Open Hearts, Open Minds

March 07, 2016:

Psylocke and Rachel share a mind link to determine just how damaged Rachel may be.

Xavier Institute

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Cyclops, Beast, Phoenix, Professor X & Emma Frost

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Betsy's invite to Rachel had gone out not long after she, Nate, and Jean had returned from a mysterious meeting they were all rather tight-lipped about. Betsy herself had volunteered nothing to Rachel, except for a polite request for the time-displaced redhead to drop by one of the empty dorm rooms upstairs, after an early morning breakfast.

An odd spot, to be sure, but possessing some distance from the rest of the active population of Xavier's, as well as being substantially quieter compared to the rest of the sprawling old mansion.

Waiting for Rachel, Betsy is simply meditating quietly on a pillow in the middle of the room. Hair pulled back into an intricate braid that frames her features, she looks sleek and poised despite being perfectly relaxed.

A hot shower. A night's sleep in an actual bed. Breakfast that didn't involve out of date beans eaten cold from the tin. These are all things that Rachel's experienced in the past twelve hours that, for her, had been in painfully short supply for the last few years. As a result, Rachel's physical and mental condition is distinctly improved when she answers Betsy's summons.

Someone's even found some clothes for her, at least to the extent of an oversized red hoodie and a pair of black leggings and sneakers. She's not exactly stylish, but she's clean and comfortable.

Knocking on the door to the room is unnecessary when another telepath is involved, but Rachel does it anyway before stepping inside and closing the door behind her. She doesn't move any further into the room than that, however. She just stands and watches Betsy meditate, waiting to be acknowledged.

Betsy's eyes flicker open and focus on Rachel. "Hullo, Rachel. Thank you for joining me. Please make yourself comfortable," Betsy offers, gesturing at another pillow nearby.

She waits until Rachel's situated herself, then spreads her fingertips upwards in a gesture of apology. "I'd like to preface this discussion with personal note. I am … sorry that I left the meeting as early as I did," Betsy says. That apology looks like it stings a bit to extend. "Had I suspected Hank would be so intractable, I would have stayed longer and been sure my words were not ignored behind my back. I was feeling more than a little overwrought— weak excuse though that is— so I hope you can forgive me."

Rachel nods by way of returning Betsy's greeting, and walks over to the vacant pillow, lowering herself down to sit cross-legged on it. There's a slight hesitance about her, as if something is keeping her from speaking. A faint look for surprise touches her expression when Betsy holds her hands up - and then Rachel relaxes, with a rueful smile and a shake of her head.

"I was trying to figure out how I was going to apologise for running out the door as soon as you left." Rachel admits. She takes a breath. "Don't blame Hank. He wasn't exactly wrong, from what I understand, and I…" Rachel's smile turns into a bit of a grimace. "I wasn't exactly thinking clearly." She shakes her head again at her own understatement, before her eyes find Betsy's. "Call it even?" She asks, the look in her eyes still a bit guarded.

"Fair enough," Betsy says, flickering a smile at Rachel. It's not much emoting from the stoic kunoichi, but it's still something, and it's sincere. "Thank you."

Her face goes flat again, and she hesitates for a moment, as if looking for the words.

"It's with a sincere amount of trepidation that I bring up this next topic, and I hope you appreciate this is wholly fueled by concern over potential fallout if I decline to approach you with my concerns." She touches her tongue against her upper lip, thoughtfully, brow furrowing.

"I know you are not the Rachel who was here before. Though you are the same person, you are quite different people. I never imagined Rachel would turn as violent as she did. It was utterly not in keeping with my perception of her as a person."

"We don't know why she snapped. Why she went mad— if she was driven, or pushed. There are ways to look, as you well know— to vet your brain for damage, or find a lingering malfeasant psychic presence that might be pushing you towards… extreme measures."

"I'm proposing a psychic bridge, Rachel," Betsy exhales, getting right to it. "Unpleasant and raw for both of us, but the only way we can both be utterly certain of where we stand in regard to one another."

Some of the wariness in Rachel's eyes fades at Betsy's smile, brief though it was. There's perhaps the sense about her that she still feels she's navigating some very thin ice indeed, and that solid ground is still some distance away.

Rachel's not trying to read Betsy with her telepathic talents, and aside from the very slight trickle of telepathic power masking the brands on her face, her powers are entirely quiescent. But somehow she still seems to sense something is coming in the moment of Betsy's hesitation. Her hands, which had been lying loosely on her legs, slide onto her knees, and the longer Betsy speaks, the tighter her fingers grip, until they're digging in quite painfully, although there's no sign on Rachel's face that she's even noticed. The tension is back in her body, and the walls are going back up behind her eyes.

