"Aelita…" Yumi's voice was soft as she reached out to the girl in front of her. She placed her hands on the younger girl's shoulders gently.
Aelita was confused at the sudden change in the older girl's tone and expression. Just a minute ago Yumi had been talking and smiling until Aelita had brought up how it was strange Jeremy wasn't down from his room yet. His sleeping habits had greatly improved since XANA's defeat and he often slept in now but regardless, he was still an early riser and was often early for breakfast. Today was not one of those days and Aelita had been waiting for half an hour but her blonde haired companion still hadn't arrived yet.
Ulrich and Odd stood behind Yumi, their eyes betraying pain and something akin to regret.
"What's going on?" Aelita said. A sudden strange discomfort settled in the pit of her stomach at the expressions she saw. "Where's Jeremy?"
"Aelita… Jeremy's gone."
Aelita blinked. The discomfort in her stomach increased to a fluttering panic in her chest. What did they mean gone? Aelita refused to let the panic take over and instead schooled her face into a calm expression ignoring the clear message her friends' faces was betraying. Gone had many different meanings, right?
"Gone where?" Aelita asked. Her voice was stiff and without tremor but behind it the remaining Lyoko Warriors could hear fear.
"When is he going to be back?" She continued, the panic in her voice rising. "He didn't tell me he was going home or anything. Did he leave early this morning?"
"Yes yes, gone. But WHERE?"
"Princess!" Ulrich's voice cut through Odd and Yumi's. "Jeremy's Gone."
His voice held a finality in its tone and Aelita stumbled, suddenly thankful Yumi was there to support her.
"No!" Aelita glared. "I don't understand! He can't be gone! What's wrong with you all? He was at dinner last night! Remember?"
Her gaze swung wildly from Yumi to Ulrich to Odd in anger. All panic was gone now; only confusion and fury. "Look, I'll call him and prove it!" Aelita moved away from them as they tried to touch her. She shoved her hand into her dress' pocket to grab at the pink cellphone Jeremy had gotten her as a gift more than a year ago.
Yumi, Ulrich and Odd hopelessly stared as Aelita calmly clicked the number one on her speed dial and impatiently waited for the call to get through. The phone rang for a solid minute in which Aelita refused to meet any of their eyes. She pointedly looked away into the forest as she held the phone up to her ear.
"Jeremy! You picked u- Oh!" Aelita's face fell as Jeremy's voice had rung through the phone only for it to be his voicemail. She looked up at her friends finally.
"This means nothing!" Aelita said firmly. "Jeremy often answers late."
"No!" She cut off Yumi forcefully. "He always answers late when he's busy! I even told him to put it on silent and get a good night's sleep now that XANA is gone! You were there at dinner last night, Odd? Ulrich? Remember?"
The two boys didn't meet Aelita's eyes. They shrunk under her piercing glare and Yumi's worried one before Odd finally sighed, "Princess, he wasn't at dinner. He hasn't been since…" His voice trailed off to a mumble.
"Since the day XANA was defeated." Ulrich finished hoarsely.
"Why do you keep acting like he's dead!" The pink-haired teen was fed up. "Yumi! You saw him before you left after classes! And Odd, Ulrich… We were all at dinner, remember? Odd, he gave you his mashed potatoes and you gave them back so he'd finally gain some weight again! You never do that! And Ulrich! You were hanging out and playing video games with us before curfew in his room too! Why can't you remember!"
Aelita stopped seeing the sudden tears in her friends' eyes.
"No Aelita…," Yumi whispered softly. "Why don't YOU remember?"
"Remember what?" the annoyed younger girl cried stubbornly. The panic had completely subsided and annoyance was the only thing left in its place.
"Jeremy's sacrifice, princess. Don't you remember how we defeated XANA? Jeremy recreated the neuroheadset and used it to provide a boost to his mind again."
Aelita's brow furrowed in confusion. Neuroheadset? Jeremy hadn't recreated it? Not as far as she remembered. Had he done it without her knowing so she wouldn't worry? But that didn't make sense… Jeremy himself said it hadn't worked properly the first time. Why would he recreate it?
