Author's Note: On Sunny's age and when Raiden saved her, I've disregarded the timeline the MGS Database gave us because, quite frankly, it made no sense. We're told in game that Raiden disappeared shortly after rescuing her. The Database tries to tell us this happened in 2011, when John would have been two-ish. I'm thinking Raiden would have noticed Rose hadn't miscarried if that were the case. Sunny's age in general is a big WTF anyway. Since the Tanker incident happened in 2007 and Olga wasn't even showing then, Sunny should be seven at the oldest. She's clearly older than that in the game. I've heard nine before but I can't place the source. For the sake of the this story, Raiden's rescuing her a few months after the Big Shell, a point that makes more sense with all that business with Rose. Sunny's age is left ambiguous but mentally, I split the difference between the two she probably should have been and the four she would have been retconned to be to put her at three.
In the Rain
It's an old joke: a man walks into a bar. It grows from there, the man downing cheap whiskey from his seat at the bar's corner while watching other men walk in, waiting for one of them to say anything so that he can say the wrong thing back. It's strange to him, how few of them want a fight. Most back away, doing nothing more than calling him an asshole under their breath before finding seats far away. Even a few that take the bait let it drop quickly when they find out what they're truly against. Something in the way he rises, too purposefully for all the empty glasses in front of him. Something in the way he stands, body taut and bristling with a desperate fury far beyond a few brusque words between strangers. Something in his eyes, cold, save for a light of violence flickering deep within.
But here's the punch line: some do go on. Some take him for his pretty face value on the belief they'll earn a quick win and be on their way, having gained a good story for their friends. So they go on and they go down, lost teeth and cracked ribs marking their foolishness. And as they cough up blood so they won't choke on it, their pride makes them think of the few blows they managed to land and they see that face, those eyes and a realization comes that whatever pain they inflicted was more than welcome.
It's funny, isn't it?
But the best part, really the most amazing part, is that no matter how many times the joke gets told, no matter how many people fall for it, the man who walks into the bar never finds even the tiniest shred of satisfaction in any of it. It's pointless. It's destructive. It's bordering on maudlin, this little routine of his.
Certainly the epilogue is getting old. Stumbling home, too drunk and beaten to avoid the disappointment that waits there but not drunk or beaten enough to escape feeling every word she does and doesn't say to let him know how much he's failed her, he takes longer and longer to make the trip.
Until one day, she says the words that mean his ultimate failure and he knows he can't come back at all.
It's the funniest version of the joke yet and also the last. The man doesn't walk into the bar anymore. He doesn't walk anywhere.
He didn't believe the old woman when she told him the location. He made her repeat it, so she'd know how ridiculous her attempt at a joke sounded. Life and death and all the shit in between and she was fucking around. But no, she insisted, Area 51 was really the place and she was so damn calm in doing it, he knew it was true.
Never let it be said that a group of evil AIs couldn't have a sense of humor.
Raiden should have known it was possible. Whatever that voice in his head had been during the Big Shell, it had taken a perverse glee in making him feel the small mouse while pushing him through the maze. He could still hear the sneering edge behind the taunts that had driven him to kill Solidus. His memory, always such a hash before, was crystal clear for those moments.
He couldn't get lost in all that now. He had a new mission, a new purpose. That was where his focus had to be. He took a long draft of his drink over the frowning disapproval of his companion and shook his head.
"I guess that's where all the stories come from."
"The stories were already in place. They just decided to make use of them." She too took a drink, albeit less and more slowly. "That's the Patriot way: never waste a resource."
That's what this was about really. Raiden had no idea what use a shadow conspiracy would have for a little girl, but he knew they'd find one. Her mother, Olga, had been an effective pawn. He wouldn't be sitting here without her. Imagine what they could twist the girl into doing if they had a hold of her her entire life.
That alone should have made his companion sympathetic, but true to her roots, she wasn't going to waste the resource he provided. Raiden wanted to find the girl, needed to find her, and Eva wasn't going to let him have her for free.
She was an odd ally, if he could call her that. She claimed to have found him coincidentally, though he'd grown cynical enough to not buy that for a second. He supposed he owed her some trust. She'd opened up with the truth readily, telling him exactly what she had been not as an apology but as testament that she had the goods. He could respect that, even as he wondered just how dirty this ex-Patriot's hands were. Eva took the few accusations he made evenly, expanding on the guesses that were correct and shrugging off the false.
The lack of denials was a welcome change. He could take lies. He'd gotten so used to them, he almost preferred them at times. But even he had to hear the truth now and then to know he wasn't crazy.
So he was here with her in this restaurant tonight, cementing the bargain that would get them both what they wanted. He knew what they looked like to outsiders: a young pretty boy out earning his keep from his cougar meal ticket. He thought it was offensive, overhearing the whispers and catching their stares. Eva was amused and even played it up for the waiters and a couple sitting to their right who thought they were being discreet when they turned their heads leftward.
"Do you mind," he whispered in annoyance after Eva loudly called him 'darling'.
"Yes, Jack, it would be so much better if we acted suspiciously."
He thought it would be so much better if they didn't draw any attention to themselves period. Why she'd chosen such a public place was beyond him.
"Besides," she continued, "there are only so many reasons why the two of us would be together and I'm not going to act like your grandmother."
She liked this crap. She liked sneaking around in the wide open, letting charisma and well delivered lines camouflage her.
He downed the rest of his drink and looked for the waiter. He'd had enough of those games.
There wasn't much else to say. She'd laid her offer out already. They were only here so he could give his official acceptance. The rest of the details would wait until later. As flagrant as Eva was being, she still knew where to draw the line.
The waiter was well trained. He had the next drink at the table before Raiden had to ask for it. It was the fourth one in less than an hour but the waiter served it without judgment. There were the neighbors on the right for that…and Eva.
She wouldn't say it, only give him that look – a tilt of her head and mouth slightly agape – that questioned if he really wanted to do that.
Yes, he really fucking wanted to do that. He didn't give a shit what she thought of him. If she thought it would affect how he did the mission, she didn't know him. Rose had gotten one thing about him right at least: in the fray was the only place where he felt alive. Once the fighting started, he'd be fine. He wouldn't need these crutches.
He picked up his drink, held it tight while he tapped his heel impatiently under the table. Soon, he'd be there, back in the thick of it where he belonged. It came to him that the girl was only a resource to him too – and not for the nobler goals he'd been claiming.
They didn't talk much the rest of the meal. The nosy couple left, depriving Eva of her entertainment and Raiden wasn't in a mood to drag this out. He had that new mission, that new purpose. What else was there?
He left the restaurant with a date, a time and a location. All were too far away but Eva insisted he'd need time to prepare, that it was better to wait. Besides, didn't he have any matters to settle here before he left?
He hadn't answered.
She'd offered him whatever supplies he needed. With the circles she'd run in, she'd only have the best. He couldn't accept the offer though. His weapon of choice was the one he'd inherited, the high frequency blade, and nothing in Eva's arsenal could hope to match its elegance in either combat or poetic justice.
They'd given it to Olga to force her into her role and she'd passed it on to him so their mouse would have arms with which to finish their race. They'd both done their jobs perfectly – Olga going to her death and he delivering Solidus to his – and now the weapon was free in a way its owners never were.
There was only the problem of where the blade currently resided. He hadn't been there since that night and wasn't eager to go back. But he needed the blade. Leaving it behind wasn't an option.
He waited until he knew Rose would be asleep to retrieve it, wasting the hours of the night wandering the streets and remembering the feel of it in his hand.
