HoM: Not Good At Being Happy

April 08, 2018:

Nate was pushed by Madelyne into a nightmare. And that is where Illyana finds him a few minutes after.

The AoA Breeding Pits and Limbo

Neither of those places is very nice.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Madelyne Pryor


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

The world's all wrong and Illyana didn't notice. Hasn't she been through this before?

Leaving Nate in what, until recently, she believed was her apartment, Illyana plunged into a stepping disc. Retrieving her sword was a good excuse to go. Not only is it an arcane weapon of terrible power, but it's part of her very soul. She wants it back. She needs it back.

That's still not the reason she left.

She needs time alone, to adjust. To stop thinking like a SHIELD cadet and start thinking like… like… the demon that she is. She doesn't want an audience as the bitterness of having her comfortable illusion ripped away threatens to choke her.

The Illyana who steps back into this altered reality from her stepping disc isn't the same one who stepped out of it in that apartment. Shining silver armour covers her left arm, though the rest of her outfit is a bit less outlandish, a blood red, vaguely military style jacket, black trousers, heavy boots. Alarms fail to sound as she arrives in SHIELD's secure containment facility, courtesy of the spells of concealment that wind around her.

With a purposeful stride, she moves through the complex, feeling the presence of the Soulsword. The security measures here might daunt Cadet Rasputin - they don't daunt her. There's a single, unfortunate lab technician running a scanning wand across the Soulsword when she enters the room. He goes face-first into the wall, courtesy of a mystical bolt from Illyana's outstretched palm, and she pauses, looking down at him with a curled lip. But no. That's enough. He's not responsible.

Crossing the rest of the way to where the sword is clamped to its stand, Illyana smiles as she reaches out to clasp the hilt and pull. She frowns as she feels resistance. "That's never happened before." She says under her breath, surprised and not happy about it. The Soulsword should be intangible to conventional matter, and there's not the slightest sense of the arcane from the clamps. Illyana's eyes narrow, her fingers shift on the hilt, grasping it more tightly… and the sword slips free as if the clamps were made of water, or the air itself. Still frowning, Illyana examines the blade for imperfections.

Finding none doesn't lift her scowl.

"You're a problem for another time." She tells the blade, and lets it return to her soul. She feels a little more complete. A little closer to knowing that she's the way she's supposed to be, even if the world isn't. She looks around the lab again, suddenly angry. She wants to burn the place to the ground, as if that would erase the memory of Cadet Rasputin. They made you something you weren't, that you could never be, a voice in the back of her mind seems to say. They pulled your claws and made you something bloodless and weak. Make them suffer for it.

She's tempted. She calls a portal before she can give in, to take her back to Nate. She can't trust her judgment, maybe she'll have to rely on his.

It is not Nates apartment.

The place is a jail, but not the kind of jail that should exist on Earth. Places like this are supposed to exist only in the lower planes. It is underground, definitely, cathedral-like in size and scope. Blue-black pillars of metal and stone supporting distant, dark ceilings.

Among the pillars, at the sides, sometimes high over the floor, accessible only through staircases or balustrades, there are jails. Black metal bars 20 feet high. Light is dim, but good enough to see the thin, hungry people in the cells. Often clad in nothing but rags. Often showing horrible badly-healed injuries and signs of mutilation.

Screams and moans of agony are the main sounds heard. Some screams come from the high, from the labs on the top of the jail. Armored figures almost nine feet tall, dull green and yellow metal, patrol between the cages. Relentless, cold. Sometimes uniformed Rook or Prelate join the patrols. They are not cold, they mock the prisoners. The lowly human slaves. The traitor mutants, worth only for abuse and experiments.

Nate sits alone in one of the cells, pretty much in the middle of the jail. He looks bruised, scarred, but not badly wounded. His armored uniform is torn, dirty with blood and mud. It looks as if he has not eaten in a week, or shaved, or washed. Despite his sorry state he paces angrily like a caged animal.

