(Darkfic, Masked Man/Claus. Selfcest, mindfuckery, disturbing content, all that good stuff. Written for my delicious Nicky. If it's too confusing, see my notes at the bottom, k? Also, this is long. 9k words or so.
Nobody really leaves the world until they're ready. For Claus, that means coming to terms with some things. For the commander, that means remembering. With one of them disappearing and the other malfunctioning, fair trades aren't really an option.)
The closer you are to death, Claus discovers, the more you stop to think.
Tha drago grew tired of him before delivering the lethal blow and has long since left him alone, and he would be relieved, he's sure, if it weren't for the fact that he's immobile, left to wait for whatever comes next and try to count time by the spreading pool of blood under him. Looking at it now, he supposes it must've been well over an hour, and he's still amazed that he's had this much time to ponder things; life to those who cling to it, he supposes.
Even now, with his sight blurry and reduced to what his one good eye shows – he doesn't want to think about the state of his other one, if it's even there – he can see a shadow stuck stubbornly to the edge of his view. It's slightly resemblant of a human silhouette, but he can't speak, and it doesn't move, so he has decided to ignore it and go back to his timekiller: thinking.
Claus knows that things have gone wrong. He knows exactly where they began to go wrong. And, somehow, he knows that they won't get any better.
"That one. Let's use that one."
Sounds come to him in distorted waves that he never really makes sense of, but at least his sight isn't gone yet. His body is cold, his voice lost, the pain dulled to a constant numbness, but he can still make out the broad figures that hover over him. He's learned to count his blessings.
"Pretty damaged, but I think he'll do."
"Really? This is broken."
One of the shadowy forms tugs at his right arm, and feeling returns to Claus with a blast of white-hot pain that awakens his voice enough to scream. Yet, he finds that his resistance is only that much; not a single part of his body moves the way he wants it to, if at all.
One of the figures emits a laugh that makes his head throb. "He's not done yet, eh?"
The other one, in turn, simply pauses to look at him and says with an unconcealed hint of mockery, "Poor thing."
Another scream rips itself out of his throat as the figures lift him off the ground and, while his sight fades to nothing, Claus can still see the other shadow out of the corner of his eye.
"Will it do?"
The next time Claus comes to his senses, or what's left of them, he finds himself elsewhere. That's the only word that comes to his mind, anyway; he doesn't see anything but a splash of white on an otherwise pitch-black place, but he knows for sure that this is somewhere else. Not his hometown, not a different town, not even the Earth – simply somewhere else, even if he knows that his body has been taken to some sort of hospital, and taken his ability to hear with it.
His mind, his identity, Claus himself – it just seems to be somewhere else.
"Sure, but hey... this is broken."
"We'll just have to fix it, eh?"
The feeling of something like goosebumps running up his broken arm sobers him a little, and he finally starts to wonder how he could come to such a far-fetched conclusion without a second thought.
"Of course. I'm sure we can come up with something."
He concludes, too, that he was right. Things are getting worse.
As his good judgement keeps coming back to him, he realizes something else: the shadow he saw before losing consciousness in Drago Plateau never did leave. Instead, it became the white stain he sees, and the more he thinks about it, the more human it begins to look.
"So, what's it gonna be?"
"A robot, I guess. King P wanted one, right?"
"Yeah, that's a good idea."
He blinks, wide-eyed. A... robot? Are those voices really talking about him? But he's human! He's not even dead yet! They can't just go and turn him into something else!
Whatever he is, wherever he is, he places his left hand firmly on the ground and hoists himself up in one swift motion – and with a scream that echoes throughout the 'elsewhere' place, he falls right back down, his broken arm twisted awkwardly by his side.
"Sheesh, take it easy!"
With the newfound pain and his seemingly heightened perception of it, it takes him nearly a minute to realize that the voice is Elsewhere, with him, and belongs to the now human shadow that's been around him for so long. It – 'he' would be more apropiatte, Claus guesses – runs up to him and kneels beside him, grabbing hold of his arm and putting back in a normal position. The pain has gone far beyond Claus' limit this time, and even though his mouth is open and his back is arched, he can't produce any more sound than a small yelp.
"They're fixing you," says the nameless voice. Claus can barely make out his pale face and brown hair, an odd shade that looks somewhat orange, much like his own. "Stay still."
He shakes his head fast and repeatedly, until he feels a droplet of something warm sliding down his cheek. Tentatively, he raises his hand to touch it and follow the wet trail up to—
"I'd say this one got beat up pretty bad. Look at that..."
"Oh, why would it need two eyes anyway? Let's just put something better there."
"I wouldn't touch that, if I were you."
He pauses. So it is gone, after all.
He turns his head slowly, staring at the boy beside him. Like he assumed, it's no different from staring into a mirror; his hair is the same, his complexion is the same, his one eye – the other, he notices, is covered by bandages – is of the same color, if slightly duller, but it's the differences that he takes in with the most shock. While Claus is still wearing his torn stripped shirt, the boy is dressed in a brown jacket with a soft-looking white neck, light brown pants and black boots; while Claus has lost his knife, the boy carries a sword with a yellow blade and has a helmet now lying near his feet; while Claus' arm is broken, the boy's is nonexistent. Instead, a metallic structure that looks like a cannon of sorts replaces it from the elbow.
"You..." Claus begins hoarsely, having to swallow before trying to speak again. "What's your name?"
The boy seems to stop to think of this for a while, and when Claus begins to wonder if he'll just make up a name, he replies, "Commander."
"...that's not a name."
"But that's what I am, so it's fine."
