The first few weeks were easy. Everything came down to sex. They didn't care where they were, how tired they felt or how their bones ached. The desperate need to satisfy that lust, to feel alive for as long as possible, that was all that mattered.
The first time was hurried and needy. Their stolen moments that were always snatched from them at Shadow Moses had lead to the greedy hands and lips trailing each others skin. They were barely undressed when they found their way to each other, all too aware that they had little time until they had to keep on running.
It was over all too soon. Their need forgotten as they fled, worked out their new lives and identities. The second time was just as needy, but in no way hurried. In a darkened room on a soft double bed Snake had carefully peeled the clothes from Meryl's body and kissed his way across her skin. Hands that had grabbed and clawed at her flesh before now gently stroked the wounds and bruises she'd suffered. The sun was rising when they finally slept.
It was almost a week when the first nightmare came to her. Meryl slept with Snake's arm circling her waist, the weight of it registering in her sleep as a chain. A chain that kept her pinned to a creaky hospital bed in a bright white room. She twisted in her sleep, fighting against the chain. Snake grunted and mumbled at the disturbance, his voice reaching Meryl in her foggy dream world. She called out for him, saw a figure appear against the white wall. A man... a man with long, ragged hair... blonde hair. He was angry, cursing her, cursing him. A fist came down beside her head and tore the pillow from beneath her. The whiteness disappeared as that pillow was held over her face. She couldn't breathe properly. Her lungs were aching, her body too tired or drugged too fight – she wasn't sure which.
It's always Him. Who decides that he gets to have everything, the glory of war, the love of a woman he doesn't deserve...
Meryl blinked as light flooded back. She could breathe. She gulped in air as her attacker loomed over her.
But today is that day he gets neither...
The pillow was tossed aside as his fist gripped her jaw, nails digging at her pale skin.
I'm not going to kill you... I'm going to break you and leave him the hollow shell of the woman he wants to love...
Snake was woken by her scream, and almost knocked out by the hand that hit his temple. He spent the night watching over Meryl trying to pretend she was asleep. She was afraid, afraid of going back into that white room...
Unable to stand the crawling of her skin every time she shut her eyes she spent each night trying desperately to forget. Snake tried to help. He didn't question why she'd wake up in the night and crawl on top of him. When she crushed his mouth with hers and threw their clothes from reach he gave her the distraction she begged for. He didn't question the desire that never seemed satisfied, he too understood the need to keep demons at bay by any and all means.
It was a month until he found the courage to ask about her nightmares. They were sat at a perfectly ordinary kitchen table, living their perfectly ordinary lie. To discuss their previous lives seemed unnatural, forbidden. But the sickening taunts in his own mind had driven him here. He needed to know... he couldn't stand another night of wondering what made her cry out in horror.
Five words. Five words brought such terror and shame to her eyes.
"What is the White Room?"
His question was answered with anger. Meryl rose from the table, sending her chair flying across the floor with a loud bang. She didn't want to talk about it, it didn't matter any more.
Snake let her pass by, keeping his eyes fixed on the fallen chair. Her footsteps disappeared in the house and he heard the sound of the shower being turned on. Rising from his own seat he picked up Meryl's discarded chair and placed it back at the table. There, he thought to himself, back to normal.
The incident went unspoken about for several days. The tension between them mounted to such a degree that Snake found himself making any excuse he could to leave the house they were sharing. If she didn't want to talk he wasn't going to force her, but he couldn't stand to watch her torturing herself. She thought he didn't see the looks on her face when he caught her staring at him. The smiles and laughs they'd shared before were few and far between now. As he wandered the darkening streets he wondered if they were doing the right thing. Had he made the right call?
He returned a few hours later to find Meryl sat in the middle of the living room, her head resting on her knees. The room had been turned upside down and he instinctively searched for an intruder. But there was no sign of any other life in their home, only Meryl, who had lifted her head to look at him with glazed, red eyes.
What had happened, he demanded to know. Had someone found them, broken in?
Meryl shook her head and then groaned loudly, holding her temples. Snake knelt beside her and suddenly understood. The smell of alcohol hit him hard. He frowned. Meryl didn't drink, said she couldn't stand the taste nor the smell and especially the way it made you lose control.
He placed a hand on her shoulder only for her to pull away, turning her face away in shame. She had just wanted to forget for a little while, she told him. To feel numb for once, instead of the constant onslaught of feelings she didn't want. He'd stopped touching her, she pointed out. Stopped holding her at night, stopped brushing up against her when they passed. He was pulling away from her, leaving her behind again.
Snake half-heartedly protested. He hadn't meant to make her feel that way... he just didn't know how to help her. She wouldn't talk to him.
Meryl looked up at his defeated face. He was right, she told him. Everything he said... when he was hurting her...
Snake looked away and Meryl felt the shame flood over her. It prickled and burned at her skin as that name fell from her lips.
She was weak, and stupid and just another silly girl in love with being in love. She was waiting to be saved from her mediocre life, to ride on the back of someone else's strength and glory. She thought it would make her worthy and give her wretched life back some semblance of meaning. The memory of fingers wrapped around her throat made her choke, her arms and legs convulsed at the memory of Liquid's hands pressing on her wounds, squeezing her blood from them and smearing it over his own face.
This is his face too, he told her, holding his hands for her to see. The red of her blood stood out starkly in the brightness of the room. Your blood on his hands, on him. You're adding to his suffering, don't you see?
Meryl woke up the next morning with a head too sore to lift. She turned her face into the pillow and frowned. It smelt... different. Unfamiliar. Opening one eye she cautiously peered around the room. Even through the closed curtains light shone on the softly painted walls. A soothing blue... their room had not been blue before.
