At first it's terrifying, fourteen years of growing up human and her power causes her to deny every single thing she was ever taught about the known universe. It's change of the most drastic sort, and it overwhelms and scares her on a level so deep it hurts.
For her mutation to work, she detaches completely from the known universe. It's unsettling, it's unnatural, and it's something both addictive and terrifying. For moments, minutes, hours at a time, she's no longer human. She does not see, hear, smell, taste, or feel anything, she does not need to breathe, nor use a bathroom. Her body exists...yet doesn't exist, and all there is between her and the inanimate object she's phasing through is her mind, her sense of self, the knowledge of what is her and what is not her that prevents her from becoming the object she's slipping through.
But then she runs away, runs away from her life, her parents, her possibilities. What if they found out she was a mutant? Such questions...they didn't matter anymore, because the answer would never be found, not if she had anything to do with it. And when she phases...it is a release, an unshackling of mortal bonds, and it scares her because she's not sure if she wants to phase back in, to be human again.
It gives her security, and at the same time it shakes her to her core, rattling her senses and her mind. And in the end, she goes with the devil she knows, and prefers to not use her powers, for fear of unknown consequences of using them as opposed to the known consequences of living in the here and now.
And then there's the emotional aspect of her powers, and how they aren't under her control. It scares her, it infuriates her, and it rattles her even more at how easily her emotions can cause such problems for her. She shuns her mutant heritage because she can't control it; humans crave control, to know exactly what they need to do, because it's merely a branch of knowledge, the anti-thesis of the unknown, the immortal, abstract, obscure enemy of humankind.
So she runs and runs and runs, and she used to be a California valley girl but she changes over time, a chameleon of society. Mannerisms stay the same, and yet they're so different, because she needs control and to not be found. Her speech habits morph, twist, and melt as she travels, and yet for all she changes them, she still returns to using 'like' as a placeholder for a pause to capture her thoughts, and she still babbles on and on when she gets excited.
But she doesn't get excited. Not often. She has an underlying knowledge that she will be hunted if people know what she is, a paranoia born from the mass media coverage of mutants in New York, and how at best she could be treated with a sort of apprehensive acceptance, wary of any surprises she could spring on them. At worst she'd be drafted into the military to be dehumanized and used as a weapon.
She knows this. She's smart. Hell, she's fourteen and she already has a firm grasp on physics and was planning on delving into Quantum Physics in her high school years, and her plans for the future involved getting married, having one child (not two, not two-point-five, just one) and publishing research breakthroughs for free so that others could continue her work years after she died.
So she disappears. Her first conscious use of her power is when she methodically invokes a mind-eroding terror that her parents could find out that she was a mutant because her pillow was half-phased through the floor of her bedroom, and she slips out of the house and out of reality for five minutes, ending up several miles away. So she takes the bus with what little money she scrounged from her room and heads off not to the farthest bus stop, not to the nearest, not to the exact middle, but to exactly sixty-three-point-seven percent between where she is and the furthest stop.
And for years she lives her life on the road, taking small, short jobs interspersed with intermediate lasting jobs, never staying in the same town for over half a year. Her naive yet brilliant mind is tempered by her experiences with minimum wage, of working long hours at shady places, of wandering hands and the smell of alcohol. She becomes worldly not through suffering but through experience - both good and bad - and when she's twenty one she goes to Las Vegas. What better way to celebrate such a landmark year of her life than to go to Las Vegas? She saves up her money from waitressing, bartending, being a janitor, and even being a window washer at some point.
After all, strippers get paid for their work. They get paid well. Sure, it's degrading, and it has a higher occupational hazard for sexual assault, but damn they make some money. She can't strip, though. She might freak out when one of the customers gets a little more 'hands-on' and phase through the floor. And then people would know she's a mutant. She needs safe, non-emotional jobs.
Thus, it is not stripping or prostitution that is 'rock bottom'. They make money. They're 'rock bottom' in dignity, sure, but they haven't hit the bottom of their bank yet. Not unless they delve into vices like alcohol or drugs to drown their shame in an inundation of false sensation. The real 'rock bottom' is the window washers, the car washers, the lawn mowers. Being paid for manual labor that is easily done by even untrained civilians. Children could do those jobs.
