[fic] Digital Devil Saga, "No Great Romance" No Great Romance DDS2 Roland/Argilla Safe for work, early DDS2 spoilers. Approx 3000 words. ...I really like the dynamic between Roland and Argilla. It's just... not something I've seen much of, or what I've seen hasn't quite been right for me. So I thought I'd tinker with it a bit, ahahahaha.
Roland's never been a particularly demonstrative man. All the traits, he thinks, that he could demonstrate are sort of unpleasant ones. He holds a hand up to the light and watches it through his fingers. A hypocritical alcoholic -- better to be a quiet man. Not a good quality in a leader, maybe, but he doesn't really have good leaderly qualities.
So he doesn't try to catch her alone, doesn't try to babble out the sudden fever pitch of his thoughts and feelings, doesn't try to burden her like that at all.
She's off to one side, with an elbow propping her up on Gale. His face set in its usual expression, he sidesteps, and she stumbles and laughs.
Ah, he thinks wistfully, and sort of wishes he hadn't locked up all his alcohol.
The thing is, he finds, that's frustrating isn't even their -- different origins. Okay, so she's a combat AI in the flesh and also a cannibalistic demon, he's normal human and ...isn't it funny, he thinks, that I still think in terms of us and them. But he does; he can't help it. The bright synthetic colour of hair and eyes, the way he doesn't think he's seen a chip come into her nailpolish, the way she's never had to refresh her lipstick. That might just be a woman's mysterious ways, maybe she freshens up when his back's turned, but. She's not normal.
None of them are.
But it's also not like they're inviolable, so maybe it's just something about her. He leans over the back of the couch one of them times she's there reviewing material, touches her face. She jerks back, eyes wide and sharp.
"Sorry," he says. He can feel his smile go a bit sickly.
"...It's fine," she says. She tosses a few locks of hair back over her shoulder. "You shouldn't sneak up on me."
"I guess not," he says. He tries to make himself sound harmless. He has a lot of practice at it. "I was just wondering how you got that scar."
"This?" She raises her fingers to her cheek.
Roland shrugs. "Well," he says. "From all I've heard, the Cyber Shaman would hardly program a deformity in--"
"Deformity?" she protests. "I kept the eye, you know!"
"I know, I know." This is coming out all wrong. "I was just... wondering. If you'd always had it..."
Her own fingers rise to her eye, self-consciously, trace the puckered flesh. "We've been in war a lot," she says slowly. "You know that, right--"
"The Asura Project--"
"There was no Asura Project," she says. "Not to us. In the Junkyard there was just..." She gestures roughly with a hand, as if she can vent the frustration thick in her voice that way. "You've been in battles. You should know what it's like. As Lokapala's leader--"
"I was never very good in battles," Roland says. There's something turning over in his stomach. He never saw the look on Greg's face when he'd just left, but he's got a really good imagination. He says, "...I'm a coward."
"Could have fooled me," Argilla says.
"I'm trying to change," Roland says, and then thinks Idiot. Now it sounds like you're trying to impress her. He hurries on. "Besides, it's -- I've always been like this. Um. Conscious," he says. "You weren't. I don't know how to compare--"
She pulls a face, unhappy. "It feels like we've always been like this," she says, and spreads a hand over her chest. She must be indicating her heart, but her palm covers the Seismic Wave mark instead. "We've always... we know we've changed," she said. "But we've always had… I don’t know. Maybe we weren't people, but we could think and plan. Can you even get that?" Her voice broke through a thickening of emotion. "Can you get that at all? I can't look back and say 'I used to be so different' because I’m alive now. I've changed, sure, but -- can you say you haven't?!"
"I hope I've changed," Roland says. Melancholy's no good either. He tacks another weak smile on the end. He says, "It just seems like yours is a bigger change."
"I still don't feel like it," she says. "It really feels like I've always been me. Even watching the others change, and even -- I mean, sometimes it's strange," she says. "Sometimes I feel like 'wait, have I always talked like this? Have I always felt these things?' And -- thanks to you I know I haven't."
Somehow he thinks that isn't a good thing. He says, "Sorry. I just--"
"I guess it's better to know," she says. "And it doesn't... change anything. Except that we know everything's changed."
"You haven't," he says.
"Maybe," she says. "...Everyone we know has been killed."
"The Junkyard's been destroyed, right? The woman who was doing that," Argilla's shaking her head, like she's trying to get something off that's dug its claws in. "She murdered all of them."
Roland says, "Murdered? What do you mean?"
"There were people in there," Argilla says. "Maybe you can't see it -- maybe unless we're... unless we're flesh and blood and scarred and standing in front of you, maybe we're not people to you until you see that. But we had an entire tribe in there!" She points vaguely at the electronic equipment, as if that too might house the Junkyard. "There were -- we were a small Tribe, but by the end every other Tribe ended up under our command and protection! And we were lucky. We lived. But they all -- there won't be any more cycling of information for them. They're not going to rain back down into a river of reincarnation." There are tears in her eyes. "Unless you think that they're going to end up on a human cycle, out here."