Every day he sees how someone he knows or loves is dragged from the cells to be beaten, experimented, sometimes slain. Sometimes they return mutilated to the cells. The screams haunt him. Rachel, Rose, Forge, Robert, Jean. They are now dead. Somewhere, trapped in cells he barely can see he knows there are his remaining friends, past and present. Roberto, Illyana, Emma, Roy, Conner, Mortimer and a few others. They are not dead yet. In some ways they are worse than dead.

And Nate is powerless to help them. He raged, he pleaded, he knew despair. He broke his fingers hitting the bars. He screamed until his throat bleed and he lost his voice. This is his nightmare, his personal hell. These are the Breeding Pens under Apocalypses citadel.

This is where, impossibly, Illyana appears. Alive and whole and armed with her sword. Nate stares in disbelief.

This… is wrong.

For most sensible purposes, distance is immaterial for a teleporter of Illyana's capabilities. But she can feel the difference between teleporting next door and teleporting across continents. This latest trip felt more like the former than the latter. And nothing at all like crossing dimensions. And yet…

She's been here before. Well, not exactly this place, not exactly this time. But she recognises the world that Nate came from. A vague, half-formed suspicion begins to tickle the back of her mind, but for now that's where it stays. Because she has to step aside to avoid being run down by someone who looks like he used to be Nate Grey, who then proceeds to just stare at her.

Illyana breaks eye contact first, looking around the cell, and then out through the bars. And then it hits her. The smell. Unwashed bodies, refuse, excrement. You can't rule a hell dimension and have a discerning nose or a weak stomach, but this place? This place is something else, even to Illyana.

Blue eyes shift back to meet Nate's, and they're as cold and guarded as the Illyana Nate knew back in the real world. And she's as merciless, too. "Your world sucks, Nate." She tells him, frankly, since he's still staring at her and she figures it's HER turn to wake HIM up. "And you stink." She adds for good measure. "I leave you alone for five minutes while I get my sword and you let this happen to you. You're lucky I came back." Illyana pauses, to see if her words are having any effect. She's going for a verbal slap round the head to try to snap him back to himself.

"Time to leave, Nate. Are you coming with me?" And she does something she never, ever does: She extends a hand to him.

OK it's her left hand and it's covered in silver armour so there's not the slightest chance of skin to skin contact, but it's the thought that counts, right?

"You are alive," Nates voice sounds rough and dry. "Illy…" her usual hard-edged speech makes him clench his jaw and he hisses. "I have been here a week," he replies. "Madelyne sent me here!"

Madelyne Grey, his mother. Except Illyana cant remember any Madelyne in the original reality, and only has the vaguest memories of the House of Magnus version of the redhead. She looks exactly like Jean.

If Illyana focus on Madelyne, she will remember her much more clearly. But this is an odd way to ‘known’ people. It feels strange. And even more now she has seen a third change of reality so suddenly.

This… is wrong.

Nate clasps her armored hand with his broken one.

Illyana keeps her gaze fixed on Nate, hand outstretched, waiting for Nate to take it. If he doesn't, she'll port him out anyway, but she knows a thing or two about being confronted with things that make you doubt your own sanity. She's going to give him the chance to decide that she's really there before she forces the issue.

While her eyes remain fixed on Nate's, her expression turns first faintly disbelieving, then faintly disturbed as he talks about things that are clearly impossible. "Snap out of it, Nate. I saw you an hour ago." She's keeping that dismissive tone in her voice. Listen to me, Nate. Believe me, not this.

It seems to work, as his mess of a hand envelops her smaller, metal-sheathed one. It's only then that her eyes leave his, shifting to look over his shoulder at the Infinites approaching from beyond the bars. She'd wave, but she doesn't want to subscribe to Nate's reality… whatever it really is. There's a flash of silver-white light, and they're gone.

Where they reappear is familiar to them both, and for once may actually be an improvement from Nate's point of view. Limbo. The chamber Illyana uses as her throne room. Illyana lets go of Nate's hand and steps back, the eternally flaming torches that line the walls flaring brighter to give her enough light to look him over properly. "This isn't right." She says, quietly, thoughtfully.

They weren't in Nate's world. She's certain. But how could she have ported into an illusion? And if she had, somehow, managed just that, why does Nate still look like he's been beaten for a week?

