Actions

Work Header

i know places

Chapter Text

"Such is the fate of a star: to burn too brightly, to collapse, to begin anew."

- (destroy to be reborn | r.h)

 * * * *

SEPTEMBER 6th, 2015.

Blood seeps from skin, warm and slow. It trickles down her thigh, all the way down, leaving little spots on the blue tiles around her feet. She can taste it in her mouth, too. It's strong and bitter and it lingers, even when she spits a mouthful of crimson into the sink the taste still hangs around. In her reflection—which is something messy, and tired, and half-blurred from the street lights that blare in through the window—she sees a stranger, maybe even a shadow. There's a cut across her bottom lip, that is jagged and messy and she doesn't know how she will hide it. Maybe that deep shade of red lipstick in her room will help conceal it in the morning. But the worst of it, the graze along her jaw-line and cheek, can't be hidden so easily.

Sva bol nestaje na kraju, their mother used to say, and once she believed it. All the pain disappears in the end, she would tell them, and Wanda's not sure when she stopped believing it but she doesn't believe it anymore. Not all pain goes away. In time it fades but it always stays, and she knows that tonight will always be with her. She sucks in a breath and begins by unpeeling her stockings from around her thigh, wiggling until they're low enough that she can just step out of them. They're torn now, ruined. She doesn't want them anymore.

Wanda strips them off, steps out of them, then discards them out of sight and carries the damp cloth down to her thigh. It aches as the water trickles across it but she keeps going. She wipes at the patches of dried blood and carefully navigates her way around the graze there. Her fingers are careful and soft when she applies a little cream to it then she covers it up with a bandage and leaves it for the night. The stranger is still there staring back at her when she looks up a moment later. Wanda ignores it and tries to focus on other things, tries to focus on anything except the pain and how her hands are still shaking.

It's cold in the bathroom tonight. Everything is still, and quiet, and so cold, and she knows why. It's almost 3 AM, it's always like this. Except it's not always like this, it's never really been like this before. Wanda lifts her gaze away from the mirror and over to the window, to where the glare from the street lights seeps into the bathroom. It's the only light in the small space until Wanda moves a moment later. She flicks on the light by the door, returns to the mirror, and spits into the sink again. It doesn't work, doesn't rid the taste from her mouth, so she lowers her head, swallows a mouthful of water to clear her mouth, then spits it out again.

It works at rinsing most of the bitter taste away, but it doesn't really work the way she needs it to. So she lights a cigarette. Wanda pushes the bathroom window open enough to let the smoke out then she takes a seat on the edge of the tub, slowly letting her feet touch the tiles. The bathtub is long and green, with brass handles and a pale shower-curtain pushed to one side. It's hers, all of this is. From the purple mat near the door, to the flowers by the window, the make-up scattered along the sink, and all the products and boxes stacked away in the cupboard underneath it.

It's all hers but tonight it doesn't feel like it, tonight it doesn't feel like any of this is hers. She soon looks away, down to the cigarette burning out between her fingers. Orange embers burn out from the end of the cigarette. She stares at it quietly, realizing now that there's a slight tremble to her hands, that they never really stopped shaking. She tenses and closes her eyes.

Her thigh still aches, even after the care she's given it, and the banged up side of her face doesn't feel so great. It feels tight and sore, and there's probably more she can do for it but she can't summon the energy. Wanda stays where she is as her eyes shut—only partially, only for half a beat—while she inhales on the cigarette and tries to steady her hands. Then her eyes open and she's left staring down at the soft glowing embers again.

It's too quiet in here. She stands soon, stubs the cigarette out in a bowl, then returns to the sink to take care of everything else. Wanda begins with the jagged cut over her lip. It's puffy and split, and all she can do is rinse it with a little water because there's really nothing else she can do for it. It's nothing, not compared to the graze on her cheek. That's on the right side of her face, one of her worst wounds from the night. The pavement tore up the skin there, scraping it harshly and causing it to bleed, and now as she leans closer to the mirror she realizes that there are tiny bruises forming on her face, underneath the graze, along her cheek and under her eye.

She curses again and lifts the cloth back to her face, leaving it there to ease the pain. It feels new, feels raw. There's not much she can do, she knows the pain will fade. Wanda knows this, that she's felt worse, that in the morning she will feel better. It's more that the memory of the pain stays with her, it always does. She feels it now, the little pieces of pain that are already deep inside her. That kind of pain, already deep inside her, never really leaves.

A moment later she turns on the tap again, fills the sink, and scrubs away the blood from where it's stained on her skin and scattered, across her torn up palm, her wrist, and underneath her nails from where she tried to slow the bleeding. It only really dawns on her now how bad it is, and what she will need to do next. In her mind she quietly starts to work out the details of her story for her brother. It has to be done, there is no other way.

There is no telling him the truth because if he learns what happened he won't react well. He can't know what happened tonight, that on her way home from closing the bar she was stopped and attacked for her money and the contents of her bag. Pietro will break. He will overreact, and he will break, and she can already imagine him desperately trying to find who did this to her. She knows that there is nothing that he can do, and that the police will have to be the ones to fix this.

So she decides that it was a bar accident. Wanda decides to spin a story to Pietro about three drunk men at a bar, arguing and escorted out of it. She will tell him that it was an accident, that she was a casualty in the chaos on the pavement outside of The Green Tides, and how that's all it is. It needs to be done, because she knows how he'll react and there's no hiding this, no hiding the graze on her face, not from him. It doesn't sit too well with her to lie to her brother, to tell him a story and keep the truth to herself, but it's her way of protecting him from doing anything reckless.

The sink is tinted red when Wanda is finished. It feels like it's tainted red, like she is. She empties it, dries her hand on a towel by the basin, then starts to peel off her clothes from the night. It all feels too bright suddenly, too warm. She takes everything off, puts it all in a basket by the door, where she'll collect it in the morning and wash it, and then she finds a towel to covers herself up with. But before she pulls it on, before she wraps the soft towel around herself, she waits.

There's a chilly breeze coming in from the window. It's cold, and gentle, and it slips through the half-cracked open window, to wind around her body and soothe her. It almost feels nice, almost feels peaceful, but she feels as if she's forgotten what peace feels like. Is this is? she thinks, and then wonders if a cool burst of air soothing her aching wounds can really be peace. It doesn't feel like it, and it doesn't last.

Outside of her bathroom, somewhere in her room, there are footsteps. Heavy, and sudden, and close. Wanda stops and listens, her chest tightening as she hears a loud crash, followed by the familiar sound of Pietro cursing. It sounds like he turns on a light, curses again, then leaves, and by the time that she hears him return she's wrapping a towel around herself.

The door rattles when Pietro tries, unsuccessfully, to get into her bathroom. Then it sounds like he walks into it, because there's a distinctive thud followed by another curse.

"Sestra?" he calls out. "You are home?"

He sounds tired and mildly frustrated from walking into the door. Wanda lets out a breath at the sound of her brother's voice and stays by the sink, one hand propped against it, the other holding the towel in place.

"What do you want?" she asks seconds later. "What are you doing in my room so late?"

"Clint is over, he stayed after dinner." comes her brother's reply. "He is taking too long in the bathroom. Please, hurry up. I need yours. What are you doing in there so late anyway?"

Wanda sighs and lowers her head, almost wanting to tell him, to open the door and let him hold her. But her throat feels tight, and it feels like there's not enough air in her body to find the words to tell him. So she says nothing and leans back into the sink, her eyes squeezed shut.

"What did you break? Nothing important, I hope."

Pietro huffs, annoyed. "Does it matter? It can be glued together again. Why are you not listening to—"

"I am in here." Wanda's quick to answer, her voice strained. "You can't come in right now. So go away."

But he doesn't leave. Instead of leaving, Pietro leans against the bathroom door. He presses himself against it, shakes the handle, then rattles it.

"Wanda, please." he whines. "Do I have to go outside? Or somewhere else? What about the sink? Just think about it, the sink you—"

"Go away, Pietro. I'm not well. Go away."

3 AM is too late to tell him the truth, that she isn't unwell, that she's more than just tired. Wanda almost wants to tell him but it is too late. Right now she only wants to pull on clean clothes, climb into bed, and escape her mind for a little while. It's too loud right now, too heavy, too red, and it feels like tonight is weighing down on her. She can't stop thinking about it, and not because she isn't used to violence because she is, she's seen it, and they've lived through it. She's survived it, endured it before tonight—but it's different this time and it's too late to explain any of it to her brother.

It's something she needs to keep to herself. She puts it away, somewhere far and deep inside her chest, where no one else will ever find it. Then she lifts her head and listens as Pietro suddenly stops rattling the bathroom door.

"Why are you not well?" his voice is quieter, less annoyed. "What's wrong? Do you need anything?"

Wanda combs a hand across her face slowly, brushing the long strands back, out of the way, away from the puffy cuts and bruises on her cheek.

"I am fine, I'm just not feeling great." she lies. "Will you leave, please? I am sure Clint is finished now, so..Goodnight, Pietro."

"Are you sure about this?" Pietro calls out a moment later. "Are you sure that you are ok?"

She wants to tell him no, that she isn't, that she isn't sure she ever will be. There's still blood left in the sink, her body aches from tonight, and there's really not much that she feels okay about right now. She takes a step over to the door, followed by another, and soon she's standing there at the locked door and she's considering saying something. It's quiet between them. She keeps the door closed, keeps it locked, as she leans her head against it and closes her eyes. It doesn't make a sound, doesn't creak or let her brother know that she's standing there, but somehow she feels like he knows and it's why he waits, why he doesn't say anything at all, until she does.

"Yes. Trust me, I am fine. Go away now, everything is fine."

Half a beat passes, then he steps away. "Okay, okay. I am leaving now. I will be in my room if you need me. Goodnight."

Then he's gone. Pietro isn't exactly quiet as he leaves, but he doesn't break anything on his way out and nothing else comes crashing down. Wanda waits anyway. She waits one minute, then another. She stays there, her head pressed to the door, a hand stretched out against it like if he'd just stayed for one more minute she might have opened it up, might have let him it. But he's gone now, and after waiting a minute she opens up her bathroom door and steps out into the quiet space of her bedroom.

It's dark in her room, but there's the same orange glow from the street lights that burns in through the windows. Wanda pads across the floorboards, bare feet cold and heavy, as she walks to her door and gently closes it, locking it a moment later. The door creaks a little but the sound passes, and once it's locked Wanda hangs her towel up on a hook behind the door and reaches for a dressing gown hanging next to it. The silk robe is a soft blend of dark colors, deep blue and emerald, with simple flowers stitched into it. She slips it on carefully, reaches the side of her bed, and opens up the drawer next to it.

The drawer is old and vintage, something they picked up shortly after moving here. It's something she hasn't been able to part with since she first laid eyes on it, not just because it is old and tells a story, but because it is beautiful. Made of wood, carved with intricate little patterns, it is very special to her. And it's a place where Wanda keeps most of her little things and treasures that she keeps to herself and doesn't want anyone else to find or look at.

The rest of her room—well, it's hers now. It wasn't really at first, it was just a room then, something to fill with the pieces of the new life they created here in New York. But now it's definitely something that's hers. It's something that she doesn't really like to share with anyone else, not really, not even Pietro sometimes.

The bed is large, bigger than anything she's ever had anyway, and it's covered with thick blankets, soft pillows of different shapes and colors, and a bunch of, as Clint calls it, junk. It's really not junk, just the things she uses through the days and the long nights. Things like books, pens, half-finished sketches and old drawings. She collects all of this junk from the bed, places it on the floor, and then leaves to open the window a little more. Her bed is by the window, in the perfect spot that in the day lets the light into her room and in the night lets the breeze in.

She opens the window slowly, turns on the shaggy pink light by her bed, and stops to glance her room over again. The lamp is hers, but it's not something she'd pick out. It's usually something she would find hideous and stay far away from—but her brother once persuaded her to get it. From the moment he saw it he loved it, and then he started dating Clint and he hated it and begged her not to put it out in the open space where anyone important (like his new boyfriend) might see it, so now it sits in her room and it's something that's grown on her with time.

It's hers now, like everything else. Her room really isn't big, but there's a lot in it. Sometimes it feels bigger than it is, and tonight is one of those nights. There's a pile of clothes at the end of her bed, waiting to be put in the dresser against the far wall. She doesn't feel up to it, doesn't even think about it. She stops by the bookshelf on her way to bed, wondering for a moment if reading might help. She already knows the answer, that it won't, that there isn't much that could help her tonight. Still she looks, letting her gaze sweep over the room, over to the bookshelf by the door where she keeps little ornaments, and plants, and stacks of books and journals.

Tonight she looks over and finds that the small gray dragon she once kept there is gone. Wanda walks over to it soon, spotting a few pieces of the broken ornament on the ground from where her brother broke it and then attempted to pick it up. She scoops up the pieces, cradles them in her hand, then discards them. It can't be glued together like he said, but it doesn't really matter. It's just a thing, she tells herself, as she makes her way over to the chair at the end of her bed. It's more like a bench, soft and cushioned, where she often spends hours sitting and getting ready. She just sits there tonight, pulls her feet up, props her chin on her knees, and lets out a breath.

Her hands aren't shaking anymore. She realizes that now, and it's something. It almost feels good, almost feels like progress. She isn't so easily convinced. Her hands aren't shaking anymore but it feels like everything else is. It feels liker her mind is shaky, like it is distracted, and shifting, always moving back to thoughts of tonight. Her attention briefly settles on the rug by her bed, near the canvas she was recently painting on, next to all the other pieces of art and the supplies she keeps there. 

Wanda lingers for a moment, pretends to consider painting to distract herself, but she is too weary and she knows it. So she lifts her gaze, over to the vanity near the bathroom. It's old, and faded, and the paint is chipped, and it's where she'll be sitting in a few hours when she's getting ready for the morning and trying to hide her bruises from her brother.

She stares at it for too long, gets lost thinking about what lipstick she'll have to wear to hide this from Pietro. She intends on telling him, she just needs time, just wants to control what he sees and what he worries about. He's been through enough, he doesn't deserve to be burdened by this, not when he is so happy. This is the last thing she lets herself thing about, as Wanda decides that she is done looking around the room. She is done with being here, and alert, and so aware of it all. She drags herself back on her bed and collapses against it, sinking into rows of soft pillows as her eyes shut.

It's still too quiet, it still doesn't feel peaceful. And her face still stings. So she moves, sits up, and ties her hair back into a bun to keep it off her face. Then she turns on her side and looks out to the window, to the view she can see from her bed. It's all dark and starry, with a few lights from the city lingering close by. It will be light soon, she thinks, as she rolls over to reach the drawer by her bed. Her vapor pen is there, ready to be used when she needs it, but it feels like it's too much of an effort tonight. She digs inside, searching for the joint instead, and she soon finds it tucked away in an old tin, with a lion painted brightly across the outside and little stars etched into it.

Wanda retrieves it swiftly, scoops up her lighter, then sinks back into bed. It's not a habit, not really. It's more like an escape, on the nights she needs to get out of her head and away from here. Or it's something she does on the nights she wants to feel something good.

She knows that she can't do this forever, just like she knows she would scold her brother for doing this, but she doesn't have to worry about that. In these last six months or so, Clint's been a pretty good influence on him. They have their things that make them happy, that keep them grounded. And this is Wanda's thing. She's been using the vapor pen recently, because she likes the way it feels and there's less of a smell, but tonight she feels like getting high without any of the effort.

She doesn't always do this, doesn't always get high. Lately things have been better. Her brother's been happy, happier in these last months than she can remember him being since they were kids, and she gives most of the credit to Clint. But not all of it. It's something Pietro did for himself. He found a way to start again, from the life they had before this one, back in Sokovia.

It's more than they ever thought they could have, and this—Pietro's job, his boyfriend, his new life—is all that Wanda's ever wanted for him, ever since they were little. His happiness has always mattered so much, sometimes more than her own. Mostly, it's mattered more than her own and there's never been any complaint from Wanda about that. They're twins, yes, but sometimes she feels older and more responsible for both of their lives and their futures here in New York.

It doesn't bother her, and it doesn't weigh heavily on her, not really. It's her own happiness, her own life, that she can't seem to carry too well at times, or even figure out, but that's just another thing that she keeps to herself. She carries all of it; the riots, the blood, the home they left behind. They saw so many people die there, they lost so much, and it is always with her.

It was their home until it wasn't, but somehow it still is. Wanda recalls it all clearly, like it was yesterday, like it was only moments ago that everything was shattered, and broken, and bloody. But it wasn't. It's been years now. It doesn't feel like it yet, but maybe one day it will. Or maybe it's just another lie that she tells herself. It's the same one she used to tell Pietro, to keep them going, that one day it would be over.

Sva bol ide dalje, na kraju, dragi brate, she would tell him, and he would believe it. Wanda just never really did, not enough, not like he did. But there's still a part of her that wants to believe it, or maybe that's just the part of her that wants to believe in something again.

 

* * * *

 

Once, she used to dream of good things. Wanda recalls those dreams vividly; purple skies lit up with stars, deep rolling waves ebbing and flowing along endless shores, and quiet paths that led to new and beautiful places. In those dreams, she remembers seeing her brother. Her parents were there sometimes, too. She used to dream of them, of the life she wanted when she was little. Now she doesn't really dream, and when she does they aren't like that. She dreams of skies filled with smoke and an angry fie, burning away everything and everyone, leaving nothing behind but ash and a pile of bodies.

Her parents are there, sometimes her brother is with them. It's endless, and feels like she's there, living through it again. It's real enough that she can feel the flames licking her skin, she can taste the smoke filling her lungs, and she can always hear Pietro's voice. In the dreams he is always so young, so helpless, and he needs her. He needs her. That's when Wanda wakes, breathless, and sweaty, and desperate to hear her brother's voice. She needs to hear him, to remember what he sounds like, and she does. It comes to her slowly, as she closes her eyes and pulls herself together, or she tries to.

She reminds herself of the things she knows: they're here in New York together, in their apartment in the West Village, far away from Sokovia. They're far from all the death that followed them here, there is no fire, her brother isn't dead, and she isn't stuck in a hole, buried under rubble. She wakes free of it all, free of the red, and all the other things that pin her down in her dreams. But it doesn't feel like, doesn't feel like she's free. It feels like something else entirely.

Wanda pulls herself from the covers slowly, swinging her legs over to the edge of the bed where she sits for a moment and tries to steady her breathing. It's here on the edge of her bed that she lets herself feel it. The pain in her head isn't great. A migraine, combined with last night's fall. She remembers that quickly, in bright flashes of blood, concrete, and silver. When she finally stops reliving it, she realizes that there's music playing in the kitchen.

The clock on the stand by the bed tells her it's 10:03 AM, which is fine because she's not working today. She's got the day off to do whatever she wants, but already she doesn't feel like doing much today. She leaves the bed a moment later anyway, pulling on a pair of socks and slipping away into the bathroom, to wash her face and look at her injuries in the daylight.

It isn't better in the morning. If anything, Wanda's face is worse. Much worse. She stares at her reflection for a while, trying to take it all in. The bruises scattered along the right side of her face are all purple, and black, and spotted. They don't cover her whole face, just a part of it, and she finds a small relief in that. The row of bruises on her face are restricted to just along her jaw, parts of her cheek, and then there's just the nasty looking bruise underneath her eye. So there's really not much relief to be found here, she realizes, as she steadies herself against the basin.

Her eyes stay on her reflection, on the stranger staring back at her, while she begins to wonder how much she can cover with make-up. There's no hiding this, not really, there's only minimizing it and that's exactly what she plans to do. She decides to start with a shower and slowly removes her clothes while the water heats up. She's half-naked when she hears a knock on her door. It's more like three consecutive thuds, followed by the sound of Pietro shouting out, something inaudible and loud, about breakfast being ready soon and how if she isn't there in time he's prepared to eat hers.

It makes her smile, sort of. It's more of a half-smile, that tugs on the corners of her lips then disappears without really forming. After it's gone Wanda undresses, steps into the shower, and tilts her gaze down to her bruised and bandaged body, staring at the marks for a moment. Then she ties her hair back off her face and starts to wash, using the new cherry blossom body-wash that Pietro picked up on his way home the other day. It actually smells pretty good and it feels nice to be clean, but she doesn't spend long in the shower. It just doesn't feel that nice, doesn't feel like the kind of morning where she wants to spend too long in here. And then there's the thud against the door that reminds her that breakfast is ready.

Wanda swiftly steps out of the shower, dripping water everywhere, as she returns to her room to get dressed. She pulls on an old dress, something baggy and blue, with sleeves long enough to cover her palms. She dresses carefully, her body still sore, still tender in places. Once she's dressed she returns to her bathroom to tend to her wounds. It's bright enough in here now that she doesn't need a light, the daylight coming in from the opened bathroom window lets plenty of light in, so she finds a spot by the sink, puts the bandage down there, and rolls her dress up to her thigh to look at the wound beneath.

She doesn't let herself look at it too closely, not for any longer than she needs. Wanda repeats the same steps from last night. She cleans the wound, dabs at it until it's dry, applies cream, then covers the small graze up with a bandage. It stings but she doesn't let herself feel it, not here, not yet. When she's done she spends a minute staring down at the bruises on her thigh, only aware of them now. She didn't see them last night, must have missed them in the dark. She sees them now, they're small and purpled, like the ones along her forearm and her wrist.

Her palms hurt, too. She turns them over slowly, examining them from afar. Her right hand and wrist hurt the most, it's where she hit the ground first. She quickly rolls her sleeves down, covering her palms, before she lifts her gaze back to the mirror. All that's left to do now is decide if she's going to wear make-up or leave it all to breathe. She leaves it in the end, deciding that no powder is going to cover it and it will all just end up stinging and feeling worse. She doesn't want that so she leaves it, or most of it. She adds a little concealer to the bruise under her eye, just to hide it, to make her brother worry less, and then she does the same to the bruises on her cheek.

The last thing she does is put on a little lipstick. It works, better than everything else, and when she's finished she takes out her hair and combs her fingers through the knots. She's almost done when her brother comes back, knocking on her door, louder now than he's been all morning. He leaves quickly and she follows, slipping on a pair of flats by the door before she stops and reaches for the handle. She takes a minute, just one, to prepare herself to see him, to prepare herself for how he will feel to see her like this. Then she makes herself go out there, because she knows that if she waits another minute she won't go.

Wanda is quiet as she steps out of her room and into the rest of the apartment. It's not small, not really, but she likes that it feels small sometimes. It feels nice, feels like home. Next to her bedroom there's a room with a washer, dryer, and sink to clean their clothes in. On the other side of that is her brother's room. The laundry room between keeps the distance between their rooms, giving them the space to continue their days without interrupting each other while still feeling close to each other.

Outside of Wanda's room there's a space just to the left that is large, and bright, and consists of a red rug on the floor, her paintings stacked against the wall, and an easel whenever she finds the inspiration to paint something. The kitchen is nearby, just a few steps away from her little art area. It's an open layout, big enough for the two of them, or really the three of them since Clint spends most of his time here. There's a long curved bench again in the kitchen that's shaped like an L and has two bar-stools standing on one side of it. They don't really sit there for meals though. The three of them usually sit at the table, that is long, and wooden, and only a few steps away from both the kitchen, Wanda's art area, and their bedrooms. So it's not a very big apartment, but it's theirs.

And there's a little more left in it. There's the TV area, over to the right of apartment, away from everything else. It's more than that though, it's a a little hideaway. The TV is against the wall, the two couches are opposite, and behind the couches are two wide bookshelves filled almost completely (with books, DVDs, keys, and more junk) that box the area in, making it feel like a place to hide away from everything else. She wants to go there now, to curl up on the couch, cover herself with a blanket, and hide for a few hours, but she can't.

She's not alone here and she remembers that now. Wanda's gaze sweeps over the apartment quickly, away from their TV area, and the coat-rack by the door, back to the kitchen, to where there's music playing on the stereo and breakfast cooking on the stove. Pietro is in the kitchen, wearing an apron that brightly reads 'KISS THE CHEF' in big, bold, red letters. He's sitting on one of the stools by the bench, dangling his legs off the side while chewing on a strawberry. And he's so unaware of this, of her, of everything.

Clint's nearby, he's the one actually doing the cooking. For a few seconds he's oblivious to her, too. They're both so happy, and peaceful, and these are the moments she cherishes. The ones she wants to file away, where her brother is free, and happy, and staring adoringly at a man he cares very much about. It makes her smile now, more than she could before. She smiles and takes a small step closer, arms tightly folded around herself, as she gives herself another minute to watch them. She just wants one more moment for things to be like this before it changes.

Then Clint sees her. His eyes flicker up to her, away from her brother and the breakfast they're making, and that's when her smile drops. It fades away, crumbling into nothing. Because of the way he looks at her, it crumbles. He's looking at her like something's not okay and then she remembers it, remembers why she feels like she might crumble herself. Pietro's gaze soon follows Clint's and he turns to her, and suddenly he's not happy, or free, or oblivious anymore. He's here, and he's aware, and he can't stop staring at her. And it's not that she doesn't understand it or doesn't know why he's looking at her the way he is, because she does. Her face is bruised and scratched up, it doesn't look good. She just wishes that it wouldn't have happened, or that she could have let him be happy for a little while longer.

Pietro is with her in a second. He rushes over to her side, and there's no space between them, as Clint stays over in the kitchen for a moment and pulls the pancakes off the stove. He hesitates and looks back at her, uncertain if he should walk closer, if it's something he should be a part of, then he comes closer anyway. He follows Pietro but stays a few steps behind them, and as Wanda looks back at her brother she sees the same look in his eyes. It's amplified, and so much harder to read, and there must be hundreds of thoughts and emotions swirling through those light eyes of his.

"O moj Bože. Wanda. Što se dogodilo?

She shakes her head once, keeping her arms locked around herself, because nothing happened. It's the story she wants them to believe, especially Pietro, whose face is flushed with rage and eyes are filled with an intense concern. She can't let this burden him, she won't.

"Nothing, I am fine." she lies, to them, to herself. "It was an accident, everything is fine."

Her brother's hands find her soon, carefully reaching for hers. His touch is soft and gentle, despite the rage that lingers in his eyes. He puts his hands on her shoulders and holds her there while he frantically searches her over, for answers, for anything else he fears he missed. It's quiet between them as he looks her over, except for that old song still playing over on the radio. Wanda swiftly looks away from it and back to her brother, who isn't looking at anything else, only her.

"Ne laži mi. Tko je ovo napravio?" he whispers, words low, broken up.

It makes her sigh, and she knows she shouldn't. Wanda knows that she shouldn't try to step away from him but she does. He stays close anyway, his hands protective and gentle as he holds her close, muttering something to himself that she doesn't quite catch. Then he reaches out, brushes the hair out of her face and tucks it behind her ear. Her eyes stay on him, as a sadder look fills his eyes, drowning out the rage. He pulls her to his chest half a second later, holding her as closely as he can.

"Ja sam dobro, ljubavi." Wanda promises him, but it doesn't feel like enough.

It isn't enough but she can't say anything else, not yet, not when she is so consumed by how warm her brother's embrace is. She sinks into it, almost letting her eyes shut, almost letting it all out, and then she hears Clint speak and she is reminded that, for the moment, they aren't alone.

"I think, uh—I think I'm gonna step out for a smoke." Clint calls out, clearing his throat. "I'll be on the roof if you guys need me. Back in five."

Wanda catches a grateful look dart over her brother's face then it's gone, and so is Clint, and afterwards it's just the two of them. She pulls herself out of his arms slowly, but he doesn't step away, doesn't really let go of her. Pietro's eyes stay on her, still searching for more, and even if there's a tiny part of her that wants to give him that she can't. So she lies.

"It was just an accident."

"What happened?" he asks, silent for a moment. "Tell me, who did this. Who hurt you? What happened—"

"I did it to myself." Wanda lies, her voice breaking on the words. "There was an incident at work, it was no one's fault."

Her promises mean nothing, not because he can tell they are lies but because there is a rage inside of him that can't be calmed. He wants more, he needs it, more than anything else, and she still wishes she could give it to him. She wants to comfort him, to ease his anger, so she tries to find a way to do that. Wanda reaches out, coming closer to her brother. She places her hands on Pietro's shoulder, giving them a soft squeeze, and it seems to relax him for the moment.

"Pietro, calm down." she whispers. "It's fine, please. Be calm."

"What? Look at you. Look at how you are hurt." Pietro answers, shaky. "This was last night, yes? When you did not want me to see you? This is many things, but it isn't fine. Wanda, tell me who did this—"

She silences him by placing her hands on his cheeks. It only works for a moment, but it is long enough to calm him, to get him to look at her. Pietro stills, his body tense, his eyes filled with rage—but he stills, and he looks down at her like he is ready to listen, to hear her, and for now this is enough.

"Listen to me. Listen." Wanda stops, to breathe, to find it in herself to keep going. "It was an accident, it was my fault. It was nothing, and it is sorted now. I promise."

Pietro's jaw tightens. "Then why did you not tell me? If it was nothing else, why did you not tell me last night?"

Her hands slip from his cheeks. "How could I? When I knew you would feel this way, that you would feel like this. I didn't want you to feel badly."

If he believes her, he says nothing. Pietro doesn't let it show, he just glances her over a second time then slowly lets himself look at her again, and in his eyes she finds that same silent curiosity that tells her that he is still looking for more.

"What happened?" he asks moments later.

It comes to her in pieces. A blur of memories, and silver, and the feeling of the concrete tearing up her skin. Wanda flinches a little from them memory but she hides it well, she hides it enough that Pietro doesn't seem to be aware of it. She keeps it in, keeps it together, and reaches for her brother's hands, both to comfort him and to feel something steady, something real.

"It was at work, outside of the bar. We asked these men to leave." Wanda tells him. "It turned violent, they didn't see me. I got in their way, I didn't mean to. That is all it was, I promise. It looks bad but it doesn't feel this way. Everything is fine."

It still isn't enough for Pietro and she knows it. She knows him well enough to see it all over his face. He wants more, needs more than just an explanation. He wants names, and answers, and a way to fix this. More than anything else, he wants to save her, to keep her safe from all of this. Pietro wants to protect her from the pain that's been following them since they were ten years old.

But he can't save her from this. She knows this, but she can't dwell on it. She embraces him instead, winding her arms around her brother and pulling him into a soft hug. Soon he's hugging her back, holding her protectively, and as he holds her she feels the rage and the tension slipping from his body. It stays like this for a while, and even when they break away from each other a minute later they stay close, holding each other's hands.

"Sva bol nestaje na kraju, dragi brate." Wanda says, offering him a smile. "Remember?"

He nods first, then sighs. "You understand why I was worried, yes? I see nothing, then I see this. I expect something bad, someone to go after. But if it was an accident then I will have to accept that."

Softly she lets out a breath, it feels like her first since she stepped out of her room this morning.

"Good, because I think the pancakes will be cold soon. And Clint has probably had too many cigarettes in these last minutes." she smiles, squeezes his hands, then lets go. "Go and find him. It is a bad habit, tell him that. And tell him that we are ready for breakfast now, if he is ready."

Pietro hovers, staying close. "You are sure? He wouldn't mind leaving. It could be just us if you need to talk about it. I want to talk about it, if this is what you want."

"I don't, I am sure."

There's a moment when she thinks he will leave now, to fetch Clint, so they can have pancakes, and orange juice, and carry on as if this is just another morning. But he doesn't leave. Pietro lets out a sigh, holds out his arms, and gestures for Wanda to come closer, to come back to him.

"Come on, come over here." he says, quieter than he's been all morning. "Come here, please."

Then he's hugging her again, and it feels closer than the last one. Closer and warmer. Pietro wraps his arms around her gently, until Wanda's face is buried into his chest and her eyes are shut, and for a minute she lets herself feel it. She lets herself soak up the warmth, and the love, and how protected she feels here. It lasts for a while, until she sends him off to find Clint again and she retreats to the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee.

The moment that her brother is gone, it all floods back in. The music, the memories, the pain. Wanda ignores it, trying not to think about how quiet the apartment is, how quiet last night was. It makes her wonder for a moment how long she will be able to keep this up for, how long she will be able to lie to her brother for. If the cops get involved in the future, he will learn the truth. She reported it, gave a description of the man, and then she left, but it's something that could come up again, which means it's something she may not be able to keep from Pietro forever.

Maybe it's something she should have been honest about. But at the time, lying felt like the best and only solution. It still does. She knows that this isn't a real solution, just a temporary one, but she doesn't want to deal with it right now so she doesn't. Wanda distracts herself, with her coffee and yesterday's newspaper sitting on the bench. She's still over by the kitchen, pretending to read it, when she becomes aware of the hushed conversation outside of the apartment door.

She glances over her shoulder just as Pietro comes in, still dressed in that silly apron. Clint follows quickly, wearing PJs similar to the ones her brother has on underneath the apron. They close the door behind them, share a look, and then Clint returns to his spot in the kitchen like nothing happened. They're acting like nothing is different, just like she wanted. So why does it almost feel like it isn't?

"Who's ready for breakfast?" Clint calls out, glancing between the two of them. "Pancakes sound alright to you, Wanda? I don't wanna brag, but I've heard they're pretty good."

"Yes." she nods. "Sounds delicious."

"Apparently they are famous pancakes." Pietro calls out teasingly. "Or so Clint says."

"Hey, buddy. That's not wise." Clint laughs, heating up the stove again. "You might want to try and be nice to the guy cooking your breakfast. You never know what could end up in there."

It's something her brother considers for half a second, maybe less, before he speaks again.

"Did I say that? What I meant was definitely. They are most definitely famous pancakes. But whether we like them or not, we will soon see."

With a smile, her brother settles at the kitchen table. Wanda joins him there soon, carrying her coffee over with her. It's effect is almost instant and helps her feel a little better. She takes a small sip then sits down at the table, where there are already plates set out for breakfast, next to smaller bowls and plates filled with strawberries and chopped up pieces of fruit. Wanda picks up a piece, pops it into her mouth, then sets her coffee down. And she's almost good to go, until she realizes that she's looking around her room for her bag that is gone now.

The man last night took her money, and her phone, and everything else she kept in her bag. It's difficult to even know what's missing, she just knows that there was a lot in there and it's all gone now. She doesn't know what it is but a strange feeling settles over her in the next few minutes. Wanda sinks back further into her seat, her mind adrift with thoughts of last night, as she waits for breakfast, and for her coffee to be a little cooler to drink. She wraps her hands around the cup to warm them and stays there, faintly listening to the conversation going on around her.

Today feels different. Not like something she hasn't experienced before, not a new day. It's the kind of day where everything except her mind is quiet and she's already gone, lost in her head, in her thoughts of tonight and getting high to escape all of this. She's already looking forward to it, when Clint drops a pile of pancakes on the table in front of them and she watches Pietro's expression change. He pretends to sulk, then he lets himself smile and he proudly looks up at Clint. After that, she doesn't pay all that much attention.

Wanda drinks her coffee, watches as her brother piles five pancakes onto his plate, then almost smiles as he drowns them in maple-syrup and fruit. It looks good, she thinks, but she isn't hungry. Still she picks up a pancake, drops it down on her plate, and scoops up a few strawberries to chew on.

"You were right." she says, after a bite. "They are very good."

It pleases Clint, as much as it can when things are like this between the three of them. It isn't awkward, not really, but there's something lingering in the air. She doesn't dwell on it, she just watches as her brother's face lights up. She knows why. He wants her to like his boyfriend, and he wants his boyfriend to like his sister, and he's lucky that they do. Clint is nice enough and seems like a good man, and he's better for Pietro than anyone he's ever dated before.

Wanda sometimes gets the feeling that for Pietro, it doesn't get better than this—better than this man who loves, and adores, and protects him. It works both ways, she thinks, that they are perfect for each other and it won't get better than this, that they won't find anyone more perfect for each other. They are meant to be, or something like this, and she sometimes finds joy in watching them together, in the little moments, even if she feels disconnected from them, from herself, from all of it.

"See?" Pietro wiggles an eyebrow. "Did I not tell you they were famous, Sestra?"

Then Clint's laughing again, in that warm way of his.

"This one." he sighs, nudging Pietro in the side. "He's always got to be right, doesn't he?"

With a sweet smile, Pietro takes Clint's hand and holds it, while at the same time he takes several bites of the pancake sitting on the plate in front of him.

"That is not a conversation you will win, love. We talked about this, haven't we?" he smiles. "Ask Wanda, if you do not believe me. She knows everything."

Clint turns to her, expression soft. "Does she?"

He nods quickly. "Yes, sometimes I am so sure that she can get into my head. She reads my mind so well. Go on, ask Wanda. I tell you, she knows the answers to everything, or to almost everything."

Wanda looks up, half-way through chewing on a pancake.

"I'm sorry. What was the question?"

"This one was just telling me that I won't win that conversation." Clint grins, twisting around a strawberry on his fork. "The one where I said he always has to be right. Pietro said to ask you if that was true, because he thinks you can read his mind. That you have all the answers."

She sets the fork down, then the knife. They make a distinctive noise against the side of the plate, and then Wanda pushes it all away. She slides the plate across the table because she suddenly isn't hungry anymore, not that she was ever really hungry. The coffee is enough, so she take a small sip and looks up to the expectant pairs of eyes watching her.

"No, I don't. I don't have all of them. Not always. But sometimes I do."

Pietro makes a quiet noise, a hum of disagreement.

"Okay, so no, she does not always have the answers." he points out, slowly beginning to smile. "And maybe she can't read minds, but she acts like she can and that feels real enough. And that is the same thing, isn't it?"

"That is the trick." Wanda says eventually. "To act like you know it all, even when you don't."

It's something Pietro spends a moment thinking about, then he moves on. He's chewing on his pancakes, eating strawberry after strawberry, while promising Clint that he won't know what hits him when he tries his 'famous' Chicken Paprikash (which is really Wanda's Paprikash, a dish they often cook together but the recipe is hers) and then that's it. That's all it takes for Wanda to feel like she's slipped out of the conversation and back into a memory.

This time it's not the memory of last night that comes back to her, and it's not any blurry pieces from last night's dream. It's a different memory, of the two of them in their old home back in Sokovia before it was blown to pieces. They're sitting together in the kitchen, watching and learning so many new and wonderful things from their mother. The house smells of spices, the walls radiate warmth, and everything is lit up in a soft golden light.

She decides to stay a while.

Chapter Text

Wanda paints a charcoal sky in the afternoon.

It's a deep and endless shade of black that resembles the night sky—with little pieces of gray and blue left behind wherever it felt like they belonged. She paints the sky for hours but it doesn't feel right, doesn't look at all like she imagined it. Her headache is still there, throbbing through her temples, and that's not helping her get this painting done. It probably doesn't help that there's still a slight shake to her hands, whenever she angles the brush a certain way or turns her wrist in a way that makes it ache.

The sky feels empty on the canvas, like it's staring at her, taunting her for what she's missing, what she can't find. It's waiting for her to do something else, to do more. It wants her to create something real, so she tries again. Wanda dips her brush into the red paint, smears it across the canvas, then keeps going, throwing paint across the canvas until there are streaks of red smeared all over it. Afterwards the sky isn't so clear, so simple. It's a mess, all of it s. The colors haven't dried, so the red blurs with the black , turning it into something dark and uncertain. 

She leaves the canvas behind soon, retrieving a packet of cigarettes from her room and carrying them over to the window in the kitchen. There, she wedges open the window and climbs through it, out onto the fire-escape. In the apartment above theirs someone is blasting their music very loudly, almost too loudly. They always do and she never minds, but today it feels too loud. It feels like everything is too loud; the music, the city, even the flick of her lighter when she lights her cigarette. It's all too loud in her head today so she tries to escape it out here on the fire-escape, tries to find a distraction in the city and the streets below her. It doesn't work but she keeps trying, as she settles on the fire-escape, tucks her knees up to her chest, and angles her gaze down at the city.

The lit cigarette burns out between her lips slowly, as Wanda's attention darts over the busy streets. Sometimes she likes to come out here to sit, and smoke, and see, and to just get out of the apartment for a little while. It feels different being out here, different than being inside, cooped up in her room. Sometimes she goes to the roof-top, most of the time she comes here. The roof seems to be everyone's choice when looking for an escape. This is hers. She does go up to the roof sometimes to smoke, sit in the sun, and read for a while, but she likes it better here, especially at night.

It's always nice out here when the sky is dark, and glowing, and everything is lit up in city lights. It's just her out here most nights and days, since no one really comes here often. No one except Clint, apparently. She hears him back in the apartment, padding around the kitchen in search of something to drink. Whatever he's looking for, he soon finds. There's a distinctive clink of two bottles hitting each other, before Wanda looks up and sees him by the window. He leans against it, sighs, and then makes a low noise of disappointment.

Tsk tsk.

"I thought smoking was a bad habit." he points out, smiling. "That's what Pietro said you told him, about my bad habit, that it wasn't good for me."

She hums, twirling the cigarette between two fingers.

"Mm. You know what else is a bad habit?" Wanda asks, glancing him over. "Sneaking up on people without letting them know you are there. You may not think it will kill you, but it might."

Clint pauses, swallows, then goes on. "Yeah, well, Pietro said I could stay here for a bit while he was out making deliveries. That's okay, right?"

"Yes."

He lingers, torn between two decisions. To stay or to go. She doesn't mind either way. She came out here for silence, to get lost in the city and spend some time out of her head, but after last night she can't pretend that she wouldn't mind a distraction. Clint seems to understand that, in his own way, because he quickly makes up his mind decides to stay, at least for a little while.

"Room out there for two?" he asks, and it sounds like he's smiling. "Or was what you just said a threat? And maybe I should take my beer somewhere else?"

Wanda turns to him, looking directly at him for the first time since he came over. She lifts an eyebrow, stubs out the rest of her cigarette in a bowl by the window, then stretches out a hand for one of the two beers clutched to his chest. She is curious about what he is doing here, since they have never sat out here and had drinks before. They've spent time together, one on one time to get to know each other, for Pietro, for themselves, but there's something in the way that Clint is watching her that feels different. She doesn't linger, she doesn't ask. She just holds out her hand for the beer that he still doesn't pass over.

"Those are my beers, but you are welcome to stay and drink one." she answers soon. "Why are you still here anyway? Pietro could be gone hours."

"Well, I'm going home later." he laughs, popping the lids of both bottles. "So you don't have to worry about that. I'm just hanging around until Pietro gets back. There was something I wanted to ask him and I can't put it off any longer."

Curiosity stirs inside of Wanda. She takes the bottle of beer from Clint as he offers it then lifts her gaze back to him, still curious, still wanting to know more. If he intends on sharing this, whatever it is, with her then he doesn't make that clear at all. He just takes a sip of beer then smiles, not moving from where he stands inside the apartment, resting against the window pane, his gaze hard to read.

"Really." she hums. "And what would that be?"

"It's not important, not really. And no, it's not that. It's not what you're thinking it is." Clint's quick to say, half-smiling as he goes on. "I know how that sounds but it's something else. It's this party I agreed to go to, while I was very, very drunk. So wasted drunk, that I didn't remember. But I do now and I need a date. Or someone to stop me from killing Tony Stark. That's all, it's simple really."

Wanda nods along, uncertain of what to say, or if there is anything at all to say. She shifts her gaze down to the bottle in her hands and starts to run her fingers over the outside of the bottle, only realizing now that her palms are covered with different little marks, both from where she hit the pavement last night and from all the hours she spent painting today. She quickly looks away, back to Clint, as he offers her another, wider smile.

"So." he sighs." Pietro know about your bad habit?"

"It is not a habit, just an occasional thing."

Clint thins a smile. "You know, that sounds eerily similar to what people call a habit." he sighs, then swallows a sip of beer. "I'm thinking of quitting myself, actually. Or trying to. Your brother bugs me about it so much, it just might be easier to stop than to listen to him go on about it."

There's a pause, as Clint's smile softens and a flicker of something warm darts through his eyes.

"Also, I think it would make him happy. You know?" he goes on. "It's just that I think I can do it and then something stresses me out and I'm right back here."

"Yes, my brother is very persuasive." Wanda nods. "But it is only because he cares about you."

They share a look after this, something quiet and unspoken, before Clint sighs and climbs through the window to join Wanda out on the fire-escape. He ends up sitting on it with her, his feet flat on the solid metal ground, one hand around his beer and the other steadied against the wall behind him. So apparently there is room for the two of them out here, not that she ever thought there would be. He leaves enough space between them, as he sets his beer down on his lap, sighs, and looks out at the view around them like he's trying to think of a way to say whatever is on his mind.

Wanda knows from just the one look that there is something there, something he feels he needs to say. If it wasn't obvious by the beer and the way he lingered by the window, it's obvious now. She's good at reading people and he's a little easier to read than most.

"You want to say something, don't you?" Wanda says, curling her fingers around the bottle. "It's about my brother. Yes? You want to say something, I can tell, so just say whatever is on your mind."

Then she looks away from Clint, down to where her hands are wrapped around the cold bottle of beer. Her rings—black, and red, and silver, all with tiny stones—make quiet little noises against the bottle as she touches it.. She taps them against the glass one more time, just to hear it, to distract herself from wherever this conversation is leading them, even though deep down she already knows where it's going.

"Uhh, yeah. Yes and no. It's also about you." he pauses, chewing on his lip. "You're right, when you said your brother cares about me. It's obvious that I care a lot about him, too. Right?"

She nods, a hand still stretched around the beer.

"Yes, I know. Why are you telling me this?"

"I'm getting to it, I promise. Look, the thing is, I care about him. Because of what I have with him, I got to know you. That means I care about you, too. And caring about someone means saying the things that you feel you need to say." Clint says, then stops to drink a lot more beer. "Do you know what I mean? There are moments you can't pass up on sometimes. You want to. You just really, really want to let a moment pass—because you don't want to piss anyone off, or hurt them by saying something, but you can't let it pass. You just feel it, like deep in your chest. You have to say something, there's no other choice. There never was."

There's a long pause between them afterwards, as if Clint is trying to give Wanda moment to catch on, to work out where this is going, but she already knows. She wants to pretend that she doesn't, but of course she knows what he is doing here and why today, of all days, he is trying to talk to her of such things. Still she tries to ignore it, stopping for a sip of beer before she speaks.

"Yes, I understand. What is your point?"

"It's about you." he says. "About last night."

And that's all he says, but it's enough. It's enough that it gets to her, makes her forehead twitch a little, twisting into a small frown. It passes quickly and then it's gone and she's sipping on her beer again, like he didn't just say that, like he isn't watching her the way he is. Clint's gaze is steady now. Intrusive, and close, and so much steadier than it was before. Wanda ignores it, as she swallows another sip of beer from the bottle wedged between her hands.

"What about last night?"

"I know bullshit, okay? It's as simple as that." Clint sighs, moving just a little closer. "I'm good at reading people, I have experience in that. You know what I do, you know what my job is. I work at a security firm and sometimes part of that job includes working out when someone is lying to us."

Wanda's gaze is strong, it doesn't falter. "And your point its, what? I don't understand what we are talking about."

"My point is that something happened last night, didn't it? You don't have to tell me, that's not why I'm here. I wish I didn't have to say anything. but I care about you and I can read through it. Pietro's worried about you, too. But he doesn't know what's going on. I don't think he's figured out that there's more to it, but I have."

She takes in a breath but it doesn't feel better, doesn't really feel like she can breathe again.

"What exactly are you saying, Clint?"

He sighs, glancing her over. "I notice things, I can read through bullshit pretty easily. It can help me see things that other people don't see. Like this morning..Pietro didn't notice that your bag, wallet, and phone are all gone. But I did, I noticed. Look, we've all been through bad shit before. Some is worse, some isn't. My point is, if something happened I want to help. If something happened that you're not talking about, I think you might need to. You might need to do more than that. I have a friend at the NYPD, her name is—"

"Nothing happened." she's quick to say, placing the bottle down. "Do you understand? Nothing happened."

Clint's face twitches, his expression filled with sadness.

"Where's your phone then, Wanda?"

She doesn't know what to say or how to answer that. She doesn't even really know how to look at him right now. Somehow she does. Wanda stares back at Clint, quiet for what must be minutes, before she looks down at the empty bottle by her side and thinks about picking it up and finishing it off. For the moment she can't do that, she can't do anything.

"Lost."

"Alright. What about your bag?" he pushes? "Your wallet? Your keys? You cards?"

It quickly falls silent between the two of them and this time there's nothing for Wanda to say. Clint's gaze is heavy and fixed upon her, and she can't do this. She can't. She retrieves her beer, finishes it, then slides the bottle away and looks up at him. She isn't curious anymore, about why he is here or what he wants to talk about. She just wants to move on, from this, from all of it, but it's hard to do that because it's not like she doesn't want to tell him. It just feels too late now and Wanda doesn't want to put that lie there, between Clint and Pietro. She'd rather have them both believe her story than have them believing different things. It isn't what she wants, for them or for herself, even if there's a small part of her that wants to be honest right now.

Wanda reminds herself why she wasn't honest; she remembers the pain her brother has endured, everything he has seen and lost, and she thinks about how much he already worries about her and she can't do it. She can't burden him with this, she won't. Not when he is finally happy. For so long she remembers hoping to see the light return to his eyes and it's back now, and there's nothing she wouldn't do to keep it there. So if that means carrying this by herself then that's what she'll do.

"I'm not trying to upset you or piss you off right now. I'm really not." Clint says soon, the words echo back to her. "I'm just trying to do the right thing here. My instincts are telling me that something's going on. You know I'm here to talk if you need to talk about it. Don't you?"

"Yes, I do." she's quick to answer. "I understand, and I appreciate it, but there is nothing to speak about."

"Okay, okay. Don't worry. That's fine, Wanda. It's fine. I thought that might be your answer, so there was something else I wanted to say. Then I'll piss off and you can't sit here and enjoy your beer." Clint says, as he pulls something from his jacket. "Now, I know you probably don't want this but I thought it might help."

It's a piece of paper, small and yellow, folded in half. He holds it out to her and she frowns, staring at it for a moment before she reaches out to take it from him.

"I know a guy, his name is Steve. He's a Vet. Served a few tours, and when he came back he started working with us. He's the guy from my work I talk about sometimes. This is his number, please consider it."

She frowns, turning the piece of paper over in her hands.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand what this is for."

"Yeah, it's not—no, it's not that kind of call. He's happily taken, but that's really not the point. He's a great guy. A fantastic athlete and trainer. So I thought if you felt like you needed some help, maybe he could be the guy to call." Clint explains, running a hand along his jaw. "He's good at training. At teaching self-defense. All the things like that. And I get it, I do. From what I know, you're fiercely independent. You can handle it all on your own, better than any of us can."

There's another pause. Clint hesitates then smiles, in a way that she knows is supposed to be both reassuring and kind. It is, but it doesn't comfort her, doesn't make her feel any better about any of this, but she's not sure that anything that could help her feel better today.

"But at least consider giving him a call, okay? It isn't the worst thing in the world to need help sometimes." he adds, smile still sort of there. "I know it might seem hard at first but he's a great guy and he'd be happy to help if that's what you're looking for. Mostly he works out of Brooklyn but that's really not far from here and I'm sure you two could work something out."

Wanda curls the piece of paper up in her hands slowly, before tucking it away into one of the pockets on her blue dress. Then she looks back up to Clint, to find him still sitting there, still waiting, and this time when he smiles at her it feels nice, feels a little more comforting, and it's now that she decides that she will at least consider this before dismissing it.

"I am not sure what I will do, but I appreciate this. Thank you for thinking of me."

He smiles a little more. "That's fine, don't worry about it. And don't worry, I won't tell Pietro about it if that's what you want."

She shakes her head slowly then turns back to the city, to the streets and the life surrounding them. She still doesn't know what she will do, about this, about any of it, but at least there's time for her to decide.

"I don't want you to feel like you have to lie to him because of me, or for me." Wanda says soon. "I don't want there to be lies between you, so I will tell him when I am decided on what I will do. Thank you, but I will find a way to deal with this."

"Sure, I get it. Take all the time you need. I'll leave you to it."

But before he goes, she turns to him. Wanda hesitates, glancing up at Clint at where he's standing by the open window, ready to climb through it and leave her to spend some time on her own. There is one thing on her mind, before he goes and she gets lost in her head again.

"How is he?" she calls out. "Pietro, I mean. How is he?"

"Um, today? Yeah, he's fine. He's fine." Clint says, hesitating for a moment. "Sure he was worried about you earlier. He told me not to say anything, but he was worried you weren't okay. Now he seems a little less worried after breakfast, but that's not what you're asking me. Is it?" 

A thin smile flickers across her face. "No, that is not what I meant. I meant, how is he with you. Is he happy?"

Something sweet and soft appears on Clint's face, slowly turning into a smile.

"Yeah, he is. I think he is."

"Good."

Then suddenly Clint's smile turns into a grin, a wide and happy grin of disbelief, that spreads over his face and makes her smile without even knowing why.

"So, wait. What? That was approval, right?" he beams, eyes glowing. "I'm getting your approval as your brother's boyfriend? Ahh, I knew it. I knew you'd warm up to me eventually."

She smiles, turning away. "Don't ruin it."

"Yep, yep. I know how to take a hint, don't worry." Clint calls back, as he climbs through the window. "I think I gotta go home for a bit, take Lucky out for a walk, but I'll be back later to see Pietro. Need anything from the store on my way back?"

"No, thank you. We're fine."

From over in the kitchen, where he's gathering his things, Clint seems to think about it. Then he comes back to the window, stopping only briefly on his way to the door, to let her know that he's taking care of all the things she forgot to worry about, like self-defense training and putting a lock on their apartment door.

"Okay, well don't worry about it. I'm gonna grab a bolt lock for the door on my way back. I'll install it, just while your keys are out there. Then I can contact someone about getting you a new set of keys for the building. I'll see you when I'm back, call if you need anything."

It's quiet again after he leaves. Wanda stays out on the fire-escape for a while, for about twenty minutes, before she returns inside and discards the empty beer bottles into the trash. She pulls another from the fridge, opening it up, as she feels herself slowly being overwhelmed with pieces of her conversation with Clint. All the things to do, all the things she didn't think to do. There's more to it though, more that lingers. She knows that he's right, that she'll need to do something about this, because it won't go away on its own. 

But it's not like she's ignoring this, not really. She's taking small steps. Last night she stopped in at the precinct and talked to an officer, and until she hears back from them she's supposed to take care of herself, talk to someone, and be around family. She's not sure that she's ready to talk to someone else, or to anyone right now, but she knows that there's no pretending that last night didn't happen.

The piece of paper sits heavy in the pocket of her dress, a reminder that one day she will need to do something. She soon finds herself staring down at the number for a while, wondering how she would even contact this Steve, if that's what she wants, when her phone is gone and she's not sure that she wants to spend money on a new one. There's always the phone in the apartment, and the one out on the street that she could use if she really wanted, but she still doesn't know if that's what she wants. She doesn't know what she'll do, about this, about Steve, or any of it, but she knows she needs to do more than she has. She's already talked to the banks, about shutting down her old cards and issuing new ones, so that's all sorted. But she still needs a new phone, new keys, and a lock on the door, which she's thankful Clint is taking care of because she's not sure she can do all of this on her own.

It sort of dawns on her now, that she doesn't know if she can do this on her own. It still doesn't feel like there's any other choice. With that on her mind, Wanda returns to the fire-escape. The memory of last night comes back to her again. She sees a flash of silver, the force of his hand tight around her wrist, before he snatched her things and pushed her down against the pavement. She lets out a breath and closes her eyes, leaving the bottle of beer behind her in the apartment, untouched and forgotten for now. She leaves it all and settles in, pressing her back against the brick wall behind her and tilting her gaze up to the sky.

There's only a little bit of sunlight left in the sky now, everything else is dark and fading into the afternoon. It's beautiful, she can see that, even now. Wanda observes it all for a while then closes her eyes and breathes it in, and for a long time it feels nice, it feels good. Then it comes back to her. She presses her lips together and when she swallows she swears she can taste it. Blood, sticky and warm, filling her mouth, and just like that she's back there again.

 

* * * *

 

A bouquet of carnations in a flower-shop window catch Wanda's attention as she's passing by. She stops in, picks them up, then places them in the basket hanging over her arm, as she takes a slow and lazy stroll through the rest of the store. It isn't like they need more flowers, Pietro's occasional shifts a the flower-shop near their apartment give them plenty of flowers and then more. But it's just something that catches her eye, something that she feels like doing today, so she buys them and then she picks out two more bunches, and they're all so beautiful that she doesn't mind.

Wanda picks out roses, pretty and red, and a bunch of Yellow Jessamine. She carries them to the cashier, pays, then places them in the wicker basket slung over her arm as she returns outside to the pavement on her way towards her destination for the afternoon: the Farmer's Market. It's not too far from where they live, not really, and she enjoys the journey no matter how small. Pietro often comes with her, always making the same oohs and ahhs at all the little things he likes, knowing that she finds it cute and she'll buy him whatever sweets and fruits he wants.

Today she's here alone, because her brother is still at work and she felt like going on her own. There was no reason not to go, it's a nice afternoon and she's always loved walking the streets of the markets. There's a quiet energy to it all, something soft and soothing, that calms her from the moment she arrives. Maybe it's the familiarity, or maybe it really is the calm energy of it all. Whatever it is, she doesn't dwell on it. Wanda retrieves her note from her basket as she walks closer to the stalls, reading over the list of all the things they need, and then the few things from Pietro at the end of the list that he added at the last minute. Little things like candy, and blueberries, and the sweets he likes from that store near their house.

It almost makes Wanda smile, to read his little list. She re-reads it again then slips it away, deciding to wander aimlessly and quietly for a while before she picks up all the things they'll need through the week. Her visits to the markets usually take a while but she doesn't mind, there's something soothing about this place. It both comforts her and reminds her of small and faraway things, like the scents in their mother's kitchen, the hours she's spent walking these streets with her brother, or the days she spent creating and changing recipes to cook things that tasted like home.

Wanda starts with the berries. There are so many different kinds and she's always loved them. The stall she ends up at is large, with rows of different kinds of fruits and berries filling up every inch of it. Her eyes scan over them carefully, not really looking for anything but blueberries for her brother. She picks some out, pays, then places them in her basket hanging over her forearm. She's careful not to crush them or to bend any of the flowers in there. It's busy here today and loud, and sometimes she can't tune it out but today she can. Wanda focuses on what's around her, not on the noises, or the people and the small crowds surrounding her. She lets herself drift away, reminding herself of little things, like the fruit she needs to pick up at the stall down the other end of the market, and then how tomorrow morning she's picking up her new phone on her way to work.

Her stomach twists at the thought. Wanda doesn't want to linger, to think about work and what it will feel like going back there. She can't, so she doesn't. She retrieves the list from her bag again and pretends to read it, like she hasn't already memorized everything on it, like she doesn't know what stall to find all the different fruits at. She reads it again anyway, focusing on the items listed there, from the apples and apricots, to the peaches, plums, and candy. Wanda starts to get the things off her list slowly, picking up apples, and plums, and then she eventually wanders over to a stall filled with bright and fresh vegetables. Around her, everything seems to grow louder and busier. It starts to seep in now, their voices, all the little noises around her. 

Sometimes it feels like she can block it out, and sometimes it feels like their voices dig into her skin. She's too aware, she always has been, even when she was little. She's always been too alert, too aware, and far too conscious of every little thing happening around her. It feels like a curse sometimes, to be this aware and to only have limited ways to escape from it all. It's heavy and sometimes it's hard, but she knows that she wouldn't change it. Most days, anyway. She's not sure that today is one of those days but she pushes through it and focuses on the vegetables at the stall across from her. Wanda picks out several, pays, then places them in her basket with everything else she's picked up so far.

Today is a busy day. It's also the kind of day where she can't stop thinking, about last night, about all of it, and then she sees them and she feels herself pulled back to the past. Across several rows of stands and stalls, Wanda finds herself drawn to the sight of two young children playing together. There's nothing bright or noticeable about them, nothing that pulls her eye to look at them. They're just two young kids playing together. The boy is running around with a wooden unicorn, chasing the little girl, his sister, while she runs around with a blue teddy clutched between her arms. It's nothing unusual, she can't think of a single reason why her attention pulls towards them, but it does and it reminds her of other things. Forgotten things, like memories of home and her childhood, their childhood. 

Wanda feels her attention slip away, in a slow and fractured way, to the stand opposite hers where she finds a man standing there, watching her. It feels like there's not any reason why she should feel this silent pull to him, yet she does. His hair is dark and long, cropped just below his shoulders and tucked away beneath a hat. There's nothing bright or bold about his clothes, that isn't why she feels drawn to him. He's wearing blue jeans and a black jacket thrown over a pale shirt, but she still feels it, that invisible pull to look at him. She can't explain it, can't look away. Wanda looks at him and forgets—she forgets about the children playing together, and the busy street, and she turns from the stall and crashes right into the chest of someone walking by.

Her basket crushes hard against his chest, and hers, and then it slips away and hits the ground. She feels herself go down with it. If it weren't for the stall next to her, that she barely manages to clutch on to, she knows she would have gone down hard, just like last night. Wanda flinches and lets out a curse, quietly, in Sokovian. The man doesn't recognize the curse, doesn't even seem to hear a thing. When she looks up at him she realizes that he's annoyed at her, for this, for the small stain on his shirt from the fruit they crushed when they walked into each ther. Then suddenly he's off, shouting at someone for a napkin, something to clean this shit away with. After he's gone Wanda is left kneeling on the concrete, still for a moment, hands shaking, before she begins to gather her things together. 

She drags her basket over towards herself slowly, to look and see what can be saved and what can't be. Her first thought is that everything is messy again. The carnations are scattered over the ground, the plums and berries are all squished in her bag, and there's juice from the blueberries all over her fingers from her shaky attempts to gather everything up. To make things worse, her hands are shaking again. She knows why, it's not really this. It's the memory of last night. But that's only a memory, she tells herself, over again. It doesn't feel like enough, doesn't stop her hands from shaking.

"O moj Bože. Zašto?" she sighs, tempted to give up.

She doesn't. Wanda starts by trying to salvage some of the fruit in the basket, but what isn't crushed is now covered in the juices from the other fruits and it's all such a mess. She sighs again and stops, almost too distracted by what's in front of her to notice the shadow that appears above her. At first he stays out of sight, the shadow just hovers above her, then she looks up and expects it to be the man who stormed away for the napkin, the man who is responsible for half of this mess, but it isn't him. It's someone else, someone new.

It's the man she spotted across the stalls, the one she felt the pull to. He's standing there in front of her, for about half a second, and then he's kneeling on the ground with her, trying to messily gather the scattered carnations on the ground between them. Wanda feels herself drawn to him again, in that same way she did earlier, that same way that she can't explain. She watches him silently for a moment then looks down at the flowers he's gathering together in his hands.

"What a jerk." he sighs, picking up several carnations. "You alright?"

Then he looks up at her, his eyes darting openly across her face, from the bruises and the grazes there, before slowly he tries to smile. 

"Yes." she nods, wiping her hands on her dress. "Thank you for your help, but I am okay."

After her hands feel clean, Wanda gathers up whatever can be salvaged to put in her basket and clean at home. Her hands are still shaking though, she knows why. Everything about this day feels so long, so hard, and she feels so tired, and then suddenly the man across from her is leaning in to help and it almost starts to feel better.

"You sure? Here, let me. I don't mind."

Slowly he stretches for the basket where she left it on the ground and he picks it up for her. Wanda watches on as he gently places the broken flowers and bags of fruit back in there and then she stands, using the stall by her side to steady herself. Her grip on it loosens, once she's standing upright and she lets out a breath. She quickly looks back to him afterwards and it's only now that she realizes that he's waiting for something. She wonders what it is he's waiting for her, if he's waiting for her to speak or to say her name, and then she realizes he's still holding her basket and he's waiting for her to take it back.

"I am fine." Wanda says again, quickly taking the basket from his hands. "My mind was somewhere else. It was my fault—"

"He walked right into you and he didn't come back. I saw it happen, it wasn't your fault." he answers. "The least he could have done was stick around to make sure you were alright." 

She pauses, looking at him slowly. "Really, it's fine. Thank you for your help."

The man nods, releasing the basket. She notices how most of the Yellow Jessamine are fine, but the carnations are all crumpled and the roses are covered in juices from the crushed fruit. Her eyes flicker briefly over what remains in the basket, searching to see what's left and what she will have to buy again. Wanda's almost too lost in these thoughts to notice that the blue-eyed man across from her is still standing there in front of her, holding out a perfectly fine bag of blueberries.

"Here, take these. Take mine." he offers, dropping them gently into her bag. "Enjoy."

Wanda stretches into her basket to grab them, to give them back, because they're not hers—but he's already gone. He's walking away, far away, to another stall, or maybe he's going home. She watches as he stops, looks at her over his shoulder, then sets off in another direction, and for a minute after she can only watch him. She stays like this until her gaze is pulled down to her basket and she decides that she's tired of this. Wanda is tired of markets, and people, and all of this noise, so she leaves and goes home. It's a quiet walk there. She stops only once, to pick up candy from the grocer. It's not the brand her brother likes but she doesn't feel like going to that store to find it, so this will have to do.

The streets grow busier the closer she gets to home. It all feels busy, and loud, and with every step towards the apartment building it feels like she's further away. Her hands are still sticky, coated with crushed fruit, and the sensation on her stinging palms feels familiar. It makes her walk faster, makes her walk fast enough that soon she's standing outside of her apartment building, feeling calm again. She carries her basket inside, picks up the mail downstairs, then takes the stairs up to their level. But it's only when she reaches for their keys that she realizes she doesn't have them. They're gone, and she hasn't copied a set from Pietro's. There's a spare set of keys but those are currently in the apartment. And to make things worse, she doesn't have a phone to call Pietro from.

"Fuck." Wanda sighs, pressing her head against the door.

She curls her hand together into a fist and bangs heavily on the door, three times in a row, hoping that Pietro will be home to let her in. It doesn't sound like anyone's home, and when she knocks again it confirms to her that they're not here. It annoys her that she didn't see this coming, that she was so thoughtless, but she tries to let it go. There's a payphone on the street outside, she'll use that, she decides, as she starts to calm down. Wanda carries her basket down there, hanging it off her arm as she pulls out several coins and then picks up the phone. She finds herself torn between calling Pietro, who will likely be on a delivery for work, or Clint, who she only guesses has a key since they've never actually talked about it. She settles on calling Pietro first and typically, it goes right to voicemail. She leaves a message and then calls Clint, but the same thing happens with him.

Wanda tries three more times before she slams the phone into the receiver and leaves it. There's a café about a block away that stays open late. She decides to go there, to get a coffee and wait until someone gets home, and of course that's when Pietro shows up. She spots him riding down the street on his bike, his back-pack clipped on over his chest, his head-set for his phone connected and on. So that's why he didn't pick up. He's on the phone with someone else. If she had to guess, she'd say it was Clint. The way he's smiling confirms it. She's never seen him happier in his life, before Clint, before they came here. It's the kind of thing she never expected, that he would find such happiness here. It's the kind of unexpected thing that she'll always be thankful for.

Pietro notices her soon, when he's much closer to the building. He speeds up to reach her, swerving dangerously fast and close around a few small groups of people, before he gets to her. That wide and bright smile stays on his lips, as he pulls the bike to a halt in front of her, ends the call, and then glances her over.

"What are you doing here?" he asks, curious. "Are you leaving again?"

"No, I was waiting. For you. I locked myself out of the apartment."

This amuses Pietro, apparently. He makes a quiet noise, that turns into a laugh, as he jumps down off his bike and carries it up through the front doors of the building. Wanda leads the way, holding the door open for him, to give him the room to move his bike through. And then she shoots him a look that lets him know that it's not that funny.

"Did you get my candy?" he asks seconds later. "The berries? What else did you get?"

Wanda sets off up the stairs, not looking back.

"Blueberry juice. Over my dress, and hands, and flowers."

"Juice? How?" he calls back, sounding distracted.

"It's fine, I just want to clean up." Wanda sighs, as he joins her side. "Will you and Clint be home for dinner tonight?"

They're halfway up the stairs now. They'll be back in the apartment soon, where she will put the flowers in water, get a start on dinner, and clean herself up. More than anything she wants to get clean. It's why she doesn't feel like taking her time, why she wants to get up to the apartment so quickly. She's in a rush but her brother doesn't seem to mind. He understands, staying close by her side as they walk up the stairs together.

"I will, but not Clint. He's working tonight. You work tomorrow?"

"Yes." she nods. "You?"

"In the day, yes. Just deliveries. Clint wants to take me out to dinner." he tells her, while juggling his bike, typing on his phone, and looking for his keys. "He wants us to go somewhere he claims is the best pizza place in the city. I said he should not get his hopes up, that I already know the best places to eat. He does not know what good food is. Maybe if it is not half bad, we will take you there one night? Just us? Did he speak to you about the new lock on the door, by the way?"

Wanda nods a little, unable to do much else, as they reach the door and Pietro digs inside for his keys. He throws them to her after the door is unlocked, she barely catches them, and then he carries his bike inside. She follows him through, glancing back over her shoulder as Pietro puts his bike against the wall near the door then follows her to the kitchen. She's quietly thankful, both for the new lock on the door and that her brother hasn't asked any questions about it.

"Mm, yes. He did." she hums, carrying her basket to the table. "Clint mentioned it earlier."

The roses go to the sink, to be washed and put in a vase, while Wanda starts to sort through the other flowers and pieces of crushed fruit scattered through her basket. She retrieves a vase for the Yellow Jessamine, puts them in it with water, then finds another for the carnations, but those are mostly ruined. By the time that she comes back she finds Pietro rummaging through her basket in search of his candy. There's an audible noise of disappointment from her brother when he realizes it's not the brand that he likes. She simply looks up at him, a snapped carnation hanging from her hand, and he understands.

"This is fine, it is good. I'm going to shower." Pietro smiles, scooping up a handful of candy. "Thank you for the candy, I will help with dinner if you like."

Then he leans in, presses a quick kiss to the top of Wanda's head, and sets off for the shower. She watches him from the kitchen, where she stands cleaning the roses.

"I'm fine, go clean up." she calls back.

Once he's gone she lets herself take care of the flowers. Wanda cleans them gently then picks out a purple vase for them. She puts the vase by the window, placing the Yellow Jessamine in a green vase on the table and the carnations in a small glass vase near the TV. Mostly they're broken but they aren't all ruined, so she places them there and then spends a little time wandering through her apartment, watering the other flowers that need it and taking care of small tasks.

Pietro returns suddenly, when she's halfway through her tasks, with no word or warning. He's half-dressed in his work clothes, with a brown paper bag in his left hand.

"What are you doing?" she sighs. "You're leaving the water running and you're not even in the shower? You think we have endless money—"

"Shh, this is for you. Okay?" he says, placing the bag down before he speeds off. "You can't be mad when it is a present."

"A present?" Wanda frowns. "For what?"

There's no answer from her brother, he's already gone. So she doesn't wait for one. Wanda sets the bowl down in her hand and walks over to the brown bag at the end of the table. It's a small paper bag, with a red ribbon wrapped around it. It obviously wasn't sold like that, she can tell that the ribbon was a last minute addition, and it makes her smile. The red ribbon is soft and covered with a pattern of tiny little silver stars. Wanda pulls it away from the bag slowly, sets it aside, then opens up the bag inside to find a tiny gray dragon.

It's like the one Pietro broke last night, only smaller and a little different. But it's almost like the old one and she already loves it just as much. It makes Wanda smile more, as she picks the little dragon up out of the bag. She calls out a quick thank you to her brother, even though she knows he won't hear it now, and she carries the dragon to her room to place it down with the other ornaments there. They're all similar in size but that's where the similarities end. Some are made of wood, others are ceramic or made of china. Most are gifts from her brother, some are from old friends, while a few are ones that Wanda picked out and couldn't resist.

And then there are the ones that are gifts, from Viszh or Helen. It's easy to remember the ones from him, she'll always remember them. There's the wooden owl covered in intricate carvings, the small butterfly painted purple and green, and the little dragonfly that hangs out in the kitchen, something she hasn't looked at or thought about in a while. Wanda thinks about it now, as she picks up a little butterfly from Viszh. She thinks about how small it feels in her hands, then her eyes close and lets out a breath.

It makes her think of him. She traces her fingers over the wings of the butterfly and thinks about him. The memories that come back to her are soft and light, and it almost takes her back there, almost makes her pull out the box tucked underneath her bed where she keeps her precious and small things from him. Wanda almost looks, almost wants to go back there, but she can't. She knows that she can't so she stays here, with the tiny butterfly in her hands, smiling at the memory. She doesn't let herself get lost in it though, it's not that kind of day. No, today is the kind of day where she gets blueberry juice all over her hand, meets a kind stranger at the markets, and gets a sweet present from her brother.

Soon she walks away. Wanda puts the butterfly down, next to the gift from her brother, and she leaves it. The bathroom is cold when she steps into it. She washes her face at the sink, rinses her hands, then changes into something clean to wear for a little while. She ends up in a baggy black t-shirt, soft pants, and a pair of red socks. It's all she feels like wearing, she's not going anywhere tonight anyway. When she's done she applies a little more make-up to the bruises on her face, reapplies her lipstick, and then finally goes back to the kitchen to get a start on dinner. It isn't close to dinner, and Clint isn't coming, so it will just be the two of them and it won't take long. She wants to get a start on it now though so later she can sit and paint for a while, maybe even read, before the two of them sit down for dinner and then maybe a movie.

Pietro's been bugging her for weeks to watch the new-ish Bourne movie. The one with the guy that isn't Matt Damon, but is still supposed to be pretty good, maybe even better, in the film. She knows why her brother wants to watch it, not for the story but for the 'babe with the nice arms' as he told her a few nights ago. Wanda doesn't even really mind, she's actually looking forward to escaping her head for a while and spending a few hours with her brother doing nothing at all.

She lets herself look forward to it, lets herself even be excited, as she starts to prepare the salad for dinner. By the time she's almost done, she hears Pietro's voice calling from the shower, asking for a clean towel. She passes it to him, where he's hanging out of his bedroom door, dripping water everywhere and smiling at her like he knows she loved her little gift. Then he leaves her and Wanda returns to the kitchen, focused on dinner until she lifts her gaze and sees it, hanging by the window near the fire-escape.

The small dragonfly wind-chime from Viszh, that dangles off a purple string, and is painted red, and blue, and green. It's small and quiet, and sends a soft little song through the apartment. It feels like months since she's really heard the noise, and maybe it should startle her but it doesn't. For a reason that she's not sure she'll ever understand, it calms her. She's got things to do, books to read, paintings to finish, dinner to prepare—but for a moment she forgets about everything else and she lets the peaceful sound comfort her.

Chapter Text

At the back of The Green Tides there's an alley where the staff can go to smoke or have a quiet moment alone far away from the chaos of the bar. It's one of Wanda's favorite places to go, to escape to when she needs a little air, or a cigarette, or sometimes both. It's a small space, confined by fences and dumpsters, but it feels like there's a lot more space than there really is and that's what she loves about it. She ends up there on most breaks, especially on the nights she works late, and it's where she ends up tonight on the last ten minutes of her break, a cigarette in one hand and her phone clutched loosely in the other.

Wanda lets out a breath as she positions the cigarettes she's been craving for the last half hour between her lips. She lights it, closes her eyes, then lets herself breathe it in. It's been busy tonight, not that it's not always like this because it is. There's just something about tonight that feels different, something that she's very much aware of, even though she pretends not to be. It's like tonight she can feel everything, from the thud of the speakers, to every laugh, conversation, and phone-call going on inside the bar. It's heavy, and electric, and it lingers in her system. She tries to ignore it, keeping her fingers around the end of the cigarette as she lowers it from her lips. She holds it loosely in front of her, while her other hand stretches up to comb back the dark strands of her hair out of place.

Tonight's been hard. Harder than it's ever been, and it's out here in this little stretch of pavement that Wanda feels like she can temporarily escape from it all. It's out here that she turns on her newly purchased mobile phone and looks up the recently saved contact listed as Steve. She stares at it for a while, quietly considering calling him, quietly considering many things. She spends a minute wondering what he sounds like, what kind of man he is, what he's doing tonight, and then she lets herself wonder if he's ever had anyone come to him for something like this before. Something tells her Clint wouldn't have recommended Steve if he didn't think he could help.

Still, she feels hesitant. There's no way to avoid it, to pretend that she isn't nervous, because she is. She doesn't know what she needs right now or what comes next. Wanda only knows that she needs something. Her thumb hovers over the number for a minute while she inhales on her cigarette, then the moment passes and she stubs out what's left, watching it hit the pavement before she crushes it out with her boot, throws it into the trash-can by the door, and returns to the empty space of the alley.

A few minutes pass by before Wanda hits the call button on her phone and watches the screen light up. She feels a surge of regret but tries to ignore it, because hesitations don't help and she can't ignore what happened that night or what it did to her. She needs to do something about it, and while she's still not convinced that this is the solution, there's nothing else. And this is something. It could be something and it's why she presses the phone to her ear and waits, exhaling deeply as the seconds stretch on for what feels like hours and then finally a person on the other end of the call picks up.

"Hi, this is Steve." the voice says warmly, quickly falling quiet.

The words come to her and then swiftly leave. She sucks in a sharp breath, moving her free hand to rest against her stomach to where it feels tight, feels like she's running out of air again. For a second Wanda panics and almost ends the call, almost says nothing at all, but then she reminds herself why she's doing this. No one asked her to do this, no one made her call Steve. She did this in the last ten minutes of her break because it was what she wanted to do, what she thought might help. She still sees it this way, that it could be something, that it could help, and right now she feels like she just needs to try this to know if it's the right thing for her or not.

"Hi, Steve. This is Wanda." she says, then pauses. "Clint gave me this number, he told me I could call you about something."

"Oh, right. Yeah, hi. Hello, Wanda. Of course I remember you." Steve's quick to answer, voice suddenly much warmer. "Clint mentioned that you might be calling. Just one sec, okay? Let me step outside to take this, it's way too busy in here."

Then he's suddenly gone, only for a moment, as he makes his way outside, wherever that is. Wanda stays on the line, her ear still pressed to the phone while Steve navigates his way to a quieter place. She hears the faint sounds of background noise, wherever he is, and waits patiently, walking over to the wire fence that boxes in the little stretch of pavement here. Wanda runs her hands over the wire then briefly locks her fingers around it and waits. It turns out that she doesn't have to wait long, not that she minds.

When he comes back, the sound of his voice startles her.

"Hi, Wanda. I'm back. Sorry about that. It's much easier to talk now." Steve explains, voice clearer. "And I'm sorry I didn't recognize you immediately, Clint mentioned you a few days ago. He said you might call or maybe you wouldn't, then you didn't so it just slipped my mind for a moment there. I'm sorry."

Wanda chews down on her lip, thinking briefly to yesterday, to the hours she spent thinking about it and almost calling, almost letting someone in. She squeezes her eyes shut at the thought and grips the wire fence tighter, until her knuckles pale, until the memory passes along with the guilt and her head feels clear again.

"That's fine. I'm sorry if now isn't convenient. I guess for some people it is late." she says, then hesitates briefly. "I can call tomorrow instead, if you would prefer."

"No, it's fine. Really, don't worry about it. I'm happy to talk now. I'm happy you called, Wanda."

For a moment she is quiet again, because she doesn't know what to say or how to talk about this. She hesitates again, more than she means to, and she really doesn't mean to hesitate at all. It's just that this is hard and she doesn't know where to begin. Frustrated, she presses her hand against her forehead and tries to find a way to go on, to say anything at all.

"I'm just—I don't know." she pauses, biting her lip. "The thing is, I am not sure why I am calling you or what it is that I want from this. Whatever this is, I also don't know. Clint said that you might be helpful. He mentioned your training and your history.."

"Yeah, don't worry. Don't worry, Wanda. He told me about you, too. He said you might be interested in some personal training. We can work out a plan, whatever you want to do. I'm happy to help. I'm not a certified trainer but I do have a lot of experience. I was a soldier. I've done a lot of work since I came back. I think that's why Clint suggested you give me a call."

"Yes, he mentioned all of that."

On the other end Steve's voice softens suddenly, and she knows why but she tries to pretend that she doesn't.

"So, was there something specific you wanted to do?" he asks, like he doesn't already know. "We can do some general training. Work on building up stamina and strength, or if you had something specific in mind we could start with that."

Her mouth falls open slowly to answer, to tell him what it is that she wants, but she quickly closes it when she can't find the words. Wanda considers his words instead, thinking about what it is that she wants from this. She knows that she doesn't have a lot of time to consider it, not here, not when she'll have to return to her shift any minute now. It's just something that she takes a moment to consider, because she hasn't really thought about what she wants from this. She knows how to defend herself, to some extent, but not enough. This feels like something Wanda needs to do for herself, because doing this might help, might one day let her heal from what happened that night.

"Clint mentioned that you could teach me self-defense. Better than what I already know, anyway." she settles on saying, words quiet, low. "That's why he suggested I call you, for that and I think also for the general training. But mostly, it was for that."

Steve hesitates but only for the briefest of seconds. Then he clears his throat and Wanda squeezes her eyes shut tighter, willing the moment to end.

"Yeah, of course. That's definitely something we can do. I'm happy to work with you on that." Steve answers soon. "Do you have a preferred location to meet at? I can come to you if that's easier. I don't mind the travel at all."

"I live in the West Village. Manhattan."

"That's not a problem at all, that's actually not far from where I live. We'd have to work it out around my schedule and yours, but I'm sure we could make something work. Why don't you text me your preferred days and times? I could work something out and get back to you as soon as possible."

Wanda exhales, slowly opening her eyes to gaze out at the small space around her. It feels good, she wants to tell herself, to lie. The thought of doing this should feel good but mostly she feels nervous, feels shaky, like at any minute she might back out, might run, because she knows that would be easier. But this isn't easy, nothing about this is easy, and ignoring it isn't going to make it go away.

"I can do that. My shifts are usually the same, unless I cover someone else's. I will text them to you."

"I'm sure we'll work it out." Steve assures her, still warm, still kind. "We can start as soon as you're ready. We'll begin with some basic training, build up stamina. Then we'll fit in the self-defense training around it. How's that sound?"

She nods, eyes sweeping over the small alley. She's late and she knows it knows, that she's needed back inside, that she probably should have gone back in a few minutes ago. She just can't bring herself to go back yet, even after she checks her watch and realizes that she should be back there in a minute. Instead of going back inside, Wanda lights up a second cigarette and slides it between her lips. It burns out slowly as she lets herself think about the training and the quiet man waiting on the other end of the call.

"That's fine." she says soon. "It will be more than fine."

He sounds enthusiastic and she sees it now. It's clear even through the phone that this is something he wants to do, not because he feels like he has to but because he really wants to, and that means more to her than she can think about tonight.

"Good, that's great. We can work in Manhattan, I'll come to you. We can work in a park or at your place if there's room. There's also a gym I go to, I know the guy who owns it. It's in Brooklyn, but it's a good gym. We can do whatever works for you."

"Why?" she asks, because she needs to know.

"Sorry, what?"

"Do you teach other people? Or is it only me?"

This time he hesitates, but only for a second. Any hesitation is quickly replaced by a deep and endless warmth.

"Honestly? No, not really. Not anymore. I did for a while but there are plenty of classes for people who are looking for one on one training. I'm doing this because Clint's a good friend of mine and I'm happy to do it, for him but mostly for you. If that's what you want. I have the time. All we have to do is work out the details then we can start, if that is what you want."

Wanda nods again, crushing out her cigarette with her boot. She barely touched it but she doesn't care that it's a waste. It's a bad habit and she keeps meaning to quit, but there are a lot of things she keeps meaning to do, a lot of things she keeps meaning to quit. She flicks the crushed out cigarette into the trash can by the door then turns towards the door, aware that Steve is still there on the phone, waiting for her again.

"I will text you later, I'm at work now." she says quietly, eyes shut again. "But thank you for this, Steve. I'm sorry if I interrupted your night."

"It's no problem at all, you didn't interrupt anything. Thanks for calling, Wanda. We'll talk later. You have a good night."

The calls ends shortly after this and Wanda leaves the alley. She tucks her phone into the back pocket of her jeans, puts away her cigarettes and lighter, and spends one more moment out in the tiny stretch of pavement before she leaves, returning to the chaos of the bar. It feels like one of those nights where it's too loud and every noise, every single sound, is pumping through Wanda's chest, making the pain and the migraine that still lingers even worse. She takes an aspirin to dull it then quickly jumps behind the bar, knowing that now isn't the time to think about her migraine, or the conversation still bouncing around in her head.

Wanda's not sure that she wants to think about the call with Steve right now, or at all tonight, not even after she finishes her shift and goes home. She plans to go home, get high, and then sleep for a few hours, and it's thinking of this that will get her through the next few hours at work that she knows will stretch on and on.

It's not that Wanda hates working here, she doesn't even dislike it really, it's just that it's only a job to her. It doesn't mean anything to her, beyond just being a job. It isn't her passion, she doesn't love it. She's good at it, despite this. She's learned to be good, at pouring and serving drinks, keeping everything clean, and safe, and tidy. And always taking care of the customer's. She's been here for so long, she knows how to work here so well that she doesn't always have to think about it, she just does it.

Her duties at work are usually the same, depending on the hours she works. Clean up, serve drinks, pack up the bar, and so on. But of all the things she has to do her at work, her duties definitely don't include standing by and doing nothing as her brother—clad in a bright blue Adidas jacket and black jeans—stretches over the bar to pick up a bottle of pink spirits and pour himself a drink. She stops what she's doing when she sees him and stares down at him, hoping that he will see her and stop, but he doesn't see her and he doesn't stop. He continues with what he's doing, popping the lid off the bottle and casually pouring himself a drink like they're at home and not at her work.

She doesn't even know what he's doing here. He was supposed to be out, they were supposed to be out. They weren't supposed to be here at her work, getting her into trouble. Wanda finishes up quickly with the customer she's serving and approaches the other end of the bar, where she's more than a little surprised to find both Clint and Pietro here, huddled against the wall on their bar-stools, with bright drinks and empty glasses of beer scattered around them. Wanda quickly swats Pietro's hand away, snatching the bottle back and taking it far out of his reach.

Instead of looking surprised, or at all sorry for doing something so reckless, Pietro glances up at her, eyes wide as he starts to pull a face. The one where he knows he's in trouble but he's quickly trying to work out a way to fix it. This includes trying to guilt Wanda into forgiving him, but she doesn't fall for it tonight, not even a little. She scoops up their empty glasses and bottles, moves them safely out of the way, then returns to Pietro, who realizes now that it's not working and the look he was giving her immediately slips from his face. He then makes a point of drinking the tiny bit of pink liquid in his mostly empty glass.

"Pietro, what are you doing?" Wanda sighs, resting a hand on her hip. "I don't understand what either of you are doing here."

"Pizza was good, but we wanted a drink after. And this place, well, Clint made another bet." Pietro shrugs, his slurry words a confirmation that he's drunk. "He said that this was the best place for beer and sweet drinks. And what are we—What are you doing here? I think that is the question here. And why is it you are taking away my drinks, hm? You are a bartender. Shouldn't you be giving me drinks?"

Her eyes narrow in on him as she glances between the two of them, her mind filled with questions. She ends up asking all of them.

"I work here. You know this. You also know you aren't allowed to just pour yourself drinks, don't you?" she frowns, leaning against the counter. "How often do you do this? You are going to get in trouble, or you are going to get me in trouble. Do you not see this? Is this what you want?"

"It is not my fault that the service here is—Hmm." Pietro stops, glances to Clint, then looks back up at her with a smile. "How do you say it? It is shit, no? The service is shit?"

Wanda sighs, tired of this already. "You are just impatient. The service is good. And Clint, please don't let him drink too much more unless you are planning to walk him home and stay there to make sure he doesn't do anything stupid."

Next to Pietro, on a brown swivel chair, Clint looks up and nods swiftly, as if he is both a part of that conversation and has no interest in being a part of it.

"Yes, ma'am."

She looks between them one more time before she leaves, to stack clean glasses up behind the bar, take the unclean ones out to the back, and stock the shelves, before she makes her way back down to their end of the bar where she begins to wipe down the sticky counter.

"No more pouring drinks for yourself." she adds, briefly glancing up. "Understood?"

