Farouk woke up, and found himself already sitting up. He blinked, and looked around him. He was sitting on the stairs of an old house, with a country road stretching out past him. He got slowly to his feet, and looked down at himself. He was wearing strange clothes - a tunic in a style that might have been Indian, or perhaps an Englishman’s idea of India, a loose scarf and beads around his neck. He frowned, pulling off the scarf and staring at it.
“Where did you come from?” he muttered, half to the scarf and half to himself.
The sound of a car startled him, and he looked up to see a pick-up truck rolling to a stop in the driveway in front of the house. A middle-aged woman in a pantsuit got out of it, walked towards the front door, and stopped as she saw Farouk standing there.
“Ah, hello?” she said, uncertainly. “Do you - live here?”
Farouk looked back at the house. There was something familiar about it, something that struck a note deep down in his soul. But he couldn’t place it - and something told him that if the house had once been his, it was no longer. “No,” he said, eventually.
“Good, because I thought this was supposed to be the house I bought. It’s a bit of a fixer-upper, but - uh, what are you doing here, then?” She cast a skeptical eye over his clothing.
Farouk blinked. “To be honest with you, madame... I couldn’t tell you.”
“Then maybe,” the woman said, raising an eyebrow. “You could be on your way? This is my property now.”
“If you insist,” Farouk said. He turned, and walked away.
As he did, he was suddenly aware of something wrong, that at any other time he would have punished the woman for her insolence, for her evident low opinion of him. Killed her, perhaps. But now -
Something had changed.
When he tried to think of what could have caused it, he met a vast, terrifying blank. The last he remembered, he had been in Morocco in 1953, awaiting a visit from Charles Xavier, the British telepath. And then -
He stopped and turned back to the woman. “Tell me, madame - what year is it?”
She frowned back at him. “Um - 1989.”
Thirty-six years. He had lost thirty-six years, and he was lost in a foreign country, and something inside of him was irreparably changed.
“Khadavaand, cheh atefavah baraayeh man aaftadeh ast?” he asked himself, quietly.
God, what has happened to me?
Farouk is on his knees, looking up. His knees hurt, as if he’s been here for a long time. David is sitting above him, in a paisley armchair that looks like a throne, and all around them there are women dancing and laughing. The air is thick with blue smoke.
“You know,” David says, uncrossing his legs and leaning forward over his thighs. “You should’ve known better than to think you’d actually beat me, when you came here.” He offers Farouk a smile, but it’s not reassuring. “Right?”
Farouk laughs. “Are you sure that is what I wanted? Perhaps I wanted this. Perhaps this was my plan all along.” He can’t remember if that’s true or not - but, after all, lying has never bothered him.
“No.” David shakes his head, a tight smile on his lips. He, it seems, doesn’t seem to think this funny at all, and lifts his hand. For a moment, he stares down at Farouk as though he’s going to pry into his mind. Then he lowers his hand, letting out a gentle laugh. “No, that wasn’t your plan. You wanted to stop me, but that went wrong. And now you’re here.” His smile fades again. “You needed help. But don’t worry. That’s what I’m doing. I’m helping.”
“Yes,” Farouk says, his eyes sliding shut. “Helping.” He knows this is wrong - but he can’t bring himself to care. Everything around him feels bright and blurred, off-kilter, like the first time he smoked opium, smoke in his lungs choking him and filling him up with warmth and light. His sunglasses are gone. He’s not sure where he last saw them or how long he’s been here.
“I’ve done this before, you know,” he comments aimlessly. “When we were one. When it became too much for me to bear - my imprisonment - I disappeared into you. I let your thoughts become mine. It’s tempting, isn’t it - to not exist?”
David tilts his head. “It used to be,” he says, and he sounds distant, off in his own thoughts. “But that was before I knew what I was.” He looks back at Farouk. “But I won’t let you disappear into my mind. That’s the last thing I’m going to do. No - you’re going to keep existing. For me. And in return…” He smiles wryly. “I’ll make you better.”
“Let me - ” The words slip out of Farouk’s mouth before he can quite stop them, and he shuts his eyes for a moment, still fighting for composure. A voice in his head, the echo of David’s, says: You don’t deserve composure.
“When I was a child, I had a fever,” he mutters, in Farsi. “My hands felt just like two balloons. Now I’ve got that feeling once again - I’ve become - ”
He opens his eyes and looks up at David. “I wonder … do you want me to want this? To accept your gift of peace? Or do you want me to keep fighting - to be the dragon you must subdue? Every hero needs a villain, after all.”