The boy gives him a grin that makes Claus unexpectedly uneasy; feeling threatened, his mind begins to jump to conclusions on what will happen next, each more paranoid than the last, until a mechanical whirr brings his attention back to what could be happening in the world outside Elsewhere.
"Okay, let's get rid of the arm first, I know what we can put there."
"Hey, Andonuts gave you that thing, didn't he?"
"Yeah, he said it'd work just fine, so let's just chop this off or somethin'."
"Heh, what a lucky guy... he'll get some really nice equipment."
He shakes his head slowly, looking in all directions in search of the voices' source before his eyes fall upon the commander. He gives the nameless boy a pleading look. "They can't... right...?"
"Hey, hey... easy there," his dull-eyed counterpart says in a cooing tone, crawling closer. With surprisingly gentle touch, he places his hand on Claus' shoulder and lifts his upper body just enough to wrap his single normal around him, bloodied back against leather-clad chest.
His broken arm remains oddly still, shifting painlessly into the new position. Claus disregards the nearly intimate touch; although it's both foreign and familiar, his thoughts are anywhere but on it.
"Hold that there, will ya? I'll make it one clean cut."
"Okay, try not to make it too messy. Whenever you're ready."
"It's off in five..."
The commander wraps his other arm around him as well, the steel cannon awfully cold against the skin exposed by missing shreds of his yellow and sky-blue shirt. His hold is firm, almost comforting.
Claus squeezes his eyes shut. "S-Stop..."
He feels something cold and sharp against his arm and draws in a shaky breath. Finally, he realizes that anything done to his physical body is far out of his control and resigns to biting down on his lower lip, tears filling his eyes.
"Here it comes, Claus," the commander whispers, his breath warm against Claus' skin and lips barely grazing the shell of his ear. Absently, he hopes that the shiver caused by it is well masked by his fearful trembling. "Better be ready..."
"...because this'll hurt."
"A-Ahh!" A violent spasm nearly throws him out off the Commander's arms, wave after wave of searing pain running up and down his arm, despite seeming unscathed. "STOP! STOP!!"
"Not my call, Claus..."
"Shit! Hold him down!"
"Just put the damn cannon, we can't waste another subject!"
Warm blood slides down his chin, coming from his freshly torn lip; barely registering that pain, so insignificant in comparison, he begins to grit his teeth instead, breathing fast and heavy through them. His eye is wide open and unfocused, but the commander never stops staring into it, a small smile pulling at the corners of his lips. Out of rage, confusion, and a pain that makes his thoughts slip in and out grasp, Claus screams again.
"The bleeding's under control! What're you waiting for?! Align that thing here!"
"Understood! Connecting at your signal!"
"Just do it!"
"We're almost there," the voice is accompanied by another brush of lips against his ear; Claus barely notices it, or the gloved hand running along his arm, neither severed nor broken anymore. "Feel good?"
"Sh... shut... up!"
His fingers twitch, and before he realizes what he's doing, he raises both his hands to grab and pull at fistfulls on his hair, head thrown back and tears streaming freely down his cheeks. There's a burning feeling in his lungs from his continuous screaming, and in his arm for reasons he doesn't comprehend nor try to – the feeling is only there for a second, and then there's nothing at all.
"Done! Arm upgrade, version number one, connected!"
He gasps, feeling like he's breathing for the first time.
It's over, he tells himself. It's over. Done. Finished. He made it.
"See? They fixed you."
But he can't stop shaking.
It's too real; it felt too real! From the cold touch of a knife, or scissors, to the overwhelming pain of the single cut. And yet, it was just as the other boy said: he was fixed. His arm was fine, even better than before. He was cured. But how was that possible? No one else was there. Nothing even touched him. But he heard it, he felt it, and it hurt so bad... how could he be so detached from his own body? Where was it? Which of them was his real self?
"I..." he rasps out, unsure of what he wants to ask and what he doesn't want to know. "Am I... dead?"
The commander blinks, soon breaking into a brief fit of resounding laughter. "A little," he says, placing his chin atop Claus' head, a content air about him. The tired boy finds himself unable to summon will or strenght to move again; his mind still races a mile per second, his heartbeat stuck in a frantic pace, but a restless exhaustion keeps him still.
"There, there... it's okay now, Claus," the Commander grins, seeming oblivious to his nearly comatose state. "I've got you."
"Connected. System running. Are you sure about this?"
"Yeah. The higher-ups said to do whatever it takes. Anytime now..."
"Well, there's no response yet."
"Keep going, he'll be charged soon."
"He is charged, he's just... not responding at all."
"Higher voltage, maybe?"
"I don't-- wait, he's... he's moving."
"Perfect. C'mon, open your eyes..."
"We've got vital signs. Just a bit more..."
"Wake up, Claus."
His eyes snap open and he gasps audibly, slouching forward. He is stopped short after mere centimetres, held back by a tug on his lower back and behind his neck; it's the cables that connect him to the charging machine, he recalls, his equivalent to a human revitalizer. It doesn't take him long to remember that much, but it's all he can reason at the time.
"Ah, you're awake."
He straightens up and regards the voice's owner evenly, despite being bound. Something tells him authority will not be a problem, and he trusts his programming, even as he faces the Pigmask soldier with a badge to show his range: head of the medical team. But there's no special significance to that, he tells himself. He's only a subject if he behaves like one.
"Yeah, I can get back to work now," he says, perfectly impassive. "The machine's not necessary anymore."
"I'll bet!" Exclaims a second, slightly gruffer voice. Another soldier approaches him, his uniform splattered with dry blood and gloves fully dyed red by it. "It took hours to get you up, you know, and that's after I wasted my night preparing you."