The apartment belonged to the both of them. A new place, a new start, they'd called it and the truth was he hadn't made it through a single night there any differently than the two years that proceeded it. He'd gotten better at pretending was all, taken to lying on his side with his back to her so she could nestle against him without seeing he was awake. It worked. Rose was a heavy sleeper. It took her a while to fall asleep but once she was gone, she'd go to morning in complete peace no matter what raged in the dreams of the man beside her. Her conscious was clear.
He hated it. Every night they would lie there and he would think it wasn't fair that she could be so still. All these years of living with guilt and shame and they wouldn't go away for even one night for him. But Rose? She'd told the truth, said she was sorry and that was it for her.
And he couldn't even be bitter. He'd already forgiven her. That should be it for him. But it wasn't as if he'd had a choice. If he hadn't forgiven her, what would he have had then?
The same thing he had now. Nothing, he thought as he stalked through his own home feeling like an intruder. It was messier than he remembered. Rose had always been a fastidious housekeeper and he didn't know what to do with the idea that she'd let things go in his absence. Was distress causing her to slip or had she simply dropped the routine because there was no reason to keep up the appearance?
He hated thinking the worst of her even as he couldn't stop.
The living room was a wreck. CD and DVD cases were strewn across the table along with a half-empty bag of chips and a couple of those damn self-help books she'd bought on the belief they held some magic cure for him. He thought they were trash but they were the gospel to her. And god, did she preach.
He needed to open up to her. He needed to talk about everything that had happened to him. All those memories that were coming back could be liberating if only he would work through them, accept them and then…hell if he knew. There'd be some magic epiphany in which all the weight of his past would fly away light as air and he'd be the sanest person on earth.
'You're not taking this seriously', she'd accused.
'It's bullshit', he'd shot back. Snake oil, he'd thought, but avoided saying aloud.
That was how it went. Shouting, crying and being pulled into every direction because even as he was yelling that she was wrong, a part of him wanted her to be right and it only pissed him off more because he knew the rest of him couldn't make it right.
Oh, he could confront his past every damn day. And he did, every time he closed his eyes – to sleep, to blink – and the memories would begin to stir. Moving on from it…that was asking too much. For all her insistence that she wanted to share the weight of his past, she had never understood how heavy it was. She never understood that, from the moment he'd been given his first gun, the weight was all he had ever had.
'You have us,' she'd told him once, her hand resting across her stomach.
Maybe she understood now.
He crept to the storage closet where she'd made him stash the blade away. She'd wanted it gone entirely but he'd refused to relent. It was a gift from the woman who'd died to save his life. It was a memento of his father's murder. It was a relic of a childhood spent not playing at war.
He'd never let it go.
He found it not where he'd left it but shoved unceremoniously further in, behind a stack of boxes full of junk from Rose's old place. It angered him that she'd tried to hide it, that she'd touched it at all and he almost left right then. But he couldn't do it. He'd be gone for god knew how long finding the girl and then paying off his debt to Eva. It had already been so long.
He wouldn't wake her but he just wanted to see, to know if she was all right.
The anger flared back as he opened the door to the bedroom. Her fiancé missing, her child dead and there she was, sleeping snuggly as always. Did she miss him at all? Or had he given her enough reason to not even care? Reason to be glad that the connection between them had been severed?
He left, letting the door shut hard behind him. There was a sound from the bedroom, the slow stirring of a woman who'd gone to bed exhausted and was loath to get up. By the time the door reopened and Rose peered expectantly out into the rest of apartment, Jack was long gone.
It was blazing in the Nevada desert, the heat blurring the line of the horizon as he drove the car Eva had supplied closer towards his goal. The air conditioner wasn't working right but Raiden didn't mind. It had been worse than this in Africa and back then he'd been younger, burdened by heavier equipment and the drugs they'd given him to keep him complacent.
A memory, broken of any context, came to him. He was young, he was sweating and exhausted and he was marching somewhere, the other boys behind him. He couldn't place when or where or who those long ago squad mates were and he didn't bother trying. If the knowledge came, it came. If it didn't, it was just another shard buried under the surface. He might not recall perfectly but he could never again contain it all in his nightmares. Especially not with his present's insistence upon tangling itself up in the roots of his past.
Not with what lay ahead either. His new mission couldn't use Jack the civilian nor Raiden the good soldier. He'd have to dig deeper, fight harder, remember exactly why he'd been named a Devil.
Eva had given him the schematics of the Patriot facility where the girl, Sunny she was supposedly named, was being kept. Print outs were in the passenger's seat, stuffed under a bag of fast food he'd bought out of habit but hadn't been able to eat. The edges of the pages flapped in the hot wind, drawing his glance even though he'd memorized every line of every diagram as soon as he'd read them. There was a lot of ground between here and there and only him and his blade to cut a straight line. The facility was mostly underground, making infiltration difficult and extrication even harder. He couldn't count on a little girl being able to keep up with him and he couldn't count on himself being able to move like he would have to if he was carrying her.
So it would have to be like it was with Emma: kill everything in the way and hope she doesn't open her eyes until they're clear.
He had it planned already and ran through it to beat the monotony of the highway. Wait until the guard doing perimeter patrol in the west end checked in to give him the maximum amount of time, cut his throat and move in. There were ventilation shafts going from the upper level to the ones below that would give him access. Per Eva, guards weren't too heavy inside as most people didn't even know the place existed. That was good, less bodies to deal with, less time wasted. The building's hallways weren't wide. He had room to swing the blade but if an alarm sounded, only so many opponents could cram in against him. The blade was both offense and defense. In close quarters, a deflected bullet was almost as bad as one fired from a gun. He'd just have to keep his reflexes sharp, his mind focused – exactly like Solidus had taught him all those years ago.
Yeah, he'd taught him good things too.
It would be easy, he told himself, and it was one of the few things he believed. During all of his years of fighting, it was only the reasons and the consequences that came hard. In the mechanics of killing, he'd never had a problem at all.
He watched her first. She felt out of place in the sterile confines of the facility (its endless identical hallways of smooth metal walls and fluorescent lights far too reminiscent of the Big Shell for comfort) and he felt the urge to study her, like she was an exotic animal putting in a rare appearance in these unnatural environs.
She had Olga's look to her, not just in the coloring of her hair and pale skin but in the serious way she studied the screen in front of her. She paid no attention to him as he lingered in the doorway. That didn't seem right to him. Her room was barren save for a plain bed and the computer station she sat at. Surely she could sense a presence in the room with her even if she refused to turn around to confront it.
"Sunny," he spoke softly, so as not to startle her. There wasn't anyone else left to overhear him. He approached her slowly, the blade already cleaned and sheathed on his back, his arms open because that's how people always did it in the movies when they wanted to appear unthreatening.
He could see her small body tense but she forced herself to turn to him. She was scared, uncertain. She was so small.
He knelt before her to put them at the same height. He breathed, coaxing gentleness into his voice. "It's all right. I'm –" he almost told her 'Raiden' but a scared little girl needed more than a codename. "My name is Jack. I knew your mother. I've come to get you out of here."
"Mother?" she repeated, stammering over the word. Unfamiliar to her lips, it nonetheless gave her the surety to move towards him.
She was ready to leave. There was nothing in this room she wanted to take with her. He understood.
He told her he was going to carry her out. She gave no objections, yet he felt her flinch when he gathered her up in his arms to hug her close to him. Her body was rigid for a second, then she settled against him, wrapping her arms around his neck and resting her head on his shoulder as if by instinct. He couldn't imagine learning the gesture from any of the scientists or guards here.
