel it in the air between them.

She finishes her drink and raises her hand to the waiter, signaling for a refill. Then she turns to him, something serious behind her smirk. “Maybe you should arrest me.”

“Should I?”

“Would there be handcuffs involved?” Wanda – goddamned Irina – has the temerity to wink at him.

At that moment, he hates her. Not a hate borne of fury, but an ache in his chest. He hates that she can sit there and act so blithe, as if she has not wrought such horror, no matter what excuse she and the world spackle onto it. He hates that she allowed herself to become this, when he has all those memories of a woman who was powerful and possessed a darkness in her soul, but who was also kind and heroic and so bloody beautiful. He hates that his former self asked her to kill him. He hates that he couldn’t stay dead, so that she could mourn then move on. He hates that in her dream world, he gave her two sons whom she also lost and mourned until it shattered everything good inside her. He hates that he cannot bring himself to do the right thing, to bring her to justice and allow the proverbial chips to fall where they may. He hates that, amidst it all, he loves her. He has unlocked each memory of all that love, and every time they meet like this, it grows despite her attempts to extinguish it.

He hates. He loves. Perhaps he is becoming human, after all.

As all those thoughts slither through the circuits and synapses of his brain, she watches him. Her eyes grow wide. Her face flushes. And there, under the jet black hair and thick eyeliner, is Wanda.

“No,” he finally says. “I won’t arrest you.”

Ice chips fall from her voice. “But you’ll fuck me.”

Yes. He will.

 

*****

 

They used to be so good at this. Awkward at first, sure. He’d been a virgin. She’d had plenty of experience, but sex was different with him. Everything was. Two years of stolen visits, as they made out like teenagers then eventually got naked and… yeah. It was good. Amazing, in fact, like the two of them were rewriting each other until they were one. He was willing to try whatever she had in mind. Came up with a few ideas of his own. Made each other come over and over, then cuddled, all mushy and in love, until they fell asleep. But they were different people then. Better people – him, at least. Back in those days, “fuck and run” wasn’t part of her lexicon. Now it’s all she knows how to do.

As she flew here last night under the cover of darkness, she had it all planned out: get drunk but not too drunk, then bring him back here. Let him fuck her from behind, so that all she could see was the cheap bedspread and the sparks on her fingers as she came. Sleep in the same bed, because it seems like the only way she can turn off her brain anymore is if he’s there next to her. Leave in the morning, without a word. Fly off to… wherever. Maybe some resort in the Caribbean where she can hole up in a bungalow paid for with a magicked credit card, where the staff don’t ask questions. Try and fail not to think about what she’s done and what she’s going to do next. Rinse, repeat.

This can’t go on forever. She’s not stupid. Nope, she’s just a weak, spineless, goddamn murderer who knows the Raft is her destiny. Again. She’ll kill herself before it comes to that. Actually go through with it instead of chickening out like at Wundagore. It’s what she deserves, maybe since that morning in the HYDRA fortress when she touched the Mind Stone. Until then, though, she’s going to take whatever she can, and right now she needs him to take her.

Only problem is that fucking her from behind against the edge of the bed is damn near impossible when he’s so tall and she is not. Shit. When they assume the position, his cock is way up against the small of her back. “Hang on,” she mutters, slipping out of the cage of his body. Okay, yeah. Five-inch heels are a bitch to walk in, but they’ll do the trick. She steps into them then turns around.

Vision is just standing there. Naked. His cock juts out proudly, a drop of come at the tip. But his face is… no. Damn. Wanda wobbles back over, eyes trained on that stupid bedspread. She faces the bed, places her hands on the mattress. Nothing happens. She rasps, “Do it,” and hopes he follows, because she’s not going to look back at him. She can’t.

Then she feels the warmth of his thighs pressed against hers. One of his hands moves under her hips to tilt them up. His other hand slips between her folds, sliding through her wetness. The same fingers that traced the curves of her belly and breasts that last night in Edinburgh, that he coated in her slick then tasted as he smiled up at her. That laced through hers as he stared at her ring finger, and she thought is he going to – would I say yes – oh god, wow. They’re white now. Not red. But they’re the same. Before she can let that memory get under her skin, his cock slides into her. Thank god.

He’s slow at first. Too slow. Too sweet. But she pushes back and clenches around him, and then they’re off. A quick and dirty fuck, just the way she needs. Except his pistoning hips knock her off balance, and she tumbles face-first onto the mattress. Then she’s empty. Cold. All of a sudden, he’s there again, wrapped around her on the bed. His hand comes up to her shoulder, like he’s going to turn her over. “Should we try –” he murmurs, but she cuts him off with a kiss. It’s too slow, too sweet.

She bites his lip and pulls back.

Face-to-face always worked so well back then. Her on top, or him gazing down at her. Side-by-side a few times, and that was wonderful. She loved the way his face would glow when he came. How he’d spend hours with his mouth on her breasts or buried in her cunt, then slide back up her body with the most darling smile on his face. But that was back when they were heroes. When she was allowed to make love to the man who was absolutely everything.

