what_we_dream: (MGS Snake)
[personal profile] what_we_dream
Title: Regress to the Mean
Series: MGS (post MGS2)
Pairing Snake/Otacon
Rating: G
Notes: There are 250 entries on this journal. WTF self. (Also, this seemed longer in Word. x.x)

Summary: You don't bounce back from tragedy overnight. If you're lucky, you don't have to do it alone.


Hal comes back late, but not that late. The ground is still frosty at night this early in the spring, the fields thick with hardened mud, and the air holds the lingering smell of winter. The heavy boots he’s borrowed thump on the old porch, too big for his feet even with an extra pair of socks. He doesn’t bother to knock, just lets himself in.

The old farmhouse is the only building for miles here in upstate New York. The ancient wood has warped with the seasons, so that in the daytime you can see sunlight through the cracks and at night the wind whistles in. They wear coats and gloves in the house, and block the windows up with black-out cloth. The portable generator can only run one thing at a time, so they cook over the wooden stove by the orange light of the flames and watch television from the negligible comfort of a rotten wicker couch.

The fire is settling down for the night, finished cracking and now just whispering and sighing to itself. It throws a soft light on the scarred wooden floor, which blends with the sharp neon hues cast by the now-mute TV. David smokes with naked hands, and listens to the wind slice itself into the house to rustle the papers Hal has left on the kitchen table.

“I’m back,” says Hal unnecessarily, yanking his feet out forcefully of the boots by jamming one toe into the wall and the other into the boot heel, hands still in his pockets. He walks for hours at night, under the cut-glass stars. David doesn’t need to ask to know what he’s thinking about. He pads over on double-socked feet to sit down beside David; he radiates cold like a deep-sea fish, its blood as frigid as the depths. “Put that out.”

David obliges, crushing the butt out on the sliced-out bottom of a beer can, his makeshift ashtray. Hal pulls his feet up under him, sitting close and contained. In his glasses, David can see the TV reflected, a tiny microcosm of a tiny microcosm of the world.

“You shouldn’t go out at night,” says David, turning to watch a crying woman being interviewed by a slightly-crooked camera. It’s like complaining about taxes – it won’t change anything, but it has to be done.

Hal doesn’t look at him. “You shouldn’t smoke. Let’s just accept them as temporary stupidities and move on.”

They watch the television in silence for several minutes. The volume does work, but some problem with the speakers makes everything very sibilant, resulting in a constant hissing sound in the background that rockets to a ear-piercing whistle when S’s are pronounced. The picture shifts from interviews to footage of the wreckage in New York caused by the crashing of Arsenal Gear and Raiden’s subsequent battle with Solidus. Photos of the former President fighting a young man with a katana while wearing a pair of robotic tentacles are conspicuously absent.

“Kind of makes you wonder how many people the Patriots had to make disappear to keep the story quiet,” says Hal, as a reported appears to point out various points of interest in the destruction.

“Fewer than you think, probably. Threats and cold cash freeze a lot of tongues. The kid should have brought the body, though.”

“Why – do you think he survived?”

“No. He’s remembered who he was – and your instincts don’t forget, anyway. He knows a dead man when he sees one.” David taps a cigarette out of the packet, and then pushes it back in again. “We – Big Boss, Liquid, me – seem to be almost as useful dead as alive. I doubt Solidus’ll be any different. It’s not a card I’d want in their hands. We should have burned him when we had the chance.” Liquid’s pyre sparked like a summer firework, trying to spread the flames far and wide.

Hal shrugs, movement mostly lost in the depths of his wool coat. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe there’s nothing we can do to stop them. Not from brainwashing people, at least.”

David glances at him, then back at the television. After a minute, he rises from the couch to step over the stove. There’s an old heavy kettle sitting beside it, along with some terrible instant coffee. He puts the kettle on the stove, and spoons out two cups.

“You ever think that I could end up like them one of these days?”

“The Patriots?” The confusion is evident in Hal’s voice.

“Big Boss, Liquid, Solidus. Running around with no shirt on and a pair of robotic tentacles on my back trying to take over the world, or just burn a swathe right across it. Maybe sooner or later I’ll end up regressing to the mean.”

The kettle’s still warm from the last round of coffee he made; without much water left in it it starts bubbling almost immediately. He lifts it and pours out, and then picks up one of the half-clean spoons from the chair set beside the stove to serve the purpose of kitchen top and stirs them. When Hal doesn’t answer he looks around, and finds that the engineer is staring at him over the back of the couch.

“That’s ridiculous, David. You’re nothing like them.”

“Big Boss was just a keen soldier who followed orders and saved the world, until he went rogue and tried to destroy it. Twice.”

“But –”

“Solidus ran the country like a sane enough man – except for his environmental policy – before he tried to start World War Three.”

“That’s –”

“And let’s just not talk about Liquid.” He hands Hal the coffee; Hal takes it without looking, doesn’t even make a face at it.

“David, they didn’t suddenly snap and start laughing maniacally, they –”

“Were warped slowly by circumstance? Yeah, I’m definitely safe from that. Absolutely no skeletons in the closet.” Finished stirring his own coffee, he puts the spoon back on the chair and steps around to take a seat on his side of the couch. Hal swivels to face him, looking irritated in the TV’s bright light.

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. Besides, even if you set the mean as crazy would-be genocide – which makes no sense anyway – you have as much chance to derivate from it as to regress. It just means in an equal world you have as much chance to drift towards crazy would-be genocide as away from it.”

“Hal –”

“And besides, that makes no sense, because really you should set either 0 or 100 as crazy would-be genocide –”

“I think you’re being a bit literal –“

“And, even then, you still have an even chance to drift in the opposite direction. Given where the others ended up, much more than an even chance,” finishes Hal, fiercely. Some colour has come back into his pale cheeks, and his eyes are glinting behind his glasses.

David smiles. “You don’t believe in genetic destiny?”

Hal smiles back. “I believe in hereditary diseases, but not hereditary trying to destroy the world with a giant walking tank. Call me close-minded.”

“No, I think you’re safe from that.” David kicks out at the TV with a toe; the silent film reel of their failure shuts off. They sit in the comparative darkness, listening to the fire hissing to itself. David takes a sip of coffee, and finds it just as terrible as he knew it would be. Beside him, Hal leans up against his arm and rests his head on David’s shoulder.

“You know what regression to the mean really is, don’t you?” he asks, quietly.

“Yep.”

“You just said that to provoke me.”

“Uh huh.” David takes another sip; if he drinks enough of it while it’s hot it will temporarily scorch his taste buds.

“You’re not really afraid of going over to the dark side.”

“Not really, no. I don’t think you can go to bed sane and wake up bat-shit crazy, and I know you can’t go to bed in jeans and a sweater and wake up thinking a moulded-metal body suit with robotic tentacles would be a good idea.”

The wind whistles softly in the rotting wood; David feels its cool breath on his cheek. Hal is radiating heat now, warm-blooded and somehow much more present. He sighs and unfolds his legs to stretch out beside David’s.

“A bit of melancholy isn’t going to kill me, you know. You can just ignore me.”

“Shut up and drink your coffee before it cools down.”

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