Cold. I pulled the borrowed overcoat, borrowed from her, tighter.
Outside, she glided through the foliage like a bird of prey. While her confused mind took a much needed rest, her body flowed with a compact efficiency that would impress the eldest of martial arts masters. She let herself go, and the fluidity, the breathtaking dances, the perfect blending in the darkness reminded me of me, me a lifetime ago, maybe even two. For a moment, the weight of her life slid from her, and even so far away, sitting here in my guest quarters, I saw her eyes gleefully twinkle like the first star in the night sky.
Unable to help myself, I opened the window and leapt, the winter's cold kissing my cheeks as her coat billowed like a ship's sails. I know she saw me; I know she heard me land on the frozen grass. With trees above us, bushes around us, and nothing but the moon to cast our shadows, we indulged ourselves in a game of cat and mouse.
And like last time, we couldn't tell who was the cat and who was the mouse.
Pine needles caressed me, put into silence by careful techniques practiced by generations of the deadliest assassins. My feet flickered over soft soil but left nothing disturbed. I strained for signs of her, for that lithe form or long, straight hair, but she wouldn't reveal herself. I sniffed the air and found a hint of the coconut shampoo she delighted in using.
The milky, nutty aroma led me into the hedge maze.
No light here--pure unknown stretched before me. With a step, my predatory senses retreated, in its place the steely fear of prey caught. She knew I'd find her here, and this would be where she made her stand. The game ended now.
A faint rustle of leaves pulled my eyes one way but years of practice focused my attention the other way. My forearms blocked her whipping kick, enough to tell me that if we'd progressed, I would've lost.
We relaxed, the thrill of the hunt and the fight leaving us. Wisps of aggression melted away into an odd serenity connected together by this man-made nature.
Conceiting, I bowed slightly to her. "You won."
"Though not easily, Kwannon."
Kwannon... I wasn't sure of my identity, but the way the name rolled off her tongue sounded so right. In recent weeks, we'd taken to finally calling each other by something other than "You." We were broken, not sure where Kwannon ended and Elisabeth began. Offhandedly, she called me Kwannon one night and it stuck. I called her Elisabeth, and despite my fears, neither my heart nor mind protested.
I did, however, find fault with her choice of clothing. "Aren't you cold in that pseudo-ninja outfit?"
"Mind over matter," she responded primly, "You mind, but it doesn't matter."
If I didn't know better, I'd say, "You're putting on quite a brave face."
The corners of her mouth upturned. "Didn't Matsu'o say, 'Victory warms the soul and cleans the blood from the blade?'"
My heart skipped a beat, though whether because of the alluring smile or the mention of Matsu'o I didn't know. "Of course he did, but the adage makes no mention of warming the body."
At that very moment, a knightly spirit possessed me. My initial reaction--to grin and stride back to the heated mansion--turned to cinders. My fingers moved on their own, undoing her coat's large buttons with a practiced ease. She watched, partially in awe, partially in trepidation.
As the Americans say, we didn't start off on the right foot.
"You must be freezing," I said as I shrugged off her coat. She froze like a statue. She didn't move when I brought her coat around her. She didn't move when my thumb brushed against the exposed part of her shoulder. She didn't move when I buttoned her up and lingered a beat too long on the one at her considerable chest. "There, all better."
She was an image to behold. Eyes unmoving, lips paled, arms not in the sleeves, she remained perfectly still as if the slightest jerk could break the world's equilibrium.
"Thank you, Kwannon."
She was hesitant, like a student following her sensei's orders for the first time. "I never knew Psylocke to be dazed like this."
"I never had an identity crisis either."
Our stares locked. No, no hostility or maliciousness emerged in our eyes but a curiousness did, like when one wakes up from a long sleep and sees their reflection for the first time. Was I looking at her or was I looking at me? Spiral wove us two women together into one life and the villain left no seams for us to explore.
I saw the confusion in her, a sharp contrast from her child-like joy when we tested our skills. A thousand questions swam between us, questions about who we were and what we'd become dominated us. We'd talked, in fact, we talked till the sun rose, but in the end, all we knew was nothing. Spiral did her job and left us with more questions than answers.
"Your eyes," she whispered, closing the gap between us. Her arms wormed themselves into her coat's sleeves, and ever so gently, she grazed my cheek with her fingertips. A tremor raced down from her touch to my spine while the air escaped my lungs. If she noticed anything amiss, she didn't say a word. "Your eyes look like mine."
Suddenly, I realized that when my heart skipped a beat, it wasn't because of Matsu'o. "These are my eyes too," I affirmed as I touched her face. "I see me in you."
"Damn it," she sighed, frustrated, "Every time I look at you, I lose more of me that I've established."
"Then don't look."
