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May Your Past Be the Sound of Your Feet Upon the Ground

Chapter Text

Ocelot came to a decision.

He’d initially thought that Liquid’s hatred of his biological father would only prove to be a liability (the ultimate liability, really, as far as Ocelot was concerned), but after a few years at FOXHOUND and a lot of careful observation - very much to Mantis’ irritation - he’d decided that all things considered, it was workable. Well, as long as Ocelot didn’t immediately mention the fact that Big Boss was still, technically, alive. But he could talk around that.

So he and Liquid had a little chat. About Cipher. About the Patriots.

It… was interesting.

“What?” Liquid said, eyes wide, brow furrowed.

“It’s a simple yes or no question, boss,” Ocelot said. “Are you in or not?”

“I… well, in theory, yes, but what-?

Ocelot raised an eyebrow. “Do you believe me?”

“It makes sense as far as everything else I know goes, but—“

“But what?”

“What- brought this on, Ocelot?”

“Nothing in particular.” His eyes drifted down to the leather collar around Liquid’s neck. He’d worn it so long that at this point, no one really commented on it anymore. “You trust me, don’t you?”

Liquid hesitated, very slightly but Ocelot still noticed it. “Of course I do.”

“Then you’ll help?”

Liquid was silent for a moment, and Ocelot suppressed a sigh. If only he’d managed to catch Liquid in one of his alarmingly frequent impulsive moods.

They’re the ones responsible for Father’s death, aren’t they?” Liquid said, “it was they who ordered Big Boss to send someone from FOXHOUND to Galzburg, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Ocelot said, “they’re the ones who are responsible for Solid Snake killing V.”

He wasn’t actually sure if that was true or not. Yes, it had been Patriot interests that had ‘necessitated’ Operations Intrude N312 and N313. Yes, there had been pressure on Big Boss to send someone in to kill Venom, and all the Outer Heaven personnel that had been at that particular FOB with him.

No, he didn’t have to do it. There probably had been another way, Ocelot knew that. He just didn’t like to think about it - didn’t like to think that perhaps Big Boss had wanted Venom dead. He liked to think it was all a misunderstanding, an accident waiting to happen, an unfortunate but ultimately unavoidable circumstance, and maybe the blame could be placed on those who got a bug up their collective ass about Outer Heaven having an actually functional Metal Gear.

So that entirely justified Ocelot telling Liquid that.

“Then I’m in,” Liquid said immediately.

“Excellent,” Ocelot purred.

“What about the others?” Liquid said, narrowing his eyes slightly, “Wolf and Raven have lost people to Ci- I mean, the Patriots as well. And you know Octopus, he isn’t particularly trusting of anyone with more power than the immediate authority, so I can’t imagine he’d stand for a worldwide shadow government.”

“They could be valuable allies,” Ocelot said, “and if they don’t believe you about the Patriots’ existence, I could always provide proof.” Liquid blinked at him. “I used to be a Patriot agent myself.”

Liquid took a step back, then frowned, and waited.

Ocelot followed his cue. “I still am, technically. But I’ve already fallen from grace. There are already those who suspect I’ve been working to bring them down from the inside.”

“And I suppose…” Liquid said, “that bringing FOXHOUND over to your side would be more of an external assault.”

It evidently didn’t occur to Liquid to wonder if they could have any impact in this secret war with as small as FOXHOUND was and as sprawling and inescapable as the Patriots were. Ocelot answered that question anyway. “It wouldn’t just be FOXHOUND. You aren’t the first one I’ve extended this offer to - you aren’t the first one with good reason to see them destroyed.”

“Who else do you have, then?”

Ocelot glanced at the clock. “I’ll tell you later. For now I think I had better take my leave before Mantis gets in a snit about me talking to you for so long, alone.” Ocelot had never particularly cared to find out what arbitrary rules, exactly, Mantis had forced on Liquid a few years back, only that Liquid seemed to more or less follow them and one of them was that he wasn’t allowed to be alone with Ocelot for too long. Ocelot and other company, sure, that was fine, but alone was unacceptable and quite frankly the thing Mantis threw the biggest tantrums - and Liquid presumably got the biggest punishments - over.

Liquid’s jaw briefly flexed. “Tch. Very well then, but if the others are up for this as well, then you might as well tell me in front of everyone else.”

“We’ll see, won’t we?”

“I suppose we will…”


“So basically the Illuminati,” Octopus said, “except real.”

“Well…” Liquid said, “yes.”

“And you believed him?”

“I’ve dealt with Cipher before,” Liquid pointed out. “Or at least, I’ve come into contact with them. I find it perfectly believable that they managed to expand their influence since 1984.”

“I remember hearing about Cipher,” Wolf said thoughtfully. “I had heard that they disappeared, but - no, I suppose I heard that the name ‘Cipher’ was no longer in use anywhere. If they changed their name…”

“They are the ones responsible for the destruction of the Galzburg FOB?” Raven said.

“According to Ocelot, anyway,” Liquid said.

Mantis snorted. “He cannot be trusted.”

“You always say that,” Wolf said.

“He admitted to working with the Patriots,” Mantis said, “how do you know this is not a ploy on their part? This could a trap, Eli.” (Sometimes Liquid wished he could get Mantis to stop calling him that in front of his other subordinates, at the very least.)

“If it were,” Liquid said, “why would he admit to working with them?”

“Hold on,” Octopus said, “Mantis, you buy this, too?”

“…I find it plausible, yes. But Ocelot—”

“Yes, we know,” Raven said, “you neither like nor trust Ocelot. We have all grasped that by now.”

Mantis narrowed his eyes at Raven, then looked at Liquid again. “For all you know, the Patriots have already put a target on your head for telling Ocelot you like the idea of destroying them. It is entirely possible that Ocelot is here to spy on us.”

I was the one who invited him to this unit,” Liquid said stiffly, “I know you remember that, Mantis.”

“You only invited him to the unit because he-!” Mantis cut himself off, deliberately loosened his fists, and took a deep breath. “This plan could have been a decade in the making, Eli. How do you know this was not his end goal in 1994?”

“How the hell was anyone supposed to know I’d end up in FOXHOUND in 1994?”

“Why exactly would the Patriots need a spy in FOXHOUND?” Octopus said, raising a hand.

Wolf shrugged. “Perhaps they realize how easily we can be turned against them.”

Raven nodded. “Except for you, Octopus,” he said, “all of us are former members of Outer Heaven. We all would have a vested interest in taking them down, even if that interest is mostly vengeance.”

“…assuming the Patriots are real,” Octopus said, but he was kind of outnumbered here, so he shrugged and decided to roll with it for now.

“Anyway, I don’t think Ocelot’s true loyalties lie with the Patriots,” Liquid said, “he sounded sincere about wanting to take them down, at least. And he has already gathered… other forces.”

“Who?” Wolf said.

“Not sure yet. Hasn’t told me.”

Mantis scoffed.

“But I don’t think he’d betray us like that - does anyone, besides Mantis?”

Everyone besides Mantis shook their heads, while Mantis threw up his arms and walked to the other side of the room.

“I’d kind of like proof, though,” Octopus piped up, “that the Patriots, well, exist.”

“And it would be nice to know who else is supposedly working against them,” Wolf said.

“And what we would need to do,” Raven added.

“I suppose we’re really just all talking in hypotheticals right now,” Liquid said, “hm… oh, dammit. Does anyone know where Ocelot is right now, anyway?”

“Probably off relaying every detail of this discussion to the Patriots,” Mantis said snidely.

“Oh, ha ha. He was in here for exactly none of the conversation, Mantis.”

“I think he was making some phone calls,” said Wolf. “But from his cellular phone, not the base’s landline. So he would be up on the roof.” It was the only place in the whole building where anyone could get any reception - although it didn’t tend to be very relevant, while everyone on the team had a cell phone it was really only Ocelot who had reason to use it frequently. Apparently it was more secure than the landline.

“I’m done now,” Ocelot said, opening the door to the break room they had all congregated in. (Mantis audibly hissed at him, but was ignored.) “Boss. What’s the verdict?”

“We want proof,” Octopus said before Liquid could answer. Liquid nodded, though.

“Proof of the Patriots’ existence…” Ocelot said, then glanced at Mantis, who was glaring at him. “Or proof that I can be trusted?”

“Both would be nice,” Liquid said lightly.

Ocelot shrugged. “As it happened I was just getting in touch with someone who’s already been working against them from the inside. One of my - our - more valuable allies.”

“Oh, perfect,” Mantis snarked, “another Patriot agent to vouch for Ocelot, the Patriot spy.” Again he was ignored.

“Who is it?” Wolf asked.

“The boss’ mother.”

There was a very, very long pause.

What,” Liquid said eventually.

Ocelot shrugged.

“What,” Liquid said again, “wait, hold on, what—-“

“He has a mother?” Octopus said, incredulous. “I thought he was just grown in a test tube.”

“She is actually very nice, and rather pretty,” Wolf said thoughtfully. “She used to come around Outer Heaven once every several months.”

“What did you-“ Liquid started, “what did you even say to her, Ocelot? What were you calling her about?”

“I figured you all would be wanting proof,” Ocelot said, “so while she’s a bit too busy to stop by-“

“Thank God.”

“—I can call her right back and we can speak to her up on the roof, on speakerphone.” He glanced at Octopus. “I assume my claims about the Patriots will be a little… easier to swallow if verified by someone else?”

Octopus tilted his head. “Works for me, honestly. I always thought there was something funny about the American government.”

“I do not care who is on the other end of the line,” Mantis hissed, “I still do not trust you.”

“You never will,” Ocelot said dismissively.

They all, except Mantis, went up to the roof, although Liquid lingered uncomfortably in the doorway while everyone else almost crowded around Ocelot as he dialed EVA’s number again and it rung a few times before she picked up.

“So they wanted to talk to me after all, ADAM?” she said. The sound quality was… not very good.

“It’s really not all that surprising,” Ocelot said. “You’re on speakerphone, EVA.”

“Are you really the boss’ mother?” Octopus asked, again before anyone else could say anything.

“I gave birth to him, if that fits your definition of ‘mother’. Of course, I didn’t actually see him again until he was thirteen, but that wasn’t exactly my… oh, is he there right now?”

“Yes,” Wolf said. “Hello, EVA.”

“Wolf, is that you? Good morning. Or, I suppose it’s afternoon there… Eli?”

“Hi,” Liquid said loudly from the doorway.

“…we haven’t so much as talked in nine years, and all I get is a ‘hi’…”

“That is not why we called,” Raven said.

“Hello to you too- Vulcan Raven, was it? And no, it isn’t. ADAM…?”

Ocelot sighed slightly. “They want some kind of proof, EVA.”

“Have you told them about Naomi yet?” EVA said.

“Not yet.”

“Naomi?” Wolf said.

“Don’t you have a Dr. Hunter on your medical staff?” EVA asked.

“We do,” Liquid said, still refusing to move any closer, “she’s the chief, actually. Although, we don’t really have the budget to support our own medical staff, so truthfully she’s just a contracted civilian from some private biotech company or another…” He trailed off into grumbling about budget cuts, an age-old pastime of everyone who had ever ran FOXHOUND, aside from Big Boss himself.

“ATGC, right?” EVA said, “that’s her. She helped Ocelot and I out last year, but her current pet project is a Patriot one.”

“I’ve been meaning to do something about it,” Ocelot said, “but I couldn’t do anything too drastic without arousing suspicion…”

“But now that the rest of you are on our side,” EVA said, “that should be much easier. Right, ADAM?”

“Why do you keep calling him ADAM?” Raven said flatly.

Ocelot twitched his moustache. “Long story,” he said, at the same time as EVA also said it over the phone.

“Anyway, with regards to Naomi,” EVA said, “if you’ll look into what she’s actually working on now, you’ll find she’s engineering a virus that-“ There was a loud screech that was audible even over the phone, then a crash. “Sleduj cestu, pičo! Chceš mě kurva zabít?!”

“EVA,” Ocelot said patiently.

You’re the one who knows all the details about FOXDIE, not me, ADAM,” EVA snapped, “you tell them. I have to go. Call me back later.” She hung up abruptly.

They all listened to the long beep of the dial tone for a few moments, then Ocelot sighed and clacked his phone shut.

“What the hell is FOXDIE?” Octopus said.

“…Dr. Hunter is the one who broke up that marriage, is she not?” Wolf said. “Between the DIA agent and that woman from the NSA?”

“Seriously? …that’s what you’re stuck on?”

“The medical staff never gives me diazepam, they are useless and I only know of their existence through gossip.”

“FOXDIE,” Ocelot said loudly, talking over Wolf and Octopus, “is a retrovirus that targets highly specific DNA sequences - that is, it can be ‘programmed’ to affect only certain people. To leave out all the gory details, once it identifies the sequence it’s after, it simulates a heart attack and they die. Also, it’s airborne and can be carried by a person whose DNA is not in the virus’ coding.”

“Sounds like the perfect assassination tool,” Liquid said, finally walking over. “No traces, perfect deniability, and I suppose there’d be no risk of collateral damage, barring exposure to the target’s nearest blood relatives.”

“Is such a thing really possible?” Raven said.

“Well, it’s currently under development,” Ocelot said, “it isn’t completed yet. That’s what Dr. Hunter has been working on these past few years… from this building’s laboratories, even, right under our noses.”

Wolf raised her hand. “Is it only for specific people, or could it be programmed to target anyone with… I don’t know… naturally blonde hair?”

Ocelot raised an eyebrow. “From my understanding of it, it does seem plausible that it could be programmed to target anyone with any kind of commonality in their DNA.”

“So it could also be used for ethnic cleansing,” Raven said, his brow furrowing.

“It’s possible. But as of right now it’s only being designed to target specific people. And there are some interesting names on the list for its initial run, too…”

“You’ve seen it?” Octopus said.

“Who’s on it?” Liquid demanded.

“Oh, only people who would need to be taken out as contingencies for now,” Ocelot said, “a few key employees of that corporation that’s been working with DARPA lately, some ambassadors, a couple reporters…” He narrowed his eyes slightly. “Everyone in this unit.”

“What?” Wolf said, taken aback.

“Us?” Raven said.

“Oh, come on,” Octopus said, “even you?”

“Not me, actually,” Ocelot said, tilting his head, “the Patriots think I’m valuable, remember? There’s a reason why I work against them from the inside instead of outright breaking my ties to them.”

“Hm.” Liquid frowned. As often as he dismissed Mantis’ histrionics about Ocelot, perhaps he had a point when it came to this…

“Ah, that reminds me,” Ocelot said, glancing at Liquid, “boss, your name was double underlined on Dr. Hunter’s list.”

“Out to get him in particular?” Octopus said.

“I don’t know. I only saw the list, never spoke to her about it.”

“I’ve never done anything to cross her,” Liquid said, blinking, “I don’t think I’ve ever even talked to her outside of what’s strictly necessary for our respective jobs.”

“Maybe you crossed someone she knows,” Wolf said.

“That certainly would not narrow it down,” Raven said, nodding.

Liquid scrubbed a hand over his face. “Okay,” he said, “Ocelot - why didn’t you do anything before?”

“If anything happened to her… well, considering that lab ‘accident’ last year, it might be a risky move. The Patriots know that I am aware that she’s working on something for them, and it might raise a few eyebrows that I failed to protect their interests… assuming they assumed that I had nothing to do with it.”

“Lab acci…? Oh, the one where Dr. Clark died. Wasn’t Dr. Hunter involved in that?”

“She was,” said Raven.

“But,” Ocelot said, as though Liquid or Raven hadn’t spoken, “if she were being investigated by, say, the officially appointed commander of FOXHOUND, then no matter what happens to her I could be excused for not acting, in order to maintain my cover. This is hardly the first biological weapon the Patriots have come up with, so Dr. Hunter is fairly expendable, but there’s only one me.”

“…I see,” Liquid said at length. “An investigation…”

“Seems easy enough,” Octopus said, crossing his arms, “Liquid goes around, asks a few questions, sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong-“

“—hope the Patriots do not send someone to assassinate him…” interjected Wolf.

“-and if he finds that she’s been working on some virus called FOXDIE, then we know Ocelot and the boss’ mom are right about this whole Patriot thing,” Octopus continued, “with the added bonus of… hm… taking her out, I suppose?”

“Taking her out before her virus takes us out,” Raven said, “yes.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Wolf nodded.

“Lovely,” Liquid said flatly. “Alright, then. I suppose I’ll pay a little visit to the medical labora-“

“Hold your horses, boss,” Ocelot said, “this needs to be an official investigation, or else I’m done for.”

“Wouldn’t that just attract the Patriots’ attention?” Liquid said… mostly not wanting to do the paperwork that opening an investigation involved.

“Somewhat. However, you have no reason to know about FOXDIE. If you give an excuse, they will take it. They have a nasty habit of assuming they’re too powerful to be double-crossed.”

“So I suppose in the meantime, he cannot go talk to her at all,” Wolf said, frowning, “since Naomi might tamper with or delete her data. She must be caught by surprise.”

Liquid ran his hand back through his hair, sighing irritably. “Fine, fine. I’ll go fill out those damned forms - oh, I need a reason to put for this. I can’t exactly put down that Ocelot or Mo— …or EVA tipped us off about FOXDIE.”

“I’m sure you won’t have any trouble figuring that out, boss,” Ocelot said.


Liquid stole up behind Mantis, grabbed him around the waist, pressed him to his side, and murmured against his ear: “How many people on the medical staff have cybernetic implants?”

Mantis sighed. “This is insane, Eli.”

“I just want to put Ocelot’s information to the test.”

“Oh, I do not doubt that he is feeding you technically accurate information. I only think this is a honeypot.”

“I trust him.”

“You shouldn’t,” Mantis snapped, stepping away from him.

Liquid glared, his playful sensuality evaporating in an instant. “How many of our medical staff have cybernetic implants, Mantis?” he said in a hard, authoritative voice. Oh, god. His boss voice. Mantis had to answer. Whatever other relationship they had, Liquid was still his commanding officer and he used this tone of voice to remind him of that.

“Only a handful,” Mantis said grudgingly, “Dr. Hunter is one of them, and if anyone else is working with her on the FOXDIE program, then they would be one of the others. If anyone on the medical staff whose mind I could read were working with her, then I would have heard of FOXDIE before now.”

“I don’t need specific information about FOXDIE - not from you, anyway,” Liquid said, “I only need you to pull from the mind of someone who doesn’t have implants something that I could use as an excuse to officially investigate Dr. Hunter.”

“Like what?”

“It doesn’t matter. Anything. Idle gossip could just as easily be twisted into the justification we need. But I do need something that someone on the medical staff could verify if it comes to that.”

“…fine. I will find something for you.” He turned his head deliberately. “Only because you ordered me to. I do not like this, Eli.”

“You’ll come around.” He felt Liquid press a kiss to his jaw. “You always do,” he breathed, then straightened himself. “Try to get something good as soon as possible. Our next course of action entirely depends on the results of this investigation.”

“Yes, boss.”

He felt a little twinge of self-conscious irritation come from Liquid at Mantis calling him ‘boss’ for once — as much as it annoyed him to be called by his given name in front of others, at this point he was so used to it that Mantis calling him anything else was practically an insult. So deliberately impersonal. Nonetheless Liquid didn’t comment out loud and walked curtly off, leaving Mantis standing alone in the hallway.

He sighed. Liquid was no stranger to stupid plans, but it really was troublesome that his - and everyone else’s! - first response to finding out about the Patriots was wanting to go straight to war with them. Alright, perhaps Mantis couldn’t really argue with that… as he’d said earlier, he really did find this whole Patriot business perfectly believable, considering he’d had a much more intimate experience with Cipher than most of the rest of the unit. And that experience hadn’t exactly left a pleasant taste in his mouth.

But trusting Ocelot

Certainly he was with the Patriots, there was no doubt in Mantis’ mind about that, but while everyone else was all too eager to buy his story about wanting them gone and sabotaging the organization under the convenient guise of their trusted agent, Mantis didn’t believe that for a second. He was hiding something. He was definitely hiding something.

Something that might just get all of them killed.

He started stalking over to the medical laboratories, tucked off to one side of the FOXHOUND headquarters — up until last year they’d been a separate building on campus entirely (bringing the total number of buildings up to three - medical, R&D, and everything else) but that building had burned down following a fatal explosion, and some unused barracks on the west end had been refitted. Mantis still remembered with displeasure the minds of all the planning, construction, and installation personnel that had come back then.

Maybe he should just kill Ocelot.

He shook his head to himself. No, Liquid would never forgive him, for one thing. And, less importantly, the rest of the unit wouldn’t either. And there was another reason, too, one he knew Liquid suspected on some idle level but didn’t properly know because Mantis had never told anyone.

The med labs all had lead-lined walls, for reasons no one entirely knew, which was annoying for Mantis since that meant he actually had to stand inside the rooms in order to read the minds of anyone in there; lead blocked his psychic powers as effectively as his gas mask made them selective. He didn’t know why this was but truthfully if it wasn’t for that he would have starved to death in Moscow. But on the other hand, he already had a decent enough premise for intruding, anyway: he frequently dropped by the med labs to get potent multivitamins, since he found them more convenient than actual food most weeks. The door swung open seemingly by itself in front of him.

“Um… afternoon, sir,” said one of the interns with a name Mantis didn’t remember and an ID card pinned to his labcoat that Mantis didn’t bother to read. “Here for your pills?”

“Mm.”

