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You Can Always Go Back Home

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You wake up alone.

Okay, not necessarily disturbing.

You’re in an unfamiliar room with no windows, no conceivable exits, and no memory of how you got here.

Definitely disturbing, and also worrisome, troubling, anxiety-inducing, alarming, perplexing, and… other adjectives…

You push yourself off a small cot. You’re dressed in a baggy white shirt and baggier white pants, someone’s taken your engagement ring, and upon inspection you realize that someone’s put a mutation repression collar on your neck. Okay. Might be time to panic.

There’s a door on the wall opposite where the cot sits. It goes practically flush to the floor and ceiling, has no handle on the inside, and has a small hatch at the base that is currently closed, as your luck would have it.

There’s a couple of vents pumping out cool air along the line where the walls meet the ceilings; they’re far too small to try and escape through –though, without your powers, it’s not like you could get the covers off anyway.

At the far end of the room –not that you have to go far to get to it—is a bathroom. Upon inspection, it only holds a toilet, a small wastebasket, and a sink; checking the drawer attached to the base reveals a small hairbrush, a toothbrush, and some toothpaste. The cabinet underneath has a couple packages of toilet paper and some menstrual products.

This is a holding cell, that much is obvious. You’re meant to be here a long time, judging by the amount of toilet paper and toiletries.

You frown.

Kidnappings aren’t all that uncommon with the X-Men –an unfortunate hazard of the job, one might say. It would seem that you’ve been snatched up –but by who? Are the rest of the X-Men here with you, in different cells? Was someone targeting the X-Force specifically? Did some of your uncle’s enemies figure out where you were and grab you to get to him?

You try to walk back through your memories, but nothing fruitful comes of it. The last thing you can remember is waking up next to Piotr –but was that a few hours ago, or a few days ago?

You suppose it doesn’t matter, in the long run. You’re trapped for now, but someone will look for you eventually and come rescue you. All you have to do, for the time being, is wait.

You head back to the cot with a sigh and plop down as you prepare yourself for the mind-numbing boredom that awaits you.

 


 

The first hint comes when a meal –lunch or dinner, presumably, judging by the contents—is shoved through the hatch at the bottom of the door on a small tray.

There’s no anxiety medication.

Either whoever’s holding you doesn’t know you’re on antidepressants, or they intend for you to suffer.

You sigh heavily as you crack open a little mini bottle of water and sip from it –then grimace; it tastes like room-temperature plastic bottle.

Judging by the lack of any recording equipment whatsoever –cameras, microphones, speakers, nothing—these people are amateurs. They’re not particularly concerned about you breaking out –which even with your powers gone, if they knew anything about you, they should be. You’ve built a career out of getting out of tough situations.

So, whoever these chumps are, they haven’t done their homework on how to keep you stable –or done any real homework on your past “is a mutant,” it would seem.

Admittedly, that would stack things in your favor, except you’ll be facing withdrawals before too awful long. Hopefully, you can figure out how to get the mutation collar off and escape before you get too deep into those.

You bite into what is arguably the blandest turkey sandwich of your life and lean back against a pristinely painted white wall. Karma, don’t fuck me over now.

 


 

There’s no mirror in the bathroom.

You notice after your meal, when you try to head in and twist the collar around so you can see what make and model you’re working with –a short lived plan, to say the least; without a mirror, there’s not much you can do to figure out what you’re working with.

Still, you can at least get a sense of the locking mechanism –keypad, key, fingerprint scanner—from touch.

You smooth your hands around the collar, then grimace when you only find a solid plastic node on the back of it. Shit.

These types of collars, as your uncle had taught you, are lockdown collars. They’re meant to go on and stay on, to permanently render a mutant incapable of accessing their powers. No keypad to hack, no lock to pick, no fingerprint scanner to override. The only way to get the damn thing off is short circuit it or cut it off.

Just your luck, there aren’t any scissors in your little cell.

 


 

The boredom kicks in fast. There’s only so many times you can analyze your surroundings or make escape strategies before you start to lose your mind from the repetition.

There’s not too much to be said for pacing your tiny quarters, either. The room is three strides wide and four strides long –borderline claustrophobic, only big enough for you, the cot, and… that’s about it, really.

Confined spaces can be used to torture people; even if they aren’t particularly claustrophobic, the inability to move around and do things can drive even the most grounded individuals a little batty.

You wind up laying on your cot and staring at the ceiling. You spend time thinking about how to handle your anxiety once your most recent dose of medication runs out, about your upcoming wedding, about what you want your future home with Piotr to look like…

About Piotr. You think a lot about Piotr. You’re not sure how long you’ve been separated from him, but you already miss him dearly.

You sigh, and roll over onto your stomach. Come find me, baby. I’ll be waiting for you.

 


 

Dinner –well, your second meal, and you’re starting to realize that without windows you have no way of knowing what time of day it is—is delivered what feels like a few hours later; it’s another little bottle of water, a plain turkey sandwich, an apple, and some canned corn that’s been put in a bowl.

Along with it comes a little bottle of shampoo, a little bottle of conditioner, a little bar of soap, and a washcloth.

You’re stumped at first. There’s no shower down here, how could they possibly expect…

The sink.

You let out a shocked laugh when you realize that your captors mean for you to wash yourself via using the sink. No way! No fucking way!

But… you don’t have any other options –unless you want to use water from the toilet, but ew, gross.

You sigh, shocked and more than a little frustrated, and dig into the sandwich.

 


 

The lights turn out halfway through your venture with attempting to wash up using the sink.

You yelp, drop the bottle of shampoo, and topple against the wall behind you; you wince as you rub your shoulder. With a rush of annoyance, you realize that there aren’t any light switches in the main room or the bathroom. You have absolutely no control over when the lights are on and when they’re off.

You scowl in the direction of the ceiling. “Really!”

 


 

The lights switch on again while you’re sleeping. You’re not sure how long it’s been, but it doesn’t feel like it’s been a whole eight hours.

Then again, that could just be the cot. It’s thinly padded, and no matter how you sleep you can feel the metal frame holding it up.

You’re also starting to feel the effects of withdrawal. Your brain feels foggy, your anxiety has spiked (well, more than the situation’s already spiked it), and you have pins and needles feeling all over your body.

You shiver as you wrap your thin blanket tighter around you and curl into a little ball. Baby, please come find me.

 


 

Your first meal of the day –or is it the third? How long have you been asleep, even?—comes what feels like a couple hours later.

Objectively, you know you should eat. You need to keep up your strength, but as you look at the tray of a plain turkey sandwich, a little bottle of water, an apple, and some canned corn –and no meds, which further confirms that your captors aren’t giving you any—you can’t even work up the shadow of an appetite.

You manage to choke down a few bites of the turkey sandwich before your stomach churns, take the water bottle and the apple, then chuck the rest of your meal in the trash before setting the tray with the others.

 


 

You try to focus on exercising. Easier said than done, considering you barely ate anything, but you push yourself through to try and keep your endorphins up. You do rounds of push-ups, squats, crunches, planks, and lunges until your limbs are shaking from exertion, then chug water from the sink faucet until you almost puke it all back up.

You whimper as splay out on the floor in an effort to cool down faster. Okay. I need to pace myself better, and I need to eat regardless of what’s given to me. They’re clearly trying to break me by keeping my schedule off. Slow and steady is key.

You take a deep breath, then focus on your breathing and the points where your body is making contact with the floor in an effort to meditate.

You manage to keep that up for a bit until a panic attack hits –and normally you’d use an app on your phone to help yourself work through it, or meditate, or call Piotr, or Nate, or Wade, or Ellie, or Yukio, or Russell, or Neena…

It’s so much worse without the meds. You can’t catch your breath, you can’t stop the overwhelming rush of anxiety, you can’t get your mind to stop racing—

Bed. Get to the bed.

You crawl across the concrete floor and barely manage to get into the cot before you curl into a fetal position and sob.

 


 

It’s hard to be alone.

You’ve gotten used to having your friends and family right at hand over the past few years –come to depend on it, even; they’ve always been there to help you through rough patches. You’ve come to love having so many companions around you during your time at Xavier’s. It’s a direct one-eighty from growing up, when you only had yourself and your parents for company most of the time –and your parents weren’t exactly what you’d call “company.”

Aside from exercise (which you can’t do too much of without risking hurting yourself), there’s only sleeping, yoga (also limited for safety reasons), meditating, masturbating (which you don’t feel like doing, given your current withdrawal situation), or listening to the gentle hiss of the air vent.

You can’t remember how you got through being so alone as a child –though, technically, you suppose you didn’t; it fucked you up. Badly.

That, and you’d barely been able to handle being at Xavier’s when you’d first arrived. It’d been like a shock to your system. You couldn’t fathom so many people being around each other all the time –and wanting to spend that time with you, no less.

Objectively, you know that isolation is a basic destabilization tactic –but that doesn’t make it any easier to go through.

You roll over so you’re on your other side –your ribs are hurting from the metal support frame for the cot—and close your eyes. Piotr’s gonna come for me. He’s gonna come for me. He won’t leave me here.

 


 

You have to resist the urge to scream when your next meal is slid through the hatch at the bottom of the door.

Plain turkey sandwich. Canned corn in a bowl. Apple. Room temperature mini-bottle of water.

Sadists.

You’d kill for a bag of Cheetos right now. Or some of Piotr’s pancakes.

You take the tray back to your cot –your ass can’t handle any more of sitting on a concrete floor, and your back can’t handle leaning up against the concrete walls—and try to focus on recalling any sort of memory that might tell you how you wound up here while you choke down your meal.

Waking up next to Piotr. Him smiling at you. And… everything goes black after that.

A blackout might mean head trauma. Or a traumatic event. Or drug use –someone might’ve knocked you out.

A quick check of your head doesn’t reveal any sore spots or cuts –but you probably would’ve felt that when you woke up for the first time. You can’t do a full body check for injection sites without a mirror –not to mention it’s possible the drugs were fed to you—but you can’t find anything on the parts of your body you can see. As for trauma-induced memory repression, well, it’s possible, but you have no way of knowing if that’s it.

You take another bite of sandwich –and it immediately hits your tongue wrong, making you gag.

You spill your corn all over the floor when you dash to the bathroom.

 


 

You have to get out of here. You have to, you have to, you have to, you have to youhavetoyouhavetoyouhaveto

“Information first,” you can remember Nathan telling you during one of your earliest training sessions with you. “Get as much information as you can, then act. Patience never hurt anyone.”

You measure the hatch at the bottom of the door first. It’s big enough for you to slip through, even with the collar around your neck. After some careful debating, you decide it’d be best to slide through on your stomach; your back will be facing up, meaning your face and organs will be more protected from blows, technically.

You’ll have to wait before you can declare your “recon” done, though. You have no idea how long the hatch stays open for, or if you’ll be able to hear any footsteps through the walls that’ll alert you to when the hatch is going to open.

You squat down by the door and get as comfortable as you can.

You waited nearly two decades to get out of your first cage. You can wait another day to escape this one.

 


 

Waiting nearly kills you.

It isn’t the patience –as contrary as you like to play with Piotr about the topic, you are capable of being patient.

No, it’s the exhaustion. The medication withdrawals are doing a number on you; you can’t remember another time in your life you’ve been this tired. Even the accidental coke withdrawals from that one mission where you fell into a vat of the stuff weren’t this bad, because at least you had your family, your friends, and your fiancé to help you.

You chuckle a little to yourself at the memory of the incident. You’ve definitely lead an… interesting life.

You groan as another wave of withdrawal-induced pins and needles pain sweeps through your body, then perk up –well, as much as you can perk up right now—when you hear a series of dull thumps approaching the door to your cell.

Footsteps.

You hardly breathe as the hatch unlatches and slides open –and it retracts into the door, which is another factor in your favor—and count off the seconds as a tray of food slides in. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine

The hatch slides back shut and latches once more.

Nine seconds.

It’ll have to be enough.

 


 

You’re wide awake well before the lights come on again.

Your entire body feels like a live wire. Your chest is tight, your palms are clammy, your mouth is dry, your muscles are tense, it feels like something’s constantly crawling up the back of your neck, and despite the fact that you’re utterly exhausted, you can’t sleep.

You stagger to the bathroom on shaky legs and all but collapse onto the toilet. You have no idea how long you’ve been down here, but you know you can’t afford to stay any longer. You need your meds, you need your family –fuck, you need some understanding of how time’s passing; you feel like you’re on the verge of losing your mind with the way things currently are.

You shiver as you stare down at your bare feet, jaw and fists clenched tightly. I’m getting the fuck out of here.

 


 

The waiting game for the footsteps to sound outside the door is a long one. You pace in short circuits near the door, careful not to wander too far so you don’t miss the sound of them approaching and lose your earliest window of opportunity. You switch to doing what exercises and stretches that you can when the pacing starts to drive you batty, then wind up just crouching next to the door, staring down the hatch with laser-like focus, as though you can make it open with sheer will alone.

And –finally—after what feels like an eternity, you hear the footsteps approach.

