I blink once. Twice.
With the third, the pain finally catches up with my body and my lips part involuntarily, a choked gasp catching in my throat. A tremble shudders my entire body but I remain standing, watching. One more moment. I have to be sure.
The child in his arms is unharmed. I am granted that consolation at least. He appears unharmed too, his face isn't creased with pain as he raises his head. But his eyes widen. I suppose that shocked expression is for me.
The grey irises lock with my own and Clint's mouth opens slightly, as if to speak, but no sound is uttered.
I taste blood as I speak, my lips almost subconsciously forming the first words I had ever said to the old man.
"You didn't see that coming..."
I can barely breathe anymore. My legs buckle, knees hitting the rock, and I stay for a moment. In my mind, Wanda is screaming. She can feel my pain; she can feel my life ebbing away like water drains into soil.
I'm sorry, Wanda... I'm so sorry...
Someone is holding me as I fall, muttering strings of words under their breath, and it takes me longer than it should to realise it's Clint. I don't make it to the ground, Barton takes me into his arms, one of his hands supports my head while the opposite arm moves to curve around my chest to hold my back.
He's scared, I can see it in his eyes. I don't think he wanted me to die, not like this anyway. I didn't want to die like this either; this was painful. But I suppose it was worth it. I died saving people.
I see Clint's lips move but don't manage to catch the words. My vision is failing. Darkness crowds in from all sides and Clint shakes me desperately.
There's a flash of red.
It doesn't hurt anymore.
That's good. I don't want to feel anymore.
I think I'm dead.
No, someone is still touching me. I wonder if it is Death's hands on my chest. But they're warm- they're too soft and warm.
My hearing is starting to fade back and I'm quite sure that, should I open my eyes, I may be able to see, but I don't. I don't want to, not yet. I just listen to the voices. I think I recognise them.
"-know where she is?"
"She's safe, I know that much. Thor said he'd seen her with Vision... Probably on a lifeboat."
"She needs to be here. I don't know if he can hold on much longer..."
Now I crack open my eyes- just a little. My eyesight is swimming, blurred so that I can barely make out who kneels over me. But I know the colours, the vague shape of their bodies. Captain America... Barton...
Clint turns to me; I think I can see his eyes flash with shock before the archer leans down to me.
"Hey Maximoff... You back with us?"
I simply blink drowsily. I'm tired, numb, drained, I just want to sleep... It's all I can do to keep my eyes open. Clint moves to touch my jaw as my eyes slip and flicker a little.
"Hey, look at me." He orders gently, drawing my unfocused eyes to his face. "You gotta stay awake kid. You have to hold on, just for a little bit longer. Your sister's coming, I promise, she's coming. We'll get her here."
Captain America- Steve glances to the side, moving back to grip Clint's shoulder briefly. "I'll see if any agents can help look."
Have they not found her? I can't help but wonder as Steve pushes himself to his feet and is gone from my line of sight. A stab of fear jolts my chest at the prospect of my sister being hurt, or worse.
"I'm sure she's okay, Pietro." Clint assures me as if he understands. "We'll find her and we can bring her to you, okay? She'll be here soon, just wait a couple more minutes."
My eyes drift, searching for her even though I understand she isn't here. "Wanda..." I breathe her name, knowing full well how weak my voice sounds and hating myself for it.
"Yeah, that's right." Clint nods; his eyes are kind, so is his voice. In fact, he is kind, his actions, touching to assure me I'm really here. The true meaning of that touch may have not been realised but it still helps. "That's right kid, Wanda. Wanda's coming. It won't be long now, just try to stay conscious for me... for her, you have to try."
I will try. I won't give up yet, I want to see her, I have to feel her beside me. Wanda... My eyes flicker again. No... I can feel them closing. Please... I can't stop it. Wanda...
"Kid...? Kid!" Clint touches my face again, his thumb smoothes along my cheekbone. "We're losing you kid, come back. Come back to us Pietro!"
I can't... My eyes close.I'm sorry Clint, I just can't... I tried...
"Pietro..." Clint's voice is soft; his hands move, one touches my chest and he uses the other to gently work his fingers through my hair. "Pietro, please, you need to wake up. You can do it, I know you can. Just let me know you can hear me, please."
It wastes my strength, I knew it would, but I lift a hand, laying it to Clint's, which still rests against my chest. My palm is over his knuckles and I curl my fingers round to squeeze his hand. I'm weak. I'm weaker than I have ever been and surges of pain still throb in my wounds.
I want to be strong but I don't think I can. It hurts. Everything hurts so much.
I cough and see red.
I must have grimaced because Clint is stroking my head again, murmuring reassurance.
"It's alright kid, you're gonna be alright. You just have to keep breathing, just gotta stay conscious- little a bit longer. I won't let you die, I won't."
Something in my chest buckles. I think it's too late. I'm dying...