The only interesting thing in the intern’s mind was a thought about how Mantis really should be taking antipsychotics instead of multivitamins, or perhaps in addition to multivitamins, but the point was that he really should be on some kind of neuroleptic, and while he was at it so should the FOXHOUND commander and possibly their sniper, too… and Mantis didn’t find that interesting so much as he found it offensive (and stupid, Wolf was already on tranquilizers), so he glared at the intern when he handed him this week’s allotment of pills. It unnerved him enough that he didn’t dare say anything when Mantis wandered further into the med labs instead of back into FOXHOUND’s section of the building.

What was anyone going to do to stop him? Really now. Besides, he’d leave as soon as he’d found some sufficiently scandalous information about Naomi Hunter from one of the other hapless, mentally defenseless interns.


Napping at your desk, Eli, really? Wake up.

“I wasn’t sleeping,” Liquid blurted out, pushing himself up off his desk so fast it was almost dizzying. Mantis was standing in the doorway to Liquid’s office, arms crossed and looking entirely unamused. “Did you find out anything?” Liquid asked, stifling a yawn.

“Yes,” Mantis said, walking up to the desk as Liquid rubbed the back of his neck. Napping- that is, resting his eyes wasn’t exactly best done slumped over a hard wooden surface. “One of the interns, something-or-other Hamel, actually suspects Dr. Hunter of embezzling.”

Liquid blinked. “Seriously?”

“She has not shared her suspicions with anyone, but she does think it’s odd, Dr. Hunter cooped up in her own office working on her computer and being so secretive about it. Now, is this sufficient, or is a charge of embezzling too easy to dismiss since you have control over FOXHOUND’s entire budget and can see where all the money goes?”

“No, this is perfect,” Liquid said, “both medical and R&D have a lot of unnamed categories on their invoices. It’s more than reasonable for me to take a close look at what they’re doing if I suspect that some of the ‘other projects’ funding I allot to them just goes straight into someone’s pockets.”

“Good, then,” Mantis said dryly. “I would like to wash my hands of this.”

“No you don’t,” Liquid said, rifling through one of his desk drawers, looking for the form he needed - this would be so much easier with a computer if Liquid actually knew how to use one, which he didn’t — “as long as you’ve got your knickers in a twist about Ocelot ostensibly working with the Patriots, you won’t be able to leave this alone.” He glanced up at him, and grinned boyishly. “You’ll need to be by my side every step of the way in order to protect me, after all, won’t you…?”

“Hmph.” Mantis turned on his heel, slunk out of the room. “It is late, Eli,” he said as he passed through the doorway, the door slowly closing behind him without being touched, “come to bed as soon as you are done with that paperwork.”

“Of course.”

Chapter Text

“You can’t do this,” Naomi said flatly.

Liquid smirked at her, and smugly held up the official inquiry notice between two fingers. “Oh yes I can.”

“This is ridiculous. I’m not embezzling.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

Liquid had brought Raven along to spring this surprise investigation on Naomi mostly because he was larger and therefore more intimidating than Liquid on his own, but it came with the added bonus of him picking up both of Naomi’s computers, one in each arm. (Good thing Liquid didn’t do it himself. What he’d thought was the computer turned out to be a monitor - fortunately he’d kept his mouth shut about it.)

“I- I can’t work without my computers,” Naomi said, flabbergasted.

“Well,” Liquid said brightly, “good thing you’re suspended with no pay pending the results of our investigation. No need to worry about that pesky work thing now!”

“I have bills to-“

“Surely all the money you have saved up from embezzling can cover that.”

Naomi looked like she was positively going to murder him. “I’m not—-“

“Boss,” Raven said, “now you are just antagonizing her.”

“Oh, fine, fine,” Liquid said, cocking his head, “it’s true that you’re still technically innocent right now, doctor. I don’t know that you’ve been embezzling.”

Now Naomi was silent. Still looked like she was positively going to murder Liquid, though. But hey, if he was going to be double-underlined on the FOXDIE kill list, he might as well deserve it.

“Don’t worry,” Liquid said, rolling his eyes, “if we can’t find any evidence against you, then the whole matter will be dropped and you’ll be generously compensated for the inconvenience.”

“FOXHOUND doesn’t do anything generously,” Naomi pointed out.

“I know, I’m the one who has to deal with the budget cuts every quarter. But you’ll get a personal apology from me, which I think that’s quite generous, doctor. Adieu.”

As soon as Liquid and Raven left the med labs, Naomi’s impounded computers in tow, and the door slammed closed behind them Raven said, “what is the likelihood of this ending with her in a shallow grave behind the airfield?”

“We might as well put her in the airfield,” Liquid replied, “it’s not like we’ve got anything else in it.”


Naomi did what an unfortunate amount of people do after being effectively fired: she went straight into town, found the seediest bar there (it wasn’t hard, small towns tend to only have seedy bars), and got completely wasted.

“Fucking Hamel,” she slurred, leaning over the counter with her sixth glass of whiskey, neat. “That bitch. I’ll bet it was her, but who knows if she actually fuckin’ tried to rat on me or some shit or if that goddamn bald psychic bondage leather asshole just read her mind. But I bet it was her. Fuck her, I’m not embezzling, goddammit.”

“Why would she think you’re embezzling?” said the woman at the bar next to her, a middle-aged office lady who was also drinking hard liquor like she was having boss problems too. “Y’know, in my experience, when somebody accuses someone of something in the office, it’s because they’re the ones doing it. Like that sexual harassment suit I… nevermind.”

Naomi shook her head. “She’s just an intern, how the fuck is she gonna embezzle anything? Not a single dime of our shitty fucking budget actually goes through her hands, like, ever. I think she… ugh, I think she thinks I’ve gotta be fuckin’ embezzling because I’ve got this project I’m working on that she’s got literally nothing to fucking do with, so like obviously she isn’t in the damn loop about it but does that occur to her? Nooooo, precious little fucking Allissa Hamel the goddamn intern thinks that I should just, like… fucking violate my security protocols?”

“So you’re working on a secret project?” the woman next to her asked, with no real interest aside from tipsy curiosity.

“Yyyyyyes,” Naomi said, then knocked back the rest of her whiskey and slammed the cup on the counter, signalling for the bartender to come refill it again. “Top fuckin’ secret. And my stupid fucking boss confiscated the computers I was programming this shit with, and I didn’t have time to, like, delete anything and I’ve already put so much work into it and our budget’s so shit that I didn’t wanna, like, spill my fucking coffee onto the motherboard while his dumbass big henchman bird fetishist asshole was grabbing my shit, like… I should have.” She shook her head. “I should have. If they find out about what I’ve been working on, I’m as good as dead.”

“That bad, huh?”

“No, I mean, like, literally someone is going to put a goddamn bullet in my goddamn head. Who knows if it’s gonna be the jackoffs who gave me this project in the first place, or my stupid idiot dumb fuck boss…” She laid her head down on the bar, whining. “I know he’s on that goddamn list, I know I fuckin’ double-underlined his name, and I know that backstabbing, lying gay furry cowboy son of a bitch saw my list when he was, like, snooping in my office for no fucking reason… god, he’s really got me by the balls… or the tits, I guess… fuck, he’s got me by the tits.” She slumped even further against the bar, like that was possible. “I know he’s gonna tell the boss about the list if it actually comes up…”

“What’s this list about?” the office lady said, seeming genuinely confused.

“Fuckin’… doesn’t matter,” Naomi mumbled. “I wasn’t even the one who put the goddamn thing together. I only underlined his name because of his fuckin’…”

“His what? Who?”

“He used to fuck that cowboy furry homosexual sadist, you know,” Naomi said, sitting up and wiping her face with the heel of her hand. Didn’t do much for the indeterminate sticky residue transferred to her skin from the surface of the bar. “Like, ten years ago I think. Way before either of them joined the unit. Orrr… I think it wasn’t too long before my asshole boss joined, but the cowboy dickhead didn’t show up until like four years ago I think? I don’t fuckin’ know, I only joined in, uh, 2001. But anyway that’s what I hear and I’m pretty sure it’s true, I mean they look at each other like they want to just fucking eat each other all the time. God, I hate it.”

“Is that so?” the office lady said, clearly delighting in the gossip. “Is that why the cowboy man is going to rat on you?”

Fuck, he’d better not,” Naomi said, loudly enough that a couple nearby other people glanced at her. “Like, shit. What’s it even gonna do besides fuck me over? This has nothing to do with him. And you know,” she continued, abruptly changing the subject again, “it’s not like they are fucking now, or at least I’m pretty sure they’re not. The boss is actually shacked up with that bald jackass dominatrix psychic douchefuck who got fuckin’ Hamel to set me up. He wears a collar, you know. Not the bondage guy, the boss. Well I mean I guess the bondage guy does too, it’s like part of his outfit? and I guess this kind of also makes the boss a bondage guy, but— he wears a goddamn collar everyday. Who the fuck does that?”

“Is that why you underlined his name on your mysterious list?” the woman asked.

Naomi leaned her head against the bar and made a long sound like a tired horse. “No,” she said, “I really don’t give a shit about him. He’s annoying and bipolar as fuck and I’m pretty sure his accent is some fucking My Fair Lady shit but oh my god I don’t care. His name is underlined because of someone else entirely, okay?”

“Who? C’mon.”

Naomi looked blearily up at her, then sat up and drank her entire seventh glass of whiskey in one breath. “No fucking way,” she said again, “that’s classified as shit. Besides, you don’t have a damn clue what I’m talkin’ about anyway. What’d you say you were? An actuary?”

“An accountant.”

“Same fuckin’ thing. Paperwork and shit. Whatever.” She stood up, tottering a bit. “Hey, you don’t have, like, AIDS or something do you? Nevermind, I don’t care. Let’s get out of this shithole, I’ll eat you out in the back of my car, I don’t give a shit.”

“Okay,” said the office lady, “why the hell not?”


“I will admit,” Liquid said as Octopus came swaggering back into FOXHOUND’s conference room, still in his disguise, “it’s uncanny how easily you can predict someone’s movements.”

Ocelot shrugged modestly. “At this point, it was really just statistics.”

“Did you learn anything?” Liquid asked Octopus, resting his head on his hand, elbow propped on the table.

“Yeah,” Octopus said, leaning dramatically against the doorjamb, and it was kind of weird to hear a distinctly male voice with a light Mexican accent come out of the mouth of a middle-aged white woman in half a business suit but everyone here was so used to dealing with Octopus in general that it hardly registered. “Dr. Hunter gives really good head.”

“Thank you, did not ask. Anything relevant?

“For the rest of our sakes, Octopus,” Wolf said, “you could have picked a more attractive disguise if you were going to seduce her.”

“I didn’t seduce her,” Octopus said in mock indignation, “she was completely plastered and offered.”

“…is that not legally considered nonconsensual?” Raven said flatly.

“Ehh, maybe? Pretty sure the courts don’t care unless there’s a dick going where it doesn’t belong while the girl’s drunk.”

Liquid covered his face with both hands. “Oh, for god’s sake,” he muttered.

“Octopus, focus,” Ocelot said mildly.

Octopus shrugged, then sat down, kicking his legs up on the table - really not caring that he was wearing a skirt - and started to peel his mask off. “She’s actually pretty hilarious when she’s smashed,” he said, “swore like a sailor and her accent was just all over the place. But she definitely has a tendency to let things slip, don’t get me wrong. I’m not just talking about her drunken bi-curiosity, either.”

“So she said something about FOXDIE?” Wolf said.

“About the list Ocelot mentioned, yeah. Specifically about the way she singled out the boss’ name.”

“So?” Liquid said, sitting up again and looking at Octopus intently. “What is it?”

“Not entirely sure, she kept changing the subject. But she was pretty clear that it wasn’t actually about you.”

“How could it not be?” Wolf said, “it was his name that was double underlined.”

“Boss, do you remember what you said about exposure to the target’s nearest blood relatives?” Raven said.

Liquid blinked. “Hm? Oh, right. If it affects people based off of their DNA patterns, then it makes sense that it would also attack someone with very similar genes, like the target’s parents, maybe, or sib—- oh my god.”

“Your genes aren’t exactly unique, boss,” Ocelot said.

“So that’s it. She’s paying special attention to ensuring that the virus recognizes my DNA because that same virus could be used to kill- well, my biological father is dead, good riddance, so there can’t be anyone else she’s after here except my twin.”

“The fabled Solid Snake…” Raven said.

Liquid’s eyebrows drew together. “But why would she be after him…? Didn’t he move to Alaska? I thought no one had seen any of him in several years.”

“He moved to the Alaskan wilderness right after the Zanzibar Land incident,” Ocelot confirmed, “and as far as I’ve heard, the only human contact he’s had since then has been the occasional supply run to a nearby town. He’s known as a paranoid, alcoholic hermit, and that’s about it.”

“I suppose if Ocelot says he heard it,” Wolf said, “then it must be true.”

“Obviously,” Octopus said. “He puts the rest of our idle gossiping to shame.”

Ocelot smiled wryly. “Gossip is exactly where I get all this information, Octopus.”

“Ocelot,” Liquid said, “do you know if Solid Snake is supposed to be on the kill list? I suppose it wouldn’t be strictly necessary to add him as long as I’m also on it, but it seems odd to leave him off.”

“You mean to ask if Dr. Hunter is after him based on some personal grievance she has with him?” Ocelot said, “I’m afraid I don’t know. I know the list of targets for the initial run of FOXDIE came from the Patriots, and that’s all I know about it. This isn’t my project; I’m in the dark about their intentions.”

Liquid noticed the careful neutrality in Ocelot’s tone that indicated he was mulling something over, but figured - as he usually did - to wait until Ocelot decided if it was important enough to bring up or not. It could be nothing. As far as he could tell, it often was.

“Hold on,” Wolf said, “why would Dr. Hunter have any hatred for Solid Snake? Have they ever met?”

“Impossible,” Octopus said, “she joined years after he left the unit. I can’t think of where else they might have ran into each other, either…”

“They have never even lived in the same place?” Raven said.

“Not unless you count the entire country of America as ‘the same place’,” Ocelot said, “so far as I know, they’ve never so much as been in the same state at the same time. They’re complete strangers.”

“And she wants to kill him,” Wolf said. “Whatever happened to getting to know someone before you kill them?”

“You have to admit it is more efficient like that,” Raven said.

“Yes, well… this is not a hit, is it?”

“Perhaps the Patriots really did order her to take out Solid Snake with that virus,” Liquid said thoughtfully, drumming his fingers on the table. “Or to give them an easy way to do it themselves at any time, I suppose. But… it is odd…”

“He really should be on the list,” Ocelot said.

“It does make sense that, if FOXDIE is their contingency plan against us, they would have a plan against him, too,” Wolf said.

“But he really should be on the list,” Octopus said in a perfect albeit pointless imitation of Ocelot’s voice just now. He continued in his normal voice. “So, basically, we know Dr. Hunter singled out the boss’ DNA because she wants to make sure the virus affects his twin brother, too. That’s our conclusion here, right?”

Everyone else nodded and/or mumbled assented, except for Ocelot, who only tilted his head slightly, eyes narrowed.

“But,” Octopus continued, “it doesn’t make sense that the Patriots told her to do it, because they’re the ones who wrote the kill list in the first place, so if they wanted Solid Snake on it they could have just put him down. Hell, he could have been on the same line as the boss, it just doesn’t make sense that they’d leave him off it.”

“Yes,” Raven said, “it would be a completely illogical move. It would be unlikely for an organization that has amassed the power of a worldwide government to make illogical moves.”

“Yeah. But we also know it doesn’t make sense for Dr. Hunter to do it for personal reasons, either,” Octopus said, “because Solid Snake’s never done anything to her. I mean, this is a virus we’re talking about, one that might not get unleashed. That’s not something you’d try to kill someone with if you’re just trying to commit insurance fraud or have an uncontrollable impulse to murder. That’s something you’d do for revenge.”

“But she’s got no reason for revenge on Solid Snake,” Liquid said, “at least, so far as we know. But there is another possibility here…”

“…a third party directing her actions,” Wolf said, “someone other than the Patriots who wants FOXDIE to be a threat to Solid Snake as well, and is using Dr. Hunter as a tool.”

“If that’s the case, she certainly doesn’t seem to resent it,” Octopus said, “it didn’t exactly come up during her drunken ranting.”

Liquid glanced over at Ocelot. The other day EVA had mentioned Naomi helping her and Ocelot with something the previous year (Liquid still hadn’t gotten around to asking about it, and no one else had brought it up yet), but somehow he doubted that either of them fit the bill for a third party putting pressure on Naomi to design a biological weapon against Solid. Admittedly he was unsure what, if any, relationship existed between Ocelot and Solid - he suspected he might have heard about it at least at some point if Ocelot had ever even met Solid - and EVA, well, considering Solid was Liquid’s twin, he felt fairly certain that EVA would have the same ridiculous maternal attachment she had for Liquid with Solid, too. Hell, maybe she’d actually been with him more growing up than a handful of awkward encounters when he was thirteen. Judging by the bits and pieces Liquid had gathered or been told over the years, Solid had been afforded everything else.

“It’s worth looking into,” Ocelot said, with that same careful, pensive neutrality.

Liquid nodded. “Right,” he said, “in the meantime, we’ve got to actually… well… figure out this whole FOXDIE thing.” He stared at the two computers sitting in the middle of the conference table, and frowned. He really didn’t know anything about computers.

Mantis, he thought, get in here, will you?

By the time Mantis sourly slunk into the conference room, Wolf and Raven had appropriated cords and monitors and mouses and keyboards and such, and Octopus was assigned to see what files he could access because he was arguably the best in the room at using computers. Which wasn’t to say he was a programmer or hacker or anything, but he did spend a lot of his off-hours on the internet and he did know how to type.

He was also preternaturally good at reading people, rivalling even Ocelot or Mantis (if Mantis counted), thanks to a lifetime of observing others so he could imitate them perfectly later. His observations of Naomi lead him to correctly guess that she used her birthday as her password.

“Huh,” he said under his breath, “now that I think about it, it completely figures that she’s a Scorpio.”

“I am really not as good at technology as you all think I am,” Mantis said in an undertone to Liquid, as everyone just kind of watched Octopus click around Naomi’s files and pull up whatever wasn’t encrypted.

“Oh, hush,” Liquid said, “you don’t have to understand any of this nonsense in order to be good at it. You can read the computer’s memory or whatever just fine.”

“I have no idea if I can do anything about encryption. I do not think I can.”

“You’ve never tried, have you?”

“I suppose I could attempt for you, but if I cannot figure it out - which seems likely, I would probably have to understand the encryption program itself in order to disentangle it, and that sort of thing is simply over my head, Eli—…”

“We’ll find another way to work on the encryption, then, if it comes to that,” Liquid said, “just give it your best shot.”

Mantis sighed irritably, then leaned over Octopus’ shoulder, muttering to him what folders upon folders to look in to find the encrypted files that would, in all likelihood, contain the information about FOXDIE. Upon pulling them up they found that the files could be easily decrypted if they had a password - which turned out to not be the same as Naomi’s login password.

“Shocking,” Octopus said, trying different rewordings of her birthdate, “she definitely seems like the type to use the same password for everything.”

“Perhaps someone made her change it,” Mantis said.

“True. Hmm… maybe the birthday of someone close to her? Judging by how she acts, I’d say she doesn’t really have parents but she definitely has an older brother. Don’t think she’s ever had a lover she cared enough about to use their birthday as a password…”

“You could just guess dates until it works,” Mantis said, “there are only 365 days in a year, and if you think she would use her brother’s birthday, then you can rule out any year after the one before she was born.”

“Do you have any idea how long that would take? Plus I don’t know if it would be just numbers, or written out, or what…”

“I thought Dr. Hunter didn’t have any family,” Liquid commented.

“Is that what she said?” Octopus said, “because that’s not how she acts. Maybe her ‘big brother’ figure wasn’t related to her by blood…?”

So while they worked on that, everyone else hung back and waited to see what would happen. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Wolf and Raven started an inopportune conversation.

“How does he imitate a woman to the point of receiving oral sex with his target still being none the wiser?” Wolf said.

“I am not sure,” Raven said, “now that I think about it, he does imitate women a lot, does he not?”

“He does… and almost always, the woman he plays is his target’s lover. Either way I know for a fact that this is not the first time he has had sex with his target to maintain the role.”

“Or for fun.”

“True. But I am slightly confused as to how—“

“You don’t want to know,” Liquid interrupted. He’d asked the same thing once, not long after he joined FOXHOUND. Except he’d asked it to Octopus directly instead of just wondering out loud about it in the same room as him.

“…what?” Raven said, blinking.

“You just don’t.” Octopus had told him about how it was easier to add something than to take it away — that is, a highly realistic, functional even, prosthetic penis was entirely possible with his skills and resources, but it was impossible to imitate a vagina and have it hold up to scrutiny while the body space for it was otherwise occupied. So he’d had a vaginoplasty. He even offered to show it to Liquid.

Which, actually, Liquid took him up on after spending almost an hour trying very hard to get the mental image out of his head. It really wasn’t much to write home about when he finally gave in just so he could stop thinking about it - it was just a vagina, and evidently Octopus shaved down there, and that was about it - but really, it kind of weirded Liquid out to think that that, combined with the one time he’d accidentally seen Wolf’s bare breasts during his temporary exile to the women’s showers following a protracted controversy about his shampoo, meant that he’d seen the bits of every member of FOXHOUND except Raven.

He really wasn’t interested in seeing them. Raven made him feel small with his pants still on.

(“I will just ask him myself later,” Wolf said to Raven.)

