Author's Note: I've decided this is definitely an AU. And Marco Bizzarri is the CEO of Gucci, just fyi.
More notes at the end.
There is a nagging unknown in the back of her mind; she's forgotten something important. As her days blur together, leeching her of stamina and what little motivation might have remained inside her, the constant question of what ticks, ticks, ticks.
It leaves her laying awake at night. Too restless to close her eyes, she stares at the ceiling and lets her mind wander. She remembers an apocalyptic world covered in smog. Starving children and weeping mothers waiting for news of the rebellion, wishing for success, wishing their men could come home. A blob of a creature with manic eyes and a sharp, terrifying smile. A swirl of arms and swords. Bullet shells, fire, rubble, dirty water, explosions, shattered glass, broken pipelines, fear, fear, fear.
Longshot. A lump forms in her throat when she envisions him. Beautiful blue eyes, full of hope and grit. The warm smile he gave freely to every shy child staring in awe at the Fallen Messiah. His tall frame, massed with lean muscle and skin as soft as a leather jacket from Prada. Hands worn rough from years of fighting, yet always gentle when helping others escape the city and wild of Mojoworld.
She commits every inch of him to memory. I will not forget you, she vows. Her eyes are wet with tears.
Hours slip by and soon the sun is rising. Alison sighs and rubs her eyes, ignoring their ache from another sleepless night. She knows she should try to rest, but really she cannot bring herself to care. And on the rare occasions when she does submit to slumber, her dreams are filled with warwolves and her husband's blood.
She's been moved from the small bed in the Medbay to private quarters shared with Anna Marie. She doesn't mind; Rogue is usually absent anyway. Her bed is nice, soft and filled with cushions. She hates it and would give anything to be lying on the hard, compacted dirt of Mojoworld, so long as Longshot was lying next to her.
Hank visits her daily with a list of inquiries regarding her condition. Sometimes his questions are repeated from previous sessions. Alison answers in monotone, staring at the ceiling, hands folded atop her stomach as she lies on top of her comforter. She knows Hank is trying to piece together an assessment of her condition. But her injuries have already healed. All that's left is the post-traumatic anxiety and depression that feasts on her.
Bobby stays for hours when he comes to check on her sometime in the afternoon. He brings food and beer and hunkers himself down on top of Alison's bed. He talks enough for the both of them and soon Ali is up to date on all the happenings around the institute and the X-Men.
Logan is missing and has been for months. Laura has left to find him. And Remy has gone to find her.
Sam and Rahne are expected to arrive sometime within the next month to assist with training exercises for the students.
Kurt is in Europe visiting Brian and Meggan; he'd asked Rachel to go, but she declined.
Betsy just arrived last night and plans to stay through the holidays. Warren will be arriving in a few weeks.
"Storm's not doing great," Bobby admitted. "I mean, she's as strong as ever - that's Ororo. But, it's just…" he lets out a sigh and offers her a sad half-smile. "I don't think she likes being Headmistress very much."
Alison has nothing to say to that. She let's Bobby go on and on about life at the New York Institute. They're in loose contact with Scott and Emma in San Francisco, but rarely see them. Kitty, Illyanna, and Piotr have been in Russia since last Christmas. Jubilee was in California. Dani was in Montana. Alex went back to New Mexico. Erik was in California.
"Who?" She frowns.
"Erik," Bobby repeats. "Lenshurr."
She gawks at him. "Erik Lenshurr? Magneto?"
He nods and swallows a bite of the sandwich he'd brought with him. "Yeah, I mean, for a while it was really weird. Yah know, since he's been our enemy for like, years. But, I dunno man." He shrugs. "Rogue says he's changed."
Ali furrows her brow. "How would she know?"
Again Bobby shrugs. "She spends half her time in California on missions with him."
"Oh," she reaches for one of Bobby's potato chips and suppresses a moan once it touches her tongue. "God, these are good. I can't remember the last time I had something with salt."
Bobby smiles and doesn't make a joke about the cuisine of the Mojoverse. She's grateful.
"How does Remy feel about Anna being in California?"
