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Who are you? (Why does it matter?)

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At first, he doesn’t realize the memories are coming back.

Doug – except he’s not Doug he’s Carl, but he still feels like Doug – always dreams about running and maybe fighting and a beautiful woman. The woman, he knows now, is Melina. But everything else is still unknown. After a while – after real-life running and fighting and killing – he starts to realize that they’re not dreams at all.

That bothers him more than he thought it should.

*

The Fall is gone, for now, but that doesn’t mean the colonies’ problems have magically disappeared.

Maybe it’s the opposite.

Doug – Carl? No, he’s not but maybe he is? – worries that he did the wrong thing. Sure he stopped an invasion that would have eradicated all life in the Colonies, but now life isn’t any better. There are hundreds upon thousands upon hundreds of thousands of people that worked in the UFB, people who took the Fall to work every day and earned money to feed themselves or their families.

Melina never wavers, never falters. She believes in the Resistance, believed in Matthias, enough to never doubt the work they did. Doug – Carl? It makes him want to scream – believes in her because there isn’t anyone else.

People in the colonies’ don’t have Melina’s unshakeable faith to fall back on. Most of them hadn’t given two shits about the UFB or Cohaagen or the terrorists. At least, not until Cohaagen tried to take a whole fucking army of Synthetics and shove it down their throats. Now, they mill around with nothing to do but worry about the money they aren’t making and the food that is running out and the fact that nobody alive remembers a time when the colonies’ governed themselves.

Doug’s – Carl’s? Fuck why is it so hard? – dreams are getting worse. Or better. It’s hard to say. He doesn’t forget them, anymore. Wakes up with the solid weight of gun in his hands and the feel of blood drying under his nails and… and… it isn’t real.

Except it was.

Once.

*

Melina finds them an apartment not far from the Fall, where they can watch the rebuilding process. The repairs are slow going, with some new complication or dilemma or what-have-you popping up every day. He feels the air being poisoned by the taste of despair. They have all the workers, all the man power, for the job, but nobody knows what the fuck they’re doing.

It’s hard to watch, so Doug – but maybe Carl? – doesn’t. He locks himself in the apartment for days on end. He reads a lot. Watches anything but the news. He knows he’s just hiding from everything that he is, and everything that he worries he isn’t.

Melina is in and out, sometimes gone for days. There is a resistance cell in the colonies and she spends most of her time there, recruiting people to a cause that doesn’t really exist anymore, trying to make a difference. Doug – what else is he supposed to call himself when he doesn’t really remember being Carl – worries about her. Wants to help. Isn’t sure how.

They live together. Not as lovers, not as husband and wife – the word alone makes him want to snarl and cry at the same time – but together. One morning, he wakes up and mills about the apartment. He makes a small breakfast, their provisions are fine for now but in a few weeks they’ll have to worry, and sits at the table to reread a book for what feels like the millionth time.

He drifts off between paragraphs, gets lost in the words and the ink and imagery, and doesn’t notice Melina until she speaks. “What are you playing?”

She’d been gone for almost a week and the sharp pang of relief at the sight of her familiar face almost makes him forget the question. “What?” He asks after a moment of blatant staring.

Melina, angel that she is, pretends not to notice his distraction. “What are you playing?” She repeats, tilting her head meaningfully at his hands on the table.

It takes him a moment to realize she means music and suddenly Doug – because he isn’t Carl, he can’t be Carl but Doug doesn’t know shit about music – feels likes his hands are somebody else’s and like his skin is suddenly too tight and too loose at the same time. He knows the feeling well; it was usually a precursor to his body moving in ways he didn’t understand and killing people with all the ease it took to breathe.

He comes back a moment later, with Melina’s hands digging into his shoulders and her voice echoing in his hear. “Hauser! Hauser!”

Never Carl. Never Doug.

“I- I’m fine,” he chokes out, voice strangled and broken.

Melina’s look of blatant disbelief makes him laugh, just a little. “Sorry,” he says, and it sounds a little more like him – but what sounds like him? And what doesn’t? And how is he supposed to know?

She wears that nervous, pinched expression that she always does when his memories, or lack thereof, are accidently brought into conversation. They never bring them up in purpose. “I’m sorry,” she hesitates, which strikes him as wrong though he doesn’t actually know her that well, “I shouldn’t have… I didn’t know you…” she trails off awkwardly.

“That Doug didn’t know,” he manages to say, wry and self-deprecating, and he’s proud that his breath only hitches the tiniest bit.

