There was a ringing in her ears. Running like a current through her head, throbbing behind her eyes. She was writhing in pain but the restraints were keeping her in place, her jaw aching as her teeth clenched.

She could still hear them talking but she couldn't focus on their voices; couldn't pick out any words or make sense of what they were saying. All she knew was that they were there. They were all there, standing around her as a constant stream of light penetrated the stone in her neck.

"So how do we do this?" asked Wanda, staring at her through the glass of the machine.

Her own connection to the mind stone was sending a dull throb down her back, as if she could feel Juno's pain. She tried to ignore it.

"I guess we just... do it," replied Bruce solemnly.

"This feels so wrong," she said.

"It's the most humane way to do it."

She sighed.

"Banner's right," said Sam. "You could have destroyed it back there in the street, blew her to pieces, ended it all. This is... better."

There was a long silence amongst the team, a collective nod and sigh as they shifted on their feet and folded their arms.

"Alright then," said Bruce.

He walked up to a large screen and touched it, bringing it to life.

"Wait."

They turned to Stephen. He was standing at the edge of the room, his face cut and bloodied, his cloak swaying gently.

"I want to talk with her," he said. "Alone."

"We're not taking her out of the machine," said Sam.

"Then don't."

"How do we know you won't?" asked Rhodey.

"I helped you put her in there. I told you when the time came, I'd make the right decision. And I did. You have no reason not to trust me."

They looked around at each other. exchanging glances, talking without words. He let out a huff and stepped towards Wanda. She watched as he slipped the Eye of Agamotto from around his neck and placed it carefully in her hands.

"Take this as my word."

She looked down at it, then up at the others as they watched with confused stares.

"You can trust him," said Peter nervously. "W-when we were in space, he told Mr Stark he'd let us die before he let anything happen to that necklace."

"Not a necklace," Stephen added.

Rhodey rolled his eyes and sighed. "Okay. Alright, fine." He pointed his finger at Stephen. "I swear to god..."

"I said you have my word," he replied sternly.

They filed out of the room, leaving him alone with the hum of the machine. He turned his head, letting his cloak soar off his shoulders and wrap tightly around the door handle, making sure no one could get back in.

Juno's eyes were closed, her head bowed as she hovered face-down in the machine. Suddenly, the ringing stopped, like an easing headache, and her thoughts became clear again. She remained still, listening carefully to the sound of his footsteps as they stopped in front of her.

"I know you can hear me," he said.

She lifted her head slowly, opening her eyes to see him on the other side of the glass.

He took a breath. "Tell me the truth..."

"About what?" she said quietly, her voice croaky and sore.

"Back there, was that you?"

"Who else would it have been?"

"Juno. This is serious. I need to know if you meant that; if now that it's over you still... stand by what you did."

"Does it matter? I'm not getting out of here. They're going to take out the stone either way."

"But-"

"You lied to me." Her eyes flickered with light, as if she were holding back her powers. "You said you wanted to take me away, keep me safe. But you didn't mean it. You were distracting me so they could put me in here. So they could kill me."

"No one wants to kill you. But you left us no choice."

"So just do it. What are we waiting for?"

"I'm waiting for you to show me that you're still you. I-if I can prove to them that you're not going to hurt anyone else then maybe I can get them to wait, run more tests, separate you from that thing safely."

"You keep telling them I'm not a threat, yet I keep proving that I am. How can I make you trust me when I don't trust myself?"

"Because I know you."

"No you don't. You said yourself I'm not supposed to be here. I'm not the Juno that you fall in love with, I'm not the Juno that dies on your operating table. I'm something else - something that shouldn't exist."

He rubbed his face with his hand, as if he were trying to disguise the irritation he felt. "Why? After everything you've done to survive, why are you giving up now?"

She paused for a moment, looking over at the screens of data nearby. "Bruce said if the stone stayed inside of me long enough that I'd die." She looked back at him. "He was right, Stephen. I am dying. Just not in the way we thought."

He furrowed his brow, shaking his head in confusion.

"Soon my mind will be gone completely, and all that'll be left is the stone, using my body like a puppet."

"Do you really believe that?"

"I don't want to." She swallowed past a lump in her throat, closing her eyes and breathing slowly. "But I don't think anyone's going to want to take that risk."

"Why did you have to go and do that?" his voice broke. "You escaped death, you had a second chance."

"I guess my life really did end in 2012," she said. "I just don't think I'm viable for this world. I'm like a zombie - you can take it out of the ground and it'll walk around like it's still alive but no matter what, its skin will still rot."

His eyes were red and watery, glaring at her with anger and desperation. "I can't let them back into this room, Juno. I can't let them..."

"Please, Stephen." A tear trailed down her cheek, dripping off her chin onto the metal floor of the machine. "Just... let me do this one redeemable thing. Before the stone takes over again and I start trying to fight my way out."

He stood there, silent and unmoving, searching for words but nothing seemed right.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "You have to let them do this."

He placed a hand on the glass and rested his forehead against it. "Okay," he finally said, so quiet it was almost inaudible.

III

"Okay, everybody needs to leave," said Bruce as he returned to the computer screen. "If the stone breaks while we're trying to remove it, it's gonna let off a nasty explosion."

Everyone filed out, disappearing from the building in a hurry.

"I'll stay," said Wanda. "In case something goes wrong."

Bruce nodded.

Stephen remained in the room, staring at Juno as she hung in the machine. Wanda stood at his side.