"Yep, we got it." Clint nods slowly. "No problem. No pouring drinks, no problems."

"Ahhh. Sestra." Pietro sighs, climbing off his chair. "My sestra. The buzzkill."

Then he's off, walking through the thick crowds to the bathrooms on the other side of the bar. Wanda watches him leave, while serving customers and tending to other things behind the bar. After he's gone, and there's no one to attend to for a few minutes, Wanda fills two glasses with water and brings them down to where Clint is still sitting. She slides them over to him and it's now that they're alone that she realizes there's a glow to his eyes. A glow of both alcohol and happiness. He smiles at her slowly, notices the water, then smiles even more and it feels nice to see him so happy. His happiness warms something in her chest. It's fleeting but still there, and it feels nice while it lasts.

"How do you expect him to get home?" Wanda asks, twirling a cloth around in her hand. "Do you think I will walk you both home if you are drunk? And where did you leave your car? You have already had too much to drink, you can't drive now."

"Don't worry, sweetheart. The car's fine. It's outside the apartment. We're fine, alright?" he assures her, stopping for a sip of water. "We walked here, it's not that far. And really, Wanda. We're not children, we've been drunker before and we managed to get home fine. I can hold my own, I'll get him home. Don't worry about it."

She tenses, lingering nearby for a moment. "It's not you that I worry about it, that's all."

Clint nods, understanding. "It's fine, Wanda. You have to trust him, and me. Alright? He's happy. Let him live. Let him drink, and dance, and get really, really drunk if he wants to. He's safe and we've had a good time tonight. We had pizza, took a long walk, stopped for ice-cream. Now we're just having some drinks at a bar. It's been fun."

It means more to her than she expects it to, but she can't think about it right now. Wanda can't let herself think about any of it. She steps away from Clint, focuses on tidying up the bar, focuses on anything but the way Clint's gaze follows her. She knows that this conversation isn't done yet, that they aren't just here for drinks. She thinks she's always known since she saw them sitting there, that there was more to this than Clint tried to let on. But she knows, and she's trying not to let it mean something to her but it does.

"What about you?" Clint calls out, a minute later. "How are things with you? How's work? You good?"

She shrugs. "I have been here. It's been busy. What about me?"

"No, nothing. Nothing. Just—Everything okay here?" he asks, quieter this time. "Any trouble?"

It's now that she looks up, realizing that he's playing with the bright pink umbrella used in one of the cocktails. Wanda's eyes settle on the tiny umbrella as he spins it around in his fingers, both playing with it and distracting himself with the small decoration. She watches him for another minute then lifts her gaze back to meet his, knowing exactly where this conversation is leading them. She's always known.

"This is why you're here?" she walks over, placing her hands down on the bar. "I knew. When I saw you, I knew this was why you were here."

"What? You're saying that we can't come here for the best beer in the city? To the place that just happens to be your work?" he scoffs, slightly frowning. "You think we need a reason to be here, other than the great service? Oh, sweetheart. I think you're reading into this just a little."

Wanda hesitates but not for long, because she knows this isn't why he's really here. She knows him, after all of this time. He is still easy to read, easier tonight after all the drinks he's had. It's why she knows that he's not really here for that, and he knows that she can see that, too.

"It isn't the best beer here, I know this. There are better places and you know this, too. So yes, this is what I'm saying. Tell me why you're really here tonight, okay?"

"I'm not really sure that's the greatest motto for an employee of this fine establishment." Clint smirks, leaning back into his seat. "But hey, that's your thing. I'm not gonna step on it if that's what you wanna do."

She sighs, coming closer. "Why are you here?"

"To enjoy your brother's company. And have some pretty decent beer. Just wanted to spend some time here, that's all." he says, pauses, then goes on. "Oh, and I figured if you needed someone to walk home with then we'd be here. So we could all walk home together. Might be fun that way, right?"

It hits her suddenly, a wave of tiredness. She sighs and looks away from Clint, torn between her work and this conversation. She should get back to it, back to cleaning the bar, replacing stock, and making drinks, but for the moment Gamora seems to have it covered and Wanda can't really bring herself to care all that much. She can't make herself walk away, from this, from him, so she stays and turns back to him, quiet for a long time before she speaks again.

"I don't need you to do that." she says eventually. "I never asked you to do that."

"Trust me, I get that. But we're here anyway. So why not?"

"I told you I was fine." Wanda snaps back, harsher than she means. "That I did not need you to do this. I told you but you didn't listen."

"And, what? What's that supposed to mean anyway? Am I not allowed to worry, just because you said you're fine?" Clint's reply comes back quickly. "You know I'm worried about you, Wanda. You know your brother was, too. And I can't talk to him about this, about what it really is, so the least I can do—"

He stops for a moment, briefly overwhelmed. By this, by the lies and the weight of it all. Then he lets out a breath, leans forward, and levels his gaze to meet hers, and suddenly he's calm again like this is just like any other conversation they've had before. He's trying to keep it simple, trying to keep it calm and casual like it always is, but it feels so far away from that right now.

"The least I can do is talk to you and make sure you're okay." he goes on, seconds later. "So I know that keeping this from Pietro is worth it. And you know, me keeping it from him is not actually feeling so great. I'm just trying my best to handle this and look after you both, alright?"

It's a lot to take in. She tries, and tries, and as the seconds pass it still feels heavy. Wanda stares at Clint as she thinks it over, watching him as his gaze lingers on her, and she still can't find the words. She wants to tell him that she's sorry, that this isn't what she wants for them or for herself. She never wanted this, she only wanted it to be easy for all of them. She wants to tell Clint this and then she wants to explain to him why she needs to keep this from her brother, for now at least.

Wanda almost tells him about Sokovia, everything they lost, everything they endured. She wants to tell him so maybe then he will understand why she's doing this, why she's so desperate to protect Pietro's happiness and keep him safe. It's all she wants to do, all she's ever wanted to do, and she wishes Clint could see this but she feels like he already knows. In his own way he understands and that's why he's still sitting here, why he's still keeping it all to himself.

It's for her but it's for Pietro, too.

"What do you expect me to say to that?" she asks. "You think I don't understand?"

Clint sighs. "That's not what I said. All I'm saying is—"

"I heard you. I know what you are saying, okay? What I don't know is what you want from me." Wanda turns away, focused on wiping down a spot on the bar. "I never wanted any of this to happen, and it has, and I don't know what you expect me to do now, what you want from me."

"What is, what?" Pietro asks upon his return.

He plops down on the bar-stool and glances between the two of them, bright-eyed and curious, but still clearly drunk.

"What are we talking about now?"

Wanda doesn't know how to answer, doesn't think that she has it in her to tell her brother another lie, so she leaves it to Clint.

"Oh, it's—It's nothing. Right?"

She barely nods as she steps away, avoiding Clint's gaze and not really meeting her brother's either.

"If you are still here when I'm finished, which I doubt you will be, then we can walk home together." Wanda says before she leaves. "But don't feel like you have to stay until then. I am fine. So go, have fun and dance. You should go and enjoy tonight. Go and live."

The music floods back into her ears when she walks away from them, making her feel like the speakers are thumping deep into her chest again. Somehow it's both quiet and too loud at the same time and she hates it. She tries to ignore it by focusing on the little tasks behind the bar that she works on when there's no one to tend to at the bar. As she works she tries to stay here, tries to stay focused, but she can't help that her mind strays.

Let him live. It stays with her for a while, for so much longer than she means for it to. Wanda hears it over again, carrying it with the weight of everything else, as she works on her tasks behind the bar. She sorts clean glasses from new ones, carries the unclean ones out to the back, and even spends a minute or two alone in a quiet corridor just to breathe. It feels colder there, she welcomes it and wants to stay there for a while, but in the end she returns and gets back into work, less aware of the voices and of the migraine still throbbing behind her eyes. She slowly becomes aware of other things instead, forgotten things, like the close gaze of a customer every now and then, that lingers on the bruises and grazes almost completely hidden under her make-up.

Maybe it's all in her head, maybe it isn't. She tries to ignore it anyway, shifting her attention back to Pietro and Clint down at the other end of the bar. She finds them sitting in the same spot, drinking, and smiling, and laughing, lost to their own little world. She watches them for a moment and when she looks back a while later she finds them gone, but she soon discovers that they're not really gone. She finds them out on the dance-floor, crammed in with everyone else, laughing and having a good night. She almost smiles, almost lets herself get lost watching them, but she can't. This is her job, this is where her attention needs to be. So she focuses on it and spends her time tidying up empty tables, wiping down the bar, and pouring drink after drink.

By the time she finishes her little tasks and jobs, the lights in the bar are dimmed, the crowds are smaller, and everything feels different, feels a little quieter. It's in the moments like this that she remembers what she loves about this place, that she realizes again why people are so drawn to it. There's a lot of space here, the menu is vast and interesting, and the bar itself is so open and spacious, giving everyone who comes here plenty of space to make their own memories. Inside the bar everything is dark and wooden, with varying shades of green scattered through the space (and a few pops of color, mostly blue and yellow, placed randomly in the bar). It stands out, in a warm and beautiful way, and she's grown to love it, even if she doesn't love her job. She's so used to to this place, its paths, its walls, that she thinks she could find her way through it in the dark.

So maybe there are moments like this when she doesn't completely hate her job. She likes the place itself, and the staff are nice, too. It's just that sometimes it can get overwhelming. But a job is a job. She's had it for so long now, it makes sense to keep it, to stay put. It was something she picked up a long time ago, when Pietro's jobs kept falling through and they needed the money. His work is more consistent these days but it isn't always. He's a courier, which is good for him because he gets to be out in the city, riding his bike around all day, speeding around everywhere, meeting interesting people, and going to new and exciting places. It suits him, fits him better than any job he's had before, and right now she doesn't know that there's any other job that would fit him more perfectly than this.

Sometimes she finds herself dreaming about the life he could have had, all the things he could have done, if things had been different. She thinks about it often, how if their lives had been kinder, or maybe just easier, that he might have been a fantastic athlete, or a gymnast, or maybe even a pilot. He likes to go fast, he's good at it, too. He's focused, and smart, and kind, and she sometimes wonders what he could have been if their lives had been a little different in the beginning.

In this life he's a bike courier, taking messages and parcels around the city, and she's happy with that, there's nothing wrong with this life for him. He picks up shifts at a bookstore near their apartment and sometimes at a coffee shop nearby, and he always works hard, no matter where he works. She's proud of what he's achieved and what he's doing with his life, considering where they came from. It's why she sticks it out here, why she spends long days and endless nights at this place, so their futures might be brighter than they ever imagined that they could be and they will continue to have these lives. It's worth all the late nights and bad customers, just to see her brother as happy and free as he is right now.

Tonight she leaves him to it. Wanda leaves him to his dancing and she carries on with her tasks for the rest of the shift. She stays focused, mostly, but it feels like her heart is missing from her conversations with the customers tonight. It's a part of the job, to talk with them, to be there and to listen, and she doesn't usually mind but tonight she does. Her heart isn't it. She deals with them for as long as she can, taking orders for drinks and special requests, including one from a man who wants something with an 'extra tangy taste'. She does her best with that one, and the other requests for drinks she gets, and after that it sort of goes by in a blur.

It seems to go forward really fast, in a rush of customers and drinks, and when it's over she feels like she can breathe again. Wanda finishes earlier than planned. It's just after 1:30 when a colleague offers to close the bar for her. It's Gamora who offers; a hard-working, kind woman with fiery red hair and a warm smile. She's one of the few that Wanda gets along with here, mostly because they seem to be similar in some ways. Most nights Wanda would decline the offer and insist on helping but tonight she accepts it because she's so tired and she longs to be home in her apartment, alone, resting in a nice warm bath.

So she thanks Gamora, collects her things, signs out of work, and then finds Clint and Pietro through the much smaller crowd hanging around the bar. They're over near their old seats again, and it's as she comes close that she notices they've made very small attempts at drinking the coffee and water she kept pushing at them through the night. She finds them sitting there, laughing at something that's apparently so hilarious it's reducing Clint to tears.

Then they see her and Pietro makes a noise, something very excited and loud, before he throws his hands up in the air at the sight of her like he forgot she worked here. It sounds like he calls out to her, calls out her name, but it's far too slurred for her to hear anything. She watches on, amused, as he jumps down from his seat, plants a kiss on her cheek, and throws his arm over her shoulder.

"Look who it is!" Pietro explains, pulling her into his chest. "Look, it's Wanda!"

Clint's just as drunk as Pietro is, maybe even more. It's not hard to tell that they're both wasted, but she can see that Clint is maybe just a little more drunk. She observes them both for a moment then sighs and starts to unwrap herself from her brother's grip, but this just makes him hold her tighter and then he kisses her again, this time pressing a kiss to her forehead.

"Wanda, you're back. Hey." Clint says softly. "Where'd you go, Wanda? We were waiting. We were gonna do shots. Remember?"

She nods, playing along. "Yes, and we did. We did shots, remember? And now the party is over, so it's time to go home. Right? We are going home now, aren't we?"

Pietro is easily convinced. "Yes, party is all over. We are going home."

Once he's done with whatever is left in his glass, Clint slides down off the bar-stool, almost falls, manages to steady himself, and then joins them. Wanda doesn't trust either of them to find their own way out onto the pavement, so she helps them. She stays close to Pietro, his arm still slung over her shoulder, as she reaches for Clint's jacket and clutches on to it, guiding them both out onto the street. He seems steady enough to walk on his own once they're out there so she lets him go, watching as he wanders around to Pietro's side and leans into him.

The two quickly start a quiet conversation, something Wanda doesn't listen to. She focuses on the path ahead, keeping them in her vision as they walk home together. It takes them a while to get steady on their feet again, and to understand that they're following her home, but Wanda is patient with them. Or as patient as she can be, at this time, and so late. It's only when they get close to the apartment that she starts to feel a little more relaxed about it all.

By the time that Wanda tunes back in, Pietro is rambling about something that she tries to listen to. She only picks up pieces, slurred fragments and words, that she doesn't really hear until he starts to talk to her. Then she starts to listen when it gets interesting and a little wild.

"We are—We are getting tattoos, eh?" Pietro announces, words low and slurred. "Sestra, did you hear? Tattoos."

She arches an eyebrow, curious. "Are we?"

"Yes, yes. You see, Clint lost a bet. So we are getting tattoos."  he explains, smiling. "You can come, too. If you want. Oh, you should. Come with us? We will all get tattoos, yes? It could be fun."

Wanda half-smiles, quickly glancing away and down to the pavement beneath her boots. She can't help it, she's amused, just a little. Yes, it's late and she is tired so that's probably why she finds this so amusing. But they are both very drunk, and maybe even a little cute, and perhaps this is why she ends up smiling. She doesn't try to fight it, instead she welcomes it and lets it distract her for a while. It feels nice, feels good to have them here. She won't say it, won't admit it to herself, but she's glad that they're here to walk her home tonight, even if they are both too drunk to walk in straight lines.

Still, despite this, it feels nice to not be totally alone.

"If he lost the bet," she pauses, musing it over. "Why are you getting the tattoo?"

It turns out that this is something Pietro needs some time to think over. He takes a minute, and then another, before finally it comes to him and he turns back to her, smiling tiredly.

"I lost the bet, maybe?" he says, but it sounds more like a question.

That's when Clint chimes in, voice oddly clear for someone who's had as many drinks as he has tonight.

"No, no. We both lost, remember?" he adds, sure of it. "We both lost the bet, or something like that. Didn't we?"

"Mmm, I don't know." Pietro hums, clearly lost. "I just know that we are going to get tattoos, and you are coming with us. Aren't you? You have to come."

With a faint smile, she glances between the two of them. It isn't a good idea, not this late and not when they are this drunk. They need to get home, need to get some sleep. After that, when the morning comes and they're sober again, they can get whatever tattoos they want. For now Wanda needs to focus on getting the two of them home safely.

"We will be home soon, so nobody is getting any tattoos tonight. Understood?" she says, shifting her gaze ahead. "I am not being a buzzkill, I am being smart. You will get silly tattoos, or it will look terrible and you will regret it. And I also don't think anyone will want to tattoo two very drunk men so late in the night. Okay?"

They both agree, giving her soft hums to let her know, then after that they say nothing and the quiet comes back. Wanda leaves it, keeping her eyes focused on the path ahead, even as her brother detaches himself from Clint's arms and slowly comes to lean against her. She supports him easily but continues to stare ahead, wanting to stay focused. They're not far from home so she doesn't mind that he needs to rest on her, or that Clint is walking ahead like he's got it all figured out and suddenly knows the way back. He's walking a little easier though, he seems less wobbly, a little steadier on his feet, so she lets him lead the way for a little while.

But she decides to keep her eyes on him the entire time, or she tries to. It's just a little hard when Pietro leans in and pulls Wanda to his chest, trying to hug her, to hold her as they walk down the chilly street. Somehow she manages to look ahead and watch over Clint while also keeping her gaze on her brother by her side, because she's worried about how drunk they are and she doesn't want them to get hurt. That, and there's a fire-hydrant on the corner of this street that she feels like is just waiting for one of them to fall and chip a tooth on, maybe even break something on.

She really doesn't feel like a trip to the ER tonight, so she keeps them both in her vision while staying just a little more aware of her brother's close gaze.

"Žao mi je." Pietro whispers, bringing her closer. "Oprosti mi?"

I'm sorry. Forgive me? he asks, and for a moment she is lost.

Then she gets it, as her gaze shifts ahead to Clint's figure moving down the dark street. He's still following the pavement, walking in the direction of the apartment, but she gets the feeling that he doesn't really know where he's going or what he's doing, especially since it seems like most of his attention, if not all of it, is focused on all the little cracks in the pavement that he makes a point of stepping on. That's why she can't afford to look away, not for long. She feels a responsibility to get them both home safely, but at the moment she feels a little distracted by her brother's words.

"Za što?" she asks, despite knowing.

"Za ono što sam rekao."

Wanda turns Pietro suddenly, realizing now what this means to him, what he's talking about. Earlier at the bar, his joke, he thinks it means something to her but it didn't, not really. She forgot about it as the night went on, and as they walked home it was the last thing on her mind until now.

"You are sorry for, what? Calling me a buzzkill?" she asks, frowning. "Don't be silly, brother. It is nothing, okay? I only say the things I do because I care."

"I know." Pietro says, between kisses to her forehead. "Ja volim tvoju sestru." 

"Yes, I know. I love you, too. Let's go home now, yes?"

"Mm, yes." her brother hums, playing with the ends of her shawl. "Home. Yes, Sestra. Let's go home."

From there it doesn't take them long to get home and soon the three of them are in the building, navigating their way up the stairs. It turns out that getting them in the door and up the stairs to their apartment is more difficult than getting them home from the bar. They struggle with the stairs, and she finds herself having to remind them at least three or four times to walk up the stairs, not sideways along them, and not back down them.

Up the stairs, she tells them, repeats over again. Up the stairs, not down them, no don't jump up or down them. Just walk up the stairs, Wanda tells them, must say at least a dozen times. Walk up the stairs, don't start conversations in the hallways outside of people's apartments, and definitely don't stop to kiss against them. She struggles to get them to stop doing that last one, but eventually she gets them home.

The two of them stumble into the apartment together, giggling, lost completely in their own little world. The last thing that Wanda does for them is guide them to Pietro's room, whatever happens after that isn't her concern. She leaves them after that, locking up the apartment and then making herself a coffee in the kitchen. At the last minute she changes her mind and swaps the coffee for a glass of wine. As she carries the wine to her bedroom, the sounds of Pietro and Clint still laughing seeps out of their bedroom and makes her smile.

Her smile stays, even as she leaves her room to check the apartment again, making sure everything is locked and like it should be. Then finally she slips into the quiet of her room, leaving her bag on the floor by her bed and stopping for a sip of wine. She leaves the glass on the bookshelf and makes her way through the darkness to the bathroom, eager for a bath.

It doesn't take very long for the tub to fill up. She sits on the edge for a while, watching warm water and bubbles fill up the pale tub. She only leaves a minute later to gather her phone, cigarettes, and towel from her room. She stops on her way, to turn on the switch by her bed connected to the lights dangling from the ceiling. The little lights are round and scattered along silver strings hanging above her bed. There's more over by the vanity and hanging off the walls, but for now she just turns the lights above the bed on, grabs her things, and returns to the tub to turn the water off before it spills over the edge.

Then slowly she strips out of her clothes, kicks off her shoes, and climbs into the warm tub. Naked, tired, and sore in places, she eases herself into the small tub and feels it all begin to disappear bit by bit. She stops before she goes under completely, pulls off the bandage over her thigh, then throws it away on the floor to pick up and discard of later. For now she can only focus on the warm water as she submerges herself into her and the way the graze on her thigh stings from the sensation.

Most of the pain disappears right away, but some of it lingers and while it's there she tries to focus on other things, like the city lights seeping in through the window and the music playing somewhere in the building. It sounds close, sounds like it's coming from the apartment above hers, and tonight she doesn't mind. She closes her eyes, lets herself rest there for a while, enjoying the feeling of the warm water against her tired body. She only moves to reach for her wine, enjoying the taste. It's nice and it soothes her, helps her to forget about everything for a little while.

When she's done with the wine she sinks deeper into the tub, eyes shut as she settles in. It feels nice to be here, to be distracted for a while, but it doesn't last, it never does. Her mind strays to other thoughts soon, to thoughts of her phone and all that was on it. Messages, and photographs, and old memories. It feels strange thinking about it being in someone else's hands, knowing they have something that once held so many precious things for her. It was hers and now it isn't, now it's gone just like that.

The thought makes her reach for her wine and this time she nearly finishes the glass in a few sips. She soon swaps the wine for her cigarettes, damp fingers reaching for the packet. Wanda lights one, smokes half, then feels like she's had enough, so she stubs it out in the bowl at the edge of the tub and then sinks back down into the water. It's not a very big tub, not really, but it's wide enough that she can stretch out almost completely in it and not be crammed in, not like their old tub where she could barely stretch out at all. It's wide enough that, after she takes a breath, she can easily go under the water.

She sinks beneath the surface slowly, going under completely. Warm water floods over her, covering her up entirely. She opens her eyes after a minute and looks up at the small waves of water above her, the ripples in the surface, and the dark strands of her hair floating around her in the tub. Down here it's so quiet, she can't hear a thing. No music, no voices, no pounding of her heart in her ears. It's quiet here and so still that it calms her and she wants to stay.

Wanda shuts her eyes for a second, maybe a little longer, before she comes up for air. She only comes up to breathe and then she quickly goes back underneath the surface again, enjoying every second, every moment. It reminds her of the ocean, she thinks, and feels a sharp pang of longing in her chest. She wants to go back to the beach, wants to go somewhere vast and blue. Wanda wishes that she were there now, so she could run along the sand, dip her toes in, and dive into the water. More than anything she wants to be alone and so far away from all of this.

By the time she pulls herself from her thoughts, the water is cold. She quickly washes anyway, scrubbing at her skin and using the cold water to clean herself. Then she empties the tub, wraps herself up in a towel, and slips quietly into her room, leaving damp footprints on the floor behind her. In her room she finds a dressing gown, swaps it for the towel, then dries her hair as she finishes off what's left in her wine glass. When the glass is empty she puts it on the dresser, to pick up and clean in the morning, and she soon finds her way back to her bed, to the drawer next to it where she discovers that she's only got the one joint left.

It's not a problem, not really. She knows a guy who knows a guy, and he gets her what she needs when she needs it. So she doesn't really mind that this is her last one. She needs it, so she leaves it out on the table, pulls on an over sized baggy t-shirt to wear to bed, that feels more like a dress than a shirt, and then climbs up into bed and collapses against the soft pillows, exhaling a sigh of relief to be here and to not be at work anymore. But she doesn't dwell in the relief for long, she can't.

She doesn't know why it comes to her now, why her mind drifts to thoughts of the box tucked away underneath her bed. Maybe it's just one of those nights, or maybe it's thinking about all of the memories that she lost on her phone that is making her think about that box under her bed. She almost sits up, almost reaches for it and lets herself spend an hour going through it, but she can't. Wanda decides to leave it for now, because tonight isn't one of those nights to look through old photographs and go back into old memories.

Tonight is the kind of night where she wants to crash asleep and dream of nothing, only blackness rolling in like waves to take her away for a while. Wanda doesn't want to fight it, she doesn't even try, because she knows if she does then she'll dream of Sokovia and she can't do that right now. She can't dream of their parents, not tonight, not after the last few days. It's why she closes her eyes, exhales a breath, and lets the gentle waves take her in.

Chapter Text

In the morning Wanda wakes early, tired from a bad sleep and a night full of dreams. She drinks two cups of coffee, chews on a small bowl of fruit, and then busies herself with small tasks around the apartment until 10 o'clock rolls around and she decides to leave and take care of breakfast for the morning. She dresses quickly, grabs her bike from by the door, and quickly speeds off to the bakery around the corner, only two blocks away from their apartment. It's a small but popular building, always busy, always filled with delicious sweets and pastries. By the time that she arrives the queue is out of the door, winding around the side of the building. She joins the line anyway, waiting ten or fifteen minutes to get inside and order what she needs.

At the counter she asks for three coffees, a bunch of croissants, and a random mix of other sweets and pastries that they like to eat through the day. Wanda knows that by the time she gets home the boys will both be hungry, and sometimes all that's needed to fix a bad hangover is a warm coffee and a big bag of sweets. She collects their coffees first and finds a seat by the window to wait in, while the rest of her order is neatly packed away into small bags to carry back to the apartment.

Wanda only waits a few minutes by the window, enjoying her coffee and the warmth that seeps into her hands, before the rest of her order is ready to collect. She scoops up the bags quickly and leaves, placing them both into the front of her basket, along with the hot coffees, her keys, and phone. Then she clips on her helmet and sets off for home, where she imagines her brother and Clint will be sleeping off last night's drinks. They can't sleep all day though, not when they have to work, and this is her way of making sure they have breakfast before their days begin.

She speeds back to the apartment easily, swerving around small groups on the street, and she considers it another success that she gets back to the building without spilling anything in her basket. It's goes surprisingly well and puts her in a good mood, one that she stays in, even when the disappointment starts to creep in when she gets home. It's because she's back so soon, because there's a part of her that wishes she had more time to ride her bike through the city for a few hours. She likes being out here on her bike, likes moving around and being away from all of this, and even after she climbs off her bike and begins to carry it up the stairs she still feels burdened with a desire to leave, to let everything go and just ride for miles and miles.

The feeling stays with her, soon pushing her to make the decision that later in the day she will do that. She will go for a ride, or to a park, somewhere quiet with water, somewhere away from the noise and the clutter of the city. She thinks that a pond could be nice, she can even imagine sitting there now, and not being here, juggling her bike, coffees, and keys up the narrow stairs to her apartment. Somehow she manages to not spill anything, or trip, or even walk into anyone, while carrying too many things at once. And by the time she reaches her door, she is both relieved and surprised that things have gone so well this morning.

She hasn't exactly been feeling lucky lately, so this feels new, feels like a nice change. It puts her in a good mood again and it stays this time, as she unlocks her apartment, leaves her bike by the wall, and puts all of their coffees and sweets on the kitchen table. Pietro's room is quiet when she passes by, so when she returns she makes sure to knock especially loud, three times, just to make sure that he hears. Thump, thump, thump. She hears nothing after so she tries again, this time calling out their names, and this is when she gets her answer. It's not much of a reply though, it's more like a collective groan from the two of them that lets her know they're awake but they're not happy.

She leaves them soon after this, smiling as she grabs her coffee from the kitchen, drinks a sip, and sets out plates for breakfast. Wanda's quick to gather a few other things, too. Things like glasses, and fruit, and fresh juice. It takes her a minute to set everything up, and by the time she's done the door to Pietro's room is open and she's sitting in her chair at the end of her table, pulling strips off her croissant and stuffing them into her mouth.

Pietro is quiet at first when he joins her, clearly annoyed to be up so early. He seems so different, so unlike his usual mood, until he sees the coffee and sweets waiting for him and his entire face lights up into what might be the brightest smile she's ever seen. He's quick to join her now, sinking down into the chair on her left as his eyes dart over everything on the table. He reaches for his coffee first and after a long sip he turns to Wanda and smiles, suddenly more like the brother she knows and loves and less like a hungover zombie that he was for a moment there.

"Oh, sister. Sweet, sweet sister." he sighs. "You are so thoughtful, so kind. I think sometimes that I do not deserve you."

"Mm. I thought you could use some food." Wanda hums, pausing for a sip of coffee. "To help you feel better, after last night."

He nods eagerly, only quiet as he takes a large bite out of a pink donut. He takes two more bites, finishes it off, then sinks into his chair, happy. It pleases her to see him like this, to see his smile, his good mood. It puts her in an even better mood and soon she's smiling back at him, feeling much better than she did when she woke this morning.

"You look better."

"This is very, very good." Pietro beams. "Oh, we are lucky. So lucky to have you. Aren't we?"

Still smiling, she tears away another strip of her croissant and chews it. It's not that it doesn't taste nice, or that it isn't fresh, because it is. It's delicious, and warm, but it's just that she hasn't had much of an appetite lately. She keeps eating it anyway, trying to enjoy the taste between sips of her coffee. She knows she has to eat it, has to eat something, before her day begins.

"So, how are you feeling?" she asks soon, eager for a distraction. "You did not look so happy to be up this early. But I knew you were working today and I wanted to make sure you had something to eat first."

Pietro shrugs, a little distracted by all of the food and sweets on the table in front of him. For a minute he seems to think about it, what he wants next, what he will have after that, and then he reaches for his coffee, needing more. He turns back to her after two sips of the warm beverage, a bright smile still stretched across his lips, and she knows that he is thankful for this. That he is happy, and that is all she wants. She doesn't need his thanks, she just wants him to be happy and to take care of himself. Wanda knows that sometimes he forgets to do that, but so does she and that's why she always feels lucky to know that they have each other.

"I was not so good before, but I'm much better now." he grins. "Much better because of this. Because of you, my thoughtful sister. And yes, you're right. I am working, but only for a little while."

Wanda nods, thinking it over as she glances down to the coffee between her hands.

"And how is Clint? Is he taking the hangover as well as you?"

At first Pietro is quiet and then she looks up, catching a playful grin on his face, a subtle shift of his eyes to the door behind her, and she knows then that Clint is here now. The small creak she catches in the floorboards confirms that to her, that and her brother's smile lets her know that whatever he is about to say will be a joke meant to tease Clint. She quickly learns that she's right about all of it.

"Clint is old, it gets to him more." Pietro shrugs, failing to hide his grin. "He is, what? Almost fifty, isn't he? Close to sixty?"

"Hey," Clint chimes in, joining them. "I heard that."

The smile that Pietro gives her next lets her know again that she was right, that he always knew Clint was there, listening. He softens at the sight of Clint and they both watch as the still half-asleep man joins them, easing himself into the seat next to Pietro, there for a moment before he reaches for his coffee, desperate for it.

"If I'm remembering right, I wasn't the one up at 5, crying about how shitty I felt." Clint points out between sips of coffee. "I'm pretty sure that was you, babe. Right? You remember? Because I do, and I'm pretty sure it was you."

Pietro smirks, amused. "Mm, no. I don't think so. I think because you are so old, your memory—"

"Did you sleep well?" Wanda's quick to interrupt. "I thought after last night, this would help. There are more sweets in the bag for later."

There's a warm and thankful smile on Clint's face when he looks up from his coffee. He nods in her direction, a silent thanks, before he leaves to grab one of Pietro's sweaters from the couch. He tugs it on and then returns, scooping up his coffee and drinking at least half before he puts it down again, his smile wider, eyes much brighter now. It pleases her to see him happy now, to see them both like this, it's all she wants.

"Not really, not with this one waking me up to let me know how shitty he felt." Clint sighs, faintly smiling. "But the coffee's good. It helps. Let's hope it kicks in before I get to work today. Can't afford to be a zombie there."

"You are leaving so soon?" Pietro asks, clearly disappointed. "You said you were going to stay longer today. Remember?"

"Yeah, I know. But I got called in. I gotta go, babe." Clint sighs, turning towards him. "How 'bout I come over tonight? We can stay in, get pizza, watch bad movies. How's that sound?"

"Mm, okay. I need to go, to call work." he hums. "See where I am working, so I know when I will be done."

Then Pietro is up on his feet, stuffing what's left of his croissant into his mouth. He takes a slow step away, not going far, not at first. Instead he lingers by the table, throwing the two of them a warning look as he begins to back away from the food.

"I will be back soon and I am fast." he says, gaze close, playfully suspicious. "I know how much coffee I have left, and I know how much croissant is left. I will be back soon, so don't touch my food."

Wanda smiles, amused. "You are not that quick."

He shoots her back a smile, one that means I'm quicker than you, before he disappears into his bedroom to sort out his day and make plans for his night. Pietro's absence leaves the two of them to a new silence, as Wanda drinks what's left of her coffee and Clint digs into a donut. He catches her wandering gaze soon and lifts an eyebrow, curious, before giving her a look that is almost too easy to read.

"Right now really isn't the time for you to say you told me so, alright?" he sighs, faintly smiling. "I know how much you two love doing that. But now really isn't the time. And honestly, I'm not doing all that bad. I've had worse hangovers. So I'm okay. You don't have to say it. Not this time, kid."

"I wasn't going to say that."

Clint scoffs, not easily convinced. "Hmm. And why don't I believe that?" he asks, smiling more. "You're definitely the type that's always right and loves letting other people know it. I guess you were right about the coffee though. Coffee solves everything."

She smiles, thinking it over as other thoughts come to her. Wanda tries not to say it, to keep it to herself, because it doesn't feel like the right time. She's already burdened Clint with enough and that's why she wants to keep this to herself, because she's already told him too much, because it has nothing to do with him. But she knows that isn't entirely true. Clint knows something, he knows what happened to her. He knows more than her brother does and there's no escaping that. She thinks this must be why the words slip out, falling from her mouth before she can stop them.

"I spoke with Steve last night."

Clint chokes back coffee. "What? You two, uh? You sorted something out then? Or, what? Yes? Maybe?"

"Yes, I think so. Or maybe. I don't know." she pauses, pushing away her empty coffee cup. "I am going to text him, see if we can work something out. I will tell Pietro I am doing training, or something like this, so he knows. I don't want to lie to him about this, he should know. I don't want to lie to him anymore."

Guilt seeps into her now, at the memory of her brother and his concern for her bruises. Wanda thinks back to it now, thinks of Pietro's hands, his soft kisses to her forehead, and the way he held her in his arms, so desperate to hold her, to make it better and take her pain away. She recalls it clearly and this is why it's so hard for her to keep her truths from him. She doesn't want to lie, not anymore, not ever. Wanda longs to tell him her truths, to open up and share this with him, but it's something that she can't do right now. He deserves his happiness and she won't ruin that for him.

So for now she will keep it in, she will carry it alone, because it doesn't feel like there's any other choice.

"I'm not sure when we start, or where it will lead." Wanda says soon. "But I wanted you to know, since you were the one who gave me his number. I thought you should know."

Clint nods, smiling slowly. "I think it's great, sweetheart. I think it's a great idea, and it's great you're telling your brother. And hey, thank you for telling me. I'm glad you felt like you could. It's good to know that you can come to me with this stuff."

She smiles back, assuming that they're done now, with this conversation, with all of it, but she soon learns that she's wrong. It's only small, the look that hangs around on Clint's face, underneath his hangover and tired eyes. It's there and she can't ignore it, and so she sinks back down into her chair, frowning as she watches Clint's gaze flicker to Pietro's room and back to her, like he's trying to make sure they're alone.

"What is it?" she frowns.

"It's probably nothing." he tells her.

And then he drags his chair closer to her, like he really is making sure this stays between the two of them, and that concerns her. She can't stop it, can't hold back any of her fears. For some reason she can't believe Clint when he says that it's nothing. It doesn't reassure her, doesn't stop the fear from filling up in the pit of her stomach, so fast and so quickly that she feels like she might burst with it. She soon finds herself reaching for Clint, placing her hand on his forearm, not to reassure him but to urge him to go on with this.

"It's about Pietro, isn't it?" Wanda asks, throat tight. "What is it? What happened?"

"It's nothing. Not really. It's about last night. Sorta. I don't think he wanted me to say. Well, he didn't say that. But it's about you and—"

"I don't care." her voice is hard with worry. "If he told you not to say, I don't care. I need you to tell me if something is wrong. If something happened.."

Suddenly Clint comes closer, to reassure her, to place his hand on top of hers and give it a soft squeeze. But it doesn't comfort her, not like it should, and she knows that it isn't his fault. It's not that his touch isn't comforting, it's just that she can't let herself feel it. She is so deeply consumed with memories, and fears, and she can't fight it, can't stop the thoughts of Sokovia that come back to her in pieces. She sees visions of it, of rubble, and smoke, still thick in her throat.

Her hand slips from Clint's soon, falling into her lap where she curls it together with the other and tries to focus, to clear her head of thoughts of Sokovia. She finds that she can't, and that she can't really look at Clint. She can't take the weight of his gaze and all that lingers behind it, so she ignores it, while still fighting off the memories of Sokovia and the fire that burns fresh in her mind, smelling exactly like it did that day.

"Look, kid, it's okay. Calm down. I meant what I said, it's nothing. Really. Nothing happened, alright?" Clint promises, voice quiet but still warm. "It's just something he said. It's been on my mind since, and I can't get it out. He's just worried about you, that's all. After your accident that night, he's been concerned."

Wanda lifts her gaze, jaw tight, voice quiet.

"What exactly is he worried about?" she asks. "He knows nothing. He thinks it was an accident. Doesn't he? What would he have to worry about?"

"He's worried about you. That you're not okay, that you're not happy."

It hangs around in the air after, heavy and quiet between them. Wanda doesn't want to dwell on it but she can't get the words out of her head, can't stop herself from pulling them apart and then to pieces. Worried about you. That you're not happy. Not happy. She hears it over again, as the memories come back to her. She finds herself quickly lost in thoughts of their parents, their home, and those first years in the city. Flickers of Vision come back to her, fading quickly, and afterwards she's left with nothing, only pieces.

"Don't worry, it's fine. He thinks you're fine, he just wants you to be happy." Clint says, as if sensing her worry. "He thinks you're not happy. He just wants you to be okay, to be happy, and what happened that night made him worry that you weren't. That's all it was, I promise."

"What do I do? How do I show him?" she asks, lifting her gaze. "Do I tell him that I'm fine? That I'm happy, and I.."

She loses it, unsure of what to do next or what to say.

"Um, no. I probably wouldn't do that. I don't think that would work." Clint answers, voice soft again. "That would be too obvious. Just do something else, something more subtle. But still clear enough that he knows what you're trying to say, yeah?"

Suddenly weary, she lifts her hand to her face, dragging it back across her curls and sweeping them out of the way.

"That isn't helpful, Clint." she's quick to tell him. "I don't know how to do that, how to show him that I am happy."

He thinks about it for a few seconds then sits forward, eyes bright, a hint of a smile on his lips.

"Don't worry, you're in luck. You're here with an ideas man. You couldn't be in better company, kid."

It amuses her, even almost makes her smile, when she was so sure that nothing could right now. She wonders if it was always his intention and she watches quietly as Clint comes closer, leaning forward and nudging her elbow playfully with his own.

"Hey, don't look at me like that. You know I run a company, right? Well, it's more like co-run. But whatever, that's not the point." he tells her, still smiling. "Point is, you want him to see you're okay. That you're happy. Well, you just have to show him. That's the key, Wanda. That's what you do. It's all you have to do."

"Wow, you are right." she says, an eyebrow raised. "You really are an ideas man. You are full of them."

"You wanna hear my idea or not?"

Wanda answers with a nod, watching Clint as he slips away into the kitchen to grab something off the bench. He returns with his phone, holding it out to her like it's his big idea, but she doesn't know what he's talking about or why he's showing her his phone. Then a minute later he turns the screen towards her, shoving it right into her face, and it takes a minute but eventually she reads it and finds herself even more confused by what she reads on the screen—a bright and bold party invitation, describing an exciting and unique evening for all, to a party hosted by Pepper Potts and Tony Stark.

A Stark Party.

She stares at the invitation for a few seconds before she begins to laugh, not even meaning to it just sort of happens. It must be a misunderstanding, she thinks, that or a bad joke, because she really can't see how going to one of Tony Stark's parties would fix any of this. She imagines it would only make it worse and that makes her smile, as she lifts her gaze back to Clint's to find that he is very serious about all of this.

"What is this? I think this is not what you meant. Because I don't understand what you are showing me. This is a joke, yes?"

Then she leaves him, walking to the kitchen to wash the dishes and pour water into the vases by the window. Clint's quick to follow her there, moving to lean against one of the benches while he watches her fill up a small jug with water and pour it over the flowers slowly growing near the small sink.

"It's called a party, Wanda. You have been to one before, right?" Clint says soon. "Or did they not program you to have fun when they made you at the Robot Factory?"

It's now that she turns back to him, smiling while also giving him a look that silently asks him if he really just said that.

"So today is one of the days you think you are funny?"

Clint fakes a laugh, overdoing it, then comes closer.

"This was actually my idea. It's a party. Sometimes people host them," he pauses, smiling more. "Sometimes people even go to them. I know, wild. Right? Parties can be fun, sometimes, you know. And this one could be alright if you just gave it a chance Might not be half as bad as you think it will be."

"You think a Stark party will show my brother that I am happy?"

"Yes, but well—no. But the thing is," Clint stops, pressing a hand to his jaw. "Well, I thought you could come with us. That's the fun part."

She blinks twice. "To a Stark party?"

"You can keep saying his name, sweetheart. Doesn't change what it is, it's still a Stark party."

"Mm, no. I don't think so." she hums, finished watering her flowers. "I don't think this will work, I don't think it is a good idea."

"I know what you're thinking, okay? I think it all the time. It's Stark. He's not your kinda guy, and I get that." Clint goes on, determined to convince her. "I respect it, and to be entirely honest with you he's not my favorite guy either. Not even close. But there's free alcohol and your brother wants to go. I thought it sounded like a good idea. We could get drunk together. You have to admit, that would be pretty fun."

Wanda hesitates, chewing on her lower lip as she begins to clean the dishes in the sink. She scrubs them gently then places them aside, while staying aware of Clint's gaze on her, how he lingers nearby, and the way his arms are now folded over his chest like he's deep in thought and trying to figure out how to convince her on this. He seems determined to do this, to show her that this could be fun, could be a good idea, but she still isn't convinced.

"I don't know, Clint. These parties, Pietro likes them. But I don't think that I will."

"If you just ignore Tony, it won't be so bad." he says, offering her a smile. "C'mon, kid. You've been working so much lately. You work more than I do. You barely get to see your brother. If you go to this thing, you can have some good quality time together. And booze. Lots of booze. It'll be fun, Wanda, and I know he'd love if you went with us."

She considers it for a minute, really lets herself think about it, as she finishes cleaning the dishes in the sink. Then she dries her hands, pretending not to be so aware of the scratches on the inside of her palm and how they still sting. When she's done she folds her arms over her chest and lifts her gaze to Clint, finding him still by her side, still waiting patiently for her answer.

"I will think about it, okay?"

"Come on, I know what that means. I use that one all the time." he smirks, coming closer. "Really, Wanda. Is it such a bad idea to go to a party and have fun for a night?"

She's quick to give him a look now, one that lets him know to stop pushing this, to give her time to make her decision. Clint seems to get this right away because he becomes serious again, his expression softening like he only now understands why she needs some time. He understands now that this needs to be her decision, that it has to be what she wants and not what he thinks is best.

"I will really think about it, okay?" she sighs. "Can't you just tell him that I'm okay? That I am not unhappy? Because I am not unhappy, I am just.."

Tired, she thinks, is how she feels most days.

Wanda doesn't share it, choosing to keep it to herself instead, but it's how she often feels. Lost, and tired, and too caught up in her head to let herself be happy. But then there are the days, the good moments, when she's never been happier in her life. In these moments things feel so beautiful, so bright and warm, and she never wants that feeling to end. It always does, but it always comes back again, and she thinks that this is her life, that it is a mix of both good and bad days. It's the way all of their lives are and it isn't strange at all that she can feel all of these things at once.

It's something Clint understands apparently, not because he says it but because of the look her offers her. Warm, and sympathetic, and clear. He lets her know that he gets it and then he reaches out, giving her shoulder a soft squeeze before he takes a half-step away, ready to give her the time she needs to think about this and make the decision that's right for her.

"I don't think that would work, kid. But maybe the party will." Clint answers with a smile. "I'll just tell him you're thinking about coming, okay? We could have a really good time, Wanda. It could turn out to be one of the best nights of your life."

She's smiling before she realizes it.

"I think you are maybe exaggerating. Just a little. Yes?"

Clint catches it right away, her flickering half-smile, and all that she can think is of course he notices it. He always does. He grins at her and takes a step away.

"I'm not exaggerating, not at all." he smiles, pleased. "You know, I'm a lot of fun when I'm drunk. I'm way more fun than sober me."

Wanda smiles, poking at his shoulder as she turns away to tend to the flowers on the bench.

"Oh, I know. Sober you is not so fun when he is hungover." she points out, hiding her smile from him. "He also thinks he is funny when he isn't. It can be embarrassing."

Clint snorts a quiet laugh before he leaves, giving her the time to make her decision while he returns to his breakfast, to all the plates scattered across the table that she reminds herself to clean up later. Wanda decides to leave it for much later and returns to her room, changing into her clothes for the day, for her meeting at the hall. She wiggles into her black jeans, pulls on a pair of small heeled boots, and then tugs a t-shirt on over her head, now ready to go. The fabric of the shirt is soft, a dark shade of purple, with long, tight sleeves. It feels nice against her still healing body and she likes that. She likes even more the way that the long sleeves cover the scratches on her palms.

By the time she returns to the kitchen she finds Pietro sitting back at the table with Clint next to him, both reading and enjoying their breakfast. At the sound of her footsteps Pietro looks up, smiles, and waves her off for the day. Wanda smiles back at him as she leaves, grabbing her bike from outside of the door and making her way downstairs, finding it much easier to walk down the stairs without the bags of sweets and coffee in her hands.

Once she's outside she climbs up on to her bike, clips on her helmet, and lets out a breath, ready for the rest of her day to begin.

 

* * * *

 

Every now and then Wanda stops by the meeting hall, whenever there is time or she feels like she needs to go, to sit and listen for a while. She doesn't always make it to the meetings but she tries when there is time and today feels like one of those days where there is time, where she wants to try and listen, maybe even talk. It's why she gets on her bike and pedals fast in the direction of the hall, confident that if she rides quickly enough she will get there before the meeting begins.

She knows that this feeling might change, that she might leave as soon as she gets there, but she still wants to try. She wants to believe that it's the kind of day where she might go in and do more than listen. It feels like it could be, or at least for a moment it does. It also feels like the kind of day where she wants to put her music in and play it loud, so loud that it blocks everyone and everything else in the city out. It's a beautiful place to live, so wild, so filled with life, and she's grown so much more familiar with it all in the last few years. But there's still a longing, quiet and buried deep inside her, that comes up every now and then. She feels it again today, feels it stronger than she has in a long time.

It isn't new, it's always been there. The feeling, a quiet need, to get out of the city for a while and go somewhere new, anywhere new that is open, and endless, and beautiful. She's been more aware of the feeling lately, more aware of how crammed the city is and how suffocating it can be. It's still her home, she can still find the beauty in it, and she knows that it's always been like this. It's not the city that's changed, it's always been this way. It's her, it's who she's become in these last few months, that has changed.

She doesn't let herself dwell on it any longer and forces herself to think of other things. And it works. Soon she drifts away from thoughts of the city to memories of her trips outside of the city, to the days they took trips to parks and beaches, just the two of them in wide open spaces. Wandering, and learning, and exploring their new lives together. It's been so long since they've done anything like that, months and months since they took a trip together, but she still looks back on the memories fondly, still remembers how good those trips were.

Her old memories stay on her mind, even after she arrives at the meeting hall and locks her bike up at the front of the building. Before she goes inside, she lets out a breath then begins to walk in, passing a small group on her way inside. Wanda goes into the building after they're gone and follows the familiar path down to the room where her group always meets, but when she gets there she stops, realizing that she's late again. They've already begun, and someone is talking, and she can't interrupt, can't make herself go inside.

So she stays outside for a minute, feeling torn because she doesn't want to walk away, and she came all this way, but she can't go in. She can't do this, she realizes, between sharp breaths of air. She can't go inside, she can't interrupt, and that's why she leaves. Wanda decides to go back outside instead, to find the first way out she can and burst out of it. She soon finds exactly what she's looking for and steps out into a small patch of concrete, empty, with no one around, only rows of cars parked nearby. It's now that she realizes it's for the people who come here, probably the ones who work here, but she doesn't care that she might not be allowed here.

Wanda doesn't care at all that she might not be allowed to smoke here. She needs it, and the space is secluded and quiet, so she stays. She pulls a cigarette from her bag, finds a place to sit on a nearby bench, and lights it, breathing it in slowly. The cigarette ends up resting between her lips as she inhales again, her eyes squeezed shut as she lets herself enjoy the taste.

It doesn't last.

Somewhere nearby, the sound of someone locking their car interrupts her quiet. A distinct beep, followed by footsteps, lets her know that she's not alone anymore. She doesn't open her eyes right away though and waits, listening as the footsteps come close, come over to her, and stop what she imagines is only a few steps away. That's when she opens her eyes, finding a man standing in front of her, with an expression on his face that she can only described as puzzled. It's like he's trying to work something out but he just can't.

"Can I help you?" Wanda asks, exhaling smoke.

"I'm pretty sure you don't work here." he hums, slowly smiling. "Or do you? Are you new?"

Wanda hesitates. "Why?"

His smile grows as he walks closer to her, still clearly puzzled and now a little more curious.

"So you don't work here. Well, this area is just for people who work here. I've never seen you here before, so." the man stops, glances around the space, then turns back to her. "If you don't work here then you can't be here. Can't put your car here, can't smoke here, can't fill up someone else's spot—"

"Does it look like I'm here for that? To put my car here?" Wanda asks, slipping the cigarette between her fingers. "Does it look like this is why I'm here?"

For a minute he hesitates, glancing between her, and the cars, and then back to her again. Then slowly he smiles, in a way that is both curious and warm. There's something else about it though, something she picks up on when he looks at her again. It's a kindness in his eyes that lets her know, without words, that he's more than just curious about what she's doing here. He's concerned about this, about her, and that's why he's still standing here.

"I don't know. Do you? And are you?"

"No."

He smiles. "Then can I ask why you're here?"

Wanda hesitates, torn between what she wants to say and walking away. She ends up settling on an entirely different answer, simply gesturing to the cigarette placed between her fingers. It's right after she does this that she notices how badly chipped her dark nail-polish is in places. If she cared she'd fix it, maybe she'd even stop picking at it, but she doesn't care. She just inhales on her cigarette again, watching the man in front of her take another step towards her.

"Okay, so you don't work here. Means you're here for a meeting, right?"

"No." she lies, because it's easier than the truth.

He seems convinced and stays, coming closer, with his arms now folded over his chest. There's still a softness to his face that lets her know that even though he clearly doesn't believe her that he isn't going to push this. He's probably been here before, probably done this dozens of times with people sitting exactly where she is now. That thought comforts her, even if she doesn't understand why.

"Just passing through then?"

"Yes, something like that." Wanda nods. "Is that all?"

"Well, it's just that I work here sometimes. I volunteer. This is a space for volunteers." he pauses, to think it over, to walk closer. "I care about the people who come here, that's why I'm asking. Just wanna make sure that you're alright, that's all."

"I thought you were asking about cars." she points out. "And I am not here for any of that, I am just here to smoke."

"You got a spare?"

For a moment after she thinks that he might understand that she didn't come here for company, that she wants to be alone, but he doesn't. He walks over to where she is and sits down on the bench next to her, offering her a smile while he waits for her answer. She sighs, lights a cigarette, then hands it over to him, hoping that he will leave, while a part of her (quiet, barely there) hopes that he won't go just yet.

"Thanks, I usually don't smoke. But it can get hard in there." he sighs. "Think my girl would kill me if she saw me with one of these, so I won't stay long. I just needed a minute to clear my head and it's a nice day today. Don't you think?"

"You work here?" she asks, curious. "You volunteer? To do what?"

"I talk to vets. The guys that have been over there. I guess I know what it's like, so I try to help where I can. What about you? What are you really doing here? Are you really just passing by?"

Wanda hesitates, thinking it over for a moment before her answer comes to her, another lie.

"Nothing. I am doing nothing here, and I am about to leave.."

The man smiles again. "You wanna know what I think?"

"Not really, no."

He tells her anyway, and she is surprised by how little she minds.

"I think you came here for a reason, to talk, maybe to listen, and you changed your mind." he says, so sure of himself. "That's how you got out here. I think that's what happened, and I think that I'm right. Let's just say you're not the first person I've run into out here, who changed their mind before walking into the room and wanted a way out."

Wanda observes the man by her side quietly, as he stubs out his mostly untouched cigarette on the ground. She finds herself soon questioning if he ever wanted it at all or if he was just looking for a reason to sit down and waste a perfectly fine cigarette. He barely touched it, she realizes now, all he did was twirl it between his fingers then stub it out.

"You had none of that." she points out, brows furrowed. "You wasted my cigarette."

"Good. Those things aren't good for you anyway." he smiles. "They'll kill you if you don't quit."

"Are you always this chatty with strangers?"

He smiles more, amused. "Yeah, I guess. I guess I'm just that kinda guy. My name's Sam, by the way."

"And I'm leaving soon."

By her side Sam smiles and lets out a small sigh, before he stands from the bench and takes a step away from her, understanding now that she isn't here for company, that she didn't come here to sit and be chatty with a stranger. Or at least she believes that he understands, but she soon learns again that he hasn't, that he has no intention of leaving just yet.

"It's cool, I get it. Some people just aren't chatty, I know. But I still feel like you're here for a reason today. If you are, you should do something about it. I can tell, you know, it's my thing. I'm good at seeing when people are having a hard time and I'm not the kinda guy who can just let it go or pretend I didn't notice. I can't let that kinda stuff go. It's not who I am."

Wanda is up on her feet in a second, crushing her cigarette out with her boot and then discarding it into the trash nearby. She doesn't want the rest of her cigarette, doesn't really want to be here anymore, having this conversation with a stranger. But there's something about it all, a quiet truth, that she feels like she can't escape from, even if she decides to go now.

"I don't think you know what you're talking about, Sam." she points out, turning to face him. "And I also think maybe you are too chatty with strangers who aren't looking to talk."

"Alright, I get it. Hint taken." he answers, smiling. "But you should know, there are a lot of good people who can give you the advice you might be looking for."

"I don't need that. I don't need advice."

The look he gives her next makes it clear he doesn't believe a word she's said to him so far.

"Then why are you here? To talk? To listen?"

She considers leaving him now, she really does. Something stops her, something she can't explain. It keeps her here with Sam, quiet until she finds the words to answer him. Wanda doesn't know why, doesn't know if it's being here that brings it out of her, or if it's something about Sam, but slowly the truth begins to seep out of her and she discovers that she can't stop it even if she wanted to.

"I came here to listen. I realize things when I listen."

"What things?" he pushes, curious.

"You are very—"

"Yeah, I know. I'm chatty." Sam answers, smile still there, softer now. "What things do you realize when you come here to listen?"

"I realize that I am not so unlucky." she replies, taking a step away. "Don't you have better things to do today? Better than this?"

"Right now? No. I'm just waiting for a friend. I've got some time if that's what you need. If you need to sit or talk, we can do that."

Wanda shakes her head, taking three steps back before she starts to turn away from Sam, from all of this. She doesn't want to talk about this, doesn't really want to be here, but before she leaves, before she can go far, the sound of his voice stops her from leaving. It's why she stops before she gets to the door, half-turned away from him as his voice fills the quiet space.

"You mind if I say what I think it is you came here looking for?"

She sighs, hesitant. "I feel like you are going to say it anyway."

"You don't have to run from it. I don't know what it is, why you're here, or what you're running from. But you don't have to run." he tells her, meaning every word. "If you stop and listen, if you talk to someone, then it makes it better. I think you know that already though. Maybe that's why you're afraid of staying here, because once it's out there, once you talk about it, then you have to face it. And there's no running away after that."

It stirs up something inside of her, something heavy and sharp, that she can't ignore. The feeling rises up slowly, twisting in the pit of her stomach, and she wants it to stop. She can't do anything about it though, she can only hear the words again, his words, playing over again in her head. There's nothing she can do to get them out so she gives up, focusing instead on Sam as he takes a step towards her.

"Just think about it, alright? It's not so scary just to think about what it means." he says gently. "Why you're here, what could come from it, or where it could take you. It's not scary when you think about all of the good that could come from it."

"How do you know?" she asks, the first question on her mind. "How do you know what comes from it? How do you know that it is good?"

"Maybe it's because I know what it's like to lose someone, to be stuck in that grief for what feels like forever. Maybe I've seen the worst things happen to my friends and I learned from that, too. I think that's why I'm so good at recognizing it. Because I saw it in myself first, and then in them, and maybe today I saw a little bit of it in you. That's how I know."

"You don't know me." Wanda answers, throat tight, words quiet. "You don't know anything about me."

"You're right, I don't. But I know grief. I know people who have turned into ghosts, who just move through life, not living at all." he says, sounding both tense and soft at the same time. "They don't live and I feel that. I get it. So that's all I'll say, because I know what it's like hearing something you're not ready for. I won't push it, I'm not that guy. I'm just honest and I care. What you do next, what you do with whatever you're here for, is on you to figure out. I really hope you do."

The words leave her stunned, quiet as she tries to answer, to work out what it is that she wants to say. How? she wants to know, to ask how he can recognize loss with only a look. Wanda tries to work it out for herself, to find the words, but in the end she can't string the words together into a sentence that works. So she doesn't ask. She lets it go, her eyes wandering briefly across a small patch of concrete as she wills herself to walk away.

Wanda doesn't know why she waits, why she can't walk away, or why something keeps her there. It's more than Sam's words, she thinks it might even what she sees in his eyes, for a flickering moment while it's there. She doesn't know what it is yet but it keeps her there and soon the words begin to spill out of her again. This time, she doesn't stop them.

"What did you lose?"

"A good friend. He was like family. He was brave, and good, and I—" Sam stops, sadness darting through his eyes. "I regret a lot of things in my life. But knowing him? I don't regret that. It's something I'll always be thankful for, even if his loss left me with a lot of pain and a hole I'll probably never fill."

His words echo in her mind after, sinking in deeply, and she knows that for hours after she leaves this place  that she will still think about them. It's because of what it means to her, what she's always felt there since Sokovia and all the years that came after. A hole, deep in her chest, that is always growing, always burning. It never fades, never fills, and she's never heard someone else talk about it until today.

"You still carry it?"

"Yeah, I do. I think I always will. You know, I don't know that there's recovery for everyone. Or if there is, I don't know if we ever really let go of what we've been through, what we've lost." Sam begins, stops to exhale, then goes on. "But we heal. We find happiness, we move on, even if what we've been through is always there. I don't think that's a bad thing. It shapes us, makes us stronger, makes us who we are."

"Then how do we do it?"  she asks, voice quiet, small again. "If we don't let it go, what do we do with it?"

"We try to grow, to live, without it impacting our new lives. That's what I do. That's what I encourage the people I talk with to do, too. Life isn't what it was, it can never be that again, but it can move forward. It can become your life again. It's just a new one and you just have to want it. You have to want it bad enough, and take it into your own hands, then it gets better. Day by day, it gets a little easier. That's what we do with it."

The silence lasts forever when Sam is done talking, because there is too much on Wanda's mind, too many thoughts bouncing back and forth. She gets so lost in it all, so deeply swept up in it, that she forgets where she is, forgets that there is someone else here with her, until the sound of the door clicking open nearby wakes her up and reminds her that she's not alone. It pulls her out of her thoughts and back to her reality, back to the noise behind her that leads her to a light-haired man by the door, dressed in dark jeans and a pale blue t-shirt. He looks past her, smiling at Sam from the moment he sees him, and that's when Wanda realizes this must be the friend that Sam was waiting for.

She decides to leave now, taking this as her chance to slip away unnoticed. Wanda leaves quietly through the still opened door, somehow finding her way outside again. It only takes her a few minutes to get outside, to read her bike and peddle away from the building. She's gone in seconds, far away from the hall and on her way to the park that she sometimes stops by to feed the ducks and sit for a while. She's always loved animals, always wanted to care for them, ever since they were little they wanted that.

Wanda remembers it fondly, their dreams, their old hopes. She still dreams of it sometimes, on the nights she can't sleep and needs something good to think about. She finds herself thinking about it now, as she stops by a store on the way to the park to pick up grains of wheat for the ducks. Then she peddles slowly to the park, arriving to find it mostly empty. The small space isn't busy, not today, and she feels immediately relieved that there aren't large crowds scattered through the park. It gives her a chance to sit on her own for a bit and not feel so crowded, and that calms her instantly.

She soon finds a bench to sit on near the pond and sinks down on to it, letting out a breath she feels like she's been holding in since she met Sam. But here it feels like she can let it go, like she can breathe. Here it is nice, with the water, and the ducks, and the cold air. It feels so nice that she doesn't even realize that she's smiling until minutes later when she pulls the grains of wheat out of her bag and begins to throw them out to the ducks. She likes it here, likes even more the way that it distracts her.

The little animals are loud and cute, floating on the top of the water, so unaware, so happy. It's now that she decides to stay here for a while. She has nowhere to be, no one to be with, and she likes being here, likes getting lost in the calm of the park. But even that doesn't last. She isn't surprised, it often doesn't last. Today she finds herself interrupted by the sound of her phone beeping from deep inside her bag. Wanda waits a minute then digs around for it, expecting it to be work calling her for a shift, or maybe Steve trying to organize their training schedule. But she soon learns that it isn't work or Steve.

It's Pietro.

 

[11:01 AM]:

we are going to the party next weekend with clint????!

 

[11:02 AM]:

also do you like pizza and candy with a movie tonight?

 

 

[11:05 AM]:

Maybe. And yes it sounds nice. What time do you work? 

 

 

[11:06 AM]:

12-5. we will have dinner @ 7?

 

[11:07 AM]:

also I will buy us party things on way home today

 

Wanda can't help the way that he makes her smile, how his texts make her forget about everything else. She thinks she likes it, maybe even enjoys the brief distraction that his messages give her, and for a minute she stays like this, smiling at her phone as she thinks of her brother stopping on the way home to buy things for the party. She wants to tell him not to, that she hasn't made up her mind, but he is so excited that she decides to let him enjoy this. And there is a part of her that already knows she will probably end up going to Stark's party with them, because it could be fun, because she misses her brother and maybe this party won't be so bad.

 

[11:11 AM]:

Make sure they are nice things.

 

[11:11 AM]:

ok ok I will :-)

 

[11:12 AM]:

??? So we are going yes

 

[11:12 AM]:

I will tell clint this is a yes. see you tonight?? XO

 

For now she leaves it, not giving him an answer about Stark's party just yet. Wanda leaves it all for later and puts away the thoughts of the party as something to think about tonight. She doesn't want to decide now, doesn't want to think about any of it. She just wants to sit here at the park with the ducks, and the soft breeze, and the fresh air she feels like she hasn't really breathed in for a long time. So she sits in it, soon pulling her sketchbook from her bag, to draw the ducks on the water and the pretty lines on the sky, until a while later her phone begins to beep again from beside her.

Six messages roll in, one after the other, and she's smiling before she's even finished reading the first one.

 

[11:41 AM]:

wanda I have just found the party thing

 

[11:41 AM]:

do you remember the movie with the green smiley man in the yellow suit


[11:41 AM]:

remember he had a big smile and he was green

 

[11:42 AM]:

forget this, clint said no that it is not this kind of party. he is not so fun hungover, I guess it is hard for him turning 60 soon

 

[11: 42 AM]:

:P

 

[11:43 AM]:

I do not see the problem with this mask but ok. I will look at more on my way home xx

 

When she's done replying to her brother, telling him that he should be working and not looking for party things, she returns to the pond. To the calm, to the quiet, and she lets herself enjoy it. Wanda likes the way it settles over her, how calm it is and how faraway everything else feels. She spends a few minutes just enjoying it before she picks up the pencil again, relieved to be here and to feel so differently to how she's felt these last few days.

It's in the quiet that she makes the decision to go to Stark's party. It will not be so bad, she decides, to go to this party, to distract herself from everything else for a while. It might even be good for her, because even if the quiet helps to calm her it always fades away and a loud party might be exactly what she needs right now. With that decided she turns her gaze back to the pond, letting out another deep breath. It feels nice here, feels like she could stay for hours. She just might.

Chapter Text

She dreams of Sokovia, and wakes breathless. A sky burns in her dreams. It's fractured, and bright, and when Wanda wakes her vision is blinded by colors and her breathing is shaky. She pulls off the covers and brushes her hair back, running a hand over her face to wipe the drops of sweat away. It isn't real, she tells herself, and some nights it helps, or she tells herself it does. It's just not that easy tonight, and on the nights when it doesn't work, there's something else that does. She's out of weed, so a cigarette will have to do. Wanda keeps a packet by the bed for nights like this. She swipes up the half-empty packet, lights a cigarette and leans back into the pillows.

Smoke billows up above her head. Wanda watches it, gaze fixed on it until she glances to the clock. It's just after 2 AM. She's not surprised that Clint and Pietro are still up - she can hear them, watching a movie in the living room. Wanda sighs and inhales on the cigarette. Her attention wanders to the lights above her bed, and then to the city lights, burning outside of her apartment. She shuts her eyes, hard, and focuses on the cigarette. She focuses on the way it tastes. How it feels. Real, in her hand. She finishes most of it before she stubs it out into the pale ceramic bowl by her bed.

Wanda decides that she needs a shower next. Something cool, to soothe her skin, and the burning sensation that lingers. She pulls herself up to her feet, turns off the lights above her bed, and slips into the shower. It takes a minute for the water to heat up, usually, but she doesn't really need the hot water tonight. Wanda rinses in the cold water, and it's a welcomed feeling. It's like a weight, being lifted off her body. She dips her head back under the stream and lets the water run over her until she feels better, until she feels clean. Then she washes her hair (in a cherry-blossom scented shampoo, which is new, and smells sweet, and unlike her) and for a while she enjoys the quiet of the shower. 

She leaves wet footprints on the floor when she's out. Wanda pulls on a baggy shirt and a dressing gown. It's soft, and light, and it feels like just what she needs right now. She leaves her unwashed clothes on the floor of the bathroom, to deal with later, and sets off in search of something to snack on in the kitchen.

The sound of the TV playing echoes through the apartment when Wanda joins them. She pads across the kitchen and peers into the little hideaway space, where the couches, brightly colored bean-bags, and piles of DVDs are set up. Pietro's sleeping figure is the first thing she sees. He's not even half-asleep, or drifting off. He's definitely asleep, and he's spread out on most of the couch, with most of his weight pressing down on Clint—who is trapped, apparently. Wanda smiles, leaning against the wall. Clint's definitely trapped under the weight of her brother, and it seems like he's still there because he doesn't want to risk waking Pietro.

It makes Wanda smile more. And then Clint looks up and catches her smiling, and he doesn't really look amused. So of course, she only smiles back at him.

"Need anything?" she calls out over the TV.

Clint doesn't quite catch it. The movie is far too loud for him to hear anything. He just raises his eyebrows at her and waits, taking a minute, like he's trying to work out what she said. Wanda picks up the remote and mutes the movie, because no one's really watching it anyway.

"Do you need anything?" Wanda asks again.

He half-smiles. "Oh, yeah. Just a couple things. Like a beer. Air. Maybe a smoke." Clint pauses. "Definitely a bathroom break. But as you see, I'm kinda stuck here."

Wanda nods along. "Did you enjoy your movie?"

"I did. Pietro crashed like ten minutes in. Or maybe it was five minutes in. I don't know. All I know is, that was like two hours ago and I've been stuck here since then."

She takes a step closer, observing them. "I will help you move him, so you can get out and he can sleep. You could say I am experienced at this kind of thing."

At first Clint seems unconvinced, and almost amused at the idea that Wanda will be able to move Pietro without waking him, when he hasn't been able to do it himself for the last two hours.

"Yeah, don't really see how that's gonna be possible. Unless you have secret powers where you can move things with your mind. Like you're a mutant, and you can move—"

"I got it. And I got this, too." Wanda smiles. "Just wiggle out from under him. I will do the rest."

Then Wanda joins Clint by the couch, where he starts to move, not so subtly or carefully, really. She helps where she can, placing her hands on Pietro's shoulder and back to help him lean back, while Clint sneaks out. He slips out from under Pietro and climbs back on the couch, and there's a moment where he nearly falls and wakes Pietro, but at the last second he doesn't. Wanda's relieved, because Pietro looks tired and like he could use the rest. She watches him for a second, noticing the way he stirs briefly and then slips back into his sleep. Wanda smiles, brushes the hair back off his face, and then joins Clint over near the kitchen.

The first thing Clint does in the kitchen is stretch his legs. He lets out an appreciative sigh and turns to Wanda, grinning. She watches him disappear to the bathroom, and about two minutes later he's back, pulling out two beers from the fridge and carrying them over to Wanda. She's at the table now, looking through a recipe book Clint picked up for her a couple of weeks ago.

"Here you go. My hero." Clint grins, plopping down into the seat across from her. "I was stuck there for hours."

Wanda looks up, eyebrows raised. She watches his smile widen.

"Okay, so it was like half an hour. But it felt longer." he concedes, then opens up both bottles. "Usually, I fall asleep with him. Or first. Tonight I just couldn't sleep, not sure why. And I didn't have the heart to move him."

She nods, because she gets it. Then she clears the space on the table, moving the piles of books and magazines to the side. There's a beer waiting when she returns and Wanda takes it, smiling. It only becomes clear a moment later that Clint's not done talking yet.

"And I guess some nights, it's just hard to sleep at all. Nothing to do with hangovers, not always. Or Pietro crushing me with his awesome body." he shrugs, pausing to sip a little beer. "I guess it's just the hangover. Maybe I am old."

Wanda sighs, leaning back into her chair. "That's not it, Clint. Sometimes, it just isn't easy. Did you dream? Or was it just that you couldn't sleep?"

"Both. Sometimes. Tonight my mind just wasn't shutting off, you know? I tried, and tried. I just couldn't get it to shut up."

She smiles a little more. "I know. You shouldn't worry about waking Pietro, though. Sometimes I think he could sleep through almost anything. That is one thing you need to know about him, if you don't already know it."

It makes Clint smile again. "Yeah I had some idea, that he wasn't really a light sleeper. But thanks, I'll remember that one. Anything else?"

"You two talk a lot, I am sure you already know these things."

Clint stretches back into the chair comfortably. "Don't think I said it before, but thanks for being so cool about us."

She waits, eyebrows raised. "What are you thanking me for?"

"You were always so fine with us. Okay, so there was that initial frostiness at the start. But after that? You were totally cool with your brother dating an older guy. That's all I meant."

"You are how old?" Wanda asks.

"Thirty three."

"Pietro is twenty four next year." she says, pausing to sip her beer. "It is not so big of a difference. And you do not act your age anyway."

He throws her a look, that's much more playful and bright now. "Oh. Really? Well, thanks. I think. I'm not sure it's a compliment, but thanks." Clint says, smirking at her. "So, what about you? Is there a special man or woman in your life?"

"That was almost smooth. A good try, yes? But no, we are not talking about that."

Clint nods like he gets it, but there's something in his eyes that tells her they're not done with this yet.

"Okay. It's good. It's all good, right?"

"Yes." she agrees.

He pushes for more. "Is that a yes we don't talk about it, or a yes there's someone in your life?"

The look she gives him clears it up, apparently. Clint nods, sips half of his beer, and leans back a little more in the chair. He tucks his legs up and sighs, dragging a hand across his jaw.

"Cool, yeah. That's cool. We don't need to talk about it. Let's forget I said anything." he suggests, half a beat later. "So, I'm just curious—what can we talk about it? Don't wanna keep pissing you off, so I'm curious."

Wanda finishes up with her beer for the moment and pulls back, wrapping her arms around her knees. She brings the recipe book with her and starts to flick through the pages again, searching for a new recipe to try, or to play with, later in the week.

"Why is everyone so chatty lately?" she sighs.

At this, Clint perks up. "So there is a someone. Who have you been chatty with lately, Wanda?"

"The answer to your question is you can talk about whatever you want." Wanda says, gaze fixed on the book in her hands. "And I am not a bad listener, so I don't mind."

It turns quiet for a while after that, and Wanda leaves Clint to his thoughts. She flicks through the pages slowly, until she hears Clint clear his throat and she looks up.

"Listen, I don't know—I mean, it's just old shit." he stops, for more beer. "You know? Just the shit everyone carries. It's not the stuff to say when sober."

"You should talk about these things, even if they are old things. They are bothering you."

Clint raises his beer to her, then finishes the rest in a few mouthfuls. "That's sweet, kid. Your brother's the same. You're both kind. But I don't really think you want to know what's going on in my head. Definitely not when it's this late."

All done with her beer, and sensing Clint wants some more, Wanda slides the bottle over to him. Then she puts the book away, done with it for tonight. Her attention stays with Clint now, even as she drops her hands to the wooden table, and lets her fingers run over the edges of it. She notices the tiny sounds her rings make, when hitting the edge of the wood. Wanda focuses on it for a while, until she finds the words to begin.

"Whatever horrors you think are in your head, I can assure you that we can handle it. My brother is much stronger than people think he is. I don't usually put myself in other people's relationships, but he is my brother, and you are my friend. So I will tell you this: You should not underestimate him. He is strong, and courageous, and filled with more love than I have ever seen in another person. He cares about you, and he does his best, and if you don't think he will understand your suffering than you are wrong. He is here for you, the same way you are there for him. You have each other. That is more than most people have. And sometimes, I believe it is possible to move on. You could do that together."

The quiet feels too loud, in the silence that follows. Clint's mouth hangs open, just a little, for a while. Then he finishes his beer and disappears to retrieve two more. He returns to Wanda eventually, his own beer already half-finished. She takes a sip from the new one and leaves it.

"Well, shit. I'm not really sure where to start. You're really good at that, you know? Talking to people. You're so good at that." Clint stops, then smiles slowly. "And I know that's not really your thing, but what you said just made sense."

"I know things."

"Oh, sweetheart. You do know things. That made a lot of sense." he says, smiling more. "And you don't have to worry, I don't underestimate it. I'm just not sure about that last part. You think people ever move on? I want to, but I've been stuck for a while."

It makes Wanda think of Sokovia, and Vision, and then of Sam's words at the meeting. She reaches for her beer, drinking the bottle until it feels a little better. There's a part of her that's craving more than beer. A cigarette, or a joint. She's trying to quit the cigarettes, and she's out of joints, so the beer will have to be enough tonight.

Wanda finishes half then clears her throat. "I think that if it's something you can leave behind, then one day you will. And if you can't, then I think you will learn how to carry it with everything else. I also think that we should not talk about these things so late. What do you think?"

"Yeah, we shouldn't. We can stop. I just—what I said now, I meant it. You don't give half bad advice."

Now Clint's strumming his fingers against the table, and then the edge of the glass bottle, like he's nervous and he's got too much to think on right now. She offers him a smile.

"I know."

He smiles again. "Yeah, 'course you do. Maybe Pietro was right, and you are right about everything."

"Hmm. Maybe I am."

Clint nods and pulls himself up to his feet. "Think I'm gonna go catch up with the movie, see where we're at. Not even sure what we're watching, though. I was way too focused on trying to get out of there." he says, smiling. "Thanks for the chat, and the beer, Wanda. You're not bad company. You want to join? It's not an awful movie. I think there are dinosaurs. Or aliens? Maybe both, I can't remember. There's room for three in there, if you're interested. And I could whip us up some popcorn if you're hungry."

"I'm good. Thank you." she pauses, biting down on her bottom lip. "Clint, I think we should talk about it first."

He stills, watching her. "Yeah, sure. About what?"

"The conversation you started at work. At the Green Tides. I did not know what you wanted from me. You said it was not good for your relationship to keep things from Pietro." Wanda turns to face him more. "I don't want to weigh down your relationship with my brother. I only wish for you to be happy."

"So, wait—what? This means you're gonna tell him what happened?" Clint rushes over. "You were worried he'd lose it and go after every guy in the city. You're not worried about it anymore?"

"I am. But I am hoping if I give it time and I am healed, things will be calm."

Clint seems to consider it for a long time before he moves. He drags a chair out, sits down next to Wanda, and leans in like he's really serious about this, and he wants to make sure she's making the right decision for herself, and not just because of him and what it means to his relationship with Pietro.

"You sure about this, kid? I don't want you rushing into things."

She smiles at him again. "You are sweet to think of me. But I have already asked too much of you."

"You haven't—"

Wanda speaks over him; words quiet, but loud enough. "I did. And I won't, not again. I am ready, and I am not rushing anything."

He nods along, a hand pressed to his jaw now. "So, you're gonna tell him?" he pauses. "When? You think waiting will be better?"

"It will be after the Stark party, I think. Next week sometime." Wanda answers, holding his gaze. "I regret lying to him, and putting you in this position. I should not have kept the truth from him, but it was my way of protecting him. I have protected him since I realized that I could. And I realize I can't do it now, with this. So I'm just thankful for the time you've given me to get there, and to find a way to tell him. Thank you, for that."

Clint nods, patting her shoulder gently. "He's not gonna be pissed, Wanda. He just loves you."

She nods, gaze drawn down to the bottle of beer for a second. "I will tell him soon. I think after the party. I will be honest with him, that I asked you not to say anything. He won't be angry, he knows how much you care."

"Alright, sure. If that's what you wanna do." Clint accepts it. "Tell me how I can help, yeah? Tell me what I can do."

Wanda smiles and steps out of her chair. "Just be there for him." she says, walking over to the sink. "Thank you, Clint. I hope you sleep well."

He nods and throws her a smile. "Thanks, you too. See you in the morning." he pauses. "Oh, and I'm glad you're coming to the Stark thing. It's gonna be nice, and I'm looking forward to seeing Stark's new bar. Or hotel. Or whatever it is. I'm excited, and we're both happy you're coming."

"I'm excited for all of this..free booze, that you mentioned."

Clint's grinning now. "Oh, yeah. Me too. That's pretty much the only reason I'm going. That, and because your brother's very excited. You want to get a cab there? We have to stop by to pick up a friend of mine. But I thought a cab would be easy. Means we can get shitfaced and not have to drive."

"That works for me."

"It's gonna be epic. You think you can enjoy that? You remember how to have fun?"

She smiles briefly. "Yes. I think I can manage that."

"Good, I'm gonna hold you both to that." he calls out, grinning brightly. "You deserve to have a good night."

Then Clint's gone, to watch his movie and probably fall asleep in one of the beanbags. Wanda leaves them and returns to the sink, scrubbing her hands there, and discarding the empty bottles into the trash. She fills a glass with water and takes it to the bedroom, leaving it by the stand. Her room is much darker now without the little lights above her bed, but she likes it this way sometimes. Wanda likes the way the city lights seep in. She sits on the edge of the bed slowly and runs her hands over her face. Tired, from the sleep, and the lack of sleep. She's mostly tired from the dreams.

She's tired but she doesn't feel like sleeping. It's strange, that at almost 3 AM she feels like painting. She picks up one of her art-books from the floor and opens it up. Sometimes she paints in it, and sometimes she sketches ideas in it. Tonight Wanda paints a dark sky over the pages. It's thick, and a deep shade of purple, with tiny specks of blue and yellow scattered through it. It's tiny, only a piece of the sky over two pages of her book. It gives her an idea, for something bigger, something to paint another night. She's about to start another painting when one of the pages lands on an old sketch. It's a rough sketch of Pietro, sitting somewhere in a park. She doesn't remember where it's from, even with the date etched into the corner of the page.

Wanda's fingers trace over the lines of his face before she moves on, flicking through the pages of the book until it lands on something else—or, actually, on someone else. Viszh. It's an old, unfinished painting, and he looks like she remembers him, only it isn't exactly how he was. Wanda remembers soft golden hair and bright eyes. This is the way she remembers him, but it's not the way she painted him here on these pages.

She remembers the painting, as something that struck her one night. It's been so long, she almost doesn't remember painting it at all. Her fingers stretch out and trace the curves of his face, gently moving across the lines. It's not a portrait of him as he is, or as he was. It's more like her interpretation, or something from a dream. It's pink, and gold, and light, and when Wanda closes the book she swears the paint is still wet against her fingers. She leaves it on the floor, rushing to the window to open it. A breeze of cold air hits her and she welcomes the way it seeps into her.

The city reminds her of them, and then of him. She shuts her eyes to escape it, and is met with flickering shards of pink and gold.

 

* * * *

 

There's a soft orange sunset hanging in the sky when Wanda leaves for the park. It's late in the afternoon and she leaves alone, a bag hanging from her shoulders filled with necessities (her phone, keys, wallet, and a bottle of water) and her bike close by her side. The basket at the front of the bike is empty for now, ready to be filled with anything she picks up on her way home. There's no rush today, not like the other days. No, today she can ride for miles, if that's what she wants. She decides to go to a park a few blocks from their place and to see where the day takes her from there.

A nice little ride through the city to one of her favorite parks is just what she needs right now. It's a beautiful view tonight, with the way the sky's lit up in an array of different shades and lights. It almost looks unreal. She wants to paint it, but not right now. Wanda files the memory of the sky away as something to hold on to, something to paint later. She lets herself stay distracted by the sky until she gets to the park, and she's pleasantly surprised that it's not too busy when she gets there.

Wanda likes it because there's so much green here. There are large paths with pavement for her to ride her bicycle on, and there are also lots of patches of green. It's quiet, and busy, and exactly what she's been looking for. Her gaze wanders over it, as she peddles up the path and further into the park. She winds up looking at the sky again, eyes caught on the little strips of pink that fade into it. Wanda becomes so lost in the sky and the way it slips over the trees, that she doesn't see it until it hits her.

Or more accurately, she hits it.

She's distracted, and it happens so quickly. There's nothing she can do. The speed her bike's going at stops it from being worse, but it still isn't how she wanted to spend her afternoon. The front of her bike collides into the back of a motorcycle, parked on the side of the path. The crash sends her off the bike and over the pavement, and she just makes it to the patch of grass off to the side.

It's only when Wanda is down on the ground that she realizes her palms are grazed. They're bleeding. She blinks and remembers that night. A bitter taste fills her mouth. She remembers blood spilling from skin. Her hands, grasping at the ground. Metal on her tongue. Wanda blinks it away and tries to clear her vision. It feels like her ears are ringing, and for a second everything's spinning around her. Then it stills, and it all becomes quiet and again and there's a man. He's right there, kneeling on the ground in front of her.

Wanda tugs away, leaning back into the grass. It's all too strange, and messy, and familiar. She knocks his hands away without looking at him, and stretches up to unclip her helmet. It ends up thrown away on the ground, somewhere out of view. Wanda sighs and looks up slowly, and that's when she sees a face that's not completely unfamiliar. It clicks half a second later.

"Hey, it's alright. You're okay." he tells her. Then he glances over her closely. "Shit, I am so sorry. I thought my bike was outta the way there. I guess I was wrong. I'm really sorry."

She shakes her head and tries to move. "No, it's fine. I wasn't looking. It's—"

"Not your fault. I shouldn't have my bike here at all. I was just.." he stops, then tries to help her up. At the last second he changes his mind. "You shouldn't move too much. Just wait here, let me grab something."

He's gone and back in a second, she barely notices his absence. There's a napkin in his hand when he returns, and Wanda only has a moment to realize that before he's stretching forward to help her wipe the blood away.

"Don't move too much, you're bleeding."

"Only my hands. I'm fine."

"It's not just your hands." he answers. "And you're not fine."

Wanda pulls away again, fast. "I think I know how I am." she says, curling her palms together. "I am fine, I don't need your help. Okay?"

"Hey, look, you just crashed into my bike. Yeah? Now you're bleeding. I think I'm allowed to be concerned." he sighs, kneeling close to her. "Just come over to the bench, okay? It's right here. Just sit for a minute, let me know you're okay. Ease my mind. Please?"

It's quiet for a second, and then she really remembers him. From the day in the market, when the other stranger had crashed right into her and broken her flowers and blueberries. It's not that man. It's the one in the cap and the red shirt. It's the one who helped her pick up the broken flowers, gave her the bag of blueberries, and then disappeared like some kind of ghost.

"I just wanna make sure you're okay. Just a minute, that's all I'm asking. Then you can leave and forget all of this."

His voice pulls her back. Wanda listens to his words, then nods slightly and pulls herself to her feet. She reaches the bench soon, it's really not that far away. She walks around his bike, takes a seat on the bench, and then glances back to see him moving his motorcycle up on the grass where no one else will injure themselves. He returns shortly, bringing her bike over. It ends up on the ground by the bench.

A moment later he joins her. The dark-haired stranger sits beside her, a bottle of water soon in his hand. He pulls off the lid, pours it into the napkin, then turns to Wanda like he's going to wipe the blood off her hands for her. He feels guilty, she sees it all over his face. Something stops him from taking her hands and cleaning the blood away, and he just looks up her, waiting for her to take the napkin. Wanda stretches out her palms, leaving them for him to wipe away the blood, and clean out any rocks or pebbles stuck in her hands. It seems to be something he wants to do, to ease his guilt, so she lets him.

It falls quiet again. He wipes the blood away, and it only stings a little. Wanda looks to the trees and the patches of green as a distraction, but eventually her attention wanders back to him. He picks a pebble out of the curve of her palm where it had been wedged in and continues cleaning up the blood.

"There. Almost better." he sighs. "Now, let's see.."

His eyes travel over her, lingering on the graze on her cheek that he thinks he's done somehow. It's old, it's from that night. Wanda realizes there's blood smeared on her cheek now, from the fall. It's from a graze she suddenly feels, stinging on the side of her face. It feels tiny when she stretches a hand to touch it.

"Oh, fuck. Did I—" he stops, swallowing tightly. "That doesn't look so good. That was me?"

"It's old. It wasn't you." Wanda says, taking the napkin. She wipes all the blood away. "See? It's not bad, and it wasn't you. It was something else."

He watches her, uncertain. "Whatever it was, it doesn't look good." 

"So you already said."

For a second Wanda considers leaving, but there's a part of her that feels like this is where she needs to be. It's a strange thought, one she tries not to dwell on for too long. She exhales tiredly and leans back into the bench. The man stays beside her, gaze curious, when she catches him watching her. She realizes now that out of all the things she remembers about him, his eyes are the things that stay with her. They stand out, from everything else that feels dark (and tired, or faded) about him.

"Are you sure you're alright?" he asks, watching her. "You look fine. But I know little things can shake people up."

"I've had worse falls. And I am fine. Only sore." Wanda assures him, turning away. "There's nothing for you to worry about."

He nods along, leaving her to the silence. For about three seconds.

"Hey, so, weird question.. We've met before, haven't we?"

Wanda shakes her head. "No, I don't think so."

"Oh, I could have sworn I'd seen you somewhere before. I think it was the blueberries, right?"

His gaze is narrowed on her when she looks back. It's still curious, but there's something else to it.

"No."

He nearly smiles. "Yeah, you are. With the flowers. The Carnations, and that jerked who walked right into you." there's a pause. He smiles more. "I guess I'm that jerk, who left his bike on the path so you could crash right into it. Shit, I guess things came full circle. Huh?"

"You aren't a jerk. It was an accident. Even if I do not understand why your bike is where it is, I don't really care."

"I just walked it over. I thought I wouldn't be here long." he tells her. "I don't know why I did it, but I see my mistake now."

She turns away from the trees, looking over the blue-eyed man slowly. There's something about him, something about this, that she just can't work out right now. It intrigues her, and at the same time it bothers her that she can't work out what it is yet.

"Please, do not worry about this too much. It really doesn't bother me." Wanda explains. "I will sit here for a while, and then I will leave and we can forget this happened."

"Yeah, that's—If that's what you want." he nods, then looks to the bike on the ground. "Your bike looks a bit banged up. You need me to pay for that?"

"That's not necessary."

