I'm Never Going to Stop Loving You
The winter holidays were almost in season at Xavier’s Institute for Gifted Youngsters. It was nearly everyone’s favorite time of year for a variety of reasons. For the children who came from good homes with loving parents, this was an opportunity to return to their hometown and be with their family and just pretend to be normal again. For the students overall it meant no school and no homework and no classes and no projects and no essays and no assignments. Naturally they were going to take advantage of the winter break to be just that – a break. The teachers felt much of the same way, except they had to grade their assignments. Still, it wasn’t too bad. They didn’t have to teach classes on top of doing their grading and there were less children running around the X-Mansion that they had to supervise.
Then there was the fact that they all had the holidays to look forward to. Storm was in charge of Kwanzaa for those that celebrated it, just like Kitty held the ceremonies were they lit the Menorah for Hanukkah. When the Maximoff Twins came to the mansion, Wanda started helping Kitty out with the activities by reading from The Old Testament in Yiddish. Pietro, more or less not religious, offered moral support to the Jewish children all the same.
Christmas, however, was Kurt’s territory that no one dared to infringe on. Every night of the break he built a fire in the fireplace and made hot coco for everyone to enjoy as he read a book to them. He read A Christmas Carol for the majority of December, really getting into it as he animatedly teleported around the room, changing his voice to really give the characters life. Often he dressed up like Christmas characters, too, such as The Grinch; and he read that Dr. Seuss to the children as well. During all hours of the day and night though, with the exception of Kurt’s hour-long reading time, there were Christmas movies playing on the TV and in the rooms where there wasn’t a television, radios were set up to play Christmas music. Peter led a brigade of carolers around the mansion every Friday and it was lots of fun for everyone involved. It put good cheer in their hearts. The most special night was of course Christmas Eve. That’s when Kurt dressed up as Santa Claus and read The Night Before Christmas. Curfew, which was normally lax during the break, was strictly applied that night so that the presents could come during the night. The teachers took turns every year dressing up as Santa to lay out the presents. This was a tradition also strictly enforced because every year there would be a student who snuck out of bed to see old Santa Claus. Every year Santa Claus would be different. Sometimes he would have blue skin and a tale like Kurt or metal skin like Peter or be icy blue like Bobby or even be a black woman like Storm or a really short Asian like Jubilee.
While the Mansion was always fun this time of year, Pietro loved December for a completely different reason. As aforementioned, he wasn’t that religious. In fact, he preferred Christmas over Hanukkah. But still, Christmas wasn’t why he loved December. Pietro loved December because that was the month his (and Wanda’s) birthday fell on. So as his birthday rapidly approached, Magda (his and Wanda’s mother) begged them both to come home to celebrate it. Of course Pietro was going to go home to his mother’s house for his birthday, Wanda was as well, but they were both bringing their better halves along to complete the celebration. Pietro really didn’t have to beg Jane to go – she agreed amiably enough – but the closer the date of his birthday came, the more Jane seemed to withdraw into herself. It really put a damper on Pietro’s once high spirits, mostly because he had no idea why she was so sad.
Christmas time was Jane’s favorite time of the year, she herself had told Pietro so and he even double-checked with Darcy just to make sure he wasn’t completely making this up in his head. She loved Christmas for the presents and the chocolate and the candy and the merriness and the sweaters and the overall good will everyone displays. Yet now she was more blue, staring out the windows and heaving great, deep sighs. Pietro had tried cheering her up with snowball fights, which she half-heartedly joined in. He took her to every single one of Kurt’s story readings and every time she went she seemed too distracted to really enjoy it.
Jane started spending less time with him, and at first he thought it was so she could get her presents for him because there had been days Pietro was distant from her but that was only because he was trying to get her Christmas gifts. However, he soon realized that she was disappearing into the Danger Room, and when she caught him looking for her, she started disappearing completely until he couldn’t find her anywhere in the mansion. Once he even used his super speed to find her, and he made at least three circuits around the house before he gave up the search to be hopeless. She had left the school grounds. The lack of her vermillion Lamborghini should have tipped him off to that, but he had been hoping to be wrong about that.
At his wit’s end, the day before his birthday he went to Darcy to ask for advice on what to do. Darcy was Jane’s best friend and knew her better and longer than anyone else here at the mansion. While Darcy was also a telepath, though, Jane was immune to such powers, so she couldn’t find Jane for Pietro. “I think I know why she’s upset, though.” Darcy apologetically began.
Pietro flipped the fluffy ball end of his Santa hat out of his face. His eyes beseeched her to continue if his earnest expression wasn’t enough. “Please, I want to know why’s she’s not happy. I’m trying to bring her happiness, but I don’t know what to do.” Despite being nearly 20, Pietro felt like he was on the verge of tears from frustration about this situation. He so wanted Jane to be happy again, and he had a very bad feeling that she wasn’t happy because it was his fault.
