Always and Forever
Late into the night at Charles Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters, for once everyone was asleep. The fact that all the insomnia that haunted the X-Mansion was gone probably had something to do with the fact that this was the busiest part of the year. For the students, they were working over time studying for their finals and finishing up last minute assignments, projects, and papers, but since the library was destroyed from the last attack by Dr. Doom and his robots, and in the process all the electricity in the mansion was shot to Hell and back, too, a black out that spread as far out as the closest town. This should mean the X-Men are frantically working to fix everything as usual, but with the arrival of not only the Fantastic Four but also the Avengers meant that they could take a much needed break. Besides, the X-Men were teachers, too, the ones giving the examines, and rest was the most important thing any mutant living there could get at the moment.
Bone tired from protecting the children while attacking over-powers Doom-Bots, Jane was in a deep sleep being spooned by her boyfriend Pietro. Neither of the two were hurt, well all of Jane’s wounds from battle were quickly healed long ago by her powers of regeneration, but they were both bone-tired. Jane had a last minute review session for the French students the next day and Pietro had to coach the try-outs for the track team’s distance runners and sprinters. Both needed to be on the top form tomorrow, them and every other teacher, which explained why even on a night as quiet as this with no technology for distractions there was no love-making. No one had the energy for that.
In Jane’s sinfully soft bed, the young lovers were cocooned in at least three blankets as if there were burritos. They were surrounded by a mountain of fluffy pillows and the room was completely dark, no light coming in through the windows from outside because the clouds blocked out the stars and the moon was new at the start of June. The only sound heard in the room was the soft breathing of the two young mutants and the huffing and sighing of their pet dog Balto, curled up with his Mommy and Daddy underneath the covers.
Of course, Balto was dreaming of what all dogs dream of. His paws barely twitched and his nose would quiver, eyelids fluttering and lips puffing. Scenes of chasing squirrels ran through his mind and he thumped his tail now and then, happy. There was no need to be on alert.
Pietro, the silver-haired quickster, on the other hand, did not dream at all. He was prone, completely still except for the rise and fall of his chest. As he spooned his girlfriend, he had a relaxed grip on her hips and his legs were shoved between hers. His signature silver hair covered his face, and his forehead was pressed against the space between Jane’s shoulder blades. The blankets and sheets were drawn up to his ears so it was doubtful of whether or not he was getting enough hair or if he was too hot, but he was so dog tired that he couldn’t be bothered to rouse from his sleep to change positions.
His girlfriend, though, wasn’t quite as restful. She had two firm handfuls of the blankets crumpled in her balled up fists, and every now and then she would shuffle herself, careful not dislodge herself from Pietro’s comforting touch. Jane wasn’t awake, but she wasn’t quite asleep either, somewhere in the middle of the spectrum in that wakeful consciousness that incited realistic lucid dreaming. In the pitch black room, sparks of green appeared around Jane’s head, her magic agitated because she was agitated. She was dreaming.
Stryker stood above her, coldly looking down at her in the tank where she was drowning but they didn’t care. With a casual wave of his hand, a hand that signified power and military background and a decision of life or death, he commanded the cowardly scientists working for him to begin the procedure. God, she knew what would happen but she could do nothing, she couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe.
Then there was the pain. They pierced her skin, cut through her flesh to her bones, and then kept drilling. It was not yet unbearable, but she knew that soon it would be. And then it was. They pumped in molten metal, hot as lava and if she could have screamed she would. Her mouth was stretched open wide as they lit her on fire from the inside, the pain everywhere just underneath the surface of her body and assaulted every nerve. Underneath that, she was dimly aware of the sensation that she was getting heavier in the water. It was harder for her to float. She sank lower and lower, and the water boiled around her because she herself was burning and her powers lashed out at everything as she tried to protect herself. Her two hooked claws on each hand slid out from between her knuckles and she was cutting at what she could, but she was also restrained and bleeding. Her very blood was boiling in her brains and it felt like her organs were being liquefied and her brain was next. The pain made her keep her eyes shut but she could still see.
