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Tower of Babel

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The watch on David’s wrist is still glowing faintly, and the minute hand is still pointed forward, which means he’s going in the right direction. Switch had made sure he would know where he was going: if he were to get lost here, centuries in the past, and never make it back to the time door, then he would be stuck here. He didn’t want to be here a minute longer than he needed to be.

I’ll just go there, he had told her, kill Farouk, and come back out. Simple.

The minute hand twitches and bends left and starts to quiver. He looks up from his wrist to find himself at a little intersection - if a walking path with no stoplights and no signs in a past when cars weren’t even conceived of yet could be called that. Soft chattering sounds from somewhere to his right, so he takes the chance and makes his way toward it.

Someone shouts in a language he doesn’t understand, and before he can move out of the way, a figure dressed in bright robes barrels into him, at full tilt. He nearly loses his footing, but manages to stagger into his balance again, looking down to see who it is who nearly ran him over.

It’s a kid, ten years old at most, clad in loose blue robes, his head covered by a pale yellow hat. He’s bone-thin, and he meets David’s eyes with stubborn brown eyes under heavy eyebrows. 

David doesn’t understand what he says, but the child pushes him out of the way and starts running past him.

On David’s wrist, the minute hand swivels around to point back.

Wait a second.

“Wait!” He spins around. The child hasn’t made it very far, but David takes off after him anyways, double-checking the watch. Sure enough, the hand is pointing forward again, straight toward the culprit. For good measure, he hits a fist against the face, but it doesn’t move. That can’t be.

“Wait - wait up!” he calls again.

The kid looks back at him, squinting like he’s trying to decide what kind of strange animal David is, and doesn’t stop running. His stride is practiced, and David gets the feeling he’s used to running away. For someone who hasn’t run since he was twenty-six, this child is fast.

He could just teleport, but that would probably startle the child even more.

Who cares? He’s scared you before.

David grunts and picks up the pace. “Will you just stop for a second?!” He gestures to his watch, like it’s actually going to persuade the kid to stop. “I have this - do you want to look at this real quick?”

Farouk clearly doesn’t. Indeed, David strongly suspects that the boy doesn’t understand a word he’s saying. It only seems to cause him to put on more speed.

And David is not about to run after that.

“Fine -” He lurches to a stop. “Okay, fine, go ahead! I’ll catch up.” No, he will not be running today. While he’s catching his breath, he focuses on pinning down how fast the child is running.

And then, in the blink of an eye, David teleports himself in front of him, snatching him into his arms and vanishing into a secluded niche just nearby. He wraps a dome around them both, obscuring them from view and preventing the child from running off again, before finally letting go and stepping back.

“Listen,” he says, knowing his words don’t make any sense at all to the kid, “I’m not from here, okay. I know that’s obvious, but I think you’re who I’m looking for, which is kind of weird, because you’re not what I’d imagined you’d look like at all, but - um -” God, he still hasn’t caught his breath. “I just need you to stop running… just for a second.”

The kid isn’t running. He’s frozen still in place, his eyes darting like a frightened animal. Trying to figure out the situation, trying to find a way out. He says something, very slowly and clearly, in his own language.

It occurs to David that the boy absolutely believes he saw David appear out of nowhere. Maybe he thinks it’s magic, maybe he already knows about mutants - but he isn’t doubting his own reality, the way David would have. He is certain what he sees is what exists.

“Uh… I’m -” David gestures to himself. “David. And you’re…” He gestures to the child, pronouncing the word as clearly as he can, in the hopes that he’ll be able to understand. “Farouk? Your name. It’s… Farouk?”

The boy studies him, suspiciously. “David,” he says, pointing to David. And then, after a pause, pointing at himself: “Farrokh?” The name isn’t quite the one David knows him by - the second vowel shorter, the ending k sound softer, like the Hebrew ch to David’s ears. And he sounds questioning. As though he isn’t quite sure that’s what his name is supposed to be.

