He didn't fight them. Not when they found him collapsed on the streets with eyes still open after hours and hours, not when they piled him into some sort of antiseptic-smelling car and drove off with sirens echoing in his empty ears. Not when they peered at him, took his pulse, asked him questions, and realized that he would not speak.
He would have told them, but he couldn't.
He couldn't speak.
He had forgotten how to speak.
"What's your name, sir?" they said in their hurried, businesslike way, shining flashlights in wide eyes and checking him for identification.
He parted his lips to answer and found that he could not remember. Could not remember anything but a teenager's wild, mad voice crying, "You are my slave, a slave of my mind and a slave of my will; you are a puppet, a pantomimer."
Pantomimer, he mouthed, but they did not notice. I am the Pantomimer.
If they had noticed, he thought, they would not have believed.
They let him wander the hospital premises after the barrage of tests and MRIs and IVs they had administered, saying that this mime, this silent one, could do no harm.
They had taken his bag. His shoulder felt uncomfortably light without it.
They had taken his clothes. The new ones were too smooth, too airy, too insubstantial on his skin. He felt them, frail and flimsy, and thought that they were not enough.
"Enough for what?" the darkness mocked, and he did not answer. He could not answer.
He liked to sit by the fountain in the center of the hospital's lawn, staring into the water that fell in glittering arcs and translucent splashes to the pool below. It reminded him of another fountain, another life, and he would have liked to remember.
He dreamed sometimes too, odd half-waking dreams that hit him when he was both asleep and sitting in the daytime with the sun burning into the back of his neck. When he woke, he rarely recalled what they were about, but he always knew something more after them. And in a way, he enjoyed the knowledge.
He did not like to be left in the dark.
They were one mind, one person, one group of thoughts that progressed at an unbearably sluggish pace. They were one desire, Malik's desire.
They did not think on their own. It was a joke, a concept worth laughing at, to think of their own free will. They knew only that they were searching for something and that they had not found it yet, and that they would be happy when they did. They knew each other's searchings, but they did not know Malik's searchings. Malik's will and Malik's desire were secrets.
They admired that.
There was one, the Pantomimer knew, who searched for his wife. Who wore a mask over his face, red and white patterning over red and white suit, and dreamed of a woman with eyes of gray-green and hair the golden-yellow of Malik's Eye.
The Pantomimer did not have dreams. He did not have anything. He did not have desires. In a way, he did not have thoughts.
He only drank in the emotions of the others, the envy and vindictiveness of the others, and he was not aware of it.
They were jealous of him.
He did not know why.
He found that he was cradling his head in his hands, fingers pressing into his skull as if searching for something beneath it. The water of the fountain sparkled in the sunlight beneath him, hitting his eyes, but he did not look away.
He thought he had forgotten how to blink.
"Hey," a voice said, and he did not turn to see who it was. "What are you doing?"
Hands reached toward him, pried his arms away from his face and set them gently down on the ledge of the fountain. He did not resist, only remained frozen in place when they had let him go. He was accustomed to not moving for days on end, to watching the world pass by as he did not grow, did not age, did not change.
He was not living and thus, immortal.
"Are you okay?" the woman—it was a woman, he knew that much—said, touching his shoulder, and he heard the sound of her sitting next to him. "You've been here for a while."
Who are you?
"I recognize you," she continued, if softly, and slowly, slowly, he turned to her. Turned and met gray-green eyes, sad and thoughtful, and he stared. "I don't know how, but I recognize you."
I do too. The thought entered his mind, as unbidden as words leaving his lips would have been, and he gave a slight jerk backwards at it, startled. He was not accustomed to thinking.
"Do you come here often?" she asked, and he noticed, his gaze fixated on her face, that there was no fear there. There was only hope. "I'm here every day," she continued when he said nothing. "If you want to talk."
His shoulder shifted forward slightly, a breath of air escaping him—it was a laugh of sorts, forced if genuine, and as his head tipped down with the motion, he could not see her reaction.
He gave her no other answer, but he was there the next morning.
Darkness was comforting, enveloping him in arms of warm, soft black, telling him hush, hush, child, calm your weeping and your tears and I will make it stop, I will make all the bad things go away, I will protect you. Hush, cease your crying, give it all to me.
He let the knife drop to the wooden floorboards, splotched dark in the night and sticky with blood, and he sat there by the bodies and waited. He waited to see if the darkness would keep its promise.
"We are tied together by the power of the Items," said Malik, and they listened to him because they had no choice but to. Blond hair flashed in the sunlight, purple gleamed dark and menacing in the sunlight, violet eyes snapped with dangerous fervor from one hooded head to another. The deck of the ship rolled beneath them.
"Our minds are tied together, our magic is tied together, bound by the pull of our thoughts and our emotions."
It was as much a speech to show his power over them as it was a speech for him to convince himself.
But nobody said so. The Pantomimer knew that nobody else knew so.
Being emotionless, being empty, being needless, was what gave him power.
He closed his eyes, kohl-rimmed lids feeling odd as they pressed together, lashes tangling in the makeup, and he felt his mind encompass everything as the connections exploded.
Malik turned away.
The Pantomimer felt his smile.
"Did you know," she said, "that thoughts are just electrical impulses in the brain?"
His fingers were in the water of the fountain, extended to the side like legs walking and lifting in the air. No, I didn't.
