Rating: G
Summary: Warren & Betsy get married at Braddock Manor, with some surprising guests and presents.
Archive? Sure, just ask.
Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine, instead belonging to Marvel Comics Ltd, and hence I'm not making any profit from this enterprise. Furthermore, all characters herein are used without permission.
Notes: *text* = telepathic speech.

- Phil.

Once In A Lifetime
by Philip Hunn

Braddock Manor is beautiful in the springtime. The elms and oaks are beginning to awaken after the chill of the British winter, and there are baby rabbits and pheasant roaming the grounds with impunity. Warren and I are taking a walk through the gardens, holding hands and keeping close together against the pervasive moisture that hangs in the early morning air, a low mist covering the frost-coated grass and making it crunch under our feet. Warren looks across the gardens and towards the forest and copses of trees that lie beyond the boundaries of the Braddock estate.

"This is a really beautiful garden, Betsy," he says, squeezing my gloved hand gently.

"Thank you, darling," I say, "but you should tell that to Tom, my gardener. He's the one that takes care of it all. I'm sure he'd be glad to hear that someone other than Brian and myself appreciates the work he puts in. He could just let it all go to seed and over-run the place when Brian and I aren't around, but he doesn't, because he loves his job so much. He's been the gardener here since I was a little girl, and I've never known him to take a day off unless it was something really serious. He loves this garden more than anything."

Warren tilts his head and watches his breath mist in the January air. "I can see why," he says, looking over at a patch of tiny, budding chrysanthemums. "Those are going to look great once they've flowered. My mom had a whole bank of those at home, and she used to tend them herself for hours every day. She'd let me and my dad help her sometimes, but mostly she'd tell us to keep our hands off them so that she could work." I can sense the amusement and warm nostalgia at the forefront of Warren's mind and I feel it flowing to every part of my body, sending the cold racing away as if I have been placed in a pool of warm water. I lean in closer to him and slip my arm around his waist, resting my head on his shoulder.

"Thank you for agreeing to come back here, Warren. I really appreciate it."

"Don't mention it." Warren shrugs and touches my chin with the fingers of his left hand, kissing me on the forehead. "This was important to you and your brother, so I came. You do remember the deal we had, though, don't you?"

"Yes, Warren-ĖI remember," I say, with a smile. Warren has a canny business sense, even when it comes to love. He agreed to our marriage here on the Braddock estate only if we went to Disneyland as part of our honeymoon. He loves Mickey Mouse, but I'm not quite so keen on seeing grown men in plastic costumes continually waving to small children. Being able to sense their thoughts spoils the effect, I find. Usually they feel far less cheerful than their outward appearance suggests, thanks to being inside those costumes, and the negativity puts me in a bad mood myself, which isn't helpful when you're trying to enjoy the rides or eat some overly-buttery popcorn. I think the subsequent holiday in the Bahamas we have planned will make up for that, though Ė I could do with some serious sunshine at this point.

"Good," Warren says, and gestures with his thumb towards the manor house itself. "You want to get some breakfast? I don't think the others are up yetĖ-we can have the kitchen all to ourselves." I laugh.

"Yes, and we can avoid Scott trying to make bacon and eggs. The man could burn boiling water." Warren nods, a grin crossing his face.

"True," he replies. "Very true."

We find our way below stairs to the small kitchen that was used in the past by the servants, but is actually a better place to eat than the large dining room in the East wing. There's nothing wrong with the dining room in itself, it's just that it feels too empty if only Warren and I are there to fill it. At least down here he and I can feel at home, rather than being sat at either end of the long oak table as if we can't stand each other. Warren puts some toast in the small two-slice toaster and forages through the cupboards for some strawberry jam, and in the fridge for a tub of butter, and seats himself in the chair opposite mine. He rubs the floral-patterned tablecloth with his fingers, looks at the sprigs of barley and dried flowers that are hung about the walls and smiles to himself slightly. "I thought places like this only existed in the movies," he says with a little laugh. "It makes me feel like I've stepped into 'Mary Poppins', or something."

"Oh, God, no," I say, laughing. "That film was about as British as you are, Warren. Why not think of this as something from, oh, I don't know, Charles Dickens?"