Adrenaline surges through your system as your entire body tenses in anticipation. You get down into a borderline army-crawl position as you hear the latch for the hatch release, ready to whip the tray out of the way and dive through the hatch opening before your meal-deliverer can react.

Sure enough, the hatch door slides away, and a tray starts skidding across the threshold—

You rip it out of your captor’s hand and shove yourself halfway through the hatch, eliciting a scream from whoever’s delivering your meal this morning—

You know that voice.

You look up in time to see your mother collapse back onto a flight of wooden stairs, looking half scared to death at your sudden appearance.

Shock hits your system first, both at seeing her face for after so long and the realization of just who is holding you and all the implications that bears.

Anger –rage, white hot fury snarling in your chest like a caged lion—hits next, prompting you to bare your teeth at her in a vicious scowl. “You fucking bitch! Let me out of here!”

Your mother screams again when you grab her by the ankle in an effort to yank yourself out of your cell, then rears back and kicks you in the face repeatedly. “Demon child! Get off me, you whore!”

You shout when the toe of her shoe makes direct contact with your brow, then duck your head when you feel blood start spurting down your face.

You need to retreat. You’re not in a good enough position to fend off her blows like this, and at this rate you’re liable to get seriously hurt before you can get out and get to your feet.

You duck back into your cell and hunch over, pressing a hand to your brow in an effort to stem the flow of blood.

The hatch slams back shut, and your mother’s frantic footsteps retreat back up the stairs and out of hearing range.

You stumble to the bathroom and unravel nearly half a roll of toilet paper before pressing it to your brow. You’re shaking like a leaf as a mixture of adrenaline and fear course through your system. That was my mom.

Your mother, in flesh and blood. Not a withdrawal induced hallucination. The real-life woman who gave birth to you, then made your life hell on earth when your mutation presented.

What the fuck?

 


 

You have to be at your parents’ house. That’s the only logical explanation. Even though there are other scenarios that might bring your parents into the picture –you’re being held in community bunker back where you grew up, and your mom just happened to be delivering your meal when you tried to break out, for instance—the least complicated answer is usually the most accurate one. Combine that with the knowledge that your parents have tried, inexplicably, to have you kidnapped and brought back home before, and there’s no other explanation that does justice to your current predicament.

Again, what the fuck?

Why the fuck can’t they just leave you alone? They never wanted you –at least, not after your mutation presented—and you don’t want to be around them, they literally don’t even have to think about you since you left, so why do they keep trying to bring you back?

Although…

What if you never left to begin with?

Once the thought pops into your brain, it takes root so deep you can’t stop it –because what if you really haven’t left? What if you’ve been here the whole time, and your precious memories of Xavier’s and your friends and family there are just delusions your mind came up with to help you cope with the abuse you’ve suffered over the years? Your escape, your time spent at the Institute, Nate, Wade, Ellie, Yukio, Russell, Neena, Piotr…

Piotr.

A desperate whimper rips through you as the realization that Piotr might not be real sinks into your brain. No! you think desperately as tears start mixing with the blood on your face. No, he’s real! He’s my fiancé, we’re going to get married—

But you don’t have your ring. Your parents took it from you before locking you in here –or maybe whoever abducted you to begin with chucked it or sold it or—

Or maybe it was never real to begin with.

You sob brokenly, chucking the bloodstained wad of toilet paper away and ripping more off the roll to try and clean up your face as best you can. Without the ring, you don’t have proof that any of what you’ve experienced in the past few years is actually real. Any of the new scars on your body could be explained by abuse or other unsuccessful escape attempts, your muscles could be explained by working out in your cell…

It’s real, you tell yourself desperately as you gasp and choke on sobs. It’s real, it’s real, Piotr’s out there, he’s going to find me, please just let him be real.

You toss your latest wad of toilet paper away –then double take when you see your left hand.

There’s a tan line in the shape of a ring band on your ring finger.

A mixture of hope and relief courses through you, even though you barely dare to let yourself feel it—

And then the lights turn out, plunging you into darkness once more.

You pant frantically as you try to get a grip on your spiraling anxiety, then scream.

 


 

You manage to crawl back to the cot and fall asleep at some point. Your face hurts –your entire body hurts, really—and there’s no good way to lay without irritating your new cut in some way, shape, or form, but you do eventually pass out for a bit.

The lights come back on sometime later, waking you up with a jolt. You groan, both from exhaustion and the bolt of pain from the cut on your brow –and then all the hair on the back of your neck stands up when the door –not the hatch, the door—to your cell opens.

It’s him.

A slew of memories, some that you’d forgotten, rush into your mind’s eye. Growing up, there’d been a pattern to the abuse you’d suffered from your parents. You’d do something to upset your mother –either legitimate or some made up slight she’d create so she had an excuse to punish you—and then she’d verbally and emotionally abuse you –sometimes physically, too—before locking you in your room for hours on end.

And then she’d lament to your father about how poorly behaved and undisciplined you’d been when he got home from work, and he’d “correct” you with whatever he had at hand –usually his belt.

Get up. Get up, get up, get up getupgetupgetupgetup

You manage to roll out of the way of his first strike. You tumble to the floor as his folded-up belt smacks against the cot, making the frame vibrate from the force of the strike. Before you can get off the ground, though, he kicks you in the gut and knocks the wind out of you.

“You ungrateful brat!” he snarls as he brings down his belt against your body over and over, often hitting you with the metal buckle. “How dare you disrespect your mother like that! In my home!”

You scream and try to shield yourself from his blows as best you can. “Stop it! Stop hitting me!”

“Spare the rod, spoil the child,” he growls before yanking you off the floor by your hair.

You move on instinct, muscle memory. You knee him in the crotch before breaking his grip, block a weak attempt at a punch the way Nate taught you to, then snatch his belt off the floor and get behind him before he can try anything else. You wrap the length of leather around his neck and pull it tight as hard as you can.

Your father chokes and struggles, attempting –and failing—to get his fingers between the belt and his neck before trying to reach back and pull you off him.

You snarl as you stumble with his movements, trying to keep control over him and his belt. Unfortunately, given your withdrawals, you’re nowhere near as steady as you need to be. You trip over the cot and lose your grip, tumbling to the floor in a heap.

Your father hacks and gasps as he gets his own belt off his neck, then staggers towards the open cell door.

You charge after him, narrowly avoiding slamming your face into the metal surface when he gets it closed before you can reach him. You pound your fists against the door as his hurried, stumbling footsteps retreat up the stairs and bellow at the top of your lungs, “I’ll fucking kill you! You bastard! I’m going to kill you!”

The lights turn off again, leaving you stranded in the dark once more.

You seethe as you step back from the door, then let out a wrathful shriek.

 


 

Your stomach is killing you.

You hadn’t been able to eat the meal your mother delivered earlier due to the adrenaline dump over the realization that you might’ve never truly escaped from your parents’ home. Even if you could find any of the food in the dark, the meat in the sandwich has definitely gone bad by now, and you’re pretty certain everything else got smashed beyond edibility during your struggle with your father.

You do manage to find the mini-bottle of water. You drain it without thinking, then head to the bathroom to guzzle some water out of the sink when you’re still thirsty.

Except the tap’s been shut off from upstairs. And, when you get desperate enough to check, the water reservoir for the toilet –along with the bowl—has been drained, too.

You laugh until you cry, then cry until you laugh, then follow that cycle until you throw up.

Worse still, you’re unbearably hot. The flow of air was shut off shortly after your confrontation with your father. You’re pretty certain that you’re still getting some air, but without the air conditioning on your tiny cell is downright stifling.

Maybe it would be better if they’d sealed you in here to asphyxiate. At this point, you’d take passing out and dying shortly thereafter over suffering like this.

Your head swims as you wipe a layer of sweat off the back of your neck. You have no idea how much time has passed since your fight with your father. You’ve been lapsing in and out of consciousness, meaning that it could’ve been anywhere from a few hours to maybe over a day.

Are you going to die down here? Is this how you’re going to go out? To malicious negligence?

You weep softly as you curl up on your side. You’d hoped, ever since escaping, that you’d die in comfort, surrounded by those you love –or, if not that, in a blaze of glory that leaves everyone awestruck.

Though, considering you may have never escaped at all, perhaps those aspirations were never meant to be within reach for you.

Your body tenses when you hear footsteps outside your door. This is it. This is the end.

You force yourself into a standing position. You’re not going down without a fight, even if the fight you have left in you is bordering on pathetic at this point. You brace yourself against the nearest wall as the door swings open, letting light from the stairwell into your cell—

Nathan steps in, dressed in all black and with a gun strapped to his back. “Kid!”

You stare at him, shocked. “Dad?”

Neena follows in after him, beaming when she sees you. “We’ve got her,” she says into an earpiece. “She looks a little rough, but she’s conscious.”

Nathan doesn’t bother to talk to whoever Neena’s talking to. He closes the distance between the two of you faster than you can blink, yanking you into his arms and almost crushing you with a hug and—

It’s him. It’s really him. Down to every single last detail –the way his techno-organic arm whirs when it moves, the smell of the soap and deodorant he uses, the slight rasp of stubble on his chin and cheeks that he can never seem to get rid of no matter how often he shaves, the fuckboi haircut Wade never stops ripping on him for.

Dad.

You sob, borderline scream, with relief and collapse against him. You cling to him for all you’re worth, ignoring the various pains in your body that the effort causes.

Nathan holds you tight to him, smoothing your hair and kissing the top of your head in a paternal manner. “It’s okay, kid. It’s okay. I’ve got you, you’re okay.” To Neena, he says, “Let’s get her upstairs.”

You make it to the first step of the stairs outside your cell before you have to stop. “I’m too dizzy,” you whine as your legs give out. “I haven’t had my meds, I’m too dizzy—”

“Okay, okay.” Nate sits down with you. “We can wait here until you feel better.”

You grip his shirt like your life depends on it and cry against his human shoulder. “Please don’t leave me, I don’t want you to leave me—”

“No way in hell I’m leaving you,” he reassures you, wrapping both arms around your shaking form. “I’m staying right here with you, I promise.”

“They took my ring, dad,” you ramble, almost manically. “They took it, they took my ring, they took the ring Piotr gave me, I don’t have it anymore, I thought none of you were real—”

“Go find the ring,” Nathan commands to Neena. “And let Pete know where she is.”

“It’s gone,” you protest. “They took it, it’s gone, I don’t have it—”

“Hey.” Neena kneels in front of you and clasps your shoulder gently. “Look at me, Y/N. This is me we’re talking about. I’m going to find your ring and that’s the end of it. Okay?”

You sniff loudly and nod. “Okay.”

She smiles reassuringly at you. “Good. First, though, I’m going to get your guy and send him down here.”

You stare after her as she jogs up the stairs, then look over at Nathan when she disappears from view. “Piotr’s here?”

“He is. He was very worried about you. We all were.” His face creases into a frown as he takes in your full appearance. “Oh, kiddo…”

“My dad hit me,” you choke out as you start crying again. “And my mom—”

Nathan hugs you again, rubbing his human hand up and down your arm as you sob. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart. We’re going to get you out of here, I promise.”

Then there’s the sound of frantic, extremely heavy footsteps at whatever’s at the top of the stairs—

Piotr.

He stops at the top of the stairway leading down to your cell when he sees you –and then you’re surprised he doesn’t trip over his own two feet with how fast he gets down to where you and Nate are, but then he’s pulling you into his lap and wrapping his arms around and kissing you—

You cry until your throat goes raw. You cling to him until your hands hurt. You kiss him until your lungs burn, until you’re on the verge of passing out, but it’s all worth it because he’s real, and he loves you, and you’re going to be okay.

“Easy, easy,” Nate says after a minute. “Let her breathe. She needs to breathe.”

Piotr pulls back, which is when you realize that he’s crying, too. “I love you so much, myshka. Bozhe moi, I thought I would never see you again—”

You mash yourself against his chest as hard as you can, given your injuries –and even then, you’re still not really giving them the consideration that you ought to. “I missed you so much, baby. It’s been so horrible. They didn’t give me any meds, and I couldn’t keep my food down—”

Almost like magic, Piotr reaches into one of the pockets on his cargo pants and produces a protein bar. “Here. Eat this.”

You giggle, wet and a little hysterical, as you accept the snack. “Always protein bars with you, huh.”

He manages a smile for you. “Good for bones.” His face quickly creases back into a teary frown, and he cups the back of your head while he kisses your forehead –scrupulously avoiding the cut by your eyebrow—and murmurs something in Russian that you don’t understand.

“Turn around for a minute, kid,” Nathan says, tugging on the power cell for the repression collar when you do. “Let’s get this thing off you.”

You hold still as best you can while he works on the collar, then let out a sigh of relief that sends a gust of wind up the stairs when he finally gets the thing off.

“There we go,” Piotr says with a smile as he rubs your back soothingly. “Much better.”

“Have you had anything to drink today?” Nathan asks, looking you over and gauging your overall physical state.

You manage to shake your head limply. “No. They shut off the water supply to my room after my fight with my father.”

Nate’s mouth tightens into a deep grimace, then he stands with a grunt. “We need to get her upstairs and start hydrating her.”

