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FIC: Repeat to Fade, Part One

FIC: Repeat to Fade, Part One

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[♪] we'll keep on dancing 'til she comes
Title: Repeat to Fade, Part One of Three
Pairing: Snake/Otacon, Snake/Mindscrew
Rating: Let's slap this with an R for disturbing themes and some sexual content.
Summary: Like a genetic memory etched into his being, he felt dread. A field of flowers and a weapon in his hand. A place like this could break him, like it had broken another man. The cosmetic differences meant nothing if the basic shape was the same. A carpet of flowers, some petals swept up into the air as if gravity had reversed. A lone figure standing across from him. His entire world could come apart just like this.

Notes: This fic assumes knowledge of Metal Gear Mobile. You can read the script here, it's not very long at all. If you don't wanna read it, click here for a very, very abbreviated summary posted in my LJ.

Huge thanks go to athenemiranda, who made this fic so much better and encouraged me when I was ready to quit. Thank you so much, Thene.

This is for the Repeat to Fade challenge.

>>Simulation end.
>>Systems parameters have been reached.
>>Restarting. . .

"He was more resourceful than we thought."

"Snake failed to get us the information that we needed."

"We already have a new candidate. One with a more impressionable mind."

"Excellent. So this was only a minor setback."

"Erase his mind and set him free, he’ll be at use for us later… Perhaps Jack will fare better."

"Shall we release Snake then? Get on with the next test?"

"...You know. As long as we have him... why don't we try something a little different?"

Snake awoke feeling more tired than he ever had in his life. He was used to exhaustion that lingered after a long sleep. He spent most of his mission with various drugs and enhancers flooding his system. The crash that came after those was never fun to deal with.

But this was a different shade of weariness. His mind and body were both lethargic and slow, taking too much comfort in the soft pillow under his head and the blankets over him. He wasn't the type to become used to such gratification, always ready to leap into action and move and fight.

He'd been conscious for more than a minute and he had yet to open his eyes. There was an inherent wrongness to that. It wasn't alone either: He had no idea what day it was. How long he'd slept. Where he was. Anything. Everything outside of the heavy warmth of the bed was white noise, nothing quite registering with him.

Finally, he could hear footsteps. Making himself focus on them, he realized they were the sound of someone who was inexpertly trying to walk quietly, the rough stepping sound traded for an equally noisy shuffling.

It stopped next to Snake's head, someone standing next to the bed. "You're awake," Otacon said, hushed with surprise. That was never a good sign.

Snake opened his eyes blurredly, twisting his head to look at his partner. He looked like a wreck, hair softly mussed in a disarray, dark smudges of sleeplessness under his eyes, and Snake was certain there was the start of new lines around his mouth from worry.

"You look horrible," Snake croaked, rubbing his face.

"Thank you, that means the world to me," Otacon replied dryly and sat on the side of the bed. His hand curled around Snake's arm, grip tight with barely-contained upset. "You've been out a- a long time. Are you all right? Do you need anything?"

"How long?"

Otacon looked down and muttered something that couldn't possibly be right.

"Five days?"

Otacon nodded solemnly. "I'm not too thrilled about it either, you know." His gaze didn't lift from the point where his hand met Snake's arm. "After I found the facility and the VR machine they had you in, you wouldn't wake up." His voice was fragile, waiting to crack and fail. He paused, collecting himself. "Had to call in a few of our favors to even get you to safety. Since then, it's just been... waiting."


"Don't, it- it definitely wasn't your fault." Otacon's grip tightened slightly as he forced a smile. "I doubt you wanted to sleep that long. Seems your body just demanded it, huh?" Otacon's expression softened to something calmer, now curious. "What'd VR did you get put through?"

"You already know. The... Victoria Reed and REX." He smiled faintly at Otacon. "Did I thank you for busting me out yet?"

Otacon returned the smile tentatively. "No, that's not... erm... You're welcome." He pressed, "But what'd they have you in after that?"

Snake frowned. "After what?"

"After the initial simulation with Reed and the fake Otacon." When Snake continued to look unaware of what he was talking about, he elaborated, "After we busted that first VR simulation, it took me another three days to work up the resources to go rescue you. You were still in a running VR machine when I got to you."

Snake dropped his head down against the pillow, staring at the cheap popcorn ceiling. He didn't remember anything after feeling the first simulation falter and fail around him. If he'd been in another simulation, he had no recollection of it at all, which, added to the exhaustion he was feeling, left him deeply unsettled. He had a soldier's memory. Even small lapses were uncommon. Days of lost time though, that was something to be worried about.

"It's okay now, isn't it?" Otacon sounded unsure, but hopeful. "You're out and your vitals all check out. You're safe now."

Snake didn't agree in the slightest, but nodded to assuage his partner's worries. In truth, he wasn't sure he wanted to remember. There was a deep, innate hesitation to fill in the blanks of those three days. His mind and body acted as a well-oiled machine. It'd take something staggering to throw him like this, to make him so bone tired, to shake his recollections, to make his heart clench in a new, painful way when he looked at Otacon.

He had no idea what could have happened.

This is what happened.