“It doesn’t matter to me what you think I want. What matters is that this happens.” He waves around the large room, and a wisp of smoke drifts past his hand. No one else seems to notice the conversation even happening. “Because once I fix you, the war will be over. And we’ll both be happy.”
A shiver runs through Farouk’s body, bone-deep. He wants to keep fighting as much as he wants to give in. As long as he keeps fighting, he’s still himself. But if he can give in - if he can allow himself to surrender -
It’s the fear that clears his brain, just for a moment, and he looks around him, as if seeing the compound for the first time. There are men and women laughing, dancing, working around the camp. Like him, Farouk knows, they’re controlled - and he laughs because it’s so familiar.
“What about them?” he asks David. “Your followers, your acolytes. My comrades in bondage. What should I think of them? What should they think of me? They aren’t part of our war. Do you wonder, what they would think of you for this?”
“The only person whose judgement matters in this scenario,” David says, “is me. My judgement. No one else’s.”
As if on cue, several of his followers stop what they’re doing and look over at Farouk, gazes simultaneously blank and filled with suspicion. Then, after a beat, they look away again, giggling and dancing off to focus on something else.
David scoots forward in his chair, leaning down at reaching out to place both hands on either side of Farouk’s head, forcing him to look up. “Only me. And if you try to fight me, you’ll regret it. I’m only trying to help you.” His gaze softens. “Something went wrong with you, a long time ago. I just want to make sure it’s gone. You’ll thank me.”
Farouk’s eyelids slip down, his eyes half-shut. David’s hands are warm and strong on either side of his face. David’s eyes, bright and blue and cold, are on his. What he is most aware of, right now, is the sense of contentment that spreads throughout his mind. He knows it’s artificial, but he clings to it greedily - the absence of that gnawing hunger, that craving for sensation, that has followed him his whole life. Everything he needs is right here - in the palm of David’s hand.
“Of course I will,” he says, softly. “I will do whatever you want.” His eyes slip shut. “I will not have a choice,” he says, and he doesn’t sound entirely unhappy about that.
Tonight, David had decided to keep their room quiet. It wasn’t unlike him to bar the doors so that others couldn’t come in, but more often than not, he kept from silencing the sounds of the halls outside. He wondered if David’s followers could hear them as they could hear his followers. Perhaps it did not matter.
Beside him, David rolled over onto his side to face him and reached a bare arm to rest over his chest. “Don’t worry,” he murmured, his fingers tickling over Farouk’s skin. “No one minds.”
Farouk looked over at him, fondly. David’s hair was a mess, falling over into his eyes, and Farouk reached out to brush it out of his face. “It doesn’t matter. They are not real. Only we are.”
David offered him a fond smile. The corner of his lip twitched, and he moved his hand up to brush his thumb across Farouk’s nose. “You’re right. Only we matter. This room, these bodies, our minds.” He tapped his nose once and withdrew his arm. “You’re getting it.”
Farouk smiled at him. For once in his life, there was no malice or artifice in it. David wouldn’t have allowed that. He couldn’t remember ever feeling this content, David close and warm and smiling at him. David saw him, and he needed that.
The words slipped out of his mouth without a thought. “I love you.”
David shifted beside him, pushing himself up on one elbow and looking down at him. He frowned faintly, snaking his hand back up to the side of Farouk’s head. “I didn’t tell you to say that,” he said, after a pause.
“You didn’t have to,” Farouk said, sleepily. He didn’t move, looking passively up at David. “It’s true.”
David’s fingers press slightly harder into his head. Then he shakes his head and draws in a breath, as though finally realizing that Farouk is telling him the truth, and smiles calmly. “Okay.” He lowers himself back down, pressing against Farouk’s side. “I believe you.”
Farouk is trying to get away. His back is pressed against the walls of the commune, and his heart is pounding, and his face is wet with tears.
He has felt like this before, in David’s body, but it was - different. It was David’s distress, not his own. David’s panic, not his. But now it’s overwhelming, his thoughts trapped, cycling back to the same thing, unable to progress.
He has to get away from David, and he doesn’t know if it’s for his own protection or David’s. All he knows is that he has to get away. He can’t stand here and know what he’s done, can’t bear to live with the blood on his hands. “Lutfa - ” he manages, unable to summon English to his tongue. Please.