"It was the only way he could find the program to destroy all the Replikas." Ulrich said gently as if easing her into bad news.
Aelita didn't like where this story was heading.
"He ran the program but the Return to the Past…" Odd trailed off. He shut his eyes tightly to keep the tears from falling. "It wasn't like last time. XANA got there first when he collapsed. We couldn't…"
Aelita felt her breath hitch as images of the last time Jeremy used the headset flashed in her mind. Him lying cold, pale and almost lifeless on his bedroom floor. Completely unresponsive. Had he really…?
"No… NO!" She yelled. "You're LYING!"
"NO! He's FINE! He was here last night! He never recreated that stupid headset! I'll bring him back and prove it!" She turned and ran away, leaving her group of friends standing in the courtyard. She heard Yumi burst into sobs behind her and could see Ulrich and Odd comforting her in her peripheral but in her mind she had only one thought. Jeremy was alive, hale and hearty and she would prove it.
Aelita raced through the courtyard Kadic, ignoring the schoolmates she bumped into. She had only one thought in her mind: Find Jeremy. She ran the well-tread path to the factory manhole in the park and immediately rushed down to the sewers. The scooters were no longer there since they had all brought them back up months ago so Aelita had to run. All the while her phone stayed in her hand and every few minutes, Aelita would hit Jeremy's speed-dial only to be met with "Hi! It's Jeremy! I'm probably in class. Leave a message after the Beep. Mom and Dad, I promise I'll call back as soon as I can."
Aelita growled as she shut off the voicemail as it rung out for the 7th time right as she reached the factory's entrance. She hadn't stepped foot in here since XANA had been defeated and the super-computer shut down. Her shoes left dusty footprints as she swung down the rope ladder and ran across the factory's base floor and into the elevator. It creaked to life as soon as she punched in the code to the room with the supercomputer.
"Jeremy!" The pink-haired warrior called out as she exited the elevator. She ran to the desktop and swung around the computer chair, coughing as a cloud of dust invaded her mouth, eyes and nostrils. The monitor was off and Jeremy wasn't here. The dust around the factory floor was marked only by her own fresh footprints. No one else had been here in ages. Undeterred, Aelita ran back to the elevator but the Scanner Room and the Mainframe Room were both empty. The supercomputer was off and Jeremy wasn't here.
Panic spiking once again, Aelita changed her course to the Hermitage. It wasn't likely but each of the Lyoko Warriors had gone there to sulk and be alone and simply cope with the loss of XANA and Lyoko at least once before. Jeremy might have gone there if the guilt of her father's death was weighing on him again.
The Hermitage was empty though and Aelita collapsed on the couch, chest heaving in exhaustion from running for the better part of an hour. She called him again but yet again it reached voicemail.
"Jeremy!" the desperate girl begged, "Where are you? Yumi and Ulrich and Odd keep saying you're gone. Where? Call me please! I'm worried."
Aelita lazed about the Hermitage for the rest of the day, anxiously waiting for Jeremy's call. Her heart would soar with anticipation every time her phone rang and subsequently fall when it was Yumi, Ulrich or Odd instead. A few times William and Sissi called as well. She ignored them all but as the hours passed and Jeremy was the only one whos' name didn't flash across her phone screen; a heavy cloud of doubt began to settle over her heart almost suffocating her.
Was it possible Yumi, Ulrich and Odd were right? Had she dreamed up the last few months with Jeremy?
The pink-haired girl bit her lip, her eyes filming over with the beginning of tears as she questioned the likelihood of her friends' words this morning. But… it just couldn't be! She remembered Jeremy creating the program to defeat XANA. He hadn't used the headset for it either! He would have told her if he had. She was sure of it! And Aelita was so sure she had been with Jeremy last night.
Recently, Jeremy's eyes had been rimmed with dark circles that were quickly fading the more regularly he slept but the spark in his blue irises was back. His face was still pale but gaining back its healthy glow too. He had listened to a new mix with her as they simply relaxed in his room. Ulrich had been with them for a while before leaving to do his homework. Aelita remembered Jeremy yawning. He had already been half asleep, his head on her shoulder and breath soft against her neck as she read a book. Jim had come around loudly declaring curfew jolting poor Jeremy out of his doze. She had left him then after giving him a kiss on the cheek and Jeremy had given her one last smile before she finally closed the door behind her.
