Thank you, everyone, for your kind words, encouragement, and continued readership. Your words are inspiring - even when I'm having trouble writing. A special thanks to NCISlover2 for inspiring me to finish this chapter and offering constructive feedback on finishing. Here's the next chapter - I hope you enjoy.
The next days were tense. There was little conversation – no one knew quite what to say – and everyone was being precise and careful with the words they did utter. A week after the news had hit, it began to die down – at least for those who didn't live by the 24 hour news cycle. Two weeks after, Wanda caught herself smiling on the walk from the bus stop to their home. It was a beautiful day – the sun was out – she could hear birds singing and children playing outside. It took her a moment of contemplation to realize why it was easier to smile that day – she had not overheard anyone on campus that day speak a word about the video. It was the first time since it had been released.
She was walking up the path to the front door when Natasha pulled her car into the driveway and Peter jumped out of the passenger seat, barely waiting for it to stop. He slammed the car door and ran past Wanda, into the house. Wanda raised her eyebrows at Natasha, who shrugged and sighed as she exited the car and grabbed her purse from the backseat.
"What was that about?" Wanda asked.
"He got into trouble at school," Natasha said, unnaturally calm. "Again."
"What do you mean again?"
"Second time this week. The headmaster is being extremely understanding – but if he doesn't cut the crap, he's going to get expelled – or worse – he's going to draw too much attention."
"What is he doing?"
"He has beaten up no less than four other boys."
"Why?" Wanda asked, gasping.
"He won't say," Natasha responded. "And it's starting to piss me off," she added with a growl. Once inside the house, she began heating water for tea and pulling out ingredients for dinner. "How was your day?" she asked Wanda, once she trusted herself to continue a conversation without anger or frustration.
Wanda smiled as she hung her bag on the stair railing, ready to go up. She pulled out mugs and two different tins of tea. "It was good," she said. "It was very good." Natasha asked her about her classes and how they were going – and the younger woman described some of the subjects she was studying. They worked together on preparing tea, then dinner.
Wanda was pulling dinner from the oven when Steve arrived home from an information-gathering trip to London. He kissed Natasha, who stood on her toes to kiss him back and smirked as she pulled away. "Can you get Peter for dinner?"
"Sure," Steve said, finding it an odd request. Natasha was not above yelling and simply informing Peter of dinnertime in that way. But he figured she had her reasons, so he walked up the stairs and knocked on Peter's bedroom door. Opening it to find an empty room, he saw an open window and looked down in the back garden. A few flattened roses below the window indicated that the teen had not left by the front door.
When Steve walked back to the kitchen to inform his wife, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry – can you please find him? I really can't deal with this – " Steve exchanged a concerned expression with Wanda. Natasha didn't usually admit when she was frustrated or overwhelmed. And she rarely lost her patience with anyone, least of all Peter.
"What's going on?"
"You'll have to ask Peter about his suspension when you find him," Natasha answered.
Steve grimaced. "Again?" He sighed. "For a nice kid, he sure does hit people a lot." He pulled his jacket back on and leaned down to kiss Natasha. "I'll find him. Try not to worry."
Natasha huffed and turned back to the counter, looking for something to busy her hands. She settled for tossing the salad again.
When Steve found Peter, it was kilometers away, near the cliffs. He wasn't sitting too close, which the older man appreciated. Despite his climbing abilities being stellar, Steve still didn't want to think about the distance between where they were and the crashing waves below them. Steve sat next to him and stared out at the beautiful view.
"As much as I never intended to be a fugitive from the law, I have to admit that, this past year and some months, I have gotten to see some of the best views. You weren't with us in France, but that was a pretty place too."
"Sometimes I miss the city," Peter told him.
"Me too," Steve admitted. "Once a kid from Brooklyn, always a kid from Brooklyn."
"I'm sorry," Peter said, after several minutes of shared silence. Steve gave him more space and eventually he continued. "I shouldn't have done it – I know we're in hiding and I shouldn't call attention to myself – and I know Natasha is angry with me."
