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Time Is A Wealth Of Change

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The cave is calm and quiet. David prefers to spend most of his time here and not— Elsewhere. Not the commune, filled with happy thoughts but so much noise and chaos. Not the outside world, all cold glares and sharp edges. He doesn't belong out there, he never did. He doesn't want the world, and the world sure as hell doesn't want him.

It doesn't matter. Soon everything will change, everything will be better. He'll be better, the world will be better, once Farouk never—

No, happy thoughts. Focus on the sounds of soothing nature, birdsong and babbling brooks and a gentle breeze through a canopy of trees. Feel the currents of happiness swirling through the commune and let them—

There's a noise from inside his house. He tries to ignore it, but there's another noise, and muffled words. He lowers his feet to the ground and marches over to the little green house, yanks the door open.

"You're not supposed to be here," David says, angrily. "Get back inside!"

It's them, of course. His dopplegangers. He's not sure what they are, except— Insanity. His madness warping reality around him, hallucinations with minds of their own.

They call themselves Legion, collectively. David's not sure how many of them there are. Sometimes it feels like his head is just like the commune, with new people turning up all the time, uninvited and demanding.

He tends to stay out of his own head, these days. Too much noise and chaos.

"We're having tea," one of Legion says, with a thick Scottish accent. They all look the same, but they act differently, talk differently. This one calls himself Daibhidh.

"You can have tea inside," David insists. He glares at them.

"It's fine," says another of Legion, one of the ones who say they're women even though they're, well— Him. She goes by Davida. "No one's here. If anyone comes, we'll hide."

"Gettin' kinda cramped in there," says Dvd.

"And whose fault is that?" David asks, tersely.

"Yours, probably," Divad smirks.

David narrows his eyes at Divad. Divad and Dvd were the first of Legion to show themselves. They helped him, at least at first. And then after his entire life collapsed in an epic disaster, they introduced him to the others.

Insanity. There's no cure for his sickness, just— Palliative care. Painkillers to keep him going so he can end the farce of this life and— Stop the sickness at its source.

"You two," he says, point at Divad and Dvd, "are supposed to keep things under control." They're supposed to be the Lenny for his mental hallucinatory commune, not— Popping out for tea.

"And you're supposed to find a time traveller," Divad says, not backing down. "How long has it been since you were even remotely sober?"

"Fuck you," David snarls. Sober's the last thing he wants to be.

"It's been months," Divad says. "We all agreed, this is the only solution. Are you chickening out on us?" He makes a clucking noise, mocking him.

David grabs Divad's teacup and throws it against a wall, smashing it. "Get. Back. Inside."

"Or what?" Divad says, boldly.

"Is there gonna be a tussle?" Daibhidh asks, eagerly. "Been a while since we had a good rammy."

Dvd intervenes. "We gotta stay focused." He pulls Divad back and shoves a fresh teacup into his hands. "Let us have our fucking tea and then we'll go back in our boxes, okay?"

"Fine," David mutters. He rubs his head. When the drugs start to wear off, he always gets a headache. Blue smoke starts exuding from his skin and he breathes it in, deep breaths, filling his lungs.

He's calm, he's fine. Everything's fine. He's the magic man.

Davida joins him, abandoning her tea for something stronger. Daibhidh sighs, then does the same. Dvd starts over, but Divad holds him back. Dvd rolls his eyes but stays put.

And then David's head spikes with fear and terror. Instantly all of Legion vanishes, teacups crashing to the floor. David clutches his head and struggles to block out the blinding psychic pain. And then he hears Lenny's mental scream for help.

Lenny. He focuses on her, and then he's there with her.

The commune is even more chaotic than usual. People are crying, screaming, running from— Familiar, black-clad soldiers.

Shit. Division 3 found them? Shit shit shit.

Why can't he hear their thoughts?

"Do something!" Lenny shouts at him, but that last hit is coming on strong. He clumsily lashes out, dissolving three soldiers into black dust, then stumbles forward. There's bodies on the floor, and blood. He takes out another group of soldiers, another, just trying to staunch the bleeding enough to figure out what's happening, and then—

There in the crowd, marching towards him— Farouk. David's blood runs cold, then hot with fury. He tries to dissolve Farouk, but of course Farouk blocks it. But a group of women slam into Farouk and push him into a room, and the door closes behind them.

Something smacks him on the forehead and the world turns upside-down. He falls to one knee, his vision distorted, and tries to pull off the thing that's attached itself to his head. In his swirling vision, he sees the glint of metal, and barely processes the sight of— Kerry? Is that— Kerry bearing down at him, her sword raised high, and then— Lenny blocks her with her cane and bodily tackles her.