So she goes to Vegas, and she, rather belatedly, realizes that everything is expensive. She had forgotten it in her glee of having lived seven years on the road without major incident. It's no problem, though. She's been homeless before; she knows the ins and outs of how to live on the street without dying. So she searches out a building that would need regulated temperature and had a specific style of venting, and finds it in the Las Vegas Crime Lab.
So she kips out on their roof with her knapsack, just enjoying the lights and sounds of the busy city.
Until she has a nightmare and falls through the roof.
And, wouldn't you know it? They have a graveyard shift there. Not an empty building. She's able to pull herself together to stop her freefall, but only for a moment, because there's a guy there and he sees her and she's half in and half out of the fucking floor and it terrifies her because her secret's out and she can feel the ground wanting her out because she's not supposed to be there and it was unnatural for her to be half in and half out of phase in a solid object.
So she screams, and she flails, and all she can think about isn't that she's finally outed as a mutant, it's the constant pressure, the urging feeling of 'get out!' that she can feel from being half in and half out of phase in a solid object that's filling her mind and all she can think about - and yells - is "Please! Don't let me fall!" because she knows what the consequences of being outed as a mutant is, but in her panicked state she can't help but wonder what would happen if she got stuck with her whole body underground, and if that urging pressure was all around her and it scares her more than being a second class citizen ever would.
And she's high on adrenaline, and the man is staring at her with wide eyes filled with shock, but he reaches out with a hand, dropping important looking files as he lunges forward and tries to reach her.
But she's terrified, and he made a sudden movement, and her fine control over her power that was letting her stay stuck snaps and she falls through the ground.
But that moment is engraved in her brain. Her body was in such a panicked state that it wouldn't let that memory ever weaken, the adrenaline and fear firmly imprinting the memory upon her mind, never to fade. Much like how one could never forget watching someone get raped in front of them, or never forget watching a public execution, she could never forget the man who had dropped everything - though it really was only files, wasn't it? - and reached out to help her, not scream in fear.
So several months later, she hears the news about a CSI who was kidnapped and was being held hostage underground in a glass coffin, and she feels morbidly curious because it's the exact analogy that she was thinking when she wondered what would happen if she got 'stuck' when her full body was inside something.
It's him. It's that guy, with the short hair and the barely-there facial shadow who dropped his important looking files and tried to help her in her panic.
And he's in her personal nightmare.
It's unjust, it's horrible, it's monstrous, and for a moment she wonders if she could phase her hand into his abductor's chest and rip his heart out while he still lived, so angered is she by the injustice.
So she pushes her mortal fears away, her wonders of what would happen if she got 'stuck' inside an object. She could be the only person who could save him, to save him from her own personal hell where he had no place being, and she would be damned if she didn't extend her hand in the same way to help him when he needed it.
And when her fears, her anxieties are all brushed away, and she is completely immersed in the desert landscape of Nevada with just one mission in mind...she can feel it. An extra sense, like a blind weaver running her fingers over her loom, seeking out the holes in her beautiful tapestry that she would never set her sight on. She feels the same amount of melancholic pride, too, knowing that it was her impurity, her mutation that was allowing her to feel this wondrous feeling that couldn't be explained in words even if she tried her damnedest and babbled for hours.
And it takes awhile, but she's forgotten all about breathing, or that she really had to pee before she had heard the news, and after hours of searching the desert with her new sense-but-not-sense, she finds him.
It's worse than she thought; he's scared - terrified - his voice is hoarse from yelling and his skin red and blotched with stings from fire ants and he's crying, all dignity washed away in the all encompassing fear of his sudden mortality, all darkest childhood fears coming straight to mind in the monstrosity of a box.
And in that moment, as she fades into the box, she has the most heartbreaking expression of pure sympathy and love on her face - one that was captured on video and one that a certain blond blood spatter specialist would cry her eyes out over without even knowing her. She reaches in, and like an angel from the heavens she pulls him into an embrace, taking secret and vicious delight in squishing the fire ants underneath her arms, and she pulls him out of that box of fear, death, and mortality. She brings him into her realm, her haven, her sanctuary of real-not-real, of feeling-not-feeling, to bring him away from his own fears, his own doubts, his own anxieties.