"You've never seen Natasha angry," Steve told him with an amused smile. "She's frustrated because you're making less than great decisions – and she doesn't know why. She doesn't like not knowing why."
"I've noticed that."
Steve chuckled. "What's going on, Pete?" Peter shook his head and shrugged.
"I don't really know," he admitted. "There's this group of boys at school – they just keep making me really angry."
"What are they doing?"
"The world is full of jerks. You can't hit them all."
"I know," Peter admitted. "I'll get it under control." They talked for a while longer and Peter finally admitted that this particular group of boys was making unkind and disturbing comments about their female classmates – and had said some pretty awful things about Wanda when she was in the news. Although Steve agreed that Peter was wright about their words being awful, he explained again why picking fights and hitting them wasn't the answer. Peter agreed to be more careful – to think before he acted.
Miles away, at home, Natasha suggested they eat. She and Wanda shared a quiet meal – they were both stuck in their heads, waiting for the boys to return home. The door opened quietly – and Peter's hesitation was palpable. Wanda offered him a small smile and patted him on the shoulder as she passed him on her way to her bedroom. It left him alone with Natasha, who was sitting at the kitchen table with a tea cup.
"I'm sorry," he said, sincerely. He sat down next to her and she watched him without comment, her expression not unkind. "I know I need to be more careful."
"What's going on?"
Peter shrugged. "I'm angry. A lot. But I know that's not a good excuse. And those boys are being horrible. But that is also not a good enough reason to put everyone in danger of being discovered."
Natasha nodded. She reached out and covered his hand with hers. "I'm not going to tell you not to be angry. You have a lot of right to be. But you need an outlet for it that does not include punching your classmates." He nodded.
"I don't like being angry," he admitted. "I never was before. Even after my parents – and Uncle Ben," he said, his voice dropping off toward the end.
"A lot has happened since then," she added softly. "And it's okay to be angry. But you need a different outlet." The pitch in her voice changed to the non-nonsense style to which so many were accustomed. "Such as cutting the grass and taking out the garbage for two weeks."
"That's fair," Peter said.
"Two weeks that will also be without your x-box." He looked like he wanted to argue – but he knew he couldn't. "And without data on your phone – unless it is a legitimate emergency."
"That's archaic," Peter said grumbled, but didn't argue. She stood and dropped a kiss on his head before fluffing his hair.
"Read a book, moj mal'chik," she said, not unkindly. She procured a plate from the refrigerator and placed it on the table. Leftovers from dinner. "Don't tell Steve. He's on his own," she said with a smirk. Peter thanked her and ate slowly, trying to decide how he was going to entertain himself for two weeks.
On a Saturday morning not far in the future, Peter and Wanda went out together. She wanted to find a secluded place where she could practice with her powers – and Peter wouldn't complain if that happened to be in a forest where he could swing and climb around a bit. They found a place and practiced for a bit – and then were silly for a bit longer. They were both cheerful when they returned home to find visitors. The lightness and joy went away quickly enough that it left Wanda dizzy.
Maria and Nick Fury were both in the kitchen with Natasha and Steve. The husband and wife sat close together, studying a small stack of documents. Coffee and tea cups were scattered around the four – and no one looked particularly on edge. Despite the relaxed atmosphere, it was still different enough to make the younger two family members stop in the doorway. "Hello," Wanda said, hesitantly.
"Hello, Miss Maximoff. Mr. Parker," Fury said. He saw their fear and emitted a bark of a laugh. "For once, we come with good news."
"What is it?" Peter asked, moving to stand behind Steve and Natasha. He looked at the pages but they were legal documents and he didn't really know what he was looking at.
"Full pardons," Steve told them. "From the President of the United States."
Peter grinned. "That's awesome. Does that mean we don't have to hide?"
"That's exactly what it means," Maria told him, offering him a genuine smile.
"And?" Wanda asked, her voice making clear her suspicion. Everyone looked at her. Peter in confusion, the rest with knowledge of what it meant to get anything in the world. "What have we given in exchange?"
"There is no quid-pro-quo," Maria told her. "The president is trying to right a wrong that was done. He will be reading the full pardons next week from the Rose Garden – and informing the media that the Avengers are to be hailed as heroes, not chased as criminals."