The first thing Snake felt after the world rearranged itself around him was the smell of roses. It was nauseatingly thick, inexpertly coating the air he breathed, permeating everything. Before even opening his eyes, he knew this was another VR simulation. Delicate perceptions like smell, taste, and touch were harder to simulate than waves of light and sound, which were more easily calculated and coded. It was sloppy, the unsubtle herald of another game his captors were going to put him through.

Otacon would get him out. All he had to do was wait. He had no doubts about his partner's determination towards keeping him alive. Being pulled half-alive from the Hudson River in the middle of a storm after a shipwreck assured him of Otacon's stubbornness.

For now, Snake decided to see what illusion he'd have to humor for the time being and opened his eyes.

Above him was nothing but crisp blue skies framed by white roses. He was laying in them apparently, which almost excused the overpowering aroma.

He couldn't hear anything but the rustle of the flowers shifting against each other in the breeze. It was a surprisingly loud sound for something that should have been just white noise. Curiosity about this made him finally sit up, slowly, without sudden movements.

All around him were the roses. He seemed to be on a plateau. No other landscape was in sight but the white and the blue, and where they met abruptly a few dozen yards ahead of him. Standing, he found that it was actually just a platform of roses, a field suspended over apparently nothing. And he seemed to be the only one around. He turned in a circle, looking for anything significant. Finding nothing, he walked to the edge, mindful of the stems and petals under his feet.

There was nothing. Just the edge of the platform and miles of endless sky. Of endless simulated sky. Had his captors just stuck him in a blank, almost featureless program for safe-keeping? A serpent locked in a garden. The joke was mildly amusing.

The very air around Snake very suddenly shifted, making room for something. Behind, his senses screamed and he tensed, looking over his shoulder.

A sword was planted in the ground just behind him. A long, thin rapier jammed into the platform, its swirling silver hilt facing him, inviting. Knowing he would regret doing so, he reached out, grasping the hilt under the ornate guard and yanking it out of the ground. It was surprisingly light for its length and Snake gave it an experimental swing, thoughtlessly adjusting to it despite his lack of aptitude. Belatedly, he noticed the silver guard was vaguely rose-shaped.

Head tipped back to speak to the artificial sky and artificial gods, "This flower theme is a little overwrought, isn't it?" He asked no one.

"You should see the source material. It's even worse," someone answered.

Snake spun, letting his momentum swing his arm out, ready to strike whoever managed to sneak up on his right side. His companion was nowhere near him though. Nearly on the other side of the field, his voice carried too easily. The figure was kneeling in the roses, carefully brushing his hands delicately over one. Finally, the speaker stood, reluctantly drawing his attention away from the blindingly white blossoms.

Snake snarled. "Who are you? What the hell is this?"

"To answer your second question, this is a virtual reality simulation. Obviously." His voice was as familiar as Snake's own, patient if nonchalant, considering the gravity of Snake's questions. "And with that in mind, the first question is of little consequence, isn't it?" The man turned, a serene smile on his face, for he could be little other than benign, even against his enemies. Some people were just so soft and gentle, it baffled Snake.

"Otacon..." His brow creased, confused. "Did they grab you too? I thought you were on the outside."

The man laughed softly, sweetly, and took a few steps toward Snake. "I am. Don't be dense. This isn't real, David."

Snake stiffened at the sound of his name. "How did you-"

"Your benefactors know quite a bit about you. And me, obviously." He smiled around the environment fondly. "It makes you nervous, doesn't it? You've only told that name to Meryl and I, maybe a handful of others. Hearing it said so casually, it's a breach, isn't it?" Otacon's head cocked to the side, watching Snake with a far too detached look. He was unmistakably an imposter. The image was correct, but the expected blend of distress and worry and optimism were absent. It was like someone else wearing his skin.

"Why am I here? What do my benefactors want?"

"Don't know. That's a little beyond my scope. It's a little like being a soldier, really." Otacon's hand fell to his side, landing on the hilt of a sheathed sword at his side. His grip tightened around it, slowly drawing it out, a long, simple but deadly katana. It suited him. "I just have to follow orders. Don't really know what they're for."

"That's not being a soldier, you know that." Snake corrected himself, "Otacon knows that."

"You have other things to worry about right now." With a flick of Otacon's wrist, the katana arced, flipping his hold on it in one fluid, dangerous motion so he was gripping like one would for an actual fight. "Get ready."

Snake wasn't. A sharp wind hit the platform and rose petals where everywhere, white obscuring his vision so he barely had time to pivot and stumble backward, away from the thrust of Otacon's sword. As Otacon fought to not trip, inertia carrying him a few feet farther than he intended, Snake backed away quickly. "What the hell are you doing?"

"What you do best. Come on!" Otacon launched himself at Snake again, swinging recklessly.

Snake lifted his rapier, blocking the blow and sidestepping out of Otacon's reach. "No. Forget it." To the sky, again he yelled, "Whatever you're hoping to get from this, forget it! I'm not your plaything."

"This isn't real," Otacon-but-not said, sliding into a duel stance that there was no way the real Otacon would know. "You'll be busted out of here before long. I'm not your Hal Emmerich. Why won't you fight?"

