SCAM: X-Men Comicsverse, circa 1996.
Disclaimer: Not Mine.
Set: As mentioned, '96. Right before X-Force left the X-Mansion for other climes, post-Sabretooth's inhabitance, pre-Onslut.
Character: Elizabeth Braddock Rating: PG13. Bad language. Drama.
Challenge: Trouble Brewing (not specified, but there was a lot around then. Onlsut himself, the Crimson Dawn... the Shadow King... )
Length: 1000 words exactly, according to WordPerfect Three-word prompt: muddy boots, whispering, photograph album

Unless Summer Never Comes by ALC Punk!

She doesn't like to remember her parents.

The memories come, though, whispering through her mind. Laughter and the skittish giggling of childhood.

Childish games, my love, her mother used to say, are good up to a point.

But childish games gave way to dead men's dreams.

In the here and now, she is not who she once was. She thinks of herself as less, a shadow (within shadows within shade -- and Matsu'o would laugh his despair if he knew this).

Elizabeth Braddock remembers the feeling of loyalty and energy that came with being Captain Britain. A tie more primal than woman and child, with more depth than a tree and bedrock. Almost magical, to feel the pull of the people of this once great isle (that would be again, that was forevermore -- don't you believe the propaganda?).

There was a photograph album in the attic of Braddock Manor. With faded yellow stills of a time long past, an age where people smiled politely and gave nothing away.

Hard to break the habit of centuries to become a woman of passion and energy (or even a man, and she knows that Brian has never regretted who he is; sometimes wishes he did). Difficult to entwine her fingers in a man's hair and move past that school-girl restraint that tells her to lie back and think of England, dear.

(Mother, where were you when I needed to know these things?)

Auction of the heart and mind (the soul left long ago, bled all over the floor and staining the walls red) constitutes moral bankruptcy.

Inaction of the limbs leaves her still.

Stating the obvious makes her sarcastic.

Warren accuses her sometimes of being distant, and she doesn't laugh. Alone, she will stare in the mirror at the face not her own and feel bitterness well deep. There is a lot of bitterness to be drained from Elizabeth Braddock.

Distant. Of course she's fucking distant, she wants to tell him. I should be dead.

Dead and buried and six feet under so she can fly among the stars.

Sugar and spice and all things nice, that's what little girls are made of. She likes to think that it once could have been true. Before the X-Men, before Spiral's Body Shop. Before Kwannon and eyes that didn't work and the knowledge that she was no better than she ought to be.

"Betsy?" Warren's voice pulls her from her contemplation, and she turns from the window, away from the children playing on the lawn.

The facade is easy to slip into place. Like projecting the wrong mental image half a step ahead, she now side-steps into a personality that doesn't fit right anymore. "Yes?" And she's still a little behind, some of the sharpness of her psychic knife slides under the tone.

"Did you want to go down for lunch?" There is something wary and cautious about Warren Worthington III. Instinctively, his primitive mind understands. His waking mind merely scoffs in rationality at the reflections of nightmares it thinks he sees in her eyes. But then, he did go with Logan to retrieve this help. The Crimson Dawn, bought with souls, never paid for in perpetuity.

"That's all right. I need to do some meditation. I'll probably grab something later." The Mansion kitchen is always full of random snacks. Hard to keep a fighting-fit group of adults (and teenagers) in health and happiness without them.

Betsy thinks Jean conveniently 'forgets' the shopping list as often as possible, despite Scott's indulgent glares and lectures about proper nutrition.

It would be so easy to simply know.

But improper. And something mirthless that might once have been a laugh flitters through her brain.

"All right." Warren eyes her one last time and departs.

He doesn't understand her anymore. This is not a surprise (never a surprise, always a plan), and very little ever will be again.

The facade slithers away back into the dust it came from.

She wonders how Brian could delude himself into being surprised about their father as she turns slowly back to stare out into the grey afternoon. He'd called her, babbling about bullets that ate people, victims that screamed as they died, men who exploded when the truth was out.

It took the numbness she has clung to since she awoke to find her belly ripped to ribbons and her soul bartered to save her life to keep from laughing hysterically.

There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead -- no. That's not right. It was an axe buried in her skull, red blood spattering the wall behind her while sightless amethyst eyes demand to know when she will be allowed to die.

Brian, she thinks, you should have told them to let me die.

X-Force are playing touch football on the lawn, churning the unmown grass into muck and mud. Tabitha is laughing as Guthrie takes her down, they tumble, and even from here she can see the stealthy groping. Roberto calls the play on account of 'smoochies', his tone mocking (if she could hear, which she can't, but she knows him, smug grin, dark eyes, smile which wants to know how she tastes). There is a brief skirmish as Caliban retrieves the ball from underneath the kissing couple.

Mud-splattered and spattered, they laughingly agree to end the game, she can almost hear Terry's lilting voice mocking them as they stride across the impromptu field, their boots picking up more mud with every step.

As they enter the Mansion, she thinks, their boots will track in all manner of mud. Her mother would have been displeased.

Mother, who was a member of the Hellfire Club. She remembers when that was something to be lauded over her schoolmates, when she could flaunt the family crest and stick her nose in the air. And pretend, maybe, that the princess in the castle really was the innocent everyone thought her to be.

She doesn't have that luxury now.

-f-