It's happening again.
It's happening again. Why? Why unless there's still something I need to do, something that needs to be fixed. Something I screwed up, or someone else screwed up. Something I didn't think of. But what? What am I missing?
"More hot water for tea, sir?" the girl smiled down at him, and he forced a smile back.
"No thanks, I'll switch to coffee, actually," he couldn't help but be a little perverse. He felt like maybe he'd earned the right.
"Coming right up, sir," she didn't get the joke, of course, probably just thought he was either weird, or decided he needed caffeine after all. Or maybe, he thought, looking down into his cup of oddly dark tea, she was the one in the wrong place, the wrong time.
Was she? He couldn't remember anymore, had trouble sorting out what was true from what wasn't. Had he displaced her originally, or returned her? Or had that been Homunculus?
Homunculus… He reached into his pocket, feeling the smooth lines of the red stone that he knew would be there before he looked. Had he had it before and not known it, or had this part of the past that was currently the present also changed as well? How could he have had it, and not known? How could it have gotten here randomly if he hadn't?
Of course, he thought to himself, nothing was really random, was it? Not anymore. It was little things, things of no significance whatsoever, that could change the face of history, enough that a man would live, or die. Little things, but they weren't random. He wondered, briefly, what would happen if he just kept on drinking in this café. If he asked Dana to walk him home or out on a date or whatever. Would he go on a new string of ridiculous (yet successful) attempts on his life? When he died this time, would Homunculus even be there?
Questions, always more questions, and he'd been so deep in them that he'd missed Dana bringing him his coffee until he'd picked it up, reflexively, and sipped at it. If he could miss something so obvious as a pretty girl bringing him more to drink at a café, what other things might he have missed? Always another question. He was tired of them. He wanted to find an answer, even just one, a small one. And he knew who the person was who had every last one of them.
With a sigh, he put some money on the table and walked out. Perhaps dying wouldn't hurt so much if he knew it was going to happen?
He opened his eyes, feeling the floorboards underneath his back creak as he tried to sit up. No. Dying hurt just as much this time as all of the others. He got to his feet slowly, always disoriented by this part.
"How does it feel to be dead, Eike?"
"Not any better this time than the last, Homunculus. What in the hell is going on?" there was a pause, and then suddenly, there he was, perched on the gate, though Eike couldn't remember seeing him until later, the first time. If that had even been the first time.
"I'm sorry, I don't particularly recall what you're speaking of," there was some satisfaction in seeing the genuine confusion on Homunculus' face, but his tone was even more guarded than usual, tense in a way that Eike wasn't particularly familiar with. He sounded actually dangerous.
"You don't remember?" why did that make Homunculus blink like that, "You don't remember this happening before? Me dying, being brought here. You giving me the Digipad? Any of it?" for some reason, that eased the tension in Homunculus and he smiled slightly,
"Ah, I see. Some kind of a time loop. So that means the whole thing was likely successful, then, in a manner of speaking, correct?"
"In a manner of speaking! I changed other people's lives… I… Margrette, Dana, Oleg… you made me do all of these things, and for what? So I could save you? Do I really have to do it all over again just to--" he realized with a start that he was about to say 'just to lose Dana in the past' but that wasn't right, was it? Wasn't it Dana he'd walked home? No, that was impossible, she was his… he'd been shopping with Margrette and then was… hit by a car? No, that wasn't right either. He winced and grabbed his head, shaking it.
"Is there something wrong, Eike?" there was that odd tension again, and he was closer to pinpointing the tone, at least, if not the reason for it. Homunculus sounded like he was on edge about something Eike might have known that he didn't know. It cleared his head at once
"You… you never told me why it was that your own destiny was linked to mine. Why? Dr. Wagner wouldn't have had the stone if it weren't for me, but you could have left me after that. Why didn't you?" Homunculus tilted his head to the side, the tension abruptly leaving his shoulders, and then he smiled one of his strange smiles,
"Here, Eike," he held out the Digipad, and Eike had a sudden vision of Homunculus dissolving in front of him, potent enough to be a memory, just like the others. But he just took it, mutely, staring down at the piece of machinery, or magic, or whatever it was that was in his hand. Just another question in a long stream of them. Another lie. Another chance to do it all over and know nothing, learn nothing. Were there any truths at the bottom? Or was it just the never-ending questions?
He handed it back,
"No. Not this time. I'm not going to go through all of this again. Not without some answers. I'm not just going to be your puppet on a string until you tell me what's going on!" to his surprise, Homunculus just laughed at that, softly,
"Oh Eike, you really don't understand anything, do you? A puppet, really? No, I don't think I've ever been able to control you. One of the wondrous things about human beings," his voice dripped sarcasm, "is that they are so intrinsically stupid that it becomes difficult to predict what they will do with any degree of accuracy," he stalked towards Eike, and he supposed he ought to be afraid, except the entire experience had left him so confused that it was hard to really be afraid. "No, Eike, I don't control you," he'd reached him now, and placed a hand right over his heart, delicate and pale, but he felt something jerk inside of him, hard, as though Homunculus had a magnet in one hand, and something attached to the far side of his spine had the opposite charge. Homunculus smiled, "But you do belong to me. Whether you remember it or not."
Eike looked down at him, feeling the disorienting sensation of that weird tug and for a moment, was actually afraid, desperately so. As usual, he was an answer short and this one was obviously an important answer to not have, as it felt like all Homunculus would have to do was move his hand away and something inside Eike would rip free and go with it. He had no idea what that something might even be, much less what it would do to him if Homunculus did move his hand away. He was pretty sure it wouldn't be anything good.
But the moment passed. In it's wake was the realization that all of the people he'd met on this weird journey he'd been on (or was about to be on, perhaps?) were the only people in his life that seemed, well, real. The rest of his life had been a somewhat dismal, normal sort of thing until all this happened. Unremarkable. Boring. And he could only imagine it would be the same after. A story. That time when something amazing happened to me.
"Alright," he said, agreeably, immensely enjoying the look of surprised shock on Homunculus' face, "I'm yours. So tell me," he couldn't help the challenging sort of smirk from quirking one side of his mouth up, his own version of Homunculus' favorite expression, as he pulled the Philosopher's Stone out of his pocket, holding it up carefully between two fingers. Him smirking and Homunculus wide-eyed in shock? He could get used to that, answers or no answers, "What is it you want me to do now?"
After a moment, the shocked expression on Homunculus' face went speculative and then, ultimately, curved up in a smirk of his own.