“Oh, no.” David chuckles. He’s several steps in front of Farouk, one hand outstretched, all but two fingers splayed out - the physical proof of his grasp on Farouk’s mind. “No, there’s no ‘please’ for you. There was never a ‘please’ for me. I just don’t think you deserve it.” He grins and takes another step forward, reaching out with his free hand to lean against the wall overhead. “And what I say goes. Remember?”
David’s fingers twitch, and the pain worsens for what feels like an eternity, then lets up slightly. Farouk crumples back into himself, making a choked noise of pain. “Nein,” he says. “Nein, nein, nein - Ich kann nicht - ” Guilt and shame grip him, and he knows just enough to put the names to them. He knows they’re not his, that David is putting them in his head, but they feel so real, so sharp. He wants to be sick. He wants to tear his skin off.
“This is what you did to me,” David hisses through his teeth. An image runs through Farouk’s mind, of a teenage David hiding under his covers back in the old house, staring in terror at the shadows against the walls and the floor. Instead of tears running down his cheeks, it’s blood. “This is what you did. Don’t you think that was wrong of you?” Another image: this time, of David in the middle of the trial room, lasers pointing at him from all angles, a knife at his bloodied throat, with no one holding it. Farouk can feel the pain in his eyes and his throat as though it’s his own. “This is what it felt like.”
Farouk shudders and shuts his eyes, trying to keep control of himself. The sight of David in pain cuts him to his core, the way it never did before. “This - this is what it feels like, then,” he manages, his voice ragged. “Peshimani. Remorse.”
“This,” David says, and although Farouk doesn’t see him move his fingers, he feels the guilt more strongly, “is what you should have felt all along. I’m fixing it all up for you.” He crouches down, and the pain fades. “You should thank me.”
Farouk laughs, a hysterical edge to it. He can’t sort through the thoughts in his head, can’t put one in place to say it out loud. Is this what it feels like to be David. “Do you want me dead?” he asks.
David clicks his tongue. He reaches out and pulls Farouk’s chin up to look up at him, and Farouk can see the sudden softness in David’s eyes. “No. Of course I don’t want you dead. I want you alive, and here.” His grip tightens. “I want you to feel every single thing that happens to you. I want you to learn from it. And you will.”
Farouk sees something in those eyes that he desperately craves - and yet right now he can’t accept it. “I cannot live like this. Not forever. How could I?” He’s thinking of the power cord, David’s fear and terror, in the dimly lit bedroom. He will do the same thing, if David does not release him from this suffering.
The look David gives him, filled with sorrow and pity, is enough to tell Farouk that he had heard the thought.
“You have to,” David says, running his thumb along his cheek. “I won’t let you leave me again. You’re my phantom.” He pulls away and stands. “I just have to make you good.”
And then he waves a hand, and the pain returns, worse than ever.
Farouk reaches out, without thinking, and pulls David close, clinging to him. David, his only anchor, the only real thing left in the world. “Mut’asefem,” he says. I’m sorry. “Mut’asefem, mut’asefem - ” and the Farsi words feel foreign on his tongue, he feels like someone else, just a shadow of David.
In return, David curls his arm around Farouk’s neck, holds him close. It would be comforting if it weren’t so tight, and if David’s nails didn’t dig into his shoulder. “That’s what I want to hear,” he says. His voice is soft, but the pain continues, moving to the back of Farouk’s head now. “Say it again.”
“I’m sorry,” Farouk says, forcing the words into David’s language. Is he choosing to say it, he wonders, or is David making him? Is he himself right now, or simply a puppet? “I’m sorry.”
The pain fades, and Farouk’s head is left throbbing. David lets go and moves back, a content smile on his face. He reaches down, taking Farouk’s hand, and Farouk’s mind is instantly flooded with contentment. “See? That wasn’t so bad.”
Farouk breaths in, going limp against the wall. David’s manipulations match with the rush of endorphins that flood into him as the pain fades. He wipes the tears off of his face and tries to straighten his clothing. He is dressed in an orange coat and striped pants, a mirror of David’s outfit.
The world feels blurred and unreal again, and he reaches out for David’s mind, trying to steady himself. David’s mind wraps around his, but it’s guarded, not entirely open. Just enough to comfort him.
“Are you still sorry?” David asks quietly.
“I don’t know,” Farouk says softly, too tired to lie.
David didn’t seem like himself today. When he came in, he dragged, his eyes red and nose pink, tear stains on his cheeks, and when he approached Farouk, he did nothing but curl up at his side, sniffing.
