Before he steps through the final door, Booker DeWitt shuts his eyes. Screws them shut until not even the faintest bit of light can slip through and blind him; squeezes until the skin around his skull feels too tight, like it will rip away from the bone. Anything is more preferable to what he knows awaits him behind this door. He cannot face it – cannot bare to accept the truth. His stomach churns and as his fingertips press against the wooden passage, he swears that he can hear the flow of water coming from within.
He cannot do this.
“I have to.” He murmurs and he can feel a small, delicate hand (No – the tips of each finger are rough now. Their delicate touch has been stripped away within only hours.) upon his own. They press, almost pleading for him to turn around and forget everything he has seen. “It’s the only way to undo what I’ve done to you.”
He breaths in – a deep intake of air that fills his lungs until his chest aches more than the pounding residing in his head – and steps through.
He was right about the water. It soaks through his trousers, making the fabric stick to his flesh awkwardly, and floods his shoes. He will have to find something else to wear, he thinks, before he realizes how silly it sounds. It is almost enough to make him laugh, but the weight in his chest clings to the sound and forces it from his throat and his eyes open. The walls are crumbling as he is forced to face the transgressions of his past – forced to face the preaching of a man who would help him atone for such sins, or watch him cast aside from salvation.
This is not what he wants to see. His head hurts. He cannot breath.
“This isn’t the same place.” The voice is soft and yet so firm. Confident in its assertion, like a mother to a child, even when he swears that it is wrong. This is the same place. He recalls it as though not a day has passed by, sees it now as one sees their own reflection. This is so much more than a memory.
When he turns, intending to face her and tell her just that, she is not alone. She has never been alone. There are too many. Too many of her, too many women that he knows and does not. She stands before him, while standing at her own side. Her hair is long, a girlish bow wrapped around its strands, like when they had first met. Another stands in a dress he cannot remember ever seeing. But the one whose eyes he meets, whom he cannot tear his gaze from, stands as he remembers: hair cropped by the blades of a murderer – by herself. It does not make sense, but it does not have to.
Another appears. Then another. And another. It continues until before him stands a sea of the same woman. Their eyes upon him with both pity and anger, both love and hatred. She is so young, there should be nothing but an entire world of possibilities ahead of her, but those eyes are so old. Cold as the water that still flows beneath their feet.
Who are these other women, he wants to ask. Where is Anna? Who is Anna? Which one is his daughter? Each question makes his lungs grow smaller, until he can barely breath and all he can do is gasp for air in short, pathetic bursts. His head continues to pound, as though a hammer has broken through the side of his skull. There are more memories where only one should be and he reaches up to touch his nose.
“You chose to walk away.”
He tries to keep his eyes on her, to deny the feeling of fresh blood upon his fingertips. He can smell it now though, practically taste it in the back of his throat. It tells him everything and nothing. When he feels as if he will be sick, it takes all his willpower not to start retching and he forces himself to swallow back the feeling. It burns his throat, as if he has drank the foulest of drinks, and he wonders if doing such a thing will scar his already blackened innards.
“But in other oceans, you didn’t.
“You took the baptism.”
“You were born again as a different man.”
He reaches out, intending to stop her. To stop them. Stop Elizabeth. Stop Anna. If she does not say it, it will not be true. It cannot be true. How could such a horrible thing be true? He saved her life. He freed her from her cage so that she could spread her wings and fly away from that awful place. He is not a good man, but he is no longer a monster. He knows who he is. He is Booker DeWitt. He cannot be anyone else; he has never been anyone else. He has been himself his entire life and no baptism would change that.
He does not believe her. He refuses to believe her. She is wrong. He is Booker DeWitt. He is not—
“Comstock.” He finishes, the name tumbling past his lips before he can stop himself.
The blood is flowing down his face, dripping across his lips and he clenches his teeth hard together in response. There are two memories. He remembers taking the baptism, but he also remembers pushing his way free from the crowd and rushing home. In both worlds he remembers a Miss Annabelle Watson. He remembers being in love. He remembers Columbia in one world, but he also remembers Anna in the other. In both worlds he remembers Wounded Knee, but only in one does he remember the Boxers.
One man who has lived both lives – a man who has lived in both of these worlds, so similar and yet so very different. It is too much. It feels like his head will burst, explode from the pressure of too many memories. They do not belong to him and yet they do. The pain is too much, chipping away at him so furiously that his knees shake and he threatens to topple over as the seconds waste away. No one is going to save him though. Not this time.
Elizabeth – or is she Anna now? – is staring at him. All of them are. Their eyes bore into him, carving holes into his flesh and burning them closed until his whole body is numb. She stings him like a roaring fire, but chills him to the bone like a wave of ice water. Does she hate him now? Do they all hate him now? He sold her. He sold them. He sold Anna. He sold his baby girl. All of this pain, all of her pain, is his fault. One selfish act has led to a million others and he has taken on the role so well. Fit into the costume each time as though he has always been meant to play the part.