"I haven't asked, but I imagine it's not very good." Bobby pops the cap of a beer off, blows on it to chill the contents, and passes her the bottle before repeating the process for himself. "What can the guy do? They're on a team together."
Ali has no comment and so sips her beer. It's nice, she thinks, to have this distraction; talking about people she's known for years as if their lives were these grand soap operas and so removed from her own reality.
She looks up at Bobby and watches as he finishes his sandwich and beer. There are crumbs on his face that give him a clumsy, boyish charm. He's come to see her nearly everyday since she arrived three weeks ago, just to sit with her and feed her. He fills her silent room with chatter, never minding if she opts out of conversation. Sometimes he will mention a cute guy he saw at a Starbucks, or a mailman on his route, or a professor on the subway, reading quietly behind square framed glasses and an amused, gentle smile.
Other times he's stressed as he speaks of missions and battles and injuries. Being an X-Men is draining. And Bobby has been one for so long, she wonders if he still views it as a choice.
"Do you ever wish your life was ordinary?" Alison asks softly.
Bobby sets his empty beer bottle down on the ground. "What do you consider ordinary?"
She bites her bottom lip. "Not having to...live like this."
"Like what? In a gigantic mansion with a kick-ass basement?"
Ali rolls her eyes. "You know what I mean. To not have to do all this." She waves her hand around. "Save people. Fight monsters and criminals and ignorant assholes who hate us because we're different. If you could do it all over again, would you choose a normal life instead of being an X-Men?"
"No." He doesn't hesitate with his answer. "No, I wouldn't live a normal life. I've tried to live a normal life. Accounting sucked; I'm meant to be an X-Men."
She chews her bottom lip and looks down at her drink. Was she meant to be an X-Men? She'd never truly felt so; singing had always been her passion. Could she have been wrong? Was being an X-Men her calling?
It'd been so long since she'd been on stage or even hummed a tune. It'd all seemed so unimportant in retrospect. Her life up until recently had been about surviving and conquering the enemy. She'd never really had the heart to sing while in the Mojoverse. Though singing was her greatest talent, and Longshot had always loved her voice, Ali refrained from divulging. His people were at war and fleeing from chaos. Singing would've been useless and ultimately selfish of her to flaunt.
"I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do anymore," she confesses.
Bobby shrugs. "Do whatever you want. You have an opportunity to start completely over. It's not like we're gonna tie you down and force you to be an X-Men. You're a free person, Ali."
She's quiet for the remainder of his visit.
By evening Betsy comes to say hello. She smiles kindly and it still strikes Alison as odd that Betsy's face is not her own.
"I'm sorry," Ali mutters. "I know it's been years, but -"
"Don't." Betsy shakes her head. "I'm not offended. And I can't tell you how often I've surprised myself in the mirror."
The talk turns to Betsy's European vacation with her husband, and when Ali asks how Warren's doing, Psylocke scoffs. "He's a right royal pain in my arse." Her brow furrows as she frowns. "He and Brian nearly came to blows when we were visiting in London! While Meggan and I chatted at the bar in the lounge, they spent the night playing poker, drinking their weight in scotch, and squabbling like two rotten school boys. And now they're banned from The Colony Club and Warren owes Brian thirteen-thousand dollars."
Betsy shrugs. "Well, he's certainly good for it. He just refuses to pay as a point of principle. He's in Rome now, on assignment from Scott. Though I do wish he'd hurry up and come to New York. Our apartment is dreadfully quiet without his broodiness taking up space."
Alison almost chuckles. Almost. It felt deceitful to find humor in anything her friends said or did. As if she shouldn't be given the luxury of lightheartedness when the multiverse's most fun-loving and jovial man was no longer alive to enjoy it. She averts her eyes to the floor and coughs.
"I'm so sorry," Betsy says softly. The playfulness is gone from her voice, replaced by a tone of sympathy. "I can't even begin to imagine how you're feeling."
Ali wraps her arms around herself to suppress a shiver. "Yeah, it's, uh...it's rough."
