[fic] Digital Devil Saga 2, "Gin" Gin Digital Devil Saga 2 Roland-centric, not entirely safe for work. Spoilers up to the ending.
"Cheers," Roland says, and holds up his glass.
Greg's expression is serious, but he lifts his glass nevertheless. Light glints off the rim, catches in Roland's eye; the sound their glasses make would be pure but for the ice shifting in them. "Cheers," Greg agrees. "To the Lokapala."
College ended last week when the school closed down for good. Roland feels free and cut loose and bound up in Greg's plans and Greg's life. He swirls his glass, drinks; it's bitter, but not in a bad way. Like burning fire rolling down his throat and igniting in his belly. He's never had plans before; it's kind of cool. He rests an arm on the bar, leans his cheek on it as the evening wears on. Greg is giving a speech, still serious, always serious. They're rebels now, he wants to cry to Greg's straight-lined, warrior profile. Rebels! Why be so damn serious? They've got all the freedom in the goddamn world!
The men around them are like Greg more than like him, serious and solid, rock-built. Roland rubs his chin, rubs his fingers over the scratchy hairs there; he probably looks a mess. He should shave soon. Tomorrow. He'll wake up early before their first mission. That's what Greg's calling it, as he declaims: A mission. To save the world.
Oh Greg, he thinks. It's not that serious.
Before the mission, he has a hangover. He can't eat a thing; he drinks water instead once he can manage it, pops some pills, goes. It's loud and annoying and when Adil shoves a gun into his hand Roland stares at it.
"It's not that kind of mission," Roland protests.
"Do you think they're just gonna let us take the building for headquarters?" Adil asks. "This is war. Karma society did this to us -- you think they'll stop at anything?"
Roland takes the gun. When the time comes for action, he shoots. The recoil hurts his arm, the noise hurts his head, he's breathing hard and feels sick. Fucking hangover. Motherfucking hangover.
After he grabs Greg and throws an arm over his shoulder. "Greg, Greg," he says. His voice feels drawn out, hoarse and scratchy like his chin. He hasn't shaved after all; the patchy starts of a beard are there. He wants to shave now, he wants a shower and a bath and a shave and to sleep until tomorrow. Things are too weird now, surreal. Their new headquarters are sealed off, the area has been secured.
"Roland," Greg says. He sounds strange too, weirded-out and on-edge.
Roland draws himself up. He's never seen Greg like this, not Greg after a battle, not like-- "Are you okay? You hurt? Anywhere?"
Greg says, "Last night. Before we did this..."
"She told me she's pregnant. Because if I died, she wanted me to know. She wants to get married."
The world rotates once, completely and fast and leaving Roland on the other side. He squeezes Greg's shoulder again. "Are you going to marry her?"
Greg looks almost offended. "Of course," he says. "I wouldn't say no. Not now, not to this."
"You were gonna wait, though. The Lokapala--"
"If I die for the Lokapala," Greg says, "She'll understand that. She's Lokapala too."
She's the one who dies first, though, five and a half years later with her child still so damn young. The Karma Society did a sweep of the area to try to draw the Lokapala out by attacking civilians. Friends and family. Roland doesn't have anything like that, but Greg did.
They find her body in her room. She'd gunned down all her attackers with the weapon Greg had left her, but she'd taken injuries. Too many. A lung had collapsed by the time they'd gotten there, and she just held her boy to her. He was crying too hard to speak. "Take care of Fred," she rasped at them with blood bubbling on her lips. It was Greg and Roland and Adil there and she was so blind she could hardly tell them apart. Her hand drifted around in the air until Greg took it. He was crying. "Greg," she tried to say. It didn't come out well.
Roland grabs Adil's shoulder. "Let's go."
"Let's go," he insists, and he leaves, shuts the door, lets them be alone. He rests his shoulders against the bullet-ridden wood and shudders. He feels sick. It's not supposed to be like this.
Later, Greg is something like his old self. With his child on his knee he lays out plans. Retaliation. The soldiers who had attacked had come from a specific ward; they'd been, their intelligence has discovered, concerned about the Lokapala targeting their research facility. Cuvier Syndrome research -- what a laugh. Everyone knows the old bitch didn't just' discover' the disease.