Wanda studied her, then turned to catch first Steve's – and then Natasha's – eyes. "There is more." It was a statement, not a question. "What is it?"
"They want you to testify in front of congress," Natasha told her. "And in court."
"But you do not have to," Steve told her. "These pardons are straight forward – no contingencies."
"And if I do not testify?"
"There is a chance your testimony will ensure Ross' removal and punishment," Maria informed her. "But it's not a given. If you testify, at least you'll have done what was possible."
"She's done enough for the world," Peter said angrily. "They can just leave her alone." Nick Fury looked intrigued by this turn of emotions and Maria offered a nod to support Peter's words. Natasha reached out to put a hand on his.
"It's Wanda's choice," Natasha said reassuringly. "No one else's."
"I don't want to talk about it right now," Wanda said, picking up the bag she'd dropped in the doorway and walking away towards her bedroom.
"We probably shouldn't stay much longer," Maria said. "But let us know what you decide. If Wanda is willing to testify, we need her in DC by late May."
She made a decision by dinner. "I have to go," she said, solemnly, as they passed serving dishes around the table. Everyone looked at her, without judgement – but with a clear desire for more information. Wanda sighed. "If I don't do this – and he hurts someone else, I don't know how I'll forgive myself."
"His actions are not your responsibility," Natasha said, firmly. Steve nodded.
"You shouldn't have to go through that again," Peter argued.
"Maybe if I do – for a selfless purpose – I can let some of it go," Wanda said with a sigh. "It would be nice to let some of it go."
"It's your choice," Steve said.
"I have to go," Wanda said with a soft but steady decisiveness. "When do they want me?"
"By the last week of May," Natasha told her. "We should give ourselves a few days to settle into DC. I have a place near Dupont Circle."
"You're going?" Wanda asked, eyes filling with tears.
"You're not going alone," Steve told her gruffly. That made the tears that had been threatening all day finally fall.
Everyone was focused on Wanda and her feelings about the situation. That was one of the reasons it took a full two days for anyone to notice that Peter was behaving strangely. The sound of video games almost ceased entirely, the shoes he'd been prone to leave everywhere were put away, and he'd been first to start doing the dishes every evening. It came to a head when Natasha watched him, in curiosity and then credulity, as he carried his laundry to the laundry room without being asked.
"Steve?" She called. She waited for him to come in from the backyard where he'd been gardening and motioned for him to follow. He did – following her to the laundry room where they found Peter attempting to figure out the measuring mechanism on the laundry detergent.
"What are you doing?" Natasha asked, causing the teen to almost drop the bottle. Without his amazing reflexes, he would have.
"Hi," he said, looking ridiculously innocent. The puppy dog eyes were in full force.
"My question?" Natasha prompted. "You have never once taken your laundry to the laundry room without being asked at least twice – and you have certainly never before cleaned a load."
"I was trying to be helpful," he said, his face paling as Natasha's glare sunk into him, questioning his answer. She took the bottle of detergent from him and set it aside, motioning him to follow. Back on the main floor, she gestured to the kitchen table and Peter sat, appearing quite glum. "I was just trying to help – not freak you out."
"You have been weird for days," Natasha said, sitting next to him. Steve took the chair on his other side. "What is going on?"
"Nothing," Peter insisted, staring intently at his jeans. They sat in the silence, which she knew made him squirm. Steve was used to her tactics and sat by, offering Peter only an expression of pity as he waited for her insistent silence and interrogative stare to do their magic.
Peter lasted an astonishing four minutes without saying a word. He might have lasted longer had a panic attack not reared its ugly head. Steve recognized it first because he heard Peter's breath begin to hitch.
"Nat," he said, quietly, breaking the silence. She met his eyes and he nodded to Peter. It took her only another second to realize what was happening.