He shook slightly, and his voice sounded hoarse when he spoke. “You won’t leave, right?”
Farouk had been in a daze, sitting there with blue smoke wreathing around him, music thrumming in his mind. But the moment David walked in, the fog seemed to clear, the music faded out, and for a moment he almost felt like himself again.
But David was in pain. It prickled at him, like a shadow of what David made him feel before. He reached out, and pulled David close, his captor’s head on his chest. “Never, joonam.” He smiled, slightly. “I wouldn’t even if I could.” It felt true. He didn’t know if David made it that way.
David rested against him, relaxing after a tense moment and sniffing. “Everyone always… leaves me. My friends, my - and then, my parents, they left me. I don’t want to be abandoned again.”
“They didn’t want to leave,” Farouk said, wrapping his arms about David and revelling in his closeness. “It was my manipulations, my coercion. My fault. Not yours.” Do I believe that? he wondered. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that this was what he had to say to keep David happy and in his arms.
David nodded against his chest, slowly. “I know. But I… I don’t know anyone anymore. Except you.” He looked up at Farouk. “I’ve always known you, my whole life.”
“I broke them,” Farouk said. “If you can fix me - surely you can fix them, as well.” He bends down and kisses David on the head. “After all - you are the hero. I still believe in you. Even if they do not.”
“I’m a good person.” David watched the wall in front of him, his expression blank and exhausted at the same time. “I deserve love. I deserve this.”
“You are,” Farouk said. He had always believed that, no matter how hard he worked to stop David from believing it. “You do.”
David seemed content with that answer, because he said no more for several minutes, continuing to lie in Farouk’s arms. Every so often, he would sniffle or adjust himself, but never did he pull away. Only when he moved his hand to take Farouk’s did he finally speak again.
“You really won’t leave?” David curled his fingers around Farouk’s hand.
“Never,” Farouk said, squeezing David’s hand. “Never.”
David’s grip tightened, the way it did whenever he rewarded Farouk with a good thought or feeling. Instead, what came was a sudden torrent of numbness deep within his mind, twisting through thoughts and impulses. It felt like David creeping through his mind and controlling it as much as it did his own volition.
“Never?” David asked. “Promise?”
“I promise,” Farouk said, feeling breathless and out of control, as if his mind was being squeezed by a giant fist. “I swear to you, on my life.”
The fist tightened. “Because you want to, right?”
“Of course I want to,” Farouk said. The words spilled out of him, and he knew he meant them. “I love you, my dear. You don’t have to keep me here. I want to be here. I need this.”
He nearly said more, but it was at that moment that the pressure let up, and David pushed himself up to sit properly. A cheery smile was back at his lips. “Good. I don’t want you to leave.”
Farouk relaxed against him, limp and tired. He looked up at David. “Will you now make the same promise of me?” he asked, very quietly. “Swear to me. Swear to me that you will not mutilate me like this and then leave me alone.”
“Of course,” David said, just as quietly. “You know I never want you to leave.” He smiled at Farouk, leaning forward to press his lips against his forehead.
Farouk let himself lie there in David’s arms, warm and safe. And then, after a moment, a note of discord entered his mind, and he frowned. “David, I - what were we talking about? There is a blankness. I can’t remember.” He tried to keep a trace of fear out of his voice, and didn’t quite succeed. “Why can’t I remember?”
“It’s okay,” David murmured, scooting closer against him. “It’s okay. It happens to me too, sometimes. It wasn’t important.”
Farouk stared into his eyes. After a moment, he said, “I don’t believe you.”
“Then it doesn’t matter,” David said. “Because I’m here to help you.” He leaned in, and kissed Farouk again, on the lips this time. “You can trust me.”
Farouk did. He knew he had no choice.
He is marching on the commune. He’s given Division Three the slip - this isn’t their business. This is between himself, and David.
The cultists are on him, and they are stronger than he expected. He kills five, ten of them, with one gesture, and then there are more. And David is there, floating above him, laughing down at him -
“Honestly,” he said, his voice dripping with disdain, “I didn’t think you were this stupid. Thinking you could come here on your own.” He gestured to himself with one hand, and behind Farouk, another cultist wraps an arm around his neck.
“You think it’s that easy?” Farouk says, and he reaches for his powers -
He was inside now, lying in bed in a rounded room that seems to be carved out of reddish stone, looking up at the ceiling. He tries to get up, and found that he couldn’t move a muscle, frozen immobile in this strange place. His heart started pounding, and he tries to scream, and he can’t do that either.
