[fic] Digital Devil Saga, "Breaking" Breaking Digital Devil Saga Heat-centric Spoilers for DDS2, safe for work.
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” - Kahlil Gibran
It feels like all the air's been sucked from his lungs; like he's in a vortex that's making it impossible to breathe because all the air needs to be out there and none of it can be in here. His head throbs hard and he doesn't know where he's falling to. Is this death? Frustrating, fucking frustrating, they were so close. He can still feel a warmth against his shoulder where he'd been holding onto Sera, had been going to carry Sera through the gate before they'd been distracted by Serph and she'd been torn from his arms when the explosion happened.
--Did Serph make it even this far? His heart's pounding harder than his head. Their eyes had almost met as Serph had been running up the falling rocks, dammit, dammit, if he's lost both of them he might as well die here struggling against the air.
It takes all his strength to lift his head and check: past the others falling, twisting off into space, to try to see them, either of them, and he does.
They're reaching out to each other, trying to clasp each other's hands, and they have eyes for nothing else. Like if the world's going to end just like this they'll be together, alone, nobody else, just the two of them. He doesn't know what he's feeling. It's not even rage, but it's a near cousin to it. His eyes burn, they blur, and he tries to scream for them; it comes out strangled and incoherent and takes the last of his air with it. Black shadows close in on his vision. It's the last thing he sees: the two of them in a world of their own, trying to stay together.
He wakes with the taste of dust in his mouth and he chokes on it, coughs, pushes himself up to a knee and looks around. Overhead, a dome stretches, shimmering; beyond that the sky is a violent yellow. People surround him; his senses whisper to him with human presences and his stomach clenches, a spike of need shooting out from his atma so hard and abruptly it's almost painful. How long has it been since he's devoured anyone?
But this isn't the Junkyard, and he needs information. He glances around at the people -- all clad in white, all looking at him dubiously like he's an interruption more than anything else -- and guesses he hasn't actually been here that long if nobody's approached him. "You," he says. He grabs the nearest one, a man with black hair and a high-colared white coat like that bitch had worn. "Where the hell is this?"
"Let go of me! This is assault. I'll sue!"
He shakes the guy. "I asked you a goddamn question!"
A soldier runs up; he's wearing armor and a helmet, and carrying a pole-arm. His presence feels weak; Heat's nostrils flare slightly. "Unhand him!"
Heat does, tosses the guy to the side, watches him stumble and fall, then pick himself up and flee again. "You," he says to the soldier. "You tell me, then. Where the hell is this?"
"Karma City," the soldier says. He raises the pole-arm to an attack position. "Where the hell are you from?"
Heat's atma flares again. No good; he's going to lose control if he doesn't devour soon. His lips peel off his teeth in a grin. "The Junkyard. You gonna pick a fight with me, shit-bag? With one of the kings of the Junkyard?"
The soldier lifts a hand to his helmet. "Backup requested in 5th Ave. shopping district. Unfamiliar fox found. Seems aggressive. Says he comes from some 'Junkyard'."
If he's calling for backup there's going to be a fight, no doubt about it. Good, though Serph would probably try to encourage the man otherwise; thinking of it brings that feeling back, that eye-prickling near-rage. Fuck Serph. Fuck them all; they're not here, and he is. "I asked you a question! You gonna pick a fight with me?"
The soldier swings with his pole-arm and Heat charges him; he wants blood, he wants meat, he wants to fucking kill something, and even without trying to change forms his demon is bursting free, ripping an arm through even as the rest of him stays human; Heat slams his arm upside the soldier's neck and head, hears a crack as the soldier's spear shoves into his shoulder and the soldier himself lets go of it, is flung sideways. Heat rips the spear out with his transformed hand, tosses it to one side, and charges after the soldier. He's not moving; too bad, but it's good enough as Heat lifts the guy by his skull, buries his teeth into the exposed neck.
"There he is!"
More of them; ten this time, not a fair number, and he hasn't had time to devour. He fights hard, makes it through a couple waves, but the reinforcements keep coming and he's panting, blood over his face as he's forced to his knees. One tries to cuff him, can't get it around the demon arm; they pull out a taser instead, touch it to him, and he almost shrieks before his vision goes dark again.
This time, when he wakes, it's in a white room. He feels sick; wants to vomit with hunger and the pain in his head, and the atma feels like hot wires running through the skin of his arm. His mouth is dry.
"He's awake, Ma'am," he hears, and he lifts his head a bit more, tries to toss it a bit to get his hair out of his eyes without aggravating his headache more. The movement also covers his attempt to test his bonds; they've got him in some kind of jacket that keep his arms bound against him, and he can't get it to move at all. He might be able to tear free from it if he transformed, but the situation's too unsure.
