I'm just going to give up on apologizing for my lateness. Procrastination = long-delayed updates = fact of my existence. One last time and forever more: I'm very sorry. Oh, and in addition to the customary spoilers for "Sleepers" in this ongoing fic, there's also a reference to the end of "Veritas" in this chapter. Guess what, readers? This is the second to last chapter. *cries briefly in the arms of personal Nikola clone*

*gasp!* I've forgotten a witty disclaimer for the last few chapters! Please don't sue me!

P.S. If the Latin scientific name I use sounds made-up, that's because it is. Complete BS. ^_^


Chapter 9 – Mirror, Mirror


"But that's impossible…"

"Why?" Will piped up.

Nikola finally looked up, scanning all of their faces until he arrived on the one who had spoken. "Because," he said, clearly struggling to control his emotions. "The voice that just spoke perfect Serbian from Druitt's mouth was the voice of my father, Milutin Tesla. And he's been dead for a hundred and thirty years."

Silence greeted this statement—a silence so thick that they could hear the grandfather clock ticking across the room. Everyone stared at Tesla—not in incredulity, but rather in simple, confused shock. Their brains—even Helen's—refused to compute what he'd told them. It was impossible. Dead people did not speak through living people.

"Told you," Kate said finally. "Ghost Hunters. Baldy is possessed."

Helen ignored Kate to face her protégé. "Will. Is there any psychological reason for John's…reaction?"

Will shook his head with a wide-eyed shrug. "In the normal world? No. But I've given up trying to apply my psych education to anything but the most general topics of what goes on in here."

"It's got to be the Cabal," Henry said, shaking his head.

"I agree," Helen said with a nod. "No one else could do something this morbid and unnatural."

"The question is," Kate put in, "where are they hiding?"

"'Vratiti se dom, moj sin,'" Nikola whispered, still slouched in the armchair.

"'Come home, my son,'" Helen repeated. "But you've lived countless places, Nikola. New York, Colorado, London, Paris, Gospić, Prague …"

Nikola shook his head. "But only oncedid my father ever say those exact words. 'Vratiti se dom, moj sin. Vratiti se dom, Nikola! Vratiti se dom! Moj sin! Moj sin!' I remember that moment, Helen, clear as day. It's like they plugged a recording from my memory into Druitt's brain."

Will raised his eyebrows. "Is that even possible?"

"Do I look like I have answers, protégé?" Nikola snapped.

"When, Nikola," Helen drew him back. "When did your father say that to you?"

Nikola's jaw tensed. He was trying to control his emotions again, she could tell. His mastery over feelings was admirable, but unhealthy.

"Nikola, please tell me," she soothed, touching his shoulder in such a gentle way that none of the others could miss it. But while Kate and Will were stunned by the show of affection, Henry looked ready to make a grand escape any second.

Nikola took a breath and began speaking casually, as if he were talking about an experiment he'd concluded. "I was seven. I had run away from home because, ah…because my brother had…" he frowned, mastered a swell of emotion and went on, "my brother had just died. I ran so hard and so fast that I made it to a deserted chapel at nightfall and couldn't make my way back down the mountain in the dark. I spent the night curled up at the altar among leaves and insects. It was an awful experience. However, the next day, I woke to my father's nearly-hoarse voice yelling for me.

"He yelled my name three times before I responded. When I refused to come out, racked by guilt, he pleaded with me. I remember it distinctly because it was the first time I heard my father weep like that. He sobbed out those exact words Druitt just said in that exact order at that exact number of repetition. It's no coincidence."

"Why were you feeling guilty?" Kate asked, somewhat tactlessly.

But Nikola was over 150 and tougher than his slender frame appeared. He looked her square in her dark eyes. "Because I caused his death, my dear Kate."

Kate shut her mouth in shock, unnerved by the cold, steel-blue gaze locked onto her eyes. Finally, she looked away and Will stepped in.

"And at that time, home was…?"

"Smiljan," Nikola replied. "In Lika-Senj, Croatia."

*

It took mere hours for the team to prepare.

It took longer to decide who was going.

John was an obvious choice, since he could get them there and back with the least amount of injury. After a personal check from Helen, the Ripper was deemed sane once more. It seemed that once he was released from the hypnosis, he was back to normal with no memory of the strange occurrence.

Helen, of course, would be going. There was no argument from anyone.

Nikola stood tall, crossed his arms, and refused to move—literally—until he was granted a place on the mission. It was a position that Helen very reluctantly awarded him. After all, this could very well be a trap, set by the Cabal and her mind was left going in panicked circles at the thought of Cabal super-abnormals gutting Nikola in front of her. It was only after the others had scattered to other duties and her Serbian love held her tightly that the images from her nightmares fled completely.