"Peter," she said calmly, "you need to breathe." Sweat had popped out along his hairline and his hands trembled until he clenched them into fists. Natasha stood up and retrieved an icepack from the freezer before sitting down beside him again. "Put your head down for a minute. Try to relax." He put his head on his folded arms and sighed with relief when the icepack was held against his neck. Natasha murmured reminders about breathing, helping him to slow his breathing and then his heart. Steve sat on his other side, rubbing his back in soothing circles.
He fell into an exhausted sleep as the panic attack receded. Steve carried him to his bedroom and tucked him under the covers. He didn't wake until late that night – after eleven. At first, he thought he was alone. Then he heard the page of a book being turned. His heart began racing as he remembered what happened. Before he knew what was happening, a sob escaped him. The bed moved as someone sat beside him and he knew it was Natasha; her deceivingly diminutive stature barely moved the mattress.
"Peter, it's okay," she promised, reaching for and squeezing his hand. "Whatever has you this upset – we can fix it. It's going to be okay." She only hoped she was telling the truth. She had no idea what had sent him into such a tizzy. She drew him into her arms and tried to comfort him as he wept. When he finally calmed down and the tears had stopped, she encouraged him to sit up and made him sip from a glass of water. Once that went down with no mishaps, she handed him one of his anxiety pills. He took it without comment and lay back down, facing away from her, hugging one of his pillows.
"Sweetheart, we need to talk about what happened."
"No we don't," he said stiffly. "Can we just pretend it didn't happen?"
"That won't solve anything," Steve said, having appeared in the doorway. Peter sat up against the headboard, Natasha beside him, and Steve closed the door before sitting at the end of the bed, facing them.
Natasha handed Peter his water glass again and rubbed his back reassuringly. "Just take it slow – no rush. Can you tell us what's wrong?"
Peter shook his head and handed back the water glass. "I was just being stupid. I was trying to be less trouble – and instead –" his voice broke as tears gleamed in his reddened eyes.
"Where did you get the idea that you were trouble?" Natasha asked, incredulously. "Peter, that's not true."
A knock sounded at the door. Steve stood up to open it and Wanda stepped inside, looking quite pale herself. "You should tell them," she said, her voice congested as though she had been crying.
"You were in my head?"
"Your thoughts had been screaming at me for days," Wanda said, her voice tired. "It wasn't on purpose. You try avoiding thoughts that are being yelled into your ear."
"I'm sorry," he said, simply.
"Tell them," she said almost sternly. "You wouldn't be making yourself sick if you had mentioned it days ago." Steve sat down again, this time only about a foot away from Peter.
"Pete, what's going on?"
"It's stupid – after everything."
"If it has you this upset, it's not stupid," Natasha assured him.
"I was just trying to be less trouble – so when we go back to the US, you might let me stay with you." His talking sped up, as though he needed to just spit it out. "I mean, I'm really grateful that you took me in after May died. And I know you have lives to get back to – and that's cool. I really don't want to be any trouble. I bet Mr. Stark will let me stay with him until I go to college. I could maybe go early –"
"Peter," Natasha said, trying to interrupt him. After trying to get his attention three times, she finally raised her voice "Peter!" He stopped talking and stared down at his lap.
"Are you listening?" He nodded.
"Eyes, please." He looked at her, red eyes finally coming up to meet hers. "I need you to listen to my actual words," she said calmly. He nodded. She looked over at Wanda, who was sitting now beside Steve, her head against his shoulder. She looked a bit weepy herself. "You need to listen too – I don't like to repeat myself." She nodded, sitting up but staying close to her mentor.
"We're going back to DC for the trial. We don't know if that will be weeks or months. But after that, our plan was to come back here. And – both in DC and here – we stick together. Unless you have somewhere else you really want to be, we expect you with us." Peter blinked at her, trying to comprehend. "Some of these past two years have been hell – hiding, leaving friends and family, being at odds with people we love, and watching behind us every step of the way. But some parts of it have been much better. Mostly the parts when we've been together. We may have unfortunately left some family behind – but we found a really great one along the way." Peter smiled and sniffled as she pulled him into a hug. "You're not getting rid of us that easily."