"If you need repairs, or hospital bills, I wanna pay."

Wanda watches him distantly, at first. She senses that he's determined to do this, so she removes her bag and pulls a pen out. Wanda tears off a piece of paper and hands it over. While he's writing something down, she takes a look at her bike and realizes the metal frame at the front that holds the basket might need to be repaired. It's all fine, apart from that. She looks away, and back to the piece of paper in his hand. His name is scrawled over it, with his number under it. The name reads BUCKY, in small, bold letters. 

"Let me know if it costs anything and I'll take care of it."

She nods and slips the note and pen away. "I will."

"I also left another number on there. Someone else's, if you need it." 

Half-way through pulling her bag on over her shoulders, Wanda stops and turns back to him. She waits, for an explanation that never comes, and then waits a little longer anyway. It doesn't make any sense.

"Excuse me?" 

Bucky's not exactly subtle about what happens next. His eyes wander over the bruises on her cheek and then he looks back to her, and it's not so obvious but it's not really subtle at all. She understands what he's getting at, and quickly pulls her bag on. Wanda's off in the direction of her bike a second later, and Bucky's up on his feet right away, following her.

"I didn't mean to upset you. And it's probably not my business—"

"If you think that something is not your business, then you are probably right." she says, scooping up her helmet. Wanda clips it on. "It is not your business."

"I was just going to say, usually when people see someone looking the way you do then they worry." Bucky explains. "It's just human nature, to care about each other, to want to help."

"It isn't. Not for everyone." Wanda meets his gaze. "And it still isn't your business."

"That's why I put her number down on the other side. She can help, if you need it."

It's only when Wanda looks up at Bucky again that she sees it. She sees the hospital band, faded, around his right wrist. There's a light bandage across the top of his knuckles, and what looks like a pale bandage under the collar of his shirt. It's something she didn't notice before, and it feels strange that she missed it, because she's usually so good at reading people and picking up on the little things. She never misses it, so it feels different. Wanda guesses he hid it well, for a reason. It makes her hesitate for a second, and she's not sure why. She picks up her bike, walks it closer to him, and curls her fingers around the handlebars.

"Thank you, for being thoughtful."

"I was just trying to help. I'll leave you to it now." Bucky pauses, half-smiling. "Sorry, for being a jerk. Hope you don't run into any more jerks today."

Wanda nods and starts to push her bike away. She's not sure why she stops, or why she looks back a minute later. It's something she can't figure out. Maybe it's the bandages, or the hospital band around his wrist, or maybe it's a look she thinks she recognizes in his eyes. She ends up telling herself that it's because she's got nothing else to do tonight, like it's that easy. Whatever it is exactly, Wanda doesn't know. She just knows that a moment later, she ends up deciding something without really thinking it through.

"Do you want to get a coffee somewhere?" Wanda asks.

And then it's out there, and she can't take it back. She's not sure why she doesn't mind. Bucky glances up, puzzled, like he expected her to be gone by now. Then his puzzled look turns into something a little more curious.

"Uh..A coffee?"

"Yes, a coffee." she pauses. "People drink them sometimes."

Bucky seems to hesitate, for a long time. Then he smiles. "Sure. If you want? I mean, you looked pretty pissed at me like three seconds ago for the bike thing." he answers. "But sure, if you want to go for coffee then I'm down for that. I don't have any other plans."

"Coffee is fine." she says, and climbs up onto her bike. "Do you have anywhere you like to go?"

"Yeah, I know a place. There's actually not one far from here." Bucky suggests. "I could meet you there?"

Wanda nods, agreeing. "You should move your bike. I will meet you there. What is it called?"

"Peggy's place. It's kinda hard to miss."

And that's how Wanda ends up at the corner of Peggy's place, waiting ten minutes for Bucky to show up before she goes inside. For a moment she thinks he's not showing up so she goes in, sliding into one of the empty booths and taking in all the little details of the café. It's nice, and bright, with lots of pictures on the wall. It's a modern, old-school kind of place, and she wonders why she's never stopped by before. It's quietly busy, and the menu looks good. She waits five more minutes before the bell above the door rings and Bucky comes in.

He glances around, unsure at first. Then he spots her and walks over.

"You find a place to leave your bike?"

"Yes. Just a few blocks away. You?" Wanda answers, watching him.

Bucky nods and slides into the booth across from her. "Yeah, sorry about the wait. You still want that coffee?"

She looks around the café, then back to him. "That's why we're here. Isn't it?"

"Yeah, but I'll let you in on a pretty big secret." he says, and leans forward. Bucky places his elbows on the blue table and looks up. "This place has the best strawberry milkshakes of all time. They're the best shakes. Ever. I'll go that far and say that, because it's the truth and I can stand by the truth." 

She's not easily convinced, and looks down at the menu, almost smiling at his confidence.

"Really? You are telling me the best shakes in the world are here?"

"I am. This place, it belongs to a buddy of mine." Bucky answers. "And yeah. They're the best."

Wanda continues to skim the menu. "You're from New York?"

"Yeah. What gave it away?"

She shrugs and looks up. "The accent."

"You're not from New York. Right? The accent, it's interesting." Bucky scoops up a menu, scanning it, fast. "I'm from Brooklyn. You?"

"I'm not from Brooklyn."

He smiles and sets the menu down, and that's when she notices that he's wearing gloves. It's not too warm out, but it's not exactly cold. Wanda's gaze lingers on it for half a second, before he catches her and she looks up. Bucky's smile stays.

"So, that was a yes to the shake? Do you wanna grab something to eat with it?"

Wanda shakes her head a little, stretching back to lean into the booth. It's spacious, and comfortable. She decides she likes this place, she might even come here again.

"The shake is fine."

"Alright." Bucky strums his hands against the table, decided. "Two shakes coming up."

Then he's gone, and Wanda left to stare at the menu, the café, and then at Bucky. She's left wondering how she ended up here, when she left her apartment with the intention to ride in the park. It's not a bad day, she decides, as her gaze wanders back over to Bucky. It's not a bad place to be, either. She's had worse days, and worse company. Bucky's still over by the register ordering drinks when her gaze focuses on him again. She watches him point to something behind the glass at the counter (that's filled with so many delicious little treats and sweets). That's when she sees the hospital band is gone from his wrist. Wanda looks away, down to her palms. They're still red and raw, and they ache faintly, but they're not stinging as badly as they were and that's something.

Bucky returns soon, carrying a pink and white striped bag. He drops it at the end of the table and slides in, over to the wall. Then he leans back on the booth, draping an arm over the top of it. She gets a clearer view of the bandage wrapped around his hand because of the way he's now sitting. It's thick, and clean, and tightly wrapped around his palm and wrist. She looks closer and notices a few spots of blood seeping through the pale fabric.

"So, what changed your mind?" Bucky asks.

He turns back to look at her, gaze heavy and soft at the same time.

"What do you mean?"

"You wanted to forget all about it." he says, pausing to smile. "Now we're having coffee. It's not the way I saw it going, that's all."

Wanda's curious. She stretches forward, setting her arms on the table. "And how did you see it going?"

"Well, my secret power that lets me see the future told me you were gonna leave. Because, you know, you hurt yourself and it was my fault."

She nearly smiles. "I felt like coffee. Or something to drink. That's all."

Bucky doesn't seem at all convinced, and he makes that very clear a minute later.

"My mind-reading power tells me you remember me from the other day. Don't you?"

Wanda pauses, eyeing him off. "You have a lot of powers."

"What can I say, Wanda? I'm special."

Now she smiles, and she can't really help it. Then she thinks of the first day they met, that day in the market, and she's forced to remember why she was distracted. Wanda turns away, attention briefly caught on the view from their window. She casts a look out of the window and over to the sky, that's still bright, just a little faded now.

"It was only last week. So yes, I remember." she pauses. "I never did thank you for the blueberries. My brother ate most of them, but I appreciated that, and what you did."

Wanda pauses, then turns to look back at Bucky.

"Thank you."

Bucky shrugs. "It's alright. You looked like you needed them."

She hums a quiet response as their shakes are carried over. Wanda's first thought is that they look bright, and delicious, and they make her forget the way her palms faintly sting. They make her forget for a moment that she's sitting here with a stranger that she's been pulled to meet twice in the last week. She catches a half-smile tugging on Bucky's lips, and she realizes he's watching her, waiting for her to taste it.

"See, I can already tell that I was right. I was right, wasn't I?"

It takes one sip for Wanda to know that Bucky's right, and if she weren't so good at concealing what she's thinking then he would know it right now, too. But he doesn't, not right away. Bucky watches her, and takes a big slurp of his own drink. Then he waits, and she shrugs a little.

"It isn't so bad."

A bright smile breaks over his lips. "I can tell, you like it. You don't even have to say it, I know I'm right."

Wanda sighs and gives in. "Yes. You were right, it is very good. Maybe the best I have had. Happy?"

"My afternoon went from sitting alone in a park, to having a shake with a pretty girl." he pauses, smile still sort of hanging there. "Yeah, I'm happy right now."

She looks away for a second, down to the bandages wrapped around his knuckles. Bucky notices, and stiffens up a little. His smile's still there when she looks up.

"You hurt your hand. How?" she looks up at him.

"Oh, that was an accident. A stupid accident." Bucky says; and his smile turns into a half-smile. It's crooked, smaller. "What about you? What happened, to your—uh.."

"My face?" she smiles. "A stupid accident, too. I guess."

There's a pause between them. In it, Wanda watches Bucky while she stirs her straw around her milkshake.

"So you noticed the hospital band, huh?" Bucky asks, pausing to take another slurp of the shake. "Yeah, I thought you did. Then I thought I was being too aware. Or too paranoid. Like it was just in my head. Guess this time I was right."

For a while after he answers, Bucky watches her, like he's trying to get a read on her, the same way she's trying to get a read on him.

"What happened to your face?" he asks, then puts the shake down. "The bruises, I mean. Did someone do that to you?"

Wanda's jaw tightens, but she turns it into a smile. "I thought this was supposed to be happy?" she sighs a little. "I don't want to talk about this. And I shouldn't have mentioned your hand. I'm sorry."

"No, it's okay, I just—"

He trails off, distracted for a moment by something outside the window. Wanda's not sure what it is, she misses it. Whatever it is, it's clear that it means something to Bucky. He turns back to her, smiles, and takes a few more sips of the shake. Something's different now. Wanda's gaze stays on him, as he pulls a roll of cash from his pocket and drops it down on the table. Then he slides down to the edge of the booth.

"Just realized—I'm late, for this thing. With a pal. Yeah, I'm late. I'm sorry." Bucky gets up to his feet. "Thanks for the company. And I'm sorry again, for what happened. Try to avoid jerks from now on, okay? We're usually easy to spot. We walk into people, or we let them crash into us. So be careful, blue. Enjoy the shake."

There's a smile on his lips before he steps away and then he's gone. She doesn't dwell on it for long, it's only when she realizes he's left the pink and white bag of sweets on the table that she thinks about it again. Wanda leaves money on the table for her drink, scoops up the bag, and follows the path outside. If Bucky's anywhere near her, she doesn't see him. She unlocks her bike at the stand, climbs on to the seat, and puts the bag into the front basket that's only really slightly dented from their accident.

It feels strange, the way she can't keep Bucky—or their conversation, actually—out of her head. Wanda tries to ignore it, as she peddles the bike to the corner of Peggy's place. In the distance she spots a man on a motorcycle, riding away. It's too faraway to tell if it's Bucky, so she doesn't go after him. She just stops and watches, as the shape disappears into the sunset. Wanda lets herself imagine how that would feel, riding off into a warm, calm sunset. It leaves her smiling most of the way home.

Chapter Text

With the apartment to herself for the night, Wanda paints. She pulls out a canvas and easel, and sets out her paint and supplies on an old blue bed-sheet by one of the windows near the kitchen. It's over in the space outside of Wanda's room, the area that's never really used for much else, except sometimes drying clothes by the window. She moves a few little things out of the way, like Pietro's shoes she's been asking him to move for days now, and a basket of fruit she picked up on the way home. Wanda moves all of these things out of the way, then drags the bed-sheet over. It's a pale shade of blue, and is already covered with all of her old paint stains. She spreads it out on the floor, then sets out her paper, brushes, and paint.

Wanda turns on the stereo in the kitchen and leaves the music playing, while she pours herself a glass of wine, picks up her packet of cigarettes, and finds a hairclip to pull all of her long curls up into. Then she returns to the canvas and easel, putting the wine on the floor with the cigarettes, and standing up to pull her hair back. She twists it up and ties most of it back, leaving only a few, curly strands hanging out. Wanda takes a sip of wine next, then places herself in front of the canvas and waits.

It takes a moment, it always does. Then it comes to her. It's a quiet, dull image in her head. She sees something, and soon finds herself longing to paint it on the canvas. It begins as something dark, and small, while she blends the paint together. She mixes colors, and searches, until she finds the shade she's looking for. It's a faded, heavy gray. Wanda curves her brush over the canvas and starts, as the music continues around her. It's loud, and to some it might be distracting, but it helps to have such loud noise around her, while her mind is quiet. It works. She takes her time, moving gently, and steadily, while the silhouette starts to take shape on the canvas. It's a shadow; it's a man.

It's faint, and faraway, and for the moment it's only a silhouette, but she already knows where she's going to fill in little specks of color around it. Around the man, she'll paint a city. It will be faded, and close to him, and there will be little sparks of color in it, but he will stay the same. She already sees how it will look, how it will end. She sees the city in light shades of brown and heavy reds, nothing bright, not with him. For now he'll stay faded, he'll stay gray, until she finds the right colors to add. She mixes in other colors around him, filling the world in, and it isn't a world of color but  she finds something beautiful in it. Wanda feels lost in it. She works slowly, and tries to imagine that she's there with him. It's strange, the way it starts to come together like something she's seen before. It's somewhere she's been before. It's this afternoon, in the alley. It's the shadow of a man, disappearing on to the horizon. It's still on her mind now. He's still there. It makes sense why she paints it, and why it looks like the silhouette is running to the horizon.

She doesn't paint him, it's more like the shadow of a man. It looks airy, and thin. There's such little detail to the city around him, that it's not really about the city, but it doesn't feel like it's about the man either. There's a blur to everything. It's almost a layer of uncertainty. Wanda likes it that way. She keeps painting, and filling in the world around him. She's not sure why she looks at it like he's a shadow, slipping away, but she likes the way it looks. She stops for a minute, to finish her wine, refill the glass, and then to light a cigarette. Wanda takes it over to the window, away from the canvas. She stays there for a while, then finishes up and returns to the painting.

It's just as Wanda picks up her brush that her phone rings, and she considers leaving it, until she thinks it could be Pietro. It turns out it isn't Pietro, she realizes soon. It's Steve. She doesn't know why, but she feels herself frowning as she stares at his name on her phone. Wanda leaves the phone to ring out, and it's not really even something she does intentionally, she just leaves it ringing too long and then it's gone. Steve ends the call, and a minute later the (1) missed call notification appears on her screen, followed by the (1) new voicemail. Wanda's fingers hover over the phone for half a second, before she clicks to play Steve's message.

"Hi Wanda, this is Steve. We spoke earlier. You called me about the training.. I'm just calling to see if that's something you're still interested in, since I never heard back from you after I sent you our schedule. I'm only calling because Clint got in touch today, he was curious if we'd started yet, or if you changed your mind. So just give me a call back or text whenever you're free and we'll sort it out. Talk soon."

It falls quiet after the message finishes playing. It's almost quiet, anyway. There's a new song playing on the stereo, another one of Pietro's loud, heavy beats. Wanda stares at the phone and finds herself waiting while she considers it. She's not sure why she's left his messaged unanswered, or why she let the call ring out. He's free most mornings and afternoons she is, and their schedule works. She's thankful that he worked it out, so she doesn't really know why she left it unanswered. Or that's what she tells herself, while she drinks a little more wine and tries not to think about it.

She knows why she's avoiding his calls and their schedule for the training. It's the dreams she's been having lately. It's not Sokovia, it's the man. In her dreams he stabs her and takes everything, and she's left bleeding, and her brother's left alone. It's after the dreams that she wakes, sweating, and breathing too heavy—and it's just too much. She's not afraid, but she's concerned of how she'll be when the training starts. She knows it's only something she'll figure out once it happens, and she knows it needs to happen, and that's why she picks up the phone.

It only rings a second before Steve picks up.

"Hey, Wanda?" his voice echoes over the line. "How are you doing? I wasn't sure I'd hear from you tonight."

Wanda sighs, taking a seat at the table. "Hi, yes. I know, and I'm sorry I didn't answer your call or messages. I was busy, but I'm here now. Did you want to discuss the schedule you sent over?"

"Yeah, I did. Look I only called you because Clint asked me about it today. He wanted to know how it was going. When I told him we hadn't started, he thought you might have changed your mind. And so did I. And if you did, that's totally fine. Just let me know what you're doing, so I know what I'm doing. That's all. No pressure."

She pauses, fingers curled lightly around the end of her wine glass. "No, it's fine. I'm good. I've just been busy. I have looked over the plan, and it's fine. Thank you for taking the time to work it out. I appreciate it. The last thing I would want to be is a bother, or an inconvenience."

Steve doesn't hesitate, not even for a second.

"Oh, of course not, Wanda. You're not one, not at all. I used to do training all the time, but life got in the way. It's out of the way now, and I've got the time. I'm looking forward to it, and I hope you feel the same."

"I am, too." Wanda says, between sips of wine. "How is tomorrow morning for you? I have not looked at our schedule tonight. But I have a busy week. Tomorrow morning I am free."

It seems to catch him by surprise, but only for a few seconds.

"Yeah, sure. Tomorrow's fine. It's great, and it works for me. I can come to you, if you want? We can start with the basic stuff, like stretches, running, and building up stamina. Then we'll see where it takes us from there. Sound good?"

"It does. I will text you where to meet, if that's okay?"

"Of course. I'm looking forward to it."

She hums a quiet reply, then finishes off the rest of her wine. Wanda's up on her feet, filling her glass up again, when a thought pops into her mind and she can't get it out.

"Can I ask you something, Steve? Before you go.. It isn't about the training."

Steve barely hesitates again. 

"Sure. What's up, Wanda?"

"Do you ever have a feeling like there's something you want to do.. But at the same time, you think you shouldn't. You know which one will be worse, if you don't choose it. But you still can't make up your mind. Do you know what I mean?"

"Yeah, of course. I think we all have those kind of feelings through our lives." he says, stopping briefly. "That's how you feel about the training? You want to, but at the same time you don't?"

"Mm. Yes. Something like this."

"Speaking from my own, personal experience..When I get a feeling like I know I need to do something, and I know it will improve things for me, but at the same time I feel like I shouldn't do it—well that's how I know it's something I have to do."

There's another pause. Wanda drinks a lot more wine, and before she can answer Steve's speaking again.

"We can wait, if you're not sure. You shouldn't do it if you're not ready. And I'm fine to wait, I mean that. We can start whenever you're up for it."

"I'll text you soon about where we can meet up for tomorrow." she answers, decided. "Thank you, for this. And for the talk. I'm sorry for interrupting your night again."

"It's fine. I'm happy to do it. And trust me, you didn't. I don't mind. I called you first, remember?" Steve says, and it almost sounds like he's smiling. "And I'm glad I heard from you. Thanks for the call, Wanda. Talk soon. Night."

Once the call ends, Wanda finds herself in the kitchen, staring at her half-empty glass of wine. She finishes the rest in a few sips, then leaves it in the sink and returns to her canvas. There, she picks up the brush and stares at it for a while, only moving when she feels something pull her to paint a little light somewhere, or deepen the shadow somewhere else on the canvas. It feels better now somehow, it feels like it all flows easier. She adds in little pieces of color, and it feels like there's a better balance now then there was before. Steve's words stay with her while she paints, and it's because there's a truth to his words that she can't let go of, even if she wishes she could. She's glad that she can't let it go, but she decides to leave those thoughts alone and paint for a while.

It works, until it doesn't. It all works, until the apartment above theirs starts to play their loud, heavy music again, and Wanda tells herself that's why it's not working, even if she knows it's really because the thoughts aren't leaving her alone like she wishes they would. She steps back from the canvas, brush in her hand, and waits for it to pass, or for a feeling to keep going to hit her. It doesn't. It sounds like there's a party going on upstairs, and Wanda really doesn't care how loud it is. She feels finished with the painting for the night anyway, and leaves it to dry in the kitchen, after packing up all of her supplies and retreating into her bedroom with another glass of wine.

She turns on the lights above her bed when she gets into her room. The lights are small silver globes strung out over her bed, with tiny little details and patterns on them. She turns them on, leaving all other lights off, and strips out of her clothes slowly. There's a breeze in the air that seeps in through the windows, bouncing off her skin. Wanda enjoys the way it feels (cold, and distant, and barely there) against her body. She steps into the bathroom slowly, starts to fill the tub up, and then leaves to retrieve a few things. She pulls together her cigarette, glass of wine, phone, headphones, and iPod. Then she returns to the bathroom a minute later, ready to escape for a little while.

Wanda piles all of her hair up on her head when she's in there, clipping it high. Then she steps into the tub, phone and headphones tightly held in her hand. The water's warm enough that it's nice when she gets in. She turns off the tap, slides under the water and bubbles, and pops her iPod on to the playlist she feels like listening to tonight. She puts it off to the side, away from the water, and lets the music distract her. It always distracts her. Wanda sinks deeper into the tub and stays there for a while. She reaches for the glass of wine soon, and then her phone.

It reminds her of the promise she made Steve, to pick a place for their training tomorrow, and to text him about it tonight. Wanda settles into the tub, phone in her hands. She starts to quickly type a message, and it really doesn't take long. She picks one of the parks nearby that she likes going to. It's spacious, and not too busy, and it's familiar. There's lots of room to run, stretch, and train there. Then she picks the time and sends the message, and it's gone, and she realizes it's really happening, and she feels almost happy about it. Wanda places the phone to the side and settles back into the tub, enjoying the music, and the escape from it all. She doesn't know how much time she spends there before her phone lights up with a new message. It's so dark in the bathroom, the only light comes from her phone, or the streetlights outside. Wanda's eyes open slowly and she stretches over, reading it quickly. She feels more relief, knowing that it's done, and that Steve's happy with the time and place. They'll meet at nine, just fifteen minutes from here, at a place she's familiar with. She feels relieved, and like she knows it's the right thing to do.

She doesn't know why she thinks of Bucky again. It's strange, the way he's been hanging around her thoughts in these last few hours. It's even stranger, when she gets out of the tub without really thinking and disappears into her bedroom. She ends up by the stand next to her bed, where she kept his number. Wanda returns to the tub with it, leaving the dampened towel over on the sink. The water's still mostly warm, but she adds a little more, and then she settles in comfortably, slides her headphone in, and holds up the little piece of paper with Bucky's number on it. She still doesn't know why, even when she's staring at his number. She doesn't know why it's staying with her, or why she painted the sunset, the city, and the man fading away into the sky. It's the way he was, the way he smiled. It's the bandage around his hand and the hospital band. It's all of it. She can't get it out of her mind.

Wanda doesn't know how to start the message. She types it up and deletes it at least three times, then she finally settles on it.

 

[11:13 PM]:

knock over any other pedestrians lately?

 

There's nothing she can do once it's gone. She doesn't regret it, not really. She just doesn't really know why she sends it. Wanda decides it's just because it's been on her mind, and that's all it is. He's no-one to her, just a stranger, passing by, only she can't really believe that's all it is. She wonders then if it's because she recognized something in him, something she carries herself, and maybe she doesn't know what it is right now, or maybe she does. She forgets about it and sinks deeper into the tub, focusing on how the wine tastes, or how the water feels.

In her own little world, of music, wine, and cigarettes, she feels like she could slip away. She takes her headphones out eventually, when a song she likes starts to play from the apartment upstairs. Wanda puts her phone aside, closes her eyes, and lets herself drift away again. She doesn't fall asleep, she's just not so awake. She only realizes this when a loud, heavy thump against her door wakes her and she jolts forward. The music's still playing in the apartment above theirs, it's just a different song now. She doesn't know how long it's been, and she doesn't know who's knocking on her door. She just knows that when she opens her eyes, her phone is in the tub with her.

Wanda's quick to pull the phone out of the water, but she soon realizes it's been in there for a while. It's in there with her cigarettes and the piece of paper that used to have Bucky's number on it. Now it's all smudged and faded. It's all ruined. She sighs and leans back into the tub, until there's another knock on the door that makes her sit upright.

"Sestra, jesi li unutra?" Pietro calls through the door. "Je li sve u redu?"

Her eyes shut briefly. "Što je? Trebaš li nešto?"

"Dobro sam. Jesi li ti dobro?"

She stills in the water, then moves, pulling her phone out and placing it on the edge of the tub with the soggy cigarettes and the note from Bucky.

"Da, dobro sam." Wanda calls back. "Evo me za minutu."

"Želiš li šalicu caja?" he calls back.

Wanda decides that tea sounds nice, so she agrees, leaning back into the tub with a sigh.

"Da molim. To zvuci lijepo."

Then he's gone off to do that, to make them tea. Wanda empties the water from the tub, steps out of it, and slowly reaches for a towel to wrap herself up in. She carries her things out of the bathroom and back into the bedroom, leaving the ruined phone behind. Her bedroom door is shut now, but she can hear the noise on the other side of it. She hears the sounds of Pietro making tea, and maybe even tidying up a few of his things. She decides that he's probably just making tea. Wanda turns away from the noises, and the door, and finds a soft black shirt with long sleeves to pull on. She slides on a pair of black and red pants for bed, and soft brown socks. Once she's all dressed, Wanda pulls her hair up off her face and then returns to the bathroom. There, she sets her phone out, hoping it will dry, even though she knows it probably won't. It's only cheap, but Bucky's number is gone now, and so is Steve's. She knows that she can easily get Steve's number from Clint, it's just that she's not really sure how to get Bucky's number again. She doesn't know why she wants to.

Pietro's in the kitchen making their tea when she joins him. The clock hanging on the wall tells her it's been at least an hour since she went into the tub. She leaves those thoughts behind, and takes a seat at the end of the table. Wanda pulls her feet up into the chair, letting out a quiet sigh. Over by the bench, Pietro throws a look back at her and he glances over her quickly. His hair is messy, she notices, and his shirt is stained. She sees it now. It's a favorite shirt of his. It's white and blue, with little patterns all over it. Now there's a big stain on the front of it, and he doesn't even really seem to care. Wanda gets to her feet, joining him by the sink.

She waits for an explanation, but Pietro just half-smiles.

"A very drunk man spilt a very bright drink on me."

"Ja cu to ocistiti." Wanda insists.

He dismisses her with a wave of his hand. "It is alright. I will clean it up. But don't worry so much. Some things are meant to be ruined." Pietro says. "And before you ask this, Clint was one of the drunk men at the bar, but he was not the one who spilled this. I was a little mad at the time, but I'm not anymore."

"Go, take it off. Put something clean on." Wanda joins him by the bench, to finish making their tea. "Put on something that doesn't smell like whatever it is that smells like. Leave it by the washer and I will clean it and get out this stain later."

Pietro makes a quiet noise, but leaves anyway. He leaves Wanda to finish their tea, and once they're left to sit, she carries them to the table. There's a bag of Pietro's candies on the table, the ones he likes that she picked up on her way home. She pops two into her mouth and chews on them silently until he comes back. Pietro plops down into the seat next to her with a sigh when he returns. He drags his feet up, crossing them, and then he sees the candies and reaches for several.

"So it was a bad night?" Wanda asks curiously. "And where is Clint?"

"Home. He works early." he shrugs. "And it was not so bad. Apart from this, it was fine. What about you?"

"Not so bad. Only I have ruined my phone again."

"What?" Pietro nearly seems amused. "You are joking."

She shakes her head, ignoring the smile growing on his lips.

"We are not made of endless money, remember?" he pushes.

"Yes, I know. But it was a cheap phone, and it was an accident."

Pietro shakes his head a little, then swallows the candies in his mouth so he can speak.

"You are so...What is the word? Clumsy. Yes. You are so clumsy lately."

It's hard to not smile around him sometimes. Wanda raises her eyebrows at him slowly, trying not to smile. She likes the way it feels in her brother's company. It always feels simple, and easy, and like he can make her smile with just a few words. She likes the way it distracts her, to listen to his endless stories, even when she doubts that some of them are true. He's always tried to make her happy, the same way she's always tried to keep him safe.

"I fell asleep in the tub, it fell in. It has nothing to do with me."

"Mm, yes. You say this. But you have broken or lost two phones recently." he points out, pausing to eat more candy. "Me? I have the same phone. I always have the same phone. Why? Because I am careful, and you are clumsy."

"You are a liar. You are always having little accidents, because you are too quick and you never concentrate." Wanda says, leaning in to nudge his shoulder. "I remember last year you broke—"

"Enough about me. Tell me how you spent your night, Sestra." he hums, reaching for the tea. "I saw you have painted something new. It is very good."

Wanda half-smiles. "You looked?"

"It is just out there, in the open. How can you blame me for looking?" Pietro sighs a little. "You know, I think you should sell the paintings again. You know this already, too. They are nice. You should sell them. People would want to see them, and to have them."

She hesitates, then pulls her tea closer. "We are not talking about this again."

"Why not? Because you don't want to?" Pietro moves, propping his elbows up on the table. "I want to talk about it. Why can't we?"

"They aren't yours. You don't get a say, if they should be sold or seen."

Pietro nearly rolls his eyes, but he ends up sighing instead. "I am just saying you are talented, and you could sell them. But we will not talk about it anymore. I was just making a point, but I will leave it now."

"Good. Thank you." Wanda offers him a smile. "What time are you working tomorrow?"

"Early. Too early." he groans a little. "You?"

"I'm not. I'm doing something else, and I wanted to talk to you about it."

Wanda pauses, gripping the cup of tea lightly. She watches as Pietro's gaze flickers to hers curiously, and it's almost as if he senses it's a serious thing, because his face changes a little and he leans in closer.

"What? What's wrong?

"Nothing. Okay? Nothing is wrong. It is just that I'm going to train and run at the park, starting tomorrow. I will do it whenever I can."

Pietro almost seems puzzled at first. "For what? Why?"

"I am just doing it. For exercise. That's all." Wanda explains. "There is a friend of Clint's..He has experience in this, he has offered help."

"What friend?"

"His name is Steve." she tells him. "I have heard good things from Clint about him."

He seems at ease with it all, and smiles a little as he sips on his tea.

"Yes, I have met Steve a few times. He is nice." Pietro says soon. "You know that I could do this with you. I am good. I worked in the gym, remember? It could be fun."

Wanda smiles, stretching to pat his arm. "You are sweet. Thank you. But I am fine."

"Mm, I know." he hums. "I will be there to help if you need."

She nods, then leans back. "I know."

Pietro finishes his tea soon, then gets to his feet. "I am going to shower now, I think. It was not a bad night, but I have had better. I think I will sleep well now." he says, carrying the cup over to the sink. "What time do you leave tomorrow? I start early, so I will probably see you in the night."

"Just before 9."

"Maybe see you before then, maybe not." Pietro returns, hovering nearby. "Tell me how tomorrow goes, yes? I want to know, I am happy for you."

Wanda nods, smiling. "I will."

He stops when he's passing her by, to kiss the top of her head. Then he leaves to his bedroom, to shower and rest. It's quiet after that. Wanda finishes her tea in the silence, carrying it to the sink after she's done. She puts Pietro's cup in the sink next to hers, then walks over to their little laundry room, in the room between theirs. It's small, it's all they need. On one side there's a washer and a small sink, then on the other side there's a long bench to put washing products and clothes on, and the dryer is right near there. There's also a space between for the clothes to air and dry. It only takes her a minute to fix up Pietro's stained shirt and leave it for the night. She goes back to her room after she's done and stretches out on her bed, falling back under the cracks of the moonlight that slip into her room. She stays there for a while, skin wet, bruises still healing, until her memories of home take her away to rest.

 

* * * *

 

It's 8:30 when she gets to the park. It's quiet there but it's busy, and once she's there she realizes that she can't really remember the last time she went out for an early run in the morning. Wanda doesn't dwell on it long. She starts by stretching her arms a little, and then her legs, and after that she decides to run a lap around the park before Steve arrives. There's 30 minutes until he arrives, and there's nothing else to do before then. She just needs to be at the green bench near the entrance to the park at 9, because that's where they're meeting. She wonders if she'll even recognize Steve when she sees him, since Clint's description of him (blond, tall, blue eyes, and an unfairly fab body, in his own words) doesn't really narrow it down.

Her eyes scan the park over one more time then she's off, following the pavement around the curves and bends it leads her on. It's a large park, with a lot of green, and a thin path of concrete to follow around the dips and bends. It takes her forward, running straight ahead for a while, until there's less grass and more concrete. She runs until her watch reads 8:41, and she keeps running because there's still time. Wanda doesn't know what it is about today, but she feels like pushing herself, she feels like she's up for it. She pushes herself to a point she hasn't in a while. She pushes herself harder, and harder, until her breathing is heavier and there's sweat building on her forehead. Wanda stops for a minute, drinks a little water and then decides to run for another ten minutes and then turn back. She runs until she hopes it will make the feeling in her stomach go away, but it doesn't, it just make it worse somehow.

It's the part of her that knows she wants to do this, but still doubts it, or fears it. It's like as sure as she is, there's always something in her telling her that it's not what she needs. Wanda wants to fight that feeling, because she can't keep going on like this. She feels on edge. She knows how to defend herself. She's strong, and she knows a little self defence, it's just been a long time, and it feels like this is meant to happen, like she's supposed to do this with Steve. It's just hard to think about it when she starts to think about that night. Her fingers curl together, and it makes her palms ache from the grazing, and then it makes her think of him.

She turns back with five minutes to get back to their meeting place, knowing she's going to be late. Wanda runs fast enough, focused on getting there now and not letting herself be swept up in old thoughts. She's half-way there when a voice calls out to her from behind and she stops, turning to face him. For the briefest moment he looks familiar and she doesn't know why.

"Hey, Wanda. Right?" he offers her a small, uncertain smile. "Clint showed me a picture, so I'd know who to look for. And so I wouldn't walk up to a stranger.. Unless you are a stranger, and you just really look like Wanda."

It's Steve. She knows it in a second, she knows it from his voice, and the way he matches Clint's description. Fab body, she remembers Clint saying, and she can't disagree. Wanda chews down on her lip when she's about to smile and nods a little, taking a step over to where Steve's standing.

"You got a picture?" she asks, glancing him over again. "All I got from Clint was a description."

Steve laughs, a little amused. "What? He just described me to you? What'd he say?"

"Big. Not bulky big. Muscles. Blue eyes. Blond hair."

His smile stays there, warm and wide over his face. "Yeah, I guess that's me."

She hums, casting another look at him. "I feel like—maybe I have seen you before. And I don't know where, but I feel like I have."

The same kind of look crosses over Steve's face and then he nods, smiling, as he folds his arms over his chest. It clicks then. Wanda remembers the meeting, and then Sam, and the man out there with him. She looks away briefly, then turns back to Steve and catches him watching her. She wonders why the universe is doing this to her lately, why it's leading her to run into the same strangers she's never crossed paths with before. She doesn't mind it, and she doesn't want to question it, but she can't really stop herself from wondering if it's all for a reason.

"Yeah, I just realized the same thing." Steve pauses. "I think you were talking to my buddy Sam the other day at the hall. He works there sometimes. And I go there to listen to him, or to help out. I think that's where I saw you, right?"

Wanda smiles a little but it feels tense so she hides it and holds his kind gaze.

"Yes, I remember now. I think as I was leaving, I saw you there."

Steve nods a little. "So you work there, too?"

"No, I don't. I was just passing by, to see someone. That's all."

"Alright, well it's nice to officially meet you." Steve extends a hand, then shakes hers. "I'm glad we're doing this. I hope you're looking forward to it as much as I am."

Wanda shakes his hand, then offers him a small, half-smile. She doesn't know what it is about him, not really, but there's just something there. It's not familiar, but it feels like it is. It's more than that. He's friendly, and kind, and it oozes out of him in a way that almost seeps into her. She imagines it's not hard to smile and laugh with him, and to feel safe and happy in his company. She imagines it's not hard at all.

"I am. Where are we going to start?"

"Stretches. A light jog. Then we'll see where it takes us." he explains. "I thought we could focus on building up a routine. I've got a bunch of exercises we could do. Then we can move on to the self-defence, and anything else you're interested in."

"We can do that here?" she asks.

"Yeah, or I know a guy who owns a gym. There's also this other guy I know, he's got his own gym. Pool. All of that. We could go there, if that's something you're interested in."

She considers it, then turns her gaze to the park. "I think I am fine here now. But when I am interested in that, I will let you know?"

"Sure, sounds great. Want to start with some stretches? Then we can get into it."

Wanda nods again, agreeing. "That sounds good. And thank you again for this."

He throws her a bigger smile, as he leads the way over to the grassy, open area of the park. It's still busy, but there's so much space that it's almost like it's just the two of them here.

"It's fine, really. I'm more than happy to do it. Any friend of Clint's is a friend of mine. Well, not always. But most of them are. And he's told me a lot about you." Steve says, turning to her. "You, and your brother. He talks about your brother all the time."

Wanda smiles, wider this time. "What does he say about him?"

"Only good things. That he's funny, and kind, and a great guy." he says. "And just between the two of us, I've never really heard Clint talk about anyone the way he talks about Pietro."

It warms something in her. It leaves her smiling, even minutes later. She turns to Steve, feeling a little happier.

"That is nice to know. My brother is the same. I have never seen him with anyone the way he is with Clint. So it makes me happy to hear the same thing from you."

Steve smiles, then drops his gym bag on the grass. He settles down there, gesturing for Wanda to join. She leaves her bag next to his and sits down on the grass, following his moves, and stretching out her legs slowly.

"So what does Clint say about me? I am curious."

He looks up again. "Only good things. Like you've been nice to him. And you're a good person, just like your brother."

Wanda glances away, down to the blades of grass. "Did he tell you why I wanted to do this? Did he say why?"

For a while Steve continues stretching until he sighs, stops, and looks back to her.

"No, he didn't. And I didn't ask. Clint just said you were looking for a trainer, and I fit the brief." Steve tells her. "He didn't say. He would never say. But right here and now, I can see that something happened. I can see the bruises and marks on your hands. It looks sore. I won't ask what happened, I wouldn't. But I will ask you if you're up for this?"

She holds his gaze, and is quiet for a while until it starts to come out.

"It was an accident. I've had a few bad weeks, that's all it is. That's all."

He pauses, then smiles a little. "I get it. We can leave it at that." Steve tells her, then starts to stretch again. "So what's Clint told you about me? Or should I take a guess and say he hasn't said much?"

"How did you know that?" Wanda asks, a little curious now. "He has not said that much, if I am honest. But I guess they have not been dating that long, and Clint is not so much of a talker about these things."

Steve nods like he gets it. "Clint's, uh—well, he's got his reasons. I guessed he hadn't really shared much yet because like you said, he's not much of a talker when it comes to himself, or anything personal. He doesn't want to screw things up with your brother, I know that. And I think that he's worried someone else will screw it up, if he rushes things. So that's why, I think. But he has mentioned you to us."

"So far, you don't seem so bad."

He laughs a little, then seems to relax. "Thanks, but I was thinking more in terms of Stark screwing things up. You see, Clint's just guarded. With the divorce, that I'm sure you know about. And that bad-luck he had for a while..This thing with Pietro is special to him. So if he didn't talk about us yet, I know why."

"Clint does talk about things. He talks about places. Memories, and people. He just doesn't always get specific, and I don't always remember the names. But so far I have only heard good things about you."

"Well, that's great. And hey, it's nice to finally meet you, Wanda."

She smiles back slowly. "It is nice to meet you, too."

"Why don't we get started now?

Chapter Text

Clint brings pizza home for dinner on a night when Wanda really doesn't feel like cooking, and for a moment she almost can't remember liking him more than she does now. It's warm, and smells delicious from the second he steps into the apartment, carrying the boxes over to the kitchen. Pietro's off the couch in a second, and is almost as excited to see Clint as he is to see the boxes of pizza. He's just that little bit more excited to see the pizza. There are drinks too, and Wanda takes the beer from Clint, who is trying and almost failing to juggle everything. She places the bottles down on the table and returns, retrieving three plates from the kitchen. Then she swiftly takes Clint's messenger bag from his shoulder, while he's busy unloading the stack of pizza boxes in his arms. She leaves his bag in Pietro's room and returns to find Pietro sweetly kissing Clint on the cheek.

"You are amazing. Have I said this lately?" Pietro asks.

"You know what? You haven't said that. In a long time, actually." Clint smirks. "I'd love to hear it again, you know. Just one more time would be nice."

A grin appears on Pietro's face, as he leaves another quick kiss to his cheek and darts away to get a sweater from nearby. Clint puts the rest of the beers in the fridge, and when he returns to the table he sees Wanda standing there and smiles, gesturing for her to join them. She walks over soon, scooping up one of the bottles from the table and swiftly pulling off the lid.

"Figured I owed you a couple drinks. You know, since I kept drinking all of yours." Clint says, smiling. "So consider this as me paying off some of the beer debt I owe you."

Wanda nods, pausing to sip a little before she speaks.

"What is Pietro's is yours. And what's mine is my brothers. So I suppose this means, what is mine is yours."

His smile grows. "And what's mine is yours."

"Ah, look at this. I am so happy to see my boyfriend and sister getting along so well." Pietro sighs, climbing into one of the seats next to Clint. "And now we have pizza, and beer, and nice music. This is a good night so far."

It makes her smile to think of how many nice moments they've had together like this, just the three of them. She leaves them to find an aspirin in the kitchen, then she joins them and pulls out the seat across from them. Wanda picks up a warm, fresh slice of pizza once she's settled and it lifts her spirits right away. It's not that her spirits need it, she thinks, it's just that it's been a long morning and she's glad to have a quiet night like this before the Stark party tomorrow night.

"How was work, everyone?" Clint asks, glancing between them. "We all have a good day? Or was it as busy as my day?"

Pietro shrugs, finishing off a slice of pizza before he says anything. "Yes, but I am tired of all of these rude people. They do not have to be like this. After all, I am just bringing them their deliveries. It is not like they have to ride around the city with deliveries and parcels for other people like I do. So they do not need to be so rude."

"I think my day was better than yours." Wanda says, offering her brother a smile. "But you are lucky, at least you can get away from the rude people."

"People are shit, sometimes. Can't help it, but some of them just are." Clint sighs. He moves a hand to Pietro's shoulder, while taking a long sip of beer. "Best thing you can do is find a way to get past it. Fresh starts always help. Right? Or so I've heard."

It's then that she first picks up on it, that something's up. It's different. Wanda listens quietly, chewing on the slice of pizza, while occasionally glancing between them. She doesn't know what it is, not with certainty, and she doesn't like that because she always knows. She only knows that it is something, and it's there in the way Pietro glances at Clint a few times, and how Clint's hand is still pressed to her brother's shoulder in a gentle, reassuring kind of way. For a second she wonders if this is it, if Pietro knows about what happened and if it was Clint's doing, and then her brother speaks again and she knows it isn't about it.

"I am not having fun anymore. And I am so tired of these people."

She pauses, slice of pizza between her fingers. "What do you mean? You love riding your bike. And work is not always fun, that is why it is work. But I remember you loved it, once. What has changed?"

There's a shrug from Pietro. He leans back into his chair, pulling his knees back with him. Then he casts another look at Clint, and she thinks that whatever this is it's something they've talked about before.

"Yes I do. But I am tired of people."

Wanda throws him a look, eyebrow arched slightly.

"Work is not always fun. I am sorry, but that is the truth and you know this. And I do understand what you are saying. I work at a bar, I know what people are like. But we need money, and I don't think you can quit now unless you have somewhere else to go that pays well."

And then she sees the look they share in the passing moments, and she knows with certainty that they have talked about this. It concerns her because they're acting so strange, like they're worried about something, worried about her. Wanda watches them closely, bringing the bottle of beer to her lips as the two of them stay silent, and it only confirms her concerns that something isn't right.

"Well? What is it? Go on, tell me."

"I do have something else." Pietro tells her. "I have found another job, I mean. And it also pays better."

She feels uncertain and hums quietly, tracing her finger over the top of the beer bottle.

"It's a good idea. And if you just hear him out, you'll see that it is." Clint says next, half-smiling. "Over at my work, at the security firm, there's a job that I already talked to Steve about. He thinks Pietro could be a good fit, and he's free to start whenever he can."

Wanda pauses, and thinks she might have choked on her beer if she'd been swallowing it. She turns to Pietro, eyes wider now and gaze stuck firmly on him.

"Stvarno? Jesi li ozbiljan?" she asks.

He almost looks away, but decides against it.

"Da, Sestra."

It's a lot to take in. It's almost too much. She doesn't like it at all. She doesn't like the idea of Pietro working at a security firm, because it's dangerous and he's been through enough. They both have. She doesn't like it, and she can't see why he does.

He doesn't have experience at this kind of thing, not like Clint does, not like anyone else working there does. It feels like it's only an option because of his connection to Clint, but that's not why it doesn't feel right. It unsettles her and Wanda suddenly feels like she's lost her appetite. She slides the plate away, casting her gaze between Clint and Pietro. She doesn't like it because it's dangerous, and a risk, and she doesn't want him involved in a job he has no experience doing.

"Working there, doing what?" she asks a minute later, then turns to Clint. "He has no experience with these kinds of things. What would his job be?"

"Admin work. All of that fun stuff."

She laughs because she can't help it, because it doesn't make sense. She knows her brother. Pietro is fast, and energetic, and he thrives from being in environments where he can use that and channel it. She doesn't see how working in an office is going to be good for him, or how it will work out at all because it's so unlike him.

"Nisi ozbiljan." Wanda sighs to herself, still unable to believe it. "Ne sviđa mi se ovo."

It annoys her brother. She doesn't mean for it to, but it does. She watches as it spreads over his face slowly. Wanda wants to tell him that she doesn't mean to offend him, that she only wants to protect him, and that it concerns her to have him working in such a dangerous place—but she sees the look on her brother's face, and she knows what it means. She knows it means he's decided, and that he's not happy with her for the way she feels, and for not embracing his risky decision.

"Why are you laughing? This is no joke, Wanda."

"Da je. Mora biti." she tells him.

"It is more money." Pietro pushes back right away. "You don't want that?"

Wanda sips a little more beer, needing it. "Zašto si to tajio od mene?" she asks, why this is the first she's hearing of this. "Zašto cekati do sada da mi kažeš?"

A second later, Pietro sighs and drags his hands over his face, like he's tired of her worrying about this. She knows he is already decided, so she doesn't know why they sat down to tell her this way when his mind is already made up.

"Why are you doing this, Wanda? Why will you not just listen?"

Wanda leans back into the chair, gaze set on Pietro like it's just the two of them, and for now it might as well be. It's like Clint isn't here any more. She knows he is, and that he's watching, and waiting for a moment to say something, but he doesn't say anything yet. She doesn't know what she wants to say to him, or to her brother.

There's a part of her that wants to tell them that she doesn't like it because it's dangerous, and after Sokovia she doesn't want her brother near anything dangerous. She wants to say he shouldn't be around bullets, or in that environment, and she knows it's only an office job but there's something about it that doesn't sit well with her. She wants to tell them this, but she knows they won't hear it.

"Ne, neću slušati. Ne sviđa mi se."

"But it is not your choice, Sestra." he tells her. "I know you think that it is, but it isn't."

In one sip, Wanda finishes off her beer. "Zašto mi onda to govoriš?"

Clint lets out a sigh, then leans against the table with his elbows. He looks tense, and unsure, but she knows where he stands on this.

"Listen, I think we should all cool off—"

"Što on zna o tome? Što ako se ozlijediš?" Wanda cuts in, gaze on her brother. "Ti si moje sve. Molim te razmisli o tome."

Pietro's up on his feet in a second, walking off to the kitchen. He stops half-way and turns back, leaning against the frame of the chair.

"She thinks that you know nothing about this. Like this is not your job." Pietro says sharply. "She thinks it is too dangerous, and that I should not do this."

A second later, Clint's looking at Wanda and not at Pietro. He's looking at her like he wants to convince her to see it their way, and she wants to ask him why. She wants to ask him why he can't see it her way. Wanda feels frustrated and tries not to let it show, but it's hard. She bites down on her lip, waiting as Clint speaks again.

"I promise you, nothing's gonna happen to him. He'd be working in the office." Clint tells her. "It's a big place. Really big. Lots of employees. A lot of good people. He's interested in trying something new, and Steve's down for it. So why not?"

Half a beat passes, before she looks back to Pietro's waiting, expectant gaze.

"Zašto to radiš? Zašto?"

Why, she asks him, because she needs to know. She needs to know why he is never happy where he finds work, and why he is always moving and changing. Then she wants to ask him why he thinks they should always be happy at work. The Green Tides is not a bad place, but Wanda imagines she could be happier somewhere else. She stays because it is safe enough and she knows they need money. She doesn't understand why her brother can't see this, or why he can't pick any other job. Then he speaks, and there is so much more that she doesn't understand.

"Zašto to radiš? Želiš da budem nesretan?"

Why are you doing this? Pietro asks her, eyes wide, hurt. You want me to be unhappy?

It lingers in the quiet after. It stays in a way she doesn't expect it to. She feels it, and it's heavy, and present, just like their gaze on her when she opens her mouth to answer—and nothing escapes. It just shuts, because there's nothing for her to say. She leaves, carrying a slice of pizza out on to the fire-escape. Somewhere behind her she hears Clint encouraging Pietro to come and watch TV, and that's the last she hears before she's out there. Wanda climbs out through the window, sitting down slowly. She's not even hungry but she eats it, just so there will be some food in her stomach.

It's so much quieter outside that it gives her time to think about it, and it's all too much. She places the pizza down, leaving what's rest of it untouched. Then a second later she hears a creak on the railing above her and looks up to find someone sitting on the fire-escape above theirs, outside of their window like she is. She finds a dark-haired woman up there, sitting with a cigarette between two fingers and a glass of wine in the other hand. She catches Wanda looking and smiles.

"Oh, hey. I know you."

Wanda looks away then back at her.

"You do?"

"Yeah. You're the cute brunette." she smiles. "With the cute roommate. Boyfriend?"

It takes her a moment to realize it, then Wanda pulls a face, shaking her head quickly.

"No. That is my brother."

The woman smiles. "Nice. Very nice. He's fit. Hope you don't mind me saying that."

She pauses, watching her still. "I am sorry, but do I know you?"

"Not really, I don't think. I'm the chick that lives above you, sometimes. When I'm here I do. You can refer to me as cute brunette #2. That weird chick, who plays that loud music all the time. Or you can call my Darcy. My friends call me that."

There's a small pause between them. Darcy stubs out her cigarette and smiles down at Wanda.

"So is that really your name, and I just made a totally awesome and lucky guess?" Darcy asks. "Or is there something else I could call you?"

"I'm Wanda."

Darcy nods, while readjusting the purple and red beanie she's wearing. "Oh, nice. Cool. Very cool. So are you thirsty, Wanda? I have wine and cigarettes." she says a minute later. "That is if you're not busy. My roomie is away with her big, hunk of a boyfriend. So I could use the company, but if you're not interested that's totally fine."

It's something Wanda considers, if only for the briefest moment. She considers it because she knows it would be a nice distraction, and then she thinks about how Pietro's words are still hanging around in her mind and she knows she won't be good company like thinks.

"I don't think that is such a good idea. I am not in a good mood right now."

"Bad fight?" Darcy asks, half a second later.

Wanda looks up at her again. "You heard?"

"Kinda. Yeah, maybe I did. But also, I can totally read minds." Darcy says, and grins. "Anyway, I'll be here if you want that wine or a chat. I don't really know anyone else since I'm not always here, and it could be nice. But if not, have a nice night."

"Like I said, I am not in such a good mood."

Darcy shrugs, smiling again, and it's so kind and reassuring that it feels oddly comforting.

"That's okay. You seem nice, and I've had much worse company. Trust me."

"Okay. Maybe I will see you soon."

She's off a second later, climbing back inside her window. "This is great!" Darcy calls back. "I'll get you a glass right now!"

Then she's gone and Wanda's almost left wondering if that really just happened. She stays out there for a moment, then carries the slice of pizza back inside and throws it away. She finds Clint in the kitchen, piling pizza on to his plate, and when she looks over to the living area she can faintly make out Pietro's shape through the bookshelves around the couch. He's lying on the couch, watching an old movie on TV.

"I am going out. I do not know when I will be back, but it will be later." Wanda says, pulling her coat off her armchair. It's long, and black, and she pulls it on over her old red dress. "If you are going out, I will leave the keys with you. If not then I will keep them, I am not going far."

He shakes his head, watching her closely.

"No, we're good. See you later?"

Wanda nods, opening up the door. "Mmm. See you."

 

* * * *

 

It turns out that Darcy's apartment is very similar to theirs, and it ends up feeling familiar in a good way. Her apartment is decorated differently, and it's nice to see all the pops of bright colors (blue, and red, and purple) clashing against the mostly black furniture. It works and it's nice, and Wanda's eyes skim over it all slowly while Darcy pours them a glass of wine in the kitchen. It's a large open space like theirs, only it's a little different. It's a little more modern. It's sleek, and it's still nice, but their place feels warm. It feels like home. It's the only real home they've ever known here.

"Here you go. One wine, with plenty more to come if you want." Darcy announces, placing the glass down on the bench in the kitchen. "You want anything to eat with that? I have chocolate. More chocolate. Pop-tarts. And chocolate. So pretty much what every student has in their fridge, if they have anything at all."

Wanda smiles a little, walking over slowly. She still isn't sure this is the best idea, with Pietro's voice and his words lingering in her mind. She doesn't know that being here will distract her, or if it will leave a bad first impression because she's distracted and not in the best mood, but there's something genuine and kind about Darcy that tells her it will all be fine.

"You are a student?" Wanda asks, taking a seat at the sleek bar-stool by the bench. "What are you studying?"

"Political science." she smiles back, pulling a seat over to sit on. "Right now I'm interning. But yeah, I'm a student."

She watches her for a moment, then looks down at the glass in her hand.

"That sounds very nice."

"Oh, yeah. It is. It's awesome." Darcy says, pausing to drink a little wine. "What do you do, Wanda? Are you studying anything?"

For a second she stops, thinks on it, and then she smiles and looks back up at Darcy.

"No, I work at a bar."

"Really? That's so cool." Darcy's smile grows. "Do you work in the city?"

Wanda nods, drinking some wine. "Yes, I do. I'm not sure if you know it. It's called the Green Tides."

"Oh, man! What? I love that place. I probably spent too many nights there, having drinks with friends. But it's always fun there." she stops, sighing, before she breaks off a piece of chocolate. "So that's kinda cool, right? We already kinda have something in common. You work at a place where I love to drink. So it's sorta something in common."

She smiles, tracing her finger almost nervously along the rim of the glass. She doesn't know why she feels nervous. She doesn't know if it's because she doesn't feel like herself right now, or maybe it's because it's been so long since she's sat down with someone else to talk about these things. It's more than that. She knows what it is; when she thinks of the people in her life, the important ones, she narrows it down to three, and one of them isn't in her life anymore. There are ones she considers friends, but not too many in the close circle that's small right now, and it's just been so long that she can't help the way she feels.

"Yes, it almost is."

Darcy smiles still, watching her warmly.

"Alright, so let's find more things in common. What do you do when you're not working? Any hobbies?" she asks. "For me, work is my hobby. I don't have much time for anything else, and I don't mind. And I'm talking too much. Sorry. You go."

It feels strange, she thinks soon, to sit with someone and talk about these things. It's not just because Darcy is a stranger, which she is, but for a reason Wanda doesn't know she really doesn't feel like a stranger. It ties into her other thoughts, her other doubts, about how long it's been. It feels open here with Darcy, and different, and mostly it feels nice. 

"I like art."

She lights up, smile growing wider. "Me too! Shit, man. That is so cool. Have you been to any exhibitions in the city lately? There are some really cool ones out right now. Have you been?"

Wanda shakes her head a little. "Not lately, no."

Darcy nudges her arm gently. "Well, we should totally go one time. The arts are underappreciated by many."

Now Wanda smiles a little, relaxing back into her chair.

"So you like loud music, yes?"

"Mhm." she grins. "Yeah. Sorry, I do."

"I don't mind." Wanda tells her, voice a little softer, almost. "I like the music you play. And you have a very nice place here."

After a quick look at the apartment, Darcy turns back to her. "Yeah? Thanks. I've been here a while, and it's kinda small, but it's nice when I'm here. Not that I've been here much lately. I was staying with this guy—and let me just say, there is always a thing with a guy. Am I right?"

Wanda's half-smile stays, as Darcy fills up her drink. She wonders why she thinks of him, at that thought. She thinks of the unsent text message, and the meetings in the park and at the market, and she doesn't know why she almost smiles more because of it.

"What guy?" she asks her.

She knows it's something she wants to ask because deep under her feelings right now about Pietro and their fight, and her past, this feels like something she wants to do. It feels like they're sitting here and talking for a reason, and if Darcy is Wanda's distraction for the moment then she doesn't see why she can't be hers too.

Darcy shrugs, filling up both of their glasses.

"Doesn't matter."

"I don't mind, Darcy." she tells her. "I think maybe we were out on the fire-escape for similar reasons?"

It makes Darcy stop to consider it, and Wanda is glad that she does.

"Kinda. Maybe. I don't know." she sighs, chewing on her lip for a second. "What was yours? I want to make sure mine isn't stupid first."

Wanda smiles easily, then remembers why. "It was a fight. With my brother, and his boyfriend."

"About what?" she asks, interested.

Then Darcy offers Wanda a cigarette and she takes it, thankful. Wanda lights it, then places the lighter and packet of cigarettes back down on the bench.

"Does it matter what it was about?"

"Yeah, because you looked sad." Darcy points out, chewing on another piece of chocolate. "And you still do. So yeah, it matters. Of course it matters. So spill."

Wanda considers it before she finds the words, and for a moment it's hard because there's a lot that she could say. She doesn't want to say it all, she wants it to be simple, so she waits until she finds a way to say it and then it's out there and there's nothing she can do to take it back, and she's glad that she can't because right now she feels like she needs someone to talk to about this.

"My brother wants to do something dangerous, but he does not see it as dangerous. He is passionate, and excited, and smart, and I know he is capable of many great things. But this, what he wants to do, it is dangerous and I don't like it. He does not see it this way, though. He refuses to see it."

Slowly she nods along, taking it in.

"What way does he see it?"

"That I am taking away his happiness, that I want him to be unhappy." Wanda says, words low, strung apart. "His boyfriend works with a security team, or something. He wants to work at the office. And because I am not happy for him, he thinks I am trying to stop him from being happy."

And it hurts me, she thinks, and never says. She doesn't say it to Darcy, and she doesn't think she will ever be able to say it to her brother, but she still feels it. She's hurt by it and she feels a little lonely because of it, and she hates the way it feels.

"And you're worried it will be more than office work?" Darcy asks. "You're worried he's gonna get hurt there?"

She nods. "Yes. And I don't know what to do."

"Look, I don't really know what to say that could help you feel better. But I can say that sometimes things are just out of our control." Darcy tells her, between bites of chocolate. "Life has a way of shaking things up. Sometimes you have to let it, and just see how it falls. I can tell you care about him. And he knows that. But maybe this is something he needs."

Wanda tenses up. "What if it hurts him?"

"Obviously I can't say that it won't. But I can say that it sounds like he'll be fine." she says. "Sounds dull, working in an office doing all that admin. And being surrounded by cool, nice people. He'll be totally safe. And maybe this is just something he needs to do. Maybe you just need to trust him, and yourself, and see where it takes you."

She hums, fiddling with her cigarette. "So, you said something about a thing with a guy. Who is the guy?"

"Oh. You sure you want to hear about that? I mean, it's fine. I'll probably just end up bottling it all up and then bursting later."

Wanda turns to her, half-smiling. "I don't mind. Really. You listened to me. So I don't mind. What is this thing with the guy?"

"O-kay, so it's just a bit of a long story. To summarize it: I fell for the guy that everyone tells you not to fall for. He's a dick. He doesn't always mean to be, and he can be different to me, but he is also sometimes a dick. And to his brother? Okay, so he's not always Mr. Nice guy. But at the same time, he can be nice and kind. And circling back to my point, I fell for him. I knew what it would be like. I knew how I'd feel. And I fell anyway. Now there's nothing I can do about it."

"How did you fall for him?" she asks.

Darcy smiles again. "Hard. Fast. In the worst possible way. It's just—sometimes you can't help what your heart wants. It sounds like such sappy bullshit, but my heart wants him. And I should have expected all of this from him, and I did, and now I just feel stupid."

"You're not stupid, for following what your heart wanted. You're brave for letting yourself follow it." Wanda says, pausing for a moment. "What did he do? Why does it hurt now?"

"He pushes me away, at every turn. And with every step we make, he pulls away. He always comes back. But he always leaves again, too."

Wanda stops, only to stub out her cigarette.

"And you aren't happy?"

"No, I'm—well, I don't know. I don't know what I am, or what I want." Darcy answers, as she finishes her wine. "I know I need to figure it out. And I know I like him, but it's hard because I don't always know what he wants. I thought I knew, but I'm not so sure. He panics, and I see it, and I don't know."

"You should give him time. To think, and figure out what it is he wants." she tells her soon. "Then come back to it. And if he does not want the things you do, then I think you should find what you need for yourself. Leave him to his thoughts, to his decision, and if he comes back then it's meant to be. And if he doesn't come back? Then you will find what you're looking for in yourself, and maybe one day in someone else."

Darcy turns to her, a smile growing on her lips. "Dude, you are seriously good at dishing out advice. Maybe you're the one who can read minds."

"You deserve to be happy, Darcy. I don't know you, but I know this. And I hope you find this happiness with him. But if you don't, then you will find it in yourself and in someone else."

"You're so wise. I feel like—already, I can see this is gonna be the start of an awesome friendship." she smiles, nudging Wanda's arm lightly. "I am so glad we were both sitting out there today, because this crappy night has totally turned around for me."

"Me too."

"I'm so glad to hear that. And thank you, for listening to my boy trouble. If you want to do the same, I'm totally here for you. I will just go grab us some Pop-tarts, and then we can really get into this."

There's a man, she thinks, briefly. It is nothing, but he's still on her mind, and Wanda isn't sure what to make of it all. She says nothing and just smiles, then finishes her glass of wine, while Darcy leaves to pull a few things from her fridge. She soon starts to think about tonight and how surprised she is that the smile on her lips is so real, but for a fleeting second she still finds herself thinking about him.

"So more wine?" Darcy calls back. "And we really need to talk about your style, girl. Okay? Because I am borrowing that whole outfit ASAP."

 

* * * *

 

There's something bright playing on the TV when Wanda returns. She comes back smelling of cigarettes and Darcy's perfume, after their hug good-bye. She walks into the apartment with a little uncertainty, closing the door slowly. She's drunk, and she hasn't been this drunk in a while, so she's a little off balance. Wanda fiddles with the lock until it finally shuts, and then there's a voice behind her and when she turns around she finds Clint. He's standing there with his arms folded over his chest, and a deep frown creased over his face. She doesn't think too much about why he's looking at her the way he is. She thinks maybe three glasses of wine ago she might have cared, but right now she doesn't.

Wanda struggles at getting her coat off at first, and then it's off and she slings it over the coat-rack, failing the first time. Once it's hanging there, she makes her way over to the kitchen to leave her keys in the ceramic red tray on the bench—she stops before she gets there, when she forgets what else she wanted from the kitchen. Clint follows her anyway. She hears the movie still playing on the TV, but pays little attention to it as Clint steps in front of her and waits.

"What?"

He arches an eyebrow. "You're not gonna say anything?"

There's a moment when she almost answers and then she leaves, moving to the sink to fill a glass of water. Wanda fills it, leans into the bench, and drinks most of it. She rinses the glass after, then leans back into the bench again and watches as Clint follows her over, moving quietly over the floorboards.

"Well?"

"What?" she asks. "Well what, Clint?"

"You need to talk to him. You need to sort this."

Then she hears it. There's a slur to his words that she picks up on, and when she looks to the sink she notices the empty bottles and beer cans there. She knows they've been drinking and that they've probably talked about it a lot tonight. It's not something she wants to talk about anymore. She doesn't care, not tonight. She wants to sleep so she moves away, but then Clint places a soft hand to her forearm and stops her. Wanda looks up right away, and that's when Clint drops his hand and takes a step back, giving her space.

He pulls out a chair, gesturing for her to join him. Wanda takes a minute, then combs the messy strands of her back off her face as she sits down.

"Well, what is it?" Wanda asks, once she's seated. "What do I need to sort?"

"You know what it is. It's this shit with your brother." he says. "It upset him. And I know it upset you. I hate thinking you're both upset by this."

Wanda waits, watching him. "You don't know, Clint."

"Really? Because I was with him after. All night I listened to him talk about how he felt." Clint explains, leaning closer. He pauses, dragging a hand across his tired face. "You both said things you didn't mean, and I think—"

"I said nothing I didn't mean."

"Okay, listen..You gotta give me something to work with, sweetheart." he sighs again. "Alright? You both said things that hurt each other, then. How's that? And now it's time to step up and do something about it. Talk it out with him. You need to. You can't pretend like it's gonna go away. That's not how it works."

Wanda's gaze feels heavy, and a little cold suddenly.

"You think I do not know how it works?" she asks, leaning forward. "He is my brother. I have known him for my entire life. I have loved him since we were born. I know how he works. I know how this works. I do not need you to sit here and tell me how this works, or how I am supposed to feel."

"Alright, look, I'm not—I'm not trying to step in, where I'm not wanted. Okay? And I'm not doing either of those things. But I'm just trying to tell you that you're both similar. You're both stubborn, and good, and you want to take care of each other. Don't let this ruin things. He's your best-friend. I know you're his, too. So remember that. At the end of it all, this fight won't matter."

"Zašto radiš to? Želiš da budem nesretan?" she tells him, stopping only to breathe in sharply. "Sretan sam. Želim biti sretan umjesto da budem poput tebe."

It feels like the words hurt her, even as she says them. She feels them, burning. Her eyes burn. She doesn't wipe them. It passes. Wanda's gaze stays on Clint as he stares at her waiting for an explanation, and it's then that she understands her brother hasn't told him this. He doesn't know what it means. He doesn't know why her heart hurts to hear these words.

Wanda pulls away, leaning back into her chair.

"You don't know what he said? He asked me why? Why did I want him to be unhappy?" she says soon, looking at him for a second. "I only want him to be healthy, and happy, and safe. And this is what he asks me. He asks me why I want this? And then he tells me that he wants to be happy, instead of being like me."

He didn't know. It's clear now. Clint drags a hand over his face then leans forward, trying to stay close because she knows from the way he's looking at her that he feels it. He feels her pulling back, from this, from them, and he's trying to hold on to something he doesn't want them to lose.

"I didn't know that. But he did tell me he felt bad." he sighs. "Wanda, he's trying to do something for himself. I know you're worried, but you don't need to be. He won't be in danger. You have my word."

She looks away from him again, far away, and over to the light coming from the television that's seeping out all over the darkness. It distracts her, but not for too long. She's left waiting to find the words before she voices them. Wanda thinks of Pietro's words, and Darcy's, and then her own. It comes together slowly, and she lets it because she just wants this conversation to be over.

"It is not my life. If he wants to do this, it is his choice."

"He only wants to do what's right. And he feels like this is it. You gotta understand—"

"I understand it perfectly." Wanda pushes herself up from her chair. "And now we're done, yes?"

He sighs, moving to follow her. "Wanda."

"Move. I am tired, and I do not want to talk about this."

"Just wait, okay? One sec. That's all I'm asking for. Just hear me out, then I'll never bring it up again." Clint says, voice warm, and low. "You two will have to talk about it eventually. Please remember that. He loves you. And he just wants to do this for himself, and for you. You just have to see that, right? And I know he already sees the things he said were wrong. He feels really bad, for upsetting you. So please just think about it calmly, and think about talking to him in the morning."

She feels the tiredness run over her now. It seeps into her. Wanda stares away, stares ahead, for the longest time, before she eventually drags her gaze back to Clint's. It's obvious now that he cares, and that's about all she can take away from the way he's looking at her. He cares about helping them, and he wants things to be better for both of them. Wanda sighs, shutting her eyes as she reaches on to a chair nearby to hold.

"It is not my life. It is his to live how he wants. I see this, I always have." Wanda says soon. "Now please, enough for tonight. I need to sleep."

When her eyes open half a second later, Clint's still there. He's waiting like he wants to say more, but she leaves before he can. She leaves and finds the quiet of her room to be a calming place. Wanda climbs into bed, shoes and all. She pulls up one of her throw rugs over her and settles into the darkness, and the comfort of her large, soft bed. She leaves the lights above the bed off and keeps the curtains closed, to keep the moonlight out. It's mostly dark and tonight she likes it this way.

She feels like she could slip away into the darkness and float there. She wants to. Wanda imagines how it would feel to exist there and to float, in nothing, and to just be away from reality. It leaves her craving what she doesn't have. She wants weed, and a bath, and she wants to find balance, and she can't. Her eyes shut tighter now when she starts to think about his words again and it hurts. It feels heavy in her chest, in a way that even a good night spent with a new friend can't help. She's not sure that there's any escape from it tonight—until there's a knock at her door that wakes her up from it all.

Wanda doesn't want to talk to Clint again, so she ignores it. She pretends like she doesn't hear it and leaves it, half-buried under her blankets. Then he knocks again, and again, and she leaves it. She leans forward, kicks off her shoes, and settles back in. Her eyes shut, and she realizes now that they feel heavy and tired. She fights the feelings that want to catch up to her and she stays there, sleepy in the darkness.

"Wanda, jesi li budna?"

She props her head up to find Pietro by the door. He's hovering between the door-frame. She watches him lingering there and frowns a little.

"Jesam. Zašto?"

"Can I come in?" he calls back.

It feels too late, and she feels too tired. Wanda sighs and stretches back down, feeling the weariness growing inside of her. It's fresh, and deep, and she feels like it's one of those nights where she can't ignore it. She closes her eyes, leaving him waiting by the door.

"Sestra?"

Wanda closes her eyes, harder. "Umorna sam."

He doesn't leave the space by the cracked open door.

"Please." Pietro says. "Nisam spavao. Ne mogu."

Then she decides that he hears her sigh again, because he walks into the room anyway and leaves the door half-open. Pietro is quiet as he moves over the floor, and soon he's near Wanda's bed. He perches on the edge of it, then stretches out to rest on the bed next to her. He pulls the blankets up with her as he moves to join her, fixing them, and tucking her in so she's warm and covered. Wanda opens her eyes but says nothing, not for a while. It feels like hours before she speaks again.

"Why can't you sleep?" she asks him. "What is it?"

"It is what happened before."

She says nothing and waits for him to leave, but he doesn't. Wanda feels tired still, and she wants this to be over, but she knows he will not leave now until it is. Pietro stays close behind her, and for so long he is so quiet that she wonders if he's sleeping, but he isn't.

"Please say something, Sestra."

Wanda sighs, opening her eyes to the darkness.

"Umorna sam, ne želim razgovarati o tome."

"I know, I do. And I am sorry. I know you are tired, but I wanted to be here. I had to tell you I was sorry." Pietro explains quietly. "I wanted you to know that I was sorry, and that I was angry when I said those things. And I did not mean them. If it means this much, I will not take this job."

"Piet, I do not want to talk about this now, or ever again. This is your life, not mine. This is all I have to say."

A few minutes later, Pietro moves on the bed and she thinks he is leaving. Then she feels him move close and put an arm around her to hug her, to hold her like when they were little kids. Her eyes close slowly and she remembers holding on to him when they were younger, and smaller, and all they had left in the world.

"Volim te. Žao mi je zbog onoga što sam rekao."

I love you, he tells her, I'm sorry. Wanda breathes in sharply, eyes opening to the darkness again. Pietro stays close, holding her, and keeping her warm and protected like he's always wanted to. She stretches out to find his hand, then holds on lightly.

"I want you to be happy. This is all I want. How could think this is not what I want?" she says quietly. "Your happiness matters more to me than anything else. I thought you knew this."

Pietro holds her a little tighter. "I know, and I am sorry. I have always known it. Wanda, I am—what I said, I should not have said. And I did not mean it."

"I only wish for you to be happy."

"What of yourself? I want this for you, too. I do not want to be the reason you are not happy. And I do not want you to think I meant what I said."

"You are not why. And I am not unhappy, I am just.."

Tired, she thinks. Weary. Older. She says none of this, but Pietro already knows and she decides then that her brother is much more aware of things than she sometimes thinks he is. He hugs her tighter, then moves a hand to brush her hair lightly, like their mother used to, and like he did when they were children and their mother was gone. For a while they are like this, and in the quiet she knows his closeness says more than words ever will.

"I do not want you to be unhappy because of me." Wanda tells him gently. "What I want is for us both to be happy."

"I am sorry, for what I said. For all I said. I am happy, except when we are fighting or when you are upset with me."

Wanda sighs, squeezing her eyes shut. "Be happy. If you want this, then you must do your job. But be safe, please. Always be safe."

"Da, hocu. Uvijek cu biti na sigurnom." he promises sweetly, while stroking her hair softly. "Toliko te volim, sestro moja."

She takes it in slowly, a hand still loosely clutched to Pietro's hand. She thinks of it all, of what happened those night ago, and then of their past, and she knows it is not worth fighting now. It is over, she decides, squeezing his hand. They are in this together, and they always will be, and all of the little things don't matter at all compared to what he means to her and how much she loves him.

"Hvala, dragi brate." Wanda tells him. "I ja tebe volim"

Chapter Text

Sokovia burns in her dreams again. There's a fire burning in the sky, that's dark and gray, and it bleeds red into her dreams. Wanda wakes alone in her bed, with the covers pulled up to her neck. She wakes feeling warm, a little sweaty, and her head aches faintly. There's a glass of water on the stand by her bed with an aspirin that she is immediately thankful for. Her gaze pulls away from the water and aspirin a minute later, and over to her door that's cracked open just enough for Wanda to hear the music playing in the kitchen.

It's sounds like someone's singing along with the music too, and usually it doesn't bother her to wake up to it. It never bothers her, it's just that today the music is making her migraine much worse. Wanda kicks the blankets off and pulls herself to the edge of the bed, determined to take the aspirin and get rid of her migraine. She sits there for a minute then takes the aspirin with her water.

Then she retreats to her shower, stripping off her clothes and stepping under the cool stream of water. It always helps her feel better. She tips her head back under the water and leaves the cold stream to run down over her. It trickles down slowly, and when she feels better she steps under it completely and allows it to wash away last night. It washes away the words, the alcohol, and all of those other little thoughts that linger in the mornings. She scrubs herself until she feels better, until she feels clean, and then steps back into her room to dress for the morning.

Wanda slides on a red skirt, tugging it up to her hips and tying it in a knot around her waist, and she wears it with a black shirt that is long, old, and covered by spots of paint in a few places, but it's still a favorite of hers. She combs out her hair by the mirror after she's dressed, and then leaves her face (bruises, and marks, and all) as they are, not applying any make-up to them. She doesn't feel like she needs it today, and not because the bruises and marks aren't still there because they are. Most remain, even if many are fading slowly.

She doesn't want to care about the bruises today, she doesn't want to have to cover them. She never feels like she has to cover them around Pietro and Clint, so she doesn't. She leaves them as they and steps out of her bedroom a moment later to find the two of them in the kitchen, singing to an upbeat song on the radio. Clint's making breakfast in the kitchen, while Pietro is reclined back in one of the chairs by the table.

They glance up when she enters, walking into the space slowly. Pietro's got a piece of toast stuffed into his mouth but he still waves her over. Then there's Clint cooking breakfast, with a lit cigarette dangling between his lips before he puts it out and smiles.

"Hey, Wanda. How'd you sleep?

"We didn't mean to wake you, sorry." Pietro adds. "Did you rest well?"

"Yes, I slept fine." Wanda nods, as she pours herself a cup of coffee. "Thank you for not waking me so early."

There's a pause between them that isn't tense or awkward, or really anything at all. It's just a pause, only there for a moment before it's gone again. Pietro gestures over to the seat next to him, then clears a space for Wanda at the table. She pulls out the chair and looks at him closely, realizing a moment later that his smile is very uncertain and filled with the regrets of last night. Wanda smiles a little, only stopping to drink some coffee because she really needs some today.

"So are you both excited for this party tonight?" Wanda asks, glancing between the two of them. "You know what you will wear, yes?"

Over by the bench, Clint makes a low noise that sounds like a scoff. He finishes what he's doing and joins them, placing three plates down on the table and quickly sitting down to join them.

"Your brother plans every outfit he wears." Clint smiles. "Of course he knows. He always knows what to wear, and how to wear it."

Pietro shrugs, swiftly picking up a glass of orange juice. "What can I say? Except I like to look nice and I know how to."

"You always look nice, babe." Clint answers, between bites of breakfast. "And you know that."

There's a quiet hum from Pietro, who gives another shrug and continues to eat his food. It leaves Wanda to her thoughts, of the party and what it will be like, and then she looks up and finds Pietro's curious gaze set on her like he's trying to read her and she knows that he can't. She smiles to reassure him, to let him feel better about their talk yesterday, and she sees it work almost right away. His shoulders sort of relax and then his smile brightens, and she knows he's feeling better about it all now. She wants to feel better about it too, she wants to let it go and move on.

Wanda knows his words only came from his frustrations, she knows they weren't true because she knows him. It doesn't change how Wanda feels about this job, and the risk of him working there, but she's not sure there's anything that could change the way she feels about it. She knows that her fears only come from the place inside of her that's afraid to lose her brother. Wanda fears what losing him would do to her. She knows she couldn't survive it. She also knows that she can't stop him from doing what he wants, and that if this is what will make him happy then she doesn't want to take it from him.

"So tell me about this job." Wanda says, sliding her mug of coffee away for the moment. "When do you start?"

The two of them share a look, then quickly turn to her.

"Whenever he's up to you, you know?" Clint answers. "It just depends on things."

"Things, like what?" she asks.

"Like if when quits, or if he's still interested. That's all I meant."

Wanda nods, turning to her brother. "If you are leaving, you have to tell your work. You can't just leave them. It wouldn't be fair." she pauses, resting her elbows forward on the table. "I am only concerned about this job now because I do not think you are so good at sitting in an office. You can barely sit still here at home, unless you are watching something very good or Clint is here with you. But that is all I will say about it."

"I want us to be happy, Wanda. I want us all to be. And to have money." Pietro tells her. "You work too much. You have always worked too much. I want to take some of this stress from you. I want to work and earn more money for this reason. I will think about it, but I appreciate what you are saying now."

She smiles. "I understand. You will tell me when you make a decision?"

"Of course." Pietro says, and then squeezes her hand. "Now, tell me you are decided on what to wear tonight. Yes?"

"Yes, of course."

"I knew you would be. Clint is still fussing." Pietro smiles, relaxing more. "What time do we leave again?"

"How's 6 sound?" Clint answers belatedly, after thinking on it. "Gives us time to get there and look around. And time for me to..Keep fussing. You know me. Apparently I fuss."

It sounds nice, she decides, and like a welcomed distraction. It's not that she hasn't been looking forward to the party, it's more that she hasn't really felt anything towards it. She hasn't felt excited or anxious, she's been somewhere in between until now where she feels like it could be the kind of distraction she needs.

She smiles, picking up her coffee again. "Yes, this sounds good."

"What will you do today, before the party?" Pietro asks, half a minute later. "The park, or something at home?"

There's a moment where Clint pauses. Then he clears his throat, drinks a little coffee, and looks back up at the two of them like he's searching for a silent confirmation that Pietro knows about the training. It's more than that. Clint's looking to know what Wanda has told Pietro, and he knows from a look at Wanda that she hasn't told him yet. She will tell him the whole story, she just needs time.

"So you two talked about that training thing?" Clint asks casually.

"Yes, Wanda told me. She is training with your friend." Pietro pauses, smiling more. "You know the one with the blue eyes. The, uh—the pretty one yes? With the muscles, and the nice body. It is Steve, yes?"

Clint turns to Pietro, hiding a smile. "Really? That's what you're going with? The 'pretty one?' That's how you talk about him?"

He shrugs, smiling. "What? He is very pretty. Isn't he, Wanda?"

"Nope. Wrong answer, babe." Clint nudges his arm. "That is—yep, that is not the right answer."

Pietro's smile turns into a grin. "He is cute when is jealous, isn't he?" he sighs, glancing between them. "And I have only said this for Wanda. He is pretty to you, isn't he?"

"Oh, oh. Uh, no. Steve's taken, remember? He's with Nat. So they're dating, and they have been for a long time." Clint quickly clears it up. "I think it's real sweet you're trying to set your sister up with our pretty friend Steve, but he's good."

"And so am I." Wanda adds in, half-smiling. "I am more than good, thank you."

"I am just saying this because they seem like they would make a good couple."

"Yeah I know, bud. Your intentions are fine." Clint smiles, patting him on the back. "But I'm sure your sister doesn't need you to set her up. I'm sure she can handle that side of her life just fine."

"Mm, yes. She can. And she really doesn't want to discuss this anymore." Wanda says soon, smiling. "And I think I will just stay home today. What will you two do today?"

They both speak at the same time, talking over each other.

"Maybe go for a run to feel better." Pietro says.

"Stay in and rest." comes Clint's reply. "Always makes me feel a little less shitty."

"Well, I'm sure you will both have fun together. And I will see you sometime tonight for the party." Wanda says, leaving to carry her coffee to the sink. "Thank you for breakfast. It was very nice, thank you. If you need me I will be in my room."

"No problem, Wanda. See you later."

She clears her plate off, rinses it, and leaves it to dry, and then she's on the way back to her room. It's just as she almost gets there that she sees the little pink sticky note stuck to the railing of the fire-escape. It catches Wanda's attention, even though it somehow missed theirs. She steps over to the window, sticks her head out of it and picks the note off the glass. Then she leans back inside the window and reads it over.

 

so last night was LOTS of fun, thank you again (for all of it)
Would love to do it again soon. Let me know? - Darcy XOXO

 

Wanda tucks the note away and carries it back to her room, and there she places it in the drawer by her bed, where she often leaves little notes and things she doesn't want to lose. It goes away with her other letters and little trinkets she keeps in there. After she puts it away, Wanda starts to think about the fun they had last night and she finds herself smiling without even realizing it right away. She tidies up her room and takes care of the washing, still happy, still smiling thinking about last night, and then thinking about having drinks and chocolate with Darcy again.

Once Wanda finishes up sorting and hanging out the washing, she passes the kitchen and finds Pietro and Clint throwing soap bubbles from the sink at each other. She leaves them to it, closing the door to her room and turning to the now tidied, large space. She turns on the radio in there and starts to pull together her outfit for the night. She wants to feel comfortable and to look nice, and at the same time she wants to conceal the bruises and grazes still lingering on her skin.

She only realizes how much she's avoided looking at her body, at the marks and bruises, until now. She turns to her mirror in the bedroom, removes her clothes, and steps up to look at her body in the bright, warm daylight of this Friday morning. She knows she shouldn't really be surprised to see that they're still there, but she is. Wanda notices that many are faded, but others bruises on her body are only darker now.

Her eyes wander down to the graze on her right thigh, and it's mostly just a scab healing over now. She hates the way it looks so raw against her skin. Wanda quickly pulls her clothes back on and ends up perched on the seat by the vanity, staring at the bruises on her wrist. In some places her skin is marked yellow, and in others it's spotted black or purple from the bruises. For a while she is lost staring at the bruises, until she pulls herself away from the mirror and over to her art books and paint brushes.

It's a distraction that she needs. It's messy and a little unclear, and really it's just like a blur of color, but she enjoys the distraction and the break from her thoughts. She paints a shadow that almost turns into a face. Then she paints a sky again and it's dark, and faintly red, and there are pieces of green and a dull blue scattered through it. She leaves both paintings to dry after she finishes and washes her hands at the sink in the bathroom, watching the paint and the color run from her palms and away with the water.

Then she returns and begins the task of choosing her clothes for the night. This takes a while, it takes longer than she expects it to. Wanda goes through several outfit changes, picking different shoes to match a dress, or changing the outfit completely to match the earrings she might wear. She throws it all away and back on the bed and starts over again. She settles on a dress, changes her mind one last time, then she finds the right one.

A strapless, lace black dress that fits well, and is long and trails behind her just a little. The front plunges subtly, and it curves around her body in a way that feels close and wavy, and not tight at all. It needs something to go with it, so she pairs it with a thin, dark shawl that is patterned with intricate details and beads. She puts it over her arms and adjusts it, until the shawl hangs over her forearms and wraps loosely around her back.

Wanda picks out jewellery after all of this. There's a row of bracelets on her dresser that she picks up and slips on. Then she tries on four different necklaces, and ends up going with the fifth choice. The first is a loose, silver choker like chain, that wraps around her neck twice, and isn't actually a choker but it looks like one. The next is a pendant hanging off a silver chain, which doesn't really go even though she wishes it would. Her third option is a gold necklace with a curved moon, but it also doesn't go with her outfit. The fourth is a simple silver chain with a stone hanging from it that also doesn't work with the outfit, and that's how she ends up trying on the black choker necklace. It's lace, and curves down at the front like a tear-drop around her neck. It works, it goes with the outfit, and she's glad that it does. She leaves it with the dress, removes everything, and pulls on her old clothes again.

She focuses on the accessories again after she's done picking out the rest of her things for the night. She only focuses on them when she can't stop her mind from wandering. It doesn't wander to thoughts of Sokovia, or to her brother. It wanders to something else, to someone else. She focuses on her rings. She pulls out rings of gold and silver, dropping them on the bed next to black bands and silver rings with gemstones in them. She adds several more rings to the pile, then pulls out two lipsticks to choose between. After all of this, she picks a perfume for the night and pulls out her little black clutch from a box under her bed.

And then she's done, until she realizes she needs to pick her shoes. She's glad everything else is sorted, like her mask and make-up. She picked out her mask earlier in the week, and she's happy enough with it. It's a thin, black mask that curves up over her face. It's wiry and elegant, and makes her eyes stand out when she's wearing it. There's a black ribbon to tie it on with, and the mask is covered with tiny little red gemstones shaped like circles.

She tries a pair of red velvet boots to go with the red gemstones in her mask but it doesn't work, it needs something simpler. That's how she ends up trying on a pair of her thick black heels, with straps around the ankles and a silver buckle to clip them in with. She's flooded with a small relief after this, to know it's over now and it's sorted, and now she can spend the rest of the day getting lost in her art and in the dark sky she starts to paint on an empty canvas.

 

* * * *

 

6PM rolls around too quickly.

Wanda's at the vanity, fixing a few stray pieces of her hair and applying a thin layer of lipstick when she hears a knock at the door. She knows it's Clint before he even speaks, because Pietro always knocks loudly or barges in after calling out that he's coming in. Clint always waits. She leans back on the seat, listening as Clint's voice echoes through the wooden door a few seconds later.

"Hey, sweetheart. Just waiting for your brother to finish up, then we're good to go." Clint calls out soon. "We can take a cab, maybe get some a few drinks before the party. Catch up with some people and all of that. Listen, I promise you won't like most of them at first. Actually, I guarantee it. But Nat is really easy to like, and you know Steve already. So it's gonna be a fun, fun night."

It lingers in the quiet after, before Wanda clears her throat and turns back to the mirror.

"Thank you, Clint. I'll be out soon." 

It sounds like he hangs around for a minute, then steps away. "No problem, Wanda. It's gonna take me some time to wrangle your brother out of his room, he's having trouble picking the right cologne. We'll hit the road as soon as you two are ready, so just take all the time you need."

Her eyes stay on her reflection once Clint leaves, to pull Pietro from his room where she imagines him struggling to pick out a cologne to wear for the night. It gives her a moment to finish getting ready and she's glad for it. There's not much left for her to do anyway, but she still needs a minute. Her eyes scan over her reflection in the mirror and her first thought is that she looks different. It's not that she doesn't look like herself, it's not that at all. It's just more that now with her make-up on, all of the bruises and scratches on her skin are covered up. Most have healed well but some linger, and right now they're covered and it's like it never happened at all and she looks different. She looks like herself.

