Hope was cold. Despite living in San Francisco, she feels every bit of a winter chill in her empty, sterile room in the portable lab. Her father had noticed her change in personality and decorated the lab with Christmas lights and a tree, but it hadn't made a difference. Her days were spent working in solitude in the lab, save for when her father requests her help on a project. Workouts were done alone, meals eaten alone. Her bed waited for her, perpetually empty. She was really, truly alone.
The dreams still plagued her sleep nightly. Scott was the only common factor between them all, locations and events and people varying. Somewhere around Halloween, the nightmares had faded out (it had nothing to do with the camera she'd placed across the street from his apartment to monitor his activity). Every night now held dreams of a happy life with Scott and Cassie and children with her eyes and his smile. Hope preferred the nightmares.
Tonight, they're too much. Maybe it's the combination of the holidays and the permanent chill in her bones and the frustration about the project and her impending birthday and the fear that she'll never find happiness, but she can't handle the emptiness of her room any longer. She slips through the halls of the lab, grabs her suit, and heads out the door.
She shrinks down as soon as she's outside, revelling in the fresh air against her cheeks, ignoring the bite of cold where her skin is stained with tears. She finds herself soaring across town, taking in all of the familiar noises of the city. Once she reaches his neighborhood, she starts to doubt whether it's a good idea to see him, but continues on her journey to his apartment. She lands on a windowsill, knowing from her monitoring that he sleeps with his second floor windows open. Peering in, she sees him asleep, tangled in the sheets as he usually is. His face is peaceful and she's jealous, having not had a restful night of sleep in months because of his constant presence in her dreams.
She sits down, leaning against the window. Thinking she's content to watch him for just a few minutes, she lets her mind wander as her gaze stays fixed on him. Before she knows it, her eyes are fluttering shut and her mind is slipping into that state that exists somewhere between sleep and consciousness. She thinks she will close her eyes for just a moment, and then leave. Her eyes finally shut, but she does not wake until morning.
When she does wake, it's to a shiver and the shine of the rising sun in her face. She realizes she's slept there all night, but also that she didn't wake once. Just being this close to him quieted her mind enough that she felt rested for the first time in months. She feels at peace when she's in his orbit and it frustrates her. She's never been the kind of woman to need a man to feel validated. Every other man in her life has come and gone with little consequence, including her father, to some extent. What makes Scott Lang so special?
She startles when she hears the rustling of his sheets. Looking over, she notices Scott beginning to wake. She's not ready to see him face-to-face, so she flees, flies home to sneak into the lab before her father notices her absence.
She does it again that night.
It becomes a habit, the beginning of an addiction. Hope sneaks out every night after checking that her father is asleep, feeling like a teenager again. She's not entirely sure why she's being so secretive about her visits. It's not like she's doing anything wrong. But something about the secrecy of her trips feels good, feels vibrant. It gives her something to look forward to after every long day in the lab. She has a routine: sneak out half an hour after her father retires to his room, fly across town to Scott's, watch him go through his nightly routine, sleep perched up against the windowsill until she's woken up by the sun, watch him go through his morning routine, and fly home before her father notices her absence. It's the perfect system, until it isn't.
The first part of the night follows its normal schedule, when Hope finds herself dozing against the wooden frame of the window. She can smell the rain coming but isn't too worried about it. Her suit will be fine in the rain, and she's not expecting it to get cold enough to warrant the need for an additional cover. She allows herself to drift off into a dreamless sleep, with Scott's presence chasing away all unwanted images behind her eyes.
She wakes with a start when a clap of thunder is so intense that it actually shakes her awake. What she doesn't realize is that the thunder has woken Scott too. He's out of bed and at the window before she can comprehend what's happening. He moves to close the window until he notices the glint of the streetlights off her suit. She's trying to flee, but he grabs her before she can make her escape. He traps her in one hand and closes the window with the other, not bothering to latch it before he's dropping her on his bed and demanding that she return herself to full size. He's a little hostile and she's annoyed until she realizes that he has no idea that she has a functioning suit, let alone what it looks like. She wordlessly obeys his command, bringing herself back up to normal size and removes her helmet, waiting for him to make the first comment. He stares at her, confounded by the identity of the lurker he'd found on perched on his windowsill. She stays silent, searching his eyes for the emotions she used to be able to read so easily.
"Hope, what's wrong? Why are you here? In a suit?" His tone is concerned and confused. These are the first words she's heard him say in months and his voice alone nearly brings her to tears. Getting no response from her, he brings his hands up to her face, one detouring into her longer hair. "Hope, is something going on? Let me help you."
