…about the dead floating in the wind.
Author: Sakura (thelasteuropean)
Pairings: Kwannon/Betsy Braddock
Warnings: Sex, drugs and violence. You know, the good stuff.
Written for: jadeddiva
Character/pairing request: Psylocke
Specific request: Maybe some backstory of how Elisabeth Braddock came to be in the position she was in during X3.
A/N: Thanks to Kristin for recommending Jesus Gardea as her sure tonic for writers block and then for the huge amount of time she gave to the beta process. This story was a lot of work and she put in an amazing amount of free time on it with me. Really, give her tongue-kisses. She's been amazing.
The title phrase and idea for a general structure are from The Light of the World by Jesus Gardea. The story of Kwannon and the wood-cutter's wife is a retelling of How Great the Glory of Kwannon! by L. Adams Beck. Kasumi and the Shadow King are a combination of my own invention and comics canon.
When I was a little girl, my mother told me stories. Stories her mother had told her. That her mother's mother had told her mother. Folktales from the old country. Tales that had been passed along for thousands of years, from generation to generation. Some had been made famous by books, movies, music. Some were still obscure – ancient myths, Japanese legends, cautionary Buddhist tales. Some I wonder if she had invented herself, so as never to run out of new stories to tell.
She was gifted, my mother. Her memory was limitless and precise. She wove great tapestries of songs and voices and sermonic descriptions of the beauty of Japan, a country I had never seen.
At night, in bed, she told me about Momotaro, the little peach boy. While she gave me my bath, it was the thousand cranes. When I misbehaved, she told me stories about my beatific namesake – the gifts she bestowed, the mercies she granted. How, with the warmth of the sun, she existed in divine contemplation of the glory of goodness and opened her arms to welcome those who asked.
My mother had a story for every weather, every day, every act. When I was a little girl, I thought my mother knew the ending of every story in the world.
I first saw her in New York City.
We were working a job at the Hellfire Club, Matta and I. Sebastian Shaw was a regular customer. We always covered security at his parties. Shaw preferred the sort of protection that we provided, rather than the obvious, imposing help other promoters employed. That sort may have looked as though they could crush a person's spine, but they were tall, heavy and clumsy. Muscle like that is only good for putting on a show or stopping a bullet. Our methods were much more delicate. I could feel trouble before trouble even realized itself for what it was. Matta could erase a person before they could touch him.
I could do it before they knew I was there.
For the sixteenth birthday of his son, Shinobi, Shaw had spared no expense. Lavish opulence seemed to be theme of the night. The party was as much for Shaw as it was for his son. The guests were Shaw's friends, as much as a man like that can have friends. Wealthy, famous, influential people. People who wouldn't normally come out for the sweet sixteen of a brat. But Sebastian Shaw was powerful and it's amazing what we'll do for the people with the power.
Shinobi's mother was perennially absent. Instead, at Sebastian's side was his mistress. Emma Frost had a hard glitter, like diamonds laced with venom. Her siblings had each met an unfortunate and untimely demise, of sorts, leaving her as the heir to the Frost empire. Coincidence, most people thought. Sad, tragic coincidental death. A family curse. I knew better, though. After all, I had taken care of her brother, myself.
Matta stayed close to the hosts, Sebastian lounging near the back with Emma draped over him. I took point, chasing the shadows from corner to corner, watching for trouble.
On the stage, I stuck to Shakira's shadow for a moment, her truthful hips gyrating, shaking me, before oozing down, across the dance floor. Crossing from shadow to shadow, I sniffed for intentions. In this crowd, though, intentions weren't always an easy read. The Hellfire Club had a taste for depravity, filthier than anything you'd find at a Mexican roadhouse.
Shinobi danced obscenely with a scantily clad heiress, though it was the sight of Trevor Fitzroy snorting a line of cocaine off the cleavage of an amply endowed blonde that hardened his cock.
Donnie Pierce, the aging playboy, was taking Siena Blaze into a bathroom for a quick fuck. He knew she was fifteen years old. He didn't care.
The von Strucker twins sat quietly on the sidelines, their hands clasped together, smiling their secret smiles.
Only I knew what their secrets were.
Hellfire was built from lies, one stacked upon the next. The people within were as much a part of that as the steel and stone. Only their shadows never lied. I could always find truth in the shape of a shadow. The way it stretched and spread.
When in shadow, I could always find my way.
I could always find my way until she got in it.
She saw me that night. Shaking myself out of the shadows, she saw me. I pulled out of the darkness and there she was, looking at me. Looking right at me, like she'd known where I'd been and just where I'd end. Watching me, she danced underneath the lights. Under the lights, the shadows danced with her. Under the lights, she was red. She was blue. She was green.
Underneath the flashing lights, she was the deep purple of the shadows.
I chased shadows. Even before I could catch one. Before I became one.
On autumn afternoons, my mother took me out to wander. We'd walk the streets, the squalid heat of summer sucked away, leaving the air sharp, cool and crisp. The grass was beginning to brown. The trees were shaking off their summer growth. Though they were brilliantly colored, it wasn't the leaves that I chased and reached for. It was the fluttering shadows they cast as they fell.
"Kwannon," my mother would call to me, laughing. "You can't hold a shadow. They're not real."
I didn't know how to explain that she was wrong. That they were real. That if I just chased hard enough, I could touch them.
On those days, my mother would tell me the tale of Kasumi's revenge. It was my favorite story of all.
Kasumi loved a man who was noble but of poor character. He was a gambler, a womanizer, a liar. None of this, however, marred the purity of Kasumi's love. Eventually, moved by her devotion, he professed his love for her. But a liar's promises have no worth. He abandoned her on their wedding night, returning to his old ways.