She looks at her face closely in the mirror and feels relieved that there are no signs on her skin of what happened. Wanda only feels so relieved by it because she knows tonight will be trying enough, and to have to wonder if anyone was staring at her bruises would have been too much. Now she doesn't have to worry about it, so she feels much better about it all. She's still a little stressed about it all, and it's not because she doesn't love to party because she does.

Wanda loves parties in the cities. She loves going to new clubs, losing herself to the music, and trying new drinks. She's just never been to a party like this before, and she already knows what it will be like and this is why it's stressing her. Pietro will love everything about tonight. He will fall in love with all the bright, shiny, neon things at the Stark party, and it will be an amazing night for him. But for her? She doesn't know what it will be like and she doesn't know how she will feel being there, and this is what gets to her now.

The only thing that she can do is try to enjoy it, so that's what she decides to do. She closes her eyes, breaths out slowly, then looks back to the mirror and takes a longer look at her outfit. Her eyes soon flicker down to the bracelets she's wearing, one is silver and curves down to her fingers, the other is golden with a red gemstone in it. She likes the way it looks with her outfit. It goes with her rings, too. She loves her rings, she always wears them. She loves any reason to wear more of them. Tonight most of them are long and deeply detailed, but there are also simple silver bands and darkly colored rings scattered across her fingers that sparkle under the light.

Her eyes wander over herself after this, stopping on her lips and the shade of lipstick she's wearing tonight. It's a dark shade that's so dark it almost looks like red tinted black in certain lights. She wears it with eyeliner, a dark eye-shadow, and mascara. She applies a little more lipstick then leaves to retrieve her shawl on the bed, where she left it next to her keys and phone. Wanda pulls the shawl on slowly and then waits, as the sound of footsteps moving around outside of her bedroom lets her know that they're ready to go. She takes one last look at herself in the mirror, to fix her hair before she leaves. Her long, curly hair hangs out over her back tonight, while a few wavy strands hanging forward over her shoulders. There's also a messy braid at the back of her hair that she fixed up earlier. It looks nice and it's not her worst attempt at a braid. She's happy enough with it all, so she turns off the lights and leaves without looking back.

Outside of her bedroom, Wanda finds Clint and Pietro waiting near the door together. She quickly checks she's got everything before she joins them. Her mask is in her clutch, along with her keys, lipstick, and phone. Satisfied that she has all that she needs, Wanda adjusts her shawl to hang over her arms and cover the little bruises left on her skin. Then she looks up at the two of them and takes a moment to remember it, and to think about how nice and how happy they look together.

For a moment they don't notice her and she's glad that they don't see her yet. They're less guarded now, and it lets her see them for a moment. She takes it in, watching as Clint fixes up Pietro's tie while Pietro reaches out and tries to fix Clint's hair at the front. It's a sweet little moment, and it feels good to see the two of them so happy.

Pietro's suit is purple but it isn't a bright shade. It's ashy and dark, and he wears it with sleek black shoes and a thin black tie. He's also wearing his favorite pair of black sunglasses. Clint's suit is a nice in-between of dark and light blue. It's almost gray, and she finds it sweet that they're matching in very subtle ways. Clint's shirt, under the suit coat, is pale blue and striped, while Pietro's tie is blue to match Clint's suit. It's very sweet and she finds herself smiling as she watches them. Clint finishes fixing Pietro's tie up soon, and as soon as he's done he smacks Pietro's hand away, the hand that's still trying to get into his hair to fix it up.

"You know that those are not masks, yes?" she calls out.

Now they both turn to her, quickly smiling when they see her. Pietro's grin widens as he makes a point of glancing Wanda's outfit over. Then his smile turns sweeter and it feels good to see him this happy, and she finds that she suddenly forgets about her stresses about the night. She only wants for them all to be happy, and to see that they are relaxes her. Wanda joins them soon, walking over slowly to her brother's side.

"Wanda, you look lovely." Clint smiles, swatting Pietro's hand away from his hair one last time. "You really do."

"For once, he is right about something." Pietro steps over, smiling. "You look very, very beautiful. As always, sister."

"You both look very nice, too."

Pietro's smile grows, turning softer and wider. "Izgledaš lijepo." he tells her sweetly. "Uvijek je tako."

It makes Wanda smile. He's always been the charmer. "Laskaš mi."

There's a small, effortless shrug from Pietro. "Ja samo govorim istinu."

Her brother's smile stays and grows, as he walks over to reach out and touch the fabric of Wanda's shawl. He takes a look at her rings next, and is mostly interested in the ones with gems and stones. He spends a moment looking at the rings he likes the most, and while he's doing that Clint picks up their keys, phones, and wallets. The last thing he gets, the one thing he almost forgets, are their masks for the night. He joins them by the door soon, smiling again.

"This is gonna be fun." Clint promises. "Just you wait and see."

Pietro agrees. "It will be. And I am so glad you are coming with us, Wanda." he leaves now, walking over to the door a little. "We will have a fun night, you will see. I will make sure we all have a fun time."

She nods, smiling slowly. "I am sure we will have lots of fun."

After they check one last time that they have everything they need, they leave to get a cab downstairs. Wanda locks up, while Clint and Pietro run outside to call a cab. She joins them there after locking up the apartment, and she soon finds them waiting outside a cab, bickering a little about Clint's hair and Pietro's tie. It's only sweet, playful bickering. It stops when she joins them, and Clint opens up the door for Wanda. She climbs in first, then Pietro and Clint follow. Pietro wedges into the middle between them, fidgeting with the corners of his mask. Clint gives the cab driver their destination once he's settled and then they're off, and Wanda is left with a quiet feeling about how she's actually looking forward to this, if only for the free alcohol and the distraction the night will surely give them all.

"Just have to swing by and pick a friend up. He's a couple blocks away, and his thing ran late. So we might as well help him out." Clint explains soon, peering past Pietro to look at Wanda. "He's an alright guy. Listen, he can be full on. He's very chatty. Don't get me wrong, he's still a really good guy. He's just super chatty, and I know that's not always your thing. And no, Pietro. before you ask, he's not single. He's happily committed, okay?"

Pietro flips out his phone after this, as he scoffs quietly.

"Don't worry, I am mostly happy with my pretty boyfriend. He is cranky sometimes, but I am fine. Thank you for asking though."

"Hoćeš li prestati?" Wanda whispers, nudging Pietro hard in the ribs. "Dobro sam. Molim te, prestani."

He tugs away from her and leans into Clint, pretending to look shocked.

"Za što je to bilo? Ne radim ništa."

Wanda rolls her eyes, looking away. "Yes, but you were before. Weren't you?"

Now he leans into her, sighing. "Samo sam se pitao o Steveu prije. Obecajem da necu više. Sada razumijem. U redu?" he smiles, kissing her cheek. "Ti trebaš naci svoju srecu. I jednog dana hoceš."

It's the last part that stays with her, out of everything her brother says. You need to find your happiness. And one day you will. She knows what he means by it. He is genuine and soft, and it all comes from a good place in his heart. Pietro only cares about her, he only wants her to be happy like he is, and like she was once. She doesn't want to talk about that, about any of this, but she also doesn't want to upset her brother. So Wanda just smiles at him, accepts it, and leaves it. Or she tries to leave it, but Clint's curious and he's getting better at learning Sokovian.

"Yeah, so I'm a bit rusty but I think I picked up a couple things." Clint says, smacking his lips together. "You guys crushing on Steve together or something?"

Pietro smiles but tries to hide it. "On je sladak kad je ljubomoran, zar ne?"

It leaves Wanda smiling a little, to see her brother so happy and so playful. He is only being sweet, and after this he turns to Clint and whispers a few small, muttered words just for him. She leaves them to this. She leaves them to their moment, to their little bubble of happiness, and it stays this way for a while. She doesn't know how long it lasts, or how long they're in the cab for, before it stops again. She's distracted by songs on the radio and the city around them. She's so distracted that she doesn't realize the cab stops until the door opens and a man climbs in, wearing a black jacket over a red shirt, and a tie that's covered in some kind of yellow pattern.

"Hey, guys. Hey. How's it going? Thanks so much." he calls back, fixing his tie as the taxi takes off again. "You're a legend, Clint. Really man, you're my hero. Thank you, man. You're the best."

"It's alright, anytime. It's just a cab." Clint calls back. "Guys, this is Scott Lang. And Scott, you know Pietro. This is his sister Wanda." 

Once Scott is all finished fixing up his tie, he looks at the three of them over the back-seat and smiles. His face is kind for a stranger, and his smile is so warm and friendly that it feels comfortable right away. It almost makes Wanda smile just to see his smile, and to see how kind he looks already. Scott glances over them and grins, stretching out to shake Pietro's hand. He doesn't reach it over the seat, so Pietro leans forward to shake his hand. Pietro seems amused, but she knows it's because he must like Scott. He seems like he does. Scott tries to reach Wanda's hand but she's too far away, so he just waves at her and smiles again.

"Nice to meet you. Both of you. And Clint, it's always great to see you, buddy." Scott says, turning to face them a little more. "You know how much I can't stand Stark. So coming to this thing with you will make me feel less like a fish out of water."

Pietro speaks up first. "If you don't like him, why come to his party?"

He laughs a little, then gives a look that says 'this guy? am I right?'. Then Scott turns back to Pietro, suddenly a little more serious when he realizes that he doesn't understand what he's laughing about, or what he's talking about.

"Well, you know, he's a Stark. Also Hank Pym always said you could never trust a Stark." Scott tells them soon. "The only reason I'm going is because Hope will be there. She's my girlfriend. Her name is Hope. I wasn't saying like that kind of hope will be there. I meant Hope, as in—well, you get it. So I heard they have appetizers? And I'm down for that. I love all that little food. Kinda makes me feel like a giant."

Wanda feels a little curious, a little bored, and in need of a distraction. She finds one in this.

"Why can't you trust a Stark?" she asks.

Pietro's curious, too. "And why would you be like a fish out of water? Why would the fish be out of the water?"

"Yeah, so just—let me sum it up on Scott's behalf. Fish out of water is just a saying." Clint clears up soon, leaning forward to look at the two of them. "It's a phrase. If you feel like a fish out of water then that's not a good thing. Okay? And the Stark thing is complicated. Tony is a dick. But he also does a lot of good things. So it's complicated."

"You know what? My bad. You guys should totally make up your own opinions of that ass-hat."  Scott smiles. "And the fish out of water thing? I'm probably just being dramatic. I'm obviously not going to die at the Stark thing, like a fish out of water would. Maybe it's more like I'll feel like a frog out of water. Maybe that's better?"

It makes Wanda smile again—the way it so clearly irritates Clint, and how Pietro seems amused by him. She turns away to keep her smile to herself, and listens distantly as the conversation goes on for a while. Clint argues that this saying makes even less sense, and it's only to be expected that Pietro agrees with Scott and his new saying just to piss Clint off a little more. It feels nice to be here, to be smiling with them and to feel like she's so far away from everything else. It just feels like in her life, with the way things have been going for her lately, that it's only to be expected that it would never last.

"Hey, I know you."

Scott's voice brings her back. She looks up at him, uncertain at first.

"Yeah, I probably mentioned Wanda before." Clint says, after a moment. "I'm pretty sure you met Pietro, that one time. But not Wanda."

"No, no that. It's not that. I think I know you from somewhere else. Do you know Luis? I think we saw you with this guy his cousin knows. His cousins friend—whose name I always forget, by the way. Is it Teddy? Or Theodore?—anyway, his cousins friend sells things on the side and I think I remember you from a party that Teddy had at his place once."

It's then that Wanda realizes it. She recognizes him from a party months ago, one she went to just to buy weed. She stops at the mention of it all, and for the next five seconds things are painfully quiet. It's not that she thinks Pietro doesn't know what she does, it's just that she likes to tell herself he doesn't know about it. She doesn't want him on drugs and she knows how it would look to him, that she gets high but doesn't want him to. Her life is just so messy sometimes, and she needs it to help with the dreams. She knows her brother is coping just fine without it and she doesn't want that to change, or to lead to an argument. She also really doesn't want to talk about her dealer right now.

"What do you mean?" Pietro asks, curious. He puts his phone down. "What things does he sell?"

She looks to Clint and knows that he gets it, and that he wants to push things away from this topic and on to anything else.

"Uh, just like..Just second hand things, right? That's all. Nothing special."

It's now that Scott gets it. He gets that it's not something to talk about right now, so he spits out a few, incoherent words but by then it feels like too much stalling has been done and too many bad excuses have been made. Somehow it only gets worse when Scott opens his mouth again. Wanda sinks deeper into her seat, not really looking at anyone. She's just glad that Pietro doesn't really seem interested, he's only a little curious now.

"Oh, yeah. Yeah, things like—second hand things, that are refurbished. Like boxes, and sports gear—"

"Nope, not that. He doesn't refurbish sports gear because that would be weird." Clint cuts in abruptly. "Just shit like Scott said. Refurbished things. Like that easel Wanda got a while back. Right?"

"Yes! Right. That art stuff. Oh, man. How could I forget how Wanda here is into all that art stuff?" Scott smiles warmly. "Remember just the other week, you sent me that cute picture of the little bird? The chicken, for Cassie. Remember? It was all fluffy and yellow. It was adorable. Cassie loved it, by the way. I'm sure she'd love a print of it, or something in a frame. So yeah it's basically just that kind of stuff. And his name is Tom, I remember now. Tom. Yep. That's—I'm glad we worked that one out."

"Mmm, alright. Whatever." Pietro hums, bored again. "Are we close yet?"

Clint sighs, glancing out of the car. "Yeah, soon. Real soon, babe."

She shares a small look with Clint then looks away, over to Scott who smiles and nods in a way that she knows is supposed to mean 'that was smooth, we handled that'. She doesn't see how it was handled but she leaves it, knowing there's nothing she can do about it now. It doesn't really matter if Pietro learns about her habit, she just hopes he doesn't bring it up again tonight.

She leaves him to lean into Clint, who is arguing with Scott about a game that was on last week, and she starts to think about other things like the last time she wore a dress like this. She starts to get lost in her thoughts and for a while it helps her to forget where she is and where they're going. It happens again though, it happens too quickly. It all rolls by and soon she hears Clint telling them that they're almost there, and then everything is different when she looks up at them again.

Scott isn't facing them anymore, he's looking out of the front window while strumming his hands along the window and seat to the song playing on the radio. Then there's Pietro, who is leaning into Clint's side in a way that won't ruin his suit. They're holding hands and talking quietly, and Wanda leaves them to it and looks outside again. She sees that the sky is darker now, and when her vision focuses on it she notices that it's so busy now. And then she gets why it's so busy on the streets and the building around them.

It's the Stark party, and she knows this from the look at the lines of people outside, waiting and trying to get in. Their cab pulls away from the crowds at Clint's request and drives up little to the left, where it stops and Clint pays for the ride. He refuses to take anyone's money and just insists they owe him a drink someday. Then they pile out of the cab, and Clint and Pietro climb out of one side, leaving Wanda to gather her things and then get out. Scott jumps out on their side too, after he compliments the cab driver on his taste in music.

On the other side of the taxi, Wanda gets out, shuts the door, and steps away from the cab. It's as she steps away and as the car pulls out on to the road that she hears a loud noise. A distinctive rip. It's her shawl, half-caught in the closed taxi door. It rips loudly and slips from her grasp as the taxi drives away slowly. Her gaze quickly moves to Clint and Scott, who are in awe of the shawl being ripped in half and then away from her. It's mostly Clint, who looks like he can't believe that just happened. She looks to her brother and sees that he isn't even looking up, he's too invested in whatever he's reading on his phone to realize what's just happened.

Half a second later, Scott's off running after the taxi. She tries to stop him but he runs after it, soon reaching it and trying to pull it from the door.

"Hey, dude! Hey, taxi dude! My friend's blanket thing is caught in your door!"

When Scott reaches the cab, he bangs on the door and gets the driver to stop. She looks away after this and back to Clint, who still looks like he really has no idea how that happened or what he's supposed to do next. It's because he knows what it means to her, it's because he can see the little bruises and marks on her skin. She looks to Scott again, to find him running back over to her with the shawl in his hands. It's not important, it's only a shawl. She can buy it again. It's just that tonight she needed it. Now she has nothing to cover herself up with and it leaves her feeling a little vulnerable again.

Her eyes scan the shawl over before Scott reaches her, triumphantly holding it out to her. It's ripped badly and it's dirty from the ground, there's no salvaging it, but she takes it from Scott anyway. He still looks pleased, and if it weren't for the situation she finds herself in she might dwell on how kind it was for him to do that. It's something to think on later.

For now, she focuses on what she's going to do about tonight. She doesn't want to go all the way back to her apartment, and she really doesn't want to leave to find something new to buy. They're here now and she just wants to go inside, and it's almost like the universe still has other plans for her. It feels like it always does.

"That was close. Phew. There you go." Scott sighs, fixing his hair. "Don't worry, I'm sure you can just like roll it up. Or twist it to hide the rip. It'll look neat, don't worry. You look great."

Wanda looks up to him, fixing a small smile on her lips. "Thank you." she pauses. "Do you have a cigarette, Scott?"

"Nope, sorry. Non-smoker. I've got mints, if anyone wants one? What about a tic-tac?"

"I think we're good, thanks." Clint cuts in, clapping Scott on the shoulder. "Why don't you two go line up? We'll meet you there."

When Clint starts to guide Pietro and Scott in the direction of the stairs, Pietro looks away from his phone and down to the dirty shawl in her hands.

"What happened?" he frowns, confused. "Why is that so dirty now? It doesn't look so good like that. I think—"

"Go inside, babe. Go wait for us." Clint plants a kiss to his cheek, then steps away. "We'll be up in a minute."

Once they're gone, it falls silent between the two of them and Wanda leaves it. She takes a step up on the curb, over to where Clint is standing. She looks away from him and down to the ripped shawl hanging loosely between her hands, and then her gaze pulls up to where they are and she realizes she was so focused on the shawl being ruined that she didn't look up.

Now she sees what a Stark party looks like, and it's almost what she imagined it would be. The building is large, and has an old style exterior with a modern twist. It's a Stark twist, she guesses. She remembers Clint saying something about Tony owning the building. It stands out tall, high above the others wedged into the street. It doesn't stand out too much really, it just stands tall above them. Her eyes pull to the guests and then to Clint. He takes the shawl and examines it like he knows how to fix it.

Wanda takes another look at the building, still curious despite the way things are now. There are black iron gates on the doors, and it's only now that she realizes how much security there is. Soon her gaze shifts away from this and moves up to all the different levels of Stark's building. She doesn't know what tonight will bring her, but she hopes it will provide her with a long and bright distraction

"Sorry, sweetheart. There's not much I can do unless you've got a sewing kit somewhere in that clutch." Clint sighs, then folds the shawl up in defeat. "What do you want me to do with it? Want me to keep it or throw it away?"

She considers it for a moment. "You can sew?"

Clint half-smiles, stepping closer. "Yeah, but not without a kit. So what are we gonna do? You want my jacket? You can have it, it's yours if you want it. I'm sure it'll look real cute with that dress."

"I can't."

His smile softens. "Why not? You'll still look great. Come on, here you go. Wear it, 'till I find you something else."

"No, don't. I don't want that. Please, don't." Wanda stops him, placing a hand to his shoulder. "Don't you see what will happen if I go into this party wearing your coat?"

"Want to fill me in?" he asks, not getting it. "Something bad gonna happen if you wear my coat?"

"They will look at me and think I am covering something up, and they will be right."

Something on Clint's face softens even more. He still smiles but it's different. He reaches out, placing a hand to Wanda's arm now that she's dropped her hand away from him. She wants to tell him that she doesn't know if it's worse to have their gazes on her bruises, or to have them wonder what she's hiding under a coat. It's not even that she cares what anyone thinks about her, it's just that she feels vulnerable again and she hates the way it feels.

"Who exactly are we talking about here? Listen, I never took you as the type to give a shit about what anyone thought." Clint tells her, stepping closer. "If you want my coat? Great, it's yours. I look good without it, and you'd look good in it. But if you don't want it? That's fine, too. There's no pressure, kid."

"This is just different. You don't understand—"

"Okay, I don't. I know that, I do. But listen to me? It doesn't matter that you have bruises. There's nothing wrong with that. We all get 'em, at some point in our lives, okay? No one's gonna look at them, I promise. And if they do? Then just give them that same look you give me sometimes. You know that one. It's the starey one. I know you know what I'm talking about, it'll send them running scared."

Wanda looks back at him. "It didn't do that to you. It didn't send you running."

He smiles again. "Yeah, you know why?"

"My brother?"

"Yes, but not just him. I stuck around because I looked at what was underneath it. You're brave, and kind, and good." Clint says, rubbing her shoulder gently. "So you ready to go inside? Because I feel like your brother is gonna run in there, start slamming shots, and then disappear and we'll never seen him again. So we better go keep an eye on him."

She agrees, nodding slowly. "Fine. Let's see if tonight can get worse."

"Yeah, that's not—well, that's not exactly the spirit. But you're close." Clint says, fixing his jacket back on. "Hey, there's already one positive from all of this: your dress didn't get caught in the door. I imagine that would have been much harder to deal with, so there's that. Now let's just go and see what else tonight brings us. And instead of thinking about how much worse it could get, let's look on the bright-side and think about how much better it will get once we get inside."

Chapter Text

"I'm really sorry. But as I've told you three times now, there's no one under the name Maximoff on our guest list."

With all of the bad luck that's been chasing Wanda around lately, it really doesn't surprise her that it follows her to the Stark Party tonight. It makes sense, the more that she thinks about it, that the universe decides to throw one last thing her way before the night even begins. It all feels cursed, and she knows the way it sounds in her head, like an exaggeration when it's just bad luck. But she's really not sure how she's supposed to feel right now. Tonight was supposed to be so many things (a break, a distraction, a fun time) but instead all she's done is think about all of the reasons why she shouldn't be here and now her mind is caught on the signs the universe keeps giving her.

She can't help feeling like she's not supposed to be here. First. the shawl ripped within seconds of arriving here tonight. It's not the biggest sign, or the first one, but it really kicked off her bad mood. Then there's the whole not being on the list at all situation, which is definitely a sign. There's all of this, and then there's everything that's been on her mind through the week. She's been looking forward to the party because of them, but at the same time she's been secretly anxious about it all. She's not sure that she fits in here, and even if she does she's not sure that this is going to be the kind of night she needs, or that she keeps promising herself it will be.

Wanda feels stuck, like she's really not meant to be here. And if she isn't meant to be here then she accepts that and feels ready to give up on tonight and just go home. She's not interested in fighting the universe, and if tonight isn't supposed to happen then it's really not a big loss. She doesn't want to fight for it. She just wants to get out and get away from this, and maybe find a quiet bar a few blocks away. It's why she gives up so easily and steps away from the man at the door with the list, and then away from her group of friends.

It just turns out that Clint has other plans. He presses a gentle, reassuring hand to Wanda's shoulder to let her know that he's here and that he's ready to do anything to fix this. Then he wedges himself into the front of the line to fix the problem for the two of them, and it's just so like Clint to try and save the night when she's already given up on it.

Wanda's not even sure that she wants Clint to save this now, because it feels like everything about tonight has been a whole lot of effort—and she's not really sure it's worth the effort anymore, from him or from herself. She's decided on leaving, she's ready to go, but seeing Clint trying to fix this mess means something and she finds that she can't walk away yet.

"Yeah, that's great and all. Really, man, it is. And you know, I may be deaf but I still heard you the first three times you said that." Clint tells him, a half-smile on his lips. "The thing is, there should be a plus two next to Barton. Okay? I have regrettably known Tony Stark for a long, long time. Yeah? So we're not trying to crash this thing. We have invites. You can see my invitation right here, you know I have one. And these two are my guests. I'm not going inside without them, so I hope you can find a way to make that happen."

Ted, the man with the list, stands unwavering in front of the four of them.

"I understand your frustration, sir, but as I've already said they're not on the list and you don't have a plus one by your name. I'm not sure what else to tell you, sir. They're not on the list."

"Yep, I got that. I got that part, and that's fine. It's not your fault that they're not on the list. It's totally fine, really." Clint says, sighing before he continues. "But what I need you to do now, Ted, is work this out. Do you think you can do that? Or do you wanna give Tony a call? Because I guarantee you that he'll confirm it in a second. Or maybe I should just cut out the middle man and call him, he'll get it sorted right away."

There isn't time for Ted to answer, before Scott wiggles up into the front of the line and gently nudges Clint aside. He's here to help, to fix this, and Wanda appreciates their efforts more than she can say. She knows Scott is just trying to be helpful, and Clint's just trying to fix things because he really believes that she needs this night out to forget about everything else. And maybe Clint is right, maybe she does need tonight and the escape that this party would give her.

Wanda just feels like she's at the point where she's almost ready to call it a night because it shouldn't be like this. It shouldn't be this hard or this much of an effort, and that's why she's ready to give up on it and leave them. Despite this, she doesn't walk away yet and she knows why.

A part of her still wants this, even if the signs tell her that she shouldn't. Then there's the part of her that finds their efforts to fix things touching and it makes her want to stick around to enjoy the party with them. She feels conflicted as she often does, and she soon decides to see where things go before she lets herself commit to the decision that she's given up on tonight.

"Hey, sorry. What about me?" Scott asks, smiling. "The name's LANG. It's L-A-N-G. If I've got a plus one, I'll just take one of them in. That's how this works, right?"

Ted glances down at the list briefly, then looks up with that same look on his face that tells Wanda that Scott's not on the list either.

"My apologies, sir, but there's no one under that name on our list."

It's not something that Scott understands, not at first anyway. He goes from being genuinely shocked,to looking a little pissed off that he's somehow not on the list. Then he's shocked again, and it turns into a fifteen second roller-coaster of emotions before he can even find the words to begin.

"What the heck—"

Scott can't get the rest out before Clint's intervening again. He pats Scott on the chest, swiftly pulls him away, and then takes a small step over to the left to make a call.

"Don't worry, guys." Clint tells them, smiling through his tension. "I'm just gonna call Tony and work this out. Don't worry, really. It's not gonna be a problem. I'll work it out."

And then a man appears, coming up from behind them, and Wanda knows him. She recognizes him and then she hears him speak and it feels familiar for a stranger she only met that one time. It doesn't take her long to remember him, she's always been too good with faces and names. It's Sam, from that day at the meeting hall when they shared a cigarette and a small conversation.

Sam slings an arm around Clint's shoulder, grinning as he glances at the four of them. He looks happy to be here, and then sort of amused to see them in the situation they're in. It's a lot for Wanda to take in at first, and she really can't process it all when her mind won't stop thinking about how he's here with them and why they met the day they did.

"No need to call Tony. I've got you, Barton. Like old times." Sam smiles, squeezing Clint in a warm but annoying, brotherly kind of way. "There a problem here, buddy? Your old eyes forget to read the invite?"

For a second he's tense, then it all slips away and Clint's smiles, and his face is suddenly free of all that stress and tension. He nudges Sam in the shoulder, then laughs and pulls him into a hug.

"There's no problem anymore, Wilson. Not with you here. And look at you, man. You don't clean up half-bad." he smiles, nudging Sam a second time. "And, hey? That comment you just made about my eyes? I'm gonna remember that when your birthday comes around man. Just saying. But hey, that's just a problem for future you to worry about. How are you, Wilson? It's been too long."

It's now that Wanda stops stressing about the party because she knows Sam will get the four of them inside and that they will have a fun night. That's not what she's stressed about anymore. No, her mind is stuck on Sam being here. It's about how they met, why they met where they did, and what it means if Sam talks about any of it tonight. She really doesn't want tonight to be the moment that Pietro finds out about her meetings, and that's why for a second she almost feels like she can't breathe.

Her chest feels tight and she suddenly feels warm. Too warm. Wanda takes a breath, calms down, and tries to focus on anything else. She ends up feeling glad that there's no shawl on her arms right now because she feels too warm already. She wants more than that though, she wants to step away and feel a breeze rush over her skin. She wants to run, to go anywhere else, but she can't. She stays where she is by Scott's side, even if she really wants to leave before Sam recognizes her.

She stays at the back of their small group, while Sam and Clint spend another minute catching up. It helps her to cool down a little, and to focus on new things, like how they know each other and what this means. She connects it all together slowly; Steve works with Clint and they're close friends, this she already knows. Sam works at the meetings hall, talking to men and women who need it. Steve is a friend, EX-Army. This means Sam is likely also a Vet. It's how they're connected. This means Clint knows Sam through Steve, or through his past which he doesn't really talk about. She vaguely remembers mentions of Sam now from Clint, only she remembers him more as someone called 'Wilson' that Clint would joke and talk about every now and then. It makes sense now, but she still hates that she didn't think of it all earlier.

It leaves her feeling like she's been caught unprepared and she has. She feels vulnerable and she isn't. She breathes through it, and then brings herself back to reality when she picks up on the sound of Clint saying her name.

"Sam, this is Wanda. And you know these two guys." Clint says, voice warm and excited again. "This is Lang. And like I said, you already know Pietro from that thing. Shit, I can't remember. But I think it was someone's birthday?"

Then Clint gestures to the three of them, smiling as he waves them over. Pietro steps up first, to greet Sam and shake his hand. Wanda follows, with Scott by her side. The three of them join the small group and move away from the line to the party that's now moving swiftly inside. Wanda glances over at the building and the main doors for a second, and then back at her brother as he pats Sam lightly on the shoulder.

"Yes, Clint is right. You are looking nice tonight." Pietro says, then smiles. "And it has been a long time. It has been too long."

Sam laughs. "Thanks, man. You too. And hey, was it that thing for Bruce that we met at? Or Sharon's party?" he pauses, then smiles wider. "I can't remember. I only really remember that I drank your ass right under that table, Maximoff. Your boyfriend had to carry you out of there."

There's a soft laugh from her brother, as he scratches at the back of his neck.

"Oh, yes. That. That only happened in your dreams, Sam." he smirks. "It is nice to see you again. Maybe we will have drinks later?"

Still smiling, Sam nods and glances to Wanda next. A look on his face tells her that he remembers her, but for the moment he says nothing. He takes Scott's hand to shake it, then looks back to Wanda and holds out his hand like they've never met before. She doesn't know why, she doesn't understand it at all, but she really doesn't want to question it now. Wanda shakes his hand lightly, then moves back to Scott's side.

"Good to see you, Lang. I like your tie, it's nice." Sam smiles, then looks back at Wanda. "And it's nice to meet you, Wanda. I've heard a lot about you."

Wanda smiles and says nothing, because the words won't come, because—what can she say? She finds that there's nothing she can say, nothing that she wants to say, so she says nothing and it feels easier than coming up with words that won't come. She manages to hold a real enough smile on her lips though, to convince her brother and Clint that there's nothing wrong. Then they become distracted by the party and the invite situation, and Wanda is left fidgeting with her rings while Sam sorts things out.

Soon enough the problem is fixed and they're free to go inside.

"Come on in, kids. Let's see what all this fuss is about." Sam smiles, waving them through the doors. "Honestly though, this place is cool. I'll give it to Stark, he knows what he's doing like 1% of the time."

That's the last thing Wanda catches as she trails behind them and follows them inside the building. She tunes in and out of their conversations, about old times and what drinks are on the menu, and she lets her attention follow her gaze as it wanders across the open space of Stark's lobby. It's a large and elegant area, with light floors the color of a sandy beach, dark brown walls, and deep silver rugs on the floor. It's not at all like what she expected and maybe that's a good thing. It all looks lovely and she feels in awe of the elegance for a moment.

She follows them quietly, through the open space of the lobby to three elevators. They wait outside the second elevator and when it's ready the five of them fit inside easily. Once inside Sam hits the level 2 button and they start to go up. It leaves her curious about how many levels there are and what she will find on each one, and almost on cue Sam begins to tell them about it all.

"I know this place can be a bit of a maze for newbies, so I'll give you a quick guide." Sam explains, as he leans back against the wall behind him. "It's real simple, okay? There are 4 levels. We were just in the lobby, that's the first floor with the coat room, donations rooms, and a couple of other rooms that aren't open to the public. Second floor is where we're going first, which is the main bar. And I'm just gonna say it: It's my favorite spot so far, and you may never leave this place once you get there."

Clint smiles warmly, arms folded over his chest. "Shit. I can't believe that dick never invited me before tonight."

"His team were doing last minute renovations or something like that. You know how it gets." Sam shrugs. "And it's worth the wait, trust me. You'll see when you get there."

"What are the other levels like?" Pietro asks, curious.

"I had a feeling you might ask that. The third floor is this crazy dance-floor type area. It's wild. I'm gonna make a bet here and now and say: once you get in there, Pietro, we will never see you again. I know you like to dance, and that place is the spot for it. That just leaves level four, and it's another bar area with an open patio if anybody needs some fresh air. " he explains, smiling again. "It's a really sweet set-up, and with all of the money from the events going to charities—well, Stark's got a lot of good money going to a lot of good people. So why not have some fun while we're here?"

Seconds after Sam's done explaining Stark's place to them, the elevator stops and the doors open up—and Wanda thinks that she finally gets it. She follows them into the bar and sees it all for herself, and for a moment she is completely lost in it all. Everything here on this floor is beautifully bright, neon, and glowing. It fills the entire space. Bursting shades and deep colors glow off everyone and everything in the room. Wanda's eyes are stuck on the shades of yellow, blue and purple that fill up the room. Her eyes flicker across the colors and then up to the lights, that are round, pretty, and elegant, and hang all over the ceiling. For a long time she is lost in the light, and all of the colors, and she loses herself to it all.

She gets so lost in it that she forgets where she is, and that this is a Stark party. Wanda thinks that she gets so lost in it because she has never seen anything like it before. Soon she looks away from all of the lights and the colors to the rest of the room, and now she gives herself a chance to take everything else in. The floors are dark, made of old wood. The walls are almost the same shade, just a little lighter, and they both glow purple and yellow under the lights. It all looks so warm and alive, and everyone here looks so blissfully happy. 

Over on the right side of the room, Wanda soon discovers a small area with stairs leading up to a long, curved black couch that looks comfy and never-ending. It's filled with people dancing, drinking, and laughing so much. It's a lot to take in, and for a while she struggles to because there's so much to see and there are so many people here.

Minutes later her attention is pulled away from all of these people, and that little VIP like section, and she ends up taking in the rest of the details of the room, like the glass tables and black bar-stools and chairs placed throughout the room. She looks across it all slowly, taking it in, until she finds the bar against the wall in the middle of the room. It's a long, blue and white bar, that is neon, and glowing, and looks chaotic and fun. It's surrounded by people, and covered in light, and there's something intoxicating about it, even from here.

It all makes sense to Wanda now. It's not how she expected it to be, but that's what it should be. It isn't a place for Stark, it's a place for all of these people who will give money and will keep coming back. It's for the donations, and it's also for the escape that this place will give people, and for a moment she starts to think about how Stark can't be so bad with intentions like this.

And that's about all the time Wanda spends thinking about Tony Stark, because when she looks to her side she realizes that only Sam is left and that everyone else is gone. She doesn't know how long it's been, and for a second she doesn't know where they are until she spots Clint and Pietro down near the bar, trying to look at the drinks being made and the bottles on the glowing blue shelves. She watches them for a minute, and then reminds herself that she's not alone here and that right now she can't let herself get lost in her head, or in the blur of colors around her.

"You alright there?" Sam asks, smiling when she looks up. "I get it, you know. This place is cool, but it can be intense at first. So I get it."

She nods a little, tucking an arm around herself. She doesn't know what it is about Sam, but when she's around him it almost feels like she could say anything to him and he would get it. She feels like she could open up and he would listen, and maybe that's all he would do but it feels like it would be enough. Wanda doesn't know why she feels this way, she just knows that tonight isn't going to be about any of that and this is the last time she wants to think about what's on her mind.

Tonight is here for Wanda to enjoy herself and to have fun. She's here to drink, to dance, and to forget about what's been going on, and she wants it to be like this because everyone needs a break from life sometimes.

"Yes, it is very cool. And I am fine, thank you." she pauses. "You remember me. Don't you?"

Sam smiles a little more and it oozes warmth.

"Yeah, of course. Of course I remember you, Wanda. I remember most of the people I meet, especially the nice ones."

She nearly smiles, but it slips a second later at the memory of the day that she met and why she was there. It reminds her why she hasn't been there since and she wants to look away, but she stops herself and lets her gaze stay on Sam while she finds the words.

"Actually I do not think I was so nice when we met. I was not in the best mood, but that is nice of you to say anyway." Wanda pauses, glancing him over slowly. "Since you did remember me, then I don't understand why you acted like you didn't know me. Why did you pretend like we'd never met before?"

He sighs, and for a second looks away. "Let's just say that with my job I get to know a lot of people. And I know some of those people like to keep things to themselves until they know how to share it. It can be easier that way." Sam stops, then turns back to her. "I was just being cautious, Wanda. That's all. The last thing I'd ever want to do is overstep and put you into a position that was uncomfortable for you. I didn't want to put you on the spot back there, so I decided to do the right thing and not say anything at all. Sometimes the best thing we can do is be quiet when the situation calls for it."

Suddenly she looks to him more, wanting to thank him for all of it. Wanda wants to thank Sam for their talk that day even if they really didn't talk at all. Then she wants to thank him for tonight, for getting them into Stark's party without any issues, because when she looks back at the bar and sees her brother smiling and laughing with Clint by his side it brings her the kind of happiness that she's glad she could feel tonight.

Wanda wants to thank Sam for this, for all of it, but she can't find the words. And it feels like she doesn't need to, like Sam isn't here for that and he's here just to be there. It's a nice feeling.

"That is very thoughtful and kind of you." Wanda muses, half-smiling. 

He shrugs. "It's fine, really. And you know, it's weird but I always thought I was gonna see you again."

"Really?" she raises an eyebrow, curious. "Why?"

"I'm not sure. I think there was just something about you. Something in what you said. It stuck with me." Sam tells her, smile back on his lips. "I just never thought that of all places I'd meet you again at a Stark party. Or that you'd be the sister of Barton's boyfriend. The world works in weird ways."

"Yes, it does." Wanda smiles. "It was also a surprise for me to see you here of all places."

"Yeah, I could tell that it was a surprise. You know, just a bit." he grins. "So, it's been nice talking to you again but I've gotta go see a guy about a thing. I'll be back later if you want to chat some more, or you could try your hand at beating me in some shots. If you're up for the challenge, that is. Warning: your brother failed. I'm talking a big, extremely embarrassing, shame to the Maximoff name, kind of fail."

She smiles more, almost laughing this time. "Thank you, but I am not like my brother."

"No problem. I'll see you later."

Wanda waves back at Sam, then watches for a minute as he disappears into the crowd. She quickly looses sight of him after that and doesn't look again, instead she ends up searching for her brother. She finds him in the line at the bar, with Clint by his side.

"You two look so happy here." she tells them when she reaches them. "And this place is very nice."

"Mm. So, was that your way of saying I was right, sweetheart?" Clint smirks.

She feels like she's about two seconds away from an eye-roll with that comment, but she stops it and just gives Clint a small look, while trying to hide a smile.

"Don't push it, yes?" Wanda settles on saying, as she succeeds in hiding her smile. "I am going to be back soon, okay? I am going to find a bathroom and put my mask on, don't forget yours."

Pietro nods, grinning. "Yes, of course. We won't forget. I will pick out drinks for us, yes?"

"Okay, this sounds fine. I will see you soon?"

"Yeah, sure. We'll find you. Or you'll find us." Clint says, smiling as he pats her arm. "I mean, this place can't be that big. Right?"

 

* * * *

 

Wanda gets lost on the third level of Stark's new building.

It's warm, bright, and yellow, and all of the neon lights remind her of the second level of the bar—and that's where the similarities between the floors begin and end. There's a lot to take in on this level, and somehow she gets lost between the bar, the dance-floor, and all of the private little seating areas in-between. It all feels endless and busy, and somehow she gets stuck in one of the bigger crowds. It takes her a minute to wiggle free, and once she's out of the crowd she takes a moment to rest and breathe on the left side of the room, in the area that looks like a VIP section but isn't closed off to anyone.

There are circular black booths on this side of the room, filled with groups like downstairs. They're all drinking, and laughing, and eating little pieces of food being carried around. She's not hungry yet though, she's just curious. Everything is still so intense and bright up here, and then there's the dance-floor that's crammed with so many people that Wanda really isn't sure how so many people can fit into the one space. She gets lost in the lights and the colors again, until she ends up by the side of the long, sleek black bar, that's filled with bartenders on all sides. The service looks fast and everyone looks so happy that she reminds herself to come here later when she feels like a drink. For now she gets distracted again, but this time it's not by the lights. This time she gets distracted by a staircase just a few steps away from the end of the VIP section.

The long, winding staircase is silver and leads up onto a platform area above the bar. It catches her interest, so she follows the stairs up to the new level and takes it all in from there. Up on the platform it feels like a new level and another private space. Sleek purple couches and black-armchairs have been placed through the space for people to relax on, and there's a nice, calm vibe to the area. It feels less busy than the last two levels and Wanda welcomes the feeling, she even decides to stay for a while.

She ends up leaning against the glass railing that curves around the space, while her gaze flickers down to the large, glistening disco ball that hangs down in the middle of the room. For a moment all that Wanda can think about is the dance-floor and what it would feel like to go down there and dance underneath all of those colors and lights. She thinks about the glimmer of the disco ball and the glow bouncing off her skin, and then she thinks about how good that would feel. But in the end she doesn't go downstairs to dance. She's not sure she's really in the mood for it anymore, so she watches everyone else dancing until she gets bored and needs something else to put her mind on.

That's how she ends up downstairs again, but this time she finds her way to a new space. Wanda ends up outside in a private little balcony area that she finds through a back-door off the dance-floor. It's not really clear if this space is open to the guests but Wanda doesn't care, it's empty and spacious and she's all alone here. She welcomes it, and the way the breeze feels against her skin. It's quiet out here and so different from inside, with only a few, soft looking arm-chairs placed out here. It definitely feels like a private space and at first she doesn't really want to leave, but she knows that she has to. She wants to finish exploring the building, and then she needs to find her brother again.

She spends another minute outside on the little balcony then leaves and takes the elevator up to the last level of Stark's building. It's a big, wide space like the other levels, but this one already feels different; with soft, long green couches lined up against dark blue walls, elegant glass tables placed through the room, and glowing candles scattered through the space, it feels so unlike everything she's seen here so far. Then there's a sea of little lights up on the ceiling that make it feel so calming, so different to everything else. She gets so deeply lost in it that for a while she doesn't realize she's walking around the space, taking it all in, until she ends up going down a narrow corridor and making her way outside to the roof-top area.

It's her favorite place already. It only takes Wanda less than a minute to decide this because of the way it looks and how it feels to be out here. Outside on the roof-top space it feels earthy, warm, and inviting. Everything is a different shade of light brown, soft blue, and pale green. Her eyes flicker across long, reclined white couches placed all along the roof-top, to the deeply colored cushions, and the rustic brown tables placed by each couch, all covered in elegant vases and pretty candles.

Wanda wants to stay out here more than she's wanted to stay in any of the levels so far. She feels like she could stay here all night and never leave, and maybe another time that's exactly what she'll do. She knows that she can't spend tonight up here though, she needs to find Pietro and Clint now because she came here with them and it doesn't feel right walking out on them or spending the night up here away from them. So she leaves reluctantly, and takes the elevator back down to the second level where she begins her search for them through the crowd.

It's twice as busy at the bar now, and everything is more chaotic and loud than it was earlier. Somehow through all of the tight spaces and chaos, Pietro finds her. She's so glad that he does, because she's really not sure she would have seen him at all. He finds her through the crowds and waves her over to where they are on the far side of the room, close to the VIP looking section and the bar. She takes a minute, then pushes her way through the crowd to get to him.

Wanda picks up a glass of champagne on her way, drinks half, and continues to squeeze through crowds. When she's almost there Pietro helps her through a group of people, by putting an arm on her shoulder and taking her hand to help her get to him. Then she's suddenly free of the crammed spaces and busy crowds and she feels better, like she can breathe again, and typically that lasts for another three or four seconds before she sees them.

"Hey, there you are!" Clint smiles at her. "We were looking for you, but we just found these idiots instead."

There are two men by his side, this is all she can focus on at first. Two men. She recognizes both of them for very different reasons, and somehow they all know each other.

"You already know Steve. He's not such an idiot. I take that back. He's not an idiot at all." Clint continues, grinning. "But this idiot here? Well he's the bane of my existence. Wanda, meet Mr. James Barnes."

Bucky looks different tonight, this is Wanda's first thought. James, she thinks it over, rolling it over silently on her tongue. Bucky. James. James Barnes. He looks different, but still the way that she remembers him looking in the park and then again at the market. His long hair is slicked back off his face, and his suit is dark and elegant. She ends up staring at Bucky too openly and for too long, and she doesn't even realize it until she catches Steve's smile as he stretches out a hand to shake hers. He looks just as nice. Wanda thinks he looks lovely, dressed in a pretty, retro looking blue suit, with a white and golden tinted mask that makes the blue in his eyes pop.

Then there's Bucky in his dark suit and dark mask combo, and he looks just as lovely. His mask shadows his eyes over a little, making them look darker than they are, but she still gets lost in them. For a second she is lost in this, lost in him. Then she takes a breathe, shakes Steve's hand, and swallows a very big sip of champagne.

"Nice to see you again, Wanda. You look lovely." Steve says warmly, smiling.

"Yeah, Steve's right. You look great." Bucky adds, and smiles slowly. "And it is nice to see you again, too."

Wanda spots a tray of champagne coming their way, finishes her glass, then swiftly swaps out her old glass for a new one. She returns to them after this, just as Clint is trying to find out how exactly they know each other.

"We met twice, right?" Bucky smiles. "The market, then the park?"

"Yes, I think so. It was..Twice." she pauses, drinking half of her champagne.

Three times, Wanda thinks and almost says, if Peggy's place counts. She's not sure any of it counts though. Right now she's really not sure what to think or what to say. She knows how she's coming off because of this, because of the words she can't find. She knows that she's coming across how she often does, as cold or uninterested in the two of them. And sometimes she is like this towards new people. But with this, with them, and the man who has been on her mind since they met—Wanda is more interested than she can show, and she thinks maybe that's why she can't show it the way she wants to.

She finishes her glass of champagne soon, holds up the empty glass, then smiles and nods towards the bar.

"I think I will get a new drink from the bar now." Wanda pauses. "Can I get anyone else a drink while I'm there?"

Both Pietro and Clint are good, which is a relief. But she notices Bucky's drink is empty and so is Steve's, so she waits for a minute.

"You know what? I think I'll come with you. Maybe I'll try something new." Steve smiles, then looks over to Bucky. "You need anything while I'm there, Buck?"

"Nah, I'm good. Thanks."

Steve follows Wanda after this, walking with her until they reach the bar, join the line, and begin their wait. It doesn't feel like they're going to be waiting for too long though, since Wanda soon spots trays of champagne and shots of drinks being carried out to guests. She feels like she could use a few shots of vodka right now, but for the moment she decides to wait in line and see what they're serving at the bar.

"It's all a bit much for my taste, I think. But then again, I won't pretend like I don't know how to enjoy a nice night with good company." Steve says soon, then glances back at her. He smiles again. "You enjoying yourself so far, Wanda? I was happy to see you'd come tonight. I'm sure it's gonna be a lot of fun."

She nods, smiling a little. "I have to say that I wasn't expecting to see you here. But now I think that this all makes sense, because you know Clint and he knows Stark. So you all know each other."

There's a pause between them while Wanda searches for the right words, and Steve is patient while he waits for her to find them.

"I have not told my brother why I am training with you." Wanda admits soon, just for him. "So I did not know what to say when I saw you here. If I seemed.."

"Surprised? You seemed a bit surprised, that's all. But I get it." he says, smiling softly. "I guess you were also pretty surprised to see Bucky here, too. I don't think he was expecting to see you here tonight, but he did mention you to me. Once or twice."

It's now that she turns to look at Steve again, suddenly more curious. Wanda tells herself that she doesn't know why she's curious, or that it doesn't mean anything, but she knows that they are both lies. It's Bucky, it's the way he's been on her mind since they met. It's the little things like the painting, the shadow, and that look in his eyes that afternoon. She wants it to fade away because tonight isn't the night she wants to spend thinking about this, but she can't help the way he lingers in her thoughts.

"What are you talking about?" she asks. "He mentioned me?"

"Just that he ran into you. Well, he told me someone else ran into you. At the markets, I mean. I'm just gonna make a guess here and say you're that Wanda. The one he talked about. The girl with the broken carnations. And blueberries, right?"

Wanda half-smiles thinking about him and that afternoon, and then her gaze travels across the room and over to where Bucky is standing with the two of them. He looks like he's making a joke, or giving Clint a hard time, and it feels nice to see them all smiling and laughing so much. It leaves her to thoughts of him for a minute, and she doesn't know why it makes her smile but it does.

"Yes, I suppose that is me. Though I am not sure how I feel about this name he calls me."

Steve seems happy, and mostly curious. "Sure, I get it. Some people just don't like blueberries. Or the color blue."

"It is not that. I prefer red to blue, if I am honest. But it is not that." Wanda says, and then hesitates again. "That was not such a good day for me, that's all. So I wanted you to know that if I seemed like I was not pleased to see the two of you here, it was only because of the surprise. That is all."

"Hey, we all have bad days. Don't worry about it." Steve assures her warmly, with another smile. "Let's hope tonight is a good one for you and for all of us."

She appreciates Steve's words and his company, she just finds that she suddenly needs a minute to herself. Wanda gathers her things in her hands, glances briefly back at the room, and lingers for a moment as she watches Pietro telling a story to Clint, who looks like he's laughing because he doesn't believe one word of it. She files away the memory, then turns back to Steve.

"I hope so, too." Wanda smiles. "I am going to check in my purse downstairs. Will you tell my brother that I will be back soon?"

"Of course." he nods. "Want me to order you something from the bar?"

She steps away, winding a hand around herself. "No, thank you. I will see you soon. And Steve? It is nice to see you again."

"You too, Wanda. I'll see you later."

For half a moment more she watches him. Then her eyes flicker back to Bucky through the crowd to where he is, and this time she discovers that he's looking her way. She lets her gaze linger, probably for a minute too long, before she turns away and disappears into the crowd, where it's quickly becomes tight and difficult to get to the elevators at first. When she gets to them she's tempted to just go home but she doesn't. Wanda steps inside the elevator, hits the lobby button, then lets herself breathe again now that she's away from all of those people.

Her eyes shut in the elevator and she leans back into the wall, enjoying the ride down to the first floor. Once the doors open she joins the line to check in her bag and waits for a few minutes, but it doesn't take long at all. Three minutes later Wanda's back in the elevator and on her way up again.

This time it's crammed full with people. It feels so tight, so sweaty, that she wants to get out as soon as she gets in. She knows that she can't, that they'll all be this full this going up, so she accepts it and tries to just breathe through it. She ends up crammed in between two strangers so closely that it feels really odd to be this close to people that she doesn't know. She tries to think of something else, of anything else, to get her through it until the doors open up again. Wanda ends up thinking about an ocean. An empty, quiet beach. She imagines open, endless roads, and a sunset in the distance. It's all that she can think about until the doors open and she pushes her way out, longing to feel better, only she quickly discovers that the room feels crammed and busy, and she finds no relief here.

Wanda knows where she needs to go to find that relief. She needs to go outside, to feel the cold air against her skin again, and to just breathe it in and let the quiet sink into her. But then she spots the bathrooms over to her right and before she even knows what's happening she's moving quickly for the door. Inside the ladies room, everything is elegant and spacious. There are dark tiles on the floor, smooth black walls surrounding her, and bright globes dangling from the ceiling. It's a pretty, nicely decorated space, with chrome sinks and wide mirrors hanging above the sinks. This is about all she can really take in before she ends up at the basin, longing to feel the cool rush of water spill over her and calm her.

Wanda spends a minute there at the sink, washing her hands until they feel clean again. Then she dries her palms, takes a look at them, and ends up stretching her hands out to lean against the basin. She takes another minute and spends it there to rest, and to remind herself of what's real and what isn't.

"You okay over there?" a voice reaches out to her soon, distracting her. "Do you need me to get someone for you?"

She waits for a minute then looks up to find a woman at the basin next to hers, watching her distantly in the reflection of the mirror. Dressed in a nice blue dress with red lipstick on, the woman is standing near Wanda while casually reapplying her lipstick underneath the warm, glowing lights. She stops applying her lipstick for a moment, fixes up a few red curls of her hair, then goes back to applying the make-up. Wanda watches her for a second then looks away and back to her own reflection in the mirror, which she realizes looks so composed, so together, for someone who's starting to feel like she's slowly unravelling on the inside.

"No, thank you." Wanda answers soon. "I don't need anyone, I am fine. Thanks."

There's a moment where it feels like the woman might leave Wanda alone, but in the end she doesn't.

"You're Wanda. Right?" she asks. "I know Clint. My name's Natasha."

"How do you know me?" Wanda glances up again. "And how do you know Clint?"

Natasha smiles a little, pausing for a minute. "Well, I can't tell you the classified version of how I know Clint. But what I can tell you is that I've known him for most of my life. And as for how I know you? I don't know you, but Clint talks about you and your brother a lot. That's how I know of you. If I'm honest, I've never seen Clint happier in your life and I've got your brother to thank for that."

"Yes, it is the same for my brother. I am not sure I have ever seen him this happy in his life."

"And what about you?" she asks. "It's not my place to say, but Clint mentioned you were going through something right now. Are you sure you don't need me to find someone for you? I'd be happy to, if that's what you need."

Her gaze flickers up to Natasha's again soon and she notices that she seems genuinely concerned for someone who really doesn't know her at all. She wants to ask Natasha what Clint has told her, but then she thinks about it and she knows that he'd never break her trust and tell someone else what he knows, or what he thinks he knows happened. It starts to lead Wanda to thoughts about how unfair it is to burden Clint, and for him to be the only one who knows, and Wanda knows this. She also knows she needs to change this, to finally do something about it and take this secret off his shoulders, but it's not something she's prepared to think about tonight so she doesn't.

"Don't worry, he only told me that he was concerned." Natasha says quickly. "And before you ask, no one sent me in here. I recognize you from a picture he showed me of you and your brother. He didn't send me in here. This is just me applying a little make-up and talking to another girl in the bathroom. It's just girl talk. That's all it is, all it has to be."

"Thank you for that, but I am fine." Wanda says, as she holds her mask loosely in her hands. "I am just—it is very loud and busy out there tonight. And there are so many people.. I am fine, I just needed space."

"I get that. Trust me, I do. But that's what all Stark parties are like. Actually, I think tonight might be tame by his standards." she tells her, a half smile on her lips as she packs up her things. "You know, Wanda, if bright, shiny and loud isn't your thing then maybe you signed up for the wrong thing coming here tonight to a Stark party. Just saying."

She sighs quietly, looking away. "Yes, I know. Maybe you are right."

"I don't like to brag too much, but I tend to be right. Just ask Clint: he'll adamantly deny it, which will only prove to you that I am right." Natasha says, smiling in a small and genuine way. "Now are you sure that you don't need anything before I go back out there? Because I can be very resourceful."

"I'm fine, really." Wanda assures her. "I don't need anything. Thank you, though."

"Great. Good to know. Because I've got a hot date somewhere by the bar that I've been looking forward to all week. If you need me, I'll be there. And if we can't catch up later and share stories about Clint, then we'll have to make time for it. I can always make time in my life to share embarrassing stories about Barton."

She smiles back. "I'd like that, Natasha."

"So would I, Wanda. Have a nice night."

A few seconds pass and then Natasha is gone, and Wanda is left to the quiet space of an empty bathroom. It gives her a moment to pull herself together before she goes outside, so she takes a minute, composes herself, and even pulls on her mask and ties it on to put herself back into the mood for the party. She still ends up feeling like she needs a real moment of peace away from the crowds, and she knows exactly where to go to find it.

It's how she ends up on the private balcony space again with the candles, flowers, and the fading sky above the city. She leans against the railing slowly, takes in a breath, and lets her gaze wander across the city skyline before it goes up to the sky. Wanda gets lost in it all for a while, until her eyes close and she welcomes the breeze that seeps into her skin. She stays here like this for what could be hours, but really it's only about five minutes before the quiet ends and she realizes that she's not alone anymore.

Her eyes open at the sound of his voice.

"Hey, red. What are you doing all the way out here?"

Chapter Text

Bucky's mask is gone.

This is one of the first things that Wanda notices about him when he joins her on the balcony. His mask his gone, there's a freshly lit cigarette pressed between his lips, and underneath the city lights his eyes look like the palest and prettiest shade of blue that she's ever seen. It's almost something she get lost thinking about, but she stops herself and focuses back on Bucky as he joins her by the railing. His gaze sweeps across the city skyline slowly and for a moment he looks curious, then it passes and he looks back at her.

"So, red..You didn't say." Bucky pauses, as he leans against the railing. "Last time I checked the party of the year was all the way back in there. So what are you doing all the way out here?"

Wanda considers being honest with Bucky but she can't find the words, so she distracts them both instead.

"Really? You are calling me this now?" she arches an eyebrow. "I am curious. Why the new name?"

Bucky's laugh is sweet and soft as he looks back at her, and for a moment she is lost thinking about the way he looks more curious now than he did when he was gazing at the skyline. She feels curious about him too, and she can't work out why she wants to know so much about him but she does. She wants to know things like why his mask is gone, why he's out here now, and then she wants to know why he's here at all when she can't imagine this party would really be his thing. It's not like she knows him well enough to think that, it's actually more that she can tell from the way he looks right now that he doesn't want to be here.

She feels the same way. It's not really her thing, this party and these crowds, but here she is. It's why she ends up deciding that maybe they're here for similar reasons. Maybe Bucky is here for his friends like she is, or maybe he's seeking out the same distraction she hoped she would find here tonight. She's really not sure if they're here for the same reason, but it's starting to feel like there has to be a reason that they keep meeting each other. And maybe this moment here is the reason why.

"What, you don't like it? You don't think it's cute?" Bucky grins. "I thought it was cute. I mean, sure. Okay, it's not as cute as..Wanda. I'll give you that one, okay? But it's still pretty cute, right?"

Wanda smiles, as her gaze flickers back to the city. "I don't agree. But I am still curious..Why the new name?"

He joins her by the railing soon, eyes wandering out to the city to follow her gaze. And while Bucky watches the city, Wanda watches him distantly. It's only for a few seconds really, but it's long enough that she ends up thinking about his eyes again.

"Don't know. Just seems like it'd be your color."

She hums quietly, and for a while she says nothing. Then eventually she turns back to Bucky, watching as he smiles more.

"Should I take the silence to mean that you like the new nickname?" he asks, pausing. "Or is that a big, firm no?"

It isn't quiet for long before Wanda smiles back at him, leaning into the railing as her eyes linger on him, and then on the cigarette still dangling between his lips. She spends a minute thinking about it, then makes up her mind.

"If you have another cigarette for me then you can take it as whatever you like."

"Oh, you want one? Sure, not a problem. Just hang on a sec." Bucky says, as he pops his cigarette between his lips and pats himself down. "Let me just..Ah. Got 'em."

After he retrieves the packet from his suit pocket, Bucky pulls a cigarette out and offers it to Wanda. Then he leans in to light it for her, and when he's done he steps away to give her some space again. She appreciates it and smiles.

"Thank you."

Bucky shrugs, smiling back at her. "No problem, really. And hey, you still didn't say what you're doing out here. But I think I can guess..You're not really enjoying Stark's party, are you?"

It's something Wanda spends too long thinking about. She turns his words over in her head, thinking about all of the reasons why she's here and why she shouldn't be here. She ends up stuck on the memory of how it felt back inside the party, back in that elevator, and it's too much to think about right now. She can't say a word of it, so she avoids it and answers it without really giving him an answer.

"I don't really know why I am out here. Maybe it is the party, or maybe it is me. Maybe we are out here for similar reasons."

She tells him this because it's so much easier than admitting to Bucky, and to herself, what's really going on in her head right now. Back inside I was—suffocating. It felt like there was no air. I couldn't breathe.

"Yeah, I don't know about that. I doubt that." Bucky sighs, after thinking about it. "Even if you don't know why you're out here, it's not for the same reason as me. I can tell you that."

Wanda glances him over. "Then why do you think I am out here?"

There's another small shrug from Bucky before he looks at her again, and when he does he smiles and somehow it's still kind even with the tension she catches lingering in his eyes. From this and the way he's watching her, she knows that he's carrying something of his own around and that's why he's here with her now.

"I don't know why you're out here, red. That's why I asked. Maybe you like the view?" he suggests, then begins to smile again. "Maybe you don't like people all that much. Or maybe it's a combination of the two."

She nods, thinking it over. "Maybe you are right."

Bucky smiles more before he glances back inside to the party, to the crowds and chaos she feels so relieved to have left behind for a little while. And from the way he looks for a moment, she can tell he feels the same way.

"I'm not a genius. And I don't like to brag all that much. But I do tend to be right about a lot of things." Bucky says, and glances back at her. "And one thing I do know is that a party hosted by Tony Stark probably isn't the best place for someone who doesn't really like people."

"I think it is more that it was not really my decision to be here tonight." she admits, minutes later. "I came here with my brother and his boyfriend. They were invited and they insisted that I come. So here I am."

"Oh, yeah. Right, that. Huh." he smiles. "So you brother's dating Barton? I have to say, I'm a little surprised."

Wanda watches him closely now, head tilted to the side.

"And why is that?"

"Well, Barton was always going on and on with all of this lovey dovey crap about your brother. And for a while there I figured at least half of it had to be bullshit. But I see I was wrong and I guess that's okay, because we all have to be wrong sometimes. It gives everyone else a chance to catch up."

Something about it, something about Bucky, just makes Wanda smile more. She can't help the way she smiles when she's with him and how he makes her laugh. It's not just because he's funny, or because she feels calm when she's around him. It's his charm. He's funny, and charming, and he makes her laugh more than she thought she could right now. It feels good, and she knows it can't last and that she will have to go back inside but she wants to stay with him for just a little longer.

"If I am honest I really have not heard much about you from Clint."

Bucky laughs, then his laugh turns into a sweet half-smile.

"Ah, I knew it. That typical bastard. He's always talking about himself. He honestly never shuts up." Bucky laughs again, grinning more. "And you know, the thing about Barton is that he's so self-absorbed. He's the kind of guy who's all 'me, me, me'. But you see, Wanda..I'm not like that. I put people first. I care. But Barton? He's the total opposite of that, but you didn't hear that from me."

She chews on her lip for a moment, hiding her smile.

"Really?"

"Oh, yeah. Really. It's true. Swear it." he barely hides his own smile. "You ask any person here and I guarantee you that they're gonna tell you the same thing."

Wanda pretends to really think about it, while she glances him over and takes it all in slowly.

"I don't think I need to ask anyone about this, because I think I already see what you are saying."

It just makes Bucky smile more, even as he steps away for a moment to stub out his cigarette. Wanda follows, crushing her cigarette out in the bowl to her right, and when she returns Bucky's waiting for her by the railing.

"See, I knew I was right." he tells her now. "I had a feeling you were good at reading people."

She smiles, tilting her head back. "Really? Why?"

"You just seem like you have that thing to you. I don't know." Bucky pauses, pretending to be deep in thought. "I mean, I guess I could be wrong. It'd be a first for me to be totally wrong about something. But I could be. Am I?"

Wanda hesitates, half-smiling at him. "You're not wrong. I like to think I am good at reading people. And what I think is you are nothing like Clint. I think you are very different from him, and I think you are trouble."

In the next few seconds Bucky goes through several different reactions and emotions before he settles on the one he's going to go with: Bucky looks shocked. Or he pretends to be shocked by her comments. He does a terrible job at it though and can barely hide his smile.

"Really? Me? Little old me?" he asks, eyes wide. "You think I'm trouble? And Barton is..What, exactly? A saint?"

"Yes, I think you are trouble. And I think if I asked your friends they would all agree with me."

Bucky makes a low tsk, before hiding a laugh. He turns away then looks back at her like he really can't decide what he should say next, and it only makes Wanda smile more. Then he lets his own smile slip through and Wanda feels caught up in the way he looks right now.

"I'm sorry, but you couldn't be further from the truth on this one. I am so far from trouble." he ends up telling her, with a wider smile. "You know my friends are actually the ones you want to look out for, because I promise you that they're the real troublemakers."

"Really? Sam and Steve are trouble?"

He nods confidently, while taking a step closer. "Oh, yeah. Definitely. And what do you mean? Of course Steve is involved. Oh, Wanda. Naive, naive Wanda. Yes, Steve is involved. He causes most of the trouble. He's basically the ringleader. Really, if you had any idea of the shenanigans that those kids got up to it would blow your mind."

A laugh rises in her throat, she can't help it.

"Shenanigans?"

Bucky looks like he's barely holding back his own laugh now. "Yeah, that's what I said. Those darn kids and their shenanigans. They're wild. And reckless. I mean, I'm just glad you're here tonight to protect me from those jerks."

As she looks back to the city, Wanda smiles and rolls her eyes, and once again it only makes Bucky laugh more. She enjoys the sound.

"The truth always finds ways to show itself. So I guess we will see what is true and what isn't." she pauses, turning back to him. "But I still think that you are trouble."

"Sure, fair enough. You're entitled to your own opinion. Who am I to try and change your mind?" Bucky smiles, then joins her side. "But since we're on this topic—you wanna know what I think you look like? Fun. I think you look like a whole lot of fun."

She laughs again, looking up at him. "Really?"

"Yeah, really. With the way Barton and your brother were looking for you back inside, I could see it. You're the life of the party." he nods, confident in this and in himself. "I think you're a whole lot of fun. And I'm betting that you know how to have a good time."

"I think my brother may not always agree with you about that." Wanda says, smiling slowly. "He thinks I can be a buzzkill. He does not mean it, but I know that sometimes he does. We are different in some ways. And maybe he is right, maybe this is what I am."

"Well, that's probably just because he doesn't understand your idea of a good time."

It leaves her feeling curious, mostly. She's not just curious about his idea of a good time, but also about why he's here and why he's saying these things to her. He doesn't know her and she doesn't know him, but right now it almost feels like she does and it's just as confusing as everything else.

Wanda thinks about this before she turns away from the sky and really looks at Bucky. She faces him more, eyes glancing across him briefly, so subtly that he probably doesn't even see, then she smiles and arches her eyebrows a little.

"And what do you think my idea of a good time is?" 

"I don't know. I don't think I know you well enough to say." Bucky answers belatedly. "What I do know is...I think right now you wanna do some shots. But you just haven't found the right partner."

She smiles, eyed glued on him again. "What makes you think that I am looking for a partner? Or that if I was looking, that you would even be the right partner?"

Bucky shrugs, half-grinning. "Call it intuition."

"That's it? Just intuition?"

He looks like he thinks about just shrugging as an answer, but in the end he doesn't. Bucky steps away, runs a hand along his jaw, then turns back to her, and this time there's something different in his eyes that she can't read and it intrigues her.

"Honestly? I don't know. Maybe it's because you think that I look like trouble. And maybe it's because I think you look like trouble, too."

 

* * * *

 

After four shots of tequila at the bar, Pietro finds them.

He joins them for a shot then drags them away, over to where the group is going to play a game and drink a lot more vodka. This is what her brother tells her and Wanda can't say no, even though she's never been very good at games. So she says yes and follows Pietro to the booths on the other side of the bar, where she finds Clint wedged in between Sam and Steve. The three of them look so blissfully happy that Wanda takes a moment to file the memory away then she moves on, to the drinks in front of her and the game they're about to play.

She's just about to ask Pietro about it when he gently nudges her into the booth and then follows her in. She ends up next to Sam and Pietro, while on the other side of the booth Bucky slides into the seat next to Steve and takes the beer that he offers him.

For a moment she watches him then she looks away, back to Pietro as he begins to explain the rules of the game they're going to play. It's called: never have I ever.

It's an easy game, Pietro tells them. Someone makes a statement, something they've never done, and anyone who has done it drinks a shot. Drink a shot if you've done it and if you haven't then don't. That's it. It really does sound easy, but Wanda still isn't sure how she feels about this game—and it's not because of what she's done, it's all of the things that she's never done. It leaves her feeling anxious, but she doesn't want to walk away yet. Wanda doesn't want to give up, so she stays and listen as Steve begins.

"Never have I ever..Ditched someone on a date."

Only two people reach for their shots, at first. Sam and Pietro clink their little shot glasses together like fools sharing a silent toast, and it makes Wanda smile so much. A moment later Clint takes a shot, then looks at the rest of them like he's waiting for them to do the same thing. It's not something she's done, she hasn't been on a lot of dates, so Wanda doesn't take the shot even if she feels like she could use it.

"Come on, Rogers. I don't buy that." Clint smiles. "And Wanda, really? You never ditched a really bad date?"

Bucky answers before she can even find the words.

"Hey, Barton, consider this: maybe they're just not assholes like the three of you." he says, while grinning. "You ever think of that? I know it's crazy and your mind is tiny, but hey—maybe they're just decent people who don't ditch their dates?"

After rolling his eyes, Clint takes another shot. "Trust me, if you'd been on some of the dates I'd been on then you'd get it. Most of the time it was me just wanting to get out of a really weird situation. I'm not really buying that you of all people haven't ditched a date, Barnes. But whatever, man. I'll take the shot for you."

"Okay, great. My turn now." Sam says quickly, as he leans forward to fill up the empty shot glasses. "And I know it's one that a lot of you have done. I've been sitting on this one, and I think I can guarantee that everyone here has done it."

"Try your best, Wilson. But you are not so good at games, remember?" Pietro teases him, smiling. "You do not want to lose like you did last time, do you? That was embarrassing, wasn't it—"

"Alright, man. Let's just wait and see who the winner is at the end of the night." Sam is quick to answer, as he leans back into his seat. "Okay, now, here it is. Get ready to get drunk, folks: Never have I ever kissed an ex."

There's a collective groan from most of the table, that leaves Sam smiling like he knows that he's right. And when he comes to Wanda, he is right. It is something she's done. It's why she drinks the shot, places it down, then takes another one just because she feels like it. When she looks up she finds Sam grinning because he was right, and even though he won this time everyone else still looks so happy.

It's another memory that she locks away, before she feels herself begin to slip away from them. Somewhere between the shared conversation, shots, and laughter, she begins to feel lost and there's nothing she can do to change that. Wanda feels as if she is here, but at the same time like she isn't here at all.

She listens to them distantly, drinking the shots when it's something that she's done or just when she feels like it. Never have I ever broken the law. Never have I ever been arrested. Never have I ever set something on fire.

For a while it's like she's not here at all, then two turns later it's Bucky's go and when she looks up she realizes that he looks as reluctant as she feels to come up with something.

"Come on, Barnes. Try to make it interesting." Clint calls out, filling up their glasses.

Bucky hesitates, then sighs a little. "Look, I'm not sure. Man, what do I even say? I'm just gonna get you guys wasted."

"It is fine, don't worry. I will help you. You just have to think of things you have never done." Pietro tells him, warm like he always is. "Like, things with exes. Drunken mistakes. Okay, so say something like: never have I ever kissed someone on a first date? Never have I ever been in a fight? Never have I ever been in love? Never have I ever broken something? Things like this. Don't worry, it is easy. Say what you want, it is only a game."

"Okay, fine. Got it." Bucky says, after a swig of beer. "Never have I ever been in love."

Clint's the first one to react. He starts to half-laugh, half-groan, while Sam says of course that's the one Bucky goes with. But before anyone can take their shots Tony Stark shows up.

"Well, that's depressing. Does it count if I'm in love with myself?" he smiles, joining them by the table. "Hmmm. Some of you I know. Some of you I don't know. Or maybe I do. Who really knows anyone anymore? Kinda feels like half the city is here tonight, right?"

After taking a shot, Clint smiles at him. "Yeah, it's crazy busy. But it's a nice set-up you've got here."

"Yeah, it won't always be this full. But thanks for the support, Barton. And what can I say? My designers know what they're doing. And Happy knows how to run a tight ship." Tony says, as he takes one of the shots and swallows it. "Oh, and Barton—while I'm here, you should know that I'm like 98% sure that your doppelgänger is here tonight. Slightly older guy. Tanned. A big tattoo on his face. He walked right past me and I was so sure it was you. I felt like such an idiot. My bad."

"Screw you, Stark."

"Yeah. Love you, too." Tony smiles, leaning against the booth. "So, tell me.."

He pauses, as his eyes wander across the group. His gaze stops on Wanda, or it feels like it does, and she tells herself that she doesn't know why but she does. She's never met Tony Stark before but she has heard a lot about him, and not just from Clint. It's not something she wants to think about, and she's glad when he looks away and focuses back on the rest of them.

"You kids having fun tonight?" Tony continues, a minute later. "You like the place? It's not too shabby?"

"We are. And Clint's right, Tony. It's a really nice place that you've got here." Steve tells him, smiling warmly. "And you're doing a good thing, giving all that money away. We're happy to be here."

"Aww, well, I honestly do it all for that warm and fuzzy feeling I get from having your approval, Cap. Thanks for the love." Tony answers, smiling a little more. "So tell me about the new additions to the clubhouse. I didn't know you adopted again, Clint. Or that your farm had enough room for more additions."

"Those were animals, Tony. And you already know Pietro, you met him once." Clint is quick to explain. "This is Wanda, his sister."

Tony nods and looks between them before his attention settles on Wanda, and somehow she just knows what he's going to say before he even gets a word out.

"Right, I remember Pietro. I remember the hair. It was whiter before, right? Or no? Anyway, nice to see you again." Tony says, then hesitates. "It's weird, but I remember you, too. Wanda. I know that name. I recognize it, I mean. Hmm. You know Vision, right?"

And there it is. It's another sign from the universe telling her that she wasn't supposed to be here tonight. She feels it more than she has all night and she wants to get out. Wanda wants to go outside, back to the balcony, to the cool air and cigarettes, but she doesn't leave yet. She stays. She's not sure how she sits there, holding Stark's gaze while she feels her brother watching her. But somehow she stays there and holds it all in.

"Yes, I did. A long time ago."

Stark is quickly done with Wanda, after this. He slides into the booth next to Bucky, drinks another shot, then moves on from questions of Vision and the past. They're all distracted now Tony's arrival, and then by the new game he suggests that they play, and she's so glad that they've moved on because she really doesn't feel like sitting here and playing games anymore. Wanda wants to leave. She wants to get out of here, but she convinces herself to stay for a few more minutes just to show everyone, especially Pietro, that nothing is wrong.

So she stays for another minute, for as long as she can, with those same, few words stuck on replay in her head. Never have I ever been in love. Never have I ever—

Wanda runs. She runs out of patience and she leaves them soon, making up an excuse for Pietro before she leaves and runs back to the crowds that she ran from earlier. But something stops her before she gets outside. On her way to the stairs Wanda runs right into Scott Lang's chest. He reacts quickly though and grabs a hold of her arms to stop her from falling over. His grip is gentle and not entirely unwelcome. It's kind, like the smile he gives her when he realizes it's her.

"Hey! It's you! Wow, your mask is so cool. I love those little red gems. So cool." Scott beams. "Hey, I'm so glad I found you guys. Have you seen that plate of shrimp floating around? I'm famished."

She stays close to him, stepping away from the crowds. "No, I haven't. I don't know what you mean." she pauses, eyes flickering around the room before she looks back at him. "Scott, do you have weed with you tonight? Please, tell me you have something."

"Oh, no. I don't do that anymore. I have a kid now. So I don't do that, I'm sorry." he pauses, spends a minute thinking on something, then smiles. "I've got mints? And I know there's shrimp floating around here somewhere. We could get some soda and shrimp, and go get some fresh air. I know Hope is around here somewhere. I think you two would totally get along, if you want to join us?"

It's a kind offer, and it's one that she even considers for a moment. But it's not what she needs right now, so she says good-bye and leaves him. And as she turns away from Scott and the bar, she feels a hand on her back and expects it to be him again. But it isn't.

Bucky's there when she turns around, a hand hovering by her shoulder before he leans in closer to make sure she hears him over the next song that starts to play.

"You wanna go get some air?" he suggests, voice warm against her cheek. "Maybe another cigarette?"

Wanda turns to look at him more and nods a little, because right now that feels like exactly what she needs.

"Yes."

"Great." Bucky half-smiles, a hand pressed gently to her back again. "Come on, red. I know the perfect spot."

 

* * * *

 

Up on the roof everything is dark, warm, and endless. And Wanda is lost in it all until Bucky joins her again.

He comes back to her with a light for their cigarettes, after losing his somewhere between the bar and the booth. Bucky eases down slowly into the seat across from Wanda, and once he's seated he pulls two cigarettes free from the packet and pops them into his mouth. He lights one, offers it to Wanda, then lights the other and leaves her to watch him for a moment.

Wanda feels thankful for his company. And for the cigarette. She doesn't have to say it though, because she knows that he gets it. He's not looking to be thanked, he just wants to be here and it means more than she can say.

So she says nothing and tilts her head back to the sky, eyes stuck on the stars above them while she thinks about the way it feels to sit here in the quiet with Bucky. It doesn't last for long, the quiet never does, but Wanda doesn't mind at all. And when he speaks again, she welcomes the sound of his voice and glances back at him.

"This place..It's a lot to take in, right?"

Wanda nods slowly, agreeing. "It is. And I think I made the wrong decision coming here tonight."

He sighs, then leans back into the chair more. "Yeah, I get it. I guess I'm almost glad that I'm not the only one who feels like they shouldn't be here tonight. I don't know. I guess sometimes you just know when something isn't meant to be. Maybe I should have listened to my instincts on this one."

"Why are you here then?" she asks, curious again. "If you did not want to come, then why did you?"

Bucky hesitates, then smiles at her while the cigarette dangles loosely between his lips.

"Why did you, red?"

Slowly she returns his smile. "My brother and Clint insisted I come. And for a moment, I wanted to come. I thought it would be fun and what I needed, but I am not really enjoying myself like I thought I would. And I think this is maybe the opposite of what I needed."

He gets it. She's not sure how or why he does, but she can see it in his eyes and it means something. Bucky looks away a second later, sighing as he runs his hand along his jaw. Then he looks back at her and she's glad that he does.

"What you're saying..I get it. Or I think I do." he admits, between puffs of his cigarette. "Steve wanted me here tonight, too. He insisted that I come. He thought it'd be good for me, or something like that."

"And it wasn't?" Wanda asks quietly.

Bucky looks back at her and smiles slowly. "I don't know. It's just, this place is something else. Steve only has good intentions, just like I'm sure your brother and Barton do. But it's just this place, it's so..heavy."

It means something to her. Maybe it means more than it should. Wanda is left to think about it, to pull apart his words and think about what they mean, for her and for Bucky. She gets lost somewhere along the way and ends up thinking about why Steve thought Bucky needed tonight, just like Clint thought she did. She spends a while stuck on these thoughts, until something brings her back.

"I know it's not my business, but I feel like I have to ask. Are you alright?" he speaks again, minutes later. "Back there in the party you just seemed—well, I don't know. Just seemed like it was something. So feel free to let me know if it's not my business and I'll shut up. Or don't.."

She hesitates, finding the words and then losing them before she can even piece them together for him.

"It was nothing, really. Only a moment."

Bucky says nothing else after this. He just sort of nods like it's something else he understands, but he doesn't say a word and they both leave the quiet to stay between them in the minutes that come after. And it feels nice. It's not uncomfortable or heavy with a pressure to speak again. It feels nice, comfortable even, so they leave it for a while and enjoy their cigarettes.

Minutes later when he speaks again, she welcomes it.

"So I've gotta say..I really wasn't expecting to see you here tonight." Bucky tells her, as a smile returns to his face. "If I'm honest, it was a surprise. Not a bad one. Just a small one."

Wanda smiles back slowly. "It was the same for me."

"I guess I was also surprised that you even wanted to talk to me tonight. You know, after what a big jerk I was with that whole bike thing." he pauses, then looks away again. "And the way I just ran out on you after like two minutes at Peggy's. Yeah, I get it. I do. That's why I was also surprised you sent me that text."

"You got my text?"

Bucky looks back at her again, faintly smiling. "Yeah. I mean, that was you. Right?"

"Who else would it be? Or do you often create accidents with your bike, and help strangers with broken flowers and berries?" Wanda smiles softly. "Yes, Bucky. It was me. But right after I sent it, I broke my phone. And lost your number. So I had no idea how I would find you again."

He looks relieved mostly, and then he looks happy at the thought that Wanda wanted to find him again.

"That's lame. I'm really sorry about your phone." Bucky sighs, reaching over to stub out his cigarette. "Seems like a whole lot of bad luck for a good person."

"It's fine, it was just a phone." Wanda smiles. "What did you think of my text to you? Did you answer it?"

"Oh yeah. That. I thought your message was very interesting." he answers, grinning slowly. "I thought it was very funny. You have a great sense of humor, Wanda. Really, you do. Have you ever considered a career as a comedian?"

She laughs, leaning forward. "Really?"

"Yeah, or..I don't know. Honestly? Maybe I thought Wilson was messing with me." he sighs, scratching at his jaw briefly. "For a minute there I thought he was playing with me. Just because he knew how bad I felt about that accident. I thought he was screwing with me, because that's what he does. It's kinda his thing."

Her smile only grows, becoming softer and warmer.

"You told Sam about me? And Steve?"

Bucky shrugs a little, smile still there. "Yeah, just that I felt bad. You know, about the bike thing." he pauses, sounding hesitant, but he goes on anyway. "Yeah, Wilson's alright. And Steve, he's a good listener. I guess they both are."

"They seem like good men?"

"They are, yeah. Both of them. Just don't tell them I said that, especially Wilson. Or it'll go right to their big, fat heads and I'll never hear the end of it." Bucky says, playful again. "And then it'll become this big, complicated group thing and they'll never let it go. So let's just avoid that and pretend this part of the conversation never happened. That sound good?"

"Sure, that sounds good. But first tell me what you said back to my text?"

"Oh, I was funny, red." Bucky grins. "You would have laughed. I was really funny. And original, too. Just like you."

She hides her smile by pressing a finger to her lips and simply nodding along, while she waits for Bucky to go on.

"I said clearly you weren't staying away from jerks because you text me. Trust me, it was way cooler and funnier in the message." he's quick to tell her, still smiling. "It was kind of one of those moments where you had to be there or you'd miss it. You know what I mean? If you're not there when it happens, you don't get it and you never will. It was that kind of moment."

"Yes, I know what you mean." she nods, smiling now. "I think that I get it now, Bucky. I get what you are saying."

"It really was good. I can be clever."

It makes her laugh more, and Wanda can't help it. She feels better from simply being around him, and it feels so good, so different to the rest of the night. Maybe it shouldn't feel this good, and maybe she shouldn't feel so comfortable with someone she doesn't really know, but she does and she doesn't want it to end. Somehow Bucky reads her mind.

"Hey, so..Do you wanna get out of here?"

"And go where?" Wanda asks, half a second later.

Bucky smiles. "Anywhere."

Seconds later he reaches for his tie, fiddles with it for a moment, then rips it off and dramatically throws it away.

"Finally, I'm free. Shit, that feels so much better." Bucky smiles. "Wanna get out of here? You can get out of those heels. Maybe we can grab a bite to eat somewhere."

Wanda answers without over-thinking it, because she already knows what her answer will be. Yes, she wants this, she wants to get out of here, and she wants to go somewhere new with Bucky. She wants to go anywhere with him.

"Sure. What did you have in mind?"

He smiles warmly at her, then jumps to his feet and stretches out his hand to help her up from her chair. Wanda takes it and lets him help, and once she's standing his hand lingers on hers for a second then he lets go.

"That depends." he says, moments later. "You hungry?"

"I could eat."

Bucky smiles as they start to walk over to the doors. "Great. I know this sweet little burger place. Really, it's so good. Maybe we can go there, then get a drink after?"

She hums quietly, then takes a step over to the right. But before she gets too far ahead Wanda turns back to him.

"I am not sure you will be able to handle that."

"What? You don't think I can handle, what?" Bucky smiles, gaze stuck on her again. "You, or the drinks?"

Wanda shrugs lightly. "Both, I think."

He catches up with her after this, quickly joining her side. Then he moves in front of her, smiling warmly.

"Hey, listen. Wait a minute there, Wanda. Just wait a minute. I think you might be surprised by what I can handle, doll."

"Then I know a place, if you are interested. I will meet you in the lobby in ten minutes?" Wanda suggests, smiling. "After I find my brother and Clint to let them know I am leaving, I will meet you there."

"Sounds good, I'll go find Steve and do the same." Bucky tells her, as he starts to move towards the doors. "See you then, red."

Wanda smiles back at Bucky and watches as he disappears inside the building. She stays there until he's gone, then takes a step over to the railing, leans against it, and lifts her head back up to the sky again. She spends a minute here looking up at the stars and out at the city, and for a while it feels good to just be here and to have time to collect her thoughts. But she doesn't want to spend too long here, she doesn't want to be late, so she quickly returns inside to search for her brother.

She finds Sam in the booth, laughing with a light-haired woman. And they both look so happy that she can't interrupt them, so she doesn't. She looks away and searches the rest of the room for her brother, but she finds no sign of him and she decides to go back to level 2, to the bar her brother loved so much.

That's where she finds Clint waiting in line to order a drink. There's no sign of her brother here but she knows he must be close, he always is. She searches the room for him but in the end she doesn't find him and she decides to pass on a message through Clint. This way it will be easier and faster. Wanda moves slowly through the crowds to get to Clint and when she joins him by the bar she places a hand on his shoulder to let him know she's here.

"Hey, babe. Remember that drink we had—"

Clint stops when he realizes she's not Pietro. Then he smiles and makes room in the line for her to stand with him.

"Hey, Wanda. So glad you're here. What's up?" he smiles warmly. "We were looking for you before. Everything alright?"

"Yes, I'm fine. Don't worry, really. I'm sorry you couldn't find me. I was getting some air on the roof." Wanda answers, then hesitates briefly. "I have a migraine so I'm leaving. Will you tell Pietro? I'm sorry, but I am not enjoying the party like this. I wanted to try, I did, but—"

"Hey, hey. Don't worry. Really, sweetheart. It's fine, I get it. I do." Clint assures her, rubbing her arm gently. "You wanna go? Then you do that. Your brother's still gonna have the best night of his life here, I guarantee it. So if you want to go, don't feel guilty about it. We get it."

She lets out a little sigh of relief, then leans in to kiss Clint's cheek lightly.

"Thank you for this. And for telling Pietro." she says, then steps away. "Have fun. Both of you. And please tell him that I am sorry, and that I will make it up to him."

"Don't worry about it. He's fine." Clint tells her, smiling again. "He's having the time of his life. We'll see you tomorrow."

Wanda smiles and takes another step back away from Clint, and away from the bar and the busy crowds surrounding her. But before she leaves, before she fully turns away, Clint calls out to her and catches her arm gently to stop her from leaving. When she looks back she discovers him holding out his coat for her.

"Looks like it could get cold out. So take this." he says, then passes it to her. "Just don't get any stains on it. Don't ruin it. It's a good one."

After eyeing off the garment she takes it then looks back to Clint, who has already made up his mind on what that look from her means.

"And don't, okay? You may be an expert at most things, but that doesn't make you an expert at everything." Clint tells her, while a smile almost slips through. "You don't get to judge my fashion taste like your brother does. I have good taste, okay—"

"You are too suspicious. I was going to say it looks nice on you." Wanda smiles, pulling on the coat. "Don't be so defensive. And please, have fun tonight. Both of you. Stay safe, okay?"

"Will do. Text to let us know you made it home safely. And don't worry about us, we're gonna have way too much fun here. Just take care of yourself. Alright?"

Wanda smiles, stepping away slowly. "I will. Have fun."

She leaves him after this, moving swiftly through the crowd to get to the elevator. Wanda waits to take one that's empty, because she's got a little time and she doesn't mind waiting. It's worth it when she gets an empty elevator down to the lobby, and this time she doesn't feel like she's crammed in or like she can't breathe. It feels better and soon she's in the lobby, joining the small line to collect her purse.