The thing won't come off, so David starts trying to burn it out. He screams as he lights up with power, and he can feel the device starting to fail when—

Pain blossoms in his chest. He looks down and sees— Blood? A small patch and then— spreading—

Oh. Someone shot him in the back.

He's dying.

He tries to struggle to his feet, but falls against the opposite wall. Fresh pain steals his breath, and he gasps as he turns to see whatever faceless Division 3 soldier finally took him down.

But it's not a faceless Division 3 soldier. It's Syd.

It's like being shot a second time, right through the heart. For a moment, they just stare at each other, neither of them moving. Syd's eyes are cold and determined behind her orange sunglasses. David remembers— That farce of a trial, but also— Syd's eyes, hurting and disappointed but still— Having some scrap of hope for him.

There's no hope in her eyes anymore.

She racks the shotgun and raises it to fire again. This time at his head.

“Sydney,” a voice says, and Farouk steps into view. David tries to gather the strength to fight, but he can barely lift his arm. This is it. They're going to kill him, Syd and Farouk together. Of course they are.

Farouk lifts a hand and David braces himself— And then a wave of force brushes past him, and he sees Syd’s eyes widen in surprise before she vanishes.

Farouk steps towards him and pulls him to his feet. David struggles to escape, but he's too weak, and ends up leaning against Farouk just to keep from falling. "What—" he starts, rasping. The thing on his head is still working, making him disoriented, dizzy. Or maybe it's the blood loss.

“The tide of battle is turning against you," Farouk says. "We must get out of here.”

"No," David grunts. "You— You get out." He lets go of Farouk to wave his hand at Division 3's invasion force, but nearly falls and has to hold on again. He has no idea why Farouk is doing this, but— "Get them out. Then I'll—" He might be dying, but he's not leaving the commune with Division 3.

“Fine,” Farouk snaps. “All of them, then.”

The world around them blurs and warps, like melting wax, and then reforms. The Division 3 soldiers vanish and the light changes. David blinks. There are pine trees in the commune now. Big ones, growing up through the floor and out the ceiling. There are pine needles scattered across the floor.

It's beautiful. It reminds him of his childhood, and losing himself in wild nature. It makes his heart ache with longing. Or maybe that's the bullet wound in his chest.

His grip on Farouk slips and he falls to the floor, coughing up blood. Lenny, where's Lenny? He tries to call for her, but he can't stop coughing. Lenny, he calls out with his mind, and he feels her coming closer.

There are hands on his head, pulling the device off, and he feels the full force of his powers flow back in. Farouk is leaning over him, and now his hands are on the bullet wound, applying pressure, trying to stop the bleeding. David can feel the Shadow King’s mind against his, black tendrils wrapping around his thoughts.

“Focus, joonam,” Farouk says, urgently. “Find the power in yourself, and heal.”

Part of David wants to shove Farouk away and die in peace. He just wants to let go. But the other part of him is too stubborn to let go. He revolts at the feeling of Farouk's mind, the closeness of it, but grits his teeth.

"We're gods, gods don't die," Dvd says, quiet but urgent in his ear. And David feels Dvd somehow— Lending him strength. The grey edging his vision eases back, and the awful burning pain of the gunshot wound starts to lessen.

And that's when Lenny rushes up, her hammer cane raised. "Get the fuck away from him!"

Farouk looks up. “I am healing him,” he says, coldly. “She almost killed him.”

Lenny lowers her cane. "Who?" She sees David's bloody shirt, and kneels down on his other side. "Shit! What the hell?"

"Syd," David rasps. Everything still tastes like blood, but the urge to cough is fading. "Shot me."

"Bitch!" Lenny snarls. "Did you kill her?"

David knows there's no love lost between Lenny and Syd. He shakes his head, gestures at Farouk.

“She’s alive,” Farouk says, coolly. “And if she walks quickly from where I sent her, she will probably find shelter before the sun sets.”

David closes his eyes and focuses on healing. The stronger he feels, the easier it is to heal the rest of his wound. His chest glows beneath his shirt, and then— It's done. He sits up, shaky but whole. He and Lenny look at each other, and then they both look at Farouk.

Farouk lifts his head, as if he’s considering what to say. In the end, he doesn’t explain himself, but simply says, “How do you feel? Recovered?” He pulls out a handkerchief from his pocket, and starts wiping David’s blood off his hands. His sleeves are stained.

David nods, still at a loss. Is this a trick? Everything Farouk has ever done to him has been a trick. Does he know about the time travel? He must be trying to stop David from— But then why even bother saving his life?