Finally, when Betsy's finished speaking, Rachel takes a very carefully controlled breath, and then another. She needs the air, at some point she'd stopped breathing. Her jaw had been clenched so tight that it's an effort to speak at first. "You want to come inside my head." Rachel says the words in a studiously neutral tone, but there's a flicker of alarm in her eyes that she can't quite manage to mask. For a couple of seconds, it seems like that's all she can manage, but then she speaks again. "What you'll find in there… you aren't going to like it. I don't like it. There were things I… did. Things I was… made to do. I…"

Rachel goes silent, squeezing her eyes shut. "This is the price, isn't it?"

"No."

Betsy shakes her head at the question of price. "It's not my price. It's the smart play. It's the correct thing to do. But if you say no, I will not ask this of you. And I will defend to all comers your right to stay here at your home, with what family you have."

Betsy's lips press together, thinning into a hard line. "I don't like this idea any more than you do. It will be a moment of profound vulnerability, for both of us. I've only attempted this twice before. Once with your mother, and once with Emma. Both times it was a deeply unsettling experience for all parties."

"You know the power of the truth, Rachel. The absolute, unvarnished, verifiable truth. If we perform this bridge then no one— not the President, not Charles, not anyone— can assert that I am lying when I vouch for your state of mind."

"I have not been the best of people either, Rachel," she exhales. "You will not doubt find my thoughts and memories shocking and… some of them quite unsettling. I'd just as soon not share myself quite so intimately. But I need to know what is in your thoughts, and it is grossly unfair of me to demand that without offering a similar vulnerability in return."

Rachel's eyes open when she hears Betsy's flat denial, a look of confusion in them before they turn guarded again. Her head tilts to one side, and she starts to draw in a breath, as if she's about to argue, but with an effort she makes herself subside, and just listen to what the other woman is saying.

And the very worst part of forcing herself to sit still and listen is that when Betsy's finished, Rachel can't argue with a single thing she's said.

"I told Henry I wanted to fix this. I told Scott I would do better." Rachel's tone is flat as she says those words, but then something changes. There's a flicker of defiant light in her eyes. "It's time I started keeping my promises."

Rachel's eyes lock on to Betsy's, and her stance shifts subtly from dread to determination. "I'm sorry that you have to do this for me. But I'm ready."

Betsy exhales steadily. "Well, we'll both be sorry shortly," she says, wryly. "But you'll know where I hide the emergency vodka." She scoots forward a few inches and offers her hands to Rachel, fingers up. "Take my hands. This will take some time."

Her eyes lock into Rachel's.

The first connection is a tenuous one. Then another. Then another. Lashing tendrils of thought reach out to connect their minds. Any reasonably skilled psychic can form a common plane of thought— a place where minds can meet in equal ground to discuss ideas. It's safer that way. Battles are always fought in the fortresses of the mind, whether bashing down towering ideological walls of self-assurance or fighting through prison- like blocks of thought.

Even as Betsy's mind starts flooding into Rachel's awareness, Rachel can enter Betsy's thoughts.

Betsy's psychic awareness is arrayed in murky shadow, but the light of awareness blasts back all obfuscation and intentional disarry. Betsy's preferred technique for mental defense apparently is not high walls, but rather, mazes and treacherous terrain, to exhaust and confuse potential invaders.

No longer an invader, Rachel's formidable will allows her to burn like a bright light through all of Betsy's thoughts. Her memories. There is nowhere Rachel cannot go, no recollection she's disallowed to access. Betsy's haughty arrogance, tempered by the endless grief of her parent's death. Her sensuality and her frail ego. The burning heat of love for her friends and her family— for Jean and Emma, and Rachel too, for her brother— cowled in her aloof propriety.

One area is opaqued, kept separate from the rest— vague hints of a costumed hero in red and blue and white. An old man guards that bridge into those realms of thought, and when Rachel approaches, he smiles quite kindly. "I'd appreciate it if you moved along," he emotes to her psychic avatar. "The secrets here are one that Betsy keeps for others." There's no doubt Rachel could blast through him… but there's that sense of psychic 'truth' that is impossible to feign, coming from the kindly old fellow.

Murderous intent that's kept in strict control, a killer's mind. Memories of England and Japan alike. Her mind is stitched together like a Frankenstein's monster, the individual psychic egos of Kwannon and Elizabeth merging into a vast and conflicted hierarchy. Rage. Anger. Lust. Joy. Pride. Harmony. Vengeance. The murders by her bare hands, the children she's saved, the loves she's lost, the fear she carries— the remarkable well of emotion that Betsy never, ever, ever lets show on her haughty features.

