|Thu, 16 Nov 2000
"Wrestling With The Angel" [Gauguin Series: Psylocke/Phoenix, Angel]
Disclaimer: The X-Men aren't mine. No copyright infringement is intended. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money is being made.
Notes: This is the fifth story in The Gauguin Series, taking place immediately after "Fatata Te Moua." Just so you know, the order thus far is "Arearea," "Femmes De Tahiti," "Aha Oe Feii?," "Fatata Te Moua" and this story, "Wrestling With The Angel." What? The titles not in Tahitian, you say? It's actually something I can pronounce? Yep. But it is based on a Gauguin painting, probably his most famous, called "Vision After the Sermon, Jacob Wrestling With The Angel". Don't worry. You'll get more language lessons as the story moves along. :-)
Thanks to everyone who's given me so much encouragement on this series. You guys blow me away. The girls thank you, too, and remind you that feedback gets them that much farther along toward a resolution. :-) Yes, I'm an evil and taunting writer. But whatever gets the job done, no? Many thanks to both Pebblin and Lise for their beta help with this story or rather saving it completely. You guys rock.
Oh, and PG-13 for a bit of nasty language and general naughtiness. Previous installments are available at both the Itty Bitty Archives and Fonts of Wisdom. Please do not archive without permission. Feedback is cherished and spun into gold by small gnomes at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Gauguin Series
Wrestling With The Angel
Betsy sat at the foot of her bed and pulled the sheets around her naked body. She hadn't meant for this to happen. She hadn't expected to find him drenched and pitiful on her doorstep. She didn't want be drawn into the scent of him as she buried her face into his jacket to keep the rain out of her face as they flew through the rain-soaked clouds above Braddock Manor. She hoped she wouldn't remember how his lips tasted and how his skin felt beneath her fingers. But she did. They both did. And for a few brief hours, it felt better than good.
The morning sun began to stream in through the window and she felt his arms loop around her from behind as he planted a string of warm kisses along her neck. She remained still at the foot of the bed as he got to his feet and smiled at her as he reached out to hold her chin in his pale, blue palm. He then kissed her gently and she held her breath, while an irrational voice in the back of her thoughts told her if she remained completely quiet she would wake up alone in her bed and realize the last twelve hours of her life were just a dream.
She blinked slowly as she watched him dress, awkwardly yet somehow deftly slipping his feathered wings through the special slits in his shirt. No, she told herself silently as she got to her feet. This wasn't a dream. And if she didn't say just the right things, it could quickly turn into a nightmare.
As she stood in the middle of her bedroom, clutching a white sheet to her chest, Warren smiled as he looked at her, his eyes twinkling in amusement. "What is it, Betts?"
She squinted her eyes and pursed her lips, but the words wouldn't come as she watched him tie his shoes. He shook his head as he looked up at her. "You're positively ravishing when you're speechless, you know?"
Her mouth fell open as he got to his feet and took her in his arms. "I..."
But he silenced her with another kiss and then said, "I know. I missed you, too."
Her face flushed in exasperation, but before she could offer a retort or rebuttal, he said quickly with a grin and a wink as he walked to the door, "I'm off to find some breakfast. It seems I've worked up quite an appetite."
As the door shut quietly behind him, she groaned in frustration as she ripped the sheet from her body and flung it to the floor. And then as she stood naked in the middle of her childhood bedroom, glaring angrily at the old, oak door, she finally managed to speak.
A few minutes later, after she managed to stop staring after him as she slipped into a pair of leggings and pulled a favorite sweater over her head, the door to her bedroom swung open with a thud and her brother stepped in, his face red and his eyes wide. "Just what do you think you're doing, Betsy?"
She smoothed the sweater over her stomach and pushed the sleeves up over her elbows. "Trying to get dressed, if you don't mind."
He shook his blonde head, obviously a bit embarrassed he interrupted her, but not enough to cool his anger. "What the hell is he doing here? And by the stars, why is he whistling 'Camptown Races' in my kitchen while he makes himself breakfast?"
Betsy shrugged. "He's hungry?"
With a groan, Brian dropped his heavy frame onto a settee. "Christ, Betsy. I've always done my best to ignore slanders against you... but over the last few weeks with this ordeal first about another woman of all things and then seeing you continue to string Worthington along? I begin to wonder if you really are the tart everyone has always said you are."
Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. So this is what it had come down to, her playing right into her own most-feared cliche. As much as she hated to admit it, Brian was right. This did look awful. She pulled up a stool and sat across from him while she shot him a cold, appraising look as she pulled a pair of boots on. After a few tense seconds, she said quietly, "The only reason you're still sitting here with your head on your shoulders is because you're my brother."