He doesn't bother to sigh or shrug; as opposed to the soldier's behaviour, he thinks of himself as a practical, efficient unit. "And I'm awake now. Shouldn't we proceed?"
The soldier, which he thinks must've had a high rank as well, can only stop and stare. There's an expression of surprise behind the mask right then, he's sure. The medic, on the other hand, gives a laugh. "Now, you're the smartest one I've treated in a while! But that's no surprise, is it? King P himself got your head in order, after all."
"Hey, hey, that'd be after I got him fixed up. What does a genius have to do to get some credit around here?"
"Why, I'd say it's Dr. Andonut's equipment we must be grateful for; quite the work of art, really," the medic pauses, seeming to notice the boy's impatient silence. Laughing again, he walks behind him and presses a few buttons on the machine, making it emit several beeping noises. "Here, I'll get you off of this. Just a second..."
There is a last, prolonged beep, and then he feels the tension on him loosen considerably. Without a moment of hesitation, he steps forward, disconnecting the cables attached to him in the process. After a second of stinging exposure, the openings close up automatically, leaving no visible traces on his skin; it's second nature to him, not to mention irrelevant, but the soldiers seem to find it fascinating.
"Would you look at that... ah, wait!" The medic rushes after, motioning for him to halt. "This'll be enough for a while, but whenever this light turns yellow..." he says, pointing to a rectangular, red light on the cannon that replaces the boy's once useless arm. "You come back here right away, okay? I'll charge you up in no time."
"And if you experience a malfunction, any at all," cuts in the bloodied soldier. "I'm next door, got it?"
"Aright then, good lu--"
The three of them turn to the source of the voice: a common-looking soldier that rushes into the room, hastily advancing toward the medic, a folded memo in hand. "Direct orders from King P!" He explains hurriedly. "It's urgent! It's regarding, uh... well, you know! Him...?"
The boy raises an eyebrow at the way the soldier glances at him, fleetingly, almost nervously. Deciding to disregard something that childish, he turns to the medic again and awaits the news.
"My... you sure have a busy day tomorrow, huh. Repositioned to Thunder Tower, effective tomorrow at six sharp," the older male explains, sounding perplexed. He then raises his view from the document and pats the boy's shoulder once. "But you've got today free, so why not take a rest?"
"Let me see that," says the soldier with the red-stained uniform, snatching the paper from the other's hand. "Wow, that's King P's signature, alright. What a mess... anyway," he turns to the boy. "Your room's the last one down the hall. Just get yourself in standby mode, I'll reactivate you early tomorrow and see if we can get your sleep mode scheduled."
"Understood," he says with a quick salute, proceeding to turn on his heel and head for the door once again. "Good night."
"Good night," replies the soldier, scanning the letter's contents a second time. "...and good luck, commander."
He is relieved to finally remember who he's supposed to be, and although the title is new and pride is but a hindrance, he feels himself smiling a little.
This is not in his programming, he's sure. Then again, neither was malfunctioning severely when he saw an image of the blond intruder that sneaked into their base. He definitely does not like any of this. Things aren't going King P's way, he's not doing his job well, and inexplicable things don't cease to occurr (he recalls with mortification his repeated attempts to have just one more look at the intruder, and wonders why the name "Lucas" keeps coming to mind).
Things are going wrong, he knows. He just doesn't know when they started to. But, somehow, he's certain that they won't get any better.
Irrefutable proof would be, well, this. He's supposed to be in his quarters. He's supposed to disengage sleep mode in time for his duties. And if an emergency comes up, he's supposed to be awoken by a certain soldier – he's never gotten around to asking for a name, and only remembers him as blood-stained figure in a mostly immaculate room. Even so, the commander knows that the soldier is supposed to be in charge of fixing his technical limitations. Everything's supposed to be covered.
Wherever he is, however he got there, it's not part of his programming.
"I'm dreaming," he concludes aloud. It's the first non-programmed possibility he can think of, but then again, there really aren't other plausible options.
His system briefly loses control and sends an electric bolt down his spine, making it seem as though he flinches.
"You just went somewhere else."
Elsewhere, he thinks. It's Elsewhere. Maybe even with--
He stops himself. That... shouldn't make as much sense as it does. Could it be another malfunction? Could those even disrupt his thought patterns like that?
"Hey, Claus," he greets despite himself; he's losing control fast, and the same feeling that drove him to want to see Lucas again is returning to him. "Been a while."
He turns and walks in the direction of the voice, more eager and hasty than he wants to be, until he reaches its source; a boy about his size, about his age, about his everything, sitting with his knees to his chest, dressed in torn, bloody shorts and a stripped shirt.
He takes his helmet off, suddenly annoyed by the way it covers his replaced left eye. The very second it adjusts to the darkness and gains focus on the boy, static fills his ears and electricity makes his fingertips twitch; he's not working properly, he knows, but he feels so very close to remembering something important, he doesn't mind going through repairs again to regain it.
The second Claus raises his head and their eyes meet, filling his fake one with more static and inverted colors, everything comes back to him. This boy has been fixed. This boy died long ago. This boy is one he met Elsewhere before. This boy misses his brother more than anything. This boy is Claus. This boy is-- is--
"Are you okay?"
The commander find himself kneeling, face contorted in a wince, hand holding the side of his head. Claus has crawled closer and looks at him quizzically.
He sighs; it's stopped. Nothing else is coming back to him, but he has enough to work with. Just a final push, a bit of coaxing, and he'll remember all of it.