Will would be back-up. Or, as Nikola quipped with a grin: "The guy we leave behind if things get messy."

Moments before they were to meet in the main hub for departure, Helen was nearly assaulted by an extremely excited Henry when she walked past his lab.

"Magnus!" he crowed. "I've got it! I figured it out!"

Blinking in shock, Helen stared at him blankly. "Figured what out?"

"Why you're having nightmares and flashbacks suddenly!" With a flourish, he spun his tablet around for her to see. An image of a brain scan—hers—filled the screen; a small red square bounded a tiny area in the center. "Meet the docile relative of the Ozone Beetle," Henry proclaimed. "You know, the one you stuck in your head to make you go insane and nearly gave us all aneurisms? This is its cousin, official delegation: Rexolavinus Reminarius." Then he grinned widely. "I call him Rex."

"That's just a glitch, Henry," Helen said calmly, after giving the fuzzy dot a due inspection. "A smudge on the scan."

Henry shook his head as he turned the tablet back to himself, tapping around a bit. "I thought so, too. But then I was doing inventory earlier today." He turned the screen back to her. "We got a bunch of transfers from the London Sanctuary, but I noticed there was one more electronic tag than there were containers. I did some exploring and found this empty, still-sealed container behind some other crates."

He held out a customary containment unit for microscopic creatures. Helen took it and inspected it mostly to humor her excited techie. However, she was surprised to see that he was right. Sure enough, the container was still sealed and the readout showed that it had not been opened or tampered with in any way. And yet, the tiny screen also reported that there was nothing inside.

"Rexolavinus Reminarius was supposed to be in here?" Helen confirmed.

Henry nodded. "Apparently, he can sort of phase through solid objects—something that was not mentioned in his data file."

With her free hand, Helen reached up to touch her head lightly. "That would explain how he—it would have been able to infiltrate my skull without mark or pain."

Henry nodded enthusiastically. "Exactly!"

Helen handed back the containment unit and fixed Henry in a stare. "So, how does Rexolav—" She cut herself off at Henry's puppy-dog look and sighed deeply. A slight smile crossed her lips. "How does Rex…go about giving me nightmares?"

Henry grinned, thrilled out of his mind. "You're gonna love this, doc. So, this species has all the qualities of a harmless parasite—oxymoron, I know. But, see, Rex buries himself between the amygdalae, which—as you know—controls both memory and emotional reactions. And if you mix both of those responses, boom—nightmare."

"You said he was parasitic in nature," Helen prodded.

"Right. Rex feeds on the minimal electrical pulses of the brain to such a small degree that you would have never felt a thing and your brain would take no damage."

Helen frowned. "Why was he shipped here in the first place?"

"Uh, from what I can understand…" Henry spoke as he flipped through files on his tablet, "Declan only got partway into experiments before he decided to pass it off to someone smarter than him. The results he's got so far point to Rex as the first step in the evolution of a psychic being."

"Psychic," Helen repeated. She frowned. "As in predicting the future?"

Henry shrugged. "Apparently, in controlled environments Rex has predicted imminent danger to himself. Never been inside someone's head yet, though. Who knows, maybe he can predict danger for you and communicates his…visions in the form of dreams."

Helen tried to ignore how unnerving that idea was. Flashes of Nikola screaming and blood splattering on cold stone raced through her mind. Fighting off the nightmares on her own, Helen unconsciously hugged her arms around her, wishing her love was there to banish them completely.

"But it isn't harmful?" she asked, just to confirm.

"Declan saw no dangerous qualities and Rex has probably been in your head for weeks now without any harm—well…'cept for…y'know…the viciously realistic nightmares…"

"Can it be removed?"

Henry shook his head, abruptly solemn. "The amgdalae are like the exact center of the human head. The only way Rex'll ever come out is if you can somehow ask him to."

Helen sighed. "Which will take extensive meditation. Very well. In your opinion, Henry, is it safe for me to go on this mission?"

"Y-you're asking me?"

Helen smiled. "A doctor should never diagnose herself."

"Well, uh…" Henry drew himself up, taking the moment very seriously. "Yeah. You'll be fine."

Helen squeezed the techie's shoulder. "Thank you, Henry."

As she walked away, he nodded with lips pressed in a proud smile. "You got it, boss!"

