|Wed, 5 Jul 2000
Disclaimer: I do not own the X-Men and am not making any money from this story. This is just for entertainment purposes, etc. etc.
Chronology Notes: This is a version of what Jean could have gone through after Scott's "death" and explores a few themes I brought up in my story "For Remembrance" (though you can read one without the other). I'm also playing a little with the power swap between Phoenix and Psylocke that is currently going on in the x-books. I just happen to think it's a neat idea and wanted to run with it. Oh yes, and there are a few f/f overtones though there is no graphic sex. Just a warning. :-)
Other Notes: This story takes place in Tahiti and I did my best to keep the happenings and customs accurate with what I know of Polynesian culture. Also, the title of this story is Tahitian in origin and means "Joyousness". It comes from a painting by Gauguin who resided in Tahiti and French Polynesia for many years of his life. Visit http://www.spectrumvoice.com/art/artists/major/g/gauguin.htm for a beautiful online gallery of his work.
During her life, Betsy Braddock had always found herself doing things unnatural to her for the greater good. Sitting in church dressed in starched, confining clothes as a young girl to take communion, reigning in her adventurous spirit to attend finishing classes her mother enrolled her in, and even lending her telepathic powers to the British government to better protect her countrymen. At the moment, the so-called "greater good" was standing next to her outside a Tahitian bungalow in the form of one former teammate, Jean Grey-Summers. And while she admitted Jean needed some aid in getting over the recent loss of her husband, she was having a hard time figuring out why she had been selected by the rest of the X-Men as the person for the job.
With a sigh she dropped her suitcase onto the tiled floor of the large bungalow. Holding the door open for her traveling companion, she eyed the large sitting area filled with wicker and rattan furniture and said in a cheerful tone, "Well, here we are... our tropical get-away. Home away from home for as long as you want to stay."
Behind her, Jean smiled weakly and skirted past the purple-haired X-Woman, dragging her own suitcase as she asked in a weak voice, "So which one is my room?"
She frowned as she watched Jean's gaze drop to the floor. She had barely said a word since Psylocke met her at her parent's residence. On the long plane ride she had slept nearly the entire way and hadn't even touched her food when the meal had arrived, though Betsy could hardly blame her. It was airline food, after all. But when she tried to engage her in small talk, she merely shrugged off her attempts and poured her attention into a cheap mystery novel purchased from the airport lounge. She knew that getting Jean to open up would take time, but deep in her heart she had hoped the sunny island of Tahiti would work instant wonders on her fractured soul. It was a naive thought, Betsy knew, that it would take Jean time and distance to get over her pain, but she couldn't help but hope. It was very difficult to see Jean so listless and devoid of life.
"Whichever one you want, Jean. They both have wonderful views." She gestured with her hand as she shut the front door. "This one gets the morning light... that one gets the afternoon. Take your pick."
Hefting her bag a few inches off the floor, Jean studied both the rooms. "I..." But her sentence trailed unspoken and she walked toward the room closest to her and dropped the bag on the floor with a thud.
Betsy sighed and took her own bag to the other room, sparing a glance at Jean as she lay on the bed, staring absently at the ceiling. She decided to wait on unpacking and instead walked through the cozy bungalow, inspecting the cabinets and drawers for provisions. She had only been here once with Warren and knew he had called ahead to make sure the kitchen was stocked. But she still thought a visit to the market was in order. She smiled as she tilted her head down to inhale the perfume of a vase of fresh orchids left for them... her favorite and Warren knew it. In some ways she wished he were here. But she knew Jean needed this time in relative seclusion, with someone who didn't dredge up a lot of old memories. And the X-Men needed Warren now more than ever.
She went to the lavatory to wash up and then returned to the doorway of Jean's room. She was in the same position on the bed, though her hands now covered her face. For a brief moment, she wished she could access her telepathy and get a glimpse of her companion's turbulent thoughts. From the steady rise and fall of her chest and the regularity of her breath, she knew that Jean wasn't crying. She heard from Hank that she had barely shed a tear since the incident with Apocalypse. That after the X-Men had given up on recovering Scott, she merely retreated into herself, speaking barely a word to those around her.
Rapping her knuckles lightly on the door, Betsy said quietly, "Looks like we have plenty of supplies for the evening. But I'm going into town tomorrow. If I remember correctly, there's a lovely open-air market. Would you like to join me?"
Jean responded through her hands, not even glancing in Betsy's direction. "Maybe."
Taking a tentative step into the room, Betsy asked, "So what do you want to do tonight? I'm sure there are some fabulous things to do in the village. I seem to..."
Jean interrupted her. "I just want to sleep if you don't mind. I have an awful headache."
Backing out of the room, Betsy said quietly, "Sure. I understand. Let me know if you need anything. We can do whatever you want."
She closed the door behind her as Jean mumbled something along the lines of a thank you and then headed toward her own room, knowing full well that it would be a long time before Jean acknowledged needing anything from her or anyone. Getting her out of her shell would take a lot more than tropical breezes and sandy beaches. Much, much more.
When she awoke the next morning, she found Jean out on the bungalow's open veranda, wrapped in a terrycloth bathrobe as she looked toward the beach. Betsy watched her rock slowly in her rocking chair as she turned on the coffee pot in the kitchen. She knew with her telepathy she would sense her presence and didn't want to seem too pushy too fast. So she respected her space for a few minutes as she ate a light breakfast and then joined her on the veranda with a small pot of coffee.
As she slid the door open, Jean looked up at her, a light wind whipping her red hair around her face. Her eyes betrayed no sign of distress and she seemed to look through Betsy with a sense of calm misery. She had the look of someone whose thoughts were a million miles away and whose heart hadn't quite figured out it was broken.
Betsy smiled as she took a chair and sat the coffee on the table between them. "Beautiful day, isn't it?"
Turning her gaze back toward the view, Jean answered quietly, "I suppose so."
Betsy offered her a cup of coffee, but she didn't even look her way as she shook her head and crossed her arms over her chest, retreating as far as she could into the white, cottony folds of her robe. Releasing a mute sigh, Betsy dropped a sugar cube into her own coffee and sipped it in silence as she looked out over the vegetation and beachfront below. They sat like that for a long while and Betsy finished her cup, which she then deposited on the table. She looked over at Jean who hadn't even shifted position in the last few minutes and said, "I'm going to get dressed and then go in town to the market. Would you like to come?"
"I'm not... I don't feel well. If you don't mind, I'd like to stay here."
Gathering the tray of coffee, Betsy said, "No. I don't mind. Is there anything you want? It's no trouble."
Looking up at her with eyes greener than Betsy had remembered, a few shades darker than the clear waters of the Pacific that washed the shore of the island, Jean simply shook her head and retreated back into herself, obviously thinking of the one thing she wanted but could not have.
Betsy didn't push the matter any further as she retreated back into the bungalow and prepared for her sojourn into the village. Once she was in town, she found the market she remembered from her previous visit. There she wandered past stands selling an assortment of fresh fruit and local delicacies. At one booth she spoke with a woman in French, one of the most common languages of the island, about how to prepare some local dishes and found herself invited to a roast later in the week where a traditional tarna'ara'a would be served. The entire process of cooking the meal sounded fascinating and Betsy jumped at the chance to experience some local color. She only hoped Jean would be up to the festivities.
Her transactions complete, she gathered her bags, balancing them precariously in her arms when she heard someone call out, "Madame, may I help you with your parcels?"
Betsy turned to see a teenaged boy smiling up at her, eager to help her and obviously hoping to turn a profit. She returned his smile, knowing that he wasn't a threat and merely a local doing his best to make money from the tourists. She handed him one of her bags and said gingerly, "It is mademoiselle, young sir."
He grimaced as he looked at her, hoping his error wouldn't cost him a tip. "I am sorry. Mademoiselle."
She smiled again to reassure him. "It's nothing. Happens all the time..."
Extending his free hand, the boy offered his name. "Paul."
She took his hand. "Paul? Glad to meet you. My name is Betsy. Betsy Braddock."
"Pleased to meet you, Mademoiselle Braddock."
"So, Paul. What do you do around here besides pester tourists?"
The young man flushed at Betsy's directness, but fell more at ease when he realized he was only being engaged in a friendly jibe. "Well, I also give tours. My father runs a water tour company."
Betsy nodded as she studied the boy. Outwardly he seemed the model of new Tahiti with an eclectic mix of traditional values and modern education. His name, command of the English language and light French accent indicated his family was steeply entrenched in western ways and he seemed a good sort. "That sounds lovely, Paul."
"Something you would be interested in?"
With a flourish, he produced a card that read "Island Cruises and Ski" along with a telephone number, which Betsy pocketed for consideration. As they continued to walk, he asked, "So how long are you on the island?"
"Oh. For a while. I have a friend here with me and it's really up to her."
"Well, I hope the island is good to you and your friend."