Instead he just narrows his eyes at the woman entering the room.
She's... old, he thinks, and that's weird enough; he's never seen anyone like that before, anyone whose own age is threatening their life. She wears white, with a big hat, and walks slowly, like she's in pain. Her face is lined and creased, and she wears dark glasses, though he isn't sure why; looking at her, he catches the movement of her eyes back there and thinks she can see just fine, so why darken the room? Still, it's pretty fucking white here, fucking white everywhere, so his eyes hurt from the starkness of the lights off the wall.
"Good afternoon," she says.
He spits to one side, silently; there's blood in his saliva, thin and trailing.
"You must be hungry," she says. "But I'm afraid we cannot feed you until we have your cooperation."
"I don't need your charity," he says. "I don't need anyone to fucking feed me. I can do it on my own."
"Not at the moment," she points out. Her old, cracked voice sounds amused. "You must be Heat. I am Margot Cuvier, but you can call me 'Madame'."
His nose wrinkles, pulling his lips off his teeth in a sneer without him really meaning it to. "I'll call you 'bitch' if I want to," he says. "How the hell do you know who I am?"
"Sera mentioned you," she says.
His heart goes still for a moment; he leans forward, tries to get up, but the jacket's tied to the chair. "Sera?! Where is she?!"
"She is safe," Cuvier says. "Though I'm afraid she thinks you all to be dead. She will be relieved to see you alive, I am sure. Well, with luck, she will be."
"What do you mean?" Heat asks. "With luck."
Cuvier smiles faintly. "Well," she says. "I'm afraid that Sera has been very uncooperative since believing all of you to be dead. You are, after all, her important creations."
"Let me explain," Cuvier says. She pulls up a chair, sits across from him, and begins.
When she ends, he can't speak. There's something growing inside of him, some sort of sick pulsing disbelieving pain, but there's not much to disbelieve. She had pictures, she had reports, she had fucking videos of the past, pulled from security cameras. He feels a bit dead; he kind of wants to die. He's never been so terrified and so calm. All he can think of is them reaching for each other. Serph's using her. She's desperate for him, Heat thinks. All that kindness. All that fucking kindness. But what kind of leader in the Junkyard gets by on kindness? He thinks of the mission against the Maribel. He thinks of how that supposedly kind guy wasn't like Argilla, wasn't like Jinana, wasn't like Lupa; how that guy was the one beside him eating other people. Always eating other people like it's not a problem, and yeah, it's not, but it's not in Serph's character to be that type, is it? You can't walk both paths, can you? He thinks of hitting Serph, up there at the top of Coordinate 136, of the meaty feeling of Serph's flesh under his fists, of how weak Serph had seemed then, but what choice had he had? Sera was hostage. And how Sera loved Serph; he thinks of the contradictory things Sera would say, how strength isn't the only way to be strong; what's left, kindness? Every time he himself had tried to express himself to Sera, every time he'd turned to Serph so Serph could help him, Serph had moved in instead; the little touches, the little things Serph had done or said when Heat had begged for his help just made Sera love him more. Where would he go with that? What would he do with that? Heat's always believed Serph'd just lead them to victory, that he'd just protect Sera too if he was strong enough, sure, but where's the proof? He doesn't know what Serph wants, but they've always been on the rise, haven't they? They've always been claiming everything of power, haven't they? Just like that other Serph. There's a sour taste in his mouth. All those years, all that trust. He can't believe it's a lie. He can't believe it's true, either. He can't trust anything anymore, not Serph, not this old bitch, nobody. He's only got his own power; he's only got his own conviction, he only knows his own urge to protect Sera is the truth. Even if he's a fake, even if he's a reinvented version of some guy who died, that much is real. It's the only real thing.
It feels like the Embryon's died, somehow.
Still. Still. That feeling, that helpless grief rages inside him and he says, "I want to see her."
"You cannot," Cuvier says. "I can bring up a video feed."
"Let me see her, you old bitch!"
Cuvier says, "Well, that is a problem. You see, Jenna regained consciousness a short while ago -- Jenna Angel, I believe you two are acquainted? -- and she has been with Sera ever since. And I cannot let Jenna see that you're here. She is... dangerous, you know. Somewhere in the last few years she's forgotten what's truly important; she no longer, I believe, supports humanity. Even though they're her own people!"
