Hope felt warm. Granted, it was San Francisco in the middle of August, but that wasn't it. Since her mom disappeared, she'd been cold. A cold that settled in her bones and led to her giving up all hope of ever being comfortably warm again. But since they defeated Cross (since she'd met Scott) she'd gradually felt a little less frigid, less like she'd been left in the snow too long. It was like she'd been frozen, and just now she was beginning to thaw.

Part of it, she told herself, was the repair of her relationship with her father. More than that was the hope of seeing her mother again. But most of all, she knew, was the light that was Scott Lang. He was the sunniest person she'd ever known. While she was a morning person, and her father a night owl, Scott was on all day long. He was also light-hearted and fun, bringing her out of the broody moods she tended to find herself in. She found herself letting her hair grow longer, becoming less severe. She'd hidden behind that cold, emotionless, all-business exterior for far too long. With Scott around, she noticed herself smiling, genuinely, which she hadn't done in she didn't know how long.

He was good for her dad too. The other day, she'd actually heard him laugh, something deep from inside his chest that she knew she hadn't heard since before her mom's disappearance. Once, when Scott had to bring Cassie with him for a few hours, Hank actually talked to the girl and made her laugh. Hank didn't like children, didn't seem to know what to do with them, but got along with Cassie like no other. And Cassie, she was just a miniature version of her father, a goofy grin plastered across her face more often than not, with a laugh that was purely infectious. Like her father, Hope wasn't good with kids. She had always been so uninviting to them and wasn't sure how to treat them, but she loved the moments she was able to spend with Cassie. Watching her with Scott thawed her bones just a little more every time, and was starting to work on her heart too.

But Scott. He was thawing her at a rate that was alarming. She'd been so icy for so long that she was afraid that warming up so quickly was going to burst something within her. Like glass that shattered when heated too quickly, she was afraid that soon she would end up in a million pieces on the floor and everyone would just step around her. And then she'd never be whole again. But, god, did he feel good. He was easy on the eyes, even easier on the soul. His kisses warmed her body the whole way through, like drinking hot chocolate after a day in the snow. His arms around her kept her warm throughout the night, despite the fact that every night before, she'd been so cold she'd wake herself up to find herself shivering no matter the temperature in the room. Whenever she was in his arms, she slept so soundly, never waking to nightmares or anxiety about what was to come.

So she continued this thing she found herself in with Scott. Neither one of them really called it a relationship, though she was certain they both knew that's what it was. She was reluctant to label it, since that's always where things started to go wrong for her in the past. She suspected he wouldn't name it out of fear of scaring her off. Either way, as the summer went on, Hope felt herself continuing to thaw, moving from a comfortable warmth to a state of heat. Every time she was with him, she felt the poke of white-hot fire, first starting in her chest, then moving down. And she welcomed it.

Then she woke up one morning to find him gone. Disappeared. Just like her mother. And suddenly, the glorious warmth she'd felt for the last few months vanished, much like Scott, and the familiar cold swiftly took its place. She tried everything to warm herself again. Baths, drinking hot tea, sleeping in his sweatshirt under her large duvet, turning on the heat instead of her A/C. Nothing helped. Finally, she gave up trying and let the cold persist. What was it that insipid movie that Cassie always played said? The cold never bothered her anyway? Sure, she'll go with that.

Even after he returned home, suit intact and bragging about how large he'd gotten, the cold prevailed. She kept her distance, awaiting an apology that never came. And then she found out that what he'd done was illegal against international sanctions and would be on house arrest for two years. Worse still, he had to destroy the suit and wasn't to contact anyone associated with it, leaving she and Hank completely out in the cold. And on the run, seeing as how their tech was also illegal. In the blink of an eye, her cautiously constructed life fell to pieces. She felt like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole, just waiting to hit the ground.

As Scott was abruptly cut out of her life, she could tell she was reverting back to the cold shell of a person she'd been for so long. She now lived in a cold, bare room in the portable lab her father had created. She spoke to no one but her father and suppliers for their new project. She worked late into the night and was up for a pre-dawn training session every morning. She would work herself into a state of such exhaustion that her body had no choice but to collapse into bed every night, but that didn't stop the dreams. Some nights, they were of her mother, never having been lost to the quantum realm. Other nights, they were of her father bleeding out after being shot by Cross, not getting saved in time. But most nights, Scott was the star of her dreams.

Sometimes good, sometimes bad, always Scott. One night, he'd gone sub-atomic and wasn't able to come back, suffering the same fate as her mother. Another night, he'd been killed while helping the Avengers on a classified mission, and she'd never found out exactly what had happened. Then it was a car accident, leaving her to listen to Cassie's screams at his funeral while Maggie tried but failed to console her.

The worst one, though, was the happy dream. This one recurred, typically a few nights a week. It was always the same scene, one of domestic bliss, something she thought herself incapable of having. Scott is in the kitchen of their house, covered in flour, making the largest stack of chocolate chip pancakes known to man. Cassie is sitting on a barstool, a few years older than she was now, happily chatting away with her dad as he shows off his flipping skills. Hope is leaning against the counter, a mug of hot tea in her hands, laughing at Scott when one of his flip attempts ends with a pancake on the floor. She notices the ring on her finger and the slight curve of her stomach, explaining the tea in place of coffee. In this dream, she is always warm, and more content than she knows she's ever been. On the nights that are really bad, the doorbell rings in the dream and her parents are at the door. Parents. Plural. Her mother looks older than she remembers, but still beautiful. Her dad has a smile on his face that has been missing since her mother disappeared. Cassie runs to greet them with a hug and Scott comes up behind her, dirtying her shirt with flour handprints and giving her a sloppy kiss on the cheek. He leans in close to her ear and whispers Do you know how much I love you? before turning her around and kissing her properly. His hands come up to bracket her stomach, leaving dusty white handprints surrounding their unborn child. She smiles into the kiss as her back hits the counter. Suddenly her father is clearing his throat, leading them to jump apart like teenagers. Cassie and Janet laugh and Hank gives them a disapproving frown before Janet elbows him and his countenance lightens. Scott gives her one more kiss for good measure before returning to his post at the stove.

And then she wakes up. The warmth is always gone and she can't help but ache for what she fears she'll never have. She doesn't think it should be possible to miss something so much that never even existed. But she does, and it's the only thing she's feeling through the numb of the cold that has settled once again in her bones. She turns over and promises herself that she will never let her heart thaw again.