Liquid’s wandering thoughts were interrupted by a sharp psychic tug at his collar, and he glanced at Mantis, gathering immediately that he hadn’t just half-choked him only because he was annoyed at hearing him go off on a mental tangent about the hypothetical size of Vulcan Raven’s cock. “What is it?”

“We can’t come up with a password,” Octopus said, pushing his chair back from the table. “And Mantis isn’t having any luck getting through the encryption without it, either.”

“I could keep trying,” Mantis said, “but it seems likely that the data itself may be affected if I do.”

“I don’t think we can risk losing this,” Liquid said. “We’re just going to have to find another way to look at those files.”

“All this effort, just to confirm that FOXDIE and therefore the Patriots exist?” said Octopus, “I mean, at this point, I buy it anyway.”

“We’re trying to find out how much progress she’s made on it, Octopus. And, if it’s not too late, prevent her from completing the virus that the Patriots would most certainly use on us the second they find out we’re starting to brew a revolution here.”

“Okay, true.”

“If all we need to do is get past the encryption,” Wolf said, “why not get someone from R&D to do it for us? I am sure there are hacker types there.”

Ocelot finally spoke up, the gun that he was twirling on his finger absent-mindedly stilling. “We don’t know yet if there’s anyone in the R&D department that we can trust with the information that we’re going to rebel against the Patriots.”

“Even if we claimed that we suspected she was hiding records of her supposed embezzling behind the encryption, they would still suspect something as soon as they saw what was actually encrypted,” Liquid agreed.

“You know, boss,” Ocelot said, “I could always get the password out of Dr. Hunter directly.”

“I take it way less delicately than how I got the information about the boss’ name on the kill list,” Octopus said.

“You started a conversation with her while she was already drunk and then let her perform cunnilingus on you. That is hardly what I would call delicate.”

“Would we still need her alive?” Raven said.

Ocelot bristled at him. “Do you think there’s even a possibility I would kill her during an interrogation unless it were necessary?”

“I am only wondering, General Ivan.”

“Not that damned nickname again…”

Is there a reason we need her alive?” Liquid said, “aside from getting into her files. If she’s made too much progress on FOXDIE, would she be the only one capable of undoing it?”

“It is a virus,” Mantis said, “it should not be too hard to destroy the specimens.”

“It may be dangerous to get near them, if they are close to completion,” Wolf pointed out.

“Mantis wears a gas mask,” Raven said. “FOXDIE is supposed to be airborne. He would be perfectly safe.”

Mantis snorted derisively. “It’s unlikely I would even need to get close to the specimens in order to destroy them either way.”

“Do you know where the specimens would be?” Ocelot asked dryly. “If they were on the base here, then there would be isolation protocols for the medical research team’s sake. We don’t have anything like that.” Mantis didn’t respond.

“Their location’s probably in the encrypted files,” Liquid said at length.

“So what’ll it be, boss?” Ocelot said, “let me get the password from her, or involve someone from the R&D group?”

Liquid deliberated for a moment or two, then said, “I don’t doubt she’ll figure out what it is we’re really after as soon as she gives it more than two seconds of sober thought. That might make leaving her alive a risk in and of itself. She may go to the Patriots with her suspicions.”

“So, let Ocelot at her,” Octopus said, raising one… well, he didn’t have eyebrows, but he got the gesture across nonetheless.

“Precisely,” Liquid said. “Of course, if Ocelot can simply throw her off the trail, that should prove more convenient for us in the long run…”

“Ah, a no-touching interrogation,” Ocelot said, “very well. It’s no trouble, boss.”

With that decided, the computers were turned off for now, and Raven carted them off to a storage closet where no one would bother looking for them if they were looking for them, and Wolf and Octopus gathered up the technological accessories to return to the R&D building before someone raised a fuss over them being borrowed. That left Liquid alone in the conference room with just Ocelot and Mantis, and Ocelot was on his way out the door with a polite nod and a stupid hand gesture when Mantis turned to Liquid and said, “Eli, I want to sit in on Ocelot’s interrogation of Dr. Hunter.”

“Oh?”

“What, you don’t trust me with her?” Ocelot said, with a sarcastic amount of indignation in his voice.

Mantis ignored him. “Is it allowed?”

Liquid had to stop himself from rolling his eyes. “I don’t see the problem with it. Just don’t interrupt Ocelot while he’s doing his work.”

“Fine,” Mantis said.

Ocelot narrowed his eyes at the two of them for a brief moment, then turned on his heel and started walking off again, spurs clinking as he went. “Fine.”

Chapter Text

“I assume you remember that Liquid told you not to interrupt me while I’m working,” Ocelot said, turning onto the main street of the little town about an hour and a half’s drive from the FOXHOUND headquarters, not bothering to signal.

“Yes,” said Mantis stiffly. He had pointedly sat in the passenger’s seat to emphasize the fact that he wasn’t cowed by Ocelot, but for the whole drive so far he’d regretted it and wished he’d swallowed his pride and just sat in the backseat, further away from Ocelot’s infuriating face.

“Good. That means that you don’t say a word to Dr. Hunter while I’m talking to her. In fact, don’t say a word to her in general, and if you can just make yourself invisible and pretend you aren’t even there, that would be ideal.”

“…”

“Oh, that’s right,” Ocelot said with an unpleasant grin, “you’re starting to get old - your powers are starting to diminish. You can’t turn yourself invisible anymore…”

“I can still cut the brakes on this car without lifting a finger, any time I like.”

“The point is, don’t bother me. I won’t have time to entertain your curiosity.”

Curiosity is not the reason why I decided to tag along.”

“Oh?”

Another turn, onto a side road that lead to the hotel where Naomi was staying — all FOXHOUND staff lived on-base, but ever since the med lab building had blown up the medical research team had been moved into the ‘barracks’ at the R&D building. The potential bitching about no longer being able to get from their living quarters to their work labs without going outside was belayed by the fact that the living quarters in the R&D building were really more like small apartments while the living quarters in the main building were actual barracks, where everything was communal. Segregated by sex, of course, so Wolf had the run of the place, and sharing the bathroom between only five people meant that showers virtually never overlapped, but still. (Not that Mantis had room to complain about the sleeping arrangements. He shared Liquid’s private quarters.)

“…don’t say things like that and then not follow up on it, Mantis,” Ocelot said, “no one likes a tease.”

“You’re up to something.”

“I always am.”

Mantis glared at him. “You know what I am referring to.”

“The fact that EVA mentioned Dr. Hunter helping her and I out last year,” he said, and Mantis was, despite what he’d just said, somewhere surprised that Ocelot knew what he was referring to. In that level of detail, anyway.

“Are you ever going to tell us what she ‘helped’ you with last year?”

“When it becomes relevant, and no sooner.”

There was silence for a time.

“I do not trust you,” said Mantis abruptly.

Ocelot didn’t even glance at him. “This isn’t new information.”

“Just a friendly reminder. You have never given me reason to trust you.”

“I thought I gave you plenty of reasons back at the KGB,” Ocelot said.

Mantis made a small derisive sound that probably would have been a snort if he’d actually had a nose. “Ancient history,” he said coldly, “nowadays I more concerned with the fact that you raped Eli.”

Ocelot sighed. It was clear he didn’t want to have this discussion again, although Mantis didn’t particularly care for what Ocelot wanted. “Even if it had been as malicious and self-serving as you think it was,” Ocelot said, “it was still ten years ago. He’s moved on.”

“Do you honestly believe that, Ocelot?”

The question hung in the air of the car for a while before Ocelot spoke.

“He still has nightmares, doesn’t he?”

“…not as frequently as he used to.”

“About me specifically?”

“Sometimes. Not often.”

“Does he think about me during sex?”

“…not often.”

It made Mantis’ skin crawl to think that maybe, just maybe, Ocelot was asking these questions because he was concerned about Liquid.

And God forbid him noticing Mantis’ discomfort be the reason he suddenly glanced off to the side, muttering about how the hotel should be around here somewhere.

Mantis didn’t know what the difference between a hotel and a motel was, exactly, because he’d never met someone who did know, but looking at the place where Naomi had put herself up during her unpaid exile from FOXHOUND… he would have called it a motel. It wasn’t really all that ratty, in fact it was perfectly average, the kind of place a comfortable middle-class family from the suburbs might stop during a road trip, but Mantis found even the exterior to be cheap and boring.

“You can stop looking at it like that, it isn’t going to bite you,” Ocelot said, stepping out of the car.

“Does this town even have a nicer place to stay?” Mantis said disdainfully, also stepping out.

“I’d heard you liked to stay at four- and five-star hotels when you were traipsing around as a psychic spy, but this kind of elitism is just obnoxious.”

“I have stayed at awful hotels before, too.”

“That’s what makes it obnoxious. And considering Dr. Hunter’s paycheck was just cut off and this was incredibly short-notice, there’s really no point in commenting…”

When a very obviously hungover Naomi opened her hotel door after Ocelot knocked on it, she stared tiredly at Ocelot and Mantis for a moment or two before he eyes widened in realization that she was staring at Ocelot and Mantis, who had shown up at her hotel room, and slammed the door. Or tried to. Ocelot caught it with his foot, which had to hurt but he made no indication of it. (Of course, Mantis could have easily held or forced open the door with his psychic powers, be he just knew Ocelot was going to do that.)

“We only want to talk, Dr. Hunter,” Ocelot said smoothly.

“What is Mantis here for?” Naomi demanded.

“Backup. He won’t say a word to you, isn’t that right, Mantis?”

“Mm.”

Backup?” Naomi repeated incredulously, “what use is he? I know you’re here to question me about the alleged embezzling, but I got those cybernetic implants for a reason.”

Mantis opened his mouth to make a nasty comment about that, but was cut short by Ocelot’s pointed glare. Or rather, by the fact that if Mantis ‘interfered’ at all, Ocelot would get him in trouble with Liquid, which Mantis was not in the mood for.

“May we come in?” Ocelot said instead of answering her.

Naomi narrowed her eyes at the two of them, then gave up and undid the chain lock and opened her door the rest of the way. Evidently she was well aware that she didn’t really have a choice about having this… discussion.

“But why is he here?” Naomi asked, her eyes flicking towards Mantis for a second before returning to Ocelot.

“Observation,” Ocelot said, “this isn’t a proper interrogation, Dr. Hunter, I’m only asking a few questions. He’s here to make sure I play nice.”

“Mantis. Here to make sure you play nice. Mantis.”

“Yes.”

“Doesn’t the ‘Psycho’ in his codename stand for ‘Psychopath’?”

“It stands for ‘Psychokinesis’,” Ocelot said, although Mantis didn’t actually believe that. He wasn’t entirely sure what it did stand for, but considering it was a holdover from Outer Heaven, where assigning noms du guerre had been delegated to Ocelot back in the seventies, ‘Psychotic’ was anyone’s best guess. “But we’re getting off-topic.”

Mantis comfortably settled in the overstuffed corner chair while Naomi and Ocelot remained standing, with Naomi sizing Ocelot up and Ocelot with the same expression he always wore during an interrogation: detached and professional, almost bored, perhaps a bit condescending, but there was a gleam in his eye that betrayed the fact that he loved this kind of thing. Well, sort of. Right now the look in his eyes was a bit different in a way Mantis couldn’t place, which was strange — Mantis would have expected him to be genuinely bored in this case, since “interrogation” failed to be euphemistic this morning.

“The main issue at hand,” Ocelot said, “is that we need to view the encrypted files on your computer. If you’d be so kind as to give us the passw-“

“No,” Naomi said firmly, sitting down heavily on her bed and rubbing her temples. “Absolutely not.”

“Oh?”

“You don’t need to access my project files during an investigation for embezzling.”

“That’s exactly what you want us to think, Dr. Hunter. Any records of your embezzling would be kept somewhere we have no business accessing.”

“Why would I keep records if I was embezzling?” Naomi said, irritated.

“So you don’t accidentally overstep your budget and arouse suspicion.”

“And to prevent that, I would leave hard evidence of what I was doing lying around? Better to take my chances with misremembering the budget. I’m sure you know this, Ocelot, I think you’re the most likely candidate for embezzling on the entire base.”

Mantis couldn’t help but snort amusedly at that. He was ignored, though.

“I have never embezzled money,” Ocelot said calmly, “from FOXHOUND.”

“And if you think you can even find records of my alleged embezzling, why not go harass my bank?” She narrowed her eyes. “Wait a minute…”

“Yes?”

“This isn’t about Hamel accusing me of embezzling, is it? That was just an excuse to open an investigation. It’s something else you’re after…”

Mantis expected Ocelot to mislead her, per Liquid’s instructions, but instead he said, “Let’s not mince words, then. You’re right, the embezzling is a completely fake charge and no one seriously suspects you of it.”

Mantis sat up in his chair, torn as to whether or not he should intervene on Liquid’s orders’ behalf, wondering about the impossible possibility of Ocelot having entirely forgotten that Mantis was in the room and letting what he was up to slip while talking to Naomi.

“What is this about, then?” Naomi said stiffly.

“Last year.”

Hm?

“Dr. Clark…?” Naomi started.

Ocelot shrugged. “Did you really think it would escape everyone’s notices forever? Oh, certainly the ‘lab accident’ explanation was plausible enough, but remember that that damned cyborg ninja has been periodically haunting the base ever since then. Trying to hunt down the boss…”

“…”

Mantis narrowed his eyes. Now that he thought about it, yes, that occasional annoyance, the man with the armored exoskeleton and a mind full of pained static, had first shown up a mere three days after the medical research building had burned down. But no one had ever associated him with the accident - how could they? There was no logical connection between the two aside from the time frame. His reason for jumping the FOXHOUND headquarters’ fence had yet to be clarified other than an odd but perpetually distracted fixation on Liquid, and he never stuck around for long. The last time he’d shown up, only a week ago, they’d tried to tail him on his way out, but he eluded everyone.

“I don’t know anything about that,” Naomi finally said.

“You’re sure?”

She gave Mantis a significant glance - so, if they had forgotten he was in the room, his relative invisibility had just been shattered. He settled back in the chair again, glowering. It was pathetically obvious that the two of them had some kind of collusion.

“There’s nothing you know that I wouldn’t mind getting out to the rest of FOXHOUND at this juncture,” Ocelot said dryly.

“Is that so,” Naomi said. “Well, I’m not certain I wouldn’t mind discussing my involvement in that incident. I don’t see what it has to do with the files on my computer.”

“Neither do we,” Ocelot said, “considering we have no idea what the files on your computer are, not until we can access them and read them ourselves.”

“And what are you expecting to find?”

“Records, of course,” Ocelot said, “of correspondence with the cyborg ninja you released on the world.”

“Because you and that woman forced me to,” Naomi snapped, standing up.

Ocelot raised an eyebrow. “We didn’t force you. We barely even convinced you. It was something you were going to do on your own for the sake of revenge — we merely gave you the opportunity.”

What on earth was going on?

“…I don’t have any correspondence with him,” Naomi said, looking away deliberately. The cybernetic implants did nothing to hide from Mantis the fact that she was lying - and it was quite clear that Ocelot picked up on it, too. She only needed a glance at him to realize that. “What happens if you find records of it on my computer?”

“That depends on the content. But certainly communicating with someone who has attempted to assassinate the unit’s commander on multiple occasions over the past year would be a more dire and immediate charge than embezzling.”

She stared at Ocelot for moment, then glanced at Mantis before asking, “What are you intentions as far as my medical research files go?”

“We’ll look through them to make sure you didn’t hide your correspondence anywhere in them, but otherwise leave them alone,” Ocelot said, “after all, it would be disadvantageous to us to interfere with your research, wouldn’t it? After all the advancements for our unit that you personally have made…”

Naomi’s jaw worked. Mantis supposed that the next logical question would be whether or not FOXHOUND was going to pull someone from the medical research team to tell them what exactly was in her files, just in case they were encoded in lab-speak or something like that (which no one on the squad would know if anything were out of place), but likely enough she was thinking they might not if it never occured to them, but they certainly would if she brought it up.

It was amazing how easy she was to predict; if Mantis didn’t know better, then he would have assumed that her cybernetic implants were defective. As it stood it was just likely that she was less subtle than usual and a little slow on the uptake due to her hangover.

Although, Mantis more than suspected Ocelot was at least twenty steps ahead of him as far as knowing what was going on in Naomi’s head went.

“Fine,” Naomi said, “fine. I’ll give you my password. There can’t be any harm in it, you won’t find anything.”

“Mm,” Ocelot responded, smirking lightly, and it almost sounded like a purr. Mantis rolled his eyes.

Naomi grabbed the hotel’s room service menu off the bedside table, ripped off a mostly blank corner of it, and Ocelot handed her a pen from his pocket (making sure to twirl it around his fingers once before he did so, because of course he did, that irritating bastard). She quickly scribbled something down and handed the paper to Ocelot.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” he purred - it definitely was a purr this time, god - then looked at Mantis for the first time since they had entered Naomi’s hotel room. “Come on, then. We’ve got what we came for.”

“…right,” said Mantis, unsure what Ocelot’s game was.

“Oh, by the way, Dr. Hunter,” Ocelot said just before he shut the door behind him, “before you get any bright ideas, don’t forget who Dr. Clark was.”

“Of course,” Naomi said flatly.

It wasn’t until the two of them were back in the car and Ocelot was pulling out of the parking space that Mantis demanded, “What just happened??”

“I threw her off the trail, as Liquid said,” Ocelot said calmly.

“What was all that about the cyborg ninja and the explosion at the medical research building last year?”

“Oh, that,” Ocelot said, “well, it’s simple, really. Dr. Hunter was the one responsible - well, partly responsible, it’s true that it was EVA and I who engineered it - for the ‘accident’, the death of Dr. Clark, and the escape of the man whom Dr. Clark had been… experimenting on."

He shared the information so casually that Mantis had no idea how to respond to it. He just glared at Ocelot, silently waiting for him to clarify the situation.

“Her primary motivation was the man we now call the cyborg ninja,” Ocelot continued after a moment, “what, if any, relationship there is between the two of them - I have no idea. As far as EVA or I know, she simply felt that the way Dr. Clark handled his case was barbaric and she wanted her dead out of simple altruism for another human being.”

“Yes,” Mantis said sarcastically, “that certainly sounds like Dr. Hunter.”

“Lacking any other explanation, though…”

Somehow Mantis doubted Ocelot’s claim that he didn’t know the relationship between Naomi and the cyborg ninja, because that implied that he didn’t know the identity of the cyborg ninja, which Mantis absolutely didn’t believe. He made a mental note to ask about it again later, getting Liquid on his side this time. “Why did you and EVA set it up?”

“We had our own reasons,” Ocelot said, “specifically, Dr. Clark. She was with the Patriots and needed to be removed. Simple, really.”

“…I see. At least that does explain why you told Dr. Hunter to keep in mind who Dr. Clark ‘was’.”

“Yes. If she thinks that what we’re really investigating is an incident where she effectively murdered a high-ranking Patriot agent, then she won’t go to the Patriots about our investigation. As far as they’re concerned, our investigation into her will continue to be about exactly what was put on paper for what Dr. Hunter will suppose is the sake of the public: embezzling.”

“She was a high-ranking Patriot agent?”

Ocelot stopped explaining himself. Mantis grumbled, settling back into his seat. On one hand, left to his own devices he would consider every word that ever came out of Ocelot’s mouth to be a lie, because the man lied as easily as he breathed. On the other hand, Ocelot wasn’t the type to be caught in a lie - it was rare that he ever gave out information that couldn’t be somehow verified, or at the very least, that could be disproved (even if doing so would take a hell of a lot of time, effort, and luck). In fact, loathe as Mantis was to admit it, Ocelot didn’t often lie so much as he carefully recontextualized the truth. If he told Mantis such a plain, simple fact as ‘Dr. Clark had been with the Patriots, and had been a high-ranking agent, too’, then that certainly was true.

And- Jesus, if Ocelot was willing to admit that he had engineered the murder of a high-ranking Patriot agent, didn’t that prove that he was working against the Patriots? If the Patriots were going to let him kill one of their own so he could establish his honeypot a year later, then they would have sacrificed a low-ranking agent or two to him instead.

…no. Surely Dr. Clark had outlived her usefulness somehow. Surely she had lost ranking at some point, and even if she had been pretty up there on the pecking order at one point, she certainly wasn’t by the time Ocelot had killed her.

Just, where did EVA work into this? Was she with the Patriots, too? Or had Ocelot simply fooled her? Mantis and EVA had actually gotten along pretty well on those occasions when she’d been around at Mother Base, mostly because they were united in disapproval of Liquid’s relationship with Ocelot. Even now Mantis was inclined to trust her, despite her having gotten cybernetic implants in the late eighties…

“Incidentally,” Ocelot said when he’d apparently felt Mantis had spent enough time mulling this over, “Dr. Hunter is definitely going to skip town tonight. I wouldn’t be surprised if she were already packing.”

“…should we not stop her?”

“Does that not sound like a decision to leave up to Liquid?”

Mantis didn’t bother snarking at that. He was tired of spending time with Ocelot and if Liquid decided to send them back out to corral Naomi, then Mantis was certainly staying at the base.

When they got within three miles of headquarters, the first thing Mantis did - well, the first thing Mantis always did, to be honest - was try to locate Liquid. It usually wasn’t hard, just a quick peek through his eyes or, if he had his eyes closed or his vision otherwise obstructed, his memories, but at the moment he was finding him to be… not there. Perhaps he had left headquarters?

“You could try raising him on Codec,” Ocelot said, rolling his eyes, when Mantis mumbled that Liquid didn’t seem to be around.