"I'm going to heal you and then you're going to start making sense." Illyana tells him, but she doesn't move, as if she's waiting for him to agree.

An hour. The hell? (The Limbo)

Well of course, this is Illyana. The one girl whose sense of time is totally screwed. Well, it wasn't when she was happy-normal Illyana. But still… confusing an hour with a week?

But Nate does not respond right away. Instead he stands up, jaw clenched, his eyes looking for demons. He will be damned (more damned?) if he shows weakness to her critters. "You can't move between worlds like that," he whispers. He -should- have felt the world-jumping. But he didn't.

And yet… Limbo is the shame. But how can this be, if Illyana was never brought here by Belasco.

Just one hour. He tries to remember that week of torments, but it is all sketchy, more feeling than memory. Like a fast-running nightmare where nothing makes much sense upon a close, lucid scrutiny. So Nate closes his eyes and nods to the blonde. Now he is on something, and struggling to ignore the physical pain and psychic angst.

"Don't tell me what I can't do, Nate." Illyana sounds half-amused, half-chiding. Basically, she sounds very much like her old-old self. Any traces of the SHIELD cadet, Nate's 'happy-normal' Illyana are fading fast. He's right, though. Illyana /can't/ move between worlds like that, and they both know it.

As for Limbo, it appears just as Illyana remembers it, because that's what she expects - all the way down to the shadowy bat-winged shapes that peer down from the ceiling at their mistress and her guest, occasionally chittering to one another. At least S'ym hasn't put in an appearance yet.

With Nate's eyes closed he might not sense Illyana's approach, but he'll feel the cool metal of her fingers when they touch his brow. "This may hurt." She tells him, but that's all the warning he gets before the dark magic of Limbo pours through him. Illyana intends to heal his physical hurts, true, but she's also trying to purge any malign influence left behind by Madelyne. Her magic gives, but it also takes. What it takes from Illyana is replenished by Limbo itself, but Nate doesn't have that advantage. A little of his own life-energy, to mend his broken body.

Way to derail his train of thoughts. Thank you Illy.

Nate bears the pain without further comment. His gauge of pain is 'this hurts more/less than a technoviral attack'. And most things fall short. Dark magic healing spells included. He keeps his eyes closed and hisses as response to the magic.

"It was a nightmare," he realizes, his voice clear, if tired-sounding. "And you jumped inside my nightmare… that is not how your powers work *at all*." Yes, he is telling her again what she can't do. Also, he pulled him out of a nightmare. Does that make him some kind of living dream? No. All the weirdness of the last few days… hours? Can he trust his own sense of time?

This… is wrong.

"It is still wrong, Yana," he breathes. He still looks mostly like his younger self, unscarred, late-teens Nate, but some reality is creeping in his appearance and certainly his mannerisms.

It's probably a good thing Nate has his eyes closed. He can't see Illyana's expression. The look of curiosity as she wonders how he'll stand up to her ministrations. The flicker of surprise when he weathers the pain stoically.

The small smile, there and gone again, when he lets out that hiss.

The pain is abruptly gone, as Illyana steps back again, her armoured hand dropping to hang loosely at her side. "I found you after you'd died once, Nate." Illyana points out, folding her arms now. "This wasn't any harder." Needling Nate is easy. Easier than trying to make sense of what she's seen since Nate woke her up.

She forces her thoughts away from the dream-like shreds of memory that are all that remain of her false life. She drops the pretense of sparring with Nate over just what she's capable of. "Wherever you were, it wasn't a nightmare. I wasn't inside your head then and I'm not now. And you weren't there a week unless time is out of joint. Who's done this, Nate? Madelyne?" Even the name feels wrong in her mouth, as wrong as the disjointed memories of the woman that seem unwilling to stick in her mind.

Illyana frowns, moving to her throne and flopping down on it to brood. "How did you end up… there, anyway? What did you do?"

Nate opens his eyes and looks at his healed hands, testing the fingers, and closing them into a fist. Then he calls upon his powers and repairs his outfit, getting rid of most of the caked blood and grime. Still feels like he needs a long shower, but those are the luxuries of civilization. Him getting soft after six years on modern America.

(Or a whole life in modern America).