Kasumi, stricken with grief and rage, appealed to the Gods to avenge her betrayal. For many weeks, she prayed that her love be punished. But it was the Shadow King who heard her pleas and pitied her. In the flickering light of the temple, the Shadow King took Kasumi by the hand and drew her into his world.
Transformed, Kasumi joined herself with her lover's shadow so that he might feel the pain of betrayal forever.
It was a cautionary tale that my mother told. A warning against chasing that which did not exist. My mother, my Buddhist mother, told me tales of deepest love, of kindness, of eternal reward.
But I loved Kasumi and her revenge.
My mother wanted me to be the Lady of Forgiveness.
But I waited for the Shadow King to hear me, to find me, to take my hand.
How disappointed my mother would be if she could see what I've become.
Nyorin's smile cut a half-moon of hospital white in the tanned-orange leather of his face.
"Matsu'o Tsurayaba," he introduced us to his associates, "and his wife, Kwannon."
I let Matta do the talking. I always did. He was better at it. Talking was his gift. The work was mine.
He was discussing security issues with a man whose shadows were like oiled rubber, when I felt the pull. A yank at my core that pulled and begged. When the shadows drew me that way or this, I followed. They had saved me more than once.
I didn't bother excusing myself. No one would notice when I was gone. No one ever did.
On my own, I have no use for stairs. I followed the shadows up the wall to the second floor. They took me to a room at the end of a long corridor. It was a hard, white room. It glowed in the moonlight. The shadows there were cold and slippery like ice. They were difficult to hold on to. I had to move, never clinging to one spot for long.
In the center of the room, she sat on the rounded edge of the oversized bed. The woman from the Hellfire Club. The woman who danced with the shadows. Pale skin and dark hair. Sooty smudged violet eyes. She was like a bruise on the flawless, clinical white.
"Kwannon," she said my name, rolling the syllables over her tongue like a candy. "Lady of Pity. Are you merciful, Lady Kwannon, or just pitiful?"
The moon cast a long, dark light, almost a shadow itself, onto the ocean below. I could have followed it out of the house, down the beach and out to sea.
"That's quite parlor trick," she said. Her accent was finishing school and garden parties, polo matches and afternoon teas. "Sometimes I almost don't notice you're there."
I should have run. That moment, that moment when she first spoke, that was my chance to escape. I should have left the shadows behind. I should have taken Matta by the hand and led him away from there. I could have. I could have left the shadows behind and lived. Really lived. Away, away, away from her, I could have lived.
She snatched me out of the darkness, pulled me from the shadows that held me. And though I struggled, her hand around my wrist was like a manacle. Her grip was strong and, no matter how hard I tried, the shadows wouldn't move me anywhere but there. The darkness around her eyes made me a prisoner.
"I've got a brand new game for you, Kwannon," she said.
Her breath was as cold on my ear as her fingers were against my skin.
There lived long ago, where the Shiobara River runs through the gorges, a poor wood-cutter and his wife. Everyday, they worked, toiling until exhaustion overtook them. And everyday, the wood-cutter's wife prayed that the Gods send them a son to aid them in their labor.
Kwannon, the Great Lady of Pity, heard her prayers and was moved by her plight. She visited the woman in a dream. Kwannon held a golden lotus in her hand and, with her divine breath, exhaled a perfume of purity and exultation upon the woman.
The wood-cutter's wife awoke, weeping for joy and soon thereafter found herself with child. Having received such blessing from Kwannon, the wood-cutter's wife was certain she would have a son and that son would be healthy and beautiful. He would bring wealth, success and long life upon them all. Yet, when the time came, the child was a girl, born flat-faced and blind.
The wood-cutter and his wife, who had so wanted for a child, were made spiteful by their disappointment. They worked their blessed daughter like a slave, feeding her with cruelty and hard blows. The shrine of Kwannon was neglected. Their shame and bitterness at the unwanted result of the gift was too great. In their folly, they believed Kwannon would not see their neglect. They believed the Lady of Pity would not remember one, small child.
But Kwannon is known for the greatness of her memory.
I had heard them call her Betsy.
She was only ever Butterfly to me.
In a Las Vegas flophouse, a man lay sleeping.
A greasy, Louisiana bayou rat. The sort of man who lives to take without giving anything in return. A liar. A gambler. A thief. A job.
The room was thick with his intentions, his shadow dark and dirty. His desires, his needs made him ripe. Inside of him, his dreams were full of shadows. I entered them as easily as slipping a knife into water.
My breath was fetid, the sweet smell of flowers decaying, as I blew through his dreams.
He choked to me in sloppy Cajun French. It was a language as dead as he. I only understood one word.
"Kwannon." My name fell over her tongue like a waterfall. "The great goddess of pity. Beautiful and kind. Her arms wide open, laying mercy upon those who seek it."
Her voice was soft in my head, like a dream. I turned away from her, into the light, my shadow stretching behind me, disappearing into her.
"It'll be worth your while, Psylocke," Callisto said. "We're going to do great things."
Behind me, Butterfly smiled. White teeth. A mouth full of darkness.
The shadows curled around me, hugging the curve of my hip and snuggling like a cat underneath my chin. They floated on the air. They weaved and waved. They shook and shivered. They felt like victory and smelled like death.
My shadow is pulling at me.
Leading me straight to Hell.
In photographs, I am never laughing. In photographs, I am violet eyed and dark-haired. In photographs, my face is as blurry as my memory of what came before.