"What do you want?" he asks, too confused to be anything but direct. "Why— All this?"

"Good fucking question," Lenny says, backing him up. She glares at Farouk in warning.

“You still think I’m your enemy,” Farouk says. “I am not.” He finishes with the handkerchief, and crumples it up. He shakes his head. “I came here to help you.”

"Why?" David asks, still suspicious.

“I told you this, before,” Farouk says, evenly. “In the cell.” He looks at Lenny as if she’s the unwelcome interloper here, not him, and then back to David. “We were one and the same for decades, my dear. I will not leave you to die, after all this time. I will not give up on you.”

David sneers in disgust. He pushes himself to his feet, steadying himself with a hand on the wall. "Great. I'm alive. Now leave before I kill you." He looks around at the destruction around them, then turns to Lenny. "How bad?"

"Bad," Lenny says, unhappily.

“You could kill me right now, you know,” Farouk says, his voice soft. “Why give me the chance to leave?”

David rounds on Farouk. "Yeah, I could," he warns, getting in his face. I will, he thinks, imagining crushing Farouk's soul when it tries to invade him as a baby. His fists curl and he itches to just— Wrap his hands around Farouk's neck and squeeze.

But killing Farouk now won't undo the damage. It's a distraction he doesn't need. "Show me," he tells Lenny, and she leads him down the hall.

It's bad. There's a lot of wounded, and maybe a lot of dead, David can't tell. He opens his mind to the commune and is immediately hit with a turbulent swirl of pain and grief and horror and panic and—

It's too much. He closes his mind against it and pushes out waves of calm and peace, and the turbulence eases. When Lenny sees everyone's sudden calm she gives David an annoyed look, but starts going around the rooms, trying to take stock.

Bring the wounded to the main room, David sends to her. I'll heal them.

You bet your ass you will, Lenny thinks back.

David sighs, rubs his head. One of the wounded commune members is sitting on the floor near his feet, bleeding badly but smiling up at him. The sight makes him feel vaguely nauseous.

“I can help,” Farouk says, quietly.

A thought occurs to David. "How did they even find us?" he asks, turning on Farouk. "Division 3, how did they find me? Was it you?"

“One of the male Loudermilk’s contraptions,” Farouk says, shrugging. “I didn’t take note of the details.”

"So they can find us again," David realizes. He's annoyed that he can't blame Farouk for all this. Everything else is his fault.

“Perhaps,” Farouk says, slowly. “They are looking for the signature of your powers. Not mine.”

David gives him a very suspicious look. "Fine. You want to stay? Heal them."

Farouk smiles, and steps forward to stand next to David, one hand on his shoulder. He shuts his eyes, and a sourceless light appears, centered on the two of them, an angelic glow. The glow spreads across the floor of the commune, and concentrates on the wounds of David’s followers. It peaks, and then fades, leaving them healed.

David— Honestly didn't expect that. He scowls at Farouk and walks off after Lenny.

"You said to get everyone together," Lenny says, confused but relieved. She's with Salmon, who has blood on her hands but he doesn't think it's her own.

"It wasn't me," David grits out.

Lenny's eyes widen. "No way."

"What's wrong?" Salmon asks.

"Everything," David mutters. "Look, Farouk says— Cary's got some kind of— Detector. If I use my powers too much, they might find us again."

"And you believe him?" Lenny asks, skeptical.

"Of course not," David says. He frowns, looking at the commune members. Between Farouk's healing and David's— Mental calming, everyone's just— Going back to what they were doing, as if nothing happened. Bloodstained clothing and bullet holes aside. "Should I—" he asks, and looks to Lenny for help.

"Did he say what he wants?" Lenny asks.

David shakes his head. Farouk said something about wanting to save his life, but— If that's it, then job done. David's alive and kicking.

The scar in his chest twinges. Syd, he thinks, and it doesn't matter how healed he is, everything hurts.

"I can't deal with this," he says, tersely. "If everything's fine, then— I'm gonna go."

"You can't just drug everybody and leave," Lenny says, upset.

"That's exactly what I can do," David says, annoyed.

"We're in the middle of a fucking forest!" Lenny says. "With your asshole parasite! C'mon, man, we need you. Get your shit together."

David grits his teeth and wishes he could just— Make Lenny as happy as everyone else. But he can't. He's tried but— Her thoughts are like steel, these days. He can't change them, can't take away her pain.

And he can't take away his own.

He walks away, stepping out of the commune and back into his cave.

Farouk silently watches him go.