Betsy nodded as they approached the gate to her bungalow's garden and took the packages from her companion. She handed him a few folded francs and thanked him for his trouble, adding, "I am sure the sun will shine upon us on your beautiful island, monsieur" as she shut the gate behind her.
On her way up the walk, she cast a glance toward the veranda and saw that Jean had not budged an inch since she left her over two hours before. She sighed and said quietly, "Yes, I hope the sun will shine... eventually."
Betsy twisted her finger in the phone cord and leaned her back against the wall. "Warren. How are you?"
"Missing you, but I'll manage. How are things in the sunny Pacific?"
Looking around the house, she saw that Jean was in her room fast asleep and then said quietly, "Not so sunny."
"Well, you knew things would take time with Jeannie. Just be there for her when she needs you."
She released a sigh. "I know, I know. It's just, well... I'm worried about her. I don't think I've seen her do anything but sleep and stare out at the ocean since we got here. I know she hasn't eaten and it's been three days. Maybe if you were here, or Ororo... I just..."
"We'd coddle her and you know it. That's the last thing she needs. Besides things are crazy up here. The Professor has left to join the Skrull... the X-Men are falling apart. It's a mess."
Betsy smiled weakly into the phone. "Maybe it's a good thing I'm out here."
"Trust me. I'd rather be there myself."
The line grew quiet for a few moments and then Betsy said, "I just don't know how to treat her. We're not exactly the best of friends, you know? It's something I know we'd both been meaning to remedy for a while. But not like this."
"Maybe it would be best just to jump right in? Jeannie's a tough woman. She needs you to remind her of that."
Betsy narrowed her eyes and studied Jean's prone form on the bed. She was still in the same bathrobe she'd had on since the morning after her arrival. "You're right. Jump right in."
"Well, I had best be going. Like I said, it's crazy here. Everyone just wanted me to call and check up on you two."
"What are you going to tell them?"
"That you're doing fine, of course."
Pursing her lips as she unwound her finger, Betsy said. "Of course."
Betsy said quietly as she hung up the receiver. "You, too."
Stepping away from the phone, she folded her arms over her chest as she studied Jean sleeping in the mid-afternoon sun and thought to herself, 'Dive right in?'
She walked into Jean's room and cleared her throat. The red-haired woman didn't stir so she cleared it again, a little louder the second time. Jean put her hand to her face and blinked up at Psylocke, finally managing a groggy, "What's going on?"
Betsy began rifling through Jean's suitcase, which still lay packed on the floor. She pulled out some undergarments, some toiletries, a bathing suit and a change of clothes, tossing them onto the bed. "We're going to get you in the shower. Then you're going to eat some lunch with me. And then we're going to the beach."
Sitting up, Jean pulled her robe tightly around her as she said in confusion, "But I thought you said I could do whatever I wanted?"
Betsy raised an eyebrow and planted her hands on her hips. "I lied."
Out on the beach, Jean sat in front of Betsy in a simple, one- piece bathing suit and a wide-brimmed hat as she smoothed a layer of sunscreen on her back. Her posture slumped, Betsy could feel each her vertebra pressing against her pale skin. At first she flinched when she touched her, but Betsy had insisted on applying the sunscreen to keep her light skin from burning in the afternoon sun. Now she was sitting idly, seemingly ignoring Betsy's movements as she slathered sunscreen on her shoulders. They sat near the water under a large palm tree and occasionally the tide would rise and tickle their bare feet.
Finished with her back, Betsy rose and then sat beside her, handing her the tube of SPF 30. "Here, put this on your face."
Jean complied and rubbed the lotion over her quickly freckling nose and cheeks as she said quietly, "That was mean of you. I can't believe you picked me up and carried me to the shower like that."
Shrugging her shoulders, Betsy looked out over the clear waters of the ocean. "Yes. Well, you were starting to stink."
Jean cracked a slight smile. "I was not."
Betsy kept staring straight ahead, her face devoid of mirth. "Whatever you say, Jean."
They sat in silence for a few moments, the breeze blowing lightly through the trees, before Betsy said, "Besides, look at what you were missing."
Tugging on her hat, Jean said, "Yes. It is nice."
"Mmm-hmm. Much better than lying around in your own filth."
Reaching a foot out to the warm water, Jean asked suddenly, "Why do you care anyway?"
Betsy turned to look at Jean, her expression unreadable behind the dark sunglasses she wore. "Because I'm here. And you need my help."
"Why are you here, Betsy?"
Turning her gaze back to the water as she stretched her long legs in front of her, "Because you need a friend."
Jean ran her fingers through the sand. "Are you my friend?"
"If you'll let me be."
Betsy then stood and removed the sarong she had been wearing as a cover up. "I'm going for a swim. You want to come?"
Pursing her lips, Jean looked up at Psylocke through her dark lenses. "Are you going to make me?"
She shook her head and then tied her purple hair up into a bun. "No. I think I've made you do enough today."
"Fine. Then I'll just stay here."
Before Betsy walked out of the shade of the tree and into the warm ocean, Jean said bluntly, "You know, not everything I am was wrapped up in Scott. I am my own person."
Betsy smiled before she turned her back on Phoenix and said, "Then prove it."
They sat up late into the night after they returned from the beach, playing gin rummy on the coffee table as they sat on the floor, saying much of nothing but finding a small amount of solace in the flipping of plastic-coated cards. Betsy was also quickly realizing that Jean was a ruthless card shark and had a sneaking suspicion she might have been using her telepathy. Regardless, it was a pleasant and entertaining surprise. When they finally staggered to bed, Betsy was thankful there wasn't any money involved in their game and that she had seen a little bit of the real Jean shine through today. She was hopeful for what the next day would bring.
Snug under her sheets, Betsy listened to the quiet of the house as a few palm fronds beat gently on her window. But before she could fall asleep, she heard a quiet sniffling coming from Jean's room. She got to her feet and stood at her door with a hand poised over the doorknob when the sniffles turned into loud sobs. Her first instinct was to run to Jean's room and see if she needed her, but as she turned the doorknob her hand twisted futilely around the metal hardware. Apparently Jean wanted her privacy and was using her telekinesis to enforce it.
Betsy sighed as she stood in the middle of the floor in her nightclothes, debating using her undercloak powers to teleport through the wall into Jean's room but deciding against it. If Jean wanted to be alone, then she should be alone. After all, her tears were long over due, she thought as she climbed back into bed and tried her best to filter out Jean's cries.
"Finally," she said to herself as she pulled the comforter under her chin with a sigh.
The dam was finally breaking.
The sun woke over the island of Tahiti in a beautiful display of oranges, pinks and soft violets and while Betsy knew that the sun rose in a similar manner all over the globe, there was just something about a Tahitian sunrise. It called to her and forced her out of bed and onto the beach, as if being at the edge of the shore could somehow make it closer, as if she could touch if she reached her hands far enough. She closed her eyes and let the water lap at her feet and for an instant it felt as if she were on the edge of forever. Like the entire world were behind her and every minute after was new.
Coming to Tahiti was a good idea. She knew this now. For Jean. For both of them. Things were changing back home for the X-Men and how could either of them face the new roles they would have to take if they didn't know themselves? Jean had her grief, but Betsy had her own losses to deal with. Since her debt to the Crimson Dawn was leveled and she wrestled with the Shadow King on the Astral plane, forever banishing a part of herself, her precious telepathy, she hadn't had a chance to catch her breath. Perhaps in helping Jean, she could also help herself. Perhaps they could both reclaim parts of their lost souls.
She opened her eyes and turned back to the bungalow, its low, stout walls seeming like an invitation. Yes, this could be good. She only had to make it work.
Not yet wanting to go inside the house, she stayed out on the veranda and listened to the murmur of the ocean as it rushed against the shore. After a few minutes, Jean slipped into the chair next to her and said a quiet, "Good Morning."
She looked over at Jean, her eyes a little swollen from crying. It gave her face a look of innocence, Betsy thought and it wasn't the same pitiful pout she had worn their first few days on the island. No, this was different. Or perhaps she was just looking at her differently. Perhaps for the first time she was feeling empathy instead of just sympathy. Regardless, she knew that she was finally getting over her discomfort towards Jean.
"You know, I lost someone close to me once, too. Someone I loved... in that way. Thomas Lennox. The first man I loved. I was in his mind when he died. It almost killed me."
Jean looked over at Betsy and nodded as she rocked in her chair, fixing her gaze to a spot on the floor. Betsy continued trying to justify her words. "I mean I know it's not exactly the same. But I can understand how hard this is for you."
She finally looked up at Betsy, her eyes glazing over again, as if she were searching for something more in her words. Something to cling to. So she continued, "I suppose I'm just trying to say that if I can get through that, that you can get through this. You are who you are after all. You're one of the strongest people I know."
Smiling bitterly as tears ran over her cheeks, Jean sniffled as she shook her head. "Oh, I'm not all that strong."
Betsy stared hard into Jean's eyes. "Oh yes you are. You've seen and done more in your life than a person twice your age. You've really lived, Jean. And you can live again if you'll give yourself the chance."