Snake grit his teeth. "That's none of your business." Aware that this was a potentially dangerous thing to do, he threw down his sword, letting it fall amid the roses, almost immediately invisible among them. "I won't go along with this."

Otacon sighed and looked deeply disappointed, like he'd just been told their latest hideout had no high-speed internet for him to play with. "Have it your way." He spun the katana again and slid it back in its sheath.

A moment later, it flew back out, slashing at Snake's head.

Snake was just barely fast enough to save himself from decapitation. He pushed himself back, letting his body fall down, crushing some flowers under his weight when he landed.

A stinging pain flared over his cheek. He pressed his palm to his and drew away to find his hand red.

Otacon's sword touched Snake's chest, pressure light. For now. "You don't get to decide. Pick up your sword."

Snake glared up defiantly at the facade of his partner. As he inhaled, he could feel the tip of the katana pressing through his shirt, cold metal against his skin. "Go to hell."

Otacon lifted his sword, holding it straight and still above his head. "This VR doesn't deaden pain sensations. This is going to hurt."

The quiet sound of a sword cutting air apart and Snake rolled, throwing his body out of the way. Steps followed him and as he stumbled to his feet, as swiftly as he could, a shallow slice ran across a shoulder blade. Swallowing a grunt of pain, he got to his feet and faced his assailant.

Otacon bent down and lifted the rapier from the roses. With a toss, it landed unnaturally, planting itself in the ground before Snake. "You have to understand. I can't not attack you. Main objective, infallible programming and all those things. You can either defend yourself or let me spill more of your blood. What good will that do, David?"

Snake ignored the sword. Instead, he circled Otacon, keeping his distance. "That's what they want me to do, isn't it? They get something out of me fighting you. They created you in Otacon's image for a reason." He shook his head. "I'm not playing along. We're not tools of the government or anyone else," Snake intoned easily, Fox's words forever a comfort.

Otacon's blank face slipped into a concerned gaze Snake was accustomed to seeing. Snake's breath caught, wondering for a minute if... but no. "You know, I'm just a construct, but... It's not just physical." He looked down at his katana, at the slight smear of red along the blade. Like a whisper that carried on the wind, "I don't want to hurt you." He shook his head hard, like trying to eject the thought from his head. "Pick up your sword!" His voice cracked slightly.

"No." Snake braced himself, ready to move, but also watching Otacon shake with his reticence and frustration. He wondered why his captors picked Otacon of all people to fight him. He'd been recreated accurately enough that it should have been obvious he wasn't good for this. Too weak. As brilliant as he was, he couldn't handle this like a fake Fox or any given soldier.

He didn't have the chance to speculate. He was dodging again, stepping and twisting out of the way of Otacon's latest onslaught. His strikes were sloppy, but with all his weight and determination behind each one, they were capable of a deceptive amount of damage. Without any training, his attack pattern had no grace, no foreseeable method. Inexperience was not always a weakness.

And Otacon didn't tire, it seemed. He attacked almost continuously, using momentum to carry him from one strike to the next. He adapted, slowly got more efficient. With a completely flat arena lacking any cover to hide and catch his breath behind, Snake's pace slowed. As it did, he found himself not taking quite as large or fast of steps as he needed to. Otacon took advantage, and Snake found himself hissing in pain with each new cut. In moments, he was bleeding freely from his shoulder, arm, back, side- Nothing life threatening on its own, but as more and more piled up... He needed a stronger defense. Straightforward agility wasn't enough.

He let Otacon land a slice, painting a dark, shallow line diagonally across his chest. Otacon was continuing to put too much force behind every swing. It was easy to use that, grabbing the illusion's arm and tugging him forward, off balance. With a surprised cry, he tumbled into the roses. The window wouldn't last long; Snake sprinted to the rapier he'd abandoned and yanked it out of the ground.

He was tired and in pain and sick of this game, but now he stood a chance. The next strike, he parried with a clash of metal. By now, he knew Otacon's attacks, amateur as they were. Snake's attacker compensated with faster, relentless strikes, leaving Snake to defend himself constantly. He was still driven backward, dodging when he could, shielding when he couldn't. The thinner blade of the rapier curved slightly, unmatched against the katana.

The hilt's grip wasn't quite long enough for both his hands, and his arm grew cramped and overworked within minutes. Half his mind was focused just on avoiding another hit, the other half noting how the blood loss was starting to get to him, uninhibited by nanomachine or possible bandaging, making him sluggish. Otacon remained unnaturally invigorated, unaffected by the dueling like Snake was. It wasn't fair, and Snake was casting his thoughts around for an out, knowing it'd be foolish to just hope his Otacon would soon free him from this simulation, needing a contingency plan that didn't end with him bleeding out in a virtual world. He was a weapon, but a human weapon, and subject to a man's limitations. He needed-

Otacon stumbled, foot catching on a tangle of flowers, and Snake mindlessly seized the opening, swinging up and running the foible through. A curl of scarlet flared, from lower rib to clavicle. The force of it, fast and deadly accurate, tossed Otacon back, laying him out.

