The harsh smack of skin against skin forcibly jerks Mercy into consciousness. The biting sting that resonates through his right cheek leads him to rightly assume he's been struck. He blinks, eyes struggling to slip into focus as his head throbs, wrists and ankles tender and aching.
"Good," Antonio says as his face slowly comes into focus. "You're awake."
Mercy's lips part but no sound escapes his mouth. His lips are chapped and through his muddled brain he notes idly that he's thirsty. "Wha…" he starts, voice hoarse from disuse.
Antonio places an index finger to Mercy's lips. "Ah, ah," he murmurs. "Easy there. We wouldn't want you to damage your brain by thinking too hard, now would we?" Antonio taps him lightly on the cheek repeatedly and then steps back out of Mercy's personal space, moving to stand behind him. He tugs on something metal that's coiled tightly around Mercy's wrists. "Feel that?" he asks, husking the question into the shell of Mercy's ear. "These are very special, cold-sensitive restraints. The moment anything below forty degrees touches them, it emits an electric shock. So, don't try anything foolish, mmk?"
Mercy breathes in harshly through his nose, trying to sift through his memories as his brain drags along sluggishly. "You … hit me," he manages, the pounding in his head almost unbearable.
Antonio chuckles. "I did."
"Why?" Mercy asks through gritted teeth.
"Why do you think?" Antonio counters. "I asked you to arrange a meeting for me with Cerberus and you refused on several occasions. Now it's time for you to get your just dues."
"Just dues?" Mercy echoes, the bottom falling out from beneath his stomach.
"Mmhm," Antonio hums, stepping gracefully away from him. He saunters lazily over to a chair positioned across from Mercy and sits down in it. He crosses his legs and leans forward so his elbow is balance precariously on his knees. "I don't like being made to wait."
"I already told you—"
"Spare me your pathetic whining," Antonio interrupts, face contorting with barely suppressed irritation. "I'm tired of your excuses. Cerberus isn't nearly as frightening as you think he is. Especially when it concerns you." Antonio practically spits the last word, true rage red-hot in his eyes.
Mercy's eyes narrow. "I thought you've never met him."
Antonio smirks and tilts his head to the side, considering. "I haven't," he says easily. "But that doesn't mean I wasn't watching him. People are curious creatures. No matter how tight their façade… they always slip up."
"And Cerberus slipped up?" Mercy asks tiredly, his joints aching from the way his body is twisted and restrained, the sharp coiled metal digging into his skin.
Antonio chuckles humorously. "Indeed, he did."
Mercy sighs and lets his head rest against the back of the chair. "What do you want? Revenge?"
"In a manner of speaking," Antonio says delightedly. "But really… it's more I want what was so wrongfully stolen from me."
"Stolen?" Mercy questions wearily. He doesn't have the energy to indulge Antonio with his usual biting comments.
"Yes," Antonio says simply, leaning back in his chair as he crosses his arms. "You see Mercy, everything you know, everything about who you are… It's a lie. A clever one, sure, but a lie nonetheless." Antonio laughs bitterly here, the sound strange, dark and ugly. It makes Mercy feel suddenly sick, his stomach toiling as his head pounds with renewed strength.
"How unfortunate for me," Mercy replies as rolls his head to the side, looking at Antonio dispassionately. He can't show weakness, no matter how tired he is, no matter how much his body aches.
Antonio gets to his feet then. "Oh, you have no idea," he purrs, stalking closer. He leers down at Mercy and slowly lowers himself onto Mercy's lap, legs falling on either side of his hips as he straddles him. His slender, bony fingers flash forward to grip Mercy's chin with excruciating force. "The lie was so beautifully constructed it took even me a long time to unravel it. But, that's the advantage of being able to have whatever face you so choose. People just give you answers when you ask." He leans down, lips bare inches from Mercy's, his smile cruel. "But, I'm getting ahead of myself here," he murmurs, fake cheer grating like nails on a chalkboard.
"What are you trying to say?" Mercy asks through a flinch as Antonio's nails pierce the soft flesh of his chin.
"Patience," Antonio coos. "I'll get to that eventually. But shall we start with a story? A story of a boy and his whore mother." He releases Mercy's chin and moves to thread his fingers in his hair, caress falsely affectionate. "Once upon a time," he begins with saccharinity, "There lived a little boy whose mother sold her body for exceptional amounts of money. A high priced hooker, one might say. She loved her son, gave him everything, loved him the way only a mother can. She sat him down every morning, kissed him on the forehead, and told him grand stories of who his father was. A strong man. A powerful man. A man who could have whatever he wanted with just the murmur of a word."
