Jenny knows that there must have been a time when her heart didn't beat too quick, her skin didn't feel things too sharp, the rattle of a doorknob wouldn't send her into duck and cover -- logically, there must have been. She knows this. But when she digs for that memory, it isn't there.
Osborn took that, same as he took everything else.
When she thinks about it -- really digs hard and thinks about it, which isn't often -- she can pin the start of it all to somewhere shortly after Pym brought her to the Academy.
It must have happened slowly, or she'd remember an exact moment, but it's somewhere in there that she turned into some kind of hyper-anxious one-person alarm system. She almost blames her suit at first, her body adjusting to wearing it and malfunctioning as it does, but then at one of their first (mandatory, full-team, big-happy-family) breakfasts, someone leans over her shoulder the same way Osborn would when he really wanted her to listen, and her entire body freezes. All at once. Like a deer caught in a fucking searchlight. And then she gets it.
It takes her two or three weeks to stop feeling like a giant cliche. Another few weeks after that to start figuring out how to handle it. What can she say, it's an ongoing process.
The first time she strikes on instinct, it's Maddy. Much to Jenny's horror.
She'd come to offer Jenny a piece of pie, saved from a dinner table that'd gotten too boisterous, too loud for Jenny's brain to deal, but when she arrives, Jenny is napping. Maddy, apparently, tries to tiptoe past her to leave it on the desk, and somehow Jenny's fist gets Maddy full in the ribs before either of them can fully comprehend what's going on. Maddy shifts to white smoke as soon as she sees Jenny moving, probably minimizes the damage; shifts back after a moment, wheezing.
It's then that Jenny's higher brain functions finally kick into gear and she realizes what's happened. She claps her hands over her mouth. It's okay, Maddy whispers as Jenny chokes out apologies through her fingers, it's okay, it's okay. But there's a lingering terror in her eyes, and Jenny -- Jenny can't breathe, either. She apologizes until the words turn clumsy in her mouth.
Maddy, unbelievably, sticks around after. Sits across the room, like maybe she knows. The pie is delicious and Maddy is sweet, easy to talk to, and by the time Jenny feels herself getting twitchy, there's a sort of longing sitting deep in her gut.
She ignores it. "I need to call my parents," she says. "I should probably be alone when I do it."
When Maddy is gone, the door clicking shut soft as a whisper, Jenny stretches out on her bed and breathes. Her adrenaline is still pumping too hard for sleep, but breathing, by now, she can do.
A guidance counsellor taught her how to do this once: in three counts, out five. In three counts, out five. She puts her hands on her ribcage, presses down over her suit until she can feel that steady fall and rise. Days like these, the easy shift of her diaphragm feels like a fucking miracle.
(The second time it happens, it's 'Berto, and isn't it just Jenny's luck that she always hits the nice ones?
He looks shocked for a moment, then amused, and he's already laughing about it by the time Jenny remembers how to breathe.
By the third time it happens, she knows how to play it as a joke.)
Aside from those moments when she's beating on her teammates, the sleepless nights are, unquestionably, the worst. Daylight brings with it excuses, distractions, channels for the butterflies like fighter jets in her gut, but the still of night provides no barrier between her and her brain.
She feels malformed in her skin on those nights. Less like her skin is too tight, she thinks, and more like it was meant for someone else entirely. Her thoughts drum ceaselessly against the walls of her skull: sometimes memories, sometimes fears, always too loud and always ramping up her senses until they drive her out of her goddamn mind.
Her bed sheets turn to sandpaper against her skin. The air in the room turns dry and stale. The ticking of the old clock in the hall sounds like a gong. Even her skin turns against her, rising in temperature and turning her pillow hotter and hotter beneath her cheek until she can't stand it. And her brain continues to assure her that there's something inside her that is wrong beyond repair.
At some point she discovers that the best tactic for surviving those nights is to wait them out, accept that she's not going to sleep and find something to focus on besides the cycle of her own self-hatred. She tries reading at first, borrows some books from Tigra when she runs out of her own, but it's only so effective, because it turns out her eyes can get too tired to focus even while her brain is still going strong. One night she says fuck it to the curfew and drags her quilt to the student lounge. She watches game shows on the ridiculous 50-inch flatscreen until the sun comes up, discovers in the morning that either nobody monitors what happens after hours in the Academy or nobody cares, because nobody says shit.