Shaking her head once more, Jean got to her feet and then hesitated a moment with her back to Betsy. She then turned and reached out to touch Betsy's arm while she stared at her hand, almost as if she were amazed that it could move much less feel. Biting her lip, Jean squeezed her reassuringly and then retreated into the bungalow, whispering before she shut the door behind her. "Thank you, Betsy."
Jean stretched out on one of the rattan sofas in the living area, deeply immersed in one of her mystery novels. This was number four, a murder mystery with a woman waving a torch at the encroaching darkness on the cover. She had read through the first three in a matter of days and Betsy was glad to let her have her escapism, though the subject matter had her a little curious. She shrugged as she immerged from the bathroom, a towel covering her damp hair. To each their own.
Sitting across the room from Jean, she fiddled with a tassel on her kimono and after a few moments, Jean put her finger down to mark her place and asked, "What is it?"
"I just wanted to ask you to a roast I was invited to. A woman in the market told me of it a few days ago. I think it'll be fun."
"What's it going to be like?"
"From what I gather it's a traditional Polynesian banquet. Almost like a Hawaiian luau but very much Tahitian. It sounds fascinating. Do you think you're up for it?"
Jean wrinkled her nose and turned her attention back to her book. "No, you go ahead. I'll be fine here."
Standing up from her chair, she looked at Jean who seemed perfectly comfortable with her novel. "Are you positive?"
She nodded. "Sure. You have fun."
Betsy sighed and went to her room to dress. Jean had yet to be out of the bungalow besides an occasional visit to the beach since they had arrived. She was hoping this would be a chance for both of them to get out and have some fun, but if Jean didn't think she was ready then she wasn't going to force the matter. A large group of strangers might be too much for her and Betsy could understand that. Tomorrow she'd suggest a trip into the village to look at some artwork or do some shopping. Something a little less demanding.
Pulling a tank top over her head and smoothing out a finely- printed sarong, she leaned toward the mirror and applied a faint hint of lipstick as she studied her reflection. For the first time in months, she didn't have bags under her eyes. The dark, menacing nightmares that had been tormenting her since she trapped the Shadow King on the astral plane hadn't completely disappeared but she had found herself sleeping more soundly since her arrival. She guessed it was the sea air. The ocean always had a way of calming her nerves and working out the kinks in her mind. Of course since she had been sleeping in close proximity to Jean, her dreams had taken on another bent. Her mental shields still intact even without her telepathy, she was able to filter out most of the turbulent dreams Jean was projecting unconsciously. But every now and then an image would flash across her dreamscape. But she paid it no heed. She was sure that as Jean's grief ran its course, the dreams would lessen. It wasn't anything to concern Phoenix with. Not yet anyway.
On her way out the door, she stopped by the couch and asked one more time for courtesy's sake, "Are you sure you don't want to come?"
She looked up at Betsy, a slight smile on her lips meant for reassurance. "I'll be fine, I promise."
"There are some leftovers in the crisper from last night."
Jean once again immersed herself in her book as she snuggled against one of the couch's large, overstuffed pillows. Her red hair was tied back into two pigtails and she wore a long, cotton shirt that came down to her knees. Betsy couldn't help but smile at her child-like appearance. It was such an antithesis of the woman she was inside. "That should be fine."
"Right, then. I'm off."
Outside the walls of the bungalow, a sense of freedom overcame Betsy, though she still felt terribly guilty for leaving Jean alone. The stars were coming out over the island and a gentle tropical breeze tickled at her neck, sending wisps of purple hair floating onto her face. She brushed them away and walked lightly along the well-traveled paths of the village, along the route the woman had told her. But she need not have given directions. As soon as Betsy left the small cluster of bungalows she and Jean were staying in, she could see the lanterns of the party and hear the merry laughter of the townsfolk. It seemed everyone was there.
Once inside the party, the world seemed a blur of motion and color and Betsy smiled to herself. She didn't need her telepathy to feel how happy the villagers were. Their joy and exuberance was almost physically palpable. As she looked around, trying to find a familiar face or at least some place less noticeable to stand as she observed the party around her, she heard a voice behind her.
She turned around and saw the boy who had helped her earlier in the week with her parcels. "Paul. It is good to see you."
"How are you?"
Betsy smiled as a trio of women brushed past her, lowering their eyes and giggling slightly as they passed. "I am well. Your island is a lovely hostess."
"Yes, she is. Come with me, I want to introduce you to someone."
Betsy followed the boy into the crowd and stopped in front of a group of elderly men and women sitting on the ground. Paul motioned to the native man sitting in the center and said, "Mademoiselle Braddock, this is the guest of honor. He is the eldest and most respected man in the village. We all call him Pere, because in some ways he has been a father to us all at some point or another. Today is his birthday."
Betsy knelt and nodded her head as she wished him a happy birthday in French. He nodded in return as he smiled a large, nearly toothless grin and took a lock of her hair in his hand as he laughed heartily. Soon all the elders were looking at her in curiosity, smiling in delight much like Pere.
Looking over her shoulder, she saw Paul grinning in amusement. "They aren't accustomed to seeing someone as exotic as you, Mademoiselle Braddock."
Getting to her feet, she smiled as she touched her hair, realizing how strange an Asian woman with purple hair, a British accent, and a tattoo over part of her face must seem to them. She raised an eyebrow at Paul as he said. "Don't worry. They like it."
She nodded as she stepped away from the guest of honor and his family, "Sometimes I forget how strange I must seem to people who don't know me."
Paul looked up at her, as she was more than a few inches taller than he and asked, "Are you a model or something? Is that why you look like this?"
She winked at him as she made her way through the crowd, finally spotting the woman who had invited her. "Yes, you could say that. Or something."
She spent the rest of the evening conversing with several delightful people, natives and tourists alike... a charming art student who came to the island to see where Gauguin painted his masterpieces, a family of four from Singapore, a young American couple on their honeymoon. She enjoyed learning of their lives and their histories, taking pleasure in stories that didn't involve constant struggles with super-villains and genetic warfare. She became so enraptured that she hardly noticed the time and when the last of her new friends excused themselves for the evening, she realized it was well past midnight.
So she rushed back home where she found the lights on and Jean's book sitting without a bookmark on the coffee table. When she peered into her room, her bed was still made and the clothes from her suitcase were strewn all over the floor. She walked the breadth of the house, the cadence of her shoes echoing through the halls.
"Jean? Are you home?"
But there was no answer.
Turning on the outside lights, she searched the small garden adjacent to the house as well as the beach in front of the property. Jean was nowhere to be found, so she turned her search toward the town. Trying her best not to dwell on any worst-case scenarios, she thought that maybe Jean had gotten restless and gone searching for her, so she headed back toward the party. Once there, she saw the site was deserted save for Paul who had just finished cleaning up after the guests.
He noticed her exasperated expression and asked, "Mademoiselle Braddock? Have you lost something?"
Scratching her head in dismay, she said sheepishly, "I seem to have misplaced my friend."
Leaning on his wide-bristled broom, he asked, "What does she look like?"
"Let's see... A little shorter than me, long red hair, absolutely gorgeous. You would remember her."
He grinned. Yes, he had indeed seen her and was wearing the same dazzled expression she had seen many a man wear after first meeting the marvel that is Jean Grey. He pointed down the road and said, "She went that way. There's a resort at the end of the road. I believe she was looking for a bar."
She raised an eyebrow. "A bar?"
"That's what she asked for."
Drawing a deep sigh, she thanked Paul for his trouble and headed toward the resort, a good mile down the seaside trail.
"I don't see why I have to go home. You were the one who kept trying to get me out of the house. Well, I'm out! Why can't I stay out?"
Betsy frowned as she folded her arms over her chest and talked to the closed bathroom stall. "Because you're drunk."
The toilet flushed and Jean emerged, blinking at Betsy while her dress hung limply from one of her shoulders. "I'm not drunk."
Shaking her head, Betsy sighed. "Yes you are. You're completely pissed."
She smiled and stumbled a few steps on her way to the sink. Once there, she turned on the faucet and splashed water on her face. Betsy handed her a towel and she wiped her face dry as she spoke with a lop-sided grin and an overdone attempt at a British accent, "Well maybe just a little pissed, your high and mightiness."
Reaching out to grab her arm, Betsy said firmly, "Let's go, Jean."
Freezing Betsy to the spot with her telekinesis, Jean's eyes grew wide as she slurred. "I told you I'm not ready to go yet!"
Betsy tugged futilely at her invisible bonds and said quietly but sternly, "Jean. Let me go."
Jean pouted. "No. Not until you stop being a bitch."
Unable to control her temper any longer, Betsy snapped, "I'm not the one who's acting like a bitch!"
Turning quickly on her heel, Jean tossed her mane of red hair over her shoulder and left the bathroom without sparing Betsy a second glance. Psylocke tried desperately to lift her feet from the floor as she called out after her, glaring at the swinging bathroom door, "Don't you dare leave me like this... you little... Ack!"
