|You Always Take the Sweetest Rose
Author: Graph PM
As she started to slip into the twilight sleep, and the dull stinging faded to analgesia – only then did she think of Adam. / WWII-era, Boss-centric. MGS3 spoilers.Rated: Fiction M - English - Tragedy - T. Boss & T. Sorrow - Words: 3,701 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 4 - Published: 02-02-12 - id: 7800754
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
She felt her cheek hit the mud-stiffened sand before she knew why she'd fallen.
Everything had been going flawlessly. They'd told her not to go – you're in your third trimester, for God's sakes, put down your gun and pick up a dimestore novel – and she knew she could have been sent home, if she'd asked the right people. But she went anyway. She knew she had to be there, with her gruesome family, to watch the tides of war change. So she strapped herself into her olive drab second skin, and off she went, taking her morning prenatal vitamins with a swig from her canteen.
The day itself arrived in a heartbeat, full of chaos and bustling excitement, soldiers preparing frantically like shoppers before Christmas. She, inversely, found herself even calmer than usual. This was her habitat.
At first, it went smoothly, eerily smoothly, dropping in with usual grace, the salty air stinging her lungs as she glided to the ground. The other Cobras followed, their parachutes crumpling up like shadows. Even the first V2 was easy – The Fear dismantled the rocket's nosecone, frying its guidance system, while she and the others kept watch. The early morning gloom was so silent, so still, that she thought she heard the rhythmic throbbing of machine guns in the distance. Or maybe it was just the ocean.
"If this wins the war," she mused, the Sorrow glancing over at her, "maybe I'll visit the beach."
He smiled at her for a second – smiled that warm, disarming broken grin – before turning back prudently to watch the trees.
And she blinked, and by the time she heard the blast, that was it. She lay crumpled in the sand, frozen, her body content to let the damp wind batter her. She never saw the shooter. And when that metallic tearing sound echoed in her ears, when she could finally process it, she knew this wasn't just another near miss.
She tried to roll over onto her back, and for those moments, the world returned to normal speed. More gunfire. Male screams, unfamiliar to her.
Only then did the pain kick in, so abruptly, all at once. At first, it was that familiar, raw, empty searing, enough to make her seize. But she couldn't breathe, that was new, and it didn't come in waves; it crashed over her, sucked her down like a cyclone, drowned her every nerve unrelentingly.
Her eyes refocused. Blood, blood coating her hands where she'd tried to apply pressure, flowing down her arm, pouring obstinately out onto the crimson sand. Too much blood for one gunshot.
She had to look. She moved her hand out of the way, and sat up slightly, vaguely aware of her own panicked gasping breaths. The Sorrow was shouting something. She could feel footsteps.
Her abdomen. The angry wound was an inch or two under her swollen belly button. That was why.
Her muscles gave way, and she dropped back down to the mud, convulsing and fighting to stay awake. Her vision had started to fail her again, the edges of the world growing dimmer and fuzzier.
And then the medics were there, appearing by her side out of nowhere, swarming her like insects. They cut through her gear with practiced ease, one of them holding her down by her shoulders. They bombarded her with questions – do you have any allergies to medication, do you have any illnesses, are you hurt anywhere else – and she choked on every answer, on either blood or her own lack of air. But when they asked are you pregnant, already in disbelief, she furiously shook her head yes YES YES.
But what were they doing? She didn't see gauze, but she watched them all don a second pair of gloves, and slide the face masks up over their noses. She struggled up against the man pressing down on her, eyes bulging, but he held her fast.
"What, what's happening?" she forced out, the words garbled.
"You need an emergency c-section."
The flood of adrenaline had kept her senses from failing altogether, and she saw the medics rifle through their kits, the glint of steel flashing in their hands.
Now? Don't panic, don't panic, her mind screamed in futility, cesareans are simple procedures, you'll be fine, you'll both be fine. But she couldn't help the terror setting fire to her nerves, couldn't force her wracking torso to be still. One of the medics told her you'll feel some pain.
She didn't need the warning. Their scalpels, dulled with overuse and shakily held, ripped through her flesh like the dread claws of some unholy animal. Her every cell shrieked, the pain incredible, beyond anything she had ever imagined. A mortal, unbearable, fatal pain. She fought to stay down, to keep their incisions clean, but her body couldn't obey her any longer. She thrashed free of the man holding her, just as the lead surgeon's knife tore all the way up.