Darcy smiled sadly at Pietro from where she was sitting in Logan’s lap in the living room. They had been watching Christmas Vacation when Logan fell asleep from the combination of too much eggnog, boredom, warmth, happiness, and being just plain worn out from Darcy’s loving attention. She didn’t mind Pietro’s interruption because she thought it was important. In all honesty, she had tried approaching Jane but had been either deliberately thwarted in her efforts by Jane or too busy trying to satisfy her heat. It was an exciting time of year for Darcy, and she was ashamed she had been letting her menstrual cycle get in the way of checking on her friend. Perhaps, if she revealed what she believed to be the cause of Jane’s distress to Pietro he could snap her out of it. Besides, Jane tended to give in to Pietro more than she heeded Darcy’s advice.
“Pietro,” she started in a soft tone of voice but was then immediately interrupted by Logan’s loud snore. She nearly laughed at that, but Pietro looked impatient. He never even cracked a tiny grin. Seeing how serious he was taking this was a comforting thought to Darcy. “Let’s take this to the kitchen, Pietro. I’ll get you an early birthday snack.” Carefully Darcy pried herself free of Logan’s grip around her waist, and then she led Pietro to the kitchen for some hot chocolate and baked goods.
Once in the kitchen, she started making some cookies from scratch, all different kinds because the children at the mansion would soon come hunting for the delicious items. Pietro heavily plunked down on one of the barstools at the breakfast counter, watching Darcy get down to work. His chin was in his hands and his elbows were on the counter. While her hands were busy, so was her mouth as she explained to Pietro as gently as she could why Jane was acting so different.
“Pietro, you know how tomorrow is your birthday? What am I saying? Of course you do. Get your fingers out of my batter! Now, where were we? Oh, yes. Jane. Honestly, Pietro? I think it’s your birthday that’s got her acting strange. It’s not that she has an aversion to birthdays per se, she just doesn’t really celebrate them. Now, that isn’t quite right either. Hm. Well, she doesn’t celebrate her own birthdays. She’ll celebrate other people’s birthdays, but birthdays remind her of aging, and aging reminds her of dying. She can do neither of those things. But you can. Now do you see? She’s been in a funk because her boyfriend is getting older, and I believe you would be physically older than her soon in just a couple of years if you go on aging. Jane will get you a gift, Pietro, and she’ll celebrate Christmas, but it’s complicated for her. I believe maybe she thinks if she distances herself it’ll hurt less when the time comes – the time? Um, your death, Pietro – but she couldn’t be more wrong. She’ll just be filled with more regret than before and fall deeper in the little hole she’s digging right now. What hole? It’s a metaphor – nevermind. Anyway, she’ll come back around but not through coaxing. You need to give her a little push and really drill into her head that you love her and both of you should enjoy the precious time you have together now while you both are still young.”
Looking up from the cookie dough she was rolling out, Darcy pinned Pietro to his seat with an amber-orange stare behind her glasses. He was rooted to the barstool, transfixed in terror, completely petrified. “That’s it.” She brandished her rolling pin at him, “You get up and you go to her right now and tell her that.” She smacked the rolling pin in her hand, flour flying up at the impact, and Pietro had the distinct feeling that Darcy was some kind of grandmother witch or something. “Tell her what I said in a much kinder way of course.” She walked around the counter to him and Pietro scrambled to his feet in response, quickly beating a hasty retreat for the door. “Don’t repeat me because she’ll know those are my words.” She was practically chasing him out of the kitchen. “Just, tell her your concerns and make it from the heart.” Her clawed finger jabbed him hard in the chest at that last remark, emphasizing her last point with the pressure she applied. Before she could assault him any further, Pietro skedaddled, narrowly avoiding her hiss of dismissal before she went back to baking cookies.
Knowing Darcy could read his mind scared him into action enough for him to thoroughly search the mansion from top to bottom for Jane. He managed to find her sitting outside with Balto, staring at the sky with a blank expression. Balto was roaming the grounds, sniffing like the Husky dog he was. Pietro was glad he found Jane. Darcy’s somewhat frightening speech inspired him enough that he knew what he had to say and he knew what needed to be said to Jane. Easily sitting down on the stiff grass beside her, Pietro gently nudged his shoulder against hers as a way of affectionately greeting her. It was a subtle gesture, something he had to learn fairly quickly in their relationship. When Jane was upset, large displays of affection made her retreat and no displays of affection made her feel unloved. Just that small touch was enough to let her know that he cared, but he didn’t want to overwhelm her. “Hey, Janie baby.”