"Why not?" Roland says, softly. "I don't know what happens when you die. But I don't see why you should go to anywhere different from us. Or why they should."
"They're still dead. And nobody will care," Argilla says. "Except us. They're numbers, right? Ones and zeroes." She spits the last word.
Roland says, "Tell me about them."
She looks tired. "Maybe later," she says.
He nods. Silence falls. After a moment, he adds, "You still didn't tell me how you got the scar."
"--This?" She raises a hand and cups it over the scar. "...Shrapnel. I'm a sniper, so I stay out of the way, but we usually fought with the Vanguards. They've got long-range explosive arrows. -- Had, I mean. Guns that covered a broad field in a single burst were our major countermeasure... shoot them out of the sky. Sometimes things got through. One hit the rock beside me and blew it up. Most of the shrapnel missed me or didn't do enough to last, but one chunk got me. I was lucky that it was a graze upwards and missed the eye."
"You were," he says.
She seems suddenly self-conscious. "I don't mind it or anything," she says. "Battle scars are nothing to be ashamed of."
"You just take such care of your appearance," he says, "that I wondered."
She frowns. "You think it makes me ugly?"
"No," he says.
"Roland," she says. "What's love?"
He chokes on his soda. Pounds his chest, peers at her. "What's all that about?"
"Serph," she says. "I think he's in love with Sera. But... I don't know what that means."
"Well--" Roland broke off. "How can you tell? We haven't even seen the Cyber Shaman. And if you're talking about before -- did he used to talk more then?"
"Oh no," Argilla says. "Serph doesn't usually talk. Well, sometimes if you ask him a direct question he'll say a word or two."
Roland says, "I really don't know how you understand him."
"He's Serph," Argilla says. "Watch his face -- around the eyes. He communicates almost entirely in feelings."
"In feelings, huh."
"You don't believe me." She sounds amused.
"I just don't know how you can tell."
She rubs the back of her neck. "Well, we've known him a long time. He gets... gentle when he thinks about Sera."
"...How do you know he's thinking about Sera?"
"Well," she says. "What else would make him get so gentle?"
"That's circular reasoning!" He scowls at her.
She scowls back at him. "But it's right!"
"Even if you were right that it's love, how do you know it's about the Cyber Shaman? It could be about... you! Or..." he gropes desperately. "Or Gale!"
Argilla manages to hold the serious expression for another few seconds. Then her lips purse twitchily. "Pfft," she said, and then doubled over, laughing.
"Well, maybe not Gale--"
"Did somebody call for me?" Gale asks.
"No," Argilla says. "No, it's fine! Gale, do you think Serph might be in love with you?"
He stares at her silently for a few long seconds, watching her laugh. "You are very difficult to get along with sometimes," he informs her finally, and withdraws.
"Um, is that okay?" Roland asks, twisting to look back over his shoulder at the closed door. "He's not mad?"
"Nah, just bemused," Argilla says. She wipes a tear. "When Gale's angry, people die."
"Ah." Roland gives her a strained smile. "I can see why that would be comforting."
"It seems to me," he cut in, "that you already know what love is. Somehow."
She hesitates. "It seems that way," she says.
He can't help it; it's morbid curiousity. "Have you been in love before?"
Her expression falls. "Maybe," she says. "I don't know."
He doesn't press.
Eventually, she keeps her word and starts telling him about some of the Embryon.
"There was one who -- what's the term for when someone really looks up to a superior?"
"Hero-worship," Roland suggests.
"I guess," Argilla says. She hesitates. "She was very forthright about the things she enjoyed. Maybe she liked me because I helped her -- there was a raid on us once and she was almost dying when we got to her with a little medical care. It's ... hard, that sort of raid. I know that we've done the same thing to others, but there's something terrible about coming back to your base and seeing blood and bullets everywhere, and people dying. Her blood was really warm. I mean, I was trying to hold the wound shut -- She was one of the ones who really likes devouring, but she admired me anyway. That's unusual. Isn't it strange?"
"Well," he says thoughtfully. "Perhaps also just having a woman in power in the command structure..."
"That sort of thing isn't as much of a problem as it is out here." She seems at once to pause. "I think, anyway," she says. "I mean, after we... 'woke up' there were slimy little bastards who had problems with it, but one of the Tribe leaders was even a woman."
"Jinana," Argilla says. Abruptly, listening to her, Roland knows who she might have been in love with. Don't get worked up; you didn't have a chance anyway.
Roland nods. "What was the other woman's name?"
"The one from your Tribe. The one who looked up to you."
Argilla looks stricken. She says, "I don't think she had one."
Roland stops in front of the closed doorway when he hears the conversation on the other side.
"—and I presume that it is referring to one's physical sex characteristics."
"Not really," Argilla protests. "That's not how they were talking about it--"
"Dat's not how dey mean it, bro," Cielo agrees. "Dey mean it like. You know!"
"I don't know."
"No, what? Tell me!"
"Ehhh," Cielo says. "It's weird to make a big fuss over. It's just -- how dey make babies, you know?"