"Madelyne Grey, my mother, remember?" He comments, pacing through the throne room. "Or not. Because in reality I had no mother, I was grown in a laboratory. Madelyne claims to be Jean's older sister. I remember…" he shakes his head. "I went to wake her up, and Scott and Jean. She claimed… that Magneto was not in control. That *she* had made everyone's dreams to come true. That I had wanted a happy family… not too happy because I was not good at happiness. Hell, she was like a creepy fairy godmother gone nuts." Pause. "Then she said since I going to be punished instead. Next I know… it *felt* I had been punished, but it must have been only minutes later when you appeared."

Illyana shifts in her seat, throwing her legs over one arm and crossing her ankles, leaning back against the other. She manages to make the big stone chair look far more comfortable than it has any right to be. Her eyes track Nate as he paces, but she doesn't ask him to stop. And for once, she doesn't interrupt until he's finished speaking.

"What I'm hearing." Illyana says, drawing the moment out a bit. "Is that I was right and this isn't Magneto's fault." She smirks at him. Yes, even here, even in this situation, she has to remind Nate that she was right and he was wrong. At least she doesn't dwell on her victory. The situation's a little too serious for that.

"She made everyone's dreams come true." Illyana muses, a muscle in her jaw going tight. If someone had asked her to list what she wanted out of life, she wouldn't have come up with the life she'd been living here. But she had been happy. Or thought she had. What does that say about how well she knows herself? "Good thing you're so bad at being happy, Nate. I might have been stuck living out of that tiny apartment and saluting Dani every morning for the rest of my life." She injects as much disgust at that prospect as she can into her voice.

"How much of this - any of this - is real, Nate?" Illyana asks. "She made a chunk of the world into your nightmare. Is the dream any more real?"

The nightmare was real. No. No, it wasn't. It was a mixmash of the nightmares that haunt him most nights since he escaped the Age of Apocalypse.

He turns his own formidable telepathic powers on himself, looking for signs of tempering. But it is not just that. There were blocks to prevent them to remember the true, harsher reality. But the blocks were weak; they were just too pleasant to fight against.

But Nate is not good at being happy. He felt unease. Even if Wanda had not been there, he would have broken free soon.

"If you try to examine your memories, you will feel how they try to build themselves, there is nothing there but the fantasy you want. Look at this place," Nate sweeps the throne room with a hand. "It is pretty much how it should be, right? But how can it even exist? Your 'fantasy' self never met Belasco! This is not real. We are still dreaming."

"Of course it's how it should be. Limbo's mine. Whatever your not-mother does out there." Illyana waves a hand. "She can't do anything in here." Illyana's voice lacks conviction, though. Now that she knows who she is, she wants to believe that she can shut out the broken dream and just stay here, in her inviolable sanctuary, and be what she was always meant to be.

But isn't that just another kind of dream? If she can't be the human, be the demon? Isn't that better that being caught between the two?

"…Fine we're still dreaming." Illyana says, reluctantly, her tone surly. "How do we wake up?"

"Pinch ourselves awake?" Suggests Nate with a humorless smirk. "No, I think we have to kick the asshole that puts us in fantasyland in the guts. And… Madelyne. She was the woman from Genosha, the one that channeled the Phoenix and killed me. She is not it. A telepath could not have gotten into my mind like this, or into yours."

"Last thing I remember was Lorna's wedding." Decides Nate after a minute consideration. "So take me to Genosha. I am going to 'yell' the truth to the whole island."

Illyana reaches across with her armoured hand, pushes up her opposing sleeve, and deliberately pinches herself. Hard. "So much for that idea." She says, her tone flat, and twists around in her throne, dropping her feet to the floor and standing up.

"I like Plan B better anyway." Illyana says, as she slowly descends the few steps from her throne to the chamber floor. "It sounds a LOT more satisfying." The Soulsword's in her hand again, and a portal flares into existence before her. She glances back at Nate with an odd smile, the light of the portal making shadows chase across her features, about to step through. "Better not hang around, Nate. Who knows what'll happen to this place when I'm not here to dream it for you?"

And then they're both gone… if that means anything in a dream.

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