It was almost pitch black as I ran, no destination in mind, only the desire to get away keeping me going.
So many things I had shoved down, I had other battles to fight. So, the one raging inside me wasn't priority one, it didn't usually even make the top ten list.
If anything, I had learned to do well it was to run away, from enemy soldiers, bullets, and above all my own demons of the past.
But I came to an abrupt halt, doing a double take and staggering forward, gasping at what I was seeing. Leaning against the wall of a gazebo that was hidden in the hedges, was Howard Stark as I had last seen him. Tousled hair, unbuttoned shirt, and a lazy upturn of his lips as if he was trying not to smile fully.
He merely smiled at me as I froze where I stood, staring at him.
"You…you're not really here, I, I'm hallucinating this," I said, voice shaking as he pushed off of it and started coming closer to me.
He chuckled and approached me.
"Well of course you are, you're losing it, sweetheart. It's been a long time coming, I think you already knew that though."
I shook my head and took a step backward.
"No, no this isn't happening!"
"Oh Anna, just because it isn't happening doesn't mean it isn't real. Look at you, so small and alone, what's become of you?"
I blinked at him, quickly looking down wishing that this would stop.
Now right in front of me, he raised his hand and brushed my face, tilting my face to look at him, his hand cold and wispy on my skin.
Big brown eyes looked at me sadly.
"I loved you, you know that? Both of you, you and Blondie."
"Don't do this, please Howard…" I trailed off, falling silent as I looked at him.
Looking at me knowingly he quirked a grin and rested his hand on my shoulder in a familiar comforting manner.
"I always knew you two would get together, he loved you so much it wasn't even funny. We were all taking bets you know. I had my money on you, always believed in you guys."
I almost smiled at that, of course he would have. In the back of my mind, I tried to remember this wasn't real, but it was so hard when he was right there just as he had been.
Hurt and pain then colored his face and he removed his hand.
"But I lost you both, just disappeared off the face of the earth. I never found either of you no matter how hard I looked," he paused, a heart-wrenching gleam in his eyes. "You made me promise, and keeping it broke my heart. One of my dearest friends and I had to pretend not to know you, that everything we'd had was nothing. How could you ask that of me, Anna?"
Almost desperately I said, "I…Howard you must believe me, I never wanted to hur-"
Snarling in a way I'd never seen before, he said, "No! Don't you dare Annalise! Don't tell me that when you did this! You left us! Peggy was heartbroken, she used all her connections to try and find you when I told her you'd disappeared and hadn't been heard from since, all the Howling Commandoes were all horrified when they heard! Hell, we started to think that maybe you'd killed yourself, that losing Steve was just too much for you!"
Eyes wide I looked at him, appalled at what he was saying.
I had always known that Howard had a mechanical side to him, I had seen it first hand with his son. But the icy tone in his voice struck something that almost made it hard to breathe.
He went on before I could say a word.
"You left them all, your so-called family who you claim to love, that poor little boy as his mother died not a single word of explanation, and my son who loved you in a way he didn't even understand when he needed you most. Then that best friend of yours, I wonder, was I was just a replacement for him? Guess I'll never know, seeing as I'm dead," he said with a growl.
Tearing up at his words, I snapped back, "Stop it! Don't you think I know?! That I am a mess of a person? That I walk in and out of lives, come to care and love for people and then have to leave? I'm cursed Howard, this bracel-"
Cutting me off he shook his head, his voice low and cold as he said, "No, the bracelet isn't the problem, you are Anna. You have much too high an opinion of yourself. To think you so deeply affected people that they'd miss you? Such a victim, poor little thing, the world won't cater to you. Aren't you just little miss high and mighty? No, no you're just a shallow fake conceited girl that only causes pain."
This wasn't Howard, it was my own ashamed mind trying to torment me further. My guilt had materialized in one of the worst ways possible, because not only would I never see him again, I had to live with knowing that I had hurt him, along with so many other people. But even in knowing that, I couldn't look away from him.
Tears flowing freely now I stumbled back away from him, finding myself in the gazebo. He stood in the doorway looking at me for a moment, his shadow casting over me as I continued to back away from him.
The kind brown eyes flickered with something that might have been pity as he stepped closer.
"It's sad really," he said, his voice softer now. "You only ever wanted to help but look at what you've done."
Sliding to the floor, I pulled my knees to my chest taking deep staggered breaths as I did. Closing my eyes to shut him out I shook my head, but it didn't stop me from hearing him in my head, telling me all over again the people who I'd hurt.