"I never got into that guy," Warren says, with a perfunctory shrug. "I liked Ian Fleming more as a kid. I read 'Oliver Twist' when my mom bought it for me for my tenth birthday, and I read 'Nicholas Nickelby' because the Professor had put it on our English programme, but I didn't enjoy either of them. Give me high adventure and glamorous women any day of the week." He winks at me. "I'll have to buy you some Tom Clancy for your birthday."

"You'll do no such thing, Warren Worthington," I say, in a scolding tone, and wagging my finger at him. "I don't want any nasty surprises, thank you."

"You're such a killjoy," Warren says with a look of faux disappointment on his face, trying his best to present a maudlin, sad sack look, and failing miserably. "You spoil all my fun."

"Isn't that what I'm supposed to do?" I ask, blowing him a kiss. "I am going to be your wife, after all."

"Ha, ha." Warren shakes his head. "You could always buck the trend, you know."

"I could... but it wouldn't be nearly so much fun." I smile at him and take another bite of my toast, walking over to the kettle to boil some water for a cup of tea.

Warren's toast pops up suddenly. He moves to retrieve it, and finds a plate to put in on. As he does so he offers to put a couple of slices in for me. I accept and he pushes a couple of pristine white slices into the toaster and sets the dial to just where I like it. I'm not happy with toast unless the browning is barely noticeable, and I can still see white underneath the butter and jam. Warren is the exact opposite-Ėhe can't stand toast that isn't blackened. Oddly enough, it's one of the things I love most about him.

Warren reaches over to the small stereo on the counter and switches it on. The local radio station's "Greatest Hits" breakfast programme flares to life, playing a song that is a particular favourite of mine-Ė"Suicide Blonde", by INXS. It reminds me of myself as a little girl; I lost count of the times my mother had to dust me off and scold me about trying to play at rough and tumble like my brothers, and of the times I got myself into scrapes that I couldn't get myself out of. The song plays for a while, and then is replaced by U2ís "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me". Unable to stop myself, I find myself dancing to the music ever so slightly, swinging my hips and singing along quietly to Bono's vocals as I add a couple of teabags to the teapot and wait for the leaves to spread their flavour thoroughly through the hot water. Once they have, I give Warren a cup and pour him some of the rich-smelling brew. I've managed to convert him from that most American of evils, black coffee in the morning, and now he swears by Earl Grey and Darjeeling, as I do. They say you can't change a man, but in this regard, I think I've had at least a small amount of success. It won't stop him leaving his underwear on the floor of our bedroom, or shedding feathers under our duvet, or even putting far too much mustard on his hot dogs, but it's a start, I suppose. But then again, if I changed him that much, he wouldn't be the man I want to marryĖ-warts and all.

Shaking my head slightly, smiling, I pour myself a cup of the steaming tea and take a sip tentatively. It fills my mouth with heat and lays its delicate flavour over my tongue like a lover's caress. I've missed genuine English tea, I really have. I'm lucky that Tom keeps the cupboards well stocked for Brian and myself when we return home, even if that is a very rare occurrence Ė he knows precisely which blends I like and where to get them, so it saves me the trouble of having to trawl through the speciality shops looking for loose tea leaves.

"It's good to be home," I say, contentedly, as I drink my tea, feeling that I need no other justification. "I've missed it very much."

"I don't blame you," Warren replies, with a little grin. Then, moving to put his plate and knife if the sink behind him, he says, "Where are Jean and the others taking you this evening?"

"I honestly don't know, Warren," I say. "I think they want my hen night to be a complete surprise. Why do you ask?"

"I haven't heard anything from the guys about my bachelor party, that's why," Warren shrugs. "I think they're planning something bad. Scott probably still hasn't forgotten what I did to him when we took him out the night before he and Jean got married."

"Oh?" I can sense this is not something I really want to know, but it's irresistible, nonetheless. "What did you do, Warren? Come onĖ-out with it; now that you've given me such a juicy little titbit, you can't honestly expect me not to ask what you did." Warren sighs and rolls his eyes.

"You really want to know?"