"I could ask the same," he finally says, motioning to the various scratches and wounds on the other boy's body. He eventually stops upon the left side of his face, where blood still seems fresh and his hair – which has grown a little since last time – appears to hide his worst wound. "Haven't you done anything about that?"
"I wish I could," Claus says, looking away. "I wouldn't see what I'm doing, so..."
"Understood. I'll get that for you," he feels himself begin to smile as he speaks; something tells him that this is important. Claus is important. He just needs to see for himself. So he digs around in his pockets and pouches meant to hold ammunition, eventaully finding a small, unused roll of bandages. Medical supplies are mandatory in every soldier's inventory, despite rank; he's glad he never needed his.
Claus tenses at the sight of the items, looking back and forth between them and the commander. "...are you sure?" He asks. "It's been this way a long time, I'm more or less used to it, and--"
"I'm sure," he cuts in. "Lay down. It'll make this easier."
The wounded boy stares at him long and hard, distrust written across his features. Movement and expressions seem to have his skin tug on the wound enough to reopen it, as a droplet of blood slides down the side of his face; seeming to notice it, Claus lets out a breath and his posture becomes more relaxed. "...okay."
Although he soon stops noticing it, he never does stop smiling to himself.
His hands hover over Claus' face, as though he doesn't know where to begin, before settling on his cheeks. The boy flinches at the contact and he, in turn, tenses for a moment, but he can't let go; every point where skin meets skin is pleasantly electrifying, almost enough to bring his mind to clarity.
Wishing to uncover whatever it is that keeps evading him, the commander brushes Claus' hair aside as carefully as possible. Dry blood has made the orange locks stick to the skin, however, and Claus hisses in pain as he pulls them away. He pauses. That expression has reminded him of something, but... no. It's too soon. It still escapes him.
The sight before him makes a shock run through his body again; Claus' eyelid is torn, incomplete, and a mess of red fills his eye socket. He is a second away from pulling back in disgust when he notices the frown on the boy's face and his fists clenched by his sides. He can't stop. He's too close now. Thus, swallowing and sucking in a breath, he convinces himself to evaluate the damage objectively.
There is no recovering use of the eye, for sure, but a deep wound running from his eyebrow to his cheekbone, making most of the eyelid stick closed, gives him the impression that it'll scar just fine. Relieved, he decides there's no need to do anything drastic.
"I'll just clean this a little," he declares, wondering if that means any comfort to the other male. Nobody has ever wounded him, after all.
"Go ahead," Claus says quicky, his posture unchanging.
It occurrs to him that he doesn't really have anything to clean the wound with – and then he recalls a simple, white handkerchief that the soldier in the blood-stained uniform slipped in his pocket already long ago. Just like his medical supplies, he never did make use of it, but he guesses that it will do and fishes it out of his pocket. He looks at it closely; it's immaculate, probably sterile.
Slowly, although with a steady hand, he raises it to the boy's face and places it gently unto the skin. Then, just as deliberately, he slides it along the cheek, over the eyebrow and gradually closer around the damaged eye, until a whimper and a firm grip on his wrist stop him short. Once again, there's something familiar and amazing about the touch, but he only looks at Claus questioningly and hopes his excited shudder went unnoticed.
"S-Sorry," Claus mutters, adding a frustrated 'dammit' under his breath.
"You're nervous. It's natural, I suppose," he says. He releases his hand easily and grabs Claus', guiding it to rest on his body. There, with his hand atop the boy's, fingers grazing his chest, he feels the constant drum of his erratic heartbeat. "Your pulse..." he begins slowly.
"I'm scared," Claus finishes, a faint blush on his cheeks. It's only out of shame, he knows, but it makes him smile wider.
"...that's natural, too."
Claus has already removed his hand from under the commander's. He, however, stays still for a while, counting his every heartbeat. He only pulls away when Claus begins to watch him expectantly out of the corner of his eye; he still needs to tend to his wound, and the commander's other hand – or rather, the cannon that replaces it – is of no use for that. So he lets go and grabs the roll of bandages, raising it to his mouth, where he holds one end between his teeth and pulls at the rest. Once its whole lenght is extended, he places an end on a painless spot on Claus' cheek. "Hold this here."
Silently, Claus holds it in place with two fingers, while the army leader brushes his unclean hair back and wraps the bandage around his head.
He's quick to comply, though slightly clumsy, but the commander finds himself hard-pressed to be bothered at all. He only gives a brief laugh when their hands bump on each other, and deftly fastens the bandage when the other looks away.
Deciding that it's good enough coming from a soldier with no medical experience, he gives the boy a grin. "Much better," he says, hand still on Claus' cheek, emphatizing with an appreciattive look not at his work, but at the boy before him altogether. He's important; the commander has probably done well trying to keep him safe. It might be a while before he remembers, and if he must keep a life going, he supposes there's no point to being sloppy about it.
But he's still an efficient unit, he reminds himself. He's just doing this for his own good. He'll stop feeling drawn to this place and this person when he knows what their relation is. Until then, there's probably no harm in letting his eyes linger like they do.
Claus, however, seems to grow uneasy under his gaze and pulls himself away, sitting up more easily than his damaged appearance gives credit for. "Yeah, um... thanks," he speaks in a hurry, his tone laced with something the commander can't quite identify, something that screams 'victim' and makes him feel a bit more balanced.
He can't help but frown, though. His hand feels all too empty like this, without the contact, and his mind sinks further away from the clarity he's been approaching.
