time after time
an alternate august, 198X

it smells fresh here. clear. she finishes the can of beer, places it beside her on the rooftop. her legs swing out before her, her hair whipping around her in the clear air. she closes her eyes, lets the sounds of the city wash over her: horns honking, people talking to each other, the radio stations blaring--

"jane," a warm voice pours over her, "you up here by yourself again?"

"yeah," jane says, a smile curving her face, "why wouldn't i come up here?" she feels her friend take a seat beside her, and the sound of a beer tab cracking against the can. "i earned this, didn't i?"

there's a protracted gulp. "yea, guess you did."

jane opens her eyes, turns her head. alexei's eyes glitter black at her in the dark, his long brown hair sweeping against his shoulders as he cocks his head at her.

jane holds his gaze, her smile growing wider on her face. "is that all you have to say--"

he pulls her into a sweeping hug, and they tip over from the roof, and down onto the rooftop proper, kissing her excitedly. "you did it! you did it jane, you did it--!"

"i did, i did, i did!" jane laughs with him, her squeals permeating the air. "i start tomorrow! flying! a real pilot!" the excitement washes over her more and more, and she catches alexei's mouth happily with every other kiss.

she doesn't tell him that it felt like second nature to take the test. settling into the seat, following every order. they don't talk about that, those strange moments where jane felt her old life pressing against this new one. it had been five years since jane had woken up in a new york hospital, with nothing but her name of jane doe. four years since she had bumped into alexei during a class for adults, and four years since he'd pressed a kiss to her mouth that was unexpected--but returned.

in that time, she's had flashes of her old life slide into her over and over again. something in her chest shifting uncomfortably at the commercials for x-factor, that team that went after mutants. a lurch in her stomach when her fingers touch the stretch marks that fade more and more every year, the only evidence that she had possibly been a mother in her old life--or simply had gone through a growth spurt that was significant as a teenager. the familiarity of the sky when she lifted into the air, how much more solid she felt then.

and in all that, jane still tries, sometimes, to broach the subject with him. let's him fold his hands in hers, allows them to talk back and forth until they understand each other--or they don't. some notion in her says that if she let him slide, if they couldn't talk, it would break her in a way she wouldn't be able to articulate, some old wound would be slashed open and rush forward without the knowledge of the how or why behind it that so often made it frustrating for her.

here and now on the rooftop, kissing him back, she feels... she feels so much. excited, happy, itching to go up in the air. to simply take alexei with her to a plane, and fly and fly until-- until--

something in the sky flashes. jane can feel the hair on her neck stand up in response, her expression going slack for a moment.

"Moya zvezdochka?" alexei asks, his thumb sliding down her cheek. "what's the matter?"

"i-- a star," jane replies, turning back to him, forcing herself not to look back into the stars. "i think--i think i saw a shooting star or something."

alexei doesn't look at her oddly. his eyes go into crinkkles at the corners, and his fingers slide into her hair in that comforting way she's gotten used to over the years. maybe other lovers had touched her like this, maybe it was just the gentleness alexei bore; it always, always reassured her no matter what the circumstance. "good luck for you." he presses another kiss to her lips, and jane tucks it away for now.

a week later, the shooting star still is there in her mind, like an anomaly. she remembers it as she readies for her commercial flight to anchorage, alaska. it feels familiar to her in a way she can't place, a way that she can't dislodge the way other discomforts of her missing memory usually fell away after a time. there had been no hope to her, they'd been clear, in recovering her original identity. no name, no id, no fingerprints, no measly little traffic report could tell her who she was. it had been years, and years, and she had filled up her life with her own sense of self: a penchant for dazzler records, support of mutants whenever she could, a steady income, a nice apartment, dream after dream of flying--

and still. looking at this map, thinking of the route. the way she fixates on it, her fingers tracing potential pathways as alexei snores against his pillow beside her, there is something... strange. the more she looks at it, the more the sense of something more is on the tip of her tongue. the more she thinks of that sky, the way that flare had looked strange. tinged in a way it shouldn't have. brighter in a way she shouldn't have been able to notice.

dread starts to settle in her the more she considers the map before her. a taste of snow invades her mouth, surging uncomfortably in her mouth with the taste of copper blood. she reaches out for the water beside her, and when it touches her tongue it doesn't work. in fact, she starts to sputter violently, flashes of water surrounding her, fear and panic racing up the back of her neck, and a need to breathe, breathe--

all of a sudden, the glass isn't in her hands anymore, it's been flung against the wall. jane buries her head in her hands, starting to hyperventilate-- the feeling of someone else's mind seeping into her own. a sense of warmth inside of her growing faster and faster, burning away at her inside further and further--

her hand reaching out-- red glasses glinting down at her-- a question that comes up over and over again. her own despair and rage--

a baby. a baby boy. in a bassinet. a desperate plea for someone, for anyone to hear her as her plane lifted off. the descent, the despair, that ugly cow of a woman finding her, with the gun raised, the squeeze of the trigger--

reflexively, her hand goes up to her temple, where she'd been shot.

in that moment, jane realizes several things: that alexei has scott's hair, when she liked it long; that the way he smiled was exactly like alex summers-- to say nothing of the derivative there; that the map before her was starting to singe beneath her touch; and the apartment was wrong for the 1980s. there's a cd player tucked haphazardly beside a book she knew was published in 2012. the woman in the photo smiling with her, who she thought of as a friend, was nora saylor. the man beside her was none other than london.

which meant none of this was real.

madelyne pryor claws her way to the surface fully at that moment, awareness burning in her mind, the temporal illusion broken for her--but not for molly.