Aelita smiled at that part of the memory. Her and Jeremy were very clear on their feelings for each other and now with XANA gone, were slowly taking steps towards a deeper relationship but just enjoying spending time together either taking walks in the autumn sunlight or cuddling in each other's dorm rooms before curfew. As another missed call went to Jeremy's voicemail. Aelita sprung up from her seat where she had been sulking all day.
She hadn't checked there. He had been especially tired the previous night because of Jim forcing him to run extra laps in Gym to make up for previous absences. It was possible he just wasn't awake yet even after half the day. After all, he had been exhausted the day before and he might have gotten sick because of it. None of them would have known because Aelita had gotten up earlier than usual today and had went straight to the vending machines after getting ready. Jeremy sometimes took longer especially if he was sleeping in like he tended to do now that XANA was gone. He could be missing classes for that reason too… or maybe that's why the others had been calling her all day? To say they' found Jeremy alive albeit a little sickly in his room.
Goal in mind, Aelita ignored the hopeless voice in the back of her head that was telling her it was a shallow hope. She ran back to school, bumping into Emily on the way in.
"Did you see Jeremy today?" She asked the brunette girl.
"Jeremy?" Emily asked confused and slightly scared.
"Yes! Did he go to the infirmary or something?"
"No… but Aelita should I take you there? Are you sick?" Emily looked concerned and almost pitying. Aelita huffed before impatiently muttering a "Never mind" and running off.
Taking two steps at a time as she jumped to the boys' floor of the dormitories. She flung the door open to Jeremy's room as soon as she reached it and halted. It was… empty.
The slightly musty, humid smell of disuse was in the air. The walls were bare. Jeremy's favorite Einstein poster no longer hung over the bed. The bed itself was stripped of its sheets and pillows, a simple white mattress on the worn wooden frame. The closet doors creaked half open and Aelita could see the layer of dust that had accumulated over the empty unused surfaces. But the hollow feeling in the room came from the lack of Jeremy's trusty computer system.
The giant computer and its gadgets that required an extra table in the room were gone. The table it sat on and the study table next to it were just as dust covered as the inside of the closets. The window above the computer table was shut tight and the orange sun was setting, leaving the room with an eerie glow as the sunlight reflected off the bare white walls.
Aelita unwittingly pressed speed-dial again and Jeremy's voice rung out one last time in the hollow room.
"Hi! It's Jeremy! I'm probably in class. Leave a message after the Beep. Mom and Dad, I promise I'll call back as soon as I can."
All at once it sunk in.
Aelita's world came crashing down.
She didn't know what happened next or how much time passed but Yumi, Ulrich and Odd were by her side, holding her tight as she sobbed heavily, crumpled up on the floor of Jeremy's old room.
"Where is he!" She cried, begging for their answer to be different from this morning.
"Dead… Aelita. Jeremy's Dead. He's not coming back."
A horrible cavern opened up in her soul and Aelita felt herself fall into the darkness, becoming completely swallowed by it as the truth finally sunk in. Jeremy… Her best friend… the boy she loved… her savior… He was gone. He had sacrificed himself for Lyoko, for their friends, for her!
"JEREMY!" She choked through a strangled sob. She keeled over despite her friend's support until her forehead was against the worn carpet. Her sudden shriek startled them and alerted the boys in the adjacent rooms as well. Soon the girls were downstairs too, crowding around Jeremy's dorm to see the commotion. Jim had to push his way through the crowd to see his favorite students all crying in the middle of Belpois' old room.
Silent tears slid down Yumi's face, Ulrich was trying to muffle his own sobs and Odd furiously tried to wipe away his own tears and keep a neutral expression. None of them were in quite such a bad shape as Aelita though, who was heaving as she sobbed, her tears and cries endless as she came to terms with another loss.
Snot dripped from her nose and her hair was a mess as she tried to claw at it or the threadbare carpet beneath her in an attempt to ground herself. She shook violently and despite being engulfed in between Ulrich and Yumi's arms with Odd trying to rub her arms to calm her down, her cries only grew louder by the second as Jeremy's loss hit her again and again.