"...wait," he says in much the same voice he uses to command his troops, as his hand reaches for Claus' wrist again in a thoughtless process. Just as instinctively, the boy attempts to yank it away, and his grip becomes white-knuckle tight.
"Hey! What're you doing?!"
What is he doing, truly? All he knows is that he has to do something to keep Claus close. But what can he do? What will it be?
"...are you still scared?"
Claus stares at him, frowning. There's a defiant glint in his eyes as he retorts, mouthing every syllable in a low hiss, "I'm not scared of you."
The commander scoffs. "Your pulse is too fast, Claus. You're afraid."
The next sucession of events flashes before him in a blurr that only his fake, slightly dysfunctional eye captures clearly enough: pulling with the entire weight of his body, Claus breaks free from his hold and scrambles away, getting to his feet at the same time he raises a fist and begins to lung forward. There is a portion of a second in which the commander sees only static, and after that, an image of Claus fighting something else, something twisted and terrible and guilty of things Claus needs revenge for. The image overlaps with one of himself fighting the beast, and although he remembers neither what it is nor what it has taken away from him, this time he knows he can stop it and raises his cannon-arm to attack. By the time his vision clears up with the whirr of a system restart, he finds himself pointing the cannon at Claus, who has stopped in his tracks, hand still fisted.
Noticing his confusion, Claus moves forward again, his anger not yet spent. The commander regards him with a sharp glare, placing his hand on the surface of the cannon and taking a firing stance. "Don't."
Claus glares back, but follows the command. He raises his hands defensively and waits.
The armed boy decides, then, that the familiarity of the other's current defeat and the memory of a fight against a beast are connected. Still, what any of that means has yet to come to him, so he opts for trying to bring up another memory and approaches Claus. With his weapon still aimed at him, he extends a gloved hand and places it on the left side of his chest, where the beating of his heart seems too close to breaking away from his ribcage.
For a moment, he feels the same heartbeat inside his own chest. The same fear curses through him, the same wounds rip him apart, the same face – that of a brown-haired woman with kind eyes – comes to his mind, the same regret and anger, the same feeling of being powerless, the same longing and worry over a brother whose face he can't remember – Claus' heartbeat is his own, and when the same static as before ends the visions, he wonders which of them the memories really belong to.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he still hears the sound of a sobbing child. And even though the voice is not quite Claus', a tear slides down the wounded boy's cheek.
It takes him a moment to take notice and wipe his eye with the back of his hand, but then a second tear appears, and a third one, a fourth one, a fifth one, until he's left with nothing to do but let them fall and wonder why. The commander really doesn't; all he knows is that it shakes him more than it should, and that it has to stop. Whether it's the weeping child he's remembering, or the one before him, he feels too personally involved to do nothing.
He sighs heavily and lowers his weapon. Then, with the awkward hesitation of someone who doesn't remember how to, he wraps his arms around Claus and holds him close to his body. He hears the boy curse under his breath as he attempts to dry his eye again, followed by a drawn-out exhalation before Claus slumps against him, no longer on guard.
With his perception of human warmth heightened, his mind slips away from anything else that could've been desirable, and then the dream ends.
He wakes up to find moisture on his pillow, a wet trail on his cheek and a foreign feeling in his good eye.
Three weeks' time bring nothing in his king's favour. Somewhere along the line, he begins to think they have also made him obsolete.
"It's not that I dislike you or anythin'," the soldier says as he wipes his hands on his uniform, leaving new bloodstains on the clean fabric – there is already dried blood on the strands of messy brown hair that frame his face. "But damn, I wish I didn't see you so often."
Even though he doesn't keep count, he finds that he can't really disagree. "At least it's been two days this time."
"Since when are you so optimistic?" The soldier asks, his voice half-lost to the sound of a nearby sink's rushing water and the hum of the soap dispenser. He washes his hands without care, almost as though he doesn't really want to clean them. "Eh, Masked Man?"
"I don't think he knows about his little nickname," says the medic, who had been hunched over his desk, immersed in examining a nail-sized memory stick through pale blond strands of hair that his ponytail never succeeded in holding back. "I've had a hard time keeping up with all the gossip and chit-chat around here, myself."
"Ain't it true, though?"
The commander glances between both soldiers, eventually turning to the blond man for answers. "What is?"
Sliding his rolling chair closer, the medic leaves his freshly-written notes at the desk and, instead, uses his pen to tap the side of the boy's head, which is still protected by his helmet. "This," he says with a smile. "You never take this off, do you?"
"There's no need to."
"You're the inside the best-protected room in the whole damn base, kid," cuts in the soldier, motioning toward a pair of discarded pig masks hung up on a chair. "Even people like us are allowed to take those off here, and that's sayin' something."
He narrows his eyes, his hand twitching by his side in search of the blade he has purposely left out of reach.
Returning to his desk, the medic sighs audibly. "What Marcus so rudely tried to say, Commander, is that no one has ever seen you without your helmet," he then pauses, his voice falling to a pensive, quiet tone. "I wonder... have you ever seen yourself?"
The newly-dubbed Masked Man shakes his head slowly, feeling a sudden urge to look at his own hands, just to confirm the exact tone of the skin. "There are no mirrors in my quarters," he begins. "Every other room I make use of, even this one... I don't recall any mirrors being there, either."
"Your hair's gotta be so flat right now," Marcus laughs, his deep voice breaking the silence easily. "I bet it needs a good cut, too. You don't wanna look like this bum here, do ya?" He places a hand atop the medic's hair, flattening his rebellious hair.