She fell forward onto the floor, the momentum from her escape attempt throwing her off balance as the telekinetic hold broke. As she scrambled to her feet, she cursed under her breath and started to pursue Jean only to find her sitting out on the wet lawn of the resort, her head hanging between her knees as her body shook with sobs. Betsy took a deep breath and checked her temper, sitting next to her in the dewy grass. Reaching out towards Jean, she put a hand on her back, trying to comfort her friend and was surprised when she reacted to her touch by leaning into her and crying on her shoulder.
"You left me, Betsy."
"Shh. I know. But you said I could go without you."
Jean sniffled. "I know. And I was fine until I finished my book. And then I started thinking too much and you weren't there and I just wanted to get away. And then the voices started speaking to me. He started speaking to me."
Furrowing her brow, Betsy asked, "He started speaking to you?"
"Yes. He does that sometimes and sometimes I talk back."
Panicked, she turned Jean in her grip and held her by both shoulders. "Who speaks to you? Who are you in contact with?"
Her head lolled back as she tried to gain some focus. "Scott. Apocalypse. Whoever he is now."
"Jean? What are you saying?"
She narrowed her eyes, gaining a brief moment of sobriety. But it left as soon as it came. "I'm saying that I can still feel him... both of them. And hurts. Oh God, it hurts."
Betsy closed her eyes and pulled Jean close as she started crying again, chanting quietly to herself like a mantra. "Help me. Help me." She did the only thing she could without her telepathy and sunk into the dark shadows that swam across the lawn, taking Jean back to the bungalow and sitting with her until she finally fell asleep and the sun rose over the small island.
Betsy awoke the next morning still in her clothes on Jean's bed. Hearing Jean's voice in the other room, she blinked as she sat up slowly. The clock read just a little after eleven, much later than she usually allowed herself to sleep. She had an awful headache and her skull felt like it was filled with cotton.
Dragging herself to the bathroom, Betsy washed her face, brushed her teeth and began to feel a little more herself as she exchanged her wrinkled sarong for her comfortable silk kimono. She wandered into the kitchen and found Jean talking on the phone. Jean smiled at her and poured her a cup of coffee, then mixed it with a hint of cream and one sugar cube. Just the way she liked it.
From her words and inflection, Betsy guessed she was talking to Storm. She knew her supposition was correct when Jean handed her the receiver and whispered, "It's Ororo."
Betsy set down her coffee and took the phone. "Hello, Ororo."
"How is Tahiti, friend?"
"It's beautiful. You would love it."
She could almost hear Storm smile over the receiver. "I'm sure I would."
Her friend paused for a moment before she finally asked, "So how is she really doing, Elizabeth?"
Jean smiled and exited the room out of courtesy. Betsy sighed, knowing that if Jean really wanted to hear their conversation she could, she was an alpha level telepath after all. She decided honest tact would be the best approach, regardless of whether or not Jean decided to eavesdrop.
"I think she's finally coming to terms with everything."
"That is good. Painful but good, correct?"
Betsy leaned against the wall and lowered her voice. "Yes, I thought so. Until last night."
"What happened last night?"
"She told me she has been in contact with Sc..." She corrected herself. "With Apocalypse."
"Jean said this before, just a few days after the incident."
"But, Ororo, I think I actually believe her."
Ororo's concern was apparent in her tone. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm not sure yet. Just watch her and spend time with her. Frankly, with the Professor gone there's not much else we can do but help her help herself. If it is true, she's got to exorcise her demons herself."
"I can think of no better person to help her with that, Elizabeth. You have fought your own share of 'demons'."
"Thanks, Ororo. And don't worry. It's probably the just the grief talking. She was rather inebriated at the time."
Betsy backpedaled, hoping to keep Storm and the others at Xavier's from worrying too much about Jean. She had already said more than enough to make them concerned. "Yes. It wasn't as bad as it sounds, though. I took care of her."
"It sounds as the two of you are having more fun down there than Warren indicated."
Betsy chuckled and she massaged her aching forehead. She was beginning to feel as if she had a hangover when she hadn't even touched a drop of alcohol. "Oh, I wouldn't say that. But we'll be okay. You just keep everyone in Westchester from worrying and I'll take care of Jean. Be well, Ororo."
"And you also, my friend."
After hanging up the phone, Betsy left her coffee sitting on the counter and got a bottle of spring water from the refrigerator. She then found the aspirin and swallowed three as she walked over to Jean's room. Standing in the doorway she watched her as she finally unpacked her suitcase, folding her clothes neatly and placing them into the drawers of the room's dresser.
"Finally making yourself at home?"
Jean looked up at Betsy and smiled. "I thought it was about time."
Twisting the cap back onto her bottle of water, Betsy shuffled in the room and sat on the bed. "How are you feeling?"
Continuing her work, Jean said, "Fine."
"No headache? No hangover?"
Jean raised an eyebrow and said with a hint of exasperation in her voice, "No. Should I have one?"
Fiddling with the plastic bottle, Betsy stated, "Well, the bartender said you had at least three martinis and a few shots of tequila before that."
She rolled her eyes. "He must have been mistaken."
Jean shrugged. "Whatever."
Betsy shook her head. The aspirin was taking effect and her thoughts were growing a little less cloudy. "How much of last night do you remember?"
Pausing as she folded a white, cable-knit sweater in her hands, Jean said, "I remember going out, having a few drinks and then coming back here after you met me at the bar. That's it, right?"
Staring hard at her, Betsy said quietly, her tone filled with sarcasm, "Sure, if you want the highly abridged version."
Closing the drawer with some force, Jean asked, her temper rising, "And what's that supposed to mean, Betsy?" She spat her name as if it was an insult.
Ignoring her anger, Betsy said coolly, "I don't know. You tell me. You're the telepath. Why don't you tell me why you can't remember what happened last night and what you said to me? And maybe even why I'm the one with the hangover when I didn't drink a drop?"
Jean sat in a chair and stared down at the floor in silence. Betsy drew a deep sigh. She had given Jean space all week but she wasn't going to back down from this argument. It was too important.
"You're not fooling me, Jean. I used to be a telepath myself. You don't forget anything. Every single moment of your life is frozen in your mind like a photograph. So why are you acting like you don't remember?"
Finally looking up at Betsy, her green eyes narrow and cutting through Betsy's gaze like daggers, Jean seethed, "Maybe I don't want to remember."
Betsy watched her run from the room as she groaned in frustration. She was growing tired of this game. It was apparent Jean didn't wholly trust her yet and that was understandable. But the time was coming where she would have to open up heart and soul. There was more to this situation than her grief and it was time for Jean to admit that. If she didn't it could drive her insane or worse. Betsy shuddered as she got to her feet. Worse. It wasn't something she really wanted to think about. But she had to. Someone did, after all.
She found Jean out on a bluff overlooking the ocean, her eyes dry and her vision clear. Betsy approached her without saying a word and they sat in silence for a long while before Jean finally spoke.
"I just realized I forgot to take my birth-control pill last night."
Jean turned her head and looked at Betsy, her expression blank. "I forgot my pill. Isn't that silly?" She laughed lightly. "I mean Scott's been gone for an entire month and there I was taking them every night out of habit. But last night I forgot. It's just funny."
She turned her gaze back out to the water. "I guess it's the little things that get you."
Betsy watched Jean. "Sometimes the big things will get you as well."
"What did I tell you last night?"
"That you can still feel him. That you talk to him... to Apocalypse."
Jean coughed. "Oh, that. And you actually believe me? None of the other X-Men did."
Trying her best to make her sincerity apparent, Betsy said quietly, "I believe you, Jean."
She turned again to look at Betsy and tears welled in her eyes. She then closed them as if trying to fight back the sadness. "You've got to trust me, Jean. You've got to let me know what's going on. But mostly you've got to stop this."
Jean shook her head. "I do trust you, Betsy. I... I'm sorry."
Reaching out to take Jean's hand, she spoke softly, her words meant to encourage. "Sorry for what?"
Betsy felt Jean's fingers tighten around her own as she swallowed and then continued, "I've been using you. I've been reaching out to you in your sleep, using you as a crutch of sorts. I know you can't use your telepathy anymore, but it is still there. And it's been helping to keep me strong when I talk to him. I suppose you kept me grounded."
So that explained the weird dreams she'd been having and the hangover this morning. "But, Jean... the Shadow King?"
"I know. So far he's been quiet. But I know I can't use you anymore... now that you know. It wouldn't be right and the risk is too great with the burden you're carrying."
She squeezed Jean's hand as she let go of it and put it reassuringly on her back. Jean looked up at her with a curious expression as she asked, "You're not angry with me?"
Betsy furrowed her brow and bit her lip before she answered honestly, her own reaction just as much of a surprise to her as it was to Jean, "No. I suppose I'm not. I suppose under other circumstances I would be, but I'm not. Not now."
