|What: Having met in the destructive aftermath of the Marauders' attack beneath NYC, Mystique - in one of her many guises - arranges to meet Psylocke with a proposition. There is much ground to cover first...|
Some time has passed since the ugly affair in the subway tunnels went down in Manhattan, giving everyone in the city eighty gazillion new conversations to chew through with their friends and colleagues. Mystique had been looking forward to this opportunity, confident enough that she hasn't brought a single weapon with her beyond the stuff masquerading as coffee which has currently taken up residence within the chipped mug in her hands. It's like ingesting old motor oil, but that's not enough to hinder her spirits today.
Presentation is, after all, everything. Once more she's Tonya Harris, today in snug black jeans, an equally well-fitted grey shirt, and a much more sleek black leather jacket compared to the bomber brown she usually favors with the role. Sunglasses rest over her eyes, calmly watching the comings and goings of both foot and roadside traffic with the faintest look of amusement permanently etched upon her smooth features. The call has been arranged. All she has to do is sit and wait.
Mercenary work is not something new and strange to Psylocke; putting aside that the common taboo toward the word discounts that, in fact, most ordinary people are nothing but mercenaries in the employ of various soulless corporations. Inclined to change job so soon as a better, more lucrative or comfortable offer presents itself. Loyalty is bought and sold the world over. It's been a long time, however, since Betsy worked away from the X-Men of her own volition - living and travelling as part of Charles Xavier's elite mutant task force.
The offer Ms. Harris made in the aftermath of their escape from the New York subway tunnels was vague and rather strange, given the circumstance, arousing caution and curiosity in equal measure from the violet-eyed telepath. Though her loyalty might validly be questioned by any who knew of her recent activities, it's not through any sense of conflict with her long-time allies that Betsy finds herself now moving through the rumour-drenched streets toward Mortigan's bar.
Dressed herself in a finely-tailored pair of casual slacks, charcoal, and a crisp white short-sleeved shirt beneath a padded jacket to match the base, she looks the picture of a young urban professional. Her purple hair is tied neatly back in a ponytail, the distinctive nature of her features - and said colouration - masked only by the manner in which she holds herself. Purposeful but unhurried, she steps into the room and calmly orders a green tea before glancing about for the woman she's here to meet. A friendly wave dispels any suspicion or intrigue from the few other patrons sat about, and then she seats herself with equal nonchalance.
"An interesting choice," she muses, gaze harder than her joking smile as she sips from the stained, flower-wreathed china of the cup the proprietor probably thinks is 'tres chic'. "Come here often?"
"Not generally, no," Tonya admits from around the rim of her own mug. There's a faint grimace that follows as she sets the cup back onto the table, sitting more upright in her chair. "I come here for the ambience more than the dreadful menu offerings. It's not much of a looker, though, is it?" The question is left hanging in the air as she situates the lenses to the top of her head, her smile growing slightly and carrying a level of warmth with it. "You see, around this establishment? There's less discrimination than what you'll find at any of the hundred Starbucks scattered about. No elitism, no biased opinions. All they want is your money. It's a simple arrangement, if you're into that sort of thing."
Tonya leans forward, fingers loosely knitting together upon the table as she gives you a closer look. "Much like those brave souls that run this place, I come forth without bias nor opinion. Unlike them, I wish to extend an offer to you that does not revolve around monetary exchanges for services provided. I see in you someone with great potential, though someone that seems a bit lost in her ways. Am I close?" she inquires, continuing to study you.
At Tonya's verbal suggestion, a sideglance takes in what parts of the room are immediately visible from the little booth. Betsy has to agree - and does with a furtive smile - that it's neither much to look at nor packed out with the more difficult, judgemental clientele that can prove a problem to the life of a mutant... or games of espionage and intrigue, as the case may be. The most regular of souls, seeking a slice of peace and sanctuary from the world without. Telepathy only confirms what a perceptive glance would have told her already.
What's fascinating though, is how little it confirms about Tonya Harris.
