A Dark Cloud 2 fanfic by Intrasonic
Disclaimer: As fanfics go, this one falls under the heading of 'Written for the hell of it'. But it's not as though we're drowning under an abundance of material for this game, right? Right.
"Ouch... not so fast... oooooh..."
"See? Doesn't it feel good?"
"Mmmm... I still don't think we should be doing this right now..."
"What's to be guilty about?"
"Well, we're supposed to be fighting, right?"
Max couldn't help but roll his eyes. "In the shape you're in? I had to carry your sword for you on the way back, remember?"
Monica scowled, but couldn't very well deny the fact. "Well, you try falling down a volcano and see how well you do afterwards."
"So just sit back and relax a little. This is probably going to be our only chance, right?"
It was quite satisfying in a way, Max had to admit. Only a short time ago, the Heim Rada grounds had been nothing more than a desolate wasteland, covered in raining embers. Now, it was still rocky and barren, but was populated with some modest buildings and some industrious town folk. And in the future... seeing Paznos with his own eyes had been enough to stun even his imagination. And for the icing on the cake, the present time had some rather nice hot springs, which he and his partner were taking advantage of at the moment.
It had actually taken a bit of convincing on Max's part, as Monica seemed to have an allergic reaction to the concept of 'relaxing', and the recent show-down with Gaspard had only aggravated it. He could still remember the language she had been using when they had faced down the man, and clearly the long limp home over rugged terrain hadn't done anything to improve her mood.
But, as Max had pointed out, Monica was in no shape to fight, but in excellent condition to appreciate a hot spring soak. And until the Ixion was prepared for takeoff, there wasn't anything else better to do...
"...besides, considering we just brought back and defended the entire Gundorada workshop, what's wrong with enjoying a side benefit for a little bit while you recover?"
The redhead scowled, but allowed herself to sink down and lean back against the bedrock, stopping when only her head was above the murky water. "Fine, fine. You're not to going to let up, are you?"
"Nope." Leaning back against his own selection of the bedrock, Max gave her what might pass for a roguish grin in a few years' time. "Besides, it wasn't easy getting the Carpenterion to make swimwear, you know."
Monica raised an eyebrow. "I wondered where you got these clothes. You're not going to tell me that one of those geostones had swimwear patterns in it, are you?"
"It could already do a lot of small stuff, actually. Even clothing. I just had to give it a few details. The Firbits probably didn't think it was important enough to mention. It's not as though swimwear is going to save the future."
"I guess not. If you keep this up, you'll be able to control that thing single-handedly."
"Nah." Max looked thoughtful. "But maybe I could make my own version..."
He probably could, Monica mused. Considering what she'd seen him cobble together in this time era, he could probably turn the future Luna Lab on end within a year. He definitely had a special brand of genius when it came to creating new things. It was the kind that could notice the most insignificant details, and put them together in surprisingly innovative ways. But swimwear was certainly a new avenue for him, even it was proving halfway useful for the moment...
Even if the brevity of her swimsuit and its tiger-print pattern made her more than a little suspicious. After all, Max was male, had repeatedly demonstrated an extremely acute eye for details, and Monica hadn't missed the fact that he'd been able to create a perfectly sized swimsuit without consulting her.
At least his camera was nowhere to be seen, she finally relented. "What about that design for your gun you said you were working on?"
Max's face lit up in a smile. "I think I've finally figured it out! My gun shoots too slowly, because it takes too long to chamber another bullet. But if I can harness the recoil from a shot, I can use that to automatically load the weapon for the next shot. If so, I should be able to make a gun that fires really quickly."
"You think so?"
"Well, I was looking at the Blackstone's steam engine, actually... "
Monica let him ramble on. She didn't know whether to be amused or depressed about not understanding someone with a century less technology to work with, but she'd gotten used to it by this point.
"...it's got two pistons in it, and each one travels down its cylinder, pushed by the force of the other piston. I think could probably do the same thing with a modified version of my gun, using the recoil force to re-chamber a bullet... The only problem is that each shot will loose a little power in the process. But I think the rate of fire will more than make up for it, so I... Monica?"
"Hmm? Go on."
"You're not listening."
"Yes, I am. I'm just not understanding. I'll just stick with my magic, thank-you very much."
Max made a face. "Bleh."
"Seriously," he protested, "it doesn't follow any rules."
"That's because you basically define the rules as you go. All you need is a really strong will. And lots of practice, of course."
"I guess that explains why you're so good at it."
She gave him A Look. "Yes, I practice a lot."
Max shielded himself against the water she splashed at him. "Ha!"
A third voice interrupted what might have quickly
escalated into a full-fledged water-fight.
"You kids having fun out here?"