"We'll hit here."
Roland opens his mouth; there are civilians in that ward, victims of the disease. And then he shuts his mouth; there were civilians here too, women with guns and babies. If they don't arm the patients to protect themselves that's their own problem. And the doctors are all in Karma Society pay and the researchers too, and the patients are more experiments than anything else. Better to die for a cause than die for nothing. There are no civilians in war.
Years pass. The state of the Lokapala doesn't really improve. They maintain their area, do hits outside, but life isn't changing. Roland watches Fred grow and age and watch people vanish from his life without really understanding why. Nothing's changing for the children except age. The Curvier Syndrome's gotten worse. It's impossible to go outside in the daylight now. Sometimes they go to the surface at night to forage what they can but the plants are dying; it's mostly dust out there now. It won't be too many more years, Roland figures, until the reflected light on the moon will be enough to kill anything that moves out there.
Humanity's dying, he thinks. He takes Fred aside at one point and wraps his arms around him.
"...Roland?" Fred asks, his voice high and dubious.
"Sorry," Roland says. He leans back, puts his hands on Fred's shoulders, manages an awkward sideways smile. "...not sure what came over me there."
Fred eyes him. "You're weird," he says finally. "Get a girlfriend or something."
"No," Roland says. It's funny; he loves women, he loves the late nights when they've got time to drink and he can find a willing girl and run his hands over her soft skin, grasp her breasts and hips and move into the heat and wet, feel her legs locked around him, listen to her voice in his ear. He used to think about marriage, things like that. Greg was always so serious about women, he sort of admired that. But. "No," he says. "Not yet. Maybe in our new world. It's too dangerous now."
"So find a woman who can fight!"
"It's not that," Roland says, but it sort of is. Fred was so young when his mother died. There's no future here until they make one. He's starting to think that isn't possible. "Anyway, I'm fine. And what do you know about it, hmm? You starting to get interested?"
"Ew," Fred says. "No way. That's grown-up stuff."
"Go," Greg says. The gunfire's getting closer. The only way out is the window. They won't have time to escape, not like this. Even if they got out the window now, it'll be less than a minute before soldiers are in this room and then they're open targets as they sprint across the wide open road to the safety of the sewers.
"Greg, we can't--"
"One of us can," Greg says. "Go. I'll buy some time."
Words dry up in Roland's throat: You can't, you're our leader, we need you. I need you, Greg! He can't even think them for more than torn fluttering seconds before they run away from him. He's terrified. There are tears on his face. He doesn't want to die. Not yet. There's no fucking future but he wants to live. He wants--
Greg's gaze is sympathetic and calm. "Go, Roland," he says, and Roland turns his back on Greg and runs for the window. He looks back briefly as he twists to lower himself down; Greg's wide shoulders fill the doorway and his body blocks further passage. Roland's feet touch the ground. He lets go of the window, drops out of sight, runs to the sound of gunfire.
"Fred," he says later, hoarse, after the final reports have come in. He'd waited, stomach clenched, to hear what he'd known. "Fred, your father--"
Fred's face is frustrated and screwed up, his fists clenched tight, tears rolling down his face. "I know," he says. "I heard the news from the Society feed before you told me."
"Oh," Roland says, helplessly. "That's a horrible way to hear it."
"I can't do it," he tells Adil again. "I can't!"
"You have to," Adil says. He gestures wildly to one side, hits the wall with the back of his fist. "Roland, Greg left the Lokapala to you. He knew you could do it--"
"He was wrong," Roland says. "God, Greg, you fucking moron--"
Adil hits him. "Pick yourself up," he says. "You'll start leading tomorrow."
Roland doesn't; he stays on the floor and thinks things over for a long few minutes as Adil stands over him, breathing heavily and waiting. Then he says, "Okay," meekly; well, someone has to lead them, after all.
