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Seconds By Minutes By Hours

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"Dearest, sweet Ophelia. You won't find anything by returning to Elsinore, except an empty dollhouse. Are you a doll, to be so attracted to the toybox?"

Quince slumps back into his armchair, returning to his coffee. So confident that the conversation is closed. So certain that he is the only true player in the room. Ophelia is inclined to recognize this trait in her companion: he taught her everything she knew of solipsism after all.

The Berlin Wall is falling outside their hotel room. They've watched it fall a dozen times, kept it standing perhaps half-a-dozen, brought about three riots with a smart piece of agitprop improvised through their talents. But this play, like all others, has grown tiresome. It ends tonight, with the killing of an ideological symbol. Quince seems to think it ends in August 1991, with tanks crawling through Moscow, but Ophelia's patience runs thin.

"And what if I am?" she answers, leaning her cheek on her hand, arm cold against the window. She feels the vibrations of firecrackers and bellowing voices through the glass. But in this hotel room, the sound is muffled and the sharp-scented petrol heater keeps them safe from a bitter german autumn. "You've only shown me the same old stories. The same character flaws. The same predictable human error. The same tale told with different costumes and a different set."

"Indeed," he hums, tapping fingers on his cup. "The ensembles walk in one after the other, and their faces all go blurry after a while, don't they? Is that why you wish to go back, then?"

She's had a long time to consider this, and yet, the words do not come easily.

"Everything I encounter... passes through me. Over me. I came to hate the familiar faces of my home, but..."

"But they were the first faces you saw," he offers, gently. "And because they were the first, you thought they were unique. You thought they were human."

Ophelia leans her head back on the couch armrest, sighing.

"Cast these silly aspersions off, my dear," Quince continues. "You chose to be disillusioned with these automatons. That isn't something you can take back. We have lived a thousand lives, you and I. I've offered you all the most extraordinary gifts of this world and seen you grow bored with them. "

"Correct," she snipes, pulling a plaid over herself and turning over. "A poor reflection on your skills as an entertainer."

He hisses through his teeth, stung:

"Do you think there's any ordinary life that would satisfy you? Any decent man or woman you wouldn't chew up and spit out once you lost your appetite?" He hauls himself from his armchair and leans over her, hands framing her reclined head. She glares up at him. "There are none. I am the only person indigestible enough to withstand you."

From this close, she sees it: he's desperate. It... repulses her. This was the man who claimed he'd open Ophelia eyes and take her beyond Plato's Cave, and yet here he is, chin trembling, blood vessels ruptured. She puts her hand on his face and pushes him back, sitting up on the sofa.

"You might have a few more plays in you yet. But I have no desire to see them. Quince, I want to go back to Elsinore. And I want you to return every piece to the board."

He staggers back.

"You're serious."

There's no need to answer. It wasn't a question. He seeks his words, looking at her, at the ceiling, grabbing at his hair as he spins around the room. Finally he manages:

"A doll... You're nothing but a doll, just like the rest of them!"

Ophelia smooths her sweater and stands up, trying to appear undisturbed. And yet, this confrontation discomforts her. Quince once held complete control over her. There was nothing she could do that would surprise him, nothing she could do that he couldn't respond to with godly retribution. But he erred in allowing Ophelia to become a God too. He erred in desiring a companion, an equal. Ophelia has never seen him like this, stripped of confidence and superiority.

"I am," she asserts. "And if you could look past your ego, you'd see the dollhouse around you as well."

He breathes in deep.

"You're mad."

"So tells the tale."

They stand face to face, silent in the middle of the crummy hotel room The lull in conversation allows them to hear the brawling and shouting of Berlin, and right now, it's almost soothing. Ophelia doesn't need to repeat her request; merely holds her gaze on him, waiting for him to make eye contact.

He reaches into his pocket and pulls a ivory handled switch knife: impeccably clean. Never used in this timeline, though sullied in many others. She looks at him expectantly, waiting for him to do it. He hesitates, eyes welling with tears.

"There was a time where I might have kept you hostage..."

"When did that change?" she teases.

He holds his tongue, knuckles white on the handle. He's a wall on this topic.

"I fear I'm leaving you in a poor century," Ophelia jokes, changing the subject. "Ennui is the fashion these days. You may find it difficult to acquire a new companion."

He scoffs, wiping his tears and seeming to find some self control.

"I'm the last person you should be pitying right now." He chokes back a shudder. "Ophelia, are you certain? Are you absolutely certain?"

She puts her hands over his; the one holding the knife.

"I'm glad I'm leaving while you still hold some affection for me." Ophelia leans her chin upwards, offering her neck to the switchblade and guiding Quince's hand. "We've turned everything sour in our path, my friend. Let this be the exception."

She studies his face as he slowly adopts a sturdier expression, finding his resolve.

Then, she wakes up.