Three weeks later, they arrived in Washington DC. Natasha had a home in DC – three bedrooms, three baths – a lovely single family home on a cozy, tree-lined neighborhood a short walk from the city center. Peter whistled as Steve pulled the car into the garage. "Seriously?" He asked. "This close to everything – this has to be at least a million-dollar house. How much money do you have?"
Natasha smirked. "Half of my career was financed by Tony Stark. The other half by organized Russian crime syndicates. I did well."
They settled in late on a Tuesday evening and went to bed almost immediately. Except for Wanda, who thought that sleep might never come again. She had been struggling with insomnia her entire life – and the news brought by Nick and Maria had sparked the most recent bought. She'd hid it surprisingly well this time, avoiding the onslaught of well-intentioned offers of sleeping pills. After lying in bed for over an hour and failing to sleep, she gave up trying. She went to the kitchen and dug around to find the makings for tea. She sat up late into the night.
The next morning, Wanda and Natasha left fairly early to meet with the prosecutors. "Are you sure you don't want me to come?" Steve asked, as he poured tea into travel mugs for both of them.
"You should stay with Peter," Wanda assured him. "Do something fun. I wish I could."
He hugged Wanda and dropped a kiss on top of her head. "Take care of yourself. If you need a break, take it. If it gets to be too much, you can pull the plug. You don't have to do this."
Wanda sank into his embrace for a moment, appreciating the reassurance and support. But she pulled away and looked at him calmly. "We both wish that were true," she responded. She accepted the floral travel mug full of tea and kissed his cheek.
Natasha and Steve kissed briefly and hugged, sharing a few whispered words before the older woman appeared beside Wanda, ready to go. "You sure you're okay with the walk? We can call a cab."
"I could use the air," Wanda assured her. They chatted on the mile-long walk to the prosecutor's office. They tried to talk about things that were not the trial, but they both found it difficult.
"Do you want to go back to school where you are?" Natasha asked. "We have a lot more flexibility now that hiding isn't necessary. If there's somewhere else you'd rather go, we can look into it."
Wanda shrugged. "I don't want you to make your decision based on me."
Natasha smiled. "Right now, we don't have ties anywhere. Your education is the only thing that can't be procured just anywhere."
Wanda nodded. "If it's possible, I wouldn't mind considering Oxford. I was invited to finish my degree there. And if I do well enough, the visiting professors hinted at the possibility of a doctoral degree."
Natasha looked at her in amazement. "That's quite the accomplishment."
"They liked my presentation at the end of the semester. And my research paper," Wanda said with a shrug.
"I don't think you understand what a big deal it is, to be invited to Oxford. We will certainly figure that out for when the new semester begins."
The atmosphere changed as they stepped onto the elevator and Wanda closed her eyes as she gathered her thoughts. Natasha reached for and squeezed her hand. "I should have stolen one of Peter's pills," Wanda whispered, only half joking. Natasha squeezed again.
"You're going to be fine, Myshka."
The prosecutor was kind but brisk, clearly wanting to get things done quickly. "Because of the nature of these crimes, we know how the defense will attempt to sell the story. We need to be sure you're ready to handle what are ostensibly going to be dirty tactics." Wanda nodded and then worried her lip with her teeth. She wasn't quite sure how they could make things worse, but that was the impression she was getting from this woman.
"I know you don't want to relive all of this – but this won't be the last time you're asked to do so. If there's anything that might make it even a bit easier, let us know and we'll see what we can do to arrange things." Wanda nodded again. "Can my assistant, Kate, get you anything before we start?"
"Tea and water would be great," Natasha said, before Wanda could refused – as she would have out of sheer anxiety. The assistant disappeared and returned several moments later with several glasses of water, a carafe of hot water, several tea cups, and an assortment of tea. Wanda was relieved to notice mint among the offerings and made herself a cup while the prosecutor organized herself.
She sat down with a thick stack of folders in front of her and flipped one open. She asked Wanda to recall everything – from the moment they arrived in Germany – until she was freed by Steve and Bucky. They spent the entire day with the prosecutor and her assistants, taking a small break for lunch. Not that Wanda could eat a bite – her stomach was roiling. They didn't get home until seven that evening – and that was only because Natasha had enough and told the woman they were leaving.