In a way, it made what came next more difficult. "Close your eyes," he commanded. "Do not open them until I tell you it's okay. Do you understand?"
There was a muffled noise from his shoulder that wasn't quite a 'yes'. Positioned as she was, she wasn't likely to see anything anyway but he wasn't going to take the chance. He repeated his instructions and this time, the girl said it more clearly. It cost him in that her grip around his neck tightened, as if she was afraid he might drop her should she not obey.
He couldn't blame her for the lack of trust. She probably wasn't used to human contact and he wasn't exactly the best place to start.
He walked slowly from the room. Sunny wasn't slowing him down, neither was a fear of encountering any guards. Eva hadn't been entirely correct. Though not huge in numbers, there still had been plenty of guards and scientists here, the Patriots stepping up their game now that the pesky humans with consciences weren't calling the shots. They'd found an abundance of humans without consciences to fill in the grunt roles.
Without consciences… That's what they'd have to be, he told himself, to work here, to keep an innocent little girl captive.
It was what they'd have to be because if they weren't, what was he to have done all that he did?
He put his hand on the back of Sunny's head to keep it pressed against him. It was reflexive. He believed she'd keep her promise. He didn't quite believe he'd make it out without having hold of a constant reminder of why he'd come here in the first place.
He picked his steps carefully. The tile floors were slick where the scientists had bled out. He hadn't expected such opposition from them, but they'd been just as ready as their fallen protectors to fight. Their weapons were in a way more dangerous. He knew what a bullet would do to his body; who knew what kind of concoctions were loaded into the tranq guns and syringes these people wielded. The one with the beard had nearly shit himself when Raiden threw him against the wall, twisting the scientist's arm back and around until the man was almost injecting himself.
'Please…God,' he'd pleaded. 'Don't…please.' Again and again. Until using the blade had become a mercy.
There was the one with the glasses and blond hair, one with glasses and brown hair. There was a petite female and a taller, thicker counterpart. He wouldn't have been able to describe them when he was in Sunny's room. It was only walking by the empty bodies did any of their individual characteristics stand out. Once he was gone from this place, the distinctions would again fade into the red haze that came to him at night. Just like the others, they'd be reduced to a vague concept of a person because when it came right down to it, they never meant enough to him to remember.
He was calm while Sunny whimpered shoving his back against a door to push clear on the other side the corpse that had come to rest against it. A blood trail indicated the guard had crawled there and the only thought that crossed Raiden's mind was that it had been sloppy of him to leave the man alive.
He wondered if there had been any similar slip ups but even that curiosity couldn't force him to pay closer attention to the bodies that lined the corridors. If there was anyone left, they wouldn't be in a condition to challenge him.
She was a good girl all the way through the facility, never looking once, the only sound made being those quiet mewls he jostled out of her by moving too fast or too sharp such as at the door. Good soldier, he thought and instantly threw it aside.
"You can open your eyes now," he told her once they'd cleared the underground and left the worst behind. The first floor of the place, the level the public could see, appeared as any office building with banks of floor to ceiling windows revealing the nightscape outside and rows of cubicles concealing the results of Raiden's first strike.
He set her down at the reception desk. A plant on the counter, a puppy calendar hanging on the wall alongside photos of family and friends, Starbucks coffee cup in the trash – it was so damned mundane that it was surreal. Did the secretary who sat here in the day have any clue what went on below her? Or was she in on the act?
He noticed one of the photos: two young kids in front of the tree at Christmas.
Was she one of the bodies he'd left?
Sunny didn't like this piece of normalcy – the first she'd ever seen – any more than he did. He'd barely moved away from her when she lunged back to him, wrapping herself around his leg and burying her head against his thigh.
"It's okay," he insisted but she wouldn't let go. They stood there, frightened little girl and dumbfounded man and he couldn't figure why a girl who bared the nightmare of the facility so stoically would be reduced to cringing meekly once exposed to the bland surroundings of an office.
"They're gone," he told her. "The guards and the scientists…they can't hurt you anymore. There's nothing to be afraid of up here."
She tried to be brave. She relaxed her grip and lifted her head but the moment she looked at anything other than him, he could feel her tiny fingertips digging into his leg.
He only stared down at her, having run out of things to say.
They couldn't stay like this forever. He offered to carry her again and she readily attached herself to him. All the way out of the office, across the lot, into the low hills and off into the obscurity of the night, she clung to him. He got used to the weight, the warmth. Rather than tiring him, it urged him on. When he finally reached the car he'd stashed miles away, the weariness only came after he put her down again.
She wouldn't get in on her own. She regarded it like he'd regarded the giant Ray when it had surfaced from the ocean: with awe, with fear. But this was a car, no Metal Gear armed to the teeth.
To her, it was nothing she'd ever seen before, in a world she'd never lived in and that finally sunk to Raiden after he asked if she hadn't ever heard of a car before and all she could stammer was something about her computer.
Yeah, so, the Patriots were the 'put the kid in front of the screen' type of babysitters. Except they hadn't put the girl anywhere else so she hadn't learned anything else and it was falling to him to pick up the slack.
God, we're screwed, he thought bitterly. He almost laughed. All the planning he'd done with Eva and on his own and it was only now occurring to him that he'd have to do something with Sunny once he got her out. He didn't even know where to begin. The lessons of his childhood were nothing to be passed down. The universe had done a damn good job of reminding him of that.
"Look," he said, "it's just a car. It's nothing to be scared of." He opened the door for her, motioned for her to get in. It was the same stare, first at him and then to the empty seat within.
"If I got in first?" he tried. He walked around to the driver's side never taking his eyes of her, making sure to hide his frustration. He should have just picked her up and put her in the damn seat.
But even he got small favors sometimes. Sunny, perhaps afraid to be that far from him, scrambled into her seat before he got his door open. He told she'd done a good job. Then he told her how to sit – face forward, legs hanging over the seat, belt buckled – and in his instructions he realized he wasn't doing it right. She should be in the backseat or in a car seat or both because she was too small to be upfront and if they were in an accident, she'd get hurt because the belt wouldn't hold her right or something and he was really half-assing this shit, wasn't he?
About the only saving grace was that Sunny was more clueless than he was. She ate up every word even though he barely knew what he was talking about and was just saying whatever to make up the difference.
He laid his blade in the back, explaining to Sunny where he'd gotten it. She said it again, 'Mother' and the second time it was as alien as the first. She wanted more though and as they drove off, he gave her everything he could.
It wasn't much so he kept going the same as before; he made it up as he went.
He did have a goal in mind. He'd go back to New York. Eva was waiting for him there, ready to have him live up to his side of the bargain. There was another woman there too, but he couldn't think of her now.
New York was too far away to be wasting time on it anyway. He and Sunny would have to drive the whole way as air travel accorded far too much risk of being caught. Too much ID to show, stuck too long in plane with no means of escape - this was better.
He'd take it slow too. Half an hour into the drive, Sunny had begun to fidget, the lighted tract of road in front of the car not being much in the way of scenery. The radio had fascinated her but gave Raiden the start of a headache so he shut it off. The headache got worse.
They needed to stop somewhere, get some rest. Get something to drink. The thought nagged at him, persisting against all arguments why he shouldn't. He gave up and began formulating excuses instead. He was coming off the adrenalin rush of combat. He needed something to counteract that. He was going to stop at a motel and sleep anyway. If wasn't as if he'd be driving afterwards.