She brings him to the surface, but she can see that he's still suffering, that he was still mentally in that box, fearing that reality was but an illusion to torment him with hope. So she surrounds him with her dimension once again, washing away his mortality, his humanity, his anxieties, dreams, and fears. She gives him a heavenly-infernal freedom from both his vices and his hopes, from his friends and his enemies. She's the harbinger of destruction, ripping away all that makes him good as her realm bleeds away his humanity, and at the same time she's the messenger of Heaven, washing away his fears and vices, allowing him to bask in the serenity of pure nothing, a nihilistic Heaven where nothing could hurt because nothing existed.
But she knows, she knows that he will have to return, so she brings him back to where they first met. She overshoots her destination, but he's recovered enough from his box that he can point her away from the room of insects and Billy Big Mouth Bass to a place where he can wash away his everything in a purely human fashion, one without the dangers of her own. And she waits while he washes away the feeling of claustrophobia in the box, the itching burn of fire ants, washes it all away with bland mass produced soap of a questionable quality, with water that is toeing the fine line between 'lukewarm' and 'cold'.
She's there when he returns, wearing spare clothes wrinkled by their stint in his locker, his eyes glassy and wide as he shifts from fight-or-flight into numb shock as it all washes over him and his human mind takes 'what happened' and spins horrific tales of 'what could have been'.
It hurts to watch, and she hates herself for being so weak, but her own insecurities came back when she escaped her haven - for she was not its mistress to bend it to her whim and rule over it from a throne; she was simply a traveler, passing through. She hates herself because she can't open her arms for him, because she's afraid he'll reject her offer of comfort because she's impure, and unclean, and a mutant.
So she curls up into a ball in the corner, even as he mimics the action unknowingly on the couch, each huddling up in an instinctual position to ward off the terrors of the unknown, the 'what could have been'.
Time passes, but she doesn't have line of sight with the clock, so she doesn't know it's already been half an hour since they arrived without fanfare in the basement level of the Crime Lab. He's able to fight off his personal fears for a moment, and he looks over at her, really looks at her with a gaze that was equal parts filled with awe and filled with heartwrenching relief, and he thanks her. He thanks her. She hasn't thought of this possibility. Her thoughts were always haunted with paranoia and worst case scenarios, and she was completely unprepared for an unconditional confession of pure relief and thanks.
And it strikes her at so ironic at that moment, as her entire future is crashing before her eyes, that she had sacrificed it all for him. He who had only expressed a single offering of help - she didn't even know his name. She sacrificed her future for his own, and he had thanked her for it. Her eyes start to burn, her fingers start to tingle, and she knows she's about to cry, but she is determined to accept it as heartfelt as he had given it. Her bottom lip is trembling, and even as her dreams of being a quantum physicist, of getting married and having exactly one child that she would give all the freedom they asked for so that they could live their life to the fullest and experience both the bad and the good, of writing research papers and having massive breakthroughs that would be followed through in decades to come, even as all her everything shatters before her very eyes for her single returning gesture of comfort and help, she smiles as best as she can. Her lips are chapped and she's sure it's going to annoy her later as they split just enough to hurt but not enough to bleed, but she smiles, damnit, and she says 'It was worth it'.
She's not sure if he understands what she meant - it could be taken as either completely perverted and that she wanted to have no-holds-barred sex with him and have her wicked way with his body as thanks, or it could be taken as how she meant it - but he's too addled by his trauma to put any thought to it, and she knows she truly meant it when she notices that he's relaxed just a little bit.