"Oh, that's hilarious. Now, if you'd let me--"
The smaller man suddenly falls silent stands up, looking with wide eyes at the biggest machine in the room, far bigger than the commander's revitalizing machine; its massive screen has turned bright red. The word 'error' flashes in it in thin, boxy, yellow letters.
"What is it?" Marcus barks, his voice suddenly humourless.
"How could the memory data be corrupt...?" The medic breathes. "...Commander? Have there been any problems?"
"No. None at all," the boy straightens up, his throat suddenly dry. "May I... have that back now?"
The brown-haired man steps closer, an aura of strange docility around him. "With all due respect, sir, I don't think--"
"I think I should keep it," the commander concludes firmly. "So return it to me, soldier."
With his head hung low and his eyes obscured under his hair, the medic extends the small memory stick to him. "...here."
"Let him have it. It wasn't giving him any trouble before."
"That's correct. I..."
He stops to swallow, and soon finds himself under the scrutiny of both men. Marcus is still giving him that uncharacteristically docile look through striking blue eyes, while William regards with a perfectly even, if somewhat gloomy gray gaze. Suddenly finding both stares too piercing, he turns on his heel.
"I'll let you know if there's anything wrong."
He inserts the memory stick on a small dent on the side of his neck and, with his supposedly flawlessly-programmed heartbeat racing madly in his chest, exits the laboratory room.
He shakes his head several times, scrambling to put his thoughts in order. Something in that memory stick is definitely nocive to his system, but getting it back seemed imperative the second it was removed from him. Is a name all it contained? Is that who he needs to remember? Who is it? Why is he even involved?
He slumps against the door behind him, suddenly too weak to hold his own weight. It's not long before he completely loses control over the lower half of his body and begins sliding down. By the time he falls into a sitting position on the floor, control over his hands has been lost as well; they fall limply at his sides, fingers cracking as his whole weight leans into them. A jolt shoots up his arm, making his shoulder twitch before that, too, becomes immobile.
Static. Static thunders above the sound of everything else, obscuring the name and voice in his head.
The commander fights it with nearly desperate conviction, tugs and pulls within himself to make a single move, but none comes.
The next thing he loses is his voice.
"I... I... I... I..."
Quietly, the same sound continues to leave his throat. His vocal chords seem stuck a single syllable before complete malfunction. What remains, then, is his awareness; a painfully caged consciousness in a faulty machine.
And then he hears a crashing sound that almost shakes him out of his stupor, coming from the room on the other side of the door. Inside, a hushed voice – William's, he vaguely acknowledges – lets out a curse.
"Why'd you give him that?!" A deeper, gruffer voice yells.
"There's no other way! He's unstable! His aggression level could've gone out of control!"
"Are you nuts, Will? This is more important than whether he winds up killing us... what if he's remembering? What then?"
Sound begins to fade, but he's clinging to it with his whole being. What is it that he shouldn't know? What if he's on his way to finding out? Could he be remembering precisely what he shouldn't?
A stubbornly-functioning part of his mind hopes that he is.
"He can't be! No matter how you reanimate a body, there's no way..."
"I know that. Nothing can be regained after death. I know!"
"Then what the--? ...wait... Marcus! He wasn't... was he?"
The medic's voice fades out completely. Gritting his teeth, the commander tells himself that he was just speaking more quietly.
"I don't know! It'd been hours... he kept moving, even after I cut the damn arm right off! There's a possibility... he could've been..."
His whole body twitches violently. A low bursting sound a faint veil of smoke signal that his cannon has overheated and, although only for a second, he can feel what remains of his arm hurting all too humanly.
"Marcus... that's horrible..."
"I fucking know!"
Another crash resounds from within the room, making the door tremble.
After that comes silence.
Sight is the next sense to leave him. Despite this and his frantic state, he's certain he has caught sight of a human shadow out of the corner of his eye.
He breathes in deep, gasping to take air in through the coughing it causes. Even his vital functions have begun to shut down spontaneously, only reactivating when he's at the brink of complete suspension – and there's a small revelation with it every time, so insignificant but eye-opening that he's come to grow excited for the next chance to tempt his own end.
And yet, despite how far it is from real and how he shouldn't be feeling anything at all, he's honestly afraid of dying. There are so many things to be seen and remembered; he needs to see and remember them.
He hears a muffled yelp of surprise, followed by a shuffling sound. It's simple, so simple... without a single look aside, he reaches out and grabs the fleeing boy by his shirt.
He's the damn key. All he has to do is use it, somehow, and that'd be it. His position, his strength, his significance... whatever it is that he needed to get, he'll finally know why. His entire life could be his again, a real life; just one push, just one step away, and Claus is the damn key to it.
It's easy, so easy...
"I need to remember."
"What does that have to do with me?!"
Claus pulls and struggles to free himself, only to be thrown away and pinned to Elsewhere's undefined ground. The commander looks down at him evenly, hand firm on his shoulder and cannon pressed to the ground beside his head.
"You tell me," he says with a practiced simplicity. "You're here because you lack something, so what is it? What do you need?"
Claus purses his lips and narrows his eyes in a stubborn, defiant look. "Nothing you could give me."
Just like everything else around the malfunctioning machine, that sight doesn't last long. When the steel-armed commander glances back at the boy under him, it's not quite Claus anymore – all he sees, instead, is a young child lying sprawled on the ground, half-dead and defeated.
He'll recognize the vision soon, he promises himself. It just needs to stop for a while. He'll be back to it. He'll learn what it is. He just needs the static to clear up.
And so it does.
"Something happened to you. Something got you," he states. Clarity spreads in his mind, realization after realization rushing to him. "You weren't strong enough to save yourself."