He drinks before going out to tell them of his new position; the fact they accept him wholeheartedly makes him drink more. He drinks as he lays out their mission plan, as he comes back to where Fred's napping on his couch. He needs to get Fred a room soon. Shame to make him move out of his father's though. He drinks before they go on the raid and he fires in an almost dream-like state; he drinks when he comes back, then he showers and has a drink after. He drinks when he hears that a sector of the underground city has been taken over by the Society again. He thinks it over, and orders the door reinforced between that sector and the start of headquarters. They can't take it back, he thinks. He's pretty sure, anyway.
Eventually, reports start coming in of monsters. They're turning the Karma Society soldiers into monsters and hunting humans in the occupied sector. Their doors will hold. Roland prays, quietly, and then he drinks.
Years go by, and he drinks.
And finally he holds the syringe over his arm and shakes.
"No," Adil says. "Don't do it. Roland, don't."
"I have to," Roland says, reasonably. He hasn't had a drink in five hours, not since the AI told him off. He's done his research; he knows who the AIs are and what other AIs they met and where the personalities came from. He'll have to let Fred know, sometime, about what he's found out there. Maybe after they do a raid on the internment facility; he knows one of Fred's friends is trapped there. If things go well, he'll tell Fred about this Lupa and what the AIs have done. His hand trembles. His stomach feels sick, churning. He wants a drink. There's no honour in that. But he wants it. No. This'll do. This will have to do.
"You'll become a monster!" Adil says. "You could kill us all!"
"I've been killing you all," Roland says, mildly and pained and self-deprecating, and he presses the needle in, depresses it.
He chokes a moment later, gags, falls to his knees and thrashes. He feels like he's losing control already. His eyes roll up to meet Adil's and Adil is backing up as they shove the captive Karma Society soldier in and shut the door. Roland watches him before he doesn't have any eyes, and is seeing the soldier some other way, like scent and image of presence is forming proper visuals.
He's hungry, he's so fucking hungry, he doesn't want a drink. He needs to eat.
It lives by the back of his hand. Adil won't touch him, definitely won't touch that hand, hands Roland's gun over and keeps careful distance. It throbs faintly; he's still hungry but that's fine. That's why he's going to go rejoin the AIs now, the other monsters. They're not human. They don't act human. They demanded this of him; what human would ever demand a monster to accompany them? But the people in the internment facility, they're human. They're women, and elderly, and children.
He feels pretty good, the whole monster thing aside.
They're not human had been bizarre, but something he'd been able to accept; too many things had happened in his life already for him to be more than kind of taken aback at the sight of AIs given living flesh walking around larger than life and eating people. It was just another of those things he could add to the list of mysteries he could see and feel everywhere. Cuvier Syndrome. The Cyber Shaman. The Demon Virus.
That they are human is stranger, more foreign and alien.
But once he's seen it... he has to believe.
Serph doesn't talk much, and when he does what comes out from his mouth is either incredibly perceptive or entirely stupid; Roland's not sure if the boy's smart or not. But he seems to care intensely about the people around him; just because he's a cannibal doesn't mean -- well. Cielo, Roland remembers imprisoning and interrogating, and how Cielo seems to have just shrugged and forgotten about it. Gale is honour, pride and no real humour, and Roland is starting to think he's better for Fred than Roland has ever been, and a better friend to Greg. Argilla's sort of a mystery -- she hates what she is and what she does and still seems to like who she is, and maintain a certain protectiveness and good humour. And she's beautiful of course, very beautiful.
They eat in public and sleep in tucked away corners, as private as they can make it, with turns to watch. Roland's been in the terrorist business long enough to not approach Argilla on her watch but when she's gotten off it. She doesn't seem tired, so he goes up to her. He means to ask something else, racks his brain for what he'd say to women in bars, and instead says,
"Can we talk?"
Argilla blinks at him, mild, her lips tilted up slightly in a smile. "About what?"
"Tell me," Roland says; it comes out meek. Embarrassing. "About the Junkyard."
"It was home," Argilla says. "It wasn't a good place and often didn't have good people, and we had to do horrible things. I don't know; maybe it's better that everyone in it doesn't have to live through that now. But--"
"But it's home," Roland says. "Of course you have hope for it."
After Serph dies, the AI are all torn up, and the Cyber Shaman is... broken. Roland feels strange about it, a hard and rough sort of sympathy for stern Gale who needs control for the group to be met, Cielo who mourns and seems to want to hope anyway. Argilla he finds crying.