Snake waited.

He didn't get back up.

In the span of a second, Snake blinked and felt the adrenaline of battle drain from him as the weight of what he'd done crushed him. The rapier spilled from his grasp, left to fall behind him as he threw himself down next to Otacon, kneeling amongst the roses next to his-- the parody of his friend.

He seemed pretty real now. The fierce determination gone, he seemed like Hal, clutching at his chest as if he could urge split skin to knit itself. He looked softly surprised and scared, breath coming in little distraught gasps edged with agony as the sensation began to flare in his chest.

Or, as it would if he were real. But he wasn't. He couldn't be. He was a false avatar, no matter how honest the pain on his face seemed, how Snake imagined Hal would look if he'd hurt the man.

But he never would. He couldn't raise a weapon against Hal. It was impossible. The whole situation was absurd.

Hal let out a gasping cry of pain, clenching his eyes shut, face contorted horribly. "D-dave, oh," he eked out before biting his lip hard enough to make it bleed. "Th-this really hurts more than I expected."

Snake's mouth was dry. His reply was little more than a croak of, "Wasn't a clean cut. Just took the chance when it appeared."

Hal laughed briefly before the sound morphed harshly into a cough. "You're always pr-pragmatic."

"Hal..." Snake brushed his hand through Hal's fanned out hair. He could feel each individual thread of it, the color of earth at dusk twined between his fingers, soft, soft. He was all soft lines and tender gazes, and Snake cut him down as easily as he might've any enemy.

Hal's starlight eyes were dulling when he opened them to look at Snake. His smile was tinged red when he offered it. "I... didn't I tell you? You're bad luck." He reached up, a bloodied hand curling over Snake's cheek. Snake flinched, remembering his own wound there when Hal pressed his palm against it, smearing red from both of them there.

"There's no way you can know he said that," Snake murmured. "You're not real."

Hal's smile widened, fond and saccharine sweet. "You want to argue reality with me now? You really would be lost without me."

Snake's throat clenched abruptly, his heart feeling like it was squeezed in a vice. His hand slid behind Hal's head, cradling it as he bowed his own, resting his forehead against Hal's. He could feel warm puffs of air against his face as Hal's breathing got strained. He couldn't speak.

A moment of silence passed, and Hal's hand fell away from Snake's cheek. His labored breathing eased, as if he were going to drift off to sleep. It slowed more, until it stopped altogether.

Snake kept his eyes closed, continuing to hold Hal's body. There was a tide of fury rising in him, rage at himself for taking that opening, at whoever was doing this to him.

Hal was coming for him. He was on his way. Unscathed, and soon to be under Snake's protection again. He'd never lay a hand on the man in anything but comfort.

You have to be able to protect them.

Snake sighed, unable to complete rein in the mournful tone of it. Reality or not, feeling Hal's life flow out of his body wasn't something he'd ever contemplated or prepared for. After all, Snake was the agent, the one in the line of fire. If he had his way, Shadow Moses would be the first and last time Hal was in the field. This was exactly what Snake didn't want: Hal's eyes unseeing, the sickly sweet smell of copper, blood blossoming across his chest.

He looked terrible in red anyway.

Snake shut Hal's eyes for him and lowered him onto the ground. He waited a moment for the inevitable fade from existence. Most combat VRs were programmed to get rid of fallen assets, something about conserving RAM, something Snake didn't quite understand despite all of Hal's attempts to explain with metaphors about desk drawers and types of storage. All Snake knew was that in VR, an enemy left no corpse, body vanishing with an unnatural beeping cue.

It didn't come like Snake was expecting. Hal just lay as if sleeping amongst the white roses, some petals tinted red where Hal's blood had spilled. He looked very peaceful. But most people did look peaceful in death, Snake had noticed, like a great burden was lifted from them. He supposed it was, now that he thought about it.

Sighing, Snake pushed himself to his feet, walking away from his fallen opponent and friend. It was an action he was getting used to doing.

"Now what do you want?" He said quietly. He knew he didn't need to speak up for his captors to hear him. "I killed him. Are we finished?"

He already knew the answer. He was beginning to understand how the people who set this up thought of him. Something to be used. He'd been born and molded into the shape of a weapon, of flesh and sinew instead of gunpowder and steel. Point him in a direction and pull the trigger. That may have been the test then, he supposed. No matter how deadly and precise, Snake was still a man with a name and a free will, whether he exercised them or not. Maybe they were testing to see if pointing him at an ally would result in a misfire.

But that didn't explain why Hal of all people. If these people knew enough to program their Hal to parrot nigh-forgotten lines from Alaska to him, they should know that there would be others he couldn't gun down. Put Gray Fox in front of Snake and Snake would sooner hand Fox his weapons than make a move to harm the soldier. He couldn't even take the shot to kill Liquid when the chance presented itself, not with an already doomed Fox in the way.

And he knew this was a VR. Knew he was being toyed with. But the entire fight was anticlimactic. After killing hundreds of flesh and bone men, running a sword through a fake one wasn't quite a straw to break the camel's back.