“Oh - don’t do that,” comes David’s voice from his left. But David, suddenly, was on his right, an easy smile on his face, his gaze distant, and yet entirely focused on the situation at hand. “The more you struggle, the worse it will be for you.”
Farouk looks up at David, his eyes the only part of his body he still had control of. And yet you still haven’t killed me, he thinks at David.
“I don’t want to kill you.” David scoffed, his lip curling. He reached out, placing his hand on Farouk’s chest. “I want to keep you. Isn’t that what you’ve wanted this whole time?”
A shudder runs through Farouk’s frozen body. David’s hand is warm against his chest, through the cloth of his suit. David’s eyes were bright and intense. Why? He thought.
“Because I can, that’s why.” David taps his fingers. “And because I have to. The only way we stop fighting is to agree with each other. And that’s what’s going to happen.” He smirks. “But don’t worry. You’ll be free again when this is all over. I’m not a monster. I’m not like you.”
Farouk studied David’s eyes. If this is a parley, an olive branch, my dear, you have a strange idea about how to go about it.
“It’s not an olive branch. It’s not peace, for you. It’s peaceful for me, and… well, I’ll make it as peaceful for you as I can, but I can’t make any promises. I’ll be for you how you were for me. Feeding off of me.” Farouk’s breath quickened. David leans forward, grinning now. “Except I’ll give what I take back to you. Because, like I said - I’m not a monster. See, I need you to change.”
Change? Farouk says, fighting to stay calm. Do you propose to medicate me, put me in therapy - like they would do to you?
David seemed to think on that for a moment, as though he really were considering it. “No,” he finally says. “That would be too easy for the both of us. I told you, I’m keeping you. I’m going to do it myself. Help you. Besides - they wouldn’t do it right. I know you. You’d find a way out. But here, in my care, you’ll never escape, and you’ll have the best person taking care of you. I’m the only one strong enough to restructure your whole mind.”
Restructure. Farouk shuddered again. You plan on brainwashing me, like your followers. As if I was simply another drug addict desperate for your love.
“Yes,” David replies, and this time, there’s no hint of humor in his voice. Maybe there was anger. “That’s exactly what I’m doing. But don’t worry - you won’t complain about it when it happens.”
Farouk wants to smile, to bare his teeth and laugh and show David that he isn’t bothered by any of this. But he can’t, and he is. I won’t have a choice, he thinks.
“Sometimes, it’s easier not to.” With that, David patted his chest again and stepped back. He hovered up into the air and crossed his legs, resting his elbow on his thigh and propping his chin on his hand. Here, he was level with Farouk’s frozen body. “The choice you’ll be forced to make is simple. Obey me. ‘Cause what I’m going to do is, I’m going to take those memories of yours, when you’re all fixed and finally good, and I’m going to erase them. Not everything. Just the ones with me in them. That way, you won’t be back to bother me ever again, and you won’t disturb the world like you were before my father killed you.”
Farouk forces the word out of his numbed lips. “No.” No. No. No. You can’t do this. You and I are part of the same whole. You cannot cut yourself out of me. Panic rose in his chest.
“Why not?” David asks, his tone dark. “You cut things out of me. The stories my dad used to tell. His face. It’s only fair.” He looked over Farouk. “You feel bad. I know. I’ll make you forget I ever told you, and then you won’t feel like this. I promise.”
How merciful of you, Farouk spits out, unable to move. What a kind man you are. You will destroy me and then take away even the memory of what has been done to me - so that you need never be confronted with your crimes.
Where he thought David would react with anger or frustration, he was only met with a twisted grin. “Isn’t that what you did to me? Scared me, polluted me for thirty-three years, and never let me know you were even in my head?” David leans over his legs and reaches out to squeeze Farouk’s arm. “Like I said, it’s only fair. And I’m doing this to help you. You never helped me.”
Farouk shut his eyes. Tell me, he thinks. When this is over - when you have cut me to pieces and taken out what offends you - his eyes flick open again. Will I still be the same person? Or will you have killed me, and put some doppelganger in my place?
That made David narrow his eyes, if only slightly. “You’ll still be you. You’ll just be a different you. The right one. The one that you should have been your whole life.”
How do you know? Farouk asks. What gives you the right to say that?
David chuckled. “I’m God,” he says. “And God has that right. God loves you, and He won’t give up on you. Ever.”