"Close," echoes Betsy with a slow blink, betraying very little outwardly. But little, to someone like Mystique, is likely more than enough. Flashing back to what occurred in the tunnels, to the trials and conversations of the past week, she certainly can't deny the truth of those words to herself. Her expression shifts, all hard lines and angles for a fleeting instant. "Hm."
"So let /me/ guess," she rejoins with the hint of a sigh masked within her words, idly swirling the contents of her china cup before setting it down with a gentle clink upon the provided saucer. Leaning forward to further close the gap between them, resting her cheek upon her palm, the undercover X-Woman matches that keen stare. Violet meets green, no less perceptive despite the conflict still brimming somewhere within. "No elitism, no biased opinions. All you want is my loyalty? Or is it just my..." Her eyes narrow a touch, "Sword-arm you're after?"
To the imposed question, Tonya momentarily glances down as though she had just been proven that the mark was completely missed. "Not quite, sweetheart," she corrects while the tip of a finger traces the smudged handle of her mug. A second more and she's looking back to you again, an almost merry twinkle residing within those jade-capped optics. "I want your belief."
"I'll be blunt, as much as it pains me to bring up such dreadful news to anyone that might be affected by it. We're at a crossroads, this city now the battleground for many things to come. On one side, you have those whom wish to label and categorize everyone, place them into neat little collectives of segragation," she explains while gesturing with her hands upon the table. "Opposing this, we have the group that simply wishes to be left alone. Fit in, be a happy little part of society as a whole. The 'can't we all get along' crew, as it were. There's a third side to this picture. There's the side which believes that when things go a little sideways, they're prepared to stand their ground and do some proverbial head-butting. Not everyone wishes to 'lie down and take it.'"
Tonya pauses briefly to have another sip of her coffee sludge. "I don't really know you beyond what I have seen. It's this which intrigues me, gives me a sense of hope. You're a fighter, through and through. You may not enjoy doing battle, but you understand it, don't you? One group wishes to see your skills, your potential, be treated like an illegal weapon meant to be suppressed and controlled. The second group would see your abilities go by the wayside, left to die in atrophy. The last one simply wishes for you to embrace them, to take pride and joy in what makes you, -you.- So tell me, dear. What do you believe in?"
Belief. Faith. It's a commodity in short supply these days-- Psylocke herself holding absolute trust only in a precious few, and even then, does she truly? It's easy to say one thing, to another or oneself, but far more difficult and demanding to actually believe it. At the revelation, the telepath frowns, breaking eye contact for an instant that almost amounts to a retreat-- it takes a certain amount of will to again meet those twinkling eyes.
What unfolds as she continues to listen resonates with her recent musings, lost in conflict and doubt - a global doubt more even than the deeply-esconced self-doubt that almost proved her undoing in the subway tunnels. Several times she faintly cants her head, what amounts to a nod from her position propped against one arm. When all is done, she sits back, opening and closing her mouth once before stilling. What /does/ she believe in?
"I believe there's a right way to be, that there are quintessential human values that need protecting. 'Innocence' is a misnomer; who hasn't done something bad, or wrong? Selfish or cruel? But the majority of people in this world are fundamentally deserving of life." Pausing, she glances down at her own cup, shifting cheek away from palm and raising the rather rancid tea for another sip of her own. Violet eyes lift to watch Tonya over the rim, and she only partway lowers it before resuming her speech, tone lowering as her expression darkens.
"However, sometimes those people can't be protected without taking actions that would shame and horrify them. I believe it's my duty - as a fighter, as one of the strong - to sacrifice my own..." She searches for the right word, "Purity? Morality? To /sacrifice/ for the preservation of those incapable of protecting themselves. Life itself isn't sacred by design; the fittest have long survived, that's part of evolution and the template of our existence. If preserving a better future means doing awful, unforgivable things..."
Slowly, she shakes her head, and sets the cup down.
"Humanity will never just 'get along'. But we can make this world better through our actions, and I see no reason why we shouldn't. I suppose, if I'm honest, I believe in strengh, and possessing the judgement to use it wisely."