Smiling weakly, Jean said. "I guess we understand each other better than we thought."
Betsy had always thought of herself as a private person, but in the light of what Jean was sharing with her, the fact that she had invaded her mind in a few moments of grief seemed a small transgression in the grand scheme of things. "Perhaps."
They both sighed as the water splashed against the shore. Betsy dropped her hands in her lap and looked out over the horizon, all blue and green and very distant. "You have to sever your rapport, Jean."
"I know, but it's not that easy. It will take some time. Scott and I were joined for so long that if I cut it suddenly it could cause major harm."
Betsy narrowed her eyes. "To you or him?"
She could tell Jean was choosing her words carefully. "To me. So far I've got it narrowed to a thin thread. I should be able to cut the cord in a few days."
Shaking her head and pursing her lips, Jean glanced over at Betsy. "Sometimes I wish he had died. It would make this much, much easier."
She said slowly and clearly, "He is dead, Jean. That monster isn't the man you love. Not anymore. Not ever again."
Jean nodded. "You're right. Yes. So right."
Later that night Betsy was walking on the beach, enjoying one of many twilight strolls she had taken since they arrived on the island. She found that it soothed her thoughts before she went to sleep and after the revelations Jean had disclosed to her during the day, she found her mind a mad jumble of thoughts that needed to be addressed on a quiet stroll. As she sorted through her thoughts and what she and Jean needed to face in the next few days as Jean severed her rapport with Apocalypse, she felt a desperate telepathic voice sweep through her thoughts and send a feeling of dread straight to the pit of her stomach. She quickly realized it was Jean and she was very, very frightened.
Her mind suddenly a whir of conflicting, violent images, Betsy raced up the beachfront toward the bungalow. As the thoughts grew more urgent, she rushed into the house as Jean's telepathic voice whispered incoherently in her thoughts. Hurrying into the hall between their rooms, she heard the water running in the bathroom along with Jean's anguished sobs. Mind reeling in panic, she tried the doorknob and found it locked fast. Leaning into the door, she rattled the knob in her hand and called out Jean's name. There was no verbal response but she heard Jean's whispers grow more frantic, so she threw her full weight against the door, tearing the lock loose from the thin frame as she screamed Jean's name again.
Once inside, she found her in the bathtub, wearing a white nightgown that was soaked completely through as she scrubbed at her skin with a rough bristle-brush. She was rocking back and forth as she said, "Leave me alone," over and over in a dead voice and her eyes rolled back into her head as the water grew pink with blood and she rubbed portions of her skin raw.
Betsy grabbed the brush from her hands, but Jean continued to tear at her arms and torso with her fingernails, ignoring Betsy's presence completely. She turned off the water and grabbed Jean's hands in her own, glad that she had superior physical strength but knowing she could easily be overpowered by telekinesis if Jean chose. It was a gamble she had to take.
Continuing to rock and chant, Jean stared through Betsy with vacant eyes as she screamed at her, "Stop it, Jean! Stop!"
But it was as if she were a million miles away and could not hear a word she said. So Betsy did the only thing she could think to do. She slapped her hard across the face.
Shaken from her trance, Jean's eyes snapped open and she began to cry as she looked at Betsy. "He's here, Betsy! He's here! He's twisting my memories... he's taking Scott away from me."
Betsy could only hypothesize what Apocalypse was doing, most likely distorting Jean's memories of Scott into something more perverted, the equivalent of a mental rape. But she also guessed from her knowledge of Apocalypse that the act was unconscious on his part, that he was merely asserting power over his host's body and making it more fully his own. To him Jean was nothing. Their connection only made him weaker.
She shook Jean by the shoulders. "Scott is gone, Jean! You have to let him go."
Biting her lip, Jean's pale shoulders shook as she cried, "But I can't. I love him."
Pushing wet, red hair out of her friend's face and forcing Jean to look at her, Betsy said flatly. "This isn't love, Jean. This is masochism."
Jean clamped her jaw tightly as she stared through her. Her eyes then grew wide as she screamed and writhed in Betsy's grip, shouting once more to the entity on the other end of the rapport she once shared with her husband, "Leave me alone!"
After a few frightful seconds, Jean collapsed, leaning her head and arms over the rim of the tub. Betsy drained the water from the bath as she picked her up and placed her on the bathroom floor then started to remove her torn, soaked garments and examine her wounds. Jean's eyes fluttered open as Betsy wrapped her in a towel and asked quietly, "Is he gone?"
"For now," Jean breathed before she lost consciousness in Betsy's arms.
Betsy awoke when it was still dark outside with Jean in her arms, curled in a fetal position. She rose quietly, trying her best not to disturb the sleeping telepath and then crept into her own room. As she eased down under her covers, she heard Jean call her name and then saw her standing in the doorway, white bandages peeking out from under the sleeves of her nightshirt.
She said nothing but walked quietly to the bed and got under the sheets with Betsy, turning her back to her and laying her head on the second pillow as she pulled the bedclothes under her chin. Betsy sighed as she watched her fall asleep and drifted off herself. They stayed like that until the sun rose.
In the morning when Betsy awoke, Jean was sitting in the bed watching her. She sat up and blinked as Jean's gaze shifted away from her to the floor. Stretching her arms over her head, she asked, "How are you doing?"
Jean pulled her knees to her chest and said, "I need to clear my head."
Getting to her feet, Betsy looked around the room, lit brightly from the morning sun, and then asked, "Did you bring your running shoes?"
Looking up at Betsy with an inquisitive expression, Jean said, "Yes."
Betsy gathered her running shorts and a few other belongings and headed for the bathroom. "Let's go running. I know it always helps to clear my head."
Jean nodded. "Sounds like just the thing I need."
A few miles away from the bungalow, Betsy walked in brisk circles as she waited for Jean to catch up. When the red-haired telekinetic joined her, she was slightly out of breath.
"Amazing how a month of moping will get a body out of shape."
Betsy smiled as she marched in place. "You're entitled."
Jean took her pulse. "Well, I'm leaving my couch-potato ways behind me after today." She took a deep breath. "Wow, smell that air. I've got to get out here more."
Shielding her eyes with her hand as she looked out over the ocean and took her own pulse, Betsy said, "It does wonders for the body and soul."
"I should have done this earlier. There are a lot of things I should have done earlier."
"You have to cut the cord, Jean. Today."
Jean's expression grew pensive. "I know. After last night, I know that now. It was horrible, Betsy. There are memories now in my head of Scott, terrible ones. Ones I know didn't happen that way."
Tilting her head, Betsy asked, "Perhaps getting rid of the rapport might help restore some of them?"
Jean put her hands on her hips and paced, still waiting for her heart rate to slow after the run. "Maybe. But it doesn't really matter anymore. Either way, it has to be done. You'll be with me when I do it?"
Nodding, Betsy said matter-of-factly, "Of course. I wouldn't let you go through this alone."
Squinting from the morning sun, Jean looked at her. She had the expression of a woman who had come to terms with what she needed to do. She was finally looking and acting like the Jean Grey she had known for years and it helped set Betsy's mind a little at ease. "Thanks, Betsy. Right now I can't imagine going through this without you."
"Walk back to the house..." Betsy winked and smiled. "Or run?"
Jean shook her head and chuckled. "Walk. Yes, definitely walk."
"Are you ready?"
Jean closed her eyes and took a few deep, even breaths. "It's funny. I wish Charles were here."
Betsy squeezed her hand. "But he's not. And you don't need him. Him or anyone. You're strong, Jean. Just keep telling yourself that."
Keeping her eyes closed, Jean said quietly, "But I'm scared."
"Go on, Jean. I'll be here. If you want me."
Nodding her head, Jean entered a meditative trance and began to unconsciously lift herself and Betsy off the couch for a few minutes while her powers spiked and then settled. Looking around the room, Betsy noticed a few of the bungalow's decorations and trinkets moving seemingly of their own accord, rising and falling gently, manipulated by Jean's unconscious thoughts. Like Jean and herself, they soon rested gently in the spots they had originally occupied.
Turning her attention back to Jean, she saw beads of sweat forming on her forehead as a muscle in her jaw twitched. She was as still as a statue and even her breathing was scarcely noticeable. She continued like that for many minutes and Betsy was beginning to feel more reassured about the whole process when a pained expression crossed Jean's features and she began to whimper. It took every ounce of willpower she had not to reach out to Jean with her telepathy. Helping one woman wasn't worth damning the world. So she held back as she bit her bottom lip and watched in painful silence.
As Betsy sat mourning the loss of her own telepathy and her inability to help a friend in need, Jean's eyes flew open and studied her coolly. Before Betsy even had a chance to react, she grabbed her arm with surprising strength and said sadly, "I am sorry for this, Betts," as she pulled her, literally kicking and screaming, into her mindscape.