I suppose Clint realises what's happening because he's gripping my hand now, brushing my hair back from my forehead. "No, don't die. Please, you can't die, don't die!" I feel him move slightly, like he's looking around. "I'll get help, I'm going to get help for you."
He made to get up but I tighten my grasp on his hand. I'm not strong enough to physically stop him but he seems to understand I want him to wait, so he doesn't fight against my hold.
"Stay..." I whisper softly, hoping that the pleading nature of my voice is enough to make him listen.
He takes my hand properly, I feel the other move to touch the side of my jaw. "I'm here kid... What do you need?" He asks gently. "Just tell me what you need and I'll get it for you."
"Just stay." I breathe the words. "Stay with me... Tell Wanda... Tell her I wasn't in pain... Tell her y-you were with me..."
"You can tell her yourself." Clint mutters firmly. "She's coming Pietro, she will get here... I'll get someone to find her. I'll only be a minute-"
"No..." I can't help but moan in my desperate, pain-hazed state. "No, please, don't leave me... Please stay. Don't leave me.."
"Okay, okay kid." Clint tries to calm me, his voice quiet and soothing as he strokes my head. "I'm here, I'm right here with you... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to panic you. I won't leave you on your own."
My breathing hitches and I see red.
Blood, fire, gunshot, gas, Wanda...
Blood... I'm bleeding... It won't stop...
Wanda... Wanda, help... Môj Sestra...
"Help..." I can't breathe. I'm gasping for air but I can't breathe. "Please help... Please.."
"I'm trying kid, I'm trying." Clint... "It's alright Pietro, I'm here, I'm right here. You're not alone anymore, I promise."
Clint's here... Clint's with me, I'm not dying on my own. Clint's here.
I'm letting go now. I feel myself letting go. It's time to leave. I have to die.
I barely register the voice. It's too late for that now, I'm dying, I've finally met my match and now I have to die. It's over. My pain can end now. Hydra's experiment is beaten and maybe it's a good thing. It proves that I am still human. I'm still Pietro Maximoff. I'm still-
The voice again. It's not Clint, I realise. But can it be who I think, who I wish and hope it is?
A hand touches my face. My eyes open. I see red.
"Wanda..." I breathe her name.
My sister smiles. Her face is grimy, streaked with tears. She's crying, her lips tremble slightly, but she's there and she's smiling down at me.
I exhale a small, weak breath of what could be laughter. It's hard to tell, even I'm not sure, but it's filled with relief and joy. Wanda's here, she's alright, she wasn't hurt. She's alive.
"Pietro." She whispers, gently touching my face. There's so much love in her actions, in her voice. "My sweet, reckless, beautiful brother..."
I take in a breath that shakes and try to blink back tears but only succeed in letting them fall down my face. I let out a quick breath, taking it in again immediately as I fight to keep my emotions under control. Wanda hushes me softly, wiping away the tears with her thumb.
"It's alright Pietro." She says kindly, stroking my head. "I'm here now, it's going to be alright."
"Wanda..." I whisper quietly, swallowing back a sob. The next words are rushed, hurried and desperate, I can barely say them fast enough. "I-I'm sorry. I'm sorry-"
"Shhh..." Wanda hushes me again, a long, soft sound that calms me slightly. Her hands are warm as she cups the side of my jaw, her thumb stroking my cheek. "Hush drahý, why do you speak like this...? You don't have to apologise, why do you think you have to say sorry?"
"I-I promised..." I stutter a little, hardly able to take in breaths between my words. "I swore to... to protect you... I failed... failed..."
She takes my hand. "No, drahý. You didn't fail. I'm safe Pietro, I'm here. We're both together now, everything's going to be alright."
I'm crying now. I'm crying for her because she doesn't understand. But I do. I know what's happening, I know I'm dying. I can see Clint standing a little behind my sister, looking down at me. He looks sad so I know he understands- he understands that I'm going to leave. I'm going to leave them both.
I reach for him, my hand trembling visibly; his expression turns to shock. He doesn't deny me though, he can't ignore me when I'm like this- I've got minutes at the most- so he crouches down beside me, taking my hand.
"What is it kid?" He asks gently. "What do you need?"
I pull him closer, so I can whisper my request into his ear. "Look after her... Please, you have to... Promise me..."
Clint nodded, sitting up and squeezing my hand. "I will, Pietro. I will, I promise."
A small smile alters my features slightly. My free hand reaches for Wanda's face and she guides it to her cheek, kissing my palm. Sliding my hand round to the back of her head, she leans down to kiss my forehead. I turn my head, brushing my lips to her cheek and whispering words against her skin.
"I love you.. so much.."
A soft sob escapes her lips. "I love you too Pietro."
There's the faintest echo of a smile on my lips as I take my last breath. Clint's holding my hand and I'm holding Wanda, my fingers tangled loosely in her hair. I'm safe; I'm with my family.
My eyes close. Wanda gently kisses the side of my jaw as I slip away.
"I love you.."
Slovak translation (italics):
Môj Sestra - My sister
Drahý - Darling/Dear