It doesn't take long and soon she's over to the side, waiting for Bucky by a vase of pretty flowers. She's there for a moment, distracted by the flowers, when she looks up out of the main doors of Stark's building and she sees him.

From where he's standing on the curb, dressed in a black coat and waiting for a taxi, Vision can't see her. But she can see him, and even from where she's standing she knows that it's him. She'd recognize him anywhere. Wanda's chest suddenly feels tight again like it did in the elevator, only it's worse now. It's because he's here and he's so close, but at the same time he really isn't close at all. He's only there for half a minute more before the cab pulls up and takes him away, and then he's gone and Wanda is left staring at the empty patch of pavement like he was never there at all.

She barely spends a moment thinking about it before she feels a hand ghost across her shoulder and she looks back to find Bucky there.

"Hey, nice coat. I like it." Bucky glances her over, smiling warmly. "You good to go?"

Wanda nods. "Yes, I'm ready. I'm good."

"Great. So, I'm curious..Where are we going anyway?" he asks, as they begin to walk towards the doors. "You think your place lives up to my sweet burger place? Because I've got to tell you that I think that answer's gonna be a no."

She smiles back at him, as she tucks one hand in her coat and leaves the other clutched loosely around her purse. Bucky stays close by her side while they walk to the doors and she finds that she's glad for his company again, for the distraction and comfort it gives her.

"I had something in mind, if you are still interested."

Bucky considers it briefly, then nods and looks ahead.

"Yeah, I'm down for anything. Or pretty much anything. Wanna get a cab there?"

"Yes, but we will have to make a stop on the way. Only if you don't mind making a stop.."

"Totally fine with me. I don't have any other plans for tonight." he says, then pauses for a moment. "So your brother wasn't pissed you left early, even if he insisted you come tonight?"

When they reach the doors Bucky holds them open for Wanda and she steps outside slowly. He follows a second later and joins her as they begin their search for a free cab.

"I didn't see my brother, but Clint is going to pass the message on. I'm sure he will be fine." Wanda pauses, glancing to Bucky. "What about you? How were your friends, and Steve?"

"Yeah, they'll be fine. They're good. And Steve doesn't really get pissed." Bucky sighs, stepping away to hail down a cab. "I mean, I don't know.. He gets disappointed, which is worse."

After the cab spots them and begins to slow down, Bucky turns to Wanda and smiles. Then the cab stops and Bucky holds the door open for Wanda again, something she smiles at, before she climbs in and closes the door. Bucky runs around to the other side and gets in just as Wanda is giving the cab driver the address to their first stop: Sully's bar. It's an old favorite of hers, that's close to her apartment with a good selection of drinks, but they're not stopping in for a drink tonight.

In the back of the cab it falls silent when they start their journey to Sully's, and just like before it doesn't feel uncomfortable, or heavy with any pressure to speak and break the silence. Wanda doesn't know why he's quiet again but she knows why she is. It's tonight, and the memories, and it's Vision. It's all of this and more, and it's not what she wants to focus on. She wants to focus on being here with Bucky, she wants to feel distracted and happy like they did before, but when she looks over at him she discovers that he's distracted by whatever is going on in his head tonight.

On the outside he looks distracted by the city. All the lights, and people, and buildings. But it's something Wanda sees through, and she knows on the inside he's not really distracted by the pretty lights or tall buildings. It's what's going on in his head that he's distracted by, and Wanda doesn't know why she cares but she does. She spends a while thinking about it and then the words just come out.

"You never said why."

Now Bucky turns to face her. "Why, what?"

Wanda gives him a small look. "You know what I mean."

And she's right, he does know. They both know it, and the half-smile he offers her shows it. Then he sighs and looks away, and this time she doesn't say anything else. She just watches as a familiar look darts across his eyes before he glances back at her.

"The hand, or the bandage?" he asks her.

"Both."

Bucky sighs again, before he sinks back into his seat. He looks like he's torn between talking about it or saying nothing. In the end he gives away almost nothing.

"It's a long story, red."

She's still curious, she still can't look away.

"Is that why you always wear gloves?"

For a second she doesn't know what his reaction will be. He looks different, not like himself for a moment, and then something changes and he smiles, and he almost looks like himself again. Bucky smiles at her in the back of the dark, silhouetted cab, and she doesn't know why but for a moment it's the saddest smile she's ever seen.

"Not really."

Wanda waits a minute before she goes on, not entirely sure if she should keep pushing or stop. She decides to just see if it's something that he wants to talk about and if it is then she can be there for him like he was there for her tonight. And if he doesn't want to talk about it then she'll let it go and they can pretend that they never talked about any of it.

"So?" she asks. "What is it?"

He quickly looks away and she leaves his gaze to wander away back across the busy city again. Bucky's eyes dart across tall buildings and bright pink neon signs, and for a long time he doesn't look at her or say anything, and she doesn't mind at all that he doesn't want to talk about it. Then he speaks up.

"Yeah, so, I said it was an accident. Right? I think I told you that already." he says soon, words quiet again. "Well I don't know that it was really an accident. It was more like..I made a mistake. That's what it was."

"It was a fight?" Wanda asks, she can't help it.

"Something like that. Yeah, it was my fault. It was on me. I was an idiot. I let my ego get in the way, or something like that." he pauses, as his eyes wander openly across her face. Then he leans in a little closer. "Your turn now, red. You never said what happened to.."

"My face?"

Bucky looks hesitant. His smile remains.

"The bruises, yeah. It looks pretty good now. What I mean is that it looks better now. Not that you didn't look good before. That's not what I mean, either. It's just—well, why don't I shut up and you do all of the talking from now on? Because that sounds good to me. What do you think?"

She smiles a little, eyes glued on him again. "It was like yours, I think. It was a fight. I got involved."

"Someone hit you?" Bucky's brow starts to crease and he leans in, much closer now than he was before. "Wanda, you—"

"It wasn't like that. I wasn't involved. I didn't mean it like that. It was more like an accident.." Wanda says, quick to reassure him. "I was—how do you say it? When you are hurt, but you were not supposed to be? What is it called when you are hurt, but you are not the one who was meant to be hurt? You are extra damage..Wait. I can't think of the word.."

Bucky spends a second thinking on it before he realizes what she means.

"Collateral damage?"

"Yes, that. It was just collateral damage." she says, another lie. "It wasn't their fault, not really. It was just something that happened."

For a while after this they're both quiet again and Wanda decides that it's easier to leave it than to find the words that simply won't come now. What can she say? She can't find the words to talk about what happened that night. She can't find words that aren't lies. Then there's Bucky and his fight, and she doesn't know where to begin. She's not even sure he wants to talk about it right now, so she leaves the silence to sink it and gives them time to their thoughts again.

Minutes later the quiet passes and she realizes that once again she's glad for the distraction. She hopes he is, too.

"Seems like you might have a thing for running into jerks." Bucky says, as he glances over at her again. "I hope that's not what you think I am. I mean, fair enough if you do. But I kinda hope you don't think I'm a jerk. I'm not always a jerk, really. I swear I can even be nice sometimes."

Wanda smiles at him slowly. "I don't think that. I don't think that you're a jerk..All of the time."

"Great. That's good to know. Thanks for that. It's so kind of you to say. And hey, tell me—we're going to Sully's, right?" he asks, looking out of the window briefly. "I recognized the address you gave. It's a good place, I've been there a couple times before. We're going there?"

She shakes her head once, watching him for a moment more. "We're just passing by, I think. If this is okay with you?"

Bucky lets out a comfortable sigh, then smiles at her. "Sounds good to me. You got another place in mind?"

"I might."

Chapter Text

Wanda lights the joint by the window, with her mind half on the city and half on Bucky. From where she's kneeling by the window, her view of the city is perfect. Everything is bright, and neon, and so alive, and it's hard not to get lost in it. She stays there for a minute, staring out at the view, until she moves to sit down on a spot on the floor that still gives her a nice view of the city. It's usually the space where she pulls out all of her paints and tries to make something work on the canvas, but tonight everything is all packed up and moved away. Tonight the space is clear so there's room for the two of them to sit together.

For a moment more Bucky remains in the kitchen, hanging off the fridge door while he searches through it and tries to make up his mind on what he feels like. He ends up returning with two bottles of beer and as he carries them over he pops both of the lids off and places them on the counter. Then he joins Wanda, sitting down on the floor across from her. He ends up leaning against the wall beneath the window, choosing to look away from the city and to look at her instead.

After he offers her the beer and she takes it, Bucky stays there for a second to clink their glasses together. Then he smiles and leans back, taking a long sip from the bottle. Wanda drinks a little from hers before she places it down and inhales on the joint between her fingers. A second later Bucky leaves again, but his time he doesn't go far. He leaves to turn the radio on in the kitchen and when he returns he takes the joint that Wanda offers him with a smile.

"So tell me, what's it like living with Barton?" he asks, briefly looking over the apartment. "I have to say, I don't envy you. I've heard the man's a pig."

Wanda smiles slowly between sips of beer. When she's done with it she puts it aside, stretches out her legs, and lets her gaze flicker between Bucky and the view of the city behind him. For a while she can only think about him and the city, and then she starts to think about Clint and what it's been like having him around. It's been nice, for both of them. She almost can't remember what it was like without him here.

"He stays over sometimes, but he doesn't always live here." Wanda answers, minutes later. "He has a farm, and a place he stays in the city when he works here. But he is nice to live with. He is good company."

"Mm. Still, I mean..It's Barton. It must be hell."

She shrugs a little, as she picks up her bottle and begins to run her fingers over the outside of it.

"It's not so bad, I am used to the mess with my brother. But they are not so bad, really. Like I said, it is nice. They are good company, and it is always fun with Pietro around."

Bucky looks curious now, and she doesn't know why he does but she decides that maybe it's for the same reason that she often finds herself feeling curious about him. She also decides that maybe he still needs a distraction tonight, the same way she does, so she decides to give him one.

"Do you live with Steve?" she asks. "What is that like?"

"Nah, not anymore. We used to, when we were younger." Bucky pauses, half-smiling at an old memory. "He's got his own place now with Natasha and they're happy. And I've got my own place. So everyone's happy."

She watches him for a moment, then takes the joint as he offers it and leans back into the wall behind her. For another minute her eyes search him curiously, then she smiles.

"So you live alone? What is that like?"

Bucky looks like he needs a minute to work that answer out, so she leaves him to it and lets her eyes wander back up to the lights above his head. She stays focused on it until she hears his voice and it slowly brings her back to now, to this quiet moment between them.

"Yeah, it's nice and quiet. Hey, you know..You never did tell me where you were from."

She tilts her head to the side, smiling again.

"Didn't I?"

He laughs a little and it's a sweet sound.

"You just said it wasn't America." Bucky says, smiling more. "That's kinda vague, don't you think?"

Wanda shrugs. "We moved here some time ago. How is that? Less vague now?"

The smile on his lip stays, even as he looks away and his eyes wander around her apartment again. It's mostly dark, but the lights from outside of the apartment make things bright enough for Bucky to see a little. And she doesn't mind that he's looking at the things he can see in her apartment. She doesn't even really mind the way he looks back to her eventually, eyes bright and curious again.

"So what do you do here, Wanda?" he ends up asking. "I mean, apart from going to farmers markets and riding bikes in parks. What do you do here in the city?"

She raises an eyebrow. "Why do you want to know?"

"Guess I'm just curious about you."

Wanda looks away for a moment, pressing the joint between her fingers for a second while she thinks about his words. She thinks about what she does, and then she thinks about all the things that she's never done that she always thought she would do, and she soon finds she doesn't really know how to answer his question.

"Why?"

He gives her a small shrug. "Don't know. You're interesting."

She still doesn't look up at him, not yet. Her eyes focus on her hands, and then on her heels, and after a moment she reaches to untie the straps and remove them. Once her shoes are off she places them to the side and passes the joint back to Bucky without really looking at him. After her shoes are off to the side, Wanda stretches out her legs and rolls her ankles a little and it feels so good that she smiles.

"I work at a bar, this is what I do." she says, a little quieter. "Is that interesting enough?"

"Yeah, of course." Bucky answers, smiling warmly. "You work at Sully's? That's cool. I like that place."

"No, not Sully's. I work at the Green Tides."

His face glows with recognition. "Oh, nice. That's a good place. I used to go there, way back in the day."

Wanda leans back, slowly folding her arms over herself.

"I have never seen you there before. Do you go there often?"

"Not anymore, not really. I used to go to Sully's a lot, but that was a long time ago now. I don't think I've been there in years." Bucky ends up telling her. "And I just remember the Green Tides from late nights with friends. That was a long time ago, too. I never saw you there. I think I would have remembered you for sure."

She bites down on her lip, thinking about it for a moment. Wanda thinks about him being there, she thinks about all of the times they could have met, and maybe they almost did. Maybe they were close and the universe put something else in the way so it didn't happen. It leads her back to thoughts of how they met and where they are now, and she really does feel now that all of this is for a reason.

"So what do you do, James?" she smiles. "When you aren't running into girls at the park, what do you do?"

Bucky hesitates, a smile still hanging there.

"What, Clint didn't tell you?"

"He has never talked about you before. Not to me, that I really remember." she says, taking the joint back from him again. "So tell me, what do you do? I am curious about how you spend your time."

"It's really not that interesting. I'm between jobs right now." he pauses, glancing away for a second. "So, I pick up work from Clint and Steve whenever I can. And when I'm not doing that, I'm not really doing all that much."

It makes her think of her brother and the job he will take at the security firm. She's accepted it now, that it is his choice to make and she can't stop him from doing what he wants to do. But it still makes her think of him and his new job there. She spends too long thinking about it, and when she eventually remembers that she isn't alone she looks back and find Bucky gazing away, out at her apartment again, while he gives her a minute to her thoughts. She appreciates the quiet, but right now she's still glad that he's here with her.

"What work do you do there? You are a body-guard?"

Bucky nods, drinking a little more beer. "Yeah, that or extra security at events. Just shit like that for rich clients, really."

She smiles a little, thinking it over. "And before that?"

It's now that Bucky really looks away, just like she did before, and she wonders if it's because it means something to him, the same way the thoughts of Pietro working at their security firm meant something to her. She doesn't know what this means to him, or what he's thinking about now, so she gives him time and drinks slowly from the beer in her hands.

"I was in the army for a while."

Wanda glances up, surprised by how soon he speaks.

"With Steve?" she asks, still curious, always curious.

He looks up at her, quiet for a moment. "Yeah. How'd you know that?"

"It's a long story, I think."

She waits a minute after this, then moves. Wanda pushes herself away from the wall and wiggles over to the window, where she slowly stretches out on the floor. From here she's free to look up at the window, at the city, at anything but Bucky's heavy gaze. And down here it feels colder. Calmer, even. She takes a slow drag from the joint and then feels Bucky move suddenly, so she quickly looks to him, watching as he moves to stretch out on the floor by her side.

When he's there, stretched out beside her, Wanda passes him the joint and he takes it. And for a while after this they just pass the joint back and forth, saying nothing for what could be hours. Maybe it is that long, Wanda doesn't know. She only really knows that it feels so calm and peaceful here, with the music playing through her apartment and the dull city lights hanging above their heads. It's so nice that it's almost like an escape from the real world, and she almost forgets about what lingers on her mind.

Almost.

"I met Steve before tonight."

Bucky hums along, then speaks minutes later. "Yeah, I figured as much. You two seemed to know each other at the party." he stops, only briefly. "So you, uh..How do you know each other?"

"We met not long ago, through Clint."

"Shit, I knew it. I knew Barton would just introduce Steve. It's because everyone thinks he's the sweet one." Bucky says, voice much lighter now. "And the truth is, he is. Steve is the sweetheart of the group. He's the best of us all. But really, don't always listen to Barton. The rest of us really aren't half as bad as he says."

"It wasn't like that. He did not say much about any of you."

"Yeah, don't worry. I get it, I do." Bucky smirks a little. "Barton's got his favorites. We all do."

Wanda's eyes shut a minute later and all she can think about is how it feels to be here. For a second after this she begins to imagine what it would feel like to sink through the floor into something else. Something dark, and cold, and deeper, and maybe if Bucky weren't here then she would get lost in those thoughts. But he's still here, and there's something on her tongue that needs to be said.

"But you still don't get it. Why he introduced us, why I know him, it isn't like that. It really isn't like that. You wouldn't get it."

He makes a low noise in response, like a hum of agreement, and then he passes the joint back.

"So it's that kinda thing, huh? The thing that no one else gets?"

Bucky's voice is different again. It's soft and gentle, and it's also filled with an understanding that tells her that he really does get it. Maybe not in the same way that she does, but he knows what it's like to have something that makes him feel like he's alone and like no one else would understand.

"Something like that, yes."

"For what it's worth," Bucky pauses, not for long. "I get that."

When she opens her eyes and looks over at him, she finds Bucky staring up at the roof. The joint is pressed between his lips, and his eyes are stuck on a spot on the roof like he's distracted by it for a moment. She wonders if he is, or if he's really distracted by something in his head. She says nothing and just watches him, until he passes her the joint. She takes it, and it's then that she realizes the intimacy of this moment. They're so close, their shoulders are touching and their bodies are pressed next to each other's, and it only really hits her now that this is closer than she's let anyone new be with her in a long time.

"Really?" she asks quietly, a long time later.

"Yeah, I do. Or at least, I think I do." Bucky answers eventually. "I get what it's like to have shit that no one else gets."

Wanda watches him, searching for answers. "Like, what?"

A faint smile tugs on his mouth, but doesn't form.

"I don't think you wanna know the answer to that."

Bucky looks away from her after this, up at that interesting spot on the roof that's not really there at all. She decides to leave him to it and she moves, sitting up just enough to drink her beer. Wanda passes him the joint back again after this, drinking slow sips from her beer as her eyes settle on the dark apartment. For a while they stay like this, back in the quiet again, with Wanda drinking her beer and Bucky stretched out on the floor with a joint. It feels comfortable enough that they don't have to say a thing, so for a long time they don't.

She joins him again eventually, leaning back on the floor to stay beside him until he speaks again. That's when her gaze flickers to him, only for a moment.

"Hey, thanks again. For this. I think I needed it after tonight." Bucky says soon, voice a little warmer. "It's not exactly how I saw my night going, but it's still good. It's better than I thought it would be."

She hums softly, knowing exactly what he means. She feels the same way. Her gaze moves slowly away from him and up to the wind-chimes hanging from the ceiling above them, and she quickly gets lost in them. Wanda forgets about the music, the man next to her, and the city lights, and she gets lost staring up at the dragonfly floating above her head. She gets lost imagining how it would feel to fly.

Wanda is so lost in her head and her thoughts of flying that she doesn't even remember that Bucky is still with her, not until he sits up to drink his beer and he suddenly comes back into her vision. Her eyes flicker away from the dragonfly and to Bucky, to the back of his suit and his hair, and she watches him until he collapses back down on to the floor next to her. He hands her back the joint, then lets out another sigh.

"Something happened not so long ago, and this is why." Wanda ends up telling him. She doesn't know why, it just comes out. "It is why I know Steve, why Clint introduced us, and it is also why my face was.."

Was not me. This is how she felt. It is still how she feels sometimes. She thinks back to bruises, the graze to her thigh, and those ripped stockings she threw away. Wanda takes a minute then looks back to the little dragonfly, lost in it again.

"What happened?" Bucky's voice brings her back.

"There was a man. And Clint wanted to help, so this is where Steve came into things. He is training me, or he is trying to. This is how we know each other."

He sighs, glancing over at her. "Shit, Wanda. I don't—"

"Whatever you are thinking, you don't have to say it." she says, turning to look at him. "I don't want you to say sorry. I don't know what I want, but I don't want that. And really I do not know why I am telling you these things."

Wanda wants to look away. She thinks she should, her mind even tells her to turn away now, but she doesn't. She watches Bucky as he glances her over, and then he smiles slowly and it looks sad again.

"You know, that thing with my hand..The bandage that you saw and the hospital band?" he speaks quietly, minutes later. "It wasn't what I said it was. It wasn't an accident. It was my fault."

Her eyes linger on him. "Did you hit someone?"

"No, it wasn't like that."

With just a few words she knows that it's hard for him to speak about. Wanda can even tell that he doesn't really want to talk about this, the same way she didn't want to talk about her thing. They both want to be distracted, they want to talk of other things, so she tries to give them that again.

Wanda inhales on the joint, then passes it back and rolls over on her side to face him. She props her head up on her hand and begins to smile at him slowly.

"Let's talk about something else?" Wanda suggests. "You said that you went to Sully's. Where else do you go?"

"I know a bunch of places. It just depends on what you like."

She hums along, still smiling. "What do you do when you're not working?"

"I ride around the city on my bike sometimes. That, and I go to markets." Bucky stops, then begins to smile. "I try to help where I can, especially with girls and their broken flowers. How 'bout you, Wanda? What do you do?"

Wanda laughs, rolling her eyes. "o Bože." 

"Hey, what was that?" he grins, then nudges her arm gently. "What, that wasn't smooth?"

She shakes her head, taking the joint back from him.

"No, it wasn't. Not really, no."

Slowly she sits up after this, moving forward to drink what's left of her beer. Her hair falls back over her shoulder as she does, and after a minute she looks back at Bucky to find that he's still smiling. And when he catches her looking, he sits up to join her side and then he lightly nudges her arm again. 

"What'd you say, by the way?" he asks, curious again. "What was that? o Bože—"

"Oh, god."

Bucky laughs then looks away, eyes filled with something bright and kind. He turns back to her quickly, and she wonders how his smile can already feel so familiar.

"So it was that bad?" he asks.

She shrugs, sipping on her beer. "It was not so bad. I suppose I have heard worse."

"Well, how sweet of you to say."

Wanda smiles, glancing forward. "You said this was not how you thought your night was going to go. But you said that it was still good. So now I am curious, how did you see your night going?"

After a minute he shrugs, then finishes off what's left of his beer and looks back to her.

"I think the plan was to get wasted..Maybe some dancing. But I don't know, really."

She doesn't know why it makes her laugh but it does. She laughs lightly, then looks back at Bucky to find that he looks very mildly offended. He's being playful, just like before, and it only makes her laugh more. Wanda stands up soon, to carry their empty bottles to the sink. She leaves Bucky with the joint, that he soon places aside by the window. Then he follows her to the kitchen, and when he joins her there he's still smiling.

"What was all that for?" he laughs. "Something you wanna say?"

Wanda lifts an eyebrow. "You dance?"

"Yeah, I dance." Bucky's quick to answer. "What, that's hard for you to believe or something?"

She rolls her eyes, as she leans back into the kitchen bench. "What do you want me to say? Do you want me to say that I am sorry it offends you that I question your dancing skills, after what happened in the park?"

He grins, taking a playful step closer. "Oh, I'm sorry. Hang on. Weren't you the one who crashed into my bike?"

"Because you left it there. Right there." she argues, stepping closer. "On the pavement, for anyone to run into. It was thoughtless. And I was injured because of it."

With an eye-roll, Bucky leans back into the bench. 

"No one else crashed into my bike. Don't you think that says something?" he smiles, glancing her over. "You know, you could have looked up—"

"So now it is my fault?" Wanda asks, sighing. "Naravno. Tako predvidljivo."

Bucky is quick to push himself off the bench again. He takes a small step towards her, eyes glowing with curiosity.

"Hey, that's not what I'm saying. Okay? I was a jerk. And now? I'm just being a jerk." he pauses, grinning. "And I'm not sure what you just said, but I'm guessing that whatever it is—it's a compliment, right? It probably means I'm handsome. Doesn't it? I knew I looked good in this suit. Thank you for noticing. That's real sweet of you to say, doll."

Wanda smiles and is barely able to hide it, and as she tries to hide it she begins to think about Bucky. She thinks about the way he looks, and how he really does look good in his suit, but she's not going to admit it now.

"Sure. Let's say that this is what it means."

Bucky eyes her off slowly, looking as if he is almost tempted to glance away. In the end, he doesn't.

"So you do think I look handsome in this suit?"

She suddenly feels different now, it all feels different. He's flirting with her, or maybe he is only being playful, but it feels more like he's flirting. And Wanda isn't sure that she knows what any of it means, but for tonight she is happy enough to just go with it. She tilts her head back, smiling slowly as she glances him over in an obvious way.

"Hmm. I don't know." Wanda pauses, pretending to think it over. "What I do know is that I did not take you as a dancer at first glance."

Another, wider grin breaks through on his lips. "Wanda, come on. Really? I can dance. Don't insult me before you've seen me dance."

She shrugs, turning away to the fridge.

"Everyone thinks they can dance, especially when they are drunk."

It's not quiet for long after this. When she turns back, she finds Bucky closer now and somehow his smile is bigger than she's ever seen it.

"You don't hold back." he says. "I like that."

Wanda only watches him for another second before she turns away, pulling two bottles out of the fridge for them. She removes the lid from hers, then looks to him slowly. For a second he looks unsure, like he doesn't know if he wants another drink or not. Then he makes up his mind and smiles.

"One more?" Bucky steps closer. "Can't hurt, I guess. Unless you're getting sick of my company. I was a bit of a downer back there, I know. And I'm sorry if—"

"No, I didn't think that." she assures him, passing over the bottle. "If I was.."

"Nah, it's fine. You weren't. And don't worry, red. Your company's not bad at all."

She ends up leaning into the counter again, the cool bottle of beer back in her hand as she smiles at him.

"And I guess that I have had worse company than yours. Though at the moment, I can't think of anyone.."

He grins slowly and it glows underneath the warm city lights.

"And that's exactly what I thought you would say." Bucky stops, for a sip of beer. "You're a funny girl, I like that."

There's a moment after this where he stops and takes another long sip from his beer, and as he does there's a tension there between them that it feels like they're both aware of now. She doesn't know if it's just her, but from the way Bucky is looking back at her now she thinks he might be feeling the same thing.

"Hey, so, I don't know.." Bucky begins, then stops as he slowly smiles. "Maybe I could take you dancing sometime?"

She smiles back at him. "You want to prove yourself this badly?"

"Yeah, maybe." he nods, still smiling. "Or maybe I just wanna take you out on a date."

Wanda's smile stays, but for a second it almost slips. And it's not Bucky, it's not really about him at all. It's just the thoughts of tonight and the past that come back to her now. She's not sure she knows what she wants, especially after the night she's had. She only knows that she likes Bucky's company and she wants to get to know him.

Everything else is messy.

"So this is the part where you say something." Bucky adds, smiling. "Or maybe it's the part where you kick me out."

"I am—I have.." Wanda stops, unsure. "It is complicated. And I think you have a look to you that tells me you are not looking for complications."

He thinks it over, then agrees. "Yeah, you know. Maybe you're right. It's just that I had fun with you tonight."

"So did I."

For a second he looks down, to the bottle in his hands, to his gloves, and then he looks up with that same, warm smile on his face. It's different this time but it's something she can't read, so she lets it go, watching him as he speaks again. 

"So you're just looking for some fun then?" 

Wanda wants to tell him that she doesn't know what she wants or what she's looking for. She almost admits that she doesn't know if she's looking for anything at all, but she can't say it because she doesn't know if it's true. There's always a part of her that wants more, and maybe she does want this. But her head is too filled with thoughts to think about any of this tonight.

"Something like this, I guess. I am not sure."

Bucky smiles, leaning back into the bench. "Well I guess you're in luck then. Because I know places."

She tilts her head back to gaze at him, smiling slowly.

"Is that so?"

His smile grows. "Yeah, it is."

There's a part of her that wants him to stay, but the rest of her needs him to go. Wanda needs time to her thoughts, but before any of that she needs to have a bath and unwind. Then she really just needs to sleep so she can get away from all of this and wake up with a clear head in the morning.

"Another night, I think?"

"Another night." Bucky repeats, smiling, as he places his beer down and takes a step closer. "Maybe I'll call you sometime?"

For half a second she glances over at him then she walks away, over to the notepad on the bench. After she finds a pen, Wanda scribbles down her number and then passes the piece of paper to him.

"You might need my number to do that."

He laughs, stepping closer. "Yeah, I'm sure that might help."

Then Bucky takes the note with her number on it, glancing at it before he slides it away into his pocket. He lingers briefly then leaves the kitchen and starts to make his way over to the door. Wanda follows him, and when they reach the door she opens it up. He waits, hovering in the open space between the door and the hallway outside.

"Thank you again for tonight." she pauses, glancing up at him. "For the cigarette, and for the company."

"I hope it wasn't too bad. The company, I mean."

Wanda nods, tucking her hair back behind her ear.

"It wasn't bad at all."

He smiles back at her slowly. "Thanks, too. For tonight. I didn't think tonight could be fun but it was. So thanks. It was nice seeing you again."

Slowly she returns his smile. "You too."

Outside of the door, in the hallway, Bucky lingers for a second. Then he lifts a hand, waves, and steps away.

"Night, Wanda."

For another moment Wanda stays there by the open door, watching as he walks over to the stairs. She waits then closes the door, and after he's gone and the door is closed she lets out a breath. Wanda closes her eyes and presses her back into the door, a tiny smile on her lips. It all feels different suddenly, and she doesn't know why she feels weary but she does. It always starts to seep in when she's alone. But she still smiles a little anyway when she thinks about him and how she enjoyed his company tonight.

Wanda stays by the door for a few more minutes, back pressed into it, with her eyes shut and her hands wrapped around herself. She stays for a little while longer then leaves, to clean up the kitchen and discard the empty bottles.

Then she escapes into her bedroom, bringing what's left of her joint with her. Wanda puts it in the bowl by the night-stand, leaving it there while she strips out of her dress. She unzips it, steps out of it, and climbs into bed with all of her bracelets and rings still on. She wants to have a bath, to unwind and to feel better, but as soon as she climbs into bed she forgets about all of that. Wanda doesn't care anymore. She feels too tired to care, or to do anything but sleep.

So she stays there in her bed, with the joint between her fingers and her mind circling around thoughts of Bucky until the dreams of Sokovia take her away again.

 

* * * *

 

In the morning when she wakes, she's alone. It's empty in the apartment, and everything is exactly as she left it last night, which tells her that they never made it home after the Stark party. She never expected them to anyway. Wanda starts by pouring herself some coffee, turning on the radio, and making herself a little breakfast. And as she does this all, she finds herself thinking about the fun Pietro and Clint would have had last night—and as she imagines it, she feels happy.

She smiles to herself through breakfast, which is really just a bowl of fresh fruit and a cup of coffee. At the table with her little breakfast, she pulls her phone over and starts to look through all of the messages from last night. Her phone tells her there are (23) new messages, which is new for her. She doesn't really get a lot of texts, and when she does they're usually just from her brother. And today it's the same. Most of the messages on her phone are from Pietro, updates on the night and how fun it all is.

Wanda reads them slowly, smiling as they becomes less and less readable with the later it gets. The last message is just after 5 AM, and she doesn't know what he was still doing up then but she imagines that he had a lot of fun. There's a message on her phone from Clint too, just a little after that, but after she reads it she learns that it's not from Clint. It's from Natasha, telling her that they will be at Stark's and that they're safe and staying the night. It's nice to know where they are and that they're safe, so Wanda types up a reply thanking Natasha for this even if she's not sure the message will reach her now anyway.

She moves on after this, to the other messages on her phone, and she's half-way through reading one from work when she realizes that there are texts from Bucky waiting to be read. She doesn't recognize his number, but she recognizes him from the message and after she reads it she is left smiling.

 

[3:13 AM]:

never have I ever..ditched my friends to have a joint w/ a stranger

 

[3:13 AM]:

until last night

 

At first, she doesn't really know why she's smiling. Wanda picks idly at the bowl of fruit in front of her, chewing on plums and berries. She places her phone down and thinks about it. She thinks about last night, and then she thinks about Bucky sending her this text at 3 in the morning. It's almost as crazy as Pietro texting her after 5. She smiles more, then pops another berry into her mouth and picks up the list of paper on her left. It's the list for the grocer and the market, for when she leaves later to gather things for dinner.

Wanda writes down a few things on the list, while she thinks of a reply to send back to him. She writes down all the things they need, like ingredients and supplies for the week. Then she remembers Pietro's things like his favorite sweets and fruits. She writes it all down, then finishes her coffee and picks up her phone again.

 

[9:31 AM]:

Never have I ever crashed into someone else's bike

 

[9:32 AM]:

Until I crashed into yours.

 

Her messages are gone before she knows what she's even saying, or why she's saying it, and then Wanda's done with breakfast. She tidies up the kitchen, returns to her room, and undresses from last night. She takes off all her rings, her bracelets, and the necklace still hanging around her neck. It all ends up on the vanity, to be put away later. Then she starts to fiddle with the braid still in her hair, as she leaves her bedroom and goes into the bathroom to fill up the tub for the bath she's been thinking of having since last night. Wanda puts the water on, adds some bath salts, and then she leaves it to fill up while she finishes taking out her braid.

When she comes back into her room, to fetch her phone and cigarettes, there are two new messages on her phone.

 

[9:37 AM]:

jesus. Who's up this early red?

 

[9:38 AM]:

never have I ever been up this early in my life

 

Wanda finds herself smiling again as she brings her phone back into the tub and places it on the fluffy red mat on the floor. She remembers her last mistake of leaving it on the edge of the tub, and she really doesn't want to go down that path again. So she leaves her phone there, turns off the water in the tub, and undresses quickly.

Once she's naked, Wanda steps over to the sink and runs the cold water over her hands. She brings it up to her cheeks, gently washing her face and wiping away some of the make-up from last night. It helps, but not with all of it. She looks back to her reflection, gaze stuck on the smudged black mascara under her eyes. Then her gaze flickers away to the places where some of the make-up has washed away with the cold water, to show the little marks and faint bruises beneath. A second later Wanda turns away and reaches for a cloth by the sink. She dampens it with water then brings it up to her face and scrubs at her skin until the make-up is gone, until it feels clean. And only then does she get into the tub.

Wanda doesn't want to look at herself again after this, she can't. So she turns away and eases herself into the tub slowly, trying to focus on anything but the memory of the bruises. She sinks down into the tub until her body is covered by the water, and once she's settled she leans over the tub and reaches for her phone to find a new message from Bucky waiting to be read.

 

[9:45 AM]:

you got any plans today?

 

She thinks about it for a while, and she doesn't know if trips to the store and market really count as plans. She's really only doing that today. That, and a few other, little things she's been meaning to do around the apartment, like washing and cleaning out the fridge—all exciting stuff, she thinks, smiling to herself. Wanda's fingers hover over the phone for a minute, and then she replies without letting herself think about it too much.

 

[9:51 AM]:

A little in the morning. You?

 

After the text is sent Wanda sets the phone aside and focuses on the way the water feels against her skin. It feels warm and soothing, and her grazes barely hurt anymore. The rest of her body feels the same. It only aches faintly in a few places, but it's mostly healed now and it feels better than it did a week ago. It's nice to think about it and how it's healing. Soon it will fade away like it was never there at all and that thought leaves her feeling hopeful. This is all she thinks about, until she sees Bucky's reply and she finds herself thinking about him again.

 

[10:02 AM]:

nah not too much

 

[10:04 AM]:

never have I ever gone on a bike ride through the city w/ you

 

[10:04 AM]:

your tun, red.

 

She smiles slowly as the messages roll in, and soon it makes her think of him even more. It makes her think of Bucky, of last night and his talk of dancing and wanting to take her out. She thinks about him calling her sometime and she doesn't really mind. Wanda smiles more as she leans back in the tub, still thinking about him and his messages. She still doesn't know what she's looking for, she's not even really sure that she's looking for anything, and then there's the part of her that is curious about what the universe wants for her. It keeps pulling her to him, to this, and she doesn't know if that means anything but it feels like it does.

Wanda moves the phone back to the floor soon, leaving the messages unanswered for the moment. Then she goes under the water, deep under, to get all of her hair wet. She comes up for air seconds later, reaching for the shampoo in the corner of the tub. Wanda sits up, rubs the shampoo into her hair, and then leaves it to sit for a second while she washes herself. She lathers up in a body-wash that smells like cherries, then spends a few minutes washing herself and cleaning her hair.

It doesn't really take long, and when she's all done she wraps a towel around herself, and a smaller one around her hair, and she leaves. Wanda drops her phone down on her bed while she dries off. She pulls her hair up in her towel while she pats herself dry, and then she gets dressed. She wiggles into a soft red skirt, and then slips on a long-sleeve, mid-waist black shirt. She tugs the sleeves down slowly, but they're long so she needs to roll them up a little anyway. After she's dressed Wanda pulls her hair out of the towel, combs it gently, and then leaves it to dry.

She almost forgets about Bucky, about the message sitting on her phone unanswered, until she begins to pull up the blankets on her bed and she finds her phone again. Wanda scoops it up and sits down on the edge of the bed, typing up a fast reply.

 

[10:21 AM]:

Was that your way of asking me out?

 

A minute later, she's still sitting on the edge of the bed, the phone in her hands, when Bucky's reply pops up on the screen. 

 

[10:22 AM]:

and if it was?...(It was pretty smooth, right?)

 

She laughs quietly to herself and it feels so strange, and so new, because she can't really remember the last time that someone new made her laugh like this. She carries the phone over to the window, that she soon opens up to let the breeze in. Then Wanda sits down in the chair by the window, gaze pulled to the view for a second. Her eyes move slowly across the soft sky, and as the noises of the city come up to reach her, she feels different. She feels that this is all different, and after last night she is surprised by the way it feels a little better. It almost feels like this is the change she's been waiting for, after all the bad luck she's had lately. She doesn't know if it will last, but it feels nice while it's here so she lets it in.

 

[10:24 AM]:

That is not the word I would use..

 

[10:26 AM]:

then what word would you use?

 

[10:27 AM]:

Suave? Awesome? Rad?

 

Wanda's smile grows, and she finds that there are many replies she almost sends back to him—but she wants to get herself ready for her morning first, so she leaves the phone while she thinks of her reply and she finishes getting dressed. She pulls on a pair of black boots, ties them on, and then sits down at her vanity to comb through her hair again. It's still damp and she doesn't feel like drying it so she plaits it, pulls it back off her face, and leaves just a few curly, damp strands to hang out.

She replies to Bucky's messages when she's out in the kitchen, pulling a bottle of water from the fridge.

 

[10:32 AM]:

Can I say none of the above?

 

He takes a while to reply after this, and Wanda understands why. He must be tired, it was a long night for all of them and he sent her that last text just after 3. Maybe their nights were not so long compared to Pietro's, but they were still long. She soon finds herself smiling, thinking of this, and then Bucky's new message rolls on it and she smiles even more.

 

[10:40 AM]:

and if I was asking you out..What would you say?

 

It doesn't surprise her, not after last night, but maybe it sort of does. It takes her a long time to reply, only because she wants to be sure of her answer. She thinks it over as she locks up her apartment, carries her bike downstairs, then climbs on and clips her helmet on. In the end she decides to just go with what she wants to say, what she thinks she's wanted to say since she ran into him. 

 

[10:53 AM]:

Yes.

 

[10:54 AM]:

But not tonight. I have plans & tomorrow I'm working.

 

[11:01 AM]:

can't do monday. How's tuesday for you?

 

 

[11:09 AM]:

I work until 6. Pick me up after?

 

Wanda puts her phone away after this and then she's off. She rides quickly down the paths ahead of her, on her way to the florist and then to the grocer. After this she doesn't have too many plans of where to go. She will go where she feels like going, while still making sure she buys what they need for the week. She thinks of Pietro after this and considers sending him a text to see when he will be back, or if he will even be home today. She also thinks about sending a text to Clint to ask, but she soon decides it is probably too early for them to be awake yet, and when they are awake she will likely hear from them what their plans are. So she leaves that as a thought for later and rides on, moving swiftly down crowded streets, until she ends up on a block where there's a little less traffic, a little less noise, and it feels nice. She rides until she sees the florist up ahead and stops to pull out her phone and read his reply.

She is—excited about this, she thinks. She is looking forward to it, because there is something about him that she finds curious. There's more to it than this, there's something that she feels when she's in his company. What exactly this is, she doesn't know. She can't work out, she only knows that it's there and that she's looking forward to seeing him again. And from the messages Bucky sends back to her, she thinks he might feel the same.

 

[11:10 AM]:

sweet it's a date

 

[11:13 AM]:

or it's not. it's just like a casual meet up thing

 

[11:14 AM]:

it's just a chill catch up. or whatever

 

Wanda smiles, leaning back into her bike-seat. She finds that soon she smiles more thinking about him now, thinking about where he is and what he's doing right now. She thinks about Bucky sending her these messages, and she wonders if he's smiling, too. She smiles more, and ends up so distracted by the thoughts of him that for a while she forgets that she's out here to gather things for the week. It can wait for a minute longer, she decides, as she sends her message back.

 

[11:16 AM]:

How..Suave of you.

 

[11:17 AM]:

Ha ha. Good one (it wasn't)

 

[11:18 AM]:

by the way, I'm looking forward to it

 

[11:18 AM]:

drinks on me this time?

 

There's a smile still on Wanda's face that's been there since this morning, because of all of this, because of him, and she can't help that she feels excited to meet him for drinks on Tuesday. It's something good, something to look forward to. She's still not sure what she's looking for, with this or with anything. She's not even sure that she's looking for anything at all, but she decides that this, whatever it is, can't be a bad thing because—how can something bad feel this good?

 

[11:21 AM]:

It's a date.

Chapter Text

When Pietro and Clint finally make it home at 6PM the night after Stark's party—all that Wanda can think about is how they look like those zombies that Clint is always telling her about from that show he makes Pietro watch every Sunday night. She's over in the kitchen, keeping an eye on dinner and pressing old flowers into a book, when they come into the apartment, looking weary and filled with regret. Wanda gets a quiet hello from them both before they leave, escaping into the darkness of Pietro's room. After they are gone Wanda is left smiling, as she swaps the flower in her hand for the glass of red wine on the counter.

It's that kind of night tonight; a peaceful one, with wine, music, and pretty little flowers scattered across the empty space on the kitchen bench. She spends another moment there with her wine then steps away to check on dinner, an old favorite of Pietro's. After she's satisfied that it's coming along well, Wanda leaves it and returns to the spot where she is almost done pressing flowers and petals into an old, thick book, where most of the pages are already being used to press flowers together between the pages.

When she's done Wanda packs the book away, tidies the mess on the bench, then finishes setting the table for the three of them. She puts out the plates for dinner, a fresh bottle of cider, and a few empty glasses for when they feel like something to drink. Once the table is set Wanda steps away to turn off all of the lights in the apartment, with the exception of a lamp near the kitchen, just so it won't be too bright for them when they eventually decide to join her.

She's free to rest after this, now that there's nothing to do until dinner is ready. She starts by refilling her glass of wine and bringing it over to the table, where she pulls out a chair, sits down, and opens up the book she'd been scribbling in earlier. 

Wanda quickly gets lost in it all, in her head and in the words on the pages, that she doesn't realize that Pietro is out of his room until she's on her way back from checking on dinner again and she finds him standing in the dimly lit space outside of his bedroom. Her first thought is that he looks odd, not like himself. He still looks like himself, but there is something different about him tonight. Wanda quickly puts it off as it just being his hangover and she smiles, waving him over into the kitchen.

"I hope you're hungry." Wanda calls out, smiling as she walks over. "How was last night? And how are you feeling? You look like you had fun."

Pietro says nothing back, he just glances her over closely as if he is trying to get a read on her. And then even after this he is still quiet and it concerns her. Wanda stops what she's doing and comes to stand in front of him, trying to search him for signs of what's wrong, but she finds nothing and it just concerns her even more.

"What is it? Pietro, what's wrong?"

Half-smiling, her brother reaches out for her. He looks tired, and even with a smile on his face he still doesn't look like himself. He looks sad, almost. He reaches out for her slowly, tucking a loose curl back behind her ear, before he sighs and pulls her into his chest. Pietro's arms are warm as they wrap around her, hugging her tightly.

"Izgledaš poput nje." he tells her quietly.

You look like her. Wanda tenses at the words then sinks into his arms, closing her eyes. She knows who he is talking about with just those words, but it's hard for her to admit it because it's sometimes still difficult to think about their parents, even though they are always with her. She sees them in herself, and in her brother, too. But sometimes it is too painful to think about and tonight feels like one of those nights.

"Majke?" she asks him anyway.

He nods, burying his head into her neck. "Da sestro. I am sorry." Pietro sighs, squeezing her just a little tighter. "But you look like Mama. Just a little tonight, this is all."

The words linger, as Wanda lets out a sharp breath and squeezes her eyes shut harder. Their parents are always with them, and they often think about them, but Wanda thinks she knows why he feels this way right now. Tonight she is cooking a favorite dinner of his, that is faintly familiar of something they once had when they were children. She recognizes the smell, and she know that he must recognize it, too. So it is that, and it might even be the apron, and the way that they can sometimes remind each other of their parents.

Pietro has their mother's eyes and their father's laugh, and he swears that her eyes are their father's and her hair is like their mother's. But it has been so long, sometimes it feels like it was a whole other life that was never hers.

When they are done holding each other, Wanda is the first to step away. She pulls away but only a little, quickly reaching up to kiss her brother's cheek. Then she leans out, holding his hands for a moment before she ushers him over to the table, to one of the empty seats. Pietro follows quietly and sits down, gaze following her as she moves to the end of the table then comes back, a freshly poured glass of cider in her hand.

"It's okay. There is nothing to be sorry for." Wanda assures him, quickly coming closer. "Now tell me..You are hungry, yes?"

Pietro nods, smiling as he sinks down into his seat. He already looks happier than he did seconds earlier and she feels relieved to see it, to know that being honest about what was on his mind has helped him. Wanda doesn't want the memory of their parents to hurt him, or to leave him feeling alone, like he can't talk about it. She just doesn't feel that she is up for talking about it tonight, and she wants to take his mind off it, so she finds a distraction for both of them.

"Good, because there is a lot of food for tonight. And for the nights I'm working this week. If you are still hungry after dinner, there are also sweets."

At the mention of sweets, Pietro's face lights up.

"Sweets? What did you get?"

Smiling back at her brother, Wanda turns away into the kitchen, to check on dinner and to also slip out of her apron. She takes it off because she wants to, not because she feels like she has to, or like it is what reminded Pietro of their mother. She just wants to put it away for now. 

When it's gone, she comes back to him.

"You will see. Enjoy your dinner first, yes? Then you can eat sweets until you feel sick."

Pietro's still smiling when Wanda comes back, joining him at the table. If he notices that her floral apron is gone, he says nothing. He just takes a sip of cider then smiles, reaching out to gently squeeze her hand.

"You're too good to me. To both of us." Pietro says, as he crosses his legs in his seat. "I think we would be lost without you. I know that I would be."

Wanda hums along quietly, while reaching for her notebook and opening it up again. But before she gets lost in it, Pietro is speaking again and Wanda finds herself wanting to give him all of her attention. She misses sitting with him like this and talking about their days, it has been a long time since they've done this, so she pushes her recipe books and notes away, turning to face him again.

"Tell me about your day. I want to hear all about it. I want to know what you have been doing while the two of us have been sleeping almost all day."

Her brother's interest is sweet, Wanda thinks, but she did not do much with her day. It was simple, really: a trip to the florist, to the grocer, and then to the market for a few little things, before she came home, prepared dinner, and painted for an hour. To Wanda, this doesn't feel like much to talk about. But she doesn't want to dismiss her brother's curiosity, so she tells him about it.

"I went out, getting these things for dinner. It was busy, but not so bad. I picked out new flowers, too. And I painted for an hour, or maybe it was two."

Between sips of cider Pietro nods along, letting her know that he is listening and still curious. He picks a flower from the vase, places it between his fingers, and starts to twirl it around, watching as the yellow petals spin around and around.

"They are nice flowers, I like them. They are very pretty." Pietro smiles, glancing up. "And how are you feeling now? Your headache, last night..How is that? All better?"

With a shrug Wanda leans back into her chair, not really wanting to talk about this but knowing that it isn't something that she can avoid.

"It was nothing, I'm fine."

Her brother's gaze is soft as it lingers on her, still curious, still faintly concerned for her. She feels bad about this and wants to reassure him that there is nothing for him to worry about.

"I'm sure, okay? I am fine. And how are you? You two seemed.."

"I know. It was fun, but we are tired. It was a long night." Pietro admits, still twirling the flower around in his hand. "I know you had to leave, that you wanted to. But I still wish you could have stayed, and that we could have spent some time together before you left. I understand, I just missed you. I think you could have had fun."

Slowly Wanda's gaze slips away from Pietro and down, to her hands around the glass of wine, and then to the little scratches and dents in their old wooden table. For a while after this she says nothing, while feeling like there is so much that she could say. Wanda wants to start with telling him that she is sorry, for lying, for running away without spending any time with him. Then she wants to tell him that there's a part of her that wants to go back to last night and spend time with him, because sometimes it feels like they don't see each other much through the week and she misses him.

In the end Wanda says nothing because it feels like it isn't the night to talk about it, or maybe that is just another excuse of hers.

"I know, and I am sorry. You still had fun, yes?"

He smiles again, eyes lighting up at the memory of last night and the good time they had.

"Yes, we did. Too much fun, I think." Pietro admits, relaxing back into his seat. "I am not sure if I like Stark yet, but his parties are fun."

It makes Wanda smile to think of all the fun they had last night. They deserved it, so to think of it makes her a little happier. And as much as a part of her regrets leaving, she knows that staying didn't feel right. From the moment she arrived she felt like she had no place there, not on that night, not after the way it all started, and maybe that's just another excuse but Wanda doesn't regret leaving because of how it felt to be here with Bucky after they left.

"I'm glad that you had fun." Wanda says soon, smiling again. "You look like you had a lot of fun."

He laughs a little, as his attention moves back down to the flower that he's still spinning around between his fingers. It's obvious that there is something on his mind again, but Wanda leaves it instead of pushing it, deciding to wait until he is ready to speak. And it doesn't take him long at all to share what is on his mind.

"Where did you go last night?" Pietro asks, sounding curious. "After the party, I mean. Where did you go?"

Home, she thinks, and almost says. She went home with a stranger, for a beer and a joint underneath a breezy window. Wanda thinks back on it now, on sitting in the cab with Bucky, and then being out on the balcony with him in that crisp night air. She almost tells Pietro about this, about how her night wasn't so bad at all, but it feels like she can't explain it to him yet when she's not really sure she understands what it was herself.

Bucky is still on her mind, this much she knows. A day later and he is still there, hanging around in her thoughts, as if it wasn't a day ago but was just a few hours ago that he was here with her. There is something about him, something that stays with her. He is charming, and funny, and he makes her feel a little better, a little distracted, but there still feels as if there is something else to it. Wanda's not sure that she knows what it is, or that she will ever know, just like she can't know if last night will ever be more than what it was. But for now it is just hers, just theirs, and she wants to keep it that way.

"Home." she says, between sips of wine. "I was tired from the migraine so I came home."

Pietro nods a little, still looking curious. "I thought maybe you had left with someone. When Clint said you had left, I didn't care. I wanted you to be happy and to take care of yourself. But I thought maybe you had left with someone and I was just curious."

"What?" Wanda asks, almost smiling. "Who would I leave with?"

At first he just shrugs a little in response, giving her no real answer. Then he leaves to get something from the kitchen and comes back a few seconds later carrying the bowl of sweets that Wanda hid earlier. She doesn't know how he always finds them but he does. She reaches out for them, trying to swat his hand away, but he laughs and sinks back into the seat, so she gives up and reaches for her wine instead.

"Well?"

"I don't know." he says, as he pops a lolly into his mouth. "I heard that Vision was there. And I thought maybe you two..Connected. Again."

After this Pietro quickly trails off, as if he is unsure if he should go on or not. Wanda knows the look that she gives him answers that and tells him not to keep going, not to talk to her about Vision and their past. It's over now, it has been for a long time, but she still doesn't want to talk about it with her brother or with anyone.

"No, I didn't see him. I didn't know he was there." Wanda says quickly, sitting forward. "I would not leave with him, and I would not—"

I would not lie, she almost says, but she did lie and she still is lying now. Last night she saw Vision and she left with Bucky, and still she is lying to her brother about it. Why? Wanda can't answer that, not without some more wine. She finishes her glass then picks it up, carrying it with her over to the kitchen where she quickly busies herself with tasks that don't really need doing. But it quickly turns out that these little tasks don't distract her well enough to get her mind off these thoughts.

"I don't know why you would think that, or even say that I would leave with him. Or connect with him again, after all of this time."

When Pietro speaks again his voice is softer, almost regretful, and he sounds closer but she still doesn't look back, not yet. She stays where she is, hands resting on the bench, eyes stuck on the pot of stew.

"I am sorry, Sestra. Okay? I'm sorry." Pietro tells her. "It is just that I would be happy for you, if you were—"

"I'm not. And we are not doing this. Okay?"

With a sigh, Pietro joins her. He brings a handful of sweets with him, offering one to her, but Wanda really doesn't feel like one. She turns away from him and reaches for the bottle of wine to her left, ignoring him as he hovers close behind her, trying to read her like he did before. This time he can't, she won't let him.

"I just want you to be happy, Wanda. I don't understand. Why is that so wrong?" he asks, close behind her. "And why do you get so mad with me when I ask these questions? I am just asking. Why are you mad with me for asking?"

Wanda stops filling her wine halfway, lets out a breath, then puts the bottle down and turns over her shoulder to look at her brother. She knows that he doesn't mean to upset her, and he hasn't, she would just rather talk of other things. She would rather talk about anything except this and their parents.

"Don't be silly, I'm not mad with you."

Still by her side, Pietro pulls a face. He looks as if he is caught between disbelief and amusement.

"But you look like you are. I have seen that look before." he says, nudging her arm. "I know this look very well. I know you very well, too."

Sighing, she nudges his arm away. "I'm not, okay? I am not mad with you, I just don't want to do this. Not tonight, brother. That's all that it is."

Then Wanda swiftly turns away from him, back to the wine that she fills, takes a sip of, then starts to carry over to the table. But when she turns around Pietro is still waiting there, standing in her way.

"Do, what?" he asks. "I don't understand. We are only talking."

"I am happy, okay? There is nothing else to say."

He seems to understand it now, or at least Wanda thinks that he does. The smile he gives her is sweet, and kind, and then he returns to the table casually like they are done with this now, but she quickly learns that they aren't.

"So you are with someone?" he smiles. "You have to tell me all about them. Where did you meet? What is he like?"

Over by the sink Wanda stops what she's doing and lets out a breath, and for a moment she almost wants to tell him. There's a part of her that wishes she could talk to him, about last night, about Vision and what happened between them. She even wishes she could sit and tell him all the other little things. Maybe if she could, she'd go back and tell Pietro about the stranger with the blue eyes that she met in the market, who was kind and gave her blueberries. Then she might tell him about the same one she met in the park, who took her to Peggy's place and made her laugh at Stark's party. But she didn't tell him about it then and she can't now, and she knows why. It's difficult for Wanda to talk about herself to anyone, even to her brother.

"Brate, molim te." she sighs, glancing over at him. "I am happy. I don't need to be with someone to be happy."

And now he seems to get it, or at least it seems like he really does. Wanda's not sure he can ever really understand her past with Vision, but she appreciates that he still tries.

"Žao mi je, sestro—"

"Don't say sorry, it is fine." Wanda assures him, smiling slowly. "There is nothing to be sorry for, okay?"

Pietro nods and accepts this, leaving her to her thoughts as he takes his seat and picks another lolly from the bowl. Wanda finishes up in the kitchen and eventually comes back to him, bringing her wine with her. After she's in her seat she notices that the flower he picked earlier, the small yellow one, is now resting on her pile of notebooks. She smiles a little at it, touches a petal, then settles into her seat and turns her attention back to her brother.

"I only try to talk to you about these things because you are my sister and I care. I want to know this and everything else in your life. But you never talk to me about it, so that is why I ask."

Still faintly smiling, Wanda reaches out for Pietro's hand. She squeezes it gently then holds on, as she thinks about how sweet it is that he wants to know about her life. She is trying to be more open with him, the way that he is with her, the way that she once was with him. She still struggles but she is trying, for both of them.

"That is only because there is nothing to tell you about." Wanda says, squeezing his hand one more time. "I promise that when there is something to talk about you will be the first to know."

He smiles slowly. "Promise?"

"Sretna sam sa svojim životom. Obecajem."

With a kiss to her hand, Pietro lets go and shifts his attention back to his glass of his cider. In the quiet that follows, Wanda's promise to her brother lingers in her mind: I'm happy with my life. I promise.

 

 

 

 

* * * *

 

The city sky is dark and filled with bright neon lights when Wanda climbs out onto the empty fire-escape, sometime after midnight. She navigates her way out there carefully, a glass of wine in one hand and an unlit cigarette in the other. Once she's out there, she eases herself down slowly and lets out a breath. It's been a long night, or at least it feels that way to Wanda. Usually being out here helps with that. It's always nice out here, always calm, but tonight it's different and she's not sure why. She just knows that she's glad for the chance to be alone, if only for a little while.

Back inside the apartment Pietro and Clint are recovering on the couch, pretending that they're watching the TV when they all know that they are both really just dozing in and out of naps. The thought leaves her smiling, as she lifts the cigarette to her lips, lights it, then tilts her head to the sky and closes her eyes.

Most nights she comes out here in search of a distraction and she often finds one in the city, but that doesn't work tonight. Her mind still feels heavy, with the thoughts and memories from earlier, and even being out here doesn't seem to help. She squeezes her eyes shut tighter, inhales on the cigarette, and makes the decision to stay out here for just a little longer before she goes back inside to get an early night for tomorrow's shift.

She can't be up too late, not when she starts so early in the morning, but with the way that Wanda feels right now she's not sure that she's going to be getting any rest tonight. It's why she's out here and why she sat through the movie that they boys were pretending to watch, something about dinosaurs. Or maybe it was the one about aliens. Wanda honestly can't remember, she barely watched, she just sat with them to distract herself and it's why she's out here now. For a distraction, for something to take her mind off the other thoughts hanging around in her head.

And the city should do that. It always works at distracting her from everything else, and tonight it is just as beautiful and alive as it always is. But it still doesn't work, and in the end Wanda gives up and climbs back into the apartment, bringing her unfinished glass of wine with her. She carries the glass to the kitchen, finishes it, then leaves it in the sink for the morning. Over by the couch the TV is still playing but she decides to leave it, despite knowing they aren't really watching it.

She leaves them anyway, returning to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of water, turn off the light, and make sure everything is locked. After checking the lock on the apartment door Wanda slips away into her bedroom, bringing her newly poured glass of water with her. She takes a sip then places it to the side, on the table by the door, as she pulls her hair off her face and slips out of her shoes. Her room is messy, it needs to be tidied. Her hair needs to be brushed, and she still needs to wash her face before bed—but a minute later Wanda makes the decision to ignore all the things that she needs to do and she climbs up into bed.

The pillows and brightly colored cushions sink and move around her as she settles in, trying to get comfy. After she's comfortable enough, Wanda pulls up a soft thin blanket and covers herself with it, snuggling in. It feels good here, it feels better than it has all night, and she doesn't want to leave. So she doesn't. Wanda stays where she is, sinking deeper into the bed, as she only lets herself think about how good it feels here and the way the city lights look as they seep in through the window.

About ten minutes later, she pulls out her phone and answers the texts from work, about the extra shifts they need her on this week. Wanda accepts the offer, not just because they could always use the money but also because it's not like she's got much else on this week. After her new shifts are added to her phone, Wanda opens up her conversation with Steve and sends him a text asking if they can reschedule their training. She still wants to meet him, she doesn't want to give up after just one session, but she might be too busy this week and she doesn't expect him to change his life and schedule to fit hers.

When all of this is done, Wanda finds herself thinking of Bucky. She thinks of last night, of the fun they had for a moment there. And then before she realizes it she's typing up a message to him.

Her text is small, just two words.

 

[12:18 AM]:

you awake?

 

Wanda turns the phone-screen off after sending the message and rolls over on her side, turning to face her window. Just as she settles her phone buzzes by her side and she picks it up, expecting it to be Steve, or maybe work again. But it's not from them, it's from Bucky. He sends one text back then keeps typing, only to stop a minute later.

 

 

[12:19 AM]

hey red. What's up?

 

 

It's only after he replies that Wanda realizes she's not sure why she text him at all. It's late on a Saturday night, he's probably busy, and she feels like she's too tired and distracted to be good company right now. So she really can't work out why she sent him that message, or this is what she tells herself until she lets herself realize why she text him.

Her head feels heavy tonight, and she knows that she will dream about Sokovia and her parents. Maybe this is why she sent him the text, because a part of her hopes that he can distract her like he did last night.

 

[12:21 AM]:

Nothing really. Are you busy?

 

 

[12:21 AM]:

nah not really. Something on ur mind?

 

Wanda reads it over three times before she makes up her mind. Yes, she wants to say. Sokovia is on her mind. Her brother, too. The years they lost, the parents they lost. It stays with her, and lingers with the thoughts of Vision and the life they had before this one. It all feels like a blur, and she's not sure if she can answer his question about what's on her mind but she knows what she wants right now and it's simple. She just wants someone to talk to and she wants it to be him.

For a reason she's not entirely sure of, he just seems to get it. Wanda's not sure why, considering how little she knows about him. It's the same for him, he knows nothing about her, yet somehow last night he just seemed to get it. There was something in the way he spoke to her, something in his eyes that she recognized, and it's why she feels the way she does, why she wants to talk to him and not her brother or even Clint. It's hard to explain, but there's just something she feels when she talks to him that's not there with anyone else.

 

[12:26 AM]:

Can I call you?

 

His reply comes back seconds later.

 

[12:26 AM]:

yea sure. hang on a sec

 

[12:26 AM]:

i'll call u

 

After his last message, Wanda leaves her phone by her side and waits. She settles into bed, closes her eyes, and waits quietly as sounds of life come to her from the living room. So they're awake again. It won't last, she thinks, as she briefly climbs to the edge of her bed and reaches for her iPOD where it's tangled up in her headphones. Slowly she pulls them on and settles back into bed, bringing her notebook with her.

Ten minutes slip by and then five more. She doesn't feel tired enough to sleep, not yet, so she keeps the music with her and keeps trying to drift off. Her body feels tired, just liker her mind, but she is still too alert and too filled with memories to sleep. Sometimes music helps at distracting her, but like the city and the TV it fails her and in the end she throws it away with her book, ready to fetch a tea or another glass of wine from the kitchen. Just as she's about to leave her phone starts to ring and Bucky's name pops up on the screen. She hesitates, convincing herself that she is too tired now and that it is too late to take the call, but eventually she picks it up.

"Hello?"

On the other end, Bucky's voice is warm and strangely familiar. He sounds soft, but busy. Strained, maybe. In the background she hears familiar sounds and realizes that he's on the subway, and for a moment she closes her eyes and starts to think about what his night has been like.

"Hey, Wanda. Sorry, I was just—I had a thing. How are you? How's your night going?"

Sighing, Wanda opens her eyes. "It's fine, I'm fine. I'm sorry for interrupting your..thing." she pauses, looking over to the window. "I don't know why I text you, I think I was looking for someone to make me laugh. With their bad jokes. So I think this is why I thought of you."

Almost immediately, Bucky lets out a hearty laugh.

"What can I say? That's sweet of you to think of me, red. But if you're looking for bad jokes, then you should go right to Barton. Maybe even go to Steve. But me? I don't brag all that much, but my jokes aren't half as bad as those jerks. Seriously, some of Steve's stuff makes me cringe so much. And how he doesn't even realize how bad the jokes are. Aww. He's a sweetheart."

Wanda's smiling before she realizes it, and after she starts to smile it doesn't go away. It stays, and she decides then that she's glad that she text him and that he called, because it already feels like her mind is on something else.

"It kind of feels like you are.."

"Sorry, what? I am, what? A bragger? Or a bad joke teller?" Bucky asks then pauses, but not long enough for her to answer. "Because honestly, Wanda, I have to say..Both are kinda mean. Is that why you wanted to call me? To insult me? Or to be mean?"

Still faintly smiling, Wanda closes her eyes again and starts to think of Bucky. She doesn't know why but she starts to imagine where he is right now on the subway, smiling like she is.

"I am just bored. And tired. That is why."

Bucky hums gently. "Late night, huh? Did you wanna go grab a coffee or something?"

It's something that Wanda really considers, for longer than she should when she has to be up so early in the morning. She eventually decides against it, not just because she's working early but because she is still too tired to do anything but stay here on the phone with him.

"Another time, I think?" Wanda answers, then trails off briefly. "I don't know why I wanted to call you tonight. I'm sorry if I interrupted your plans."

"No, it's fine. You didn't, Wanda. And I'm glad you did text me. I'm really glad. I'm not really up to much anyway, so I'm glad I got your message. I actually wasn't sure that I would, or that I'd even hear from you this soon."

She hesitates, feeling curious. "Why is that?"

After this Bucky seems to take a few minutes to answer and Wanda doesn't really mind. It feels like the silence isn't so bad now that she's not totally alone. So she leaves him to his thoughts, getting caught up in her own head as she sinks deeper into her bed.

Half a minute later, he speaks again.

"I thought maybe.. I dunno, I'm just glad. I'm glad I heard from you so soon."

It makes her smile again without realizing it at first, but this time it's a different smile. Before she was amused, she was smiling because of that, and now it's different. She feels glad, too. And it is more than that. Wanda spends a little while thinking it over, as her eyes flicker open again and move to a spot on the ceiling.

"So I am." she answers soon. "What are you doing right now? You're on the subway?"

"Yep. On my way home."

Bucky sounds distracted again, and like he's had a night similar to hers. She understands it too well and she almost wants to ask him about it, but she quickly decides to talk to him about other things while she can. Quietly, she is starting to feel it. She is weary and it is slowly catching up to her.

"Long night?" Wanda ends up asking him.

He laughs again, just a little. It's less loud this time.

"Yeah, you could say that. So yeah, that's why I'm not really making a lot of bad jokes right now. Like you said, it's been a long night. But if you give me some time, I'm sure I can come up with some good stuff..."

"It's okay." she's quick to assure him. "I didn't really want to talk to you for your bad jokes."

Another laugh, this one sounds a little more real, a little lighter, than the last one. He sounds amused again, and playful, and she can't stop herself from smiling again. And from the way Bucky sounds when he speaks a moment later, he sounds as if he's smiling, too.

"See, I knew that. I knew that wasn't why you called. It's 'cause I'm charming and handsome, right?"

She laughs, pressing a hand to her lips as she thinks it over. Wanda knows that she doesn't really need to think it over. It's simple, really. He is very charming, and handsome, but that isn't why she called and it's not why she enjoys his company so much. It feels as if it's a little deeper than that, but his charm is definitely something that makes her smile.

"I don't think you're going to like my answer."

Bucky laughs again, before disappearing from the other end of the phone. Then he quickly comes back as if he was never gone at all.

"Yeah, probably not. So, tell me, how's Barton doing? And your brother?" he asks, sounding genuinely curious. "I didn't see 'em but Steve told me all that fun they had last night. They got pretty wasted, huh?"

"Yes, they were like zombies. But they are better now, after resting and having something to eat. Now they are almost all better."

On Bucky's end he lets out a disappointed sigh in response to Wanda's answer.

"Damn. That's too bad. I was gonna ask you to switch Barton's ringtone to something loud and annoying.  You know, like a fog horn. Something really loud and horrible. Like his laugh. Or his voice. Then I was gonna call him and wake him up. Too bad. I guess there's always next time, right?"

Wanda laughs quietly, but only for a moment. Slowly it fades, as she begins to feel more weary and less like she's here with him.

He is charming and funny, and she enjoys his company. Wanda wishes she had called him sooner, so they could have spent more time talking. But now she is tired, and not good company, and she feels bad for keeping him on the line when she is only really half-awake now.

"Listen, James..I am sorry."

He hesitates briefly. "For what? Saying I'm not charming? That's okay. I'm sure I can change your mind.."

Once again it sounds like he's smiling, just like she is.

"I didn't say that. But no, not that." Wanda answers. "I just mean..I don't feel like I am good company right now. I'm tired, it has been a long day. That's all."

For a moment after sharing this with him, Wanda is left to wonder if he will understand her or if he will be confused about why she wanted to talk, only to leave after just a few minutes. But he quickly shows her again that in his own way he gets it.

"Sure, no problem. I get what those days are like. You want me to go? I'm sure we can pick things up when you're well rested, so you can get back to insulting me and I can get back to making my really bad jokes..How's that sound?"

"I would like that." she says, then quickly pauses. "I just—Would you.."

In the quiet she finds that she can't go on, she can't ask Bucky, a stranger, what she wants to, because it should feel odd to want to ask him this. She doesn't know him, not really. So why does it already feel as if she knows pieces of him? 

"Hey, Wanda? You still there?" Bucky asks soon, bringing her back. "Everything alright? What's on your mind?"

"It's nothing. Really, it's okay. Thank you for calling. And I'm sorry for interrupting your night."

Seconds later he answers, sounding as soft and understanding as he was last night when they sat underneath the window again, lost in their heads and in the city lights.

"You didn't. Honestly, you didn't interrupt a thing. When I got your text..I was happy to hear from you. So, look, I've got some time to kill on the trip home. Why don't you tell me what's on your mind?"

She thinks about saying nothing and hanging up, then Wanda considers being honest about what's really on her mind and she feels torn. She doesn't feel like talking, and she still doesn't feel like leaving yet, and she knows where that leaves her and what she wants to ask. There's just a part of her that thinks it might be too much to ask.

"Would you stay on the line for a while?"

Bucky's quiet for about three seconds before he answers, showing her once more that he gets it and that he really is unlike anyone that she's met before.

"Until you fall asleep?"

In response Wanda hums, then clears her throat and squeezes her eyes shut. The seconds pass slowly before she answers.

"Yes. Is that okay?"

"Of course, Wanda. I don't mind." Bucky says gently; words quiet and warm. "It's no problem at all. I'll stay 'till you drift off."

 

 

 

 

* * * *

 

In the morning, Wanda wakes up late. She's never late, she never misses a shift or comes into work late since her apartment is just a few blocks away and she always gets in on time, but today she's late. Her alarm doesn't go off, or maybe it does and she just misses it. She's not sure why she's so late, but when she gets into work she is hit with an urge to just turn out and walk away.

The Green Tides looks like it has never been busier in all of the years that she's worked there. And after seeing it, she wants to turn away. Wanda really wants to leave it behind and walk home, but she knows that she can't. She has to stay so she forces herself inside, greets Gamora by the bar, then pops in to see Daniel and to apologize for being late. He doesn't care, not really. She's only about fifteen minutes late, and she's never been late before. So he lets it go and she leaves him to his work, quickly stepping into the empty staff bathroom to get ready for her shift.

The stalls are all empty when Wanda steps inside, so she enters the first one, strips out of her sweater and pants, and quickly dresses into jeans, a black t-shirt, and her work boots. After running her hands down the creases in her shirt and tying the laces on her boots, she steps out of the stall, almost ready. All that's left to do is to apply a little light make-up and fix her hair. When this is done, Wanda packs all her things away into her bag, slides her back-pack into her locker, then makes her way out to the bar where things are somehow even busier now.

In the rush that follows, Wanda loses herself to the morning chaos. She serves drink after drink, takes orders, cleans up the bar, and answers important calls and messages. When things slow down enough, Wanda is free to clean up the bar, refill the napkin holders, and replace empty bottles with new ones. This part doesn't take long, she's so used to it now that she can do it all without thinking about it. And that's usually when she ends up finding trouble, when she convinces herself that she doesn't need to think something through.

Today she finds trouble in the form of a clumsy customer and a freshly poured glass of orange juice.

Wanda's out on the floor, tidying up an empty table when it happens. The man trips over the edge of a chair but doesn't fall. He does spill his drink though, and it ends up all over Wanda's shirt. She freezes immediately, a handful of empty glasses in one hand and a cloth to clean the tables with in another. What happens after this feels like a bit of a blur. One minute she's there, staring down at her stained shirt, and the places where the juice is now clinging to her skin. Then a moment later she's whisked away by Gamora, back to the staff bathrooms to clean herself up. A new t-shirt is thrust into her hands and then she's left alone again.

She's left to stare back at her messy reflection, and this is the moment when she accepts that it's going to be one of those days. One of the bad days, the ones that never end until finally they do. She hates thinking this way, hates starting her day like this, and she doesn't want to accept that it's not going to be a good day, but as she strips out of her sticky shirt and starts to wipe herself clean it's hard to imagine that things will get better from here.

Once the t-shirt is thrown away, Wanda focuses on cleaning herself up. It only takes a few minutes but she stays for a little longer, trying to not let herself be angry about this. It was just an accident, it was no one's fault, but she still can't help the mood that this has put her in.

Five minutes later, Wanda gets back out behind the bar. It's less busy now, but there's still a small group waiting to be served. The man who tripped is back in his seat, chatting with Daniel. And everyone else is back to their usual routines just like Wanda, who quickly takes up her spot behind the bar and works on serving the customers and attending to all of their needs. This time she forces herself to stay here, to not slip away into the blur that she did earlier. She is focused, and here, until James Barnes walks into the bar.

Dressed in a navy blue jacket and dark jeans, he walks in with two other people. Wanda recognizes the man first. It's Sam, from Stark's party, from the meeting hall that she hasn't been to since that day. The woman by Sam's side is the same one that Wanda remembers seeing Sam with at Stark's party.

The three of them come to a stop almost as soon as they're inside and then the light-haired woman quickly leaves them. After kissing Sam lightly on the cheek she crosses over to the other side of the room, in the direction of the bathrooms, leaving the two men to find a table and order drinks. And as they stand their, making up their minds on what to do first, Wanda can't help the way that she is suddenly curious about them, about why they are here when she has never seen them here before. It could be a coincidence, or it could be something else entirely.

Before they notice her, and before Wanda has the chance to do anything about their arrival, she is quickly pulled back to the tasks around her, like the customers waiting on their drinks and the stock that needs to be fetched from the back. She busies herself with these tasks, as the thoughts of Bucky stay fresh on her mind. After a few minutes she comes back to the bar to find the two of them leaning against it, giving their orders to Gamora.

Now that the bar is quiet, for the moment anyway, Wanda is free to walk down to them. She approaches them slowly, carrying a cloth with her to wipe down the sticky spots on the bar. They only notice her now, as she comes to stand across from them while Gamora steps away to fetch their drinks. The look that Bucky gives her after this tells her that this really is just a big coincidence, at least for him it is. She finds it harder to get any kind of read on Sam, who doesn't look at all surprised to see her here.

And then there's Bucky by his side, who looks as surprised as Wanda feels right now.

"Well, would you look at this?" Sam grins slowly. "Fancy seeing you here, Wanda. I didn't know you'd be here today."

Smiling slowly, Wanda nods along and stretches up to wipe a spot on the bar. Then she leans back, glancing between them.

"Yes. Fancy seeing you here at the place that I work."

With an effortless shrug, Sam casually takes a long look around the inside of the bar, eyes flickering across the dark wood and patches of color on the walls. While he does this, Bucky's gaze stays on her, soft and barely there, and while it's there it's almost all that Wanda can think about. If she weren't here, if she weren't at work, and Bucky was looking at her the way that he is right now she thinks that she might get lost in it.

"Yeah, it's a nice place. Real nice. Haven't been here in a while." Sam sighs, turning back to the bar. "We were just passing through and we thought this place looked good. But I haven't been here in years. Can you recommend anything good?"

"Whiskey. Or orange juice."

"Think it's a little early for whiskey." Sam says, smiling again. "But who knows? Maybe we'll be back later."

Wanda's attention follows Sam as he takes two steps back from the bar, shares a look with Bucky, then pats him lightly on the back as he turns to look at Wanda.

"You kids have fun."

Hiding a smile, Wanda starts to wipe at another spot on the bar.

"Yes. And enjoy your date, Sam."

This makes Sam laugh again, and she's not sure why it feels so nice to make him smile but it does. By his side Bucky even cracks a smile, despite looking just a little awkward.

"Yeah, Barnes is so not my type." Sam grins, moving over to an empty table. "And also, I know you saw me here with Sharon. So yeah, that's a no."

Wanda nods along, quietly amused. "You sound defensive."

"I'm not. Yeah, I'm not. I'm just gonna go get a table and wait for our drinks. It was nice seeing you again, Wanda. You got a little orange juice on your neck, though. Just a heads up. You know what? Maybe I will get that glass. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll see you kids later."

Half-smiling, Wanda reaches out to her neck for the spot. Her hand comes away dry though, she misses it, and then a second later Bucky's reaching over the bar, a thumb stretched out. Gently he wipes at a spot on the side of her neck then pulls his hand away.

"Yeah, sorry. I just..Hi."

The smile he gives her now makes her think back to last night, to their phone-call and the last thing she remembers. Bucky was telling her a joke, something to put her to sleep, and she remembers laughing. It only strikes her now how new that is, to fall asleep laughing. 

After clearing her throat, Wanda lifts a hand and wipes at the spot where Bucky's thumb just was, despite knowing that it's clean now. Then she quickly drops her hand away, down to the bar, where she picks up the cloth again. But for now she doesn't step away to clean anything up. For the moment she stays, smiling slowly at him.

"I have to say, I wasn't expecting to see you here."

Bucky nods, agreeing. "Yeah, that makes two of us. It was just a last minute thing, like Wilson said." he explains then pauses, thinking it over. "Actually, we were in the area. Wilson was in the area and he made me come."

Feeling amused again, Wanda tries to hide a smile.

"He made you?"

Bucky offers her a shrug before running a hand along his jaw. He ends up leaning against the bar again, eyes wandering across the open space before eventually coming back to her. As he takes a minute to look around, and to work out his thoughts, Wanda takes a minute to watch him. He looks tired today, she thinks, but still handsome. There's a little more stubble on his face, it suits him, and there's a warm glint to his eyes that reminds her of the way he was with her last night in those little moments when they laughed together and shared cigarettes.

"Yeah. Let's just say I owe him a few things."

While still hiding a smile, Wanda nods along and starts to wipe at a spot on the bar near Bucky's arm. She focuses on it for second then slowly looks up to him, finding that he is watching her again, and that he looks considerably less awkward now. She's not sure that he was ever awkward, she thinks that he was maybe just uncertain of what she would think to see him here today.

"Really? Sam made you come here?" Wanda asks, tilting her head slowly to the side. "I have to say that I did not think you looked like a guy who would let someone make him do something he didn't want to do."

Slowly Bucky relaxes more and begins to smile, and with the way he suddenly looks relaxed, and happy, Wanda can't help but think about how lovely it looks.

"Mm, yeah. Well, can't win 'em all." he grins. "And like I said, I owe him."

That's something that Wanda feels that she understands, in her own way. She knows what it feels like to owe someone, or to at least feel like she does. But those aren't thoughts that she wants to let herself get swept up in, not today, and not now that Bucky's here.

She's still not really sure why he's here, or why Sam asked him to come here, but she's glad to see him, just like she was glad to hear from him last night.

"Hey, so I was wondering...Any chance you're gonna be on a break soon?"

Curious again, Wanda considers it. "Not for a while, I think. Why?"

Shrugging, Bucky almost looks away. "I was just hoping we could talk for a minute, that's all."

It's something Wanda thinks about, as she steps away to collect empty bottles and glasses from the far end of the bar. When she comes back Bucky is still there, waiting patiently for her answer, and as much as Wanda wants to say yes all that she can think about is that if she steps outside to talk with him for a minute it's going to turn into more than that. She will want more than that, more than just a minute, because of this almost indescribable way that she feels around him.

And at the same time, Wanda still wants that minute. It won't be enough, she will be left wanting more, but she still wants it and she already knows what her answer is, despite her reservations and her hesitation. She's known her answer since he walked through the door.

"We aren't doing that now?" she asks, smiling slowly. "We're talking now, aren't we?"

"Yeah, I just..You know, I thought a break would be a good time to talk."

He seems uncertain again, and it makes Wanda think about the look that he shared with Sam when he left, and then the way that he was when he first walked in here.

"Okay, if you are still here when I'm free..I could maybe step out for a cigarette for a few minutes."

A look flickers over Bucky's face, quickly fading away, but Wanda catches it and recognizes it easily. He looks hopeful.

"Yeah?" he asks, slowly smiling. "You think so?"

"Yes. But I don't know when.."

Bucky shrugs again, looking as if time isn't a concern for him, and that's when Wanda realizes that this must be important enough for him that he wants to stick around for a while. So quietly she decides that as soon as she's free, she'll come and find him and they can step outside to talk.

"It's alright, we're gonna be here for a while. Wilson takes years to make up his mind. By the time we're done here, I may be an old man. So it's fine, I don't mind waiting. I've got nothing else on today."

"Okay." Wanda nods. "I will see you soon, old man?"

He smiles back at her as he steps away from the bar, lingering for a second before he turns to walk away.

"Great. I'll see you soon, red."

Chapter Text

In the quiet, Wanda seeks Bucky out. She finds him in a seat by the window, sitting on his own, with a newspaper spread out on the table, next to his phone and a crumpled packet of cigarettes. When he sees her coming he folds the newspaper up, swipes the cigarettes and phone from the table, and swiftly gets to his feet. Then he follows her, away from the bar and down a small corridor that takes them out into the alley at the back of the bar. 

Bucky stays close behind her until they step out into the tiny space, filled with old boxes, crates, and a metal bin by the door. He spends a minute taking it all in, as if it is all deeply interesting to him. When he's done he pulls a cigarette out, lights it, then offers it to Wanda. She takes it eagerly, and as Bucky lights his own cigarette she closes her eyes and lets herself enjoy it.

When her eyes open again she finds Bucky standing away from the door and over by the wire fence that surrounds the little space. He's leaning against it, while still looking around the alley again, and for a moment she wants to ask him why he is so interested, why he is here, but for a minute more she lets herself enjoy this little break. Half a minute later, Bucky ends the silence.

"So this place..It's nice." he hums, moving the cigarette to his lips. "It's nicer than I remember, I mean. Did they, uh—Is there new management? Or the same old guys?"

Smiling slowly, Wanda turns to Bucky a little more. She is curious about him and why he's here today, and she is also curious about why he is stalling. He isn't here to talk to her about this place, about the new and old owners. But she doesn't mind if this is what he wants to talk about for now. She finds herself welcoming this little distraction, welcoming his company, and she feels as if they could talk about anything at all and she would still feel this way. When it comes to the man in front of her, Wanda finds that she feels very deeply interested and curious in him.

"I'm not sure, sorry. But Daniel is new, I think. He has only worked here for a few years, if I am remembering right." she answers soon, still smiling. "Thank you, for the cigarette. And this small break. I didn't mean to keep you waiting so long, it was just busier than I expected it would be."

Slowly Bucky looks her over softly, as a smile starts to tug on his lips. Then slowly it appears, spreading over his lips in a sweet, almost peaceful way, and Wanda can only think about how nice it is to see him so relaxed and smiling at her like this.

"No problem, really. I don't have anything else on, so it's fine." he answers, while tucking an arm around his chest. "You probably saved me from a boring day with Wilson and his girl. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like them 'cause I do. it's just that sometimes being the third wheel sucks. You know?"

Quietly amused, she nods along with him.

"I think I know what you mean."

"Yeah, you must. Your brother and Barton, they're love-sick. I imagine that must get..Intense."

Lovebirds is the right word, she thinks. They are lovebirds; always around each other, always smiling, and laughing, and so happy. There is something special about them, too. Something Wanda has seen since the start, and it is still there now. She sees something in Pietro that only Clint brings out in him, something only he can give him, and it is the same with Clint.

They are happy, and this is all that matters to Wanda. She cares about them both very much and to see them so happy, so free and filled with love, only makes her happy.

"They are sweet. I am always happy to see them together." Wanda answers, pausing as she takes a step closer. "So, uh..I have to say this—Well, I'm not really sure what this is about. Why you are here, what you wanted to talk about.."

Across from her, Bucky laughs a little in a sweet, almost nervous kind of way. Then it slips and he turns his head away, back to the fence on his left, as he curls his hand around it again and lowers the half-finished cigarette from his lips. After considering it again she decides that she's not sure that he actually is nervous, but she knows that whatever this is, whatever reason he's here, is important. It means something, and that's why he's like this right now. There's something heavy on his mind, something he needs to get out.

"Yeah, look, I just..There was something on my mind It's why I'm here." he admits, then glances back. "And I figured that now was a good time since I was here. I didn't know if it was something to say over the phone, you know? And I'm really not good at these things. Just ask Steve, or anyone. They'll tell you."

Wanda smiles faintly, as she steps away to stub out her cigarette. It's not that she doesn't want more, it's just that she's trying to cut back. She wants to, for herself and for her brother because she knows that he doesn't like it. She's not sure if it will work but she's trying. After she steps away from Bucky, just enough to stub out her cigarette on the ground, Wanda crushes it out on her boot and glances up at him.

"Okay, I understand." she calls back. "So tell me, what is on your mind? What is this about, James?"

There's a moment where Bucky hesitates, clearly uncertain, then he sighs and shares the truth with her. His real reason for being here. And once it's out, it doesn't surprise her at all that this is what's on his mind.

"It's about last night. The phone-call."

And now it clicks. Wanda understands why he's here now, or at least she thinks she gets it. He's here because last night was too much, too intimate, to ask of a stranger, and she understands why he feels this way. It's not something Wanda's sure she could do for someone else, or this is what she tells herself as she tries to get a read on Bucky.

His face is too clouded though, too difficult to read, which is new for her because she rarely struggles to get a read on people, even the ones she doesn't know. But this is different, she realizes it now. He is different, too. 

"Oh. That."

"Yeah. That." he shrugs, faintly smiling. "Listen, Wanda. I think that you—"

"I should never have asked you to do that. I realize now that I shouldn't have asked that of you. A stranger. So I am sorry if it made you feel...Bothered. Or uncomfortable."

A different, less clear look fills Bucky's eyes after this, as he steps away to crush out his cigarette with his boot and discard it in the metal trash-can by the door. He watches Wanda as he throws it away and then he looks back to her, that same look on his face, and a smile on his lips that is almost familiar, almost like the one she dreamt about once.

"That's not what I'm talking about. Wanda, that's not even close to what I'm talking about. I'm sorry, I think there's been a big misunderstanding here."

His smile is sweet, she realizes it now. It's sweet, and sincere, and there is something faintly sad about it as he comes to stand just a few steps in front of her, one hand by his side, the other now tucked into the pocket of his jeans.

"If it isn't about that," she pauses, clearing her throat. "Then I don't understand why you're here. I'm sorry, I am lost."

It's something Bucky considers, while moving to lean against the fence, the smile growing on his lips. It is still sweet and genuine, and it is clear that he is here for a reason but she still doesn't know what that reason is. If it's not about that, then maybe it's about the call. Maybe she said something she shouldn't have, as she drifted in and out of sleep.

"What?" she pushes, following him. "What is it? I don't understand what this is about."

"Nothing, I'm just..You really think that's why I'm here? You think I'm uncomfortable because we talked on the phone?"

"Not that." Wanda explains. "The end."

A flicker of realization fills his eyes, and it is quickly followed with something else that reminds her of familiarity. Maybe he is used to this, she decides. Maybe he listens, to his friends, and maybe even sometimes to strangers, or maybe there is something else there that he's still keeping to himself.

Whatever it is, it passes as Bucky pushes himself off the fence and walks back over to where Wanda is standing, in the space between the fence and the door to the bar.

"I wanted to check in that you were okay. Because last night, you didn't sound so okay. So that's all it was. I was gonna call, but then I ended up here anyway so I figured..Why not?"

It dawns on her slowly, why he's really here, why he wants to talk. He cares. In his own way he cares and this is why he's here. It's not because he was uncomfortable, or because she asked too much of him, a stranger, by asking him to stay on the line and talk until she fell asleep. He's here because he cares, and it surprises her when it really shouldn't. He's always shown that he cares in his own small ways; from helping her at the market, giving her blueberries, taking her for a milkshake, and wiping the blood from her hands after she fell.

He cares. And it's been a long time since Wanda considered letting a stranger care about her.

"You're here to look in on me." she says, then stops briefly. "You came here to see how I am? This is why?"

