Chapter 50: The case against honesty.
Wanda had shut herself in her room and locked the door.
"Wanda," Pietro called from outside. "Let me in. We can talk."
He wanted to comfort her, but what could he say? That it was going to be ok? That it was not their fault? That it would be forgotten soon enough?
None of those things were true.
"I know— I know how you are feeling right now." he said.
"No, you don't! It was my fault!" she shouted.
"It was our fault." he said. "I was there too."
"It's not the same." she said. "Not the same." and he could hear hiccups.
"Wanda, open the door, please."
"Go away, Pietro."
He was about to ask her to let him in the room again, when Captain America joined him. Apparently, the Avengers were curious enough to follow up on his sister's breakdown.
"Is everything alright?" the man asked.
Pietro nodded, already dreading how things would change from now on. Captain America, the man who had defended them the most until now, would likely feel the most betrayed of all. And the other heroes… What would they do with him and Wanda once they learned the truth?
"Wanda, whatever it is," the Captain addressed his sister. "We can talk about it. You are safe here."
For how long? Pietro wanted to ask. For how long until they were arrested and shipped off to an American jail? Or were given to the spies like the Widow?
There was a moment of silence on the other side, and then, he heard Wanda mumble. "I— I need to be alone right now."
"You sure?" Rogers asked, and for a moment, Pietro imagined what would happen if Wanda agreed. He and Rogers would be invited into her room and as Pietro tried to comfort her, the man would ask questions or offer advice or say generally nice things that would just make him and his sister feel like hypocrites or worse.
"Please." Wanda said instead.
Pietro recalled how often he had locked himself in his room, feeling sorry about himself. He had wanted someone to tell him that the news was exaggerating and things were not that bad. He couldn't tell Wanda. He couldn't tell anyone, so he had gone to check it for himself. That had been a mistake.
He couldn't let Wanda do the same. She couldn't leave now, but she would want to check online, and Pietro wanted to be there when she did. To soften the blow, however little.
Looking at the closed door, though, now was not the right time.
The Captain escorted him back to the communal room, even as he asked after Wanda's condition. He even tried to comfort him. Pietro just wanted to punch him at that point. He didn't want pity. Although pity, might be the only thing saving him after he saw the Black Widow's eyes meet his the moment he came back.
"What was that about?" Stark asked.
"Tony!" Banner said.
Stark looked at his friend, puzzled. "What?"
The scientist who could turn into a monster —he wasn't the monster; they were, they were— sighed.
"Show some kindness." Rogers answered in his place. "Pietro is worried about his sister."
"We could be of help," the Widow interrupted, surprising everyone by taking Stark's side. Everyone but Pietro. Her gaze still hadn't left him. "If we knew what was wrong."
"Nat's right." Hawkeye said, before addressing him. "A problem shared is a problem halved, you know." His voice sounded genuinely empathetic, but he was the Widow's friend, so Pietro didn't trust it.
Stark rolled his eyes. "Because they just found a problem in the middle of our conversation."
He and Rogers sat down.
The black man with an eye patch joined the Widow's side and stared at him.
"We offer therapy," he said, pausing, making Pietro wonder where he was going before he continued. "If needed."
Pietro swallowed. He wasn't going to be able to make Wanda's reaction sound like PTSD or something.
"What about Johannesburg makes you feel guilty?" the Widow started, her hands unclasping, body leaning forward. Pietro froze.
"Kid, it was not your fault." Captain America said. "Ultron forced you. You were scared and didn't know what to do. Yes, things could have gone differently, but you are kids. Sometimes, you just have to—."
"Mr. Rogers," the android spoke. "I'm sure Mr. Maximoff would appreciate it, if you did not assert his thoughts for him. Feeling responsible is not a contradictory state of being for a participant in a premeditated act of violence, regardless of what their age is."
Pietro might have been both relieved and worried that Stark's robot was not treating him like a child, but he was too busy wondering what about those words made the Widow freeze, just as he had. It had only taken about two seconds, but in that moment, he saw her smile melt off her face, leaving behind a blank expression and a piercing stare. Her body went from languid to tense, and her fingers twitched around something that wasn't there.
Then, just as it came, her reaction was gone, revealing a slightly surprised and solemn woman. Pietro ignored the mask. Her hand kept holding on to empty air. The positioning of her fingers… That was how they had trained him to hold a knife in HYDRA before he had been enhanced.
"You lied to us." she said.
To me, Pietro heard.
"Both of you." she continued.
How?, her eyes seemed to ask.
"What are you talking about, Natasha?" Rogers asked.
"The children tricked us, Steve." she said, and Pietro could feel goosebumps across his skin. "They told us a story that we were all too willing to listen."
Not me. He heard.
The older spy, Fury, put his hand on her shoulder.
"They didn't just listen to orders." she continued. "They agreed with the plan to release Hulk on Johannesburg."
Pietro flinched, even as Rogers started defending them.
"Soldier, sit down!" Fury shouted. "They lied?" he asked the Widow.
