Today, the sight and sound of Long Now did not cause Danny any of the usual emotions.
Usually, Danny associated Long Now with one of two sets of emotions. Dread, if it was not expected, because what did he have to fix now? Relief, if it was expected, because he could be sure his lessons with Clockwork (lessons whose purpose Clockwork was awfully tight-lipped about, except that they were 'for the future') would not be interrupted.
But, usually, Danny's week hadn't gone quite so poorly. He ached from the tips of his toes to the top of his head, with a few sharper pains standing out in a constellation of suffering. His right ankle - twisted; he hadn't gotten a good enough stance before catching that building. His teeth and jaw - bruised and loose; Skulker had fed him a couple of rocket assisted knuckle sandwiches. His left bicep - swollen; bitten by a mildly venomous ghost snake. His back and neck - kinked; he had no idea what he'd done to them, but it couldn't have been any variation of 'slept on it wrong,' because he hadn't slept. His head - pounding; he'd only rarely had a headache this bad.
In other words, he felt bad. The only emotions he could really sum up at the moment were exhaustion (that was an emotion, right?), resignation, and determination. He had promised to come to these lessons, and he was going to keep that promise, despite Long Now's… everything.
Different parts of the Ghost Zone, Danny had learned, had different effects. Tendencies that could be resisted with little effort, even if you didn't know they were there. Mattingly resisted change. Pandemonium embraced it. The Labyrinth wanted to be solved. The Lost Woods didn't.
Long Now wanted you to be in time.
It wanted you to move in rhythm with its many clocks, every motion, every word, even every thought in order, locked to the sinusoidal curves described by its pendulums and the rotations of its gears.
Usually, at worst, this would be annoying. It took only the tiniest of efforts to break away from the tendency. To use the well-worn wheelbarrow in the garden analogy, the push exerted by Long Now would barely be a dip in a well-maintained path.
But, as established, this wasn't a usual day, and as Danny approached Long Now the throbbing of his head began to synchronize with the ticking of the clocks and the rise and fall of the pain from his other ailments. His movements and his thoughts, spurred by the pain, followed suit soon after. He pulled himself out of sync several times, but he was tired, and he kept falling back into step… During most of his visits, he didn't bother to avoid it. Most of the time, it was a comfort. And it kept him from falling between gears by mistake.
Today, every tick had him fighting back static from the edge of his vision. He wanted to turn around and go home to sleep… but he had promised…
"You don't look well today," observed Clockwork, when Danny finally managed to get in.
"Headache," said Danny. Even his bones felt like they hurt. What was up with that?
"I've prepared some tea. Would you like to try it?"
Danny was just about ready to try anything. Already, he'd taken a shot at hot packs and a hot shower to try to loosen up… But all those things did was make him feel like he was definitely at the wrong temperature… He'd even taken his temperature, wondering if he'd gotten sick, but he'd just gotten back error messages on the thermometer. He nodded, then winced, the timing of the movement making the pain worse.
"Come," said Clockwork, "sit down." He motioned to a sitting space that may or may not have been there moments before, but which certainly hadn't been there last week. The couches were reddish pink, with the back and arms shaped like rounded branches. The low coffee table was clear, blue-tinted glass. The tea service on it was shaped like shells. The green carpet was something like shag, but the fibers were of uneven lengths, some of them over a foot long, and they stood on end, swaying like seaweed in an invisible current. The rippling blue light coming from overhead did not help matters.
Danny wondered, briefly, if the subject matter of the day's lesson was going to be ocean-themed.
"We can delay today's lesson until you feel better," said Clockwork, steering him to sit on one of the couches. "No, you didn't say anything out loud, but I do have some experience with your facial expressions at this point." He handed Danny a steaming cup.
Danny, as delicately as possible, sniffed at it. The odor wasn't offensive, despite his headache, so he took a sip. It was… sweet. Floral.
The warmth of it reached his stomach and began to permeate. The warmth wasn't particularly helpful, but the tea itself could be called relaxing.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Flowers from your grave," said Clockwork, sipping his own tea.
"Is that the name of the blend, or is it literally…?"
"I don't have a grave."
Danny blinked slowly - but definitely still in sync with his pounding headache - at that pronouncement. However, he had learned not to ask too many questions about the future. Eventually. Especially questions about things like that.