*Smiljan, Lika-Senj, Croatia*

Helen hadn't told anyone what Henry had informed her of. It would only lead to worry, wasted time, and a lot of meaningless talk. As long as she was well, they needn't know everything. Especially not Nikola. The last thing his fragile ego needed was to be worried that all of her most recent actions were being affected by a parasite. Especially after the beautiful moment in the ballroom.

However, she could not shake the worry about the possible psychic abilities of Rex. Was the docile abnormal trying to warn her of something? If it was, the Ozone Beetle seemed preferable by comparison. Paranoia—even insanity—she could deal with. But if even one of those nightmares ever came true…

A familiar smooth voice thrummed at her ear, dispelling her bloody visions as per usual. "You seem distracted, Helen." She turned her head slightly to see Nikola very close at her side. He smirked. "Possibly thinking about that interrupted moment we had?"

Helen managed to keep herself from blushing and set her jaw. "Not now, Nikola," she said firmly. "It's not the time or the place."

"Ohw," he scoffed. He laid both hands over his heart, but he was grinning. "My heart breaks, my love."

Just then, Will and John arrived.

"Everyone ready?" Will asked, almost cheerfully.

The three left of the Five simply nodded. Nikola had already pointed out the town on a map for Druitt. Initially, the teleporting serial killer had been nervous about transporting somewhere he'd never been, but after some healthy taunting from Nikola, Druitt leaped to the location and jumped back without harm. Now he had a proud, imperious smirk on his face and was more than ready to transport the others.

Without another word, Druitt grabbed Will and Nikola by the backs of their necks, yanking them both into a torn open hole in space-time. In the few breaths she had alone, Helen drew a sudden parallel to when they'd first gone after Ashley. They'd even departed in the same order.

Ashley's blood-red eyes were sparkling with an evil joy as she screamed, long and loud. Nikola fended her off for barely three seconds before she overpowered the mortal ex-vampire. Knocked onto his back, Nikola didn't give the super-abnormal the satisfaction of seeing his fear as she raised her claws above her head, ready to plunge them straight through his face—

Thankfully, John reappeared then, grabbed Helen's arm, and ripped her out of her current location. The instant they rematerialized, Helen located Nikola and grabbed him before the nightmare could progress any further. On pure reaction, Nikola caught her stumbling hug and held her tight.

"Helen, what's wrong?" John asked, worriedly.

"Magnus?" came Will's customary question into her well-being.

"I'm fine now," Helen mumbled into Nikola's chest. She straightened, cleared her throat, and released the Serbian genius, but didn't go too far. Just in case.

"What was that all about?" Nikola muttered.

"I had one of the nightmares," Helen said, calmly. "I was simply utilizing my temporary solution."

"I feel so used," Nikola muttered, feigning hurt.

John smirked.

But Will, as a psychologist, had other concerns. "You had one while you were awake?"

Helen gave Will her best no-nonsense stare. "We will discuss it later, William."

Nikola looked at Will and raised his eyebrows as Helen marched past them all to take in their surroundings.

"Ooh, 'William'," Nikola whispered. "She is not happy with you, my friend."

"Shut up, Tesla," Will muttered, following meekly after Helen. "Just cos you're suddenly on her good side doesn't mean you've got to be a brat about it."

Nikola frowned as he followed Will, but John just laughed as he brought up the rear. "Actually, for Nikola, that's exactly what it means."

*

The cathedral itself was beautiful. It was a one-room chapel, large enough to hold less than a hundred people. The stonework on the outside looked like it had been carved by hand by a master stonemason centuries ago. Dark green ivy covered the gray stone and the entire clearing held a soft silence that compelled them all to participate in the quiet.

As they walked for the sealed door, Nikola explained that the church was only used for special occasions since it was so far into the mountains.

Helen hardly paid attention though. All she could think about was a dark-headed, blue-eyed waif running through the dry leaves up to the old oak door. All at once, the thoughts coalesced into a memory that was most certainly not hers. Though she was fully awake and alert, the image of a scrawny child raced just in front of her and she could hear his sobs. Frozen, she watched as the child practically tackled the door, shoving it open after several seconds of pushing. His screams in Serbian were too emotion-stricken for her to completely translate, but the one phrase she did compute caused a chill to race over her skin.

"Ja sam žalostan, Dane! JA SAM ŽALOSTAN!"

Helen forced Rex out of the vivid memory. And Rex was the only explanation. For some reason the harmless abnormal in her head was becoming more insistent and more powerful. How had Rex even accessed Nikola's memories? Helen's eagerness to discover more about the new breed was overridden by abrupt concern for Nikola.