Her mother. Her father. Her Jeremy.
All gone… all gone… all gone…
The group of heartbroken teens barely registered Jim as he forced the remaining students back to their rooms assisted by Sissi and William who refused to let anyone see any tears although their faces were just as pained seeing the debacle as Jim.
It was a good hour before Aelita finally calmed down enough to talk. Her breathing was still rough as she felt Ulrich pat her back gently and Odd pull her into a sitting a proper sitting position. Yumi's hands gently squeezed her shoulders as added support as she handed Aelita a tissue to wipe her face.
"Let's get you to bed, huh, Princess?" She asked softly. "You've had a long, confusing day."
Aelita nodded mutely as her friends pulled her up and led her to her room. The boys waited outside as Yumi helped Aelita get cleaned up and dressed in her pajamas.
She was sitting on the bed, bundled up in blankets when the boys finally came in. In the background Aelita could hear Ulrich asking Yumi about going home to which the girl replied she had gotten a few hours extended curfew and would sleep over if necessary. In her muffled thoughts, Aelita wasn't sure what was worse. Being alone or having to spend the night with Yumi fussing over her.
"Here, Princess." Aelita looked up as Odd offered her a packet of biscuits sadly. "You haven't eaten all day, have you?"
Aelita realized she hadn't. She had quickly grabbed breakfast from the cafeteria. She remembered asking Rosa if Jeremy had had his already. The older woman had looked shocked and very concerned but had said nothing while ladling out toast and eggs. Aelita remembered asking Matthias if he had seen Jeremy too. The boy had looked at her strangely just like Rosa and Emily had. Aelita hadn't registered it at the time, shrugging it off.
It all made sense now; their strange looks of worry. She knew what those looks meant. She wished she didn't.
They had known. They had been pitying her denial. How long had this been going on, Aelita wondered. How long had she been living this way, denying her best friend's… her beloved's death?
"-elita, Aelita! Princess!"
"Hmm?" Aelita asked. She looked up to see Odd frowning at her again. He offered the packet of biscuits again and this time Aelita took the biscuits her purple-loving friend was offering to her. She bit into them and frowned… they felt like rubber and tasted like ash. She only ate two before she couldn't eat anymore, ignoring Odd, Yumi and Ulrich's concerned expressions. Her hunger wasn't abated but for now she couldn't feel it. She couldn't feel anything. It was all drowned out by the grief.
"Do you want me to go get you some hot chocolate from the vending machines?" Ulrich asked gently.
"Pfft! That dirt is only gonna make her feel worse, good buddy!" Odd exclaimed. His attempt at lightening the mood fell flat as Aelita shook her head.
She lied down, pulling the covers over herself and turning away from the others. Yumi gently started running her hand's through Aelita's short hair. The younger girl flinched but didn't say anything.
"H-how long…" Aelita finally mumbled.
The room was silent.
"It's been two months." Ulrich finally broke it.
"We were starting to worry you'd never come around." Odd added.
"He sacrificed himself for all of us…" Yumi said quietly. "He could either help himself or run the program. He was so brave. We think that you lost your memories after becoming devirtualized. I had to run it because…."
A pained silence settled again and then Yumi felt Aelita begin to shake with silent sobs. Her hiccupping cries slowly became anguished wails and Ulrich, Odd and Yumi rushed to turn her around and comfort her again. But Aelita was inconsolable. How could they comfort her when they themselves were grieving themselves? Grieving the boy who had too much pressure on his shoulders, who'd done everything he could but it cost him his life.
Aelita closed her eyes tight, wishing to block out reality once more. Her best friend was gone. The boy who had saved her, believed in her, trusted her, loved her, was gone. And after losing her mother and father to Lyoko and XANA and government conspiracies, it was one loss too many.
She fell asleep eventually, the moonlight from the window shining through her tears and tortured expression still on her face.
Aelita wasn't sure how long she slept. When she woke up her eyes were crusted over with dried out tears. Her pillow was damp and her face was still sticky with the dried remains of her tears. She sat up and winced as she became aware of the pounding in her head. Her water bottle was on the side table and Aelita quickly grabbed it, gulping down the water greedily.