Both of them turned to face the arrival of Cedric, who had evidently seen their last exchange. "Nice to see you're enjoying the hot springs here," he observed with a grin, setting down a cluster of bottles near the edge of the water. "I thought you two might like a little something to drink while you're relaxing. Fresh water from Palm Brinks."
"Thanks," Max said, grabbing one of the bottles for himself.
"Speaking of fresh water, is that water safe?" Cedric inquired. "It looks awful murky to me."
"It's just stirred-up sediment," Max assured him. "This is really relaxing, actually. Right, Monica?"
"We can leave any time, right?" Monica demanded, looking as though she was prepared to leap out of the hot springs on a moment's notice.
"You need to recover a little first!"
"I told you! I'm just fine!"
Cedric held up placating hands, silencing them both. "Well, let me be honest with you two. First of all, I'd say a little recovery time would do you good, Monica. Secondly, those guys from the future are saying that they'd like some time to do a last check over the Ixion. Something about not wanting to arrive as a big neon smear ten thousand years in the past."
Although Monica clearly had contention with the first point, the second point seemed to register perfectly well to both of them.
"They're going to analyze the data from the one hundred year leap we just did, and fine-tune the time travel mechanism, they said," Cedric concluded. "Actually, I didn't understand half of what they said, so that was their simplified explanation."
"No problem," Max agreed, having a hunch that he might be alone in his opinion.
"Could you tell them to hurry up?" Monica urged. "Every minute we wait..."
"They said not to worry about that," Cedric soothed. "If we have to wait a day before starting, they can just set it to go back in time one more day. So you two just relax a little, all right? You're both doing a great job so far."
Neither said anything until Cedric was well out of earshot.
"I guess we've got some time to rest now," Max finally ventured cautiously.
Monica made a face at the world in general. "Give it a rest, Max."
They both leaned back against their respective rock beds, neither doing anything further to break the silence. The occasional hiss came up from near the middle of the hot springs, courtesy of the geothermal forces surging miles below the surface.
Max shifted slightly.
Monica shifted slightly.
Monica squirmed, attempting to discreetly adjust something beneath the murky waterline. "Max..."
He sighed, mimicking her gesture in his own fashion. "Sorry. After making the towels, the only material the Carpenterion had left was wool."
"What's it like being a princess?"
Monica shifted so that her mouth was above the waterline. "What do you mean?"
"What I said. I've read some stories that had princesses in them, but I've never met a real one. Before you, I mean."
A shrug. "I never really gave it much thought before. I do whatever needs to be done, I suppose. What do the princesses do in the stories you read?"
"Not much, really. Go to dances and balls. They seem to get kidnapped a lot. Then they get rescued." He wilted under Monica's glare. "Hey, I didn't write the stories!"
"And what happens when their kingdom is in danger?"
"I think they wait for a prince to show up."
"What's the point in having a princess like that? And how do they know the prince is going to be any good? And if he's a prince, doesn't he have his own kingdom to worry about? And why would he want anything to do with a princess who's nothing more than deadweight?"
It did sound a little stupid, Max had to admit. "I guess they assume it'll all work out in the end."
"Well, I think that if the princess has time to go to dances, she can find some time to learn how to take care of herself. And then if someone comes to kidnap her, she can darn well rescue herself. And then if a prince does show up, he'll actually think she and her country are worth forming an alliance with."
Max blinked several times as he digested the new angle. "I guess I never thought of it that way before. What about you? I guess you learned how to take care of yourself, right? Are all princesses like you?"
Monica shrugged. "We don't have dances in the future. And a princess who can't fight isn't a very useful princess."
"Penny for your thoughts?"
"Penny for your thoughts?"
"I heard you the first time. What does that mean?"
"It's a figure of speech," Max explained. "It means 'what are you thinking about right now?'."
"Oh. Lots of things. Nothing much."
"Just curious, that's all." Leaning back, Max allowed himself to sink back down into the water. "This is nice."
"How can you be so calm like that?" Monica wanted to know.
Max looked over at her again. "What do you mean?
"How can you just sit here and relax like that?"
Max delayed his answer long enough to take a gulp of water from his bottle. "This is warm and comfortable, so I'm sitting here and relaxing. What's so strange about that?"
She looked at him accusingly. "We're in a war, Max! There's some psycho named Griffon out there, and he's trying to destroy everything! Hell, he almost did destroy everything, and if we don't stop him, he's still going to!"
"I know, but-"
She slid through the water, until she was all but pinning him to the side of the pool. "Do you know how many people are dead because of him? Your mom almost joined them, in case you'd forgotten! The Resistance is still fighting in the future, but even Paznos can't hold out forever! Either we win, or everyone DIES!"