You whimper when Piotr tries to lift you up. “No, no, no, no! I want to walk, let me walk—”

Both men quickly soothe you, and Piotr sets you down so you can walk on your own. It’s slow going, given how unsteady you are, but eventually you reach the top step.

You’re in the basement of your childhood home. Everything’s where you remember it being; there’s a washer-dryer set next to a laundry sink, a folding table with a small pile of clothes on it, a few cardboard boxes set on some storage racks, and a desk that your father used for various “tinkering” projects.

“Come on,” Nathan encourages you after a moment. “You’re almost there. Just one more flight of stairs.”

You lean heavily against Piotr as you stumble up the last flight of stairs. Your head is swimming, and you feel nauseous even though your stomach is empty, but you don’t want to stop. You want to get out of here, you want to go back home, and you never want to see your parents again for as long as you live.

“Holy shit.”

You look up as you step into the kitchen of the house where you grow up –and almost do a double take, but that is most definitely Frank Castle standing in the dining room, dressed in all black, a tactical vest, and carrying a gun that’s almost as big as Nate’s.

(There’s a euphemism there, but you’re too tired to think about it enough to find it.)

He also looks genuinely shocked and concerned as he takes your appearance in –and you know Frank’s not the sadist the media makes him out to be, but you’re starting to think that you might look worse for wear than you originally suspected.

You manage to flash a weak smile at him. “Hey.”

He nods back. “You okay?”

You let out a thready laugh. “Been better.”

“She needs water, ASAP,” Nate says as he emerges from the basement behind you.

Frank reaches into his jacket and pulls out an unopened bottle of water, which he then tosses over to Nate.

Nathan cracks it open and hands it over to you with the stern instructions to “Sip slowly. Don’t guzzle it; you’ll make yourself throw up if you do.”

“Oh thank fuck, you found her!”

Piotr takes the water bottle from your hand a split second before Wade crashes into you, wrapping you in a hug so tight and borderline full-body that he must’ve found a way to incorporate octopus DNA into his regular gene sequence to give himself extra arms.

Which… he might’ve actually done. Because he’s Wade.

You still cling to him just as tight anyway, crying like you did when Nate found you, and then again with Piotr, because you’re just so damn happy to see him.

“You’re okay! I’m so glad you’re okay!” He pulls back, and he winces –he’s forgone his usual suit in favor of wearing black tactical gear like everyone else, though he is sporting his mask. “Or I spoke too soon. Ow.”

“Did I grow second nose or something?” you ask, laughing nervously as you reach up to feel your face. “Everyone keeps looking at me like something’s wrong.”

“No! Nothing’s wrong!” Wade says, forcing a bright tone. “You definitely don’t look like your face lost a fight with a blender.”

“You look like you got hurt,” Nate clarifies when your expression changes to worry. “It’ll all heal just fine.”

“You found her?”

Your jaw drops when you see Alex poke her head into the kitchen. “What are you doing here?”

“Rescuing you,” she says as she gives you a thorough once over before pulling a cellphone out of her pocket. “I will call him quick.” She lifts the phone to her ear and disappears, though you can hear her say something in Russian to someone else—

And then Mikhail appears in the kitchen, wearing the same get up as everyone else: black tactical gear and strapped within an inch of his life. He claps a hand over his mouth when he sees you, recoiling for a second before approaching you tentatively. “Bozhe moi, you are okay? We were so worried! Is hugs okay?”

“Hugs are fine,” you confirm with a shaky laugh, tearing up again as he gently wraps his arms around you.

Piotr hands you the water bottle when Mikhail releases you. “Little sips,” he reminds you as he gently rubs his hand up and down your back.

You lift the bottle to your lips, and while you work on not sucking it all down in one go, you finally look around and get your bearings.

The sky outside the kitchen windows is stained a golden color that fades into slowly darkening hues of blue–the light’s coming from the west, if you’re remembering the orientation of the house correctly, meaning that it’ll be night soon.

You glance over at the stove clock.

The digital display shows it’s a little after seven.

“It’s nighttime, right?” you ask quietly.

“Evening,” Nathan confirms.

You nod as you process the information and continue scanning the kitchen. It’s as conspicuously clean as you remember –save for a half-eaten piece of toast left on a plate, a mostly empty glass of orange juice, and a partially read newspaper next to it.

A quick inspection of the floor reveals some smudged, barely-there red stains that, if you squint, might be patterned like the tread of someone’s shoe.

You don’t have to guess how those got there.

“How long was I gone?” you ask, still quiet, as you start in on Piotr’s protein bar. Your stomach gurgles greedily when the smell of chocolate hits your nose, and the past few days of barely eating hit you all at once. “And when can I get something to eat?”

“Four days,” Nate answers again. “And we’ll get you something more filling once we’ve cleared the town.”

Alex comes back around the corner at that moment, arguing with someone on the phone. “Yes, yes –she’s fine, I already told you she’s fine… do not take this out of context, you know what I meant.” She hands the phone off to Wade abruptly. “Keep him occupied for two minutes.”

Wade takes the phone and lifts it to his ear. “According to all known laws of aviation, there is no way the bee should be able to fly—”

She turns and faces you, cupping your face in her hands as she looks you over with motherly concern. She frowns sadly, and gently rubs your cheeks with her thumbs. “Malen'kaya ptitsa…” She lifts her hand to gently brush her fingers against the cut above your eyebrow. “How did you get this?”

Any steadiness you might’ve gained crumples as your eyes start watering again. “I tried to escape… my mom kicked me in the face…”

Alex visibly tears up at that and pulls you into a tight hug.

You shake in her arms, partially from the past few days and partially from the overwhelming feeling of having a maternal figure that loves you.

You have a feeling you’re going to wind up dedicating a few therapy sessions to both.

Frank pipes up from somewhere in the living room –probably keeping an eye on things, given his background and your dad’s general ability with constructing a mission plan. “Still no sign of anyone. Not even across the street. Entire town’s dead.”

“They’re probably at the church,” you pipe up as you step back from Alex and lean against your fiancé, wiping your face dry with your shirt. “Deciding what to do with me.”

Mikhail frowns. “They already took you. What else is there?”

“Whether or not they need to kill me,” you say, voice flat –and even though you’re exhausted and more than a little out of it, you can feel the snap of tension that runs through everyone else within earshot.

“We need to get her out of here,” Nate says, voice low and thrumming with barely controlled anger. He taps Wade on the shoulder, who is in the middle of rambling in Spanish to whoever’s on the phone. “Cars. Now.”

Wade gives Nate a little salute –without stopping his monologue—and heads towards the front door.

“Wait!” You panic a little when Nate and Piotr start moving you towards the door as well. “My ring –I still don’t have my ring, I need my ring!”

“It is okay, myshka,” Piotr reassures you. “I can get you new one—”

“I don’t want another one!” you sob as you dig in your heels to keep from being moved further. “I want the one you already gave me –it’s mine, they took it from me, it’s supposed to be mine—”

“I found the ring!” Neena shouts from upstairs. There’s a series of quick footsteps above you, then a thud that makes you think she jumped the entire flight of stairs in one go, and then she’s jogging into the kitchen with your engagement ring in hand. “I believe this is what you’re looking for.”

You almost collapse with relief when you see it. Your hands are shaking so bad that you can barely hold onto your bottle of water, much less a delicate engagement ring.

Fortunately, Piotr’s there to help you. He takes the ring from Neena with a murmured ‘thank you,’ then carefully slides it back into place on your left ring finger.

“There we go,” Alex says with a note of approval in her voice.

Nathan nudges you forward –albeit not unkindly—as Frank, Neena, and Mikhail head out the front door. “Come on. Time to get out of here.”

You walk through the dining room and entryway on shaky legs, then across the small porch and down the little flight of steps. It’s cool outside, and Piotr shucks off his jacket and drapes it around your shoulders when you shiver.

There’s two sleek, modern, massive black SUVs that look entirely out of place on your parents’ gravel driveway. Neena’s behind the wheel of one, Frank’s behind the other—

And Wade is standing between the two cars, holding the cellphone six inches away from his ear as some rages at him from the other end of the line—

You recognize the voice; it’s your uncle.

Wade shoots Alexandra a slightly shell-shocked look. “I think he’s pissed.”

You hold out your hand to him. “He’ll settle down when I start talking to him.”

Your uncle’s still going as you clamber into the back of the SUV that Frank’s driving. “—Wilson, I swear to all things holy and not, if you don’t put my niece on the phone right now—”

“Hey,” you say quickly before he can start listing off various death threats. “It’s me. I’m okay.”

Your uncle lets out a rush of air that almost makes you think he’s been punched in the gut “Punk.”

Piotr climbs in next to you –which gets an eyebrow raise from you, to which he merely kisses your forehead—and buckles you into your seat before buckling himself in and closing the door next to him.

“Hey,” you say again, voice wobbly and hoarse from all the crying you’ve been doing. “It’s okay, I’m okay—”

Your uncle lets out a broken sob. “Punk –Y/N—I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry!”

“It’s okay,” you reassure him, equally as teary. “It’s okay, it’s not your fault, it’s alright.”

Nate closes the front passenger door of the car with a thud and quickly buckles himself in. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

“We’re leaving now,” you say as Frank pulls out of the driveway. “I’ll be home soon.”

“I’ll be here,” your uncle promises. “I’m… I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.”

“It’s okay,” you say for the umpteenth time. “I know you would have if it was an option.”

“Damn right.” He sniffs wetly, then groans. “There’s some other people here that want to check in on you. I need to… yeah.”

You let out a tired laugh –you don’t have to ask what he means. “That’s okay. I’ll see you when I get home.”

“Yeah,” he agrees. “Alright, I’m gonna put you on speaker before I get mobbed.”

There’s a brief moment of shuffling on the other end of the line, and then—

Chaos.

Russell, Yukio, and Ellie –and possibly Kitty as well, if your ears aren’t deceiving you—all try to talk at once, asking how you are, what happened, when you’re coming back, what’s going to happen to your parents… It all comes out as a jumbled, cacophonic mess, and even though you have to hold the speaker of the phone away from your ear a little, it makes you smile.

“Okay, okay.” Nikolai’s voice breaks through the din, warm and fond but undoubtedly authoritative. “One at time. Do not want to overwhelm here.”

And that devolves into, from the sounds of things, a ‘rock-paper-scissors’ match for who gets to talk first—

Until Illyana takes the phone. “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” you answer while trying not to giggle at the grumbling you can hear in the background. “I’ve been better, but I’m okay. I’m on my way home now.”

“What’s going to happen with your parents?” Russell blurts –which gets a few hisses of ‘don’t ask that’ from the girls, but you can understand why he’d want to know.

When you come from backgrounds like yours and his, it’s natural to want to know if the people like your abusers are being held accountable.

“I don’t know,” you say honestly. “But, if I have it my way, I’m never seeing them again.”

“We missed you a lot,” Yukio pipes up. “We were all really worried about what happened to you.”

“I missed you guys, too,” you say, choking up with emotion again. “I’ll be home soon, I promise.”

“Did Wade kill anyone?” Kitty asks, which prompts a snort from Illyana.

“As far as I know, he behaved himself.”

“Told you,” Russell grumbles at someone –Ellie, most likely, she’s usually the first person to doubt Wade’s self-control (not that she doesn’t have good reason or plenty of evidence to support her suspicions). “Karen’s here, too.”

You blink, surprised. “Karen? As in… Karen Page?”

(You swear you see Frank perk up in the driver’s seat, just a little.)

“Yeah,” Karen says, speaking for the first time. “I was brought here for… supervision.”

Which is another way of saying ‘safekeeping,’ but either way it isn’t hard to miss the distaste in her voice over being babysat.

“Well, uh, thanks for loaning your friend out,” you say for lack of something better to comment on. “I appreciate it.”

Karen snorts. “Now that’s a business idea. But we both wanted to make sure you came back in one piece.” She clears her throat. “How are you doing?”

“Been better,” you admit wearily. “Been a lot better.”

“I can imagine.”

“I’m sure, considering you’re New York’s ‘most kidnapped reporter.’”

Frank snorts.

“Did he laugh at that?”

You smirk. “Yeah.”

Karen grumbles something under her breath before saying, “Well, I’ll have you know that claim is unsubstantiated at best.”

“I’m sure,” you yawn, suddenly overwhelmed with exhaustion.

“We’ll let you go,” Karen says decisively. “You should rest.”

“Probably,” you mutter, too tired for functional human conversation. You make your good-byes with the group –Nikolai promises to say good-bye to your uncle for you—then hang up.

The car’s already at the fringes of the town where you grew up. The populated area is quickly giving way to fields of crops and forest; if it weren’t for all the sins you know lie close to the surface of the place, it’d look beautiful.

You watch the sun continue to set before you turn away from the window and let exhaustion claim you.

 


 

The cars pull over to the side of the road about twenty minutes later –far enough outside of town that you’ve got a head start, but still too close for comfort in your opinion.

You blink sleepily as Nate hops out of his seat and walks over to the door next to you. “What’s going on? Why did we stop?”

“We need to get you cleaned up and make sure you don’t have any serious injuries that require immediate attention,” he explains as Alex and Mikhail hop out of the other car and walk towards him.