"More than that," Argilla says. "You feel... good, right?"
"Yeah, dat's right."
"...And how do you know about this, Cielo?"
"I just... know."
"Have you done it-?"
"What?! No! I jus' know, okay?" Cielo sounds... huffy.
"Well," Argilla says. "I suppose that's fair."
Roland closes his eyes and leans against the wall beside the door. He pinches the bridge of his nose. Funny, that right then he'd be the one to feel so completely alienated, he thinks.
He thinks, Of course they'd never know. The Cyber Shaman would never have programmed them with those traits. They were combat AIs, designed for warfare, meant to have excess functions eliminated. They probably didn't want to distract whatever soldier they'd end up in. Of course something he takes as basic and has been for years is -- completely abnormal.
It occurs to him, glancing around and noting the lack of his men around given the late hour, that it's quite possible that he's the only person in the base at the moment who's not a virgin. That probably shouldn't be so depressing.
The silence in the other room is broken by Argilla's voiced, amused and shocked. "Serph! Come on -- I don't think so!"
"Ludicrous," Gale agrees dryly.
He wonders what he's missing by not being in there with them.
Argilla's not really a happy person. He notices that, watching her. He thinks she feels maybe helpless. He thinks she's maybe suppressing grief.
He doesn't think he can help her at all. But it's starting to wear on him.
Maybe he's imagining it; his own mood's been black lately, and it's far too easy to read things into others. That distant look in her eyes could be anything. She could be thinking about the past, or about the future, or about her next...meal. God knows it's on his own mind all the time.
He sinks onto the couch beside her and says, "You know, I've been wondering."
Slowly, he draws a breath and releases it. If he is just imagining it, he'll just be torturing himself for nothing -- But hell. That's my biggest skill, isn't it?
"Would you tell me about Jinana?" he asks.
Ten minutes later he breaks out the alcohol. He probably shouldn't have kept the key, he thinks, resigned. Argilla refuses it, but he pours himself a glass. The familiar burn of it tastes a bit like failure. Used to that too.
Twenty minutes in he pours himself another glass.
A half hour in, Argilla stops.
"Sorry," she says. "Listen to me go on." She wipes at her face with the heel of her hand, carefully avoiding the eye itself, just wiping under it. The gesture of a woman used to minding her makeup. Perhaps it smears after all.
He says, "She sounds like an incredible person."
"Yes," Argilla says.
What am I going to do with myself, Roland wonders. On the upside, he's nursing the last of his only remaining bottle, so when it's gone he won't be tempted by more. But. But.
It's dark in the room; he holds a hand up to the ceiling. There's a fan up there somewhere, rotating gently. He can feel the breeze against his hand, can feel it tickling down to his atma mark. As if acknowledging his thoughts, it sparks briefly into light.
No, he thinks. No.
But it's true; he's hungry anyway. Feels completely empty and undone. Wants that to change, he thinks wistfully. Wants to feel-- more.
He's years too late for that, he thinks, and raises his glass. There's only a small amount left now.
"Here's to us, Greg," he says and drinks.
The next day, he hurts all over. One upside to the atma, he thinks blearily -- his stomach isn't upset. Even now he's hungry.
Gale notices first off and gives him a look -- flatly disappointed. You expected better of me, huh. Aimed a little high, didn't you? Cielo doesn't seem to notice, at least, and Argilla doesn't place the source.
Still, he can function while hung over, so he does listen as they plan their next move, and then he sits there and massages his temples while waiting for the group to finish buying supplies.
Argilla comes in a few moments later, and asks him bluntly, "Are you sick?"
The urge to make some quip rises, then dies. "Well," he says. "I'm just a little unwell right now. I've got a bit of a headache."
She leans over him, puts her forehead to his. "You don't have a fever-"
She's so close. He'll regret it, but that's never stopped him before. He leans up, just a little.
Her lips are soft, smooth. The teeth behind them are slightly sharp-edged. Her mouth is hot and wet and as human as anyone else's.
Argilla pulls back first, but at least she doesn't look offended. A little concerned, maybe, her brows drawn down, her lips pursed. She raises her fingertips to her mouth.
"Sorry," he says. He smiles wanly.
To his surprise, she smiles back a moment later. The expression is rueful, maybe understanding. "Poor Roland," she says softly. It's not pitying, and not ignorant.
Maybe that hurts most, but not really in a bad way. He'll have no great romance with her, no passions, nothing like that, but -- she understands and she's heard what he hasn't said and she's. Okay with it. His chest is stabbing agony but he feels lighter. He says, "When're we heading out?"
"Soon," she says. "Here -- it's for stomachaches, but it should help your head." She presses some medicine into his hand. "...Don't ask where I got it," she adds after a moment, grimacing.
He snorts a laugh. Well, things aren't as hopeless as all that. "I won't," he says.
"Be ready to go."
She nods, heads to the door. Her stride's as firm as ever. "Roland?"
"Thanks," she says. "For everything."
It's not what he'd been hoping for, but in a way it's better, he thinks. That wall between them is down.