Steve had dinner waiting, but Wanda skipped it in lieu of a shower and going directly to bed. The rest of the week was more of the same, with Wanda's patience waning and temper flaring by Friday morning.
The trial began the following Monday – but Wanda didn't need to testify until at least Tuesday. They all agreed that they weren't particularly interested in watching the entire trial. So on Monday, as the trial began, the small family-of-necessity wandered through the Smithsonian Museums of Natural History and American History. They planned to save Air and Space – which Peter was particularly excited about – until after Wanda's testimony.
After a nice dinner at a quiet neighborhood restaurant, they headed home. Wanda wanted to take a walk – mostly to clear her head – but was unsurprised when – upon announcing her intention – everyone else wanted to go as well.
The next morning, Wanda was awake well before dawn. This time, she wasn't alone. Natasha sat with her on the front porch, watching the sunrise and sipping coffee. Around seven, she broke the tranquility and suggested they start to get ready. Wanda dressed in a somber black sheath dress with a delicately knit black sweater. She wore her normal bracelets, which included the ones that contained her magic. After wrangling barely-there silk stockings, she stepped into black heels.
Natasha arrived then, perfectly timed as usual. She was wearing her own somber ensemble – this one a deep navy jacket dress with matching heels. She put out her hand, showing Wanda pearls and diamonds. Wanda took the pearls and carefully secured the earrings. She softly whispered her thanks.
"Do you want help with your hair?" Wanda nodded and followed Natasha back to her bedroom and allowed herself to be guided into the seat at the vanity table. She closed her eyes, not really wanting to study herself in the mirror. Natasha curled her hair with her usual amount of care and efficiency.
Peter and Steve were waiting for them in the kitchen. Steve sipped coffee while perusing the headlines on his iPad. Peter was barely awake, as was apparent by his willingness to drink coffee. "You don't have to come," Wanda reminded him. "Go back to bed."
The argument had been had already – half a dozen times. "I'm coming," Peter said firmly, taking a larger gulp of the black liquid and seeming to straighten up a bit. Natasha fixed his tie before taking her own coffee cup and sitting beside Steve. Wanda took the remaining chair and obediently began picking at the bagel that had been toasted and buttered for her. She had no appetite but, knowing it was going to be a long day, forced herself to eat about half of her breakfast.
As they approached the courthouse building, Wanda saw a familiar blonde standing by a beautiful fountain, a jacket over her arm. "What are you doing here?" Wanda asked, walking up to Sharon Carter.
Sharon smiled softly. "I'm here if you want me. I can leave if you don't. I won't be offended."
"You didn't have to come all this way," Wanda said.
Sharon shrugged. "I'm happy to be here; if that's what you want." Wanda nodded. She figured it would save her time talking about it later. And it would be nice to have another friendly face in the crowd. Because it was the secretary of State on trial, the interest was massive. After they'd gone through security, Wanda and Natasha were whisked away by an assistant to the prosecutor while Steve, Peter, and Sharon went to the courtroom to find seats.
Wanda was called to the stand first that morning. She took a deep breath when her name was called and walked calmly to the witness booth. She was sworn in by the bailiff and invited to sit in the witness chair. She did, taking a deep breath as she settled in. She caught Natasha's eyes only once before she raised her eyes to study the frieze at the back of the courtroom, along the bottom of the balcony where Steve, Sharon, and Peter were sitting. Her eyes never went to Ross, but she could feel him glaring at her.
The prosecutor asked questions first – and Wanda knew what each one was. They had already gone over her answers. She spoke as honestly as she could about her time at the Raft. It wasn't pleasant, telling a room full of people about weeks of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Because of the drugs they'd pushed into her system, some of the events were rather hazy. Exactly what the defense wanted to hear. The judge ordered an hour-long lunch recess after Wanda was questioned by the prosecutor. The bailiff showed her into a small waiting room for witnesses and allowed Natasha inside when she approached. It was just the two of them, along with a guard who stood just inside the door to the hallway.