You frown. “And if I do?”

Nathan nods to Mikhail. “He’ll teleport back to the Institute with you so you can get immediate treatment, and the rest of us will finish the drive back.” He pauses to take a large medical kit from Alex. “You got a preference for which one of us looks you over?”

“Dad,” you decide, voice quiet, after a moment of thought. “I want dad to do it.”

The three of them nod, and Alex and Mikhail walk a respectful distance away while Nathan puts on a pair of medical gloves.

“Alright,” he says as he turns on a mini flashlight. “Look straight ahead for me.”

Piotr unbuckles his seat belt and shifts so he’s sitting behind you. He kisses the top of your head when you interlock your fingers with his. “Does anywhere hurt?”

“Everything hurts,” you grumble as you follow Nathan’s light with your eyes.

Nate clicks the flashlight off. “No signs of concussion. Can you run me through how you got injured?”

You swallow hard and grip Piotr’s hand tighter. “I tried to escape… earlier today, I think. I caught my mother off guard… and she—” you tap where you’d gotten the split in your skin on your forehead “—kicked me. Couple times.”

Piotr lets out a shaky breath and scoots closer to you, lips pressing against your temple.

“Later, my father…” You chin trembles as your voice trails off, and you find yourself blinking back tears.

“It’s okay,” Nathan reassures you. “You don’t have to tell me how it went. I just need to know where you got hurt.”

“Ribs. Stomach. Neck,” you rattle off. “Legs too, probably.”

“Okay. Can you lift your shirt up for me so I can see your ribcage?”

You do –and for the first time, you realize there’s blood crusted on a good portion of your shirt. Some of it dripped down onto your pants as well. “Oh. That’s why everyone was looking at me weird. I look like Carrie.”

“All you’re missing is the bucket,” Nathan deadpans. He helps you roll up your shirt to the bottom of your bra when you wince, then grimaces. “Aw, kid…”

Your ribs are a mottled myriad of purples and reds, shiny and just a touch swollen. “Huh. I was wondering why that hurt.”

“That would do it,” Nathan agrees, jaw clenching as he inhales and exhales slowly. “Alright, I’m gonna feel your sides to make sure your ribs aren’t broken. This’ll probably hurt a little.”

It hurts a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the past few days.

You squeeze your eyes shut and breathe through the stabs of pain that Nathan’s poking creates. “I used the fighting techniques you taught me with my father. Almost choked him out.”

He presses a fatherly kiss against your forehead. “Atta girl. Good job. Alright, your ribs don’t seem to be broken, but you’re going to be sore until you can see one of the healers. We can always have Mikhail take you back if you’re uncomfortable.”

You shake your head automatically. “No. I want to stay with Piotr.”

Piotr hugs you gently, careful to avoid your bruises, and kisses your cheek. “Myshka, be reasonable.”

“I thought I was never going to see you again!” you whimper as you press yourself against him. “I thought you weren’t even real! I’m not leaving you!”

“We have painkillers,” Nate says when Piotr hesitates. “We can keep her physically comfortable, and her physical well-being isn’t in question. The next immediate step is her emotional well-being. She’ll be calmer if she stays with you.”

Piotr nods after a moment. “If you are certain she will be fine.”

“If I wasn’t, I’d be sending her home with your brother.” Nate nods when Piotr nods again, then pulls a pack of baby wipes out of the medical kit. “Okay, kiddo. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

“Pictures,” Frank pipes up from the driver’s seat. “This is an abuse case. You need to take pictures.”

“I’m not taking my parents to court,” you sigh. “I probably wouldn’t win, since I’m mutant. All I ever care about is not seeing them again.”

Frank meets your eyes in the rearview mirror. “All due respect, ma’am, but they went to the trouble of kidnapping you and dragging you back to their house. Even if you’re done with them, they clearly aren’t done with you. You need a paper trail.”

“He’s right,” Nathan says when you pull a frustrated face. “The more documentation we have, the better things go if the courts ever do get involved.”

You sigh, exhausted and frustrated. “Fine. Let’s just make it fast. I want to get all this blood off me.”

Nathan calls Alex over to help with the picture taking process. Using Nate’s phone, they start off by taking several pictures of your face and the cut and bruising there, before documenting the state of your clothes and all the blood over it. The snap a few shots of your neck –chafing from the mutation repression collar, apparently—then move on to taking pictures of your ribs and back.

Piotr kisses your forehead soothingly when you whimper from your ribs hurting. “Almost done. You are doing so well.”

They finish off by getting photos of the bruises on your legs from your encounter with your father, then Nate hands the package of baby wipes to Alex. “Start getting her cleaned up. I’m going to save these.”

Frank rolls down his window and holds his phone out to Nathan. “Send them to Karen’s number, too. She works with a law firm; they’ll be able to help.”

“I thought she was a journalist,” you say as Nate copies Karen’s number into his phone.

“She moonlights as a private investigator and paralegal for a law firm, too,” Frank explains.

You nod, impressed. “Pays to be connected.”

“It certainly does,” Alex agrees as she clasps your chin with her hand. “Alright, malen'kaya ptitsa, let’s get you cleaned up.”

With the practiced gentleness of a loving mother, she wipes your face clean with methodic, circular strokes. She goes through several wipes before she moves on to your neck, gently scrubbing the dried blood off your skin.

Your hold on Piotr’s hand tightens further as waves of emotion threaten to overwhelm you.

This should’ve been your mother. The societal laws of the universe dictate that it’s your mother, the one who gave birth to you, who should be loving on you and caring for you like this.

Instead, she helped lock you in a cell and kicked you in the face when you tried to escape.

“There we go,” Alex says softly, fondly. “All clean.” She throws the baby wipes in a plastic bag, then nods at the medical kit –which is really just a black duffel bag with more medical emergency supplies in it than you would’ve thought possible—as she ties the plastic bag off. “There’s clean clothes for her in there. Help her get changed.”

Piotr kisses the back of your head before sliding back across the back bench of the SUV and exiting on his side of the car. He circles back around to you and withdraws a pair of pajama pants, some fresh underwear, and a shirt of his that’s large enough your won’t have to wear a bra. “Alright, myshka. Let’s get you into proper clothing.” He stands so he’s blocking you from view of everyone else –even the driver’s side mirror of the car, not that you’d ever take Frank Castle as the ‘sneak peek’ type.

Still, you appreciate the gesture.

You shuck off your white, baggy clothes with Piotr’s help, then let out a sigh of relief when you pull on the fresh underwear and pajama pants.

“I bet that feels better,” Piotr says as he helps you get the clean shirt on.

“Yeah, it does,” you admit.

Piotr puts your bloody clothes in another plastic grocery bag, then ties it off and tucks it in the medical kit. He zips the duffel bag shut, hands it back to his mother, then nods at Nathan. “We’re ready.”

“Good. We can’t afford to stand still any longer.”

Your stomach growls angrily as everyone gets back in their respective car seats. “Dad, I really need to eat something.”

“I know, kiddo. I promise, as soon as we’re a good distance away, we’ll get you fed,” Nathan says as he buckles himself in. “Think about what you want in the meantime. We’ll get whatever sounds good to you.”

Piotr kisses your cheek as he buckles you back into your seat. “Hang in there, myshka. Just little bit longer.”

“I want burgers,” you whine tiredly –you’ve earned a good whine, though. “Plural. As in lots of them.”

“We can get you burgers,” Piotr promises, buckling himself in as Frank steers back onto the road.

“And fries. I want fries.”

“You can have fries, also.”

“I want your fries, too.”

Piotr chuckles, then nods. “You can have my fries as well.”

You lean against his shoulder, worn out. “Can I get a milkshake, too?”

“Whatever you want, dorogoy,” Piotr says as he carefully wraps his arm around you and kisses the top of your head. “You can get whatever you want.”

 


 

Forty minutes later, you finally hit a strip with a bunch of stores –and, even better, fast food joints. The two cars order enough food for twenty people, then drive over to an abandoned movie theater with a parking lot that’s more grass than asphalt and park there so everyone can eat.

You manage to slurp down half your chocolate shake before Piotr takes it from you and hands you one of the burgers you’d asked for. “Protein first, please,” he says as he sets your shake in your cupholder. “I do not want for you to get sick.”

After four days of withdrawals and plain turkey sandwiches, the burger tastes like heaven.

You moan obscenely as you take your first bite, then gulp it down before going back in for more.

“The hell are you doing to her?” Mikhail asks, grinning lasciviously as he opens his door and swing his legs so he’s sitting sideways in his seat, facing the car you’re in. “I could hear that through my window!”

Piotr just rolls his eyes, takes a bite of his burger, and hands his fries over to you, the sweetheart.

“What’s the plan for the parents’ house when we get Y/N back home?” Wade asks as he horks down his burger almost as fast as you’re eating yours. “I’m feeling something arson-y. Frankenfurter, you down?”

You can almost hear Frank’s eyes roll at the nickname, but he shows restraint by only flipping Wade off for it instead of cursing him out. “You’re buying the gas.”

“Ooh, I do love good burning!” Mikhail says with slightly manic brightness. “If I come, you will not even need matches!”

“Send a good message,” Nathan reasons, techno-organic eye flaring as he considers the idea. “Warn all the other shitheads not to go after mutants.”

Behind you, Piotr makes a noise of disapproval. “X-Men do not kill.”

“We’re not X-Men!” Wade reasons. “It’ll be fine!”

“I don’t know,” Neena says softly as she watches you closely. “I’m not getting a good feeling about this idea.”

You’re not sure when you started crying, but her sudden attention makes you realize that you’re shaking and that tears are trickling down your cheeks.

“Hey, hey, hey.” Wade crouches in front of you, smiling brightly even though panic is easy to see in his eyes. “It’s okay. We wouldn’t leave you out of it.”

Piotr sighs heavily. “Wade—”

“Hey, a little vengeance towards childhood abusers is very cleansing for the soul!”

“No,” you snap, scrubbing at your face –and then wince when you press against the cut by your eyebrow too hard. “No one’s doing anything. No arson, no killing, no threats, nothing!”

“What the shit? Are you listening to yourself right now?” Wade exclaims. “These are your parents, the people who beat you growing up and again within the past twenty-four hours, and you just want to –what—let them get away with it? The fuck kinda bullshit is that!”

“You can’t,” you sob, almost on the verge of hyperventilating. “You can’t –Wade, you can’t, you have to promise me—”

“Hey, hey.” Nate clasps your hand while shushing softly. “Deep breaths. No one’s going to do anything if you’re not okay with it.”

“Speak for yourself!”

Neena kicks Wade in the shin –albeit not too hard. “We’re trying to calm her down right now.”

“What do you think the arson is for?”

Piotr lets out a harsh exhale behind you. “Wade—”

“Everyone be quiet,” Alex interjects in a tone that brokers no arguing. She fixes Wade with a steely glare when he opens his mouth to argue anyway. “I said quiet. There is more going on here than you realize.”

Wade gives you a skeptical look. “What else could there possibly be? Your family situation is already entirely fucked.”

You sniff wetly and blow your nose into a Kleenex provided by Piotr, then give everyone watching you –which is the entire group at this point—a desperate, pleading look. “What I’m about to tell you cannot ever go any further, okay? Someone else’s life is at stake. I’m putting them at risk –and the rest of you, too—just by telling you all this.”

Everyone nods seriously –even Wade—and then it all comes tumbling out.

About your uncle. About the life he was forced into. About how he got out and has to stay under every radar conceivable to avoid being forced back into “government service.”

“If anything happens to my parents –or their property—that isn’t natural causes, the government drops a massive manhunt on his head,” you explain, voice thick with emotion. “It’s an agreement they made to keep him from taking me when I was a kid and to keep him from lashing out at them from all their bullshit.”

“Why haven’t they just dropped the bomb on him anyway?” Neena asks. “Your parents don’t exactly seem like the most rational, deal-honoring people anyway.”

“He warned them that if they did pull something like that, his first stop would be to come get me and ‘wipe all evidence of them from existence,’” you say. “I think they valued their own lives enough to keep from doing that.”

“Why not just take you and run anyway?” Mikhail pipes up, forehead creased with confusion and concern.

You purse your lips. “For all about him that’s great… he’s flawed. I don’t think he ever thought he’d be in a good position to take care of a kid –and, in all honesty, he wasn’t.”

“But he could have saved you,” Mikhail argues. “He could have gotten you out.”

“My uncle was just as abused as I am, if not more,” you say flatly. “He’s had his own demons to deal with –still deal with. And, at any rate, this isn’t about what he has or hasn’t done; this is about his present safety, and believe me when I say there is a very real threat staring him down.”

“We believe you,” Nate reassures you. “And we’re not going to do anything that’s going to put your uncle at risk.”

Wade holds up his hands defensively when you give him a pointed look. “I’ll behave! I promise!”

You heave a sigh of relief and lean back against Piotr. “Thanks, everyone.”

 


 

While you all finish eating, Nate, Alex, Neena, Piotr, and Frank work out how the rest of the travelling is going to go.