Brian sighed as he shook his head. "I'm sorry, but this is ridiculous. You've got to admit this looks completely ludicrous. He says he's going to marry you."
She raised an eyebrow as she tapped her fingers on her knees. "He said that to you?"
Looking at her with an exasperated expression, Brian spoke as he held up his hands and then dropped them in his lap, "Yes. He did. So are you?"
Betsy folded her arms over her chest as she took a deep breath. She had to admit to herself that for as long as she and Warren had been together, she had always thought that marriage was a possibility. It had never been something either of them had pursued actively or even discussed until after her brother's wedding. The fact that people around them were starting to plan for the future, seemed to turn their own eyes inward to their future together. She just hadn't expected when the time came that she would want to run away from Warren as if her very life depended on it. But she had before on the night he discovered she and Jean together and she was still running. Even if there weren't other possibilities on her horizon, she knew that just imagining a future with Warren was enough to scare the wits out of her... it made her imagine life turning into an endless string of charity benefits, venture capital meetings and too-tight Italian pumps with no light at the end of the tunnel. So she said quietly, justifying her thoughts more to herself than Brian, "No, of course not."
Brian continued to stare at her. "So how did he get the idea you were going to marry him, then?"
She looked away and said quietly as she got to her feet, "That's why he came here. To ask me. He asked me last night, as a matter of fact."
"And you said?"
Betsy began to pace the floor in front of her brother. "I..."
She closed her eyes as a recollection of blue skin flashed across her thoughts. As she pressed a hand against her mouth, she could still smell him and remember how every inch of him felt over her, under her... inside her. She imagined the tickle of his hair on her cheek and how he curled around her as he slept, his chest rising and falling in time with hers as the soft down of his feathers kept her warm. But mostly she recalled how whenever he whispered her name, it sounded as if he were praying.
Shaking the images away, she said quietly, almost ashamed, "I didn't say anything. How could I?"
Brian reached out and grasped her hand. "You have to fix this, Betsy."
She hung her head as she squeezed his hand in return. "I know."
Her brother then patted her shoulder and left her alone with her thoughts as she sat silently on the unmade bed. She couldn't help but feel her life was doomed to complication. She didn't want to hurt anyone. It would be so much easier if she really was the heartless ice-queen everyone thought she was all these years. Her life might actually make sense, then. It would be so simple just to cut her losses and move on. But there were certain things... certain people she just couldn't leave behind.
Rolling over onto her stomach, she flattened her palms on the bed and found a feather hiding between two folds in the blanket. She plucked it free and spun it between her thumb and index finger, watching the morning sun glint through the white fibers. Life with Warren would have been a lifetime of feathers and late breakfasts and lazy Sunday mornings curled up in front of the newspaper. And passion. He had so much of it it could almost get in the way. And it did get in the way. A life with him was taking her away from the X-Men and the goals she held most dear. And while she spent more and more time away from Westchester, he spent more and more time in conference rooms and board meetings in Manhattan. Truth be told, she was just as much of a hindrance to him as he was to her. She had simply noticed first. Still, there was so much she would miss... flying over SoHo at dusk, rooftop meals and nights at the opera... things they hadn't had the time to do in months. But it was all worth the risk. Jean had shown her how much more there was to life. That the world was bigger than she had ever imagined. Holding the feather in the air with her telekinetic powers, she let it dance through the air, smiling as she did her best to imitate the wind.
She sighed as she got to her feet and let the feather drop to the floor. There was still so much to see and do in this world, things that a life as Warren's doting wife wouldn't allow her to do. Things he would never understand or allow her the freedom to see. So what if she was doomed to a life of complications and tough decisions? It was her life and her fate and she was determined to make the most of it. She wasn't going to spend the rest of her life being miserable just so someone she once loved could be lulled into a false sense of happiness. If she owed Warren an answer to his proposal, then she also owed herself her life back. She was bound and determined to grasp it firmly with both hands and never let go again.
With her lips pursed tightly and her posture straight, she walked down the back stairs of Braddock Manor, entered the kitchen and sat quietly at the large, oak dining table as she drummed her manicured fingernails on the hard surface and watched Warren eat the last of his breakfast. When he finally looked at her, Betsy silently, yet forcefully grabbed one of his wrists and pulled him out the door and into the gardens surrounding the house. After she deposited him on a cold, wet granite bench, he asked, his tone filled with exasperation and his eyes betraying his confusion, "What?!"