"Sorry," Argilla says. She wipes her eyes with the heel of her hand, careful. They look like real tears; Roland imagines data sliding down her face and wonders if there'd be any difference for him. He wonders how much of the virus is carried in something like that, how deadly they might be to someone else. "This is stupid. It's just that once, he told me..."
"What?" he asks, quietly. It's been a long time since he's wanted to comfort; he's not sure how to, but he's doesn't want to avoid it for that reason alone.
"I was asking him about death," she says. "I wanted to die -- do you think that's bizarre?"
Roland shakes his head. "Anyway... I understand."
She nods. "It was hard," she says. "...Some things happened, and Serph's really... when we don't know what to do with our lives, he knows. Well, he's our leader, after all."
A few months ago, he'd have thought it was the programming. Never mind that things haven't changed; he doesn't think it. He says, "I'm sorry," and just puts his arm around her.
Later, he talks to the others. Cielo doesn't want to talk about it.
Gale tells him about Heat. It doesn't seem Gale has much sympathy for Heat, but undeniably accepts him as part of the team and a traitor at the same time. Roland can't seem to understand Gale. "You remind me of Adil," he says.
Gale's brow twitches. "I fail to see why," he says.
Fred comes with them as they go on. This is the Lokapala's big day; this is when things change. Fred has every right to see this through to the end.
They say goodbye to Adil at the barricade in the Power Plant. Roland and he grip each other's arms and Roland thinks that after this, perhaps Adil and he will have made things a bit more right; it is because of Adil he is here today, and he's already wasted so many years without living up to that.
There are things, he finds, he wants to do with his future. These are all people he could get to know; all people he'd want to know. Gale's honour, Cielo's friendship, Argilla's ...everything. Things have changed for them here in this power plant; she's been looking at him in a different way. He feels alive; his breath feels tight. He'd like to see where that goes, how the world changes when the Cyber Shaman wakes up. He wants to see that moment, wants to see the others' faces, wants to meet the Cyber Shaman and know her for the person she is, not the title.
There's screaming coming over his handset.
He closes his eyes and breathes. They could still run. They might not get away as things are now, and Adil died for this. Vengeance is a concept he's never been familiar with; it feels strange.
He turns. This will kill him, he thinks; he might live, but this will probably kill him. He can't find it in himself to mind; he feels calm, if anything, terribly calm as he walks forward. They'll try to follow; they care about him. He can't let them die.
"Don't worry," he says, softly. Maybe he'll live; maybe he can convince them of that. "I'm a clever one, after all."
He doesn't want to die for nothing. It hurts as he hauls himself up, as he smiles at her. She smiles back. It must have been terrible, he thinks, to have died alone. Her neck snaps. He holds tight to the lever and slides down.
"This is something you have to do," he tells Heat, his hand on Heat's shoulder. Like this, Heat's just another man. They'd all been lost, he thinks, to end up here. Maybe Gale had it right all along; his kind tended to.
"It's about time the Embryon got back together again," Roland says. He believes this, he feels it, though it's strange, like falling apart, to let them go like this. "I'm actually kind of tired... I think I'll just stay back and cheer you on from here."
It's mostly honest. He feels tired, perhaps a bit ashamed; he understands why Heat had wanted to fall back and linger. He does as well, and knows he must move forward. But he isn't Embryon.
He is Lokapala.
It's hard; he's ashamed. But this is something he has to do, and when they go, he draws his own breath and steps forward.
Lupa stands tall; he does not look like Greg. In many ways, he isn't Greg. Can't be Greg, no more than any of the Embryon were their originals. And yet. And yet.
Fire-glittering eyes flicker towards him. Lupa's brows furrow, as though he is trying to remember something distant.
"I'm sorry," Roland says. "You may not know me, but I wanted to say I'm sorry."
"Why?" Lupa asks. His voice is deep and resonant; this form suits Greg, Roland thinks. He is solid, centered. Something inside him is relaxing at the sight. "You have nothing to be sorry for.
Roland smiles. He says, "I also wanted to say something else."
Lupa waits. His broad shoulders could fill any space.