Dominic stood near the 'Round's doorway, searching the bar until his gaze alighted on Carrie, sitting at a table alone, then made his way over to her.
'I need a word.' he said.
'Take a seat.' Carrie said, indicating an empty chair at her table.
'Thank you.' Dominic seated himself.
'What's the problem?' Carrie said.
'Alright.' Dominic rested his hands on the table. 'The minute Ayna saw "Significant Others", she locked herself in the cupboard.
'It took us the whole fic to coax her out again.'
'She was _scared_, Carrie,' Dominic said. 'Terrified. Not of the fic, or anything that might happen... but of Some Other Time Round itself.
'The thought of going back there - of _ever_ going back there - terrifies her.'
'Did she say why?' Carrie said.
'No.' Dominic said quietly. 'She told me several other things about her time there, though... and I don't think I heard even half of it.'
He leaned forward. 'How would you describe Ayna? Based on what you've seen of her, how would you describe her?'
'The whole truth?'
'The whole truth.'
'All right.' Carrie said. 'She's bright, although I doubt she's got eidetic memory - I'm guessing Xeffy doesn't either.'
At Dominic's nod, she went on. 'She's observant - no, make that _perceptive_... but she has a tendency to jump to conclusions based purely on what she sees, without taking it all in. She's sensitive to others' feelings, but... she's not as diplomatic as she might think.'
'You mean she keeps putting her foot in it.' Dominic observed.
Carrie raised a perfect eyebrow. 'If you wanted to put it like that, then yes. I think she'll grow out of it, though.' She frowned. 'However... Ayna is extremely emotionally vulnerable. Emotionally _dependent_.
'She's never alone - there's always someone around, someone nearby. Now, that's perfectly normal, especially for someone Ayna's age... but it might also indicate a fear of being alone. Given what we know about Otherside, and about Ayna, I know which one _I'd_ consider more likely.'
'Go on.' Dominic said, his expression never changing.
'Coupled with that...' Carrie's mouth twitched. 'She and Xeffy make an effective double-act - the way they play off each other... they're at ease around each other, comfortable. They're still working on their interplay... but I'd hate to be any boy near _those_ two by the time they start dating. Actually, I'd hate to be any boy near them _now_ - Ayna *is* pretty boy-hungry...'
Dominic raised an eyebrow.
'Don't tell me you hadn't noticed, Dom. It's only the lack of boys around the place that's stopped her - but now there's a high school _full_ of boys...' Carrie's mouth twitched upwards into what might have been a smile. 'And she's got the attitude to make it count.'
Dominic's mouth twitched. 'It was easier with Allie...'
Carrie raised her eyebrow again, and continued. 'Between Ayna and Xeffy... based on what I've seen of it, I'd say Xeffy's the driving force, but Ayna's the voice of restraint, the sceptic - note I didn't say voice of reason; I think Anya handles _that_ side of things. The end result is that Xeffy encourages Ayna, while Ayna keeps Xeffy down to earth. Metaphorically speaking, anyway.
'What else, what else...yes.' Carrie leaned forward. 'She's closest to Xeffy, but she's bonded with you remarkably quickly - Allie and Sandra not so much. I don't think it's that she doesn't like them - she does - it's just that she prefers being with Xeffy.' She frowned again. 'Remarkably quickly, particularly given her prior circumstances; normally, I would have expected it to take a much longer time, if she ever did. That makes me wary; I get the feeling there's something going on there, perhaps due to her emotional dependency.'
Carrie glanced at Dominic, who nodded at her to continue.
Returning the nod, she went on, 'Along with that, she's very willing to talk about your Otherside counterparts... which might seem to run at odds with her fear of the place, but somehow I doubt it.
'And... her anger...' Carrie grimaced. 'She's _extremely_ angry with them, and I can't say I blame her. The only thing is... I haven't seen many children who were that clear about their anger, and who was to blame. And most of *those* were survivors. Children who'd learned to fight.'
'It wasn't her family,' Dominic said, his voice distant. 'Not with the Furies watching. No... it was the other children. Children who weren't kin... who _could_ hurt her.'