"Yes, Warren. Really."

"Well... we had him drinking tequila and vodka all night long, and we took him to a strip club so he could enjoy being a single guy for the last timeĖ-you know, the usual garbage that guys do at bachelor parties. He woke up with a headache the size of Long Island, and a stripper's bra, phone number and email address in his back pocket, and he still has no idea how he got them. He thinks it was me that did it, but he can't be sure."

I sigh. "Men," I say, as if that one word could spontaneously condemn half the human race. "You're right, Warren, I really didn't want to know. Thank you for being so honest, though-ĖI appreciate it. It would serve you right if Scott paid you back for being so mean, though."

"Mean?" Warren tries his best to look wounded. "Mean? I was only doing what any man would do for his best friend. Besides," and he shrugs, "it's practically expected that you play a trick on the groom."

"Well, then, I really do hope you get your come-uppance, Warren," I tell him. "It's only fair."

"Mornin', lovebirds," says a voice from the doorway. "Y'all are up nice an' early."

"Hello, Rogue," I say without turning around, having anticipated her arrival. Her thoughts, as twisted and muddled and curdled around with other peopleís thought patterns as they are, are nevertheless like a burning firebrand. I could sense them from miles away, if I chose. "Did you sleep well?"

"Sure did," Rogue replies as she sits down at the table beside me. She is still dressed in nothing but her lacy night-gown, covered by a soft robe. Her hair is tousled, and her face is presently bare of make-up, but she still looks beautiful, in an effortless kind of way. "Like a log. You got a real nice place here, Betsy-ĖI could get used to sleeping in those beds."

"I'm glad you liked it," I tell her warmly as she pours herself a bowl of corn flakes from the box on the table. "It means a lot that you've all come here, Rogue." Rogue smiles slightly, and runs her hands through her hair, loosening it sufficiently so that its auburn curls can hang freely.

"Don't mention it," she says, taking a mouthful of milk-sodden flakes and crunching them between her teeth with relish. "'Weren't nothin'. We love you guys-Ėwe'd do anything for the two of you." An evil grin spreads across her face. "Speakiní of which... Betsy, you ainít been eavesdroppiní on our ideas for your party tonight, have ya?" She taps the side of her head intuitively. I smile and shake my head innocently.

"Me?" I say, placing a hand to my chest as if I am mortified by the merest suggestion of using my powers in such a way. "Of course I havenít, Rogue. You wound me with the very notion."

"Well, long as I know that, sugar," she tells me, in her thick Mississippi drawl. "Canít be too careful what youíre thinkiní with a telepath around, can you?"

"No," I say. "I suppose not. I promise Iíve never looked into your mind when you werenít aware of it, though, Rogue, if that will make you feel better." Rogue laughs, and slurps more cereal from her spoon noisily.

"Honestly?" she says, catching a stray drop of milk at the side of her mouth with the tip of her finger. "I donít think Iíll ever be comfortable around mind readers, even after all the Professorís done for me." Warren nods in agreement.

"I know what you mean. It took me years before I got used to the idea of being talked to inside my own head." I raise an eyebrow.

"You headblind," I say, rolling my eyes, as if thatís some great curse. "I should show you how it feels to have other peopleís thoughts running around at the back of your skull day in, day out. Then youíd feel strange." Rogue nods in agreement.

"I know what you mean, Betsy," she says, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear and reaching over to take a section of the paper that Warren is finished with. "I remember when Scott had to give me the Professorís powers to show me he was who he said he was. If Iíd had toíve deal with that all day, every day, as a kid, Iídíve been crazy as all get out before I hit fourteen. Iím glad it only lasted a few minutes."

"Then you should know what my mind is like," I say, tapping the side of my head with a finger. "I could lose myself up here without even trying hard." Rogue grins.

"No offence, Betsy, but you can keep those powers to yourself. Give me somethiní to smash with my hands, and Iíll be happy."