He took another, final sip as the clocks chimed the quarter-hour, and groaned.
"It really hurts," he said.
"Hm," said Clockwork, contemplatively. "Finish your tea, and we can see if a massage will help."
"A massage? From who?"
"From me," said Clockwork. "I do, on occasion, take up a hobby, and given all of time…" He shrugged, and Danny took another sip.
"Okay," said Danny, dubiously. Clockwork didn't exactly look like the kind of person to give good massages… and he was kind of a loner, so Danny didn't know how he'd practice…
"Oh," said Danny, feeling himself blush. To hide his embarrassment, he tilted the teacup back and drank the rest of the tea all at once.
"Good," said Clockwork. "Now, has it been bothering you more as a human or a ghost?"
"Human," said Danny.
"Go ahead and change and take your shoes off," said Clockwork, pushing the coffee table to one side with a wave of his hand.
"But the lesson," said Danny, objecting more on principle than anything else.
"If you would like, I could lecture you while I give you your massage, but I doubt you'd remember much of it."
"Okay," said Danny, putting down the teacup. "Fine." He turned human and swayed dizzily for a moment before toeing off his shoes.
The carpet, despite looking like some kind of eldritch horror, was very soft.
"Here," said Clockwork, putting a coral-red pillow on the floor and coiling his tail underneath him. "Lay down."
Danny made a face at him - that hurt, too. His jaw was not healed yet, and at this rate he had to imagine it had been fractured, not just bruised. He took the second between ticks to waffle about position, then laid down on his front. Closing his eyes felt great.
Clockwork's hands hovered - ghosted - over his back. "Are you ready?"
"Yeah," said Danny.
Clockwork let his hands close the rest of the distance and started rubbing little circles into Danny's back. He managed to seek out Danny's very tightest muscles and ease away the knots. In his back, his neck, even his head, with Clockwork's gloved fingers questing rhythmically over his scalp. It didn't fix everything, and certainly not his headache, but some of the tension he'd built up started to drop.
"Now," said Clockwork. "That lecture. Have you ever heard of the mind-body problem?"
"Philosophy thing?" guessed Danny.
"Quite so. It is the debate regarding the relationship between the conscious mind, the brain, and the body. You might be surprised that the debate exists among ghosts as well."
Danny wasn't. Ghosts would argue about just about anything.
Then, the nature of the pressure Clockwork was exerting changed. It didn't lessen, but it became… fluttery and deep, like Clockwork was brushing up against not skin, but muscle and bone. It felt cold, but not unwelcome, a chill spreading from his core in response.
"'R'you intangible?" mumbled Danny into the pillow. His words tasted cold, then, colder, as his core pulsed and a plume of fog from his ghost sense billowed past his lips.
"Only a little," said Clockwork. "Do you want me to stop?"
"Nhh," said Danny. "Feels good." His core pulsed again, stronger, and Danny peeled open his eyes to see the fog of his ghost sense flowing down, off the edge of the pillow, and over his outstretched arm. The strands of the carpet undulated, wafting the fog back into his face, and he shut his eyes against it.
"I'm glad," said Clockwork. He adjusted his position so that his hands were just over Danny's core. He pushed one of Danny's vertebrae into its proper place just so and Danny couldn't help but let out an inarticulate sigh of relief. "There. I am good at this," he added, clearly smug. "Where was I? Ah, yes. The ghostly version of the mind-body problem. The presence of an existence beyond the expiration of one's physical body does complicate the debate significantly."
The chill coming from Danny's core deepened and continued to spread. The cold made him feel stiff, frozen, which only made sense. He was human at the moment. Clockwork worked outward with it, pushing Danny's recalcitrant bones and muscles into place before they became too cold to move comfortably.
It felt very strange, but for all the stiffness, the cold eased his pain far better than the hot packs and hot showers did. Except for one thing. As the cold crept up his spine, the pressure in his head grew and grew.
"Now, the most popular general supposition is that there is a soul - a hidden variable, if you would, I know you've been looking into quantum physics recently - that exists outside of the mind and body and which provides for continuity between a human and their ghost." Clockwork lifted Danny slightly, and touched the backs of his knees. Danny compiled, tucking his knees to his chest as well as he was able.