An unreasonable burst of giddiness put my stomach in a knot. She couldn't stop looking at me, and for one terrifying second, my heart stopped. The leaves stopped rustling. Her hair stopped whipping. The wind stopped blowing. Time stopped and only I existed--I was still and lifeless, but my mind worked and that left plenty of opportunity to examine myself.
Well, the two myselves since we were close like that.
We were close, but we weren't close enough. An ocean separated us and we had no point of reference to center ourselves. Were the X-Men my friends or hers? Did she love Matsu'o or did I? Empty and unguided, I lived off of the meager memories I created for myself as Revanche. Revanche had little love for the X-Men, the same people who led her into this predicament. Revanche didn't love Matsu'o or Nyoirin or the Hand because even the slowest of individuals knew they were deceiving her.
Revanche was all I had until she hunted down Psylocke and turned her world inside out. Psylocke suffered with Revanche because they were all they had in the world. The X-Men didn't know what to think. The Hand was a million miles away. Spiral was in another dimension.
Revanche and Psylocke.
Elisabeth and Kwannon.
She and I.
My heart resumed its task while time regained its continuing form. As if burned, she jerked her hand away from my cheek. Reluctantly, I removed my hand as well.
"We should get back inside," she said, her voice emotionless.
Without waiting for my answer, she strode away, fast enough to be in a hurry but slow enough to be courteous. Despite the cold freezing my bones, I smiled my first smile since waking up to my fractured self.
"You felt it too."
The wind tussled her hair like a flag. It howled at our ears and I wondered if she heard my words. Just before I took off after her, she stopped. Her voice was soft and questioning. "What did I feel?"
"I haven't been complete since my rebirth. What makes you think I am now?"
Please, "The harmony of your mind and body, the knowledge that whatever was taken from you stands before you, the peace of the night air--how can you not feel complete? We are two sides of the same coin, ever close but never seeing each other. We hold the keys to each other's pasts, and surely, that must bring you some sense of closure to our story."
"Closure is when I find out who I really am so I can continue with my life."
"You are Psylocke."
"No!" she shouted, twirling around and marching straight at me, "I am Elisabeth Braddock, daughter of James and Elisabeth Braddock. I have two brothers and one happens to be my twin. I am a telepath with precognitive abilities. I had a cat named Lucia who died when I was ten. My greatest fear after high school was getting pregnant and having to tell my father. I worked for the psi-division of S.T.R.I.K.E. while maintaining a modeling career. My favorite color is purple. My favorite food, which only my brother Brian knows about, is toffee, chocolate chip, and walnut cookie dough. Until I was seventeen I had a deathly fear of heights and I'd never take the stairs anywhere."
Now almost nose to nose with me, she paused to catch her breath. "I am Elisabeth Braddock," she muttered, her warm breath puffing in the cold, "Not Psylocke. Not the Hand's plaything. Elisabeth. Fucking. Braddock."
"If you're so sure of yourself, then why the angst?"
"Because I'm not sure of myself! Every time I think I have my life put back together, I look at you and I think 'What if?' What if I'm not me? What if I'm Kwannon? What if I'm an unrecognizable amalgam of us?" She faced away, suddenly her entire essence so very small. "What if I'm just Spiral's creation?" she whispered, "What if I'm nothing?"
There in lie her greatest fear. Luckily, I had an answer. "Are you familiar with the saying, 'Taikai no itteki?'"
"A drop in the ocean," she responded.
"We are drops in the ocean. If you can accept that, then you realize how ephemeral life is. In this ocean of existence, we make ourselves and our importance. Nothing is stopping you from becoming Elisabeth Braddock."
"No, you're stopping me."
We blinked at each other. "Then we've come to impasse, haven't we?"
The comment rekindled her furious fire. "You're absolutely insufferable!"
"No," I replied, "You don't have faith in yourself. The life you want is there, free for you to take. You could walk into the mansion right now, convince the X-Men you're who want to be, remove my presence, and forever live the way you desire."
"I'm not like that."
"How? How aren't you like that? How do you even know when you're not sure of your identity?"
"Because I could never do something like that to anyone."
My right eyebrow raised a pinch. "Anyone or just me?"
Her voice caught and reined in what she was about to say. Eyes downcast and breaths deep, I saw the outer effects of the inner war she waged.
And I contributed my sword to her battle. "I cannot say who we are. I am not sure what we were. I only know that we are two parts of a whole, the yin and the yang, opposed to each other but complementary. Alone, we muddle through life content with the emptiness inside of us. Together, we have the potential to be something greater than the sum of Kwannon and Elisabeth."
Tilting her head up with my finger, I felt her flesh jump at my touch. "Completion. The answers are within us, and while they aren't clear, at least we know they're there. We have the choice to pursue them or make a new existence."