"No offence taken, Rogue," I say, returning her smile. "You wouldnít be the first person to say that in my lifetime, and Iím certain that you wonít be the last. But you get used to it, eventually, you know. I donít even register what most people are thinking these days. All I know is that theyíre there, and theyíre alive, and if I want to know more, I ask them. Anything else would be rude." I pause to sip my tea, and then continue "But Iíd feel worse if they werenít there, after so many years. Itís a comfort to me to have Warren in my mind, as well as here in the physical world. I donít know how headblind people cope." I smile at Warren for a moment, reaching across the table to touch his hand. "I can feel his love for me, and he can feel the love I have for him through the bond I made between the two of us. That, to me, is the most important thing Iíve ever known."

Warren nods to Rogue in affirmation. "Thatís true. Now, I know what Betsy is thinking and how she feels, without her having to tell me. We can talk to each other wherever we are, whenever we want, free of charge. Beats any mobile phone Iíve ever used, Iíll tell you that." He grins briefly, and kisses my hand. "Iíd feel like there was something missing too, if that was severed."

I smile at him. "See, Warren? Youíre already coming round to the idea of being married to a telepath. That didnít take long, did it?" Through our rapport, I feel his amusement, and he winks at me.

"Yes, darling," he says, simply. "Whatever you say."

We spend the rest of the day picking flowers and walking through the woods around the manor, simply enjoying the quiet and the restfulness that covers the estate like a comfort blanket. We sit by the lake and watch the herons catching fish on the far shore. We hold hands like giddy teenagers and watch the clouds rolling past us in the sky as we lie in each otherís arms in the thick green grass of the meadows that surround the manor. Itís over far too soon, and the rest of the team all too abruptly come to separate us before the wedding, Rogue and Jean and Ororo taking me to their quarters in the manor house to help me get ready for the hen night. I pick out my naughtiest little black dress--which barely covers my buttocks, let alone my legs - in accordance with their demands that I look ready to snare a man. All three of them look as if they are ready to fall out of their clothes at any moment, at the request of any handsome men who happen to be passing. They look ridiculous, but then again, so do I in this dress. Itís all part of the fun, you see. We spend a while making ourselves look irresistible, making our lips full and moist with brightly-coloured lipsticks, swathing ourselves in expensive Yves Saint-Laurent fragrances and cosmetics, and then we take a ride into the nearby city via a relatively inexpensive taxi ride.

The first bar we come to, Rogue orders me a large cocktail without telling me whatís in it, although after one sip I can tell it contains a good deal of Smirnoff vodka, some creme de menthe, and only a token measure of fruit juice. I blink back the effects, immediate as they are, and say "Starting as you mean me to go on, eh, Rogue?" She smiles wickedly.

"Ainít no other way to do this, sugar," she says, ordering a similar cocktail for herself, Jean and Ororo. At least the three of them are going to keep up with me, which is something, I suppose. Jean takes a sip of her drink and points to a well-muscled young man on the dance floor, who is eyeing Ororo up as if she is a shop-window mannequin.

"I think youíre in demand, Ororo," she says in a low whisper, with a girlish giggle. Ororo turns her head and sees the young man walking towards her, a smile crossing his lips as he enquires politely of her if she would like to join him. Ororo looks undecided for a moment before Rogue and Jean shoo her away and place their handbags on her stool so that she cannot sit back down again. For a moment, Ororoís eyes flash indignantly with crackling lightning, but then she resigns herself to the inevitable and accompanies the young man away from our little group.

"Boy, she didnít look happy, did she?" Rogue says grinning. "I donít think sheís gonna forgive us for a while yet. No sir."

I glance back at Ororo and I can see that she is beginning to let herself go a little bit, her ivory hair turned a soft shade of blue by the bright lights reflecting off the disco ball that is hung above the reflective dance floor. There is a widening smile on her face, and even in the cacophony of the club I can sense her reserve being chipped away slowly. I smile myself--Ororo is the only woman Iíve known in recent years who has been more reserved than me, and to see her letting her guard down and enjoying herself is a nice change. Her pleasure at letting go, at giving herself over to the here and now, glows at the forefront of my mind and makes me smile more widely. I can tell at a glance that Jean feels it too, and we share a private moment of mutual realisation. Rogue sees our almost conspiratorial demeanour and raises an auburn eyebrow.