He found a decent looking Motel 8 not too far off the highway. Sunny was falling in and out of sleep so he carried her once again. The clerk at the desk thought it was sweet. Daddy and daughter together on the road.
"She looks just like you," she said as she passed Raiden the keys to their room.
He wasn't up for telling her why that was impossible. It probably wasn't something he should argue. They'd need to blend in on this trip, pass for normal as possible. That wouldn't be an easy task for either of them. If both of them being pale and platinum haired gave them a small advantage, he should take it.
Their room wasn't much: two twin beds, a television and a dresser. The flat panel of the TV reminded Sunny of her monitor back in her old room and rather than being afraid because of the association, she asked Raiden to turn it on. She was disappointed to find a rerun of a sitcom from the nineties instead of the precious information she lived on. She turned it off herself.
"Aren't you a little young for surfing the web for research?" he asked her.
Sunny blinked. She had no idea why he would say such a thing.
Of course not, he thought. To the Patriots, she was an asset to be trained and used as they saw fit. Her age meant nothing to them except it made her easier to mold. He'd heard a similar reason for the use of child soldiers. Fill the body with drugs, the mind with bullshit and you got a good, disposable drone that didn't know any better.
Sunny crawled into her bed on her own. He doubted anybody ever tucked her in or read her a story. Not that he had a book on him or anything but he felt like he should do something. At least get her some pajamas. Hell, she needed clothes period. The plain shirt and pants she'd been dressed in weren't much different than pajamas.
There, he had a new mission, an excuse to go out. Paranoia said he probably shouldn't and he was tempted to listen. But he needed to get out. He was feeling worse, his hands starting to shake. He had no reason to worry. There was no way they'd been followed. They'd had the highway nearly all to themselves when they first got started and afterwards, he'd kept a sharp eye on the road for any set of headlights following them for too long. Eva might have been wrong about the exact quantity of guards but there wasn't reason to doubt her assertion that no one would know anything had happened until the shift change in the morning. He hadn't set off any alarms. They were clear. It was safe to leave her alone for a little while.
He let Sunny drift off before leaving. Taking the blade was out of the question so he retrieved a gun from a duffel bag in the back of the car. He had eschewed using it at the facility. It wouldn't have been right – too distant, too impersonal – for that mission. Holding it now though, the cold metal was a relief. He could almost feel his headache recede, his hands steady.
He found a WalMart about a five minute drive away. He'd fit right in with the store's three in the morning clientele. If he had to ditch the car, in a dead run, unhindered by following the roads, he figured he could get back to the motel in the same amount of time.
He hated shopping. That was one thing he'd always liked about Rose. Unlike the classic stereotype, she'd know what she wanted, go in and get it and they'd be done. Navigating a clunky cart through the Girls Section without a clue in the world about what to get, it occurred to him to wonder if she'd only done it to keep him happy or if was just a part of a calculating nature.
Or maybe it said nothing greater about her than she disliked browsing. That was it though. He couldn't tell. And if he had to ask her about something so minor after this long together, what the hell did that say about the things that were so major?
Hey, honey? What is your natural hair color?
Is Rose even your real name?
Were you ever actually pregnant or were you just telling me that so I wouldn't be mad about that whole spying thing?
He grabbed a dress off the rack. Frilly and pink, he couldn't imagine Olga ever dressing her daughter in anything remotely like it. He didn't know what Olga would dress in her in. He didn't know much about Olga at all. She'd gotten a hole blown into her head saving his miserable ass from his adoptive father. Not really much to go on for fashion.
But he tried. He found a pair of denim overalls that seemed more Olga. He guessed the numbers on the hangers meant ages which was supposed to correlate to size, but hell if he knew how it applied to Sunny. Was she tall for a kid her age? She seemed so small but bigger than she should be at the same time. He tossed three different sizes into the cart. Eva had given him plenty of spending money. He could buy out half the damn store if he wanted to.
He did nearly that. His shopping became a lot less discriminate as he dumped shirts and pants and skirts of various sizes and colors into the cart. He threw multiples of the pink dress onto the top of the heap. She was Olga's daughter, but she was also her own person. Kids weren't always like their parents.
The cashier stared at him the entire time he rang up the purchase. Raiden got sick of it and spat the words, "Clothes drive" at him and practically ripped the receipt out of his hands. Let the cashier think they're both assholes. Raiden didn't have time to care otherwise. He needed to get back. He needed to make one stop before then.
He really shouldn't and this time it wasn't the paranoia talking. A nagging feeling built of Rose's disappointment, Eva's disapproval and his own disgust told him to go back. Sunny was alone and unprotected. Unprotected might not be a problem for the girl right now but alone would be. He can't remember what it felt like to wake up without the people you depended on not being there. He only knew that he did once and it wasn't good.
He needed something to take off the edge though, something to put the headache to rest. And he'd been a good boy lately, ever since leaving New York. One fucking drink wouldn't kill him or Sunny.
So he made another stop – an all night gas station and convenience store. Another five minute drive, more distance between him and the motel. He snatched a bottle off a shelf and picked up some snack food on the way to the counter to make the trip feel worth it.
This clerk didn't care one way or the other about him. He scanned the items, threw them in a bag and said nothing except the total. In a way, the lack of judgment annoyed Raiden more. It was three-thirty in the morning and he was buying booze and junk food. Somebody ought to have said something.
He got back to the motel in less than seven minutes, blowing through a red light to do so. The car was registered to a fake name. He really wouldn't care if a red light camera tagged it. The door was still locked. The wedge of paper he'd stuck into the jam was still at the same level he'd left it. She was safe and sound and in the morning she'd be well dressed and badly fed. He could relax.
He piled Sunny's new clothes and breakfast by her bed. She'd curled herself up into a ball while he was gone but she slept peacefully. No tossing, no muffled whimpers. He watched her until the silence got on his nerves then retreated to his bed to indulge in his reward.
He'd done good, hadn't he? Defeated the bad guys and saved the princess?
A quarter of the bottle in, he started to believe it. Half a bottle down and he could only wonder what difference it made.
He woke to Sunny sitting at the foot of his bed, eating a Twinkie. Her hands were sticky with cream and bits of the spongy cake and she looked away guiltily as if she hadn't been doing exactly as he'd hoped.
"It's okay," he said and asked her if she'd checked out her clothes yet.
She was wide eyed and still a bit guilty as he explained that everything in the bags was hers. He dumped the bags out on to the floor for her and she routed through everything, sticky hands and all. She didn't put on the dress, though she did set all three aside, fingering the frills and spreading out the skirts as if she wanted to try it on but wasn't sure she could pull it off.
They drove all the next day, Raiden picking up aspirin when he stopped for gas so as to keep any headaches at bay while Sunny played with the radio to her heart's content. Over the course of the hours, her taste in music emerged: upbeat pop music prevailing over all comers. She hated talk radio, especially the political stuff.
Raiden didn't have much good for it either. Even before the Patriot's revealed the government to be nothing more than a precisely choreographed routine, he hadn't followed politics very closely. He hadn't voted in the 08 election and only vaguely remembered the guy who'd run against Johnson. Bitterly, he remembered that he had voted for Solidus for a reason he wasn't able to place back then and didn't want to dissect too much now. He was just honest enough to admit it probably wasn't because he'd liked Solidus's commercials better.