Thus begins Tonya's moment to listen, and learn, and above all, continue to analyze her potential new recruit. The question she had voiced got you to thinking, which is one of the most promising points thus far in the conversation. You had a head upon your shoulders, alright, and by golly you're willing to make use of it! That's good in part because you aren't a mindless drone, you're someone that can take action. The downside is that it's more difficult to steer a mind wired as such toward a foreign cause. No matter though! Mystique loves a challenge, and sitting directly across from her is a challenge she cannot resist.
"Do you hear what you are saying to me, my dear? That you are willing to -sacrifice- yourself, not for those that you share personal bonds with or feel love toward, but for anyone at all? Including those that wish to see you put down because you are different than they?"
The trick is always the same. Transitioning from the limits of the prey's standpoints over to where the Brotherhood's begins. It's often a longer leap than the other is willing to make, but there's always that moment of breathless silence as they gauge the distance of that jump for themselves, weigh the pro's and con's as to whether they wish to take a running start or merely creep up toward the edge then briskly back away from it all. Would this one be a jumper? Could she find a way to make ends meet while offering you a safe place to land upon her side of the cliff?
"It's important to stand up for your beliefs, to know where you stand within the system, but do not let your sacrifices be for naught. Giving up any portion of yourself should net significant clause. Otherwise, what good does it accomplish? To give away piece by piece until there is nothing of you remaining but an empty husk? You're a lovely creature, and don't let anyone try to tell you otherwise! You should not have to give up -anything- because you have been brought into this world as you were. Such gifts are to be cherished, treasured, honored and respected. So why not use them to protect those that do honor and respect them before you would the soul that wishes to put a bullet through your temple?"
"You aren't alone in this world. Our recent events are testament to that, without question! Among those so gifted is a group which has one primary focus in mind. The protection of the species. We all feel the need to save something, but sometimes we simply must worry about saving ourselves, and our kind, before we can hope to save the world. As the saying goes, how can you save another when you cannot save yourself? We work as a family, assuring each other that we are all being looked after by our brothers and sisters. There is room within this family, a comfortable space where you will be treated with honor and respect."
'Including those that wish to see you put down because you are different than they?'
"And that's what makes me--"
Psylocke begins to reply to that, clapping her mouth shut the moment she realizes what's about to come out. Swallowing tightly, she wears a troubled look as she retrieves her downed cup and drains what remains of the now-cool liquid within. It's a little gritty to match the somewhat foul flavour, and when she dispenses with it she feels no better. And there's that word. Is that how she sees herself? At the Institute, a recovering Warren already challenged her on this, asking whether she'd see herself controlling others. Ruling them. It's a discomfiting thought.
As are those that follow. Everything this increasingly mysterious would-be benefactor says has within it the ring of truth - much like the charismatic, elderly speaker with whom she's already found tenuous allegiance. She doesn't shift throughout the sermon, sitting stock still and simply listening, the only expression showing in the rather enigmatic depths of her eyes. It's not until near the end where something approaching indignance can be clearly made out.
"I'm already treated so," she replies mildly, considering the fact and allowing herself a small smile. It's a sad thing, however, softening the exotic angles of her face into an oddly vulnerable portrait. Violet eyes dance with a melancholy distance as she forces herself to maintain a level gaze with the persuasive woman sat opposite. "I have a family." That smile slips away, a few rapid blinks attesting to the faltering of her conviction. A family she doesn't tell where she's going, or where she's been. Friends who are rapidly coming to know only half of her story, at best. There's at least one thing she can cling to...
"And neither was I born into this world as I am. You've observed me for scant minutes; and you draw too many conclusions. Among the gifts I've been given was a... second chance. This body, this face," her hand lifts, fingertips curled inward to brush furled knuckles gently along her right cheek. Her look grows haunted. "Nothing but a husk, as you say, Miss Harris. I have to be willing to sacrifice, because the sacrifices made /for/ me have been nothing but absolute."
Downcasting her gaze, she lids her eyes for a moment, drawing in a long, cool breath.
"If you seek to buy me through my sense of entitlement, you'll find none, I assure you."
