The Ties that Bind...
If you listen closely, you can hear my heart cracking. It's not broken yet - it's too damned hard to go so easily - but it's damned close.
I don't know how Tolliver did it. All those years hanging around with Nate and I'm still surprised by a few things. Not many. And a lot fewer than after the first time I caught Cable levitating upside down. But I'll be Wolverine's grandmother before I figure out how Tolliver did this.
It's not the kidnapping - I've been caught before. It was a clever set-up, but I'm not so vain as to think I can't be outwitted.
It's the other thing. The thing that's got my heart showing non-displaced stress fractures all over it.
I'd give up everything - what little I've got left - to figure out how Tolliver spliced the psi-link.
Instead of a special bond between two people, we've got this whole Wizard of Oz shit going on. And I'm the loser behind the curtain. Vanessa - Copycat, whatever the fuck she wants to call herself - is there, with Nathan.
All I want to know is how Nathan can sense me when he looks at her. When he plans strategy with her. When he pulls her into his arms after they make love.
I need to know. Because if I knew how he did it, then I would know how to undo it. And then maybe I can spend the rest of my days rotting in this cell a sane woman.
I used to be angry. No, I used to be furious. Livid. I went through a period (time gets a little fuzzy down here) when I could have matched Logan's berserker rage ounce for ounce. I didn't even know which part angered me more - that Nate couldn't tell the fake Domino from the real one, or that the imposter was turning out to be better than the genuine article.
After a while, the anger faded into whatever it is I'm feeling now. I think I passed desolation a few exits ago, but it's hard to tell.
On good days, I don't feel at all. Then, something will happen - usually a tender moment between Domino (she's more me than I am these days, she might as well keep the name) and Nate - and I'll be back wailing and crying between meals for a few days. Usually until they beat me again. I've almost stopped feeling that as well, but it still leaves marks and I'd hate to spoil their fun. Tolliver's minions don't look like they get out too much on their own.
"So nice of you to join me, Domino."
"Fuck you, Tolliver," I spit back. I'm too pissed off to be sarcastic. "If you wanted me, why didn't you just take me in London when we met? Why waste a week?"
It supposed to be a simple job. Fly into Brussels, take down the punk siphoning off Tolliver's supply of Bulgarian rocket launchers, and hop the next plane to wherever-the-hell-I-felt-like-going.
It would have been simple, too, if said punk hadn't turned out to be Tolliver's assistant. If I hadn't suddenly found myself surrounded by a dozen guys with semi-automatics (past experience has shown that my luck will not cause them all to shoot each other). If the whole fucking thing hadn't been a set-up, in other words.
"Because we weren't ready to go yet, my dear," Tolliver smiles. "And patience can be a virtue."
"You aren't going to be getting much business with the mercs after this. Once people find out you're hassling the hired help and all..."
Tolliver laughs, and that should have been my clue. "What makes you think anyone is going to find out? Exactly who is going to notice that you're missing?"
That's been a problem in my life for a long time - no one to miss me when I'm gone. In fact, it's the reason I got into mercenary work in the first place. Well, that and I'm an action junky, but it's an addiction fed by the comfort that I'm not going to be leaving too many broken hearts behind.
But that doesn't mean I'm completely devoid of friends. I'm just devoid of the kind of friends who'll get worried if they don't hear from me every week. Or month. Or season... The point is, someone would miss me eventually. And odds are that that someone is on the other half of that faint buzzing I have in my head, the background noise I've almost learned to tune out except when it's actually broadcasting something.
"Oh, I wouldn't count on Mr. Dayspring," Tolliver chuckles again. I don't know whether he's read my mind or just taken a lucky guess. "We've taken care of that."
He motions for one of his pet soldiers to come hither. The thug comes out pushing what looks like a flat television. Tolliver nods and the screen is turned on.
"Welcome to your life, Domino. Since it was highly unlikely that you could be convinced, monetarily or otherwise, to serve as our agent, we found someone else."
A video is showing, an outdoor scene, the images jittery like when your teenaged nephew is taping a family reunion. A car pulls up and Nathan (!) walks towards it, a kind of relieved smirk on his face.