"If you like," Psylocke slowly raises her hand. "I can read you. I know from experience that it is sometimes easier than talking."
Though they are not the closest of friends, Dazzler nods her permission. There's a slight strain in her mind as Betsy works through the initial defense against her telepathy. And then it feels like an opening of floodgates as the torment from the last month is pulled out. When she's finished there are tears slipping down Ali's cheeks and Betsy hugs her fiercely.
When she pulls away, she tilts Ali's chin up with her perfectly manicured fingertips. "There is nothing I could say to ease your grief, darling. And I'm sorry for that. But what I can do is take you out of this room and into Manhattan for an early dinner and a bit of shopping."
"Oh," Alison wipes her eyes. "No, that's alright. I -"
"Hush now." Betsy interrupts. "Jimmy Choo just released their autumn line. And the menu at Daniel has been updated since I last had dinner there."
"Betsy, I'm broke. I can't pay for food and new shoes."
Psylocke waves her off. "Yes, I know. Come now, you didn't really think I wouldn't pay, did you? Darling, I'm a Braddock married to a Worthington. I could buy the entire Jimmy Choo Company without breaking a sweat. Thrice over."
She flashes Ali a smile. "Come have a bit of fun, Dazzy."
"I-I…" Alison whispers. "I don't think I should."
Betsy reaches for her hand and gives it a gentle squeeze. "He would want you to go on, Alison. He wouldn't want you to be alone and sad all the time. You've always been so vibrant and colorful. Don't let yourself fade away."
She clutches Betsy's fingertips as if they are her lifeline. She used to be so fearless. Her days weren't spent melting with her nights and becoming one long, endless stream of sorrow and bleakness. She'd been happy, once. Her husband made her happy. And before him she'd been happy as a young woman in her early twenties, singing center stage for sold out shows and blasting villains alongside the X-Men. Longshot would want her to chase her happiness again.
Shaking, she relents. "Okay. Yes," she nods. "I...I don't want to let him down."
Betsy brightens. "Brilliant! Shall we take my Mercedes or Warren's Jaguar?"
Dinner at Daniel was absolutely exquisite and Jimmy Choo's latest line of pumps were to die for. Alison sits patiently while the salesman helps Betsy decide on her third pair for purchase.
"I just love the plum stilettos," her friend coos. Betsy eyes the shoes lovingly. "I'll need a pair, of course, and another in black, and a pair of the slingbacks in lavender."
"The lavender does not release until spring, Miss Braddock."
Betsy gives the man a sly smile. "Darling, the lavender is available whenever I want. And it is Mrs. Braddock-Worthington, best not forget."
"Yes, of course ." He turns to Alison. "And for you, ma'am?"
Ali holds up her own pair of black pumps and smiles. "Just these for me, thanks."
"Come now, darling," Betsy chides. "The silver pair looked marvelous on you. You must get them as well."
"Betsy, it's too-"
"Hush now. It's a gift from me."
"You said these were a gift from you." Alison holds up her black stilettos again.
Betsy rolls her eyes. "Fine. The silvers are a gift from Warren. I promise you, he won't mind. Or even notice the bill, truth be told."
A small smile briefs her face before she rolls her eyes and asks the waiting salesman for a pair of the silver stilettos as well.
"Right then," Betsy claps her hands once all has been settled. "Put these all on my account and please ship the packages to my SoHo address." She turns to Ali with a wide smile. "Now, on to Gucci. Shall we?"
A lazy breeze strolls alongside Alison and Betsy as they take the opportunity to walk Manhattan's sidewalk and chit chat. The late August sun causes the pavement to radiate heat and the women fan themselves with their hands, the bustle of energetic city slickers doing nothing to help combat the high temperature.
"I just love New York City." Betsy declares. She links her arm with Ali's and tosses her shining black hair, purple highlights catching in the sunshine. "It's terribly different from anywhere else I've ever been. And I mean that with a gracious amount of love."
Alison nods her agreement. "Why don't you guys stay here permanently?"