Antonio's fingers twist, pulling Mercy's hair tight around them, the motion agonizingly painful. "That little boy loved his mother," Antonio continues on angrily, rage so carefully threaded throughout his words, Mercy can feel the burn of them. "And so, when one of her john's brutally murdered her, his whole world shattered. He was a little ten-year-old boy with nowhere to go, no one to love him… armed with only the knowledge his dad was a powerful man. A man with the ability to have whatever he wanted with the murmur of a word." Antonio pauses here and jerks Mercy's head back, forcing him to look him dead in the eye. "Say, Mercy, who does that sound like to you?"
Mercy's blood runs cold. "No," he says automatically.
Antonio grins manically. "Oh, yes," he breathes.
Even through the pain, the sluggish way his brain wades through Antonio's words, Mercy still makes the connection. There's only one man with that sort of ability. "We can't," he starts, parched lips cracking as he continues on through denial. "We aren't related," he states firmly. He already has one terror of a brother he can't… he can't deal with another one.
Antonio smiles shrewdly. "Oh, you're quite right," he says gleefully. "We aren't related. Not even a little bit. I share no blood with your disgusting, polluted bloodline."
Confusion must show on his face because Antonio just laughs. "You see," he continues brazenly, "My mother wasn't the only one who was a filthy whore."
"What," Mercy chokes out, the implications of that one sentence making it hard for him to breathe, rendering him incapable of speech.
Antonio releases Mercy's hair and rocks back on his thighs. "Ah, ah," he tuts. "My story isn't over yet. You see, that little boy, he knew who his father was, but the man wanted nothing to do with a filthy gutter rat. You see as that little boy grew, he turned to the only source of income he'd ever known," Antonio grins shakily, a terrifyingly mad look in his eyes. "He sold his nimble, fifteen-year-old body to disgusting perverts and discovered soon enough he could cater to two types of clientele. You see, he could switch genders, become any form his john so desired. And he did this. For years. And slowly, that little boy lost sight of who he was, drowning himself in the painful pleasure of sex he never wanted any part of." Antonio starts to giggle hysterically. "But don't worry, my dear Mercy, that little boy doesn't want your pity."
It's then that Antonio slips off Mercy's legs and gets to his feet, humor gone from his face. "So that little boy," he says very lowly, "he looked into his father. He investigated the death of his father's wife and he found … inconsistencies. Half-remembered stories and muddled minds. He found that no one quite knew how she died, or why. And then he looked into his precious half-brothers and found something even more curious." Antonio saunters across the room and, for the first time, Mercy notices its grandeur, its cleanliness, the odd, familiar atmosphere…
Mercy's heart beats fast; panic welling up inside of him. He doesn't know where Antonio's going with this, why he's telling him these things… but it unnerves him.
Antonio returns with a file. He opens it and throws it onto Mercy's lap. "Read it," he urges, knowing smirk like a death sentence.
"Why?" Mercy tries to ask, but Antonio only chuckles.
Mercy drops his eyes to the file and begins to read, slowly at first, and then with startling swiftness. The dread grows steadily in his chest, like a suffocating ache as he soaks up the words and their implications. Child, it reads, Mercurius Doyle. Mother, Muriel Doyle; positive. Father, Richard Doyle; negative. Mercy can't breathe; his head feels as if it's going to explode and, as he looks up slowly at Antonio, his face pales.
"Surprise," Antonio says smugly. "Richard Doyle," he continues in a mock voice, "You are not the father." Antonio snatches up the file and tosses it onto a nearby table and then collapses back into his chair, far too pleased. "So no," Antonio continues, "we aren't related, Mercy."
It's a struggle to remain calm, to remain in control of himself. He's in pain, his brain isn't functioning like it should, and nothing Antonio is saying makes sense. He steadies himself, relaxes, and glances at Antonio impassively. "You're lying."
The smirk that curls up on Antonio's lips is slow and purposeful. He's not surprised in the least. "Oh, I rather thought you'd say that. My father, in fact, said the same thing."
"But you know, Mercy, how reliable is your memory, my father's memory, if we add Cerberus into the mix?"