On the insides of her eyelids burned the image of Victor, her cousin, a man who was as good as her brother with how close they grew up, and he was pitiless, a monster. She’d join him as a monster, and they’d murder and pillage, leveling countries to their knees for the men that controlled them, that made them so inhuman like this as nothing more than a mere pawn in their plan or a cog in the machine. Victor’s eyes were not emotionless, but gleeful. He was enjoying her pain. Sadistic bastard that he was, he laughed in her face and Jane felt like she was dying.
Another image was seared into her retinas. Her other cousin, another good man that was like her brother in blood, Jimmy stared at her without recognition. He was so different than how he once was. It was like he didn’t know her and he was broken, no longer as kind as he once was. On his face was a haunted look, familiar to Jane on the faces of the old and they were all so old because they were immortal and damned to walk this Earth forever. But now Jane was free from that curse. She was going to die.
Just like that the dream changed again, and another family member from her past came to haunt her. Jane’s father, a cruel man, towered before her and she felt like she was seven-years-old again. He raised his fist, breath reeking of sour alcohol, and struck her. She felt the blow land and she cried – she hasn’t cried in forever but in her childhood, tears were her constant companion. Just as she braced herself for another blow, for him to stab her with the hot fire poker, nothing happened. Jane looked up and saw her mother, a sweet but weak woman who did nothing wrong and always kept her Catholic faith no matter what trials and tribulations happened or how much of an asshole her husband was. Her mother was behind a window, inside the shack that was their house, and as Jane tried to call out to her mother, the woman smiled sadly and the house was consumed by flames.
Again it changed, and Jane heard the New Orleans jazz music: a funeral march. There was the House of the Rising Sun, the Thief Guild, and Remy. All of them hated her, exiled her, betrayed her. They yelled slander and accusations, and most of them were true. She was a liar and she was a thief and she was a murderer. Now she would fully become the monster. Jane wished she could run away, but her limbs would not obey her. They were consumed by pain. Her voice could not work either. Even something as abstract as her voice was tortured by the pain, too.
Still the nightmare continued. Steve was dancing with Peggy, and Jane was out here in the cold. Even though she felt like she was on fire, when she stared ahead of her, she saw Steve frozen in the ice, a look of horror on his face. This was pre-serum Steve, the scrawny boy from Brooklyn as prone to fighting as he is to sickness. With sudden horrifying realization, she knew that without the serum, this Steve wouldn’t survive being frozen. She was staring at a corpse lost in time, forever young but dead.
This wasn’t dreaming anymore, and it was even past a nightmare. It was like she was reliving the horror of her past. But as the iceberg that held Steve sank away into the background as if being consumed by mist, she saw what she most feared to see. Pietro stood before her, arms crossed over his chest, and he didn’t look happy to see her. He wasn’t smiling, there was no love in his eyes. Suddenly, Jane could move and so she stepped forward though ever step amplified the pain and the fire. She wanted to run to Pietro’s arms but then she stopped and looked down at herself. The fire was green and all over her body, burning her skin until it charred and then smoothed over fresh and pink again as she constantly healed. When she looked up at Pietro she tried to warn him, “Stay away!” But it was too late.
Her hooked claws, wickedly sharp, had pierced right through Pietro. He was bleeding, and the way he looked at her, it was like he wasn’t even surprised. “I always knew you were a monster.” Pietro callously told her through the bubbles of blood.
Then Pietro fell to his knees and Jane caught him, in disbelief at her own actions. She never thought she would hurt him, but she should have known. Her mother died because she ran away, Victor turned evil because she never stopped Logan from leaving, Steve never became Captain America because of her jealousy over Peggy, and Remy was an outlaw because she corrupted him. And now she had spoiled the one innocent thing she had loved more than anything. “No, no you cannot die like all the others. I love you, Pietro! Please.” She sobbed and begged and fruitlessly pressed her hand to the wound.
