Looking back from where he was now, far away from the Lyoko Warriors who had brought him here, it was easy for William to forget the details. Whenever he caught himself believing the half-truths, he would have to remind himself of how it had actually happened. Again and again he would tell himself the story, the truth.
William woke to a mouth full of blood and his first, horrified thought was that XANA had eaten someone. Then the faint and fuzzy memories of the last hour began to return - namely the sensation of being ripped apart, pain beyond what he ever thought was possible. He had thought surely it would kill him, and it did. No, that was not right. He was alive. XANA was dead and he was alive.
The boy spat out the blood and sat up, then stuck out his tongue and probed gingerly at the stinging wound. He must have bitten it as XANA left his body to die. More fractured memories filtered back, arranging themselves into a vague semblance of a timeline. Here they had fought with Ulrich and Yumi, and the last thing he remembered before blinding agony was advancing on the two of them as they cowered against the wall. Now they were gone, and he was alone. On legs that felt like rubber, William tottered off to search of the others.
He did not have to go far. William had barely taken a few steps when the elevator rumbled to life and deposited the group of Lyoko Warriors. Silent tears streamed Aelita's face, and Jeremie was holding her hand as Odd said something to her that William could not hear. All of them looked exhausted, and, in Ulrich and Yumi's case, still covered in the dust from their recent fight. A livid bruise was rising on Ulrich's cheek, and Yumi's shirt was slightly torn. Yet for all of their tattered appearance, there was still a visible change in each of them. A weight that had burdened them for nearly two years was gone. It was all over.
William moved toward the group, then stopped as though held back by some invisible force as the reality sank in. This was their victory, and their grief. William had no place here, save to remind them of the monster that they had finally, finally defeated. The boy drew back and watched, waiting to see if any of them would remember him and look back. Not one of them did.
The truth was that at first, everything was fine. The first few days were full of nothing but a blind relief. Everything had returned to normal, and all was right with the world again. That was until William realized just what missing more than two months of his life had done.
For one thing, academically… William could think of no better word to describe his situation than simply "screwed". Some subjects, like chemistry or French, the boy found he could catch up in if he worked hard, as these tended to be divided into units. Other subjects, such as math and Italian, however, built on past information. Missing months of work, especially with no one knowing that he was gone, took its toll immediately on his grades.
Socially was a whole other problem. Before he had disappeared, people had gravitated toward William because of his confident demeanor and his natural charisma. In the time that the clone had been here, the school had decided that he was playing a joke by pretending to be stupid, but the joke had begun to wear thin. Now that William had returned, he was neither. What had once come as easily as breathing to him now required effort, and he felt like a fraud trying to emulate this devil-may-care attitude as he struggled under the weight of his responsibilities. Gradually, William's popularity waned, as did the pressure to keep up appearances.
Logically, William understood that the Lyoko Warriors had only created the clone out of necessity, and had recovered him as soon as they could. Emotionally, William was surrounded by reminders of the other that had taken his place, worn all his clothes, talked to his friends, and slept in his bed. Even after he washed everything half a dozen times, it still made his skin crawl to think about it sometimes. It was because of the clone that he was now a stranger in his own skin, and indirectly the fault of the team that had created it. Perhaps if he had expressed these smaller problems, talking about the larger ones in a meaningful way would have been easier. Instead, in the unspoken resentment and accusations, William's voice began to fade away.
The truth was also that when all of this had happened, they were children. This, William was always careful to remind himself when he revisited the narrative. Age and perspective had given William the capacity to forgive what his fifteen-year-old self could not – the fact that the Lyoko Warriors had let him down. A feeling of displacement could be dealt with alone. The fear that XANA would revive could not.
The nightmares came much later for the rest of them, this much William knew from the intermittent communication in the past couple of years. Perhaps if the others had experienced the dreams, they would have approached William's last months at Kadic differently. As it was, when William's discomfort sharpened itself into intense anxiety, his weak attempts to reach out were met with poor results.
There had never been any love lost between Ulrich and William, this much was true. William had never asked Ulrich for help, and Ulrich had never offered. It was as simple as that. Odd was nearly a stranger, and when it became apparently to the group at large that William was drowning, his methods left something to be desired. The jokes and pranks intended to cheer William up were in extremely poor taste. After the fourth time that Odd had intentionally startled the dark-haired boy, William had started avoiding Odd at all costs.
