What Am I Made Of?
Do you understand, Jackie-boy?
You never were one for true understanding. You'd nod your head and move along because what is, is, and thinking about it never did you any good.
Thinking is what has led you here, isn't it? You thought if you saved a little girl you might stop seeing her mother's brains getting blown out of the back of her head every time you closed your eyes. You thought if you completed your end of the bargain with the old lady, all would be settled and you'd be free and clear. You thought there was something…off…about that corpse, something beyond a bad habit of seeing your father's face everywhere you looked.
You thought too long, Jack, and they moved too quick and here you are now, what's left of you.
And you still don't understand.
You're just an experiment to them, a disposable human. Look! There goes another piece of you now. Don't worry. They'll stitch you up. Fake bone, fake blood, fake skin. Remember how happy you were in your fake life with your fake memories? Well, there you go, the last fake piece of the puzzle. Irony is such an ugly bitch.
There, that's a little bit of understanding from you. It's the first in a very long time. First times are special, aren't they? You remember the first time you couldn't understand. All the memories that have flooded back start and stop at that one point. A little boy left alone with two bodies he used to call Mommy and Daddy. You can't even see them though, not really. There's a body there with blood and a lifeless stare but you can't see a face or think of a name. It's a lump with the concept of 'Mother' attached and you don't understand how it changed, how in one moment, she went from the center of your universe to nothing, not even vapor in your grasp.
You could at least feel the vapor, reach out a hand and let the mist touch you and remember how it felt. But that thing on the floor is just another bloody lump, one of so very many that you've seen, and if there's anything of its touch still within you, it's buried so deep not even these scientists can dig it out of you.
And Daddy, the other anonymous lump? You don't try to remember him because you know exactly what you'll see. That bad habit and irony again. That touch is never going to fade. I taught him everything he knows and it sure as hell wasn't an empty boast because the only things you do know are the scars carved into you on the battlefield.
You didn't understand any of that either. Oh, you had some insight. Here's a gun, here's a knife, there's your enemy and when it's over, you better make sure the only blood on you belongs to the other guy. You just never knew why you had to do it in the first place.
You never knew why it would be so bad to be the one that died.
There's no point in lying here, Jack. You're literally laid bare.
You never knew because you never cared. You were the best, Jack. The White Devil. Natural ability only gets you so far. You have to want it.
And you got it in spades. You had soldiers twice your age and more impressed by your skill. But you didn't care about them. There was only one you wanted to impress.
You wanted to make your father proud.
Because it was in those training sessions in which you were taught how to kill and those briefings in which you were sent out to prove those lessons were learned that you found the only approval you needed. The other boys could find their idols in those crass movies. Yours was right there. Oh, those other boys tried for to win favor too but none of them ever got their own unit, did they? You were the favorite, everyone knew it and you did all you could to prove it, to keep it.
If you had to cut the throats of a hundred men to see that nod of approval, to have a congratulatory hand on your shoulder, you would pull your knife and start counting.
That's what really hurt, wasn't it? They made you stop. They brought you here and told you that you had to become something else without ever telling you how that was supposed happen. Is that where the hatred started? Because you couldn't be the good, all American boy or because you didn't want to be? An accidental failure or a purposeful one?
No wonder it was easier to forget, to pretend. Smart bargain – a few lost hours at night as you dreamed of blood and death in exchange for days of sanity. How long would you have gone on living your delusion? How dearly would you have clung to your sweet Rose – an even bigger liar than you – to keep reality from setting in?
Do you remember what she said to you? See me for who I really am. Who was she kidding? Your happiness was never built on stark truth. Look what happened when you tried. You were going to deal with your past together! You were going to move forward to a bright future as a happy family!
What is dear, sweet Rose up to anyway? Oh, that's right…fucking an old man and not thinking about you.