He found it kind of ironic that someone like him had seen, over the space of two days, the same number of Presidents die right in front of him. That had to be a record – an extremely weird and morbid yet somehow apropos record. He could at least say he was only responsible for one of those deaths. Technically, Solidus had stumbled off the roof of his own volition but after Raiden had severed the spine of that ridiculous armor, there wasn't much else Solidus could have done. He was beaten and he knew it and he wanted his final act to be of defiance. So he fell before he could be felled, his last words silently mouthed and indecipherable no matter how many times Raiden replayed them in his head while both waking and asleep.
They shouldn't be important. He should hate Solidus for everything he'd done and be glad he was dead. He should. That would be understandable. It would be satisfying too, to have that kind of closure.
The gas gauge was beginning to tip towards empty so he took the next exit. It was getting late anyway, close to dinner, and he hadn't fed Sunny anything but junk so far. He should take her someplace decent where she could see how normal people lived. But in every parking lot, she balked, shaking her head, hanging it low, emitting a few sounds that all meant no. There were too many of those normal people for her to take.
So it was just him and her and a drive-through window. More junk though the bag for the kid's meal he ordered for her swore it was healthy. He had his doubts as Sunny pulled out chicken nugget after chicken nugget and only the occasional slice of apple. She was happy with it though. When she reached the toy at the bottom of the bag, she stared at it through its protective plastic bag, unsure of what to do with it. It was a plastic figurine, probably something from a kid's movie that was coming out soon and just as foreign to him as it was to her. He'd been too old when he'd come to America to ever get into those kind of things.
Sunny turned it around in her hands for awhile before growing bored with it. She set it into the cubby hole in the door and returned to playing with the radio. The figure was too static. Buttons were more her thing. On a burst of inspiration, Raiden started the car up and began scanning the town for a store that would be suitable. He had to find someplace that sold what he wanted but wasn't so busy it would scare Sunny off. He found a ToysRUs that only had a few cars in front it and joined them.
Sunny eyed the building suspiciously. He told her it was okay for the hundredth time and got out. That was definitely not okay. Though she did get out when he opened the door for her, it was clear she wasn't comfortable with it. They shuffled through the automatic doors, Sunny's grip on Raiden's leg preventing both of them from moving naturally.
It was slow going to the electronics department but once they reached it, Sunny's timidity faded in the face of familiar screens. They'd need something portable for the road, so Raiden guided her over to that section where she grabbed onto the floor model and began exploring everything she could do with it. It was love at first sight.
He picked out some games, mostly going by how cute the cover was, and a car adapter. Sunny was disappointed to leave the floor model but he assured her she could start playing again once they got into the car.
He unpacked it as soon as they were in their seats, Sunny eyeing him the whole time. It was the most animated he'd seen her and if he took extra time peeling off the plastic wrap, he thought it was understandable.
Once she had her system up and running, he hardly heard another word out of Sunny. She didn't even want the radio on. It wasn't as if she talked that much to begin with but he still missed the occasional halting question about the scenery they passed by or where they were going. It was good practice for her to talk too. She was hesitant opening her mouth and the words that came out were affected by a stutter. He didn't know whether that was something she was born with or a result of being so isolated before. How would a person learn to talk if there wasn't anybody around to give an example?
He stopped at a motel around midnight. Sunny had already drifted off mid-game and he had to carry her from the car (something he was getting strangely used to) and take her to their room. He set her on the bed and she barely stirred. It made him realize how tired he was. He sprawled out on the room's other bed, not bothering to take his shoes off or bring in anything from the car.
He slept straight until morning. He dreamt of Rose, of returning to New York and trying to find her. She'd moved though, to the place he'd just left behind. And when he went back to the facility, walking out their apartment door and right into the level where Sunny had been kept, it was exactly as he'd left it except for Rose, who stood among the carnage, calmly surveying the damage he'd done. She took it all in with nothing more than a nod, as if this was all she could expect from him, and then turned to leave. He tried to stop her, to get her to listen and understand why he had to do this but she wouldn't stop. His pleas didn't even slow her down. All he had was his blade and his desperation and a moment later, the floor ran slick and warm all over again.
Sunny was playing her games when he woke. His mouth was intolerably dry and he could barely hear his own voice when he told Sunny he was going out to the car. She wasn't paying much attention anyway. In less than twenty-four hours, he'd turned her into an addict. She must be doing something right though because he walked out the hotel to great fanfare coming out of the system's speakers.
He scooped up what was left of her clothes. After determining her size, they'd left the rest of the clothing in bags by a booth in the motel parking lot run by a charity organization. So he really had been on a clothing drive in the end. He also brought in the duffel bag containing his supplies, the gun and what was left of his splurge from the night before last. He tossed some clothes to Sunny who didn't look up from her screen and retreated into the bathroom to get ready.
The hot shower felt good on muscles sore from sitting in a driver's seat all day. Those stretches of driving were the longest he'd gone without being active since he'd joined the army right out of high school. In a way, sitting still was more tiring to him than training all day. Training at least kept his focus on the task in front of him. Driving lulled him into a sort of dull distraction where thoughts drifted in and out. He never was one for exploring trains of thought.
He'd have to think of something soon. Another's day drive and New York would be getting close. He had to do something with Sunny. Eva wasn't going to wait too long before demanding he make good on his end of the deal. It's wasn't as if he could drop Sunny into daycare while going out on the mission.
He wasn't sure he could consider Rose an option. He'd been gone so long, would she even want him back? Would she greet Sunny with open arms or regard her as a coldly pragmatic substitution of one child for another? The pathetic thing was the latter had crossed his mind. It was a fix only he could come up with which should have told him right off the bat how messed up it was.
But he could almost see it, almost let himself want it. She could certainly pass for his. That first clerk hadn't been the only one to notice an imaginary resemblance.
He'd been in the shower long enough. He should save some hot water for Sunny. He toweled himself off and dug through the duffel bag from some fresh clothes. Out in the room, Sunny was still huddled over her new toy but it wasn't making any noise anymore. He peeked over her shoulder and saw she'd figured out how to connect to the internet with it. She was reading some kind of encyclopedia site, taking in every word. She couldn't even goof off right.
He made her give up the machine to go take a shower. She went without argument. Dissent to authority figures hadn't occurred to her yet. He checked the internet for the weather but didn't know what else to do. All the old sites he had wasted hours browsing didn't interest him anymore. All the new 'helpful' sites Rose had directed him to just turned him off entirely. He vaguely remembered the address of an anime forum Otacon used to trade coded messages with an informant. Yeah, that's what he uses it for, Snake had muttered when Otacon had explained it. The screen name Otacon used did have an awfully high post number attached to it.
Raiden wondered how they were doing. Such an odd pair, really, but whatever differences they seemed to have, they just threw together with what they had in common to come up with what felt like a whole. This, compared to how the differences he and Rose had seemed to pick them apart, made him wonder if he wasn't trying hard enough or if all the effort in the world wouldn't make it work.
He shut the power off. All he had needed was the weather anyway. Sunny and warm during the day, periodic thunderstorms towards the afternoon.
They were parked and eating lunch in the car when the wind started kicking up. Cloud cover made it much darker than usual for the time. Sunny barely touched her food. She stared out the passenger window, watching the traffic lights sway in the wind as if hypnotized. When the first streak of lighting came down in the distance, she seized up in her seat. The thunder that rolled a few seconds later brought out the loudest sound Raiden had ever heard from Sunny: a high, quivering whimper. She was terrified.
He put a hand on her shoulder and repeated his mantra, "It's okay." It was empty then as it had been all the other times. Sunny curled up in the seat, her dinner spilling to the floor.
