All characters © Tiger and Bunny
Summary: Albert sighs now, as he tells Barnaby that he killed his parents for the twelfth time. But for Barnaby it's the first-it's always the first.
The second time Albert Maverick tampered with Barnaby's memories had been exactly one year after the first time. Albert had sworn he would never alter them unless he absolutely had to, since Barnaby was twice as useful to him as his parents had been. Maybe even more than Rotwang. But the kid had found an old photo album in Samantha's house that had somehow escaped his men when they had been disposing of the evidence.
He hadn't told Barnaby, who was five at the time, what he was going to do. He just sat the kid down with a mug of hot cocoa as the first flurries of Christmas snow began to speckle the night sky, and he gently placed his hand on the kid's head. Simple as that.
The photos in that album never changed; only Barnaby's perception of them did. When he picked up the album on lonely, rainy days, he saw something entirely different than he had before. And he thought nothing odd of it.
The third time Albert Maverick tampered with Barnaby's memories had been when Barnaby was seven. The kid had seemingly forgotten his parent's untimely death; too obsessed with school and sports and homework to think of much else. Albert had thought this would be enough to keep Barnaby from snooping.
But then the blasted school had to have one of those parent-teacher days, or whatever you call them, as most public schools were condemned to have in order to promote family involvement. Or some rubbish like that. After seeing his classmates with their parents, holding hands and smiling warm chocolate smiles, Barnaby felt the renewed melancholy of being an orphan.
Well, what happened to your parents? his classmates would ask. And the strange thing was, Barnaby couldn't really tell them. Not because he was uncomfortable, but because he just couldn't seem to get his facts straight. He had started to ask questions. Far too many questions.
Albert had answered them as best as he could, but goddamn, seven-year-olds asked a lot of questions. Seemingly unsatisfied with what his guardian had to say, Barnaby went to Samantha. Albert had never really done much to her memories, as forgetfulness seemed to be concomitant with old age. That had been nature's doing as opposed to his. But Samantha remembered more than Albert had expected, and Barnaby was growing suspicious. Again.
This time Albert decided to see how Barnaby would take it if he confessed. The latter, although he was a NEXT, wouldn't learn how to use his powers for another five years, so Albert was in no danger of the boy hurting him. And, although Barnaby was...upset, to put it mildly, he also hadn't had enough time for his heart to darken. His reaction was one of sadness, less angry and bitter as Albert was sure it would turn in later years.
He cried, but Albert had seen enough tears in his day to simply blink and hold out his hand. Out of further curiosity, Albert also decided to see what would happen if he edited a little more of Barnaby's memories. Fine tuning, you'd say. To be safe.
When he was nine, and after the fifth time Albert had modified his memory, Barnaby decided to start collecting data on Ouroboros. He remembered that much at least. You'd think the kid would have learned how to give up by now, but on the contrary, a fuzzy recall only spurred an insatiable hunger for the truth. Some hidden instinct told Barnaby to keep this research hidden, so that he did just that. And his obsession began.
Albert noticed the missing files from HeroTV's records, but he wasn't unduly worried. Whenever Barnaby got his hands on a file that held potential information, Albert would call him in for a little "meeting." Barnaby would forget he ever took the files, and Albert would return them. Sometimes he even returned the same file multiple times, which made him chuckle until tears gathered at the crow's feet around his eyes.
Without the answers he needed, Barnaby's obsession blossomed into a mind-consuming tangle of itches that buzzed and chittered incessantly against his brain. He slimmed down, slept less, and developed a double-set of bags under his vivid green eyes. His vision steadily declined. He would go to school, NEXT training, then spend the night researching Ouroboros. Albert had to admire the kid's drive. He was a smart one, which was half the reason Albert had to keep modifying his memory in the first place.
And Barnaby would fight it, too, even if he did not know he was. Faces would blur and turn into fire before his very eyes as his mind struggled against Albert's fetters to remember. He had bad dreams. Albert took care of those too, adding some happy memories where he saw fit...even if they never happened. It wouldn't do to have Sternbild's next rising star a neurotic mess. Albert would smile, telling himself that he was simply looking out for everyone's best interests. It was easier that way.
As Barnaby grew older, his powers, his rage, and the stony edges of his heart made him potentially dangerous if rubbed the wrong way. These days Albert would drug Barnaby before confessing, just to err on the safe side.
Albert sighs now, as he tells Barnaby that he killed his parents for the twelfth time. But for Barnaby it's the first—it's always the first. As expected, Barnaby doesn't take it well. This time, however, he seems to be more talkative.
"How much have you changed? What's mine?" Barnaby asks as the hand descends. Just how much had Albert altered over the years? Heck, he'd been doing it for so long he barely remembered what the kid's life had really been like.
And here Barnaby kneels, pupils mydriatic from the drugged tea, tears leaving shiny little trails behind his glasses, looking up at him.
"My dear boy," Albert Maverick says sadly, "I don't think I even know that anymore."
Barnaby howls and pulls his hair, collapsing on the floor. It's okay, though. He'll feel better soon.