Summary: Nothing is ever forgotten. It's merely tucked away and stored until something brings them to light.
Characters: Tony, Doug
Warnings: dark themes
"To the elements it came from everything will return. Our bodies to earth, our blood to water, heat to fire, breath to air."-Matthew Arnold, Empedocles on Etna
The hands touch his shoulders.
When he was ten, he read about the Keres in a small, leather-bound book with worn paper and faded words. Mythology, from the Greeks, about dark creatures with teeth and claws, beings who lingered on battlefields to drain the dying and wounded of their blood. They came and drank his blood in the darkness, the whispering shadows that pulled on him, and he struggles, because this touch could be one of them.
"You hold on." The voice says, and it sounds strained. "Tony, stay with me, now. Look at me. Say awake." A hand grips his jaw, gently, but he flinches at the touch and the hand instantly falls away, replaced with a series of murmured apologies.
Another pair of arms reaches for him and he shudders, trying to draw back, breath wheezing like dry leaves rattling on the edge of a branch. The voice slips his arms around him protectively, shielding him against his chest but he struggles, fighting until his strength gives out, body collapsing into the other's.
"Hurry up!" The voice all but snaps, and he closes his eyes as the arms lift him off the ground, another set of hands draping a blanket across him.
The keres are kinder this time, he thinks. He wonders what he did to earn that kindness and how soon it will be before they realize he did nothing at all.
"How is he?" It's the man's voice, always the man, hovering around him like a ghost. He isn't yet convinced that the voice isn't a ghost, only that he's been moved from the darkness into the light and he's burning, violently burning beneath the brightness.
"The same." It's the second voice - a doc-tor they call him - and he turns his head away from the sound. This voice isn't gentle like the other, and it burns, deep into his flesh and into his eyes with a white, pencil thin light, looking and searching until he thinks it will pull his brain apart. "The time he spent down in the dungeon, alone, shut off from everything...damaged his mind. To a mind like Mr. Newman's, the suffering without a light, a single sound, a touch...must have been unbearable. In time he may improve, or... In my opinion a permanent facility equipped to handle his care would be the best option."
"All the kings horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again." A child's voice says, sing-song and taunting, and he turns his head back as the figure darts away from the closed window, a boy of nine with a face he thinks used to be his.
"I didn't ask for opinions!" The voice is angry, and he winces, curling into the covers and burying his face into the coarseness of the starched sheets, stiff like the hands of a corpse.
"Shhh, it's all right. easy, Tony." The hand lightly touches his arm, voice gentling. "You listen to me, Dr. Wilson." His voice is controlled now, anger reined in like a horse tethered on all
sides to the ground. "He hears. He understands. He is not hopeless. Tony Newman may have given up on himself but I've not."
He wonders again why the voice even bothers.
The light still hurts.
He isn't used to it after the darkness - he can't remember when he was used to it, and they keep it dim in his room, the light mostly coming with the sun outside his window and departing with the sunset. Dawn brings the voice, and he thinks it isn't as bad as it used to be. The voice is oddly soothing and gentle, almost sensing when it burns into him, and drawing drapes.
"You were unconscious for four days." The voice says quietly, words flowing over him like water, and he drowns in the deafening roar of them as he focuses on the silver at the man's temples and wonders when it began to spread, reaching further back into his hairline and threatening to consume.
The voice always talks, to him, to whoever he was and whatever he was to this man brother? friend?, and sometimes he listens, to meaningless words and faceless names long forgotten.
"You hear me, don't you?" The voice says suddenly, and he thinks the question is very important; it must be by the burning sorrow within the words. "Even if you don't say anything, please, do something, anything, if you can hear me?"
He thinks he should do something for the voice, for the kindness it's shown him, but his tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth and his fingers are paralyzed, the flames having long eaten away at his skin.
There's a sound a moment later and he realizes that the voice is crying.
"It was the Spanish Inquisition so they had to transfer us." The voice says quietly, and there's a catch in it, as if the voice has grown tired of talking to himself. "They weren't sure you were strong enough to survive a transfer but there was nothing to help you back there. But here..they said you can stay until you feel strong enough. Just say when."
His eyes don't leave the sheets, pure white without a single smear or drop of blood, and dry beneath his clenched hands, but he speaks, voice raw and hoarse from disuse, words scraping like rusty wire along his throat, the first thing he's said in all this time.
"I want to stay here."
But the face beams and he wonders what he ever did to have this man care so much about him.
"You're Doug, aren't you?" His syntax is improving, Dr. Wilson has noted, when he shines the light into his eyes and knocks his reflexes, with a nod of his blond head. He isn't sure where the name came from, only that it fits the man, the stranger, the friend - he isn't certain of anything anymore - and that it matters what he calls him, that the voice should have a name and an identity.
"That's right." The voice says, and it's smiling again, so widely it looks stretched into a clown's painted mouth, not cruel but only happy. "And you're Tony. Tony Newman."
It doesn't fit, he thinks. His name should have burned away long ago - or was it washed away? - his head aches and he can't remember.
"It will come." The voice says softly as if reading his mind. "Just give it time."
"I remember you." He says faintly, one day, almost haltingly even though his speech is no longer in jumps and starts as it once was.
Doug turns slightly, enough to look at him in profile, shoulders held in a position he recognizes as carefully bracing himself against hope. "What do you remember?" There's a thousand unspoken words behind that question, doubts of blame for abandoning him, for not finding him sooner.
"You saved me."
Doug turns, so sharply his bone creak, and a single shoulder lifts, braced like Atlas against the world. It takes Tony a full five seconds to realize he's crying again, another to reach out and touch his shoulder, twist his fingers into the roughness of his suit and hold on like a tether to a drowning man.
For an instant there's no reaction. and then Doug turns and all but grabs him, both arms wrapping him tightly in a crushing hug.
"It's going to be all right." Tony says quietly, and it is, he knows, because somehow, someway, it always is, always has been since he ran into the Tunnel and Doug followed him.
Doug's voice is muffled but there's a touch of a smile in it, rare and hidden.
"I know." He says.