Jeremie's methods were only mildly more comforting. William spent one long, long Sunday in Jeremie's room, struggling to follow as Jeremie pulled up long, complicated strings of code from his multi-agent program and explained in great detail how they worked. In theory, this was supposed to prove to William beyond all doubt that XANA was really and truly gone. In reality, the whole session seemed extremely self-congratulatory on Jeremie's part. Every time that William so much as mentioned his deep dark fears about XANA coming back after that, Jeremie would always interrupt to remind him of precisely why this was impossible.
To be fair to Yumi, she did try. At the very least, she listened, which was more than could be said of the boys. Perhaps it was because they had been friends, once. Perhaps it was that Yumi could sense more than any of them how close William was to breaking completely. Whatever the reason, she made an attempt, however short-lived. The girl quickly grew tired of trying to solve the same problems over and over again, and William soon found himself on the receiving end of a multitude of excuses not to spend time with him.
And then there was Aelita. Her presence was worth that of all the others combined. When William spoke to Aelita, he never had the sense that she was pitying him or that she thought less of him for all of his nightmares, his jumpiness, the endless terror that they were being watched. When she told him that she knew what he was going through, William believed her with all of his heart. They bonded over their mutual fear of what the rest of the group was convinced was impossible, and as they tried to comfort the other, each found comfort themselves.
But alas, one fourteen-year-old girl could not stand up to the weight both of their demons. After some time, William started to notice how dark the circles were under Aelita's eyes, how she would disappear in the middle of their talks and return with eyes puffy and pink, how she picked at her food at mealtimes, and how the girl laughed less and less. He could not bring himself to drag her down with him. The boy found somewhere else to sit at mealtimes and left the Lyoko Warriors in peace. Color returned to Aelita's cheeks. William woke screaming more nights than not, drenched in sweat and his heart pounding against his chest even after he remembered where he was.
Yes, the Lyoko Warriors had tried. It had not been enough to help the boy who sat alone in the dark and tried to convince himself that his dreams were only dreams. And perhaps it would not have mattered after all if Ulrich, Odd, Jeremie, and Yumi had been having the nightmares back then. All of their dreams were about what had almost happened, what might have been. Everything that William dreamed were things that he had actually done. Even so, his decision to make a clean break might not have been so finite if he had not come so close to stabbing Yumi.
The incident occurred near to graduation. William had come to associate the end of his time at Kadic with what he hoped would be his salvation. A month and a half longer and he would be free of this place and its bad memories, on to high school with Yumi. Getting there meant going through the cooking portion of their Italian class. The objective of the assignment was to teach the students about Italian culture. The fact that Rosa got the night off as the fourth-years prepared food for their classmates was simply a bonus.
All of the students were assigned to their respective stations. In his previous life, William would have volunteered for a central position, something important, but those days were long past. William was assigned to the vegetable slicing station, and he accepted the position without protest.
Looking back, William was never sure how exactly it had happened. Perhaps the tears from the onions he was slicing had blurred his vision at the wrong moment, perhaps his state of constant sleep deprivation had come back to haunt him. Whatever the reason, if it had not been for a lightning-fast hand arresting his wrist, William might have lost his fingertip. The boy turned to look at Yumi as she let go of his arm, meaning to thank her.
And then everything had changed. All at once, William was not standing in the kitchen of Kadic Academy, he was in the Desert sector, and the blade in his hand was not a kitchen knife but his Zweihänder. This was just another fight, and he was going to win. All he needed to do was plunge his blade into her stomach and he/they/we would win…
William dropped the knife with a clatter. He shoved past Yumi and tore as fast as he could toward the metal door at the other end of the room, earning him a sharp rebuke from Jim. He never got to hear the end of the lecture on running in the kitchen, hauling open the door to the walk-in freezer and slamming himself inside. The chill enveloped the boy at once, reassuring him that this was real. William sank to his knees, then stuffed his hand into his mouth and bit down hard to stifle the scream that was threatening to escape.