There’s no stopping for a hotel –or anything other than food, gas, and bathroom breaks, really. Even though you’re safely out of your parents’ clutches, the possibility of them chasing after you –along with who knows who else—still looms ominously like a black thunder cloud.

“We left the collar at the house,” Nate says while looking over some maps with Frank and Neena. “With any luck, they’ll think she got it off and escaped into the woods.”

“By unlocking the door from inside the room,” Frank says, voice heavy with doubt.

“I can unlock handcuffs with my powers,” you retort between massive bites of burger and fries. “And I used to take my bedroom door off its hinges to escape from my room. It’s not that much of a leap.”

Frank shrugs, looking equal parts impressed and irritated –though the latter, you’re certain, is directed at your parents. “If you say so.”

If they come after us,” Nate says, stressing the first word for your sake. “You’re—” he points to Mikhail “—going to get her and get back to the Institute. We’ll be able to handle whatever they throw at us.”

You frown when Mikhail nods and look to your fiancé. “What about you?”

Piotr kisses your forehead. “I will be fine. My armor mutation will keep me safe.”

“Yeah, honey, but you’re official X-Men. You can’t be associated with a shoot-out in case something hits the news.”

“Grab both of them,” Nate tells Mikhail.

“Do I have to?” Mikhail mock-whines. “Mladshiy brat too heavy.”

Piotr rolls his eyes and says something in Russian, which Mikhail pulls a face at and replies in a short, irritated tone, and then the two of them tangent off into some sort of rapid-fire argument that leads to the two of them talking over each other—

“Stop it, both of you,” Alex admonishes them crisply. “This situation is serious. Act like it.”

“One of us is,” Piotr mutters under his breath.

Trakhni tebya!”

“Enough.” Alex levels a serious, mildly annoyed look at Piotr. “Quit antagonizing.”

Mikhail laughs.

“That goes for you, too, Koroleva dramy.”

You squeeze Piotr’s hand when you catch him barely suppressing an annoyed grimace. “Be nice.”

Frank noisily balls up the wrapper his burger had come in, effectively distracting everyone away from the argument. “We should get moving again. Do we have a route picked out?”

Neena tosses him a map with a series of roads and highways highlighted. “I’m feeling good about this one.”

“Still lazy writing,” Wade grumbles under his breath.

Nate pats Wade on the shoulder before heading back to his seat. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

Once you’re buckled in, Piotr hands you a small container with some pills and a bottle of water. “Medication,” he explains when you give him a perplexed look. “Dr. McCoy wanted you to have meal before you took it.”

You quickly –gratefully—down one of the pills and follow it with a swig of water. “Thanks, babe.”

He produces another bottle with a few smaller looking pills in it. “Xanax. He instructed me to have you take one as well to help you sleep.”

You take one of the Xanax, chase it down with some water, and flop back in your seat with a sigh as Frank drives the car towards the nearest highway. “How long until we’re home?”

“About two days, give or take four hours,” Nate answers from the shotgun seat of the car.

You adjust yourself so you’re leaning against Piotr and close your eyes.

You may as well get some sleep in that time.

 


 

You wake up to the sun blasting your eyes –and ow, no, I didn’t need my retinas to be functional, just go right ahead and scorch them, you fucker. You blink hard, trying to get the little spots from accidentally staring at the bright, early morning light to fade from your field of vision, and stretch your back and sit up.

For a moment, you panic when you realize Piotr isn’t next to you –but Nathan is, napping, and if he’s still here then you’re still safe…

You let out a little sigh of relief when you see that Piotr’s in the driver’s seat, steering the car around a bend in the road. You lean forward –mashing your face against the back of his seat in the process—and gently squeeze his shoulders. “Hi.”

He lifts one hand off the wheel when he gets to another length of straight, open road and lovingly squeezes one of your hands. “Dobroye utro, myshka.”

You yawn and latch onto his shirt when he lets go of you so he has both hands on the steering wheel once more. “How long have you been awake?”

“Couple of hours. I switched off with Frank around four.”

Sure enough, Frank’s in the front passenger seat, completely dead to the world and snoring slightly.

“How much longer until we’re home?”

“I think we will reach halfway point later today, provided everything goes well.”

You grunt a little and turn your head so only your cheek’s pressing the back of his seat. “Can we get breakfast soon? I’m hungry.”

Piotr chuckles a little and pats your hand. “Da, dorogoy. We can get you breakfast soon.”

 


 

Breakfast comes in the form of a Panera Bread. You can only imagine how big the cashier’s eyes must’ve been when Neena and Piotr had gone in to place the order, judging by the three massive bags of food and multiple drink carriers they bring out, but fortunately the place is pretty dead since it’s still early in the morning.

You all eat in the parking lot, car doors open to let in fresh air and facilitate easy conversation.

“We should refuel soon,” Frank says, voice still gravelly –well, more than usual—from sleep. “And stock up on some supplies and coffee.”

“You ordered three large black coffees for breakfast,” Neena remarks, disbelieving. “What are you going to need more coffee for?”

“He doesn’t just punish criminals and jackasses,” Wade quips. “He also likes to punish his cardiovascular system by scouring it with mass amounts of caffeine.”

Frank just rolls his eyes and flips Wade off.

Alex groans as she works a brush through her hair. “I will be glad to not sleep in car soon. I am too old for this.”

“I can take you back,” Mikhail offers, a worried frown tugging at his lips.

Alex merely shakes her head, though. “I would rather be present in case something goes wrong.”

“We’ve made some good progress,” Nate says as he works on polishing off a breakfast sandwich. “If we were going to see them, it would’ve been last night, either at the house or when we stopped to treat her injuries.”

“Doesn’t mean they’re not following behind us,” Frank adds darkly. “Best to stop as little as we have to.”

 


 

The two SUVs stop at a gas station fifteen minutes later.

Nate eyes the meter critically as the beast of a car continues guzzling down fuel. “And people say climate change is a myth.”

The eight of you head into the gas station two at a time to freshen up in the bathroom and get whatever snacks and drinks you might want, while everyone else keeps an eye on the road for any signs of trouble.

Mikhail comes out with two bags full of Monster and Red Bull.

Nyet,” Piotr says before you can even muster up so much as a hopeful look. He points at the bags his brother’s carrying. “Keep those in other car.”

“Do you mind if I ride in the front while he drives?” you ask Frank when he comes out from his trip to the gas station, nodding at Piotr while you speak.

Frank shrugs. “Sure. I can sleep in the back.”

“You should rest, myshka,” Piotr says as he kisses the top of your head.

“Yeah, but I want to rest next to you,” you explain. “And hold your hand.”

He chuckles and hugs you gently before ushering you towards the front passenger seat. “I suppose that is reasonable.”

 


 

For the first time in your life, you don’t mind the monotony of car travel.

You can keep track of how much time is passing, you’re close to Piotr the entire time, you have access to water and good tasting food, and you’re able to talk to the people you love most (other than Piotr) basically whenever you want.

The only real downside is that Frank listens to Bruce Springsteen on repeat whenever he’s driving –during the day that is, he’s not enough of an asshole to play it at night—but even that’s tolerable compared to your past few days in hell on earth.

Piotr sticks close to you throughout it all. If he’s driving, you’re in the front passenger seat next to him. If you’re in the back, he’s sitting in the seat next to yours. If you head into a gas station to use the restroom, he’s the one that heads in with you. Wherever you eat –usually in the car, but sometimes leaning against the side or the hood so you can stretch your legs—he’s right next to you.

You’re both equally clingy to each other, really. On some level, you know the considerate thing to do would be dial it back so you don’t annoy everyone else –but, on the other hand, you spent four days being held and tormented by your parents and thought that everyone you’d ever met outside of your childhood community might’ve never existed to begin with. If anything, you’ve earned a little PDA.

(Besides, it’s not like anyone’s complaining or pulling faces.)

“I thought you didn’t exist,” you murmur quietly one night, while Nate’s driving and Frank’s co-piloting for him. You’re in the back with Piotr, nestled against his chest and snuggled up in his jacket. “I thought I’d made you up –that I’d made everything up.”

Piotr holds you tight, cradling you in his arms as he kisses the top of your head. “I will always find you, myshka,” he promises in an equally quiet voice. “You will never have to wake up alone again.”

 


 

The two SUVs finally reach the X-Mansion around three in the afternoon, a little over two days after your rescue.

Your uncle’s waiting in the garage for you, pacing nervously and generally looking like a wreck.

“And I thought I was the one that was kidnapped and held prisoner,” you remark as you watch him stare down the cars, like he can make them park and turn off faster if he keeps his eyes on them through the whole process.

“He was pretty cut up when you went missing,” Nate says from the backseat. “Flew here in twelve hours when Xavier contacted him with the news.”

“Holy shit,” you mutter under your breath as Piotr finishes parking the car and turns the engine off. You unbuckle your seatbelt and get out of the SUV as quickly as you can—

Your uncle’s still quicker. He practically lifts you out of your seat and into a crushing hug, sobbing brokenly as he holds you.

Which makes you start crying. You’re surprised your tear ducts have anything left to offer after all the crying you’ve done over the past couple days.

“I’m so sorry!” he gasps between sobs as he clutches you tighter and tighter. “I’m so sorry, punk; I’m so, so sorry!”

You hold onto him just as fiercely. “It’s okay; it’s not your fault, it was never your fault…”

The two of you collapse to the cement floor of the garage in a discombobulated heap, weeping and clinging to each other like it’s all that either of you can do.

And, given the depth of everything that’s happened, it just might be.

Piotr, Alex, and Nate help the two of you stand, steadying you both until you’re each calm enough to stay upright on your own power.

Your uncle cups your face his hands, jaw trembling with rage as he looks you over. “What did they do to you? What did they do –I’m gonna fucking murder them!”

Alex shushes your uncle, quickly stepping between the two of you as he starts shaking again. “Deep breaths.”

“Don’t you fucking ‘deep breaths’ me!”

“She needs you calm,” Alex fires back, pointing at you.

Which you don’t think is the whole truth; of the two of you, you’re miles calmer than your uncle (that would be the Xanax, thank you modern pharmaceutics).

But he needs to calm down. And if thinking he’s helping you is the bridge that gets him there, so be it.

You offer your uncle a watery smile when he looks at you. “Honestly, all I really want is to go inside, take a shower, and nap in a real bed.”

That ekes a ghost of a snort out of your uncle. He takes a deep breath, then nods. “Yeah. Probably a good idea. Easier to bathe in water than in deodorant.”

You snicker. “You’re telling me.”

You’re ushered into the house by your uncle and your rescue group. Piotr stays by your side the whole way, holding your hand reassuringly as you step through the back door and into the kitchen—

And there’s Russell, Yukio, Ellie, Illyana, Kitty, Nikolai, and Karen, all waiting for you with varying looks of worry and anticipation.

Russell, Yukio, and Ellie all swarm you at once. It takes a bit of work figuring out how to hug all three of them at once, and it makes your ribs sting like a bitch, but you don’t care. You’re overjoyed to see them; you’ve missed their energy and company fiercely during all of this.

Illyana and Kitty go next –though they have a little more self-control and opt to go one at a time, sparing your ribs from an extra squeezing.

Illyana holds onto you for a surprisingly long amount of time. When she lets go, her eyes are watery enough that her usually impeccable eyeliner has started running.

“Was very worried about you,” she manages, voice wobbly with emotion when you ask her what’s wrong. “And for medvezhonok. Very distraught while you disappear.” She smiles at you, genuine and bright despite the tears in her eyes. “I am glad you are home.”

You have to hug her again after that.

Nikolai’s hug almost makes you cry (again). It’s so gentle and nurturing, and in direct comparison to the past few days –save for being rescued—it’s an outright shock to your system. “We are all glad you come home, malen'kaya ptitsa,” he says before placing a gentle, fatherly kiss against the top of your head.

If you sniffle a little when you step back and wipe a few tears from your eyes, no one mentions it. “I’m glad to be back.” You turn—

And then it’s just Karen left.

She grimaces when she sees you. “You look rougher than you did that one time when Frank brought you by my apartment.”

“Hey, at least I didn’t bleed on your couch this time.” You mentally flounder for a moment, then shrug at her. “You want a hug, too?”

Karen chuckles –along with everyone else—and shrugs back. “Why not? Hugs are good.” Your hug with her is briefer than your hugs with everyone else, but she does clasp your shoulder when it ends. “Your dad sent me the pictures he took of your injuries and a basic rundown of how they found you. I showed them to the law firm I moonlight for –they’re willing to represent you, if you’re interested.”

Granted, you’d rather not have anything to do with your parents ever again, but knowing what your legal options are wouldn’t be a half bad idea.

First things first, though.

“Can I, like, at least take a shower and a nap first?” you ask.

Karen smiles and nods. “Yeah, definitely do those first. I’ll let them know you’re interested in working with us?”

You nod after a moment of thought. “Yeah. I’m interested.”

 


 

Before either a shower or a nap, though, comes a thorough medical examination and healing session. Vitals, x-rays, bloodwork, the whole nine yards and a few extra for good measure.

