Rated t for teen
main characters: Betsy Braddock
Disclaimer: anyone you recognize does not belong to me, but to Stan Lee and the other writers of the X-Men comics.
Distribution: Luba, Mental Wanderings, PEJA, or by permission.
Notes: waaaay back when Betsy first moved to America with the X-Men, when she was a natural blond who dyed her hair lavender. Betsy was having a hard time fitting in... and now I take things sharply divergent.
Betsy walked along the woods, trying not to sulk. Nothing felt right anymore. The wind blowing against her carried different scents than those of her childhood. People drove on the wrong side of the road, though she was told that she'd just have to get used to the way Americans did things. They abused the Queen's English terribly, she was again told that she'd have to get used to the way things were done in America. The food was different, not that she was complaining too much.
She should be grateful that she could see again. Others who had been blinded would say that they'd give anything to see again... Her vision had been restored by an other-dimensional entertainment mogul with outrageous ambitions. Not as a favor to her, or even as a business enticement, but so that he could use her to 'increase his viewing audience', so he could use her. Use a telepath - any telepath.
It still left a difference in the way things looked. She didn't think it was the colors, or the focus, but... Perhaps a comparison would be that it was similar to watching through a window, except it applied to everything? It left the world with a slight hint of unreality.
She could feel someone else in the woods. A man, angry about something, trying to calm himself.
Changing the path of her walk, she attempted to give him his privacy to deal with his emotions. After all, she was out here for the same sort of reason - to regain her emotional stability without others seeing her at her more vulnerable. She'd learned long ago to hide her weaknesses - first from the other schoolgirls, then from models, and last from spies. There had been days when she wasn't certain which group was the most vicious - the models were more subtle, the spies best equipped.
Instead of remaining where he was, the angry feeling man moved towards her.
Betsy continued walking, wondering if the man somehow knew she was there, or if it was just a coincidence.
"You don't look like the outdoorsy type," the deep voice had a rumble to it, not quite an accent, but closer to a growl.
Her footsteps halted and Betsy turned to look at the man. He was very tall, taller than Brian, and just as muscled. She suspected that he was a mutant, considering the amber-green of his eyes, the points to his teeth and the claws on his fingers. One hand was clenching to a fist and then flexing out, looking remarkably like a cat kneading the air in their sleep.
"I wanted a bit of quiet," she admitted.
He frowned, looking at her. "You look like a city girl. Dress like one too."
"I have spent much more time in cities than out in the countryside," she agreed. "But... maybe I'm a bit spoiled, but the city here is not quite to my taste."
"Do I know you?" his head tilted, and he felt slightly puzzled, that confusion pushing the anger and frustration back.
"We haven't met - I'd remember someone as tall as you."
With a small nod, he offered, "Vic."
"And I'm Betsy," she held out her hand, remembering the curtesy and good manners that she'd been drilled in since she could walk.
He took her hand, leaning forward as he gave it a slow shake. "Model?"
"I... used to be. There were a few things, and I picked up a few scars. The agencies don't like a model that has scars." She didn't mention that the other agencies, the ones for spies, didn't like someone with scars either. They were too distinctive, too recognizable. "I have enough saved that I'm not likely to be left starving, but it is rather annoying to be told that a few scars make me unemployable."
One corner of his mouth tilted upwards and he gave her a slow once over. "The only ones I see are a few lines at your eyes. Make up'd hide those, especially as much as some of the pictures have on the girls. You sure it wasn't about the hair?"
She gave a bitter chuckle, "The lavender? Dye. I wanted to look more memorable, more distinctive. I suspect that the reality is that they found someone younger, someone less stubborn, and less expensive."
"So they think you're replaceable?" He felt less angry, more focused on her than whatever had upset him.
Betsy gave a bitter chuckle, "for the modeling world, I'm almost ancient. Models are that replaceable - all they want is a tall, fairly slender body with a pretty smile. A mind and a will are detrimental. And Lord help you if you enjoy eating."
"So they wanted a tool," his hand flexed again. "Someone that didn't think, didn't question. Just stand there, do this... and replace you when you're not... when..."
