AN: Warning! This story contains minor instances of self harm. It is not graphic, but can be triggering to some.
The Player was quite...different than he'd imagined. Assigned to them as little more than a puppet, he' expected them to be tall, powerful, intimidating. He imagined a commanding voice, an unwavering stare. In truth...they were a head shorter than him when they were standing up straight, which more often than not, they were slouched. Every noise they made was quiet, and eye contact was never held for more than a few seconds at a time. He'd been disappointed at first, had frowned at their rather pathetic introduction. "H-hi. It's, ah, nice to...to meet you."
It didn't take too long before his worries were dispelled, however. They learned rather quickly, solved the puzzles within only a few minutes, and never once did they allow him or any of the Add-ons to die. The pack was filled with jokers they'd found, kept only for the emergency he expected would never come.
The first zone was near it's end, only the guardians defeat remained. It was around this time the Player decided that they would rest. He would have rather kept going, but he was only the puppet. What they did, however, could hardly be called rest. They sat down, curled in on themselves, rocking back and fourth. A thumb nail clenched between their teeth, biting it over and over until they'd reached the quick. Once continuing would only result in pain, they switched to a finger.
He watched silently, seated beside them on the bench. His patience didn't last forever, however, after ten minutes he addressed them, "What are you doing?"
They looked up, perplexed, "What do you mean?"
"You're ripping your nails off."
"Am I?" they looked down, as if they hadn't even realized what they'd been doing, "I'm sorry."
"You're using more energy fidgeting than you would be if you were aiding me in my mission." he completely ignored them as they murmured another unnecessary apology and stood, bat in hand. He waited a beat for them to get the message, and started off toward the soon to be battleground.
They made a noise of protest, though it was quiet. Something they hadn't meant for him to hear, he supposed. Footsteps followed him, the puppeteer hurrying to keep up. Good, he couldn't have gone far without them, anyway.
The next zone came, and he found another oddity in the Player. They were almost constantly touching their hair, fingers running over their scalp almost obsessively. It wasn't until they were about to fight the avian in feline clothing that he noticed they were't just touching. They were scratching.
This time, he didn't comment, it wasn't vital to his mission. Still though, seeing the Player cause themselves damage, no matter how small, was simply unnerving.
The bird spread it's wings, the torn and broken body of what had once been a cat hung helplessly around it's long neck. Over and over he attacked at their command, weakening the already dying creature. With a final scream, the bird was purified. The Judge stared sadly at the fading body, his mourning cut short when the three of them were transported out.
The hushed whispers of the nothingness around them, he turned to the Player, and he saw blood leaking from their mouth. If they noticed, they didn't care, their fingers pressed firmly to their lips to allow their teeth easy access.
"What are you doing?" he asked, the surprise distorting his voice, making it sound angrier than he'd intended. He knew this the moment they flinched, gaze instantly lowered to the shadowed ground, their arms lowered to cross protectively over their chest. As if he could ever be even the slightest bit of threat to them.
They murmured something intelligible, the words fading into nonexistence. He gave an aggravated sigh and approached, meaning to examine the wound. Except when he drew close, they flinched away from him, retreating onto the circular mark that led to the first zone. There was a flair of light, and they found themselves in the emptiness of a purified land.
The silence was absolute, nearly tangible after the noise in the nothingness. Their eyes were wide as they took a step away, "What happened...?"
He cut them off with a hand at their shoulder. Putting down the bat placed so it leaned against his leg, he wrapped his fingers firmly around their chin and forced them to angle their head back. The skin on both lips had been stripped down to the flesh, leaving open wounds that drained into and out their mouth. Their body was clenched in his hold, a light tremor running through them that he wasn't completely sure he really felt.
"That's what I want to know. 'What happened?'"
They closed their eyes when he pressed his forehead against theirs, trying to force them to meet his gaze. "Look at me." he nearly growled the order. They only whimpered in response, soft and fearful, prompting him to lower his voice. "Look at me, Player."