She returns to her own personal mind-hell just as he returns to his own, and more time passes, but she's not interested in that. She's staring at a thread that's sticking out of the couch, and it's so fascinating to her, to see that one thread that has broken away from the weave to attempt to be something great - like being part of the drapes - and yet to be so completely alone and failing horribly at its venture. She knows she probably shouldn't be seeing such ironic significance in such small things, but she feels her eyes burning again and the warm wetness that pours down her cheeks in a thin trickle as she's reminded that she is that thread, the one who has gone against the grain and tried to do something great, something she wasn't made to do, because she's a mutant and she's going to be a second class citizen and those hours of being a waitress at that dive in Iowa are going to be the kind of jobs she prays to have, and oh God what if the military finds out about her mutation and they dehumanize her and send her to war and make her an assassin?
She doesn't want to kill, to have to feel the guilt knowing that she has ended someone's future so permanently, but she wouldn't have a choice and it was never her choice; she didn't want to be a mutant.
But then she looks at that guy, and she notices he's fallen asleep and his face has relaxed in a way that shows that he wasn't having nightmares about being locked in a glass box six feet under the ground, and at that moment she feels proud to be that thread. She was different and she had made a difference. She had stopped that guy's future from being ended. In that moment she was proud to be a mutant. They could make her a second class citizen, they could break her mind and turn her into a killing machine, and she wouldn't care anymore because she had vindication. She had saved his life and that was all that mattered to her.
And she smiled. She smiled and she grinned and she beamed. Her lip was split deeper and she knew it was bleeding now, but she didn't want to stop smiling.
The door opened and a blond woman came in, haggard lines around her eyes and a Kevlar jacket declaring her to be a CSI. She looked so tired and stressed, but when she saw that guy on the couch, all she could do was raise her hands to her face and cry out in joy into her palms as she tried to hold onto her dignity with shaking hands - a rather futile endeavor. The woman lost decades off her appearance in a few moments, her worn, tired face - though beautiful - melting into an expression of unadulterated relief and joy as she held in her voice, not wanting to wake him. Her hands were shaking and her makeup - what little there was on her face to hide even more evidence of stress - was running, but she looked beautiful when she dropped her jacket from numb hands and crouched by that guy on the couch, resting her hand on his forehead as if to assure herself that yes, he was real.
And then she was crying harder, her whole body shaking with silent sobs as her self control sunk jagged claws into her mind and forced her to hold in her sound so as to avoid disturbing his sleep, but even as she couldn't let go of herself, she was running her shaking hands through his short cropped hair - barely more than a buzz cut, really - in a way that only mothers could do and would do so as to not only assure their child that it was going to be alright but also to assure themselves that yes, it really was going to be alright.
And then the woman turns to her, and the only thing she can muster is a melancholic smile of 'yes, I'm caught, but damnit it was worth it', and she knows it confuses the woman, but it doesn't deter her from striding with graceful, measured steps to her corner and pulling her into a heartfelt hug, one entirely unfamiliar yet familiar. She hasn't had a hug in years, but she knows, in the deepest recess of her mind, that this is how a mother hugs a beloved daughter, because at one point she was a beloved daughter, and she was on the receiving end of these hugs.
And it's at this point that her dubious control over her power - and how was one able to control that which, by nature, would slip through their grasp? - slipped and she phased through the woman's body, the familiar feeling of real-not-real and the sense of everything-and-nothing comfortably replacing all her human senses. It's for but a single moment, because she knows she needs to stay for that guy, that she has to see this through to the end, even as her nihilistic Heaven-and-Hell is right at her fingertips, and she holds onto that thought to console herself should she crave oblivion again.
The moment passes, and she falls to the floor behind the blond woman, and she knows she scuffed her elbow on the thin, worn carpet, and that she would probably have rug burn that would annoy her like crazy later, but these thoughts are irrelevant because she doesn't know this woman, and she's not sure of how she will react, and the unknown terrifies her and makes her remember that her future is over not once but twice fold because now she was outed to twice the number of people, and she returns to her comforting position of a curled up ball with her knees to her chest, her back to the wall, and her arms wrapped tightly about her shins.
And then more people are barging in, talking in low, stressed whispers, hopeless murmurs of how they couldn't find him, but then they see that guy on the couch and the situation deteriorates from there as white encroaches on her vision, and all she can think is 'Hell is lying straight to my face' as she goes towards the white light.