Hank takes some higher quality pictures of your injuries and documents your medical status for your meeting with your new lawyers, then sends you off to one of the healers so you don’t have to treat yourself like the most delicate, frail china doll until everything heals.

“Alyssa and Professor Xavier want to do a session with you,” he informs you before sending you to one of the healers. “To make sure no irreversible damage has been done from going off your meds and being held captive.”

“Define ‘irreversible,’” you sigh as you rub your neck.

Hank flashes you a pained smile. “I know. But better to take all the steps than cut corners. Especially with situations like this.” He waves you along when you go quiet. “Go on. Go get healed up. That should help you feel better.”

 


 

The healing session does help –but honestly, all you want now is a shower and a proper bed.

Which is exactly what you get for yourself. Once the session is done, you head straight for the room you share with Piotr, beeline for the bathroom, and make yourself a nice, steaming shower.

Ah, just mildly scalding, you think as you step under the cascade of water. Perfect.

The warm water feels like heaven. You can feel your muscles relaxing under the soothing spray, and you waste no time washing your hair and scrubbing yourself down.

The first shower after a healing session is always a little weird. You know you were injured –you can still feel dull pain in your ribs and the stress your body went through from coping with the injuries—but seeing completely smooth, unmarred skin in contrast to all of that always makes you feel like you’re having a bit of an out-of-body experience.

Your fingers automatically lift to your brow. There’s not so much as a fine line scar left from where your mother kicked you, let alone the scabby, crusty mess that had been there only fifteen minutes ago.

You’re not sure whether it’s a blessing or a curse to have everything erased like this. On one hand, you definitely don’t want to bear the proof of your parents’ hatred towards you for the rest of your life. On the other hand, if you don’t have any proof at all, does that mean you didn’t even suffer? It could’ve all just been a nightmare, or a horrid hallucination your psychosis cooked up—

You groan and scrub your face with your hands. I need to sleep.

Piotr joins you halfway through your shower. It takes him considerably less time to scrub down than it does for you, so he spends most of his time caressing your body and planting kisses along your jawline and neck.

By the time the shower’s over, you’re wound up in an entirely different way.

The two of you dry each other off –which really means that you spend more time kissing and groping each other than you do actually drying each other off.

You moan softly as Piotr runs his tongue over the spot where your neck and jaw meet. “Take me to bed, baby.” You sigh happily when he complies, looping your arms around his neck as he picks you up and carries you out of the bathroom.

You’re home.

 


 

“How are you doing?”

You let out a harsh bark of laughter. “How the fuck doing you think I’m doing?”

The corner of Alyssa’s mouth turns up in a smile. “Probably like shit.”

You snort, then nod. “That’s not far off the mark.” You sigh heavily. “I’m happy to be home.”

“But?”

You shrink back into the couch in your therapist’s office, picking at the hem of your shirt. “I’m scared.”

“That it’s not real,” Alyssa supplies when you don’t volunteer any other information. “Your dad mentioned that you said something about thinking none of this was real when he rescued you.”

Your jaw clenches as the moment you saw your mother’s face for the first time in over two years flashes through your mind’s eye over and over again. “I just… I saw her face, and I felt like I’d been hit by a truck.”

“That’s not an uncommon reaction. Interacting with abusers puts our systems through a great deal of stress.”

You swallow hard, staring out the window as everything that followed that moment flashes through your head at dizzying speed. “It was like… everything I thought I knew uprooted in that moment. And I thought… ‘what if I made everything up? What if I’m a delusional maniac?’”

“What makes you think you’re delusional?” Alyssa asks, clasping her hands in her lap as she studies you.

“I don’t know,” you admit. “Just… I’m afraid that none of this is real, and that I’ve been with my parents this whole time.” You look over at her. “I could be delusional. It’s possible.”

“Delusional people don't question whether or not they're delusional,” Alyssa says calmly. “They hold their beliefs with total conviction, regardless of whatever evidence is presented. The fact that you're questioning your experience is symptomatic of your anxiety and depression, not because of a delusion.”

“But it is possible!” you insist, gesturing with your hands in short, agitated motions as your anxiety spikes. “It technically is! People cope with abuse in all sorts of ways! Delusions can be one of those ways!”

“Yes, they do, and yes, it is, but that’s not the case with you,” Alyssa fires back. “In order to construct an alternate reality, you would have to be severely schizophrenic. Delusions can be a subset of schizophrenia, but they're about beliefs and obsessions, not constructing locations, people that have never been met, seen, or heard of, or interactions with those people. The latter would fall into the category of hallucinations. What you’re describing to me isn’t within the limitations of a delusion.”

“Then maybe I’m schizophrenic!” you exclaim.

“You’re not,” Alyssa says evenly. “You don’t exhibit any of the symptoms of schizophrenia. And, if you were, your interactions with your alternate reality would not be as linear as anything you’re experiencing now.” She cocks her head to the side as she looks at you. “Why do you keep looking for reasons why this might not be real?”

“I have to. I have to make sure that everything’s real.”

“Why? What’s the worst thing that happens if none of this is real?”

You draw in a shaky breath as you rip at your shirt’s hemline. “Because if none of this is real, that means I was always with my parents, and no one ever loved me.” You freeze, full body, as what you just say registers, then slump over against the arm of the couch and start crying.

“There it is,” Alyssa says softly as she pulls a couple tissues out of the box on the table next to her chair and hands them to you. “Not delusional. Just scared of not being loved.”

“But what if it is?” you whimper. “What if no one really loves me?”

“It’s not a delusion, honey, I promise. Your questioning reality was a side effect of heightened anxiety due to withdrawals, that’s all. This is all real, and you’re really loved.” She hands you a few more tissues. “Your parents were working very hard to destabilize you, even if they didn't know you were on medication. They took away your ability to track time, any personal effects, had almost complete control over your schedule. When you got back to being in control of yourself and back on your medication, you stabilized. People with delusions don't stabilize when interacting with the delusion. You've stabilized due to being out of a stressful environment and getting back onto medication.”

You grit your teeth as you wipe your cheeks dry with a balled-up tissue. “I hate them. I hate them so much.”

“I know, honey. And they’ve definitely earned it. Just make sure you don’t stay there,” Alyssa encourages you, smiling softly as she looks you in the eye. “Because you don’t deserve having to give them all that energy and effort when they never did that for you.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not sure how fast the whole ‘moving on’ thing is gonna go,” you grumble as you start shredding your wadded up, damp tissue.

“Fast doesn’t matter,” Alyssa reassures you. “Just as long as you’re moving.”

 


 

Franklin “Foggy” Nelson and Matthew Murdock are nothing like what you expect.

Though that may largely have to do with the cheery “Hiya, Red!” Wade tosses Matt’s way as soon as the man walks through the front door to the Institute, which makes Matt pull a face like he’s about to shit his pants so hard he’s gonna rip the seams.

Granted, things aren’t necessarily much improved by Frank following them through the door –presumably to make sure Karen stays safe in case things blow back with your parents somehow—

Except Matt turns towards him and growls, “You didn’t say Wilson was going to be here.”

Which leads the grand revelation that one of your lawyers is actually Daredevil, one of Hell’s Kitchen’s leading vigilantes and a staunch rival of sorts with both Frank and Wade.

…Honestly, it’s not the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you.

 


 

“I’ll be honest, Miss L/N,” Foggy says once the whole “Matt is Daredevil” kerfuffle is settled and the five of you –Matt, Foggy, Karen, you, and Piotr, who agreed to sit in when you asked him to—finally have a chance to sit down. “Given the severity of your abuse case, I’m a little surprised you haven’t already taken steps to issue a restraining order against your parents. You have more than enough grounds for it. Heck, you have enough grounds to take them to criminal court –and win.”

“I’m not interested in having a day in court,” you say quietly. “I just never want to see them again.”

“Understandable, given the tragic circumstances of your upbringing,” Matt says, tone perfectly sympathetic; he’s clearly had a great deal of practice with this. “A restraining order, however, would go a long way towards making sure that could happen.”

“We’d work with the authorities and whatever legal support your parents might have,” Karen adds, notepad settled on her lap and pen poised to start taking notes at any moment. “And, given the severity of the abuse you’ve suffered, we could represent your interests along with someone that you give power of attorney. You could be as removed from the situation as you want.”

Piotr’s hand closes around yours when you don’t say anything, thumb tracing delicate circles against your skin. “It may be worth considering.”

Matt tilts his head for a moment, a slight frown tugging at his lips. “Is there a specific reason why you never issued a restraining order against your parents, Miss L/N?”

Right, you think dejectedly. He’s Daredevil. He can hear my heartbeat. “You think I’m lying.”

“No—”

“You think I’m hiding something, then.”

Matt’s mouth hangs open for a moment, then slowly closes shut.

You swallow hard and look away as tears threaten to spill. “It’s a complicated situation.”

“We work with complicated situations all the time,” Foggy reassures you. “The more open and honest you are with us, the better we can help you.”

“This isn’t just for you,” Matt tacks on. “Restraining orders can also be used to protect whatever children you may choose to have in the future. Even if you don’t want it for you, it may be worth the peace of mind for your future self, to know that your parents can’t get anywhere near your offspring.”

And that does make the whole idea a lot more tempting. Matt’s right that you really don’t care about yourself in all this, but you wouldn’t wish your parents upon your future kids in a thousand years.

You also know you can’t rain hellfire down on someone’s life without even consulting them first.

“Would you mind if I took a few minutes?” you ask, desperately trying to keep your voice steady. “There’s, uh, someone I need to talk to.”

Matt nods. “Take all the time you need.”

You’re not sure if he’s being nice, or if he doesn’t mind because he’s paid by the hour and you’re still technically using his time.

“We’ll be here when you come back,” Karen says with a reassuring smile. “In the meantime, Mr. Rasputin, perhaps we can get started on asking you some questions about your relationship with Y/N, how much you know about her history, that sort of thing?”

Piotr nods when you nod, squeezing your hand before letting it go. “Of course. Whatever I can help with.”

You quickly step out of the classroom the five of you had settled in, then all but run down the hall and towards the residential side of the mansion.

You need to find your uncle.

 


 

He lets out a low whistle. “Restraining order. That’s some serious shit.”

The two of you are seated in the gazebo towards the back of Xavier’s property. The skies have decided to cast a relentless downpour on the world beneath them, drenching everything within their reach and making mini-swamps out of various patches of the lawns that encircle the mansion.

The space under the gazebo is dry, though, and the rain is loud enough that you don’t have to worry about anyone overhearing you, and the spot is far enough removed from the house that the telepaths that could pick up what you’re talking about will be able to infer by the distance that the conversation you’re having is deliberately private.

“It’d be good for my future kids,” you comment as you watch little streams of water drip off the edges of the gazebo’s roof. “Honestly, it’d probably be good to do more than just a restraining order, make sure that my parents are completely locked out of everything.”

“Damn right it would,” your uncle agrees with a nod. He glances over at you. “So what’s stopping you?”

You sigh heavily. “They’d probably rat you out to try and get me to stop the proceedings. Or just rat you out to spite me.”

“Oh, there’s no doubt about that,” you uncle says immediately. “The second you do anything to actually shut them out, your mom’s going to throw an absolute shitfit. I know for a fact that the only reason they didn’t turn on me sooner is because, legally, the government couldn’t do anything to force you to go back home to them.”

You frown. “Wait, how can you know that?”

Your uncle flashes you a pained smile. “Who do you think supplied them with the repression serum? Or the collar? Or built the holding cell you were in? Sure as shit wasn’t me, punk.”

Your blood runs cold. “Why?”

“Probably wanted another agent,” your uncle says, entirely too blasé about the whole thing for your comfort. “They knew I was around, they just didn’t know where to find me.”

“Then why not get rid of me?”

“Because getting rid of you would make your mom a ‘bad mother.’”

You scoff, fists clenching against your thighs. “And kicking me in the face doesn’t?”

“Spare the rod, spoil the child. No, I figure once you turned eighteen, they would’ve shipped you off and claimed you were at college or working or what have you.” He grimaces, eyes going flat and dark. “You are lucky you chose to run when you did.”

You swallow hard, trying to stay calm despite the rage bubbling up inside you. “Then why keep kidnapping me? What’s the fucking point of it? They don’t want me, I’m out of their hair, what do they get by dragging me back to a place I never wanted to be from the get go?”

Your uncle shrugs. “Could be the government ordered them to track you down so they’d have better tabs on their ‘potential asset.’ Could be that they just wanted to keep control over you. Honestly, I’m not sure –and I don’t really care to know, either. I stopped trying to figure out your parents’ fucked up cognitions a long time ago. But we’re not talking about them. We’re talking about you getting your parents out of your life.”

“I mean…” You scrub your face with your hands and let out a frustrated groan. “I’m not sure what I can really do. If they’ve got government backing—”

“You let me and the other people in your life worry about that,” your uncle says firmly. “You’ve got more than enough mercenaries and vigilantes in your pocket. If someone tries to fuck any of this up, they’ll get their ass handed to them in short order.”

“But what about you?” you fire back, finally pointing out the elephant in the room. “If I go through with all this, your former handlers are going to start a manhunt for you.”

