It Takes Two to Tango.

Meanwhile, outside in the courtyard, the Murderbots who’d been pressing the advantage against Sam and the others stood down and HELEN’s voice cut across speakers disguised among the trees. "Please forgive this interruption to your Training program, but I've been tracking Theodosia's location and security detected the appearance of an additional humanoid. She registered as a physically present entity via thermal imaging so a Pym drone was dispatched to collect a sample. DNA scans have been confirmed; Wanda Maximoff has returned to the Avenger Compound. Her Alpha level access has been restored."

Niko lay on the ground pretending to be dead. His part of the training exercise hadn’t yet started, but he was good at pretending and it afforded him the opportunity to try and nap while Sam was taking on some of the murder bots. He startled at the notion that his cousin was joined by a humanoid, a humanoid HELEN was glitching and calling Wanda Maximoff. There were words before that about DimmaDomes or DNA, things he chalked up to “Science Shit” that weren’t really relevant to the speedster.

“I’ll check it out,” he groused, still cranky from the early hour. He didn’t wait for a reply, he rarely did - most times he could be there and back before anyone gave an “okay” and besides, it wasn’t like he was asking permission. As far as he knew, he was older than everyone and everyone knows that’s how you determine who is in charge.

Computer HELEN, he found, was a huge pain in the ass. Why the computer felt the need to announce every fucking thing to everyone was beyond his scope of understanding. He half expected a “Nikolai Maximoff has taken a shit in the upstairs second floor bathroom” to be announced at some point, and he could do that well enough on his own. Still, it had to do with Theo, and Theo was still his responsibility, angry or not. If she was regressing back into Wanda, he should be the one to pull her out of it. The only one, in his rational who could, or who was at least willing to try. It wasn’t that he blamed the others for not knowing what to do, but they acted just like the people in school, even the teachers. They ‘handled’ it by pretending it didn’t exist or by thinking Theo was too dramatic, or by working around the poor girl. Niko wasn’t sure what to do most of the time himself, but his father at one point stressed to him that there were always two ‘things’ you could do in any situation. Something or Nothing. And Something was always better than Nothing.

With that in mind, he zipped to find his cousin. “Miskja?” He called, seeing her in the hallway, with what looked like his Aunt Wanda in tow. Niko scrunched up his face, skidding to a halt. “Computer HELEN said you might need some assistance,” he said flatly, completely ignoring his “aunt.”

“Nikolai? Little Niko?” Wanda rushed forward to hug her nephew. “You’ve grown so...”

Niko easily evaded the outstretched arms of his Aunt’s illusion -- He’s fast. He wasn’t going to feed into it, that’s not what Theo needed, not what she needed at all. “Theo, stop it.” It was a request more than a demand, and even as such, his voice cracked slightly when he spoke. He wouldn’t look at or acknowledge its presence.

“I’m not doing anything,” Theo wiggled her paint crusted fingers to show there was no tale-tell magic on them. “Don’t be rude to your Aunt Wanda; it won't hurt you to hug her.”

Wanda was considering her daughter and nephew. She crossed her arms and sighed. “You’ve brought me back during the middle of a fight between yourself and your cousin, Theodosia?”

At the same time both spoke up. “I prefer Theo,” she said. “It’s Theo,” Niko insisted, cussing himself for answering. Theo eyed her cousin and copied Wanda’s stance, crossing her arms tightly. “I brought you back, that’s all that matters. That’s all that matters, Niko.”

“We aren’t fighting, Theo. You’re still fighting. And you don’t need --” He waved his hand dismissively at his Aunt, “Because you have me, and you’ll always have me. Even when angry. You can make her go away. It’s okay, Theo. It’s okay.”

Theo gasped and Wanda cleared her throat. “Nikolai, you’re getting close to - look at me when I’m talking to you.” She stepped around to stand in front of her nephew. “I’m not trying to take your place. I know what you’ve done for your cousin while I was -- away. But I’m here now and we can be a family again.”

“She’s not real,” Niko insisted. “You’ve done this before; remember Casper? The dog we named after the actor in Starship Troopers?”

“Excuse you, young man, but I’m standing right here.” Wanda looked irritated and absolutely marvelous in her red leather unitard and wimple.

“Everyone knows that was a terrible movie. We didn’t even name that dog - Agatha found it and said it’s name was Casper, because she’s a ghost, remember? You loved that dog, Niko! I loved that dog. What are you saying - you don’t believe Casper was real either?!”

“Did we ever step in dog shit in the yard? Do you remember ever cleaning up dog shit? I know *I* didn’t clean up dog shit, and yet there was never any dog shit. Did we have a dog? Yes I loved him, and you loved him, but he was something you magicked a memory of and that’s all this is. So stop it!”

“Casper ran away when you admitted you were lying about Santa Claus all those years. You broke Casper's heart, Niko - you know he loved Christmas. And you’re breaking Wanda’s heart, too. What are you saying? You want Wanda to take a shit so you can see that she’s real? That’s just sick, Niko.”

“No, gross, I don’t want your mom - who is not even here - to take a shit. And she couldn’t take a shit because she’s NOT here. She is NOT real Theo. So for the last time, I am telling you, STOP IT.”

Wanda wound back her arm and slapped Niko hard on the cheek. It reverberated in the hall as the impact site on the Speedster’s face grew dark, the blood rising to the surface. “That’s for calling me imaginary. And you’ll get another one if you keep shouting at your cousin. Your father would be ashamed of you.”

Niko’s eyes blazed, the slap stung, but the words stung more. “Is that what you think, Theo? That my father would be ashamed of me? Because those are your words. IF this was your mother, which it is not - where is HER magic? SHOW ME! You can’t, she can’t because this is NOT REAL! Your mother is NOT here.”

“Magic him hard, Wanda!”

“I will never use magic against my brother’s son. And you must promise the same, Theodosia.”

Niko swung a pair of sorrowful eyes towards his cousin. “She can’t, because she’s not here. I know she’s not because she would never leave my father behind, just like I would never leave you behind. Not in Sokovia, not in school, not here, not ever. I’m real. And I have to get back to training. You need to sort this out before you upset the others.” He wiped the back of his hand across his still stinging cheek, and zipped off.

“Intel acquired, what’s the extraction point?” Niko heard Sam’s voice through the comms, He’d been magicked before, not quite as tangibly, though. Niko shifted his jaw and folded his arms across his chest, happy to focus more on the murderbots and training at hand.

They watched Niko leave. Well they watched him be there then be gone.

“You look terrible, Theodosia. You’re covered in paint.”

“Thanks Wanda. I can’t believe he’d say that about you.” Theo was grinding her teeth.

“Call me Mom. Theodosia, what did your brother mean about your dog not being real?”

“Don’t listen to him, Wanda. Casper was furry and soft and real and you’re real too. But… it has been fifteen years; maybe you do need to go to the bathroom?” By the tone of her voice and upturned eyebrows, Theo was clearly hoping for an affirmative.

“I haven’t eaten in fifteen years either, dear. Now let’s get you cleaned up wearing something age appropriate.”

“Okay, but nothing that shows my bouncers. Niko says men don’t like to see that kind of thing and there’s a demi-god I really want to impress.”

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