She looked at him coolly, doing her best to keep every last emotion locked deep within her thoughts. She would give him nothing. It was better this way. Easier. It had to be said and he had to accept it. She had decided it would be more humane in the long run to injure him with a cold hand than a warm one. One day he would understand, she told herself. One day when he was old and surrounded by the adoring family he longed so much for, he would thank her for this. "I'm not marrying you. I can't give you the life you want, Warren. I can't be the person you need me to be. I love you... but not enough. I've got to live my own life."
Eyes wide, he looked up at her. "Wait, wait. What is this?"
She shrugged her shoulders and nodded slowly. "I'm sorry, Warren. But it's over. It was over weeks ago when you left Westchester. It's still over."
She watched his head fall into his hands as he started to laugh quietly to himself. "It's over? But what if I don't want it to be over yet, Betts?"
Taking a deep breath, she stood unflinching on the stone walkway that meandered through the ornate garden. "I'm sorry."
Slowly getting to his feet, Warren stared into his empty hands. "This is about her, isn't it?"
She looked hard at him, hoping he'd return her gaze and see the sincerity in her eyes. But he kept looking anywhere but at her. "No. It's about us."
Reaching out toward him, she held his face between her hands so that he was forced to look at her as she said quietly but forcefully, "You don't make me happy anymore."
He clenched and unclenched his fists as he stepped away from her and she let go of him as he said, "And that's because of her, isn't it? It's okay, Betsy. I understand... everyone needs to experiment once in their life. It doesn't mean anything has to change. It doesn't mean you've done anything wrong."
He put his hands on her shoulders and whispered, "I forgive you, Betsy."
Wriggling out from under his grip, she said in exasperation, her tactful diplomacy quickly leaving her as she watched Warren's hurt turn into something else, "Dear Lord, Warren. That is not what this is about!"
He didn't relent as he stepped behind her, kissing her scalp and then pressing his lips against her ear as a light wind danced through the tall hedges. "Then what's the problem? Am I not good enough for you anymore? I didn't hear any objections last night. That was my name you were moaning, wasn't it?"
Whirling around to face him, she said icily as she raised a trembling finger to his face and pointed at him angrily, "That's not fair."
Kissing her finger and then pushing it away, he said with a smile, "Fair? Haven't you heard that life isn't fair? If life was fair, I would have had Jean all those years ago and you never would have had a chance with her."
It was obvious he was trying to make her hurt just as much as he was, but she was determined not to give him what he wanted, even though her voice quivered with anger. She had always wondered what it would be like to be on Warren's bad side and now that she knew, she understood why he was one of the most ruthless business men in Manhattan. He wasn't used to not getting his way. And when he didn't get what he wanted, he made sure someone suffered the consequences. She just never thought that someone would be her. She threw her shoulders back and glared at him, her voice dripping with icy condemnation, "Now you're just being cruel."
Warren smirked as he studied her with almost predatory eyes. "I've always had the capability of being cruel, Betsy. You've just never had the privilege of seeing me be truly nasty before."
Rolling her eyes, Betsy threw her hands up in the air. "Fine. You're angry. You're lashing out. I deserve it. I didn't want it to end like this, but if this is how it's going to be, fine."
Betsy narrowed her eyes, disbelieving Warren's curse. "Excuse me?"
She watched him seethe, his face cold and distant as he looked through her. "After everything I did for you, saving your life when Sabretooth eviscerated you, helping you to resolve everything with Kwannon and keeping you on the team when nobody trusted you anymore... this is how you repay me!?"
She couldn't believe her ears. It suddenly felt that after all the time they had spent together, she no longer knew the man standing in front of her. The years of sharing and love and understanding instantly withered up and died. She never thought they'd be so easy to destroy. She never thought they could disappear in the blink of an eye. "So you did all those things just to buy me? So I would owe you? So I would love you out of some sense of debt? You saved my life just so it could be yours? Warren, you're more self- centered and despicable than I ever imagined."
Realization suddenly flashed across his face and he back-pedaled, reaching out for Betsy with a desperate look in his eyes. "No. I... I didn't mean..."
She slapped his hand away as she backed out of his reach. "Go. Before you say anything else you'll regret."
Warren then turned his back to her and started to walk back toward the house, his wings drooping as his feathers nearly touched the ground. Almost.
He then turned around to face her, his eyes sparkling for just an instant like those of the man she had known and loved all those years. He looked as if wanted to apologize, to take her hand and tell her he was sorry for being so cruel and flippant. But instead he lifted his chin defiantly and the expression left his face as quickly as it had surfaced. He walked closer as he said quietly and angrily, "No. I'm not finished."