Her head twitched in his direction but her green eyes, dimmer than their normally brilliant jewel hue, didn’t even show a flicker of recognition. Pietro wanted to kick himself for letting this go on for so long. Eventually she moved, her hand coming up to tuck some of her inky black hair behind her ears and therefore out of her face. “Hey, Pietro. I’m sorry, I’m just tired.”
“No, it’s not that.” Pietro disagreed. His hands started picking at the dead grass around them as he searched for the proper words to continue. “Janie baby, I think you’re upset because it’s my birthday tomorrow. I don’t think you’re being selfish or anything. But maybe you’re upset because you’re thinking about how I’m getting older and soon I’ll look much older, and I’ll be so wrinkled and so ugly you won’t even love me anymore.”
His attempt at a joke fell flat as there was no response from Jane. She just clicked her tongue to call Balto to her. Taking a sit she had nearby, she tossed it for the dog and watched him run to fetch it. Taking in her silence to be a good thing considering she hadn’t run away yet, Pietro kept talking. “Or maybe you’ll love me when I have my liver-spots and I drink nothing but prune-juice and I’ll walk slow and that’s the problem. You know you’ll still love me even then. You’ll love me until I die.”
“Honestly, just stop it.” Jane’s voice was low, and pitched any other way it would have been menacing, but Pietro knew that he had her attention now so he kept going anyway.
“You need to stop!” Jane flinched in surprised at his raised voice, not quite yelling but not really trying to be quiet like he was earlier. “You’re the one who needs to stop.” Pietro repeated in an even tone of voice, trying not to frighten her away from his when he was so close to her now. “Just stop trying to run from me, Janie baby. You just can’t. Stop trying to push me away, too. Our lives have already changed from the moment we met one another. I’d like to think it’s for the better.” Without even bothering to wipe the remains of the dead grass off his hands he slowly reached out and touched one of her hands, his movements deliberate so as to not surprise her. She had plenty of time to see what he was doing and move her hand out of reach, but she chose not to. “Janie baby, I love you.”
There was a moment of collective silence from them both and it stretched on as they stared intensely at the other’s face. It was broken only when they heard the snap of the stick from between Balto’s strong jaws. When that happened they didn’t jerk away from each other. They just blinked as if they had fallen asleep with their eyes open. Jane turned her hand over and caught Pietro’s fingers lightly, entwining them with her own. Her expression slowly morphed into one that was softer than before, full of compassion and love and maybe even a bit of happiness. “Okay.”
Pietro was surprised by how easily she agreed. Normally she argued in circles with him for hours about this before she either broke down crying or she managed to push it all away to be ignored and rehashed later. “Just okay? You don’t want me to make a solemn vow to never celebrate my birthday again or never let my hair go gray? Because let me tell you, neither of those things are happening. My hair is already silver and you know how I love presents.”
Jane laughed at his joke this time, and his heart felt lighter at the sound. His heart soared as Jane laughed, “No, I won’t make you promise that. I already bought your gift anyway.” Her smile was dazzling and the green luminescence returned to her beautiful eyes. All of these were good signs, and by now Pietro could tell when she was faking. Her laugh would be too forced and her eyes overly bright to try and compensate and her smile would looked pained rather than natural.
“What did you get me?” Pietro half-way joked, snapping the fingers of his other hand to call Balto to his lap. Though he was calling to their dog, he didn’t look away from Jane’s freckled face. It had been far too long since he had seen her truly happy.
“I can’t tell you, it’s a surprise, silly! You’ll find out tomorrow.” Jane’s eyes sparkled with glee and mischief, her lips curved into a grin that teased him to no end. God, it was perfect. This all was perfect. She was perfection.
He laughed, feigning a pout to try and weasel her into giving it to him early. “Don’t you have a private birthday gift to give me? The kind that can’t be given in front of my mom or my sisters?” Balto bounded into his lap, and Pietro smoothed his hand over his thick coat, clearing away the grass stuck in his fur.
“Maybe,” Jane snickered before cooing at Balto and allowing him to lick her cheek, carefully avoiding him from licking her mouth.
“Well, come on. Let’s go inside so I can open that present.” Pietro ruffled up Balto’s coat when he was finished and the dog was happily basking in the attention. “Darcy had been making some of her infamous cookies, too, so we’ll have to go sneak in the kitchen and steal a few before everyone eats them.”
When Pietro climbed to his feet, Balto already started heading towards the door to go inside. Jane let Pietro help her up by him pulling her to her feet, but she stopped him before they could go inside. “Pietro?”
“Yes, Janie baby?”
“I love you, too.”
The silver boy beamed a smile at her, and Balto barked at the door, signally his eagerness to get inside as the air was starting to get really chilly. Both of them walked inside, hand in hand. Since they started holding hands they never let the other one go. They would always be like that.