Notes: This is the sequel to "Unreadable" and contains an original character. Check that out first before moving on here or you'll be lost. Any feedback is appreciated since I'm planning on adding another story to this series. Tell me what I'm doing wrong or right!
Well, it was now or never. "Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you."
"You got a promotion?"
"Erm… not so much."
"Oh hush, Harold! Our girl's met someone!"
I smiled into my cell phone as I imagined Mom's beaming eyes and Dad's quickening heart rate. Mom always did pick up on subtleties better than Dad, but as groundbreaking as the news was, that wasn't what I wanted to talk about. I hedged toward the subject I wanted with an uneasy "That's part of it."
"So, is he some fancy lawyer or rich dentist?"
"Harold! It doesn't matter who she's with as long as she's happy."
"A man's got to able to take care of my daughter!"
Ok Viv, you can do this. Just say it, get it out there. "I'm-"
"Young lady, is he a freeloader?"
"No!" I squeaked, face flushing and bravery tanking. "Hold on and let me back up-"
"Lord have mercy, he's a musician, isn't he? One of those mohawk wearing, chain-smoking, leather loving losers like that guy you dated in college. What was his name? Raymond? Randy?"
"Randle," chirped Mom.
Randle, now there was a name I never wanted to hear ever again. The "mohawk wearing, chain-smoking, leather loving" drummer for a now defunct Flaming Lips tribute band caught me in a phase, specifically my "I'm not gay" phase… which, when I think about it now, really was counterproductive since he had an obsession over lesbians. Not to say Randle turned me to the "dyke-side," but putting it in simpler terms, Randle was a fucking asshole, a dirty manipulator, and a cheating bastard. My friends said so, his bandmates knew so, and my parents thought so, but, well…
I wasn't gay. Denial could do terrible things to dumb, rebellious girl. God, I could be such an easy mark when I put my brain to it.
Bad memories from years ago gave me the shivers. "Gah! No! Don't you think I've learned my lesson?"
"What is he then? An architect? Another real estate agent? A kindergarten teacher? What?"
"Dad, I'm dating a model."
An eerie quiet shut my parents up. The crackling from Mom's long hair rubbing against the telephone receiver kept me company while I could almost see Dad violently chew on his upper lip.
"A model?" grunted Dad. "Like Fabio?"
"At least he should be very handsome, Harold."
Mr. I Can't Believe It's Not Butter? Randle aside, I did have decent standards. Though Betsy wasn't a man who sported almost cartoonish muscles, I'm pretty sure she outstripped Fabio in all categories.
Not to mention she could beat him up.
"Hello? Vivian, are you there?" A deep sigh from Mom. "Harold, you did it again."
"What did I do?"
"Cut her off before she even got a few words in. You just never listen to anyone besides yourse-"
"I do not!"
"There you go, interup-"
"But you were done talking!"
And this was why I couldn't wait to move out on my own come college. Mom? Psychiatrist who loved to point out what others did wrong and why they did it. A little slip of the tongue (ass instead of grass, dick instead of brick, accidentally calling Mom "Dad") got an epic lecture and at least forty eight hours underneath the microscope. Dad? An auctioneer, one of the fastest talking people in the state of New York that gave the old Micromachine spokesman a run for his money. Loved my parents but I couldn't live with them. Imagine all the adolescent epiphanies, once-in-a-lifetime crises, and idle conversations I'd lost to mannerisms garnered by their jobs.
So instead of making this a long, heartfelt affair, I worked myself up and blurted out, "I'm a lesbian."
Not waiting for even a surprised gasp, I snapped my cell phone shut, tore out the battery, and flopped face first onto the bed. I lay there listening to the faint sounds of the streets outside, the crinkling of the sheets, and my own heaving breaths. Coming out of the closet shouldn't have been a big deal! People did it everyday and the world still turned. This was Manhattan, the NYC, Greenwich Village! Coming out rated as a non-issue around these parts!
Choking and tearing up? Not part of the equation, but here they were in spades. Did I mention the worry and negative vibes buzzing at me from my neutered cell? With a flick of my wrist, I launched the dastardly piece of plastic toward the bedroom door. It bounced once on the hardwood floor, skidded about two feet, and crashed into a pair of very familiar leather boots shining in all their hunter green glory and proudly declaring themselves as original Manolo Blahniks, not cheap knock-offs.