Claus pauses, averting his eyes. "…I wasn't planning to."
"And that worked out perfectly, didn't it?"
The boy with the bandaged eye is caught off guard and, for reasons he doesn't bother to think about, the commander feels triumphant. There's something in every small defeat that seems correct and gives him a slight-but-satisfying sense of déja-vù.
"That's why you're here," he continues. "You didn't want to die yet, but you weren't strong enough to live either."
He finds himself smiling. He's close, so close…
"But I am. I am strong enough, Claus."
His grin turns wide and feral, his head spinning with nothing but the long-desired truth. This is what he needs his power for. He's every single thing Claus failed to be, and if he could discover why and for what, then…
"S-So what if you are?!" Claus snaps, breaking him out of his reverie. "You're not me, so stop getting into my business!"
He finds that there's familiarity in that as well – revenge is Claus' business, no one else's. Nothing to do with his father, Flint, the silent, reliable man torn by loss. Nothing to do with his brother, L-- Luc--…
What... what is his brother's name?
He can't remember. The clarity's come to an abrupt halt, questions and incomplete images still vivid in his head.
It's not enough… just a little more…
"…let me take over," he orders – a tiny part of himself points out that it's more of a plea, that he's running out of options, but the suggestion alone makes him feel too cornered to even consider it. He pushes the thought to the back of his mind and tightens his hold on Claus' shoulder (he's not clinging to anything, he thinks; he's just keeping himself in control). "I can do anything you couldn't. Just let me take over…"
"No. I… I can't--"
Somehow he knows, he just knows what's coming next, and almost wishes to wrap his hands around the boy's throat to silence him. But maybe he needs to hear it. Maybe he's the one who's scared. Maybe he's malfunctioning too badly to think straight. Maybe the ringing in his ears has him paralyzed.
"I can't help you remember."
Maybe Claus is lying.
There must be something else, he tells himself, that Claus hasn't shown him. Something crucial and revealing that he'll have to pull out with by his own hand.
By the time his head catches up with his imagination, his hand is quivering with anger and he's already lowered himself enough to feel Claus' breath hanging heavy between them, rapid with emotions he can only pin technical definitions to. Distress, anger, excitement, relief – the line between what's his and what's Claus' blurs, but he's never felt so good and alive and human.
"You will," he says, hoping that it's convincing enough for both of them. There's something unsettling in the way Claus looks at him, in the pace of his breathing, in the contact, in the closeness; there's something in all of his discoveries and in the nearing truth that makes him feel utterly cornered. "You will!"
He doesn't plan anything. He doesn't think at all. He's not functioning correctly.
But pressing his lips against Claus' like that seems to work far too well.
There's no ringing in his ears anymore, no static in his eye, not even a single fail in his every function. The fog in his memory finally begins to dissipate. He sees clearer than he ever has, his senses heightened to an exhilarating level – suddenly, everything around himself is perceivable, from the dull pain where his arm connects into his cannon to just how dry and chapped Claus' lips are. Even the slight trembling of the boy's body is noticeable, so full of that something that's been the elusive key for so long: fear. Claus seems deathly afraid, and the more the commander is aware of it, the more stable he begins to feel.
Finally, Claus calms himself enough to fight back, fruitlessly attempting to push the stronger boy away. With force that seems drastically limited now, the commander grabs hold of both his wrists with his only hand, and pulls away just enough to pin them above his head.
"W-What the hell are you doing?!"
He pauses to look at Claus' face, finally recalling that the blush on his cheeks signals human embarrassment, maybe even anger. His shaking, however, is far more telling. He smiles down at the wounded boy. "You're so scared…"
Claus frowns, a defiant glint in his eye again. "I already told you… I'm not scared of you."
He laughs, inwardly amazed at how easy and natural that suddenly is. Silently, he leans in closer to the flustered boy and his thundering heartbeat – "Aren't you?" – and kisses him again. Claus stiffens instantly, moving no more; finding the lack of trembling too unfamiliar and incorrect, the commander parts his lips and softly brushes his tongue along Claus' lower lip. The muffled whimper he gets in response is all too rewarding, and reminds him that Claus left his world in the same state of fear.
"This isn't right…" Claus breathes, his voice pleading.
The commander places another firm, lasting kiss on his lips. "Does it scare you?"
"You're lying," he retorts. He lets go of the boy's wrists – Claus makes no move to stop him this time, paralyzed under the foreign touch – and brings his hand to his chest, heart beatng madly against his palm. "But this doesn't."
He remains like that for a moment, amazed at his heightened sense of tact, before deciding that it also makes Claus' shirt feel far more obstructive. His hand wanders further down, never quite breaking the contact, until reaching the shredded end of the stripped shirt and, without a moment of hesitation, slides under it. Even through the white glove he's wearing, Claus' skin seems maddeningly soft and just as fragile as his whole figure, despite the numerous cuts and bruises spread across it. Far from deterred by the wounds, the commander takes his time in running his fingers along each of them, smiling at every shudder Claus gives in response and muffling his complaints with his mouth.
Eventually, he stops upon a deep, vertical wound on his chest, and stops himself short. He lifts the boy's shirt to his neck and pulls away to look at it, suddenly enough to make Claus yelp in surprise – whatever reactions he causes cease to matter for a moment, obscured by a foreboding feeling about that particular wound.
It's the mark of a drago's fang, he's sure, even though he hardly recalls ever learning what that creature even is. The same type of fang that once pierced the heart of that kind-faced woman he envisioned before. That woman… Hinawa…
Despite the sudden ache in his head – a human thing, for sure, but perhaps too human for him – and the unfamiliar feeling in his throat, something like choking and burning at once that makes his good eye become wet, he doesn't resist the revelation. Hinawa… kind-hearted, gentle Hinawa is dead, and what killed her needed to taste the same end.