A quick look at the clock told her it was 4:30 in the morning. Aelita wondered where Ulrich, Yumi and Odd had gone but then remembered the reason they had been with her in the first place. She took a shaky breath as everything she had come to terms with a few hours ago came rushing back.
But… What if it was a dream? A horrible nightmare she had come up with due to residual trauma? They had all been having horrible nightmares lately; what if this was just one of them? Hope surging in her, Aelita threw her blankets and pillows aside in a rush. It took a few moments but she eventually found the cool metal of her phone and pulled it up.
Right before pressing Jeremy's speed dial, she halted. Then without a second thought she pressed the speed dial number one. A smile grew on her face at the idea of hearing Jeremy's voice again.
It was just a nightmare, just a nightmare, just a nightmare, she reminded herself repeatedly.
The few seconds of dial tone were the longest moments of Aelita's life but then she heard a click on the other side.
"Jeremy! Oh I'm so glad you're alrigh-"
"Hi! It's Jeremy! I'm probably in class. Leave a message after the Beep. Mom and Dad, I promise I'll call back as soon as I can."
Her hope came crashing down.
Aelita felt the words leave her, mouth hanging open mid-sentence. Tears spilled over as she heard the voicemail play through ending with the beep she had yet to become accustomed to. The phone fell from her hands as Aelita took in a strangled breath that became a sob again.
It wasn't a dream.
He really was gone.
The first time had been hard enough but Aelita felt her heart tearing itself apart again. This time it was much worse than it had a few hours ago when she had first found out. She reached for her phone again and pressed Yumi's speed-dial this time but cut the phone off a few second later. How long had her friends had to go through her living in denial when they knew Jeremy was dead? It was the middle of the night. They had obviously all left once she fell asleep, exhausted from the grief themselves.
This time when the phone fell from her hand, she didn't pick it up again. Instead she fell back into her pillows and cried. Her tears had been exhausted so the cries escaped her, dry and heavy, and sent pangs of pain through her already pounding skull. The hole in her heart was gaping open and kept sending shockwaves of pain through her.
Aelita wished she could fall asleep again; she wished the pain could stop.
But it wouldn't… not as long as Jeremy was gone.
She didn't even realize how many hours passed. Eventually she stopped crying, just curled up in a ball on her bed, trying to ignore the hurt surging through her.
When the first rays of sunshine began to peek through the cracks of the curtain, Aelita knew she had to get up. Her body was fatigued from dehydration. The moment she pulled herself up she needed to grab on to her bed post to fight the wave of dizziness that overcame her. She didn't want to go throughout today. Imagining the pitiful look on her schoolmates' faces as they found out she had given up her denial… having it be a reminder of why Jeremy wouldn't be in class all day… it was almost too much to bear. But Aelita knew she couldn't stay in bed all day. She had no doubt Jim would let her stay due to last nights' occurrence but being alone with her thoughts was both the only thing and the last thing Aelita wanted.
It took her an hour and a half to shower and go through her morning routine. She looked like a wreck with dark sunken eyes, sickly pale face and slow movements. The other girls in the bathroom looked at her haggard appearance worriedly but no one said anything. When she finally made it back to her room she collapsed on her bed. Her muscles still felt heavy with fatigue and Aelita wondered if going down would be worth it today.
Just as she was about to lie down again, curl into a ball and ignore the world around her, another pang of pain shot through her head and stomach. She hadn't eaten anything all day yesterday and the intense sobbing had left her very dehydrated. Aelita couldn't afford to miss breakfast as much as she wanted to.
She got up and shuffled her way out of her room to head to the cafeteria then. She knew her friends would be worried about her too. Afterwards she could go back to her room, draw the curtains, and wallow in her grief all day.
Aelita felt her tongue feel like sandpaper as she reached the boys' floor landing but quickly turned away. Memories of stopping by his room daily assaulted her mind. When she'd check up on him to see if he'd slept at all or had worked all night. A sad smile crossed her face for a second when she remembered that Jeremy often hadn't even known it was morning. It was her reminders that got him to get ready and come down to breakfast. He had worked so hard for her and in the end…. Aelita quickly ran down the remaining steps to the ground floor after that, blinking away the stinging in her eyes.