Bucky nods, tilting his head to the side as his gaze sweeps her over, searching for answers. She's not sure that he finds any, he's still too difficult, too blurry, for Wanda to read. So she gives up and lets herself focus on the other things, like why he is really here, and how blue his eyes look in this light.

"Yeah, I mean..Us showing up today, that was just a coincidence, but I was probably gonna call or stop by anyway." he admits, watching her closely. "That's okay, right? I know we don't know each other, but it still felt like I should check in."

The words make her think back to last night, to why she needed the call, why she was so consumed with thoughts of her mother and Vishz. Slowly she takes a breath, following Bucky's earlier steps over to the wire fence. Once she's there she leans against it and watches as Bucky trails over, slowly joining here there. He mirrors her, coming over to rest against the fence just as she does.

"It's sweet of you to come by, James." she says, smiling up at him. "But there is nothing for you to check in on. I appreciate it, but I'm fine."

Bucky nods along, looking as if he is convinced, like he isn't going to say anything else about it, but then he changes his mind and gives her another look that shows her that he really isn't all that convinced.

"You sure, red?" he asks gently. "You know you don't have to be fine if you're not. It's okay to not be okay, as they say. Or so I've heard."

"It is sweet of you to come by, I mean that. And I mean this when I say I am okay." she tells him quickly. "There is nothing for you to check in on. I appreciate it, but I am better than okay."

He seems more convinced after this, after her words and the smile she offers him. Last night was just a moment, that's all. It's kind of Bucky to care, to show up here and to ask her about it, but there is nothing to talk about.

It was only a moment.

"You sure?" Bucky asks, seconds later. "You don't have to be okay if you're not."

She nods, certain. "I know. And I am still okay. I think it was just one of those nights."

A look from Bucky tells her that he gets it. His eyes are still kind, still soft, but there's something in the look he gives her that tells her there's more to his than he's saying. He understands, the good nights and the bad ones. Maybe he even understands what she's talking about, what those nights are like. The nights when she is torn between wanting to be alone and needing someone there. That's what last night was, that's all it was.

"You have those often?" he asks. "The bad nights, I mean."

Shrugging, she turns away. Wanda shifts her gaze down to the concrete, before turning it over to her old work boots. When she looks back up at Bucky he's still watching her, still searching.

"Everybody does." she answers, shrugging again. "I have dreams sometimes, that's all. Talking to someone before I sleep can help, sometimes."

She watches quietly as understanding fills his eyes slowly, but she doesn't get much of a chance to look at it before he's moving again. Bucky pushes himself off the fence, lets out a sigh, and takes two or three steps around the little alley, just observing it again. Or just pretending to. Wanda thinks he's just pretending to be interested, while he's really more interested in this and in whatever is currently going on inside of his head.

"Yeah, I know..I know what that's like." Bucky tells her, voice lower when he speaks. "I used to—my friend.."

Another sigh comes from Bucky, as he half-smiles and glances back at her, looking at her as if he doesn't really want to talk about this but at the same time something inside of him does want to.

"Way back in the day, I'd call Steve every now and then. It became a thing, you know. Just to talk to someone." he admits, glancing her over slowly. "We never really talked about it, he never made it weird or anything. But I think he knew that it was just nice, you know? He was there. So yeah, I get that. I get what you're saying and why you asked, and I'm happy to be there."

So he gets it, Wanda thinks, as her gaze sweeps over him. He really gets it, and she finds herself wanting to ask him questions, how and why, but in the end she asks nothing. She just stays with him by the fence, watching him in a way that she hopes will show him that she appreciates this more than she can say. She wishes she could say it, and she wishes she could stay but she can't. Soon she will have to go back inside, back to her job, where she knows she will spend the next few hours thinking about this talk, thinking about him.

For a minute more she stays, coming a few steps closer before she stops in front of him.

"Thank you for coming by. And for saying what you have." she says, smiling a little. "I wish that I could stay, but I should go. Do you have any plans for tonight? I work late, but maybe after.."

He smiles back slowly. "Yeah, I mean..I'd love to. I've got nothing on. You wanna grab a bite to eat?"

Wanda nods, while taking a half-step away. She still wants to say, to talk and to listen, but she needs to go back and she needs to let him get on with his day.

"Yes, that or I could call you again." she suggests. "I will let you know after work? Maybe I will finish early and we can get something to eat."

"Sure." he smiles, eyes bright and kind. "I'd love that, Wanda. Both sound good to me. Just let me know what works for you."

She feels herself smiling back, in a more relaxed, easy way, now that she knows why he is here and what was on his mind. She smiles more than she even means to; it happens without thought, as she looks back to him, to where he's standing by the fence, smiling at her.

"So would I." she says, pausing. "Bucky?"

"Yeah? What's up, red?"

A quiet moment passes, as Wanda considers coming closer. For what? She doesn't know. A hug, maybe. That's what it feels like she comes closer for, it feels like that's what she wants, but at the last minute she stops herself and stays where she is, just a few steps away from him.

"Thank you again. For the call, and for coming over to see me." Wanda calls back, smiling again. "And if there is ever anything I can do..."

"Don't worry, it's not like that. There's nothing to repay. That's just what..Well, I was gonna say that's what friends do but I don't know that we're quite there yet. Are we?"

She shrugs, smiling in response, because she doesn't know what to say. They are strangers to each other, but he feels familiar, and from the way he is around her and how he talks to her Wanda can tell that he feels the same way, too. There is something here. Whatever it is, she doesn't know. But it is there and she can't ignore it. From the way he is watching her now, she knows it is the same for him.

Still smiling, Bucky takes two steps closer.

"Let's just say...That's what strangers, who just met, but who have friends that deeply and intimately know each other...Well, that's what strangers with close friends do. Right? Or something like that?"

First she laughs, then she turns to him, smiling at his words and at a few of the memories that come to her now. It is mostly the memory of that night under the window, where they shared beer, weed, and stories. That is what makes her smile. That, and this: the way he is now, how he comes to stand closer, and the smile he gives her as she thinks it over.

"That sounds..Complicated."

He smiles back slowly. "Yeah, but all the best things in life are. Aren't they? Makes you appreciate the quiet and welcome the calm."

It means more to her than she can think about, more than she can say. He's right. In so many ways, he is right. But for now she refuses to think about all of the ways he is right and what the words mean to her. For now she focuses on this, and Bucky, and on the day ahead of her.

"I guess you are right." she says, smiling. "And I guess I will hear from you or I will see you sometime tonight."

Bucky nods, looking hopeful as he smiles at her. She feels the same.

"I'm looking forward to it."

 

 

* * * *

 

 

The apartment is empty when Wanda gets home, shortly after 8PM. It's quiet, no one's home, and even the radio is off. She leaves it and walks inside, locking the door and turning towards the open space. Once she's inside, over near the kitchen, she finds a fresh vase of flowers on the table next to a note from the boys, telling her their plans for the night. The note from Pietro reads:

 

WANDA - will  be home tomorrow night after work, we will see you then. P.S. Hope you like the flowers, they are almost as lovely as you. Love always, P. 

 

The bunch of flowers are beautiful, a pretty mix of yellow and blue. She smiles as she lifts them to her face, smelling them, before she places the vase down again and reaches for her phone to send her brother a text, letting him know that she's home and that she loves the flowers. She tells them both to have a good night and then she puts her phone away and carries the note from her brother over to her bedroom, where she quickly strips out of her clothes and goes straight for the shower.

A nice cold shower always helps after work. Today feels like the kind of night where she needs it more, especially after she spent the day convinced she still had orange juice on her. The memory of that moment stays with her, as she cracks open the window in her little bathroom, takes off her shoes, and lets her bare feet rest against the tiles for a while.

From the window in here she can see the city. It's a different view than the one she gets from her bedroom, or from the window in the kitchen. This one is just hers and she likes it. She doesn't come here enough and she knows why that is. She knows why she's avoided coming in here when it's not necessary. It's because of that night, with the drops of blood on the tiles and her ripped stockings.

After a minute of dwelling on that night, Wanda pushes it from her mind and steps into the shower, reaching to turn the water on and then picking up her new body-wash in the corner, right next to a new bottle of shampoo, left there by Pietro. It smells sweet, and fresh, and she enjoys it as it seeps into her skin. When she's done in the shower, Wanda dries off, closes the window again, and returns to her bedroom, with her damp towel around her and all of her hair pulled up onto her head. Most nights she doesn't really care what happens to her hair, if it gets wet in the shower, or if it gets messy and tangled through the night. But tonight she cares a little, because of her plans with Bucky.

It's not a date. It's not even their 'not a date' dinner that is still scheduled for 6PM on Tuesday night. This thing that she's looking forward to, that she's been thinking about all day, isn't a date. It's just dinner on a Sunday night, when Wanda is too tired to cook and she doesn't really feel like eating alone. She could eat in, if she wanted. There's always takeaway, and the food is filled with meals, but she doesn't want to just stay in.

Tonight Wanda wants to go out, to a place he sent her the address to a couple hours ago, called: Sweet Burgerz.

It sounds interesting and she's never been there before, even though it's just a few blocks away from her work. She's looking forward to it because it's been a while since she went out with someone new, and ever since she last spent the night here with Bucky, drinking beer and sharing a joint under the window, she's wanted to see him again. And now she will finally get to see him again, for more than just a few minutes.

But it's still not a date. This is what Wanda tells herself, as she spends ten minutes picking out an outfit for the night. She expects it to take a little longer, since they're not meeting until 9 and it's not even close to 8:30 yet. And already she's showered, picked out an outfit, and is planning how to style her hair.

After she's made that decision, Wanda starts to get ready. She begins with a pair of thin black stockings and she pulls them on slowly, always too aware, too focused, on the memory of that night and the ripped stockings she threw away. The memory stays with her again, as she drags the stockings up, fixes them so they're comfortable and sitting on right, and then she reaches for the black skirt on her bed and pulls it on. The wavy skirt sits high on her waist and hangs just above her knees. Once it's zipped up, Wanda slides on long sleeved red t-shirt, fixes the buttons at the front, then turns to the mirror.

She barely spends a moment looking at herself before she walks over to her seat at the vanity, pulling it out and carefully sitting down as she begins to style her hair. After combing her hair she decides to leave it out, since she's happy enough with the way that it looks. Once her hair is done she adds a little make-up, pulls on a few rings, ties up the laces on her boots, and fixes her hair one last time before she leaves.

In the kitchen she pours herself a glass of wine, drinks half, puts her keys and phone into her purse then returns to finish the rest of the wine. When she's done with the wine she rinses the glass in the sink, places it aside to dry, and takes a seat at the end of the kitchen table. Wanda's only there for about two minutes, maybe three, before she gets up and leaves. She spends the time fidgeting with her keys, or her silver rings, with the purple and dark green gemstones. Then she gets up, gathers her things, and leaves. Outside in the hallway, she locks the apartment door then takes the stairs down to the first floor. 

She's not really sure why she's so eager to leave, to get out of here and see him again, but she thinks maybe it's because of how long it's been since she's gone out to dinner with someone new. And maybe it's more than that, maybe it's because of the man she's going to have dinner with. He's charming, and funny, and he makes her laugh. But more than that, there's something in him that she connects to, something she's not sure she's felt with anyone else.

The thoughts of Bucky stay with her, as she takes the stairs down to the lobby, walks out onto the busy street, and starts to walk down the street in the direction of Sweet Burgerz. It's not far, about fifteen minutes from the Green Tides, and that's not far from her apartment at all so it won't take long. She's actually happy to have the time to get there, to walk and enjoy the city. It helps to be out here, to see the city, the people, and to get her mind off all the little things she's trying not to focus on right now. She focuses on Bucky and on the city around her instead, and quickly finds that they both work as distractions from everything else.

On her walk to meet Bucky her mind feels as if it is pulling her back and forth between thoughts of Bucky and of New York city. Soon she only thinks of him, of tonight and what it means. It is just a dinner, just a meal. It isn't a date. He's made it clear that he's not looking for complications, and it's the same with her. It's only a dinner, and she tells herself this over again, so many times that she should believe it, and she does. But the feeling in her stomach stays. It's light, a gentle fluttering, and the closer she gets to the street the more intense it becomes. 

This isn't a date, she reminds herself, one more time. And she knows it. This is a last minute dinner, just burgers and fries. Wanda knows this, knows what it is, but at the same time it's like there's a part of herself that can't stop the nerves, can't stop herself from feeling the way she does. And it leaves her with a question that she can't answer: does she wish it was a date?

No. Maybe. She can't answer that. Lately it feels like she struggles at finding answers for anything, but this is different because she already knows her answer. She's known it since they spoke at the back of the bar, and she knows it now. The fluttering in her stomach confirms it.

For a little while she considers turning back, going home to her apartment to eat in, to spend another night alone. She could paint, have a glass or two or wine, and go to sleep high. It's something she considers but not for long, because she realizes that she's already made a decision and this is it. She wants to do this, wants to spend time with him. She doesn't want to turn back because she wants to have fun, to be distracted, to distract him. There is something about his company that she welcomes, something that she thinks about when he is gone. It leaves her curious, longing for more, always longing for a little more, and she thinks maybe that's because all the time they've spent together always seems to end.

At the markets he left, they were strangers then, he had no reason to stay. Then there was Peggy's place where he left minutes after arriving, for no clear reason at all. After Stark's, when he was at her apartment, he left again but only because it had been a long night. And lastly there was this morning, he left because he had to, because she had work and he couldn't stay. But this, tonight, it's different.

It doesn't have to end so suddenly, it won't end so quickly. Tonight they'll have more time then they've had and there will be no other distractions, no men walking into her and crushing her blueberries, and no ghosts showing up like at Stark's party. It will just be them and there is something about this that excites Wanda.

And it's just as she's starting to feel excited that she looks up and spots the sign on the street up ahead. SWEET BURGERZ is glowing, in bright blue and green letters, above a wide and busy restaurant.

When Wanda gets close she stops outside, giving herself a minute to take it in. Everything is busy, and bright, and happy. All the customers inside, all the staff tending to them, look happy. It looks calm, and loud, and alive, and she watches on quietly from the outside as she thinks about the night to come. After a few minutes go by, she reaches for her phone in her purse to check the time. She's still too early, he won't be here for a while, so she decides to find somewhere to wait and have a cigarette.

It always happens. She always goes so well, nearly quits, nearly gives them up. She's so close, and then she gives in again. Wanda tries not to think about it, about her brother's disapproval, and the fact that these little things aren't any good for her. It stays with her, faintly in the back of her mind, as she pops an unlit cigarette between her lips and walks over to an empty space at the edge of Sweet Burgerz, where she gently leans back into the brick wall and lights her cigarette.

She wants to quit, needs to quit. One day, she tells herself, and maybe it's another lie or maybe it will become a resolution for the new year. With that on her mind, Wanda presses herself back against the wall a little more and lifts her head, to study the traffic on the streets and the strangers passing by. They are all interesting to her. She thinks if she had the time she could sit and watch them living, and laughing, and simply existing, for hours and hours.

Her mind is back on the city, on the people living in it, the ones walking past her at this very moment on their way out, or their way home for the day, to loved ones, and it makes her think of her home. Their little apartment, that they once shared with just the two of them. Clint's been here for a while, but they don't always stay in. The two of them often stay at his place, in the city, or out at the farm, and sometimes they are home with her but there have been weeks when she's barely seen them, barely heard from them, and thinking of that, thinking of all these strangers, makes her wonder if they will be going back to empty homes tonight, too.

After inhaling on the cigarette once more, Wanda pulls it away, ready to crush it out with her boot and discard it to the side. But when she lifts her head up and looks through the busy crowds, she spots Bucky walking away and she forgets, for a second, about everything else. 

He's early, too. Maybe he just happened to be early, or maybe he couldn't wait, maybe he was just as excited as she was. She's not sure what it was or why he's here so early, she just knows that she's happy to see him here. Happy. A fleeting feeling. It only strikes her now what that means, that she is happy to see this man, this stranger, that she barely knows but still feels like in some way she does know, better than others she's known and worked with for years.

Bucky doesn't see her, not at first. His head is down and he's walking across the street, on his way over to the patch of pavement that Wanda's on outside of the restaurant. As she watches him she forgets about the city, the lights, and all of the people going by. She forgets it all and watches Bucky, fixated on him and the way the city lights glow against his face.

Her next thought is about the way he looks tonight. He's always looks good, even at the market, and that day in the park. She thought of him occasionally, after their run in at the markets, after he helped her pick up her crushed flowers. She remembers thinking that he was handsome, and that his eyes were a lovely blue. Tonight he looks just as handsome as he did that day. Dressed in a dark denim jacket, with a black v-neck shirt underneath and a pair of black jeans on—he looks nice, more than that, and at first she is lost for the words.

Wanda thinks it over, thinks about how good that denim looks on him, and how his dark hair is tucked back behind his ears. For a reason she's not entirely sure of, she almost wants to reach out and touch the long strands. She quickly pushes that thought aside and watches on, as Bucky starts to walk up the pavement towards her. When he's almost at the restaurant he lifts his head to check his surroundings and that's when he sees her watching him.

He stills for a second, or at least it looks like he does. Then he smiles, lifting his head more to look up at her. Wanda's not sure why she waves at him but she does. She regrets it after, wondering why she waved when he's only just a few steps away, but she doesn't dwell on it. With her cigarette burning out between two fingers, she takes a few steps forward to get to Bucky.

When he reaches her, he can't hide his smile.

"Hey, you're here. Wow, you look—Um, wow. It's great to see you. Again." he smiles, coming to stand in front of her. "I'm really glad you could make it tonight."

Wanda smiles back, immediately feeling as if all of the other thoughts on her mind are gone now. She's not sure how he does that, how he takes the other thoughts away and leaves her just thinking about him. He distracts her, but it's more than that. She welcomes it and smiles a little more, glancing him over again, in a more subtle way this time. Then she meets his eyes and realizes that this is one of those moments where she's not really sure what to do.

Do they hug? Shake hands? Or do they do nothing at all? Wanda quietly feels uncertain, and without thinking she leans in and kisses Bucky on the cheek, feeling a little relieved that as she starts to come close that Bucky does, too. When his lips brush against her cheek she feels that same fluttering in her stomach, but she swallows it down and lifts her head, smiling again.

"So you are claiming that this is the best place in the city for burgers?" Wanda asks, tilting her head to the side. "I am curious now if it will live up to all of your big talk, or if you just made it up to impress me."

Slowly grinning, he glances between her and the restaurant.

"Trust me, I don't need to talk big to impress you. That's not what this is." he turns back, smiling. "It's gonna live up to the talk. Actually, red, it's gonna do more than that."

"Really?" she asks, curious. "You would say it is going to..Blow my mind? Or something like this?"

Bucky's smile suddenly widens, becoming brighter and more playful. And with just this smile Wanda decides that she made the right decision to come here tonight, to not give up and go home. She needs this, and something tells her that he needs it, too.

"Yeah, exactly. Something exactly like that."

After glancing back inside curiously, Bucky turns back to her, tucks his hands into the pocket of his denim jacket, and joins her where she's standing near the wall. He seems comfortable around her, as comfortable as she feels around him, and that leaves her smiling as he looks back to her, still curious.

"You wanna go get a table and some drinks? Then you can take a look at the menu, see what you want." he says. "It's gonna be a hard choice, picking just one beautiful burger off that list. You think you're up for the challenge?"

"Mmm, I think I can manage." she nods, smiling. "I will just finish my cigarette, then I will meet you in there?"

Bucky shrugs, smiling. "It's alright, I'm in no rush. You got a spare?"

She's quick to reach into her purse, to pull out her crumpled packet of cigarettes and red lighter. After finding them she hands them to Bucky, who walks a little closer to her, out of the way of the people going in and out of the restaurant, or moving steadily along the street. Wanda turns to him slowly, watching as he puts the cigarette between his lips and lifts the lighter to it. That's when she notices that he's got the black gloves on again. She says nothing, she barely lingers on them, but she is still curious. It becomes something she decides to think about later though and she looks away, until he passes her the packet of cigarettes back and she packs them away into her bag again.

"So, how was work?" he asks, exhaling on the cigarette. "Was it good? Or, and I feel like this is what happened..It got considerably worse after I left?"

As she leans back into the wall, she can't help but smile. Bucky catches it and it just amuses him more. For a second after she thinks about her answer, she thinks about being honest, or making him laugh, and in the end she comes up with the perfect answer.

"Oh, yes. Of course. You and Sam were obviously the—umm, how do you say it? The highlight of my day? This is right?"

"Yep, that's it. That's definitely it." he laughs, while tucking a hand into his pocket. "And look, that's real sweet of you to say. But it's okay, you don't have to pretend. I can take it. Between you and I, Wilson can be a bit of a jerk sometimes. But you didn't hear that from me."

Now she is the one amused, hiding her smile behind her cigarette. She stays like this for a minute, until she moves the cigarette to rest between her thumb and pointer finger, leaving it like this for a minute or two.

"So this is also like how Clint was...What did you say he was?"

"Selfish. Messy." he smiles, barely able to keep down a laugh. "And completely self-absorbed. I'm a giver, and Barton's just a taker."

With the cigarette resting between her fingers, there's nothing for Wanda to use to hide her smile. She chews down on her bottom lip and maybe it works, or maybe it doesn't. She doesn't mind; eventually the smile comes through and she looks away, laughing quietly to herself as her gaze shifts from the pavement, back up to Bucky.

"I think you exaggerate. You tell stories. Because I have known Clint for a while, for almost as long as he has been dating my brother. And I know that he is none of these things. Messy? Yes, sometimes. But not really. So I think this is you talking big again."

At first, Bucky doesn't seem to really know what to say. He smiles a little, laughs, looks as if he's going to say something, then he laughs again.

"Really?" he asks. "That so?"

"Yes. And I also think that you like your friends, especially Sam and Clint, very much. You pretend that you don't to make jokes, but you are just trying to be funny. Do you do this to all of your friends?"

Bucky blows out a little smoke before he answers, smile still there, eyes still warm and glowing, from the city lights and from the good mood he is clearly in right now.

"Nah, not all. Mostly just Barton and Wilson. Sometimes Steve." he answers, pausing briefly. "But yeah, maybe you're right. Maybe underneath it all I'm just a big softy."

"Mmm. Maybe." she nods along, while dragging her boot over the concrete. "Maybe you are or maybe you're not. I don't know what you are yet."

It only says strange after she says it, after she hears it; I don't know what you are yet. Yet. The way it sounds makes it seem like she wants to know him, wants to know what he's really like, who he is really is, and maybe she does but she definitely doesn't want to be talking about that right now. She quickly looks away, down to her boots, as Bucky inhales on his cigarette again.

"What about you, Wanda?" he asks a few seconds later. "Why don't you tell me something I don't know about you? I'm a softy. What about you?"

She considers it, slowly lifting her gaze. "Why don't you tell me something you think you know about me?"

"Yeah?" he asks, exhaling smoke. "Like what?"

"I said..You talk big. You are not so suave. And you are a softy. So tell me, what do you think about me?"

This time he takes a minute to really think about it, and while he's thinking it over Wanda is left wishing she could crawl into his head and know what he is thinking, especially when he is looking at her the way that he is right now. She wants to know, needs to know, and it seems like the minute that he takes to think about it stretches on for much longer than it really does and by the time he finally speaks again she is almost bursting with anticipation.

"I think you like to have fun."

Wanda considers it, then half-shrugs. "So? That is all? That is nothing. What else?"

He doesn't take half as long to answer this one, and it makes her wonder if this was his answer all along, if he thought this from the start but went with the easy answer first.

"You're tough. You have a good sense of humor. And you're sweet, too."

It lingers in the quiet comes after. She wishes she could just focus on the last bits, you're sweet, too. But instead of thinking about that, she can only focus on the first part. Tough. She thinks of shaking in the bathroom, wiping crusted blood from her thighs and throwing away torn stockings. You're tough. Tough. She thinks of those first weeks they moved to New York, all those night she cried and cried, missing home, missing her parents. 

Wanda is quick to look away from Bucky, down to her boots, before she steps away to crush her cigarette out on the ground. After throwing it aside she comes back, only realizing now how long she's kept him waiting.

"And soft at heart, like you?" she asks, slowly smiling. "Or maybe not so much?"

"Maybe. Or maybe not." Bucky answers warmly. "I don't know you that well. Yet."

That same feeling comes back to her, for that one little word. Yet. It means something, then and now, this much is clear. She can tell that it means something to him, too. He is quietly hopeful as she is, and there is something comforting in that.

"Yet?" she asks. "You are very confident about that. Aren't you?"

With a shrug, he looks away. "Yeah, well, so were you." he smiles, turning back. "Didn't really mean it like that, though. Guess I'm just being hopeful."

There's something in the way that Bucky looks when he says this, something that glows in his eyes (hope, or maybe happiness) that Wanda recognizes and quickly she realizes that she feels the same way. It leaves her smiling, as her eyes flicker between Bucky and the restaurant.

"Do you want to go in now?" she asks. "I am hungry and now I really need to know if this place has the best burgers."

"Oh, yeah. They're great. They're sweet. You'll love it." Bucky says, stepping away to stub out his cigarette. "You see what I did there? Sweet? You get it?"

Grinning, she takes a step to the door. Bucky quickly joins her side, after he crushes out his cigarette. He turns to her as they make their way to the door, still smiling.

"Yes, unfortunately. I get it."

"What? That's not a good joke?" he smirks, while reaching for the door. "Damn. That's too bad. I've been working on that since I got here."

A bell above the door rings as Bucky opens it, and a delicious aroma quickly spills outside, leaving Wanda with a smile that she can't hide. Already she knows that he is right about this place, that they will have delicious food here. But for now she can't think about it. For the moment she can only watch Bucky as he steps aside, leaving enough space for Wanda to step through.

"You ready?" asks.

Wanda nods. "Uncertain. But still..Excited."

"There's nothing to worry about. You're not gonna be disappointed, doll. I promise."

Chapter Text

In the end, Bucky is right.

It only takes Wanda a bite of her burger to know this, that Sweet Burgerz is the best burger place she's ever been to since they arrived in the city. Her meal is warm, and delicious, and she never wants to stop eating it. She shares half of hers with Bucky, who shares his with her, and as they eat off each other's plates—sharing fries, and burgers, and ice-cold shakes—Wanda never wants it to end. Being here with him is nice. It's more than nice, and in the looks they share every now again they seem to silently communicate this to each other. This, and how they don't want it to be over yet.

But it does end, and when it does Wanda's belly is too full for her to even think about touching her plate again. She slowly pushes it away, halfway across the table and over to Bucky's side, so he can have whatever he wants of it. Then she leans back into the plush seat behind her and curls her fingers loosely around her chocolate shake, undecided if she feels like hers or if she wants some of Bucky's strawberry shake that is currently sitting on the other side of the table. It feels too far away, and she is too full to move right now, so she settles on the chocolate shake in her hand and takes a long, slow sip from it, while watching Bucky make a third attempt at finishing what remains of his meal.

When he looks up, after swallowing a bite of his burger, he picks up a fry, pops it into his mouth and smiles. And there's a look as he does it, a look to his face that doesn't need words to confirm what it means, what they both know: he's right and he knows it. She wonders if Bucky knew that he was right from the second they walked in here. For the moment he says nothing, he simply arches an eyebrow, still smiling, as he picks up another fry and chews on it. Wanda glances away, smiling, as she nearly rolls her eyes at how obvious he is. She gives him no confirmation that she agrees, that he is right about this, and instead she begins to twirl her pink straw around in her shake, enjoying the cold feeling of the glass against her palms. Bucky's gaze stays on her through this as he waits for her to confirm it, to know that he was right. For now, Wanda decides to leave him waiting just a little longer.

She looks away from him soon, away from the shake she'd been staring down at and out at Sweet Burgerz. For a minute she is lost in it all again. It's a wide space, very pretty, with light blue wallpaper, old photographs hanging on the walls, and a jukebox over in the corner of the room. The place somehow feels both warm and cold at the same time, as if it sits comfortably between the two. And there is something calm about it, too. She notices it now, how many people are crammed in here. Usually she might feel overwhelmed by all the noise, the people, and the chaos, because it is so similar to the rush of the Green Tides. But somehow, it is so different to that. It isn't too much, and she isn't overwhelmed at all. She feels peaceful here, and for the first time in what feels like forever the crowds and the noise don't bother her. She actually feels as if the two of them blend in perfectly with it all.

"So," Bucky sighs, bringing her back.

To this, to the dark-haired man grinning in the seat across from her. He's still trying to finish his meal, but she's not sure that he's going to succeed after all the fries he ate off her plate. He also ate at least half of her burger. To be fair, it was too big to eat on her own. Still, she's not sure that he's going to win this little war he seems to have started with his dinner.

She lifts an eyebrow, curious. "So?"

Bucky's smile stays, growing, before he pops a chip into his mouth and chews on it slowly. When he's done, he speaks again.

"Thoughts?"

Somehow she stops herself from rolling her eyes, even though she really wants to, even though it comes so naturally to her and usually she would. There's just something sweet about Bucky in this moment, despite the way he is so obvious, so confident, about how he was right. She thinks it is sweet, perhaps even cute, that he is trying to tease her. That's when she decides to have some fun of her own.

"Why are you asking me this?" she asks, between sips of her shake. "You already know the answer you're waiting for, don't you? That you are right? I think you always knew this."

He nods along casually, as if this isn't a big deal to him and he isn't going to keep talking about it. But she catches a spark of something warm, something playful, in his blue eyes and she knows that he isn't even close to done with bragging about this.

"Yeah, I do. Maybe I did. But the thing is, red..." he pauses, chewing down on another fry. "Sometimes there are just things you need to hear, you know? Like sometimes it isn't enough to know it. You have to hear it to believe it. You get me?"

Humming quietly, she nods and slides her shake forward on the table. Then she leans back slowly, into the soft cushions behind her, and when she looks up she finds Bucky is still watching her, still waiting for an answer that he's always known.

"Yes, I think I get you. So here it is: you are right, James. It was the best I've ever had. Are you happy now? You are the king of burgers. How is this? This is what you wanted to hear, isn't it?"

A sweet laugh comes from Bucky, who quickly clears his throat out with a sip of his strawberry shake. He slides it over for Wanda after he's done but she shakes her head, not wanting any for the moment. So he takes it back and has a long sip from it that lasts for at least twenty seconds.

"Ah, shit. Shit." he winces, quickly lifting a hand to his forehead. "Too cold. Too much. Too fast."

The shake ends up on the table again, pushed over to her side, as Bucky drops his hand away, down to his stomach. He smiles once the few second of milkshake induced pain are over.

"Hey, I'd love to be the burger king. If that's the name you wanna give me, I don't mind being the burger king. Or any kind of king, really. But I'll settle on just being completely and totally right about this."

Wanda nods, watching him silently as he sits forward for another attempt to clean off the rest of his plate.

"Do you like to be right?" she asks, curious.

He smiles. "Doesn't everyone, red? Don't you?"

There's a shrug from Wanda, as she watches him reach for the shake again, taking a sip from it that is almost as long as the one he took just moments ago. This one doesn't seem to be too cold, or too much at once, and when he's done he slides it away, smiling.

"Who knows? Maybe you'll just have to take me out somewhere, show me a good time. Show me the best time I've ever had and prove to me that you can be right, too."

It takes Wanda a minute to understand what he's really asking her. When he says it like this, what he means is something else entirely. It's Bucky's way of asking her out on a date. Another date, she thinks, before reminding herself that this isn't a date, even though it's really starting to feel like one. She thinks it's felt like one since the moment he showed up tonight and she felt those butterflies in her stomach. For now they're gone, she forced the fluttering to go away, to disappear again. But deep inside, she knows that she still feels what she does for him, for this, whatever it is. And she knows from the look that Bucky gives her, when he glances up a moment later, that this is his way of asking her out without saying it.

"Maybe." Wanda says, glancing out, to the windows on her left. "Or maybe you are always right. Maybe there is no winning against you, so I shouldn't try."

He sits up at this, smiling slowly. "Hey, don't give up so easily. I'd say you should try. You should definitely try. And if you wanna take me out somewhere just to prove that you can be right, too? I'm totally down for that. It think it'd be fun."

She hums, thinking it over, as Bucky gives up on the rest of his meal and slides the plate away in defeat. It was a good effort, she thinks, and then she watches as he picks at one last fry and then sinks into the booth, closing his eyes with a satisfied sigh.

"That was...Good. It was good, wasn't it?"

Wanda smiles. "It was. Thank you."

He shrugs, eyes still shut, before he looks up a moment later. He looks comfortable where he is, as if he has no intention of moving anytime soon, and Wanda doesn't mind at all. He looks happy here, and it is nice to see. She feels the same way, even if she isn't as far reclined into the booth as Bucky currently is.

"Yeah, not a problem at all. Thanks for the company."

She picks up her shake again, sipping from it until she's almost done. Then she slides it to Bucky, who reaches for it and finishes the rest of it off.

"So it was not such bad company then?" Wanda asks, watching as he turns to her, curious. "You are not going to tell people lies? That I am messy like Clint, or a jerk like Sam, as you said earlier?"

Amused, he laughs to himself just thinking about it.

"Yeah, I don't know. You see, I like to switch things up. I don't like being too predictable." Bucky answers, smiling. "But anyway, I wouldn't—I don't think those things about you. Or really about them, I guess. Except they can all be jerks sometimes, but most people are. Not you, though."

There's a moment after this (a small, fleeting minute) where Bucky's gaze seems to linger in a way that feels close, almost too close, and she knows that it isn't because his gaze has always been this close. She decides that it's because of his words and the way they linger with her. Not you. She blinks then looks away, down to her hands curled around the cold glass, before she eventually looks back to the quiet man sitting across from her.

"So, what are you doing tomorrow?" Wanda asks, after clearing her throat. "When we spoke you said you were busy. What are you doing?"

He hesitates, a new thought on his mind, as he swirls his straw around in what's left of the shake.

"It's work. Just work." Bucky answers, shrugging. "Monday's can be long, you know? And sometimes they can suck, but that's all. What about you? Any plans?"

"I'm working, too. So nothing interesting."

"You gotta be home early, then?" he asks, smiling. "We can get outta here whenever you want, red. Just say the word and we'll go."

It's only now that they talk of work, of early mornings and a shift that Wanda isn't really looking forward to, that she looks up in search of the time and finds it in the round clock sitting on the far wall. It tells her that it's 10:16. So they still have time. Maybe she should be tired, or maybe she should consider going home now, but she doesn't want this to end yet. For now she wants to stay where she is, and with how happy Bucky looks to be here she knows he wants to stay for a little longer, too.

"It's okay, not yet." Wanda says, turning her gaze back to him. "It's still early. What about you?"

"I'm fine, I never need that much sleep anyway. So I'm good." Bucky says, then gestures to the drink in his hand. "You like the shakes? Not as good as Peggy's place, I have to say. But still pretty damn good, right?"

Wanda nods, smiling as she briefly thinks back to that day, to the moment they had at Peggy's place.

"Right. Yes, that day was..."

"Unexpected?" he suggests, laughing a little.

She joins him, laughing as she takes the strawberry shake from his hand when he offers it. Wanda gives it back after a sip.

"Yes. Unexpected. But also interesting." 

Bucky laughs a little more, then takes a moment to silently think back on that day, or maybe he is thinking of something else as he stares down at this shake, swirling around the contents of it. As he does, she finds herself curious about something else.

"Do you live around here?" she asks. "When we talked on the phone, you were on the subway. But that day at the park, and the market..Both places are close to where I live, so I was just curious about how we have never met before."

After three long sips, the shake is finished. He slides the empty glass away, smiles, and briefly rests his arms up on the shiny table.

"I'm over in Brooklyn. What about you?"

"A few blocks away." she says, playing idly with two of her rings. "Remember? You were there, for a moment. After Stark's party."

That night comes back to both of them now. Bucky takes a minute to think about it, while Wanda finds herself briefly lost in the memories. She thinks of the taxi ride to her apartment, the lights in the city, his shoulder next to hers, and the way they stretched out underneath the window and stared at the city, half-drunk and happy to not be alone for a moment.

She remembers the way he'd smiled at her in the light, how lovely it was. She also remembers the moment he left and how all she'd wanted was for him to stay a little longer.

"Of course I remember. I mean, some of the night is a bit of a blur to me." he admits, smiling fondly at her. "I may have had a bit too much to drink and not enough sleep. But yeah, I remember."

She smiles, curious. "Have you always lived in Brooklyn?"

A flicker of recognition appears on his face, coming and going in only a few seconds, but that same warm smile returns.

"Yeah, I grew up there with Steve. We lived together for a while when we got older. But eventually I got my own place and so did he. That's how it's been ever since."

It makes her smile, to think of Bucky and Steve growing up together, and to then think of the years she has spent growing up with Pietro, always living together, always close. She sees that same warmth in Bucky's eyes now, that tells her that he is looking back on those years he lived with Steve as some of the best of his life.

"You two seem very close."

"Yeah, we are. He's family to me." Bucky says, leaning back into the booth more. "Hey, I don't know about you but I am really full right now. I feel like I'm never gonna be able to move again. We might have to live here."

She laughs again, following his movements to lean back into the booth, though she still doesn't end up as reclined as he is. After she's settled, Wanda looks back to Bucky again.

"I don't think staying here is such a good idea, even if I want to. I would never leave, and we would keep eating burgers. And then I would never see my brother or Clint again. This means that they may never eat good, real meals again."

With a smile, he glances her over curiously.

"You cook?"

"Sometimes." she answers, shrugging. "do you?"

Bucky grins, while lifting a hand to the table, to rest his hand against it and strum his gloved fingers against the metallic surface.

"Oh, yeah." he nods. "You know, the basics."

"I think most children know the basics, so that is really not something to brag about. If that is what you're doing.."

Still smiling, he leans back into the booth again and closes his eyes. After he's settled he lets out a peaceful and unbothered sigh.

"I'm so full right now, I can't even come up with anything witty to say back to you." he says, eyes squeezed shut. "I know I can come up with something, and I know I can cook more than just the basics. But I'm just so full right now. So. Full."

"What a shame that I'll never hear that witty reply."

"Yeah, even to that.." he pauses, then smiles. "I'm just coming up blank."

"Do you want to go for a walk?" Wanda suggests soon. "You might feel better if you get out and stretch your legs for a while. If you fall asleep here, I'm not sure I'll be able to wake you."

Slowly he cracks an eye open. "Sure, that sounds like a good idea. I'll pay and meet you outside?"

"I can pay for mine." she smiles. "Thank you for the company tonight. And the meal. It was not bad at all."

"Yeah, same to you."

With both eyes open, Bucky sits forward with a sigh and reaches out to rub at a spot at the back of his neck. While he does this, Wanda climbs out of the booth, stretches her legs, then pulls out a crumpled pile of notes and puts them on the table for dinner. After this she takes a step back to the door and then looks up to find Bucky reclined back in the booth again, looking like a man with no intention going anywhere anytime soon.

"So I'll see you in ten?" he asks, while hiding a smile. "Maybe fifteen, or even twenty. Could be longer. I love a good nap."

"I will wait five minutes then I'm leaving."

 

* * * *

 

Two minutes later, Bucky joins her outside. He comes over to where she's standing, off to the side and far out of the way of anyone passing by. It feels less crammed out here, with the city air around them and the lights above their heads.

"Why don't I walk you home?" Bucky suggests, coming to stand by her side. "It's not that far, right? I know I could use the walk to wake myself up. Also, the company's not half bad."

With a smile, Wanda nods and accepts his offer. He comes closer to her side after she does and then they begin to walk forward, down the street towards the traffic lights up ahead. She likes the idea of walking home with Bucky, not because she needs it, but maybe a part of her does. She welcomes the company, and the comfort of having him there to walk home with. She also appreciates his way of offering her this. He doesn't make it into a big deal, he just asks simply, in a way that feels casual and not filled with pity, and that means more than she can say.

It takes them the entire walk down to the lights for Wanda to work out what she wants to say, how she wants to thank him for his offer, and also for tonight. It turns out that there's something pressing on Bucky's mind, too. Something that he's spent the last three or four minutes thinking about, and now that they're at the lights he seems to finally make the decision to say it.

"Wait a sec."

He comes to a halt suddenly, at the edge of the pavement, where the small group has gathered and are still waiting to cross over to the other side of the road. After he stops by her side, Bucky shrugs off his denim jacket and holds it out to Wanda. At first she simply smiles, because she finds it sweet that he is offering her his coat when it isn't really cold tonight. Wanda also smiles once she realizes he spent the entire walk here thinking about giving her his coat.

She thinks it's sweet.

"Here. You look cold."

Wanda's not sure why she feels it now, a heat in her cheeks, only there for a moment. She decides that it's because of how close he suddenly is, and the way his gaze is so intense, so sweet. She takes the jacket slowly, pulls it on, and then looks up at him again after it's on. Her first thought is that it's warmer with the jacket on, in a pleasant and welcomed way. Her next and last thought about it is that it smells like him.

"Yeah, that—uh, that looks good. You look good, red. Less cold. It looks much better on you than it ever has on me." 

It makes Wanda smile. "I wouldn't say that."

He shrugs, his smile a little more obvious this time.

"That's okay, because I would. And I am. It's the truth. You look great. Real nice."

She almost says that he does, too. That he looks great, that she always thought that, and even now without the jacket when he is dressed simply in his black v-neck and dark jeans that he looks nice. Real nice. This stays on her mind, as the lights change and they cross over to the other side of the road together.  After the crowds thin out and they manage to get ahead of them, Wanda turns to Bucky again with a new thought on her mind.

"This was a good night. It was fun. I'm glad that I came. And that you could, too."

He smiles, glancing at her. "You're right, it was good. And I'm glad, too. Like I've said before, you're really not half bad company at all."

She smiles and looks forward, to the street ahead, lit up in signs and glowing lights. It's all less busy now, less crowded, and it feels nice to walk along the street with Bucky so close by her side.

"And I guess you aren't the worst company I've had."

A passing moment of silence returns, only lasting for a minute, maybe two, as Wanda slips back into her thoughts. She finds herself thinking mostly about the day they met, that first time in the markets, and then all of those little, brief moments after that where it always seemed to be over too suddenly. And she doesn't want that tonight. There's something about tonight, something about this moment now, that leaves her feeling like she never wants it to end.

"Do you think it was strange, all the ways we met each other?" she asks quietly. "All of those times, all of those different places.."

As she turns to face him, it is as if she is only now aware of how tall he is, how much taller he is than her, and how close he leans in just to hear her speak.

"And how we kept meeting each other after that first day, when we had never met before? When you think of the chances of that, in a city this big...It is strange, isn't it?"

Bucky contemplates it briefly, his attention shifting between her and the busy city surrounding them.

"Yeah, I guess. I don't know, maybe it's strange." he agrees, half-smiling. "That we kept running into each other all those times, when we'd never met before. And we have friends who have known each other for years. I don't know what it is, but I do know that I'm glad it happened and that we kept running into each other."

There's another pause, as he turns to her with a bright and faintly playful glow to his eyes.

"I am glad that you only literally ran into me that one time. I felt bad enough about that, I'm not sure I could've handled another accident."

Wanda smiles slowly, thinking of that day, of the moment they met in the park. And then the realization comes to her, that when she thinks of that day (of bloody palms and the bandage on his hand) that she smiles thinking about it, about him. When she thinks back to that moment, she spends more time thinking about the kind man who helped her up, cleaned the blood from her hands, and took her for a milkshake. This is what she thinks about, it is all she thinks about, until she begins to dwell on this moment now with Bucky and how if it weren't for that accident in the park then they might not be here at all.

And she's so glad to be here. To be so happy, so free, for a moment with him, and she knows that she would go through all of those little moments again just to end up here with him.

"Sometimes I can't believe that it happened, that it was you I met at the market." she admits quietly. "I think about that sometimes, and how I never thought I would see you again."

With a soft, half-smile, he comes closer and gently nudges his elbow against hers, in a way that is playful and light.

"Let alone crash into my bike. Have shakes with me. Get high with me. Ditch Stark's party with me. And then have the best burgers in the city with me. Who would have thought?"

She smiles, laughing as she thinks it over, thinks about how he is right and how she never thought any of this would happen after the first moment they met. But she is so glad that it did. She realizes now that despite how difficult it has been for her lately, how she has had hard moments and long nights, that she is glad to be here.

"Yes. Who would have thought?"

Sighing, he lifts his gaze and looks ahead.

"I think maybe I was lucky I got to see you all of those times. I know I wanted to see you again, but I never thought I would. And then I did. So I think maybe it was just luck."

Wanda wants him to know that she feels the same way now, even though she didn't at first. She didn't feel lucky that day in the market, or even the afternoon in the park when she crashed into his bike. She didn't feel lucky at Stark's party, either. But looking back on it, she believes now there must have been some luck involved for the two of them to meet again, that day at the market, in the park, and then at Stark's party. When she looks back on it, she feels lucky to have met him, to be here with him right now,

"Will you tell me something I don't know about you, James?" she suggests, a little while later. "The first thing that comes into your mind. Tell me?"

He hesitates, chewing on his lip as he thinks about it and then looks back over at her.

"Okay, um. Let me think. Let me think for a second."

"You are stalling, I can tell." Wanda sighs, leaning in to nudge his elbow. "Don't stall. And don't think so hard. Just say the first thing that comes into your mind." 

"Uh, yeah—okay, football. I like football."

After hearing his answer, Wanda begins to imagine Bucky playing football with his friends and going to games. And it leaves her smiling. She doesn't even realize it, or that she's left Bucky waiting, until he leans in and playfully digs his elbow against her side.

"Hey, what? What's funny?"

"Nothing." Wanda sighs, swatting his hand away. "I was just thinking that it's a nice answer, that's all."

He lifts an eyebrow, not convinced. "Really?"

"Yes, really. Do you play? Or just watch?"

"Bit of both. Mostly, I just watch." he answers with a shrug."We used to have this thing, you know. Our group. We'd make teams, play against each other out at Barton's farm. Or sometime's at Stark's other place, out of the city."

"That sounds..."

"Intense?" he answers, with a smile. "That's one way to describe it. Let's just say that the others are intensely competitive."

Wanda grins, nudging his elbow back. "And, what? You're saying you aren't as competitive as they are?"

"I'm always on the winning team, doll. I've got nothing to be competitive about when I know I'm gonna win."

She spends a minute more thinking about this, about these group games at Barton's, or at Stark's place. She even dwells on Stark's place outside of the city and wonders what that is like. And then she comes back to Bucky, glancing at him with another question on her mind.

"You said you used to have this group game you all used to play. You don't anymore?"

"No, we do. We still do." Bucky shrugs. "I just don't always play. I guess it gets boring, you know? You keep winning year after year, it gets a bit dull."

"Mhm, okay. If you say so." she smiles, briefly chewing on her lip. "Your answer is a good one. I like it. But I think it is not really unexpected. I could tell that you liked to stay in shape, that you are a man who likes sports."

Wanda doesn't hear it until after she says it, and it's about ten seconds after she realizes how it sounds that she looks to Bucky and realizes that he is also very aware of how it sounds.

"You think I'm in good shape, red?"

Shit. She smiles, while silently accepting that this is a thing that he will likely never let go of or forget. He is too playful, and too happy about this, and at first she can only roll her eyes. But then he jogs ahead, coming to walk in front of her, with a wide smile plastered over his face that confirms that this isn't something he plans to forget about anytime soon.

"I was just saying it makes sense that someone like you would like sports and football. That's all I meant."

He laughs. "Someone like me? Someone in shape, you mean?"

A minute later he comes back to her side, smile still there, as he bumps his shoulder against hers.

"What about you?" he asks soon. "Why don't you tell me something I don't know about you?"

She smiles, tucking her arms into the pockets of her jacket. His jacket. It is warm, and it still smells of him, fresh and crisp, like the woods on an early morning.

"I have never played football, but I have seen it. Clint watches games all of the time." she says, smiling again. "But I have never really spent much time on my own watching games."

"You've never been to a game?"

She answers with a shake of her head, and this seems to surprise Bucky. He smiles, eyes blown wide for a moment, before a new thought comes to him and he swiftly moves on.

"You can't steal my thing, by the way. You gotta do something else." he says, bumping her shoulder in a way that is familiar now, as if they have been friends for years. "It's not that hard, remember? Just think about it and then say it."

She quickly discovers that this, the game that they're playing, is more difficult than she thought it would be. She finds herself struggling for a moment, torn between what she wants to say, what she has already said, and what she can't say. Something he doesn't know? Bucky already knows where she works and how she spends most of her time working. He also knows that in her free time she goes to markets, parks, and rides her bike in the city. He knows other things, too. She likes shakes, and burgers, and pretty flowers.

So for a long moment, she feels uncertain about what to say, what to tell him. Then she decides to just be open, to share the first real thing that he doesn't know about her.

"When I was a child, I had dreams of living somewhere with lots of land and trees. And animals. So many animals.."

It brings a sweet, genuine smile to his lips.

"What, like Barton's farm?"

She shrugs, quickly looking away. "I'm not sure, I've never been. I don't know if it's like his. But when we were children we would love learning about all the animals. The things our parents would teach us..."

A flash of their childhood comes back to Wanda; a blur of their parents, holding them, smiling, and telling stories. It ends too quickly and when it is over she keeps her gaze away from Bucky and out at the city.

"I liked the animals." she says, once her throat is clear again. "The birds, the dogs, the pigs. I liked them, I think that I always have."

"That's great." Bucky adds, voice warm, suddenly much closer. "You got any pets of your own?"

"No, the apartment is too small. And even if it wasn't, I work too much." Wanda answers a moment later. "I am not there enough to look after a pet. It is the same with my brother. He wants a puppy, but there is no room in the apartment for a puppy. And he is there even less than I am. What about you? Any dogs? Or cats, maybe?"

"Nah, it's the same for me. Apartment's too small, and I'm not always there. But yeah, dogs are cute. Same with cats. Sharon and Sam have a pretty cute fuzzball. But yeah, nothing for me. Not yet, anyway."

Wanda smiles, thinking about it, about what kind of cat Sam has. It stays on her mind, as they turn onto the street that will eventually take them to her building. After this it becomes quiet again and Wanda thinks about leaving it, about giving them both time to their thoughts, but she doesn't feel like getting lost in her thoughts again. And even though Bucky says nothing, she can tell that, just like her, he's looking for another distraction, too.

"Your turn again." she says soon. "Tell me something else I don't know?"

This time around, he barely stalls at coming up with an answer. He's only quiet for a second, thinking it over, then he looks to her, eyes clear and honest.

"I didn't always want to be a soldier. I'm not anymore, you know that. You know I work with Barton sometimes, I mean. But before, way back when I was a kid—I wasn't sure what I'd do. Then one day I just knew it was what I was gonna do. Not forever, but for as long as I could."

So many new, little thoughts come to her and leave her with questions that she wants to ask him. But she doesn't want to push it tonight. She doesn't want to ask too much, so she settles on one question.

"Why aren't you a soldier anymore?"

"I was discharged a while back. It had to do with a medical thing." he answers, briefly looking down at her. "Your go now, red. Tell me one more thing that I don't know about you."

There's something that lingers in the way that Bucky is now, in the way he walks, how he looks out at the city, that tells her that he is still searching for that distraction and he needs it more now than he did before. She's not certain that it will help him, with whatever is going on in his head, but she knows that she wants to try. She wants to give him something to think about, to maybe even smile about, before they get back to her place and go their separate ways again.

For now there's still time.

"Something you don't know is that I am a very good dancer."

And just like that all traces of anything heavy or dark fade from his face, quickly replaced with something much brighter.

"Really? You sure you're not lying just a little?"

"I can dance." Wanda smiles, bumping her shoulder against his. "And I am better than you, and probably most people you have seen dance."

It's something he considers briefly, before his smile turns into a grin and she finds herself letting out a tightly held breath of relief, to see him happy again, if only for a moment.

"Including the ballet?"

She hesitates, chewing on her lower lip as she thinks it over. Bucky's eyes never leaves her as she takes the time to think about it, and through it all he looks deeply and genuinely amused.

"So maybe I am not that good, but I am still good. And maybe even better than you are. I still stand by that."

Suddenly he comes to a halt, eyes glowing with that same playful look he had back at the diner.

"You really think you're better than me, red? See, I think you're bluffing. But who knows? Maybe we'll just have to have a little challenge and see who wins."

She smiles, walking ahead. "Not tonight, I am too full from dinner. And you..I don't even know how you are walking after how much you ate." 

"Yeah, you did eat a lot." Bucky calls out, as he jogs to catch up with her. "You had at least half of my burger, and then two of your own. I don't even know how you're up and walking right now if I'm honest."

This time she is the one to stop suddenly, smiling, with her mouth hanging open just a little. Then she comes closer, grabs his arm, and nudges him in the side. He pulls away playfully, pretending to rub at the spot on his side as if it hurts.

"I had a few bites of your burger, while you had at least half of my burger, most of my fries, and over half of my shake." Wanda says, coming closer. "This means you had two plates of fries, and almost two burgers. I would not even be surprised if you ate before coming here tonight."

Grinning, he continues to rub at his side.

"You don't hold back, do you? And hey, was that supposed to be an insult you just threw at me? I'm a little confused. First you compliment my body, then you're talking about me like I had three dinners, which if I did would be fine because it's totally fine for people to eat whatever they want. But I didn't actually do that."

"You're pretty defensive, James. And I don't actually remember complimenting you. I made a comment about football, that was all."

He smiles, as they take two steps down the mostly empty street. He stops and turns back, smile still bright.

"Yeah? So you saying that I look like I'm in good shape wasn't a compliment, was it? I just misread the whole thing?"

Wanda nods, walking on. "I guess so. I'm sorry if you misread the signs." 

He laughs and comes to join her, before something up ahead catches his attention and he stops. Bucky stares over at it, at whatever it is, for a moment and then turns back to her, with a new idea obviously in his head.

"Hey, would you mind if I just—Could you wait here for one sec? Are we far from your place?"

"Only a few minutes." Wanda shrugs. "Why?"

"There's just something I need to get while we're here." Bucky says, taking a step back. "It's not gonna take long, only a minute. Maybe two minutes, but that's it. That okay?"

She takes a slow look around then, after spotting a bench just a little to the left, she turns back to him and nods.

"I don't mind. I'll sit over there and wait."

"Good, that's a good idea." Bucky calls back, smiling as he walks away. "You must need the rest after all those burgers you ate tonight." 

"Just go. Go." Wanda smiles, waving him away. "Why don't you just go and get yourself another dinner?

He lingers for a moment then starts to jog away, down to a store just a few minutes away. Wanda doesn't bother looking at, she just watches Bucky as he turns back with a smile.

"Yes, ma'am."

 

* * * *

 

Tonight, the walk back to her apartment feels like it's over in in just a few minutes. It ends quicker than it has before, and suddenly they're standing outside of her building, sharing a cigarette and putting off the inevitable.

Wanda wishes that they had more time, that she didn't have work tomorrow and that he was free, too. She is still happy with the night, with the time they spent together, but she finds herself still wishing for more, as she passes the lit cigarette back to Bucky.

He's currently looking up at the sky, and then at the rows of buildings on the street opposite the one they're standing on. He looks comfortable where he is, leaning back against the brick wall by the stairs. He looks happy here, she thinks, as she passes him the cigarette and then glances down curiously to the brown paper bag by his side. When he came back he didn't mention what it was, didn't even acknowledge it. They just left to walk here, and even though she was curious she didn't ask. She still hasn't asked and she's not sure that she will, not if he doesn't want to tell her. So she leaves it and follows Bucky's gaze, that is resting back on her apartment building again, as if he is seeing it again for the first time.

"Looks nice. My memory's a bit foggy from that night, but it's almost how I remember. It's real nice." he says, then looks back at her. "Thanks for letting me walk you back. I enjoyed it. It wasn't the worst walk I've ever been on."

She smiles, taking the cigarette from him after he's done with it.

"And you are not the worst person I have ever talked to, or walked with. So thank you for tonight. The company was..Good enough."

He shrugs, looking out at the street briefly. His eyes linger on it, on the people and shadows passing by, before he must remind himself that he hasn't answered and he looks down at her, smiling again.

"Not a problem. I always aim to be good enough."

When they're both done with the cigarette, Wanda steps away to crush it out and to discard it into a bin outside of the building. She returns to him after, watching as he hesitates noticeably before glancing between her and the building behind them.

"So, uh—You want me to walk you to your door? I don't remember what floor you're on, but hey..Remember, I'm in good shape. Also, you guys have an elevator. Right?"

Smiling, she takes a step back over to the apartment doors. Before she even really gets close, she stops and turns back to him.

"It's okay, you don't have to. The building needs a key to get in. That, or you have to get buzzed in." Wanda answers with a smile. "So it's okay, really. Thank you though, I appreciate you walking me home."

He shakes his head, smiling softly. "I don't mind, really. And also, this is for you." Bucky says, then lifts the bag up. "And it's, you know..It's pretty heavy. So really, I'm just being a gentleman. A gentleman who is in good shape, like you said. I'm happy to help." 

Slowly she glances Bucky over, looking between him and the bag in his hand, that really doesn't look heavy at all. Then she looks back to him, fighting another smile.

"Oh, yes. How could I forget? The gentleman who made comments and lies about how many burgers I ate tonight. Mm. You are such a gentleman, James."

He grins as he walks past her, up the stairs, and over to the locked doors. He waits until she joins him there and then he looks back to her, barely able to hide his smile.

"What can I say? You get me. I'm a softy at heart."

With a smile, she reaches into her purse for her keys. After finding them she unlocks the door, holding it open for Bucky before she follows him inside. She finds herself glancing briefly, but curiously, at the bag in his hand as he walks past her. She tries not to think about it and follows him inside, over to the stairs on the left, that they begin to follow up to her floor.

"It's killing you, isn't it? Not knowing what's in the bag.." he says, turning to her with a grin. "I've seen you look at it at least sixteen times in the last minute." 

"Not really. I wouldn't say I'm curious about it at all." she says, shrugging. "And I think it is..Weird. How often you exaggerate. I think you might have a problem, James."

"Another insult? Really, Wanda?" he sighs, following her up the stairs. "What a great end to a great night."

She looks back at him, smiling over her shoulder, before they reach the last step and walk over to her door. Once they get there, she turns around to find Bucky standing behind her with that same warm smile on his face.

"I had a good time tonight. Thank you for that. And thank you again for the company."

He smiles as he offers her the bag, watching as her gaze flickers down to it.

"Yeah, same to you, red. Thanks for all the laughs. And hey, don't open this 'till I'm gone. Yeah? So then if you hate it, you won't break my heart."

"Oh."

He isn't joking. It really is for her. The realization comes to her slowly, after she looks up and catches a genuine look on his face. So he really did stop to get something for her.

Wanda's eyes drop to the bag then move back up to Bucky, who is still holding the bag out to her even though she hasn't moved to reach for it yet. For a moment she hesitates, while a voice in the back of her head tells her what she's always known, that this is a date. Maybe they won't ever admit it, but she knows it. After a minute of thinking about this, she reaches for the bag.

"This is very..Nice. Thank you, James."

He shrugs and folds his arms over his chest casually, and for a moment she almost invites him in, almost asks him to stay. She knows she shouldn't, but for a minute she considers it.

"No problem at all. Hope you like it."

She smiles back warmly. "I'm sure I will."

There's a moment after this, a moment of quiet, of heavy tension, where Wanda doesn't really feel like she knows what to do next. It's the same as the moment they had earlier, and she finds that she doesn't know what to do, or how to say goodbye. A hug, she thinks, and then slowly he leans in and kisses her on the cheek. It's only brief, the softest kiss to her cheek, before he leans away.

Wanda wants him to stay, just like that night they shared beer and conversations on the floor. She wants him to stay like she wanted him to then but he has to go, they both have work in the morning so he can't come in tonight. Still, the longing remains. She watches him quietly as it lingers inside of her. He takes a step back, his smile crooked, as he sighs, then lifts his hand to wave at her. She waves back, watching as he walks over to the stairs and then disappears down them.

It's only after Bucky's gone that she lets herself think about this, about what it is, what it means. Maybe it wasn't a date, but it was something. It means something to her, she's always known that but she feels it now. Wanda remembers telling him that night in her apartment that she wasn't looking for complications and she still isn't. People are messy, and hard, and they leave. But with Bucky it feels different, it feels new. It's been so long since she's had a night like this, a night that went good, with no little bumps or problems. She can't remember the last time she felt so good, with a stranger.

But is he? She wonders, for a moment. He's not a stranger anymore. Not a friend, not yet, but it's close now. She feels closer to him after tonight after their talk of dancing and his days as a soldier. It was only a small talk, but sometimes two people don't need words to bring them closer to each other. Sometimes they just need moments, like tonight, like every moment they've had since they met that day in the market.

Wanda smiles thinking of tonight, and then of the bag in her hand. The moment she's inside her apartment and the door is locked behind her, she opens up the bag and looks inside. And when she realizes what it is, she smiles more.

Flowers.

He got her a bunch of flowers. Pretty white and pink carnations, similar to the ones she had that day in the market, the broken ones that he helped her pick up. These are different to those, just a little, but they are still lovely and all that Wanda can do is smile as she reaches out to touch the petals, before she leans in to smell them. 

A soft, sweet aroma comes up from the flowers to meet her. She smiles because of it and carries the flowers over to the kitchen table, to place them there while she finds a vase and a perfect spot to put them. But when she reaches the table and begins to take off her jacket, she realizes that it isn't her jacket. It's his.

He might still be out there, she thinks, for a moment. Wanda turns to the closed door, thinking about where on the street Bucky might be right now. It's only been a minute since he left, he could be close, could still be there. She knows that she doesn't have to give the jacket back tonight, but she wants to. She wants to thank him for the flowers, too.

It only takes a minute to get outside. The stairs are long but familiar, and Wanda takes them with speed. Once she's out on the street, she glances down in both directions and quickly finds Bucky walking on the other side, not far away at all. She follows him down her side of the street then waits for a break in the traffic to cross over, and it's as she's walking across the momentarily quiet street that he turns back. She wonders if he's just looking back over his shoulder, or if he senses that someone is coming up behind him. 

Whatever it is, whatever reason it is that he looks back, she doesn't care. Wanda's just glad that he stops and looks back, that he's still here, still close enough for her to catch up to. When Bucky realizes that it's her, a sweet and uncertain smile begins to form on his face. Then he glances her over and realizes why she's here.

"Hey, red. Cute jacket." he smiles, walking over to meet her. "Didn't think I'd see you so soon. Guess I must have left a good impression, huh?" 

Smiling, she comes to stop just a few steps in front of him. After she stops, he takes another step towards her.

"The flowers..They're beautiful."

"You looked already?" he smiles. "You like 'em?"

Wanda nods, unable to get rid of her own smile. She wonders how long it's been since she smiled this much, since she had a night that was so fun and calm.

"Yes, I do. I like them a lot, James. They're beautiful. It was very sweet of you." 

"Well, like I said, I'm a softy at heart." 

At first, she just smiles. It's like she can't do anything else but smile at the memory of the flowers, the smell of them, and how lovely they felt in her hands. And then she finds herself thinking about the moment that Bucky walked away and how she wanted him to stay. She still does.

"Do you want to come up?" 

The question seems to surprise him, just a little, but it quickly fades. He looks between Wanda and the apartment, then back down to her.

"I'd love to. But don't you have work in the morning?" he asks, smiling slowly. "I mean, yeah. I'd love to, but I've got an early start, too."

"Just for a while?"

The next moment comes and goes too quickly. Wanda doesn't have the time to think, before she's reaching out a hand for his. She comes to hold it gently, lifting her eyes to his. She can't read him, but tonight she doesn't want to read him, she doesn't want to search his eyes for what is his, what he may not want to share with her.

She doesn't even want to think about what is going on in her own head right now, she just wants to let herself feel this. For once, she wants to feel something without thinking about it too much or too deeply. She is tired of over-thinking and for a moment she wants to ignore all of the thoughts swirling around and just feel something good.

Only a step or two away from her, Bucky lets out a quiet breath and glances down to her hand around his. He quickly lifts his head again, meeting her gaze as he leans in. Close, but not too close. It still feels nice, the way he watches her, how his eyes flicker between hers to her lips, and then over the rest of her face. He looks lost, in her, in his head. She says nothing and just watches, as he quickly looks away again. 

"I just—Yeah, of course I want to. Of course, red. I want to say yes, I do. But I just..I shouldn't. Not tonight. It's not a good idea."

"Why?" Wanda asks quietly, lifting her other hand to his cheek. "It's not too late, is it?"

Her fingers come to rest gently against his cheek, to the spot she has thought of touching a few times now. She stretches her fingers out slowly, unfamiliar with both touching him and with touching someone else. This moment of closeness, of intimacy, feels new to her, as if she is experiencing it for the first time. It's just that it's been so long that she has forgotten what it was like, to touch someone else, to be touched. But the moment of uncertainty soon ends and she begins to feel more sure of this, of herself, even lifting a finger and brushing it gently against his cheek.

"We could have beer? Another drink? Maybe dance?"

Bucky's eyes shut for the briefest second then open again, finding hers as she leans in to kiss him, to taste the ash and beer on his lips. But whatever she tastes is quickly forgotten and replaced with the mix of carnations and cologne that rises up to meet her.

He kisses her back, slowly at first, and then one of his hands comes to grip her waist gently, the other finds a place to hold onto on the front of her jacket, his jacket. Bucky kisses her back like this is new for him, too. It is unexpected, and new, and when Wanda ends the kiss (that feels too short, like it never happened at all) she looks into his eyes and finds in them all that she's feeling right now.

When it's over, she doubts that it ever really happened. But his hand still on her waist, and his other hand holding onto the edge of her jacket, reminds her that it is real. That, and Bucky's lost gaze confirms to her that it did happen and it wasn't just in her head.

"That...Um, that was something. Yeah, that was something else." Bucky sighs, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. Then he opens them, looking up at her. "I wasn't expecting that."

He trails off, quiet again for a moment. There's something more to it, something in his eyes, that she picks up on. And she wants to know what it is, to listen, but her doubts immediately come to her after seeing this and she begins to question all of this, whatever it is. She doesn't realize she's frowning until Bucky glances up at her, looking as if he wants to smooth it away. He stays where he is though, only moving to drop the hand away from her side. The other stays loose, holding onto her jacket.

"What's wrong?" Wanda asks, her breaths a little shaky now. "What did I—"

"Hey, no. It wasn't you, red. God, it wasn't you." Bucky's quick to say, suddenly coming closer. "It just wasn't something I expected. It was really good, it's just—It's me. When I said I shouldn't.."

She takes in a small breath, eyes glued to him.

"I'm just..I'm complicated."

He says it as if it explains it all, and maybe it should. Wanda thinks maybe if she weren't feeling so raw, after putting herself out there for the first time after Vision, then she might see it his way, might see what he's saying to her now and what he means. And she does, in her own way. But now her fears and her doubts are back, and she's not sure what to do next.

"So am I."

She only realizes now that he looks different, unlike himself from tonight. Bucky lets go of the spot on her jacket he was holding on to and looks up at her, quiet for a minute more before he speaks again.

"Yeah,  sure." he nods, only once. "But I'm talking like really complicated. The kind of complicated I don't think is good to share with anyone else."

"You are saying I'm not—"

"I'm just saying that I remember you said you weren't looking for complications." he adds quickly, coming close again. "Remember? And I said the same thing. Wanda, I'm—"

"Messy? So am I. We all are." she says, voice a little softer, a little less shaky. "Life is not always easy. Is it, James? And I am not. I am complicated, but I thought.."

I don't know what I thought, she wants to say, and then she wants to admit to both Bucky and to herself that perhaps she let herself get swept up in this, in him. She got swept up in the night, their laughter, the bliss she felt, and then in the flowers he gave her. It's this, and it's how long it's been since she opened herself up to anyone else. 

"I'm just trying." Bucky sighs, placing a hand on her forearm. "I just wanna do the right thing, that's all."

"The right thing, for you or me?"

He sighs again, jaw tight for a moment. "For both of us, Wanda. That's all it is. That's why I don't see anyone, why I don't date, or do this." Bucky admits, then drops his hand a way. "I don't wanna hurt anyone else. I can't. And I don't wanna hurt you because you're great and you deserve so much better than that." 

"You're worried you'll break my heart?" she asks, holding his gaze. "It can't be easily broken, so there is nothing for you to worry about."

Moments later his hand comes back to rest against her arm, as if it was never gone at all. His touch is soft, barely there, but she welcomes it anyway.

"I just wanna do the right thing by you."

The lights of the city allow her to read him, to see the conflict and the tension lingering in his eyes. She doesn't want it to be here, and now that it is there she blames herself for it. She came out here looking for him, knowing in her own way that it would lead to this, that she wanted to kiss him. She did this, and this is all that Wanda can think about as Bucky lifts a hand to his face, runs it over his creased forehead, then drops it away.

"From the start, you have only done right by me. There is nothing wrong with you. You aren't a bad person, James. And you wouldn't hurt me. I don't think you could. And even if that were possible, I am stronger than I look."

The faintest smile comes and goes on his lips, barely there before it's gone. Then he looks up to her, still not convinced by any of this.

"But I'm not who you think I am. You don't know me or the things I've done."

"I don't want to hear you say this. That you are bad or that you do not deserve good things." Wanda says, taking a step back. "I came out here to give you back your jacket. So here, take it."

She removes the denim jacket slowly, offering it to him as he offered her the bag of flowers, but things feel different this time, because of her. She regrets it now and wishes she could go back, to her apartment, to the afterglow of a nice evening, and to the bunch of flowers waiting for her upstairs. 

"Hey, Wanda. Wait a sec." he sighs, taking the jacket as he comes to stand beside her. "Don't go yet, just wait..Can we just talk about this for a sec? Maybe you'd understand then, why this isn't a good idea."

"I understand that you are messy. We all are. I am messy, too."

He looks away, while holding the jacket loosely in his hand. "I know, but I just..You're so good. Okay? And I'm not good. I'm not. I've done things.."

Wanda lifts her head, holding his gaze even though she wants to walk away, wants to be back upstairs in her room, in her bed.

"We've all done things." 

That same look fills his eyes. He won't be convinced, not on this. He is sure of this, of who he is, and what he's done. He is sure of what he deserves and he thinks that he doesn't deserve this, and even though Wanda can't really think about it now she knows that deep down she feels the same. And this is why she feels the way she does right now (weary, upset, regretful) because she always imagined they were similar. She still does, so to hear him saying this, that he doesn't deserve something good because of who he is, what he's done, and the mess he's created—it stirs something in her, the doubt that often lingers, and the fear that she will always feel this way. That she doesn't deserve the good, or that even if she does that if she finds something good it won't last.

"I don't care what you've done." Wanda tells him, before he can speak. 

He looks away, taking a minute to stare off at the city before looking back at her.

"But I do." he says quietly. "I have to."

"So what does that mean? You are not going to do 'this' with anyone? You would prefer to be alone?"

When he looks back to her, he's still different, so unlike the man she sat in a booth with and shared laughter and shakes with, and it troubles her to see it but it feels as if there is nothing she can say or do tonight to change that.

"I don't think I have a choice, red."

She makes the decision to leave now, to go back to her apartment, to the quiet of her room and to sleep. If she can't sleep she'll take a bath, or get high, because even if she wants to stay and convince him that he does deserve something good, she is now too doubtful of herself and what she deserves to be able to convince him of anything tonight.

"There's always a choice." Wanda says, before she turns away again. "A choice to start again. To know yourself again. There's always a choice. There has to be."

Chapter Text

The boys are already home by the time that Wanda gets in, late from work and covered in cold coffee. She doesn't stop in to say hi, doesn't even care that the apartment is a mess. The sink is filled with dishes that weren't there this morning, there's a basket of unfolded washing tipped out on the table in the kitchen, and the groceries she asked Pietro to pick up on his way home are still sitting unpacked on the bench. She wants to care about it but she can't. She's too tired, too worn out from work, so she leaves it.

The mess isn't hers, and after the day she's had she can't even think about cleaning it up. Wanda leaves it, locks herself away in her room, and begins to undress, starting with her coffee stained sweater. She tugs it off over her head then tosses it away, to clean it up later. Her skirt is the next to go. Wanda wiggles out of it as she stops by the shower, stretching inside to turn the hot water on. As it begins to heat up, she steps out of her black skirt, kicks it aside, then finds a place to sit on the edge of the pale ceramic tub.

Her stockings are ruined again, from the coffee and from the late start Wanda had this morning. She slept in too late, ripped her stockings pulling them on and didn't realize until she got to work. Wanda peels them off slowly, rolling the black material down to her ankles before she steps out of them and discards them into the sink.

The water is steaming hot when Wanda steps into the tub. She reaches past it, twists the handle on the cold water, then waits a minute before she steps underneath it. Within seconds she feels better, she feels clean again. Wanda stays for a while, scrubbing the memory of the day away from her skin. The hot water rinses it all away. When she's done she steps out of the shower, wraps a fluffy towel around herself, and then returns to her room to find comfortable clothes to wear for the night.

It only becomes clear to Wanda when she's back in her room that the boys aren't watching TV anymore. She stops by the end of her bed for a moment and listens to the little noises from outside of her door, that sound like Pietro and Clint cleaning up their little mess. She spends a minute thinking about it before she moves on, wrapping herself up in a soft red sweater and a pair of baggy black pants. When she's done she takes a seat at the vanity and combs the knots out of her hair, while trying not to think about the dirty stockings rolled up in the sink.

Today felt endless, and now that she's home she doesn't want to spend another minute thinking about any of it. Wanda finds that it's not hard at all to forget about it. She leaves it all behind as she steps out of her room and back into the apartment, that is a little less messy now. The dirty dishes are clean and drying on the sink, the pile of clothes is gone, and all the groceries are packed away. There's even a vase of new flowers sitting on the table for Wanda, next to a freshly poured glass of red wine. Her first thought is that it is sweet, her next thought is of Bucky and the bunch of flowers he gave her last night.

Wanda almost smiles thinking of the walk home and the moment Bucky gave her the flowers. She doesn't dwell on it for long and soon reaches for the glass of wine, carrying it with her over to the TV, to where Clint and Pietro are relaxing, comfortably spread out on the two couches. Clint is stretched out on the smaller couch, a bottle of beer in one hand and a bunch of M&Ms in the other. He pops several into his mouth just as he sees her, then he quickly tries to speak, which doesn't work with a mouth full of chocolate lollies. He swallows them too quickly, it looks painful, and then he smiles like he didn't just jam a whole bunch of M&Ms down his throat.

"Hey. Hey, you." he smiles. "Big day?"

She nods, quickly walking out into the small space.

"You don't want to know."

At the sound of her voice, Pietro glances up from where he's reclined on the bigger couch, the soft green one that's always been his favorite. When he realizes she's coming to join him, he moves the bowl of lollies aside, putting them down on the table next to his wine. Wanda settles in next to him easily, tucking her feet up underneath her and placing her glass of wine down next to his. She swaps her wine for one of the fluffy pillows on the floor and props it under her head, letting out a quiet sigh once she's comfy. She's really not that tired it's just been a long day, and it all felt a little bit worse because of last night.

Wanda doesn't want to talk about any of it right now. She just wants to sit here with the two of them for a while and let herself be distracted by their company. Whenever she's around them she feels better, and tonight this feels like exactly where she's meant to be.

"It was that bad?" Pietro asks, turning towards her. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No, no. I'm okay. What are we watching? It looks familiar, I think."

It looks like another one of the movies the boys watch, the ones she often falls asleep in.

Smiling, Clint pauses the movie. "Alien vs. Predator. A classic. And don't worry, we'll take care of dinner tonight. You just put your feet up. How's that sound?"

Perfect, she wants to say, almost does. But before she can say a word, her brother is speaking again.

"Did something happen at work? You don't seem like yourself."

Wanda turns to her brother slowly, taking it all in. His eyes are heavy with an obvious concern that she wishes wasn't there. She sees it in Clint's gaze, too. He's worried that something is wrong, he even thinks he knows what it is, and Wanda wishes he didn't have to carry it. Soon, she promises, both herself and Clint. Soon she will tell Pietro all of it but not yet, not tonight.

"No, nothing happened. It was just one of those days. You know how people can be. I'm sorry I'm late, and that I interrupted your movie."

By her side, Pietro reaches out to squeeze her shoulder.

"You are being silly. You didn't interrupt, you never do. Please stay, for as long as you like. We missed you."

A second later Clint leans forward, a sweet and playful smile on his face. And she appreciates it, appreciates his efforts to make things lighter, make them feel better, even if he's still carrying that look in his eyes long after it's gone from Pietro's.

"He's right, you know. We love your company. Also we need you around, for your moderately decent jokes and comebacks. Without you we fall apart."

It makes Wanda smile, makes her feel better than she has all day, thanks to them. She's about to say this, to let them know that she's thankful for their company, when Clint puts his bottle of beer aside and jumps to his feet.

"I'm gonna wash up and get us some dinner. Then I'll come back and we can get back into the movie. Like I said, Wanda..It's a classic. Try not to fall asleep this time."

With a smile, Clint leaves them. He leaves so suddenly, as if he's somehow aware that the two of them need a minute. He's right, they do.

"You're sure you are okay?" Pietro asks, wiggling closer. "If something is wrong, you can tell me. You can tell me anything."

His words take her back to that night, to the cuts on her palms and the graze on her thigh. Wanda remembers the moment Pietro came to her door, how he tried to be there for her, tried to help without even knowing she needed it. The regret builds up inside of her thinking about it. She almost wishes she could go back and change it. If she could maybe she'd open the door, maybe she'd find a way to let him in.

"You must worry less, brother. I'm fine, okay? I promise."

At first he doesn't seem so convinced, and Wanda doesn't blame him. She understands why he must be struggling with this. For the last few weeks she hasn't really been herself. She knows it's more than that, more than just a few weeks that she hasn't been herself. It's been a long time and she knows that her brother has seen it, that he's always more aware than he lets on.

"What? You are thinking about something. What is it?"

Pietro shrugs, looking away and then right back to her. In his eyes there's something that Wanda catches, something that tells her this has been on his mind for a while and he's only just found the words to share it with her tonight.

"You are so strong. But you do not..Let me be close, not always. Yes? I worry." he sighs, stretching out to hold her hand. "I worry you are alone, or that you think you are. But I am here. You are never alone. And it hurts to think this because I love you and I don't want you to ever be alone."

The words won't come. Wanda feels stuck, torn between being here with her brother and getting lost in all the thoughts running around in her head. Wanda wants to be here, wants to tell him all of it. He is sitting with her now in a moment that is so sweet, so vulnerable, and she wants to let him in. But in the end she can't, the words get stuck, they still won't come.

I am not afraid, she wants to say, she almost does. I am not afraid but I almost was. For a moment there, I was. It stays on Wanda's mind as she takes both of her brother's hands, kisses them, then squeezes them both tightly, not letting go. For now she wants to hold on, wants to feel him close to him, for just another minute.

"I promise, okay? I promise that I am fine. And I promise that I'm not alone. How could I be?" she asks, squeezing his hands again. "With the two of you always here, making terrible jokes and annoying me. How could I ever be alone?"

"Ah, stop. You don't mean this. You love us." he says, bumping his arm into hers. "That is what you meant to say, isn't it? You love us and our jokes, even if Clint's are very bad."

"I maybe don't love the jokes. But I do love you."

With a squeeze, Pietro lets go. He stays close after, looking much happier now than he did just minutes ago. He is happy to hear her promises, to know that she is okay and that it was just one of those days. But there's still something Wanda catches, a look in his eyes, that tells her they aren't done here yet.

"And Clint?" he asks soon, quieter this time.

Wanda frowns a little, only glancing away to reach for her wine. She has a sip then turns back to Pietro, curious.

"What about Clint?"

Her brother shrugs, then pops a handful of M&Ms into his mouth. "You love him, too. Don't you? I mean, the way you are with him, I know that you like him. You like him better than my other boyfriends, don't you?"

When Wanda looks up at her brother, she notices something else in his eyes, something new. With just one look she already feels like she knows what it is, where this is going, but she decides to wait for him to say it.

"Yes, but that isn't hard. I didn't like any of them." she answers, holding his gaze. "Clint is much nicer than they were. So yes, I like him. Why are you asking me this now?"

"Because I am in love with him. And I wanted you to love him, too." Pietro confesses, smiling slowly. "Not like I do. But maybe one day you could love him like he is family. What do you think?"

It comes as no surprise to Wanda that her brother is in love. He has dating Clint been for a while now, and right from the start Wanda could see it. She always knew that they were perfect for each other, that it was a special kind of love. The good kind of love that keeps you warm and makes you happy. Wanda can see it on her brother's face, that it is this kind of love and that it has been for some time now. He is happy, and in love, and it fills her with such happiness to see him like this.

"So it is like that? It is that kind of love?"

Pietro smiles, small at first. "Yes, I think so."

"You think so? Of course it is. Don't be silly." Wanda sighs, nudging his arm gently. "I know that it is, from the way he is around you. The way you are around him. I think anyone with eyes could see the way you make each other happy. He loves you. And you love him. It is perfect."

Smiling, Pietro leans in to kiss Wanda's cheek. Then he pulls away, reaching for her hand again. Wanda smiles back at Pietro as she watches him, trying to remember how happy and filled with love he is right now. She never wants to forget.

"You are so kind, Sestra. And so sweet. I'm glad you are here tonight." Pietro smiles, squeezing her hand. "I don't know what this movie will be like, but I have a blanket to hide under if we get scared. As you know, Clint laughs at me when we watch these movies. But he gets scared sometimes, too. He just pretends that he doesn't, but I know the truth."

"Really?" she grins, getting comfy on the couch again. "This doesn't surprise me. That sounds just like Clint."

"I know. That is why it's good you are here tonight. We can pretend not to be scared together."

Still smiling, Wanda leans up and kisses her brother on the cheek. Then she settles in back into the couch next to him, ready to watch the movie, to forget all about her bad day and spend the night with the two of them. She already feels better, already forgets whatever else was on her mind. Now she is only happy for the two of them, happy to be around them for a night.

"Ne brini, brate." Wanda says, seconds later. "Ja cu te zaštititi."

Do not worry, brother, Wanda tells him, another promise, a promise she believes this time. I'll protect you.

 

* * * *

 

It's just after 11:30 when the text from Bucky pops up on her phone. Wanda is back in her room, painting on a new canvas by the window, when her phone buzzes on the nightstand and she realizes who the text is from. It surprises her a little to hear from him so soon, and then she realizes it's been a day since she heard from him. A long day of little accidents and a perfect night spent with the two people she cares most about in the world. So she really isn't hearing from him soon, it just feels like it, feels like the hours flew by until now.

She doesn't expect the message, not after last night, not after the way they left things. It surprises her even more how casual the text is and for a minute she wonders if he meant to send it to her.

 

[11:37 PM]:

hey. any chance you're still up?

 

If he meant to send the text to her, then he did it for a reason. Wanda doesn't want to say no, doesn't want to lie, because if Bucky needs someone to talk to the way she needed him that night then she wants to be there for him. But before she texts Bucky back, Wanda decides that she needs a drink. She brings her phone with her to the kitchen, pours herself a glass of wine, and carries it out to the fire-escape. Darcy's apartment is quiet tonight, it doesn't sound like anyone is home.

The thought makes Wanda decide to leave a note for Darcy on her door, to make plans to meet up later in the week. Wanda enjoyed the afternoon they spent together, it was fun and filled with possibility, something she hasn't felt in a while. With that on her mind, Wanda settles in on the fire-escape and drinks a few sips of wine. Seconds later her phone lights up again with another new message. From Bucky. And it shouldn't surprise her but it still does. After what happened between them on Sunday, the last thing she expects is for Bucky to be this way with her.

So open, so honest.

 

[11:45 PM]:

you haven't left my mind since last night. Can we talk?

 

In the quiet, she hesitates. Wanda's fingers hover over her phone as she thinks about what to say back to Bucky. She can't lie, can't tell him that she's busy when she isn't, and she can't avoid him. She doesn't even want to.  He was there for her on a night that she needed it, so if he needs someone to talk to tonight she wants to be that person for him, despite the way she feels from how they left things. Wanda's not really sure how she feels when she thinks about last night. The kiss, the words, the way she left. She's not embarrassed, and she's not really upset by it. She read the signs wrong, that was her fault. But she's not angry about it, and she doesn't want Bucky to think that he did something wrong by not feeling what she felt. She doesn't want any of that.

He made her smile and laugh when she thought it would be impossible, when no one else could. And if that's all this is between them, if he is only ever someone to talk to, and if that's all she is to him, then she wants it. Wanda wants to be his friend, to be there when he needs someone to talk to. She doesn't want what happened to change things between them.

Last night struck a painful nerve with Wanda, not because of what he felt but because of how it made her feel. The more that she thinks about it now, the more she realizes why it hurt so much. She's always had it in her head that Bucky was similar to her, even if it was only small it was there and it connected them. So after hearing him say he didn't deserve anything good after what he'd done, it got to her. It's why she left, why she ran away from him.

She doesn't want to run away again.

 

[11:51 PM]:

I'm here. Can I call you?

 

Wanda only waits a minute before Bucky sends a text back. Then another two. She's drinking her glass of wine when the first message comes through, followed immediately by two more, and at first she's mostly just surprised because this isn't really where she expected the night to go. She reads the messages two or three times before it really sinks in that he's here, that he came back.

 

[11:52 PM]:

i was in the area, im downstairs

 

[11:52 PM]:

shit i hope this isn't weird

 

[11:52 PM]:

im in the lobby. Didn't want to come up if it wasn't ok

 

She types and deletes her reply to Bucky too many times. Wanda doesn't know what to say, once again she can't find the words. She thinks about going downstairs to meet him, but after that? She doesn't know what comes after that, she really wasn't expecting to see him here tonight, maybe not ever again. Wanda spends a few minutes out on the fire-escape thinking it over. She stays until she finishes her wine, and even after that she waits another minute, then finally she makes herself get up and go back inside, where she rinses her glass of wine in the sink, leaves it to dry, and then quietly slips away into her bedroom.

The boys are in their room, sleeping peacefully. They crashed early, since they both have early shifts and it's Pietro's last week with his old job. For now, she can't think about that. Wanda forces it from her mind and searches through the darkness in her room, for a pair of shoes and something to pull on over her sweater and pants. She pulls on a thick green coat and zips it up, then finds a pair of boots near the end of the bed and slips them on.

The last thing she does before she leaves is make sure she's got her keys, since she really doesn't feel like waking either of them up to get back into the apartment. Wanda tucks her keys into her coat, along with her phone, and slips out of the apartment silently. She's quiet as she closes the door behind her, and once it's firmly shut she lets out a breath and glances out at the corridor. It's empty, always is at this time.

It doesn't take her long to reach the lobby, only two flights of stairs. And then she sees him. She sees Bucky waiting on one of the armchairs in the lobby, a newspaper curled up in one hand, his phone in the other. He's bouncing his knee up and down, as if he's nervous, as if he's waiting for Wanda to text back and tell him to leave. She doesn't want that, she never did. She only wanted him to stay if that was what he wanted, and right now he looks like it is what he wants.

For a minute he doesn't know that she's here, or if he does he doesn't look up. He stares ahead, gaze flickering between the open space of the lobby and the round clock on the wall. Then he hears it, the creak in one of the last stairs, and he turns up to look at her. When he spots her, he seems hesitant, unsure. Then he gets up from his seat, leaves the curled up newspaper behind, and takes a step over to her.

He still seems unsure, if he should stay, if he should go, but he comes closer anyway, stopping at the bottom of the stairs, as if he still isn't sure if he should walk up them yet. Wanda wants to tell him yes, come closer, come upstairs. But for now she stops where she is, glancing him over in a quick and subtle way, before meeting his gaze. He's in the same black jeans, but the jacket is different. Dark green, with a few patches sewn into the sleeves. It looks old but still nice. It looks like a few of the many things that Wanda has kept over the years, even if they've started to fall to pieces. She kept them because of the memories, and she can tell from just looking at Bucky's jacket that he wears it for the same reason.

It means something to him, and so does this. It's clear from the look in his eyes. It's small but it's there. It's even there in the way he looks at her, how he lets out a breath, glances around the empty lobby, then right back to her. Wanda can't get a read on him, not from where she stands, not tonight, but if she had to guess she'd say right now his mind is filled with thoughts just like hers.