"-Buy?-" Tonya asks, looking rather shocked. "Sweetie, I'm not looking to purchase anything at all from you! I apologize for not knowing your history, but I feel we can both agree that it is not mine to know. What puzzles me mostly is your conviction regarding it. If your boat sank and someone bought you another one, I'm sure they aren't doing so with the belief that you would go off and sink that one, as well," she counters with a chuckle. "You were given a second chance? Fantastic! Splendid news, to be sure. But don't waste what has been granted to you, no?"
Tonya gently brushes her mug aside, its remaining contents forgotten. "Your eyes betray you, dearest. I will not pry, once again it is not my business to get involved, but your soul tells me that not all is as well as it could be. Perhaps, even, as it should be. I've had a family before, related in blood. Same as anyone who's brought into this world. You would think such a bond would be everlasting, that nothing could come between it." Her smile grows somewhat sad, "I thought the same until my father tried to kill me. 'Family' is an important title, it should be earned. I do hope that your current family treats you with all of the love and respect which you deserve. Anything less would be criminal."
Tonya glances at a delicate looking watch upon her wrist, her smile renewed. "If you'll forgive me for utilizing one more nautical expression, I'm not asking you to jump ship with your current arrangement. Simply bear in mind that there is an alternative which is available to you. We do look after our own. In this world, it's the very least which any of us could do."
It's complicated, is that what she feels compelled to say? It certainly is that, but upon having her wavering resolve questioned, Betsy begins to wonder if the process of her bodyswap really holds the same meaning she ascribes to it. She knows next to nothing about the woman whose form she took, save the inherited skills and hazy, circumstantial memories that seem to resonate - somehow - despite the absence of that person's soul. For all she knows, this form would have been discarded in death and left to rot. But the creature who gave it to her... while she may question her ability to trust Tonya Harris, Erik Lehnsherr, or even the X-Men, there is no caution in her mind that Mojo - or the crowing Spiral - are anything but black-hearted.
Once more she forces back any interruption, in favour of listening. Observing. Reasoning.
"And how," she begins at a murmur once Tonya stops talking, raising downturned eyes to meet her with hard stare and raised chin, challenging pride in her aspect. "Would you make this world a better place for your 'own'? I've been hearing a great deal of talk lately, by each side in this conflict, about how we should approach our problems; and about what each can offer the other. Too much talking, Miss Harris, and far from enough action. I'm beginning to wonder that I'd be best without anyone's counsel, or protection. I'm sorry that you've been through hard times yourself, but all that means - to me - is that you need something to cling to, as we all do."
Head tipping to one side as her stare grows yet more thoughtful, the olivine skin of Betsy's brow eases inward to a gentle crease. "You've asked me what I believe in. How about you? What do you want from this world, how do you see the future? Who ARE you, really?"
And why, she adds inwardly, were you in the subway tunnels. All this fine talk from a woman she cannot read; something is being hidden. Whether for good or ill, she knows not, but as the tables begin to turn from her own frailty, Psylocke is growing more inquisitive by the second.
Tonya points an index finger at you, almost beaming with a sense of pride. "Thank you for asking. I've had this conversation with others, so much 'what can you do for me' and 'why should I bother listening to you,' would you believe that very few have ever asked about -myself?- This is such a refreshing change of pace that I barely know where to begin!"
Automatically she reaches for her mug, catching the motion with her hand an inch away from the chipped glassware before she makes a tiny sound of acceptance and goes back to lacing her fingers together, instead. "There's a lot of talking and a distinct lack of action currently underway because everyone is waiting for the party which is going to throw the first swing. We're no different, only militants would wish to strike first. What we follow is that we all need care and protection, and while doing so we are also expecting the worst. An ounce of prevention, as they say. We band together, make our presence known, and get the point across that we're not afraid to defend ourselves for our right to live. Should they choose to bring the fight to us, which unfortunately seems to be down to a matter of timing as the case may be, then we stand up for ourselves united together in a cause we can all relate to. We don't seek to start the war, we just haven't blinded ourselves to the truth that one is on its way."
Well, true for most people. Mystique sure wants to start the war, though Tonya doesn't share as much.