"It's just a thunder storm," he explained. "It'll pass in a few minutes."
That wouldn't be soon enough. Another crack of lighting followed more closely by thunder this time sent Sunny down to the floor to cower amongst her ruined meal.
He couldn't figure where this astraphobia had come from. Then he realized.
"They kept you underground. You've never seen any of this before."
She nodded slowly but wouldn't look at him.
"I know it's scary but you really don't have to be afraid. It's just bad weather. It happens all the time. You'll get used to it."
Sunny stayed put and the next clap of thunder started her shaking anew. If the weather was going to be like this the rest of the day – and he had no reason to doubt the weather report he'd read – there was no way they were getting any more driving done. He should find another motel. Maybe once Sunny was inside a room with solid walls instead of the relative openness of a car, she'd feel more secure.
It was a long four minutes to the next motel. Sunny whimpered the whole way over Raiden's futile attempts to reassure her. She'd wedged herself under the glove compartment and he had to physically haul her out because she refused to move. Once out, she clamped her arms so tightly around his neck, she nearly choked him. Her heels dug into his back.
The desk clerk was understanding and rushed them through check in. Raiden couldn't remember if he'd locked up the car or not in his haste but couldn't go back to check. He grabbed the keys and ran and as it was, barely got through the door when sheets of rain began falling behind him.
He sat down with Sunny on the bed furthest from the door. The curtains were already closed so Sunny couldn't see what was going on outside. To drown out the noise of the wind and rain, he turned the TV on then tossed the remote on the bed and cupped the back of Sunny's head with his hand. They sat there through one commercial break and almost to the next before Sunny finally loosened her grip.
"You okay?" he asked.
She mumbled an unconvincing 'yes' but slid off him to sit beside him on the bed.
"It's really nothing you have to be afraid of," he told her again.
She picked at a thread on the bedspread.
He tried remembering what caused lighting and thunder but all he could dredge up was something about the lighting being charged a certain way that does something to the atmosphere and then something after that. So much for the plan to make it less scary by explaining away the mystery. He could look it up on the internet and with that thought it occurred to him that Sunny probably already knew all the scientific explanations for a basic thing like a thunderstorm, she just hadn't lived through one. Big difference there.
"It is pretty scary though, isn't it?" he asked her. "It's dark, the wind's blowing everything around and it feels like any moment, you can get swept up. It's so sudden and loud that even if it's happening really far away, it's like it's all around you because you can feel it all through your body."
She took hold of him again, gently, hugging his arm and resting her head against it. He tried bribing her with games to distract her. She wouldn't take it. He picked up the TV remote again and began flipping through channels. That worked better. He settled briefly on Wheel of Fortune and was about to keep going when Sunny stuttered out the solution to the puzzle so he kept it on. He liked hearing her talk, even if it was only to fill in the blanks for a place On the Map.
She solved the next puzzle, a phrase, with only a few letters on the board. Raiden didn't think he'd been able to spell his own name (whatever it was back then) let alone read when he'd been her age. Yet the only puzzle she failed to solve featured the name of a popular actor. Nothing recreational must have been in the studies the Patriots gave her.
The next show was some trivia thing. Sunny annihilated both him and the contestants.
"How do you keep all this stuff in your head?"
Being asked to provide more than puzzle solutions and trivia, Sunny went quiet, shrugging her shoulders in lieu of a real answer.
"You must like it a lot. I saw you were doing it earlier instead of your games."
He wasn't going to embarrass her anymore. The next show was poker and she quickly grew bored. Raiden didn't like it much either. He'd played a couple of times with friends from the base with little success. He sucked at figuring out when people were bluffing.
He'd found an innocuous family movie for them to watch. Three stars and a half stars, the listing on the TV menu said it had and all Sunny did with it was pick it apart. The talking animals weren't right. Why were all the different species living together in a village anyway? Why did they have people tools and how did they use them?
Or that was how Raiden translated her commentary. Mostly Sunny pointed at the screen, said one word and shook her head. He didn't know what to tell her. It was just a silly fantasy, meant to entertain and nothing more. There'd been a time when he'd taken his movies deadly serious, thought he could do everything the hero could do and that would make him a hero too. Maybe a healthy dose of skepticism on Sunny's part was good for her.
The weather kept them cooped up in the room for another hour after the movie ended. The news came on, the weatherman pronounced the worst was over and Raiden asked Sunny if she'd like to go out for dinner. She should be hungry considering most of her lunch wound up squished on the passenger side floor.
She didn't argue but she wasn't really enthused either. Walking out to the car, she kept looking up at the clearing sky like she expected it to get dark and windy again without any warning.
The car was unlocked – a stupid mistake. Raiden muttered a curse and Sunny stopped her sky watching to stare at him. It was almost ridiculous that, after all they'd been through, she'd be put off by a mild expletive. He thought anybody who scoured the net as much as she did should have been exposed to a lot worse anyway.
But all that came from strangers. For the past few days, he'd practically been her whole world. He needed to check himself better.
He had intended on trying a real restaurant. The fast food diet was getting to him and it couldn't be good for Sunny either. She did not appreciate this attempt at expanding her culinary horizons and every restaurant suggested met with a nervous shake of her head.
It would be easy to indulge her fears, tempting too as he didn't exactly feel like mingling with his fellow man all that much either. But he thought he should try making her try. It wasn't like he was going to throw her into the middle of a crowd and run away. This was dinner. It would take an hour and the only person she'd have to deal with was a waiter.
Baby steps, he thought. Anything less and she might as well be standing still.
He managed to find an IHOP on the empty side of town with a mostly deserted parking lot. Sunny eyed him suspiciously as he got out of the car. When he opened her door for her, the look had shifted to a pout that suggested betrayal.
"Oh, come on. You'll like it."
Whether or not she believed him, she did get out. He swore she was walking even slower than usual even though there wasn't a single person between them and the restaurant's entrance.
She recoiled slightly when the hostess stooped down to tell Sunny how cute she was. "She's shy," Raiden explained, though that barely began to cover it. He asked for a booth away from everybody else, everybody else being a group of college kids at a table and some senior citizens at a counter. That was about ten people total but for Sunny, it was still too much.
The hostess said it was okay and led them to a corner booth where they had a clear view of the car. He told Sunny to sit on the side opposite of him so they could see each other across the table but she wouldn't listen. She stood by his side of the booth until he gave up and scooted over so she could sit beside him. She wasn't about to let him get too far from her.
Baby rolling overs, he amended. He shouldn't be too hard on her. After all, a few days ago, her world was a tiny white room and the only human contact she had was a bunch of scientists who thought of her as property. The real world was a daunting place to those unaccustomed to it; it's mundane tasks almost incomprehensible to the uninitiated. He hadn't done so hot his first time out either.
It hadn't been fear that had made him so anxious. For his first month in the United States, he hadn't been able to relax at all. He'd been trained to be ready, to be suspicious of any civilian he came across, to be wary of being out in the open. Just not having a weapon at his side had caused him to be tense. His first time out to a place like this, he'd held the knife in disappointment, his finger running along the pathetically soft edge and wondered how hard he'd have to hit to make it work.
Sunny being a little clingy and shy was nothing.
She liked the pictures on the menu but had no idea what to get so he ordered for her. He picked out a Belgian waffle with fruit and whipped cream because something would have to be seriously wrong with somebody to not like those. He went traditional for himself: eggs, bacon, pancakes and toast.