Funny—I didn't remember leaving those out this morning. As I tilted my head to get a better look, long, dainty fingers descended into the picture and scooped up my phone. A tad higher up, I spotted a black skirt draped over a pair of incredible legs with no flaws or end. A journey later, a tight t-shirt matching the expensive boots held back a body to die for. At the summit, Betsy's amused and slightly concerned face made me smile, half at her and half into the comforter.
"Hey," I muttered.
Another person might've said something utterly stupid and obvious, just to break the tension in the room while attempting (and failing) to sound cute. Betsy didn't do stupid or obvious and only did cute when the situation called for. This? This wasn't the time or place for cute.
She sauntered over to me and laid down, back first, on the bed. She craned forward a touch to peck my cheek with a light kiss but made no other move. We stayed like that for God knows how long, staring at each other as time ticked by. And as time ticked by, thoughts about my parents built up like a geyser, squeezing my chest like an over affectionate polar bear or a stomp-happy, rampaging elephant. Every muscle in my back stiffened up while I resumed an old habit of clenching my teeth.
Mom and Dad were the conservative type. Yes, they made a big deal about voting Democratic and freedom of everything, but when no one was looking, they liked to bask in a Midwestern mentality. Crime, national security, abortion, mutant rights, homosexuality—odd enough, they quietly stuck by their Puritan six-shooters. Mom called her leanings nostalgic, a flashback to her teens when hippies truly struggled for peace (not nookies), few had problems with nudity (because, according to her, "Back then, nudity meant nudity. Nudity didn't mean sex."), and people weren't as morally debase ("Now we're all afraid to hitchhike and leave our back porches open because there's so many nutcases.").
To top of my drama sundae, Dad had expectations of me. I'm Daddy's Little Girl, so that meant my boyfriend was suppose to be perfect, my wedding was suppose to be grandiose, and Dad was suppose to walk me down the aisle and give me away… only to take me back the second I returned from my honeymoon. Dad, who in his life before Mom was a grizzle Vietnam vet, was old-fashioned and militaristic in ways few people outside of myself imagined.
They loved me. They were proud of me. They thought I was perfect and I still want them to think about me that way.
Only I'm a lesbian, I'll never happily have a boyfriend, my perfect wedding won't have a bride and a groom, the woman I love is a powerful mutant who used to be part of the X-Men, and... I'm not perfect but I still want Mom and Dad to be proud of me.
I know my parents' standards shouldn't bother me or define who I am. Objectively, what they think and feel shouldn't deter me from anything. But they're my parents. As strong or weak as the argument sounds, that's the long and short of it all.
During my pity fest, Betsy put my head on her shoulder. One gentle hand stroked my hair; the other traced imaginary figures on my back. Without saying a word, she managed to bring me back under control. Betsy had this aura about her, this primal feeling exuding from every inch of her that could make others be a certain way. She assured me it was her stunning looks and not a mutant power, but whatever it was, I liked it.
My girlfriend was just that awesome.
Speaking of awesomeness, "How was your photo shoot?"
Interesting word choice. "Like how?"
"The shoot was for Harper's Bazaar so everyone acted more pretentious than usual. Turns out the photographer was a modern goth wunderkind, fashionably tortured and morbidly hip. He wanted everything black, everyone stoic, me moody, and the set to resemble a scene out of MacBeth." Sighing, Betsy rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Thus, tragic."
"That bad, huh?"
"Nope. By the end of the job, the photographer was eating out of my hand like a lost little boy." A rich, wistful chuckle came from her soul. "I think I'll even make the front page next issue."
"I never pegged you for a goth, honey."
Playfully, Betsy rolled me over and straddled me. That long, sexy, silky hair of hers tickled my face while her hips pushed against mine. Only now did I see the remnants of black eyeliner and dark purple lipstick. A generous whiff of her scent reminded me of cloves and ash.
"Feel the angst?" she smiled crookedly with a little waggle in her brows.
Well now, "Whatever I'm feeling, it's not angst."
Her lips hovered over mine. They moved when I moved, teasing, eluding, begging all in the same sultry motion. I reached down to grab the bottom of her skirt, pulling up until I had access to her lower, more sensitive regions. She took in a sharp breath when I touched her firm bottom. At that moment, I found myself hating our clothes, even mentally cursing them for keeping our bodies from each other. When her teeth nipped my earlobe, my body entered another gear of arousal: my bra suddenly felt two sizes too small and my underwear bunched up, undoubtedly sopping wet.
"So," she purred, "what did your parents say?"
Crash! All the air rushed out of me as my head slammed back onto the mattress. My hazy, sexual energy exploded into a wide awake jolt like the time Mom caught me… errr… "experimenting" in bed… alone. My arousal deflated in one fell swoop, thoughts of Betsy's sweaty body all over me giving way to nightmarish images of twenty three frantic messages left on my voicemail.