"Whatís the joke, you two?" she says. "I ainít gonna sit here and be left out of it just Ďcause I ainít got fancy-schmancy head powers." She winks at me. "No matter what I said this morniní." I put my hand over Rogueís own gloved fingers and shake my head.

"No joke, Rogue," I tell her. "Ororoís just really enjoying herself, thatís all." Rogue sips her drink and shrugs.

"Iíll be damned," she says, her thick Southern drawl drawing the words out attractively. "Time and past time for that. Girlís been far too mopey lately." Jean nods.

"Iíll drink to that," she says, raising her glass and flipping her red hair over her shoulder. "I hope we all have as good a time."

I lick my lips and drain my glass, feeling my head pulse with the effort as the alcohol seemingly floods straight into my bloodstream. Nodding to the bartender, I order another round of drinks, and the same large cocktail glass is put in front of me with the same lopsidedly alcoholic filling and paper parasol residing inside it. Jean puts the new drink down beside her current one, and Rogue finishes her own drink in order to keep up with me.

Better to set the pace than follow it, I decide--keeping it is good, but actually setting it will let me retain at least some control over my actions later. Rogue will be able to keep up anyway, because of her partly-alien physiology, but Jean will probably admit defeat before me. She puts the full glass down after taking a small sip and asks "So where is Warren taking you for your honeymoon?" I grin and laugh girlishly.

"Would it be a clichť for me to tell you weíre going to Disneyland?" I say. "Only for a few days, though--weíre flying down to the Bahamas after that for a full fortnightís stay." Jean laughs.

"Iíd be horrified if you werenít," she replies. "I wouldnít have wanted to spend my honeymoon watching Scott on the Runaway Mine Train and eating cotton candy. You have to draw the line somewhere, donít you?"

"Oh, absolutely," I say. "You have to let them know whoís in charge."

Rogue snorts. "Yíall make your boyfriends sound like a pair of huntiní hounds."

"Well, they are," Jean replies, laughing, "except theyíre at least partly housetrained."

"And they slobber less," I add, joining in the spirit of the discussion. "When it suits them." I give her a curious look. "Surely youíve noticed this in Remy?" Rogue flushes and shrugs innocently.

"Remyís a good boy," she says, in a voice that indicates she is lying through her teeth. "He ainít never looked at another woman in my presence. Ever."

"Well, youíve got super-strength," Jean shoots back. "At least he has reason to mind his manners."

Rogue is about to reply when a tall, dark-haired young man approaches our little group and turns towards me, indicating with a gesture that he would like me to join him out on the floor. I glance over at Jean and Rogue and they are both urging me on with their eyes.

*Go on, Betsy,* Jean says in my mind. *Youíre going to be married in the morning. Have a last little bit of fun before you tie the knot. We promise we wonít tell Warren.* She winks.

I have nothing to lose, I realise, and so I get up off my stool and take the young manís hand as he leads me towards the polished floor. He is a startlingly good-looking specimen, with short, dark brown locks adorning his head and eyes as green as meadow grass. He is clad in a form-fitting shirt and black jeans, and moves with an unusual grace. As we reach the floor, he suddenly pulls me in towards him and his eyes lock with my own.

"You have matured well, daughter of Braddock," he says in a voice completely different to the one he was using moments before. Before I can puzzle out how he might possibly know who I am, his thought patterns change, the ones I could detect moments before warping and changing to a telepathic signature I thought I would never feel again. The club around me melts away and I am suddenly stood clutched to him in a pure white light, all distinguishing features of my previous surroundings gone. I cannot even sense Jean, Rogue or Ororo now, and that worries me. I look up at the man, and his face has changed along with his thoughts. The time has come, I decide, to ask this man his true intentions.

"What do you want, Merlin?"

"Simply to talk, child," he says, innocently enough. I know better than to trust him, though--I did that once before, and I ended up blind because of it.

"We could have done that in my world," I say. "And I must say, you looked better before." I wave my hand dismissively at the old manís white robes and long, greying beard. The old man smiles sourly.

"Yes, well... mortals are not very conducive to good conversation. They are so... flighty. I find them like mayflies--here one minute and gone the next. Surely you as a citizen of Otherworld must feel the same?"