He felt a shift in their stance, their body leaning away from his. Understanding, he let go, allowing them to back away to a more comfortable distance. Such a comfortable distance that they were on opposite ends of the fenced in area, the red block hovering between them. He waited expectantly, looking up at them under the rim of his cap.
"I...I do that sometimes...when I'm nervous."
"I do not enjoy seeing the Player injured. I need you."
"It's not that big of a deal."
"You are bleeding."
"It'll heal in less than a week."
"That's not the point. Stop it."
"Stop it. We have a mission to carry out."
For several long hours they wandered through both the purified zones. Only a scared, lonely elsen remained. They fawned over it, tried to comfort the creature with words and touch, but it couldn't feel them. "Few have the ability to be aware of you." he remarked, rolling his eyes as they tried for what must have been the fourth or fifth time they failed to rub the elsens back.
"C-can you do something?"
"I can purify it."
"Then there's nothing I can do."
They were on the verge of tears when he finally managed to pull them away from the sobbing elson. Why would the Player care, anyway? The creature was only a npc, of no importance to the plot or anything else, for that matter.
They had, a least, gotten all needed items from the two zones. They need not return, his mission was one step closer to it's end. He walked ahead of them, looking to go back to the red block. In the noiseless world, he heard the sound of nails against hair and flesh. He turned to glare at them, "I told you to stop it."
"B-but I'm not-"
"Stop injuring yourself."
"I'm not injuring anything."
"Really?" he stalked toward them to none so gently grab at their head. There was a quick intake of breath, a momentary panic that likely pulled more than a few hairs out. Keeping them in place, he lowered his head to their hair to search past the ruffled mess. "Your scalp is red. I see several areas where you've almost burrowed through skin. You've scratched yourself raw."
He let them go, watching as they staggered back to look up at him, "I'm fine."
"If you get an infection from that-"
Anger? The Player was angry with him. He found himself growling back at them, "If you get an infection from that, the mission will be put in jeopardy."
"...fine...I'm sorry. I won't do it again." they had their arms folded over their chest again, head lowered. Submissive, weak. He scowled at them.
The majority of the third zone came and went without incident. The Player clearly mourned the death of the elsen, avoided fighting them whenever possible. The battle with the one burnt on the monorail had them in tears again, to the point he was hitting his foe with every ounce of strength he had just to get them to shut up. Then came the first battle with the lardass.
It was simple enough, all they had to do was flee. Unfortunately, the Player just stared at the fight, fidgeting. Several times, he told them that the cowards way out was the only chance for survival, but they did nothing but stand there while his hp, and the Add-ons, were lowered to dangerous levels. "We're going to die, Player."
"I-I don't- I can't- flee is all grayed out..."
Really? That was the problem? It was right in front of their face and they couldn't even see it? "I have my own flee option. Below objects."
Finally, they ran from battle. There was a rush of relief, the hp automatically refilling in place of a red block. It was only a simple matter of making their escape back to the front of the building. There were walls that served as obstacles, but the Player had thus far proved confident when presented with puzzles. Except...this time, they ran into ever single wall they came across.
After suffering through the tenth needless confrontation with the man, the Batter physically grabbed the Players arm and dragged them in the right direction. Finally, after taking far longer than it should have, the both of them managed to get away from the massive brute.
"What-?" he started, unable to form the rest of the sentence a they fell to their knees. Instantly on edge, he followed, his hand moving from their arm to their shoulder, "Player?"
For the first time since the start of the purification, he gave them his full attention. Their breath came in shallow gasps, their eyes were glazed, cast downward, "Player?" he asked again as he lay his bat flat on the ground, moving the freed hand to touch their face.
They jerked violently, the glass shattered in their gaze as they looked up at him, then back down at the ground. Their shoulders slumped, their head lowered, a desperate effort to make themselves even smaller than he was, "I-I'm sorry! I'm sorry, I didn't see it there, I'm sorry! I was looking everywhere, I didn't-I'm sorry-I tried, I..."