While I tucked my head in my arms and groaned, Betsy cackled at my mental anguish. "Oh God," I murmured, "how much did you hear?"
I didn't get an answer for a good long minute. Apparently my never-ending embarrassment was enough to shatter the near-indomitable concentration distilled from years of martial arts discipline, a supernatural focus, and a lifetime of mental mastery. I socked Betsy in the arm for that, and the results? An insincere "Ouch" and (thankfully) slowing laughter.
"That look on your face was so adorable!"
"Adorable?" I growled. "How is this adorable? I just told my parents I'm gay! This is serious!"
Without wiping the grin off her face, she propped her chin up and held my gaze in her own. "Relax, darling. You don't even know how they're going to take it."
"I know how they're going to take it! Mom's going to ask me all these questions trying to find out when and why I turned gay and Dad's going to be Dad."
"How do you know after hanging up and taking the battery out of your phone? Stop stressing out and give them a chance." She shrugged, as if in deep thought. "They might surprise you."
"Not my parents, no way. They're old school."
"Didn't your mom used to be a flower child?"
I snorted at the stereotype. "She doesn't even listen to Bob Dylan anymore."
My phone suddenly appeared in her hand then found itself plopped onto my chest. "All I'm saying is that you don't need to be scared. Be selfish and put yourself first because I'm here, no questions asked."
Wow, what did I ever do to deserve her? Sexy, loyal, fun, and open-minded—there wasn't another person in all the world who'd be like her to me. Selfish? How could I be selfish to her? She mattered to me. Mattered to me more than my damned spazzy neurosis. "Betsy, I'd never put myself abo-"
A finger touched my lips to quiet me.
Rising from the bed, she gave a good stretch and an exaggerated yawn. "Thank yourself--you have a hot little mouth I can't get enough of."
Swagger in her step, she made sure to throw a wink at me as she disappeared out the door. Sounds of her clicking boots mingled with the surround sound system firing up in the living room.
Despite Betsy's vote of confidence, my phone—and by extension, my parents—still freaked me out. No matter how much I wished for it, the world wouldn't stop or shrink or leave us alone. Why couldn't everything be less complicated? Why couldn't I be braver? Why did I always bring drama like this onto myself? All I needed to do was put the battery back in and turn on the phone. That's it. Right now, all I worried about were possibilities, not reality.
I shoved the battery back into place. See? Nothing to be scared of! I had Betsy's support and my own feeble confidence to stand on, an unbeatable combination! Hey, and what was the worst case scenario? My parents coming down to Manhattan from upstate New York, harassing me, calling me names, then vowing to never speak to me ever again?
I could deal with that.
Just not right now. Maybe after a drink or twelve.
After seeing me so strung out, Betsy insisted we spend the rest of the night at a club. Of course, neither Betsy nor myself settled for just any club. My rationale? If you were going to go out, you might as well do it right. If not, why go out? My wilder girlfriend agreed wholeheartedly, and after a few hours of preparation, we arrived at the scene: Club/Minx.
It was one of those places that served as a refuge from the spotlight, so new only a smattering of people knew about its existence. I'd heard about this place from my boss at work; Betsy flashed her looks and celebrity status to get us in. It had the new club smell untouched by cigarette smoke or sweat. The crowd, made up of stunning women who had to have been hired by the owner or owners, was large enough to pack the dance floor but sparse enough to not bother the various celebrities and their entourages. A bar stocking the mundane (Tanqueray, 1800, Stoli) and exotic (Casa Noble, Roberto Cavalli, Blue Label Johnny Walker) found itself manned by the flashiest of bartenders who flared and mixed with the best of them. Powerful beats shook the universe from here and separated the true clubbers from the hangers-on.
Betsy wrapped her arm around my waist. I knew she liked my gold, satin evening dress because she loved satin. I liked it because of the spaghetti straps and shimmering appearance, the way it reflected the strobe lights and seemed to make me glow. As for Betsy herself? I couldn't find a fault, what with her Blumarine silk tube top (which sported a nifty, sprawling dragon) and tight leather pants that looked painted on. We gravitated into the dance floor and took a fair share of stares with us.
That's right, boys, watch and drool.
Before long, her thigh invaded my dress and ground between my legs. I mirrored her every salacious move as best I could. We kissed long and hard while my hands, seemingly with minds of their own, kneaded the sinfully exquisite leather canvassing her warm, supple flesh.