He was missing something. Swords and duels and a Hal that managed to be both alien and familiar all at once. Not to mention the arena that was more garden than battlefield suspended in a horizonless sky.

"This makes no sense."

Like before, he'd expected no reply and was startled when he got one.

"VR sims like this prefer rhyme to reason." Snake turned to see Hal kneeling on the ground. His corpse was gone or perhaps reanimated, and the man sat with the roses, running his fingers over the red splattered petals of one. His own blood clung to his fingers and he rubbed them together, watching red smear curiously. "Don't you think it's worth it?"

"You're back," Snake observed dully, unsure what to even make of this development. Hal was alive and whole, no reminder of his death remaining but for his coat. A diagonal slice remained across his chest, though the skin underneath was unmarked and smooth, not even a scar remaining.

"Mm," Hal hummed, otherwise not acknowledging that Snake had spoke. "It doesn't make much sense, but isn't it beautiful?"

Snake couldn't say he found the arena that appealing, but he wasn't fond of flowers, and they reminded him of snow and Shadow Moses in particular. He'd never been fond of the color white either. Blood showed up easiest on a white surface, stark and accusing. "I killed you."

"I know." Hal straightened with a sigh, brushing off his pants. "We're not finished yet."

Snake almost made a smart remark, about how killing someone usually meant you were finished with them, but that was a lie. He was just happy that Hal wasn't decked out in a cyborg exoskeleton now. "What do your bosses want?"

Hal shrugged. "I don't know. Believe it or not, but they haven't been really talking to me much. I do know that my prime directive hasn't changed." In lieu of explaining, Hal drew his katana.

"This again?" Snake growled. "Forget it. Once was enough."

"You don't exactly have a choice in the matter, David." Hal walked towards Snake, each step rustling the ground, but ringing loudly with purpose. "Are you going to pick up your sword, or do you want to protest a bit first?"

The latter was more likely, in all honesty. Snake tried another tactic. "Do you want to do this?" Hal was getting closer, and Snake dropped his voice to something intimate and quiet. "If you're meant to be Hal Emmerich, you don't want to hurt anyone. The Hal I know couldn't hurt another person. Some people don't have it in them."

Hal laughed, smiling at Snake. His grin was warm, but his eyes held little but pity, something about Snake's words making him look even more real and broken. "You're wrong. Everyone has it in them. Even me. It's all about circumstances, that's all. Push someone enough and they'll bend. Push harder and they'll break." The katana spun around Hal's hand before he reaffirmed his grip, flashy, but steeped in potential to cause all kinds of hurt. "Enough talking, David."

It began all over again. Snake ducked and rolled and dodged, sometimes successful, sometimes not. New wounds opened up and having already seen just how fast Hal could be when he was determined, Snake didn't stall long before picking up his abnormally resilient rapier, deflecting the heavy handed hits with an ease that tried his suspension of disbelief. He almost wanted a heavy sword that could more realistically ward off Hal's blows, if only for immersion's sake. Everything about the environment screamed simulation, just battling values that paid only cursory attention to how the real world operated.

As far as values went, it was as though Hal's programming had gotten an upgrade. His fighting technique was still unpolished and would get him thrown out of any serious combat study, but he moved with more swiftness, took more risks, and was rewarded with adding new crimson gashes to Snake's skin. Snake bled freely, lacking the time or opportunity to stem the flow. He was not going to be tricked into attacking the doppelganger this time. It was clearly what his captors wanted from him.

This was easier said than done. He was the soldier, the warrior of the two, and his body ached from the mixture of not attacking, of constantly retreating, of going against every instinct he had.

Snake pushed towards Hal, watching his eyes widen in surprise, and crashed their swords together. With a shove, he sent Hal tumbling down to the ground. Hal didn't launch back onto the offensive, and Snake took the time to plant his blade down and leaned on it. There would be another burst of attacking and deflecting in a moment. For now, Snake just rested while he could, trying to gather his strength again even as his body felt damp with sweat and blood.

Hal set his katana on his knees, an obvious sign that he was allowing the time-out, and shook out his hands. Did he feel the sort of weariness Snake did? Was there a set of ones and zeros made to mimic that too? Snake already knew this Hal could apparently feel pain and agony and his life fading away like the ebb of a tide. The adrenaline and the part of him that loved battle more than he'd loved any person wanted to know just how real the imposter was. How method was his acting.

"You look wrecked," Hal observed.

Snake laughed once. "You should tell your bosses their plan's flawed. They want to make me fight, but I can't do this forever."

Hal smiled in a sad sort of way. "You're the man that makes the impossible possible."

"I'm the man bleeding out in more places than not," Snake retorted.

"I don't think they took that into consi-" Hal stopped mid-word, eyes glazing over. His entire body froze, not moving but for his steady breathing. He seemed to be listening very hard. His lips moved, but no sound came out, at least none that Snake could hear. There was a brief conversation, between Hal and the people running the sim, Snake presumed. That, or his familiar chunk of programming glitched and was talking to himself.

"New orders?" Snake asked after a while, impatient and trying not to be nervous. He could feel the rules changing in the air around them even now.

