Betsy Braddock aka Psylocke was in the observation booth. Thirty feet below her, the naked body of a man was chained to the wall. Sabretooth, or Victor Creed, as Professor X insisted on calling him. During the months he had been in their cellar there had been heated arguments about him almost every day. Wolverine had left, seemingly in anger, but perhaps fearing the same fate. Gambit had used Sabretooth as a punching-bag one terrible night, in rage and frustration. Psylocke, who but for Wolverine was Sabretooth’s oldest enemy, had watched with cold curiosity as an animal watches another.
She was not proxy to the secret councils where the original X-Men met and discussed Sabretooth’s future, but as soon as she had a moment to spare she went to the observation booth, to look at him. She never spoke to him, nor let him know he was observed, but of course he knew anyway. He knew her scent, her footsteps, the frequency of her breathing and as any intelligent animal he knew when another predator was near.
What she felt for him was not really hate or fear, it was closer to fascination.In the booth, she could see him from all angles, magnify the images, amplify the sounds he made. His resistance to telepathy was formidable, but she could read his body language like no one else, predict any movement, any reaction. She didn’t go down to him. Boomer had done that part, cajoled him into drinking his milk, stood the insults and the threats until he sank down into passivity and docility. She had tried to bring out the man in him, but Psylocke suspected that she had only put the beast to sleep. But the girl walked with a new spring in her step and an I-told-you-so-look on her face as if she had won some kind of battle. She definitely had an attitude. Psylocke disliked attitudes in others.
Warren was already turning elsewhere for comfort, getting drunk at exclusive clubs and coming home late, smelling of smoke and perfume. He couldn’t see what attraction the serial killer could hold for her. He didn’t understand that as long as Sabretooth was alive, she could never be free.
The lights went out. Small globules of floating bombs lit the thin face of Tabitha Smith. The scrawny teen-ager gesticulated widely, her face wrinkled up in anger, her most common expression. O teenage years, so precious and so full of raging hormones. Psylocke reduced Boomer to a midget on the screen and turned down the sound. She had no wish to know about Boomers problems. That was not why she was there. The girl must have picked the locks, she realised with a pang of amusement. Trust Boomer to find a way to be stupid.
Psylocke knew that the Professor never would let go of Sabretooth. The beast was the Professor's hope of redemption, after what he had done to Magneto. After he had lost Logan. Let Val Cooper threaten to outlaw them all. Sabretooth would never leave the Mansion. So many people here claimed their right to him.
Suddenly all the screens flared white. The sound came through the amplifiers a fraction of a second later. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. The observation booth swung wildly from the shock wave. Then the lights went out. Psylocke clung to the armrests of her chair, stunned, and decided that the situation had gotten out of hand. She reached for the comm unit.
No answer. Psylocke could bet Tabitha was sulking down there in the dark. Well, she had never cared for the girl and did not expect any civility from her. Time for back-up. Scott might be able to yell some sense into her head. She keyed in another number.
"Wouldn't do that". Sabretooth. "Light the central spotlight".
"'Cause if yer don't, Boomer is one dead chick".
She lit the beam. Boomer lay crumpled in the middle of the spotlight. Sabretooth sat hunched beside her. His body was covered with wounds that were healing themselves, swallowing the blood, even as she watched. He seemed oblivious to the process. The big hands were caressing Boomer's neck. He gave her a toothy smile and Psylocke knew that he took pleasure in the smooth skin, the vulnerability of an exposed throat.
"Did you kill her, you murderous bastard?!"
Psylocke was surprised by her own rage. She had not even liked the girl.
"Not yet. Lock the main boards and come down here. We'll have a little talk. Bring the portable control unit".
No way she was going to go down there and give him another hostage. She reached for the switch that would alert all the X-Men. His voice stopped her.
"Do that, nimbo, and she dies. Horribly". He moved his hands down to Tabitha's stomach. "One rip and her guts are all over th' floor. The kid's young. Has another fifty years in her, p'rhaps, if stupidity doesn't kill her. You, I figger, have less than ten. Pulling out grey hairs doesn't fool me".
He knew her secret, then. Otherworld genes gave the illusion of eternal youth for forty or fifty years, but after that the decay was accelerated. She had ducked out of her appointments with Hank ever since she found the first grey hair.
And hadn't she always known that she would meet him eye to eye again.