He can understand; he'll never sympathize with any stuck-up bitch who uses Sera, who makes her cry, who dragged her around by her fucking hair like she was some kind of toy, but he understands. The rest of the world can go to hell, he thinks; he doesn't care about this old bitch's faith in humanity and he doesn't give a damn about what'll happen if Cuvier lets 'Jenna' see him. "So what?"
"Well," Cuvier says. "If you will remain a secret, if you will work with us, then I will guarantee Sera's safety. You see, Jenna finds her lack of cooperation... troublesome, and would like to give her a lobotomy. I don't think that's really necessary, do you? She'll work with us once she knows you're alive. But if Jenna knows it, she'll surely work against that. So, you staying secret, and you working with me... these two things will guarantee Sera's safety."
Heat exhales through his mouth, tastes hunger on his breath. "What the hell's a lobotomy?"
"Her mind, Heat," Cuvier says. "Jenna wants to cut it out of her. I think that's terrible. Instead, isn't it better to simply let her have what she wants?"
He closes his eyes. Memories well up, not his own. Let her have what she wants? He could laugh or cry. The urges whirl around him; he feels a little crazy. "Let me see her."
"I just explained--"
"Let me see her!" he screams, and transforms. The jacket tears away from him like it's made of paper; some guard throws himself on top of Cuvier to protect her. Old bitch better break some bones while she falls, he thinks bitterly. He lopes for the gate, slashes at guards on either side with his claws. Bullets penetrate his skin; fuck them. It's just a little pain. It's nothing now. He runs; he doesn't know where he's going, exactly, and reading the signs in this form is impossible; it's all glowy outlines and forms without sense to him, but he runs anyway, kills guards along the way, doesn't even stop to devour them as the hunger grows and grows, he can't even think straight any more. Eventually he gets out into the open air, some sort of landing pad for some kind of air vehicle, and tries to guess which door is the right way.
"Look at this guy," a woman's voice says. "From the 'Asura' project, Madame said? What a joke."
"Heeheeee, look at him! Pretty strange-looking, hmmmmmm?! Like a gorilla or a shark! A shark-gorilla!"
"A gorilla-shark? Haha," the woman says. "Maybe so. Hey, think he's good-looking in his real form?"
Heat turns; they're walking around, keeping him flanked and surrounded. Stronger; they feel stronger. He slams his fists together in a challenge. "You want to die too?" he growls.
"Big words from a big man," the woman purrs. "No, I'm guessing you're ugly. A good-looking guy can afford to be nice to a lady. Not my type at all, are you?"
"Keep your minds on the mission," a third voice advises. This one's strong and commanding; their leader, if they have one. "Madame said he was one of the strongest of those AIs."
"Still, he's just an AI," the other man says. He grins, tilts his head, points. "A stupid, stupid AI. Thinks he can take on the three of us just with the one of him. Aww, look, he's angry!"
"Let's go--" the leader says.
Heat thinks Fuck you. He thinks Damn you, you think you're better than me, just because you're real? At least I was made by someone pure and good, at least the battles I fought I thought meant something! Think I'm not strong enough?! Try me!
He wakes this time so weak he can't move. He's bruised all over, his vision half-gone; one eye swollen shut, he reckons. He's in a room by himself; slowly, he rises, wobbles, heads to the door.
He raps on it. "Let me out," he mutters.
"Oh, he's awake," he hears on the outside; an unfamiliar voice, just another guard. "Better let Madame know."
"Let me out or I'll break down this damn door!"
A pause, and then the guard calls back, "In your condition? Better to stay put. Canned food will be sent around if you're good."
"Canned -- what the hell?"
"Well, you're primitive, so you wouldn't understand," the guard says. "But it's good. It's the real thing, without any messy killing. Anyway, go rest for now. If you behave we can report it to Madame and you'll get fed."
Heat stands by the door for a long moment. His heart's racing, pounding into the rhythm of his pain, but he's got nothing left to argue with. Slowly, the anger ebbs into a low background noise. It doesn't vanish, but he finds himself almost not caring about it. Maybe he'll starve to death in this place. It'll be a suck-ass way to die. At least it'd be fine if he could see Sera first. If he could see the Embryon, see them with his own eyes. Maybe he'll know for sure then. Maybe he won't. Maybe he can kill them with his own hands. Live his own life. Maybe they'll kill him.
He's so tired. Slowly, slowly, he goes back to bed, and lies there, and waits.
Eventually, the door opens. He doesn't even bother to get up, just looks over at them. If he stands, he might fall, and that would be just too damn much. He's still got his pride, goddamn it. Still, he's pulsing with red light all over his body by now.