Hal blinked and was back, looking at him with that persistent sorrowful gaze. "Something like that..." Hal got up, katana dragging along the ground as he held it in a limp grip. His other hand was against his chest, running along the slice in his shirt, face drawn in deep contemplation. Apparently facades of his friends gifted with nominal fighting ability and phoenix-like resurrection had to take time to install new directives or something. Snake didn't want to think that whatever Hal had been told upset him. He needed to at least attempt to keep reality and simulation separate.

Hal nodded, seeming to gather himself. Squaring his shoulders, he looked at Snake long and hard. "It's a deal. Our benefactors recognize that you can't keep going like this without medical aid or nanomachines to recover some."

"Going to offer me a few bandages to stop the bleeding?" He hoped, at least. A simple solution, though it didn't help with the long-term problem.

"Better than that." Hal swung his sword at the ground, knocking petals into the air, and leveled his blade at Snake. He had a flair for the dramatic, but from the tight frown on himself, he was steeling himself for something. "Full recovery. Like hitting a reset button for you. No cuts, no blood, no weariness. All wiped away."

To say he was suspicious would be a great understatement. "Nice of them. What's the catch?"

Hal smiled, that irritating, serene curve of his lips. "Come on, David. You're a smart guy. I don't think I need to spell it out." When Snake refused to offer anything up, Hal sighed and said in a kind, permitting tone, "Kill me."

Knew it. Snake shook his head. "I'll bleed to death instead, thanks."

"You sure you can? Death's a little weird here, as you may have noticed."

"I don't care," Snake snapped, walking away, though not before picking up his sword. He'd learned that much by now.

"How can you be so... " Hal let out a loud groan of anger and Snake could hear the steps behind him, faster than he was sure he could handle right then.

But he had to. That was the underlying ideal that permeated his entire life. He had to. He had to or he'd fail. He had to or he'd die. He had to kill Hal or he'd-

Hal's strikes were ruthless, and Snake used both hands in an awkward white-knuckled grip on his rapier to keep up. He went through the motions: block, parry, sidestep, hiss in pain, gasp at the sting in his side, backpedal, rinse and repeat.

His vision dipped, eyes crossing for just a second's worth of dizziness that came and went in the same instant. But it threw him off, that damned human error in a world of unerring computational might.

He grunted with surprise, then could hold back a low cry as the katana slid just a little farther into his side. He senses dulled, staring unseeing ahead of himself, looking at the hurt expression on Hal's face, like he'd the one who'd just been stabbed. Maybe he was feeling sympathetically remembering the feeling. After Snake killed him once, he had to know the sensation.

The sensation was radiating pain that throbbed and flowed out from the cut through him, seeping into his bones until everything hurt. The katana was pulled away and Snake grabbed his side with one hand, barely staying on his feet.

"Oh god, Dave," Hal choked out. He grabbed Snake's arms, eased him down onto one knee, hands fluttering indecisively between Snake's face, his cuts, that cut, and his shoulders. "I warned you, I did, you never listen to me." Hal sounded more upset than when he had laid in the roses, back arching, eyes shutting in exquisite torment.

Snake barked a laugh at the vivid memory. Turnabout was fair play, but this ached, the pain steadily growing instead of fading as it should have. VR couldn't even get that right. "I don't... like orders much anymore," he said, belabored.

"Not even from me?" Hal said, trying to sound light, but completely failing.

"You're not real. Getting a little- " he took a ragged breath, fuck, it still hurt too much, "-tired of these Otacon impersonators."

"Dave..." Hal touched his face. "Wait, listen to me, that's just it. I'm not real. I'm not, I promise." His tempo was speeding up, distressed, worried. "You won't die, none of this is real and they can get as much fun out of putting you through- through this as they could anything else." Hal grabbed Snake's hand, squeezing it. "You need to stop this, no one should... not this, please."

Snake stared into Hal's eyes with not insignificant effort. "If you're not real, why do you care so much?"

"Dammit, David, stop it!" Hal's eyes were looking wet. "J-just please, I don't want to see you like this, I don't-" he stopped, reached down to his ankle and withdrew a knife, long and simple, easy to hide away. It was useless for the sort of combat they were engaging in, but this close...

"Hal, I'm not going to-"

"You have to." Hal pressed the hilt into Snake's hand, then set the point against his own chest. "I'll be fine but you won't be," he said, pleading. "I... I hate seeing you like this. If I can do something to protect you, let me, please."

This was sick. Hal begging him to shove a knife into his chest to save his own skin. Nothing was real, but it was all so visceral, the twisting pain, that copper smell again, the taste of Hal's breath as he pressed his face to Snake's and coaxed him along. His body felt cold, probably shock or blood loss kicking in, and Hal's cheek was pleasantly warm against his. Snake sighed, drinking in the small comfort, relaxing slightly, letting go for just a moment.

"O-oh," Hal whispered in a completely different, calmer tone. Snake's eyes snapped open and he looked down. The first inch of the knife vanished through the cloth of Hal's jacket, which was starting to darken already.

"No," Snake whispered, as if the word alone could reverse the damage done.