"Actually, Merlin, I love my home as much as the next Ďmortalí." I set my feet apart and put my hands on my hips, deciding to go straight for the nub of this discussion. "Why did you call me here?"

The old man shifts his gnarled staff from his right to his left hand and points at me with an equally gnarled finger. "Tomorrow is your wedding day, is it not?"

I shrug. "Why do you want to know? What possible interest could you have in my wedding?"

"You are a child of Braddock," Merlin replies. "That is a reason in itself. Your bloodline is a venerable one and I would see its continuation celebrated in an appropriate way."

I raise an eyebrow. "I donít know if youíve noticed, old man, but my body isnít what it used to be. It isnít even the same one anymore--my original body is dead. So how could the Braddock bloodline be continued through anybody but Brian?"

"Otherworld is a strange place, child," Merlin replies. "You would be surprised at how possible what youíre suggesting could be." He smiles. I feel my skin crawl. "But thatís by the by, Braddock-child. I am here to make you an offer. Will you hear me out?"

"The last time I did that, old man, I ended up blind. No thank you." The old wizard looks disappointed for a moment, and then appears to change his tack.

"Did you ever consider," he says matter-of-factly, "how you were going to convince the authorities you were who you said you were? They arenít going to simply accept you as Betsy Braddock, you know. As far as your world knows, Betsy Braddock still lives on her estate as a total recluse."

"Warren and I both have image-inducers," I reply defiantly. "We knew that was a probable situation weíd have to face, and weíre prepared for it." Merlin scratches his chin.

"But here is a quandary for you, child," he says, his tone of voice not reassuring me at all. "What if you didnít need some piece of vulgar mechanical technology to appear as your true self?" That piques my curiosity, as Iím sure he intended, despite my misgivings.

"What do you mean?"

"I can make you whole again," he says, his eyes filling with the intent that I knew was simmering within him all along. "I can take away the hurt that you feel. You will be as you were once again."

"Why?" Thatís all I can say. Iím stunned. "Why would you do this now, after all this time?" The old man shrugs.

"Call it a wedding present," he says simply.

"But... if you could do this, why didnít you do it before?" Merlinís face becomes deadly serious, and he jabs a long finger in my face.

"This is a very powerful spell, Braddock-child," he says in a voice that chills me to the bone. "It is not one to be undertaken lightly, even by myself. Suffice to say that you have become as you are for a reason. Destiny has you in its grasp, daughter of Braddock, and even I cannot hold it back for long. Take this gift and enjoy it until you have consummated your marriage to the angel-winged human, for that is as long as I can force the magicks into submission." He holds up a bony finger and tells me "If we are to proceed, we must do so immediately. Sit," and he indicates a spot on what I assume is the ground, but which could just as easily be the ceiling, here in this non-place, "and we can begin." I do as he asks, folding my long legs underneath myself and interlocking my fingers, cradling my hands in my lap. Merlin takes a pot of dye from a fold in his robes and traces an intricate occult symbol on my forehead lightly. He raises his eyes to what passes for the sky and begins to mutter arcane words that I cannot recognise - although I have some natural sorcerous abilities, I was not a master mage (to put that in perspective somewhat: for me to become Earthís Sorcerer Supreme, most of Earthís magically-empowered population would have to be dead), and the phrases are unfamiliar. What I can actively glean from this, though, is that Merlin is being put under incredible strain. Beads of sweat drip down his wrinkled brow, and his eyes glow with a visceral crimson energy that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It is disconcerting--

--and then my world is ripped asunder as Merlin raises his hands above his head and sends arcing bolts of that same crimson energy into my body. The pain is incredible. It makes the pain of being gutted by Sabretooth seem like a minor scratch, and carves its way up and down my spine like a cavalcade of circular saws. I half-expect my body to fall apart at the seams with the agony, but I do not scream. I will not give whatever dark forces are orchestrating this ritual any satisfaction. I will not betray the self-discipline I have had to learn these past years. I will not. I will not. I *will not--*

And then, as quickly as it is begun, it is over, and the pain, a thousand creeping maggots boring into my skin, is ended, and I find myself back in the club, the thumping music a sharp contrast with the peace of the other dimension, wherever it was. The others gather around me, their minds filled with astonishment.