Your uncle considers that for a moment before shrugging. “Not my first time I’ve had to run. I can always do it again.”

“No! That’s not fair to you!”

“You’re right, it isn’t, but that’s not your fault. I was dealt this hand a long time before you ever showed up,” your uncle says, eyes shining as he smiles at you. “Don’t put your life on hold for me, punk. You deserve to live it without having to deal with your parents. I’ll be fine.”

You hug him, wrapping your arms around his waist as you start crying. “What about your house?”

“I’ll clear it out and burn it. Give them a good ol’ ‘fuck you’ before I duck under.”

You frown. “But… you won’t have anywhere to go once everything settles.”

“Eh, I’ve been thinking about relocating for a while now,” he comments casually as he stares out at the rain. “Maybe… somewhere closer to New York.”

You look up at him, disbelieving. “Really?”

He grins and hugs you closer. “Yeah, really. I miss you when you’re gone, punk. And…” He sighs. “I’m tired of being on my own so much.”

You gasp, feigning shock. “Are you… admitting you feel emotions?”

Your uncle snorts. “Don’t get used to it.”

The two of you sit in silence for a moment, listening to the rain fall and watching it wash away the sins of the earth.

“I might need you to answer some questions for my lawyers,” you finally say. “Just so they know what’s all going on.”

Your uncle pats your shoulder. “Whatever you need, punk. Whatever you need.”

 


 

Matt, Foggy, and Karen take your uncle’s status in remarkable stride –which, considering that Matt is Daredevil, Karen unearths some sort of mob or government conspiracy every other week, and Foggy is constantly looped into the two’s insatiable drive to get into as much shit as possible, isn’t all that surprising, actually.

Your uncle does help confirm everything you’ve said –and everyone else, for that matter—about your parents. Even if he can’t testify, he can tell the three of them where to look for various details to confirm your version of events.

“Given your medical and therapy records, we have what basically constitutes an ‘open and shut’ case,” Foggy says during one of your sessions with them. You’d opted to meet at their office, which is attached to a deli and butcher’s shop run by Foggy’s family. “Even this doesn’t get taken this to criminal court, getting a restraining order should be easy. I can’t imagine there’d be a judge in New York that’d deny it.”

“Well, maybe one or two, but they’re in prison now,” Matt adds with a small smile.

Piotr squeezes your hand gently when you don’t react to either lawyer’s statements. “Are you alright, myshka?”

“Yeah,” you say quietly. “Just… it’s a lot to wrap my head around.”

“Why not start with an ex parte order?” Karen suggests. “That’ll make sure you’re immediately protected, and then we can work with the judge to get a long-term order in place. Once that’s done, we can look at your file and work on anything else you might want to get set up to safeguard yourself against your parents.”

You nod sluggishly. “Yeah, just… can I have a night to sleep on it? I’m still trying to recover from everything.”

“Absolutely,” Matt says immediately. “You’ve been through a great deal of trauma, Miss L/N. It’s understandable that you’d want to take time to think about everything.”

You know he means to sound sympathetic and understanding, but right now it just sounds coddling. All you want to do is go home, crawl into bed, and sleep for a thousand years.

Piotr makes good-byes for both of you as you head out of the office and towards Piotr’s car. He catches up with you quickly, gently lifting you up from where you’d slumped against the car door so he can open it for you. “Are you well, myshka?”

“Yeah,” you murmur as you plop into your seat. “Just really tired. Can we go home?”

Piotr bends down, ducking under the roof of the car so he can kiss your temple. “Da.”

“And can we snuggle?”

He stops mid-way in closing the car door to give you a loving smile. “Konechno. Whatever you would like.”

 


 

Once the two of you get back home, Piotr lifts you out of the car and carries you all the way upstairs to the room the two of you share. He gently tucks you in bed before slipping his shoes off and climbing in on his side.

You wriggle over to him, nestling against his chest as he wraps his arms around you. “I’m so tired.”

“I know,” he murmurs as he kisses the top of your head. “It is okay. You are allowed to be tired.”

You trace your fingers over the planes of his chest in swirling, nonsensical shapes. “I just… I don’t know how to feel about it. The restraining order.”

“Why is that?”

“I don’t know. I guess… it feels like I’m not allowed to do it.”

“Because of your uncle?”

“That, but also… I spent my childhood trying to figure out how to be a good daughter. I feel like if I lock my parents out, they’re never going to love me.”

Piotr stays quiet for a moment, before hugging you tighter and trailing kisses from the top of your forehead to your lips. “Perhaps you are right. But, I would say you have so many people here that love you. People who you do not have to prove yourself to. And I think it would be worth peace of mind to not have your parents looming over your shoulder so much. Especially when we start having children.”

And that’s the kicker of it, in the end.

Besides, Piotr’s right. You do have a wonderful family and life here at Xavier’s; everything’s improved for the better since leaving your parents and hometown community. No sense in fucking that up by leaving things to chance –especially once kids come into the picture.

“Okay,” you decide, pressing your forehead against your fiancé’s chest. “I’ll do the restraining order.”

 


 

You’re still extremely fatigued and weak the next morning, and Piotr deems you too unwell to travel (not that you’re complaining, because hello pajama day). He calls in to the law firm of Nelson, Murdock, and Page and lets them know –and as luck would have it, they’re in a position to make a house call since all you’re doing today is signing paperwork.

Frank also shows up. Whether it’s of his own reasons or he’s tagging along with your legal team, you neither know or care. He pretty much pairs off with Nathan and Wade as soon as he steps over the threshold into the house, talking with the two fellow assassins in hushed tones about who knows what –the latest style of bullets, maybe, or the most efficient ways to clean a gun.

(What do assassins talk about over lunch, anyway?)

You set up shop in the dining room with Piotr and your lawyers. Piotr’s family and your uncle are a few feet away in the kitchen, and further back are Nate, Wade, and Frank, still enraptured in whatever conversation they’re having.

“Alright,” Foggy says as he pulls a sheaf of paperwork out of his briefcase. “This is going to look like a lot, but it’s really just a bunch of reading and signing. Some of these are just waivers giving us permission to act in certain capacities –to use your medical records and therapy records as evidence in the courts, to act on your behalf without you being there in our capacity as your attorneys, stuff like that—some of these are forms that basically just say you understand, to your best ability, that you’re telling the truth, and some of these are also your permissive relief requests.”

You stare down at the papers like they’re liable to catch fire at any given moment. “And then?”

“Then, an emergency protective order goes into effect,” Karen says. “The emergency protective order only lasts a few days, but in that time we’ll request the ex-parte order to extend the time while we work through the litigation. Once we get through the process of establishing the long-term restraining order, it’ll be issued.”

You take a deep breath and nod slowly. “And then?”

“Given the severity of your case, we’re going to push for the longest term possible,” Matt explains with a small smile, “which is about five years. You’ll have to renew it at those intervals, but given the amount of evidence that supports your side of the story, it shouldn’t be difficult.”

Piotr puts an arm around your shoulders when you start shaking. “Are you okay?”

“Just… feel like the world’s going to explode,” you murmur as you try to breathe evenly. “Or… that they’re never really going to love me again.” You hide your face against his shoulder as tears start leaking out.

Karen produces some tissues from her purse and hands them over to Piotr. “I know this isn’t easy…”

Normally, you’d snap at anyone who dared to issue that phrase while you’re dealing with family shit, but something about the sincerity in Karen’s voice makes you believe that, somewhere along the way, she’s gone through the same kind of shit that you have.

You lift your head and meet her gaze.

Her eyes are just as watery as yours. “Letting go of people who were supposed to love you but don’t is never an easy thing to do. It hurts, and it sucks, and it forces you to go through so much grieving that life just doesn’t prepare us for. But you deserve to have peace of mind in your day to day life. You deserve to never go through again what you went through two weeks ago.”

You sniff, inhale deeply, then nod. “Okay. Just… uh… do we have to go in any order?”

“Nope,” Foggy says with a kind smile. “Just so long as everything gets signed.”

“Okay.” You take another deep breath, then nod to yourself. “Okay. Let’s do this shit.”

 


 

It’s so much paper. The top of the dining room table has disappeared under all the papers you have to sign. At least twenty forests must’ve died for all this paper to be here.

Also, you’ve officially hit the point where you’re questioning whether or not you know your own signature or not. Just looking at the black scrawl of ink makes you go a little cross-eyed.

“Alright, almost done,” Foggy says as he preps the next form for you to sign while Karen organizes everything and gets them tucked back in his briefcase. “We just have your permissive protections request left and the form that lets us act in your capacity as attorneys.”

“Thank fuck,” you mutter as you reach for the permissive protections request. “Is it possible to get carpal tunnel syndrome in less than a day?”

“I did it once!” Wade calls from the kitchen.

“I don’t even want to know how you managed that,” you fire back as you sign and initial the various spots on the form and hand it over to Karen. “Alright, last one.”

Matt stiffens in his seat before Foggy can hand it over to you, though. “Someone’s coming to the door. Several someones.”

Everyone freezes –and, sure enough, a couple seconds later there’s a series of raps on the front door.

You can hear Russell get up from the rec room and head towards the door, and then the door swinging open—

And past that, you can’t necessarily hear the conversation, but Matt’s hackles basically go up, which makes you tense further—

“Wade!” There’s a brief sound of struggle, and the Russell books it towards the kitchen. “Wade, Y/N’s parents are here with a bunch of other guys!”

Your blood runs cold, then white hot. If they hurt him, if they fucking hurt him…

Piotr tries to grab you when you jump up from your chair. “Myshka, stop—”

Your uncle reacts at the same time, immediately lunging in the direction of the front door. “Fucking assholes—”

Alex and Nikolai catch him, and Frank wraps his arms around his waist and hauls him back and out of sight for good measure.

You manage to slip past everyone in the chaos caused by your uncle’s attempt, charging down the hall towards Russell’s panicked voice. You can hear Piotr behind you, along with Wade, but you can’t think about either of them right now. All you can think about is Russell, and making sure no one hurts him, and if they hurt him, I’m going to kill every last one of them with my bare hands.

You nearly collide with the younger teen, but push him behind you and snarl directly in the face of your town’s pastor. “Get the fuck out!”

He –along with your parents and several of the men from your community—recoil in the face of your rage and the gust of wind that blasts through the hall.

Hit a dog long enough

Your mother recovers first, scowling at you as she advances on you. “You disobedient, disrespectful—”

Piotr bursts into the hall, physically putting himself between you and everyone else before anyone can do anything. He glares down at your mother, drawing himself up to his full, massive height and balling his fists at his side. “Do not dare touch my fiancée.”

You mother blinks, shocked. “You actually proposed to her?”

“You took my fucking ring off me!” you snap, pointing at the hand in question.

“I thought it was fake!”

Of course she did. The whole time she told you –and everyone else told you—that no one would ever love you, and they actually believed it themselves.

Fuckers.

“Everyone, please,” your town’s pastor says above the chaos and all the shouting. “We don’t want to cause a scene or a problem.”

“Oh, I think you’ve already fucking done that,” Wade says, voice deadly, as he steps up to stand next to Piotr.

“You’ve been doing that for years,” Nate adds, gun clearly visible on his belt, as he steps between you, Russell, and everyone else.

“We’re not here because we have a problem with any of you,” your town’s pastor continues. “We’re just here to take Y/N back home, where she belongs.”

You stare at him like he’s the one growing a second head. “What?”

“We’re concerned about your spiritual well-being,” he says, like that’s applicable to the situation in any way, shape, or form.

You sputter at him, outraged. “What the –fuck your religion!”

“You mind your mouth!” your mother snarls. “And you’re coming back home with us!”

“The fuck I’m not!” you shout back. “I’m an adult! You can’t make me go anywhere if I don’t want to!”

“The daughter’s place is under her father’s headship until she is married,” your pastor says, desperately trying to keep some semblance of control over the situation. “It would be most appropriate for you to return home until you’re married to ensure your sexual and spiritual purity.”

“Now, we don’t have time to unpack all that,” Wade mutters under his breath as he flashes a none-too-subtle ‘cuckoo’ gesture at you.

You just stare at the pastor, agape and eyes wide. “What the… what?”

“I know this may seem shocking—”

“They beat me!” you shriek, pointing at your parents. “They locked me in my room for days on end! They told me they hated me, that no one would ever love me, that I was an abomination!” You narrow your eyes when your pastor blanches, the chill of realization settling hard in your stomach. “You knew. You knew all of it was wrong. Just like you know that this is wrong! You let it all happen!”

He grimaces, but ultimately says nothing.

“Doesn’t matter,” your father growls flatly. “You’re not shaming my name by dallying about like some whore. You’re coming home. Today.”

You can’t even wrap your head around it. You’re staring in the face of people who know what they did to you, on some level, was wrong, but all they care about is taking you back to the environment where it all happened and will keep happening. Like they don’t care about your well-being, or what makes you happy, or about how much progress you’ve made since coming to Xavier’s—

I can’t make them care.