So that becomes her routine. If she's not asleep by one, she hikes it to the lounge and watches bad TV until dawn. She's always extra crabby the days after, so touchy she ends up wanting to punch herself in the face even more than she does everyone else, but watching crappy documentaries beats listening to her brain list all the ways in which she's worthless, so she figures it's a fair trade off.
Besides, she thinks, watching TV all night is something the old her, the pre-Osborn her, would've done. She could stand to be more like the old her.
She mostly deals with this crap on her own, but there's a while there, near the beginning, where she thinks maybe they're going to assign her a shrink. Between Pym and Speedball and the Avengers' whole long history of weird shit, someone around here's gotta be the kind to delegate this kind of stuff to the professionals, right? Any day now, someone's gonna notice what's up, and there she's gonna be.
It's just a matter of time, and there she's gonna be.
Eventually, though, she thinks: did they even send fucking Penance to a doctor? And she thinks: they found me in a hospital, and they didn't say a thing. And right around the time they all learn about Tigra and her own shit, she realizes that okay, yeah. Isn't that kind of place after all.
The first and last time one of them calls Jenny crazy, it's Striker. Because of course it is.
They're sparring when it happens, and Jenny is, admittedly, getting a little carried away with her blasts, but it feels natural and good, how fucking long has it been since she's felt good? But she gets carried away, she isn't careful, and she grazes Brandon's left side. It doesn't even burn, but he turns on her all the same.
"Watch it, psycho!" he shouts, and lightning crackles just past her ear. "I was right there!"
Just like that, it's like somehow, something in her head buried deep beneath her worst fears about herself just clicks into gear.
There's a scream; she registers it dimly as hers. And then she's on him, her fist sinking into his shoulder, an arm around his neck, and Maddy is shouting and Ken is yanking her bodily away and Jeanne is staring at them like they're some science project, like she wants to disassemble them and find out how they tick.
Jenny remembers that look.
She pounds Ken in his fucking invulnerable metal arm until he lets go, and she runs.
Brandon doesn't say a thing, later. Nobody does, and that's what shocks her more than anything -- she doesn't get the Teamwork Speech from Justice, not even the Friendship Speech from Reptil. But at lunch the next day, Brandon drops an extra brownie on her plate as he passes by her table, and she starts to think she gets it.
It's a while after that before anything happens again, a few weeks at the least, until one night well past their joke of a bedtime. There's a feeble knock on the door and then Maddy's voice says, "Um. Jenny?"
Jenny doesn't look away from the TV. "The fuck do you want."
"I just wanted to...never mind. It was stupid, sorry."
She hears Maddy turn to go (every creak of the floorboard, even the goddamn swish of her socks on the hardwood) and sighs. "Wait," she says, because -- well, she's trying to be old her again, right? And her old self wasn't actually that much of an asshole. She turns to look at Maddy, nods toward the TV. "Do you like documentaries? This one's pretty good."
Maddy doesn't say anything, but it's only a brief moment before she joins her on the couch.
She doesn't know how long they sit in some semblance of silence together. Ten minutes, maybe twenty. This documentary is pretty good; not an Academy Award winner, by any means, but not bad for the crap they show at two in the morning. It's all about animal communication, and it's just fascinating enough to Jenny that she can focus on it, quiet her brain with it.
Eventually, she hears a sniffle from her right, and she turns to see Maddy crying.
"Hey, no," Jenny says -- a little helpless, maybe, because she's not fucking heartless but she's never really known what to do in the face of a crying girl.
Maddy wipes furiously at her cheeks. "I'm sorry," she says. She doesn't look at Jenny. "It's ridiculous, I didn't even-- I didn't get it as bad as you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I know that. It's just, everyone here..." She gestures, big. Helpless. And Jenny nods fervently, because yeah, she gets this.
"They all just, they act like you're supposed to just forget about it, right? Somehow."
"Yes," Maddy says. Her eyes are squeezed shut. Jenny's chest aches. "And I can't, you know? I tried, but I can't."
"I can't," Jenny starts, but it comes out too thick. She clears her throat and tries again: "I can't either. I don't fucking have it in me anymore."
Maddy just nods, nods and wipes at her eyes. After a few long moments, no sound between them but their uneven breathing, Maddy reaches out and puts her hand over Jenny's between them. She still won't look at Jenny, but she doesn't pull back.
Jenny stops herself before she can wonder what the old her would have done; turns her hand over, twines their fingers together. For a moment, she can imagine that, even through her glove, she feels the warmth of Maddy's hand.