She felt as if she were drowning, memories swirling around her like a tidal flood. Even though she was a bit rusty, her instincts kicked in and she quickly donned a suit of astral armor as she steadied herself. Rising a bit above the floodwaters of Jean's tempest, she called telepathically, *Jean?! Jean? What the Hell are you doing?!*
Jean was tugging at her, pulling her where she wanted her to go. Angry images flashed past her of Cyclops as he never was, haughty and cruel, vicious and spiteful. With a thought, Betsy smashed the images with a fist and they broke like glass, fading into a cacophony of white noise. As she tried harder to get her bearings, the flecks of false, broken memory buzzed around her like a swarm of angry insects and lifted her astral form, carrying her deep into the heart of Jean's psyche.
They tore and bit into her armor as she swung at them with her fists, which were glowing with the power of her psychic knives. Finally the swarm released her and she fell to her knees with a hard impact. Absorbing the shock of her descent easily in the psychic environment, she then looked up to find Jean lying prone, crying out with a broken voice as a larger-than-life version of Scott loomed over her, pressing on her throat and chest with his boot heels.
She acted quickly, rushing on the vision from behind and pulling him away from Jean's astral-self. As he turned his attention to her, he smiled wickedly, leering at her as he reached out and grabbed her by the head with a giant hand. As he lifted her off her feet, she screamed, *See him for who he really is, Jean! That's the only way you can defeat him!*
His fingers locked around her skull in a vice-like grip and she felt her soul, her very being oozing out of her astral body when suddenly the pressure was gone. Her head buzzed with static as she looked around her and saw Apocalypse fading away from Jean's mindscape, tearing a swath of destruction as Jean severed the mindlink.
Betsy's head pounded as she reached out for Jean's astral form. *Are you okay?*
Jean nodded and got to her feet. Her armor was torn and her face was bruised. As Betsy looked around it became apparent it would take Jean time to piece her memories back together. Apparently Apocalypse had decided to have a little fun redecorating. *I'm alive and breathing, if that's what you mean. But most importantly Apocalypse is gone. Now get out of here before...*
Falling to her knees as her vision grew red, the astral plane seemed to spin around Betsy as her lips curled into a defeated smile. The last of her restraints tore away violently and an all too familiar laugh permeated her thoughts.
*It's too late. Farouk's escaped.*
Betsy felt her psyche split into a thousand fragments as the Shadow King attacked her. She was scarcely aware of what was occurring as she screamed silently, every molecule of her aware of only one thing. He had to be stopped.
Her thoughts reduced to only primal instincts, she lashed out at the darkness attempting to swallow her whole. And while she poured all of her energy into destroying the Shadow King as he fed on her like a parasite, a golden, fiery presence fueled her. Slowly, conscious thought returned to her and she knew it was Jean, pulling her back together and giving her a sense of unity. So she reached out to her blindly, allowing her full access to her powers, intertwining herself around Jean's white-hot power until they became one. As they lashed out at Farouk, Betsy could no longer tell where she ended and Jean began but at the time it scarcely mattered... because they were winning. They couldn't believe it. They were actually winning.
They mocked him, their psychic voices echoing as one, *You feed on fear and darkness, Farouk. And we are no longer afraid. This is a fight you will not win. This will be your last.*
Mere imprisonment would not do this time. No, this had to end here and now. They struck at the Shadow King with all their energy, breaking apart his psyche layer by layer. Tension rippled across the astral plane as it bent and twisted at their will. They had not known such a thing was possible, that together they could wield so much power. But it was true and they used it to shatter the psychic entity that called himself the Shadow King and disperse him into a million harmless fragments across the unlimited expanse of the astral plane.
Farouk defeated, they finally succumbed to exhaustion, clinging to each other as they drifted on the astral plane, still sharing one consciousness.
Two days later, Betsy opened her eyes as she lay on the living room floor of the bungalow in the shattered remains of the glass coffee table. Jean was curled protectively around her and Betsy felt her flinch as she awoke with a gasp. They both sat up in unison and stared at one another as the sun streamed in through the open blinds. Jean reached out to touch her face and Betsy returned the gesture, still wondering how much of her was Jean and how much of Jean was her.
She tried to reach out to her telepathically, but realized she was completely alone in her own mind, her telepathy completely gone save a general sense of empathy. But as she looked around the demolished living room and Jean held her close, every atom seemed to flicker with life as if it was speaking to her, asking her what she wanted it to be. It was unlike anything she had ever known.
Jean then spoke to her through a thin ribbon of psychic thought and she realized their bond was not completely severed. Remembering her telepathic training, Betsy clung to the golden thread of the rapport as Jean sent, *It seems our merging wasn't without its sacrifices.*
Betsy said aloud, mildly surprised when the words that emerged were actually in her own voice, "What's going on, Jean? Where is my telepathy?"
Speaking quietly, Jean smoothed Betsy's damp hair. "I'm afraid it's no longer with you."
Turning in Jean's grip, Betsy then asked, "Why do I feel so strange?"
"It's the telekinesis."
Head pounding in protest, she got to her feet as her body crackled with energy. "What did you do to me, Jean?"
She then started crying as Jean got to her feet and held her in her arms as she sent soothing thoughts through their rapport. "We both did this. We had to reclaim ourselves. You lent me your telepathy to defeat the Shadow King and then we rebuilt ourselves... together. We're a part of each other now and this is just the way the cards fell. I'm no longer a telekinetic and you're no longer a telepath. Though it seems we both have a touch of the Crimson Dawn in us now. Everything was so mixed up that this was the only way to reclaim our identities."
"Well, we have to undo it."
Jean frowned. "I can't. We can't. We're stuck this way. I'm sorry, Betsy I really am. But if we tried this again, it would cause more harm than good. We would cease to be who we are."
Betsy shook her head as she sat on the torn couch and looked once more around the room. "What a mess."
Sitting next to her, Jean nodded and said quietly, "Yes. But at least it's our mess."
With a sigh, Betsy kicked a plank of splintered wood, "That it is. That it is."
During the next few days, Jean helped Betsy learn how to control her new powers. Cleaning up the mess in the living room was an excellent place to start and Betsy grew to embrace her new powers with each task she completed, marveling at how well they meshed with her thoughts and even her undercloak teleportation. And while she enjoyed the new sensations, she still mourned the loss of her telepathy. Even when she kept herself from using it during the time she held the Shadow King prisoner, it was still a comfort to her and colored the way she perceived the world around her. But now, the world seemed brand new to her. She saw life all around her, within sentient beings and inanimate objects alike. Every molecule buzzed with possibility. The experience was exhilarating and if she had to choose one word to describe the days since she had been changed on the astral plane, it would be 'sublime'.
Betsy glanced over her shoulder and smiled back at Jean as they raced toward the bungalow from the beach. They were both giddy with giggles as Betsy flung open the door and declared happily, throwing her arms up in victory as Jean stumbled in behind her, "I won! I won! You cook dinner! Yes!"
Jean laughed as she watched Betsy make a fool of herself. "One of these days I am going to beat you."
Raising an eyebrow, Betsy tossed her towel dramatically over her shoulder as she strode into the kitchen. "Not likely."
Shaking her head, Jean buried her face in her arms as she leaned on the breakfast bar that separated the living area from the kitchen and laughed once again at Betsy's pompous demeanor. "You are so full of yourself."
Draping her beach towel over her shoulders like a feather boa and tossing one end flamboyantly behind her, Betsy leered at Jean, "Yes, but I am so irrepressibly irresistible when I am like this."
A blush actually formed on Jean's cheeks as she rolled her eyes and Betsy was about to press her further when the phone rang on the wall between them and startled her so much she actually jumped. They stared at one another in shock as it rang a second time. With all that had happened in the last few days, they hadn't even spoken to anyone back home. It was as if the world had stopped spinning as they rediscovered themselves in their own secluded paradise. But as the phone rang a third time gravity tugged their feet back to earth.
Betsy took a deep breath as she picked up the receiver and said solemnly, "Hello."
It was Warren.
Staring into Jean's questioning eyes, Betsy said, "No, no. We're fine. We were just on the beach."
She mutely mouthed Warren's name and Jean nodded as she continued, trying her best to sound casual. "She's fine. Yes, doing better. We're both doing well."
Jean stood from her stool and walked to the living area, almost as if she were treading on egg shells. "Oh, you know, a little of this a little of that. They don't call this paradise for nothing."
Betsy saw Jean tense at the word. "Well, I'm not sure yet. We'll let you know."
She winced as her lover broached the inevitable, knowing full well Ororo told him about Jean's troubles with the remnants of her psychic rapport. "He's gone, Warren. Jean broke the bond. She's a little shaken but the worst is over. No, you don't need to worry. I promise. Right. Mmm-hmm. No, it went pretty smoothly. Yes, I understand that you were worried about her... about us. But I would have called if I didn't think it was under control."
Releasing a silent sigh, Betsy said as she massaged her forehead, "Okay. Yes, I understand. Tell everyone hello. I miss you, too. Good-bye."