Hal's hands folded around Snake's, over the knife, stopping him from pulling back. "No, d-don't..." He took a long but shallow breath, eyes half-lidded and- Snake looked harshly away from the satisfied relief he saw there, and felt certain this would be added to his torturous subconscious every night he slept for the rest of his life. "Almost there, please, I just want t-to help you."

"Stop saying that," Snake hissed, but whether it was his anger getting the better of his already disobeying body or some latent militaristic need to obey, the knife pressed in further. Hal's face pulled into a tight wince, a nearly inaudible moan accompanying it.

Snake's gut twisted horribly at the sight, at the sound, the feel of Hal guiding Snake's hand-

He was going to find the people behind this and he was going to kill them.

With all the strength he had left, he turned the knife and thrust it up and in. Like hot magma in his veins, heat and power poured into him, effectively wiping out all his pain and revitalizing him in the span of a second. He sighed, letting the feeling wash over him, the looming feeling of impending death chased away.

He drank a few deep, steadying breaths, collecting himself. He felt clean and new again, the gash in his side repaired along with the smaller slices he'd endured. After such pervasive exhaustion and an unrelenting burn along his nerves, it was hard not to feel elated by the change.

But his hands were slick again.

He looked at Hal, who was bonelessly slumped against his shoulder. His breath was faltering again and on one last exhale of air, Snake heard him murmur, "Thank you," before going still a second time.

When Snake was finally able to keep his eyes open for more than a few minutes at a time, he harassed Otacon into helping him limp out of the bedroom. His body was still apparently carrying around lead weights, slowing his every move, but that was most likely from lack of sustenance over the last week. He told Otacon as much when the man wouldn't stop hovering, trying in vain to help something solidly outside his power.

He instantly reacted by shuffling off to the kitchen to rustle through the cabinets. At Snake's inquiry of what he was doing, he proclaimed, "We have a can of broth in here somewhere. Chicken soup is supposed to cure all that ails you, right?" He sounded unsure, domesticity never one of his strong suits.

He made up for lack of experience with determination though, and Snake was grateful. Not enough to let Otacon cook unsupervised-- never a good idea-- but still grateful. Snake settled in an armchair that gave him a clear line of sight to the tiny kitchen area. Otacon could figure out the basics of a quick soup: chop cooked chicken, vegetables, put in broth, heat. Sometimes Snake would tell him to add more pepper to the mix, but otherwise just observed the rare event that was Otacon cooking.

Step by step, Otacon made his way through the process of making soup with a great deal of concentration, the sort he usually saved for his most intense hacking jobs under heavy time constraints. It was oddly touching, enough so that it'd lessen the blow if the resulting meal was another culinary failure.

Snake lazily watched Hal chopping carrots, movements driving the knife down against the counter in timely, rhythmic thuds. It reminded Snake of Otacon's typing, the tempo making for soothing listening.

It was interrupted by a clatter and Otacon cursing. Snake's eyes snapped open before he realized they'd closed.

Otacon was holding his hand, wincing. A line of bright blood was stark against his pale skin as it slowly made its way down his palm. "Ow, ow, ouch," he muttered under his breath, groping around for a dishtowel to staunch the flow.

And Snake watched with wide eyes. He should have wondered why his breath caught so painfully at the sight, why his mind was filled with apologies and guilt that derailed and consumed his thoughts. He should have instantly known something was very, very wrong from the simultaneous sensations of contrition and an odd satisfaction that seized him, chaining him to his seat, unable to move to help.

He should have. But all he could think about was, I was wrong. He doesn't look that terrible in red.

Part Two
  • Oho. Wow.

    First: I think the title suits it.

    This was beautifully surreal, and dear god was it painful. I liked the way you integrated one of the lesser known canons (Is Metal Gear Mobile considered so? The story makes it possible for it to stand alone, but it does fit into the main timeline.) Anyway! The idea of Snake in a VR world was nicely executed and very chilling. Maybe it's your icon influencing me a bit, but was the rose garden a reference to Utena? The way those scenes flowed reminded me of Utena, particularly the movie.

    The painful part... was the way this VR clone of Hal, which had enough information to be deeply uncomfortable to Snake, kept changing attitudes, and how Snake eventually had to kill him twice to keep on living. It may not be Hal, but it has his mannerisms and face, and the consequences carried on into their Real Life, albeit in a subconscious level. I wonder how it's going to affect their relationship.

    (I also liked that he uses a katana against Snake's rapier, and how he didn't have any "fighting experience", but was pretty effective anyway. That's so very Hal.)

    I'll stop rambling now :'D But I really, really LOVED your fic. Clever use of the challenge theme! I'll be eagerly waiting for the next parts :3

    Congratulations! ♥ *takes her heart off for you*
    • I may keep the title. Does that mean I have to credit Fly? I wonder...

      No one played MGM. We did a big poll at the capslock comm and out of a metric ton of participants, only, I think, one or two played it. So it's dubious canon at best.

      It was explicitly an Utena VR at first, but then I realized "ohmigod, it's like the MGS3 ending" and I'm gonna run with that. But, yes, first draft even had Hal in one of the duelists outfits. Then I realized hope stupidly self-indulgent that was and cut it.