Sweat beaded forth from us. I didn't care about my make-up anymore. She twirled me around and pressed my back against herself. Even after touching her breasts in all their glory, I never got tired of feeling them, seeing them, needing them. As we danced to an Oakenfold song I couldn't quite remember, her rhythmic movements hitched my breath and almost collapsed me. Her strong arms kept me upright while managing to sneak in oh-so-tantalizing strokes here and there.
As wet as I was, I couldn't forget about her.
When she leaned forward to do some nuzzling, I spun around and caught her with a tongue tying kiss. My thumbs peeled back the seemingly painted-on leather allowing one finger to slip under the material and brush along the sensitive region just above her slit. Perspiration matted her exposed midriff as my naughty finger escaped her pants and found a new playground under her top. She moaned into my mouth while her eyes rolled skyward: I left her wanting more when I pulled away from our kiss but kept a hold on her lower lip.
Her arms enfolded me.
I relented and kissed her again.
The music stopped for a split second, and I swear, every eye that could see us was on us.
Her distinct purple hair lashed all about the place, shielding me, protecting me, engulfing me.
I pushed, this time grinding so hard our bodies seemed to melt together.
Suddenly, the strobe lights fluttered and on came yet another remixed version of Britney Spears' Toxic.
The need for air forced us away from each other.
Taking one look at me, Betsy said, "You need a drink."
Who was I to argue?
I clasped her hand and blazed a trail to the free flowing bar. Being the high classed establishment this was, before we'd even settled onto the chic barstools, a bartender wearing a muscle shirt and splashes of stray alcohol nodded at us. "What'll it be, ladies?"
"Vodka cranberry with Ketel One."
He then pointed at Betsy who smoothly answered, "The house special."
Our bartender went to work as quickly as my brain did. "Hey, you haven't been here before, have you?"
"Do you have any idea what their special is? Do they even have a special?"
She got that look on her face like I was born yesterday. "Vivian, it's a swanky club in the middle of Manhattan: of course they have a signature drink."
"Yeah, but do you know what it is?"
Clank went my red concoction. "Vodka cranberry." Clank went a smoking, sea green collins glass. "The Minx."
We leaned over the drink, examined the contents, and gave each other one of those clueless looks. Being the braver of us (and also being the one who ordered this witch's brew), Betsy raised the glass to her lips and took an experimental sip.
After a few lip smacking seconds, she handed the drink to me. "Try it."
Since she wasn't kneeling over in unadulterated pain or making weird faces, I gave it a go. For one thing, dry ice made the stream of smoke. I tasted peach but another shot of sweetness poked through. Another mixer, same sweetness, not fruity, more like artificial. More like Red Bull. Then this tartness hit my throat and immediately I pegged it as cranberry juice and some strong rum. Finally the coup de grace? Blue Curacao.
"It's good," I said, more surprised than anything else. "It's really, really good."
"I wouldn't expect anything less from my club, young lady."
Ever so slowly, Betsy and I turned around to see the interrupting person. Already the voice sounded quasi-familiar, but along with the "my club" statement, I knew it could only be one person. A girl could dream though, no?
Standing before me in his anachronistic clothes and greasy ponytail was Sebastian Shaw, multi-billionaire, corporate mogul, real estate tycoon, and my boss. Well, he wasn't quite my boss because he didn't know or work with me, but Shaw Industries signed my paychecks so I considered him my boss' boss. My actual boss, one of the Managing Partners at my real estate firm, worked closely with Mr. Shaw: he's the one who told me about this place.
I knew about Sebastian Shaw through television and newspapers. My boss told me horror stories about him, his demanding goals, strict attitude, indelible memory, and ability to hold a grudge. I heard his distinct, gruff, and commanding voice from afar, just before he'd lock himself and a whole bunch of head honchos inside a conference room to ream them out for quotas not met. If I cared to slow down, I would've felt my entire future coming to a head, riding the ragged edge of disaster as I pondered my first words to one of the most powerful men in New York.
Oh God, did he recognize me? Was he homophobic? Was my boss here with him? Shit, what did the drink taste like?
Did I mention my nerves were acting up? "H… Hi."
Double doh when I noticed the entourage of pretentious people surrounding us and hanging on his every move. Some of them snickered at my dumbstruck expression while others scoffed at me like I was a notch below pond scum. Betsy, however, didn't seem impressed or intimidated. If anything, she looked downright hostile, what with her eyes narrowed, an arm out protectively in front of me, and her body coiled up like a snake ready to strike.
