Disclaimer: Most of the characters in this story belong to Marvel. The one's you don't recognise will probably belong to me.
Rating: Rated M for strong language, sex and violence.
Author note: This story is the sequel to House of Cards; or the second book of what has now turned into a trilogy. House of Cards was never meant to have a sequel; this continuation (and the projected third book in the trilogy) has a very different dynamic to HoC - it focuses less on the psychological drama of the characters and more on the superhero-type story arc you might find in the comics. Some of you might find that disappointing - I don't know. All I'm saying is, House of Cards can still be read as a stand-alone fic, and if you want to ignore the fact that this story exists, that's perfectly fine with me. :)
Thanks to all who have encouraged me to post this and who have supported my work now and in the past.
This is for you.
: TWIST OF FATE :
PART ONE : DRIVE
(1) - Aftermath -
The first thing she remembered, really remembered, was waking up running through the trees and the snow.
Just like that, without any seeming transition, without any precise moment where nightmare took the leap into full-blown consciousness.
No delineation between the then and the now.
This was the nightmare, the then.
The heavy thud of footsteps echoing down a length of cold, white corridor; the taste of leather biting into her neck; the skin-crawling sound of baying in the night, howls which could have come from hounds but that she instinctively knew were human because she would make the very same sound herself. The man looming over her with his harsh face partly wreathed in shadow, the stink of his boots in her nostrils and the shape of his heel in her ribcage like a hot blooming flower stealing the wind out of her.
The nightmare made flesh, permeating her dreams like a bad smell, creeping through her waking hours like a shiver down the spine.
And then there was the now.
A girl in the snow, with sad eyes and brown hair, brown hair that was somehow mingled with white (snow?); and the shade of the face was familiar but she didn't know how or why; and besides, the face hadn't been as important as the impression of fingers, fingers and flesh on her cheek, and somehow the pattern of the fingers had dragged her in under (she had no idea where), and then the next moment she had woken up running in the snow with no destination in mind except for anywhere, anywhere that was not the place she had been before. And even she wasn't quite sure where that place was.
So that was the first memory she had. Running in the snow, as though she had been born running and had run all her life.
She didn't know how long she ran for. If there was somewhere to go to beyond the trees and the snow she never found it.
She collapsed, exhausted, at the base of a scraggly tree that was dead and could offer her no protection. She closed her eyes with the hope that she would never open them again. But she did, and when she did, it could have been hours or days later.
There were people in the snow around her, the barking of orders and a stench she remembered well. The sickly sweet body odour of the man she called Bluebeard, a stench that never seemed to leave him. She saw his boots in the snow beside her; and when he picked up her weak and feeble body it was with hands like blocks of scorched wood; he looked down into her pale, frostbitten face with eyes that bulged like an insect's.
"My precious dear," he called her, with all the covetousness of a lover, and somehow she found her voice from depths she'd never known existed, said, "No," in a hoarse and broken voice.
And he stared at her. As though he had been shot. As if she'd driven a stake through him. He almost dropped her. She saw emotion on his face. Surprise. Anger. Calm. Though she could put a name to none.
"You speak," he stated in a low voice – to himself, to her. And, "Where am I?" she asked, and, "Who are you?"
There was no answer. There never would be. He turned, called out to someone in a tone of undisguised horror, "She's broken through! I want her back at the neuro suite asap!"
And that was where she went. And there began her education in pain.
She remembered nothing.
They asked her a million questions, but the only one she could give an answer to was her name. They asked her what had happened. Why she was suddenly 'awake'. She could only tell them those fragments that still remained to her. The girl in the snow. The fingers. The flesh. The drag. Just impressions. Nothing more.
Tell us about the girl.
Who was she?
What did she look like?
Did you recognise her?
And they showed her a picture. The face of a girl aged perhaps eighteen or nineteen, just any other teenage girl, a girl like her; pretty face with brazen eyes and a rebellious mouth, a shock of white in her tumbledown hair…
Do you recognise her?
And then started the agony. Injections. Electric shocks. Bolts in her head, static in her brain. Hooks in her eyelids. Staring into kaleidoscopic spirals, at blank white walls. More injections. Needles everywhere. Straps and gurneys and straitjackets. The sound of her own screams reverberating in her head, echoing down corridors, bringing slaps and kicks and punches. Faces behind blacked out windows peering in on her constantly. Nightmares and fragments and falling and death… …
And then one day, after what seemed like countless weeks spent in this hell on earth, he came back in. This man, this Bluebeard. He sat beside her gurney like a concerned relative finally being allowed to visit a half-dead patient.