"What, how do you—" Mercy cuts himself off, swallowing back his questions. It isn't the time to ask how he knows about Cerberus' true ability, not the fake one he's registered with. "That's impossible," he grounds out instead. "Cerberus' ability didn't stabilize until he was sixteen, months after our mother died. Months after the date on that fake fraternity test. "
"You assume Cerberus wasn't clever. That he didn't have help…" Antonio trails off. "You know who also got a suspicious promotion a week or so after your mother died?" he asks after a beat. "Eric Holloway."
Mercy frowns as he demands, "What does that have to do with anything?"
"Everything," Antonio hisses. "You see, I think Richard Doyle killed your mother after he found out you weren't his child. I think he had every intention of killing you as well… but Cerberus, young and naïve as he was, decided against all reason you were worth saving. I think he wiped Richard's memory, your memory, and ran with his tail tucked in-between his legs to the Board of Supers, straight to Eric Holloway. I think they orchestrated falsifying his ability in the national database, polluted Cerberus mind and set him against his own father, against our father." Antonio glares at Mercy then, the look in his eyes so dark, so murderous, Mercy has no doubt he wishes to kill him.
Antonio stalks towards Mercy then, hands flashing forward to wrap around his neck. He squeezes, fingers digging painfully into the sides of Mercy's neck as Antonio forces his windpipe close. "I think Cerberus' weakness for you forced him to steal away what was rightfully mine. I should have been raised as Richard Doyle's younger son. Not you, Muriel's disgusting bastard."
Mercy's eyes water as he struggles to breathe, Antonio's words barely audible over the roaring in his ears. He can't—he can't die like this, with a mad man's hands enclosed tightly around his throat. Involuntarily, he struggles against his bindings, tearing up his skin as he tries in vain to rip his arms free.
"You stole everything from me," Antonio growls furiously. "I want you to pay, you filthy imposter."
"Antonio," a deep, steady, and amused voice interrupts. "That's quite enough."
Antonio's eyes light up, causing his grip to loosen as he relinquishes his hold on Mercy. "Father," he says joyously, turning away from Mercy to face the figure standing in the doorway.
Mercy gasps for breath, coughing horribly from oxygen deprivation as tears streak down his cheeks. His vision has blurred, but he recognizes the man for exactly who he is.
Fear seizes his chest; no, not his father.
Richard Doyle, who looks down at Mercy without any real emotion, eyes black. His dark brown hair is cropped short and peppered with gray, as is his five o'clock shadow. He looks oddly bemused, not all angry that his supposed son is strapped to a chair and was being—only moments before—choked to death by someone who should be a stranger.
He fixes a curious stare on Mercy. "I see you've met Antonio," he says cavalierly, as if they're having a friendly chat over tea. "He's got some very interesting theories, wouldn't you say?"
Mercy swallows thickly. "Father…" he rasps, shaken to the core.
Richard cocks his head and exhales through his nose. "Perhaps not," he says loftily, not seeming at all bothered by that prospect. "It'd explain a lot, really," he adds darkly, regarding Mercy with something akin to contempt.
He'd known, of course, that his father wasn't fond of him; had heard it straight from his mouth, in fact. But it hurts, god, it hurts so bad, to be sitting here—helpless—and to have him dismiss him so. Mercy wants to cry, he wants to scream, he wants—but, it's useless. Still, that stubborn part of himself doesn't want to give up, doesn't want to cement for his father that he's the weak-willed child he's always thought him to be. Coward he may be, but weak-willed—never.
Richard glances at Antonio. "Shall we test it?" He looks back at Mercy. "If you really are my son, if you really do have my blood flowing through your veins… my demands will have little effect on you. Antonio here… Well, he's already passed my test."
Mercy's eyes dart to Antonio, who's preening obnoxiously at Richard's words. "Fine," he snaps, voice wrought with desperate determination; he has to remain strong.
Richard chuckles darkly. "Antonio, my son," he says warmly. "Fetch our guest."
Antonio grins. "With pleasure," he says before stalking from the room.
"Guest?" Mercy asks shakily.
Richard merely grins and takes a seat in the chair Antonio had previously occupied. "Yes," he says. "Someone you know quite well. He's even more pathetic than you, which," he smirks, "that's a feat in of itself."