"Oh," Betsy frowns. "Because my husband is an oaf. He's apparently happiest playing soldier for Scott Summers, instead of being here with me." She scoffs. "Darling, I swear, if he wasn't disgustingly delicious, I would have divorced him by now. But unlucky for me, he is absolutely gorgeous and I fear I am hopelessly devoted to him. Even with his head stuck up his arse."
"Stuck up Scott's ass, you mean."
Betsy throws her head back and laughs loudly. "Quite right. Whatever am I to do?"
"Have you talked to him?"
"Oh, hundreds of times," Betsy shrugs. "And that is why he's making the effort to come home for a bit of time off. Of course, I had to threaten him a little, but I do believe he enjoyed it. Ah, here we are!"
Gucci is full of fluttering Manhattanites spending their salaries and trust funds, but as soon as the two X-Men cross the threshold a woman in delicate red rimmed glasses approaches them.
"Betsy, dear! I was wondering when you would visit us again."
Psylocke smiles and extends her hand to pull the other woman in for the kind of cheeky kiss-kiss that Alison has only ever seen in movies. "Martha! Delighted to see you, darling." She gestures to Ali. "This is a very close friend of mine, Alison Blaire. I trust you'll take care of her?"
"Oh, of course. Come now, with that gorgeous blonde hair, I'm sure we'll have the easiest time finding your perfect fall wardrobe."
"What?" Ali looks at Betsy. "Betsy, that's too much. I can't."
"Tut, tut, tut." Betsy shakes her head. "I won't hear of it." She takes Ali's hand. "Just wait, the private rooms are the most delicious of interior designs."
Betsy then follows Martha and leads Ali to an elevator that takes them to a floor specific for styling the absolute richest of Gucci's clients. Their room was a dream, lavishly decorated with accents of gold, comfortable seating areas, floor length mirrors bordered in crown molding, and sheer drapes in soft pastels.
"Now, ladies," Martha turns towards a rack of clothing near the windows. "Where would you like to begin?"
Betsy crosses over to the impeccable selection and begins taking stock. "No furs for me this year, Martha. I've decided to fight the good fight for the animals from now on. And I really have enough fur to last me until my death."
"Shall I take away the leathers as well?"
Betsy sighs like a broken hearted teenager. "I suppose you should. Yes, do it quickly before I cave. Let's keep wool, though. I can only handle so much at once."
Martha obeys, rolling a rack filled with thousands of dollars worth of clothing out of the room.
"Now," Betsy pulls out a burnt orange cowl necked sweater from the lineup and holds it up against her chest. "How does this look?"
Alison shrugs. "It looks nice."
Betsy rolls her eyes. "Oh come now, Dazzy. You're stylish. Tell me what you really think."
She considers the piece for a moment, eyes darting from Betsy's face to the garment a few times before she declares, "The maroon turtleneck will look better on you."
"Splendid!" Betsy hands her the burnt orange cowl and grabs the maroon piece. "Oh I do love this one. Delightfully soft. What else?"
A quick scan through their options and Alison has a pile of skirts, dresses, sweaters, and lingerie for Betsy. Giddy with the selections, Psylocke begins the task of trying on each item and analyzing every aspect in one of the extravagant mirrors. Martha dutifully helps with the fitting and makes notes on an iPad while an assistant takes measurements.
"Darling, these are marvelous!" Betsy coos. "I absolutely adore this jersey dress! I shall wear it to Thanksgiving this year for it's debut."
Alison smiles and rolls her eyes at her friend. "You're ridiculous."
"Oh please," Betsy waves her off. "I'm strategic with my clothing. I am considering purchasing a day planner simply for the act of scheduling my outfits. I must ensure I cycle through each piece properly."
Unable to imagine a life like that, Ali chuckles and returns to the rack of clothing. She's having fun, she realizes, and quickly bites down on the throes of guilt bubbling inside her. Don't do this now, she coaches herself. Please. Everything is okay. He-he would want you to have fun. He would want you to go out shopping with your friend and laugh and -
"And for you dear?" Martha is suddenly next to her with her iPad. "Looking for anything in particular?"