“Yeah.”

They stand in the silence for another minute, Melina’s hands still tightly gripping his shoulders. He licks his lips and she zeros in on the action like a hawk, eyes flashing with something that makes heat bubble in the pit of Doug’s – because Carl is foreign, a stranger – stomach. He clears his throat, suddenly up and out of his chair, tearing himself away from her hands. How does he explain that her look and his response feels like a betrayal?

A betrayal to a wife that was never his wife, who tried to kill him again and again and again.

Except Doug remembers falling in love with Lori and their first kiss and devoting his life to making her smile.

Melina hides her hurt quickly, but not fast enough. He sees it and it hurts him. She turns away and panic bubbles in the back of his throat. “I don’t know the name,” he says, desperate.

She pauses.

Suddenly words are falling from his mouth, and he doesn’t recognize them except he does. “But I learned to play from this strict old lady who smelled like moldy fruit. She was a bitch, but I- I really missed her when she died.”

Melina stares at him like she never has before, and Doug – he is Doug, he is, he is, he is… he isn’t? – starts to panic when he sees the tears well up in her eyes. “I know,” she chuckles.

He realizes with a jolt that her tears are happy. But, more importantly, “You know?”

“You told me once, a long time ago,” she slowly moves closer, then they sit at the table. “When I saw your hands moving… I just assumed. You used to do that all the time.” As Carl, goes unspoken but they both hear it anyways.

He struggles to ask the question. “Car- I told you?”

She nods, curtly, and grabs his hand in an iron grip. They don’t talk, just sit in silence as the world keeps moving outside their apartment. His palm burns where their scars touch.

*

He wakes up in the middle of the night, hands reaching for an imaginary enemy and the gun under his pillow… except there isn’t anyone there and he’s never kept a gun.

Carl did, though.

Carl.

The name sends a familiar flash of panic coursing through his veins. Panic and longing. He sits in his bed, breath slowly returning to normal, sweat cooling. He left the window open the night before and the breeze is heaven against his overheated skin.

He knows he isn’t falling asleep again. Rolling out of bed, he meanders pointlessly around his room. Doug - one day it starts to sound strange, in his head, on his lips, and that scares him – was always tidy, sure, but Carl – Carl, Carl, Carl, it still doesn’t fit – was a flat-out neat freak. His room is like him, caught somewhere in the middle; a few shirts hanging over a chair, a dirty glass on the nightstand, but his bookshelf arranged in alphabetical order and separated by genre.

He’s overflowing with a strange, nervous energy. Sleep in general has been hard since he found out his life was a lie and stopped a plot to murder millions of people, but it’s been particularly hard to come by the last few days. He can’t figure out why.

So Doug – why Douglas? Is there a reason they chose that name? – wanders out into the living room. He stops to check on Melina. She’s on her side, long legs splayed across the mattress. Her arm spread out, hand clenching and unclenching. Searching. He tears himself away from the – appealing, tantalizing, familiar – sight and stomps straight through the parlor and into the kitchen.

Since the ‘music incident’ a week ago, his dreams are getting worse. More vivid, more detailed. And he’s remembering them all. They don’t make sense, yet, just a collection of disjointed, confusing images that leave him rattled. But it’s different now because he learned about the little old lady who taught him piano from these strange images, and if that’s not undeniable proof that they aren’t just some twisted nightmares then nothing is.

He goes to make a cup of coffee, exactly the way his father taught him, and it takes him a few minutes to realize that the thought is wrong. Or right? Suddenly, Doug – Doug? Who the hell is… that’s me? -  feels sick and his head is pounding and he clings to the counter like it’s the only real thing in the world.

Maybe it is?

“Hauser?” Melina’s voice is an anchor, tethering him back into reality and the here and the now.

He looks at her over his shoulder. “Hey,” he croaks weakly.

She frowns, brows furrowing in a little crinkle that sends a pang of something a lot like love shooting through his heart, but then he remembers seeing her do it before and before and before and he’s sick all over again.

Melina rushes forward to support him as his knees buckle. Her hair is down, dark waves brushing against her shoulders and the smell – citrus and flowers and guns and steel – makes him think of bare flesh and heated kisses and her voice moaning his name. He wrenches away with a strangled whimper, sliding to ground. He cradles the pounding, pulsing, aching thing he calls a head in his hands.