Weak as he was, Pietro pushed her hands away, sputtering up for blood. His eyes were foreign to her, devoid of any familiar emotions. His voice was harsher than his eyes as he spat his blood in her face with stained teeth bared. “Don’t touch me, monster!”
Willfully, Jane ignored him. “Don’t say those things. You don’t mean that. You know me better than anyone. You know I’m not like this. You know I love you. You love me!”
As he lay dying, Pietro whispered hoarsely, “I never loved you, monster.” Pietro then died.
Jane couldn’t move again, though that was her own volition. Then she screamed and the fire that consumed her flared and burned his body to ashes and she wished it would kill her, too. “I wish I were dead!”
“No you don’t! Jane, wake up!” Pietro’s voice called to her.
Then she was awake. Pietro leaned over her, holding her hands tenderly and Balto stood beside him, yipping with concern. The dog nuzzled her side and tried to lick her face but Jane turned away, afraid her nightmare would come true. “No, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You won’t.” Pietro earnestly promised and went about fluffling the pillows and straightening the twisted blankets, giving her the space she needed to catch her breath. “You were having nightmares, weren’t you?”
“Yes.” Jane tried to slow her heartbeat and breathing. Glancing around the room, she looked to see if she did any damage from her claws or magic. “I didn’t do anything did I?”
“Just scream. It’s okay. We’re on this floor by ourselves, you know.” Pietro was very calm about this, but his words were full of care. Obviously, he did care. “I’m sorry, Janie baby. I would have woken you up sooner, but I was afraid to shock you too badly.”
Her hand flapped at him, fingers fluttering as she regained control of her senses. Nothing was hurting anymore, and her body was soaked in a cold sweat. It was still dark, the room only illuminated by the green of her eyes like flashlights. “No, no. You were right in what you did. I would have hurt you otherwise, Pietro. Or Balto.” With a weak hand, she shakily petted the dog to try and calm him down. Balto snuggled himself to her, pressing against her side like a security blanket or beloved stuff animal for her to squeeze.
“You’d never hurt me, Janie baby.” Pietro disagreed. “You love me. And I love you.”
A sigh of relief escaped Jane’s lips. “Oh, Pietro.” With a steadier hand and stronger strokes, she smoothed Balto’s thick fur coat.
The corners of his mouth turned up slightly, and clasped his hands together, rubbing his palms and cracking his knuckles. “Do you need anything, Janie baby? I don’t want to overwhelm you.”
Jane’s eyelids fluttered as she felt more exhausted than over, working herself up in her fitful sleep. “No, no. Just,” she opened her arms to him, “come here.”
Eagerly, Pietro slipped into her embrace and then there were on their sides facing each other with arms wrapped tightly around each other. Balto wormed his way between their legs, his tail thumping against their feet that they pushed against each other. Balto was tired, too, and content that Jane was okay now, he laid his head down, ready for sleep again although now his eyes were watchful. With both their heads on the same pillow, they were a breath apart and the glow of Jane’s green eyes was enough light to illuminate both of their faces as they stared at each other. “Can I kiss you?” Pietro shyly asked.
“Yes,” Jane answered and met him halfway for the sweet chaste kiss. When the kiss ended, she softly begged him, “Just stay with me.”
Without anymore words on Jane’s part, Pietro knew what she meant. He heard what she had screamed. “I’ll never leave you, Janie baby. I love you. I’ll be with you always and forever.” That was a promise.
No more words were spoken for the rest of the night. The first to fall asleep was Jane, and it was peaceful, full of pleasant dreams now, mostly of Pietro and her new, better life here at the mansion surrounded by her new family who loved her and did not fear her. The next to fall asleep was Balto, and he snored lightly. The last to fall asleep was Pietro, and he did so reluctantly because he wanted to be sure that Jane wouldn’t be disturbed the rest of the night. His worries were for naught as they all had serenity until long after the sun was high in the sky.