"Oh," she clears her throat, trying to rid the anxiousness rising inside of her. "No. Nothing in particular. I don't have events like Betsy."
"Now, surely you have reasons to go out?" Martha flips through the clothing and grabs a silk cocktail dress. "Here dear, a dress like this will have the men lining up to take you out."
She freezes, staring at the woman before she gulps and says with a shaking voice, "I'm married."
Martha raises an eyebrow. "Oh, really? I'm sorry, I didn't see a ring on your finger."
A beat, and then. "He's dead."
"Oh, my," Martha frowns. "Oh but dear, you're not married, you're widowed."
"Martha!" Betsy turns abruptly. Her eyes are flaming with anger. "How dare you!"
The other woman attempts a defense, but Betsy is relentless, raising her voice higher and louder to assert the idiocy of Martha's insensitive correction.
Alison can only hear a ringing in her ears and feel the pounding of her heart. "I-I," She stammers. She doesn't bother with standing up for herself - Betsy is doing a fine job of that - and instead, turns to flee from the room. As she runs, she can hear Betsy screaming at someone to get Marco Bizzarri on the phone immediately.
She has to get away.
Fortunately the elevator is empty and she manages to press for the correct floor. The thumping of her chest and the buzzing in her head and the haunting widow, widow, widow makes her want to collapse. She resists the urge until the elevator opens for her and she's rushing through the ground floor and bursting out the front doors. Her knees buckle and she drops to the cement, just barely catching herself on the sidewalk. On all fours, she dry heaves, ignoring the people who skirt around her. It's not until a breeze chills her face that she realizes there are tears on her cheeks. She's crying and shaking and all she wants is to get back to the Institute and hide.
She lurches to stand and takes the first cab she sees, unaware of the couple she steals it from. She mutters an address to the cabbie and leans her head against the window, the glass cool on her hot skin.
Widow, widow, widow… the word echoes through her head. Louder and longer and deeper, making her anxious, making her hurt. There's not enough air. Clearly, there's not enough air and she's going to suffocate. She gulps and pants and shakes in the backseat. The driver looks at her warily in the rearview mirror.
"Lady? You alright?" His Staten Island accent is thick. "Yo, please don't throw up. It's my first day on the job."
She ignores him and focuses on breathing in, one, two, three, four...and breathing out, one, two, three, four…
Blessedly, it's Saturday and rush hour traffic is reserved for the Monday through Friday working New Yorkers. The drive to Westchester takes under an hour and by the time they arrive Alison's stopped hyperventilating.
She's out of the cab before it's rolled to a stop, rushing to the front doors and neglecting to leave her driver any compensation. She slams the doors open, choking on sobs as she rushes by the confused stares of Ororo and Bobby in the foyer.
"Ali!" Bobby shouts after her; she climbs the stairs two at a time as fast as she can. He doesn't follow.
Hours later, Betsy finds Alison curled on the floor of her bedroom closet, sobbing over the brown leather jacket she'd worn when she came through Alice The Portal. It's ripped and burnt, with spots of blood like patchwork. Ali clings to it with white knuckles, crying and biting her bottom lip until it bleeds.
"Oh Alison," Betsy whispers and drops to her knees next to her friend. "Darling, I am so sorry." She swallows a lump in her throat.
Too upset to form words, Dazzler can only continue to sob. She doesn't stop when Betsy pulls her up and wraps her arms around her, but instead buries her face in the other woman's shoulder and shakes.
"You must breathe, Alison. In and out. With me now." Betsy takes a deep breath, holds for a few seconds, and then lets it out slowly.
She tries, fails, tries again, and then collapses into more sobbing until finally, her wails are whimpers and she can match Psylocke's breathing.
"There now," Betsy rubs her back. "Just like that." She pulls away to look at Ali. She wipes away the tears and cups her face. "Martha will never work in Manhattan again and I bought the entire collection for you. It shall arrive in a week."
Alison opens her mouth to protest, but Betsy shakes her head firmly. "Don't you dare. That cow deserved it. And you deserve every piece of finery the store can offer."