"Elisabeth?" Jean says. "Is that you?" I look up at her and I nod vigorously.

"Yes, of course. Why wouldnít it be?" Jean looks at the others and hands me her make-up compact, flipping it open so that I can see my face. As I take it, my blonde hair falls in my eyes--

Oh, my God.

Blonde hair?

My hands tremble slightly as I look into the compactís small mirror, and find the former "Worldís Most Beautiful Face" looking back at me with wide blue eyes. The face that used to do adverts for Revlon, for Versace, and for innumerable perfume adverts, is framed by blonde hair, not purple. I am... me again.

I awake with a start, a thudding headache the first thing that comes to my attention. But that slides out of my agenda almost immediately. Scrambling out of bed, I run to my bathroom mirror, to check that Merlinís actions were real, and not some crazed fever dream summoned up by a hung-over brain in need of solace. It takes but a moment to confirm what I saw last night, as my English face stares back at me again, telling me that I actually did experience what happened. It is reassuring that this gift is real, not imagined.

"Hello, stranger," I say in an awed whisper. "Long time no see." I tie my hair back in a long ponytail and pull on a dressing gown, before the others descend upon me like vultures so that they can help me with "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue." I have the old--a Braddock undergarment that my grandmother wore on her wedding day--and the new--a diamond brooch that Warren bought for me last Christmas. Jean has lent me a diamond-encrusted tiara that used to belong to her mother, and I am going to wear a blue lace garter to cover the last requirement. The other three fuss over me like mother hens, tugging my arms and legs into the various holes of the dress, making sure that the chiffon, taffeta, and the dressís delicate train are not ripped to shreds in the process. Itís hard work, but eventually Jean sets the borrowed tiara on my forehead and smiles.

"Perfect," she says approvingly "but now we have to get you to the church on time, donít we?"

I smile back tiredly. "Thatís the plan, yes. Couldnít Rogue just fly me there?"

Rogue stifles a look of mock-horror. "In that dress? Honey, Iíd ruin all our hard work, aní Iíd never forgive myself. Besides, I couldnít trust myself not to steal the bouquet." She grins. "I think itíd be worth it just to see the look on Remyís face, donít you?"

Ororo smiles. "I think he would be on the first train out of here as soon as he saw you with those flowers," she laughs. "Remy would prefer to be a confirmed bachelor until the day he dies, I think. But perhaps you can change his mind, Rogue? I certainly hope so--I for one would like to see that man with a ring on his finger sooner rather than later. Heís a good friend, and Iíd love him to be happy. Wouldnít you?" Rogue nods.

"Ainít no doubt about that, ĎRo," she says, her eyes filling with a certain sadness for a moment. "But today ainít about Remy aní me, is it? Time to get the bride to the church. You got the car up and runniní, Jeannie?" Jean nods, with a knowing smile.

"I remember we had these conversations on my wedding day," she says. "I had the car cleaned and organised three days ago. We donít have anything to worry about. Theyíll be waiting--come on, ladies. Donít want to keep them waiting any longer than we have to."

*Iím impressed,* I send to her as we move as a single gaggle down the wide main staircase. *How do you manage to stay so cool?*

*Being married already helps,* Jean says with a wink. *This is second time around for me, so I know where to go and what to do. I think Scottís the same. This is at least the third wedding heís been to--heís an old hand at it by now.*

*I donít know whether to envy you or not, I say. Weddings are so daunting from this end, I donít know whether Iíd consent to being a maid of honour. Speaking of which--thank you, Jean. I know weíve had our differences in the past, but--*

Jean silences my thoughts with a wave of her hand as we seat ourselves in the plush interior of the limousine that Frederick, my driver, is taking us to the church in. *Oh, think nothing of it, Betsy. You werenít yourself.* She flashes me a gleaming smile. *And besides, doesnít the old saying say that ĎTo err is human, to forgive, divineí?* She grins again. *Iíve been both, so I know itís true. I think some would say Iím still both.* She chuckles self-deprecatingly. *You have my blessing, Betsy. I hope you and Warren are very happy together--but Warren is one of my oldest friends, so if I find out youíve been treating him badly...* She lets her psionic voice trail off suggestively, but I can tell from the trace of laughter that kisses my mind that sheís not serious. Still, I take the words to heart, because Jeanís telepathic power so exceeds my own that I am mentally dwarfed by her. There is a reason she was chosen as the template for the Phoenix Force, after all.