Max involuntarily drew back from his first experience as the actual target of his partner's anger. "That doesn't mean-"
"And we're sitting here, soaking in a damn hot spring! Like this is some kind of vacation!"
"But what else can we do right now?"
The comment was meant rhetorically, but it seemed to sap the life out of Monica, who drew back until she was where she had originally been sitting. "Right. Rub it in, why don't you?"
He blinked. "What do you mean?"
"I know we can't do anything right now! And I know I'm damned useless right now! That doesn't mean I have to like it!"
"..." Max replied.
"Nevermind," she muttered, looking away. "I just hate waiting."
"Could have fooled me."
"Seriously," Max insisted. "Back when I first started learning from Cedric, he was always telling me to be more patient. I'd never wait long enough for glue or cement to dry, or I'd use big tools instead of more delicate ones... and the project would never turn out right."
"So you finally learned how to wait?"
"Eventually, anyway," he admitted.
"I guess some things are easier for an inventor than a soldier."
"Then... why not pretend you're an inventor? We're building a future, right? Right now, we've finished building the... um, framework, see? But we just have to let it settle a little before we try to finish it off."
Monica exhaled, letting herself sink deeper into the water. "You make it sound so easy."
"Penny for your thoughts?"
Max looked over. "Huh?"
"That means 'what are you thinking about right now?'," Monica informed him, matter-of-factly. "Or so I've been told."
He stifled a smile, but not very successfully. "Imagine that."
"Different stuff, I guess."
Monica frowned slightly. "What about him?"
"It's... kind of sad, I guess," Max admitted, looking wistful. "After everything he went through, he finally realized his mistake only after it was too late. If things had gone differently, he might still be alive right now."
"Feh. If things had gone differently, it would have been me killing him."
"I know you were fighting him when the airship crashed, but what I meant was-"
"If he hadn't been taken over by Griffon after you beat him down?" Monica guessed. "Then I would have been cutting his head off halfway through any apology he tried to make."
Max's eyes widened.
"What?" Monica met his stare without hesitation. "I suppose you're going to tell me that if he apologized enough, it would fix everything he did?"
"Well, no, but-"
"-Would it bring back all the people he killed? Would it bring back my father? Are you telling me that it's okay to be a murdering bastard and help destroy an entire world, as long as you say 'I'm sorry' afterwards?"
Max looked away. "This isn't the first time we've fought someone who was being controlled by someone else, you know."
"Like who? The Shingala? They didn't have any choice in the matter - they were forced to fight." Monica circled towards him, forcing him to look at her. "But you remember what Crest said, don't you? People like Gaspard chose to fight."
"They made their choice. Maybe Griffon encouraged them, maybe they had a lousy upbringing, maybe things weren't perfect for them... but they CHOSE to fight! Do you see me doing that? I saw my father killed in front of me, but you don't see me running around killing innocent people everywhere, do you?"
Max finally met her gaze again. "Not innocent people, no."
The slap, he saw coming. Unfortunately, unlike the storybooks, real princesses apparently didn't bother to open their hands before making contact.
"Do you think I'm trekking all over time and space because I feel like it!" Monica demanded angrily. "Do you think I'm doing all this because I feel like working off a little stress! Is THAT what you think!"
Max rubbed the side of his face gingerly, knowing he would probably be seeing a knuckle-shaped bruise the next time he looked in a mirror. "I think you're loosing your head just from sitting still for a few hours. And I think you just tried to punch out someone who's on your side. So you tell me."
The suddenly-stricken look on Monica's face, coupled with the fact that she immediately withdrew to where she had originally been sitting, indicated that neither point had missed its mark.
Both fell silent as the hot springs bubbled and hissed around them, with Max gingerly probing the side of his face, Monica taking an avid interest in the patch of water in front of her, and neither individual willing to meet the other's gaze.
It was Monica who finally broke the ice. "...sorry."
Max exhaled, slumping down in his own location. "I'm sorry too. I know you're not like that."
"Maybe I am," she whispered. "A little. But... I have to be like that. Until the war is finally over."
"Are you sure?"
"I can't stop fighting," she insisted, still looking away. "Not now. You know that, don't you?"
"I don't think it's about not fighting," Max suggested. "I'm fighting, aren't I?"
"Then what's the difference?" she wanted to know. "How can you fight so hard, and then just... stop?"
"I think... maybe you need to learn how to let things go. Maybe even try to forgive."
Monica flinched, finally turning face him. "Forgive?"
"To forgive. To put it behind you."
"Forgive?" she repeated, her voice a whisper of disbelief.
Max shrugged. "I know it doesn't fix what happened. But does anything else?"
There was another period of silence between the two of them, though it lacked the tension from earlier.
