It had only been a week, and Dr Curtis Connors was already beginning to realize just how much of an eternity ten years was going to be. He should feel grateful. He’d been given a free pass, of a kind. It could have been life, had they charged him with murder. It could have been life.
The trial kept playing in his head, over and over, like a film shone through the projectors of his eyes. Every surface was a screen, and in them he could see the reflection of his mistakes. He’d had more in his favour than he probably deserved. He was a respected scientist. He had a wife and child (don’t think about that don’t think about his eyes oh Billy don’t cry please don’t cry I never wanted this), and a crippled limb. How sad he must have looked, standing at the podium with his tired eyes—so full of guilt that he just wanted to collapse in on himself and slither away into the hole where he belonged.
Then, of course there was the charge itself. No one seemed to be able to wrap their heads around it. “Mad Scientist Transforms Himself Into Giant Lizard, Terrorizes New York.” Only those who had actually seen him could really believe it. Hallucinations. Hysteria. The human mind would create any excuse to explain away the impossible. That had worked in his favour as well. How could they know how much he had truly been in control of himself between the time of the first injection and the release of the antidote on the top of Oscorp tower? His lawyer had told him to plead not guilty by means of insanity. The words tasted like lies before they even left his lips.
It hadn’t felt like insanity. His thoughts had never been clearer, his will never stronger. The reptilian mind worked like a machine, and it had been so liberating and so intoxicating that he’d never wanted it to end.
They’d bought it, to a degree. Insane or not, he’d endangered hundreds (thousands, hundreds of thousands) of lives, caused massive destruction to public and private property, injured dozens of people—some severely—used biological weapons, and murdered George Stacy. Somehow, all of that boiled down to manslaughter. There was still the crime of scientific misconduct—the one crime which he had been in full control of his faculties to commit—and that had added to the sentence, but all in all it could have been worse.
It could always be worse.
He had the chance of parole, in time, with good behaviour. And early release. He should be grateful.
He just felt cold.
It was as if there was something missing inside him now. Maybe it was passion. What did his studies—his research, his life—mean now? Even if he got out in eight years, who would he be? What would he be? Who would take him with that kind of black mark on his name? He’d never quite realized that when you’re at the top, the bottom is an awfully long way down. And the fall had been swift and steep.
Billy would be twenty-two when his sentence was met. He’d be an adult, and Curt was afraid that he wouldn’t know his son anymore. He could feel Billy slipping through his fingers. How lucky he’d been, and he’d never realized it. All he’d cared about was being whole—regaining his arm with powers of cross-species genetics. Yes, he wanted to help cure the world of his ills. Was there anyone who could call themselves human who didn’t wish the world could be a better place? Was there anyone who wouldn’t fight for change when they had the power to make it happen? There had been selfless as well as selfish desire in his pursuit, but that selfishness had cost him everything he’d ever cared about.
Who was he now? A lonely old man. A fool. A failure of a scientist. A failure of a father. A failure of a mentor. He could have made amends for Richard’s sake when his friend’s son had appeared at Curt’s door—spirited, talented, brilliant, and looking desperately for guidance. He could have killed Peter (almost had). Would he have even felt remorse?
Curt shuddered, curled up under the thin sheets of his cot. What a sight he must be! How weak. How pathetic. He hated himself for becoming this. He’d been so strong. So strong. Strong…
No! No. No. Not that path, not there (it’s too dark too dark down there).
He wondered, more frequently as of late, if Peter’s antidote had really worked. He wondered if it was possible to truly purge all of the reptile from his DNA. What if it was still there? Whispering. Waiting.
He felt so cold. He couldn’t move. It was like he was paralyzed, or in that state of half-sleep where you are aware of your body but cannot move it, and are not sure what is real and what is dream. The lizard had him in its grip and he was ill-equipped to resist its brutal desires. It wanted what he wanted, after all. But it wanted more honestly, more ruthlessly.
Or was it just his mind, playing tricks on him, making him suffer? Was there ever a lizard in his mind, or had it been just Curt all along? It was hard to say, here in the dark, cold, loneliness of his cell. The nights crept by so slowly, and every shadow leapt up at him with whiplash tails and gleaming claws. Lizards had never frightened him before, but then again, he’d never been one before. Now he knew that there was everything to be frightened of about lizards.
And everything to be frightened of about himself.
He wondered if ten years was enough. It was less than he deserved. He’d murdered Gwen’s father. He’d damaged her forever in ways that could not be repaired. He’d damaged Peter as well. That boy had lost every father figure in his life, and Curt had only added to that tragedy. He mourned for the future that had been lost. They could have grown so close, done so much, if only he hadn’t been such a fool. Peter could have been like a second son to him, and he’d lost that chance completely when he’d chosen to put that needle in his arm. Ten years could never be enough.
Too much. Too much.
He was frightened of what the future held. He was frightened of spending three thousand, six hundred and forty-three more days pacing around a cement prison that he could cross from wall to wall in three strides. He was frightened of being shut away, silenced, and forgotten. He was frightened that they really would forget. Perhaps Martha would find someone else. Perhaps she would remarry. Perhaps Billy would have a new father, and he would be a better father and a better husband than Curt had ever been.
He was horribly, deathly afraid that Curt Connors would be forgotten and only the Lizard would remain. How could he hold on if there was no one who cared? What was there to stop him from slipping back into that skin? He didn’t need anyone but himself like that. He was strong. Beautiful. More than human. Better in every way.
No, no. Not every way. A lizard feels no love. A lizard has no heat. Their blood is cold and it chills every part of them. The brain is more cunning, the senses are sharper, and the body moves like oiled clockwork, but there is something missing that Curt would rather die than lose again, because now he knows the cost of purpose without cause and breathing without stopping (just to remind yourself of what you are).
It’s not his thought. It can’t be his thought. He’s learned his lesson. This is a path he can’t go down. There are only tears down that road.
But a lizard cannot cry.
“I’m not—!” he starts, and bites his tongue. There is no lizard, like there was no man in the shadows. That was only a memory. Just a memory.
“I’m so sorry,” he says to the darkness, and anything that might be listening. “I only wanted…to be whole.”
And you are.
“This is not wholeness.”
It is who you are.
“This isn’t what I wanted.”
Yes it is.
Curt shut his eyes to the shapes moving in the shadows and covered his ears, forcing his thoughts to be silent. It was all in his head. It was a half-sleep. A waking-nightmare. In the morning these phantoms would be gone and the madness of night would be just another shadow on his brow.
But the nights were so long, and he was so cold, and there were so many nights left to endure. What if he truly went mad? Then he would never leave this cage. It would just be him, and the reptile in his mind, until the day he died.
Won’t let us die.
He needed help. He didn’t need prison. He needed Martha and Billy—and yes, Peter too—to help him pull through this. He needed warmth. He needed a heartbeat pressed against him, because he couldn’t feel his own. He feared that he had never been cured at all, that he was still a lizard beneath this human skin, and his blood was cold.
And if it is? What will you do?
Curtis Connors closed his eyes, and, as the silence thickened around him, drifted into fitful dreams of reptilian eyes and spiders’ webs—his heartbeat slow as death.