The car lurches to life and we start down the long drive towards the church that resides in the centre of town, an island of calm in the madness of the city. I take solace in the fact that Warren will probably be later than he intended too, so I can at least make him stew a while before I arrive without much guilt. Frederick negotiates the winding country lanes that surround the manor house with practiced ease, his hands barely moving on the steering wheel as he makes the car purr like a contented house cat. I remember he taught me how to drive while I was still a little girl--I sat on his lap as we tore around the lanes in Papaís Silver Shadow, forcing others off the roads as if we owned them, and I watched his every move like a hawk, taking it in instantly. I have an extensive capacity to learn (which, with everything thatís happened to me, has come in useful, especially in this line of work), so I was able to memorise the various levers and pedals almost instantly. That almost gave Frederick a coronary when he turned the car over to me in the safety of the fields around the manor house. I donít think he expected the little girl that I was to be such a fast learner. It was an eye-opening experience for us both, I think. And now the same man is taking me to my wedding.

Itís funny how things turn out, isnít it? I wouldnít have chosen the path my life has taken for all the gold in Fort Knox, but this is something I wouldnít change for anything. It is a wonderful development in an existence scarred by too much tragedy, and I love Warren dearly. His lifeblood pulses in my veins, and mine, I would wager, flows in his, although slightly less literally.

Ororo notices my silence and says "Second thoughts, Elisabeth?"I shake my head. "No, Ororo, none. Iím just thinking how I came to this, thatís all. Donít you ever do that?"

She runs a hand through her mane of silvery hair and smiles. "Of course. But Iím not the one getting married, am I?" She touches my knee through the soft dress. "You have more of an excuse than I, I think. You have a good man in Warren, Betsy. I hope youíre very happy together. You both deserve a little good fortune."

"Amen to that, honey," Rogue adds. "I ainít exactly the poster gal for happy endings, but at least Iím still in my own body. You donít deserve no more misery, Betts--I hope you have the happiest marriage itís possible to have."

"Thank you, Rogue," I say, feeling the heat rush to my face, and moisture accumulating at the corners of my eyes. "Thank you, Ororo. Iím... speechless." Ororoís smile widens.

"A first, I think," she says with a small laugh. "But then, as a telepath, you should know that itís the thought that counts, and we have none but the warmest for you, my dear friend." She lets that same warmth flood her mind and it makes me weep to feel it. Jean reaches out with a tissue to catch the tears before they fall.

"No such luck, Betsy," she says resolutely. "Iím not having my friend arrive at her wedding looking as if sheís just got up. No matter how hard some people try." She flashes Ororo and Rogue a faux-glare and cleans me up with the tissue. Itís a matter of seconds before she has finished and I have regained my composure.

"Thank you, Ororo," I say, despite myself. "Thank you, Rogue. That was a wonderful gift you gave me."

Ororo and Rogue lean forward in their seats, Ororo kissing me on the cheek and Rogue brushing my face with her gloved hand.

"Donít mention it, sugar," Rogue says.

"Anything I can do for a friend," Ororo adds. "We both feel the same way. Donít we, Rogue?"

"Absolutely, honey," Rogue agrees. "Be a shame to waste all that nice emotion, wouldnít you say?"

Itís only a little while more before we arrive at the church, which is surrounded by confetti and streamers already. Rogue, Ororo and Jean fuss and fiddle with the train of my dress, each of the taking an assigned role behind its expansive length. I take a deep breath as one of them notifies the people inside about our arrival before returning to pick up the soft fabric of the veil. And then the organ starts up with the Bridal March.

*Well, this is it, Betsy,* I tell myself, taking a deep breath. *You got to the church on time.*

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