The grown-up version of that hysterical child was rambling on about the cathedral as he gestured to John to get the door open. Helen didn't even notice Druitt's petitioning glance at her and then his grumbling obedience to Nikola when he saw that she was preoccupied.

Moving on automatic, Helen pulled out her pistol, readying for entrance into a possible Cabal nest. However, her mind was disengaged, absolutely stunned that the confident, self-centered genius before her was once a broken little boy stretched over a cold stone altar, screaming apologies to his dead brother.

Nikola caught her eye with a smirk, but then noticed her pained look and frowned. "What's wrong, Helen?" he asked, taking a step toward her.

She reached out and grabbed his hand. "I'm so sorry about your brother, Nikola."

The Serb glanced down at her hand in slight surprise and then looked back into her eyes with a frown in his.

With a solid shoulder to the rotted wood and a grunt of effort, Druitt knocked the doors in completely. Nikola smiled reassuringly at Helen and lightly kissed the back of her hand before releasing her to take the lead once more.

"Ah, thank you Druitt," he said, snarkily. "You know, you and that Sasquatch butler have a lot in common."

"Hey now, don't insult the Big Guy," Will put in with a grin.

Nikola rewarded the psychologist with a grin and a nod, but Druitt's calm glare nearly had Will wetting himself. Luckily, Helen controlled the situation and herded them all inside after Nikola. And after that point there was no more snark or friendly teasing of the ex-serial killer.

For, standing at the altar with hands folded in a mockery of prayer, was Nikola Tesla.

Except it couldn't be. Helen blinked and glanced to the side to make doubly sure that Nikola was still standing at her shoulder. He was. Terrified that Rex was affecting her vision of reality, Helen leveled her pistol at the imposter. The man stood relaxed, staring back at the group with the exact same grin she'd fallen in love with.

"What the…" Will couldn't even finish the curse.

"Helen…?" Nikola—the real one—murmured. "Any thoughts?"

"I've got nothing," Helen whispered.

"Hello, there!" Fake Nikola called with a jaunty wave. "I suppose all of your tiny little brains are scrambling for answers right about now, hm? Well, except for you." He tilted his head at Nikola. "I mean, you're a genius after all."

"You're…" Nikola said softly.

"Oh yes, it's me. I'm you. We're the same. Except technically not because I never had a run-in with a Devamper."

So saying, Fake Nikola held up both hands and vamped out spectacularly. Helen didn't miss the way Nikola eyed his mirror image longingly. And for the first time, she didn't blame him. When one was knocked from godhood to Magneto, it was painful to be faced with what you'd once been.

"And I'm not as electrifying," the double said in the layered voice of sanguine vampiris. "Since I had no contact with that bastard Edison."

"You're a clone," Nikola said, coolly, utterly un-panicked.

"Ahhh, so you are just as smart as me," the clone said, still grinning. He slipped back into human form. "Of course, you're right. I'm your exact replica. Well, we look the same anyway—most of the time. We've got the same intelligence. But that's about all we have in common. See, I grew up in a matter of months and you've lived 154 long years. And instead of a loving family and four friends at Oxford, I got a team of scientist sons of bitches who hunted vampires in the old days."

"How did the Cabal get a hold of my DNA?" Nikola asked with a frown.

The others stared at him, shocked that he'd figured it out already.

"The Cabal cloned you?" Will exclaimed, incredulously.

"Ding, ding, ding!" Fake Nikola crowed. "Give that man a radio! Yes. When dear little Ashley swiped the Source blood for that bitch, Dana, she also snagged a few strands of hair from the coat you so carelessly left lying out in favor of a lab coat to get friendly with the hot brunette. Hi, by the way. Do you have any idea how much this guy adores you?"

Helen opened her mouth a few times, but it seemed even a copy of Nikola had her speechless.

"She is fantastic," the clone said, grinning at Nikola now.

"Go on, I believe you were saying something fascinating about the Cabal," Nikola growled, stepping between Helen and, well, himself.

"Oh, yes, so I was. Well, if the plan to destroy the Sanctuary Network failed, the Cabal's plan B was to grow a baby Tesla from the DNA and inject the fetus with a cocktail of Source blood and hyped-up, super-abnormal growth hormones. Voila! In a matter of months, you've got your own fully-grown vampire genius. More fun than a Chia Pet." He winked. "Did you ever wonder why the Cabal crumbled so easily?"

"You," Nikola said simply.