Mantis wasn’t much of a fan of the Codec, though… the arrangement FOXHOUND had with their own R&D team essentially boiled down to FOXHOUND being mere guinea pigs for technology that would end up being passed around to the rest of the military anyway. Sometimes that meant having an amazing new weapon long before any of their enemies conceivably could, but it almost always actually meant suffering through interminable iterations of dodgy systems while R&D worked out the kinks. As it stood, as far as Codec went it was pretty ironed out, leaving the engineers free to work on a second version where it would be possible to talk without being heard, too, but the damage had already been done. The first generation of Codec had permanently messed up Raven’s ears (restricting him to radio or, hell, cell phone if he needed to talk to support on a mission), and no matter how many times they tried to fix the one Mantis had gotten shoved in his head he still managed to get a migraine every time he used it for longer than thirty seconds.

Anyway, the point was that Ocelot, by suggesting that, was purposefully being annoying, which was what he always did as far as Mantis was concerned. So Mantis ignored him, to the point of refusing to even turn his head when Ocelot said, in mild surprise, “Huh. Will you look at the fence.”

Upon walking back into headquarters, he ran almost immediately into Wolf, who prefaced herself with “Don’t freak out.”

“What? Did something happen?”

“While you two were gone—“

He didn’t let her finish, just glanced in her mind and found that while he and Ocelot had been in town, that accursed cyborg ninja and his damnable sense of dramatic timing had come visiting FOXHOUND headquarters again and had actually managed to get close enough to Liquid to catch him with that sword of his. Liquid, although yelling at the top of his lungs when Wolf last saw him, had been carted off to the med labs by Octopus and a pair of doctors, bleeding profusely. And then Raven had chased the ninja off with his Vulcan cannon, but Mantis wasn’t really concerned about that.

He was already flinging himself to the west wing of the building.


Don’t freak out,” Liquid said as soon as Mantis burst into the room.

Eli-—!!“

“It’s just a shallow wound,” Liquid said quickly, gesturing to the bandages across his bare chest. “See? This is all. It’ll heal. Everything’s under control, Mantis.”

“But— Wolf saw you-“

“I can bleed a lot before it actually starts to matter,” Liquid waved him off, and the medic who was in the room rolled his eyes and left quickly, evidently not wanting to get involved. “Well, I mean, yes, I do feel a bit light-headed now, but it’s fine, really, you’ll just have to be extra gentle with me tonight…”

Mantis gave Liquid an annoyed look at his implication, and Liquid only smiled at him in return. If he was annoyed, that was good. That meant he wasn’t half-panicking over what Liquid really considered a minor wound — sure, Liquid could appreciate the fact that Mantis got so concerned for him whenever he got an injury, but he found that concern suffocating and tiring considering he happened to get injured a lot. He always recovered quickly, and usually without even any scars, so what did it matter?

“How did- why did you even let him get close enough to you to injure you?!”

“Because I finally got close enough to actually hear what he was muttering to himself about,” Liquid said triumphantly. “I finally know just why the hell he keeps coming here to attack me.”

“…”

Liquid wasn’t even remotely deterred by Mantis obviously thinking that that wasn’t worth it. “Dr. Hunter,” he explained, “is not the only one trying to kill my brother!! That’s why he keeps coming after me - he fails to realize that Solid Snake isn’t here anymore, and he gets confused when he sees my face and thinks that I am Snake!”

“…and this is important how?

“Well, don’t you think it might be related? I’ll grant that the ninja might very well have a good reason to kill Snake, considering we don’t know who he was before he was an insane cyborg, but as it stands it means we have two completely separate people who-“

“Dr. Hunter and the ninja are related somehow.”

Liquid blinked. “Come again?”

Mantis sighed. “It came up during Ocelot’s interrogation,” he said, and briefly summed up their trip to the hotel. Liquid blinked again.

“I see,” he said at length. “You don’t suppose they’re both trying to kill him for the same reason?”

“I have no idea. Dr. Hunter’s reason for wanting him dead did not come up. Nor did the cyborg ninja’s identity or relation to any other parties that would want Solid Snake dead.”

“Well, if he owes her his life and freedom, then I don’t find it too unlikely that she would ask him to repay her by killing Snake, since she apparently wants him dead and all - or perhaps he simply decided to do it on his own, as a show of gratitude.”

“I have tried to read his mind before, Eli,” Mantis pointed out, “it isn’t just shielded. It is broken. I do not think he is even capable of being logical enough to try to kill someone for someone else’s sake.”

“Then… perhaps Dr. Hunter wants to kill Snake because of something that happened between him and the cyborg ninja?”

“Why would she participate in vicarious revenge? What is her relationship to him?”

“How am I supposed to know? I only heard him muttering about Snake. A bit busy trying not to let him past my ribcage, really.” He started fiddling with the gauze on his chest, but put his hand down when he caught Mantis’ stern glare. Okay, maybe it was true that his habit of messing with his bandages and/or wounds was a bad one…

“Oh, incidentally,” Mantis said, lifting his chin up as though he’d suddenly remembered, “Dr. Hunter is likely to leave town tonight. Should she be stopped?”

“Did Ocelot get her password?”

“Yes.”

“Does it work?

“I do not know yet.”

“Test it quickly, if they aren’t doing that already,” Liquid said, swinging his legs over the side of the examination table he’d been sitting on, “if it works just fine, let her go but keep her under surveillance of some sort - just keep track of her location, follow her paper trail, whatever. I don’t think it’d be necessary to have someone actually tail her, from the sound of it she wouldn’t dare cause any problems with the Patriots. If the password doesn’t work…”

“-bring her back here, get one that does work, and execute her for lying to us.”

“Well, you don’t have to put it so bluntly,” Liquid said, standing up. Ooh, mistake. He swayed on his feet almost immediately, and when he took a step forward instead of sitting back down, Mantis had to catch him - mostly using his psychic powers, of course, as always, but he let Liquid cling to his shoulders and chuckle lightly at his own dizziness. “There are other avenues we can pursue as far as finding out what the deal is with the cyborg ninja,” he continued regardless, “in the meantime, it’d be better to turn her loose and see what happens from there. Alright, I’m going AMA. Take me to the others, Mantis, let’s get this encryption business sorted.”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you should be walking around, boss?” Wolf asked.

“It looked worse than it actually was,” Liquid said dismissively, sitting down. “Now, about that password—“

“Works just fine,” Octopus said at Naomi’s computers. “Guess I was wrong about it probably being her older brother figure’s birthday, though. It’s a date alright, but about eight years after her birthday. Must be an anniversary of some kind.”

“It doesn’t matter what it is,” Liquid said, “just as long as we can view the data on FOXDIE now.”

“Well, we can.” He pushed himself back from the table, and everyone else kind of leaned towards the monitor. “Hell if I know what any of this means, though. Bunch of technobabble. Anyone?”

“Is there not a progress report that she has written?” Raven said, “I am sure that the Patriots would want regular updates on FOXDIE’s completion status, written in plain language.”

“Oh yeah, hang on,” Octopus said, clicking around. At least Naomi was organized enough to put all her status reports in a folder helpfully labelled ‘Status Reports’, which had a subfolder labelled ‘Sent’. Octopus pulled up the one that wasn’t yet in the ‘Sent’ folder. It was… largely blank.

“This looks like a template,” Wolf said.

“She must be sending quarterly reports, then,” Mantis said - okay, guessed — “that would have given her another two weeks to finish writing up this report.”

“Look under ‘Sent’,” Liquid said, “her most recent one would be fairly out of date, but it’s better than nothing.”

Octopus opened up the most recently created file in the ‘Sent’ folder. Liquid was mildly amused to find that it read almost exactly the same way his reports to the Army brass went - mostly talking up the unit, or this case, the progress made on FOXDIE, while hinting that a larger budget might be appreciated. Although Naomi’s subtle pleas for more money were significantly less desperate than Liquid’s… which was odd, considering the medical research team worked off of the same shitty budget the rest of FOXHOUND did. Were the Patriots supplying her with extra money? Wouldn’t that make the embezzling charge legitimate?

“What does it mean if it is going ‘according to schedule’?” Wolf wondered aloud, “what is their schedule? That could mean anything from 10% completed to nearly ready to kill all of us.”

“The schedule might be in here somewhere,” Octopus said, closing the progress report and clicking through folders again. He eventually found a spreadsheet with two week windows of time starting in December 2003 and ending in January 2005, each of which had a very technically involved description of where the FOXDIE virus should be at that point in time.

“They only gave her a year and a month to create this?” Raven said incredulously.

Liquid squinted at the 1 Dec 2003–15 Dec 2003 block. “I think somebody else must have been working on this prior to her. It looks like her involvement has been almost entirely figuring out how to ‘program’ the virus to recognize certain people’s DNA.”

“Really?” Wolf said, “is that what it says?”

“I think so. I’ll admit I’m not exactly an expert in this field, but I’ve read enough books on it to know most of these terms. Octopus, scroll down.”

Octopus scrolled down until they found September 2004.

“So if she is still on schedule…” Mantis started.

“…then she hasn’t actually encoded our genes into it yet,” Liquid finished, still squinting at the screen. “Looks like by now, she… hm, I don’t recognize these names.”

“The ArmsTech board of directors,” Octopus said, “or at least, that’s what it said in another file. We found a copy of that list Ocelot mentioned, only your name wasn’t underlined.”

“So she only did that on the paper copy Ocelot saw? I suppose that makes sense.” He stood up, wincing slightly at un-bending his torso. “Well, if Dr. Hunter’s abandoning her project, that means we’re in the clear… for now. Maybe.”

“Someone else might have been working on it separately,” Mantis clarified Liquid’s thoughts to everyone else, “or someone else might take over the project with her gone.”

“Gone?” Raven said, crossing his arms.

“Where did she go?” Wolf said, “did Ocelot kill her?”

“Oh, no,” came Ocelot’s voice from the doorway to the conference room. Everyone except Mantis turned around. “She fled her hotel just before I returned to it. From the looks of things, she headed up to Minot — planning to cross the border into Canada eventually, would be my guess.”

“So she’s a non-issue for now,” Liquid said. “Alright. Really we’ll just need to keep an eye on any replacements that might come in with instructions to continue her FOXDIE program — Octopus, do you think you can find any indication of anyone working on it separately, or any kind of collaborator?”

“If it’s in here,” Octopus said, “I could probably find it eventually. I don’t think it’d be in the files where she was actually programming the virus’ genetic modification or whatever it was she was doing.”

“Right. You do that, then. In the meantime…” Liquid laced his fingers in front of him, cracking his knuckles. “We might as well take this a step further, actually.”

“You want me to find out where the actual FOXDIE samples are first?” Octopus said.

“Yes. Once we have a location, we can destroy the samples directly - in all likelihood Dr. Hunter would get the blame for it as far as the Patriots go, considering her flight to Canada. We’ll be in the clear even if there is a replacement imposed on our medical team; it’ll take them some time to get back to the point where Dr. Hunter was.”

“I’ll let you know as soon as I find anything, boss,” Octopus said. “Hey, Raven, want to get me some coffee? I think I’ll pull an all-nighter and see if I can’t get this wrapped up by tomorrow.”

Raven shrugged, and left the room.

“In the meantime,” Liquid said, folding his arms, “Ocelot, keep tabs on Dr. Hunter, just in case we need her again. But don’t go overboard, she doesn’t need to know she’s being tailed and we don’t need to know anything more specific than her general location and who she might have come into contact with - especially Patriots.”

“Certainly, boss,” Ocelot said.

“Wolf, Mantis… business as usual. You two and Raven will be at the top of the assignment list if anything comes in.”

“You’re planning on going and destroying the FOXDIE virus yourself once Octopus finds the location,” Mantis accused.

Liquid shrugged. “As commander, I’m the one who’d have the easiest time of slipping off on an unsanctioned mission without raising any eyebrows. I can just give myself vacation time.”

“Be sure to bring back some souvenirs for us,” Wolf snarked.


That night Mantis shared his meandering conclusions about Ocelot and Dr. Clark with Liquid as Liquid was getting ready for bed.

“You’re so paranoid when it comes to him,” Liquid said, shaking his hair out of his ponytail and sitting on the bed next to Mantis. “And it really does sound like he set up that whole conversation to give you, specifically, a reason to believe him.”

“That is exactly what worries me,” Mantis said, “the more he intentionally does to convince me to trust him, the more certain I am that I have reason to distrust him. No one goes to any real effort to get you to trust them unless they are planning on backstabbing you.”

“It’s not about trust, Mantis,” Liquid said, yawning and lying back, “I know he’s long since given up on you trusting him. He just wants you to accept the fact that he is telling the truth with this.”

Fact? I really do not think that is a fact, Eli.”

“Paranoid,” Liquid muttered, absent-mindedly picking at the gauze on his chest again.

Mantis leaned over him. “I have reason to be,” he reminded him, placing a hand on his stomach right over his upside-down-V-shaped scar. Liquid rolled his eyes.

“That was ten years ago, Mantis.”

“Nine years ago. He spent a year abusing you.”

Liquid sat up, annoyed, and pushed Mantis off of him. “For the last time, it wasn’t abuse,” he said heatedly, “I’ll grant it might not have been the healthiest way of coping, but he never abused me.”

“To inflict that level of sexual violence on you mere weeks after-“

I initiated!” Liquid snapped, “every time from the very beginning at Mother Base until you tried to kill him! And even after that, I can still count the number of times when it wasn’t me starting it on one hand.”

“Just because you started it doesn’t mean you wanted it,” Mantis said coldly.

“Like hell I didn’t.”

“He groomed you - he was manipulating you.” He scoffed. “He still is. It’s hardly even different now, it hasn’t quite been three months since the last time you cheated on me with him.”

“That- that wasn’t—“

Mantis hooked a finger into the lead of Liquid’s collar and pulled him close. “I do not blame you,” he said, his voice insidiously gentle, “I do wish that it weren’t so, but - you are impulsive and gullible, and easy to manipulate. It is not your fault Ocelot can take advantage of you so readily.”

“Don’t say that, Mantis,” Liquid said, squirming. “That’s not true.”

“Which part? You being impulsive, or too trusting?”

“I— …Ocelot’s not manipulating me. He’s not.”

Mantis sighed, let go of him. Liquid hated it when Mantis went off about Ocelot like this - his insistent efforts to convince Liquid that Ocelot had abused him always left Liquid feeling uncomfortable in multiple different ways, none of which he could really place.

“…I do not mean to unsettle you, Eli,” Mantis said, taking Liquid’s jaw in his hand this time. “But the truth is not a pretty thing.”

“Cute,” Liquid said dryly, “now, how does that apply to your own insistence that Ocelot’s some kind of monster?“

“Monster? No, Eli, you and I are monsters. Unnatural creatures who only do what we have to in order to survive. Ocelot is entirely too human — so artistically cruel…”

“You’re just afraid that the world’s more a complicated place than you like to think it is,” Liquid said. “You’re all too willing to demonize Ocelot just because he did something- unpleasant— you don’t want to admit that it was the only way and you’d do the same if you were in his boots.”

“I would never,” Mantis hissed.

Liquid grabbed him around the waist and pulled him close. “You do so many of the same things he did, anyway,” he murmured spitefully, “you know, between the two of you, I really don’t think I can get off anymore without being called a ‘good boy’. Did you coordinate on that or something?”

“Eli—-“

Liquid kissed him underneath his ear, then laid down on the bed again, pulling Mantis down with him, stretching out under him luxuriously, seductively - and grimaced, half-curling in on himself, not at all liking the feeling of his skin pulling at the edges of his chokuto wound.

At least suddenly remembering his injury successfully distracted Mantis, who slid off of him, his concern pressing at the edges of Liquid’s consciousness. “Do not strain yourself, Eli.”

“It’s nothing, Mantis, really. Just a twinge.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m perfectly fine.” He took Mantis’ hands, and kissed his knuckles. “Just, remember what I said earlier - be gentle with me tonight. Somehow I don’t think you’d be very committed to sex if you’ve managed to make me start bleeding again.”

“You still expect sex? Sometimes I can hardly believe you, Eli.”

“We always have sex after we argue, Mantis, we’re predictable.” He pulled him towards him again, and kissed the underside of his chin submissively. That really wasn’t how I wanted that conversation to go, he thought, but either way I still love you and I want to show you as much.

Mantis sighed again, although less irritably this time. “No, don’t show me anything. Lie back and let me take care of you.”

“Mmm. Fine.”

The upside to arguing about Ocelot was that Mantis, in what Liquid assumed was an effort to prove he was better for Liquid than Ocelot was, would always be intoxicatingly affectionate afterwards. His touch on Liquid’s cock was teasingly soft, but his stroking had a reassuring steadiness that could only come from the slightly detached, clinical way Mantis tended to approach sex. After so many years Liquid had really come to enjoy it way more than he probably should, although he’d never really mastered the art of staying still while Mantis was touching him like this, no matter how many times Mantis murmured to him to stop squirming so much, to just relax and let it happen.

“A-Ah… god, M-Mantis…”

“Hush, Eli.”

“Mnghh… Mantis, a l-little faster, p-please…?”

By the time that was over and the tension has passed, leaving just comfortable sleepiness and a vague, residual arousal that demanded Liquid’s body be pressed as close to Mantis’ as possible, Liquid had almost entirely dismissed Mantis’ fussing about Ocelot as nothing more than his typical performative hatred of the man. He wasn’t worried. Mantis might not trust Liquid’s judgement, but Liquid did; and anyway Mantis wasn’t about to cause any actual problems, such as killing or trying to kill Ocelot. He’d had plenty of opportunities already. Hell, he’d even had some today, while they’d been alone together on deserted country roads. But he never did a thing.

He felt Mantis’ arm tighten around his shoulder, presumably at that thought. He didn’t much care, though. He was right and Mantis damn well knew it.

“Eli, if I ever get even the faintest inkling that whatever plan he has up his sleeve is going to get you hurt or killed,” Mantis said, very seriously, “then I swear I will make him rue the day he was even born.”

“Why can’t you put this kind of motivation into your day job?” Liquid yawned.


“Morning, Octopus. Any progress?”

“Oh- morning, boss,” Octopus said, “you know, next time acquisition orders come around, you really should try to get us some instant coffee that doesn’t suck. Or better yet, actual coffee beans a grinder to go with them.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Wasn’t what I asked, though.”

Octopus leaned back in the conference room chair, stretching and yawning. “Almost got it, I think,” he said, “I found a whole bunch of mentions of how the process of actually modifying the virus is mostly automated, and done remotely from here — I think Dr. Hunter just pretty much tells the computer which of the virus’ genes need to be modified. Genes…? Do viruses have genes?” He blinked. “Honestly, I have no idea. But you get the gist. I’m not sure Dr. Hunter has ever even seen the samples of the virus.”

“Any clue as to where exactly it is?” Liquid said.

“Uh… halfway across the country, as far as I can tell. It’s definitely in America, though. I’ll keep looking. But as soon as I find it, I’m going to go take a nice, long nap.”

“Fine by me. Keep me posted.”

In the meantime, Liquid had to go back to his office and fill out more paperwork, this time on the subject of suspending the investigation into Naomi’s so-called embezzling due to her suddenly disappearing in the general direction of Canada. It was significantly less to fill out than starting the investigation, but nonetheless after twenty minutes Liquid laid his head on his desk and wondered who the hell thought it was a good idea to promote him to a commander of a special forces unit. Probably some Patriot somewhere.

Now that he thought about it, did they appoint him because he was too easily distracted and frustrated to put up much of a fight for the FOXHOUND budget? Surely if they wanted to financially strangle FOXHOUND out of existence, they still had to go through the official channels for it, if only for appearances’ sake.

Liquid frowned at the thought of strangling FOXHOUND out of existence. Were the days of the unit - his biological father’s unit, the unit that had killed his real father in cold blood - numbered? Even if they weren’t already, there was no way they’d be allowed to continue to operate as normal once the Patriots got even the faintest inkling - the slightest rumor - of what was brewing here. Somewhat of a disheartening thought…

Liquid wasn’t the only one who had, despite everything, found a new home in FOXHOUND…

He sat up. No. Even if they were stripped of their official status as a special forces unit, even if they were chased off their base and out of the country, became fugitives — they were, at the very least, united in a common purpose. They wouldn’t simply be scattered to the uncaring winds of a world that no longer had a place for people like them. Liquid would make sure of that personally if he had to.

…although separating Mantis and Ocelot might be a good idea.

Wolf poked her head in his office (his door hadn’t been shut). “Octopus found the location of the FOXDIE samples.”

“Did he?”

She nodded. “Mhm. The basement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. Presumably right next to their 451 samples of smallpox.”

“Atlanta? I see,” Liquid said, “well, I’ve never been to the American Georgia. This should be interesting.”

She leaned against his doorway. “Are you sure,” she said, “that it won’t be even a little suspicious that you are going ‘on vacation’ to Atlanta at the same time as the FOXDIE samples go missing or are compromised?”

“The vacation part shouldn’t be suspicious,” he said, “I’m sure it’s common knowledge that I would certainly get frustrated over having to suspend an embezzling investigation and my idea of stress relief typically isn’t lazing around the base.”

“Yes, but Georgia…?”

They don’t know that we know about FOXDIE, remember?” Liquid said, “as long as I come back with some kind of proof that I was taking a vacation, I’m certain they won’t put two and two together. …what is there to do in Atlanta?”

“I have no idea. They probably have a zoo. Perhaps take some pictures there, buy something at the gift shop. Or maybe visit another city as well.”

“Hm… I should ask around. I think what’s his name - Staiger - on the R&D team is from that part of the country.”

“Is he the one that’s always hovering around that tiny Chinese girl?”