He growled, muttering rude things in Russian and French and German. Things that had no connection to these woods or to Betsy, but hurled ill-will upon manipulators and people who viewed others as discardable pawns, on those who wanted soulless moving tools. To those who wanted no more than trained pets.
Betsy understood every word. She tried not to let it show on her face. The French was something she'd studied in school, the Russian and German as a young spy for S.T.R.I.K.E. before they too had abandoned her.
"You understood some of that," he looked at her, eyes narrowing.
"I'm an educated woman, and not American. I can speak multiple languages," Betsy replied. "I suspect, from your words and tone, that you've had your own experiences with people who want a walking tool."
"Yessss," he hissed. "There's another one. He made me an offer. One that benefits mostly him."
"An offer that has just enough benefit for you that it can be called a job offer rather than attempted enslavement?" One eyebrow arched, and Betsy considered Vic. "Does it have a connection to the fact that you're a mutant?"
"That too. More to do with my colorful past," he was scowling now.
"Considering your expression, it looks as if you don't care for the offer, or perhaps for the man who made it," Betsy ventured.
"No, I don't like him, don't like his damned attitude, the way he looks at the whole world like his twisted laboratory, or the fact that he knows too damn much about me! And I can do more than kill things," he snarled.
"Most of the time, when people know too much, they either have spies, talked to spies, or have a connection to the ones who made things happen," she murmured, thinking back to her days as a spy.
“Do you think he was involved? That he caused what happened to me?” the snarl wasn’t directed at Betsy.
“How likely is that? Removing someone’s options to direct them to what you want is a classic strategy,” Betsy countered.
“I’m not the kind of guy who gets too many options. If I want to eat, want to have clothing that isn’t rough-cured leather…” He shook his head, the anger thick about him. “Nobody’s going to hire me to do anything on the basis of having a shapely body and a nice smile.”
Betsy could feel the anger, the frustration at being judged by his size and the sharp edges. The frustration at having so few options. And beneath it all, a hint that might have been despair. He was a dangerous man, but not a stupid one. “Have you had the chance to develop other skills?”
“I’ve been a soldier, a mercenary, a killer. A hunter and a tracker,” he shook his head. “Nobody’s let me have the chance to learn anything else. Who’d let me, when it’s obvious that I’m so well suited to kill things?”
For a moment, Betsy felt as if the world had gone still, waiting. As if things could change depending on the next few moments. “A few months ago, I had a chance to achieve what I thought I’d always wanted. To be more than I had been. It almost killed me.”
“The scars.” He was focused on her now. “How… it wasn’t from modeling, was it?”
“Not modeling. That was… unexpected but useful. This was what I had wanted… what I thought I’d wanted. My brother was hurt, I thought I could fill in, be a hero. Someone who hated him… hurt me. Tried to break me, body and soul,” She could feel the despair, the fear and the old pain from wounds that still ached at night. “He thought if he hurt me enough, it would bring Brian.”
“Your eyes. It isn’t a group of scars, it’s one that went all the way across,” he breathed, one clawed hand hovering along the line of scar tissue.
“Someone thought if he gave me new eyes, eyes that could see, I would be so glad to see again that nothing else would matter,” Betsy tried not to think too deeply. Tried not to remember those awful days of blackness despite feeling everyone around her, despite the colors and sights that she could touch in their minds. Not to remember that euphoric rush when she’d first opened her eyes and there had been light – not reflected from someone else’s mind but from her very own eyes…
“That he’d own you,” the words were soft, or perhaps not even actually voiced out loud but only thought.
“That would have destroyed me more completely than being blind,” Betsy admitted. “If I’d become nothing, just a tool for him. Because what someone gives you, they might be able to take away just as easily.”
“I don’t trust this guy,” he admitted. “But he would arrange things, make it so he’s the only option left, the only one someone can see.”
“If he makes you his tool, would you ever be able to be anything else?” Betsy wasn’t sure if she was asking about Slaymaster, about Mojo, or about Vic’s unnamed man with the offer.
“Do I have another option?”