And maybe he has.
Now standing before his daughter, the child he abandoned to a stranger and to himself, he is forced to remember every second of pain he has caused her. He is forced to watch again as he gives her up, forced to watch as he locks her away. Forced to watch as he ends her life before it can ever begin. She is trapped in every world, in every reality because of the selfish actions of one man who is both father and monster. Her torture is at the hands of a man she should trust and he is filled with disgust as each memory passes through him.
“It all has to end.”
“To have never started.”
She steps forward. Another joins her. Then another.
“Not just in this world.”
“But in all of ours.”
There are more memories. Like a flood they fill him until breath is completely stolen from him. All of them, he remembers every single one of them and he has to resist the temptation to fall to his knees. Resist the temptation to open his mouth and scream, to dispel the ice inside of him – the poison that fills his veins. There is more blood now, it has reached his chest and he can feel it dripping onto his clothes. It is so warm, like boiling water against his frozen skin, and he reaches up with flailing hands to wipe it away. Instinct driving him to save himself from the pain his mind knows he deserves.
Blue eyes are still watching him. Dozens, maybe hundreds of them watch him with an expression he cannot place. Nothing about her tells him if she takes joy in his pain, nothing about her tells him if she hates him. She frowns. They frown. Though he cannot tell if she is upset with what is happening, or what has happened. She had tried to stop him, to prevent his own self-inflicted torture, but now he wonders if she had ever truly wanted to save him. She could never save him though, they both know the truth and it has only been a matter of time until he pays for his sins. It is only a matter of time and he knows what is about to come.
“Smother him in the crib.” He tells her, the cold ache caused by the water creeping up to his chest and mixing with the burning of his blood. His legs shake more, buckling under his weight and forcing him to catch himself several times before the water takes him. The world around him is crumbling, though he knows that he is the only one who can see it.
Smother. Smother. Smother. The women – or is it woman? – echo like a lullaby for an eternity. All sounds cease in that existence, until all that is left of the world is her voice. She is the mother of this world, and yet only a child. She is a god and a mere visitor, threatening to disappear with each passing moment. There is nothing and yet there is everything.
“Before the choice is made.” One cries, stepping forward again and ending eternity in one motion. He wants to push her back, to scream at her and tell her to stop playing such cruel games. He wants her to take them back to Columbia, so they can just leave and go to Paris. It can be just like she wanted. She can have a father. He can have a daughter. They can be together again.
“Before you are reborn.” Another agrees, the confidence in her voice masking the shattering glass of her porcelain world and the pools of hatred filling what remains. This is what she wants. It is what they both want. It is what has to be done. He can still repent; he can still save them both. One selfless act in a sea of selfish ones is all it will take to do so.
The preacher – he recalls that his name is Whitting – still stands behind them, both present and distant, like a ghost of a man with only one purpose. A purpose that has been given to him and taken from him in so many worlds, a mere prop in the world of Booker DeWitt. Booker hears him, like reading off of a script, asking what name he will be taking. There are so many oceans, ones where he will never answer and others where he will.
“He’s Zachary Comstock.” An Elizabeth answers, gripping onto his arm until her broken nails are cutting into his flesh like knives.
But she is wrong.
“He’s Booker DeWitt.” Another answers, stepping forward and taking his arm just as fiercely as before.
But she is wrong.
“No.” He corrects them, “I’m both.”
As she plunges him into the waters beneath, he does not struggle. Their hands claw into his clothes and arms, threatening to tear away his skin before the deed is done. His vision fades, the cold water stinging at his eyes and begging them to close. When the pressure in his lungs becomes too much, he kicks at her, trying to tear himself free of her and take in the air above. She pushes him down with more force, until the back of his head rests on the sand below. His heart is pounding. His mind panicking. He tries to focus on Elizabeth’s face – on Anna’s face. He tells himself she will be safe. He tells himself that this is how things must be.
With him, Columbia will die. His death will open her cage, tear away the faux gold from its bars and expose the rust beneath to the world. She will tear it apart with the ferocity she has learned from him and free all those from his heartless misdeeds. In all oceans, his choice will cease to be made and he will die.
And die he does. In the river where he may have been reborn and at the hands of the daughter he would have sold to the monster he would have become – the monster he has always been. There is no Zachary Hale Comstock. There is no Booker DeWitt. For now he is nothing and no one. There is only darkness. No pearly gates, no angels ready to greet him, but in contrast, there are no fires, no demons. The gates of Hell have not claimed him and he spirals into the darkness of Limbo. Nothingness.
A fitting end.