She sat up and felt her head swim. The bed, with its thick duvet and cushions scattered about her, tilted dangerously side to side. She couldn't remember where she was, how she'd gotten there. Not until a door opened and in walked a man she hadn't expected to see.
Roy Campbell looked down at the woman in her old bed. Did she recognise the room she used to stay in as a child, before the horror of war had stripped away the innocent gleam in her eyes?
Realisation slowly dawned on her.
"Where is he?"
Campbell calmly crossed the room. She noticed a bottle in his hand, a glass of water in the other.
"Take these." he told her, life a father would tell his sick child, "The doctor said they'd make you feel better soon..."
Meryl took the pill he held out to her without question. Hopefully it would ease her sore head.
"Where is Snake?" she asked again.
Campbell fought the need to rub his tired eyes. Every morning the same question, it was like she was caught in a loop of denial. He knew how this would go, he would explain that Snake had gone. Disappeared without a trace after bringing her to him. Usually Meryl would grow confused, he'd watch her weep, drowned in her own self pity. But sometimes, like this morning, she would scream in anger. Cursing everything, everyone. The doctor recommended she take the pills as soon as she woke to keep her calm. One day soon she'd wake and be able to remember by herself.
Snake had appeared one day on his doorstep. His hair matted against his head as he tried to cover the woman clinging to his side from the heavy rain. Roy had hurried them inside, found them towels and boiled strong coffee. They both looked like hell. Meryl didn't even seem to know where she was.
Snake explained that she'd stopped making sense a few days ago. She didn't eat or sleep. He'd had to force feed her at one point, had to hold her in the shower. She kept telling him there was blood on his face.
Roy watched as Snake carried his daughter, one he'd never claimed as his own, up the stairs of his home and into her old room. He felt like an intruder as Snake gently eased Meryl's fingers from her grip and waited patiently for her to relax enough to let him go. Their conversation was whispered in the hallway outside her room.
There was nothing Snake could do. He seemed to make her hallucinations worse. His eyes gave away his exhaustion. He too hadn't slept, not since the night he'd woken to find her stood at his bedside with a knife in her hand.
"I just can't do this any more..." he confessed, his ragged face filling with guilt. "It's my fault... I shouldn't have put her in danger like I did..."
Roy tried to comfort the man. War created victims, suffering... insanity. Snake was not responsible for every victim.
"But I was responsible for her... I knew she was in pain, I didn't want to know why. I was afraid to hear what she'd been through..."
Roy promised he would get her the help Snake couldn't. On one condition.
Snake sat alone at the table of a dark New York apartment. Otacon was watching some rubbish on his lap top while he rifled through a bunch of papers. They were filled with both facts and fictions of his last mission, the only thing missing was a name. One he never uttered and Otacon knew not to mention.
It had been a long time... a long time with nothing to do, no one to fight against. Snake picked up the bottle of brown liquid from the table and re-filled his empty glass. The drink went down smoothly, as did the next... and the next. It was Otacon who had to lift his head from the table and remove the papers from beneath Snake's drooling mouth. He didn't like it when Snake drank. It made his grumpy and unpredictable at times. Tonight he was glad Snake had drunk himself unconscious as the familiar beep of Otacon's codec rang in his ear.
"Hal." the voice said. In his mind Otacon could see the image of Roy Campbell clear as day. "Any developments?"
Otacon threw himself onto the sofa, safe in the knowledge that a bomb probably wouldn't wake Snake tonight.
"No... sir. Erm, there've been a few rumours, nothing that's played out or worth following. We're still waiting for Ocelot to resurface."
"Hm." Campbell grunted. "And how is..."
Otacon glanced at Snake. "He's... okay."
The silence was awkward, even in his own head. "I think he's moved on now." Otacon mumbled.
Campbell nodded and made a sound of approval. "Good."
"Can't I at least let him know how Meryl is?"
"No." was the blunt reply.
"But he'd be glad to know she's better now... it might even help him..."
"I told him no more contact. Ever. He is not a part of Meryl's life now, and she is not part of his."
"Isn't that a little harsh?"
"Go back to what you do best Hal."
The connection was ended, leaving Otacon with a strange empty sensation in the back of his head. Otacon looked at the man slumped over his make shift bed before pulling of his glasses to run his eyes. He closed his lap top and decided to call it a night too. As he passed Snake's sleeping figure he heard him mumble a name.
Otacon pressed a reassuring hand on the man's shoulder. "He's gone Snake. You killed him."
Otacon bit his lip. He'd promised not to say anything. If Snake found out he'd been hacking Meryl's medical information he'd be pissed.
"She's... gone too Snake."
An eye slowly cracked open. Otacon withdrew his hand.
"I left her... left her behind again."
Otacon didn't say anything for a moment. Eventually he nodded. "You had to. To protect her."
The eyes closed, but not before Otacon caught the pain hidden there. "No... I ran away."
Otacon didn't know what to say. Not that it mattered. A loud snore filled the room, followed by a grunt and a curse. Otacon wandered into his own room, switching on the light as he closed the door. He caught sight of himself in the mirror and grimaced. Stripping down to the bare minimum he crawled into bed and closed his eyes. His own ghosts floated about him, those of people he too had lost. But he wondered, as he thought of the dead, how much worse it must be to know that the person you loved was still within reach, not gone and buried in the ground. Perhaps... he thought... perhaps he had gotten off easy so far. The dead you could move on from. The living... they were the real ghosts. Gone... but still there, just out of reach.
A/N: Disclaimer: I own nothing. I couldn't think of a title so I named this after a song by Maurissa Tancharoen.