Summary: Nothing is ever forgotten. It's merely tucked away and stored until something brings them to light.
Characters: Tony, Doug
Warnings: violence, dark themes, pre and post-series
"The world shrieks and sinks talons into our hearts. This we call memory."-Tim O'Brien
His hand stretches past the crystal ball, brushing the cool surface as the mist inside curls against his fingertips. The fortune teller's hand passes over his palm, blood red fingernails darting over the surface.
"Will I be rich?" His voice is high-pitched with youth, a whispered awe like a man within hallowed halls, flooded with the belief and trust of a child. The woman's dark eyes shift upwards.
His eyes crawl tentatively up the sides of the tent, lingering on the single lidless eye painted there.
"What is my fortune, then?" The words are hushed, as if the future itself is balanced on a razor's edge, a leg draped on each side, and poised to jump. The woman leans forward, bangles clanking against each other in a metallic swish of gold and silver against silk, fingernails carving invisible lines into the crystal ball beneath her hand. She reaches her other hand's first finger and tips it beneath his chin, lifting it until black eyes meet black, peering into the depths of his heart and reading the lines etched there.
"All of time, little one." She says quietly. "All of time is your's."
There are no lions or tigers left on the face of the earth. Inexplicably there's a list of extinct animals glaring on the screen of a rickety computer that's almost too advanced for them to figure out, and somewhere far below the dodo and the thylacine there's a rough, painted sketch of a lion, crude and out of proportion and obviously drawn by a person who'd never actually seen one, like the brightly colored, open-jawed dinosaurs in books when they were children. He doesn't know why but it chills him to the bone, like opening a book and finding humanity to be extinct or morphed into something unknown.
Outside the fortune teller's tent he'd heard the sound of the lions roaring, a sound in his dreams and in his mind. His hand rubs across the drawing and settles in the mane, golden-orange, and flowing in the unseen wind like the sparks blown from a fire.
The page, like everything else, burns.
He's an altar boy at his first service, and his hands tremble as he lights the candles, fingers sticky as they brush past the crucifix, catching on the edge. His hands jerk, grabbing, but miss, and the crucifix slips past his hands, shattering on the floor.
He sees the shock and rush of fear in the priest's eyes, and he wants to drop to his knees before the altar, and beg forgiveness, even as his knees lock, and he stands paralyzed.
"You'll burn for that." Billy says later, seriously, eyes wide as saucers. "God will punish you."
Archeology never did justice to Pompeii. It was beautiful, breathtakingly so, full of voices and living people swirling against a sea of mosaics as blue as the sky, and an imposing temple to the god Apollo.
They learned long ago to not attempt to reason, to explain, and certainly not to try to change anything, because there's no use, but just this once he tries, stopping an old man in the street to draw his attentions to the tremors in the earth, blocking the path of the woman carrying the rosy-cheeked toddler on her hip to force her to listen to his warnings. None of it does any good, and they burn, all of them, like a flame licking hungerly at paper, men, women, children, temples, and gods.
The heat and gas tear through the city and he crouches against a crumbling wall and digs his fingers into the other's arm until the blood supply is cut off. For an instant he thinks it's the end, and even as he looks at the reflection of the lava in his eyes he's strangely grateful. But there's a tug and a rip of space and time and they're gone, jerked away by an invisible hand, and thrown bodily through time.
He can no longer remember what Pompeii looked like now, not even vapor and flame, but he can still smell it, that hideous scent of ash and burning flesh. He wishes he couldn't remember that, either.
The firelight moves in his eyes when he speaks, like snakes writhing in a pit, and his words are poison without meaning to be cruel, venom in his veins with no malice meant.
His fist slams into his mouth and he watches him stumble backwards, more caught off guard than from the force of the blow. The other's eyes widen almost imperceptively, like the quick flickering of a fading candle, shock and pain registering and dying, and he feels cold, ice water in his veins, as if he'd just plunged twenty feet down into the depths of the ocean, numbed by the reflection of betrayal in the other's eyes.
And he sees him. He's eleven, twelve at best, a lonely child, no longer a boy and yet a man, friendless and alone. He sees himself, wrapped up in the moment.
He doesn't speak a word but inside he's screaming.
"It's an oubliette." The woman says softly, voice a sing-song chant that echoes through the damp walls. "Place of forgetting. We put people here we want to forget."
The guard at her side kicks him to the ground, half over and half off the hole as the grating scrapes aside, opening into a gaping black mouth, followed by a single shove as he loses his balance. His arms stretch out and he falls backwards, pinned in place and yet slowly falling, like the crucifix above the altar tumbling past his hands, burning, shattering.
He opens his mouth in a silent scream and it comes out a whimper, a child's cry that's all too quickly snatched away.
Slave markets are the worst of places. It isn't merely the stench and filth that clings to everything but the misery, the cloying terror in the eyes of screaming children and sobbing women, the blank stares of tattered men against the sound of cracking whips. The other is there, in the middle of it all, bound to the post, head down, and he doesn't even speak as he throws a bag of coins at the trader and crosses the gap between in three strides.