      VR!Hal... if I pull this off, over time he'll get increasingly like RL!Hal while maintaining his Uncanny Valleyness. Hopefully. :crosses fingers:

      Thank you for the glowing review. ♥
      • A pity. It was an interesting story, despite the constraints of its medium.

        It does work both ways, isn't it :3 I have Utena fresher in my memory, since I rewatched it a few weeks ago, but it does have echoes of the MGS3 ending. All those white flowers and dancing petals, and a loved person bleeding to death amidst them. It's very poetic, and the layers makes the fic even more meta <3

        Uhuhuhu, VR!Hal <3 I love him already. He's so creepy. Here's to more 4th wall breakage *toasts* I wish you success with the next parts!
  • (no subject) - fireholly
  • Head tipped back to speak to the artificial sky and artificial gods, "This flower theme is a little overwrought, isn't it?" He asked no one.

    "You should see the source material. It's even worse," someone answered.

    Oh wow I never thought that Snake and Otacon in Ohtori would work the way you just made it. And mmmm yes cracks in the fourth wall.

    And I just love the way you depicted Snake's pain, the way he knew it wasn't real but felt unspeakably guilty anyway. I can't wait to see how it colors his perception of Otacon in the future, and the way the guilt will keep eating him up inside.

    I want art of StudentCouncil!Snake and Otacon now.
    • the Utena symbolism is apparently really obvious, heh.

      You will get to see how it colors his perceptions, yep.

      oh man, if I could draw. alas, I can't. D8
  • Well I was *supposed* to go out and run errands, but then you had to post this little gem. :)

    This was fantastic, I'm glad I wasn't thinking down the wrong path with the Utena references. (Not a series I'm intimately familiar with, but it was easy enough to make the connection.) Lovely description and the scene with Hal and the knife was just so... something I'm incapable of coming up with words for (but great and tender and wonderful).

    Thank you for posting this (and the MGM script, that was interesting!) and I look forward to more!
  • Oh


    This is really engrossing. And powerful.

    I wish I was actually affected by things intended to be creepy so I could get the full effect of this fic, but it's still a very excellent read. And the, er, combat sequences are written very well.

    Can't wait for part 2 oh boy oh boy /giddy
    • oh god, I remember almost quitting because of the fucking fight scenes, any quality in them is Thene's work, she made me keep on with them.

      I'm thrilled ya'll like it. \o/
  • Oooooh. :) I do so love anything VR themed, and this was excellent. Wohdin's right about the combat sequences, it was all done so well. I can't wait for part 2!

      oh god, I love the swordpull thing from Utena, especially when they delved into the sex/non-con thing in the Black Rose Arc. EVERYONE IS SLIGHTLY ASHAMED OF GETTING SWORDS PULLED OUTTA THEM, GOD YOU'D THINK IT WAS A METAPHOR OR SOMETHING.

      i'm picturing snake pulling the sword out of him now
      i have to tell you it is kind of hot

      (But seriously, this is such a good story. I read all three parts in one sitting and I can't wait for the last part.)
  • Wow. This was amazingly well written. It's unsettling, provocative and delightfully creepy. I'm really eager to see what you have in store for the next two installments; I have a feeling that they'll be just as beautiful as this one turned out.
  • Echoing everyone else's thoughts that this was really well-written- creepy, unsettling, and well thought out. I liked the interactions between the two, the depictions of the ramifications it has in the actual world- and the fighting scenes were good, too. =3 (And I didn't know much about the mobile game before, so this introduced me to it a bit more). I admit I quite like VR simulation stories as well.

    Thanks for sharing- looking forward to part two. 8D
  • Running out the door, but this was seriously awesome. Great tone, great description, great idea.

    Particularly loved the "you're bad luck," and in fact the whole Otacon-making-him-fight, which while it obviously makes sense from the POV of whoever's screwing with him and he knows it, just hurts so much anyway.
  • Wow, this is so good on so many different levels. <3!
  • The thought of Otacon fighting Snake with a katana would normally make me laugh, but this VR!Otacon was just creepy and sexy and innocent, all at once. This is fantastic.
  • I loved this story, and since my English is so bad to make me too embarrassed to post an in-dept review, I'll show my appreciation with this collab made in the pchat with CelesJessa :D:D

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic
    • ....

      I am almost speechless with gratitude. This is so lovely. I am in love with the color, which is so... god, vibrant. The roses, the blood on the petals, the look on Snake's face, HAL'S LITTLE SMILE AAAAAAH

      I love it. It's fantastic. I am so very flattered. Thank you, both of you.
    • I really love this fic too. It's so nicely written... I could practically see the scenes playing out in my head.

      Love it!
    • I'm really, really glad you liked it <3<3, and I hope it somehow inspires you to write the rest quickly!
  • OMG! When I met eyes with 'roses' and 'rapier' I instantly thought of dueling and dueling in rose gardens or plateaus leads me to thinking of Utena ROFL Imagining Otacon fight brought an interesting image in my head. Then there was that last line, made me think 'Woah, Snake is getting freaky here?'

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