She backs away from him, overwhelmed by the emotions that are drowning her all at once. She stands there silently for a minute, until there are tears streaming down her face in mourning for the future she could've had, for the pain she'd felt for the last months, for the fear that she'd never be able to keep anyone good in her life. She panics, trying to make a getaway before he can reach her, but she stumbles over something on his floor in her haste. She falls, but he's wrapping an arm around her waist before she can hit the ground. Instantly, she's pushing him away, tears now coming faster, sobs starting to break from her throat.
"Hope? What happened?" He sounds genuinely concerned, but she doesn't appreciate it. He's hurt her too much to care for her. And slowly, she composed herself, sorrow turning to rage. She looks up at him, worry etched on his face. She slaps him. Hard.
"What happened? You left! You stole the suit and left everyone behind so you could play with the big kids. You didn't say a damn thing to anyone! You could have been seriously hurt and none of us would have had any idea. And then you come strutting back home, proud of yourself for doing something incredibly illegal, something that earned you two years of being a prisoner inside your own home. And the icing on the cake is that you took us down with you! Did you even think about the consequences for us? We had to give up our home, our lab, my job, our lives. We didn't even get a say in the matter!" She's furious, yelling now, letting months of suppressed rage bubble up to the surface.
"My life was gone in one fell swoop, Scott. We have been on the run for months, living in a portable lab! I can't go anywhere. I can't see anyone. I can't do anything, and all I can think about is you! Everything's gone and all I can see is what we could have had! I can't sleep because you're in my dreams, and I can't work because you're in my head, and I'm exhausted. All I want is to go back to the summer when things were good and I still had a future. But instead, I'm stuck in my own personal hell, torturing myself with maybes and what-ifs and it's killing me, Scott!"
He looks ashamed and confused and a little something else that she can't quite name, but there's no words accompanying the display on his face. She's had enough and turns on her heel to leave, this time heading putting on her helmet so she can fly out. Running isn't fleeting enough.
He grabs her elbow before she can make her getaway, stopping her before she can cross the threshold of what she used to consider their bedroom. In a move that was undoubtedly Scott's style, he hauls her in for a bone-crushing hug, helmet and all. He whispers his apologies in her ear until she's a sobbing mess in his arms and he's pulling away to remove her helmet. With her helmet discarded on the bed, he places a finger under her chin, lifting it so he can properly look her in the eye for the first time that night. For the first time in months.
"I messed up, Hope. I was trying to protect you and Cassie and everyone else. You're right. I didn't stop to think about the consequences because all I could think about was the consequences if I didn't help and things got out of hand. What that would've meant for all of you. But I should have told you about it, and I should have asked if you wanted to come. I know that now. I'm so sorry, Hope. For so long now, I've been on my own. I'm not used to having a reliable partner, but I found one in you. And I'm so grateful for everything that we had. And everything that we can still have, if you'll let me make it up to you."
His voice is soft and gentle, sorrow and loneliness lacing his words. He's meant everything that he says, and his eyes are more hopeful than she thinks she's ever seen. Her body is still pressed so completely up against his and she can feel his heart starting to race, the way his breath has stopped and seems to be waiting for her answer before it returns.
"It's not that easy, Scott. You can't just apologize and dangle the possibility of something happening in the future and expect me to forgive you for everything!"
"I know. I'm not expecting that. But let me try. Let me try to make it up to you and see where things go. I know there are conversations we need to have, but just let me give you a home tonight. It's the least that I can do. Please, Hope."
Against her better judgment, she nods her head in agreement to his offer. She's so tired and even one night in the house that feels like the closest thing she's had to a home in years is too tempting for her to turn down. At her response, he pulls her in for another hug, placing a faint kiss to her hair before letting her go.
"I'll sleep in Cassie's bed. You can take some of my clothes if you want to change out of the suit." He's halfway down the hall before the battle between her head and her heart is decided and she calls after him.
His body turns back to her, brows knitted in an adorable show of confusion.
"You don't have to do that. Stay, with me." He looks hesitant. "Please?"
His face lights up, hopeful and relieved and simply happy. She can't suppress the smile that dances across her face. When he's within reach, she grabs for him and hugs him like her life depends on it, tight and strong and affirming everything that she isn't quite ready to verbalize. As she changes into his boxers and oversized Metallica t-shirt, his smell surrounds her and it feels warm, like home. And when she crawls into bed beside him and watches the storm now raging outside the window, she feels the ice in her veins just starting to thaw.
The next morning, she wakes up to a warm bed and an even warmer heart. She thinks to herself that maybe they will make it.