Mercy's mouth dries up and fear clouds his thoughts, all-encompassing and debilitating. As the door creaks open, permitting Antonio and whoever he's dragging behind him, Mercy's heart rate ratchets up. He tosses the person onto the floor at Richard's feet and Mercy's heart stops the moment he sees the first flash of red, bouncy curls. Bentley. His throat closes up on him, sweat lines his brows, and he feels the full body shutter that resonates through him. Mercy speaks so quickly he almost chokes over his own words, "He has nothing to do with this."
"No?" Richard chimes. "He isn't one of Eric Holloway's little charity cases?"
"Let him go," Mercy demands, desperation carved into the pitch of his voice.
Richard smirks. "You aren't the one in a position to be making demands."
Bentley's crying, sniffling—Mercy can hear him, can see him and it breaks it heart. This is his friend. His only damn friend in the entire world and he's suffering. He's suffering because of Mercy. That thought sets off a panic inside of him, makes Mercy start to shake. The world around him blurs and he's dimly aware that he's hyperventilating. He can't breathe. He doesn't want to breathe. It's a nightmare. This is all a nightmare and he'll wake up—he'll wake up—
Suddenly, Richard's at his side. "Stop panicking," he says smoothly. "Calm down." His words carry a weight, a demand. Mercy's breathing slows immediately, his vision sharpens, and the panic snuffs itself out like a candle. Mercy blinks, confused. Richard pats him on the head, but nothing about the gesture is warm. "Well, what do you know," Richard drawls, more amused than disappointed. "Antonio's theory seems to hold some weight. "
Despite the panic Mercy knows still trembles in the back of his mind, his body refuses to let it surface, keeps him steadily in check.
Richard walks back towards Bentley, who's still curled up on the floor. He yanks him up by his hair, causing him to yelp in pain. As he leads him to stand at Mercy's side he says, "Antonio, the knife." Antonio complies and hands over a large, incredibly sharp knife to Richard. Richard looks at Mercy, cruel glint in his eyes. "Now, Mercurius, I'm going to undo your restraints and, when I do, you aren't allowed to use your ability. Do you understand?"
Mercy grits his teeth and says nothing.
Richard's face darkens. "Boy, when I ask you a question, you answer. Understand?"
"Yes," Mercy spits out, the word tasting foul as it leaves his mouth.
"Wonderful," Richard says, dragging Bentley with him as he undoes the coils wrapped around Mercy's wrists and ankles. "Stand up," he orders.
Mercy complies, his body moving of its own volition. Richard carefully pushes him to the side and deposits Bentley in the chair. "Now be a good boy, Mr. Carthridge," Richard says soothingly, "And don't move a muscle." Bentley nods, though his eyes speak of only fear. From the look in his eye, he knows exactly what's about to happen and he's terrified.
Mercy feels as if he might vomit.
"Mercurius," Richard says in that same soothing tone as he grips Mercy's dominate hand, slipping the knife in between his fingers. "I want you to take this knife and plunge it—slowly—into Mr. Carthridge's lower left side, just below his ribs. Do you think you can do that for me?"
"Yes," Mercy says, the word coming out more as a wrecked sob.
Richard smiles slow and pleased as he steps back. "Good."
Mercy tries to fight it, the incessant, prickling need to step forward and sink the blade into Bentley's side. He tries so damn hard, but the demand wins out, spurs him forward without his consent. He feels like a stranger in his body, a passenger rather than the driver. It's a disgusting feeling, a helpless one. He wants to open his mouth and scream at himself to stop, but nothing escapes his lips but harsh, panicked exhales. His shaky gaze lifts to meet Bentley's own terrified eyes. "I'm sorry," he says weakly, "I can't—"
Bentley nods, eyes bright with unshed tears. There's fear there, but no condemnation. No hatred. He knows what Mercy is about to do and he doesn't hate him for it.
It's a painful comfort.
Mercy grips Bentley's shoulder, squeezes and then—slowly, as Richard demanded—presses the knife against Bentley's side. The first, pained gasp tears right through Mercy's gut like a shot. He closes his eyes, unable to bear it, the hand clamped down gently on Bentley's shoulder trembling with his own self-hatred. He sinks the knife further into Bentley, his pained gasps escalating into pained screaming, pleading, and it makes Mercy want to die.
Suddenly, there's pressure on Mercy's own shoulder. "Slower," Richard orders into his ear, breath warm and voice pleased.
