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Stitching Up The Circuitboard

Chapter Text

Hard as it is to believe sometimes, the world at large is unaffected by tragedies, even on this level. It just follows the rules of reality noted in seventh year physics and keeps on turning in its usual fashion.

It shouldn't in this instance. It should have stopped cold, as you seem to have done, drifting from one state of affairs to the other, blithely observing things around you so as to try and fail to think about something else. Even the necessary and comforting routines, like getting your puzzle as close to complete as you can, should have stilled with it, you believe. (Dr Wood would probably call this "lack of theory of mind" were he in a better mood.)

But turn it does.

This is why Dr Spieler knocks on the door and peeks in to wake you up at the usual time this morning, despite knowing full well that neither of you have been able to sleep since the event. "[Good morni- oh. Lilo, you're up already,]" she intones.
From the edges of your bedcovers, you stare back at her with groggy eyes, and without retort. You can't really blame her for stating the obvious. It'd be far worse if you weren't.

"[I'm - I think I'm supposed to have you third today, so that's gonna be about twelve. So if you could, um, get up and join the others once I get them together, and then we can...]" She pauses, fingers absently twisting her hair, presumably looking for a way to end the sentence. Then, changing it altogether, "[Oh, Kroko's pretty upset this morning. I think all this is getting to him. So, I know you wouldn't normally, but I've been asked to tell everyone, so. Try not to set him off today. ...Sorry.]"

As she awkwardly leaves and heads for the next toy, you slide your weighted feet and heaving bulk onto the floor, making sure to shift the sheets back into alignment when you do. Again, part of the routine that persists. Waking up, changing rooms, being talked to on a bed-couch hybrid, attempting once more to piece everything together... just doing something that proves that you are moving and animate and "getting better", no matter how gradually. All of you have to do it. You've had to for the past, what, year now, or two? Is that how long it has been since she dropped you off and disappeared?
To the outsider's eye, this regular arising would almost be normal, you think.

It only derails when you get into the hall and find proof of the therapist's words. The crocodile is wrapped up and shivering without cold in his blanket, staring at the door across from yours, sealed off from everyone by dark masking tape. More and more have gathered there in recent hours. The first day, it was Spieler herself and Dr Wood that sat there; the next morning it was Dolly, and Dub joining her later on; today, it is a red-rimmed Kroko's turn.
On a stretch of the wooden surface, a single word is etched, unchanged. You turn away and head to the lounge before you can read it, but you know full well what it says. You've seen it often enough.
"Sly".

Sly, fellow inmate at this psychiatric clinic, often deluded and rarely one to halt conversation. Freewheeler and pervader. Fickle and fast and slow. Rattlesnake and reluctant prophet, in a stunning coat of many colours.

Sly, three days dead.

*****

Three. One. Five.

Numbers and equations make themselves ever known in the patient lounge, increasing and decreasing as toys come in and out of doors, to their self designated corners, doing what they must to cope. They all avoid the area closest to the therapy room, except when being escorted through as Kroko is right now, tucked carefully in the nurse's arms. That space is where he used to spin and play, and it doesn't feel right to infringe on it. Even the sun, through coincidence or pathetic fallacy, is hidden away so as not to trickle through.
As you dwell underneath a window, you try to contemplate the muchness of everything, not that it takes your mind off of matters.

For as long as you can remember being here, the maximum capacity for this place has been six: one for each corner, the doctor, and yourself (plus two humans). It is a pleasant digit, unassuming and friendly, sounding soft in your head. Not cold, like three; not reminiscent of sicknesses, like seven. You've never had quarrel with 'six'.
But it is here no more. Sly has been ripped out from the total, choking himself to an unexpected grave, and his absence clogs the air to threaten the rest of you with the same fate. Six is cut down to five, and it hooks into you like a brick-sized bur, much harsher in its mocking incompleteness. Smaller than it should be.

To be unofficial but even more accurate, six is cut down to four. You haven't seen Dr Wood emerge since yesterday, when he broke the upper limit by allowing far too many people to barge into the asylum to look for answers.
Sly's death couldn't have been kept a secret forever, especially since he was the first toy to go, not only here but ever. You realize that. But to bring interviewers in en masse without warning, with their bulky cameras and microphones, making a swarm of clashing neon noise and intrusion and pressing them right up to everyone's faces, your face, so that you can hear the macabre fascination in their stubbled throats and taste the stink of cucumber and lime green on their breaths and making things too intense too loud get them out get out get out...
You shrink into yourself and clasp your hands over your ears to stop the blazing memory surging back, letting your blocks drop in the process. It won't crowd, it's all right, they aren't here now. That was yesterday. You can calm down; you can control the flow of your raggedy air, though whether that is a good thing or bad is still hard to figure out.

"[Obviously, this... 'passing on' has been traumatic for all of us,]" the Wood of the past says in your mind, breaking through the attempts to ignore. "[Kindermann will have to be informed of this. Spieler is a nervous wreck. Health and safety will be a far larger concern than before...]"

You look out from your huddling at the room ahead of you, through a filter of muted sounds and auras. Dub, serving as living proof of the new tighter regime, works out under the reinforced 'no rope' sign. Spieler took it away in that first 24 hour stretch after everything changed. And yet he persists even with no time keeping to speak of, doing a steady if slightly shaky stream of press-ups, so his literal lockstep is at least intact, stronger if anything.
A still-silent Dolly isn't so lucky, picking at the scissor-frayed edges where the tip of her sock used to be. You know the why of this one: it got in the way of the now-compulsory 'breathing checks'. Already, at the thought, you re-regulate. In, think about it, out. In, just as she taught you, out.
The others, too, have been swept up in it. Toys may be robust in physical form, but now that survival is so uncertain, it's better to be safe and sorry than - unable. The nurse and Spieler have gone through and replenished the first aid kit, judging by the forest green bag on a shelf through a door's window. Your puzzle pieces are meant to have their edges sanded down soon, though how you have no idea; Kroko isn't allowed to retreat under the bed anymore; and Sly -

No.
Instinct overriding reality, your eyes go to that oppressive part of the room, and you are met again with the dull thud of the significant lack of him.