"Here." She handed him the Eye of Agamotto.

He took it and hooked it around his neck.

"You should go," she said.

"It's still her," he said. "I know you all think she's this monster; just another bad guy to exterminate but she's not. You live with that thing's powers inside you. Why can't she?"

"I'm sure she could. We just don't have time to sit around and wait to find out." She looked down at the eye resting on his chest. "But you do."

He shook his head. "I can't."

"Why not?"

"Because what if I look into all the possible outcomes of this, and not one of them ends well? What do I do then?"

She folded her arms and sighed. "Then you'll have peace of minding knowing this was the right decision."

III

He paced the floor of the sanctum, the time stone floating between his fingers as he glared at it. He wondered if he'd know when she was gone, if he'd feel it, like a sudden emptiness in his chest. Or if things would simply fall back into place, as if she'd never existed at all.

Against every odd, across all timelines and realities, she had found him. Survived when even the universe tried to purge itself of her. She was there because of a mistake, but nothing about their meeting felt accidental. He had to know, to be certain there was no other way.

He put the time stone back in the eye and took his position on the ground, legs crossed, wrists resting on his knees. Green light poured from the pendant and wrapped around his arms, raising him off the ground and seeping into his head. He closed his eyes and began to look into the future, sifting through every possibility, watching her die inside the machine over and over again.

III

"Here we go," said Bruce as he turned the dial slowly.

Wanda shielded her eyes as the stone on the back of Juno's neck began to spark, the lights of the machine penetrating her skin, slicing through her flesh and unstitching the stone from her body.

She could feel her pain, her knees buckling as she reached out and grabbed the back of a chair to keep herself standing.

"She's withstanding it!" she shouted over the noise, clutching the back of her neck as if the stone were inside of her.

Bruce turned the dial to maximum, gripping the screen to stop himself from falling as the room began to shake, tools clattering and falling from counters, equipment toppling over and crashing to the floor.

Juno let out a blood-curdling scream as the machine began to rattle, the vibranium cylinders around her hands cracking as her bright, golden power threatened to seep through. But they didn't break. Her body felt like it was on fire, the burning she felt in her hands whenever she used her powers was now radiating through her, as if she was going to combust, explode into ashes and disappear completely.

Wanda could hear her voice, crying, begging them to stop. She covered her ears but it continued. She had infiltrated her mind, trying desperately to save herself one last time. But it was too late.

There was a loud bang, sparks and smoke spilling from the machine as it began to shut down. The blast threw Bruce hard against the wall and sent Wanda skidding across the floor. The room filled with a yellow glow, so bright they couldn't look directly at it, then a flash of bright green light.

Suddenly there was silence.

She sat up slowly as Bruce groaned, nursing the back of his head and looking at the crater his body had left in the wall.

"Did it work?" she asked breathlessly.

"I think it did..."

They approached the machine tentatively, looking inside the ruins for a body, for the mind stone, for any evidence that this was over.

Wanda used her powers to lift the debris while Bruce waded through it, picking up large, heavy panels and throwing them aside like they were made of paper. But there was nothing there.

"Did she... escape?" asked Bruce.

"I don't think so," she replied. "I can't feel her in my head anymore. Maybe the mind stone blew up and took her with it."

"Would it do that?"

"It did with Vis. When I destroyed it, he..." she trailed off, closing her eyes at the memory of Vision on his knees.

"Well, what do we do? Do we just assume she's dead?"

"I don't think there's any other explanation."

One Month Later

They sat around the television in HQ listening as the news anchor spoke.

'A spokesperson for the Avengers has confirmed that the mutant Juno Wolfe was not a product of domestic terrorism. But instead a victim of the 2012 New York attack. The Avengers have extended their condolences to Wolfe's family and say they hope they can finally be at peace.'

Rhodey switched off the TV and sighed. "Well there we go."

The others nodded.

"I spoke with the board, we're all cleared," said Sam. "So it's back to business as usual I guess."

"Has anyone spoken to Strange?" asked Rhodey.

"Wong said he's doing alright," said Bruce. "Back to jumping dimensions and playing with time, I guess."

"I imagine he's not jumping at the bit to come and see us."

"Would you? We basically killed his kinda-wife."

Wanda stood up and walked to the window, looking out at the cloudy blue sky. "He'll be fine," she said.

III

Kamar-Taj was tranquil.

Blossoms fell from trees, dancing in the air on their way to the ground. Beyond the temple walls, children from the village gathered on the busy market street. They were excited, giggling and clapping as the yellow-eyed woman used her magic to make their dolls float.

She was wearing a thin, linen scarf over her head and a long black dress as she crouched down in the dirt with the children, laughing with them quietly as she curled her fingers and made the dolls dance.

She felt something change, as if the air around her had filled with a familiar presence. She turned to look at the door, the children groaning with disappointment as she lost her focus and let the dolls fall to the ground.

She went back inside, walking slowly through the temple as a conversation began to grow clearer. She listened closely, softening her steps as she approached.

"I told you she needs to stay inside."

"There is only so much I can do. The woman will not listen to me."

"Yeah, sounds like her."

She turned the corner into the room, standing in the doorway and watching him bicker with the other sorcerer. They stopped speaking when he noticed her there. He turned towards her, the flecks of gray in his hair catching in the light, his long, red cloak hanging from his shoulders.

"Hi," she said.

"Hi," he replied with a slight smile.