She had been shot three times before this, and would be shot five more times after that, excluding the bullet that killed her. One third of her body would be burned. She would break, in total, both arms, both legs in different places, one hand, one wrist, three ribs, her hip, collarbone and neck. She would enter two comas, and wake from both. But she would later admit, to a certain blonde femme fatale in the dank basement of a Russian fortress, that through it all, through every injury, illness, torture or torment, she only screamed once. Whimpers or groans, of course, maybe even a dry sob or two, but only one true scream.
The scalpel slashed up to her breast.
The Joy screamed.
It was the shrill, desperate, abrasive shriek of the dying, her agony drowned out temporarily by the noise. When she'd purged her lungs of one cry, she managed another, what was left of her voice shattering. It was a sound that would haunt her for years; she could never really believe that it been her, dying there. That she had ever been so helpless.
When she fell back, the medic-bees swarmed her again, their grim faces blocking out the sky. Smaller cries kept leaking from her lips – god how it hurt, how could anything hurt like this? There was so much blood now, unreal quantities, judging from the red-dyed hands pawing over her. The heavy thud of a nearby helicopter drowned out anything they might have said.
She closed her eyes, and when she managed to open them, a new face had fought its way through. There he was, the Sorrow, still wearing that smile, though it was cracked in more than a few places. As the paramedics slid her onto a stretcher, and she grit her teeth through another cry, he knelt down beside her, his uniform ruffling in the artificial breeze.
"We're getting you out of here," he murmured in her ear, his hand grasping her wrist. "You're going to be fine, I promise. You know I wouldn't lie to you."
She stared emptily up at him, clear eyes stretched wide and uncomprehending. The faux-comforting words were lost on her; there was no room for anything but breathing and pain. She cut off his last sentence when she felt the bite of the scalpels again, still unable to silence herself.
Help her, God, why wouldn't he just help her? Something, anything for the pain, anything to end it.
"Morphine," she sobbed, "please, morphine!"
The Sorrow turned away from her then, and disappeared back into the bubble of doctors. She felt them lift her, watched the world turn as she moved. The throng of the chopper grew nearer, and in a moment she was inside, nothing but a panting, shaking cargo.
He reappeared as paramedics filed into the cabin, and the engine's growl turned to a roar. She saw his lips move, but didn't hear a word, and as he spoke, she felt a plunging, sweet, sickly warmth engulf her. He'd found an ampoule somewhere.
The insane agony evaporated, and if for only a moment, her mind regained control. She stared at him, his expression soft with concern. On any other day, if she were herself, she would have bristled at his pity, insisted that it was just another wound. But between the drugs and the ceaseless scalpels, she was far too dazed for that now.
For a few isolated seconds, they were little more than unlucky parents-to-be.
"Than' you," she slurred, eyes closing already. "Tell'm," – Tell the Cobras – "I say g'luck."
She watched him nod, his hand brushing her forearm, before he faded away again, and the dark halos encroaching on her vision swallowed her up. The last things she caught sight of were the lead surgeon's eyes, narrowed with concentration, his mask dotted with red.
As she started to slip into the twilight sleep, and the dull stinging faded to analgesia – only then did she think of Adam. Strange that she'd cared for this faceless thing for so long, and, she figured, if it was meant to die – if it had wanted to die – it would have by now.
But Adam lived. If nothing else, she owed it – him – the same courtesy.
His name kept ringing in her head in the darkness. She had a son.
The next few hours of consciousness were hazy, muted by sedatives. Most of what she could recall were just flashes, blurs of pain and bright light, interspersed with the hushed voices of doctors and the rustle of fabric.
The first long stretch of time she registered, she was on a hospital bed, tubes and needles feeding into her like tendrils sprouting from a weed. A nurse was beside her, her arms criss-crossed around a tiny pink swath.
Even in the morphine fog, she knew he was beautiful. She remembered leaning over and caressing his fuzz of blonde hair, the nurse rocking him softly. She kissed his forehead, a tender smile curling her lips, some very basic part of her glowing with happiness. In those few seconds, her entire being reorganized itself; suddenly she couldn't help but be devoted to him, her cold soldier's facade melting. She was secondary now, not only to her country or some vague higher order, but to him. And, in that strange moment, she had never felt lovelier.
But that kiss was all she could manage, and drowsiness overtook her again, forcing her back down onto her pillow. The last thing she remembered was the faceless nurse turning away, her crooning drowned out by Adam's cries.