She took a few deep breaths as she made her way across the courtyard, trying to steady herself so her friends wouldn't worry so much. If it were only Jeremy waiting for her, Aelita wouldn't bother to compose herself so much. They both knew each other inside out and Jeremy was always there for her. She never had to worry about putting up a front for him. Aelita knew Ulrich, Odd and Yumi wouldn't begrudge her for being sad but the pink-haired girl didn't want to worry them more than she already had. Not now. Not yet. Aelita also knew if she broke down again so soon in the day, she wouldn't be able to go on. The weight of Jeremy's demise was crushing her despite her best efforts to ignore them and her friends' fussing would only remind her of it.
As she approached the vending machines Aelita tried to look away from the group she knew was waiting for her.
"Aelita! You're finally up!"
Aelita froze. The voice was familiar. Too familiar. It was the same voice she had been trying to avoid thinking about all morning because it would only remind her that she'd never hear it again.
"Your advice was right. I've never slept better! I should do it more often-"
Footsteps approached her and Aelita looked up slowly, the color draining further from her already white face.
His blonde hair fell over his forehead as always. His bright blue eyes that shone with happiness on seeing her quickly morphed to concerned behind his black frames upon seeing her expression. He was dressed in his favorite maroon sweater, his hands in the pockets of his pants as he approached her.
"Hey? Are you ok? You don't have a cold, do you? You don't look so good, Lita."
The nickname is what did it. Aelita let out a strangled cry as she launched herself at her best friend, at the boy she'd been in love with for years. Her arms wrapped around his neck and she cried into his shoulder absolutely refusing to let go.
"Hey… what's wrong with Aelita?"
"What happened, Jeremy?"
She could hear her friends' concerned questions but ignored them. She could feel the bewilderment Jeremy was radiating but he hugged her back just as tightly. The shock and reassurance was too much and Aelita felt her legs give out beneath her. Jeremy only tightened his grip as he gently lowered her to the ground.
His voice was soft in her eyes as he cooed and shushed her softly.
"I think it was another nightmare." She heard Jeremy mumble to the others in between his sweet words of comfort to her. She could hear the confusion in his voice and knew why. She always came to him after severe nightmares. This would be one of the first times she didn't. But how was Aelita to tell him she couldn't come to him because he had been dead! A cold fear filled Aelita again. What if this wasn't Jeremy? What if it was someone else and she was just hallucinating him.
The thought only released another loud whimper but Aelita managed to collect herself enough to pull away and look at Jeremy. She needed to see his face. Needed to know he was alive and holding her instead of Ulrich or Odd.
"Princess…" Jeremy said softly as he saw her messy tearful face. "What's wrong?" He asked desperately.
"You were dead!" Her hands were clutching at his sweater still, the darkened patch over his shoulder an indication to how heavily she had been crying.
Jeremy clearly hadn't been expecting that because he looked even more concerned. Before he could formulate a response, Aelita reached up with one hand to touch his face and the other went to his heart. Jeremy flushed in response, not at all expecting it but it was testament to how surprised he was that he didn't freeze up or lose ability to speak.
"What do you mean?" He asked her gently.
"You're alive?" Aelita asked, her eyes taking in his appearance still blurred by her streaming tears. It was both a statement and a question. She knew he was in front of her but her fear wouldn't let her believe it.
"Of course, he's alive, Princess!" Odd exclaimed. Aelita turned to see him, Ulrich and Yumi looking just as concerned as Jeremy.
"You didn't pick up the phone…"
Jeremy raised his eyebrow, concerned and confused.
"You told him to, remember?" Ulrich reminded her. "You told him to turn off his phone and get a good night's sleep at dinner?"
Aelita looked lost. "B-but… when I said that you said Jeremy was gone. His room was empty. You said XANA killed him."
"Of course not, Lita." Jeremy soothed. "I'm right here."
"But you weren't yesterday!" The distraught girl insisted. "I looked everywhere and you were gone. And everyone told me you…d-died."