Mercy's face contorts with rage, with an anger so raw he shakes with it. Still, he obeys, slowing the entrance of the knife into Bentley's side to an excruciatingly stagnant pace. Once the hilt hits the soft, blood soaked fabric of Bentley's shirt Mercy exhales a shaky sigh of relief.
His relief is short lived.
"Again," Richard says.
Mercy withdraws the knife and watches with sick trepidation as the blood seeps out of Bentley's wound, languid and horrifying. Bentley whimpers, tears staining his cheeks, hair matted with stress induced sweat. "I'm sorry," he whispers again as he presses forward once more, creating another deep, slowly delivered wound.
"It's … o-okay," Bentley manages feverishly.
Mercy thinks about begging—begging to stop, to save Bentley's life, but his pride gets the better of him. He can't beg a man like Richard Doyle; it'd only inflate his disgusting ego.
"Alright," Richard hums, amused. "That's enough, leave the knife inside him."
Mercy releases the knife as if it's burned him and stumbles back, dropping to his knees and immediately emptying the contents of his stomach onto the floor. He heaves once more and then pulls back, wiping the excess vomit from his mouth and—accidentally—smearing Bentley's blood across his lips and cheek. He sits there for a moment, feeling unnatural as the panic he knows he's supposed to feel never comes.
Bentley's breathing raggedly in the chair, his side bleeding with dangerous swiftness. He needs a doctor. Or he'll die. He'll die and Mercy… Mercy will be the reason. That thought alone is almost enough to make him want to vomit again. He glares up at Richard, true hate shining in his eyes.
Richard looks only vaguely repulsed. He turns to Antonio. "Fetch a maid to clean this mess up," he says, gesturing at Bentley and the pile of vomit next to him.
Antonio laughs, but nods. "Of course," he hums as he strides from the room.
"Mercurius, stand up. You look pathetic," Richard says, watching dispassionately as Mercy gets to his feet, face blank. "Sit," Richard says, gesturing to the only other empty seat in the room. Mercy sits. "It would seem that Cerberus has some explaining to do," he muses aloud. "Though, I think it's rather befitting to punish him as well for thinking he could pull on over on me."
Mercy's barely listening, his eyes fixed on the floor as he tries to erase reality from his conscious mind.
"I think we'll start with that thorn in my side, Eric Holloway," Richard says, turning to grin at Mercy. "What do you think?"
Mercy looks up and says without inflection, "I think you're a vile, poisonous monster."
Richard laughs. "What, did you expect me to be insulted?" he wonders, leaning over to stroke Mercy's hair absently. "You know, you really do look like her," he continues, tone almost fond, "Beautiful in that far off, untouchable sort of way." Richard makes a considering sort of noise in the back of his throat. "It's a shame I can't remember killing her." With that said he grips Mercy's hair harshly and jerks his head back. "I'll ensure Cerberus fixes that."
Mercy can still taste the vomit in his mouth; the burn of lingering acid is a welcome distraction.
"You know, they're having some sort of grand gala in Holloway's honor this coming Saturday; celebrating his accomplishments, et cetera. Don't you think it'd be rather entertaining if his death was witnessed by thousands of his admirers?"
Mercy's breath hitches.
"Answer me, Mercurius."
"No," he whispers, eye burning with hot, unshed tears. "No, don't ask me to do that."
Richard laughs. Laughs. "Oh, but it's perfect. You can finally redeem yourself as the son you never were." He looks down and meets Mercy's eyes. However, whatever he night have said is cut off by Antonio reentering the room, a maid in tow. "Good, I wanted you to be here for this, Antonio."
Antonio smiles, the curve of his mouth mirroring Richard's. "Oh?"
Richard nods and turns his attention back to Mercy. He releases his grip on his hair and moves to kneel in front of him. He takes Mercy's hand in his and lifts it, placing it over his heart. "Mercurius," he begins, "I want you to attend that gala. Have a good time. Enjoy yourself. Say your goodbyes. And, in front of everyone in attendance, I want you to walk right up to Eric Holloway and put one of your favored icicles through his heart."
Whelp. There you go. Man, this chapter was stressful to write. I hope you guys enjoyed it nonetheless, haha. I know you guys probably have a lot of questions, but I promise most of them get answered in the next three chapters. Excuse any errors. As always, constructive criticism is welcome and reviews loved!
See you guys next chapter. :)