"Ah, you are Vivian Cerras if I'm not mistaken."
How did he know my name? Holy crap on a stick, he knew my name!
"And you," he said with a bow toward Betsy, "how could I forget the enchanting Ms. Elisabeth Braddock?"
Without saying a word, she took my hand and stood up. Hello? Like, this was Sebastian Shaw! You didn't grow attitudes in front of this guy! "Betsy, what's wrong with you?"
"Him," she hissed at a quick clip, "which means our night here is over."
Hold on a second! "Quit it! Just because you're throwing a fit doesn't mean you have to drag me along!"
"Your friend is right, Ms. Braddock," said an amazingly still jovial Mr. Shaw. "Stay a bit—she can enjoy herself with my associates while you and I catch up, maybe even discuss some business."
Not only was Betsy being unBetsy-like, Mr. Shaw thought I wanted to actually spend another minute under the intense scrutiny of his coattail riding dimwits. Now I remembered why I didn't hang out with rich bastards: they think they own you. What I wanted was to spend the night with my girlfriend, not run around trying to kiss the ass of someone who'd think my efforts were cute.
Sensing my uneasiness, Betsy pulled me closer. "We've got nothing to talk about, Shaw."
Beneath his smiling face lurked a temper ready to erupt. The more I looked at Mr. Shaw, the more I wanted to shiver in fear. Was he intimidating? Yes. Was his reputation preceding him in my mind? Yes. Was his posse overbearing? Yes. In addition, he had other dangerous qualities about him. Maybe it was the way he stood—bigger than his already wide frame allowed. Maybe it was the calculating gleam in his eyes—too clinical to be anything but cold and menacing.
Know what? I liked Mr. Shaw less already. Maybe Betsy did have a reason for-
"Come on, Sis, talk to the man. It might be important."
The new voice came from a blonde man suddenly appearing next to Mr. Shaw. "Brian?" Betsy gasped.
Eep. Pretty sure Brian was her twin brother's name and I was so not in a "Meet the Family" mood. They didn't look much alike for siblings, but I'd seen enough pictures and heard too many stories to be wiser. The problem was, I wasn't in a civil mood anymore after having my night killed in the most socially gruesome way.
Any impression I'd make now would be a bad one. Still though, I had an off feeling as I looked at him, like he didn't belong or wasn't looking quite right. Since Betsy was a mutant, I chalked it up to her brother also being one, but I couldn't shake the feeling of wrongness hanging all over him.
Whatever the case, instead of throwing me a dirty or confused look, Brian motioned Betsy to follow him. Mr. Shaw's smile widened to sinister proportions as he took Betsy's hand again. "Please, this way."
"We can talk here." Ouch, denied.
More frown lines breached his self-control but he remained steadfast to civility. "We shouldn't bore our respective companions with matters not pertaining to them. Our business is… sensitive."
From about forty feet away, Brian looked back at Betsy and gestured like, "Well, what are you waiting for?"
Apparently she was waiting for me. "Fine, but Vivian comes with us."
Mr. Shaw chuckled, "As you wish," and took off in Brian's direction.
We—well, I should say she—stayed back, purposely rubbing shoulder to shoulder with the burgeoning masses to put some distance between us and Mr. Shaw. People stared at us; however, this time, it wasn't because of our dancing or looks.
Betsy, her eyes downcast and previous ferocity gone, whispered to me, "I'm sorry."
I'd like to stay mad at her for being pushy, domineering, and thoughtless. I'd like to, but in a world of compromise, I settled on giving her a guilt trip, on making her say how and why she was wrong. "Sorry about what?"
"Sorry about dragging you into my problems again."
Problems? Not exactly the apology I sought. "What kind of problems could you have with Sebastian Shaw?"
"He's an evil man, Vivian. He and his group of power-hungry mutants have clashed with the X-Men for years. Whatever he wants, wherever he is, no good can come out of it. The only reason I'm even following him is because of my brother: I need to find out what Shaw's done to him. There's no way Brian would even talk to that snake, let alone fly in all the way from England without telling me."
"But this is Sebastian Shaw," I protested. "You're telling me one of the world's richest people is some sort crazy supervillain who wants to take over the world?"
"Precisely." Before I could digest the information, we'd caught up to Shaw and Brian, both of whom waited with welcoming smiles as we passed through an opened door.
In an effort to reassure me, Betsy squeezed my hand. "Stay close."