"Have a drink," Max finally suggested, grabbing another one of the bottles that Cedric had delivered earlier. "There's nothing like fresh water from home."
Monica accepted the bottle, but didn't open it. "Do you really believe that?"
"Definitely," Max assured her. "The water just doesn't taste the same out here."
"Try some," he insisted.
Rolling her eyes, Monica twisted the cap off her bottle and took a long drink.
"Good, isn't it? If you ask me," he continued guilelessly, "there's nothing like a hot spring and some cool water to make it easier to stop fighting for a little while."
Monica stared at him incredulously.
Max merely grinned back.
"Seriously," she insisted, not quite able to keep the corners
of her own mouth from curling upwards. "Are you telling me that it's all
water under the bridge for you,
where Gaspard is concerned? You're saying that despite everything he did, you don't care? If he'd just walked up to you and said 'sorry', that would have been the end of it for you? And you're saying that I should be like that?"
Max shrugged. "'Forgive' is hard, I know. But at least try to let it go."
"I wonder if you'd be singing that same song if he succeeded."
Once again, he shrugged in reply. "I know what you mean. And I know I haven't been fighting as long as you have. And... I know my parents aren't dead. But... if you don't put it behind you... I guess it's always in front of you, right?"
Max's face shifted into a more somber expression. "I don't think I'd want to live like that, you know? I think that if I had to live the rest of my life like that... I might even end up like Gaspard."
"That's what I think, anyway."
"And what happens if we find someone else like Gaspard?" Monica finally asked, eyeing Max doubtfully. Her tone of voice was still challenging, but it lacked the fire of only a short while ago. "Heck, what happens if we finally take down Griffon, and find out that he's nothing more than a misunderstood little bastard with a big chip on his shoulder? What then?"
Max actually managed a small smile in response. "I know that he's trying to destroy everything and everyone, and I know that my mom could have easily been dead because of him. But if it turned out like you just said, I still hope I could, you know? I guess it's one of those things that you can never really know until it actually happens... but I really hope I could."
A sigh. "You're a better person than I am, Max."
"No, it's not. You've been through more than I have, that's all. Maybe you're right - if Gaspard had succeeded, I wouldn't be talking like this right now."
"Maybe," Monica granted. "But... even when I was younger, I can't remember any time I thought like you do."
"Yeah," Max agreed, "Cedric says that if he ever figures out how I think, he'll make millions."
"Or maybe save a few. I wonder if I wouldn't be first in line."
"I'd get you a discount," Max assured her.
"How generous of you."
"So..." Monica ventured, "how would someone go about learning to think like you?"
"Hmm..." Max looked thoughtful. "I guess that 'someone' would want to start small."
"Start small, you say. And what would that involve?"
"Well, for starters, they could practice relaxing in a hot spring."
Monica actually laughed. It was a small laugh, but it was still a laugh. "So you're saying that this is 'Thinking like Max 101'?"
Max tossed her another bottle. "Sure. Refreshments included."
"Somehow, I think I've still got a lot of studying to do."
"I guess there's no time like the present to practice, right?"
Monica shook her head doubtfully, fixing her gaze on the volcano they had so recently ascended, descended, then escaped from. It still rumbled and churned with all the intensity of a primal force of nature, but no longer with the encouragement of any outside forces. Somewhere in that crater, the body of Gaspard was resting...
Everything the man had gone through in his life... his early happiness, his later tragedy, the further conflict, his entire life's work... all for what? To finally die at the bottom of a godforsaken volcano, feeling nothing but sorrow and regret at what he'd become, while the whole world cheered in victory?
How evil did you have to be, to come to such an end?
Did you even have to start out evil in the first place?
How good could you be and still come to such an end?
And if you were headed for such a fate, would you see it coming before it was too late?
And if you did see it coming, could you afford to do nothing?
Monica glanced over at Max, who was presently in the process of dousing his head in the hot springs. "He makes it sound so easy," she whispered. "Nevermind Griffon, I don't know if I could even forgive you, Gaspard. Even now."
Her friend surfaced again, his face shrouded in a wet mop of hair.
"But if there's anyone who could teach me, I suppose it would be Max."
Max pushed his wet hair out of his face. "Did you say something?"
"No," Monica replied, letting herself sink further into the hot springs. "Now don't disturb me, I'm practicing."
Truthfully, I haven't much to say about this one. I jotted down a few abstract ideas shortly after first finishing the game, and finally decided to go back and have a little fun fleshing them out. The result? Two comrades-in-arms engaging in a little idle banter and serious conversation, part-way through the game.
I feel like this little piece could have become something more and better, but never really had the inclination to see for certain. Regardless, there's something inherently satisfying about finishing something, however short it might actually be. Cheers.