This new, resuscitated her and him – Irina and Gerald, god, so stupid – could probably figure it out. Plenty of other surfaces where their hips would match, where they could fuck like animals with eyes closed. But she’s just so tired. And although she could never, ever begin to earn it from him, she just wants… that. The way it was back then. Just once, before it’s all over.

So she rolls onto her back and whispers, “Make me come, Vis. Please.”

He nods.

His face is full of something terrifying, but she forces herself not to look away. He deserves better, even if she doesn’t. He drapes himself over her body and, with muscle memory, she circles his hips with her legs. Welcoming him inside with a nod, if not that smile from before. Her eyes burn as he slowly fills her. She sloughs off everything hard and calloused in her brain, and she thinks about storybooks and forever families while she still can.

 

*****

 

The bar begins to empty out. She has switched to red wine after three cachaças, but her eyes are stone sober. Consent has been established, carried over from three other evenings like this one. It is, as they say, the moment of truth.

He knows what will happen next. He will pay their bill, including a generous gratuity. Without a word, she will reach for his hand and lead him out onto the street. They will walk to the hotel she has reserved and ride the elevator with a foot of distance between them. He will look away as she slides the card key into the lock, as if he’s bored by the whole enterprise. Once inside, they will fuck. Not make love – it never feels like that – but take each other until their bodies are sated but not their minds. He will pretend to be asleep when she leaves in the morning, if she stays that long. Then, weeks later, they will repeat the cycle in another city. Ad nauseum.

He wonders what would happen if he broke the routine. He was designed to be a superhero. The most intelligent and powerful being the planet has ever seen. But he is afraid to take that risk.

So, without a word, he pulls out the wallet he has acquired for these liaisons, and he withdraws more than double the cash required to settle the cheque. She slides out of the booth. The leather of her pants creaks with the movement. And she holds out her hand.

He takes it.

When they walk toward the exit, she wobbles slightly on her high heels. She falls into him, and he catches her. Against his better judgment, he presses his face to her hair. Vision can still smell the dust from her tomb.

 

*****

 

Wanda can still smell the fire on his skin. The way he’d stalked out of the flames, there in Westview. Now she can look back and roll her eyes at how ridiculous it had been, but in the moment it was something beyond terrifying.

She remembers all those nights of watching him sleep, or at least his version of it. Hotel rooms and safehouses over two years, tucked under his arm. The duvet pulled up to her chin. Their bodies bare beneath it. He was the one safe – the one right – thing in her world, and god, she’d loved him for it. And then in Westview, lying with him in bed between the episodes she’d created. Babies just conceived, then sleeping in tiny bassinets a few feet away. She knew, knew he wasn’t real. But he was safe. Right.

They’re naked beneath the sheets again. Instead of curled around her, he lies flat on his back. She shifts onto her side, plumps the pillows to raise her head so that she can see him. She searches for the kindness, the safety in his face, but it’s all hard angles and white. Although she knows that he has bathed since then – of course he has, always so fastidious – she breathes in and can smell the smoke and fire.

Dawn is on the way. Time for her to get up and leave. Nowhere to go, but it doesn’t matter. She needs to take a shower, wipe off the makeup that is probably smeared all over her face. Use her powers to put on a new face, maybe with different cheekbones, blond hair, whatever. Go out into the world and run faster than everything can catch up with her. But she stays there in bed with him, because yeah, he could end it all right now, in whatever way he sees fit. But he won’t.

She leans over, tucking her face into the curve of his neck. She smells fire, but she also smells popcorn from binge-watching. Croissants from that morning in Nice. Diaper ointment. The sandalwood cologne she bought him back when everything was so new and he said he was intrigued by the scent. She remembers the way she’d laughed as he opened the bottle, unsure what to do next. When she’d spritzed it on his neck, he’d nodded. “Yes, that will do quite nicely.” And she’d started to fall for him, just an inch at a time.

Now they’re lying here together, thousands of miles from a home that no longer exists. Though she knows she shouldn’t, she lets herself slide into him. First her face tucked into his neck, then her arm across his chest. Her knee bent over his soft cock and hard thigh muscles. And when he wraps his arms around her, she doesn’t move. She doesn’t want to.

He doesn’t say anything, but she knows he’s awake. Watching her. Then there’s the faintest press of his lips on her forehead. It’s familiar, and it’s new.

She’s wide awake, but she’s just so tired. She’ll never deserve this, but she wants it. There in the early morning, she lets herself believe he wants it too.

So she lies there, waiting. Gathering her courage. And she finally lets herself ask, “What if I didn’t leave?”

He doesn’t hesitate. “I’d like that.”

Wanda smiles and holds him tighter. His body warms to hers. And when she falls back asleep, she dreams of the universe where it’s just her and him, and the twins. Four Maximoffs, with another growing in her belly. Safe. Right.

 

*****