“Yes. Um - Farrokh.” According to this watch, anyways.

What are you waiting for? Just kill him and go back home!

Sighing, David folds his arms behind his back. He looks out into the street, watching as someone passes with no idea that the two of them are there. He looks back at the child. “Why were you running?” He makes a little running motion with his fingers, then gestures to the child again. 

The kid gives him a look like he thinks David’s an idiot. He points to himself, and then mimes picking something up, then mimes eating. Because I stole their food… obviously.

“Oh.” That doesn’t sound like a very villainous thing to do. A hungry child, stealing to eat. “Sorry.” He squints down at the child, then motions down to his own stomach with a frown. “Hungry?”

This kid’s right. You’re an idiot.

Something needy and hunted and naked flashes over the child’s face, and he crosses his arms over himself protectively, and nods. He says a single word, and David doesn’t recognize its sound - but the meaning leaks out of Farrokh’s mind and into his: Always. 

David blinks. That’s a lot easier to understand. He reaches his mind out, carefully pressing it against the child’s. “It’s okay,” he says, softly, brushing what he hopes the child takes as comfort against his mind. “It’s easier this way.”

Farrokh shifts, uncomfortable, like someone covered by a thick wool blanket. He takes a step back, carefully, and asks a question David can’t understand. It’s a different language - almost sounds like Greek. The child pauses, and tries again, in a third language David can’t place, and then - “Atah medaber ‘ivrit?”

That, he understands. Do you speak Hebrew? The child has asked, though it’s accented in a way David hardly recognises. He’s gone back two millennia, after all.

He lets out a breath of relief and pulls his mind back, and Farrokh’s presence vanishes from his consciousness. “Ken,” he replies. Yes. It takes him a second to think of the words, but they’re there. “I speak Hebrew.” This is much easier.

The child’s eyes spark with interest. “I like to learn languages. This one is very nice.” He tilts his head. “What are you?”

“A mutant . That’s what we’re called. We have powers.” He taps his fingers against the side of his head. “Mine are in here.”

Farrokh frowns at him. He doesn’t understand the word David uses to describe himself; there is no word for it in Ancient Hebrew, and he has no concept for what David means. Are you a daeva?” he asks.

That’s a word David doesn’t know, but in Farrokh’s mind it means something like demon. An image flashes through David’s mind - the Devil with Yellow Eyes, leaning over the child, laughing at him, its claws outstretched - and David rubs a hand over his eyes to dispel it.

“No.” He repeats the word in his mind: a wall meant to shield the both of them from the very idea of the Devil. “No. Better. The opposite.”

Farrokh’s eyes are full of suspicion and a cynicism beyond his years. After a moment, he responds. “I never believed in angels.” 

“Even better than angels,” David says. He’s reminded of what the older Farouk - the Farouk he knows - told him. “We don’t follow orders. We give them. Like God.” He pauses for a moment. “We are God.” The word he uses is Shadai: we are the Almighty. 

This, it seems, is a lie Farrokh is more willing to believe. He takes a step forward. “Then why are you here? Here, of all places, in this backwards little town at the edge of the Empire?”

“I came to find you.” But David is able to quiet the voices muttering about killing him, and that’s better than he asked for. It won’t hurt, stepping into this role for a little bit. “You’re… important to me, that’s all.”

“To you,” Farrokh repeats, watching him. David gets the sense that, true to character, at least part of Farrokh is very willing to believe that he’s been chosen by a God. But he’s still wary. “What do you want with me?”

This is where David hesitates - only for a brief flicker of a moment, but a flicker nonetheless. As much as lying is easy, excuses come slower to him. “I wanted to make sure you were on the right path. Your life.”

Farrokh laughs at him. He crosses his arms and tilts his chin up, like he’s trying to make himself taller, projecting false confidence. “Try again.”