He knelt there, frozen, unsure how to respond as the Player began to convulse, their words dissolving to meaningless half sounds. He felt something hit the fabric of his pants several times, became aware of a warm wetness as their tears seeped through. He pulled back the hand that had been hanging uselessly in the air, only to extend it again to rest awkwardly against their other shoulder.
All at once, his hands fell through empty air, their form faded from his vision. They'd simply disappeared...but he remained where he was, his surroundings still a bright and ugly green. The computer was on, the game was up, the Player had walked away.
Unable to do anything without his puppeteer, he stood, leaned against the closest wall, and waited. Where had they gone? Would they return to him when they got back, or would they turn everything off? If they stopped now, they would have to start all the way back at the floating block. They couldn't do that, not after all this time wasted already.
Would they be back at all? What if they just quit the game altogether?
"Player?" he called out, though he spoke quietly. He shook his head. It was in their hands, nothing he cold do would change their mind if they decided to drop him.
Yet, as the seconds ticked by, he found himself pacing back and fourth, a few tiles at a time. It wasn't long before he called out again, "Player!"
They had to come back. They had to, they couldn't just abandon him, not when they were more than halfway through the game. They'd want to see the end, wouldn't they? They'd already invested time in him, they wouldn't just throw that away. Who would go through half a story and then quit?
The Player had to come back. His Player had to come back.
A third time he spoke their name without response. He cursed to himself, his had tightening on the bat before he swung it into the wall, anything to release the tension he felt. The blow tore through the memo pasted to it and cracked the green surface underneath.
It wasn't enough, but he forced himself not to hit anything else. What if they came back to find him breaking down the wall? They were already upset enough, he didn't need them to return only to find him mindlessly beating an inanimate object. He went back to pacing the floor, his bat left on the floor to avoid temptation. How long were they going to leave the game running? How soon until word went black, the game over before it could properly end?
"...Batter?" he nearly fell as he whorled around mid-step to face them. Their head was lowered, arms folded over their chest, a closed and defensive stance.
"You're back." he impressed himself by keeping his voice even.
"Y-yeah. Sorry. Um, we should go. I ah, assume we have to fight that guy again?"
"Are you alright?" he asked as he moved closer to circle them, searching for any sign of fresh trauma.
"I'm fine. C-come on, we need to go this way, right?"
Without waiting for an answer, they started down the hall, giving him no other choice than to follow.
The boss fight was spent giving his Player much more attention than he was giving the enemy. As such, he only did about half damage, making the battle last much longer than it should have. They made sure to keep his health up, kept all the fighters pure. They watched him without blinking, their fingers at their mouth. By then, all their nails were too short to chew on, so they tore at the cuticles instead. He itched to make them stop, but he couldn't exactly distance himself from the lardass in front of him.
The giant's neck couldn't take the strain, the head falling to the ground with a fleshy smack. He stood there, keeping his back to his Player as the business man spoke his final words. If they hadn't gone to the purified zones first, the knowledge that all was going to fall into nothingness might have been surprising. Despite this, he was worried about the effect being told so directly was going to have on them.
Neither of them said anything until they were back in the nothingness, and even then, it was his Player who spoke first. "We killed everyone."
"Purified." he corrected, though there wasn't much point in arguing the difference.
"We...we aren't the good guys, are we?"
"...we have to go back to zone three."
They went through the empty area once more. It took some time, they'd gotten him very stuck in the white room, but after what felt like a full hour of searching they'd uncovered the final element.
The only place left to go was the room. His Player looked exhausted, how long had they bee going at this? They'd only taken one break, and he doubted the'd even gotten the slightest bit of rest. "You seem tired." he remarked, trying to make it seem as offhanded a comment as possible.
Of course. They were fine. They were always fine, except that they weren't. He knew they weren't, and they were going to be even less fine once they got to the end.
Bit by bit they inched through the level. Went through the puzzles without too much trouble, they were quite impressed by the giant elsen. Upon seeing it, they'd looked at him and asked in a painfully deadpan voice, "Do we have to kill him?"