“No, I think that’s Stader. Isn’t it?”

“I cannot keep all these people straight…”

“Anyway, I’ll just have to remember to pack properly,” Liquid said lightly, “and make a road trip out of it instead of subjecting myself to the TSA. Might get hairy if anyone notices a sneaking suit in my luggage…”


“Why is Wolf in charge?” Octopus protested, “I’ve been here longer than her!

“You are supposed to be sifting through Dr. Hunter’s data,” Wolf said. “And I have been here as long as Liquid has, that is enough.”

“And the only other person who’s been here as long as Wolf and I have is Mantis,” Liquid said, “and he’s going with me as backup, since we weren’t able to get our hands on the CDC headquarters’ building plans without anyone noticing. That and it isn’t unusual for us to take time off together.”

“Boss, do you have a backup plan in case the CDC employees with basement access have cybernetic implants?” Raven said.

“Yes,” Liquid said, “improvise.”

“…that is not a plan.”

“They give cybernetic implants to people working on top-secret projects, not cleaning staff,” Mantis said dismissively, “finding out the layout of the building should be no trouble.”

“Getting into it will,” Ocelot said, “although I don’t doubt your ability, boss. Just be careful.”

“I’m always careful,” Liquid said, and Wolf laughed.

So Wolf was left in charge of the base and Liquid threw his and Mantis’ luggage in the back of an appropriated car, and they set off for the South. The drive was to take about two days, so Liquid had decided that the singular night on the road between FOXHOUND headquarters and the hotel he’d booked just outside Atlanta would be better spent just sleeping in the car. Mantis didn’t object. In all likelihood he wasn’t going to be sleeping anyway. He did, however, not offer to drive while Liquid slept.

“Nice to get away from Ocelot for a few days,” Mantis, in the passenger seat, muttered.

“Oh, enough,” Liquid, behind the wheel, replied. “All his information so far has been accurate and he’s even been verified by someone you get along with. What more do you want?”

“I do not want him.”

“Too bad. He isn’t going anywhere.”

“…he has made himself indispensable,” Mantis grumbled, folding his arms.

Liquid rolled his eyes. “What, do you feel-“

“-threatened that he might usurp my status as your right-hand man?” Mantis finished his sentence irritably, “no, Eli. Not something so inane as that, and you know it.”

“Christ, Mantis, can we go two days without you bringing up what happened in ’94? I don’t want to be reminded of what happened in ’94.”

“Hmph.”

“You’re so obsessed with him,” Liquid sighed, “it isn’t healthy.”

“Do not talk to me about what is and is not healthy, Eli.”

There was a long, uncomfortable silence in which Liquid just wished they could talk about something else. Mantis didn’t really have anything to offer, though, aside from making the radio ‘spontaneously’ switch itself on.

        “-—I’d give you anything, but you want pain…!

        “A little water please…

        “I taste you all over my teeth-

        “Never again! Just tonight? Okay—-

Liquid wondered if Mantis had found that song on purpose. It was another hour before they were out of range of that particular station.

“So,” Liquid said awkwardly, “anything you… particularly want to do while trying to fake a vacation?”

Mantis shrugged noncommittally.

Liquid frowned. “You’re not being helpful, Mantis.”

“I have been to Atlanta once. It was not very interesting.”

“You’ve been to Atlanta? You never told me that before.”

“It was back when you were still— back when I was still a psychic spy working corporate espionage. And as I said, it was not very interesting.” He tilted his head slightly. “The city’s obsession with Coca-Cola is… amusing, though.”

“Ah…”

And later in the night, somewhere in south Wisconsin, Liquid knelt between Mantis’ legs, swallowing his cock and rutting against his ankle, and the radio played garbled snatches of “Let It Be” on a staticky radio station from somewhere far away. It was raining. When they were done, Liquid fell straight asleep with his head cradled in Mantis’ lap, fingers running through his hair.

When he woke up in the morning, his back and knees were killing him.

Chapter Text

“Who put part of a dollar bill on the corkboard?” Wolf said.

“Huh?” Octopus said, walking by with his thousandth cup of coffee that week. “Oh, that was me.”

“…why?”

“It’s- it’s the Eye of Providence. I thought it would be funny to stick it to the board with a pushpin through its pupil.”

“The… what?”

“The Eye of Providence. You know, the Illuminati?”

Wolf blinked at him.

He blithely took a sip of coffee. “Wolf, I have got some amazing forum threads to show you once I’m done with Dr. Hunter’s files.”

“…hm.”

“It’s not like we had anything on this stupid ‘announcements’ board other than a ‘No blonde jokes’ sign…”

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Georgia.

“The sunglasses are just unnecessary, Eli.”

Liquid gave him a look from under the gold-colored aviators. “I am a tourist, thank you.”

“You would need more than sunglasses to convince anyone you are an innocent tourist who happens to have been loitering around the CDC headquarters all afternoon, Eli. That is why I am here.”

“Yes, yes, the SEP field, I know…”

“I cannot believe you were initially planning on doing this all on your own.”

“Well, I reconsidered, didn’t I?” He frowned, grumbling to himself. “So I’m more one for action than planning… at least I know my own limitations.”

“Mm.”

Someone behind them whistled loudly, and they both turned around. Liquid blanched.

“Oh my g— M-Mother??

EVA waved.

Liquid did his best to hide behind Mantis, which was about as effective as hiding behind a lamppost. “What is she doing here,” he hissed.

“Clearly there’s been a leak,” Mantis said dryly. “Shall we go say hello to your mother, Eli?”

“I haven’t seen her in nine years, what am I supposed to-?!”

It was too late. Mantis was already walking towards her. Cursing under his breath, Liquid followed.

EVA hadn’t changed much in the past nine years: she was a little obviously older, but she was the type of woman who aged well - not that that justified how low-cut her shirt was, at her age - so the only major difference was that she’d cut her hair rather short at some point and was now wearing it combed back instead of loose around her face. She was also wearing sunglasses, although round two-tone ones, which she lowered to peer at Liquid over.

“Ocelot told me what you were up to,” she said before Liquid could say anything.

“I am not surprised,” Mantis said.

“And you came because…?” Liquid said warily.

EVA gave him an annoyed look. “He said that your infiltration plan amounted to ‘we’ll just wing it and see what happens’, so I caught the first flight over. I can help you get into the CDC without getting caught, you know.”

“We’re doing perfectly fine on our own,” Liquid protested. Damn that Ocelot, saying he didn’t doubt Liquid’s infiltration abilities and then going around behind his back to bring his mother here as backup…

“That would be highly appreciated,” Mantis said at the same time.

EVA smiled brightly. “I’m guessing you two are hanging out here to try and observe the shifts people come and go in?”

“We thought about doing it in the museum instead,” Liquid said grudgingly, “but that wouldn’t give us a good enough view of the comings and goings, plus we’d be too likely to be caught on security cameras - not really a good idea to interfere with them in the middle of the day. We’re allegedly on vacation here, too, but visiting the CDC museum would just be pushing it.”

She raised her eyebrows and shrugged. “I know what I’m doing,” she said, “I used to know someone who worked here.”

“That’s… vague.”

“That’s enough to get you into the basement where the FOXDIE sample is kept.”

“When are we doing this?” Mantis said.

“Tomorrow night,” EVA said, then grabbed both of their arms. Mantis placidly accepted it, while Liquid tensed, his eyes flicking towards the road like he was seriously considering running into traffic. “Now, in the meantime…”

“I don’t think I like where this is going,” Liquid said.

“We have a lot of catching up to do, Eli,” EVA said, marching the two of them away from the CDC headquarters. “Besides - I think I just proved that Mantis’ SEP field doesn’t work on anyone with cybernetic implants—“

“You read Life, the Universe and Everything too?” Mantis said.

“Mantis, I was around for the series’ original radio broadcasts. Anyway, you were going to get noticed eventually. Most of the CDC staff are clean, but there are a few Patriot agents, and generally speaking it’s Patriot agents who got cybernetic implants first.”

Liquid snatched his arm out of her grip. “Didn’t you get implants back in the eighties?

“No, I got them back in the sixties. Held up well all these years, haven’t they?”

“…wh-“

“I’m kidding. Geez, you’re so much like your father. Yes, I got the psychic insulation cybernetic implants back in ’88, when they were just starting the program. I thought Ocelot told you I’m a double agent…?”

Liquid opened his mouth, then closed it. He’d completely forgotten about that.

“I would much rather trust your information on the Patriots than Ocelot’s,” Mantis said flatly.

“We’re giving you the same information, Mantis.”

“He’s hiding something.”

“He’s not dumping everything he knows on you at once; there’s a difference. By the way, Eli…”

“What?” Liquid said irritably, pointedly trailing a few paces behind EVA, who was still holding an unprotesting Mantis’ arm.

“Where on earth did you get those sunglasses?”

“…found them in an abandoned desk back at headquarters. Thought they looked good on me. Why?”

She glanced over her shoulder at him, her lips tight. “Nothing,” she said. “Something about them kind of… bothers me, I suppose, but it’s not important.”

“I should hope not, they’re only sunglasses.”

“Nevermind. Now, Eli, Mantis — we have all afternoon, what should we do? You two are pretending to be on vacation, after all.”

“I really don’t think I want to-“

“I insist,” EVA said, “I’m your mother, after all.”

“Eli and I just came from Centennial Olympic Park,” Mantis said, “we could go back there.”

The fact that Mantis got along with EVA better than he did would never fail to irritate Liquid. Mostly because their initial amicability had only come about because they both got their panties in a twist about Liquid sleeping with Ocelot back in ’94. (Although EVA had seemed resigned to it by ’95. Mantis still thought of it as the end of the world…) But either way — ’94 and ’95, they’d only seen EVA on a handful of occasions, really, regardless of the persistent observations that EVA’s contact with Outer Heaven had dramatically increased after Liquid joined their ranks. Combined with the fact that prior to that Liquid had only seen her a few times when he was thirteen before she unceremoniously disappeared from his life, Liquid found himself… well, not exactly hesitant to think of her as his mother, more like horrified at how willing he was, on some level, to accept her as such.

Somehow the idea of being on what amounted to a family outing with his mother and his boyfriend was even stranger to Liquid than the context of the whole ‘vacation’ thing actually just being an alibi for the destruction of a virus being engineered to wipe out him, his whole unit (except Ocelot), and his surviving family (except, presumably, EVA - if Ocelot wasn’t on the list, she shouldn’t have been either).

“Oh, I have an idea,” EVA said, “Eli, you like Shakespeare, don’t you? There’s this tavern downtown that puts on plays every weekend, we could go tonight. I think it’ll start in a few hours.”

“Do you happen to know which play?” Mantis asked.

“Yes,” EVA admitted, smiling, “I was actually hoping to go see it. Much Ado About Nothing.”

“Hmm…”

Well… it was just until he and Mantis returned to FOXHOUND headquarters, anyway, wasn’t it?

Liquid sighed. “…didn’t have anything planned for this evening anyway, Mother.”


An assignment came in to FOXHOUND. It was really nothing special, just a generic “We need this thing blown up in the interests of national security blah blah blah but we can’t let anyone know the U.S. government is involved in this or else our diplomatic relations might be endangered blah blah blah!” mission that suited Raven’s lack of subtlety just fine, so Wolf gave him the assignment and Raven would be headed off for eastern Uzbekistan at 0600 hours the following morning. In the meantime, Wolf had to fill out the requisite forms in Liquid’s stead, which she was determined to do without bitching as much as he did, except even the word paperwork made her want to roll her eyes. And maybe toss said paperwork out a window.

She opened the door to Liquid’s office and found that cyborg ninja already standing in there.

“…how—“

He pointed his sword at her. “Where is my friend?” he demanded.

Wolf was so shocked he actually said something understandable - usually he was almost entirely incoherent, and the first couple times he’d bothered them he had been yelling in garbled Portuguese, of all languages - that it took her a few precious seconds to remember that she was pretty useless without her rifle, and slam the door shut and take off sprinting down the hallway, raising the other two available members of FOXHOUND on Codec as she ran.

“What are you men even good for??” she hissed as she heard the office door splinter behind her. Liquid was going to throw a fit when he got back.

“Whatever it is, I’m busy,” Octopus said immediately.

“What’s going on?” Ocelot sighed.

“That damn ninja has returned! And I am not sure where he is… he did not follow me very far…”

She had only turned about two corners between Liquid’s office and where she was now, but there was no sign of the cyborg ninja. Wolf didn’t let herself think that she’d managed to lose him - even from the very beginning he’d always displayed an odd sort of familiarity with the layout of the base, with the exception of the time he’d gotten into the then-still-under-construction med labs, to which he never returned. He never went to the other building on campus, either. It actually worked out just fine that he only bothered FOXHOUND and not their medical or R&D team…

“So… he could be anywhere,” Octopus said. “Great. I’m locking the door.”

“That won’t help you,” Ocelot said. “Wolf, do you want me to go wake up Raven?”

“And risk him falling back asleep afterwards and missing his deployment?” Wolf said, “not while I am responsible for him. I am going to go get my rifle.”

“That’s not going to help much, either…”

“Then you find him, Ocelot!”

That was exactly what Ocelot did. After prowling the base for a while he found the cyborg ninja had actually gone outside, to the training grounds, where he was standing perfectly still, face tilted up towards the sky, arms at his sides and chokuto held carelessly loose in one hand. Ocelot was mildly surprised — he didn’t think the cyborg ninja had spent a single second not jittering around like a pinball on speed ever since he was torn out of his artificial coma.

Of course, it didn’t last. The faintest clink of Ocelot’s spurts - still further away than most people would be able to hear from - brought him back to life, spinning to face Ocelot, sword at the ready, mechanically mumbling what sounded like a recitation of Kansai train stations.

Ocelot already had his SAA dawn and pointing unwaveringly at the ninja’s single red ‘eye’.

“Every time you come around here,” Ocelot said, “I’m always surprised you managed to last this long without your life support. Or that you haven’t put yourself out of your misery already. Actually, I’m surprised you didn’t do that long before you were ever refitted as a cyborg.”

“Where is…” the ninja rasped, “where is—“

“You have thirty seconds to get off this campus before I fire.”

“Where is- Naomi?” he said, then repeated, “Naomi,” then said it a third time in a soft hiss - then he started screaming, his body seizing, and Ocelot’s count had only reached seventeen when he was gone. Back over the fence, hopefully not to return for at least a couple weeks. Ideally to get hit by a truck or something. Surely that exoskeleton would crack under enough force.

“Was that the ninja I just saw fleeing the base?” Wolf said over Codec.

“Yes,” Ocelot said, “he started shrieking and ran off. As he does.”

“Well… at least that is dealt with. He has always waited at least a few days before coming to harass us again, so we should be fine for now…”

“This was closer to the last time than he’s ever been before,” Ocelot pointed out, “he’s always waited two weeks at the minimum, but he was just here four days ago.”

“Perhaps injuring Liquid encouraged him? He hadn’t wounded any of us before that.”

“Hmm. Maybe.”

Wolf sighed. “What am I supposed to do about the door? It is completely wrecked, and I would rather Liquid not find out about that…”

“He’s going to find out no matter what you do,” Ocelot said, re-holstering his gun. “The money for a replacement door will come out of our budget anyway - unless you want to hold a fundraiser carwash.”

“…”

“Wolf?”

“That is not a bad idea…”

“Wolf, I wasn’t being serious.”

“No, it could work,” Wolf said, “we could make enough money for it in two hours if I wear a bikini and bend over frequently.”

“‘We’? I’m not going to participate in this.”

“Well… Octopus could put on one of his female disguises, and also wear a bikini and bend over frequently…”

Ocelot hung up.


“-—chased us right out of the province, which honestly at this point I don’t blame them, it was the third village in the week we’d burned down-“

“Don’t take all the credit for it, Eli.”

“Fine, the third village that week that Mantis had burned down. Mostly. I helped.”

“So then what?” EVA said, “did the villagers ever come back?”

“Evidently,” Liquid said, “a few weeks later we were wired the agreed amount. I really hadn’t thought we were going to get paid for that one, but there we were.”

“To be fair,” Mantis said, “we were hired to rid their villages of the soldiers who had taken them over and driven them out. At no point did we guarantee that their property would remain intact.”

“You did get the soldiers out, I suppose,” EVA said.

“Only five of the villages burning to the ground was surprisingly non-destructive, too,” Mantis said.

Liquid shrugged. “The money didn’t last, though, because right before that happened our car had gotten blown to hell and we had to spend most of our payout on a new one.”

“And bribes,” Mantis added.

“Yes, and bribes. God it can be so hard to get even basic necessities when you’re not a citizen and your occupation is listed as ‘mercenary’.”

“Tell me about it,” EVA said. “What about the black market?”

“Er… too many people we’d had issues with.”

“As it turns out, even black market dealers will blacklist people who have shot at them at some point,” Mantis said, “who knew?”

EVA laughed. “And you two managed to get into all this trouble in how many months?”

“Less than six, wasn’t it?” Liquid said.

“That sounds correct,” Mantis said, “I did not really pay attention to the date during that time.”

“Everyone recruited to FOXHOUND after Campbell took over was from Outer Heaven, but he really didn’t send out very many invitations even though so many people left after the Galzburg incident,” EVA said, “he must have heard of your reputation as mercenaries, too.”

“In that case, I’m honestly surprised he was willing to take a chance on us,” said Liquid lightly, “oh, Mother - your ice cream’s dripping.”

As far as EVA was concerned it wasn’t a very subtle way to change the subject, but he was right, it was — and considering they were in the middle of a city, it had definitely been too expensive to waste. (They’d stopped and gotten ice cream cones after Much Ado About Nothing - hey, it was September in the South, it was hot enough to justify it — or rather, EVA and Liquid had gotten ice cream, and Mantis hadn’t gotten anything. Again, they were in the middle of a city. There was no way in hell he was taking off his mask for literally anything.)

“I mean,” EVA said, taking a lick of her ice cream, “Campbell never knew about the whole ‘clone’ thing, did he?”

“I don’t think so,” Liquid said. “I never personally discussed it with him, but…”

“He knew he has some kind of relation to Solid Snake, and he did comment on how they look similar,” Mantis said, “but I believe he was mostly under the impression that them both having ‘Snake’ in their codenames was due to comparable skill levels.”

Liquid nodded. “The one time he overheard me talking about it, he told me it was utterly pointless to compare myself to him. It certainly didn’t come across as him realizing that we are related."

“You shouldn’t be comparing yourself to him,” EVA pointed out.

“Then no one should have ever told me about the modifications they- the Patriots- made to our genes. Please, I already know they designed me to be the inferior twin, Mother.”

“I… well… maybe?”

“They did not fill you in on all the details?” Mantis said.

EVA’s eyebrows drew together. “I was told that… let’s see if I remember this correctly… a lot of the ‘soldier genes’ they identified in Big Boss were Mendelian, so one of you was supposed to express them all as dominant and one all as recessive.”

“Right,” Liquid said, “I’m the recessive one.” He flicked his blond ponytail. “Obviously.”

“Yes… but… I don’t remember if Big Boss himself expressed most of those genes as dominant or recessive. I don’t think they told me. But if he was mostly recessive, then you’d be the ‘genetically superior’ one, Eli.” She made air-quotes with one hand as she said ‘genetically superior’ to emphasize the fact that she didn’t think of either one of the twins as being better than the other.

Liquid shook his head anyway. “I was told that I was the inferior one. They must have been mostly dominant in Big Boss.” He said the name bitterly.

“Who told you that?” EVA demanded.

“Big Boss himself. He would know, wouldn’t he?”

“I… suppose the only one who would really know for sure is- was Dr. Clark. But I think the whole experiment was non-conclusive anyway. Both you and your brother have accomplished great things in your lives so far.”

Liquid snorted. “Like killing Big Boss?”

“If it makes you feel any better,” Mantis said, “your brother is an alcoholic in Alaska while you are running a special forces unit.”

“You two are equal in my eyes,” EVA said firmly, “you’re my sons and I’m very proud of both of you and I love you both unconditionally.”

“…right,” Liquid said, “I can’t take you seriously when you say that on the first occasion we’ve seen each other in nine years.”

“That isn’t my fault.”

“And I never even met you until I was thirteen.”

“I was against that!”

“And for the nine years between when I was thirteen and twenty-two - not even a word.”

“I was told you didn’t want to keep in touch with me. And I thought you were doing just fine on your own!”

“He didn’t,” Mantis said, “and he wasn’t.”

“Mantis, hush,” Liquid said.

EVA shook her head, no longer finding her ice cream cone appealing. “I did the best I could from where I was, Eli. It was completely out of my hands, though - the most I could ever do was send Ocelot after you when you got taken prisoner.”

If the conversation was already uncomfortable, it was now excruciating. Liquid’s expression changed, going both a little angry and a little blank, and he looked away. Mantis narrowed his eyes.

That ended well,” he said sarcastically.

The corner of EVA’s mouth twitched down. True, it hadn’t been until after Liquid had dumped Ocelot that the truth about what had happened in that prison camp the day he was recovered had come out to her, but— “Better than dying alone in Al-Dibdibah,” she said quietly.

“Right,” Liquid said, in a strangely faint voice, then he went back to eating his ice cream without further comment.

EVA took a deep breath. Okay. This evening was rapidly turning into a disaster - and the saddest part was that, when Liquid was cheerfully recounting stupid shit he’d done either as a soldier at Outer Heaven or an independent mercenary with Mantis, she’d started thinking that Liquid was settling into the fact that she was his mother, and getting more comfortable with her, and he was sharing his stories as a genuine attempt to bond with her and maybe even try to forgive her for being so often absent from his life. And then she had to go and bring up the Galzburg incident, and to try to salvage the discussion after that, and to remind him that she was the one to blame for what Ocelot did to him back in 1994.