She leaned over to speak to him, hair brushing against the side of his neck as she pointed to a passage in her textbook. "It's strange, isn't it," she said softly, "to think that what we say, what we do, who we think we are… it's all nothing but the flipping of the charge on the membrane of an axon, releasing chemical messengers into empty space."
He listened to her.
He wished to know.
Her finger moved along the diagram, tracing the heads and tails of molecules and tiny plus and minus signs on each side. "When you sit and try to take it all in, it's very interesting, in a way," she continued, tapping the smooth white of the page. "Our bodies are bits of carbon and oxygen and other molecules arranged together and stuck together by chemical bonds, so what makes us human? What makes us alive?"
He heard, and wondered.
He was not afraid of the darkness anymore.
He did not fear the shadows that slipped and slid through the corners of his room in the hospital, that followed him even during the day. There was no escape from the darkness, because there was no escape from the light. Even in the city, even in the emptiness of space, it was still there.
He thought sometimes of the black holes that she had told him of, so strong they sucked in the light itself. He thought of dark matter, of forces that could not be seen but instead exerted their influence through the pull of gravity, of Hawking radiation and the silent deaths of giant stars.
It was an interesting thing, to think. It felt like a stepping stone across a river, as he wobbled on it and glanced back at the shore and then toward the distance once more, but did not dare to lift his foot.
His hands shook, trembling even as the darkness took them and made them numb. His body shivered in the summer heat, head moving from side to side. Side to side, back and forth, one-two-three-four like the ticking of a clock, like the shift of the earth beneath his feet.
He watched the blood dry on the backs of his hands.
He watched the sun set.
He watched the sun rise.
His lips did not move; his vocal cords were silent. His eyes were glued open by tears and by horror, and he did not close them even when the sunlight streamed into them and cast shards of glittering pain into his head.
He was afraid.
"Stupid child," the darkness whispered. "What are you afraid of? I am here, I will protect you from anything and everything. Hush child, hush your tears, wipe your eyes and sleep. Stop your crying."
He was afraid of himself.
Wishing was the next step.
He wished he could dream.
"Why don't you talk?" she asked one day; the days were growing shorter, autumn approaching with gusting winds and the slow death of the trees around them, but he did not shiver in his thin hospital clothes. And the children who played did not care for the weather.
I don't know.
"Are you afraid?" she said softly, and set her textbook to the side and placed a hand on his arm, tentative, fingers closing around his wrist. "You shouldn't be. I'd like to know you—"
He blinked once, slowly. The pavement, the water that reflected the gray of the clouds that hung heavy and oppressive above and the blue of the sky between them, blurred before his eyes.
"And I want to know why you won't talk," she continued. His head was bowed, frozen—he was much too used to remaining where life had left him, waiting for the next push to send him tumbling into a different position—she could not see him, and he could not see her. "So, please... tell me. I don't like to see you so hurt."
Father's hand, wild eyes, drunken mouth a slash of red on his face, curses falling like rain, like droplets of air, from his tongue. And Mother's face, splattered pale with makeup and pink with blush, as she pressed herself against the door of the kitchen.
The incoherency was what drove him to his feet.
"You—you—" Father was spluttering in his rage, hands clenched into fists; Mother was hiding. Defiant.
He hated those who spoke without heed.
"Whore," Father snarled, "you—"
The cursing was what made him snatch the knife.
He hated those who did not think.
"No worse than you," Mother said, and he screamed.
They did not pay attention to him, their son not yet sixteen, not yet adult, past that stage when they needed to watch him constantly and not quite at that stage when he could be left on his own. Their useless, useless son.
The knife plunged down.
"Three of you," the darkness told him as the autumn day froze and the night never came. "There are three of you now."
I know, he wanted to say, but he had forgotten how to.
"Three to choose from," the darkness repeated. "Which one do you want?"
Lips parted, black-rimmed eyes opened. I want—
He looked up.
She looked back.
The first one pushed her off the fountain, the second one froze, and the third one whispered:
The first one smiled. The second didn't care.
"You have no control," Malik said as he paced on the deck of their ship, gold flashing on his arms and head, light purple in the midst of indigo and violet. "Even after I am done with you, even after I leave your empty bodies to rot in the streets of Domino—even after all this, I will still be your master. I will still control you."
He raised the Rod, pointed it, smiled. "And I tell you now that you will not choose who you are."
He stopped before the Pantomimer, pale lavender of his eyes alight. "You will have no problem with that, will you, Silent One? There is no more self in your body."
He grabbed the textbook, raised it above her head as she brought up a hand automatically to cover her face.
She said nothing, only looked up at him. Her eyes were disbelieving, shocked. Hurt.
"I know of your past, Silent One. It is in your nature; it runs in your blood. You were born to kill. I command you to kill."
"No," he repeated. The textbook tumbled from his fingers, coming to a rest on the pavement beside him. "No."
Stupid, the darkness howled, stupid stupid stupid boy, as the sun set and the lights came on and she grabbed at his hand in concern. "What happened? Were you going to—"
"Not me," he said, and his voice was hoarse, weak, from disuse. "But that one's gone now."
"You're talking," she said simply, suddenly, and a delighted look spread across her face.
"I am," he whispered.
She raised their interlocked hands to the red-orange incandescence of the setting sun, fingers warm against his, and it formed a black shadow framed by gold before their eyes. "Hi," she said. "I'm Cadeline. Who are you?"
"I don't know," he said.
The fountain spewed arcs of water that glittered like a thousand shards of crystal. Her smile glowed brighter. "That's okay."