Wanda closed her eyes and lay her head against Natasha's shoulder. The older woman tried to offer her food that Steve had brought to them, but she had no interest.
The break was over much too quickly and Wanda returned to the witness stand. The defense lawyer had his second chair question Wanda – most likely because she was female. It wouldn't look good to the jury for an old white man to be hostile in his questioning to a purported rape victim. Especially once so young.
"Good afternoon, Ms. Maximoff."
"Hello," Wanda responded.
"I regret that we are meeting under these circumstances."
"Not as much as I do," Wanda retorted, causing a small skitter of laughter to move throughout the courtroom.
"Ms. Maximoff, you've told us already from your perspective what happened while you were under lawful detention after breaking the Sokovian Accords – an international treaty."
"Objection," the prosecutor called. "Is there a question?"
"Sustained," the judge said.
The lawyer for the defense smiled. "Ms. Maximoff, why were you arrested on March 16th, 2016?"
"Utilizing powers without the permission of a UN panel," she replied.
"Why did you choose to break an international treaty?"
"It was the right thing to do," Wanda answered smoothly. She continued to answer questions without much difficulty until the woman posed one that made her pause.
"Ms. Maximoff, how many sexual partners did you have prior to your apprehension in Germany?"
"Objection," the prosecutor said. "Relevance?"
"Goes to the character of the witness and her experience."
"I'll allow it," the judge said, with clear distaste. "But proceed carefully, counselor."
The woman repeated the question and Wanda shifted uncomfortably. "None."
The woman looked at her questioningly. "You were a virgin, before Germany?"
"Ms. Maximoff – the answer to both questions cannot be no. How many sexual partners did you have prior to your arrest?"
Wanda took a deep breath. "The word partner indicates consent. There was none."
The woman appeared annoyed. "Please, then, Ms. Maximoff, give us a number of how many men had sex with you before Germany?"
"Four," she said solemnly. "Three guards – and the doctor who performed the experiments on Pietro and me in Sokovia. None were consensual." The woman tried to cut her off, but Wanda continued, her voice strong, "I was twelve when they started. Fifteen when they stopped – because they were dead." The woman ignored her additional information.
"It is possible, in your drug-addled state, that you came on to the soldiers? That they felt you wanted intercourse?"
"No," Wanda said sharply. "I wanted nothing to do with any of them. I said no more times than I can count."
An hour and countless questions later, Wanda was exhausted. The lawyer was asking the same questions in different ways, trying to confuse her and cause her story to change. As they inched towards the end of the day, she feared that her testimony would be dragged on to another day. To her relief, after hours of questioning, the defense said they had no more questions.
When she and Natasha left the witness waiting room a few minutes later, Steve, Peter, and Sharon were waiting for them by a nearby statue. They weren't alone. Sam, Scott, Clint, and Laura were all there. The surprise of their appearance caused Wanda to falter and almost turn around. Natasha's hand on her arm stopped her from running. "It's okay," she promised. "You don't have to say anything. You don't have to talk about it at all. They're just here to support you."
Wanda closed her eyes, considering her options. When she opened them again, she turned to Natasha and said simply "I would like to go home." Natasha handed her sunglasses and put an arm around her, leading her to the door. There were cameras everywhere. Thanks to the other avengers surrounding her, they got no usable pictures. Wanda heard questions being yelled at her but continued forward, straight into the cab that Steve and Natasha pushed her into. They joined her in the back seat while Peter jumped up front.
The headlines screamed for the rest of the week. Scarlet Witch testifies against Secretary of State. Scarlett Witch bullied on the witness stand. Scarlet Witch remains clear about story of rape and torture. Talking heads discussed what the evidence meant – how reliable her testimony could be – what else should be considered credible. They discussed every nuance of her testimony.
Most of the time, Wanda avoided the news. She knew more testimony was given. Clint, Scott, and Sam had all been called. Although she appreciated them arriving to support her, she had no interest in hearing their perspective on the events. She did not want to know how much they'd heard. How much they'd seen. What they knew. It was too much and it was better left unknown.