While they waited, he showed the puzzles on the children's menu to Sunny. She frowned as these were clearly beneath her. She picked out the six differences between two drawings after looking at both for a second. The maze took even less time. She had no idea what to do with the picture of the two kids eating a stack of pancakes.
Raiden fished broken crayons out of the basket on the table and set them in front of her. Sunny looked at him like he was crazy.
"You're supposed to color it in," he told her. He figured it was best to lead by example, so he picked up a green crayon and started coloring the boy's shirt. Sunny eventually took the brown crayon and filled in the pancakes, pressing down too hard. The pancakes looked lumpy and burned.
Something Rose would make, Raiden laughed to himself and it was the first time he'd thought of her without bitterness in a long time.
The waitress brought them their meals and Sunny's eyes grew wide at the waffle. She poked the whipped cream with her finger first and licked it off. Of all the junk he'd fed her, she'd found a new favorite. He had to prod her into eating the waffle and fruit. She'd like them both but they weren't much compared to the whipped cream.
Typical kid, he thought. He'd never thought of her in those terms before, didn't think anyone had.
When the waitress came back to check on them, she asked if they would like more whipped cream. Raiden almost asked for the whole damn can.
Sunny was buzzing from the whipped cream overload all the way back to the motel. It even made her bold enough peep back at the 'hello' extended by another motel guest as they walked to their room. For her, that was considered spreading her wings.
He wanted to believe he was part of that, a bigger part beyond getting her out of her cage. He had no idea what the hell he was doing, true, but his gut instincts had been good, he thought. She'd done okay at the restaurant. She felt safe around him, hadn't complained about anything. That had to count for something.
But that still left the question of what to do with her when this road trip was over. Yeah, he'd done all right but how far could Sunny go with someone who knew how to handle kids, who'd had a childhood period?
That was assuming he could find anybody normal enough to fit that description while being abnormal enough to keep Sunny safe. The Patriots may or may not go to the effort to get her back. Eva hadn't known what they really wanted her for in the first place so there was no telling. It wasn't something he would risk though, not after everything that had been done to make Sunny safe and free.
He wondered what Olga would have thought of seeing her daughter like this. Sunny was sprawled out across her bed on her stomach, smiling as her game booted up. She grew serious as she played, biting her lower lip while wrangling with a difficult enemy and then giving a little kick of her legs when she defeated it.
Olga had given everything for this girl, staked her soul on her protection. There was something in that that he never really understood. He got the basic concept – a parent defending their child - well enough but it was the devotion, the utter certainty that there was nothing she wouldn't do, nothing she couldn't face in her daughter's name that eluded him. Solidus hadn't exactly been a paragon of parental love even when he hadn't been trying to kill him.
And it wasn't as if he was going to get the chance to learn from the other side of equation any time soon either.
He just knew what Olga had done and what she had told him. You must live. Those were her final words. There was no concern for herself, no anger at Solidus for playing his part. There was just desperate hope, for him and for her daughter. He couldn't fail that.
He considered doing some night driving to make up for the short day but decided against it. Sunny didn't seem up for it and putting it off gave him more time to come up with a solution of what to do after they got to New York.
Television wasn't much more interesting than staring at the road. He flipped through the channels in a futile attempt to find something halfway decent. Sunny watched each slice of programming with an intense focus that didn't convey a preference for one over the other.
It's all just information for her, he thought. He gave up surfing, checked the listings for any music stations and went with the 80s channel in deference for Sunny's fondness for pop music.
He wasn't familiar with much of the music. He'd heard of them but not heard them. A lot of things were like that. Bad action films of the 80s – he could recite some of those by heart. Everything else was gleaned from listening to others or catching the reruns. Firsthand knowledge of pop culture didn't kick in until after 1996.
Sunny was different. She was taking in everything at once, her brain absorbing all the details. He wondered if she knew what any of it meant.
She noticed him watching her and went right for her game self-consciously. Or maybe she was on the internet again. He couldn't tell with the music from the TV covering up all other sounds. Whatever she was doing, she was quickly off in her own little world.
This might be the last night, he thought and he wasn't sure what to do with that. He could only procrastinate for so long. He hadn't bothered checking in with Eva yet but she would still be expecting him. With her past and current resources, it probably wouldn't be hard for her to track him down if he kept away too long.
And he didn't want to hide. He owed her. He owed her so much that finding a corpse hardly felt like a fair payment. If it hadn't been for her, he would have spent the last month stumbling bar to bar, getting into fights that always failed to bring any satisfaction. He sure as hell wouldn't have spent it at the apartment with Rose, not after that night.
She'd been so cold, stilted when she told him of the miscarriage. He should have known something was up when he came home not to yelling – or worse, those soft, pity laden sighs of his name that were supposed to mean she understood. He'd only been half sober and the sting of abraded skin on his knuckles was the only thing telling him he was awake, that he was alive and there she was, waiting for him just inside the door, arms crossed, face stern – a real professional in delivering bad news.
There wasn't any preamble. They'd wasted too many words fighting over so much less for her to dress it up and make it nice. It couldn't be made nice. Just the facts and even with reality being so cut and dry for once, all he could do was stare, his mouth hanging open stupidly, completely devoid of anything useful to say.
He'd only been gone for a couple of days. He'd met Eva two weeks beforehand and the old woman's offer at a chance of redemption had been the only light he'd seen since the nightmares had come back. It had been the one thing he'd openly talked about to Rose. Of course, she had disapproved.
They were supposed to be out of that life; they shouldn't let anyone drag them back. He had a family to look after now. This was no time to go tilting at windmills. Didn't he understand what he was risking? She had betrayed them; he wanted to defy them. They both knew too much. It was a mercy they were being left alone as it was.
She was right, on all counts, so very right, yet wrong in all the reasons that mattered to him. If he didn't save that girl, nothing was going to save him, couldn't she see that?
And she said she did. She saw it so well she screamed at him to leave because, obviously, she and the baby weren't reason enough to stay.
So he left and when he returned, there was one less reason to count. They both knew it too. He slunk away with the feeblest of apologies and that was it. She hadn't come after him, hadn't begged him stay. He had felt her watching him go but the close of the door settled even that small connection.
He shouldn't have been shocked. If he'd been paying attention to his life, he should have been able to see it coming. But he'd gotten a little hope in his head, let himself think things would be better if he found Sunny and maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't completely fuck up his kid's life like his had been ruined by Solidus. Such a ridiculously low bar had been set and he still worried about clearing it.
That's why he'd run. He felt the loss and the anger and the shame for not being with Rose when it happened. He felt cheated. He felt empty. He felt all these things and one more: the tiniest hint of relief. He would no longer have to be responsible for this new life when he knew he had nothing real to offer.
And what had finding Sunny changed it all that mess? It didn't matter who she looked like or how she clung to him. She wasn't his lost child and it was delusional to expect it of her. It was delusional and cruel to expect it of Rose.
Even if he was ready to face her, he couldn't take Sunny to Rose, not this soon, not with that intention.
He wasn't ready to trust Eva with Sunny either. The old woman didn't want that body for sentimental reasons; she was up to something. He couldn't let Sunny get remotely involved in any of that.
There was someone he could trust. A person who he knew would be able to keep Sunny safe. The one person who had come the closest to understanding him, to inspiring him to be more than what he was.
All he had from him was a phone number given weeks ago. There was no guarantee it would be good and he didn't really have the means to call it anyway. He'd lost his cell God only knew when and turned down Eva's offer to replace it. He hadn't felt like being in contact with anyone.