He was looking at her, but Betsy doubted that Vic was seeing her. She suspected he was imagining possible futures, and not happy with the ones that he could see.
For a moment, Betsy considered walking away to let him make his own choice. But he seemed so troubled and angry about this man with the offer. She didn’t know if she could live with just walking away and letting him fall to his anger, or maybe to the shadow of despair beneath that anger. “I’ve made enemies, and there are others who would try to hurt me to get my brother, or because of things that I’ve done, propositions that I’ve rejected. As much as my pride wants to say that I can take care of myself, there are a lot of them. I’m only one woman, and those injuries still ache.”
“Sounds like you could use a bodyguard,” he commented. “That isn’t too different from a mercenary. And a killer’s tricks could be useful to know… to avoid those same trick.”
“A bodyguard might be good,” she paused, considering her words before deciding to take the gamble. “A friend might be better.”
“I’m a mutant,” he paused, “I’ve done terrible things, and had terrible things done to me.”
The next words weren’t spoken out loud but Betsy heard them anyhow. I was a spy. An assassin. A tool.
“I’m a mutant as well, and while I’m not sure how terrible the things that I’ve done have been, or that I’ve suffered as much as others, I have known pain. I wasn’t an assassin, but I was a spy.” She sighed, “They don’t want me anymore either.”
“What makes you think you can trust me?” He asked, lip curling just enough to show sharp teeth.
“The desperate hope that between the two of us, we can make another option, since the ones that have been offered rather stink,” she admitted. “I’m tired of being used, regardless of how noble some of them tried to make it sound. I’ve paraded around in the most appalling outfits, flirted with wretched individuals, smiled at people who made me feel like leaving them a twitching vegetable, lied, stolen, bled and suffered for others. My reward was to be tossed aside. I want to make my decisions now, for my benefit. To be able to go to sleep knowing that what I did was my own choice, and not because someone told me to, or because I had to maintain a story. I want to run my own life.”
“Got room for me in this life you want to run? I’m not sure I can manage as anything better than what I’ve been doing, if I stay on my own,” Vic admitted.
“Yes. Between my inheritance and my investments – I didn’t spend everything I made – I can afford a good long life. My house has room for both of us and a dozen others, if I wanted. And if you decide that there’s something you want to learn, I can afford to hire someone to teach you, or to teach me,” she smiled. “And if you come with me back home, I can get proper tea again.”
He gave a sharp-toothed smile, “Spoiled Brit.”
“Yes,” she admitted. “But now I want to be able to enjoy it.”
For a few moments, he looked thoughtful. Then he asked, “I don’t have to like tea, do I?”
“Not at all,” she smiled. “But it will be everywhere in England. You can find coffee.”
Chuckling, he shrugged, “Either one’s about the same. I think I fought against the British, a long time ago. Red coats… unless that was something someone stuck in to make me take their option.”
“I’m a telepath. If you want, I can help you try to sort those out,” Betsy offered.
“Maybe later. Let’s see how things go,” he murmured. “When can we leave?”
Betsy considered his question and the practicalities. “All things considered, it would be easier if I went back and picked up my papers before we left. We could be on a plane to Heathrow tonight. I don’t have that many things here to worry about.”
“Sounds good. I can be at the airport in an hour,” he was starting to feel less angry, with a growing feeling of hope.
“An hour should be about right. I can book us tickets when we get there,” she paused to consider the sheer size of him. “I think first class – you’d be terribly cramped otherwise, as tall as you are.”
He just gave another toothy grin.
Betsy started thinking of the arrangements to be made once she returned home. She’d tell Brian that Vic was her bodyguard, leave out the whole mess with Mojo, replacement eyes, and attempted enslavement, the offer to join the oh-so-American team run by Charles Xavier, and tell her various former employers that she was attempting to adjust to retirement. “Life will be better.”
“Damn straight. And if anyone tries to ruin things again, I’ll kill them,” Vic growled.
Vic was right. One way or another, they’d carve out a better future. The offers that they’d been given weren’t acceptable, weren’t good enough. And neither of them were willing to settle any longer.
End The Butterfly’s Path.