"Sorry if you were busy. Or sleeping. I was just.." Bucky pauses, voice low but warm still. "I was in the neighborhood. So I thought I'd drop by at this totally normal hour. This is when people usually visit each other, right?"

Wanda almost smiles, at his sweet attempt to make things lighter, less awkward. It still feels awkward though, for both of them. She's not sure why he looks so tense, so different, even just the way he's standing is different to the way he was last night. He looks like a different guy, from the one she shared burgers and shakes with in a busy diner. She wants to go back, she realizes that now. Back to that moment, to any moment but this one where he almost feels like a stranger again. She doesn't want him to feel that way, she doesn't want any of this.

"Yes, I think this is what people do." she pauses, glancing him over. "I don't mind that you're here. But why are you here? Did you come all of this way just to say that? Or is there something else on your mind?"

There's a long pause after this, where Bucky says nothing, just thinks it over, and in the quiet she begins to think that this will be it. He will walk away now, or he will say nothing at all and she will be the one that has to walk away. In the end he doesn't walk away. Bucky sighs, steps up onto the stairs, then leans against the railing.

"Yes and no. Is it okay if I come up? It's not really something I wanna talk about out here."

Her instinct it to say yes, to invite him up to her room, to the fire-escape, where they might share another drink and a cigarette. But with her brother and Clint both asleep, it doesn't feel like a good idea, not when there's a chance they might wake up and find them. This isn't something Wanda feels like explaining to anyone else right now. She wants to keep their talk, she wants to keep all of this, just between the two of them. From the way Bucky is looking at her right now, she knows he wants the same thing. He's looking for somewhere private to talk, and she's not sure her apartment is the right place. But she knows another place that might be perfect.

"You can't come up. My brother and Clint are upstairs, already asleep. So you can't come up. But if you want, you can come up to the rooftop."

Two or three different looks come and go on Bucky's face before he settles on an answer. He seems more relaxed, happy even, to know that Wanda is here and that she wants to talk, wants to find a place where it's just the two of them. She feels more relaxed, too. Less tense, less awkward. She doesn't want to feel that way around him again, not when things were so easy last night.

"The roof?" he hesitates, almost smiling. "Oh, I don't know."

Wanda lifts an eyebrow. "Scared of heights?"

"No, no. Not that. I just, I don't know. The roof? It sounds kinda threatening, you know?"

And he's back to being himself. Wanda hides a smile, as she rolls her eyes and takes a step back up the stairs. For the minute he stays where he is, a hand gripping the railing, the other tucked into his jacket. His gaze follows her closely, and it's only now as he looks up at her that she lets herself think about him, about the way that he looks tonight. He seems tired, despite his smile and the faint spark in his eyes. He looks weary, like he's had a long day, or not enough sleep. Maybe both. She feels the same way but says nothing, not wanting to say anything unless he does. She understands what it's like, the hard days, and how sometimes the best thing to do is talk about anything else.

"I think we both know you can handle yourself." Wanda points out, folding her arms gently across herself. "And I also think we both know you are being just a little dramatic, aren't you?"

"Dramatic?" he asks, feigning shock. "I've never been accused of that in my entire life."

Then he smiles. It's more like a half-smile, small and uncertain, almost there, almost gone, before finally it appears. And it looks lovely. Beautiful, and sweet, and filled with uncertainty, but not the tense kind. He seems more relaxed but he still hasn't moved. From where he stands, leaning against the railing, Bucky looks like he's considering joining her at the top of the stairs, but he still doesn't come closer, doesn't take a step. He stays where he is, like he wants her to be certain that she wants this, that she wants him to come up.

"You can come upstairs if you want to." Wanda tells him quietly. "It isn't up to me what you do. If you want to come, then come."

He lets out a breath, smile still faintly there.

"You sure you want me to? I didn't mean to interrupt your night."

"You didn't interrupt anything." she's quick to say. "And yes, I do. I will meet you on the rooftop in five minutes?"

Bucky lingers, still unsure, for the briefest moment. Then he smiles and walks up the stairs to join her side, and as he comes to stand next to her she can't fight the pull she feels, back to the night they walked the streets together, how they felt like old friends telling stories and jokes. She wants to go back to that, and if talking with him tonight about what's on his mind helps then that's what she wants to do. It's what she has to do, because even though this is new and still so fragile, so small and uncertain, she knows that she doesn't want to lose it.

"Thank you, Wanda. For meeting me. For giving me the chance to explain myself. I really appreciate it."

Now she is the one who is quiet, the one who can't say a word. She's not sure why, but just hearing Bucky say her name leaves her feeling like this. She can't remembering ever hearing him say it before. If he has, it's never left her feeling like this before. She stays quiet, just nodding a little before she turns and leaves Bucky behind, to fetch drinks for them and maybe cigarettes. In just a minute she's back inside her apartment, thinking about Bucky outside on the stairs, wondering if he is still there or if he is out on the street, walking away again. That thought prompts new questions, like if he were out there, would she run after him again? She knows the answers, she thinks she's known it for a while.

Yes.

Wanda tries to ignore the thoughts of him as she gathers a few things together. First, her cigarettes. Then two bottles of beer from the fridge. But as she moves through the mostly dark apartment, she can't stop thinking about him and where he is now—and this time she doesn't imagine Bucky out on the street, walking away, walking home. She doesn't think about running after him, chasing him where he doesn't want to be followed, because there's a part of her that knows he didn't leave, so she imagines him where he really is. She imagines him walking up to the roof and waiting for her. Alone, and quiet, staring up at the sky and the distant stars hanging above it all.

She wants to go to him now, this is all she knows. But first, she needs a cigarette. Her hands are shaking. Why? She doesn't know, or she tells herself she doesn't know when really she does. It's Bucky, it's whatever he brings out in her. It's what she feels in his presence. Something new, and undiscovered, and good. It's always been that way, always felt good, from the first moment they met. It why she feels shaky, at the thought of losing something they didn't even really have.

Quietly, she opens up the window in the kitchen and sits down by it. She should leave, she should go up to the rooftop where Bucky is waiting for her, but she can't yet and she thinks she knows why. It's because of why he's here, what he wants to talk about. Not the kiss, not the last words they said to each other. It's what he might want to say, what he might want to tell her.

She is quickly filled with doubts about what he wants, why he came all this way to talk to her. The heaviest of all is this doubt: what if he doesn't want to see her anymore? Not even as friends? Wanda inhales on the cigarette slowly, closing her eyes as a small gust of wind sweeps through the window and blows across her face. She can't put it off, but for just a few more minutes she can sit here and enjoy her cigarette, only tonight she doesn't really enjoy it.

It tastes different. It doesn't help. Wanda stands, stubs it out in a bowl by the window, then grabs her keys and phone. The last thing she picks up on her way out are their drinks. With the two bottles firmly in her grip, Wanda steps out of her apartment, locks the door, then spends a minute standing in the corridor, hands still a little shaky. Then the moment passes. She thinks of Bucky waiting for her on the roof, as nervous and as filled with doubt as she is, and that's all it takes for Wanda to feel better, to remember that she wants to do this, she wants to be up there with him. So after a minute of hanging around in the corridor, she leaves to join him.

 

* * * *

 

It only takes Wanda a few minutes to join Bucky on the rooftop. The path is familiar, she's followed it before. She takes the elevator up to the top level of the building then follows a small narrow stairwell up to the roof, where she's spent many nights sitting on her own, staring up at the sky. It's usually busy, she keeps to herself, but some nights it's not busy and it stays empty for a while. Wanda likes those nights. She thinks about them now, and the space on the rooftop that she used to spend so much time in. It's large and wide, with comfy chairs, splashes of color and art, and so much green placed throughout it. She loves the plants, loves growing things up here. She hasn't for a while but just being up here reminds her of the days she used to spend hours up here, tending to flowers and plants, watching them thrive and grow.

She's not here to think about that tonight. She's here to find Bucky, and she does that easily. The moment she pushes open the door to the roof she finds him, staring out at the city like she imagined he might be. He's leaning against the ledge comfortably, looking as if for a moment he is calm. She wants it to stay like this, almost wants to leave him, but he must hear the door open because he glances over his shoulder and finds her standing there, a packet of cigarettes tucked underneath her arm and a drink in each hand. He smiles when he sees her.

"This place is nice, red. Thanks for inviting me up here."

Wanda nods, quickly walking over to join him by the ledge. She places their drinks down on the sturdy brick then leans against the ledge next to him. She soon follows his gaze out to the city; to the cars, the skyline, and all the pretty lights. For a minute she thinks about how easy it is to get lost in it all, but she can't do that tonight. Maybe later, she decides. Right now she needs to stay here, needs to stay with him, because it's not always easy to get out of her head after she slips away into her thoughts. She can't lose herself to them tonight, she won't, not when he is here with her for a reason.

"It was the least I could do." Wanda pauses, still staring out at the sky. "You wanted to talk?"

"Yeah, I did. I do. And I'm sorry, I know I could've just called—well, after.." he stops, reaching for his beer. "I don't know. Like I said, you were on my mind. Since I left on Sunday night, all I've thought about is you. So I just felt like we should talk."

A minute later, he takes the lid off his beer and swallows a large mouthful. He's still nervous, she realizes. His hands aren't shaking, not like hers were. And he doesn't really show that he is nervous, not in the same way that she does. Bucky hides it well but she can see it now, that he needs a drink, needs something to take the edge off, as Clint would say. Wanda needs it, too. She quickly takes the lid off her drink, swallows some, then places it down on the ledge again.

"What's on your mind, James?"

She asks this when she already knows the answer, or at least she thinks she does. It was last night, that little moment, the way they left it. Wanda remembers it all now, remembers the moment she walked away. She remembers the way he tasted, too. And how it felt, to kiss someone, to kiss him, after so long. She realizes now that she hasn't really let herself think about it, and even now there's something inside of her, something tired, trying to stop her from thinking about it now because she's been hurt before. She can't really think about that tonight, she can't think about the kiss, so she distracts herself again.

"You were right. You know, last night. The things you said to me.." Bucky pauses, staring down at the cars going by. "You didn't read things wrong. Between us, I mean. Shit, I'm terrible at this stuff. You know? I was just surprised, you know. Because we talked and you said you weren't looking for complications, and I am just a big, walking talking complication."

There's a pause. He takes a long sip of beer, then another, before almost turning to look at her. The cars must be really interesting, or he must be buying himself some time, trying to avoid her gaze. So she tries not to look too closely, tries not to make him feel any pressure to answer, to say what is clearly so difficult, so personal for him. She just wants it to be easy for both of them. It's why she turns away, why she doesn't push him to speak. She leaves him until he's ready and eventually he is.

"I think maybe that was the problem, you know? I let myself think about it. But I felt like I had to, because I meant what I said. I meant a lot of what I said. I can't take it back, I won't. You were right, and so was I."

She turns to him now, even though she doesn't want to stare too directly, even though just a minute earlier she made the decision to give him space. Wanda can see it back in his eyes now. That familiar doubt, about this, about all of it. He still doesn't think he deserves anything good. He still believes that he is too messy, that he doesn't deserve good things. Wanda doesn't know if she can convince him that he does, maybe that isn't why she's here. And maybe it isn't why he's here. Maybe he just needs someone to talk to, someone to be there while he gets what he needs to off his chest.

"What were you right about?" she asks soon.

The city lights glow in Bucky's eyes when he turns to look at her. He is closer now, he is allowing himself to be closer, and Wanda welcomes it. Not just because it feels like he's letting her in, letting her be closer than he did last night, but also because of the way it feels to look into his eyes and to briefly get lost in all the lights bouncing in and out of them. She thinks that if they had the time, she could spend hours staring into his eyes.

"I'm complicated, Wanda. And you're not looking for complications, remember? But for a second there, I wanted to tell myself it'd be alright. I wanted to believe that it didn't matter, what I'd done, who I was. Just so I could kiss you again. But it matters. It does. It's always gonna matter, and it's always gonna be there."

It doesn't have to be, she wants to say, wants to believe. For both of them. She wants to say this, wants to say so much more than she has, but the words get stuck in her throat. She can't get them out, can't say a thing. She can only stay quiet, watching as Bucky drinks half of his beer before he slides the bottle away and turns to look at her again.

"I was just trying to do the right thing. I'm still trying to do the right thing." he admits, quieter this time. "Because I don't always get to do the right thing. But I try."

Wanda takes in a breath, tempted to look out at the city, or maybe up at the stars. Anything but Bucky. He is suddenly too close and she doesn't know what to say, or how to tell him something that he doesn't want to hear right now. Maybe this isn't something that is going to happen in one night, she realizes. He might need time, to hear it over and over again. If he'll let her, Wanda will be that person for him. She will be there to remind him of the good that she's seen in him, not just last night but at the market and then again at the park.

If he lets her in, she'll stay for as long as he needs.

"Why are you here tonight, James?" she asks, forcing herself to sound soft, softer than she's been in the past. "I don't understand why you are here, why you came all this way, to tell me something I have heard before. I know what you think, that you are right. That you are complicated. I remember. Why else did you come?"

Half a second later he takes two steps back from her, away from the ledge, from the almost finished bottle of beer sitting on top of it. Bucky steps away, sighs, and lifts his head up to the sky, as if he is deep in thought. She wonders if he's thinking about leaving, if that's why he's closer to the door, but there's something about the look he gives her when he tilts his head away from the sky that tells her that he isn't even thinking about walking away, not yet, not until they've talked about whatever is clearly still on his mind.

"You were right, too. That's why I'm here." Bucky says, dragging his gaze back down to hers. "That, and a couple other reasons. But mostly that."

Slowly she follows his movements, not wanting to startle him, to come too close too suddenly.

"What was I right about?" she asks. "What part?"

A flash of something fills his eyes. Something brief and uncertain. He wants to leave, she can see it. She recognizes it, she's felt it before. She thinks she even feels it right now, buried underneath the need to be here, to stay with him and to listen. Wanda thinks she'll always feel it, always hear that voice in her head telling her run. But she doesn't listen to it, and if Bucky hears that voice tonight then he chooses to ignore it, too.

"You were right," he pauses, his jaw tightening. "When you said that we're all messy. You were right about that."

Wanda wants to take a small step closer, she almost does. It would be so easy, just to walk over to him, to come close, to hold him. Why does she want that? She doesn't know, but she imagines it would feel nice for both of them. There's something in his eyes that tells her that he might like it, to be held, to feel a pair of arms wrapped around him. But for the moment she can't move, can't take a step closer, not even for that.

"I still don't understand why you came all of this way."

He paces, taking two steps away and then coming back to her. Only to do the same thing again a minute later.

"Maybe I can't do it." he says, looking up at her. "Maybe I can't convince myself not to be around you, even if I know I'm gonna hurt you."

You won't, she wants to say. And he knows it. This time he's the one who reads her. She doesn't let him get close, but he gets in anyway. He sees it, she can tell. Bucky comes closer, only a few steps, but after he put that distance between them earlier she welcomes the temporary closeness. He stops before he gets too close and he just looks at her, as if he knows what is on her mind, as if he somehow has the power to get into her head and know exactly what she is thinking right now. And she's never met anyone before who could do that.

"I will. Because I have, and I still do. I hurt people. I don't want to. I never want to, but it still happens."

Wanda sucks in a breath, while fighting the doubts and the memories that come back to her. She's hurt people before. She remembers all of it, and she is filled with regrets, but they all are. They've all hurt people, even if they never meant to, even if they made promises and swore they never would. She understands it, more than he realizes, what it's like to hurt people, to let them down and to lose them, to push them from her life completely. But now isn't the time to dwell on those memories or to get lost on them. She won't, she can't. She is here for him.

"We've all hurt people. That doesn't make you a bad person. We make mistakes, all of us. But we can learn from them."

He seems to take a minute to think about it, and as he does it becomes clear that he is fighting himself on this. Bucky wants to stay but he still wants to leave, maybe he will always want to leave. He is afraid but he wants to be here. He is the one who came here, who wanted to talk, to let her know that they were both right.

Bucky wants to be here but he is still afraid, still burdened by whatever he has been through, whatever he thinks he has done. She wants to know, and she hopes he will find a way to tell her. But for now Wanda only knows him from what she's seen when she's around him, and what she's learned when they've been around others.

At the market, he rushed to her side. He came to help, he gave her his blueberries, and picked up her broken flowers. She remembers the way he was kind and so calm about it all. It was the same at the park, when he helped her up and wiped the blood from her palms. He was so gentle, so soft about it all. From just these two moments, she learned so much about him: he is kind, and calm, and he likes to help people. He is sweet, and soft, and goes out of his way to do good things. And then she begins to think about Stark's party, the way his friends were around him, how they spoke about him and the look Bucky got in his eyes whenever they were around him.

He's loved, very much, by all the good people in his life. She can see it in their eyes and in his. Bucky is a good man, she has seen him do good things. And he is loved so dearly, he must be good, must have the sweetest heart. And she wants him to hear this, to know what she thinks, what she has seen, but not now. Tonight he is here to talk about what's on his mind, not what's on hers. Another time she'll tell him all of it and maybe then he might believe her.

"You don't know me, red. The things I've done, the things I've seen.."

Wanda's mouth opens then quickly closes, because there is so little she can say to that. She doesn't know him, not in the way she knows her brother, not even in the way she knows Clint. She doesn't know Bucky like she wants to, but she's on her way. She knows pieces about him, just as he knows pieces about her. From what she's seen, what she's learned, she can't imagine the side of him that he talks about but if it is there then she wants to know about it. She wants to know all of him.

"And you don't know me." she's quick to say. "Do you want to?"

Slowly his face softens and he takes a few steps towards her, closing the little distance that remained between them. Once it's gone, once he's standing just a step in front of her, it gives her a chance to see him again, to look at the little lines across his face, the colors in his eyes, and the tiny flicker of hope that nearly spreads across his face.

"Yeah, I do." Bucky says gently. "Of course I do. I can't get you off my mind, it's crazy."

She is quiet for a moment, while studying his face. He means it, she can see that. She can hear it in his voice, too. This thing, whatever this is, it's real for him and that's why he left. He had to leave, had to clear his head and spend a day to himself, but he came back. He's here because he wanted to come back, because he wanted to be honest with her, and she's glad that he did.

"You were on my mind today, too." she admits, before walking over to her beer. "James, this doesn't have to be.."

For a second she loses the words. Wanda walks to the ledge, picks up her beer and takes a small sip. She wants to tell him that this doesn't have to be whatever he thought it was last night. It can be what it was before that, when it was just the two of them eating burgers, drinking shakes, and making each other laugh. She wants that, and she wants him to feel the same way, to want to go back to that.

When she turns around she realizes Bucky is closer. He's almost all the way over to where she's standing, but he's stopped just a few steps away from her. There's a look in her eyes that tells her, once again, that he does want to be here and that he wants what they had last night. He wants it back, and so does she.

"This doesn't have to be something. It is just fun, isn't it? It is just two people getting to know each other, yes? I enjoyed that. And before I left, before you said what you did and I said what I did, I think that I was starting to almost like you."

Bucky's eyes widen slowly then he grins. "Really? You almost liked me? That's it?"

She smiles, leaning back against the brick wall. Bucky comes closer, still amused. And much more relaxed. He's almost back to how he was last night, before it was ruined. He is smiling, and there is a spark back in his eyes that was there last night. She smiles a little more just thinking about it.

"After that epic date I took you out on, with the best burgers in the city and the best company in the city..You're telling me all I get is that you 'almost' liked me?"

Wanda shrugs, tucking her arms around herself. "What can I say? You bragged too much, exaggerated often, and you insulted me throughout the night—"

"O-kay, I get it. I get it." Bucky laughs, reaching out to pat Wanda's shoulder. "I think we all get the point you're making here."

Afterwards, his hand lingers on his shoulder. She almost starts to like the feeling, then he drops it away. He stays close though, leaving just a step or two between them.

"Do you?" she asks, still smiling. "Get the point, I mean. That I was making..Before that one. You get it?"

He smiles, looks back to the city and then immediately back to her, as if the city and the sky no longer holds any interest to him and he is more interested in being here, being back with her. That's when she really believes it, really sees it, that this is his choice and that there is no where else he wants to be right now.

"Yeah, I do. I get it, or at least I think I do. I guess we'll see?" Bucky shrugs, then smiles sweetly. "This mean we're back to being almost friends? With a weird bunch of friends who are already close friends and have been for years. That sound alright to you?"

Wanda smiles, barely able to think about it before Bucky hugs her. It comes as a surprise but not a bad one, not at all. One minute he's just standing in front of her, hands tucked into his coat, looking at her but also looking away from her at the same time. Then he opens up his arms and she just eases into it, as if it was always leading them here.

The hug is brief but warm. Wanda shuts her eyes against his chest, as Bucky puts his arms around her, squeezes her tightly, then starts to let go. How? she wants to ask him. How can you not think you are good, when you are so sweet? He is kind, too. She knows why he is hugging her now, because he's been getting a read on her, just like she's been reading him. All night, she's been aware of the little things. His nerves, how he needed a drink, the way he looks out to the sky. And something tells her from the way he holds her now that he's been aware of the little things going on with her, like her quiet nerves and her uncertainty about all of this.

"You won't hurt me. I won't let you." she tells him, before he lets go. "And this, it doesn't have to be anything. Or it can be whatever we want it to be. How does this sound?"

Bucky shrugs a little as he pulls away. But after the hug is over he doesn't walk away, doesn't take a step back. He stays close, watching her as he smiles sweetly, playfully even.

"Yeah, sounds alright. Actually, it sounds pretty great. And hey, just so you know: I was starting to almost like you, too."

Chapter Text

Bucky moves through the apartment like a ghost, wading in and out of the shadows to reach Wanda's room. She watches him from the door as she locks up the apartment and then she leaves to fetch them drinks from the fridge. She's got work in the morning so maybe he shouldn't be here, maybe she shouldn't be getting them more to drink, but she wants to. She wants him to stay for just a little longer, and he wants to stay, too. So she grabs their drinks from the kitchen, another bottle of beer for Bucky and a glass of wine for herself, and she carries them to her room, to where Bucky is waiting for her.

The door only creaks a little as Wanda pushes it open, quick to step inside, to where she imagines she will find Bucky walking around her room, taking it all in, but he isn't. When she comes inside her room Wanda finds him sitting on the edge of her bed, waiting for her. He's staring out at the window, at all the city lights and colors that seep in. He's lost in it all until he realizes that she's back and he turns to her, smiling when he spots her by the half-opened door. Wanda smiles back and comes inside, closing the door behind her.

He takes the beer when it's offered, swallows a sip, then points to a vase of flowers sitting on the window. That bunch are from Pietro and Clint, while the bunch Bucky gave her are near the window in the kitchen, in the perfect spot where the sunlight seeps in, all bright and orange in the afternoon.

"Nice flowers. Carnations, right? Very nice." he smiles, glancing up at her. "They're pretty. But I have to say, I think the ones I got you are just a little nicer. Maybe I'm just biased, but I think mine were better."

Slowly Wanda smiles, as she takes a seat next to him on the bed. After she joins Bucky there he lifts his gaze away from her and back to the room, quietly glancing it over. He's curious, he always seem to be. His eyes flicker across the paintings scattered on the walls and the floors, to the lights hanging above the bed, the cluttered vanity filled with make-up and pieces of jewellery, before he eventually turns back to her.

"I think maybe you are right. Yours were very nice." she says, smiling back at him. "You told Steve about the carnations, didn't you? At Stark's party, he recognized me as the girl with the carnations. So you told him about that day?"

Something new flickers through Bucky's eyes now, it's something she's never seen in them before. He isn't embarrassed, that isn't it. Bucky doesn't seem like the type to get easily embarrassed, but it's close to it. Wanda doesn't know what it is, she just knows that while it's there Bucky avoids her gaze, only for a minute. Maybe it's less than a minute before he turns back to her, half of his face shadowed in darkness.

"He said something, huh? Of course he did. Yeah, I might have mentioned you. Once or twice." Bucky pauses, chewing on his lip as he smiles. "To be fair, I'm sure you probably told Barton and your brother all about me. And I'm sure you didn't talk so nicely about me. I was probably referred to as the jerk in the park. While you were talked about pretty nicely."

Smiling, she reaches for her wine. Wanda takes a sip while she lets herself think about that day in the market. She never thought he was a jerk, not at all, not even for a moment. She looks back on it all fondly as she moves to sit cross-legged on the bed.

"Really? What nice things did you say about me?"

That same look flickers over his face, soon replaced with something playful, almost sweet. He turns away, shrugging a little as he glances down to the bottle between his hands. Wanda watches as he strums his gloved fingers against the cold glass and she almost lingers on it, almost thinks about asking him why, but she doesn't want to. Not here, not tonight.

"Just that I felt bad, you know. Because I did hit you with my bike." he answers, turning back to her. "And then I bailed on you when we went for milkshakes. So yeah, I just felt bad that I was such a jerk when you seemed so sweet."

Wanda doesn't really mean to linger on it for so long but she does. Not just his words, but her brother's, too. From earlier in the night when he called her sweet. He's said it before, but not many have. She knows why, because she doesn't let herself get close, doesn't let herself feel or show affection to many, just to the ones she lets in. It takes a long time for Wanda to let people in, to let strangers get close, and somehow it already feels like Bucky is closer to her than she's let anyone be in a very long time.

"You weren't a jerk. Well, maybe just a little for the bike thing." Wanda smiles, bumping her shoulder into his. "So what did you tell Steve about me? He mentioned the broken carnations. And the blueberries. You told him about this? What did you say?"

He smiles and starts to shake his head as he looks away, looks down to the floorboards and the patterned rugs stretched across the floor. Bucky stares at them for a moment, like they're deeply interesting and he can't look away but she knows why he really can't look at her yet. He's nervous again, or maybe he isn't even nervous but there's something there, something going on in his mind that he isn't ready to share with her yet. With a sigh he gets to his feet, putting the bottle of beer down on the floor as he takes a step away to look at one of her paintings hanging on the wall.

"It was nothing, really." he answers, minutes later, like he's distracted by the art. "I just told Steve about this pretty girl I couldn't stop thinking about, that's all."

Her cheeks flush, only for a moment. Wanda takes a sip of wine, followed by another, before turning to look at Bucky again. He's still standing near the canvas hanging on the wall, moving from one piece of art to another. There aren't many so he moves on, taking a few quiet steps over to the flowers by the window.

"I think you say that about all of the girls."

Over by the window, Bucky laughs and glances over his shoulder to look back at her. There's a flower in his hand. He spins it around for a second then pops it back into the vase.

"Yeah, I did. I used to. What can I say? Girls are great."

For a moment after this there is nothing else, only silence, only the echo of his words in Wanda's room as she watches him lean in to get a closer look at the vase of flowers. Then he moves on to the bookshelf by her door stacked with books and filled with little objects and ornaments, mostly gifts from her brother. Wanda doesn't mind that he is looking, that he is taking his time looking at some of her most personal things. For some reason she doesn't mind at all.

"But now you don't say things like this to the girls?"

He shrugs, keeping his back towards her as he picks up an ornament from the bookshelf. Whatever it is, he turns it over in his hand then looks back at her, smiling. Through the darkness it's not hard to see what he's holding; the tiny gray dragon her brother picked up for her. Wanda smiles at the memory then at Bucky, as he takes another look at it before setting it down again.

"Now not so much." he answers, glancing back to the shelf. "These are cute. You collect them or something?"

"No, they were gifts." Wanda hesitates, watching him from afar. "So, what changed? Why do you not say nice things to girls anymore?"

There's a smile back on Bucky's lips when he steps away from the bookshelf, to face her, to get distracted by the vanity for a moment. He walks over to it slowly, smile still there as he glances over the bottles of perfume and the small piles of jewellery scattered all over it. He lingers for a second then comes back for his beer, not sitting with her on the bed, not yet. He just picks up the bottle of beer, swallows a little, then puts it down before he's off again, back over to the bookshelf.

"Why so many questions, red?" he calls back.

Then he bends over by the bookshelf to get a good look at all the books stacked up on it. He is so curious, she sees it now. So curious about her life, her room, her little ornaments and her piles of books. He is curious about her and it almost surprises her, because it's been so long since she let someone get this close, let someone be this curious about her. Wanda still doesn't understand why she feels so comfortable with Bucky, looking at her things (looking at her) in a way that no one ever has before.

"I just find it hard to believe." Wanda pauses, clearing her throat with a sip of wine. "That is all. I think you are very..."

This time she loses the words. Bucky's quick to notice, to stop what he's doing and turn back to her, eyes bright, smile a little bigger. She knows what she wants to say but she doesn't think she should say it, doesn't think she should tell Bucky what she thinks about him. That he is charming, and handsome, and very sweet. His heart is good, his eyes are pretty, and there is something about his smile that Wanda can't begin to find the words for.

"What? I'm very, what?" he asks, curious. "Tall, dark, and broody?"

"Handsome. You are handsome and sweet, and I think you know this." Wanda answers, running her finger idly around the edge of her glass. "I think you know this and that you know that girls like you. So I am not sure I believe you."

Bucky lingers for a moment then turns away, scooping a handful of books off the shelf. He walks around with them for a minute, flicking through pages, reading the covers, while still looking up at Wanda every now and then just to let her know that he's still and that he isn't lost in his head again.

"That's sweet of you to say, red. But we're gonna have to agree to disagree on most of what you just said."

It makes Wanda smile as she puts her glass of wine down on the nightstand and climbs off the bed, to fetch a jug of water from the kitchen. When she returns she comes over to the flowers by the window, pours a little water into the vase, then steps back and turns to Bucky by her side.

"You've got a lot of books here. You a big reader?"

She nods. "Sometimes. Do you work in the morning?"

"Nah, not really. I've got a couple things to do, but I don't work tomorrow." he says, placing three or four books back on the shelf. "You're working tomorrow, right? Early start?"

"Not too early." she answers, then leaves him by the window. "I don't mind if you want to stay a little longer."

Then she stops, thinking it over. Wanda doesn't want him to leave yet. She almost wants to ask him to stay the night, and maybe she shouldn't. She tries to convince herself to say nothing, because they are just back to being like this and she doesn't want to risk ruining it. But she isn't asking him to stay for any reason, other than she enjoys his company and she doesn't want him to go.

"I don't mind if you want to stay the night."

This makes Bucky stop what he's doing and look up at her. He hesitates for a second, places the books in his hand down on the shelf, then quickly looks back to Wanda with the faintest smile still on his lips. He takes a step over, a long and slow step, and it's now that she picks up on something else, something new. It's barely there in his eyes before it's gone and then he's closer, watching her with an uncertain look in his eyes.

His gaze follows her, over to her bed where she settles against her pillows and picks up her glass of wine. Bucky looks like he wants to join her, he looks like he wants to stay, but for a minute he says nothing.

"So?" Wanda lifts an eyebrow.

"Iyeah, that. I probably shouldn't stay." he stops, then begins to smile. "But then again I tend to do a lot of things I shouldn't. So who knows what might happen?"

"Like, what? What do you do that you shouldn't?"

More of a smile comes through on his face now. Then he shrugs as he walks over to the bed, joining her there. Bucky sits down on the edge, picks up his beer, and drinks a sip. When he's done he puts it back down on the floor and then turns to face her, and as he looks at her Wanda almost wants to ask him why he's putting space between the two of them again. She leaves it and waits, for the answer that he eventually gives her.

"Just stupid things, you know?"

Her smiles stays. "So you don't want to sleep over?"

Bucky runs his tongue over his lower lip, considering it. He looks like he wants to say yes, wants to stay the night with her, but he's still uncertain. He still can't make up his mind. While he thinks it over, she gives him space. Wanda watches quietly as his eyes flicker over the room before he leans back on the bed, turning to her with a sweet almost smile.

"Aren't your brother and Barton sleeping next door?" he asks, quieter this time. "You said something about them needing their sleep. Yeah, I'm an asshole sometimes but I'd hate for us to wake them if they gotta get up early."

It's only now that she understands it all. His tension, the look in his eyes, the way he looked at her. She gets it now, what he thinks she's asking him to stay the night for. She almost laughs, almost chokes on her wine as she drinks it.

"I'm not asking you to stay over for sex." she's quick to tell him. "You looked tired, I thought maybe you wanted to sleep over."

He hesitates, then smiles a little more. "Oh. Like, actually sleep over? Like a sleepover?"

Wanda nods, observing him as he reaches for his beer and drinks half. He's a little embarrassed now but he hides it well. He stops when there's only half of his beer left, glances over at her, then swiftly finishes the rest off. When the bottle is empty he stands and places it on the nightstand by the bed.

"So, my bad. I just—It's been a long time since someone asked me to a sleepover, that's all." he tells her, a hint of warmth in his eyes. "Your bed looks nice, by the way. Looks comfy. I'm sorry that was awkward. I'm glad it's not anymore. And I'm glad we're on the same page now, that sex is out of the question. It's good we didn't get our lines crossed."

Whatever this is, whatever it becomes, she wants them to take their time getting to know each other. Wanda still doesn't know what it is or what it will be, but she knows that she likes his company and if he wants to stay the night then she wants him to. She's spent so many nights on her own, struggling to sleep, consumed by dreams. If he wants to stay for the night, or even for just a few hours, she'd be happy with that.

"What?" he asks, what feels like hours later.

It's only now that Wanda realizes she's smiling. She shrugs, sinks deeper into her pillow, and starts to fidget with the ring on her index finger. A silver band with a black stone in the middle.

"Nothing. It is nothing. You are just cute when your lines are crossed." Wanda says, smiling more. "And when you don't know what to say or how to say it. I think it is cute."

Bucky laughs, probably louder than he means to, as he joins her on the bed. He sits a little closer this time, but he's only there for a minute before he's moving again. Shrugging off his dark jacket with ease. He drops it down onto the edge of the bed then takes a seat again, closer this time, and it's now that Wanda gets a clear look at the dark v-neck shirt he's wearing. The shirt is tight, it fits him well. Wanda lingers for a minute longer than she means before shifting her gaze back to Bucky, who she discovers is smiling at her like he knows what she was thinking. But if he knows, he says nothing for the moment.

She sighs. "What?"

"I'm just glad we cleared things up." Bucky says, then he's moving again. Over to the empty side of the bed. "You know, about the sex and sleeping over thing. I'm glad we sorted that out. And I'm glad it wasn't awkward or anything."

Still smiling, she watches Bucky as he stretches out next to her. Once he's settled he props one hand underneath his head, flattens the other against his chest, and makes a point of hanging his feet off the edge of her bed, since his boots are still on. He's close now, closer than he's let himself be in a while, and it reminds Wanda of Stark's party. It reminds her of the night they laid underneath the window, staring up at the sky, shoulder to shoulder. She feels as close to him now as she did then.

Wanda remembers that night in pieces; lighting the joint by the window, the breeze that sifted through the apartment, Bucky by her side, stretched out on the floor. She remembers staring up at the sky, at the wind-chime by the window, and then at the light in his eyes. It's like that now but a little different. There aren't any stars above their heads tonight but there are lights. Tiny little lights dangling from the ceiling that still catch Bucky's attention like they're as interesting as the sky was that night. He stares up at them for a while until she speaks and he turns his head to look at her.

"And I am glad we talked so you could make it clear that sex is out of the question. That is good to know, what is in the question and what is out of it."

"Yeah. That didn't.." Bucky stops, clears his throat, then starts to smile again. "You know that probably didn't come out the way I meant it."

Smiling, she lifts her head up to the lights. His gaze follows her there soon and for a while they stare up there, lost in their heads, in the lights and in the comfort of having the other there. It's quiet between them for a moment until he speaks, until he makes her laugh again.

"Really, it didn't come out the way I meant. Like you said, I got my lines crossed." he smiles, glancing up at her. "I feel like if I keep talking I'm just gonna dig myself a deeper hole. So I'm gonna stop now, since our lines are all uncrossed and everything."

Wanda laughs quietly, staring up at the lights for one more minute before she turns to face him. She rolls herself over on her side to face him, props a hand up underneath her head, and then smiles at him in a way that is softer this time, a little less playful and a little more sincere.

"You don't have to stay over, by the way." she says quietly. "I thought you looked tired, that it might be easier if you wanted to stay. But you don't have to stay, I don't mind. I just wanted you to know that."

Something in his cheek tightens. He smiles slowly.

"I appreciate the offer, doll. I really do. But I won't spend the night, just because I have it on good authority that I can be difficult to sleep next to. With you working early in the morning, it wouldn't be fair. So really, I'm just being a good guy and doing the right thing here."

It fills her with a deep curiosity, and with too many questions. She wants to ask, to know. That is her problem sometimes. She always wants to know, to learn more, to learn as much as possible. She doesn't want tonight to be about that. She wants it to be simple, and quiet, and fun. Wanda sits up suddenly, reaching for the pack of cigarettes in the drawer by her bed only to realize there's just one left. There's another pack in the kitchen but she doesn't feel like going all the way out there yet. So she stays, lighting the one cigarette for the two of them to share.

"Really?" she asks, faintly smiling.

Before he answers, Bucky takes his glove off. Just the one on his right hand. He slips it off, tosses it aside, and then reaches for the lit cigarette after she offers it to him. Wanda's curiosity only grows but she doesn't ask. She won't ask, not again, not until it feels like he wants to talk about it and it's so clear tonight that he doesn't want to talk about all of that. She won't push him, she never would. She knows what it's like, she knows that they all have their own stories and their own scars that they hide away and keep to themselves. She says nothing about his, not tonight, she just takes the cigarette back after he offers it and then meets his gaze as he smiles up at her.

"Oh, yeah. Apparently, I'm a kicker."

Wanda knows what he's trying to do. It's simple, really. He's trying to make her happy, to distract her the same way she tries to distract him, with questions, and jokes, and stories that may not always be true. And it works. Wanda feels distracted, happy even, as she laughs at Bucky and watches him roll over on his side, mirroring her earlier movements. He ends up stretched out on the bed like her, a hand propped underneath his head, the other free to take the cigarette back when he wants it.

"So? I kick, too."

"Yeah, but you're like a kitten. That wouldn't hurt. It'd be cute." Bucky points out, grinning. "I've also heard from several sources that I'm a biter. I bite in my sleep and I grind my teeth."

She furrows her brow. "Really?"

"Yeah, really. Just ask Steve. I get loud, and annoying, and I may even snore. So no, I won't stay the night. Not this time." Bucky smiles, dragging himself upwards. "Not if you actually want to get some sleep. Maybe another time I'll stay and you can see it for yourself."

He settles back against the headboard after this, quiet as he enjoys his cigarette. Wanda's gaze follows him and soon she moves, sitting back against the pillows next to him. Why? she wants to know, to ask. Why does she feel disappointed? She's not even sure that's what she's feeling right now, but there's something there. And it's something that Bucky picks up on.

"I don't mind staying for a couple hours." he adds, smiling again. "If you don't mind my company, that is. Feel free to drift off at any point that I start to bore you and I'll just let myself out."

With more of a smile back on her lips, Wanda takes the cigarette out of his hand. She inhales on it slowly then passes it back, ready to leave to get them more drinks from the kitchen. He won't stay the night, he probably won't stay for long, but she doesn't mind. Wanda's just happy that he's here right now, and that her bad day somehow turned into such a good night.

"Wait, so you really did not know? That is why I asked you to stay, James. Not for conversations or for sex, but for your company that bores me to sleep. That's why."

In the seconds that follow, Bucky can't hide his smile. It darts across his lips and almost fades, before it comes back suddenly, brighter than it's ever been before. Then he laughs, squeezing his eyes shut in a way that is sweet. Cute, even. His eyes open soon and follow Wanda, as she wiggles towards the edge of the bed, ready to get their drinks and cigarettes from the kitchen.

"Right. Yeah, of course. That makes perfect sense. You know, I think you might actually be the nicest person I've ever met."

Wanda smiles, climbing to her feet. "Be careful, James. It sounds like you might be starting to like me."

"Oh, no. I wouldn't worry about that, doll." he smiles, watching her from his spot on her bed. "That's just the alcohol talking."

With a roll of her eyes, Wanda leaves him. She slips out of her room, quietly closing the door behind her, but she doesn't move right away. She leans back into the door, pressing herself against it as she smiles. How? she wants to know, needs to know how it's possible that her day went from being so bad to so good. She wants to ask herself this but she already knows the answer, she's known it since their date, since the night of Stark's party.

It's all because of him.

 

* * * *

 

"So you art is pretty nice. You sell it anywhere?"

Wanda is stretched out on her back, staring up at the ceiling with a joint between her fingers and her legs tangled over Bucky's, when he brings up her art. She doesn't mind, she had the feeling he might mention it after he spent so long staring at her paintings earlier in the night. Wanda doesn't mind, not really. She's just glad that she didn't find the canvas tucked away under her bed, the one she painted of him on that perfect afternoon he drove away from the city and towards the sunset.

At the sound of his voice, Wanda looks over at him. He's on the bed next to her, already watching her. Wanda catches his gaze, smiles, then sits up slowly, passing him back the joint. She doesn't know what time it is, doesn't really know how long he's been here in her room, telling bad jokes and drinking almost all of their beer. Wanda just knows that it feels like it's been hours. It almost feels like they've spent days together, locked away in the quiet of her room.

"They aren't very good. It is just the light." she mumbles, smiling slowly. "It is just your eyes, that's all."

He frowns a little, then offers her what's left of the joint. Wanda takes it and puts it away, into the bowl by her bed. They're done with that for now. When she settles back in on the bed, untangling her legs from his, she finds Bucky watching her and waiting for an answer, for some kind of explanation for what she's talking about.

"The dark light, silly. Your eyes are not good in this light. You don't see things the way they are, just the way you think they are."

She thinks that he must blink at least three or four times before he answers, as if there is a hidden meaning to her words.

"What, because I'm old or something?" Bucky grins. "That's the joke you're going with? Really? How original."

"No, I just meanyou can't see them because it is so dark, and the paintings are old, so you don't know what they really look like."

Bucky hums in response, shifting his gaze away from her and over to the open window that is still letting air and light seep into the space. As he stares out at it, Wanda reaches for his beer from the night-stand and passes it to him. There's a look in his eyes, something playful and suspicious, as he reaches out for the bottle.

"Here." she smiles, sincere. For a moment. "Drink up, old man."

In seconds his face lights up. Bucky laughs, swipes the beer away, and finishes the rest of it in a few sips. She doesn't know how many drinks he's had now, or how many glasses of wine she's had. Wanda just remembers making a few more trips back to the kitchen, for more drinks, for M&Ms that Bucky ate most of, and for other little sweets and snacks. She smiles a little more thinking about it, and the possibility of the fridge being half empty in the morning. With that on her mind, Wanda takes the empty bottle from Bucky when he's done and lines it up on the floor with the others.

"That sounds like a whole of of B.S. Just saying." he points out, looking like he's tempted to roll his eyes. "And that old man comment? I'm not that old. But thanks for the kind words. You really know how to make a guy feel special."

"What can I say? I am a nice person"

"Okay, so back to what I was saying." Bucky groans, grin still there. "Back to what I was saying before you insulted me. Again. We were talking about your art. So you don't sell it?"

She shrugs, tempted to look away. "No, not anymore."

"That's a shame. I think it's nice. I bet it would have spruced my place up."

Hiding a smile, she squeezes her eyes shut and thinks about it. She spends a minute thinking about how nice it feels to be here, how sweet he is underneath the exterior he sometimes keeps up. Tonight it feels like he's here, like he's more present than he's ever been before, and because of this she feels a little more connected to him than she has before. She doesn't want to make fun of him, he isn't an old man. She doesn't know his age, she really doesn't know all that much about him.

He's just fun to play with sometimes.

"Spruced? You really just said that?"

"Yeah, I did. Apparently, I did." he laughs, bumping his arm against hers. "What, are the kids not saying things like that anymore?"

She shakes her head, opening her eyes to meet his. Bucky's smile only widens and for a moment he lingers on her, lets himself get close, lets himself memorize it, before he squeezes his eyes shut like she did a minute ago.

"Ah, damn. Well I guess that's my fault. I went away for a while and missed a whole chunk of time. Then I came back and everything was different. I didn't really know what was going on anymore, but I guess that's life. Happens to everyone eventually."

It means more to her than she expects it to. His confession, those little words. I guess that's life. It leaves Wanda curious about him, more curious than she already is, and she finds herself longing to know more. It feels like she shouldn't ask most of her questions, not tonight, not until he's ready for her to. But this feels okay because he mentioned it, because of the quiet that lingers afterwards and leaves her feeling like he won't mind if she asks just one or two of her questions.

"Where did you go? To fight a war?"

Bucky nods, eyes still shut. "Yeah. Something like that."

His smile is still there but only faintly, only sort of there, before it twitches like it might fade. Somehow she knows where he is now, where his mind is pulling him to. He is back in old memories, in a war, in the man he was before he went to war. She can't look into his eyes, can't read any of it on his face when his eyes are squeezed so tightly shut, but she can still feel it. Wanda can still feel how heavy and personal it is for him. She's not sure she can do much to help but she still wants to try, wants to do something to get his mind away from these thoughts and on to better ones.

"Tell me something, Bucky?"

Wanda doesn't know if it's the first time she's called him Bucky, but it feels like it. Feels new, feels different, for both of them. At the sound of her saying his name, Bucky cracks an eye open to look up at her. She can't read him, there is still too much going on in his head, but there is a look she catches in his eye that tells her that he doesn't mind that she has questions because he has his own. Maybe one day he will ask his questions and she will ask hers. Right now she only has one more thing she wants to know.

"Depends on what you want to know, doll."

For a minute Wanda pretends to consider it, pretends to need time to think about it, when she already knows what her question will be. She believes that she already knows just what to say to make him smile, to take his focus off the dark thoughts that linger in his mind and move it on to something else, something less painful.

"Can you really dance?" she asks.

And then he smiles again. He gives her that bright and wide smile, and for a moment his entire face lights up. With happiness, with amusement. He laughs quietly and as he does Wanda feels a strange urge to reach out, to touch the lines around his smile, to memorize it. She doesn't. She keeps her hands to herself and watches as he opens both eyes and looks up to her, smile still there, bigger than it's ever been. And as he stares up at her, as he smiles at her, Wanda is consumed with thoughts about how lovely he is.

"Really? This again? I have to say, your lack of faith in me is kinda disheartening." he counters, quick. "It almost makes me want to never, ever, ever dance in front of you. Just so you never get to witness how good it really is."

She lifts an eyebrow, smiling more. "But then you will never get to prove me wrong, and I feel like this is something that you would enjoy doing."

Bucky barely pretends to consider it. "Yeah, you're right. I do like doing that. Oh, and to answer your question: yes. I can dance and I'm pretty good at it when I want to be."

Slowly her eyes flicker over him before she makes herself look away, makes herself not linger on him too long or too closely. Wanda forces herself to look up at the ceiling but even as she does all that she can think about is Bucky. His smile, the way his arms felt around her when they hugged on the rooftop, and that look he sometimes gets in his eyes when he watches her.

"Maybe you will have to take me dancing tonight."

For a long time after this, Bucky is quiet. Then it clicks.

"Oh yeah. Right. That. Our date. That old thing."

Wanda turns to him, instantly amused. "You forgot?"

"Nah, not for a second. It's just that something came up. Not with the date. I just meant something came up with my bike and I don't have it right now, that's all."

Afterwards he watches her as she reaches for her wine, drinks a little, then offers it to him. Bucky shakes his head, not moving from where he's still stretched out on her bed. It's funny how small it looks now with someone else on it. Small, but not too small. She doesn't dwell on it beyond that, she just swallows another sip of wine then moves the glass away again.

"You're disappointed." he says, watching her closely.

Wanda settles beside him and nods, letting out a sigh.

"Yes. Because the only reason I wanted to spend time with you was for your bike. That must be it."

For about three seconds, Bucky pretends to be hurt. Then it passes because he can't make it last, he can't stop himself from smiling. Or from nudging her arm gently, like he's done all night, like she remembers him doing on the walk home that night. It feels good between the two of them again. It feels calm, and relaxed, and so good. It's better than anything she's felt around a stranger in a long time, only he isn't a stranger anymore. He's someone she's learning more about, someone she's beginning to know. In time she will know more, in time they will grow closer than they are now, and that thought excites her.

"Yeah, sure. I understand that. But don't worry too much, I'll get the ol' girl all fixed up in time for our second date."

At first it makes her want to laugh. Then it takes her back, to dinner last night, to the night he came to her apartment and said he wanted to ask her out on a date. Maybe last night wasn't a date but it meant something. It was special, like this is, like he is. And from the way she catches Bucky looking at her when she looks up at him she can tell that this means something to him, too.

"What will we do then? If we aren't riding around the city like you promised, what will do?" Wanda asks, curious again. "If you don't have anything planned, don't worry. We can have drinks—"

"Hey, hey. I've got plans, I'm an organized guy. You just wait and see what I've got planned, red. It's gonna blow your mind, trust me."

She hums, turning away to the open space of her bedroom. Everything is dark, and still, and lit up in shadows. She stares out at it all for a while as Bucky moves on the bed next to her, getting comfortable. After he's settled he lets out a sigh. She imagines that his eyes are shut now, that he is going to rest for a while, but when she looks over she finds that his eyes are wide and bright, like his mind is filled with thoughts and possibilities, and so she wonders if he really has something planned.

Or if he is going to, as Clint says, wing it.

"I would be happy with anything, really. You don't have to look so worried." she says, glancing him over briefly. "And just so you know, I heard what you said before."

Bucky fakes innocence, lifting an eyebrow. "What do you mean? You'll have to jog my memory. I'm an old man. Remember?"

With a sigh, she leans in and nudges his arm. "You called it a date. You know this. You have called it that before."

He begins to frown, slowly it spreads across his features. All traces of a smile vanish and he pretends that, once again, he's lost.

"Wait. It's not a date?"

I want it to be, she thinks, but keeps to herself. Maybe it doesn't matter what she wants it to be, maybe that was never up to them. Maybe all they can do is show up and see what happens. Wanda still doesn't know what this is, still doesn't know where it's going to take them, but she has hope. She is so filled with hope, and the feeling is so new, so nice, that she can't help but smile.

"I don't know what it is yet."

It's good enough for Bucky. He smiles like he'd been thinking the same thing.

"That's fine. We don't have to give it a name yet. Let's just have dinner and see where it takes us."

Wanda thinks it over, curious again. There's a part of her that already wants to be at dinner with him, already wants to be there, just to enjoy it, to spend more time with him. And then there's the part of her that is glad it isn't here yet, that there is still time to be here with him tonight because this is nice, too.

"So we are having dinner somewhere?"

"Nice try, Maximoff. That was a good one. But I'm not giving anything away." he smirks. "You're gonna have to go all day wondering what I've got planned, and even when I pick you up—"

"Pick me up, on what?"

Bucky stops, considers it, then gives her a look. One that tells her, without words, that she is going to regret asking him that. His eyes are brighter suddenly, a little more playful.

"You really want me to bring a bike, huh? Fine, I'll steal one. But if I get caught, I'm blaming you." he shrugs, still faintly smiling. "Or maybe I'll just borrow a bike. Maybe that's simpler. But hey, if there's not enough room you're riding up front in the basket. Got it?"

There's a pause. He turns to her, smiling more, in a way that lets her know that he is as excited for this as she is.

"And if it's a bike with tassels and a loud annoying horn, that makes everyone on the block look at us? Then that's just what's gonna happen, doll. You sure you're ready for that?"

Smiling, she turns away and closes her eyes.

"I think I would rather walk than sit in a basket. But you should keep this bike with the tassels and horn. You would look very suave on that bike. I think all the girls would like it."

He's quiet for a minute, and she imagines it's because he's trying not to laugh. Wanda imagines that he is smiling and it makes her smile more. She only realizes it now, how much she's smiled tonight and how good it's felt just being around him. It stays on her mind, as she tucks her arms around herself and lets out a sigh.

"Good to know, red. And as always, another great joke."

The minutes go by after this. Wanda loses them, doesn't try to count them. She stays where she is, eyes shut, arms around herself, still aware of Bucky on the bed next to her. She likes the way it feels, she thinks she might have missed it. To have someone there, to not feel so completely alone.

"I'm glad that you came by." she says, what feels like a while later. "This has not been so bad. It has almost been nice."

Bucky chuckles softly. "Me too. When you're not insulting me or making fun of me, you're actually almost nice."

"And you are kind of dramatic."

He laughs sweetly. "Well, someone's gotta be when Barton's not around."

It's a simple comment but it takes her back, to her last conversation with her brother, to what she now knows about the two of them. They are in love. The good kind of love, the pure kind. She is so happy for them but that isn't what's on her mind now. It is something else, something she feels like she has to ask, has to hear, just once.

"You two are close?" she asks, quieter this time.

"Yeah. I've known him a long time."

That's when Wanda opens her eyes, seeking him out. She looks up to find Bucky staring at the ceiling, distracted by the lights. When he realizes that she's looking at him again he looks down at her, smiling slowly.

"He is like family to you? Like a brother, yes?"

Bucky frowns a little, smile still there, still warm. Then the little lines on his face that were starting to turn into a frown fade away. His face becomes warmer, softer even, and in this second he allows her to see how much he cares, about Clint, about all of his friends. He cares, even if he doesn't believe that he deserves it. He loves them, and he cares so much, and Wanda can't even put into words what it means that he's letting her in, letting her see this side of him.

"Yeah, you could say that. He's family, always will be. But don't tell that asshole I said that or it'll go straight to his head and I'll never hear the end of it."

Wanda smiles more, watching him closely. "You are all like family. I saw it at Stark's party. You tease each other and make jokes, but you still care. You still love each other. That is very sweet, James."

He spends a long time thinking it over. From the look on his face, it's clear he spends more time thinking about it than he means to. She can't get much of a read of him, not yet. She can only tell that he is thinking about a lot. That too many thoughts are coming in and out of his head, and with the thoughts come the memories and the doubts that always creep back in. If they linger, he doesn't show it. His face is still soft, still filled with something bright and warm.

"Yeah, when you put it like that it does sound sweet. But those guys can be jerks. You should hear about some of the shit they've pulled." he says, smiling more. "But maybe that's a story for another night. Why are you asking about Clint, anyway? You know him, you know what kinda guy he is."

She shrugs, turning her gaze away. First to the ceiling, then to her hands linked together on her chest.

"Yes, I know him. I've known him for as long as he's dated my brother, which is longer than my brother has dated anyone. So yes I know him, I am just.."

Wanda stops again, searching for the words.

"My brother is in love."

When she looks back, Bucky's smile is still bright, still filled with endless warmth. And as he smiles at her, Wanda feels a pull back to the night of Stark's party, to the game they played. Never have I ever been in love. It stays on her mind as she watches Bucky's smile change, becoming playful again.

"What, with Barton?" he grimaces. "Your poor brother, falling in love with that jerk."

She nudges his arm, tempted to roll her eyes. "Clint is a good man."

"I know that. So why are you asking me about him if you know it, too?" Bucky asks, and then he gets it. "Oh, right. Look, Barton's family. We tease each other, but he's family. I'm happy for him. If anyone deserves love, happiness, and all of that other crap, then it's him. And don't worry, Clint would never do anything to hurt your brother."

It's nice to hear it but she's always known it. She never doubted Clint, never thought for a second that he'd hurt Pietro, but it still feels good to hear it from someone who has known Clint for years and years.

"I was only worried for my brother because he has never been in love like this before. He has been in love, I mean. Some kind of love, a different kind. But not like this. Never like this. I just want them to be happy."

"Wanda, trust me. You'll never find a more decent guy than Barton. I mean that, with all of my heart." Bucky promises, so soft, so sincere. "He's got a good heart and the best intentions. He hasn't said it to me yet but sometimes you just know when a man's in love. And he's in love with your brother. So don't worry about it. Alright? Be happy for them. It'll all work out in the end."

There is suddenly too much on Wanda's mind. Too many thoughts, too many questions. She lingers on a few then forces the rest away. She is tired now, she can see that Bucky is, too. But her mind is awake and she feels as if she has to ask, has to know, if it really is as easy as he makes it sound.

"You believe that? You believe it will all just work out in the end? And that it is as simple as that?"

He hesitates, jaw tight for a moment. "For them? Yeah, I do. Because they're good people. They know how to make it work. They're meant to be, and all of that other sappy love stuff."

The game from the party comes back to Wanda again. His answers and hers. Never have I ever been in love. Never have I ever been in love. It plays over in her head and she can't stop it, can't keep her next question to herself.

"What about you?" she asks. "Do you think it will all work out for you in the end? That you will find love and, as you said, all that other..All that comes with it. Do you think you will find it?"

For a long time after this Bucky is quiet. Then he turns to her and smiles, and it's different. A little less bright, maybe. He doesn't turn away from her, even though it looks like he wants to. He stays, holding her curious gaze with his own.

"I'll just say that I don't know that everyone gets a happy ending. But, you? Don't worry, red. You will. Of course you will."

Wanda opens her mouth to answer, to say something, or anything at all. In the end she can't. She can't find the words, not yet, so she closes her mouth and looks back up at the lights again. The quiet floods back in, heavy this time. She squeezes her eyes shut for a second, wanting to ask Bucky why he believes that, and why it feels like he doesn't believe that he deserves a happy ending. There's suddenly too much on her mind and Wanda doesn't want any of it there, so she pushes it away.

She lets out a sigh and forces the thoughts from her mind, leaving them for another night. Then she moves, reaching out for the blanket folded up at the end of the bed next to Bucky's jacket. She shakes the red blanket out then leans back against the bed, covering herself up with it. The bed feels bigger now, like there's more space between them than there was before.

"How do you know?" she asks, she can't help it.

By her side, Bucky shrugs a little. She doesn't look, she just feels it, feels the bed shift as he moves.

"Don't know. I'm good at reading people." he says, quiet for a moment. "And sometimes you just know."

That's all he gives her. It's the only explanation she gets for why he thinks she deserves a happy ending, why it feels like he believes everyone in his life deserves a happy ending except him. Wanda doesn't know if she even believes in those anymore, but when she looks at her brother, so in love with Clint, she finds herself feeling hopeful that they will get the good things they deserve.

"You should know, I'm better at it." she says, smiling to herself. "I'm better at reading people than you are."

He laughs quietly again, and it sounds so nice, so familiar. Wanda can sense it now, that he is tired, that even if he won't stay the night that he might rest for a few hours. She feels him move on the bed beside her a minute later, and when she looks down at him she discovers that his eyes are shut, his hands are locked together over his chest, and his glove is back on. She doesn't ask, doesn't even linger on it. Wanda just looks away, leaving him to his thoughts as she starts to get lost in her own before he speaks, before he brings her back.

"You know what, red..That sounds like a challenge." he points out, minutes later. "One I'm not sure you'd win."

"I'd be happy to prove you wrong on this. But not tonight."

The rest goes unspoken. I am tired now, is what she never says, what she doesn't have to say. It's something Bucky understands, something he feels. He doesn't say it but she can feel it. She wonders why he is so tired, if he had bad day, too. Then she wonders if he couldn't sleep last night like she often can't. She counts herself lucky on the nights she drifts off without any trouble. Somehow she feels like tonight will be one of those nights, one of the few that she drifts off peacefully.

"Another night." he says warmly, sounding as if he's smiling. "I'm looking forward to it, red."

There is more that she wants to say, but she ends up saying nothing. Wanda wants to tell him that she's looking forward to it, to another night, to many more nights. She also wants to thank him for being here, for coming back, but once again it feels like something that doesn't need to be said, like it is something he already knows.

Wanda doesn't know how long goes by before she opens her eyes again. The room looks the same, still dark, still covered with both shadows and lights. Bucky is still there. She knows it hasn't been that long, maybe five or ten minutes. His eyes are still shut, his hands are still folded over his chest, and if she knew better she'd think he was sleeping. Somehow she just knows that he isn't, even if he looks like he is. It's only after a moment of watching him that she realizes that he doesn't have any of the blanket covering him up. It isn't a cold night, he doesn't look cold, but she still moves. She still sits up, tugs the blanket over to Bucky's side, and covers him with the soft fabric.

She makes sure he's comfortable, make sure he's warm, before she settles back in on her side of the bed, closing her eyes again. It must be minutes later that she feels it, feels Bucky move next to her. Wanda's eyes are squeezed shut, just like his are, so she doesn't see it but she feels it. She feels the bed move as Bucky comes closer.

He hesitates, she feels that, too. Then he reaches for her hand. It's slow, his touch is subtle, barely there at first. She becomes aware of it slowly, the sensation of his hand reaching for hers. He is so soft, so unsure. Wanda reacts gently by moving her hand closer and gently sliding her fingers between his. And then she holds on. When their fingers are linked together, she holds on and so does he. The feeling of his hand in hers, even with the glove on, is so warm, so welcomed, that she begins to smile.

"It's nice having you here, James." she says quietly, sometime later. "Will you stay? For just a little longer?"

Bucky doesn't answer right away. He takes a minute, stays quiet, as he gives her hand a gentle squeeze. Once, then twice. And as he does Wanda can only think about how there is already something so familiar, so warm, between the two of them, like they were always meant to end up here. By the time he answers, she's half-asleep. She welcomes the sound of his voice, lets herself drift off thinking about it and the feeling of his hand in hers.

"Of course, Wanda. I'll stay 'till you drift off."

Chapter Text

The first thing Wanda notices is the blood.

His face is mostly covered by shadows, and a hat, and the dark hood he's wearing to cover himself up—but when Bucky lifts his head and meets her gaze, from where he stands in the middle of the street, she sees it. Dark blood, sticky and fresh, trickling down the side of his face, from his temple to his jaw. Her chest tightens at the sight and she finds that even though she wants to come closer, to be by his side, she can't move. For a moment Wanda can't do much, she can only stay where she is, where she spent the last thirty minutes waiting for Bucky to show up for their date.

From where Wanda stands at the front of The Green Tides, she can read him well enough to know that he regrets this. Bucky regrets coming here tonight, maybe he even regrets last night. He is filled with so much doubt and regret right now and it's why he doesn't come closer, why he stays where he is on the busy path, watching Wanda through the crowds that pass by between them. And as he stares back at her, Wanda finds herself consumed with a longing to know why. (why is he bleeding, why tonight, why did the universe do this again). She doesn't dwell on the questions for long and quickly snaps herself out of it, forcing herself to be here with him now, to go to his side, because even if he regrets coming here tonight she doesn't.

She's glad that of all the places he could have gone, and all the people he could have gone to see, that he came here. He came to her, and in the end that's what stays with her. Bucky is here for a reason, even if he can't see it right now. She still can and it's why she makes the decision to stay here with him, to not walk away or watch him leave. Wanda stays, holding his gaze through the crowds for another minute before she navigates her way through them to get to him.

The closer she gets, the worse his face starts to look. It's just blood, she reminds herself. The wound itself could be small. It doesn't mean that it's bad just because there's a lot of blood. Wanda reminds herself this, three or four time, before she even reaches Bucky's side. When she gets close enough she takes him by the forearm and guides him away from the crowds, over to the side of the pavement where things are quiet and a little less chaotic. Once there she stops and lifts her hand to his face. She's surprised by how steady her hands are but doesn't let herself dwell on that though, instead she focuses on Bucky and what he needs from her.

Wanda is gentle as she lifts Bucky's jaw back, to get a clearer look at the blood smeared along his pale skin. She expects him to pull away but he doesn't. He stays there, eyes dark, expression still, as he lets her examine him. She doesn't need long, only a minute to look closer at his face and to discover that it came from a cut near his temple. It doesn't look big but it's hard to tell underneath all of the blood. She can't help herself from worrying about him, maybe more than she should for someone she really hasn't known for that long.

But it feels like she has, like it's been months, sometimes even years. It feels right, so she doesn't let herself question it.

"O moj Bože!" she whispers, glancing him over.

Her eyes follow the blood, down from the cut near his temple to where it's trickled down along his jaw and neck. She catches a glimpse of blood on the collar of his shirt before she swiftly looks up again, realizing now that he is watching her, that he is ready to leave and walk away from this because he thinks there is no other choice. She wants to show him that he's wrong, that she doesn't care that he showed up late for their date looking, but before she gets the chance to say anything Bucky speaks.

"I shouldn't have come. I shouldn't be here." he sighs, dropping his gaze down to the pavement. "I'm sorry, red. For showing up, for bringing you into this mess. I'm sorry for all of it."

She shakes her head, quiet, as she tries to decide what to do next. Hold him? It doesn't feel like he's looking for a hug, or for much, if any, physical comfort right now, so she settles on something simple. Wanda reaches out for Bucky's forearm, gently placing her hand there as a small gesture, meant to steady him, to show him that he's not alone. He startles a little at the touch but doesn't tense or pull away. His light-eyes flicker down to the spot, to where her hand is curled around the fabric of his jacket, before he looks back at her and a rush of conflicting thoughts and emotions come and go through his eyes.

"No, it's okay. It really is." Wanda promises softly. "I'm glad that you're here, that you're not alone. I'm glad you came."

Then she stops and lets herself think it over, lets herself consider what to do next. Wanda knows that she wants to help him, that she wants to take him somewhere they can be alone together, just the two of them. Then she can look after him, help him clean up, and he can tell her what happened. Her apartment is close but tonight it feels like it's too far away, like he's going to change his mind before they get there and leave because he thinks it's easier. The bar is right here, she realizes soon. There's a first-aid kit inside, a bathroom he can clean up in, and it will give them a chance to be alone together so they can talk and she can look after him.

Wanda thinks it's a good idea but she isn't so sure he will see it that way. Still, she tries anyway.

"Will you come inside with me, James?"

Bucky's quick to shake his head, as he takes a half-step back, followed by another. His gaze flickers between her and the busy bar, before eventually settling on her again. He won't come in, he can't. Something is stopping him, it's holding him back (from this, from her) but she still won't give up, not here and not tonight.

"Look, it's nothing. It's really nothing." he's quick to say. "I shouldn't have come. I didn't wanna bring you into this, I didn't mean to show up here. I don't know what I was doing. One minute I was calling you to cancel but you didn't pick up. So I got worried and I started walking here, then I saw you and I couldn't walk away."

"That's good that you came. That you wanted to come." Wanda says gently, taking a small step towards him. "Please come inside. You're hurt, and bleeding, and I can help. Let me help you. We can go in through the side-door, no one will see us. You can clean up in there. Let me help you. Please?"

And then she sees it, darting through his eyes. Stay or go. Stay or go. Wanda sees it so easily because she once felt it, because she often does. But she's also starting to know Bucky, better than either of them realized, and this is how she knows that even though there's a part of him that wants to go that there's still a part of him that wants to stay and that's why he hasn't walked away yet.

"No one will see us. We can go in together." she says soon, words soft, a quiet promise. "You can clean up, I can help you. Please, just come inside with me. We'll take care of it together."

He almost says yes, almost comes inside with her. Wanda watches as it happens, as he makes the decision to stay then changes his mind just seconds later, because in his heart he still believes that he knows who he is and he can't see it any other way.

"I shouldn't have done this to you." Bucky sighs, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. "I shouldn't have come here and put you in this position—"

"You didn't do anything, okay? You just showed up for our date. And we are still having that date, aren't we?"

Bucky blinks slowly but says nothing, instead he just watches her in that quiet way of his that lets her know that he is still considering it, that deep down he wants to stay. He still wants to go, maybe he always will, but there's a part of him that wants to stay and she hopes that he will listen to that part of himself and that tonight he will stay with her for as long as he needs.

"It means you will have to come inside and clean up." she adds, trying to smile. "You can use the bathroom, I can show you the way. Will you follow me?"

It feels like the seconds stretch on for minutes before he makes up his mind. Bucky ducks his head now, glancing quietly between the bar and Wanda, before something in his expression shifts. She knows what it means, what he will say before he even says a word, and it's all because of the weight she sees slowly slipping from his eyes. Whatever this is, whatever it was, he doesn't want to do it alone and he's letting himself feel that now.

"You sure you're not gonna get in trouble, red?"

His voice is softer this time, a little more vulnerable, and it makes her want to take his hand and hold him. She can't, so instead she just stretches out her hand and offers it out for Bucky to hold, if he wants to take it. She watches him distantly as he eyes off her hand, letting himself consider it, before his gloved fingers reach for hers and she feels herself let out a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding.

"It's fine, I promise. Just come with me?"

Bucky says nothing, just nods and holds on to her hand, following her as she turns to lead the way inside the bar, through the side-door that only the staff can get through. She takes Bucky inside through there and down to the small bathroom she was in half an hour ago, getting ready for their date. She doesn't let herself think about any of it, she just guides him into the bathroom and then leaves him there for the moment while she grabs the first-aid kit from the bar. When she returns she finds Bucky standing by the basin, gently washing the side of his face with a handful of water. One of his gloves is off, the other still on. He stops what he's doing for a second as the door swings open then he finishes up and turns to look at her.

"How does it feel?" she asks gently, words low, just for him. "Are you in any pain?"

Wanda closes and locks the door after she enters, joins him over by the sink, then sets the first-aid kit down there and turns to look at the cut on his face. It's only a small gash, she sees it now, feels relieved to get a clearer look at it and to know it isn't as bad as she first thought. It looks painful but not like it will need stitches, only a little antiseptic cream and maybe a bandage. But she won't really know until she gets a closer look.

"It really is nothing, you know. Doesn't really hurt." Bucky tells her soon. "I'm not just saying that to make you feel better, red. It's nothing. It's like a cat-scratch. I've had much worse."

Then he leans back against the tiled walls, briefly glancing her over before he looks out at the tiny space of the bathroom. Bucky hides it well but she can tell that he's struggling with this, whatever it is. He's quiet, and withdrawn, and he's struggling with the weight of it all. Wanda wants to help him but she doesn't know how, she doesn't even know if he will let her help. He's keeping the distance between them, trying to keep his walls up, because he still doesn't want to bring her into this. She wants him to know that it's okay, that she's a part of him, that she doesn't mind that this is a little messy. She wants to say this and more, but she ends up saying nothing about it. There will be time later to tell him this, to tell him everything.

"Still, it doesn't hurt to look. Does it?" Wanda asks, seconds later. "It is good to take a look, to clean it up, even if you think it is nothing."

A moment later she leaves Bucky's side, walking over to the sink where she left the med kit. Wanda opens it up and takes a small look inside, only realizing now that there's blood on her hands. She knows it's real, knows that it's his, from out on the side-walk when she first touched him. She only becomes aware of it now, of how sticky and familiar the sensation is on her palms. Wanda slowly stops what she's doing and leaves to grab a few sheets of paper from one of the empty stalls behind them.

Bucky watches her as she goes, lingering by the sink in the quiet that grows between them. Wanda returns swiftly, dampening the paper with a little water and then turning to Bucky to help him get cleaned up. When she turns to him he watches her for a second then sighs and lets his eyes slowly shut.

"Shit. I'm sorry."

For the moment she says nothing and takes a step closer to Bucky, wiping the blood gently from his jaw. It's only a small cut but it still looks painful, still looks like it's going to sting. But if it hurts he doesn't let it show, he just opens his eyes and watches her, tracking her movements as she helps him clean up.

Wanda only spends a few more minutes there before she's done soaking up the blood from the side of his face.

"There is nothing to apologize for." she says now, slowly looking up. "Will you tell me what happened?"

This time he doesn't hesitate, not at all.

"Nothing happened, red."

It's a lie and they both know it, but she doesn't know how to get any truths from him right now. He doesn't want to give it to her and she doesn't want to push, but she's still worried about him. She stays by his side for a little longer, wiping the rest of the blood away, and as she does she can't help but feel the memories seeping back in. From this night, from that one. If he is pain, he still doesn't show it. Bucky doesn't wince, or cry, or flinch from the pain. Not like she did that night, not like she still does sometimes when she finds herself drifting back there.

Wanda leaves him soon, walking over to the sink to clean her hands under the cold stream of water. His eyes follow her in the mirror but he says nothing, he just watches as she scrubs the faint smudges of red out of her palms.

"You're lying." she points out, still scrubbing her hands. "And you're not a very good liar."

"You don't wanna know, alright?" he sighs. "Trust me, it's better if you don't know."

"Yes, I do. That's why I asked, it's why I'm here."

It seems to surprise Bucky, enough that he lifts his gaze and looks at her. This time he really looks at her, as if he is finally listening, finally letting himself see that she might want him here, and that she might be here because this is exactly where she wants to be. Here, with him

"It was a fight." he admits.

"Another fight?"

"What can I say? Bad luck follows me." Bucky sighs, running a hand over his jaw, the uninjured side. "That, or there was this jerk and one thing led to another."

It was my fault, she remembers Bucky saying on the night of Stark's party, when they talked about the bandage on his hand. It was on me, he told her that night, and she remembers it as clearly as if he is saying it to her now. It's just that she didn't believe it then, that it was his fault, that it was on him, and she still doesn't believe it now.

"What happened with this jerk?" she asks, turning to look at him. "Did he start this fight with you? Why?"

He hesitates, thinking it over. "Well, sorta. He was staring trouble and I couldn't not step in, you know? I just couldn't walk away. I can never walk away."

"Mm. So you were doing something good?"

For a minute after this, he's quiet again. Wanda leaves him to it, returning to the kit to find the antiseptic cream. He watches her go and then return, and even as she starts to apply the cream to the cut he is quiet. It doesn't last for much longer after this, but while it does she finds that her mind is loud with thoughts. So many thoughts, so many questions. She keeps it all to herself, finishes taking care of the cut, then returns to the sink to wash her hands again.

"Yeah, I'm not so sure about that." he says minutes later. "It was a fight. I stepped in. But the way you say it, it isn't exactly.."

He loses the words, so she tries to find them.

"What? It isn't, what? You stepped in to stop trouble, didn't you?" Wanda lifts her head. "It was to stop someone from doing something wrong. Wasn't it? Then it is simple, it was the right thing to do."

"I think it's a little more complicated than that."

She's almost surprised by this, by the tone of his voice and the way he says it—and how he so obviously says it to push her away, to try to show her the man he thinks he is, not the man that she's sees him as. Wanda still doesn't believe it, doesn't see him the way he wants or needs her to, and that seems to bother him more. He's still just trying to protect her, and she wonders if it would be easier for him if she could see him the way he wanted her to, as someone messy and not deserving of good things. But she can't, she never could.

"Tell me how it is so complicated." she says, turning to face him. "It doesn't sound complicated. It sounds simple, really. Someone was doing something wrong, you stopped them. You did the right thing. You helped someone, James. How is this complicated?"

"Yeah, maybe I did. Maybe you're right. Or maybe I just used it as an excuse to beat the guy up."

Wanda stills, quiet for a moment. "He was hurting someone else?"

"Yeah. He was trying to. But it's not as simple as that. It's not simple at all."

She sees it again now, the doubt that lingers, the disbelief. Bucky still doesn't want to be convinced on this, he is so determined to see it through his eyes that he can't see it through hers, can't see it from any other side, and she realizes now that maybe this is what he needs, to see it from another side.

"It is simple, you just can't see it yet. Because you don't what it's like, to be on the other side." she says, coming closer. "You only see it from your side so you don't know what it means to the person you helped tonight. You don't know what it means to them but I do. You did the right thing. You protected someone else. How could that ever be wrong?"

Bucky takes a minute to think it over and she leaves him to it, to dwell in his thoughts and in the silence that grows between them. She doesn't push him, doesn't come close again, she just watches him as the understanding slowly filters into his eyes. It means something to him, it means more than she expects it to, and it's such a relief to think that he might be starting to see it differently.

"Yeah, maybe." he nods. "Maybe you're right, maybe in the morning..."

He trails off again but she somehow she knows where he was going and what came next. Maybe in the morning I'll see it differently, he thinks, and almost says, and she understands. She's been there before, she finds herself back there often, hoping that things will be different, and easier, and a little less painful in the morning. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

"Please hear what I'm saying. You did a good thing. And you're a good man. I know that, and I know you. So please, hear this."

Bucky considers it, lets himself hear it, and then he takes a step back. She leaves him, watching as he glances the room over another time then slowly looks back to her.

"I don't know, red. I don't know if you're right about this or about me. But I do know that I'm sorry about tonight. It was supposed to be different and I ruined it before we even got a chance to enjoy it. I'm sorry."

Her first thought is to comfort him and she wants to, she will. It just feels like he needs something else right now, something that will let him know that she is here, and that she wants to be, and that the night isn't over yet.

"So this is it? You're giving up and going home?" she asks, watching him from afar. "I didn't think you looked like someone who would give up this easily."

He's quick to glance up, lost again.

"What? You really wanna go out on a date with me after all of this? You're kidding, right?"

Wanda shrugs and walks over to the sink, swiftly packing up the first-aid kit. Behind her, Bucky lingers in the small space of them bathroom. She glances at him once in the reflection of the mirror then begins to pack everything up.

"All of, what? It was nothing. It was just a moment, it doesn't change who you are. And it doesn't mean the night is over. It was only a moment, that is all it ever has to be if that is what you want."

"Really?" his voice softens, then he joins her by the sink. "It's that easy?"

When she looks up at him, she catches something familiar in his eyes. Stay or go. She felt that same way, stood exactly where he's now standing, and asked herself that same question that he's asking himself now. She hopes that he will make the same decision that she did.

"It is, if you want it to be." she tells him. "If you wanted to start over and pretend this didn't happen, we could do that."

He frowns, coming closer as if he's trying to get a read on her, to understand why she wants to try again.

"Why would you even wanna do that? I'm not worth it. I know for a fact there's much better company in this city than me. You could probably walk out into that bar and find a better man—"

"But I don't want that. I don't want to find someone else to spend the night with."

Wanda says this when what she means is something else, but right now she can't find those words, for him or even for herself. Bucky seems to understand, in his own way, what she means, what she can't say. He finally lets himself hear it, that she is here because she wants to be and that if he wants to start the night over then she is willing to try.

"Are you sure?" Bucky asks moments later.

"Yes, I'm sure." she smiles, softer this time. "Let's go get something to eat, okay? Everything will feel better after a good meal and a drink, you will see."

 

* * * *

 

They end up back at Wanda's apartment sometime after 2, drunk on shots of beer and whiskey.

She doesn't remember how they get there, not really. Wanda remembers the night in pieces; drinking shots with Bucky between games of pool, laughing at his silly jokes, and playing a dangerous game of darts that almost ended up with one of them (him) accidentally getting a dart in a very painful place. That was his fault, she remembers that much. But how they get home, how she manages to pull Bucky away from every single bar or club they pass on their way that he kept trying to lure her intoone more drink, he promised, over and over again—well, it's all pretty much just a blur to Wanda. She decides that it will come back to her in the morning and she digs inside her purse for her key, aware of Bucky's presence behind her as they stand in the hallway outside of her apartment, both exhausted, both very drunk.

And both giggling like children, as Wanda struggles to get the key to fit into the lock.

It's really not funny, but she can't remember laughing this hard in a long time. She tries and tries but it doesn't fit, so Bucky comes over, gently takes the key, trying and failing at least three times before he decides to try and ram his shoulder into the door to budge it open. Wanda quickly stops him from doing that, because it's late and she doesn't want to wake anyone up, and because she knows she can get the key to work. So she takes the key, gets Bucky to stop trying to ram the door down, and she tries again. Three tries later, she realizes that it's the wrong key. They must spend five minutes standing at the apartment door, laughing about it, before finally Wanda shoves the right key into the door and it opens up.

Bucky holds the door open for Wanda, or he tries to, but he's a little wobbly on his feet so she insists he go inside first. She lets him through, a soft hand on his waist, as she guides him in the direction of the room then watches as he walks there on slightly shaky feet. Wanda waits until he's inside her room before she steps into the kitchen and grabs a bottle of water for the two of them. She then joins him, closing the door to her bedroom behind her after she steps inside.

It doesn't take her long to find Bucky, he hasn't gone far at all.  He's still on his feet, standing in the small space between her bed and her bookshelf, like he's undecided on what he wants to do and can't make up his mind, if he will sleep or maybe read for a while. Wanda makes the decision for him. He is drunk, and it is late, and he needs to rest. So she places a hand on his back again and leads him over to her bed. He doesn't startle at the touch, he hasn't all night. He's grown used to it, to her. Bucky lets Wanda lead him to the bed and soon eases himself down onto the edge, stretching his legs out in front of him as his drunken gaze sweeps the room and then finds its way back to her, to where she stands just a few steps away from him.

She half-smiles then glances him over, thinking about the fastest way to get him in bed. He's still in his jacket and dirty boots, he can't sleep in those. There's blood on his jacket and those boots aren't going anywhere near her bed, so he'll need to take them off. She soon realizes that he's too drunk to do that and she decides to do it for him. She kneels on the floor, reaches for one of his boots, and starts to untie the laces, when Bucky's hand flies out and catches hers. She stops, not startled by the touch, just surprised. She welcomes it, as she looks up at him.

"Hey, no. No, you don'tit's okay, you don't have to do that." Bucky's quick to say, words quiet, slurred. "You're okay. It's okay, red. Really, it's good."

"It's nothing, really." she smiles. "I just want to help, so let me?"

Wanda's not sure what she expects, but of all the things that cross her mind—she doesn't expect Bucky to smile. It's odd, really, how something so simple means so much. It surprises her, but it's more that she just doesn't expect it, isn't really ready for it, because tonight he didn't smile all that much and whenever he did it was different. It never felt real, never felt like this. It's now that she realizes why that is. It's because here with her, alone in her room, he's comfortable. He's happy, less tense than he has been all night, and it's so nice to see it, to watch as some of the tension fades from his features.

"But you already did. You did." he points out, slowly smiling more. "You helped before. Remember? With my head, with all of it. You did that, red."

Then he trails off, losing the words again. This time Wanda doesn't try to find them, and he doesn't either. He stays where he is, watching her as she squeezes his hand once then lets go. She quickly kneels on the ground again, aware of his gaze, the way it follows her, how it lingers, as she begins to untie the laces on his boot and help him out of his shoes. He's staying the night, he's too drunk not to, and she doesn't mind, she just doesn't want his dirty boots in her bed.

"You already helped." Bucky says again, seconds later.

She lifts her head, smiling. "So?"

In his eyes she catches a glimpse of something new. Small, but new. He's starting to relax, starting to let himself see things differently. Bucky gets it now, that she wants to be here, that she wants to help, and if she didn't then he wouldn't be here and she wouldn't be either. They're both here for a reason, maybe even the same reason, and he lets himself see it now. It's there in his eyes and in the way his expression softens as he relaxes a little more.

"Let me help again?" Wanda asks, waiting.

Bucky sighs, conflicted. "You're just...You're good. You're so good, red. Too good. And I'm just.."

"And you are not so bad. Do you want my help or not?" she asks, moving to stand slowly. "You could always sleep with the boots on, but I am not sure it would be comfortable and I don't really want those dirty boots in my bed. So, you can let me help you out of them? Or you can sleep on the floor, if you like. It is your choice."

His smile returns, a little brighter this time. There's something else to it and it takes her a moment to realize what it is. He's vulnerable and she knows why. It's because of what he's been through, what he couldn't see until now. He's finally letting himself see that Wanda is here to help. He didn't know how to ask her, he still doesn't, but that doesn't change that he wants to be here and that's he's glad she's here with him.

"Don't worry, I was only teasing." she smiles, reaching for his hand to hold. "I will help you. Out of these shoes, and this jacket, and into bed. I don't mind, I am happy to help."

With her hand curled around his, Wanda tugs Bucky up from the bed and helps him out of his jacket. It's nice but it doesn't look all that comfortable to sleep in, and there's still blood on the collar of it, so it's better to take it off. She unzips it slowly and helps him out of it, watching Bucky as tries to stay both playful and defensive. He's becoming himself again, becoming a little more playful, and it feels so nice to see that side of him coming back slowly.

"What about the jacket?" he frowns. "You don't like the jacket? What's wrong with the jacket?"

Wanda shrugs, tugging it down his shoulders and helping him get his arms out of it. Then she places it aside on the dresser and turns around to find Bucky sitting on the bed again, in the same spot as before, but there's a different smile on his face this time. It's bigger, much brighter than it's been all night. She knows why it's there, she thinks it might have something to do with the way Wanda is trying to be around him. She wants to be the same, as they always are. To be light, to tease him, to let him know that this doesn't have to be a big thing if he doesn't want it to be.

"Nothing. There is nothing wrong with it." she smiles, almost rolling her eyes. "I like the jacket, okay? Don't be offended. It is a very nice jacket."

"It is a nice jacket. Isn't it?"

He's quiet again after this, thinking it over, thinking something over that he doesn't share with her. Wanda offers him another, softer smile, before she kneels on the floor again and starts to help him out of his boots. She begins by untying the laces on one boot, wiggling it free, then moving on to the other. When she's done she places both aside then stands, looking down at Bucky where he sits on the edge of the bed, still watching her. He looks like he wants to join her here. This is her first thought, when she lets herself look down at him. He waits to join her but he doesn't seem to trust his wobbly feet right now.

Or maybe he's happy where he is.

"You know what sucks? What really sucks?" Bucky asks. "I had plans for tonight. It was gonna be epic, I was gonna show you a good time tonight. Then I had to go and ruin it all."

Wanda hesitates, quiet as her gaze sweeps him over. He really believes it, that things were ruined, that it was his fault. She's quick to tell him how she sees it.

"Please, don't say that. You didn't ruin tonight, you didn't ruin anything. Don't be silly." Wanda sighs, coming closer. "I believe you when you say your plans were epic and I promise we will try again. So don't worry, okay? I have nothing on this week, only work. We will do your plans another night and I promise it will be more epic than you ever dreamed it could be."

Too much comes and goes through his eyes. Bucky ends up smiling again, it's small, barely there, but it's softer this time. It means something to him, this does, more than he can say or even really think about right now. He believes her, despite everything, and it means more to Wanda than she thought that it would. But still, the doubt remains. It lingers in the corners of his eyes, faded but still there, and she doesn't know if there's anything she can do to get rid of it tonight but she's not sure that it's up to her. Maybe it's up to him, to work through his doubts on his own and then come back to her.

"I just..I messed tonight up. Didn't I?"

Bucky says nothing else after this but he doesn't have to say a thing, she knows what he means. She hears it clearly, what goes unspoken between the two of them. I messed tonight up, like I was always do. She knows it is there, that it goes unsaid between them, but they are both aware of it. Wanda sees it written all over his face, that he's still carrying this, that he's going to need time to let this guilt go. Instead of trying to force him to let it go, or to see it differently, she tries to comfort him.

She reaches out for him like she did outside the bar, only it's different now. Wanda's hand ends up on his shoulder, soft, barely there, before she gives it a light squeeze and looks down at him, smiling again.

"We had fun tonight, didn't we? A little fun, I think. At the end there anyway." she says, watching his eyes light up. "We laughed a lot, remember? I can't remember laughing that much, not in a long time. So maybe it was not the night you planned but it was not so bad. It was almost good, wasn't it?"

His smile falters then returns, softer this time, and she knows why. Wanda knows that he isn't completely convinced on this but he's still trying to see it differently, still trying to believe what she's saying. He knows that she means it, he just needs time. She can give that to him.

"You're too good, red. You know that? You're so good. Too good." Bucky sighs, letting himself glance her over, closer this time. "You're a good person. A great person and a great friend. I don't know how I got so lucky meeting you. I just don't know."

Wanda feels the same, often finds herself wondering how or why. But tonight isn't the night to dwell on it. She wants to get lost in the words, to see this through his eyes and then through her own. She still doesn't know how she got so lucky to meet him all of those times but she can't let herself think about it tonight, because she will get lost in the thoughts and tonight isn't that kind of night. She wants to be here for him, and with him, because right now that matters more.

It's why she takes a step closer soon, nudging him in the arm with her closed fist. The touch is soft, playful, almost not there at all, but he smiles and rubs at the spot anyway.

"Hey."

"It wasn't luck, remember? It was your bike." Wanda points out, hiding a smile. "And before that, it was a jerk in the market. It wasn't luck, it was a bad moment that we turned into something good. And it is good, isn't it?"

This, us, whatever it is.

She knows it, believes it, more strongly than she's believed in anything in a long time. They may not have known each other for years but sometimes it feels like it, and even without knowing him for a very long time Wanda still believes, almost without doubt, that this is good. For her and for him. They make each other smile, and laugh, and they can find a distraction (sometimes even a moment of peace) when they're around each other. It's a good thing, and he's a good man, and she hopes one day she might be able to convince him of it.

