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Eye of the Beholder

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The second time Syd goes to Farouk’s room, just after she talks to David in the ruins of the commune, she knows what she wants. Why bother pretending? After all, he reads minds - and she doesn’t have time for any social niceties. Not with him. Me First.

She shoves open the door of his room. It’s unlocked, probably because he knew she was coming. Inside, Farouk is reclining in an armchair - how did he get that thing onboard the airship? - with a book in his hand. 

He looks up, smiling his smug little smile. “Ah, guten Morgen, Mademoiselle Barrett. Was there something you wanted?”

“You know what I want,” Syd says, flatly. “Take me to the White Room.”

“How forward of you,” Farouk says. “What makes you think that’s what I want?”

“Tell me you don’t, and I’ll leave,” Syd says. “Just don’t waste my time.”

Farouk sighs, dramatically, and makes a show of putting a bookmark into his book and setting it down neatly on his bedside table. “If you insist, my dear, I suppose I can accommodate you.” He snaps his fingers, and the world around them fades away, replaced by the White Room.

Syd is lying in bed, clad not in nondescript white clothing, but in her Clockworks uniform. She sits up, and toys with the zipper of her jacket. “Why did you put me in this?” she asks.

“Because that’s how I saw you the first time,” says a voice next to her.

Adrenaline sparks down Syd’s spine, and she’s out of the bed before she quite knows she’s moved, grabbing the sheet tight to her body. She stares down at the man on the bed, at the smug, smiling face of - 


“Miss me?” David says, grinning. 

Syd holds very, very still, running the situation through her mind, calculating all the angles. Slowly, she says, “You’re not David. You’re Farouk.”

David shrugs. “I’m him . . . I’m me . . . I’m everything he wants to be.” He shoots her a sly smile. “Come on. You’re the one who said I know what you want. Well - I’m right, aren’t I? This is what you want. You want me, not Farouk.”

Syd studies his painfully familiar face. After awhile, she says, “This isn’t about what I want. This is about what you want.”

David turns his head away and gives a self-deprecating little smile. “Maybe. Does it matter, if it’s the same thing? It’s like you said. Reality is a choice.”

“You think this is what I want?” She lets out a harsh half-laugh. “Some kind of, of - masquerade?”

“No,” David says, and rolls his eyes. “Come on, keep up, Syd. You want what I want. What Farouk wants.” He steps closer. “Me. The real me. The way I used to be.”

Syd looks up at him, and for a moment she doesn’t see Farouk, doesn’t see the cold, calculating parasite, nor does she see the power-mad, narcissistic cult leader David has become. She sees David’s soft blue eyes looking down at her, the same way he looked at her back in Clockworks. When everything seemed so simple. When she thought he could save her. 

“We can’t go back in time,” Syd says, looking down. “That’s what he wants. But it’s not possible.”

“No,” David agrees. “But we can pretend, for awhile.” He puts an arm around her shoulders, moving slowly, gently. At her speed, like David used to. 

A sob grips her chest, and she shoves it away. She looks back up at him, and he’s right there, just like he used to be, just as sweet and just as gentle as he used to be. As she used to believe he was.

“I love you,” she says, her voice shaking.

“I know.” David pulls her close, and his arms are strong and warm and safe. Very quietly, he says, “So do I.”