Betsy's eyes grew wide as she stormed past him into the house. "Yes. You are!"
Before she could slam the door in his face, he caught it with his hand and stalked into the kitchen behind her as he grabbed her shoulder and whirled her around to face him. "No, I'm not! Jesus, that's just like you. Always have to have the last word. Always have to be so incredibly self-righteous. I'm not the bad guy here, Betsy! I'm not the one who wasn't willing to fight for what we had together. And for God's sake, I'm not the one who went off and fell in love with another woman!"
They were both oblivious as Meggan stood a few feet away from them, a telephone in her grasp as she stared at them both with a horrified expression as Betsy put her hands on her hips and said as the two stood bickering in front of the room's large, ornate fireplace, "I never said I loved her."
Warren shook his head. "But you do. How can you not? She's Jean after all. I know how she can get under your skin in the best and worst kind of way, how she can dictate the rise and fall of the damned sun if she puts her mind to it. As a matter of fact, I also remember how jealous you used to be of her... always scared you were being compared to her by the rest of the X-Men."
Betsy winced at the words and Warren drove the knife in deeper as embers sparked and crackled nearby and Meggan held her breath. "You were scared that they hated your for not being her. That I was comparing you to her when we were together. That you were just my replacement for her."
He then smiled weakly as Betsy gaped at him from the middle of the kitchen floor and he said with satisfaction, "And I suppose you were. But you'll never be Jean. Never in a million years. You don't have the spine and you most certainly don't have the heart."
Squinting her eyes, Betsy seethed, "How dare you talk to me like that."
Warren stepped closer to her and looked down his nose at her as he jeered, "It's only the truth. Since when are you, the almighty Elizabeth Braddock, Psylocke of the X-Men, afraid of the truth?"
Betsy groaned as she flung her hands out in exasperation and Meggan waved at her unnoticed from her spot by the kitchen counter. Her sister-in-law then watched helplessly as Betsy jabbed a finger at Warren's chest and raised her usually even voice. "You want the truth? You want the truth?! Well, here's your bloody, fucking truth! The truth is I haven't loved you for a long, long time. I've just been with you because I didn't know what else to do with my life. I've just been waiting for something better to come along. And it did. And she's mine now if I want her."
She grinned as she paused for effect, enjoying watching him stand uncomfortably in front of her, his mouth hanging open in shock. "After Scott died, she came to me. Me! Not Logan or you or anyone else! She chose me."
Watching his wings droop and the color fade from his face, she decided to go in for the kill. She would show him up at his own game. No one could be crueler than her when she put her mind to it. He would rue the day he tried to outplay her. "And last night wasn't about rekindling anything we might have had. No, that died a long time ago. Last night was about pity. That's right, Warren, pity. I fucked you because I feel sorry for you!"
"Betsy?" questioned Meggan tentatively as she raised a finger and furrowed her brow.
"Not now, Meggan." Betsy turned back to him, her eyes wide and flashing with anger. "So you can just put an end to all of your idiotic mind games right now. Because there's not a damn thing you can say anymore that will hurt me. And do you know why?"
Her voice more sure and urgent, Meggan said quickly, "Betsy!"
"I said not now!"
Meggan stared at Betsy, her eyes unblinking. "I think you'll want to take this."
"For heaven's sake, Meggan..." she growled as she glared at the woman, her anger cutting almost palpably through the room. She quickly softened as she caught the shocked and worried expression on her sister-in-law's face, suddenly embarrassed that she had snapped at her. Betsy released a sigh and held out her hand. "Give me the telephone."
She took the phone from Meggan's nervous hands and put the receiver to her ear, when an all too familiar voice spoke across the line. "You talk about me like I'm some damned trophy you won at summer camp, Betsy."
Her blood ran cold as she stammered, "It's... It's not like that..."
"Warren's there, isn't he?"
She glared at Warren, wishing he would just sink through the floor and disappear. "Yes."
"And you slept with him?"
Betsy winced. "Jean, I..."
"Answer me, Betsy."
"Yes. I did."
And then the line went dead and Betsy was left staring through Warren as Meggan hung her head and backed out of the room. With a smirk on his face, Warren asked, "Why?"
Dazed, Betsy furrowed her brow and spoke quietly, "Why what?"
Warren folded his arms over his chest as he watched her blink slowly as she took a deep breath. "Why can't I hurt you anymore, Betsy?"
She finally turned away from him and gently hung up the telephone, her tone barely above a whisper as she leaned her forehead against the wall, "Because I don't care, Warren. I just don't care anymore."