The door banged shut, thundering beats and much-too-loud voices dimming away. In good conscience, I couldn't call this place a room because that simple word didn't do it justice. This... this... thing resembled a time warp to the Victorian era. Furniture wasn't superfluous; instead, everything matched as end tables flowed into Greek styled sofas into gilded candleholders. Plants showered green splashes to break up the austere monotony while imparting a sense of life and wonder. Light sources hid from view but remained illuminating--such was the hallmark of a brilliant designer able to seamlessly blend function with form.
However, Betsy had no intention of admiring the interior decor. She lunged at her brother and grabbed a hold of his shirt. "What in the bloody hell has gotten into you?!"
Then Brian changed. His blonde hair rippled away into a lush, long brown mane. A rich, full, and very male laugh jumped up a few octaves into effeminate territory. His clothes melted into a form fitting black suit that enunciated womanly curves. Like she'd been electrocuted, Betsy let go of her "brother" and jumped backwards, almost crashing into me.
I knew there was something off about Brian but this trumped anything I could've conjured up. Her brother was actually a woman? Talk about weird genes.
"My apologies for the ruse," said an unapologetic Shaw. "All my newest Black Queen wanted to do was give you a welcomed surprise."
A sudden swirl of pink light engulfed Betsy's arm, one second a formless cloud then the next a katana I'd seen once before. She told me it was the totality of her telekinetic powers manifested into a weapon: it defined her as a superheroine, assassin, and X-Woman. Only a few months ago she proudly used her "psychic katana," but no more, not after she left the X-Men (or as she says it, the X-Men ostracized her).
"Lady Mastermind, I should've known."
Mutants with crazy mutant powers made my brain hurt. So now this lady that looked like Betsy's brother wasn't really Betsy's brother, only an imposter using her abilities. Great, what next? A telepath who could read my thoughts?
From my vision's periphery, I noticed a twinkle in "Lady Mastermind's" eye. Her grin shot past Betsy and pierced straight into me. "How about a demonstration?"
Between my startled gasp and Betsy's angry growl stepped in Sebastian Shaw. "Easy, Martinique, we're here on business. Threatening our potential partners is inadvisable."
My ears perked up at the mention of "Partners?"
"Why yes, Ms. Cerras. Your companion is quite the hot commodity in this upwardly mobile world: gorgeous, powerful, and intelligent. We could use someone like that."
"That's why you have me here?" scoffed Betsy. "You want me to join the Inner Circle?"
Inner Circle? That sounded ominous in a conspiracy theorist's sort of way. Inner Circle? What the hell was it? Sebastian Shaw's personal army to take over the world so he could remake it in his own image?
"Who better than you, Ms. Braddock? Your father joined the Hellfire Club with me, and as an inheritor of his estate, you are one of us. Your impressive resume from S.T.R.I.K.E. to the Hand is beyond reproach. Surely you would make an impressive White Queen. When Emma came to me, she wasn't half the woman you are now and she turned into quite the specimen."
The tension thickened till I could feel it weighing down on me. Lady Mastermind or Martinique or whatever she called herself folded her arms and glared at me like I was something worse than gum sticking to her stiletto heels. Shaw glowered like he was satisfactorily furious.
Betsy's laughter rose above the uneasiness. "I've spent most of my life fighting your kind. My family stands for everything you aren't. You can't give me anything I want-"
"What about revenge?"
"The X-Men of course, or were my sources wrong when they said you've been... shall we say 'expelled'... from their ranks?"
I'd seen enough to know Bad Things lurked in everyone's shadows. Whether the Bad Things were in forms of violence, threats, social assassination, mental violation, or some other sort of unfathomable happenings I didn't want to stick around and find out. Ok, so maybe Betsy pegged Shaw right when she said the billionaire wanted to take over the world. Billionaires did have too much time on their hands and messing around with a team of deadly mutants seemed like a kind of twisted, extreme sport that'll get their blood going.
With a forceful pull, I tugged on Betsy's wrist and pointed back to the closed door. "We're leaving," I said, a hint of steel in my voice so there (hopefully) wouldn't be arguments. "The night's been ruined and I don't want it getting worse."
A wiry grin spread over Shaw's lips. "I never thought I'd see a pussy-wiped X-Man, but I suppose there's always firsts." He drew a business card from his jacket pocket and flicked it at Betsy, who of course snatched the spinning projectile mid-flight. "My offer remains on the table for one week. Take your time and imagine all the great things you can attain, all the emotions you can let run free, and all the resources that'll be at your disposal. Why, you could even cure your insane brother."
"What do you know about Jamie?" demanded Betsy.