David frowns. “I know you. I know what you’re going to be, and I don’t like it. And I think you do, and I don’t know why.” Not to mention, he had come back to stop it completely. Right now, he doesn’t feel much like killing Farrokh. Not when he’s so young. He’d told Switch to bring him back before Farouk had his powers, and he hadn’t thought, hadn’t realized that that would be when Farouk was a kid. After all, he had been over thirty when he realized he had powers. “I’m trying to figure out how to stop it.”

Farrokh frowns, the confidence fading. “Why should I trust you?” he asks, but he sounds a lot less certain now. He doesn’t know what he’s going to be, hasn’t decided yet - maybe hasn’t even realized he has a choice in the matter. 

David knows - knows that the child hasn’t no reason to trust him, and shouldn’t trust him. “Because… years after you become what you become, you’ll know me, too.” It sounds ridiculous, but he finds nothing funny about it. “For many years, like I know you. Maybe even better.”

Farrokh steps closer, and now he’s only about a yard away from David. Close enough to kill, says a voice in David’s head. 

“So now what? You tell me what to do, like the priests at the temple, like my parents, like those idiots chasing me?” There’s a hint in his mind, when he says the word ‘parents,’ of past tense. He used to have parents. Now they’re gone. 

“I could do that,” David replies. He doesn’t want to give the child the impression that he’ll stand idly by. That hadn’t been his plan in the first place - and his mind rings with other voices, hissing ‘or, or, or.’ “I’m able to do that, in ways you don’t even know. You don’t want me to?”

Farrokh is silent for a moment. “I’ve been on my own for awhile now. And I’ve been making it work. I’ve got plans. Why should I listen to what adults tell me to when they’re never around to help me out?”

“I know more than those adults. And I can do more than any of them can imagine, so…”

Kill him.

David scowls and straightens up. “What are your plans, anyways?”

Farrokh shrugs, looking at David sidelong as if he’s deciding whether he can be trusted. “People will believe anything, if you tell it to them the right way. If I do it right - I won’t need to keep stealing. I’ll just need to steal enough that people think I’m the right kind of person to give money to.” He smiles that familiar white-toothed smile, but on this Farrokh it’s less a grin of cruel superiority and more one of smug mischief. “Sell them one thing and give them another. It’s all about language. If you say the right words, they’ll believe you.”

Somehow, the kid manages to sound both almost exactly like he sounds in the future - in David’s present - and like an entirely different person. This is not the power-corrupted Farouk that David knows - far from it. Only a young boy whose only worry right now is about where his next meal will come from. But it’s familiar enough that David frowns. “Right… and then what? I mean, after you make them all believe you’re the right person to give things to - then what?”

“Then? Then I’ll be safe. All I want is what they have.” Farrokh jerks his head back in the direction of the city - or perhaps it’s a village. “What’s the word? Security.”

David thinks back to his past: to his father, defeating Farouk and banishing him to the Astral Plane. “And if that’s not enough?”

“What more could I want?” Farrokh asks, frowning up at David. 

David presses his lips together. “Nothing. I guess that’s all you want.” A lie: but then, he can’t go telling Farrokh what he’ll become. “For now, you’re here.”

“And you’re here,” Farrokh says, lifting his chin and looking David in the eyes. “So. What are you going to do to me?”

With a sigh, David straightens himself up. He looks down at the child and frowns.


 Switch’s watch is pointed straight forward, toward the busy bazaar. She’d had it tuned to David’s signal, in case he happened to get lost in the past. And apparently, seeing as it’s been a few hours since he disappeared through the thousand-year-old time door, he has gotten lost. She can’t say this surprises her that much.

She enters the large market. It’s reminiscent of the certain outdoor markets that she used to visit as a child, even though the structure and language and wares are different. 

What strikes her most, though, is that much of the crowd has stopped in front of one particular area, and are now chattering and gasping at something out of her sight.

Switch checks her watch.

It’s pointing straight toward it.