Oh, she didn’t fault Ocelot for it, not really. He was right, it had been the only way. He had to break Liquid, and what were his other options? Maybe something that would actually have killed him? The point was that it had bought enough time for Venom to come and get Liquid out of there. It had been necessary. And EVA had known from day one that her plan for Ocelot to find Liquid’s location could only work if they accepted the fact that Ocelot would have to torture Liquid for his own good. Maybe she hadn’t necessarily realized the possibility that Ocelot would judge raping him a more efficient, less physically dangerous way of torturing and breaking him, but if she’d known back when she’d first commissioned Ocelot to find him under the guise of an interrogator then she knew she would have deemed than an acceptable risk. It only seemed so horrible in retrospect, from the privileged perspective of Liquid already being long since safe and sound.

But she didn’t have to like it.

“So, for tomorrow night,” EVA said evenly, watching the traffic go by, generously interspersed with cars with the windows down and the bass turned up thumping their way down the street, “I’m going to need your Codec frequency, Eli.”

Liquid didn’t respond. Off in his own little world, apparently.

Mantis sighed. “141.80.”

“Thank you, Mantis.”

There was a long pause.

“…he’s perfectly alright,” Mantis said, nodding at Liquid. “Just give him a few minutes.”

“Does he… space out like this often?” EVA said.

“Yes and no. He is not nearly as …easily upset as he used to be, but most of the time when he is, he has a genuine flashback instead of just spacing out.”

“I see.”

“He only spaces out if he is too at ease for his mind to convince itself he is in danger. So I consider this a good sign.”

“Consider what a good sign?” Liquid said, turning back to them, blinking innocently.

“Nothing, Eli,” Mantis said, “finish your ice cream before it melts all over your hand.”

“I think it’s a little late for that,” Liquid said, staring down at it.

“I’ll go grab some napkins,” EVA smiled, standing up. She threw her ice cream cone in the garbage on the way.

Chapter Text

EVA, by some freakish sleight that Liquid didn’t bother questioning, had booked a room in the hotel nearest to the CDC headquarters - as in, it was a few blocks away, but she’d gotten a room with a sufficient view for observing the building with binoculars via the window. They determined that, for the most part, EVA would be running support using Mantis as a conduit since psychic communication was infinitely more secure than Codec. (Mostly because Liquid could reply to Mantis without even opening his mouth, something that was currently impossible over Codec.) EVA had the map of the CDC headquarters’ hallways and such at the ready, and had circled a room in the basement where the FOXDIE samples were - although it was also where there were several other viruses being studied, so it was going to be entirely up to Liquid to figure out which one it was if it wasn’t clearly labelled ‘FOXDIE’.

Evidently no one had warned EVA that Liquid had absolutely zero problem with nudity in front of others, but she took it annoyingly in stride, only turning her back politely as Liquid changed into his sneaking suit. Although she did comment on the gauze pads still taped to his chest.

“They’re just to keep the wound clean while it’s healing,” he said dismissively.

“Yes,” EVA said, “I generally know how bandages work, Eli. I’m wondering what you did to get an injury that… long.”

“He got hit by the wrong end of a chokuto,” Mantis, who was sitting casually on the bed, said.

“…that really doesn’t explain anything, but okay.”

“What, you never heard about that cyborg ninja assaulting FOXHOUND headquarters just to make my life difficult?” Liquid said, carefully lacing the back of it up and pulling it tight. He’d figured out how to do it himself a long time ago, considering it had taken years for him to get comfortable with anyone helping him dress or undress again. “Ocelot said you and he were the reason why he’s even running free at all.”

“Oh,” EVA said, “he’s the man Dr. Clark was experimenting on. Ocelot never told me he stayed around FOXHOUND…”

“Well, he didn’t so much stay around as he comes back every so often because he’s got me mixed up with Snake,” Liquid said, doing some stretches against the wall - it was really the only way to get the suit’s seams properly settled against his body, although to be honest stretching before any op was always a good idea. “Why on earth he’s so hell-bent on killing Snake, though, no one has any idea. Perhaps next time he drops by we should direct him towards Twin Lakes, Alaska.”

“Hm.”

“Ready to go, Eli?” Mantis said, “normal operating hours end in five minutes.”

“Yes,” Liquid said, putting his hands on his hips.

EVA glanced at his thigh-holster. “That’s not lethal weaponry, is it?”

“What? Of course it is. I know there’s going to be armed security, but somehow I doubt the CDC headquarters is going to be a good place for OSP.”

“No, no…” EVA grabbed her purse. “You’re right about the OSP thing, but that’s not it, Eli. This is a government medical research facility, not a military base. You should be using non-lethal weaponry.”

“…well I didn’t bring any-“

She pulled out a modified Beretta and handed it to him, along with a full clip. “Tranquilizer darts,” she said, “don’t run out of ammo, you won’t be able to find more there.”

“He should not even need to fire it,” Mantis said lazily, “the CDC has very light security for our line of work. You should be more than capable of avoiding all the guards entirely, Eli.”

“Mm.” Liquid replaced the MK23 SOCOM with the M9, keeping his indignation to himself.

“But keep in mind that most of the security guards are ex-police or -military,” EVA said, “or both.”

“Some of them are in military reserves, too,” Mantis said.

“Yes, yes,” Liquid replied, waving them off, “either way, if I get caught I’m going to be in much, much more trouble than a simple shootout with security guards. We all will.”

“Do not get caught.”

“You don’t need to tell me that, Mantis.”

Mantis dropped a respirator in his hands, which he hooked onto a strap at his hip for now. With FOXDIE being airborne, he was definitely going to need it once he got to the room where it was stored, especially considering he wouldn’t have time follow normal isolation protocols… there was a good chance that even if it did get into his system it would prove completely harmless, but there was also a nonzero chance that at this phase it was prone to giving anyone heart attacks even if their DNA had yet to be programmed into it. And either way Naomi was going to put FOXHOUND’s genetic data into the program she was using to control the nanomachines modifying the virus soon, so if she had happened to be ahead of schedule that could be very bad news.

“So how do I destroy the virus?” Liquid said.

“I looked this up,” EVA said, “it’s a process called ‘inactivation’ - it may or may not technically destroy it, but either way it’ll render it non-infectious, and it can’t be reversed.”

“Lovely. What do I do?”

“You’ll need a solvent and a detergent called Triton-X 100. They should be somewhere in the labs.”

“Solvent, Triton X-100, got it. …what kind of solvent?”

“I guess whatever’s there.”

“She will talk you through the rest of the process once you have located FOXDIE,” Mantis said, glancing at the alarm clock on the bedside table. “You should go now. Good luck.”

“Won’t need it. I’ll be back in a bit.”


Liquid got over to the CDC headquarters just fine, although he had a little trouble getting in - every door was guarded by a security camera, and they didn’t have time to figure out the blind spots plus with people still in the building it would be a bad idea to outright disable the cameras, so he ended up forcing a window (in such a way that no alarms were set off, of course, this wasn’t the first time he’d done this) and making his way in that way. Mantis warned him that there were still quite a few researchers working late, and as far as he could tell some of them had cybernetic implants, so he wouldn’t be able to give Liquid their locations — I’ll be fine, Liquid replied mentally, if I do walk in on a researcher, the tranquilizers will take care of them.

“…do tranquilizers cause retrograde amnesia?” Mantis asked EVA.

She half-shrugged. “It’s been reported. And that would explain why tranquillizing someone a few seconds after they see your face still apparently counts as not leaving any witnesses…”

The first (and hopefully only) of Liquid’s fifteen rounds of tranquilizer ammo was used on a hapless researcher that Liquid stole several cardkeys from. It kind of went without saying that unauthorized personnel weren’t allowed in the basement. The researcher was propped up in a random room, slumped over a desk with his arms folded like he was taking a nap.

The elevator has a security camera in it, Mantis warned him after seeing it in the mind of one of the security guards. Incidentally, your open window has been noticed.

Did it put anyone on caution?

No, the person who found it assumes one of the other researchers left it open on accident. But you may have to find another way out.

“How are things going?” EVA asked.

Mantis tilted his head. “No problems so far.”

“Ah, good.” She flopped backwards on the bed. “Running support is so boring.”

“Mm.”

She gave him a very scrutinizing look for a few moments then said, “Question…”

“Hm?”

“I heard a rumor that you and Eli are, well, lovers. I considered asking Ocelot about it, but figured I’d be better off asking one of you… so how about it?”

“Oh,” Mantis said, “I did not know word had gotten out outside of FOXHOUND. Yes, it’s true.”

She sat up. “Since when?”

“2000.”

“…when Ocelot joined the unit.”

Mantis glanced away deliberately. “I am trying to concentrate,” he said. Eli, take a left once you exit the staircase.

Got it.

“Why does Eli wear a collar?” EVA asked.

“That is no one’s business but ours,” Mantis replied.

“It’s a sex thing, isn’t it?”

“…”

She waved a hand flippantly. “I don’t judge, of course. I mean, I have heard about how you dress when you’re not pretending to be on vacation. I’m just wondering…”

“I… am asexual.”

“Yes, I remember, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude you from, ah… doing Eli favors.”

Mantis gave her an extremely unamused glare. “Why is this any concern of yours?”

“It’s just that the kind of sex that ends up with him wearing a leather collar 24/7 might not the kind of sex that I think is particularly healthy after what he’s been through with Ocelot. I’m worried.”

“If you are worried about me abusing him—“

“I’m not - I’m sure you wouldn’t, Mantis,” EVA said firmly, “I’m just worried about you cluelessly doing something damaging because he, I don’t know, has self-destructive kinks…?”

“……”

She laid back down, folding her arms behind her head and frowning, still watching Mantis out of the corner of her eye. “I don’t think BDSM is inherently unhealthy, even for someone with Eli’s background,” she insisted. “Since it’s largely about trust, it might actually be good for him.”

“‘BDSM’ implies an S&M element,” Mantis said stiffly, pointedly shuffling the CDC headquarters maps, “I do not hurt Eli.”

“So it’s just bondage and D/s, then? Oh god, it’s not TPE, is it? Tell me it’s not TPE.”

“I do not want to have this conversation.” He didn’t even know what ‘TPE’ was…

“You two use a safeword, right?”

“I feel like I should probably know this, but what exactly is a safeword…?”

“What do you mean, what exactly is a— it’s what he says when he wants you to stop.”

“If he wants to stop then he tells me as much, and I stop,” he said flatly, “and even if he does not tell me, I am psychic. I can see in his mind if he is not enjoying himself or the situation is getting to be too stressful for him. Satisfied, EVA?”

She breathed a sigh of relief. “Yes. Look, I don’t mean to pry. I’d rather not be thinking about my son’s sex life. But…”

“…I know. I would be concerned, too.” Eli, have you found it yet?

I’ve located some virus samples - I’m still looking through them. Found a bunch of specimens labelled “variola major” and “variola minor”…

You didn’t touch them, right?

Of course not. Although I’m fairly certain there are a dozen failsafes in place anyway, notwithstanding the fact I’m already wearing a respirator and gloves.

Don’t touch the smallpox, Eli.

I didn’t!

“Any developments?” EVA asked.

“It seems he has found the right room,” Mantis replied.

AHF, CHHF, CCHF, HFRS, HPS, HeV, he heard Liquid read to himself, KFD, LUHF, LCM, OHF, Marburg HF, RVF, TBE… and how many different ebola samples do they need, anyway…?

Have you found what we’re looking for yet? I’d rather you not spend too much time in that room, personally.

I’m being careful, and all the viruses are in hermetically sealed containers. LASV, NiV… more HPS… oh, here we go.

FOXDIE?

Naturally. Now what?

“Has he found the FOXDIE yet?” EVA said.

“Yes.”

“Alright, tell him to- actually, ask him if there’s anyone around, I think this’ll be easier if I just talk him through it over Codec.”

After Mantis confirmed that Liquid was completely alone, EVA called his Codec frequency and asked him what kind of materials were in the lab he was in.

“I need to find some Triton X-100 now, yes? And some kind of solvent…”

“Are there any cabinets or something in there?”

“On the other side of the room. Hang on. …alright, there are bottles on one of the shelves.”

“Do you see Triton X-100?”

“Yes. So there’s probably the solvent I need in here somewhere, too…”

“Look for TnBP,” EVA said, rolling her eyes up and to the side trying to remember how it all went.

“TnBP… tri-n-butyl phosphate?”

“That’s it.”

“Right here,” Liquid said, grabbing that and the bottle of Triton X-100.

“So,” EVA said, “I think you need to dilute the TnBP.”

“Hold on,” Liquid said, looking at the bottles, “isn’t virus inactivation typically done to try and make vaccines?”

“Uh… yes, I think so.”

“So in that case the virus is supposed to still be intact. We don’t really want it intact.”

“…point. Alright, you’re going to need to expose the FOXDIE virus.”

I think those kinds of containers are twist-out, Mantis told him.

Liquid opened the container, frowning behind his respirator. So far so good. He was yielded four vials of some kind of saline colloid. The whole set-up reminded him very much of what Skull Face had been carting the English strain of the vocal cord parasites in twenty years ago.

That was fun, Mantis thought sarcastically.

Oh hush, it all worked out in the end. “Should I transfer all the virus specimens into one container?”

“Yes,” EVA said, “if you can find one.”

He went back to the cabinet. He quickly found and grabbed an Erlenmeyer flask and brought it back over to the counter where he had the FOXDIE samples - which he, not hesitating for longer than half a second on the incredible stupidity of assuming that his sneaking suit and a simple respirator were adequate protection in this kind of lab, opened and poured into the flask.

“And now do I add the TnBP and Triton X-100?”

“I think so,” EVA said, “just… be careful.”

He did as instructed, dumping an indiscriminate amount of both Triton X-100 and TnBP in the flask with the FOXDIE specimens. Nothing happened aside from a little foaming, which could very well have been from agitating the fluid by pouring something in. Or maybe the nanomachines reacting poorly to the detergent.

“…oh, right,” EVA said, “I think you need to stir it.”

Liquid swished the flask around. “I don’t think it’s doing anything,” he said, staring at it. It foamed a little more, that was about it.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to be able to see if it is doing something,” EVA replied, “viruses are microscopic. …hmmm… Mantis, you don’t think I’ve forgotten something, do you?”

“How am I supposed to know?” Mantis said, “I cannot just go digging through the researchers’ minds for how to do this, I won’t understand their thoughts on the subject.”

EVA snapped her fingers, sitting up again. “It needs to be cold,” she said, “four degrees Celsius, I think.”

“Erm…”

Liquid looked around the lab. There was plenty of equipment here, and more than likely at least one of these things had been designed to get virus specimens to a low temperature. Just… he didn’t know how to work any of these things. He was a soldier, not a scientist, and he hadn’t even gone to middle school. Technically.

You did get your GED, though, Mantis thought, eventually.

That isn’t relevant right now, Mantis, thank you.

You were the one who was just thinking about it…

And then Liquid had an idea. Mantis facepalmed at it, and EVA, raising an eyebrow at Mantis’ reaction to apparently nothing, asked Liquid, “What are you going to do?”

“There’s got to be a break room around here somewhere, right?” Liquid said. “And break rooms tend to have refrigerators…”

“You’re going to put a potentially incredibly dangerous airborne virus in a breakroom fridge??

“Well,” Liquid said, “I’m in the process of making it a hell of a lot less incredibly dangerous. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

With that he left the room, taking the Erlenmeyer flask with him. EVA scrubbed her hands down over her face, but didn’t offer any better ideas.

“How long does it need to be chilled for?” Mantis asked.

EVA blinked. “Eli, wait,” she barked, “the virus will need to be in the fridge for at least an hour.”

“An hour?” Liquid said.

Mantis was alarmed. “Can he not just put it in the fridge and leave?”

“No, Mantis,” EVA said, “he has to stay until he’s sure the virus is destroyed.”

“It is only an hour,” Liquid said, “and this place is practically deserted anyway. It should be fine. Okay, Mantis - tell me where the nearest breakroom is.”

“Be careful not to set off an alarms while leaving the lab - there might be a system in place to make sure the isolation protocols are followed upon exiting,” EVA said just before he closed the Codec channel.

Liquid ended up having to let the chemical shower run pointlessly while he left quickly, and Mantis observed a security guard grow suspicious at the empty but operating shower and make a mental note to ask if there might be a bug in the software governing it the following morning. Then he informed Liquid that all the breakrooms had security cameras in them, but one on the second floor had a conveniently placed vending machine that no one ever bothered moving because the staff appreciated the privacy… even if no one ever dared to leave their lunches in the fridge in there.

Perfect, Liquid thought, running up the stairs and being extremely careful not to spill the contents of the flask, especially on himself.

Getting to the breakroom went off without a hitch, and getting into it more or less went the same way - except when he walked in, there was a security guard drinking a cup of water, who was so shocked by a ponytailed blond man with a skin-tight suit and an Erlenmeyer flask in hand suddenly appearing in the reflection in the window that Liquid had put a tranquilizer dart in his neck long before he drew his gun.

That could have ended badly, he thought lightly, putting the flask (and the pilfered cardkeys for good measure) in the fridge and looking around for a clock, taking off his respirator. There was no clock in here… Let me know when an hour’s passed and I can get out of here, will you?

Of course, Mantis replied, drumming his fingers on the table in front of him. Thirteen darts left. That researcher he’d initially tranquilized would be waking up any minute now. Liquid had mostly forgotten about him by now, but Mantis was still somewhat on edge about it, mostly because the researcher had been one of the handful with cybernetic implants - Mantis couldn’t exactly keep an eye on how close he was to waking up if he couldn’t read his mind. Somehow he doubted that the researcher would just write off randomly waking up in (presumably) somebody else’s office, missing his cardkeys to the basement lab.

But the hour passed largely without incident. Largely. Towards the end of it, just when EVA and Mantis figured it would be acceptable to call Liquid back to the hotel, Mantis caught the security guard who’d been suspicious of the chemical shower earlier talking to the same researcher whom Liquid had stolen the cardkeys off of. They had a short discussion about tonight’s confusing events, and then something must have occured to the researcher because he suited up and went in the virus lab — and when he got back out, serenely told the guard to hit the alarm. The whole process took about twenty minutes, but the alarm was indeed hit and it started blaring all throughout the building.

Fuck,” Liquid said out loud.

“Just take the window out,” EVA said over Codec, grabbing her keys and running to the room door, “you’re only on the second floor. I’ll pick you up in ninety seconds.”

But just Liquid’s luck that the window was either jammed or not the kind that could be opened. Breaking it would attract too much attention. He turned around and took off running out of the breakroom, respirator bouncing against his leg and M9 at the ready just in case.

Thirteen shots left, Eli, Mantis reminded him, pacing the now-empty hotel room.

I know, I know.

And if you let yourself be seen by any of the security cameras—

It’ll be even worse than if I was caught by any of the guards, yes, I know! Which way do I turn?

Right. Then left. There are two guards waiting at the end of the hallway.

Liquid spent two more of his limited tranquilizer darts on the guards, sending them down before they could really process his appearance. He continued running, the swift, careful steps of a well-trained natural-born soldier who felt nothing but excited when alarms screeched, and Mantis did his best to match his composure, following his route on the map and guiding him towards an exit.

Security camera on your right. Shoot it before you get in its visual range.

The darts didn’t have much stopping power in and of themselves, so it took him three shots before the camera was disabled. Eight darts left. Another researcher. Seven darts.

You’re almost there.

Good, Liquid thought, ducking behind a corner as a security guard fired at him, the sound of the gun deafeningly loud in the echoing hallway, especially when combined with the alarm and the sirens outside.

“Eli,” EVA said over Codec, “looks like you’ll have to walk.”

“What?” Liquid said, leaning around the corner and shooting the guard who had shot at him - six left now — “what are you doing?”

“Distracting the cops. Meet you back at the hotel in half an hour.” There was the sound of her revving her motorcycle just before she signed off.

Just at the end of this hallway, Eli, Mantis told him. Through the door.

“Right,” Liquid said out loud.

—wait. There’s a security camera.

“I’ll shoot it.”

And five armed police officers. That leaves you with just one dart for the camera.

Liquid swore. “That’ll never take it out!”

I know, I know - I’m trying to find another way—-

EVA came back on Codec. “Change of plans again,” she half-yelled, “be ready to go in thirty seconds, Eli.”

“What?!”

“I’ll be right outside the door, just don’t get shot!”

Alright. Thirty seconds (twenty-seven now), five cops - tranquillizing all five of them before they opened fire was going to be an impossibility, Liquid was good but he wasn’t Revolver fucking Ocelot. And there was a camera he wasn’t going to be able to take out in less than three shots - probably more considering this was an outdoors camera, by definition sturdier than any in the hallways - and last he checked EVA hadn’t brought weaponry other than this Beretta. Shit. No matter how he cut it, he didn’t have enough darts, and his allotted time was rapidly ticking away.

He should have just taken his SOCOM.

Chapter Text

Liquid had twenty seconds to get past an unavoidable camera, tranquillize five armed police officers out for his blood, and meet up with EVA just outside the CDC headquarters. He only had six tranquilizer darts left for his borrowed M9, he could hear security guards running down a perpendicular hallway towards him, and to top it all off he was starting to get a headache from the fact that Mantis was less than three miles from here, knew exactly what was going on, and was in a borderline panic about Liquid getting out of there safely.