"We cannot condition you," was the only greeting he made.
She stared up at him. She didn't understand what he meant.
"Your conditioning was removed so completely that it seems your mind has been made impenetrable," he explained in words that meant nothing to her. He waited a moment, a pause that seemed to invite her to say something, but there was nothing she could say, no question she could ask. He frowned, began again.
"The results of your psych eval are… disturbing," he told her gravely. "They tell me your mind is fragmented. You remember nothing of the terrorist attack on the Pens, nor, indeed, of anything that occurred before that."
Nothing. She pressed her lips together and waited for him to continue.
"This leaves me in something of a quandary," he spoke at last; he appeared to be reasoning out a train of thought to himself, rather than informing her of anything. "Do I continue to attempt the conditioning process? Or do I simply dispose of you?"
She shifted anxiously then, the straps at her wrists and ankles chafing like sandpaper on her raw and bleeding skin. She knew what that last bit had meant. That was the only clear thing he had said. And he smiled at her, the only way he knew how. Ugly, menacing.
"Don't worry, my dear," he reassured her with a quiet laugh. "You are far too precious an asset to be disposed of so easily. But it pains me to know that you have been thus rendered… imperfect. If you remain impervious to the conditioning process, then it is far from certain what is to be done with you. And I would rather see you dead than have you fall into the hands of my enemies."
He spoke to her as if speaking to a possession – a treasured possession, to be sure – but a possession nonetheless. Something ultimately expendable. And the only thing she understood in his words was that dark divide she had somehow come to long for.
The next day they wheeled her back into the place where the pain was meted out.
She struggled against the straps that held her down, even though her flesh was so rent and broken that every movement was like liquid fire in her nerves.
She saw the reclining chair that seemed to have become a second home to her, the technicians gathered round preparing the bolts to keep her head screwed in place. And she knew that this was the last time she would ever be in this room. When she came out, it would either be to escape, or in a box.
Bluebeard stood over her whilst they unstrapped her from the gurney, still struggling. He gave her an injection, a tranquiliser; she felt it running through her veins, stealing the few memories she had left from her, and in that moment of inevitable loss a blind panic crashed over her, something so terrifyingly visceral that it cut through the haze in her mind; her limbs were freed; she lashed out instinctively at the nearest lab coat, drawing blood. Somebody lunged at her, and everything went strangely quiet; there was only white noise ringing in her ears as she felt someone's neck snap between her fingers, someone's ribs crack beneath her foot.
It only stopped when she felt the sharp, spear-pointed tip of Bluebeard's prod in the small of her back, a jolt of electricity that made her scream louder than she'd ever thought possible, and somewhere far away she thought this is it, I'm going out in a box…
Her synapses were shot, her limbs refused to obey her. She fell to the floor, twitching, barely feeling the tip of his boot in her solar plexus, sending her skidding towards the corner.
She could have lain there. She could have lain down and died. There was that temptation. It was the sweetest thing she had ever known in all the few remaining memories left to her. She heard the disconnected beat of his footsteps coming towards her, slap, slap, slap, this ominous rhythm counting down the remaining seconds of her life. Her movement suddenly regained, she scooted back into the corner as far as she could go, legs flailing, nearly slipping in the desperation of her effort. His shadow advanced on her step by awful step, and her back hit the wall, and she knew, instinctively, what would come next.
"Resist would you, girl?" Bluebeard hissed above her, face and body blacked out by the blinding white lab lights illuminating him from behind. "You are the feisty one – always have been. But I cannot allow you to get away with this. I made you, and I will remake you yet!"
And he raised the spear in his hand, ready to plunge it into her soft flesh, and the thought of that pain again was unbearable – intolerable – she knew she would rather die than be this thing again, this thing that he had made her once and would make her again, this thing that wasn't her...
Yet she couldn't remember anything else but this – all she had known was the pain and the hate and the struggle – and she realised – Bluebeard was right – he had made her in his own image, it was all she was and ever would be. A monster. A killer.
And the voice that came out of her throat was inhuman as both her hands grasped the spear even as it drove down towards her. She took the pain of the electric shock as it jolted through her, even as she wrenched the rod from his grasp and cast it aside…
She lunged for him, and there was only one thought blaring out its staccato rhythm in her mind, in her ears, drowning all else out…
The only mantra she had ever known.
Kill. Kill. Kill.