"Nothing much, only rumors and speculation about this and that, about your father's research and the tragic accident which took his life. Seemed like he was working on a personal project at the time, something a close friend of mine was helping him with. Of course, I'm no scientist but I-"
Bad Things turned out to be my girlfriend losing her temper, lunging at Shaw, and plunging her sword into the man's chest. However, instead of a gory display followed by my own freakish screams, Shaw's body rippled like a mirage and continued speaking as if never interrupted.
"- have skimmed through a few pages of your father's work. Might've been that he knew about your older brother's latent power? Maybe he risked his life to help his eldest son? I'd be willing to share more of my knowledge if you accepted my offer. But for now, enjoy Club/Minx and have a nice night. But for now, enjoy Club/Minx and have a nice ni..."
"Another one of Lady Mastermind's illusions," she muttered, a hint of paranoia in her eyes as she backed away to the door. "Bloody hell, it's time to go."
We didn't say anything to each other the entire ride home. For once, we actually stayed silent when we entered our home and separated into our own private sanctuaries. Personally, I was still in shock over the stand-off. Sebastian Shaw? Enemy to the X-Men? Billionaire? I had my first real brush with evil mutants. E-V-I-L mutants! They weren't just crazy stories the government made up to scare us into voting for their newest anti-mutants bill!
Come on, Sebastian Shaw--my boss' boss--was bent on taking over the world. That's like saying Bill Gates, Donald Trump, or Emma Frost wanted to... to...
Oh boy, he said something about Emma, didn't he? Something about her and white queens? After the past few hours, I wouldn't be surprised if "Emma" turned out to be "Emma Grace Frost, CEO of Frost Enterprises."
Tangents like these put my mind in a bender, but Betsy's silence came from darker thoughts. Didn't take me long to feel the indecisiveness radiating from her. What Shaw said tonight meant so much more to her than me because she lived a life I couldn't even fathom. I said before Betsy was difficult to read, but as I watched her lying dejectedly on the couch, I felt her fighting with herself.
After all, I'd seen the expression many a times on my clients.
Should I or shouldn't I? A simple question, but simple questions were always the hardest. Simple questions couldn't be manipulated and therein lay the inner warfare. I couldn't even pretend to know the factors occupying her mind: people I dealt with poured over a house, a material possession, but Betsy anguished over a potential blow to her soul, the fabric of herself. If Shaw was as bad as he seemed, then his offer was a deal from the devil.
Yet the offer was enticing. Hell if I had a clue, maybe it had to do with her insane brother she never talked about, maybe the Shaws and Braddocks had a past, maybe she was still bitter over her split with the X-Men, maybe Betsy wasn't the heroine she claimed to once be.
Maybe, but I didn't care. All I cared about was her...
Now, if I kept telling myself that, maybe the doubts and butterflies in my stomach would stop flopping around.
Lurking beneath our comfortable relationship was an unknown ebb. Before, the mystery intrigued me like a raging bonfire, but now, I feared it. I knew what Betsy could do, I knew what she used to do, and I knew that wasn't all there was to her story. I wanted to trust her but my mind refused because I didn't know everything, couldn't gauge every facet of her. Doubt worked through me, nursed into a full bloom by tonight.
Mystery--it stopped being intriguing and became annoying.
"I'm worried about you, Betsy."
Despite looking like a numbed, tired soldier, she rose from the couch with her characteristic easy grace. To her credit, she didn't act clueless or ask me why I was worried; instead, she pulled me into a soft, comforting embrace.
"Don't," she whispered. "Tonight's drama isn't worth it."
"Then why are you like this?"
"I have some difficult choices to make."
"What kind of choices? Betsy, if Sebastian Shaw is planning something, you have to stop him."
"Luv, it's not that simple."
"How? You're one of the good guys. Good guys stop bad guys!"
"Are you what?"
"Am I one of the good guys? How can you be so sure of me?"
"Because I love you."
"Doesn't mean I'm not a monster at heart."
"Then you've been lying to me all this time? Then I've been wrong to trust you, to love you, to close my eyes around you?"
A pair of tears escaped from under her eyelids. Without really thinking, I leaned forward and kissed them away, the trails of their hurt replaced by rosy lipstick. Her façade slipped, she leaned into me while the beginnings of a sob overcame her barriers.
I'd be lying if I said she didn't scare me. Betsy? My knight in shining armor? Falling apart? How?
"You love me too much."
"You don't love yourself enough," I countered, my voice straining as I struggled to hold onto what we had, to stop her demons from taking her over, to quiet my fear. "If you love yourself as much I as love you, you wouldn't be questioning whether you're a good person or not. You'd know."