Rachel can't quite manage the answering smile that the vodka comment demands, and there's a hesitation when Betsy offers her hands, but then Rachel's disgust at her own weakness wins out. Rachel takes Betsy's hands. Even before the first link is made, the other telepath will probably feel the anger Rachel's directing at herself, and the thread of fear behind it.

Rachel meets Betsy's gaze, and their minds merge.

The basic structure of Rachel's mind and her telepathic defences may be familiar to Betsy - it's all Charles Xavier and Jean Grey. What's built on top of it is far less elegant, self-taught by painful necessity, relying more on sheer strength than subtlety. She's walls within walls, spiked steel gates slammed shut. She doesn't want to defeat an adversary on her own ground, she wants to keep them out. Except, now, the gates are open, and to Betsy, the walls are about as insubstantial as mist. Nothing bars her way, each layer of Rachel's defences breached and open to her.

At the centre of Rachel's mind, there are a few bright memories, though tattered and frayed at the edges. Her life in her world's X-Mansion. Jean. Scott. Betsy herself, and a dozen others. But they're fragmented snapshots, a bright light around which a storm of darkness churns.

That storm gives up its secrets in flashes of acute, painful clarity. The Professor, shot down in front of her. Being pulled from the rubble of the Institute. Her training and conditioning. Dying inside as she hunted down mutants for her masters, or killed them herself. Some of the faces are familiar. Horror as she's complimented for a job well done, and feeling her own gratitude. Fighting back, too late. Desperate raids with the X-Men. And finally, an all too familiar firebird ripping her away from everything she knew.

Or not quite finally. There's another presence, within Rachel's mind, watching the interloper. Something glimpsed from the corner of an eye. It looks like Rachel, if Rachel's eyes were blank and white, her face branded in a claw-mark pattern, her body sheathed in spiked black. Rachel's Hound-self. Her programming. Broken, but still in her mind. Still waiting.

Betsy tries to marshal herself as best she can, facing the deaths of Charles, of her friends and loved ones. She comes up short when she comes across Jean's body, horror shaking her to the core— but she grits her teeth and presses on, until it's done. Until every neuron's been tested and every shadowy nook has had the light of awareness put upon it.

Betsy moves to the Hound, finally, and stares at it. The Not-Rachel, the animal inside. This was the monster Betsy had feared finding… that common thread of something terrible and black, something that would inevitably lead Rachel to the same atroicities, all over again.

Not leashed, but broken and hobbled. A threat to Rae… but not to the world. Betsy examines the beast closely, staring, searching for an inkling of some deception— but here, Betsy's psychic avatar is a force beyond comprehension. Not ten people in the world could contend with her on this psychic plane— and the broken bit of conditionining has no claws in Rachel's heart, and nowhere to hide.

By slow inches, then, they draw back. It's done. The bridge has served its purpose, and the two of them start extricating themselves from one another's minds. Carefully. Slowly. The psychic avatars exchange a glance and a touch of hands as they pass, both carrying some subtle fragment and memory of their experience in that other psychic landscape.

And then the bridge flickers out, and Betsy's eyes flutter open. Sweat gives her brow and neck a sheen, and her face is pale and drawn tight. But she looks to Rachel and smiles. It's weak, but sincere.

"Welcome home," she tells the redhead.

Rachel didn't ask for this. She didn't ask for he surface of Betsy's psyche to be laid bare to her. But it is, and Rachel finds herself compelled to look, to probe, to explore. At first, the burning, red-gold presence in Betsy's mind is almost hesitant, but as Rachel meets no resistance she spreads her wings and soars through Betsy's mind.

In only one place does she find herself checked, wings of psionic flame idly beating as if to hold her in place as she studies the old man who bars her way. For an instant, she's tempted, but she recognises the impulse for what it is - the fear that her own mind is as open to Betsy's as Betsy's is to her. The Rachel-avatar smiles, and turns aside.

There are surprises to come. Even shocks. Rachel remembers the Betsy that she knew with a fourteen year old's perspective, and no-one is as uncomplicated as that. What Rachel finds is not what she expects, but it brings understanding. Why Betsy had to be the one to do this. Why Rachel doesn't have to fear what Betsy will see in her own mind

Rachel pulls back, feeling the heaviness of her body and the air in her lungs as she returns to physical reality, and she opens her eyes, the green brilliant against the drawn pallor of her face. And then Betsy speaks and Rachel drops her eyes, squeezing Betsy's hands reflexively. "Thank you." She says simply, quietly.

She's home.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License