And then, it is as if the nothingness has never happened and he can feel everything all at once. He gasps, his lungs desperate and wanting for air that had been deprived from him in what felt like only moments before. His eyes rip open and like a newborn, the light is blinding. It speckles his vision, causing the world to dance around him like speckles of color. It makes the ache in the back of his head worse, makes it hard for him to remember where he is, but soon the familiar, yet dull, colors of his office jog his memories. He is shocked to say the least.
Booker knows he should be happy to be alive. Should rejoice to be so far away from the cursed city in the sky, but everything in him tells him to be wary. To fear what has happened and that nothing here can possibly be right. He is supposed to be dead and if this is what Limbo truly is, he finds he would prefer the fires of Hell. If nothing else, he preferred the nothingness that death had offered him before, finds it better suited to his crimes. He shuts his eyes, waits for the room to vanish, but it remains no matter how many times he wills it away.
Slowly, with a hand that shakes more than ever before, he reaches up. He had to be sure. His fingers press themselves to the skin beneath his nose and he expects to feel the warmth of blood, to smell it, or even taste it but finds nothing. It answers nothing. Does nothing to still his beating heart. Where is he? Who is he – Booker DeWitt, or Zachary Comstock?
He looks around the room, expecting to find his mysterious friend. Expecting to find his daughter. Expects to hear her voice, to hear how this is yet another door to one of her many oceans. He expects to find a tear, the one he has seen so many times before; far too many times before. She is missing though and more troubling is what else he finds missing. There is no pounding, no screaming from his door. No one tells him to bring them the girl. No one tells him he must wipe away his debt. The Luteces are nowhere to be found and for the first time in far too long, the room is silent.
For a moment, he thinks he might have fallen into a dream. That there has been no grand adventure. His time with the bottle has caused him to lose his grip on reality and not just his wallet. It would make sense. In fact, it would make more sense than the alternative, but still he refuses to believe it to be true. It was real. Columbia was real. Comstock was real. Elizabeth, his daughter, she has to be real. Anna had to be—
He jumps to his feet, nearly tripping as he rushes towards the door of her bedroom. He nearly stops moving, to stop and get support at his desk, but every bone in his body, every nerve, tells him to keep moving. He has to know. Where is she? Where is his daughter? Is she safe? Is it too late? Where is his Anna?
He is at the door within seconds, shoving it open and calling her name, pleading to whoever will listen for his baby girl to be safe in her crib. Begs for her to still be with him, his voice sounding desperate even to his own ears. He has to know. Who is he? Booker DeWitt, or Zachary Comstock? Where is his daughter? Who is his daughter? Anna DeWitt, or Elizabeth Comstock?
The door finally opens, slamming against the wall with such force that he is sure the wall behind it will have dented or punctured.
It was not a dream. It could not be. Columbia was real.
Anna was Elizabeth. He sold her. He sold his daughter.
He died to stop Comstock. He died to save her. Died to stop the cycle.
So who is he?
There is a child crying in the crib.
“Anna? Is that you?” He is nearly crying as he approaches the corner of the room where the old white crib is. Tiny screams rise from it and he knows it is Anna before he can see her. Knows her tiny voice like his favorite song. It is not too late. They can finally be together. He knows he can be a better father. He knows he will never abandon her again, will never let himself or anyone cause her harm. She will see Paris, just like she wanted. He can stop drinking; get a more respectable job. He can take care of her now. They can be a family.
He trips, hands catching onto the wooden frame of her bed. The crying stops, her tiny face filling with joy as he stands back up and into her sights. It is an awkward sight, like she is still unsure of how to control her muscles, but it is a smile all the same. He chokes back a sob and smiles back, scooping her into his arms with care (“Mind her head, Booker,” he repeats until it is all he can think) and holds her close. Her chubby arms reach for his face and grab onto his cheeks, pinching him until he is laughing and sobbing all at once. He plants a soft kiss upon her tiny head; the downy, brown hair on her scalp tickles at his nose and he smiles more. She smells wonderful – clean and new. He used to hate it, but now he realizes there has never been anything so perfect in his life.
“I’m so sorry, Anna.”
She coos and her awkward smiles brightens up more (if that was even possible). He rubs her cheek, its soft against his rough flesh, and whispers, “I’m so sorry, Elizabeth.”
Her bright blue eyes shine in the light – her mother’s, just like her mother’s. They are so young and yet wisdom hidden there too, something that tells him she understands everything and that she has forgiven him. She presses her head against his, her tiny breaths and coos like a little song. A part of him wonders, as he rocks her in his arms, if he is holding onto Anna DeWitt, while another part of him wonders if he is holding onto Elizabeth Comstock.
“No,” he answers, watching as she finally closes her eyes and she falls into a peaceful sleep, “You’re both.”