"Hey," the guard says. It's the same guy as before. He's wearing a helmet, but Heat imagines his face; self-righteous and self-assured and smug. He sounds pleased, sounds superior. "I let Madame know how quiet you've been. Guess even a combat AI can learn when the situation's too much to handle, huh?"
Heat doesn't answer.
The guard doesn't seem to notice. He puts down his tray; it's filled with open cans. Heat eyes it, guesses it to be maybe a quarter of a body's worth of meat, and doesn't resist a snort. Like that's enough. Still, if it's what he's got, he'll eat it. He's never been a picky guy, he reminds himself.
"Here you go," the guard says. "I'm betting you've never seen a can-opener before, so I opened them for you. Eat up. If you stay good, there'll be more coming soon."
"Sure," Heat says.
"Well, aren't you going to thank me?"
Heat's lips twist. "Yeah, whatever," he says. "Thanks."
The guard shakes his head, laughs. "It's amazing how lifelike you are," he says. "The Cyber Shaman's really incredible. Enjoy your meal," he adds, and leaves.
Heat stays still for a long few moments. But he's hungry, so slowly he pulls himself upright, uses the wall to hold up his weight as he makes it over. There's a fork on the tray. Slowly, he picks it up, and a can. His hand is shaking so hard that it rattles against the can.
"Fuck," he says quietly, and eats.
Some hours later, after another feeding, the door opens and Madame walks in, flanked by guards. "Good evening, Heat."
He nods to her, slow, wary.
"I hope we're not going to see a repeat performance of earlier," she says; she sounds rueful.
Softly, he snorts. "Not much point to it, is there?"
"I am relieved to see that you understand," Cuvier says. "We've returned Sera to the EGG, so I should be able to let you see her soon. No doubt she'll be glad to see you alive."
"After that," she says, "let's talk further."
"Just get it out of the way, woman," Heat says, low-voiced.
She shakes her head. "No," she says. "Really, I think we can work these things out best afterwards. Have you eaten?"
"Does it suit you?"
"Heat," Sera says. She's sobbing. "Heat, you're alive!"
"Sera," he says. He itches to take her in his arms; instead he presses his hands to the glass, as close as he dare gets, and nods. "I'm -- real glad to see you."
"Serph -- is Serph alive?! Have you seen him? If you're alive, he has to be--"
"I haven't seen him," Heat says, interrupting her, abrupt and hard. He wants to cut Serph out of her, out of them, like some kind of infection from a wound. "I think he's dead."
"I-- Oh," and she's crying. His stomach knots. It's too cruel; he can let her believe the best of Serph. If he's really dead, it can't hurt anything, and if he's not... maybe he's not like that guy. Maybe his kindness is real. Maybe. Maybe. He'll protect her, anyway.
"I'm sorry," Heat says. "Well, maybe they're somewhere. In the meantime, I'll take care of you. I promise."
She's still crying, crying into that fluid she's buried in. She doesn't respond.
He tries to muster up a smile for her. "Hey," he says. "Believe in me a little."
"If they're gone, I ... I wish I were dead," she says. "I'd die, I'll die if I could be with them again--"
"I won't let you die," he says. He takes a step back from the EGG, and another. "I promise. I'll take care of you. So just -- live, Sera. Please, live."
"I'm sorry," she sobs. "I'm sorry. You're right, I know. You're right. It's just -- no, it's nothing."
He stays calm and quiet as they take him back to his room. Cuvier's still there, waiting.
"How is she?" she asks.
Heat shakes his head. He can't answer for a moment; in the end he decides on, "It's really her," and leaves it at that.
She nods. "What I want from you is simple," she says. "Follow my orders. Kill when I ask you to, and who I ask you to. Do not act at all without orders. If you do that, Sera will be safe. If not... I hate the thought of harming her, of cutting out her mind, but we need her to sing the song of peace. If we cannot have you working for us, if you cannot convince her to sing for us, then I'm afraid we'll have to remove her resistance. It's a terrible thing, but humanity must survive. We have no choices left. Do you understand what that is like, Heat, to have no choices left?"
He sits on the edge of his bed, gazes down at his knees. "I understand, yeah."
"So can I have your word you will work for us, Heat?"
"It is a promise?"
"I said I would, woman," he growls; there isn't much energy behind it, though the anger leaks through despite himself.
Cuvier is silent for a moment. And then she says, gently, reprovingly, "Heat, I told you to call me Madame."
For a short time he cannot respond; it is too big inside him, filling his throat, wracking him. And then it seems to drain out of him. He's tired. It's all over, really. So why not?