He cups a hand beneath his chin and dribbles water into his mouth, enough to bring a faint respond as the other rouses slightly and pushes at his hands with a feeble show of strength. He catches his shoulders and he struggles, yanking the ropes so tightly the skin above and below them starts to turn a sickly blue.
"Shh, easy. It's me."
He relaxes, or something closer to a collapse, as he catches him in the instant he crumbles, able to do little more than break his fall. What little he can see of his face beneath the sunburned, parched skin is milk-white. He swallows the bile in his throat, and brushes a hand across his forehead.
"You'll be all right." He says quietly. "It'll be fine."
Germany, he thinks, used to be beautiful. This Germany is anything but, bleak and hostile and teeming with misery.
They spent a week on the streets before an elderly couple takes pity on them and gives them the loft of their barn, not comfortable by any means but dry and relatively warm. They have an orphaned granddaughter, Sophia, who lives with them, a waifish scrap of a child with big eyes, and he tells her stories of a tunnel that carries travelers through time and makes her a mouse out of a handkerchief. He doesn't think anything of it - neither of them do - even a few days later when the witchfinder comes through the village again and begins reaping the souls of any he sets his eyes upon. He claims Sophia, a week before her seventh birthday, in church, because she twists her handkerchief into a mouse in the middle of the sermon and dies with it clenched in her hand like Joab with his blood spilled on the horns of the altar, because a mouse belongs to a cat and a cat is the familial spirit of a witch.
He sees her the next week in the twilight, a solemn and pale figure, a frail form against the trees, and he shows no fear, no terror at being haunted. He deserves far more than having her ghost watching him, silently questioning why a few careless words led to her death.
He should burn, he thinks.
He hears it in his breathing first, a hitch that wasn't there, a faint rasp, barely noticable unless he'd heard someone breathe day in and day out for all those years, and quickly turning wet, like water in the lungs of a drowning victim.
"Somebody call an ambulance!" His arms slip under him, lifting him into his lap and he coughs, a watery sound that twists his insides. His hand searches through his clothing and feels his blood on his hand. He feels his body shake almost imperceptively and his eyes flutter, struggling to focus.
"Don't you die on me." His voice is hoarse, like iron scraping rock. The other's eyes roll back, milk white like the crystal ball, and he feels himself shaking him as time rips them away.
They land in a Roman meadow before the days of Nero's madness, long before the land will be tainted by ashes and lined with crosses, and he coughs his way back to life, one faint gasp at a time.
That's when they find out that he can't die, not really, because he wasn't born here, and doesn't belong, and anything that touches him only shakes off with the next transfer. He's immortal, or close enough, and suddenly it's a twisted game of counting coup with the grim reaper, like a child standing in front of a train and rolling aside in the last instant.
He can't die, but that doesn't mean that he can't burn.
There's scratch marks down the walls, three deep, bleeding lines. He can't remember making them, and thinks perhaps he didn't at all. Maybe they were there all the time, and he didn't notice. There's light somewhere far off, faded yet brilliant, and his arm lifts weakly to protect his eyes, falling short of his face and landing with a hard crack against the floor.
"Tony!" He winces slightly at the sound, trying to turn his head and failing even as the shout comes again. "Tony, answer me! Tony!" He wishes Tony would answer, if only to make the voice go away and make it quiet as before, a place of spirits and ghosts and not flesh and blood.
There's footsteps pounding somewhere far off, and then the grinding creak of a grate being removed, a sound above him as someone or something scrambles down the walls, landing less than gracefully beside him. For an instant there's silence, and he keeps his eyes closed, hoping that whoever it is will go away and leave him alone.
"He's here." The voice is hoarse, strained as it raises to call to the first. A hand presses against the side of his throat and he shivers at the heat of it, burning the cross into his skin like a brand. "He's alive! Get help, quickly!" There's a sound of someone running in the distance above, and the hand at his throat moves to rest on his forehead. He struggles, jerking away from the touch, and the arms slide around him, catching him in a strong grasp. "Shhh, Tony, easy. It's me. It's Doug. Help's coming, just hold on."
His fingers twitch, flailing, and catch something, fallen out of the other's pocket. His eyes crack open, reddened slits in swollen skin, struggling to focus on the object. It's silver, etched and cast, a tiny figure pinned against a cross, scratched and damaged. The other picks it up and lays it gently in his palm, closing thickened fingers around it.
"It's your's." The voice says, and there's a catch in the words, as if he's fighting tears. He wonders why the voice is crying, what's wrong. "I found it out in the street. It was the first clue I'd found in all this time." The hand brushes matted hair off his forehead in a strangely tender gesture. "It's all right. You're going to be fine."
His head shakes, like dry leaves on the edge of a branch, poised to break loose and fall, even as the other shifts him higher, resting his head against the other's chest, as the footsteps return and the voice starts to issue orders, shouting for water and blankets and ropes. It wasn't all right, didn't the voice know that? He was supposed to burn. To burn forever. But maybe the voice doesn't remember.