Liquid had an odd habit he’d picked up from Venom of ranking how well he’d done on a mission - not for any tangible reason, simply because he found it satisfying. The way this was going, he definitely wasn’t going to give himself anything higher than a B rank.

The door he ran up on was glass, and the glass shattered as one of the assembled policemen standing mere yards away from it fired - missed Liquid entirely, and he didn’t even slow, just kept sprinting, yanking a labcoat off of a coatrack next to the door. Hopefully this would work. He didn’t have time to stop and consider a backup plan in case it didn’t.

Right before he barrelled through the door he flung the coat up in the air; it billowed as it caught the humid September breeze, and for a brief second it blocked the security camera’s view in a blur of white - he dashed underneath it, shouldering one of the cops hard, jamming the M9 against his stomach and firing at the same time.

There was a lot of gunfire all at once.

But if there was one thing Liquid was better at than grievously injuring himself and brushing it off, it was coming out of bad situations miraculously unscathed. By the time the labcoat hit the ground, all the police officers were out cold on the ground, darts sticking out of various body parts, and EVA was astride her rumbling motorcycle a few yards away, Liquid’s SOCOM smoking in one hand.

Liquid glanced behind him. The security camera above the door was quite obviously blown to hell.

“What are you waiting for?” EVA shouted, “get on!!”

Liquid jumped on the motorcycle right behind her, and in the heat of the moment it didn’t occur to him that grabbing his mother around the waist was kind of weird and awkward. By the time the security guards he’d heard earlier were upon the wrecked, open door, the only direct evidence of Liquid and EVA was the sound of a motorcycle tearing away into the humid Atlanta night and a lingering scent of gasoline.

“Come on,” Liquid said, looking back over his shoulder as they rocketed down the road, “can’t this old pile of junk go any faster?”

Old?” EVA said, “I got this in 2001!”

“That makes it three years old, and-“ he winced as EVA jumped the sidewalk and took off down an unlit alley, “-the way you treat your motorcycles, three years is more like thirty.”

“I don’t want to hear that comment from someone who turned 32 this year. Now, I’m about to turn, Eli, so you’d better squeeze your knees against the bike if you don’t want to lose your leg.”

She executed a sharp ninety-degree turn and they were off down a road, still putting a significant amount of distance between them and the sound of sirens, but now going the opposite direction as they had earlier.

“You know, Mother,” Liquid said, “if I’m 32, then you’re officially old enough to be a grandmother.”

“Oh, shut up. You and David are both sterile anyway.”

“David?”

“Solid Snake.”

“Oh.” Somehow it had never occured to him that Solid would have a given name, too. Or at least, he’d never wondered about it. They kept driving, the yellow light of streetlamps casting stripes over them and long shadows behind them.

Undeterred by a red light, EVA nimbly dodged all the traffic in the intersection before jumping the sidewalk and cutting through an alley again. Two men having an intimate conversation in the middle of it sprang apart as EVA hurtled through the three-foot space between them. One of them pulled a gun and started firing at their backs.

“I think we interrupted something,” Liquid said, ducking.

“Probably a drug deal, this is Atlanta after all,” EVA replied, “so, good for us. We’re helping keep the streets clean. Hmm… I think I’d make a good vigilante superhero, what do you think, Eli?”

“I think if the police are chasing us, that makes us the bad guys. Are you sure this bike can’t go any faster?” Judging by the continued gunfire, they were going through gang territory and people were shooting at them simply because other people are already shooting at them, which marked them as a target, and in all likelihood there was going to be a fair amount of them shooting at each other in response to the sound of gunshots, too. Such was life in a gang war.

“I don’t want to be too hard on her!”

“You- Aren’t you going to trash it anyway?! They’re going to be looking for it!”

“Oh, please,” EVA scoffed, “this isn’t the only black motorcycle in existence. I shouldn’t even have to change out the plates, they might not have gotten them - I’ve got this special coating on my license plate that distorts it in cameras…”

“Nevermind,” Liquid said. He wasn’t too enthused about the idea of getting shot in the back by some lowlife, nor was he about to ask EVA to hand him her helmet while she was driving - so he groped around her front (trying very hard to make sure it at no point resembled actual groping) until he found his SOCOM, then twisted around, one arm steadying himself at EVA’s waist, the other held out, returning fire. “We can at least make it to the hotel, yes?”

“Just trust me, Eli.”

She turned sharply - whooping excitedly, and Liquid couldn’t help but laugh - and zoomed them beneath a freeway overpass, cutting through traffic and driving halfway up the concrete slope at the edge. They were airborne for several seconds when they ran out of ground, then came down hard on the sidewalk.

“Ow, goddammit! Was that really necessary?!” Liquid yelled.

“Did we lose the gang members?”

“You mean did we successfully incite a riot and distract them? Apparently. The sirens are getting closer, though.”

“So I hear.” EVA executed a hairpin turn, then decelerated so fast Liquid almost broke his nose on the back of her helmet. “Put your gun away, now.”

“What-?”

“I said put it away - don’t do anything suspicious, okay? Take my helmet.”

Liquid blinked, then carefully removed EVA’s helmet from behind and put it on himself. It was significantly easier to use both hands - anchoring himself to the motorcycle seat with just his thighs - now that EVA was scrupulously following traffic laws and calmly merging onto the freeway. And it was probably going to help that, if he was wearing a motorcycle helmet, no one was going to look twice at his sneaking suit.

“Act natural,” she said.

“That’s an oxymoron.”

“True. Okay, where’s your hotel? Probably not a good idea to go back to mine, so I already told Mantis to meet us up there - and to bring my bags, too, looks like I’ll have to sleep on your couch tonight.”

“Hm. Let me think…” He looked around, trying to get his bearings. “Oh, wait - big yellow billboard that just says ‘Jesus’ on it. Get off at the next exit.”


By the time EVA and Liquid arrived, Mantis was already there (EVA had driven her motorcycle much, much faster than the cab Mantis had taken, but the cab hadn’t wove all around the city on the way there); he was pacing the room, somewhat nervous, and the TV was turned on to a news channel.

        “-—suspect has been described as an adult female. She fled on a black Triumph motorcycle, license plate unknown. Motorists are advised that she is armed and was last seen headed south on Clairmont Road—“

“Well, that was exciting,” Liquid said, flopping down on the bed. “I even ended it with one dart to spare. I think I’d give this one an ‘A’.”

“That was close,” Mantis said, “far too close for comfort, Eli. You could have been killed, or the Patriots could have found out that we were after FOXDIE—“

“Well, I didn’t, and they didn’t,” Liquid said, “and FOXDIE is dealt with.”

“You’re sure they don’t have backups somewhere?” EVA said, sitting down and kicking off her boots. “I don’t think you’ll be able to get away with this more than once.”

Liquid waved a hand. “If there are backups, we weren’t able to find any information about them.”

“I suppose Octopus is likely still looking through Dr. Hunter’s files,” Mantis said.

“True… but sooner or later we’re going to know very definitively, I’m sure. Right now I’m only doing the best I can with the information I’ve got.”

“Arguably better to do that than wait around for better information,” EVA said with a shrug. “So, Eli - are you in the mood for room service?”

“Only if you’re paying, Mother.”


Octopus thew open the door to the women’s barracks. “Oh my god, Wolf,” he said loudly, “wake up. The boss is on TV.”

“Whuh?” Wolf sat up blearily.

“C’mon, it’s great.” He disappeared, and faintly she heard him call, “Hey, Ocelot! Get in here!”

What Octopus had meant by ‘the boss is on TV’ turned out to mean that there was a news flash about a break-in at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Backdrop to all the scrolling text about how all viruses and biological materials were secure and accounted for, there was a minor riot in Kirkwood, and the requisite election bulletins was a grainy security footage still of a helmeted woman on a Triumph Bonneville T100 ramping over the hood of a police car.

Ocelot pinched the bridge of his nose. “Oh, no,” he said, “I’d recognize that jumpsuit anywhere.”

“Is… is that EVA?” Wolf said, rubbing her eyes.

Yes. I requested she provide the boss with assistance, but I meant intel, not- oh, nevermind. This works out.”

“There hasn’t been anything yet about the boss per se,” Octopus said, “just about his mother. I think she might have been the only one witnessed.”

“As I said, it works out,” Ocelot said, “if the ‘trespasser’ is only identified as a woman, then that will lend credence to the idea that it was Dr. Hunter who sabotaged FOXDIE after abandoning the project.”

“Do you think the boss actually succeeded, Ocelot?” Wolf said.

“It’s not like the news is going to say ‘Also this top-secret biological weapon the government was developing was destroyed during the heist’ or anything…” Octopus mumbled. “Although I bet it’s going to be all over the conspiracy theory boards in the morning. Hell, I could go check right now.”

“…Octopus, how long has it been since you last slept?

“Four days?”

“We’ll find out the mission details when Liquid and Mantis get back,” Ocelot said, “I’m going back to bed. Octopus, you probably should too.”

“Once the caffeine buzz wears off again.”

“Fine. Good night.”

“He really is getting old,” Wolf yawned. “Although… I myself am tired, too… but we are not all supposed to be asleep at the same time. Wake me up again when you go to bed, Octopus.”

Octopus sighed. “That rule is so much easier to follow when Mantis is around…”


“Enjoy your vacation, boss?” Octopus said, leaning back in his chair.

“Everything went smoothly,” Liquid replied.

“We saw the news.”

“Oh.”

“I suppose not getting caught still counts as ‘going smoothly’,” Wolf said. “How did the actual ‘vacation’ aspect of it go?”

He tossed a small plush wolf at her. “Bought you a souvenir at the zoo.”

“…oh my god, it’s adorable. Thank you.”

“What, nothing for me?” Octopus said.

“I got postcards for you and Raven.”

“And Wolf gets a stuffed animal? This is favoritism.”

“They’re nice postcards,” Liquid protested.

Ocelot glanced up from the papers he was going over. “I assume Mantis would have killed you if you bought something for me in front of him.”

Liquid shrugged. “You can look through the photos we took if you like.” He’d already triple-checked that all the naughty ones had been deleted.

“Mm. By the way, boss, take off those sunglasses.”

“My sunglasses? What’s wrong with them?”

“They don’t suit you.”

The pictures on the digital camera Liquid had brought to Atlanta certainly seemed to show a typical vacation, with various shots of tourist destinations around the city, only some of which had Liquid in them (noticeably better shots than the ones that didn’t, Mantis knew his way around a camera more) and very few of which had a clearly reluctant Mantis in them - but enough to establish that they were both there. EVA was in none of the pictures although they did have photos of the Shakespeare Tavern. The afternoon they had wasted most of staking out the CDC was covered with pictures of Centennial Olympic Park: photos of a picnic lunch, the fountain, the walkway and statues, all taken around noon, and then after that photos of other things around the park taken later in the day. It really looked like they’d spent all afternoon there and had simply forgotten to pull out the camera for most of it.

“I’d call this a well-established alibi,” Ocelot said.

Wolf was leaning over his shoulder, watching him scroll though the camera. “Boss, why do you have 75 pictures of a snake at the zoo?”

“It’s their black mamba,” Liquid said, “I, ah, thought it was cute. Look, it looks like it’s smiling.”

“It is kind of cute, actually…”

Ocelot put down the camera. “Where’s Mantis?”

“He want to his little deserted hangout half an hour ago to take his pills,” Liquid said, jerking his head in an arbitrary direction. “Why?”

“Just wondering. There’s someone I need you to meet - it’s very important.”

“Oh? Who?”

“Our commander-in-chief.”

Liquid blinked. “The president?”

“Yes.”

“…huh. Why is this so important?”

Ocelot shrugged. “To be honest, I would rather he explain it himself. You two are scheduled to meet next week.”

“Ah. Alright. A little more advance notice would have been nice, but alright.”

“This should be interesting,” Octopus said.

“Oh, speaking of interesting,” Liquid said, “Wolf, why on earth does my office door look different now?”

Wolf sighed. “It’s a long story, boss…”


Raven came back the next day, and, being none too interested in his postcard, simply attached it to the announcements board right under the impaled Eye of Providence. Someone else had printed out one of Liquid’s nicer photos of the Zoo Atlanta’s black mamba and also pinned that up, but they never found out who.

Around that time another assignment came in.

“…fascinating,” Liquid said out loud, reviewing it. He stood up and left his office, finding the others slacking off in a breakroom. (Specifically, Octopus was sleeping on the couch, Wolf and Raven were playing cards, Ocelot had commandeered the TV and was watching some Western, and Mantis was nowhere to be seen, as usual.)

“Did any of you actually want confirmation that the CDC incident was pulled off properly?”

Everyone (except Octopus, obviously) looked up at him, and Ocelot paused his movie. “New orders came in?” he said.

Liquid nodded, waving the paper around a bit. “We’ve an assassination order for one Dr. Naomi Hunter.”

“Oh,” Raven said, “at least we already know exactly where she is.”

“That’s the problem, Raven, we’re keeping an eye on her movements because we might need her later. Killing her at this point would just be counter-productive.”

“You can’t exactly refuse an assignment,” Ocelot said. “It might be better to write her off. What we might need her for is nebulous at best right now, and if she ever figures out we were investigating her over FOXDIE and not Dr. Clark’s death, well…”

“…she might judge it safer for her to turn us in to the Patriots,” Liquid said, “possibly in exchange for amnesty for Dr. Clark’s death. Yes. I realize that.”

“What exactly might we need her for?” Wolf asked, raising a hand.

“I don’t find it terribly unlikely that we wouldn’t benefit, at some point, from having a scientist in our pocket,” Liquid pointed out, “and while we have some damn good blackmail on Dr. Hunter, there’s no guarantee that anyone on our R&D team can be readily convinced to our side.”

“So what are we going to do?” Raven said, shuffling his cards.

Liquid half-frowned, briefly. “Wolf, I’m giving you this assignment,” he said. “I know I’ve complained in the past about how dramatically long you like to drag out your wetworks, but it’ll come in handy here. You can stall for time for at least a month before anyone will notice anything, since that’s normal for you…”

“That is fine,” Wolf said, “although I still think you of all people have no right to judge me for being dramatic.”

“Tch. Just, go to where she is and do your stalking bit until I give you further instructions. Either you’re going to have to kill her or capture her - hopefully we’ll find out which while you’re still savoring the hunt.”

“Can do, boss.”


“I don’t like this, Eli.”

“You’re going to have to be more specific than that, Mantis.”

Another night, another argument with Mantis. It had started really innocuously, with Liquid attempting to come on to him, but Mantis very obviously had other things on his mind and Liquid had eventually given up, instead curling up with his back to Mantis and the blanket pointedly yanked up to his chin.

“You’re practically taking orders from Ocelot.”

“I am not. I won’t deny taking his advice or information, but he’s our ‘liaison’ for the Patriots. In other words, he’s the only one who knows what the hell is going on around here.”

Mantis sighed irritably. “I will grant that we do need someone to spy on the Patriots for us,” he said, “and specifically someone who has been in the organization long enough that they are capable of getting useful intel. But why Ocelot? Why not EVA?”

“She’s not around,” Liquid said, although truthfully it was just because he didn’t want to. Tearing around Atlanta on a motorcycle being chased by cops and gang members might have been a great bonding experience, but the idea of having to rely on his mother nonetheless put Liquid off.

He could almost feel Mantis’ annoyed glower at his back.

“How is relying on Ocelot any better?”

“…”

“After everything he did to you…”

“Mantis, I’m only going to say this once, so listen well: Shut the fuck up.”

He heard a sharp intake of breath, and then something - not a hand, a psychokinetic tug - yanked at his shoulder and pushed him against the bed, flat on his back. Liquid writhed furiously, unable to push himself off the mattress but with enough movement that he could turn his head to glare at Mantis and take a swipe at him — which he dodged.

“Don’t talk to me like that, Eli,” Mantis said icily.

“Let go of me,” Liquid spat.

Maybe it was the genuine anger that did it, but Mantis released his hold on Liquid and Liquid sat up, still glaring at him. “Even if I did come to believe that Ocelot was abusing me nine years ago like you so desperately want me to, at this point, what the hell would it change? It was nine years ago and it we would still need him. What would you expect me to do - entirely give up on the Patriots? on my revenge?!”

“…"

Yes, that’s exactly what I thought, Liquid grumbled to himself, turning away.

“I just…”

“Drop it, Mantis.”

Mantis shut up. A moment later Liquid felt his hands at his sides, then around his front, pulling him back to Mantis so that his back was pressed against Mantis’ chest and Mantis’ chin was resting on his shoulder.

“You know how worried I am.”

“I know how possessive you are.”

“Don’t misinterpret me, Eli. Ocelot has repeatedly taken advantage of you and never let you move on from everything that happened between 1991 and 1995. Those events are still eating away at you from the inside.”

“…when have I ever moved on from anything? I don’t forgive and I don’t forget, Mantis. It’s not who I am.”

“You certainly seem to have forgiven Ocelot.”

“I…”

Mantis’ hands slipped down his stomach, one of them lingering only slightly - but still noticeably - over the upside-down-V-shaped scar. Of course. After arguing, sex. Like Mantis wanted to distract him or himself or both. “Any shallow anger you might have felt towards him over the years does not count,” he said softly. “Violent sex does not count. You have never done anything to try and make him pay for what he did to you, and you have actively prevented me from doing it in your stead.”

“Mantis… there’s nothing to forgive him for; he never did anything wrong.”

Mantis’ hands briefly clenched, fingernails scraping Liquid’s skin, and then he relaxed again. “You lying whore,” he murmured.

Liquid wanted to keep being mad at him but Mantis’ words went straight to his dick and he twisted around in his arms, and crushed his body against his, kissing and nipping at his neck. Violent sex… Mantis had mentioned violent sex, which admittedly Liquid was a fan of - fighting tooth and claw in a struggle for dominance before he’d finally been roughed up enough and had enough blood under his nails that he gave himself over. That was how, with few exceptions, every time with Ocelot had gone ever since that day when he’d laid on Ocelot’s bed and watched him bleed while he was getting dressed.

But he never did that with Mantis. Sure, every so often he could convince Mantis to be a bit less-than-gentle with him, but Liquid never got to do it in turn — Mantis was essentially a glass canon so if Mantis held back then Liquid would genuinely harm him without thinking and if Liquid held back then Mantis would dominate him too thoroughly. So Liquid settled for the bit of leeway that arbitrary rules had given him, where he could assert that he wasn’t that submissive by breaking rules on purpose and then squirming in pleasure when Mantis administered his punishment.

And it always ended up like this. Mantis ran his hand down over Liquid’s spine, reaching his ass and kneading it, and Liquid rocked his hips against him, grinding on his stomach and sucking at his throat, moaning immodestly. So what if Mantis was trying to distract him? He wanted to be distracted. They never argued about things Liquid actually wanted to think about.

“Have you ever considered we might have been making a mistake for the past four years?” Mantis said, pressing him closer.

“I-I don’t care,” Liquid mumbled against his skin. “I don’t care. I l-love you. That’s all that m-matters.”

“Hn.”

“Mantis,” Liquid breathed over his ear, “please, fuck me."

Mantis had stopped holding out on him years ago. He pushed Liquid back on the mattress, settling between his legs as the bedside table drawer shuffled itself open, a bottle of lube coming to Mantis’ hand — he stretched and prepared, and carefully entered Liquid without much ceremony, but god was he gentle—-

“O-Oh,” Liquid groaned, shifting his hips up, forcing Mantis’ cock deeper, “oh, I-I love this…”

“Shh. Do not move around so much.”

“Nnmgh… ahh, M-Mantis— that’s g-good… that f-feels good…“

“Hush, Eli.”

“Ah—- mmn… mm… oh… hh…“

“Good boy.”

Chapter Text

Roughly one week later, a Beechcraft C-12 Huron from the Army’s Aviation Branch was sent to FOXHOUND headquarters to pick Liquid up for his oh-so-important meeting with the President in Washington, D.C. — which prompted a mild amount of bitching from him about the fact that FOXHOUND hadn’t had any kind of aircraft of its own since, what, 1999? and if only they still did then they wouldn’t have to rely on the Aviation Branch or, god forbid, the other branches of the military for transportation most of the time. Ocelot was to go with him, and, after a protracted shouting match that everyone heard even though they’d had the decency to do it behind closed doors in Liquid’s office, Mantis as well. Although during the meeting itself he was supposed to stay at Fort McNair, where they’d been put up for the few days before and after the meeting.

“I’m surprised this is going through all the official channels,” Liquid muttered.

“Well, there’s an official excuse,” Ocelot said, “the question of dissolving FOXHOUND has been on the table since the Galzburg incident - this is just supposed to be the commander-in-chief meeting with you personally so he can weigh in on the issue.”

“I see.” Although he hadn’t known about FOXHOUND being actually targeted for dissolution… just repeated budget cuts… Liquid couldn’t help but feel concerned even though he knew full well FOXHOUND wasn’t long for this world the minute they’d decided to take on the Patriots.

“And what, exactly, is your excuse for being here?” Mantis said coldly.

Ocelot shrugged. “No one gives me a second thought around the President,” he said. “And you?”

“…”

“He’s my ‘bodyguard’,” Liquid said, rolling his eyes and climbing into the Huron. “Come on, let’s not keep them waiting.”

Rather predictably, Liquid fell asleep within 45 minutes - he had a marked tendency to nod off in vehicles if he wasn’t the one driving/piloting - leaving Mantis and Ocelot in an awkward silence. (And the pilot, too, but the pilot was minding his own business and between his headset, radio, and sound of the engines, he couldn’t really hear his passengers’ conversation in the first place.)