She remained at home during the trial. It was a beautiful late spring and she had begun to spend days in the backyard, tending the flowers that grew wild through the gardens and reading books that carried her away into different worlds. She was fluent in Sokovian, Russian, and English. She was working on French next – and Natasha had shelves of books in other languages.
Whoever had owned the home decades before had been an avid gardener, because there were flowers everywhere. The Saturday following her testimony, Wanda was attempting to coach the roses to grow up the trellis that outlined the entrance to the back porch when her solitude was interrupted. She didn't look up as the door opened, but listened as someone approached. Someone light – but not as stealthy as Natasha. A glass of iced tea was placed on a stone next to her and she looked over to watch Laura Barton settle onto a spot on the two short stairs that led to the porch.
"Thank you," she said, "I didn't realize you were here," she admitted. She knew the Bartons were still in town – but they had not been spending much time at Natasha's home. Wanda was fairly certain they were trying to give her space.
"Clint and Scott convinced Steve and Sam to go with them to take the kids to a waterpark nearby. It opens this weekend."
"I'm sure that will be fun."
"It probably depends on who you ask," Laura said with a small smile. She studied what Wanda was working on. "Those roses are beautiful."
Wanda nodded. "I'm not sure how to get them to grow this way," she said, motioning to the trellis. "It's clearly been done before."
Laura reached over and felt the stems. She unwound several interwoven sections until Wanda could see where the plant was growing the newest buds. "These are the pieces you can tie to the trellis – with fabric – and they'll eventually continuing growing up." Wanda did as she suggested and then pulled a few more weeds in silence.
"I'm sorry, if us showing up here upset you. That was not our intention."
"It didn't," Wanda said, looking up quickly from her hands. "I'm sorry," she said, sheepishly. "The whole thing –"
"Is a fucking nightmare." Wanda raised her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders as to say, "well, you aren't wrong."
"I'm sorry I haven't been more social."
Laura laughed, looking empathetically at Wanda. "Sweetheart, that is certainly not your job right now. No one expects you to do any more than you already are."
"I'm tired of people looking at me like I'm going to break. Or explode."
"They just know they wouldn't be strong enough to do what you're doing." Wanda offed an undecisive noise under her breath before brushing the earth from her hands and picking up her iced tea to sip. She spent the rest of the morning with Laura and Natasha. The former knew everything about gardening and told Wanda about several of the plants that she hadn't been able to identify on her own. After a few days of solitude and quiet, she was ready to rejoin the mayhem of the world. In this case, it meant chasing Lila, Cassie, and Nate the children's museum for an entire day. It was amazing to her that so much pain and so much happiness could be woven into one modicum of time.
Two weeks after her testimony, they got the call that a verdict had been reached. Wanda dressed slowly, feeling as though she was stuck in a dream world. She wasn't sure if she wanted to be there for the verdict, but Steve and Natasha had reminded her that slipping out at the last minute was easier than arriving at the last minute. Her fingers shook as she attempted to pull on stockings. In the end, she threw them away. It was warm enough to go without. She slipped into a black sundress with tiny pink flowers and a dark pink sweater.
At ten that morning, she sat between Steve and Natasha. Peter was on Natasha's other side, Sam on Steve's. Behind them were Clint, Laura, Scott, and Sharon. Wanda felt untethered as the judge spoke. It helped a bit when Natasha grabbed her hand. The courtroom was silent as the jury foreman declared one of her attackers – the instigator - guilty. She hadn't realized what a burden it would be off her shoulders until she heard it. She needed out. She was going to cry and that wasn't going to be in front of people. To her relief, Natasha and Steve seemed to understand that. They led her quickly out of the courtroom as soon as it was possible. They were allowed into one of the small witness waiting rooms and Wanda cried hard, painful sobs. She didn't want anyone to touch her, but as she settled down, she curled into Natasha's lap. She lay in silence for several minutes before she realized that she could breathe better than before. A weight she had grown all too accustomed to carrying around was lifted.
It was over.
Thank you for reading! Please let me know your thoughts. There should be one chapter after this - plus an epilogue. What haven't you seen that you'd love to see?