He is in a daze, ebbing in and out of consciousness, memories and dreams and images making his head swim and bile burn his throat. When he finally calms, Doug – why, why, why – realizes he’s in a bed. But the bed isn’t his and he’s not in his room and there is a warm presence flush against his back. For a second, his heart shatters because he’s convinced everything was just a dream and the Fall is still there and he’s in his old home with Lori.

Then he takes in the room and realizes it’s not his old apartment. The relief is palpable. “Hauser?” It’s Melina, the presence against his back, and he awkwardly turns to face her. “Are you all right?”

He mulls over the question. “Yes,” he says, slowly but certain.

“What happened?” Her tone is careful.

She’s trying tiptoe around the looming elephant in the room.

Doug – it doesn’t carry the same weight anymore, feels like somebody else’s name – isn’t sure what to say. He has no idea what happened, only that he feels more – less? – like himself than he ever has. “A good thing,” he finally says, surprising even himself.

He examines the statement from all sides, every angle, and decides its truth. Melina smiles so sweet and kind and hopeful that it takes Doug’s – but that’s not right… not what he wants – breathe away.

They don’t say anything else. Just curl closer together, his arms around her and her legs twined with his own. It feels fresh and new and wonderful, but also nostalgic and comforting and… really, it feels like home.

*

After that night, Doug’s – when did the name become some heavy burden – dreams get worse. He has them more and more, countless glimpses of a lost past. They force him awake, always with danger and paranoia and fear coursing down his spine. It gets harder to sleep. Gets harder to do anything, really, because every little action unlocks a whole new set of memories.

It’s like a twisted treasure hunt.

Some things hurt worse, but teach him more. Others are a merely a faint pinprick, emerging from the depths to nestle in the gaps of his mind and make him whole.

Piece by piece.

Doug – no, no, no, he doesn’t want that anymore – starts to get new habits. Except their not new at all. They’re things Carl – who for the first time isn’t some stranger in the back of his psyche – did.

He starts to stash knives and daggers and other random weapons into convenient places all over the apartment. (Gratifyingly, most hiding spots he chooses are already filled. Doug knows it was Melina, who picked up the quirk from Carl. It probably shouldn’t make him as proud as it does.)

He finally gives in and scours his whole room from top to bottom, arranging everything to his liking. It’s almost freakishly clean and organized, every item has a designated place and every place is somehow useful or efficient. Honestly, Doug – because he’s not Carl yet, no matter how close he’s getting – has to laugh at himself, just a little bit, because this level of cleanliness is bordering on obsession. But damn if it doesn’t put him at ease like nothing else has.

He goes out and buys a keyboard. Just a cheap, second-hand thing that is not quite falling apart but more than half-way there. The buttons are worn to be unreadable, and the case feels like sandpaper under his fingers. The keys, though, are smooth and welcoming. Doug – if only for a little while longer – can’t bring himself to try and play anything. He worries that he won’t be able to, and that maybe everything is a dream after all and… and… it’s ridiculous. He knows he can play.

So he does.

He takes the keyboard out into the living room, settling on the loveseat with the instrument balanced on the coffee table. He plays and plays and plays, until his fingers cramp and wrists burn and every time he closes his eyes he sees the white of the keyboard engraved on his eyelids. Melina gets home between songs three and four, settling into couch across from him without a word.

After song seven, she leaves and comes back with a glass of water. She places it on the table within his reach, and then sits back on the couch. She falls asleep after song ten.

Doug – … does the name even have meaning, anymore? – is infinitely grateful she never comments on the tears streaming down his face.  

One day, he walks into the kitchen and freezes. Nothing has changed from the first day they moved in, when Doug – Douglas… Doug… Douglas… who is that? – carefully and meticulously recreated the setup he’d had with Lori at their old apartment. But… it feels wrong. Melina comes home that day to find him surrounded by small mountains of plates and glasses and silverware, all the cabinets and drawers open and bare.

“Everything all right?” She asks while carefully working her way through the range to his side.

He examines the items with a critical eye. “Just need to reorganize,” he says.

Melina arches one pristine eyebrow at him, and Doug – the sense of wrong at the name is overwhelming – smiles. “It’s not the layout I like.”

She freezes, small smile sliding off her face as her eyes grow big. “Hauser?”

He grabs her by the hand, pulling her down to sit beside him. She allows it, but goes slow, still watching him with eyes that see too much and not nearly enough.

Doug – once more, for old time’s sake – leans forward to press his lips to hers in a chaste kiss that says more than his words ever can. He’s bad with those, anyway.

“Call me Carl.”