The penny drops right as you’re on the verge of tears. You can’t make them care about you. You can’t make them love you. Every single person you’re facing down –your parents included—decided a long time ago that you weren’t worth loving or respecting. No amount of arguing, pleading, or proof to the contrary is going to make them change their minds because there’s so much guilt on their shoulders –emotional or legal, though it should be both—that if they ever pulled their heads out of their asses, their necks would snap from the weight of it all.

And, amid all the pain the revelation causes, a single thought rises above all the emotional chaos: I can’t keep giving them my energy.

As much as it hurts to admit, it’s a useless fight. And as much as you want them to love you, they’re, at their cores, not people that are healthy to be loved by. You’d have to change every single thing about you –including things that can’t be changed—for them to ever love you.

And they don’t deserve that, least of all from you.

You look over your shoulder and see Foggy, Karen, and Matt all looking at you –well, Matt isn’t, but you know he’s focused on you and the fight unfolding in front of you.

Karen raises her eyebrows at you and holds up the form that lets them act as your attorneys without your presence and a pen.

An offer. A ladder out of the hell you were born to and raised in. A way to close the door once and for all.

It’s about time you take it.

“You know what?” you say, almost laughing from the sheer ridiculousness of it all. “I’m done with all of you.”

“And just what does that mean?” your mother says with a roll of her eyes.

You look back to Foggy, Matt, and Karen one more time before glancing over to your mother. “It means you’re dealing with my attorneys from here on out.” You turn and walk towards the trio, ignoring the squawks of protest the group from your hometown lets out.

As soon as you sign the form, they step past you and between Piotr, Wade, Nate, and everyone that’d joined your parents. “We represent the law firm of Nelson, Murdock, and Page,” Foggy says brightly. “And we’re here to inform you that you are currently violating an order of protection that was issued for our client’s safety against you.”

“The local authorities have been contacted and are on their way to arrest you for violating the order, in addition to charges of domestic abuse and conspiracy to commit abduction,” Matt adds.

“You fucking bitch!” your mother screams, lunging forward at you only to be stopped by Matt and Foggy. “You can’t do this!”

“Miss L/N,” Matt says, turning towards you. “For the sake of your emotional well-being, I would advise you to leave the room. Mr. Rasputin, perhaps you could accompany her for her comfort?”

“He needs to be here to represent the Institute,” you say, suddenly drained from the whole ordeal.

“I’ll go with her,” Wade offers, stepping back to clasp your shoulder. “Come on, sis.”

You put an arm around Russell’s shoulders. “Let’s go, bud. We’re done with them.”

Back in the kitchen –and out of sight of your parents and everyone else—Alex, Nikolai, and Frank are still holding your uncle back.

He relaxes once you cross the threshold and step out of sight of the hall. “Are you okay? What happened?”

You sigh, then shrug. “I decided to let my attorneys handle the situation.”

Your uncle stares at you, then smiles as tears well up in his eyes. “Good. Good job, punk.”

You try to smile back, but ultimately start crying.

He reaches over and pulls you into a massive hug.

The two of you stay like that for a while, holding each other while tears flow down each of your faces.

 


 

The whole process of your parents –and everyone else that decided to show up with them—being arrested is exhausting.

There’s a lot of screaming. A lot of arguing. A lot of insults –those are mostly directed at you, even though you aren’t in the room.

Frank and your uncle have to duck into the basement to avoid being seen by any of the officers –which Wade makes a “alternative seven minutes in heaven” comment about that makes you smile briefly, but you’re honestly too tired to really do anything except stare at a wall right now.

Piotr has to talk to the officers as a representative of the Institute, which means that you can’t just drape yourself over him like you want to and soak in his affection and love for you.

The only upside is that Matt, Foggy, and Karen can speak to the police on your behalf. Right now, you’re not sure you could handle dealing with all the questions you’re bound to be asked.

Eventually, Alex walks up to your seat and squeezes your shoulder. “Come on. Let’s go for walk.”

You frown up at her. “Don’t we need to be here in case the police have questions for us?”

“Your attorneys are already representing you,” she says. “Besides, if they really need something, Illyana will let us know and we can come back in.” She squeezes your shoulder again, then nods towards the back door. “Come. You could use some fresh air and quiet.” She puts an arm around you as you stand and gently ushers you to the back door and outside.

It’s far calmer outside. A cool, easy breeze ruffles your hair, and the grass is soothingly soft beneath your feet.

Alex nudges you forward, though not unkindly. “Come on. Medvezhonok keeps saying I should see the gardens.”

You walk alongside her through the various gardens that dot Xavier’s property. In the wake of the adrenaline and stress abruptly leaving your body, you’re feeling numb, almost detached. It’s almost like your body can’t fully process the shock and stress of having your parents show up.

Well, come to think of it, that’s probably exactly what’s going on.

Alex is markedly quiet as she examines the garden, expression placid and body language lax as she ambles along the pathways between various clusters of flowers and flora.

“You seem calm,” you remark, voice barely more than a mumble as you stare down at a few bright, cheery yellow lilies.

“Age brings serenity,” she says as she crouches down to better look at a butterfly feeding off some hummingbird mint. “And there is not much to be afraid of when you can outmatch nearly every opponent facing you. That, and they are not my nightmare.” She looks up at you, a ghost of a sympathetic smile on her lips. “They were –are—yours. It’s always harder when it’s personal.”

You let out a huff of air. “Ain’t that the truth.” You sit down on a nearby bench, staring blankly at nothing. “What happens next?”

“I am not the person to ask that question,” Alex admits, brushing her jeans off as she stands back up. “I would wager, though, that your lawyers will know how to handle things.”

You nod slowly, numbly. “Yeah, probably.”

Alex watches you closely for a moment before sitting down next to you. “How are you, malen'kaya ptitsa? How are you feeling?”

What you mean to say is something along the lines of “overwhelmed,” or “numb,” or “exhausted,” or maybe even “angry to the point where I can’t feel it anymore.”

What comes out, though, is: “I don’t think my parents ever loved me.”

You feel a slight pulse of shock hit your system once your words register in your own brain, then the slow, sinking dread and resignation as the truth of it sets in. You’ve been on the precipice of realizing the truth for a while, but you’ve never really admitted it at all, much less out loud to someone else.

Alex grimaces and nods. “I would wager you are right. No parent who loves their child treats them how you were treated.”

You nod along, lips tugging into a frown and chin trembling. “Yeah. I kind of just… realized I can’t make them love me or respect me. That’s why I just decided to let Matt ‘n Foggy ‘n Karen handle everything, you know? I was just done with all of it.”

“You’re right,” Alex reassures you. “On all counts. You cannot change their stance, but you do not have to hold onto people who refuse to treat you with decency.”

Your eyes sting and water as a lump rises in your throat. “I just… I don’t understand why I couldn’t be worth it to them. I mean, I get that they never wanted a mutant child, but I was just a kid. What about being a mutant made it worth beating me, terrifying me, demeaning me, abusing me, making my life a miserable hell every single day I lived in their home—”

Alexandra wraps her arms around you as you start crying and presses a motherly kiss to the top of your head when you press yourself against her. “Some people are just horrible, malen'kaya ptitsa. Sometimes they are so lost in their own misery that the only way they can make themselves feel better is to make others hurt, sometimes they only care about themselves to the point that they stop caring when they hurt others, and sometimes they just enjoy making others hurt because it brings them pleasure. Either way, the end result for their victims is still the same: pain and abuse they should have never suffered.”

You whimper and weep against her shoulder as she slowly rocks you back and forth. “I don’t understand –I tried so hard to be good—”

“It was never about you being ‘good,’” Alex murmurs against your hair. “You have always been ‘good.’ It was about their hatred and inability to love unconditionally. Unfortunately, you got stuck with short end of stick, and I am so sorry that you did, dorogoy rebenok.”

You sniff and swipe at your face as you sit up and look her in the eye. “Did you go through this kind of stuff with your parents? Did they care that you were a mutant?”

Alex’s face goes completely blank as she stares at you. “My par… Piotr never told you.”

“Told me what?”

Alex’s lips purse into a thin line; she slides off the bench to kneel on the ground in front of you and clasps your hands in hers. “Malen'kaya ptitsa… I was taken from my family when I was four to train as government asset. I never saw them again, and when the KGB disbanded in the nineties, I found out that they had been executed to prevent any leaks of information from spreading. The only family I have ever had is Nikolai and my children –and now you as well.”

Guilt drops in your stomach like a lead brick. “Oh God.” You double over and start crying again. “I’m sorry –I’m so sorry! I’ve just been complaining like a brat—”

Nyet. Nyet, nyet, nyet -- malen'kaya ptitsa, look at me.” Alex cups your face in her hands, forcing you to lift your head and meet her gaze. “Never apologize for hurting after what you have endured. Understand?”

“But what you went through was so much worse!” you protest. “I at least had a family, I had a home—”

“You had neither of those things until you came here,” Alex insists sharply. “You may have had biological parents, but they were not family or home. ‘Family’ and ‘home’ means safety and love, and they certainly provided neither. And, yes, my time as asset was horrible, but I never had to second guess whether or not I was loved. I never had to deal with mind games as to whether I was wanted or respected or what have you. I always knew where I stood with my handlers and what was expected of me.” She rubs your cheeks with her thumbs, wiping the tears away. “People who try and rank pains as ‘worse’ than each other are people who cannot handle their own emotions and need to put them in boxes to cope –and, more often than not, they are the type of people who contributed to our pain in first place.” She swallows hard, tears welling up in her eyes, and when she speaks again her voice is shaky with emotion. “So please, do not stop yourself from grieving. Because I am most certainly grieving for you.”

You sob and collapse against her, body shaking as grief wells up and pours out of you –grief for the childhood you lost, for the pain you had to endure, for the love you should’ve had but never received…

And, through it all, Alex holds you tight with strong arms as she cries along with you. “It’s okay, malen'kaya ptitsa. It’s okay.”

 


 

Once the authorities leave –and take your parents, pastor, and the others that’d joined them along—Piotr comes out to the back with Nikolai to collect you and Alexandra.

The two of you are significantly calmer, having had time to cry and catch your breath, but it’s still apparent that you both have been crying.

Piotr lifts you into his arms and carries you towards the house, while Nikolai sits down next to his wife on the bench.

“Can we just go to bed?” you croak, voice hoarse and throat dry from crying. “I’m just really tired. I just want to go to bed.”

Piotr kisses your forehead as he adjusts his hold on you so he can open the back door. “Da. We can go to bed.” He carries you all the way up to your shared room and gently tucks you into bed before going back to close the door, then joins you in bed. “How are you?”

“Tired,” you mumble. “Angry. Sad. It’s just—” you point at your head, twirling your finger around like you’re stirring a pot of soup “—a lot in here right now.”

“I bet,” Piotr murmurs as he wraps his arms around you. “But you can rest for now. You have earned good rest.”

“You’re telling me.” You sling an arm over his waist, then sigh when he starts tracing swirling designs on your arm and shoulder. You slow your breathing, counting your inhales and exhales until you feel less like you’re about to completely crumble apart.

And then you say, “I want to get a tattoo.”

You can practically hear the slow, shocked blink Piotr does. “Uh… khorosho.

You tip your head back so you can see his face –and he definitely looks surprised. “Is that really okay with you?”

“It is your body,” he says, smoothing your hair away from your face. “I was just more… surprised by lack of context, I suppose.”

“I mean, I kind of wrote it off when my uncle told me that the ink wouldn’t take as well, but… I want something permanent on me. Something that can’t be taken away. When my parents took my ring, and I thought you weren’t real…”

Piotr holds you closer as your voice trails off. “It is alright, myshka. And if you want tattoo, we can find way for you to get one.”

“You don’t think it’s irresponsible to get a tattoo because of the trauma I went through?”

He sighs as he contemplates your question. “In this case, I think not. I know you will get one done safely. And, honestly, I do not think it is very drastic change to yourself considering what happened. Besides, people who lose loved ones or self-harm or feel suicidal get tattoos to help them stay grounded. I do not see why you cannot do same.”

You snuggle closer to him, soothed by his support. “You don’t care if we have kids and I have a tattoo?”

He snorts. “Nyet. What you want to do to your body is your choice. My mother and Mikhail have tattoos, so our kids will see them anyway. Plus… I was thinking of getting some of my own.”

“Really?” You tilt your head back so you can see his face. “What were you thinking of getting?”

“Maybe DNA strand on my wrist, for mutantism,” he says, tapping his right wrist. “And possibly some work on my shoulder and back that looks like northern lights night sky scene. And… I know I want to get our children’s fetal heartbeats. On my forearm.”

You smile softly. “I like the sound of all of that. Especially the heartbeats one.”

He smiles back at you and leans down to kiss you. “So do I.”

You nestle closer to Piotr as he kisses you, hands softly gripping the material of his shirt as his arms hold you tighter against his body.

Your journey to recovery is far from over. If you had to wager, it’ll probably never be over, not entirely.

But you climbed an important mountain today. And with Piotr by your side –along with Wade, Nathan, Neena, Russell, Yukio, Ellie, and the rest of Piotr’s family—you’ll be able to keep climbing whatever mountains happen to find you.

One foot in front of the other.

You’ve got this.