This was a routine morning write, but I guess I haven't uploaded something in a while... Gespenster, Garden, and Baby Problems are postponed for a while due to my laptop cracking out and destroying itself--all my data for the upcoming chapters were on it, so I feel a little depressed... oh, well.

PLEASE criticize me. Do it in a nice way, but I would love some crit... but also note that this WAS a practice sort of fic in terms of the writing style. I checked for spelling errors, but I'm sure I didn't catch 'em all (never do).

When the Morphine Wears Off

I suppose I just sort of froze up--didn't scream bloody murder, didn't puke my guts out, didn't even really try to move myself somewhere safer. I heard Batou say something, but it was masked by my strange new ability to mentally destroy the world around me. I did hear my breaths. They were fast and understandably needy.

When I actually attempted to look at my arms, I felt it: pain like a rivulet of bloody shit, all from the place where my hands and a little bit of forearm used to be. Well, one of the ravaged limbs was cyberized. And now it was only destroyed circuits and electic blue funk that seemed akin to the lightening in a storm. It made a fizzled-out noise and the pain receptors in it finally shut down. I guess it was just my right arm doing all the paining.

That was a relief, in a blackened sort of way.

At a certain point, blood didn't spurt from my stubbed limb; more like oozed or leaked, like a pipe uncared for. I was still in the nonreality trance when something strong grabbed my collar and pulled me away from the middle of the field. It occured to me in that moment of contact that I was a part of Section 9, a part of a battle, a living thing that was flushing out red like nobody's business. I was a man who fought to live, only I had chances to get out of the situation; most soldiers are like me, but still they choose a life of wearing their buddy's blood on 'em.

It's all we know how to do.

"Saitou, snap out of it--let me see--"

I looked at the man behind the voice. Borma had both of my shoulders and was shaking me up. My head sort of lolled a little until I could get a good look at the rest of myself. A hunk of metal was wedged inbetween a pair of my ribs--I actually felt that pretty well. It was no wonder why breathing became an olympic sport.

I let myself fall over. I was tired, more tired than I had felt in a long while. Borma was a nice guy, though, because he caught me gently and said something comforting that I can't remember (but hell, it did comfort me). Big bangs in the background wedged an icepick into my head and released the memories. Apparentally, the shack I'd positioned myself at was mauled by a very well-placed grenade.

Batou yelled something, fired something, and then backed away from the enemy. Borma yanked me up as though I were a thrift store doll that had been on its last days, and for a while I saw nothing but sky, a glistening flesh-colored mound, and round red eyes. When I was finally put down, the roof of a tent eclipsed the sun and I felt hopeless. Something cold slapped my face, but I was too numb to distinguish the subtle lines of a palm. I could hear Batou cursing, moving around at my side, ripping calmness out by its roots.

He always was too easy to piss off or worry.

"Don't you die, you cyclopsed motherfucker!"

I smiled and my lips burned. Things seemed wrong, like it would be a paradox if I died, as though I were something important to the world--why I thought of such a thing was beyond me, because I'd like to think I'm not that selfish of a person. Maybe I'd been lying to myself with the belief I was protecting everyone else. The Major once told me that we all lived for ourselves by saving what we needed. Our friends. Our family. Our lovers. She told me that those who rescue a stranger from destruction are merely trying to find a piece of themselves that they were worried had gone away with the swelling of machinery.

I'd like to think she was wrong. But if I hadn't known Batou, Togusa, Paz... Would I have really dared to protect them with my own life? Or was it true that I was protecting what kept me being myself? That if a stranger was in need of help, I would refuse?

"But by bickering with myself over such a thing... It at least proves I'm still human..."

"What? Saitou, you better not konk out on me!"

Batou slapped my cheek again, but at that point, I was lost in a sea of what I could only assume was the shadows of my mind.

My new metal hands worked well. They didn't brake my pencils in two, didn't mess up my ability to caress a trigger, didn't really destroy anything about me. But I was still imagining the old hand. The real one, which used to be blotched with pink and apricot skin tones. The real ones damaged by old amateur mistakes, those slips that you'd never forget when you became the best. I smiled at those old days where my sense of touch was incredible. I almost forgot the gracefulness of god's mighty hand. The warmth he had stirred in the limb when I was born was gone now.

I didn't even have skin on the new ones yet. I think that made me remember best of all.

I stuck my hands in my pockets, straightened my back, and walked down the streets of my old home. Though I was here, fighting alongside Batou and the others in a war so close to home, I don't know why I returned to this ancient, haunted land; it was plagued by war and was torn by viciousness. It was a scar that left no mark on me, yet I felt it ache most of all. I watched the children run by, some of their faces blasts from the past, and saw a ghost child trail after them.

Yep, things in the world have changed, but this spit of desert... it hasn't changed a bit. Why I had left camp after the surgery to walk among old memoirs, I wasn't sure. It must've been the drugs.

The thought warranted a sigh. I was hoping by some outrageous miracle that this place didn't look how I remembered. As of late, I hadn't been myself. I'd been thinking of that day when my arms became fertilizer in the fields, the metal bits lodged into the earth for the future to leave behind.

Even lately, I've been breathing as though I were still dying.

Something tiny pulled me out of my memories. A child darted into the busy street. When I heard the truck tires burning into the earth, my mind was already picturing a kid smeared into the red dust, his wide eyes made wider by the sick pressure of gravity and inertia.

I ran. I ran like I had a gun in my iron hands, in a jungle, where the devils lurked for me. I grabbed the boy's shoulders and lifted them up, weightless in my silver palms. The truck drove by, and the two of us sat on our knees on the sidewalk. By the look on his small face, he couldn't remember how we both got there, either.

"I'm sorry," he said. His eyes weren't as wide as they were in my thoughts. That was good.

"Just don't..." I wasn't sure what I was saying. "Don't go running into the street anymore. Hm?"

The kid nodded, pulled away, and ran down the path. I watched him evaporate into the background and found my heart to be a little less heavy. The bulletshells in it were being pumped out by some life lesson. What it was, I didn't know. At the moment, I was still woozy from morphine. All I could think of was that the Major was probably watching me through my own eyes, smiling at my tragic ability to take her words to heart.

If I'm lucky--when the morphine wears off--I'll laugh away the image I had of watching the kid crunch into the road like a bag of bones destined to be dust.