Claus looks up at him with a piercing green gaze, wide-eyed, and the commander wonders whether he's realizing something as well.
His own eyes wander in confusion before noticing a new mark on Claus' arm, one that he's sure wasn't always there, and yet he knows exactly what it is: the red line in which a pig-masked soldier placed his enormous scissors and cut the limb in two, before connecting the split nerves to a cannon, a small improvement that would make the boy a living weapon.
He scrambles away and squeezes his eyes shut, trying to escape the image of Claus lying on the operating table, trashing against the soldier's hold – even though pressing his hand to his eyelids makes it disappear, the weight of his cannon arm is too effective as a reminder, so he simply remains still and prays for it to go away.
When he finally dares to look, he's completely alone.
"Marcus, could you look at this?"
"Sure. What about it?"
"I got it from the commander's memory stick."
"Well, I don't see much. It's just a name."
"Yes. Over and over. So, does the name 'Claus' say anything to you?"
"Well, does it?"
"No... not really. Sorry."
It'll be over soon.
He unplugs himself from the machine, detaching the main cable from the back of his neck in a single motion, finally feeling the sense of purpose in the action. He connects his cannon to a cylindrical device on the small of his back; somebody has warned him to do that before engaging on a long mission, even if a precaution like that seems pointless.
And indeed, it does. None of it will last long enough.
Despite this knowledge, despite his programming and despite his errors, that makes him feel excited.
There are no soldiers or medics around him now, not a single presence but his own in the entire base, every other unit already deployed to the capital. Not even all of them, he knows, can stop Lucas from reaching the king. It'll be his turn soon, and then it'll be over.
But there are more important things for him to see, things far bigger than his purpose, his power or his position.
With a rush and insistent sense of self-awareness his every step, he leaves the laboratory room. He walks down the hallway quickly, passing familiar door after familiar door; despite the fact that he won't see any of those rooms again, he has little interest in them.
By the time he reaches the stairs to the lower floors, he has already broken into a run. He descends the stairs hurriedly, jumping over the last four steps and bolting to his left as soon as he lands to descend the next staircase. Once at its bottom, he finds himself standing before a long hallway of doors that look all the same: it's the soldiers' quarters, extending across the entire floor.
He slows down, telling himself to think. The soldiers aren't allowed an excessive amount of belongings. Few of them must have brought what he needs. He has to chose caefully if he's to find it before leaving.
He proceeds down the unfamiliar hallway, passing a few doors; he'd surely have to search in a high-ranking soldiers room, considering they were allowed more unnecessary, vain things. With this in mind, he picks up his pace again and runs to the last door he sees, a sturdy-looking, metallic one that still gives away easily after a single, precise shot to its hinges.
The first thing that catches his eye is a small desk with four drawers; it takes him no longer than five seconds to empty their contents on the floor, where he stares at them in distaste. There's nothing of use in there, or in the dresser in a corner of the room, or in the cramped, adjacent bathroom. He only finds what he's been looking for when he heads for the trashed room's exit: there, right by the door, lies a tall mirror with some sort of fabric draped over it, blocking the view of most of its surface.
He lets out a breath. It'll all be over soon.
First, he removes his helmet with an eager hand, throwing it aside. The room's temperature feels cold against his face now, and his hair soon falls before his eyes. Brushing it out of his view, he then reaches for the unclean white fabric and grasps it tightly.
The base is all too silent, almost expectant.
"What if he's remembering? What then?"
"He can't be!"
He pulls it away in a single movement, a foreign sensation suddenly filling his chest.
"I know that. Nothing can be regained after death. I know!"
"Then what the--? ...wait... Marcus! He wasn't... was he?"
Brown hair, green eyes, slightly tanned skin, soft features; Claus stares back at him from the other side of the mirror.
Tentatively, he raises his hand and reaches forward until his fingertips meet the mirror's surface. Claus does exactly the same.
"There's a possibility... he could've been..."
He unzips his uniform with a trembling hand, leaving it halfway off his shoulder before pulling his undershirt up to his neck. Again, his reflection does the same – both of them reveal a vertical scar on their chests.
He's the Pigmasks' commander, he's certain. It may not be a real identity – he may not have had one – but it's what he is.
Who he is, however, is Claus. His name is Claus. He is Claus.
This is sorta old; I wrote it back in February for a friend (talk about an, uh, interesting v-day gift), inspired by a buncha drawings of hers. Some things are different now... aside from said friend becomin' a lover, oho. I've done a few adjustments to pairing dynamics and made some edits here, but I still like this a whole lot.
Interesting, ain't it?! I'm still debating whether to turn this into a comic, or just draw some parts and start something else.
-Yes, the commander IS an evil character, but I tried to give him human motivations. Buuuut since he's still evil, things were bound to take a wrong turn somewhere.
-Claus is scared, confused, exhausted, and any type of affection at this point has a big effect on him.
-'Medic' is a pretty loose term in an army like that.
-Claus 'died' before the start of this story. He's just clinging very, very hard.
-He died full of fear, anger and frustration, so those emotions trigger his memory later.
-The timeskips between scenes vary a lot.
-Elsewhere equals limbo.
-Contact and closeness feels so right (addictive?) because they are halves of the same person, it feels better for both of them to be together.
-I could go on forever. I put a lot of thought and relations and stuff in this. Draw your own conclusions. 3