He was going see if the motel lobby had a phone he could use but spotted a payphone on his way there. He was surprised to see it. In the age of cellphones, they'd become virtually obsolete. People still needed them but not enough to make it profitable for phone companies to maintain them.
The number was out of date but he still had options. Back in the room, he asked Sunny if he could borrow her PSP. She handed it over without question. She'd been listening to music anyway but it wasn't as if she would have questioned him.
Sure enough, Otacon's handle was online at the anime forum. He was currently expressing his approval that somebody named Nia had been taking a more active role instead of passively waiting to be saved. Raiden didn't care about any of that. He logged in with the username and password Otacon had given him in case he ever wanted to contact him. Typing on the machine was a bitch, but the private message Raiden sent was a simple string of fourteen numbers – military time and the number for the payphone outside the motel room.
He got the call right on time, didn't let it finish the first ring. Otacon was surprised to hear from him and started getting chatty. Raiden cut him off. He just wanted their current location. They weren't still in New York. Their new location was actually closer but in a different direction. It looked like he could put New York off for a little longer.
He never did tell Otacon the reason why he called. The other man asked but Raiden only said he had to go, but he'd be by soon.
As he was hanging up, he heard Otacon on the end giving a confused, 'Wait! What?' but he clicked the receiver down anyway. He was doing the right thing, he knew it. They'd keep Sunny safe. With the two of them, they'd be better able to handle her than he was.
And it wasn't as if he was going to leave her with them forever. He was just dropping her off so he could take care of Eva's business. That's what he'd tell Sunny if she asked.
He felt pretty confident that she wouldn't be asking.
When he returned to the room, Sunny had already gotten herself ready for bed. She was under the covers reading something on her reclaimed PSP. Raiden told her she'd been on it enough and told her to turn it off.
Dutiful as ever, she set it aside, rolled over and was out in a couple of minutes. He didn't know how she did it. He stayed up much later, watching TV, planning the route to Snake and Otacon's place, finishing up what was left of the bottle in bag.
He drove almost until noon the next day until guilt set in and he told Sunny the truth. They weren't going to New York. He left off that he would be going later but she wouldn't be joining him. She took it by blinking at him and returning to her game when he finished talking.
She didn't know New York or any other place for that matter. He could have been taking her to France, to Brazil, to the fucking moon and she wouldn't have known the difference. To her, there was the lab and this car and an assortment of motel rooms. She didn't know any better to care.
Which made his lie of omission even worse. The one difference she would care about and he was too much of a coward to let her know. He didn't want to disappoint her. He didn't want to make her afraid. He didn't want to upset her.
He didn't want to see her blink and return to her game.
So he drove on, offering to stop by the fast food places that he'd decided were her favorites, letting her play the radio to her heart's content even as another headache set in. He would give her whatever she wanted to make this last day special.
Last day until I'm done with Eva, he corrected himself, all the while feeling that he was right the first time.
The trip back to New York took considerably longer than the day and a half he'd given himself. He'd been in and out at Snake's on the thinking that the quicker and cleaner the break, the faster the recovery would be. He had no idea how Sunny was doing with her new caretakers but on his end, he knew he was full of shit.
He was full of other substances he'd been trying to cut down on as well. He hadn't even bothered with the justifications, just said 'fuck it' and stopped at the first bar he could find. It took most of the night waiting until he got what he wanted. The place was ready to close and another of its patrons was reluctant to leave. Raiden even got to play the hero, telling the guy to go on the bartender's behalf and sparing the bouncer a bruise or two when the guy, drunker than Raiden had been at his worst, decided he was going to stay one way or the other.
He must have had fifty pounds on Raiden but in the end, it meant nothing. The guy was brute force and drunken bravado. He didn't think. He swung a fist and hoped it connected. It didn't. Raiden dodged easily, moved in behind and brought the guy down with a firm kick to the back of his knees. It was smooth, quick. It was too easy. Raiden hadn't taken a single hit.
He wouldn't be taking any either. Those who had witnessed the brief and decisive fight were determined to not switch places with the loser. Try as he might, Raiden couldn't get anyone to rise to any bait. The bartender even insisted on comping him his drinks. A good forty dollars was in him but it felt like an insult. He threw some cash on the bar counter and left.
He shouldn't have risked it but he drove the rest of the night. He told himself the fight had cleared his head. The night air would keep him awake and alert. The truth was, he couldn't bear to spend another night in some motel room. He couldn't stay still long enough to let sleep take him. Even if he did, he had a feeling what sort of dreams would visit him.
So he drove, eyes carefully on the road, counting the mile markers as they soared past. When he hit the New York state line, it felt both like he hadn't been gone at all and as if it had been years.
Tired, hung over, he followed his old patterns and was soon outside the apartment building that was nominally his home. All told, between the time spent with Eva preparing and the time spent with Sunny, it had been a month since the night he'd retrieved the blade. That made it six weeks since he'd talked to Rose. He should go up, give her some idea of what he'd been doing and what he still had to do. She might understand what he'd been trying to do with Sunny. She might even urge him to get her back. She could forgive him every sin ever attached to his name. Or she could give him back all that he'd given her: nothing. So really, even in the worst case scenario, he had nothing to lose.
He didn't go up. He'd picked up a cheap cell phone during a stop for gas and tried that instead. Something in the distance made it feel safer. He punched the numbers for the apartment first and got a message that it had been disconnected. He tried one more time, going slower with the numbers and got the same result. He tried her cell number next and again, received the harsh tones that signaled that a number wasn't good anymore.
He got out of the car, his reticence taking a backseat to his curiosity.
His keys to the apartment didn't work; he couldn't even get them to go in the lock. Banging on the door brought no answer, only a female neighbor Raiden had never liked. Rose had invited her over for coffee once or twice and the only things out of the woman's mouth were the business of the others who lived in the building. Rose had tolerated her, saying it was better to be on her good side than bad.
Raiden clearly was in the latter. The woman eyed him like filth before pronouncing that he was making a fool of himself. Rose didn't live here anymore. She'd moved out two weeks ago.
I'm not going to tell you.
Where? And it was an unintelligible snarl that nonetheless conveyed the point quite clearly.
The woman retreated to her door. She was gossipy, not stupid. "She found somebody else…" she said and slipped inside. Raiden could hear the deadbolt slide into place. It wasn't the protection she thought it was. A few good kicks would bring the whole door down. He was capable of so much.
So much that meant so little. There was nothing here.
She found somebody else…
And the who and the when and the why didn't even matter to him because all that she had found was simply another thing he had lost.
It's an old story. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy loses most of his body and a good bit of his mind.
There are so many old stories. Some of them have happy endings. Jack buys some magic beans, slays a giant, comes home a wealthy hero. It doesn't make sense. He's killed giant after giant; nothing's ever come to him.
He's been nimble, he's been quick. He's jumped over obstacle after obstacle and no matter how well he cleared them, he always got burned
He went up that hill, no one beside him, to fetch that corpse of a hero. And when he fell down, they came after and broke so much of him that he'll never find the pieces.
So many old stories – tales for children told first so that they might learn and then, so that they might be entertained. He was told stories too, of the bad men and the brave boys that slew them. And he's lived stories, been the hero just as he was told to be. So much promise, the capable everyman, but the only lesson he's learned was not to expect the happy ending.
Little children shouldn't read such depressing tales and he won't tell them either. He'll get to the end alone because that's how it's been since the beginning. He'll sit in his corner, such a good little boy he is, and wait.
Because that's the one promise all stories hold: they all come to an end.