"Now then, I believe I owe you some answers, don't I. I believe that what is commonly referred to as 'mutation,' homo-superior, isn't a fluke. It's too wide-spread, too global. There are countless numbers spanning the world around. I believe that we are witnessing the next stage of human evolution. A curious and confused one, still trying to figure out which traits to keep and which to abandon, mind. But, change is in the air, and in all of our futures. And I believe that those not blessed with such an opportunity wish to cease it from happening, one way or another. Not everyone, but the loudest voice is the most readily heard, and as humanity has proven everyone has an opinion and those which create the largest waves are the quickest to gather momentum."
"As for myself, I am one of them. It's as simple as that, really."
It's hard to remain entirely cool when being complimented, least of all by someone with the apparent people skills of Tonya Harris. That glowing smile is returned with one touched by more warmth than Betsy is fully intending, though it doesn't quite reflect in her eyes. A trained operative, she's on full alert despite the pleasantries they've exchanged. And the honest confession she has already offered. There are two players in this game.
War. There's another dangerous game, and an equally contentious word that's being thrown about too freely; enough that it draws a frown here, too. It's what so many are afraid of, and something Psylocke herself would be striving to prevent - for the stated greater good, and by the stated means. Whatever it takes. Sacrifice of self and principle. But while she can't in good conscience view it as an inevitability, it's one of the two likeliest options and the one that most needs to be avoided. The idea of waiting until it's that much closer...
'Militant', she muses. Is that what she's becoming, as the conclusion dawns?
The rest is both familiar and resonant, matching not only Betsy's understanding of their condition - but almost the same ideals she already ascribes to via her existing loyalties. Almost. There's subtle shifts, a cutting edge, but then those same altered elements are echoed by the charismatic Erik and his controversially compelling, crowd-harnessing ways. Only the last is a true revelation, if not logically surprising. Inclining her head at that, Psylocke shares the welcoming smile of a kindred found. Realizing as she does that she is drawing a line. Sighing, she reaches for her right temple, gently massaging the vein with her middle digit.
"I'm already part of two groups that alternately hold..." She lowers her hand to gesticulate in the air, loosely taking in Mystique, "The same beliefs you seem to, cut in twain. Perhaps rather than trying to recruit each other to our respective causes, we should be looking to find common ground and form a genuinely united front. As it stands, we could be staring at a future where we're fighting amongst ourselves, moving from one enemy to another. Is that any different, at all, from what we have now? History moves in circles, it seems."
A frown darkening her brow once more, Betsy suddenly shifts and moves to stand.
"You're an intriguing woman, Miss Harris, but I need to think on this before I make a decision. Perhaps when next we meet, we can share more of what brought us to our chosen path. You have my number if you wish to contact me for any reason, but please... don't expect me to simply fall in with you based on a single, admittedly pleasant meeting. The, ah, tea aside." She smirks gently at that, glancing at the abandoned china. "Somebody should tell the proprietor you don't make green tea by waiting for a regular tea bag to go off."
Stepping around the edge of the booth, she offers Tonya a hand.
"Until we meet again. Let's hope there's not a war on when we do."
There's a warm chuckle from Tonya, fingertips falling upon her sternum for a second. "Oh, gooodness, the last thing I would want is for all of us to be at one anothers' necks because someone missed a memo, how awful the thought! If others share these ideals then perhaps a proper joining of minds is indeed in order!" The Brotherhood can always use that sort of intel!
She's got the gears turning. Doubts taking shape. Questions ruling the day. Everything that Mystique set out to do with you, she has. It went better than expected, though you have managed to make yourself into a fascinating project in very short order. It's almost liberating to have an opportunity to cut loose and let her skills shine through as intended.
Tonya stands, in turn. "Of course, dear! Take as much time as you wish. I did not intend for there to be any felt pressure upon your shoulders in having this discussion, there is no deadline to adhere to. The option has been presented to you, what you choose to do with it from here is entirely your call. I would never presume to pull you into anything unwillingly, this decision is yours alone to make."
The offered hand is taken, firmly but comfortably, and smartly shaken exactly once. "Likewise. If you require anything, I am most often reachable. It's been a real pleasure, do stay safe."