Her voice was shaking and Jeremy inhaled sharply. He brought Aelita close and hugged her again as silent tears began to spill over again. Her fright had been unparalleled and the fact that it was a nightmare after she had confirmed it wasn't only scared her further. What if she was still dreaming? What even was real anymore?
"Five hours…" she mumbled. "I woke up and called you… but it went to voicemail again. Like the dream. You were dead."
Jeremy finally understood. He gently rocked Aelita back and forth as the others' looked on in worry.
"I told them you were alive but they said I was in denial. Then I couldn't find you…"
Jeremy felt himself tear up as he felt the girl he loved shaking in his arms. She was afraid she'd lost him. She had lived through a whole day and then some thinking he was gone. The terror in her voice was tangible, even now. She was trying to control her emotions, Jeremy could tell, but it wasn't working. The fear was too strong. The dream had been too realistic.
He looked up to see Yumi, Ulrich and Odd looking somber with realization. They had all been suffering from nightmares since XANA's defeat. Many of them included each other dying but none yet had been so vivid and uncontestable. The fact that Aelita had called none of them and had believed Jeremy was dead even without checking in person like she usually did spoke volumes about how terrifying this incident had been for her. It was the worst nightmare any of them had suffered yet.
"Jeremy's fine, Princess," Yumi said gently. "It was just a nightmare. But he's alive and breathing and fine."
"Yeah! He sure can sleep like the dead nowadays without XANA to worry about but he's alright!"
Aelita let out a whimper at that and the group glared at Odd.
"I'm fine, Lita," Jeremy mumbled softly, still rocking her. "You're fine. Ulrich is fine. Odd is fine. Yumi is fine. We're all ok. XANA is gone. No one else."
Jeremy winced as he said it. That wasn't quite true since Franz Hopper was still dead but the young Einstein knew it wasn't wise to bring this up just now.
Aelita was now silent. Her breathing was heavy as she leaned against Jeremy but she had stopped crying. "You're alive." She repeated as if assuring herself.
"I am," Jeremy promised. He gently ran his hand soothingly in circles across Aelita's back and the other he had wrapped around her and used to run through her hair. He knew her mother used to do that when she was little – one of her favorite remaining memories – and it calmed her more than anything else. Aelita let out a large exhale, almost like relief.
"How about we go to the infirmary so you can rest and sleep?" Ulrich suggested. "You didn't sleep much last night and going to class sounds like a bad idea."
Aelita shook her head where it was still rested on Jeremy's shoulder. Jeremy frowned.
"Aelita you need to rest," he coaxed. He could feel her falling asleep against him as he spoke. The relief coming from her was tangible and she grew heavier against him by the minute.
"How about the Hermitage?" Yumi suggested. With how tightly Aelita was still holding on to Jeremy, the Japanese girl realized why Aelita had refused the infirmary. Yolanda would be sure to send Jeremy to class and Aelita couldn't be apart from him just yet. Her vivid nightmare had left her too scared for that. She was too scared to sleep without Jeremy unless it was a dream again. Yumi looked to Jeremy and the genius must have come to the realization too because he gently nudged Aelita.
"How about that, Princess?" He asked gently. "Do you want to go to the Hermitage. I'll stay with you."
That was what did it. Aelita promptly nodded, slowly pulling away. Her face was still tear stained and gaunt but to Jeremy she was still the prettiest girl in the world.
"Alright then, we'll cover for you two," Odd said. "But we better hurry if we want to make it in time for class. We even skipped breakfast today!"
The ravenous teenager looked extremely disappointed and Ulrich snorted. "Come on, let's grab something from the vending machines then go cover for Einstein and Princess then."
"Just like old times!"
The two best friends left but not without gently patting Aelita on the back and hoping she'd feel better. Yumi followed them after saying a soft, "Take care of her Jeremy." Even as she said it though, Yumi knew Jeremy didn't need to be told. He loved Aelita more than anything and was just as distraught seeing her in pain that she was after suffering that nightmare.