Actually, it's the same look he gets when he sees me after we've been apart for a while. I even feel the same tingle of muffled happiness down the psi-link that I always feel when he sees me - heaven forefend the big lump actually display such emotion openly - the kind that makes it impossible for him to sneak up on me anymore. I don't even try to repress the mutual feeling. Oh, Nate, boy do I wish I saw you for real right now.
The door to the car opens up and a dark-haired woman steps out. She turns half-way to the camera and my jaw drops as the image zooms on her. That's me. Not a pretty good faker, but me.
But I don't own those clothes and I've never been in that car and I don't know who the other people in the background are and I sure as hell would have remembered Nate looking quite that dumbstruck at seeing me, let alone the flood of emotion I can feel pouring down the link.
That's what's so confusing. I'm standing cuffed and beaten in Tolliver's lair, wherever the hell this is, but my emotions (as affected by the psi-link) are telling me I'm being half-smothered by a grinning Cable.
"You think Cable's gonna buy this?" I manage to ask aloud, although I'm sure it came out as a squeak.
"See for yourself. Or, more importantly, feel for yourself," Tolliver shrugs, that malicious smile never leaving his face. He knows about the psi-link? How could he?
I stare at the image on the screen. The patch around my eye is easy enough to do, but the other stuff... the way my right eyebrow is a little less curved than the left (no matter how much time I play with the tweezers), that half-crocked smirk to cover a blush when Nathan shows me anything more than strict professionalism in public, the scar across the back of my left hand from the time in Ghana when Grizz set the charge fifteen seconds early... everything is perfect.
"Her name is Vanessa. We call her Copycat," Tolliver answers my unspoken question. "She's a shape-shifter, as you can see. Not as good as Mystique, but we've got a little toy to help her out."
He walks over to me and taps my forehead. What I thought was a bandage (to cover up the head wound received while fighting off would-be unwanted amorous attention) apparently isn't. It sounds like thin metal.
"Clever, those Japanese," Tolliver smiles. "This lets Vanessa cheat, you see," he taps the thing again. "From you, she gets her cue how to react, what to say, and what to know."
"And what if I don't play along?"
"You don't have a choice. It taps into your subconscious. Your memories, your personality, even your precious psi-link with Mr. Dayspring. All while blocking your own signal, so to speak. No calling for help.
"She has access to all that you are, Domino. She can be all you have ever been, but better."
"Better because she listens to you?" I snarl to cover up both my fear and my sense of utter violation. This is much deeper, much more profound than any physical assault. The body is a vessel. This is a rape of the soul.
"No, but that helps," he allows a smile. "She has all of her own memories, all of her own experiences to draw upon. Vanessa is an excellent tactician, for example, and now she has access to your battle experience. She has much more advanced interpersonal skills than you do, but now she can use them with your leadership abilities. She can be Cable's perfect associate, his dream co-conspirator. She can get closer to him than you could ever fantasize doing."
"Making it that much easier to destroy him," I finish.
"You're such a smart girl," he pats my cheek.
I watch the screen. Maybe Nate is faking it. Maybe he's already figured out that something is wrong - hey, he's a telepath, right? - and is just playing along, waiting for the right moment to strike back. Or maybe he isn't - he's certainly happy enough along the link, not a trace of concern. And when you're psi-linked to him, Nathan Dayspring's really a lousy liar.
"So smart that you realize I wouldn't risk you destroying the link between you and Vanessa," Tolliver continues.
He taps the chip on my forehead. "This is temporary. While you were unconscious, you were implanted with a duplicate. No," he smiles, "I won't tell you where. The implant will go live any moment now and you can smash this temporary one at your leisure."
Over Tolliver's shoulder, I can see the screen. Cable is leading Vanessa-Domino inside, followed by the group of teenagers. The camera doesn't follow them indoors and the screen goes blank.
"I'm afraid the next few months will be a little uncomfortable for you, my dear. You see, I can't risk you trying to harm yourself out of some misguided sense of loyalty to Cable. You understand, of course."
"Perfectly," I manage a flat stare. Let's see, this either means a permanent body guard or a rubber room.