She heads around the crowd. She doesn’t particularly want to witness David killing a child - not even Farouk. It was a distasteful plan when he’d posed it, but she’s not one to argue with someone capable of waving her out of existence. If he thought this was a good idea, then it was a good idea. But if he’s killing Farouk - then what’s with this reaction?

When she finally snakes past the crowd, she sees them. David, leaning over a makeshift table, a coin in his hand and a grin on his face. Beside him is a young boy, not more than nine or ten, speaking to him in a language she can’t recognise. Actually, she can’t recognise anything that anyone is saying, but that’s beside the point.

Frowning, Switch steps up beside them. “David?”

The boy looks up, suspiciously, at her. He looks back at David, as if trying to judge from him how he should react.

David flips his hand, and in an instant, the coin is gone. While the crowd mutters among themselves, he turns his attention to the boy - and then, finally, notices Switch. “Oh. What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?” she asks right back, confused.

“I’m doing magic. Look.” He snaps his fingers, and the coin falls from the sky, landing in his hand again, which causes more clamor in the crowd.

Switch blinks. That doesn’t help at all. She looks down at the child. “Who’s this?”

“This is Farouk,” David says.

“Farrokh,” the child corrects.

“Farrokh. Whatever. I think his name’s different. Was different. Is… different.”

“This is?” Right. She doesn’t understand a single thing going on right now. “Why are you doing magic - I thought you said you were going to…”

“He’s hungry,” David answers, like he didn’t even hear the last thing. “I’m distracting them so I can get some money and food for him.”

“What?”

David tosses the coin over the crowd. To Farrokh, he says something. Switch is sure she hears her name in there.

The boy bows, very formally, to Switch, and says something that has the rhythm and shape of Mandarin. She blinks, and looks to David for a translation.

Some discussion follows between David and Farrokh. “He says it means ‘Hot Dumplings Sold Here Every Tuesday.” David scratches his head. “I think that’s the only Chinese he knows.”

Well, it didn’t sound like Chinese. But she offers the child as genuine a smile as she can muster, knowing that this is apparently the one who David has been trying to stop this whole time. “Uh - so… when are you going to…”

It’s David’s turn to look at Switch in confusion. It only lasts a second before he finally gets it. “Oh. Yeah. I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“He’s not too bad. Did you know he lost his parents?”

“Okay -” This isn’t going anywhere. She turns to Farrokh, but speaks to David. “Can you tell him we have to leave soon?”

He does.

Farrokh’s posture stiffens, and he lifts his chin, and he says something to David in a tone that’s supposed to be brave and cocky, but doesn’t quite hit the mark.

David looks at Farrokh and frowns. For several seconds, that’s all he doesn’t, without answering. He looks at Switch. “Maybe we shouldn’t leave him.”

“What, do you mean, like, stay here?”

David shrugs. He turns to Farrokh and says something.

Farrokh’s answer is, cautiously, affirmative. 

David smiles and looks back at Switch. “He says he’ll come with us.”

“Where?”

“To the future.”

Switch looks between the two of them. It hasn’t been that long since David got here. “You’re taking him with us?”

David nods. He leans over, muttering to Farrokh. 

Farrokh blinks up at him, and then over at Switch, and then, slowly, takes two steps towards David, then two faster ones, and then he’s throwing himself at David and hugging him. David looks surprised and unsure what to do, but soon enough, he melts into the hug, wrapping an arm around the child and setting his chin on his head.

The sight makes Switch smile, even in spite of herself. She crosses her arms, stepping back. “The time door isn’t too far.”

Farrokh says something to David, holding up a finger, and then vanishes back into the bazaar stall. A few moments later, he emerges with a threadbare bag, holding, presumably, whatever belongings he wants to bring back to the future. In heavily accented English, he says, “I’m ready!”

Switch raises her brows, looking to David. He’s smiling, and reaches down to pet Farrokh’s hair. “Um - good,” she says, unsure what else to say. And then she turns, setting off in the direction of the time door.