"Gimme th' unit", he said when she stepped onto the padded cellar floor.
She threw it to him, hoping he would miss it and give her an opening. No luck. He caught it one-handedly, spun it between the claws and chuckled hoarsely. The spotlight went off.
"How is Boomer?"
"Still breathing and she'll stay that way if ya play nice", he replied from somewhere in the darkness.
"I'll play nice".
There was no choice, was there? His mind was closed to her. She couldn't even locate him. In short, she had been a fool.
"Then shut down yer butterfly thingy".
"What do you want from me?" she asked, trying to be assertive.
"Information, m'dear nimbo. I hear that bitch Cooper is pushing old Charlie to give me up to the Feds".
"I know nothing about that".
Not entirely true. She did know that the Professor, Scott and Jean had been locked up for hours in the library. Cable and Domino had joined them later.
"Liar. I came to y'all for help. I gave myself up. I tried to conquer the beast. But ya were planning to turn me over all along. To use me. But no government will ever use me again".
He was close to her now. She imagined she felt his hot breath on her neck.
Now he was behind her and the breath was real. Hot as a furnace, smelling of rotted meat.
It was a roar. His arm shot out and caught her around the waist, squeezed her against his side. She was amazed by the sheer strength of the grip. Every muscle in her body was paralysed. Then his other arm pulled her head back.
His other arm? Yes. He had let go of Boomer.
The pink butterfly, blazing almost white, touched down on Tabitha Smith's brow.
"Run, Tab!" Psylocke screamed.
"Get the others!"
"Damn you nimbo!"
The blast was even bigger this time. Sabretooth's full weight slammed into Psylocke and they were both thrown several feet before hitting the floor. She felt something break in her back. And the teenager was up and running for the door. Sabretooth rose on all fours, swearing.
"You're finished, Victor", Psylocke gasped.
She could not get up, nor resist him in any way. She wondered dazedly if she had broken her spine. There was no pain, just numbness.
"Ya have a knack for ruining m'plans", he growled back.
They could hear the alarms ringing now and Boomer, yelling for help at the top of her lungs.
"You're finished", she said again. "They'll put you in jail and execute you, you bastard".
She tried to find the strength to blast him to hell with another psiburst, but her head was empty. She had spent it all. He looked at her. Drool dripped from the fangs. His eyes were feverish, excited.
"Naah", he said softly, almost gently, "ye're the one who's finished".
As his claws dug into her soft belly and opened it up in one hot, searing cut. She screamed wildly as the pain caught up to her. Never had she imagined such pain. She tried to clutch her stomach, but her abdominal muscles were cramping too hard. Blood came up in her throat, stifled her scream. Her sight narrowed, until she saw only his grinning face.
She had done it all wrong before. She had tried to fight him on his own terms. Only luck had saved Tabitha. It wouldn't suffice to save herself. She reached out to him again, with no power, no psychic knife. His mind was guarded, but less than before, now that he was licking her blood off his claws. She thought of the X-Men and of Warren in particular. She thought of Brian and Jamie. And then she channeled all the love she had ever felt for anyone into Sabretooth's mind. The butterfly shone yet another time and with a last effort that made every bloodvessel in her head burst, Psylocke broke down his psychic defenses. She was in.
It took her only a moment to access everything that he was. A red-haired boy ran laughing in a field a sunny day. An Indian girl bit her lip to keep from screaming as he was upon her. Another girl, Asian, was forced to her knees, a gun to her head. The terrified eyes of a Morlock child, glazing over. The display of murders and maimings was endless. But through it all, the red-haired boy laughed, happy and innocent. Now he faced her, head cocked to one side and she understood. She had called him with her love.
It would be so easy to kill Sabretooth now. She had always been the most pragmatic of the X-Men, opting for the permanent solutions. The boy looked at her, trust and confidence in his eyes and she could not bring herself to deliver the final blow. Only a few seconds before she had been determined to kill him. It had seemed like the only way to stop his killing sprees. Now, perhaps, there was another way. But he would have to find it by himself.
She withdrew. Back to the bloodied body that lay writhing on the floor. Back to the pain, which was fading now. Sabretooth was kneeling next to her and she feared that her judgment had been terribly wrong until she saw the real grief in his eyes and heard him say in a broken voice: "I'm sorry...I'm sorry". And then it was no longer Victor Creed, but Douglas Ramsey who held her hand.