'Yet...' Carrie took a deep breath. 'Yet she doesn't behave like a fighter otherwise. Emotionally vulnerable, emotionally dependent, sensitive to violence, fragile... That's what I can't work out. How can she be so focused in her anger and so fragile otherwise? It's like...' Her eyes widened. 'Like... Oh _flush_!'
'It's like...?' Dominic prompted.
'Emotional dependency. Fear of being alone. Sensitivity to violence.' Carrie ticked them off on her fingers. 'She needs other people. She _depends_ on other people. She starts crumbling when someone else gets hurt.
'But what happens when someone hurts _her?_ ' Carrie looked at Dominic again. 'That's it, isn't it? If other people are hurt, she falls apart, but if she's hurt... she gets angry.
'It's as if she's redirected her core into her anger... and left the rest unshielded.
'She's _fragmented_, Dom. I'd suggest a defragmentation session, and soon - because if you don't, the fragmentation's only going to get worse, if anything. She won't be unsalvageable... but it's going to be harder to salvage what you can.'
Dominic was silent for a time.
'...You only just now realised.' he said, without rancour.
'Yes.' Carrie said. 'If I'd realised earlier...'
'...You would have done something about it.' Dominic completed. 'Asked me, or Ayna. Done a little digging. You meddle, Carrie. It's what you do.'
'When did you suspect?'
'That's not an easy question, Carrie.' Dominic's expression was one of distinct pain. 'I had _suspicions_ ever since she arrived... but eventually, it looked as if she'd settled in.
'They still kept raising their head, though...
'In the aftermath of the Carnival -' Dominic's mouth twisted at the word - 'I saw how she'd come out. I saw what had happened to her.
'I've seen significant trauma in my life, Carrie.
'And I've seen how people deal with it.
'Ayna's response to it all was that of someone who'd been through trauma - who'd been through significant trauma _before_. Who had buffers in place to deal with it.
'I managed to help her through that, to ease her, soothe her... let her regain herself.
'But when "Significant Others" was posted, and she locked herself in the cupboard... that was the final piece.
'She'd been damaged. Been traumatised.
'She'd managed to pull herself out, to escape... but she'd still been /hurt/.
'This is not an easy thing for me, Carrie. It's _never_ easy.
'But we are not in the business of feeding comfortable lies... whether it's at home, or at work. If we don't practice what we preach... then what we preach is hollow, empty.
'We strive, as best we can, to communicate something right, something real, something _honest_ -
'And that means being honest with ourselves.
'I don't flatter myself I've always done this. I have lied to myself, and I probably still do. But I strive to be as honest as I can... even when I'm mistaken.
'My daughter has been _hurt_. When I try to comfort her through the pain, it eases... but only for a while.
'And each and every time that happens, I remember I've been here before. Remember being with Elle, trying to comfort her through her pain... easing it, but only for a while.
'The situations are far different, I know that.
'But the end results are the same.'
'She seems to believe she can manage.' Carrie observed.
'She _has_ managed.' Dominic returned. 'Has managed. Has survived.'
'Why not trust her judgment? She believes she can handle it.'
'I do, Carrie.' Dominic looked up, into Carrie's face. 'I do.
'And I'll be there when the time comes that she _can't_ handle it.
'It's that...' He closed his eyes. 'It hurts _me_, to see her in pain. To know she's been hurt.
'It was no easier when it was _Elle_ hurting, in pain, when I tried everything in my power to reach through, to put it to rest. Letting her reveal what had happened in her own time.' Dominic hesitated then, for a moment. 'I did learn what had happened... but not from her.
'I kept it secret until she chose to tell me.
'It was no easier when it was my wife. It's no easier when it's my daughter.
'To know she's been hurt... but not who, or what, not knowing what happened to her, waiting for the day she chooses to tell me...' The lights overhead caught the wet gleam of his eyes. 'It hurts, Carrie. It hurts terribly.
'I can't protect Ayna - I can't protect any of them - from everything out there.
'I can help them learn the skills they need to protect themselves. I can be there for them when they cone up against something they can't protect against.
'But when I don't know what hurt them... I can be there, I can comfort them, _but there's nothing I can do about it_. To _know_ what it is, that there's nothing I can do about it... that would hurt, true, but when I don't know...' Dominic shook his head. 'It's that much worse.