She would grow to hate herself for those opiate-drunk minutes of naiveté. She never asked to hold him. If only she had held him, a childish part of her insisted, he could never have been pulled away again.
She came to jarringly, as though the IV in her arm were one of God's jumper cables. She could have believed it was all just a dream, if not for the snug feel of gauze under her white hospital gown. When she sat up, the agony shot through her again, tracing the bandaged path up her chest.
"Oh, good, you're up," an unfamiliar voice drawled.
She turned to face the man in the corner as quickly as she could manage, wincing as she felt the sutures tug. He had been silent, unmoving, his legs still kicked out in front of him as he sat in the plastic visitor's chair. An open copy of the Times was still splayed out on his lap, and he glanced at her over it.
He wore a tan suit and plain tie, thick glasses dulling his beady eyes. When he stood, his leather dress shoes clicked on the hospital linoleum, and he removed his hat, bowing his head slightly towards her. He was a heavy man, no younger than 55, his salt-and-pepper hair combed neatly back.
"Hope I didn't startle you, Miss, but I figured you'd be needing your sleep." His voice had the soft twang of a Southern gentleman, and he spoke at a snail's pace, the words dribbling from his lips.
"Who are you?" She was on edge already, healthy paranoia kicking in. Inwardly she bristled; she was no "miss".
He took a few lazy steps toward her gurney. A tepid smile spread across his pale, wrinkled face.
"My name doesn't matter much. You're not gonna see me again, after all." He leaned on the railing of her bed. "Nope, I'm just here as a messenger."
Something was very off about this, her new instincts insisted. He wasn't a doctor. He didn't even have a visitor's badge. Her stomach lurched, but she kept her face blank, her rasping voice still sharp with authority.
"What is this about?" she murmured.
"You don't have any guesses?" He raised an eyebrow, pausing, the grin widening. "I'll give you a hint: Plato, Socrates, Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau."
She narrowed her eyes, straightening and flinching from the ache. He gave a long chuckle, a cruel, predatory glint in his eye.
"Therrree we go."
"What do you want?" Her heart was racing now. "What could have been so important you had to—"
"Shh. All will be explained." He raised a hand to her dismissively, giving another mocking laugh. Her blood boiled.
"Now, I know it's easy for someone like you to get caught up in the present," – some little girl like me, a reflexive part of her filled in for him – "but I'm afraid you still have a few folks angry with you for the stunt you pulled last year."
"It wasn't a stunt," she protested, a bit too quickly, before forcing her tone to even. "My cover was blown. I did what I could."
"Well, some of us thought you might be fucking with us." The 'g' was almost silent. He laughed again, his slow, syrupy voice making her tense. "Like you might be turning Red. And we can't have that."
"Are you calling me a traitor?" She was expressionless, except for the hand fisting her bedsheets furiously.
"Miss, I don't know you personally, or how exactly you got into this mess. I just do what I'm told." He leaned in closer to her, adjusting his glasses, that hateful glaze boiling in his eyes. He chortled. "And I suggest you do the same. Which, I suppose, brings us to your son."
And that was it. The façade wore paper-thin. Her face twisted into a snarl, and she bolted upright, fury dulling the pain. Adam, God, why hadn't the nurses brought him in yet? Where were they? Was he sick, hurt, dead, where the fuck were they?
"What the hell does my son have to do with this?" she whispered, eyes scanning every inch of his piggish face.
"Now, now, no need to fret. He's perfectly fine, considering he's a month or two early." His smile seemed to grow with every word. "And he'll be taken good care of, so long as you do a few favors for us every now and then."
"Where is he?" Her voice shook.
"On his way to our Kremlin friends." Another low laugh. "His daddy's getting a message a lot like this one, but at least you got to come back to the USA for it." He paused, the cheer in his tone dropping off abruptly. "He'll be redeployed somewhere pretty far away, I imagine. We can't have you two keeping in touch."
She was silent when he'd finished, her gaze darting around the room. At first her thoughts had been mad with panic, delirious with rage, but there had to be a plan, there was always a plan. Her mind ticked away, her heartbeat sluggish by comparison.
"Why so quiet all of a sudden?" he asked when it had gone on for a little while, one of his eyebrows raising. "Cat got your tongue?"
"Why are you doing this?" she muttered emptily.
"To keep you on our side, of course." He wheezed out a chuckle. "We like you an awful lot. We just want to make sure you're someone we can always count on."