When he said no, he saw them smile for the first time in a long while. For what he expected to be the last time. They then approached the elsen and attempted to...'cuddle' he supposed he could call it. He frowned slightly, realizing that they probably liked the elsen more than they liked him. Sighing, he retreated, allowing them this moment of softness. It wasn't going to be much longer before they faced the cruelest moments, not much longer before they were offered the choice.
His wife was as beautiful as he remembered. Her voice as soft and gentle as ever, despite the harsh words she now spoke. He felt a pang in his chest when he heard them gasp, a moment of guilt as they realized exactly where this was going. The Queen fell, just as the others had, and again he found his Player nearly hyperventilating. He tied to comfort them with a hand on their shoulder, but they cringed at his touch. Surely he frightened them now...
When they'd gained control of themselves again, they led him further to the end, the nervous habits of theirs only becoming more apparent. Their clawed at their scalp, to the point he was surprised they hadn't pulled large areas of hair out. "Stop." he said, though by this point there was no volume to the command.
They entered the blood red room, the battle with his son triggered after a horrid cough. Hugo was worse than he remembered, but then that was to be expected, after the Queen had neglected him so, unintentional as it was. The boy only defended, never attacked, which he knew only made everything so much worse.
It was over. His Player seemed to take this purification so much better than they had his wife's, but then again, the'd been expecting this one. The room went white, and they proceeded to the switch.
He felt them jump when the cat came to stop them. He didn't even look, didn't want to see their face when the were accused of murder for helping them, didn't want to watched as they chose the Judge over him after they'd fought for so long together.
The Judge made his plea, and he made his own. Then there was only silence. "W-where did they...?"
They'd left the game running again. It took just as long as it had last time when they'd fled, leaving him and the cat to wait in silence for them. He waited for the transformation, for the claws and teeth and fear he would undoubtedly cause.
He started, turning to face them at his name. They stared at the ground, not looking at either of them. "Why?" he whispered, the one word the only sound in the room. Judge was even silent, having been expecting the same thing he had.
They shook their head, "I pick the Batter."
The cat fell within the minute.
When the battle ended, they approached the switch on their own, without him. He inched to their back quietly, though his shadow gave away him away. "S-so, we...we flip this, and...that's it."
"Yes." he played with one end of his bat, the weapon soaked in the blood of every living thing in their world.
"T-the switch is, ah, 'OFF', yeah?. Creative..." they placed their hand on it, though they wouldn't be able to flip it themselves.
"Are you okay?"
"Player...why did you pick me?"
"...you're my Batter."
"I hurt you."
"You didn't do it...I...I have..."
A shudder, they were going to cry again. He hesitated, but couldn't stop himself from placing a hand at their back, rubbing along their spine. Again, just as every other time, they tensed under him. Not knowing what else to do, he recoiled, and repeated his apology.
A soft noise. A sob. He felt for a moment that they were going to leave again, but then they tuned, gaze adverted as always, and they...they hugged him.
He wrapped his arms around their smaller frame, held them while they tried remove all the liquid from their body through their tears. "It's okay..." he whispered, even though it was far from being true.
He quickly moved to wipe at their eyes when they pulled away before they were done, not that it did much good as they wouldn't stop crying. "I-I'm sorry I just-I..." they looked at the switch and back to him. Their gaze met, and he felt his chest tighten at the hurt he saw, "Will...i-if I play again- will...will you still be you? Th-the same Batter?"
"And...and everyone else?"
He nodded, fingers running over their cheeks, "Yes, we'll all be here. We'll be scripted, though. We'll have to do the same things over again."
They grabbed at his hand, stilling the movement to press his palm into their forehead. A strange move, but not one he was about to object. "I...I think I need...I need to sleep."
"You do...you should...make me pull the switch...there are no more blocks here..."
"Y-yes..." they looked at it for a moment, and with a shaking hand, reached out again for it. He felt them prompt him, found himself grabbing it over their own shaking flesh.
A deep breath, and suddenly he was alone, in the dark.