The cold was creeping up Danny's neck, now. The rest of his body felt fine, even his snakebite chilled to numbness, but his head… His eyes pricked with tears that did not run down his face.
"From there, it is said that in a human, the mind is the interface between the body and the soul, their point of contact, and that, in a ghost, the body is a projection of a mind retained by a soul. That it is much more difficult to damage or change a ghost's mind through its body than it is to do the same to a human through similar methods - drugs, coercion, physical trauma, etcetera - is used as evidence."
Clockwork picked at the tight muscles at the base of Danny's neck, and Danny could almost visualize him laying them flat, smoothing them out, and running his fingers up to the base of his skull. It felt good, but didn't help with the still building pressure.
He wondered, a little hysterically, if his head would explode from it.
The pressure built and it built and it built, even as Clockwork's fingers dipped soothingly in and out of his skull. It just kept going up and getting worse, increasing just a little more with every second that passed–
And then it all rushed away, like air in a popped balloon. Something wet ran from the inner corner of his eye, drying quickly.
Relieved, Danny's core began to pur, each vibration mechanically precise and perfectly in time. It was the only part of him that moved at all, beyond the cold air still flowing freely from his mouth. He'd never purred before, he didn't think, but it felt right.
Somewhat more aware of his surroundings than he had been, he noted that Clockwork had wrapped him around something large and plush, and rolled him onto his side.
"Of course, you are in a unique position. Can your mind be said to be an interface? Does your ghostly body arise from your human one, or from your mind? How is one exchanged for the other?" He ran one finger from the crown of Danny's head all the way down his spine, and then started to work small circles into the soles of Danny's feet, which did not tickle nearly as much as he thought it would. "I'm glad you're feeling better, Daniel."
So was Danny.
Clockwork stroked him again, all the way along his spine, and the temperature of his core dropped again. He was cold. So wonderfully cold. Didn't Frostbite say something about freezing himself solid…? The memory danced out of reach, and his thoughts were too slow to chase it.
Another half-intangible stroke.
The volume of his purr was so loud, but it meshed with the clocks so well. It was almost hypnotic.
He felt so nice and cozy. It should be fine to just… sleep… just a little…
Danny startled himself away and rolled off the coral couch, narrowly avoiding hitting the coffee table right next to it. A large plush stuffed bear fell on top of him.
"What?" he said, blinking blurriness out of his eyes. "Huh?"
"You fell asleep," said Clockwork, sitting on the other couch and drinking from a shell-shaped teacup, "right after the tea."
"You didn't wake me up?" asked Danny. He was in ghost form. His shoes were still on.
Clockwork raised an eyebrow. "I didn't see any point in doing so. You were exhausted and needed rest. I would be a poor mentor indeed if I could not accommodate for that."
Danny pulled himself back up onto the couch. Even if he wasn't in the Ghost Zone, he imagined he'd feel unsettled and unmoored. "How long was I asleep?"
"Eight hours. Do you feel better?"
"Yeah," said Danny, running his knuckles gently over his breastbone, trying to recapture the feeling of purring.
"Did you have any dreams?"
Danny looked up, sharply. "How did you know?"
"Aren't dreams often portents? Omens?" Clockwork shrugged. "It's a common side effect to being here, and even more common, considering what I'm trying to teach you. Don't think too deeply about them, though. They rarely show us our own futures."
"Oh," said Danny. "You didn't offer to give me a massage did you?"
"Huh." He kept rubbing his chest. "I think…" He didn't know what he thought. "I think I might have frozen to death."
"Interesting," said Clockwork, with the air he took on when searching through alternate timelines. His face twitched and he took another sip of tea. "Ah. Well. This blend is designed more to wake you up than it is to put you to sleep, if you would like it."
"Clockwork, what happened in that timeline?"
"Nothing you need to worry about."
Clockwork flicked his pointer finger at the bear and used telekinesis to deposit it in Danny's lap. "Perhaps next time we can review lucid dreaming methods."
"Much of the dream was pure fantasy," allowed Clockwork, after a moment, "but you should be cautious of anything that excites your core so much. Also, if you linger too much longer, you'll be late."