"Taikai no itteki," she sighed. "What we do matters only to us and little to the rest of the world."
"You felt time's sting. What was it like when you returned to the X-Men? Did your absence change them? What about your dear brother? His life continued. We are all droplets in the ocean, able to only change ourselves and slightly affect our neighbors.
"Now, circumstances have forced us together. Should be separate and go our own ways as Revanche and Psylocke? Should we join and continue our journey as one?"
Of all the responses, she laughed. Genuinely, unabashedly, and loudly, she threw her head back and cackled. With her flowing hair, rich voice, and infectious joy, she exuded an unique, sophisticated beauty like that of a butterfly.
My butterfly... the affectionate name resonated with me. It carried feelings of warmth and happiness, of giddy excitement and underlying danger. My thumping heart excited my mind, stoking my passion like well-trained fingertips. My butterfly... my butterfly laughed and my soul laughed with her.
"Journey as one? You make us sound like lovers."
The opening of a lifetime presented itself. Did I want her or did I want what she meant to me? Was I too emotional? Would she understand what I wanted from her? What did I want from her? Questions all so confusing, but I had a great equalizer: this woman completed me.
I didn't know why or how, but around her, I was more myself. She was the devil's advocate I missed, the opposing voice to my own, the balance to my introspectiveness. I needed her, and that need trumped every reason to back away from her smoldering spirit. The last moment with her was never enough, and I wanted more, more like hot tea on a winter day or falling cherry blossoms in the spring.
I did the only thing to convey myself and my intentions to her: I kissed her softly and passionately on her icy lips. Though I no longer wore her coat, I warmed, the furnace of her fighting away the unforgiving Westchester winds. She didn't pull away and her tacit agreement made me lean further into her till I could almost wrap myself in her scent, in her flesh, in her essence, in her.
Completion. The journey's end. All our troubles could cease now if she accepted the idea of us.
Savoring the sweet taste one last time, I stepped back. Her eyes appeared hazy; her lips opened, slightly parted and joyfully wet. Her beauty weakened my knees and flushed my face.
"Taikai no itteki. I realize that and I am shaping my future as I want it. Do you want to join me?"
I placed my finger on her lips. "Ssssh. Not now, my butterfly. Consider us, consider yourself, consider the new journey I have placed before you. When you come to your decision, you'll know where to find me."
For just a beat, she stayed silent. Then, unsure and shaky, "Are you... asking me out on a date?"
Cold now, I brushed past her and strode back toward the warm mansion. "In a sense," I replied mysteriously.
Yes, a date, one with destiny and the rest of our lives.
"How will I find you?"
Around the hedge maze I disappeared but I let my voice echo, "Aren't you a telepath?"
Snow fell in small spoonfuls. It'd been two days since I saw her. Everywhere I went she wasn't there--at breakfast, at lunch, at dinner, in the halls, around the mansion's expansive property, even in her room. The others cast those hostile looks at me like I'd done her harm, but I ignored them. Wolverine even gathered the courage to ask me about her; I brushed him off.
Elisabeth needed to be alone.
The mansion swelled like a pressure cooker and I escaped into town for respite. Strangely, a feeling in my bones told me that I'd hear an answer from her today, so I prepared myself. With a book of poetry in one hand and a cone of this toffee, chocolate chip, and walnut cookie dough ice cream in the other, I waited on the terrace of this large bookstore. Yes, the ice cream was cold, but the taste of it made up the difference.
Ahhh, she adored this strange concoction for a sweetly fine reason. Now, if only I could bring myself to eat straight cookie dough...
Her hand, enveloped in a leather glove, touched my shoulder--no words, only a small gesture before slipping into the seat across from me. A harried and very much freezing boy who worked at the adjacent ice cream parlor ran outside with a cone of my same treat and handed it to her before darting back in. Dubiously, Elisabeth glanced at me, the cone, and the boy.
I elaborated. "I had a feeling you'd be here today. I tipped the child heavily and told him that if a woman sat with me, she was to receive, well," I wiggled the ice cream, "this marvelous little dessert."
"Toffee, chocolate chip, and walnut cookie dough," she smiled as she took a lick. "Delicious, but not as sinful as the real thing."
"I don't understand how you can find that appealing."
"You will when you try it."
The words held a double meaning. Too suggestive to be a mere statement and too sultry to be left alone, they only meant one thing. I closed my book of poetry and set it aside. "You've considered us?"
"You've considered yourself?"
"You've considered this new journey?"
My eyes sealed themselves shut. "And what is your answer?"
A gloved hand covered my own. The breath I unconsciously held fought for release. "Aikouka," she whispered, the playful wind carrying the word like a song.
Aikouka. I knew it, but hearing the word made it real. "Aikouka," I repeated, tears forming as I finally opened my eyes.
- The End.