Because the truth was that he had never told the truth. Not really. William remembered much more about his time with XANA than he let on, and he had always had the feeling that the group suspected this much. What he had never told them was why. How he had not always been some helpless prisoner, waiting to be rescued. How sometimes when they fought on Lyoko, it was not only XANA that they were fighting. How William had justified it to himself that he was only gaining XANA's trust in order to wrest control from him at the right moment. How near the end, it had started to become difficult for William to tell where he ended and where XANA began. They were teammates like the world had never seen, and while William had promised himself that he would never let XANA win, there was nothing wrong with fighting against the Lyoko Warriors every now again.
William had no good answers when they opened the door and found him with a mouth full of blood flowing from a ring of teeth marks. Instead the once-cocky and popular boy had wept openly. After some time, they stopped asking. That night, William had called his father with the decision to get out – out of the school, out of France, out of whatever life this was now and on to someplace new.
All things considered, life had gone remarkably well after that. Not to say that it had been easy – William had taken a very long time to get himself together. Years of counseling for anxiety and many sleepless nights had been necessary for any semblance of William's confident and outgoing self to reappear. Through all of this, William never breathed a word of the Lyoko Warriors' secret, but he had also never regretted his decision to leave that life behind. Free of the constant reminder of his past, William flourished.
By the time that Jeremie's message reached him, no one who had interacted with him in those last months at Kadic would have recognized him. A rising star in a civil litigation firm, William knew exactly what he wanted with his life. He had an apartment with a view, a German Shepherd named Ace to guard it, and he had recently started dating a girl named Felicia that William strongly suspected he could fall in love with. He had even felt secure enough to re-establish a tentative connection with the Lyoko Warriors two years ago over social media. They had exchanged a few messages, usually around birthdays or major holidays. All was well.
Why, then, when Jeremie explained to him that a boy he had never met might be in XANA's clutches did William react the way that he had? Why did he secure a leave of absence from his job, why did he call to have the utilities in his apartment shut off, why did he convince one of his friends of dogsit Ace? And what madness had convinced him to call Felicia and cancel their date for Friday? Again and again, William wondered why he had dropped the life he had worked so hard to achieve to come when Jeremie called. He considered that the answer was that he could not allow what happened to him to happen to someone else, or that he felt a responsibility to help his friends defeat XANA for good this time. William allowed himself to accept that these were a part of why he went back.
But the truth was that some part of him wanted, just once, to get to be the hero.
In the twenty minute taxi ride, William had turned it over and over in his mind as his stomach roiled with nerves. He arrived at the same conclusion each time. If there was a XANA attack going on right now, then that was one thing. However, if Jeremie – he assumed that the unknown number belonged to Jeremie – had texted him and asked him to come directly to the factory as a way of making William face the place of his nightmares right away, then the two of them were going to have words. William knew that starting a fight right away was probably a very unwise idea, but having just come off a ten hour flight and facing the prospect of dealing with a resurrected XANA, the man was having a difficult time caring.
All of his plans evaporated as he stood now in the empty lab, with neither an attack nor an insensitive friend to face. His anxiety ebbed, leaving only confusion and a touch of annoyance in its place. "What's going on?" the man wondered aloud. His only answer was a tiny echo of his own voice.
All at once, the screen that had been sitting idly blinked to life. The image of a tower appeared and turned red, and computer began to beep urgently. The next moment, an all-too-familiar black cloud had oozed from the wires crisscrossing the back of the monitor. William had only time to draw a startled breath and take one automatic step back before it was upon him. As the world drifted away in a familiar haze and another took control of his limbs, William found that he was not at all surprised.
Looking back from where he was now, far away from the Lyoko Warriors who had brought him here, it was easy for William to forget the details. Whenever he caught himself believing the half-truths, he would have to remind himself of how it had actually happened. Again and again he would tell himself the story. He always finished it the same way.
"My name is William Dunbar. I am once again a prisoner of XANA. My friends will come for me, and I will fight. I will not give in to XANA, not again."
He just hoped it was the truth.
This is a side story (or Satellite Story, as we call them) for our main story, Code Lyoko: The Plutarch. See our profile for more information, if you are interested. We hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it! -Rai and Sky