She wakes up later with a needle in her arm in a white bed with scratchy sheets and that rug burn is pissing her off when she scuffs the irritated area on the scratchy sheets of a quality that she is far too used to. She notices the white walls, the disinfectant, and she realizes she's in the hospital, but apparently they had her under surveillance because as soon as she moves to find her clothing and shoes - and who invented those backless hospital gowns anyways? - the door opens and that guy is there, bandages all over and pale underneath his tan skin in a way only a trauma survivor can pull off without looking faked.
She notices him first because he gives her a white white smile like the gates of Hell that she was so sure had opened for her before she fainted, and she realizes that her Heaven is nothing but nihility, the nothingness where all things go in the end, and that Hell was to be right here living, and this profound realization most likely spawned by the sedative she's sure is in that IV still makes her smile in a way that he would later say was purely her own, a smile that he would later relate to Helen of Troy or the Mona Lisa, though she would punch him in the arm and say he was being a flatterer.
But of course with him is an entourage of two other people, both who look concerned and worried for her, not apprehensive or scared or hateful like she had thought, and she can see one of the two people is the blond woman and the other is a nervous looking guy with dyed blond hair and a lab coat fiddling with an iPod in his hands to keep them from wringing together. She can tell by looking at him that he's nervous about meeting her, and she muses in her intoxicated-by-sedative state that it was probably because her powers tended to short circuit machinery - for how could electricity flowing through methodical, logical, real pathways stand up to something real-yet-not-real moving through particles that shouldn't be moving at all? - and that he was someone who worked with or enjoyed electrical things.
And yet even though he's painfully obviously nervous about meeting her, he's still genuinely concerned for her and there's a look on his face of a man struggling with himself to not dash forward and hug her.
She'd later blame the sedatives (again), but at that moment all she could think of was that she missed her home, and that she wanted to let her parents know that she was okay, that she didn't die, her future didn't end of someone else's volition (it was entirely her own decision to let her dreams crash and burn, and it was still worth it) and yet the first thing out of her mouth was a heartfelt 'I'm so glad you're okay' directed at that guy and accompanied by a familiar expression of heartbreaking sympathy and concern that had the blond woman breaking out in tears all over again.
Her second question is to ask for a phone, and when that guy hands her his cellphone, she immediately dials in the area code for the northern valley of California followed by a seven number sequence she knows by heart. The line rings exactly five times until a familiar-unfamiliar voice sounds, cheerful yet tempered with an underlying hint of loss that only a mother who has lost her child was capable of being injured by.
She feels tears in her own eyes, and she feels like a little kid again, running back to her mother for comfort because she got stung by a bee in the hot summertime, back before she could simply refuse to exist in the same reality of the bee, back before her life had turned upside down. Her voice is hoarse from just waking up - and from that damned sedative - but she's still able to speak, and what she says causes the mournful tears in the blond woman's eyes to turn to sobs of happiness.
"Mom? It's been seven years...but I want you to know...I'm okay."
She cries because while she and that guy was unconscious, she was unable to sleep and researched in true CSI fashion about that guy's savior, taking video feed and running it through the system. She cries because she got a match: Katherine Anne Pryde from Fresno, California, reported missing at fourteen without a trace, and she knows that she has seen closure brought to a family without death being involved, and she has witnessed a daughter reconnecting with a mother.
Author's Note: I'm on a tragedy kick, weirdly enough. Anyway. I know I probably butchered Shadowcat's origins or how her powers work, but damnit I enjoyed doing it. Plus, in the cartoon she had a definite valley-girl thing going on.
Anyway. Aside from butchering of canon or lore or whatever you want to call it, I enjoyed writing this. A lot. In fact, it kind of spilled from my fingertips, and it actually started out as a description for a plotbunny but gradually changed into a real oneshot in the middle of an email, which made me laugh. Think of this as a sort of highly detailed plotbunny; I have an itch to write this out into a full length thing, but until I deal with the others I've already got going, it'll be sitting on the shelf and looking pretty.
Oddly, the thing that makes me the most proud is the thing with the couch thread. That, and the analogy of the blind weaver. I have no idea where the hell I pulled those two from, but I'm proud of them.