Jeremy led Aelita to the Hermitage slowly. The girl had been lost and clearly exhausted through the majority of the trip, stumbling over a few stray stones and weeds in the woods and almost walking into a tree too. He had snuck into the cafeteria to grab some leftover croissants and got some hot chocolate from the vending machines before they left. It was clear Aelita needed energy. Her nightmare had taken a lot out of her so after evading Jim and having their quick breakfast, the two finally reached Aelita's childhood home.
The former Lyoko Warriors had been cleaning up the old house slowly over the past few months. It had become somewhat of a hang-out spot for them all now. The factory had too many bad memories and without the purpose of defeating XANA, the cold structure was foreboding and not the ideal place or distance to hang out. Aelita's room was all cleaned up and the moment Jeremy sat down on the bed, Aelita curled up against him, eyes closed and breathing heavy as the fatigue caught up to her.
"Was it really bad?" Jeremy asked gently. He knew the answer but Aelita often felt better after getting her dreams off her chest.
It was silent for a few moments before Aelita began, speaking in pauses as the fog lifted from her mind. "It was just like today. I woke up and went for breakfast but you weren't there. And Ulrich, Yumi and Odd told me you were gone. But I didn't believe them even when you didn't pick up your phone. I thought you were sleeping. I remembered that I told you to rest and keep your phone off. But I looked everywhere for you. The Factory, the Hermitage…"
She trailed off. Jeremy was silent as he waited for her to continue. Aelita's eyes had become unfocused as she recalled every bit of her dream in vivid detail. Jeremy started to run his hand through Aelita's hair again. He wasn't much for physical affection in front of the others a lot, basic social interaction was hard for him sometimes. But when they were alone it was much easier and when Aelita was upset Jeremy forgot everyone but her, audience or not. His ministrations were a silent comfort to Aelita, as if he was reminding her 'I'm here. I'm alive. We're safe. You can keep going.'
"I checked your dorm at the end. It was empty. Your stuff was gone. Everyone had been looking at me strangely all day when I asked about you. That's when I believed it. Yumi, Ulrich and Odd found me crying. They took me back to my room. They must have left when I fell asleep because when I woke up, they weren't there anymore. I thought it had been a dream. I even checked..."
Aelita stopped again, her voice choked with tears. "I thought it had been a dream." She whispered again. "Or rather hoped. So I called you but…"
"I didn't pick up." Jeremy finished. "Oh Lita," the boy brought his pink-haired princess closer as Aelita shuddered against him, recalling the memory.
"Five hours I was awake and I couldn't go back to sleep… Then I came downstairs and you were there. You were alive."
"I am alive," Jeremy reminded her.
"Please don't leave."
"I promise I won't."
"He's gone and we're safe," Jeremy promised.
Aelita's eyes looked so haunted. And for once, Jeremy finally decided to take the leap of faith he'd been attempting to take for a while now. He leaned forward and kissed Aelita on the forehead and then gently on her lips.
When he pulled away, he was flushed and felt hot all over and averted his gaze for a second, too shy to meet her eyes. Aelita had a matching blush and Jeremy was delighted to see the matching pink in her cheeks. But what made him happiest was the slightly less fearful look in her eyes. Mission accomplished.
Aelita felt her heart ease. This routine of theirs was one she was familiar with. Him showing her how much he cared about her affectionately, and then both of them shying away. This was real. Jeremy was real. Her best friend and the boy she loved were still in her life. She snuggled closer to him despite her and Jeremy's shyness. Her body, which had been previously tense, finally relaxed fully against his after a deep exhale.
It took only a few moments more but Aelita fell asleep. Her breathing evened out and a small smile spread across her face. The nightmare was long gone and while it's vivid imagery would scare her for a while in the future, for now she could relax next to the boy she loved and sleep, secure in the fact that he was safe and sound, right next to her.
I had this idea of Aelita having a realistic nightmare where Jeremy actually dies.
Jeremy is realistically the most at risk during XANA attacks and the possibility of his death isn't explored nearly as much. There was that one time in Temptations but not outside of that so I thought why not combine these concepts to explore an idea where Jeremy actually dies and his friends grieve in the process and realize his sacrifice. I tried to make the fact that Jeremy is actually alive as surprising as possible so did I succeed?
So... what did you think? Please leave a review! Those make my day!