"I don't care about the clothes or Martha," Ali shakes her head. She wills herself to look up and lock eyes with her friend. "He's gone, Betsy. He's gone. Nothing else matters to me."
Psylocke prides herself on being a sensible person, with an ironclad grip on her emotions; she rarely reveals anything deeper than a flirty smile or frown full of detest.
However, she is not made of stone. She bats her eyelashes against the tears that form. Still holding Alison's face in her hands, she whispers, "I will never speak of this day again. No one will ever know what has happened."
When finally coaxed into bed, Alison lays quietly sniffling. Betsy sits in a chair closeby, her own eyes closed and two fingers lighting touching her temple. She concentrates and soon she feels the bridge from her consciousness to Alison's. Working quickly, she silences the pain and sorrow from Dazzler's cortex long enough to reach into her long-term memories.
She pulls out Australia.
Longshot sits next to her on a roof of an abandoned building in the ghost town the X-Men currently call home. His knees are pulled up and he's hooked his arms around them, fingers clasped casually as he looks to the horizon of the setting sun.
"You're like the sun," Alison says quietly next to him.
He smiles at her. "Really? You think so?"
She nods. "Of course. You're so warm, all the time. And you shine, in a way."
His smile broadens. "Well, if I'm like the sun, you're the wind."
"What?" She giggles."You're wild," he explains. "And pushy. And you can be loud and fierce and sometimes a little scary.""Oh," she bites her lip and looks disappointed. "I, uh, I…"
He nudges his shoulder against hers. "I like wild and pushy."
Ali scoffs. "Sure. Right."
"I do," he insists. "I even like loud." He shrugs. "I'm loud, I'm sure you've noticed.""And scary?"
He chuckles. "You're only a little scary. Sometimes. And you've never been scary with me. I think you just have this incredible power that, really, can kill people. And that's a little scary. But you are not scary. You're fierce, absolutely, because you're passionate and you care about stuff, people, whatever. But also…" he ducks his head down for a second and then looks up at her through his long lashes. "Wind is beautiful."
She furrows her brow. "You can't see the wind."
"But you can see what it does. Like when it twirls leaves around, or...other stuff." He turns towards her. "I'm trying to say you're beautiful. I think you're beautiful."
There's a flutter in her heart. "Really?" she whispers.
"Yes," he nods and she can see his cheeks turning pink. He's so adorable, it sends a tingle through her. "Yes. I have a terrible way of saying it, apparently. But I think you're beautiful and I -" He cuts himself off and purses his lips together before letting out a frustrated breath. "I really want to kiss you, Alison. Sometimes it's all I can think about when we're hanging out. And I -""Do it. Please do it. Kiss me."
And so he does. His hands cup her face and he lowers his mouth to hers and everything is soft and sweet and innocent and he moans a little before breaking away from her.
And Alison knows she's falling in love.
As Dazzler sleeps peacefully, Betsy remains on guard. She no longer needs to hold a psychic link between them; now that she's pushed pleasant memories of Alison and Longshot from their past, she's able to sit and process all that's happened in the day.
Sighing, she wraps her arms around herself. She feels horrendous for her part in today's dilemma. She'd known there would be a risk of a mental meltdown when she'd convinced Ali to leave her isolation. Yet, as the day progressed and Dazzler refrained from any sort of collapse or debilitating emotional distress, Betsy thought herself a genius and simply slacked in ensuring she was taking her friend to a safe environment.
Seeing Ali's face pale, eyes suddenly rapidly blinking, body shaking, voice stammering as she tried to latch to words, had been terrible. She'd fought alongside the woman for years, and never had she seen Dazzler submit to a panic attack. And to find her crumpled on the floor of a closet, practically screaming bloody murder as she cried...
She sighs again and, before she can kick herself, pulls out her phone and dials the first number on the speed dial. It rings. And rings. She's sent to voicemail.
"Warren. It's - it's me. Darling, you were right, and I am so sorry. Please come home. Please? I - I miss you."
Author's Note: Writing Betsy was super fun. I realize this version of her is different from the comics and movies. But, eh, AU. *shrugs*