It was all I could do to breathe, my head pounding.
Trapped in my own head, as if like watching a movie on repeat, I saw all the people I loved that I had hurt.
Tony in his desperate search to find me but never succeeding, my failings at seeing the ice growing inside of Loki, the way inadvertently I had looked right through the man I loved because I didn't even know him.
"I didn't mean to," I said, burying my face in my hands. "Not any of this."
"But sweetheart, nothing you could do can ever take that back. You don't think of anyone but yourself," he whispered, the ghost of my dear friend continuing to make me wish I could somehow detach myself from the memories.
It seemed like an eternity, his voice joined by others echoing in my mind and I couldn't stand it second longer. I grabbed my head and screamed for it to stop, opening my eyes to stare at the night's sky blurred by tears.
In the middle of it all, there seemed to be a dark presence in the background, waiting for something. It was a feeling of being totally alone and watched at the same time.
It could have been minutes or hours, I wasn't sure.
But then the constellations were marred by a shadow and I closed my eyes again, shaking as I whispered, "Go away, there's nothing left for you to say that I don't already know."
I flinched away at the soft touch on my shoulder, trying to crawl further back in the small gazebo.
"Hey, hey it's okay."
Slowly opening my eyes, I looked up to see the blonde girl from the mansion standing there over me, eyes filled with concern.
Not even caring that I'd been found or that I was still seeing glimpses of Howard in the corner of my eyes, I inched closer to her.
She held out her hand to me and aching for comfort of any kind I took it and much to my surprise she pulled me into her arms, hugging me tightly.
Unable to stop myself, I broke down, weeping into her embrace, "I'm so sorry, I didn't want this for you, for any of you."
She just held me there, on the floor, letting me cry not saying a word other than soft murmuring to try and calm me.
It was a few moments later that I started to hear other voices and Raven turned slightly, hissing, "Go away Charles, you'll just make this worse! Can't you see she's upset?"
"Raven, there was someone else here I need to be sure. I felt another presence."
Tensing up at the unwelcomed male voice and terrified at the idea perhaps the Howard I was seeing wasn't just in my head I shuddered.
Not wanting Charles to try and peer into my mind again I stiffened and held fast to Raven with the hopes she would make him leave.
He must have done so as I didn't feel anything intrusive and after a time I heard Erik's voice over Raven's shoulder, "Anna? What's happened to you," he asked as he very carefully took over for Raven and pulled me closer.
I didn't say anything but looked up at him and once he met my eyes I knew he could tell, his eyes softened, and he said, "The war took a toll on you as well I see."
I just nodded as a few more tears ran down my face. He stood and started walking, not having let go of me, the stars above us the only thing I could focus on.
"So much has happened, and none of it can be undone," I whispered after a time, not aware of where we were going.
He looked down at me and I could see the pain in his eyes that knew how I felt.
"I'm sorry Anna, truly I am."
His understanding didn't make it hurt less but in some way it helped.
Looking out at the darkened skies, I whispered, "So am I Erik."
Hey guys, so I do know that it has been a long time since the last update but I haven't forgotten this story! I know this is a much shorter update than you all are used to but I figured something was better than nothing, even if it was a sad chapter.
Right, so I am going to edit the entire story. Looking back at my last authors' note I had to laugh as I've changed my mind about a few very big things since then. So there will be some major changes in the future as to how the story goes, but I will save any chapters or key scenes as one-shots because I know some people really did like them. I won't give away much but I will have to say that the X-men (while I love them and feel they have a great story to tell) are just not connected enough to the Marvel Universe to really make this work without compromising the story itself. So little mentions here and there might stay in but I've got another ragtag team of misfits that will fill that hole quite nicely that Anna does already have a tie with, three guesses who. :)
So this means that I plan on going through chapter by chapter and editing, revising and changing things. I know this will take a while and I've already edited the first chapter and I am working my way through them, so that I can hopefully edit it all and repost it all on a weekly basis over the summer and into the fall. Thanks for being so patient with me, feel free to reach out if you want to know how it's going or just to chat.
I absolutely love seeing your theories and ideas, the love this story has had over the years has honestly been amazing. I read every review and it totally makes my day when I get messages from old friends or new ones and get to connect over the crazy love we all share for these characters.
So if you want a more personal update, I put one up on my profile or feel free to check out my blog. I've only got a few posts up but it's definitely where I will continue to post other writing and my random thoughts. Love you guys, have a great spring break!