It didn't take long for it to fall apart either. How quickly you ran back to denial, only you couldn't forget it all again and no amount of cheap whisky and moronic brawls could make it go away. Alcohol is such a cliché. Pity you didn't find Jesus at the bottom of the bottle like so many pathetic fools before you. The only person there was you and you're no savior of anything.
But you want someone to save you. Your new hero perhaps? Same face as the old, naturally; you never were one to try new things. You like treading well worn paths. Does that explain the drinking? Good old Snake didn't exactly take to tea after killing Big Boss. Maybe you thought that was the thing to do after a patricide. Etiquette's not exactly clear on that.
But it's not as if you felt bad about that, right? You had to kill. Rose and that little girl you had yet to meet would have died otherwise. Oh, and you too, but you hardly count. So you fought, turning the techniques you'd been taught against the master who taught you. Irony rears its bitchy head yet again. You had to do it. No choice.
But you wanted to do it. That's what you'd told Rose. And you damn well meant it. What a relief it was to bring your sword down and pack your past away with a quick and dirty backstabbing. Well, more of a back slashing after a long, arduous fight but that's all semantics. You killed, another person died and all was right with the world. You even got a nice pep talk from Snake and a happy reunion with the love of your life! So what if she'd betrayed you as deeply as another person can betray another? You just swept that pesky dust bunny under the rug and tamped it down. Everybody wants the happy ending. All that was missing was the crowd of bystanders applauding your heroics.
Except, oops, it all went to shit and you had to run away again. Not a lot of closure nor joy in a revenge you, deep down, didn't want to take. No more nods of approval for you. Not many solutions either. The echo of the blood on your hands rings louder and clearer than ever.
But the killing part was still fun, wasn't it, Jack?
And Rose…sweet, lovely Rose. She tried, you'll give her that tiny credit but each time she said she loved you all you could think of when you heard it was all the times you'd heard it before and your pretty, little head got to that nasty thinking again trying to parse when she had actually started meaning it. Or if she actually meant it. Because it sounded so real coming from those lips now yet no more real when she'd said it the first time, a few, mere weeks after you'd met when she had to still be on the clock.
You could feel the reality slipping through your fingers, the future you wanted so desperately sliding along with it. And then it fell through completely, the concept of 'husband' and 'father' disappearing as quietly and finally as 'mother' had gone from your life.
You were drowning, Jack, with no helpful hero to come along and give you a ride to safety. Of course, that didn't work out so well for Emma. You gave her just enough hope to get her moving across that bridge and then, for once, Jack the Ripper was too slow on the kill.
You should have taken that for a warning when the old woman came along. But her offer was too good. Saving that girl had become the only thing that could save you. So much had gone wrong, you would make this right. A penance, counted out in the beads of blood shed by her captors as you used her mother's sword to slice and carve her freedom.
You loved her the moment you saw her. Her life so bound to yours, she'd become a piece of your soul, the best piece left and you knew you had to protect it better than you'd protected anything else in your life because if you failed in this there would be nothing left.
So you gave her away before the failure could come. Bailing out early because the fetus was right, some things just aren't meant to be.
What could it have been? Look at you now, Jack. It wasn't enough to be torn down; they have to tear you apart. And when all the Patriot's horses and all the Patriot's men put you back together again, what are you going to be? What were you ever? What could you possibly pass on when the only things that have been passed to you have brought you here?
What am I made of?
You asked Snake that and even he, in all his wisdom, couldn't tell you. You have to find that out for yourself.
But you know, Jack. You've always known.
What am I made of?
Nothing, Jack. You're made of absolutely nothing.
Author's Notes: The majority of this fic popped into my head during an extended session of DDR (because nothing says dark, angry, angsty fic like stomping on arrows set to Japanese pop music!) and was written out later. During the popping and subsequent transcribing, I heard the entire fic in Solidus's voice. I thought of a reason, one beyond John Cygan having an awesome voice that is, and liked it enough to claim it was intentional so the opening line, with the reference to Jackie-boy, is meant to trick the reader into doing the same.