"So then, he's a hostage. To you. And to them."
He sighed. "Tell you what." His bulbous fingers drummed on her hand. "You do the right things for us, and I'll make sure the little bastard eats his veggies."
When she moved, she moved viciously fast, springloaded body snapping. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and tried to twist him around, choking him halfway and strangling off his veins. But he bucked, and pulled back, and she could only hold on as he dragged her, growling softly as the pain ripped through her again. He staggered away from her bed, and the IV yanked out of her hand, the stand crashing to the floor as he groaned. He struggled towards the door, but her grip loosened without the support of the bedframe, and he pried her arms away. She crumpled to the floor, whimpering quietly when she hit the tile.
Shaken, he stormed off, twisting his hat onto his head and breathing in greedy gulps. The last thing she caught was fucking bitch, mumbled hastily like an afterthought.
And that was it. That was all the Philosophers felt necessary.
She laid there for the longest minutes of her life, just breathing, trying to ignore the phantom sawblades that chewed up her chest. She could feel the gauze under her gown grow sticky, and she closed her eyes, too faint to think. The clatter of the IV was loud enough. Someone would come. Someone had to.
Limp on that icy floor, she felt so worthless. In a day, she'd lost everything.
She jerked back to life when she felt gentle hands helping her up, urgent hushed voices enveloping her. After a minute of uncomfortable lifting and pulling, she was back in the bed, watching as a nurse dabbed the sweat from her brow.
They slipped her out of her gown as a man in scrubs approached, his eyes conveying the frown hidden by his mask. Gingerly he cut her out of her gauze, glancing up to meet her eyes every few snips.
"Don't get out of bed today," – He paused, eyeing her chart – "Commander. The more stitches you rip, the more likely you'll suffer infection."
She nodded absently, blank-faced aside from a flinch at the sting of iodine. Only now, after the worst of the pain had left her, did it really sink in. There was no plan this time. There was no backup. The Philosophers were everything; they were puppetmasters, and she, one of the best soldiers alive, was no more of a threat to them than any of the helpless drones they commanded. She had been weak for those few hours, drug-sleepy and happy and in love, and they seized their chance.
She wished she could hate them, but no, she realized, as she felt the needle and suture, it wasn't just them. Cursing the Philosophers was like cursing a deaf, impersonal God. There was no comfort in it. No, she hated the circumstances. The loss itself. She barely knew Adam as anything more than a faint heartbeat against her palm, but the thought – no, the knowledge – that she would spend her life pining for him, for a child who would almost certainly die by their hand, seemed to make every stab of the needle a thousand times more vicious.
"I'm not sure if you're interested," she distantly heard the surgeon mumble, "but we have an excellent plastic surgery clinic on-site. I could order a consultation, if you'd like."
"Why would I need plastic surgery?" she asked hollowly.
He didn't reply; he merely finished her sutures and stood back, a strange mix of awe and pity in his eyes. It occurred to her, as a nurse wrapped the first loop of gauze around her, that she hadn't gotten a good look at the wound.
When she let her eyes drop, she felt the color drain from her cheeks.
The Joy had never been a vain woman, but she'd been told by enough people that she was beautiful, and saw no reason she shouldn't believe it. Her scars were as familiar and natural to her as her birthmarks, or the outlines of her bones beneath her skin. And she'd actually grown to like the hard, sinewy physique that had carved itself out over the years – if only because of the strength it lent her.
She had been picturing the scar as a thin, neat line, as artificial and straight as all the others. Not the jagged, snaking slit that curled up her body like a bleeding centipede, the yellowish tint of the iodine giving it a jaundiced hue. She felt vivisected when she looked at it, and it shocked her, revolted her.
A soft oh slipped from her lips. She didn't feel her expression change, but the way the nurses looked upon her, their eyes soggy with motherly pity, told her that she must have looked heartbroken. No one moved for one minute, than two, then six, seven, eight. No one wanted to break the silence.
This was all that was left of Adam, she realized. They had taken everything from her, and this monstrosity was all that was left.
"I'll get a consult for you, Commander," the surgeon offered, starting towards the door.
She traced over the line gingerly with one finger, up her abdomen, across her stomach, over her breast. Slowly, she raised her eyes, a ghostly nude madonna, statuesque in the bright yellow light.
"No, thank you, Doctor. I'll be all right."
It was a resolution, not a statement.