She hung up the phone and walked quietly to the living room to sit on the couch next to Jean. As she dropped her head into her hands and groaned to herself, she could feel Jean's eyes on her as she asked, "So you didn't tell him?"
Shaking her head, she looked up at Jean. "No. I couldn't. It just seemed too big to say over the phone. I wasn't sure how he'd react. And well, it's like this is our little secret, you know? Like letting everyone know about it will spoil it."
Taking a deep breath, she got to her feet and shrugged her shoulders as she said, "Besides, I hardly have this straight in my own head. How can I explain it to Warren if I don't even know what's going on myself?"
Jean sat quietly on the couch and nodded, obviously deep in thought and Betsy said nonchalantly, "Well, I'm taking a shower. I can angst about this some other time."
She grinned at Jean as she waved her hand in front of her face and pulled her out of her reverie. "And once I'm out, you, my dear friend, are making me dinner."
Shaking her head, Jean grinned. "You are a brave woman, Betsy."
She winked at her as she left the room, a smile on her face. "The bravest."
Betsy awoke with a start from a nightmare, her skin slick with sweat and her breath short. Strange and shadowy figures had chased her through her dreamscape, trapping her on a dark cliff and tearing at her skin with cold, dead hands. She had tripped over her own feet as she tried to fight off their advances and plummeted off the dreary outcropping and into an endless abyss below. As she got to her feet and sipped water from the glass on her nightstand, she still felt the sensation of falling.
As she sat back on her bed, she whispered to herself, "It's just a nightmare, Betsy. Stop being stupid."
She got back under the sheets, but every time she tried to close her eyes, she felt as if she were falling again, clutching with desperate hands for something to hold onto and only finding black emptiness. Throwing away the bedclothes kicking her feet free from the bed, she rushed from the room and stood in the hall. She was being childish, she knew, but the vertigo of falling seemed so real and terrifying she wasn't sure if she could face it again. She took a deep breath as she said silently to herself, 'You are Elizabeth Braddock, Psylocke of the X-Men. You've defeated countless super-villains, stood your own against forces who have tried to devour your very soul. You are not afraid of one ridiculous nightmare.'
As she gave herself a mental pep talk, she didn't notice Jean emerge from her room and stand in the doorway with a concerned expression on her face. "What's wrong, Betsy?"
Calming herself, Betsy said quietly, "It's nothing. A silly nightmare."
Jean folded her arms over her chest as she tilted her head and studied Betsy, "Oh. Do you think it's related to..."
Betsy shrugged, "I don't know. Probably not. Don't worry, I'm fine."
Nodding as she turned her back to Betsy and walked back to her bed, Jean said, "Okay. Let me know if you need anything."
Betsy watched her go and thought how odd it sounded to hear Jean say that after all they had been through in the last month. It seemed after their time on the astral plane, not only had they exchanged powers, but also roles. Jean was still grieving, to be sure, but she no longer needed Betsy's help and Betsy desperately wanted hers. She stepped toward her room, intent on returning to her own bed, but then hesitated and walked into the doorway of Jean's instead as she hugged her arms tightly against herself.
"What is it?"
"Can I stay in here with you?"
Jean lifted the bedclothes and made room for her. "Of course."
The bed creaked slightly under her weight as she made herself comfortable and pulled the bed's quilt against her face. She no longer felt as if she were falling, but a different discomfort overcame her as she concentrated on her breathing, trying to will herself to sleep. Soon she realized it was panic, that Warren's phone call had disturbed her more than she wished to admit. The clash with the outside world had jarred her greatly and she wasn't exactly sure why. All she knew is that she didn't want to face it, not now. Not yet.
She straightened her legs and rolled over as the sheets clung to her skin. Her eyes fluttered open and she saw Jean watching her. Apparently neither one of them could sleep.
The telepath propped her head on her hand and stared hard at Betsy as she asked, "What's bothering you?"
Betsy took a deep breath and bit her lip as she looked away from Jean and stared at the ceiling. "I'm not sure. It's difficult to explain."
"Why don't you try?"
She could feel Jean's gaze cutting into her soul like a hot knife. She knew she couldn't hide from her or herself any longer. She took a deep breath and turned to face Jean, the woman who in a matter of days had become her friend and so much more. "What are we doing here, Jean?"
Jean narrowed her eyes. "You know why we came to Tahiti."
Betsy sat up and shook her head, "No, no. I know that. I mean what are we doing? What is going on? Why are we so afraid to face the outside world?"
Jean sat up herself and crossed her legs indian-style as she faced Betsy. "I'm not sure that afraid is the word."
Betsy released a deep breath and leaned back into the headboard. "You're right. It's not exactly fear. But we are definitely hiding."
"Maybe it's because we feel so safe here, just the two of us. Like letting other people in will destroy what we've built."
She blinked. "And what have we 'built,' Jean? Please tell me because I have no idea."
Jean looked down at her hands in her lap and then back at Betsy. "I'm not sure either. But I know that we're a part of one another now, for better or worse. What happened back there with the Shadow King changed us. I'd like to think it made us stronger."
Furrowing her brow, Betsy stared at Jean and she met her gaze without blinking. "I don't want to be your crutch, Jean."
Jean nodded. "And I don't want to be yours."
Without thinking, Betsy reached out and took Jean's hand. She studied it as the moonlight filtered in through the window and she was struck without familiar and real it seemed. "So where does that leave us?"
Jean took her other hand. "I don't know. But I can't let you go, not completely. I don't want to."
"And I don't want you to, either."
Letting go of Betsy's hands, Jean sat next to her and put her head on her shoulder. "Then we won't."
Betsy ran her hand through Jean's hair and kissed her forehead. "Okay. We won't."
Jean smiled and looked up at Betsy. "So what are we then? Friends? Soulmates... lovers?"
She laughed and tickled Jean as the red-haired telepath giggled shrilly and retreated from her shoulder. Shrugging her shoulders, Jean smiled mischievously. "Well, you can't fault a girl for trying."
Betsy rolled her eyes and tossed a pillow at Jean telekinetically. "You are incorrigible!"
Grinning, Jean tossed the pillow aside and leaned over Betsy as she mock-pouted. "Admit it. I'm adorable when I'm like this."
Betsy giggled. "You're always adorable, Jean. And you know it."
She tossed the pillow back at Betsy and said nonchalantly, "Can't help what you're born with."
Shaking her head, Betsy said, "Like I said. Incorrigible."
"Good night, Elizabeth."
She grinned. "Good night, John Boy."
Before she could blink, Jean had pounced on her and held her flat on the bed as she pinned her by her wrists. "And just who are you calling a boy?"
She knew Jean was expecting her to resist and push her away. But at the moment, Betsy didn't feel like moving a muscle. Jean's smile faded as she studied her and she spoke her name, concern apparent in her tone. "Betsy?"
Craning her neck to meet Jean's face, Betsy closed her eyes and kissed Jean's lips. When Jean didn't move away, she let her mouth linger, allowing the sensation to wash over her thoughts. It didn't seem as strange as she thought it would and by the reaction she felt over their rapport, Jean was just as pleasantly surprised.
When Jean finally pulled away, she lay beside Betsy and draped her arm around her shoulders, squeezing her with a barely perceivable pressure. Tilting her head to let her cheek rest against Jean's chest, she listened to the steady rhythm of her heart and the sound lulled her to sleep as she whispered, "No labels, Jean. Please, no labels."
The next day, Betsy decided to take Paul up his offer of a water tour of the islands and she and Jean arrived early on the dock of Island Cruises and Ski. As they stood waiting with a small group of fellow tourists, Betsy nudged Jean and pointed at a placard. "Look. They have parasailing."
Jean laughed and shook her head. "Always the action junkie, no?"
Betsy grinned. "You know me. But I was thinking you could try it."
"Me? No, no. I don't have a built-in safety net anymore. It would probably scare the hell out of me."
Betsy winked. "Don't worry, I'd be there to catch you."
Shaking her head again and chuckling quietly, Jean said, "Of course you would."
Before Betsy could push the matter any more, she saw Paul bounding across the dock as he waved at them exuberantly. "Mademoiselle Braddock!"
She smiled as he reached them and said cheerily, "Paul. So glad we could finally make it."
"So am I, Mademoiselle."
Betsy watched in amusement as his attention turned from her to Jean and it was obvious he was smitten with her. Unable to tune out his thoughts as she was still adjusting to her increased telepathy, Jean blushed and Betsy cleared her throat before she spoke. "Paul, this is Jean. The friend I mentioned to you earlier."
Paul grinned as he extended his hand to take Jean's. "Yes, we have not been formally introduced, Mademoiselle..."
Betsy raised an eyebrow and studied Jean who simply smirked and gathered her bag. *Oh, don't worry, Betsy. Just thought it was the easiest way to get him to leave us alone. Couldn't have the boy fumbling around the decks all day like a lovesick puppy. It could be hazardous to his health.*
Before Betsy could chide Jean, Paul had grabbed a clipboard and asked, "So what will it be today, ladies? Snorkeling, parasailing, jet-ski?"