It turns out to be neither. I'm flat-out shackled to a wall. Spread-eagle. I would have made some crude comment about the sexual connotations of such a position - can we say easy access for bored guards? - but at that very moment, some very different sexual connotations were floating through my head.
I'm not silly enough to think that Nate is a cloistered monk when he's not with me. I've gotten faint inklings of what I've suspected was Nathan aroused before. He's usually considerate enough to shield me from such moments - even when we're not otherwise in each other's thoughts - so it's only a suspicion.
But this, this is the genuine article. Except the flonqing moron thinks he's kissing me. It's a good thing I can't feel Copycat piggy-backing on my line - it's bad enough feeling the full throes of Nate's passion from his side. For the first time ever, I'm glad the lug is so repressed he submerges his feelings even in this most vulnerable of moments. I try to think of the most violent and terrifying moments in my life - and there are a few of those - until I can feel it end.
I've always been an atheist, but right now, I pray. I pray that Nate will wake up in the middle of the night and kill this imposter in her sleep. And right after that, he'll come rescue me.
God, if there is one, doesn't like last minute appeals. I wake up hours later (when did I fall asleep?) feeling bemusement drip down the link. This blissed-out Nate, one that I've never seen (not the real me, anyway), is not coming to slay any dragons for me today.
I don't know how long ago that was. The only way to keep track of things down here is by mealtimes, and even those are erratic. So I've stopped trying.
I've stopped trying in general, I've come to realize. I don't care if I'm fed, I don't care if the guards come and beat me or if they come and beat off in front of me (Tolliver's punishment for the first guard who figured I'd be a good lay must have been impressive - none of them have tried it since). I don't care if I'm probably permanently violet in more places than just my eye. I care a little if they don't let me down from the wall for my bathroom breaks and my walk, but that's only on good days.
I was content to live out Tolliver's prophecy - that no one would miss me when I'm gone - until I woke up with a headache a few meals ago. I've had plenty of headaches (and muscle aches and everything aches) in my time down here, so it's not the novelty of it that shocked me out of my stupor. It was the nature. This headache had nothing to do with the billy-club Groger had used on my forehead the other mealtime and everything to do with what was trickling down the psi-link.
It's not really a trickle anymore. It's progressed from stream to brook. Copycat-Domino and Nathan have hit it off quite well, you see, and the link has deepened on both sides. Nate trusts her, obviously, much more than he ever would me. Whoever I am, since I stopped being Domino months ago. Back when it became obvious that even if Cable had figured out something was up, he was more than happy to accept the new-and-improved Domino.
But be the psi-link pee-stream or Niagara Falls, what woke me up with a screaming migraine a few meals ago was what Cable was thinking about. He was thinking of Jenskot, of Aliya. I could tell by the echo of emotion coming through the link. And he was thinking of Domino. But his thoughts of the latter weren't colored by guilt, the way I had always felt them to be. The guilt was still there, it would always be there I suspect, but it was so much less than it used to be.
It was as if Nathan had suddenly realized that it was all right to move on. That Jenskot the warrior and Aliya the partner and lover would not have wanted him to spend his life in mourning. And the person who had made him realize that was probably curled up next to him in bed. Domino.
And that's why I think my heart, the last part of me to survive intact, the last fortress to conquer before Tolliver loses a prisoner and gains an inanimate tool, is about to fall.
"Ummm... You okay?"
"I was fine until you woke me up, Nate. What are you doing up at three in the morning? More importantly, what am I doing up at three in the morning? You know what kind of a bitch I am without my beauty rest... Shut up, Nate. One meep out of you and you're sharing the couch with Shatterstar and his sword."
"I didn't say a word... What's he doing on the couch?"
"Guthrie had a red tie on the doorknob."
"Blue tie means come back later. Red tie means come back tomorrow... Don't look blankly at me. I hate having to be didactic in the middle of the night. Tabitha's the reason 'Star's on the couch."
"Yeah. Oh. Now what was your absolutely crucial reason for getting me up at three in the morning?"
"I... I'm not sure. I felt something on the link. You must have been having a nightmare or something."
"Or something. The only nightmare anyone's going to be having..."
"Yeah, yeah. 'Night, Dom."
"'Night, Big Boy."
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