She knew, and as we shared a fleeting moment lost in each other's souls, I knew too. The dam I'd built up against her tears split apart, destroyed by the things Sebastian Shaw said. His words about a history and a society I didn't understand resonated with her. For all her misgivings, she found his offer enticing. Why else would she be crying? Why else would she look so resolved and yet disappointed?
Why couldn't she look me in the eyes anymore? "You couldn't stand him when the night began and now you're going to join him in his 'take-over-the-world' campaign?"
She shrank back and wrapped her arms around herself. "Vivian, I said it's not that simple."
"Tell me why isn't not simple."
My voice echoed through the loft, a hollow metal twang accompanying it. I twisted my doubt and fear into anger and confidence, things which Betsy in this state of mind seemed to respect. Respect garnered her attention, and with that shout, she felt the storm of confusion within me. I shoved her protectiveness away and challenged her to trust me. Trust me and love me because I trusted and loved her.
She ambled back to the couch and motioned for me to join her but I refused. I couldn't afford to fall into her and forget my resolve; she couldn't afford to fight against her demons alone. Defiantly, I stood rooted in place and towering over her. My knight in shining armor looked so small without her layers of emotional armor, so easy to feel sorry for, but I wouldn't let myself do so. I wouldn't let whatever inside of her heart eat away at any more of her.
I had to be strong for the both of us.
"You remember Shaw saying something about my older brother?"
"Jamie," I supplied. How could I forget? Almost every word of that maddening conversation seared into my brain, replaying over and over again to taunt me.
"Right," she breathed, "Jamie. He's almost ten years older than Brian and myself, so growing up, he always went off to do his own thing. Family? We're family, but did I truly know Jamie? No, and I doubt anyone truly knew him. His only constant was 'more.' More women, more money, more fame, more, more, more--if something is worth doing, it's worth overdoing. By the time I was fifteen, Jamie was racing cars on the F1 circuit, snorting cocaine, and running with the mob. I guess he always wanted to show Brian and I that he was better, that little brother and sister couldn't do what he did."
"He was jealous of you two?"
As if to answer my question, the television remote hovered into the air on its own. "Our mutant powers. Brian and I took after Father's... shall we say, 'protector lifestyle' at a young age. Jamie thought he didn't have powers, so to compensate, he did crazy things."
"Thought he didn't have powers?"
"Mutations aren't consistent, Vivian. His powers didn't develop until later in life, and when they did, he went insane."
I read articles about mutants becoming self-destructive once their powers developed. The Church of Humanity put out fliers and advertisements about "helping and curing these troubled souls by any means necessary." They talked about boys who couldn't talk because their tongues grew too long, girls who couldn't touch others because they could suck the life out of anyone close to them. These were stories to me, nothing else.
Betsy lived it.
"What were his powers?"
"To change reality."
"Change reality? You're not talking about changing the world one person at a time, you're talking about..."
My hands made some nonsensical gestures while I processed the sheer... sheer... scope of it all.
"The cocaine didn't help much, especially on the mental stability front. Imagine flying off the handle as high as a kite, crashing back down, but then realizing the world was still caught up in your spent euphoria. His every stray thought came to life."
Couldn't imagine it, but, "Must be quite an experience."
"I had to put him in a coma to stop the world from being ripped apart."
Damn. Just... damn. My grasp on the situation just slipped that much more. Times like these I realized how different of a life Betsy used to lead and how much I didn't know about her. Crazed business men, omnipotent brothers, mutant allies, international assassins--these were her until me. God, what kind of blindness made me think her past wouldn't catch up to us? Why didn't I ask sooner? Why didn't she tell me herself?
"You understand why I can't ignore Sebastian Shaw now? I wasn't as close to Jamie as I am Brian, but the least I owe my big brother is due diligence. Like I said, I have some choices to make tonight and they're not simple."
People twisting the world into their own image? People like the X-Men dealt with stuff like that. "I know you're not really on speaking terms with the X-Men, but don't you think they should be handling Shaw? You said they've done it before."
"Jamie's my brother."
"And you're my girlfriend! I don't want to see you getting hurt or killed!"
Instead of matching my shouts, she grew softer, more tender, even vulnerable. "I can't hide from him, Vivian. He's relentless, and when offering me power won't work, he'll use you to convince me."
That's outrageous! That's wrong! "That's against the law!"
"Sorry to tell you, luv, but the law doesn't apply to the rich and powerful."
- To be concluded...