Quickly standing between Betsy and Paul, Jean peered down at the clipboard and asked, "How about just an island tour?"
She smiled back at Betsy, "I think a four hour tour around the islands would be beautiful."
Betsy smiled and shrugged as Paul scribbled on his clipboard and pointed to a thirty-foot pleasure craft at the end of the dock. "Island tour it is. My cousin, Martin, has a boat leaving in ten minutes."
Jean beamed as she pulled Betsy's arm toward the small yacht. "Perfect."
Once aboard, Jean and Betsy staked out a spot at the rear of the boat and sat quietly as the rest of the passengers boarded and the boat moved away from the shore. Jean then propped her feet up and put her hands behind her head as she said with satisfaction, "Ah. This is the life."
Next to her, Betsy pouted, "Snorkeling might have been nice."
"Maybe later. Today, this is just my speed."
"You're getting soft in your old age, Jean."
Jean waved a hand at Betsy, "Shush. You know I like a romp on the wild side as much as the next girl. I just didn't feel up to it today. And besides... technically, you're older than me."
While the body she now inhabited was close to the same age as Jean and the first class of X-Men, Elizabeth Braddock was born some years earlier. Her age had been something she chose not to dwell too much on as it tended to make her mind spin and if it wasn't for her twin, Brian, she might have given up celebrating birthdays all together. So she dismissed the comment and joined Jean at staring up at the clear, blue sky. "I would still like to try parasailing. They say it's almost like flying."
Her thoughts then turned to her days as Captain Britain and how incredibly enrapturing it was to fly of her own power. It was the one thing she missed the most from that time. It was a gift Warren has been able to give back to her in part as he took her flying, bundled tightly in his arms. But it wasn't the same. Nice, but not as wonderful as soaring above the countryside under her own control.
Snapped from her reverie by the pressure of Jean's hand on her own, she heard her say, "You know you can fly again."
Betsy narrowed her eyes as Jean continued. "With your telekinesis, you can fly."
Amazed that the thought hadn't crossed her mind, Betsy smiled at the possibility. "Will you show me how?"
"Of course. We can try it when we get back."
Betsy released a contented sigh and turned her attention back to the sky as a solitary bird crossed her field of vision. She smiled as excitement fluttered happily across her thoughts. Flying under her own power again. What a glorious gift! Suddenly, thoughts of home no longer seemed so unattractive and she realized she couldn't wait to show Warren.
For the rest of the week, Jean patiently helped Betsy learn more about her telekinesis as she worked to further hone her own increased telepathy. They found a deserted part of the island where Betsy could practice levitation and she quickly learned how to guide herself through the air and could barely contain her enthusiasm. If it wasn't for Jean shielding her presence from prying eyes, no doubt she would have shocked quite a few villagers as she streaked through the sky, whooping and laughing despite herself.
While Betsy was on the ground, the two were inseparable, spending their days experimenting with their powers and their nights in quiet solitude. And while both admitted to feeling more content than they had in ages, Betsy could sense a longing in Jean, a need to get on with her life. They both began to realize their time together could not last forever.
One morning as they sat in the kitchen eating breakfast, Betsy felt Jean's eyes on her, she knew it would end sooner than later. Peering at her companion over her magazine, she furrowed her brow. "What?"
Shaking her head, Jean turned her gaze back to her cereal as she said quietly, "Nothing. It's nothing."
Betsy raised an eyebrow. "Jean?"
Dabbing her mouth with a cloth napkin, Jean then folded it on the table and released a deep sigh. "Do you still love him?"
For a brief second, Betsy wished she still had her telepathy. "Who?"
Betsy had been dreading this conversation. She put down her magazine and chose her stance cautiously. "Do you still love Scott?"
Her expression slightly agitated, Jean responded, "Of course I do. What's your point?"
Jean played with her napkin ring. "I just want to know if this will change things."
Betsy didn't back down, they had decided complete honesty was the best way to deal with one another. And with their bond, there was really no point in hiding the truth. "Of course it does. This changes everything. Everything about anything in my life."
"I guess I just don't want to see him hurt on account of me. He is one of my oldest and dearest friends, after all. And he loves you, Betsy, very much. I have always been able to see it when he looks at you and now that I know you, I am able to see your mental perception of him. You know how much you mean to him and how much he means to you?"
Betsy nodded. "I wasn't planning on leaving him, Jean. Not for you if that's what you're implying."
"That's not what I'm implying!" Jean threw up her hands and sighed before she continued, "Look, I think we both know I need more time to grieve, away from the X-Men. I still have a lot of healing to do. I spoke with Nathan yesterday. He wants to meet me in Europe next week. And you... you need to go home."
She stared at Jean and pursed her lips. So this is how she was going to be, pushing her away just when things started getting uncomfortable.
Jean got to her feet. "I'm not pushing you way, Betsy. I could never do that. Not after all we've been through. You have seen and felt, hell... been... the best and worst parts of me. I just think if I don't take a step back from this now, I could lose myself again."
Betsy got to her feet and put her arms around her as she held her close and Jean's thoughts came clear to her. "Just when you found yourself again. I couldn't do that to you. I won't do that to you."
Tears fell from Jean's eyes and she smiled at Betsy as she wiped them away with a nervous laugh. "I know. And that's one of the reasons I love you so much."
Putting a hand to her face, Betsy smiled. "I know, Jean. I do."
Jean laughed nervously as she stepped away from Betsy. "So what do we do now?"
Betsy shrugged as walked out on the veranda. "I guess we start packing."
Following her outside, Jean said, "You make that sound so final."
Leaning against the railing, Betsy sighed as she said, "Well, perhaps it is." She smiled reassuringly at Jean as she continued, "Besides, we'll always have Tahiti."
She felt Jean wrap her arms around her from behind and the pressure of her chin on her shoulder as they stared out at the water together for a long while in silence before Jean finally asked, "So what will you do?"
"Go back to New York. Become an X-Man again."
She could sense Jean's concern through the rapport they shared as she asked, "Is that what you want?"
Betsy thought for a long while before she answered, "Yes. I think it is. In fact I think I want it more now than ever before. You've made me see that I can make a difference, Jean. That I am important. It's a gift I need to share."
She turned to look at Jean who was smiling at her as she said, "I'm proud of you, Betsy. For the first time since I've known you, you seem whole. Complete."
Betsy closed her eyes as Jean kissed her forehead. "And I thank you for helping me find my way."
Jean grinned and smoothed a lock of purple hair away from her face. "No. Thank you."
They stood again in silence, the island wind whipping around their bodies when Jean finally spoke. "You never answered my question. What about Warren? Do you still love him?"
Betsy nodded slowly. "Yes. I do. And I've thought about him a lot since I've been here. Sometimes I can't wait to get back and show him what I've learned and sometimes the thought of it scares me to no end. I guess I've just needed this time to be selfish, you know? To just think about me."
"And now it's time to start thinking about the bigger picture again?"
"Yes. I think so. And hopefully, he'll want to be a part of it."
Jean grinned as she stepped away from Betsy and headed back toward the door. "I think I already know the answer to that one. He'd do anything for you, Betts."
Following her inside, Betsy said, "I know. I just need to figure out if I'd do the same."
"Seeing him will make all the difference. You'll realize how much you've missed him."
Betsy sighed as she closed the door behind them. "I just hope you're right, Jean."
Disappearing into her room, Betsy heard Jean rummaging through her closet to retrieve her suitcase. "I am. Trust me."
And she did... totally and completely. Trust. Perhaps that was the true gift Jean had given her since she had been in Tahiti... the ability to trust herself to those she loved.
Betsy fumbled with her carry-on bag as she exited the terminal gate and grinned to herself as she realized she needn't worry about heavy bags ever again. She reached out with her telekinesis and let her powers carry most of her burden as the satchel appeared to hang naturally at her side. It seemed every day she was discovering a new use for her telekinesis and she felt like the proverbial child in a candy shop.
As she filed past the stewardesses and throngs of waiting family and friends, all complete strangers to her now closed mind, she saw a familiar face waiting for her at the back of the crowd. Removed as he always was, a few steps away from the claustrophobic trappings of the herd, reserved but never haughty, merely protecting his own space and the feathered appendages that hung from his back.
"Warren." Her heart actually leapt in her throat at the sight of him. She hadn't thought she would miss him as much as she did. She hadn't thought seeing him after two months would bring her such joy. As it turned out, Jean was right after all.
He held his arms open and she rushed into him, wrapping her arms around his waist and pressing her face against his chest. She thought to herself as he smiled down at her and spun her in his arms, 'Yes, Jean. I do love him. And because of you, I now know how much love there is in me to give.'
She heard Jean's telepathic voice whisper faintly across her thoughts before it disappeared into a thin, shimmering thread in the back of her mind. *It is as wide as the deep blue sea, my friend. It is endless.*