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Sweat drenched tendrils of black and silver cling to Joan’s temples and neck. Beneath the borrowed black hoodie, a sauna builds to suffocating temperatures. With a start Joan awakens, gasping for air as she frantically rips off the thick jumper. Tear tracks stain her pale cheeks and she realizes she’s been crying in her sleep. The angry crimson ring around her throat burns as if it’s on fire.

Leaning heavily against the wall behind her, coffee eyes dart to the foot of the bed as she notices a subtle movement there. In the soft glow of moonlight seeping through the curtains, she recognizes the young woman’s kind face instantly and her heart flutters wildly, threatening to burst from the constricting cage of her chest.

“Jianna?” Her voice croaks as she speaks the name she hasn’t uttered aloud in ages. Fresh tears quickly flood her bloodshot eyes.

The young woman shifts atop the mattress, sliding closer until her face is lit by moonlight. She offers a sad smile as her eyes meet Joan’s.

“You’ve changed, Joan.” Joan drops her gaze to her long fingers worrying in her lap.

“I’ve grown old.” She whispers sadly.

“No. I mean in here.” Moving closer, Jianna places a gentle hand over Joan’s heart. Joan looks up, sorrowful eyes meeting Jianna’s equally doleful gaze.

Joan’s mouth falls open, for she knows the words are true. Shame surges through her, leaving her feeling even more vulnerable, more exposed.  

“I had to. I lost you and it nearly killed me.” She whispers and blinks as a single tear falls from her eye.

“I know.”

“I...I failed you.” Another tear tumbles down her ashen cheek and Jianna reaches up, gently thumbing it away with a compassionate smile.

“No, you didn’t fail me.”

“I couldn’t protect you, or Shayne, and they took you both away from me.” She sits silent for a moment, eyes downcast until she finds her resolve. Looking up, she wipes the tears from her cheeks with aggressive swipes of her hands.

“They must pay for what they’ve done.” A silent rage burns behind her glassy eyes, pale hands balling subconsciously into tight fists atop her lap.

Jianna shakes her head in dissent and takes her hands into her own, squeezing them tenderly. Rage filled eyes close in relief at the compassionate touch; a touch she’s yearned to feel again for decades. Consumed by grief she finally falls; the fortress walls crumbling under the sheer power of emotion that surges through her.

Thick, hot tears transform to choking, heaving sobs as she gives up against the tidal wave of feelings she’s kept damned within the recesses of her heart for so long. Jianna continues to hold her hands, soothing thumbs caressing the alabaster weapons as she allows Joan the essential emotional purge. Grief, anger, hate, shame all slip out with those salty tears. After a long while, the sobs finally subside and Jianna lifts her hands, gently wiping the tears from Joan’s cheeks, crooking a finger under Joan’s chin, lifting her head to meet her empathetic stare.

“Joan, it’s time to let it go. Revenge won’t change the past; it won’t give you peace. The need for it has turned your heart to stone. What happened to the kind, gentle woman I knew then?” Joan shakes her head despondently.

“I...I don’t know, I think I’ve lost her.” Her voice sounds hollow, almost broken as the sorrow consumes her. Her gaze falls to her lap again, tears dropping on the blanket beneath their clasped hands.

“No, you haven’t. She’s still there, buried deep beneath your anger. Every time she tries to surface, you push her back down, afraid to let yourself feel.”

Joan looks up in wide-eyed shock, shaking her head in disbelief.

“How did you know?” Jianna offers a warm smile.

“Because I’m always with you. I’ve seen it, feel it in your heart. Emotions are a good thing, Joan. They make you human and help you connect with others. You’ve done some terrible things, but it’s not too late to change, to try and make some of it right again.” Joan shakes her head sadly and uncertainty fills her tired eyes.

“I’ve destroyed so much. I...I don’t even know where to begin to fix it.” She confesses hopelessly. Jianna releases a hand, reaching up to gently tuck a strand of silver behind Joan’s ear, her soft palm resting gently on a pallid cheek.

“Yes you do.” Jianna’s soft doe eyes hold her in a steady gaze and a gentle smile bows her lips.

Consumed by exhaustion, Joan stifles a yawn.

“Now, you need to sleep. You can think about it more when you’re rested and your mind is clear.”

“Will you...stay with me?” Joan whispers, sounding small and fragile, like a child. Jianna smiles tenderly with a nod.

“Of course.”

She rises and crosses to the other side of the bed, taking a seat and leaning against the wall, extending her legs out in front of her. Joan turns onto her side and nuzzles her head against Jianna’s ribs, a sleep heavy arm coming to drape across her slender waist. Soothing caresses of Jianna’s hands quickly lull her into a half sleep state, her breathing growing deep and heavy.

“Joan?” Jianna questions as she strokes Joan’s forearm draped across her stomach.

“Hmm?” Joan replies half-consciously.

“Forgive her. You know she’s not responsible for how things are between you.” She listens for the reply that never comes; Joan has succumbed to sleep, light snoring sounds emitting from her slightly parted lips.

She stays a few moments longer, smooth dark fingers coasting loving touches across Joan’s sleeping form. Holding her in the tender embrace they never got to share all those years ago; an embrace she knows Joan can one day feel, if she would only follow her heart.

At last, with a tender kiss to the top of Joan’s head, Jianna makes her final exit.