The next morning, Jane had a late breakfast by herself. Pietro ate with her briefly, but then he went outside to exercise Balto after he had his breakfast kibbles. Jane didn’t mind having a moment to herself, enjoying the silence while it lasted. The mansion was quiet, most people sleeping in like she did because none of the alarms worked without electricity. As Jane sipped her latte pensively, she heard the pitter-patter of bare feet as someone entered the kitchen. She turned her head and caught her friend Darcy’s eye, and as soon as she saw her, she knew that Darcy knew of her nightmare. “Don’t tell me you heard me scream. I’m sorry if you did.”
Her friend shook her head, moving about the kitchen to prepare breakfast. “No, I didn’t physically hear the scream. No one did, we were all so tired. But I heard the scream through Pietro.” Darcy looked at Jane, “I didn’t tell him to do anything. Everything he did last night was of his own accord.”
“Did you spy on everything then?” Jane sarcastically asked. Despite her long sleep she was still exhausted and understandably cranky, with little patience.
“Yes, I had to make sure you were okay.” Darcy put her hand on the counter as if she wanted to reach out to Jane, but then she pulled her hand back. “I’m sorry, Jane, but everything you dreamed last night. It wasn’t real. Yes, it was in your head, but it was your memories fusing together with your fears. It was a horror to experience, but none of it means anything compared to what Pietro did for you last night. You know the truth. You know that your love for each other is very real and that is all that matters.”
Confused more than cantankerous now, Jane replied, “I thought you couldn’t read my mind.”
“I can’t,” Darcy confirmed and assured her, “but I know that Logan has been through Stryker’s torture, too, and he has nightmares of that. That or the wars. Or his dead lovers. That one is always tough to experience, for me at least, but I’m being selfish now. He never doubts that I love him, though, which is comforting. He doesn’t fear that I’ll die because I won’t. But he fears being dragged to Hell again and taking me with him. Stupid man. I was probably the one to take him there first.” The telepathic woman glanced down at her hands where she examined her claws. “A lot of people had nightmares last night. I stopped most of them before they could happen. I am only sorry that I couldn’t stop yours, Jane.”
“What do you mean people were having nightmares?” Jane needed time to process all of this information so early in the morning.
Darcy sighed with frustration. “Doom’s attack was a diversion. He’s working with someone else. Someone magical. They laid a curse over the mansion or something. Something to make sure we were unsettled or whatever. I don’t know, it was a stupid plan. Wanda, Charles, and I were quick to figure it out. We used our powers to stop everything. Only Kurt and Logan had nightmares. And you. Again, I’m so sorry, Jane.”
For a while there was silence. Then Jane finally spoke again, “None of it was your fault.” She took another moment to collect herself and her thoughts before she continued, “So everything I dreamed, was that caused by someone else?”
“Yes. I’m surprised they could get to you considering telepaths can’t. That’s why we suspect it is magic. Wanda could tell. But after I talked to Hank this morning, he theorizes that your magic won’t let that happen to you again. Something about your mutation adapting and healing yourself. But to be sure, you could always practice with Wanda.”
“I’m never letting any of that happen again.” Jane’s voice was as hard as the adamantium that was heavy in her bones.
“Good.” Darcy agreed, “And neither will I.”
They shared a look, and Jane’s gaze softened over so slightly for her friend. With that, Darcy knew they would be okay and then she focused on her task of preparing breakfast. Logan was still snoring away, and he’d be hungry when he woke up. Most likely hung over, too.
When Darcy went back to cooking, Jane looked away out the window to the outside world bathed in daylight. Out there Pietro was playing with Balto, and sometimes she saw the dog run by and the blur of silver that was Pietro. Now Jane knew that she was stronger than any fantastical nightmare her brain could concoct. All of it meant nothing because the past was in the past and she could change her future. She gave herself the hope to do that and Pietro gave her the love she needed to power through and remain kind in doing so. Jane didn’t need anyone to make her whole, but she needed Pietro to keep her soft and compassionate. If that was enough to prevent her from becoming a monster, then so be it. Let the nightmares come and she’ll never fear again.