'And when all I have to go on are clues, hints, implications... suggestions of what _might_ have happened...
'...that can hurt most of all.
'So much is left in the gaps, in the spaces inbetween. Left to your own mind to fill in.
'It tantalises. And it torments.'
'The curse of Tantalus.' Carrie murmured. 'What's desired, what's imagined... hanging just out of reach. And you imagine that if you could get a hold of it, it would sate you...'
Dominic's eyes glinted. 'There's a _reason_ Desire and Despair are twins...'
'That said... what _are_ you going to do?'
Dominic sighed. 'I wanted to discuss this with someone else, first. Someone who didn't have a personal connection - but who still had a good idea of what was going on. Someone who might help to sort this out...'
'Would it also be because Gray's working on that SOTR idea?' Carrie inquired.
'That probably came into it somewhere...' Dominic said.
Carrie regarded him. 'In that case... Did you wonder why Ayna's so different from the other Othersiders?' She wrinkled her nose. 'Terrible construction, but still, you get my point. Most Othersiders are more sinister than their alters here - most, but not all. Given what's been hinted of Ayna's background, why should she be one of the exceptions?'
'I had considered it.' Dominic said.
'And?' Carrie prompted.
Dominic heaved a sigh. 'And I don't know.
'Think about the words "more sinister". In most cases, that means their personality and behaviour is more amoral, more vicious, more violent.
He sat forward. 'In Ayna's case... her Siren gift manifested in a far more sinister way - physically, she takes after the mythological Sirens. Apart from that... no. She's not more sinister than Xeffy, not by a long shot.'
'She's _darker_, though.' Carrie said.
Dominic's mouth was taut. 'Only in that she's been hurt - _seriously_ hurt, left with serious damage. She's not darker as a person... though she might become so, if something happened.
'Metaphysically... it doesn't make sense.'
He settled back in his chair.
'It doesn't, does it?' Carrie said. 'Offhand, there's no obvious reason why a flipside Xeffy should be any different from any of the others. If _your_ counterparts weren't darker, I could see it... but they're not, if Ellia's anything to go by.'
'It would be simple to point at a single event, say "this is it, this is why she's different".' Dominic said from his chair. 'A single explanation for why it happened.
'It could just as easily be _many_ things, many factors.
'The point is that there'd be an explanation. Something that would put the questions to rest.
'A nice, simple reason - a _justification_ for her difference.
'That's the way stories work. That's the way it _should_ work.
'But only Ayna knows if there _is_ a reason she's different. Or if this is just the way things always were.
'History has a tendency to be more complex then the stories.'
'Can't palm it off on inheritance, I suppose?'
Dominic's expression was grim. 'I doubt it. Or mutation, for that matter.'
'Makes a change...' Carrie said dryly. 'All right. So what _are_ you going to do about this?'
'I'd hoped to work that out...' Dominic said. 'In the end, it comes down to one thing - whether or not she's willing to talk about it. And she's not - not in full.'
'Which means it's something you'll have to work on.' Carrie observed.
'...Yes. Yes, it is.' Dominic seemed lost in thought. 'Carrie, can you do me a favour?'
'This will involve CDWA, won't it?'
'Yes. It will.'
'What do you want me to do?'
'I'd like to get copies of Ayna's records, from all available Otherside systems, local and global. Look for the terms "Ayna" or "Aynaphex" - or anything involving living Sirens.'
Carrie considered. 'I can do it... it'll take a few workarounds, a few backdoors, though. I may have to enlist some help in the process...'
'No. I would prefer that no-one has a reason to suspect anything.'
'And in return?' Dominic asked.
Carrie grinned. 'Just because Gray's the Trader these days doesn't mean I've started working like that, Dom. I'm doing this because you asked. And because I like the idea.'
'No problem. I'll let you know when I've got them.'
Dominic nodded, pushing back his chair as he got up to go. 'Thank you.'
Carrie's voice was soft, almost gentle. 'Give her my love.'
Dominic inclined his head. 'I will. Thank you, Carrie.'
And then he was gone.
Disclaimer: TTR was created by Tyler Dion, Dominic is mine and Carrie is Graham Woodland's (used with approval).
Copyright 2003 Imran Inayat