"It is, yeah. And hey, listen, next time is gonna be good." Bucky smiles, moving to the edge of the bed. "We're gonna go for a ride in the city. I'll show you the places I was gonna take you tonight. And it's gonna be good, I promise."

"Don't worry, I know it will be good. It will be epic." she smiles, giving his shoulder another squeeze. "I am sure of it. You were right about the burgers that night, so I have a feeling that you will be right about this, too. You have nothing to worry about, okay? It will be good."

Then she turns to leave him, to wash her face and find something to wear to bed. But before she gets far, she stops. Bucky catches her hand, his warm fingers sending a jolt up her arm, and it's only now that she realizes one of his gloves is gone. The hand he's holding hers with isn't covered by a dark glove, it's bare, exposed. And he's holding on to her gently, in a way that feels both warm and familiar. Wanda turns to look at him slowly, about to ask him why, when Bucky finds the words first.

"You're just...So good."

Bucky smiles and looks up at her, as if there's more on his mind, more that he wants to say, and then he gets distracted. Not by her, not really. It's something else, something new. Wanda doesn't understand what it is at first, until she feels his fingers softly brush against the scars on her palms and she knows what it is, knows what he is thinking and why he is looking at her the way that he is. Bucky's thinking back to the park, to the blood on her palms, the bruises on her skin. He finally understands it now, what this means.

"Red, I'm sorry.."

She tenses at the memory of that night but she doesn't move, doesn't pull her hand away from his, even though she considers it. Wanda stays where she is, knowing that Bucky is lost in thoughts of that day in the park, of whatever he imagines she went through. He realizes now that this means something else to her, it means more than he first thought, and he understands why she was so desperat for him to see it through her eyes. If someone had been there that night, to stop that man from stealing her things, from hurting her, then things might have been different and he gets that now.

"I'm sorry I didn't see it. Tonight, when I was talking about myself.." Bucky stops, sighs, and tightly shuts his eyes. "I didn't think about what it meant to you. I was being selfish. I should have listened. I should have let myself see it. I was a jerk, for coming to you with this. I was a jerk, I'm sorry."

Wanda shakes her head a little, still very much aware of Bucky's hand, soft around hers. His fingers aren't anywhere near the faded marks on her palms, from where she fell and hit the concrete that night. It still feels like they are though, still feels like his fingers are brushing over the spot, trying to comfort her, to let her know that she isn't alone in this. Wanda doesn't blame him for not seeing it through her eyes, for not thinking about it would mean. She never would.

"It's okay, James." she assures him, taking a step away. "Don't feel badly, you didn't do anything. I'm going to clean up, okay?"

His gaze follows her like he wants to come, to be close, but he sees that she needs a minute. So he lets her go into the bathroom, where she braids her hair back off her face, washes her face at the sink, and spends a minute staring at the mirrorstaring at the reflection in it, hers from that night, his from tonight. Wanda lowers her head and sucks in a breath, fingers curled around the basin for a moment, as the memories leave her.

When she returns to the room to grab an old sweater she finds Bucky still sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for her. He offers her a smile and she smiles back, before swiftly getting ready for the night. Wanda pulls on an old sweater over her dress, wiggles out of her shoes, takes off most of her jewellery, and then climbs up on to her side of the bed. She settles there quietly, her back to Bucky, her eyes glued on the half-opened window where the city lights seep in through the darkness.

Minutes later she feels the bed dip behind her. Wanda feels Bucky moving, stretching out on the space next to hers, and even though she wants to look she doesn't. For the moment she stays where she is, staring out at the window, her mind adrift with thoughts of that night, tonight, and so much more. She closes her eyes and tries to let it go, and it works, it all starts to slip away, until she feels the bed move again and she becomes alert.

Her first thought is that he must be leaving now, that he won't spend the night. But then she feels him come back, bringing the blanket with him. Bucky drags the blanket up over Wanda, covering her up with it like she did for him that night, and she knows this is his way of telling her that he isn't leaving, not yet, maybe not at all. Bucky is gentle as he tugs the soft blanket up over Wanda then he settles next to her, silent for what feels like too long. By the time he speaks again, she finds herself welcoming the sound of his voice.

"I'm sorry I said something. That I upset you."

The bed moves again, she feels him come closer. Then he stops, lets out a breath, and he doesn't move again. Bucky stays there, close behind her but not too close. He's just there, waiting for Wanda to say something, or nothing at all. It comforts her to know that he's there, that he is willing to wait, just like she did.

"You didn't—It was just a hard night, I think. And I think sometimes it is difficult to talk about the hard nights." she sighs, her eyes still squeezed shut. "But you didn't do anything wrong. I'm sorry if you felt like you did. I find it hard, to be around other people sometimes. Because it's been so long, it feels so different. With you, it feels new. I am just trying to relearn what it feels like."

Bucky seems to understand what she means, or it feels like he does. He gets it, what it's like to try to let someone new in after so long. It feels like something they both get, without words, without anything else. It's why Wanda seeks him out in the dark. She turns over to face him slowly, settling comfortably by his side. Up this close it allows her to see him, to get a clearer look at him. His face is soft, his eyes are clear, and there's a look on his face that lets her know that all of this is still as hard for him as it is for her.

"I understand." he says gently. "But I'm still sorry."

She nods and then she brings herself closer to him, gently placing her hand on his face. Bucky softens at the touch almost right away. His eyes shut and he lets out a breath, as Wanda's fingers settle against his jaw and she tilts his head up to get one last look at the cut near his temple. She looks for a moment then lets go, allowing Bucky's head to sink back into the pillow. Her hand hovers by his jaw for one more moment before slipping away and afterwards she can only watch him, stuck on all the things she wants to remember, like the color of his eyes, the shape of his face, and the little creases he gets near his eyes when he lets himself really smiles.

But tonight isn't that kind of night. It doesn't feel right, to get lost in those things, to want to touch and remember everything. So she lets herself focus on being here with him instead and after a moment she moves, rolling over on to her back, still close by his side, as her eyes settle on the lights dangling above her bed. It takes her back, not to all the bad nights she's spent alone in this bed, staring up in those lightsbut to last night, with Bucky in her bed, and how it felt to be there with him.

"Can we forget about tonight?" she asks soon.

Wanda wants this, needs it, more than anything else right now. She wants to forget, to begin again, because last night felt so good and she wants to go back there with him. When she turns to look at him she can't read anything in his eyes. He keeps it all to himself, silent until he makes himself speak a minute later.

"If you really want. I mean, I'd love to forget. I would." Bucky sighs, voice quiet again. "But I don't know if that's a good idea. I don't know if we should forget. And even if we wanted to, I don't know if it would work."

"Why not?" she asks, lifting an eyebrow. "You said you do things all the time that you shouldn't do. So why shouldn't we do this?"

Slowly his lips twitch into a smile. "So the girl really is trouble. Who knew?"

"You did."

It comes back to him in pieces. Stark's party, their talk on the balcony. He smiles fondly at the memory then looks down at her, letting himself look closer than he has before. She's quick to file away the memory, of his eyes locked on hers, of the way he looks at her after as he dwells on the memory of the night they met again at Stark's party.

"Yeah, I did. I knew it, I guess I just forgot 'cause of how nice you were tonight." he grins, bumping his elbow into hers. "You kept buying me pity drinks at the bar. You made me laugh, too. You were so nice, you helped me forget. Just by being you. So yeah, I forgot but I see it clearly now."

"They weren't pity drinks, silly."

Bucky's eyes bright suddenly and he smiles, genuinely lost for a moment.

"Well, what were they?" he asks, curious. "You certainly didn't buy them because you thought I looked cute. So, what were they? If not pity drinks, then what?"

Smiling a little to herself, Wanda shrugs and closes her eyes. She likes that it is back to being like this. Light, and sweet, and a little playful. She feels relieved to know that they can go back to this like nothing happened. It feels familiar, feels good, and she welcomes it. She lets herself think about it for a little longer before she looks up at Bucky and discovers that he is still watching her, waiting for an answer.

"You were cute."

He laughs. "You're a bad liar, red."

"Yes, maybe I am." Wanda smiles, bumping her shoulder into his. "Maybe I'm not. But you still think that I am cute, so.."

She expects Bucky to joke, to tease her back right away, to say something. But he doesn't. A look flickers through his eyes, brief, and small, and familiar. He isn't nervous but he almost is. There's a look in his eyes, clear and warm, and she remembers it long after it's gone.

"Did I say that? I don't think I said that." he frowns, playful again. "I think you called me cute, red. And I think you're putting words in my mouth that I didn't put there. It's kinda sad, when you think about it—"

"I could tell. That you thought I was cute." Wanda smiles more. "You were buying me drinks all night. They weren't pity drinks. Were they?"

"Oh, so she's funny."

This time Wanda is the one who says nothing. She hums a quiet response, a smile still on her lips, as her eyes shut and she lets out a breath. It feels different, feels a little more peaceful this time. It's nice to be back here with him, to laugh with him, and to have things be this way between the two of them again. It seems to comfort both of them, that they can go back to this, that even after a hard night that they can still make each other feel this way.

"We can forget." Bucky says, a while later.

Wanda's quick to look back to him, to where he's resting by her side. She can't help it, that she's a little surprised, but only because just minutes ago he didn't seem all that convinced that they could forget, or that they should. Wanda doesn't know why but she feels like she needs to know what changed his mind, then she will leave him to get the rest that he needs.

"You thought it wasn't a good idea, didn't you?" she frowns. "What changed your mind?"

"I just—well, I just didn't know if we could forget about tonight and the way it started. But maybe we could pretend that we forget. That's pretty much the same thing, right?"

She nods, taking it all in. "I want to forget, if that's what you want. But I also want you to be okay. And to know that I cared, that I still do. I was worried about you tonight and I don't want to forget that. I just want you to be okay."

Bucky smiles back at her softly, still torn, still guilty about tonight, but he's working on it.

"Yeah, I know. I know you did." he says gently. "But I'm alright. I didn't mean to worry you tonight, doll. I'm sorry."

"I know."

For a moment after this they say nothing else. They just watch each other, lost in their heads, in the quiet between them, and then Bucky reaches out for her. Wanda only notices it now, that he's wearing his glove again. She doesn't ask, she doesn't linger. She quickly gets lost in the feeling of his hand reaching for hers, and how intimate it feels to have him reach for her hand while watching her so warmly.

"You know what? I was wrong, I don't want to pretend tonight never happened." Bucky says soon, decided. "I want to pretend this whole day never happened. Let's just go back to last night and pretend we're back there. How's that sound?"

Slowly she begins to smile. "You want to do that? Do you think you could?"

"I do."

Then he smiles back at her and she can only think about how lovely and sweet it is. How lovely and sweet he is, that is until she remembers his hand linked between hers and she gives it as squeeze, just like last night but different, maybe even better.

"So you'll stay?"

"Yeah, of course. 'Till you drift off." Bucky says gently. "Then maybe longer, you know, 'cause we got pretty wasted tonight. Didn't we? That was fun, wasn't it?"

Wanda smiles thinking about it, then she looks to Bucky and finds him smiling, too. He's so much more relaxed now, more than he's been all night, and she cherishes the sight. She files the memory away and gives his hand a squeeze, watching as he smiles, growing softer and more relaxed with every moment they spend together.

"I knew it." she beams, turning away. "I knew you had a good time tonight, even though you seemed determined not to have too much fun."

"Hey, I did. I wanted to. I always want to have fun." Bucky argues, then his voice softens. "I just couldn't see it differently, not until later, until you."

There's another pause between them, a long and quiet moment of silence, before she turns to look at him. Wanda feels a pull and glances back over to Bucky, finding a softer look in his eyes. He is tired, weary from the long day and all the drinks. But he looks peaceful, too. Happy, even. She lingers on it, lets herself remember, then she looks up at him and smiles.

"Wait, so you are sleeping over?" she asks, curious. "You will stay after I drift off, then spend the night?"

Bucky pretends to need time to think it over, even though they both know he's not going anywhere else tonight.

"Yeah, I mean. I thought so. That okay with you?"

"Yes, but there are rules. First: no sex."

His grin widens, even though he tries and fails to hide it. Bucky knows where she is going with this. Back to last night, to their small and briefly awkward conversation about sleeping over, where for a moment Bucky misunderstood what she was asking him to stay over for. He understands now and he lets himself smile, after he stops trying to hide it, stops trying to stay composed, when he clearly can't. This is all too amusing for both of them.

"Right, gotcha. I like that rule, it's a good one. Wait, you didn't think that's why I was staying over. Did you? Wanda. Sweetheart, that's not why." he grins, eyes glowing with both warmth and a deep amusement. "It's your voice. It puts me right to sleep, that's why I wanted to stay over. Maybe it's because everything you say is really boring and it knocks me out cold. But I'm pretty sure it might have something to do with that accent, too. It's calming. Anyway, what are your other rules?"

Wanda can't help it, she breaks out into a smile that she can't hide, not that she even wants to hide it. She smiles, and then she laughs, as she nudges Bucky in the side, a little harder this time, but still playful, still barely there. He laughs with her until he comes up with another question.

"Any other rules?"

She nods, still smiling. "No snoring. No kicking."

"Oh, well this is kinda awkward. You see, I snore like—I don't really know what to say I snore like, you know? Mm. You ever hear Barton snore? Jesus, that man is like a lawnmower. You should hear him. But me? I'm like a small dog, most nights I don't really snore. But sometimes I bark and twitch. It's a lucky draw, you never know what you're gonna get."

"A lawnmower?" she giggles, closing her eyes. "This is all very strange. I am not sure what to think."

"Oh, it is. You're in for a weird night, Maximoff. You sure you're up for it?"

Wanda smiles, certain of it. It is more than this that she is sure of. It is him, and this thing between them, and it doesn't need to be said because he already knows how she feels. She knows, too.

"I think I can handle it."

Slowly Bucky smiles back at her. "Good to know."

Chapter Text

In the morning when Wanda wakes up, Bucky is there. She stirs from her dreams slowly, waking to find the blanket still draped over her, the window half-opened and letting sunlight in—and Bucky in the bed beside her. He's awake but for the moment he's unaware of her gaze and the way it lingers, as last night comes back to her in pieces. Wanda remembers the bar, drinking shots of whiskey and beer with Bucky, and the hour they spent talking before they both drifted off to sleep.

It comes back to Wanda in a soft blur and afterwards she lets herself dwell on it, getting lost in the memories until Bucky brings her back. Her gaze quickly returns to where he's sitting on the bed next to her, awake and reclined back against a pillow, reading one of the books from her shelf. She's a little surprised to find him like this, not because she didn't want him to stay but because he looks so peaceful here with her and after last night she didn't expect to wake up to him looking like this. He looks well, looks good, all things considered. 

The clock by the bed lets her know that it's just a little after 8, so they really didn't get much sleep last night, and yet here Bucky is bright-eyed and reading a book, when she expected him to still be sleeping or maybe even tucked away under the covers, nursing a hangover. But he isn't. Bucky looks fine, more than just fine, and when he notices that she's awake he puts down the book he's reading and starts to smile.

"Morning, dear. Did you sleep well?" he asks, smiling slowly. "Don't worry about the bites, they'll fade in a couple of days."

Wanda starts to frown until she realizes what he's talking about. It's a joke, their little joke. She smiles warmly at the realization and starts to wiggle out from underneath the covers, slowly leaning back into the pillows next to Bucky. His gaze follows her there, tracking her movements, as his smile starts to widen. As it does, Wanda quietly finds herself surprised both by his mood and her own. She really didn't get much sleep, she doesn't feel great after last night (she blames that on all the drinks they had) but all things considered, she really doesn't feel all that bad.

"Dracula?" she smiles, after glancing at the book. "Really?"

Bucky smiles back at her, happy to see that she's awake now. Wanda feels the same.

"Yeah. Felt fitting, you know? After last night."

It amuses her, maybe more than it should. Wanda giggles, still half-asleep, as she gathers together all the messy pieces of hair hanging forward over her face and pushes them out of the way. Better, she thinks, as she rolls over to face Bucky. He's still watching her, still smiling, and it makes her smile more to see him and to know that he must have been sitting here waiting for her to wake up so she could hear his joke.

"Is there something you want to tell me?"

"Yeah, now that you mention it there is something I've been meaning to say." Bucky sighs, only half-serious. "You're a kicker, Wanda. Like a professional. And me? I bruise like a peach, so I'm gonna look like dalmatian in a couple hours thanks to all that brutal kicking you did to my legs last night. It's not gonna be a pretty sight, I'm telling you now."

Torn between rolling her eyes and smiling, she ends up doing both. It makes Bucky laugh more, just to see her so amused by his little jokes. She wants to stay here in bed with Bucky all day, she realizes it now. If she could stay she would, but she's got work today and she can't be late for another shift, even if she really wants to call it all off. There are things she needs to do before work. Shower, grab a coffee, eat something. Wanda goes through it all in her head, before she pulls herself from her bed and stretches out her legs slowly. A moment later she remembers Bucky is here and she quickly turns back to look at him, finding his warm smile still there, still bright.

"Somehow you are less funny when it is this early in the morning." she says, grinning. "It's almost embarrassing how bad that joke was. I mean, was it even a joke? I did not find it so funny."

Bucky grins and then swiftly throws one of the pillows from the bed at Wanda. It's small and red, she narrowly avoids it before she catches it and throws it back at him. He's not so lucky at missing the pillow. She's seen him before, he's fast and has good reflexes. But the pillow still hits him in the face and she wonders if he means for it to, if he lets it hit him just to make her laugh. And it does. Wanda turns away, laughing to herself as she searches through the table by the bed for aspirin. She takes one, drinks a sip of water from the bottle nearby, then passes the aspirin over to Bucky. He takes it then looks up to her, smiling.

"You're real sweet this time in the morning, you know? I bet no one's ever told you that before. Have they?"

"Mm, maybe." she hums, smiling. "Maybe once, maybe not."

His laugh follows her to the bathroom, where Wanda quickly steps in to wash her face and brush the knots out of her hair. Then she returns to Bucky, finding him seated on the edge of the bed, the soft blanket still sort of draped over him. He pushes it away slowly, stretches a little, then he lifts his head when he realizes she's back in the room.

"So," he smiles slowly. "How'd you sleep?"

It's only now that Wanda sees it, that she lets herself look at Bucky's wound from last night. The small cut, the dark bruise underneath it. She tenses, maybe a little too obviously, then walks over to his side. If Bucky notices her tense at the bruise, at the memory of it all, he says nothing. He doesn't let it bother him, doesn't let it show at all. He just stays where he is, sitting on the edge of the bed, both gloves back on now. She quickly lifts her eyes back to his and smiles.

"Well. You?"

"Not so bad." he shrugs. "You know, apart from the kicking."

Wanda nods, smile still there, as Bucky gets up from her bed and stretches his legs. Then he takes a few slow steps over to where she's standing and she can't help it, can't stop her eyes from flickering to the painful looking cut on his temple and the small bruise around it. She wants to ask him if it hurts, if he needs anything, but she can see it on his face that he doesn't want to talk about it and he doesn't need anything. He's happy now, despite last night, despite it all. She wants it to stay that way, wants them both to be happy, so she says nothing and turns her attention back to him.

"You working today, red?" he asks, smiling still. "I have a couple ideas on how we could have some fun if you're free for the day."

She wants to say no, to lie and cancel work, but she can't. She needs the money. Well, they don't really need it. Not like they once did. But she can't cancel her shift at the last moment just to spend the day with Bucky, even if she really wants to. It's tempting and she almost does it, almost thinks about ditching work and spending the day with him. Another time, she promises herself, as turns to grab her clothes from the dresser.

"Yes, unfortunately. I'm working. I start in an hour." she calls back."Your plans will have to wait and you will have to go soon. But I am curious about these plans. We will have to do it another time."

"Yeah, sure. Another time." Bucky follows her. "And you know, I would have left already. But the thing is..."

"You just had to see me?"

Bucky laughs sweetly as he joins her by the dresser, leaning against it as his eyes roam across the little things on the top of it, from her dozens of rings, to her bracelets and half-finished sketches. After a moment he looks back at her, that same smile still there, a little bigger now. He nods along, pretending to be serious, pretending that this is why he stayed, but she knows that he is being playful and that this is all leading somewhere else.

"Yeah, sure. That's why. I just had to see you, you know? Couldn't go the whole day without seeing you." Bucky grins, combing his hair back off his face. "Or...Your brother and Barton have been in the kitchen, having a nice big, boring chat for like two hours. I figured you'd want to keep this for yourself. And by this, I mean me."

Wanda bites down on her lip, thinking it over. She feels torn between going on with this little joke of his or asking him if he's really okay, since it seems like he didn't get all that much sleep last night. It doesn't really feel like he wants her concern, not today anyway. So she decides to keep those questions for later and to carry on their conversation, to distract him and make him smile in these few minutes they have left together before he has to go.

"Obviously." she agrees, smiling slowly. "Don't worry, they will leave soon and then you can go."

"Oh, I'm not worried. Not at all, doll. I cherish every moment we're together."

Then Bucky's off again, walking over to the edge of the bed to sit there while Wanda gets ready for work. She pulls her clothes from the dresser, places them on an empty spot on the bed, and then returns to find Bucky lacing up his boots. She finds herself pulled briefly back to last night, to his eyes on hers, the way his gaze followed her as she untied his boots, and how close they were when she helped him out of his jacket. Wanda lingers on the memory for longer than she means, before she steps away and scoops Bucky's jacket up from the top of her dresser.

"Speaking of that..." Bucky begins, clears his throat, then goes on. "You got any plans for tonight? You wanna give things a second chance?"

Slowly she smiles, watching him quietly as she steps over to the bed and hands him the jacket. When Bucky's done lacing up his boots he smiles, takes the jacket, turns it over in his hands, then stands from the bed to meet her gaze. It brings them close again, closer than they've been all morning. Wanda is quiet for a second, lost briefly in the way he looks right now, before she reminds herself that he's waiting for her answer.

"Yes. I believe in second chances, so I'd like that."

"Yeah, I thought so." Bucky hums, shrugging his jacket on. "I thought you might believe in that stuff. You seem sweet like that."

It hangs around in the quiet afterwards. Wanda doesn't know why, she doesn't even really mean to think about it. She just feels it stay there between the two of them, as she turns away from Bucky, giving him a moment to himself, while she wanders aimlessly around her apartment, doing both everything and nothing. She tidies up things that don't need to be tidied, opens up her window to let a little more light in, and starts to gather together all her things for work, which really doesn't take long at all. She mostly just does anything to take her mind off where she feels their conversation going, but it ends up there anyway.

"Do you think we should talk about last night?"

Bucky's over by the bed when he speaks again, sitting down on the edge of it. Wanda turns back to look at him slowly, from where she's now standing by the window watering one of the smaller bunches of flowers there. She hesitates, finishes up what she's doing, then takes a few steps over to Bucky, because even though she wants to forget about this it feels like it's still there between them and she knows that he can feel it, too.

"I don't know." she hesitates. "I need to have a shower, so.."

"So that was, uh—that was.." Bucky stops, slowly letting himself smile. "That was...?"

"Not an invitation, no."

Bucky's grin widens at the sight of hers, turning all sweet and playful in the morning light.

"Right, that's what I was gonna say. That was not an invitation, no. That's what I was thinking. You see? We're on the same level. It's good, we're on the same page and everything."

Wanda smiles slowly, arms folded around herself as she watches Bucky's gaze flicker across her room. He turns back to her slowly, a crooked half-smile on his lips, and something softer back in his eyes. It makes her want to ask him to stay, it makes her want to spend the day with him. She wants it more than she should. Wanda knows they will have tonight and it will be here soon, but there's still a part of her that wishes they were already together again. She can't. She wants to, she does, but she can't. Another time, she reminds herself, as she comes closer and offers him a softer smile.

"So, was there something on your mind?"

He nods, standing from the bed again. He looks nervous, she sees that now. Not nervous because of her, it's because of last night. He's fidgeting with his jacket, and his gloves, and with anything that he can fidget or play with, and it's only as she becomes aware of his nerves that she slowly becomes aware of her own. Wanda doesn't realize that she's fidgeting like he is, not until she looks down and notices she's playing with the rings on her fingers. She stops soon, wraps her hands around herself, and stays quiet as he speaks.

"Yeah, I mean. There may be something else on my mind now. But before that, there was something I was gonna say." Bucky nods, tucking his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "I was just thinking about last night and everything that happened. If you want, we can talk about it. Or we can neuralyze it."

Afterwards there's only silence. Wanda blinks, once then twice, as Bucky walks closer. He must realize that she doesn't have any idea what he's talking about and it makes him smile, as if he's waiting for her to say that she's joking. She isn't

"You know, the movie. Men In Black." he goes on, as if this will explain it. "The Neuralyzer? Will Smith? The Flashy thing? Tommy Lee?"

If anything, Bucky just makes it harder for her to understand what he's talking about. She ends up smiling, amused by him. He's smiling too, but it's different. Bucky's grin of disbelief quickly turns into a much softer and sweeter smile that tells her without any words that he finds this all very cute.

"Don't worry, doll. I just worked out what we're gonna do on our second date." he smiles, coming closer. "All I meant was, if you want to forget last night then we can. We can start over if you want. I'll pick you up, we can go for a ride, have some real fun. And we can pretend for a while I'm not such a grumpy drunk. What do you say, red? Could be nice?"

Wanda hums, pretending to consider it when she already knows her answer. One day they will talk about this, about all of it, but for now she is happy to forget and to pretend they have put it behind them. She knows that it won't change things, that last night will still be there between them, it always will be, but for a while Wanda just wants to forget about all of this and be happy. She can see that he wants the same thing.

"You were not so grumpy." she smiles, walking back to the bed. "You were kind. A little grumpy? Yes. But mostly you were kind."

Bucky smiles, following her there to the bed, where she starts to pack away her things for work into her bag. He hovers for a minute, scoops up the book from the bed, then puts it back on the shelf. When he's done he lingers by the bookshelf, getting a clearer look at all the little ornaments and things scattered over it now that there's more light in the room.

"Aw, red. That's sweet of you to say." Bucky calls back, briefly distracted. "But I'm pretty sure you were the kind one and I was the grumpy one."

She seeks him out now, not really sure why she feels the need to come closer, to place her hand on his forearm and give it a squeeze. It's just something that she does, something that she feels brings the two of them closer. She doesn't know if it's because of last night that she wants to comfort him, or if it's what she feels around him, something she's noticed over time. She's comfortable around him, she seeks him out, finds ways to be closer to him.

It's been years since she let anyone get this close. But this is all different for so many reasons, and she decides that this is why. It isn't just last night, and it isn't just what she feels around him. It's what she feels for him, what she believes he might feel for her. She doesn't let herself dwell on any of that now, she just lets it slip out of her head as she focuses on other things, like the way he looks in the daylight and how bright his smile is today.

"Red, come on. You're being too nice, it's not good." Bucky sighs, trying and failing to hide his smile. "You gotta say the thing. You know, our thing. We're mean to each other but we're still kinda nice. Come on, doll. You gotta say it or you're gonna break my heart."

"Fine, I will say it." she smiles, dropping her hand from his arm. "You were the grumpy one."

Bucky grins like this is some kind of victory, and places his hand across his chest, over his heart. But she gets distracted, she can't really look, because as her hand falls from where it was on his arm he takes a hold of it. Bucky gently catches her hand, holding it, and at first she's a little surprised by it and then she realizes that he is, too. This is new for him, as new as it is for her, and he is trying to relearn it all again. She's still trying to do the same.

"Ah, there it is. Feels good, feels better. Doesn't it?" Bucky says eventually, letting his smile come through. "Okay, so, just to make sure..You really wanna go out on that date tonight? Because I'll be honest, I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to ditch the whole thing and go out with someone a little less grumpy. If that's what you want, I'll be okay with it. I promise."

"Oh, James. How many times do I have to say this?" she sighs, giving his hand a soft squeeze. "I want to go out on this date with you. I want to know your epic plans, I want to spend this time with you. And I think that I want to remember last night, too. We didn't do anything wrong. We were both dealing with things. Maybe we had too much to drink, maybe we said things. But I don't want to forget, and I hope you feel the same."

"Really?" he asks, frowning just a little. "You sure you don't wanna forget?"

"Yes. You were really not so bad, okay? The only thing was..You kept talking about how good I was, over and over again. You would not listen when I said the same thing about you. It was.."

She loses the word. Bucky easily finds it.

"Annoying?"

Wanda smiles, maybe more than she should. It doesn't seem to bother Bucky at all. He smiles, lets go of her hand, then stretches out his pinky, and at first she's a little confused and then she realizes what he's doing, or what he's trying to do. She laughs, glancing him over from afar.

"How about I shut up for the whole night? I can swear on it, we can swear." he smiles, coming closer. "Trust me, you're in for a great time. I won't say a thing. You'll have a blast. It'll probably turn out to be the best date you ever had."

"But if you are quiet all night, who will make all the bad jokes?"

He's quiet for about fifteen seconds before he comes up with a reply. It's sweet, really, and a little amusing, to see him this lost for words. Wanda catches at least three or four different thoughts come and go through Bucky's eyes before he works out what he wants to say. She finds it all very cute and knows that even after he is gone that she will smile thinking back on this morning and how sweet he was with her.

"There's always you—"

"Sestro? Jesi li budna?" Pietro interrupts loudly, from outside of her door. "Je li sve u redu?"

Bucky says nothing, and for that Wanda's glad. She quickly steps past him, over to the closed door, where she lets out a breath and answers her brother.

"Da, brate." Wanda answers, exhaling quietly. "Jesi li nešto trebao?"

On the other side of the door, Pietro isn't quiet for very long. He sounds close like he was that night, like he always is. It feels like he's going to come into her room at any second but she knows that he won't, not unless she lets him in or tells him to come inside and she doesn't intend on doing either of those things right now. It's not because she is ashamed of this, or of Bucky, but it's because for now this thing is just theirs and she wants to keep it that way for a little longer.

"Ne, dobro sam." he calls back soon. "Napravili smo dorucak kad si spremna."

We made breakfast when you're ready, Pietro tells her, and she's thankful for it even if she really isn't all that hungry. She'll join them later if there's time before work, she decides, as she lingers by the door and waits for her brother to leave. He lingers for a minute and she doubts that he will go, so she calls out her thanks and waits for him to walk away.

"Hvala ti brate."

Pietro only stays for another five or ten seconds before he leaves. She hears his footsteps as they disappear somewhere into the apartment, and about a minute later she recognizes the sound of his bedroom door closing. She realizes almost right away that now they've got time to get Bucky out of the apartment, that is if it stays empty long enough for Wanda to sneak him out.

She quickly turns back to Bucky, glancing him over to make sure he's got all of his things. It was only the shoes and jacket he took off and he's wearing those now so he's good to go, to give Wanda some time to get ready for work so she isn't late again. She still wants him to stay, she wishes that he could, but she can't. They will do that another time, she decides, as she places her hand on his shoulder to guide him quietly out of her apartment. If he doesn't leave now she's got the feeling that she will very late for work, or she won't end up going at all.

"You have to leave now. We don't have much time."

"What was that?" Bucky asks, eyes glowing with warmth. "Jesi le bud—"

"That wasn't it." she answers quickly, tugging him towards the door.

Or, more accurately, she's tries to tug him towards the door but it doesn't work. Bucky's much bigger than he looks sometimes, much bigger than she is. He's strong, too. He barely even budges as Wanda puts in a lot of effort to drag him over to her bedroom door. He stays where he is, feet pretty firmly planted on the ground, his eyes still bright, still filled with an endless curiosity, and it's only now that she realizes how curious he is about her. He is genuinely interested in her, the same way she is about him. But she sometimes forgets it, that he is here, that he wants to know her as much as she wants to know him.

"How am I gonna say it right if I don't even know what I'm saying?" he asks, then gives in and follows her to the door. "You could always teach me, you know. I've been told I'm a fantastic student. I'm sure we could teach each other a few things. Languages, art, other skills."

Smiling a little, she pulls him to the door and then stops before opening it. Other skills. It lingers, hangs around on her mind, even though it shouldn't, even though now is the worst time to let herself be distracted by his charm. Wanda forces it from her mind and peeks her head out of the door to make sure that the apartment is empty. Her eyes dart quickly over the space, where she soon finds breakfast waiting for her on the table. It looks good, she might even sit there and have something to eat if she's got the time. For now she makes herself focus on getting Bucky out of here. They don't have much time, not really, even if for now the apartment is empty and there's no sign of anyone else. He needs to get out of here, quietly and quickly, but something tells Wanda that today this will be hard for Bucky to do.

"Come on, I wanna know." Bucky pleads, still curious, still playful. "I gotta know what you're saying or it's gonna drive me crazy. Will you teach me?"

Wanda sighs and turns around to face him, to find him right behind her, so close that there's almost no space left between them. She sees now that he's serious, that even though he's coming off as playful, maybe even a little annoying, that he means this and he wants to learn it. So she decides that she will teach him, not just because he really wants to but because it feels like it will be the only want to quietly get him out of her apartment.

"Okay, fine." she sighs, taking his hand. "I will teach you, but you have to leave now."

Then she leads Bucky out into the quiet apartment, her gaze sweeping briefly over the coffees, berries, and bowls of fruit on the table. There's a part of her that, for a second, wants to sit down and have breakfast with Bucky, to not keep this to themselves and to have some fun, but she is late for work and it doesn't feel like it's going to be that kind of morning. So she leads Bucky over to the left towards the fire-escape, the closest way out of the apartment and the quickest.

"You have to leave now. And you have to use the window."

There's a second where Bucky looks at her, convinced that she's joking. Then he realizes that she isn't and he laughs, following her to the window anyway. It's safe and it's sturdy, and even she's climbed down it once or twice. Maybe just once. She didn't really like using it but he'll be fine, or she thinks that he will be until he starts to dig his feet in again.

"Wait, you're kidding?" he laughs, louder this time. "The door is—It's right there. It's literally right there. I could slip in and out, no one would know."

She hesitates, curious. "You are afraid of heights?"

This time when Bucky laughs it's too loud. So loud that she's convinced Clint or Pietro will hear. If they do hear it, if they hear anything at all, then they don't leave their room but it still makes Wanda feel nervous, still leaves her on the edge. Gently she nudges Bucky towards the window but i t still doesn't really work. He barely moves, and so she stops trying to push him there and comes to stand in front of him, desperate to get him out of here. They don't have much time and it feels too risky for Bucky to go all the way to do the door, leave it, close it, and then make his way down two flights of stairs, without being seen by someone. It's just too risky and this thing between the two of them is too special right now, she doesn't want anyone else to know. She can't have Clint or Pietro finding about it yet, not until she's ready.

"Bucky." she begins, but doesn't finish.

"Isn't it gonna be worse if they see me out on this thing?" he asks, quieter this time. "Did you think about that? How would I ever explain to your brother why I'm climbing down a fire-escape, out of his sister's room? It's kinda weird, right?"

"They won't see. No one will see you." Wanda says, taking both his hands. "Please, go. I don't want to explain this to anyone right now. Unless you want to stay and explain it while I go to work..Then just go."

For a minute he considers it, then he starts to open up the window.

"Fire-escape it is." Bucky hums, swiftly climbing through it. "But you owe me for this, red. You owe me big time."

She thins a smile, amused. "I'm sorry, I don't think that's how it works. And I think we both know that you owe me one."

When Bucky straightens himself out on the fire-escape and turns to face her, she discovers that he's smiling again. It's sweet, and light, and happy. But mostly she finds it odd, not his smile but her feelings and how for a second she can only think about joining him out there. Wanda lets herself imagine how nice it would feel sitting with him out on the fire-escape, staring out at the city, his hand in hers. But she soon pulls herself out of those thoughts and takes a step over to the window, only realizing now that Bucky is still standing there, waiting for something.

For her.

"What are you doing?" Wanda frowns. "What are you waiting for? You have to go."

"Yeah, I know. But first..A kiss?"

Then he comes closer, ducking his head back inside the apartment through the half-opened window. He leans through it casually, like at any moment they aren't going to be caught out here by her brother and Clint. And even though she's still nervous about that, for a moment Wanda can't help herself, can't stop herself, from smiling at how sweet and silly he looks out there. Slowly she comes closer, leaning down to get on his level.

"Seriously? Bucky, go. Someone will see you."

"I know, and wouldn't that be awkward to explain?" he grins. "To your brother, and Clint. Oh. I can just imagine how awkward that's gonna be for you when they come out here and find us like this."

Wanda smiles slowly, wanting to shove his head out of the window and lock him out, or to leave him to deal with whatever happens if Clint and Pietro walk out and find him standing here. But something else keeps her here by the window, and she can't decide if it's her curiosity in what will happen next or if it's what she feels when she's around him. Or maybe it's because ever since their first kiss, all she's wanted to do is kiss him again.

"If I do this, you will go?"

His face lightens up. "Cross my heart."

It makes her laugh, probably more than it should when she is so close to her brother's room and they are so close to being found. But for a second, Wanda doesn't let herself care about any of that. She only lets herself care about this, about him, and what she wants, what they both want. She comes closer slowly, while quietly considering it. Wanda wants to kiss him, of course she does, and it seems like he wants the same thing. Maybe that's why he's doing this, why he's asking for a kiss at such a strange and inconvenient time. Maybe he's nervous after the first time and the way it ended, maybe he finds this the easiest way to let her know how he feels.

She didn't consider any of it until now, but when she thinks about kissing him again, when she thinks about their first kiss and everything that's happened since, she sometimes feels nervous, too. So she understands why this is his way of both trying to work out how she feels and letting her know how he feels without saying it.

"You are.." she stops, losing the words.

Bucky finds the word, or he thinks that he does. This time he's both wrong and right.

"Cute?"

"Annoying." Wanda corrects him, smiling. "Silly, and grumpy, and annoying."

"Ahh, you're too nice. Too nice, red. I could stand here and listen to you all day. I mean that, I really do."

Seconds later she kisses him. Wanda kisses Bucky, only for moment, but it still means something. It still sends that spark through her lips, through her body, just to touch him, to kiss him again. Then she quickly pulls away, her hands on his chest, as she pushes his head out of the window and then slides it shut and locks it. On the other side of the glass Bucky's face lights up when he realizes what's happened.

"Hey." he grins, leaning against the window. 

There's a pause. He lets himself smile more, at this, at her and the memory of their kiss still on his lips.

"That was cold, Maximoff. But also, totally hot."

"Go." she tells him, serious except for the hint of a smile.

"Alright, alright. I can take the hint. I'll see you tonight, doll."

Then Bucky leaves, glancing back at her one last time before he disappears down the fire-escape, climbing down it pretty swiftly for someone who didn't want to use it at all. The memory makes her smile, makes her stand by the window, lost in it all, for a long time after he's gone.  She finds her way back to her room eventually, where she showers, dresses for works, and then stops for five minutes to sit down and eat some breakfastand through it all Bucky stays with her. He stays on her mind like he isn't going anywhere and it feels nice, feels like he might stay with her all day.

She hopes that he will.

 

* * * *

 

The text from Bucky comes through just after 7.

Wanda's in one of the empty stalls at work, butterflies in her stomach, trying to decide on an outfit for their date, when her phone buzzes from deep inside her bag and she kneels down to find it. She digs around for a minute, a little nervous, before she finds it and pulls it out from her bag, leaving all of her other things (her shoes, make-up, and t-shirts) where they are, messily scattered across the tiled floor, as she swipes open the screen and reads the text. It's small but it's still sweet, still makes her smile.

 

[7:07 PM]:

just got here, I'm at the bar. see you soon. :-)

 

She re-reads it three or four times before she puts her phone aside, but even then she can't stop thinking about it, can't stop thinking about Bucky out in The Green Tides, sitting on one of the bar-stools, waiting for her. Wanda smiles more thinking about him, as she gathers together some of her things from the floor and shoves them away in her bag. She knows that she's got a little time, that they aren't supposed to meet for another five or so minutes, but she's running late and she can't make up her mind on what to wear. She knows why, it's because of how long it's been since she's been out on a date. It's more than that, too. She knows that it's because of Bucky. It's what she feels when she's around him, it's what stays after he's gone.

It's this and it's so much more, and after a moment of over-thinking everything she reminds herself to breathe. Two breaths, slow. In and out. She repeats it until it feels better, until she feels less nervous and her chest feels a little less tight. Wanda doesn't know what it is that helps her to calm down, but she decides that it must be Bucky, that it must have something to do with thinking about him out in the bar waiting for her, feeling as nervous as she is. It's why she makes up her mind on what to wear for the night and she goes with her first choice: tight black jeans, dark boots, and a red jacket. Maybe it's too simple, maybe it isn't, she doesn't know. It's been a long time since she got dressed for a date and she doesn't want to overdo it, or let her nerves get the better of it. The outfit is fine, she reassures herself, as she starts to get dressed.

Wanda wiggles into the dark jeans quickly, her mind still adrift with thoughts of Bucky, even now. She pulls on the black boots with ease after her jeans are on and then she pulls on her red jacket, zipping it up and taking a moment to look down at herself once she's dressed. It looks good, she tells herself, maybe three or four times, before she packs away all of her things into her bag, slides her phone into the pocket of her jacket, and steps out of the stall into the emptiness of the bathroom.

She's running late but she knows that Bucky won't mind, that he is happy to wait. It's why she lets herself spend a minute by the sink, staring at her reflection, wondering what she will do with her hair, and her make-up, and with the memories of last night that slowly come back to her now. It feels strange to realize that last night they stood here together and things were so different then. Wanda doesn't let it get to her. She fixes her hair a little, leaving it out and wavy, and then she applies a little lipstick, a dark shade of red, close to the color of her jacket. Just as she's done applying her lipstick she feels her phone vibrate in her pocket and she pulls it out, smiling as she thinks about Bucky and his last message. She quickly discovers this text isn't like his last one at all.

It's small, impossible to read, and makes no sense.

 

[7:14 PM]:

gr5 dnt xoie yt

 

Wanda re-reads it three times before she shoves her phone away and leaves to find Bucky. The bar is crowded, too busy, too loud. Her eyes sweep the room, searching for him, but she finds nothing. No signs, no one that resembles him. Wanda walks through the space of The Green Tides slowly, both relieved to be done with work and a little concerned that she can't find Bucky anywhere. It's more that she's nervous. She checks her phone again, finds no new messages, so she sends him a text, sends a row of questions marks and then waits.

Nothing comes back to her. No calls, no messages, still no explanation. Wanda tries again, sending the same message. It's only after she finds a place to stand by the bar and shoves her phone away into her pocket that she looks up and finds Bucky.

More accurately, she finds them.

Clint and Pietro are here, tonight of all nights, and they're with Bucky, over at one of the tables by the window. She can't see his face, only Clint's, but she recognizes Bucky by the back of his head and his reflection in the window on his left. Her attention goes back to Clint soon, to where he's sitting facing the bar, with Pietro in the seat across from his, and Bucky in the seat next to her brother. She tenses at the sight and takes a second look at Bucky. He's sitting with his back to Wanda, unaware that she's here, that she can see them. She hesitates for a moment then forces a smile as Clint starts to wave at her.

Half a minute later, Wanda joins them. She weaves in and out of the crowds to get to them. When she arrives at their table Pietro's face lights up like he's surprised to see her here even though he always knew that she was working tonight. And then there's Bucky, who seems both pleased to see her and uncomfortable to be sitting with her brother. She understands why, that it must have been awkward for Bucky to explain what he was doing here tonight, at her work, on his own, when he never really came here much before they started spending time together.

It's now that she realizes she doesn't know what explanation Bucky gave them, if he gave any at all. Wanda tenses and shares a brief look with Bucky, knowing that she must be wearing the same look that he is. She tries not to let it show and makes her way over to the empty seat next to Clint, the one across from her brother and Bucky. After she's seated she glances up at the three of them, nervous again. Her gaze slowly flickers to Bucky, lingering for a little longer than she means for it to.

He looks good tonight, she thinks, lets herself get distracted thinking about, even if it's really not the right time. Bucky looks great, in his dark blue t-shirt, jeans, and leather jacket. It suits him, it always does. She quickly looks away, to Clint and to her brother, already aware that they must be here for a reason and not by chance.

"I didn't expect to see you two here. Any of you, I mean." Wanda smiles, a little nervous. "But I mean, the two of you..I thought you would be tired from work. Your early shifts this morning, I mean. What are you doing here?"

"We were in the area and we felt..Bored." Clint pauses, shrugging, not so casually. "And hey, since when do we need an excuse to see our favorite gal?"

Her first thought is that they are here because they want or need something from her. It's the only thing that makes sense, why they came by, why they are being so nice. Wanda eyes the two of them off briefly, until Pietro slides over a glass of wine for her and it confirms to her that they are definitely here for a reason. She picks up the glass, drinks a small sip, then lets her gaze flicker towards Bucky, as if he can somehow tell her what this is about and what they've talked about so far. She knows that he can't, she lingers anyway, before quickly glancing between Pietro and Clint again.

"Okay, what do you want?" she sighs. "You aren't here just to say hi. What do you need?"

Clint laughs, quite awkwardly, before sharing a very obvious look with Pietro. It lets her know, without any doubts, that there is more to this and that they are here to talk to her about something, maybe even ask something of her, and she doesn't mind. She just wants to know what it is and why they are here, so all of her little worries and doubts about what this is about can go away for a while.

"What? Nothing. We were just—in the neighborhood."

She lifts an eyebrow. "The three of you?"

"No, no. We ran into Barnes at the bar, he looked sad on his own. You could say we picked up a stray." Clint's quick to say, still smiling. "It was juts the two of us, here in the neighborhood, to come and see our favorite gal. Why do we need a reason to do that?"

"Stop calling me that. And just tell me what you want, okay?"

From across the table Bucky laughs, just a little, and it's only as he does that Wanda lets herself look at him again. Her eyes flicker over him slowly, down to his phone sitting on the table. So that's why he didn't answer. She gets it now, that maybe he was having a conversation with the two of them and trying to warn her to stay away at the same time. Wanda still doesn't know what his message means but she understands what he was trying to do and it makes her smile just a little.

"Yeah, look, Wanda.."

Bucky begins, stops, and take a sip of beer. As he does, Wanda finds herself consumed by the way it feels to hear him say her name. He's said it before, he's called her a bunch of names before, including this one. Still it means something, feels weird, but not in a bad way. She lingers on it, watching Bucky as he puts the beer back down and lets a brighter smile spread across his face.

"I wouldn't trust Barton if I were you. Between you and me, the guy's a professional liar." Bucky tells her, grinning. "I mean, I've known him for a long time and I can't even say that I really know him. Who is Clint Francis Barton? I don't know. And I think that says something, don't you?"

"Hey, Barnes." Clint's quick to cut in. "Would you shut up?"

There's a small shrug from Bucky, as he leans back into his chair and takes his beer with him. He looks a little more relaxed, she thinks, now that she's here with him and whatever he has to tell them about tonight he doesn't have to do it alone. Wanda feels a little better now that she knows Bucky is here with them by chance and not for any other reason. She takes another sip of wine, slides it away, and looks between the three of them as the conversation goes on.

"Can't help it, man." Bucky says a moment later. "I'm just doing my duty to society."

"Yeah, well, no one asked you to. And you don't even know Wanda, so." Clint smiles, turning back to her. "Back to our favorite gal. You are our favorite. Right, Pietro?"

"Of course. Always our favorite."

"Can you stop saying this, okay? Or your favorite gal is going to leave, because this is very weird." Wanda sighs, fidgeting with one of her rings. "It has been a long day, and I'm tired now, so whatever this is, whatever you need, just ask me. You don't have to be this, so nice, so sweet. Just tell me whatever it is, okay?"

It's now that Pietro comes closer, placing both of his hands on the table. He reaches out, takes Wanda's hands, and offers her a sweet smile.

"You are still our favorite but I will stop saying it, okay." he says, silent for a moment. "There is something, you are right about that. But it is only a small favor."

"Ah, so there is something." Bucky chimes in, grinning. "Told you I knew Barton. Didn't I? The man's a real piece of work, always working an angle—"

"Barnes, really. Shut it. Hey, actually, would you mind giving us a minute? Go bother someone else for five minutes, would you?"

Bucky's up from his seat in a second, taking his beer and phone with him. He doesn't leave right away, he hovers for about five seconds, looking between the three of them, and she understands why his gaze doesn't really linger, why he is being so casual. He offers her the briefest smile then turns away, disappearing somewhere between the crowds and the bar. Wanda tries to follow his movements with her eyes, tries not to lose him, but she does and after he's gone she finds that she can really only think of him, that is until the two of them in front of her start talking again.

This time, Clint just jumps right into it.

"Okay, so you know my farm?"

Oh, so this is it. This is all it is, she realizes. Nothing serious, nothing big or bad. Wanda feels herself let out a breath of relief, knowing that they aren't here to talk to her (about the lies, and the bruises, and the man she keeps inviting to her bedroom). She feels better, feels herself relax, and she wonders if Pietro feels it as he continues to hold her hands across the tables. It feels like he does, in some way, even though he doesn't show it. There's a look, small and barely there. It flickers across his face then leaves and he gives her hand a squeeze, saying nothing for now.

"Yes, what about it?" Wanda nods, a little confused. "This is the farm I have seen the pictures of, yes?"

"I have been there a few times, in North Carolina. Remember?" Pietro asks, smiling softly. "I stayed for three days. I told you about the horses."

Wanda thins a smile, amused.

"Yes. How could I forget...Peaches and George."

"Hey, don't be mean. My nieces named those horses." Clint grins, nudging her in the side. "Okay, well, back to it. The thing is, we kinda need you to babysit the farm for a week."

She waits for more of an explanation but nothing comes.

"I don't understand."

That's when Clint comes closer, leaning against the table, barely able to hide his smile from Wanda. He seems happy, she thinks. They both do, and while it is lovely she still doesn't really know why they're asking her to do this.

"The thing is, I'm taking your brother to California for a week." Clint grins, bursting with exciting. "It's coming up in about three weeks and I can't find anyone else to watch the farm at such late notice. It was a surprise, for Pietro. I told him about it today. We talked about it and thought you'd be just perfect to look after the place while we're gone."

It surprises her a little but not in a bad way, it's just a lot to think about. Wanda leans away, thinking it over, as one of her hands slips away from her brothers and she picks up her glass of wine. Pietro still holds on to her other hand, watching her, trying to get a read on her, as she lets herself think about what they're asking. She knows nothing about farms, or animals, they've never really had any. So it's a little overwhelming but she tries to keep it casual, soon lifting her gaze away from the wine and back to the two of them, both silent, both watching her expectantly.

"So you are two are taking a holiday?"

Pietro's smile grows. "Yes. A surprise. He is so romantic sometimes, isn't he? And sweet. I'm so excited, I have always wanted to see California."

She half-smiles back, still uncertain about this, about the responsibility of it all. It isn't a big deal, not really, but she has never done anything like this before. She has never been responsible for anything like this, and a week seems like a long time. She doesn't know how she feels about it but she doesn't want to say no, not right away. She decides that she will at least hear them out before she makes her mind up about anything.

"Um, tell me. The animals. What animals do you have?"

"Just the dog, a couple of horses, maybe a few chickens and some pigs." Clint smiles warmly. "But it's easy. You could come over, I could show you around. Teach you what to do. It'd be fun, don't you think?"

There's something that lingers in his eyes after, in both of their eyes, that Wanda finds she can't say no to, can't refuse. They both want this, for themselves, maybe even for her. They think she will enjoy this and when she looks at them, when she thinks about their little trip, she knows that they will enjoy that. Wanda wants to give that to them. She won't get in the way of their happiness, she never could, but she still has some doubts about this.

"How far away is the farm from the city?"

The two share a look before Clint answers.

"Half an hour in plane. Much, much longer by car. So a plane is better."

"What about work?" Wanda asks, frowning a little. "I will have to fly there and back for work?"

Then she gets it, from the look on Clint's face. He thinks she needs a break, too. A holiday of her own, away from this city, and the apartment, and all the memories that linger around her here. She understands why he might see it that way, and she doesn't know if he's right but maybe he is. Wanda isn't really sure what she needs right now, but she knows that she wants to get out of here and have a drink with Bucky. The thought reminds her of him and soon her gaze sweeps the bar, searching for him. This time she finds him sitting at a stool by the bar, finishing off his beer. He's not looking at her, he's looking down at his drink, waiting, and she finds that all she wants to do is go over to him. But first they need to finish this conversation.

"We were thinking you could take the week off." Clint says soon. "You could use it to get some much needed R&R. It's a win-win, really. When you think about it.."

"And we couldn't remember the last time you took a break from work." Pietro adds in, running his thumb across her hand. "You have always worked, Sestra. Ever since we came here, you have never stopped. You have never taken time for yourself. This would give you some time, and you deserve it. Just think about it, okay?"

Wanda hums, reaching for her wine. She finishes it in a few sips, pushes the glass away, and lets herself think about it.

"I still don't know about this. It sounds like a lot of work, and I don't want to kill any of your animals."

Clint chuckles warmly, amused. Then he reaches out a hand and gently pats her shoulder.

"Sweetheart, there's nothing to worry about. Trust me, if I can teach your brother a few things then you can learn, too. But don't feel pressured, okay? Just take your time and think about it. That's the only reason we wanted to talk to you about it tonight, so you could have some time to think. We don't have to talk about it again until you've made a decision, alright?"

She sighs, almost convinced. "Okay, just—tell me how long I would need to stay there? One week? And I would have to take care of the animals?"

"Yep, just the one week." Clint nods. "And it's not a lot of work, really. I could show you everything you need to know. I've got some neighbors that usually come and take care of things 'till I get back, but a week is a lot to ask and we thought of you. Besides, I wouldn't trust anyone else to stay there that long."

For some reason it makes Wanda feel guilty, makes her think about all that she's trusted Clint with, all that he's had to keep from her brother. She thinks about her lie that night, the lie that Clint has had to keep from Pietro. Maybe he hasn't had to lie about it but he's had to keep it to himself and this whole time she's felt so indebted to Clint, that she wants to do this for him. She knows that she will, she just needs a little more time.

"I will probably say yes, but just give me a few days. Okay?"

Pietro smiles, relieved. He kisses her hand gently then lets go. He looks happy, they both do, and in the end this is all Wanda wants for them. To be happy, to live their lives, to travel to new exciting places and to feel alive. This is why she knows what her answer will be in a few days. Yes, she will do this for them. She thinks that she would do anything for them, to see them happy, to see her brother so happy.

"Thank you, Sestra. You won't regret this, I promise."

"Before I make any decisions," Wanda pauses, looking between them. "I will have to see this farm, to know what it is like."

"Yeah, sure. Of course. No problem at all. We can work it out, go down for a night or two." Clint grins, excited. "We'll fly down, make a weekend of it. You can stay, we'll have dinner, you can meet the kids. And by kids, I meant the fur kids. It'll be fun."

Wanda smiles at the thoughts, at their new plans, and slowly sinks back into her chair. It sounds nice, a break away from the city, a little time away from all of the noise, and chaos, and memories. She lets herself think about it until she remembers her date over by the bar. When she looks back she realizes he's got a new drink now. It looks like whiskey but she can't be sure. He drinks a little, stops, then keeps drinking. Wanda almost smiles, but she quickly stops herself and looks back to her brother.

"So, what are your plans for the rest of the night?" Wanda asks, lifting an eyebrow. "After coming here and pretending to be nice to me, so I would do something for you..What will you do?"

Pietro grins sweetly. "We are going to a party, the people from work. The courier place." he explains, both excited and a little tentative. "It is like a good-bye party, I think. What can I say? I'm lovable. You should come, it is going to be lots of fun."

"Yeah, why don't you come? It'll be nice." Clint grins, bumping his elbow into Wanda's. "You're dressed up all nice. And I don't really know anyone there except your brother. Could be fun. We could get really drunk?"

"I don't think so." she smiles, after pretending to consider it. "It was a long day, I am too tired from work."

Another lie to her brother, another to Clint. She doesn't want it to be like this, doesn't want to lie, but she can't tell them about her plans with Bucky because it's something that she wants to keep to herself. She can't tell them that she's got a date either, because they will want to know, and they will push, and somehow they will find out and she can't let that happen yet. So she lies, only for now, only for a little longer. Or this is what she tells herself because she still hasn't worked out how to come clean to them yet.

"Okay, I understand. But you will have to come out with us soon, it has been so long." Pietro sighs, sinking back into his chair. "I feel like we only see you at the apartment and even then it is never for long. You are always working or you are tired from work, and we just miss you. Okay?"

Wanda reaches for Pietro's hand, giving it a soft squeeze. Then she climbs out of her chair, bringing her bag with her. On her way out she gives Clint's shoulder a squeeze, then she stops by Pietro and softly kisses the top of his head. He seems to brighten at the touch.

"We will go out soon, I promise." Wanda smiles, tussling his hair up. "I'll see you two later, okay? Be safe."

Pietro nods, waving her off with a smile. "You too, Sestra. See you at home. Have a good night."

Chapter Text

Ten minutes after Wanda leaves the bar, Bucky finds her. She's waiting for him on the corner of the street, a cigarette burning untouched between two fingers, her gaze stuck on the concrete, when she hears him call out her name and she lifts her head to find him only three or four steps away. He greets her with a smile and joins her by the wall, casually taking the cigarette from her hand, inhaling on it, then lifting his gaze up to the city.

He gets lost in it all for a minute and she leaves him to it, watching as he exhales a puff of smoke and then inhales again. Bucky finishes up with the cigarette a minute later and offers it back to Wanda but she doesn't want it now, she never really felt like it. She only lit it to distract herself, from all her nerves, and worries, and thoughts of him. But now that he's finally here all of that is gone and the only thoughts on her mind are ones of him.

Wanda watches him quietly, as he steps aside, stubs the cigarette out with his boot, then turns back to her with that same smile on his lips. It's only now that she sees it, sees how playful and happy he is despite the last ten minutes he spent back at the bar in a conversation she imagines can't have been all that comfortable. She's not sure what she expected from him after that but she didn't expect this, didn't expect clear eyes and sweet smiles.

She can see that he means it, too. He is happy to be here with her and he doesn't care about any awkward moments back at the bar. Bucky only cares that she's here with him, because he's been looking forward to this and maybe there was a part of him that thought she wasn't going to be here waiting for him when he got out. For a moment she felt that same worry, thought maybe he wouldn't come back after what happened back at the bar. But he did come back and right now that's all that matters.

"So that was fun. And by fun, I mean not fun at all. Let's not do that again ever, okay?" he smiles, letting out a heavy sigh. "I tried to play it cool, red. I really did. I was all like 'woah, what are you guys doing here? What do you mean you come here all the time? I come here all the time. Every day I'm here. Seriously, I pretty much live here'. Buuut, that didn't go down so well because it turns out they really do come here all the time and I'm pretty sure your brother is on to me—"

"It doesn't matter. Okay? What they believed, what they didn't, it doesn't matter." Wanda says, placing her hand on his cheek. "I don't want to think about any of that right now. I'm just glad that you're finally here. I don't care about anything else, just this."

Just you.

Wanda doesn't say it but she feels it and there's something in Bucky's eyes that tells her that he gets it, that he feels the same. He even smiles at her slowly, as her hand falls from his cheek and she stays close. If her touch lingers on his skin, if her unspoken words mean something to him, he doesn't let on. Bucky pulls himself together quickly, wrapping his arms around his chest and letting out a breath she imagines he's been holding in since Pietro and Clint first walked into the bar. Then slowly he begins to smile at her, in that sweet and familiar way that tells her exactly where this is going.

"And what about you? You excited to see me? Glad that I made it out okay?" he grins, walking closer. "You know, I had a pretty close call back there. I almost didn't make it out, with the way Clint insisted like a hundred times that I spend the night with them. He thinks I'm lonely. It was kinda depressing. But he kept buying me drinks, so that was good. But there was somewhere else I had to be."

She gives herself a minute to consider it, while she tries to hide her smile from him. It's just hard tonight and she can't hide it well, both because she finds him cute and because she's spent the day thinking about him, and missing him, and looking forward to this moment. That's why she finds it hard to hide her smile from him, so she turns away, pulls herself together, then looks back to find his smile intensely brighter and warmer, like somehow he knows every thought that just went through her head.

"Yes, I am. But mostly because of how much you have talked about it." Wanda teases, faintly smiling. "Now my expectations are very high and I'm not sure that you can meet them. Are you?"

A soft and almost nervous laugh comes from Bucky next, followed by what she thinks might be a hint of color rising in his cheeks. It fades away quickly and he comes closer, charming and confident again, all traces of nerves and color gone from his face for the moment.

"Yeah, doll. I think I can meet them, don't you worry about that. You just decide what you wanna do tonight, 'cause the night is yours and we can do anything you want."

Wanda smiles, already knowing exactly what she wants to do. She wants to spend the night with him, doing whatever they feel like. It doesn't matter what they do, just that they spend time together. It's been so long since she's let herself feel this way, so calm, so happy around someone else and she can see that she helps him feel the same way. When they're together it feels nice, it feels so good, and she never wants it to end. That's all she really wants, for this to last for as long as it can.

"Anything at all? Okay. No crowds and no people."

"No people?" he asks, grinning.

She shrugs. "It was a busy day."

Bucky doesn't seem to need more of an explanation than that, and at first she wonders if it's because he gets why she feels the way that she does. Then she catches a glimpse of something playful darting across his features and she realizes that she knows where this is going. Not because he is predictable but because she knows him, because she is beginning to know him better than she ever imagined that she could or would. It means more to her than she expects it to and she ends up needing a minute, distracted by her thoughts of him until he brings her back.

"Sure, I get it. What you're saying is, the only person you wanna be around right now is me?" he asks, smiling. "Wow, that's really nice. And not at all mean. You must be tired, let's go get some food into you. A coffee, maybe a beer, so we can bring back that side of you that loves to insult and offend me so much."

Then Bucky's hands are on her shoulders and he's turning her away from the bar and the corner of the street, with no warning or explanation at all, and at first Wanda can only laugh. She lets him lead the way for a minute, his touch soft and barely there, and she doesn't mind at all, but soon she gets curious and she turns back to catch a glimpse of him over her shoulder. Or she tries to look back at him, but it's tricky with the way he's guiding her down the busy street.

"When I said no people, I also meant you—"

"No, you didn't. But it's cute that you're trying to make it seem like you did." Bucky grins, walking her further down the street. "And hey, don't worry. I know a place, it's perfect for tonight. But first, to get there.."

He comes to a halt suddenly, a semi-serious look on his face, as his hands slip from her shoulders and he stays where he is right in the middle of the crowded street, unaware of all the crowds and strangers passing them by. Wanda can't bring herself to care too much about anything else, only Bucky standing close to her on the pavement, his gaze sweeping across the cars and bikes lined up along the street like he doesn't know how they're getting to their destination for the night.

It makes her think back to their past jokes of bikes, loud and annoying horns, and brightly colored tassels. She smiles thinking back on it before she follows his gaze out to the street, wondering which vehicle will be theirs for the night if this is serious and not another one of his jokes. She waits and waits for him to pick a car or bike out, but he doesn't. He just stands there, so obviously in the way, and after a minute Wanda gives in, grabs his hand, and yanks him over to the side of the path.

"Well?" she smiles, excited. "Where is this bike with the horn?"

Bucky's first response is to frown at her like he's lost and has no idea what she's talking about, but then he cracks and smiles down at her like he knows exactly what she's talking about. And it makes her realize that tonight it's the same for him. He can't hide his smiles, can't hide anything from her.

"Not sure I know what you're talking about." he smiles, half serious. "I thought we could hitch a ride. Maybe walk. Or we could always take your broomstick?"

She narrows her eyes, curious. "My, what?"

"Oh, come on. You gotta know this one. Sabrina. She had one, so I figured you would because you seemed kinda witchy. You know, not in a bad way. But like in a cool, um, style, sorta way—" Bucky stops, swallows, then goes on. "Like I'm pretty sure that after this failed joke, you're going to go home and cast a spell on me. Or maybe poke some pins or knives into a little teeny tiny doll of me. I don't know how it works. You're the witch, aren't you?"

Half a minute must go by before Bucky speaks again, and as he does she just stares at him, quietly amused and struggling to keep her smile to herself.

"You know I'm kidding, yeah? Also, I always thought Sabrina was a babe. So really, that's a compliment. You should be thanking me for the compliment, right?"

It makes her smile, even after she rolls her eyes and turns away from him. He follows, smile bright as he places his hands on her shoulders and starts to guide her down the street again, over to all the cars and bikes lined up near the curb. Bucky is only there for a moment before he speeds ahead a few steps, but she quickly follows and joins his side, bumping her shoulder gently into his.

"James, is there really a bike?" she asks, looking up at him. "Also you should know, I don't really like this new nickname."

"Fair enough, we'll stick with red then. And yeah, I'm a man of my word. So there's a bike." Bucky nods, slowly glancing back down at her. "Technically it's not mine and I wasn't allowed to decorate it, so that will have to wait 'till next time. But I can still give you that ride around the city I promised."

Her first instinct is to doubt it, to think that he is playing another game with her, and then he stops in front of one of the bikes and turns to smile at her and she knows that he's completely serious, that this bike is theirs for the night. And it's perfect. The bike is sleek and silver, with little streaks of black on it in places and two helmets resting on the seat, waiting for them. One black, one red. Bucky quickly scoops one up and holds it out to Wanda as she stands back on the curb, taking it all in.

"Here she is. Not as glorious as my old girl, but she's still good."

The bike is shiny and beautiful, and Wanda needs a minute just to take it all in. When she's done staring at the bike she turns back to Bucky, filled with excitement. She feels like at any minute she might burst with it, and for a moment she is so consumed with these feelings that she forgets about the nerves that linger beneath them. She knows why she's nervous, it's because she's never done anything like this before. She's always wanted to, always imagined that riding a fast bike around the city would feel good, but she never got around to doing it. And now here Bucky is, about to take her on a ride she's always dreamed of going on and she doesn't mean to let it get to her so much but she can't help it.

"This is really for us?" she asks, feeling wide-eyed and jittery. "This is real? Not a joke?"

Bucky nods, quick to answer. "Of course it's real. And yeah it's for us. That is, if you still wanna go on that ride."

She simply smiles back, watching Bucky as he walks over to her, slowly and a little cautious. It's like he can see the nerves coming off her and he's trying to both calm her and excite her. She appreciates it but tries to steady her nerves on her own by reminding herself how much she wants to do this. In the end it doesn't work and it turns out there's just one thing that helps her feel good about this again.

When Bucky smiles up at her, it all feels better. She feels good, feels calm, as she reaches for the helmet he offers her and watches as he pulls on his own. He returns a minute later to find Wanda fiddling with her helmet strap, but before stopping to help he takes her bag, puts it away in his back-pack, secures it to the back of the bike, and then he comes back to help her out.

She's still fiddling with the helmet when he joins her by the curb, amused and smiling down at her.

"How about we go for a quick ride, then go and get something to eat?" Bucky suggests, coming closer. "We've got the bike all night, I don't have to bring it back 'till tomorrow. So we can go wherever you want, we can do whatever you want. How's that sound, red? That sound good to you?"

Wanda nods, lips parted to answer, ready to tell him that it sounds great, when she loses it. He comes close to check her helmet, closer than she can remember him being, and for a second she thinks he's just trying to be annoying and then she realizes he's trying to look out for her, to make sure it's on right, and so she quickly loses her words and can only watch him. When he's done securing her helmet, he tilts his head back to look down at her and smiles, satisfied.

"Looks good. Fits good. Remember, hold on tight."

The he's moving again, stepping down off the curb and walking over to the bike to start it up. She doesn't join him right away and chooses to wait on the pavement, staying there until the bike is ready and then she joins him. Wanda feels as if she is filled half with nerves, half with excitement, as she climbs up on the back of the bike behind Bucky and wiggles forward, only now aware of how close they are here like this. It feels nice, feels more than nice, but she tries not to dwell on it for too long because she doesn't want to be distracted tonight.

She wants to be here with him, wants to remember all of it, so she clears her head and tries to focus. Then he turns over his shoulder to look back at her, his red helmet clipped on, a few strands of his dark hair blowing in the wind, and she forgets all about clearing her head and suddenly finds herself lost deep in thoughts of him.

"You want me to slow down, just let me know and we can slow down. Alright?" Bucky calls back, smiling. "And if you want me to stop, just say the word."

Wanda nods, feeling more excited than anything else. This will be good, she tells herself, over again, until she forgets all about her nerves. It will be good, and he will be here with her through it all, and that's all she needs to know to put her nerves away and let herself be happy.

"I will." she calls back. "Are we going now? We're ready?"

"Yep, we're good to go. Just stay close and hold on tight. And if you need anything just let me know."

Her hands are wrapped tightly around his waist before she even realizes how close they are and how tight she's holding on. It just happens, just feels right, so she lets herself come a little closer, lets herself rest her head against his shoulder as they start to move. It happens suddenly after that. One minute they're waiting by the curb, trying to break into the traffic, then seconds later they're riding through the city with her arms tight around his chest and somehow everything else just falls away and there's nothing left, only him.

 

* * * *

 

An hour later they end up in an empty parking lot, somewhere in a quiet part of the city that Wanda has never been to before, lost in the night and in each other. The air is cold and the city is loud, but the parking lot is mostly empty, except for a few stray cars, and it gives them the chance to be alone. To learn, to focus, and to try new things. It's just that Wanda is finding it a little hard to focus on what Bucky is still trying to teach her. She keeps struggling, keeps getting swept up in thoughts of Bucky and the warmth of his body against hers.

He's sitting behind her on the bike, pressed right up against her, arms stretched out over her and his hands placed on top of hers—to try to teach her, to show her where she should put her hands on the bike and how she should use them. He's trying to teach her to ride the bike because after the hours they spent riding through the city, stopping only for cigarettes or to admire the view, she begged him to teach her and he couldn't say no.

That's why they're here together now, with Wanda sitting at the front of the bike, her eyes stuck on the handles as her mind slowly begins to wander away again to other thoughts. To thoughts of Bucky, and his hands around her, and the softness of his voice as he keeps encouraging her and trying to help her learn how to do this, but she's still finding it a little tricky. Not just because it's a lot to remember, but because of the way she feels when she's around him like this.

Her heart is pounding intensely in her chest, from the adrenaline, from the warmth of being this close to him, and it feels good. Feels so good that she doesn't want to forget it, doesn't want it to end here, and for a moment she gets so swept up in it that she forgets to be here with him. His voice brings her back and reminds her of two things. The first is that she needs to focus if she wants to learn how to ride on her own and the second thing is that she is kind of terrible at this.

"Remember, your hands and feet are gonna do all the work. Stay focused but don't stress too much. It all feels natural after a while, you'll see." Bucky tells her, voice still warm, still kind, even if this is his third time going over things. "Always pay attention to where you are and to where everyone else is. When you're out on a bike, no one's looking for you. They're looking for cars and trucks, but not you, so always remember that. Always look out for yourself, okay?"

"Always look out. And don't stress." she nods, focused. "Okay, I understand. What else? What was next?"

"Okay, so. This hand, your left one—" Bucky pauses, giving that hand a squeeze. "—it's for the clutch, and this other guy over here, your right one, is for accelerating and braking. Left hand is also for signal but you won't need that tonight. You think it's sinking in this time?"

Wanda nods a little, trying to take it all in as she lifts her hands to the grips and repeats his words over again in her head. She wants to do this, to learn, but it's new and it's hard and that's one of the many reasons why she's glad that he's here with her tonight.

"I think so."

"Okay, great. Now remember, with your right hand you want to be delicate. You put it like this, twist the grip, then apply throttle. Easy, right?"

Bucky shows her how to do it after he tells her, then he shows her again just to be sure, and she so appreciates all the time and effort he is spending trying to teach her all of these things. Wanda thinks he must show her everything at least three or four times before she understands any of it but his patience never falters. He just keeps going, just keeps helping her until she's more familiar with it all, and then he moves on to what comes next.

"Now back to this guy on the right, he controls the front brake with this lever here." Bucky says, voice soft as he demonstrates how to do it. "You don't wanna yank it too hard. What you wanna do is use your hand to hold the break. I'll be there to make sure you don't pull it too hard. You don't wanna skid. But don't worry, I'll be here to make sure you don't."

"Don't worry, I am not worried." Wanda smiles, glancing back at him. "You are not such a bad teacher. I remember everything so far, or I think I do."

He smiles, relaxed for about three seconds, then he swings right back into focus.

"Well, thanks. So hey, with your feet, your right foot is gonna control the rear brake. When you stop, you gotta do it gently so just ease off the rear brake and use your right hand at the same time." he explains, shifting closer to show her where to place her hand. "Remember, just be gentle. You want it to be an easy, slow stop. Take your time getting used to it all. And if you're worried, don't be. I'll be here the whole time. You got any questions?"

"No, I'm good. I want to do this. So, let's do this?"

Bucky chuckles warmly then guides her hands forward again, placing them where they're supposed to be and staying close by, his hands still lightly curled over hers. His touch is still soft, still there and barely there at all.

"Great. Let's do this, red."

After they start up the engine together, there's a moment where Wanda feels like she forgets all of it. She forgets his advice and his instructions, and she panics, but Bucky doesn't mind. He quickly steps up to help Wanda and she feels so relieved that he's here and there's no pressure for her to be perfect at this, or to even want to try this on her own yet.

Somehow he just understands that she's a little overwhelmed and this is a lot to take in, and a minute later he takes control of the bike. Bucky makes adjustments to gears and levers out of sight, and after he releases the clutch they start to move again and it feels so different to the first time, even though she knows that it's really not. It's just being up here at the front of the bike that makes it all feel so different and so new.

She can't describe it, can't place it, not at first. It's exhilarating, and new, and so much more than she thought it would be, and having Bucky here with her makes her feel safe in a way that she hasn't felt in a long time. His hands stay over hers, resting on the clutch and throttle, and he stays close, stays right there until she's ready to take control.

Wanda's not sure why it happens when it does, but after a few minutes of circling around the empty lot, she feels ready and he knows it. She doesn't say it, so it must be something he picks up on because after guiding her hands to where they're supposed to be, he lets go and leaves her to take control. And it feels good, feels better than she ever imagined that it could. She thinks it might feel better having him this close, feeling him this close, with his hands on her waist and his body so close to hers.

He isn't holding on to her like she held on to him, it's different and she doesn't mind at all. Bucky's hands are soft but firm, placed on either side of her waist, just to be there, to hold on to her, but she still remains very much aware of his hold on her even as she takes them around the lot again. Wanda stays aware of the closeness, the warmth between them, even after she begins to drift away to other thoughts of the bike and how freeing this all feels.

For the first time in a very long time she somehow feels like she is free, and so alive, and she never wants it to end. She never wants to forget what this feels like so she keeps going, she drives them around the empty space for as long as she can, slowly growing more and more familiar with it all. Every now and then Bucky comes back to help her, reminding her of what to do and guiding her hands to the right places. He helps where she needs it but mostly she does it on her own and she credits that all to him and his patience.

Wanda knows she wouldn't be here doing this without him, and that thought stays on her mind as she circles the bike around the wide space and lets herself enjoy all the feelings bubbling up inside of her. She goes on like this for what feels like hours, until eventually she decides to stop and to pick this up again another time. Somehow he just seems to know that she's ready to slow down and he's there to help, stretching his hands over hers to work on slowing down the bike.

When finally stop they do it together and after it's all over Wanda can only think about how good it felt, how good it still feels. And then she turns back over her shoulder at Bucky, already smiling, and she discovers that he looks exactly how she feels.

Happy, and excited, and alive.

"Bucky, I can't say—that was, how it felt.."

He nods, smiling, as if to let her know that he's been there before and knows exactly how she feels. Then slowly he hops off the bike, removes his helmet, and digs into his pocket for a cigarette. Wanda stays where she is for now, smiling to herself as she stretches back on the bike, removes her helmet, and lets the wind rush over her. She spends a minute there, stretched back on Bucky's bike, head tilted up to the sky, breathless, and full of life, before eventually she seeks Bucky out. She finds him just a few steps away from the bike, already watching her.

"It was so much at once." she smiles, finding the words slowly. "So fast, so new. I want to do this again. Can we do this again? Please say yes."

Bucky laughs, the cigarette dangling from his lips as his eyes brighten and he glances over her, a new look on his face. He keeps it to himself but she sees other things there that she didn't see before. She sees that he is as relaxed and excited as she is right now and it's so nice to see him like this, especially when she thinks back to the way they were at the bar tonight, so tense, so awkward when they were almost caught. It's so much better now, so much better than last night, but she can't let herself go back there yet.

She can't go back to that moment, to the blood on his cheek and the dark bruises forming beneath it. She won't let them go back there. Tonight isn't about that, tonight is theirs. It isn't for old memories but for new ones, like this one. She already knows that after tonight is over she will always remember this moment and how it feels to be here with him right now.

"That's great, red. I'm glad you had such a good time." Bucky smiles, exhaling a cloud of smoke. "And hey, if you thought that was fast then I've gotta take you away from the city and to an open stretch of road one day. I can show you how fast these things really go, 'cause if you liked this then you'd really love that."

Then he falls quiet, a new thought on his mind, only for a moment. It comes and goes too quickly for Wanda to read. She watches as it disappears and he forces himself to come back here to her. He smiles, exhales a puff of smoke, then offers her the cigarette. She takes it even though she doesn't really want it. She thinks it's just habit, that she takes it and holds on for a minute. Wanda inhales a little as she climbs off the bike, then she hands the cigarette back to Bucky, smiles, and finds a place to stand by his side.

"Really, you did good. Not bad at all." he smiles, twirling around the half-finished cigarette. "I may even go so far to say that you didn't do all that bad for your first time. There are things you gotta work on, sure. But hey, only some of us can be perfect."

"Well, I only did so good because of you." Wanda pauses, smiling slowly. "Because you are such a good teacher. I owe it all to you, James."

For two or three seconds he tries not to smile, he really tries not to let it through. Then he turns away, rolling his eyes as he suppresses a laugh. Wanda finds herself smiling more, especially when he turns back to her and lets himself smile.

"See, when you say that stuff it makes my stuff sound mean." Bucky grins, still faintly serious. "You really did do good though. For a while there, you didn't even need me at all. You did good, red. You should be proud."

She finds herself suddenly wanting to thank him for all of this, to let him know what it means, but it means more than she can put into words right now. She thinks even if she could that she wouldn't need to, that he'd never ask or need her to say it, because he already knows what it means. Bucky gets it in his own way, that it was more than a ride around the city and learning something new in an empty parking lot. It was new, something she never thought she would do, and it's been so long since she tried doing something new that she forgot it could feel like this.

Wanda forgot it could feel this good.

"Hey, do you wanna grab a bite to eat now? I know a place, could be good." Bucky asks, what feels like a while later. "It's different from the place we were gonna go, but it's still good. That other place was on the other side of town. But this place, it's closer. Hey, am I saying place too much? Kinda feels like I am. It's starting to sound weird now, you know when you say a word too much and—"

"Yes." she smiles, coming closer. "I would like that, it sounds like a nice place. Let's do that."

Bucky smiles back down at her, before stepping away to stub out the cigarette and discard it. Then he joins her, walking with her back over to the bike. As they walk there together she finds herself silently hoping that they might come back here and try this again sometime.

By her side, Bucky brings her back by leaning in and bumping his shoulder into hers. His touch is soft but the bump is unexpected and sends her forward a few steps. She quickly steadies herself and turns back to him, smiling.

"Hey."

"That was for earlier. You thought I'd forget but I didn't." Bucky shrugs, offering her a smile. "So, wanna go get drinks now? We can take the bike there, have a couple drinks, then I'll come back for the bike in the morning if I get too wasted. That sound good to you?"

Wanda nods, feeling a surge of excitement rush through her at the thought of the night ahead of them. She knows that he can see it, her visible excitement, what this means to her. It's there in everything she does and says, and even in the way that she smiles at him. He can feel it too and he knows he's the reason it's there.

"That sounds good. Let's go?"

"Let's go. You hop on back this time, okay?" Bucky grins, bumping his shoulder into hers again. "Because yeah, you're good and all but for now I'll stick to the roads. You can stick to the parking lots. Sound good?"

Wanda smiles, answering him by shoving him gently towards the bike. He laughs and follows her there, easing himself down onto the bike and clipping his helmet on. After he's settled Wanda climbs on, locking her hands around his chest where she held on before, where she's wanted to put her hands back ever since. It feels good being here with him, being this close. She lets out a breath and settles in, aware of Bucky's silence and her own as he starts up the bike and begins to take them back out into the city.

She wants this, she realizes it now. She wants this, and him, even if there's a chance that it could all go wrong. Her life has been filled with so many bad things and so much pain that she finds herself longing for this, because it's so different from everything else and it's so good for her, for both of them. She feels better around him than she has in months and she knows it's not just because of Bucky but because of who she is when she's around him and what he brings out in her. It's only now that she really feels the weight of it all, what it means, what she wants, and how she doesn't want to let go.

 

* * * *

 

"I want a rematch, Maximoff. Me, you, the dartboard. Five minutes. Loser buys the drinks. I like whiskey. Got it?"

From where she's sitting reclined into the soft booth, Wanda can only smile up at Bucky as he joins her, carrying the drinks back from the bar with him. A red wine for her and a bottle of beer for himself. He sinks into the green booth carefully, places the drink down on the table, lets out a sigh, then glances up at Wanda with a look on his face that lets her know he's still waiting for his answer and he's very serious about this challenge, even after all the games of darts he just lost.

Thinking back on it makes her smile, as her gaze briefly moves away from Bucky and back out to the little dive-bar they ended up in after their last ride around the city. The place is small and not crowded at all, and of all the bars she's been to this one isn't all that bad. With an old jukebox playing in the corner of the room, a small crowd of people scattered between the pool table and the dartboard, and another group watching the TV at the bar, it's a nice little space and she feels glad that of all the places he could have taken her that tonight he wanted to bring her here.

The thought reminds her of Bucky and she quickly seeks him out again, finding him still sitting across from her in the booth, watching her as he waits for his answer. Wanda smiles more at the realization that he's spent the last few seconds waiting for her answer, but before she gives it to him she decides to make him wait a little longer. She reaches for her wine, drinks a sip, places it aside, then turns back to Bucky to find his expression easy to read. His curiosity is clear, right there with his impatience, and finally he cracks. He comes closer, resting both elbows on the table, eager to know her answer.

"Well? You up for the challenge or not?"

Wanda smiles, shrugging as she pretends to think it over. She stops for another sip of wine, puts the glass away again, and then sinks back comfortably into the seat while staying very much aware of how impatient Bucky is right now. His gaze follows her every move, waiting for her answer, waiting to know if she's going to accept his challenge.

"I'm not sure. You aren't so good at losing, so I don't think this is a good idea." she answers soon, amused. "I think it would be too embarrassing, and you have suffered enough of that tonight. Haven't you? I know that I have."

Five or six different thoughts and emotions flicker through his eyes, bright and fleeting, before he settles on one.

"Hey, that's just—well that's just not true." he's quick to say, voice playful. "And that's actually kinda mean. I have to say it's kinda harsh, red. I didn't know you had in you."

"Are you sure?" Wanda asks, smiling. "Are you sure that it isn't just a little true?"

Bucky nods, certain. "You can ask anyone and I guarantee that they'll tell you the same thing. I'm a pro at darts. Unbeatable. So, maybe I just.." he stops, nearly smiles, and then goes on. "Maybe I was just going easy on you. You ever think about that? Oh, I bet you did. That's so typical. That's just like you, isn't it? So typical."

His answer makes her smile, makes her want to burst out laughing, because he is so sweet and so silly with her. But mostly it's because she is so curious about where this is going and she decides to indulge him and see where this takes them.

"Okay, so maybe you were. Maybe you are right." she nods, thinking it over. "But what would be the point? Why would you want to embarrass yourself in front of so many people?"

This time Bucky doesn't answer so quickly. She smiles more, watching as he spends half a minute thinking over her answer while also working out his own. In the end he finally figures out what it is that he wants to say and somehow it turns out to be exactly what she thought it would be.

"Because I'm a gentleman?"

He says it like it's the only answer, the only possible explanation about why he lost, so badly, so many times, at so many games. And even though she wants to laugh, to keep playing, she just ends up smiling again.

"Oh, really? Well I am sure you think that. And I am sure that all of your dates think that you are the perfect gentleman."

For some unknown reason, the answer surprises him. Wanda says it lightly, to tease him and to play with him as he does with her, but this time it seems to mean something to him. She watches quietly as Bucky looks away, only for the briefest second, down to the table between them where she only now becomes aware of the scratches and dents in the wood. She watches his eyes flicker over the marks before he looks up at her again, smile still there just a little softer this time.

"What about you, doll?" he asks soon. "What do you think?"

"I think..." Wanda stops, smiles, then goes on. "I think that you are not so good at darts. That is what I think."

Bucky laughs this time, louder than he has all night, and she cherishes the sound. Loves it, even. Has grown familiar with it, in ways she never thought possible. She feels consumed by it and by him, as he laughs in a way that is both sweet and soft. When he's done laughing at her joke, he lets out a sigh and folds his hands together across his chest, looking happier than she has ever seen him. And she doesn't know why but for a minute afterwards she can only watch him, can only let herself be consumed by what she feels lingering in the air between the two of them.

She thinks it's always been there, her feelings, soft and unspoken. She's never voiced them, not to him, not really to herself, but she knows what they are and they are very much real. Wanda doesn't want to ignore what she feels, she never could, not even after that night she kissed him out on the street and he ran away. It's just that after that night she finds herself needing to know more. She needs to know that he feels what she does, even after everything.

They've spent so much time together already, on the phone, in her bed, out on the streets. Talking, and laughing, and telling stories to make each other smile and laugh more than they have in years. It's been so different with him, it's been something else entirely, but she still needs more. Wanda still needs to know with certainty that he feels what she does, or that he at least feels something for her. It's just been so long since she opened herself up to someone else that she needs to know with certainty what he feels before she even thinks about opening herself up in that way again.

"Like I said, maybe I was going easy on you." Bucky says, what feels like a while later. "Or maybe I was off my game 'cause I was distracted."

"Distracted?" she smiles, amused. "By, what? How terribly you were losing? Okay, that I believe."

"No, not that. It wasn't that. You really have to ask?"

Then he gives her a look, something small that she reads easily, because he means for her to, because he wants her to know exactly what he means. You, is what he doesn't say, what lingers in the air between them. Distracted by you. She lets herself think about it, lets herself get lost in it, even after her gaze shifts down to her hands and she starts to play with a silver ring on her pointer finger.

It makes her nervous. His gaze, his words, all of it. Wanda doesn't know why, not really, but for a minute afterwards she is quiet. She tells herself that it's because of what she feels, what she hopes he feels for her. If Bucky picks up on her silence or finds it odd how quiet she suddenly is then he says nothing. He just sits in the silence with her, happy to leave it until a new thought comes to him.

"Hey, remember you were gonna teach me?" Bucky points out, smiling. "I don't know how seriously you take promises but I take them pretty seriously. A promise is a promise. Remember?"

Wanda looks up almost right away, her attention both on Bucky and on the memory of him in her apartment, so curious and so eager to learn Sokovian. She remembers thinking he was joking again, but she sees now that he wasn't and he is very serious about learning this even though he has no idea what language he's even asking to learn.

"You meant that?"

Bucky nods, serious. "Hell yeah. I still do. Teach me something? You can go easy on me if you want but you don't have to. I've been told I'm a fast learner."

"Okay, sure. Um. Something easy.." she pauses, thinking it over. "Here is something: Nebo je plavo."

He spends a minute thinking it over, silently testing out the words before he says them, and when he finally does repeat the small phrase he does it so perfectly that at first she's a little surprised by how good he is at repeating these new and unfamiliar words. Then she lets herself think about it, she lets herself think about Bucky and that quiet spark of curiosity that's always been there, always been inside of him, and she decides that she isn't really all that surprised. It's just who he is, it's that deep and endless curiosity that he carries to always learn and know more, that must make this so easy for him.

It's pretty impressive and Wanda can't help but smile, watching him in a soft awe as he repeats the words again and again until t