"Oh, yes! Me! I killed 'em all. Every single one, only a few weeks after word came back that all the super-abnormals were dead. Did you know that I actually watched them destroy your daughter, Miss Magnus? I was only fourteen at the time—well, technically I was a mere three and a half weeks old, but looked fourteen. Regardless, I could tell she was sweet. When she was first in the cell across from mine, she even smiled at me and told me she was gonna get us both out of there. Then I watched them rip away everything that was her and replace it with their own monster. It was then that I started to really hate them. Even when they called me 'the filthy vampire' it didn't bother me as much as watching her die slowly every day."

Helen felt tears pricking her eyes. Even in horrid conditions, this clone had grown up with Nikola's compassion. But unlike her Nikola, this one had full-fledged madness shining from his eyes. Clones were a crime against humanity. By nature, they would have deep psychological issues anyway—not to mention if one was raised by the Cabal.

The original Nikola took another step forward. "How were you able to break Druitt's mind?"

"Simple. I retained all of your memories. See, the Cabal didn't account for the fact that the Source blood makes everything superhuman. And come on, Niko. We're the Poet of Electricity, right? How hard is it to figure out which buttons to press in Jack the Ripper's brain?"

"Which explains how you were able to force him to replay one of our—my memories while under hypnosis," Nikola said, still so very calm. "And, as such, I have only one question left. Why?"

"Why?" the clone grinned. "Why? Ohhw, come on, Tesla! You! That's why! After I escaped the Cabal, I started thinking. Why—if you and I are exact twins in mind and body—wasn't I seeing you do what I was? Why were you trying to be so subtle in taking over the world? Why were your goals of domination all in the name of science and an intellectual golden age of wondrous discovery? Why not just rip all their mortal heads off and get it over with? Long story short, I became obsessed with finding you—my original."

"And you have, now," Nikola said, simply. He spread his arms in question. "Now what?"

Slowly, a truly evil grin crept across the clone's face. At the same lazy speed, his eyes melted black and claws slid from his fingers.

"Well, I've been thinking about that, too," the clone said, in deep, layered tones. "And I thought, 'You know what? There's only room in this world for one Nikola Tesla'." He grinned, baring vicious fangs. "May the best vampire win, Niko!"

Then he was sprinting down the aisle with blurred vampire speed.

"John, retreat!" Helen yelled. "Retreat!"

Druitt instantly grabbed the two members of the team closest to him—which were unfortunately Will and Helen. The flames wrapped them up in warm safety, but Helen had eyes only Nikola sliding in front of the dematerializing group, arms stretched wide in a Christ-like pose. The last thing she saw was his clone in a fantastic midair leap, mere feet away, claws extended for the defenseless mortal.

But then she was being ripped through space, flying between dimensions. Two seconds later, she was standing, disoriented, in her office.

Immediately, she punched John's arm. "Go back!" she shrieked. "NOW!"

Without a word, John vanished. Helen counted her breaths to remain calm—because her heartbeats were too wild.

One.

"Magnus—" Will tried to speak, panting.

Two.

"Shut up, Will."

Thr—

John reappeared. He was easily holding a man across his arms like a doll. At first, Helen's mind refused to recognize Nikola's face. And when she did, she simultaneously experienced wild hope that it was the clone, not the original.

One more breath.

Four.

Moving smoothly, John sank to his knees, laying the wounded man on the ground. Helen's eyes reported to her brain that the bloody mess was wearing what remained of the clothes that the real Nikola had been wearing in the church—not the clone's. The man's chest and stomach were slashed to ribbons and his breaths—if he was breathing at all—were too shallow for the eye to see. His skin was pale and a few flecks of bright blood had even splattered up on his still face. His eyes were wide and somehow seemed to stare past the ceiling. His lips were parted.

Helen looked to John and read the slightest hint of regret there. Slowly, he shook his head in response to her unspoken question, lips drawn thin. Helen inhaled sharply after not breathing for several seconds.

Five.

The Five.

And with that, it clicked. It wasn't just a man. That was Nikola Tesla lying there. That was another of the Five lying shredded on her carpet.

A sob hitched in her throat, coming on so quickly that she only half-muffled it with her hand. Helen dropped then, as if her legs were suddenly no longer there. Still nearly ten feet from where Nikola lay with John crouched beside him, she clamped both hands over her mouth. Instinctively, she knew that if she removed them, she would scream like a banshee.

And then, all at once, every nightmare she'd ever had came rushing back, flashing through her perfect memory like moments preserved in crystalline glass. Nothing compared to the stark reality. He was gone.

The scream came then, and her hands were no match for it. Her fingers retreated from her mouth to dig into her hair, claw-like against her skull, as her mouth opened in an almost inhuman wail of grief.

TBC