They were able to lie to you? She nodded.
He almost wished HYDRA hadn't trained him on this because he really didn't like what he was picking up from the spies' body language. They weren't even trying to hide it. The Widow knew about his training from her previous interrogation, after all. Knew, and wanted him scared.
Pietro wished he could hide his emotions half as well as her.
"Is that true?" Rogers asked him, looking shocked.
"Yes." he said, managing to keep his voice even, even as his arm lifted up to his chest, not daring to touch his throat, as it often did whenever he thought of this.
"No." the Widow immediately followed. "You are guilty about something different. Something worse." she then gasped in surprised horror. It was comical how fake it was, or maybe that was Pietro's bias because no one else called her out on it. "You made the plan. It was your idea." she must have seen something on his face because she continued. "Wanda's idea."
Pietro said nothing as the room became quiet. He risked a glance around the America was looking at him with a level of betrayal that was too much for how little he had known the twins. Thinking of how idealistic the man was, what they did might have really challenged his beliefs about the innocence of children.
Banner looked disappointed, while Barton seemed angry. The two other spies… looked like they wanted to dissect him, so he quickly gazed at Thor. The alien had not seemed that interested in them, but now he looked… sympathetic and pitying? Why?
Unable to answer, he then looked at Stark and his android. After learning how the man seemed to care for Ultron, Pietro expected him to be relieved or vindicated, but he had clenched his fists and closed his eyes and looked to be… counting? As for the android, he had left the wall and joined his Creator.
Why did Pietro think he saw him hide a smile?
"Anything else you would like to share?" Fury asked, returning his attention back to him and the Widow.
Pietro said nothing.
"If I might offer my thoughts," the android started. "In the spirit of honesty, there is an incident, Mr. Stark and I have become aware of, that we have yet to share."
"What is it?" Fury asked.
"Shortly after we apprehended Mr. Maximoff, Sir discovered that he had bruising marks around his neck indicative of strangulation. When confronted, Mr. Maximoff refused to elaborate, other than Ultron had been responsible and that he had deserved it."
Pietro couldn't breathe.
"Ultron didn't want the Hulk to attack Johannesburg." the Widow realized. Seeing that some of her teammates had yet to understand, she explained. "The twins didn't just plan it— they deviated from the plan, perhaps even went against it, by having Wanda mind control Bruce. That's why Ultron became so enraged, he strangled the boy." she then stared at him. "And that's why Maximoff said he deserved it."
"Pietro…" Captain America started, but didn't say anything in the end and looked away.
Stark stood up.
"I'm going back to the lab." he stated.
"Stark, this conversation is not over." Fury said.
"It is. Now." Stark said. "I need to go back to fixing Ultron, so that I don't stay here and assault the piece of shit who made me think my kid was an abusive, mass-murdering psychopath." He took a deep breath. "Until we made sure about the mind control."
He then charged out of the room and into the elevator, the android following after him.
No one else spoke for a while, until Rogers got up, tried to speak, but stopped again, and then left the room too. Thor and Banner joined him and left soon after.
Now, Pietro was alone in the room with three spies.
"How did you two do it?" the Widow asked. "I asked about Johannesburg. You told me that Ultron had a specific plan and that you followed it. You are not good at lying."
Pietro sat at the corner of the couch. He stared at the door. He needed to prepare to run at a moment's notice.
"You didn't ask." Pietro said. "You only thought you did."
The Black Widow skipped past freezing this time, one hand on her hip, the other behind her back, her lips stretched into a smile that showed teeth. Pietro had never seen her grin before, and he wanted her to stop.
"Wanda manipulated my memories?" she asked, voice so sweet that even Barton noticed, frowning. He took the Widow's hand.
"N-No." Pietro said. "She just didn't want you to ask about it, and… made you think that the questions... were finished."
"And the brain filled in the gaps with appropriate memories? Memories Romanov would accept?" Fury asked, sounding more curious than anything else.
Pietro shook his head. "I don't know. Wanda… told me later."
"She didn't want to talk about it, and the girl only just realized how much red there is in her ledger?" the Widow said, as if thinking out loud.
Pietro didn't say anything.
"Come on, Nat." Barton spoke. "It's time for a drink."
The Widow stared at her friend for a moment, before her insanity —Pietro couldn't call it anything else— was concealed again, to reveal a tired expression.
"Boss?" Hawkeye asked the older spy.
"The rest have left." Fury said. "We'll pick this up tomorrow." he then addressed Pietro. "As for you, stop looking so terrified. No one's about to kill two children, whatever their crimes."
The man patted him on the shoulder. "Especially two enhanced ones. Check on your sister. We'll talk more later. About you. About Johannesburg. About the team."
Pietro nodded sharply in a daze and got up.
"Oh, and Maximoff?" Fury said. "Don't try to run. It will just make things worse for you."
Pietro swallowed, understanding the implications, before he sped out of there and to his room.
A/N: Thanks for your support, dear readers! Truly, you are amazing and I can't express how much I appreciate it.