This building really isn't the same without the snake. You expect him at every turn: draped over the lighting; under what has become your single pillow; poking his head out of the doctor's domain and hissing a question about why everyone is so gloomy, though perhaps not worded that way. Sometimes, you even think you see a hint of waving tail or sliding tongue. Each time, it is not him, only an echo of what should be.
To so often anticipate him is foolishness, bordering on denial. But you know you're not the only one. Three days is a long time and yet no time at all for the world to turn without you, and still nobody can quite believe he is gone. Still the others think of him, speak of him, turn nightly interruptions into fond memories, tolerance to friendships, flaws to virtues.

Regrets into an excuse for further study. This is why Wood isn't among everyone else. Barely minutes after the reporters and recorders finally dispersed to your immense relief, he locked himself in his office.
"[I'll be writing a new thesis over the next few days,]" he told you all before he shut the door, though mostly the staff. "[I do not wish to be bothered during this time, so don't even attempt to do so. Much as we all hate it, toys are now mortal, and I'd be a poor excuse of a doctor if I didn't revise my theories to take that into account.]" And you presume this is what he's doing now, removing this, scratching out that, amending a paragraph or two, editing to prove that actually such and such can't happen as he thought it could and if it did then nobody would be grieving at all because it'd mean Sly wouldn't be dead...

And you wouldn't be dwelling on it by a wall, finding excuses not to confront the truth of the matter and yet always coming back round to it.

You won't - can't - pretend that this whole affair has hit you no harder than anyone else. The others mourn, but they still at least try to follow the expected path, in some fashion. Spieler still does her job. Wood and Dub do theirs. And in a way, you do as well, but slower, and with every step sinking you further. Especially since the interview.
The reason for Sly's death was given out as 'asphyxiation', just like everyone else was told. Although the one with the most face-time, judging by one lens being always aimed at him, hid that aspect through buzz-words, the sentiment remained. "[However this tragic accident came about, it is clear that our toys are not as safe as once thought.]"
But you know deep within that they are pushing the blame in the wrong direction.

After all, it is to you that he came, the first time the subject came up. It was to you that he entrusted that secret plea that he didn't want to die at all.

And if you hadn't puzzled through it and focused on it and ultimately determined that such a thing was impossible...
maybe he wouldn't have.

*****

The day drags by, without even the courtesy of much distraction. When Kroko hurtles out of the therapist's grasp and regresses into his security box as soon as he's done, Dub reluctantly moves in to take his place. Eventually, twelve o'clock shows up, and it is your turn.

For someone who is almost meant to speak on your behalf, Spieler is relatively quiet today. She tries to help with actions more than words, double-checking the sounds your head is making with the cold metal of the stethoscope, and giving you paint therapy just in case you want to recreate the tinted-greyscale world you are in. Maintaining the rota, if nothing else.
But that's fine. You don't respond to much of it, anyway. She needs her silent contemplation, and you need to be alone with the rotting guilt. After repeated attempts, she finally manages to sense this, and puts you back where you were, saying only "[It's okay, Lilo.]"
As if she knows. As if she could.

The raven only emerges once from his gruelling task in late afternoon, and from the looks of things, it is to perform a head count, making sure nobody has dropped in his absence. There is still one of you, three of the others, and one of him; the total remains a razor-sharp five. And yet... your vision might be skewed because the nurse walks in front of you when he does this, but you think he accidentally counts Dolly twice.

Evening draws in, shutting out the outside light that did manage to get into the building; you can hear the black beginnings of a thunderstorm congregating outside. Bedtime is, as ever, at eight o'clock, everyone dispersing into their own marked territories. You still haven't joined block with block, but neither have you figured out what is stopping you from doing so.
Nor have you escaped the fully-grown revelation. All of this, the bright harsh colours, the painful textures, everything... it is ultimately your fault. That hisses in your ear as you climb back into bed, pulling the covers up tightly over your head to give you a safe place, a cocoon.

Your fault the outside world had reason to come. Your fault no one has communicated, even with the capability and capacity. Your fault you are like this, every warning lashing into your gut, every fear binding your half-existent lungs.
Yours. Yours. Yours.

Every inch of you begins to shake.

"[Aren't you hot in there? That looks uncomfy.]"
A voice sounds from both close by and far away, rendered translucent and non-specific by the oppressiveness of the duvet. It's probably Kroko, here for comfort from the hint of rain, or sneaking in to play Musical Bedrooms. Either way, you can't face him or anyone right now, so you only tuck yourself away further, unable to stop the shivering.

"[You don't have to be above it for long,]" it says as if you'd replied. "[I'm just saying, you might suffocate under there if it's too low. And then you'll die too, and you won't be able to make up for anything at all.]"
No, you amend, definitely not Kroko; he wouldn't talk about this so casually. Nor is it Dr Wood, for he'd use a larger vocabulary. But then who? Spieler? Nadel?
"[Come on, come out of there. I want to see you again.]"
You partially uncurl in confusion. Who is this? Why are they here? It's not like you can speak to them, assuage the spiking emotions. It's not like they'd want you to anyway, if they knew what you did. That it all falls down on...

"[Lilo, I know what it is. I can tell. It's not your fault, okay?]"

Something seizes in you, and you untangle yourself from your bundle and out from the quilt, not to retort or scare off, just to see who would presume such a thing --

-- and you find yourself staring into the bright, vast, innocent stare of the deceased.