“Bodyguard?” Ocelot said dryly, speaking in Russian anyway, “what exactly are you defending him from?”

Mantis glared at him.

Ocelot sighed. “…no, I suppose I really don’t need you to answer that. How about a different question?”

“What do you want?”

“I know you and Liquid met EVA a few times back in 1985 and ’86 - and that she didn’t get cybernetic implants until 1988. Did you read her mind back then?”

“…”

“You did, didn’t you? It’s an unshakeable habit, every time you meet someone, to read their mind. You’ve been that way for a long time.”

“……”

“Am I wrong?”

“No,” Mantis said at length. “I did read her mind, back then.”

“And…? What did you see?”

“I…” He looked away deliberately. “It was a long time ago, and I did not find very much of it to be relevant to Eli and I. I have honestly forgotten.”

Ocelot raised an eyebrow at him. “Have you now.”

“Really, I have,” Mantis said defensively, “everything I found out from her back then, Eli knew on some level as well. He could not help but absorb the information from me.”

“Ah, yes,” Ocelot said, “but that doesn’t preclude you from putting the facts together afterwards. As you got older, saw more of the world… perhaps you reached a few conclusions about things you saw in EVA’s mind that didn’t make sense to you at the time. Conclusions that Liquid might not reach, being more a man of action than thought…”

A long breath hissed out through Mantis’ mask. “How was I supposed to tell him that his mother had been with Cipher since- since almost the very beginning?"

Ocelot chuckled, turning to look out the window. “I would have thought that’d be a given,” he said, “he’s known for a long time that it was Cipher who ordered Les Enfants Terribles.”

“Yes, well - before we met EVA, he had never thought much about his mother; he only assumed that she was a nameless surrogate who had nothing to do with anything. Then…” He trailed off.

“…he ended up liking EVA too much to believe she really was with Cipher?”

“He wanted to believe she wanted him.”

There was a long pause. Liquid mumbled something unintelligible in his sleep.

“I’m sure you noticed, of course,” Ocelot said eventually, “that he didn’t seem too concerned about it when I revealed that she’s with the Patriots.”

“Because you were the one who told him,” Mantis said quietly.

“Oh?”

“Sometimes he resents me when I warn him about people. He thinks I want to isolate him.”

“For his own good?”

“I don’t. I do not want him to be isolated - I want him to be safe. But I cannot trust his judgement off of the battlefield — he is completely incompetent on an interpersonal level, it can’t be helped. But I do not want him to be alone, and I do not want to drive others away from him. Only those that could hurt him.”

“And EVA?”

“…I… would rather trust her. Even if she is with the Patriots. I do believe that she is a double agent.”

Ocelot finally looked back at him. “See,” he said, “that’s exactly why Liquid had no problem finding out EVA is with the Patriots - because even before I told everyone about her I already made it clear she is on our side. It had nothing to do with the fact that I was the one to say it.”

“I would love to believe that,” Mantis said bitterly.

There was another pause, but shorter this time.

“Another question, if I may,” Ocelot said.

Now what?”

“Four years ago, when Liquid invited me to the unit - what exactly did you do?

Mantis bristled at him. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, I know that you seduced him to keep him out of my bed,” Ocelot said, “assuming that he would remain faithful to you… which, as it turns out, he didn’t. Doesn’t.”

“…”

“But you know, there’s something else. There’s an extra hostility towards me that you never displayed back at Outer Heaven, and I don’t think it can be explained by the fact that I no longer outrank you. And, really, it is odd that you wouldn’t cool down at least a little over the course of five years.”

“I do not know what you are referring to,” Mantis said through gritted teeth.

“Hm? How funny. Here I thought for sure you’d realized that, when it comes to Liquid, you and I really haven’t conducted ourselves any differently.”

“Shut up. Shut up,” Mantis hissed, “I swear I will throw you out of this plane. Eli is not awake to stop me.”

Ocelot raised his hands, settling back in his seat. “Calm down,” he said. “It was merely an observation.”

“I am not interested in hearing your observations, you-“

“How’s your ability to entirely take over people’s wills these days? Are you still capable of that?”

Mantis went completely stiff, and glanced at the still-sleeping Liquid. No. He hadn’t—- had he-?? Had Mantis simply not noticed—?

“Liquid didn’t tell me anything,” Ocelot interrupted him. “Just another observation. Or rather, just an unprompted question that your reaction answered loud and clear.”

“I-“

“So that’s how it is, then? When he invited me to the unit, you deprived him of his will.” His eyes shifted over to Liquid momentarily, then back to Mantis. “You obviously gave it back, of course, I doubt I’d be here if you didn’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that you took it over.”

“No, I didn’t—“

“Then you threatened to.”

“I… I- I just…” He growled, scrunching in on himself like a threatened pillbug. “I should have done it,” he whispered harshly, “that temporary loss of control would have been better for him than for you to come back and take advantage of him again. He never would have forgiven me but it would have been worth it.”

“…I see.”

“I am not like you, Ocelot.”

“Stripping his will from him, and without his consent, too,” Ocelot said in a low voice, “I don’t know about you, Mantis, but that sounds a lot like rape to me. His mind instead of his body, but still the same principle.”

Mantis twitched. “It’s- it’s different—“

“You don’t honestly believe that?”

“Gkh… at least I did not actually do it! I changed my mind!!”

“You still threatened him with it,” Ocelot said, “you still decided to do it in the first place. Whether or not you carried through is irrelevant. You were willing, and that’s what counts.”

“No- no—!“

“Poor Eli,” Ocelot purred, “for the past decade, caught between two men whom he knows are capable of raping him if it’s for his own good.”

“I hate you, Ocelot,” Mantis choked, clutching himself, shuddering forward until his head was between his knees, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you— I hate you, I hate you— I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you—-

Liquid jolted awake, and rubbed his forehead like he’d suddenly developed a headache. He glanced at Mantis, who was curled in some kind of sitting fetal position, repetitively muttering something in Russian, then turned to give Ocelot a sour look.

“What did you do to him??”

“I didn’t do anything,” Ocelot said smoothly.

Liquid gave him a look that clearly said he didn’t believe him. “What does ‘Я тебя ненавижу’ mean?”

“Your pronunciation is too bad for me to really say, boss.”

Liquid glared at him, then turned to Mantis, putting a hand on his shoulder- Mantis practically jumped away, stumbling and sprawling all over the floor of the plane. The pilot glanced back at them.

Stay away from me,” Mantis snarled at Liquid.

Liquid blinked. “Mantis,” he started.

Mantis waved him off, sitting up. “It… is nothing, Eli,” he said after several moments. “My apologies. I do not know what came over me.” He stood, and re-took his original seat next to Liquid, opposite side of the Huron as Ocelot.

Liquid was utterly perplexed. He spent almost a full minute looking back and forth between Mantis and Ocelot, who were now both pointedly ignoring each other - Mantis staring fixedly straight ahead with his hands gripping his knees hard, and Ocelot gazing serenely out the window, legs crossed - before realizing that if he ever was going to find out what had just happened between them, it wasn’t going to be right now. So he shrugged, leaned his head on Mantis’ shoulder (Mantis hardly reacted) and went back to sleep.

They were just approaching Washington, D.C. airspace when Mantis finally broke the silence, still not looking at Ocelot.

“If I can ask a question of my own…”

“Hm?” Ocelot didn’t avert his eyes from the skies outside.

“How were the Patriots founded? What on earth did you have to do with it?”

“Ah,” Ocelot said, glancing at him, “an excellent question, but now’s not the right time to answer it.”


What exactly had went down between Mantis and Ocelot was never explained to Liquid, apart from perhaps Mantis saying, unprompted, “Eli, I’m sorry” in the middle of night after they’d settled in at Fort McNair. Of course, Liquid was mostly asleep at the time and Mantis didn’t respond to his inarticulate request for clarification, so maybe he had only dreamed it.

The next morning Mantis was left at Fort McNair after he gave a very heated warning to Ocelot to behave professionally and not lay a finger on Eli or so help me I will— Liquid recommended he visit some D.C. sites that he might find interesting, like one of the Smithsonian museums or the Library of Congress (“You used to live here, I’m sure you can think of something…”), and he and Ocelot were escorted to the White House by some Secret Service detail or whatever the hell.

And, despite the White House being pretty heavily guarded, Liquid found himself idly thinking about how it actually wouldn’t be that hard to infiltrate it. He made note of its cameras and security features just by force of habit. Ocelot rolled his eyes.

The White House hallways were perhaps not filled with staff and/or guards bustling around, but populated enough that Liquid and Ocelot weren’t able to make any comments to each other without being interrupted by someone. They weren’t really alone until a hallway immediately outside the Oval Office, where they were afforded an extremely brief conversation. (Funny. Liquid would have thought that here of all places they’d see more Secret Security people. Perhaps the President had sent them away?)

“There is something I really should give you prior warning of,” Ocelot said.

“Hm? What is it?”

“You and your twin were not the only products of Les Enfants Terribles.”

“…say that ag-?”

Ocelot opened the door to the Oval Office. The sole person in there was seated at the desk with his back turned, although as soon as Ocelot and Liquid walked in he dramatically swivelled his chair around.

Liquid had to stop himself from saying Bloody fucking hell out loud.

“Ah, we meet at last,” the President said, standing up, “my older brother, Liquid Snake…”

Liquid blinked. “Er. Older?”

The President raised an eyebrow. “Yes, of course. You and Solid Snake were created four years before I.”

“Accelerated aging,” Ocelot explained.

Well, at least that explained why the President bore such a strong resemblance to Big Boss, certainly much more that Liquid did or even Solid judging by that photo Liquid had seen in his file— wait, no it most certainly did fucking not!

“Let’s back this up several steps,” Liquid said aggravatedly, “just what the hell-“

“I told you a minute ago,” Ocelot said, “Les Enfants Terribles produced three sons, not two.”

“You never mentioned the specific number or- and another thing, the bleeding President—??”

The President crossed his arms, huffing. “I would have thought you already knew.”

“I- was never told—-“

“He doesn’t watch the news, sir,” Ocelot said dryly.

Liquid was sort of thrown for a loop at Ocelot using ‘sir’, but figured since he was talking to the goddamn President of the United goddamn States it was only expected. He brushed it off and attempted to justify himself: “I’ve no interest in keeping up with the election, it’s not like I vote anyway and I don’t even consider myself an American.”

“The election…?” the President said, “I’m running as the incumbent.”

Now Liquid really was thrown for a loop. “You’re running as a male sex de-“

“You’re thinking of an incubus, boss,” Ocelot said patiently.

“Oh.”

“Do you honestly not recognize me?” the President said.

Liquid frowned. In his mind the obvious answer was yes, of course he did, the President looked like a somewhat younger version of Big Boss with a neater hairstyle and both eyes, but if he said that then that would mean admitting that no, he hadn’t known what his commander-in-chief looked like up until now. Which was kind of pathetic.

But it wasn’t like it had been relevant.

There was a long, awkward pause in which Liquid refused to say anything, and he suddenly noticed that, no, the President hadn’t been avoiding eye contact, he was just staring less-than-subtly at Liquid’s collar. Liquid self-consciously covered it with one hand. The President blinked, then turned to Ocelot. “I thought you said he was talkative.”

“He normally is, sir,” Ocelot said dryly. He had the kind of expression on his face that said he was thinking he’d made a terrible mistake that it was too late to back out of now. “Well, I suppose in this case a proper introduction is in order. Boss, this is the 43rd President of the United States, George Sears, better known in… certain circles… as Solidus Snake, the third and final product of Les Enfants Terribles.”

Solidus finally looked Liquid in the eyes and extended a hand. Liquid stared at it mistrustfully for half a moment before shaking it.

“Unlike you and your twin,” Ocelot went on, “there was very little modification of Solidus’ DNA, and genetic contribution from from the egg donor was effectively eliminated. In other words, he’s a much more perfect copy of your fa- of Big Boss than either of you.”

“I see,” Liquid said, “and I suppose he already knows me.” At the same time, Solidus looked a tad confused at Ocelot correcting himself over ‘your father’.

“He was adopted, sir,” Ocelot muttered to Solidus, then said to Liquid, “Solidus is generally included in more information than you ever were. For one thing, he was directly raised by the Patriots instead of being sent off to foster parents.”

Liquid rolled his eyes. He had known even at an extremely young age that his so-called foster parents in England had really been more like handlers, and he had never been particularly sad that they’d abandoned him in Africa. Good riddance…

“And then the Patriots had me installed as President,” Solidus said, crossing his arms, “and all year I have had to waste time on my election campaign when I already know that my administration is set to continue through the next term as well.”

“I’m… sorry to hear that?” Liquid said, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

This working relationship was off to a wonderful start.

Ocelot must have been thinking the same thing, judging by the way he pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed deeply. “Just to get directly to the point…” he said, “Solidus and I have been plotting against the Patriots for the last several years. Although I didn’t consult him before bringing you and the rest of FOXHOUND on board with our plans, he has - graciously - decided to coordinate with you on this. In fact, due to his greater experience with their inner workings, and the fact that he’s your commander-in-chief anyway, FOXHOUND is going to be assigned the position of ’the muscle’, as needed.”

Liquid frowned. It was obvious Ocelot was telling Liquid there was no point in protesting, if not in so many words, although Solidus didn’t give any indication that he picked up on that himself. Did he simply not care? Or did Solidus require even less subtlety than Liquid did?

“That seems only natural,” he said, slightly narrowing his eyes, “but, of course, I think I’d personally be more comfortable with this arrangement if I had some kind of guarantee that you are at no point going to throw us under the bus, so to speak?”

Solidus raised an eyebrow. “I hardly think you’re in a position to negotiate, Liquid.”

“Oh?”

“If you refuse to accept these terms, it’d be just as easy for me to turn your entire unit over to the Patriots. Certainly that would remove any suspicion brewing against me.”

“Sir, that’s a little drastic,” Ocelot said.

“Then at the very least I could officially dissolve the unit and have them all denaturalized and deported.”

“I’d like to see you try to deport Raven back to a reservation in Alaska,” Liquid said, glaring at Solidus.

“That’s entirely besides the point,” Solidus said, gesturing grandiosely - which unsettlingly reminded Liquid of Ocelot, just how long had these two known each other? - “FOXHOUND itself is unneeded. If you’d rather go this your own way, then I can always use Dead Cell—“

Liquid laughed in his face. “Dead Cell? That worthless bunch of-“

“A terror attack simulation group established specifically by President Sears that already answers directly to him,” Ocelot interrupted, “yes, that Dead Cell.”

Whoops. Liquid hadn’t known that Dead Cell was Solidus’ pet project. Might not be the best idea to insult them right in front of him - but still, them? What the hell could they do to the Patriots, gun down a couple of their agents with rubber bullets? attack an installment with dummy missiles?

Recomposing himself, Liquid waved a hand. “There’s no need to bring them into this,” he said, “whatever direct assaults you might need on any Patriot projects, I can promise you FOXHOUND will be a better choice than any other special forces unit in the whole country, possibly even the whole world.” A habit of talking up FOXHOUND in front of superiors? Who, him? “And, of course, we’re all still relatively new to this whole resistance thing, so it would be much more convenient for us to join up with you as our de jure leader.”

“I assume you wish to remain FOXHOUND’s de facto leader,” Solidus said.

“Well, that’s only natural, too, isn’t it? We can retain our organization as a group even under more… subversive circumstances than usual. All I ask is an agreement that my unit will not be your sacrificial lambs, brother.”

“What makes you so convinced that-“

“I’m not completely naïve about what goes on in the Patriots’ ranks,” Liquid said, smiling, “nor am I ignorant of what you might feel the need to do in order to delay cutting your ties with them until the right time. In fact, you already gave your potential motive yourself.”

“Just agree to his terms, sir,” Ocelot said, “he’s not asking for very much, and FOXHOUND won’t be any use to you dead.”

“…I suppose,” Solidus said, then extended a hand. “Very well. In a game of chess, one wouldn’t sacrifice a queen…”

Liquid shook his hand again. Somehow, he couldn’t help but feel he’d just been insulted.

Chapter Text

The rest of the meeting with Solidus was, as probably was to be expected, unendurably boring: Solidus talked at length about the Patriots and how they worked (or at least what he knew of them), but none of it was new information - either Liquid had already heard about it from Ocelot, or else he’d deduced it on his own using his prior knowledge of Cipher. In fact, the only new tidbit of information was the existence of the so-called Wisemen’s Committee, although Solidus admitted it was only a rumor. Even if he took it very seriously, Liquid didn’t feel the need to himself until he got some kind of corroborating evidence for it. Hadn’t Cipher just been run by one guy?

On the plus side, Liquid got to become one of surely very few people who could say they had casually sat on the President’s desk. Solidus had attempted to make him get off it, but Liquid had only replied “You can’t tell off your older brother!” in mock indignation and remained exactly where he was, and Ocelot had advised Solidus to drop it, so he did. So, in essence, Liquid felt as though he’d established his dominance here.

Still, he wasn’t in a terribly good mood as he and Ocelot left the Oval Office — “Oh, and Ocelot,” Solidus had said as they were walking out, “as long as you’re in town tonight…” “Of course, sir,” Ocelot had responded, smiling blandly — and as soon as the door shut behind them and they were alone again, Liquid rounded on Ocelot, seizing him by the scarf and shoving him up against a wall.

“Who exactly is he?” he demanded.

Ocelot, who hadn’t made a single noise of protest when Liquid grabbed him, only raised an impassive eyebrow. “I’m not sure what you mean, boss.”

“How long have you been cavorting with him, Ocelot?”

“I first met him in Liberia in 1989 - we were introduced on Patriot business. But I didn’t see him again until 1998, when he was sworn in as one of the New York senators as set-up for his ‘campaign’ in 2000. That campaign was when I started… getting involved with him.”

“So… around the time you joined FOXHOUND, you also wormed your way into Solidus’ entourage.”

Ocelot frowned. “You make it sound so insidious,” he said, “I don’t do everything underhandedly, you know. His goals align with mine, so allying myself with him-“

“Which one of us do you consider your boss?” Liquid said, leaning slightly closer, pressing Ocelot a little harder into the wall.

“Hm?”

“Which of us do you defer to? Suppose we both gave you contradictory orders—“

“I wouldn’t turn down an order from either one of you. I’d find a way to fulfill both requests.”

“And if there isn’t a way?” He narrowed his eyes. “Let’s say Solidus orders you to kill me. I find out about this order and- well, I assume if I ordered you to kill him instead you’d just say you’d assassinate us both. But suppose I simply order you to stand down?”

“If Solidus ordered me to kill you,” Ocelot said very seriously, “then you would be dead long before you ever got the opportunity to order me to stand down. I wouldn’t even get my hands dirty.”

There was a long pause.

“But then, the same would apply to you,” Ocelot continued at length, “and either way, if one of you were to give that order I’d attempt to dissuade him. I won’t argue against an order but if it’s counter-productive then I’m not above subtly convincing my boss to change his mind.”

“…well,” Liquid said, “I’ll just say this now, Ocelot: if Solidus ever orders you to sell out FOXHOUND, you belay that order and report it to me. I’ll take matters into my own hands if it comes to that.”

“Yes, sir,” Ocelot said, then glanced to the side, breaking eye contact.

It was at that moment that Liquid realized how close he’d pushed his and Ocelot’s faces together, and that they were breathing each other’s air and their lips were only centimeters apart. Certainly that wouldn’t look good if anyone should happen to come walking into the hallway right now.

Blushing furiously, Liquid quickly stepped back, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Anyway,” he said, “it’s going to come down to one or the other eventually, Ocelot. ‘No man can serve two masters.’ It says that in the Bible somewhere.”

“You’ve never read the Bible,” Ocelot said (completely unruffled) as they started walking towards the exit.

“Well, no, but… back in Iraq, there was this other prisoner who told me about it…” Liquid sort of trailed off, then said, “an American. Can’t remember his name, it was some perfectly generic English one although he spoke fluent Spanish. Had a wife and kids - managed to hold on to a photo of them and he kept showing it to the rest of us — and he told us Bible stories to pass the time. All that stuff about Jesus, plus things like Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt and Lehi fleeing from Jerusa-“

“What?”

“What?”

“A person called Lehi? That’s not in the Bible.”

Liquid blinked. “It isn’t?”

“Not at all.”

There was a short pause as some White House staff passed them.

“Samson and Delilah?” said Liquid.

“Old Testament,” said Ocelot.

“Captain Moroni?”

“No.”

“…shame, that one was my favorite. Anyway, he died about… what, two or three months after I was captured? but it was a nice distraction while it lasted.”

“Mm.”

Liquid shook his head to himself. What was he doing? It had been ages since he’d even thought about any of his fellow prisoners back then - by the time the first year was out, he was the only one left alive and he’d practically forgotten about the others before he’d been recovered himself. Even now, he couldn’t quite conjure any of their faces in his mind’s eye, not even those that had been his comrades in the SAS.

Better to change the subject.

“Do you think I can talk ‘President Sears’ into increasing our budget?” Liquid wondered out loud.


It was only early afternoon when Liquid’s meeting with Solidus was over and done with, and Mantis wasn’t around at Fort McNair presently and Ocelot had to go socialize with some old contacts to keep his connections up, so Liquid was left entirely by himself. He was a little relieved, actually - after that rather unsettling exchange with Ocelot, and the fact that he’d already decided he hated his younger brother even though he’d only just found out about his existence, Liquid figured he’d appreciate a little time to himself. So he headed off to a Smithsonian institution picked at random, which happened to be the American Art Museum.

He really couldn’t focus on any of the exhibits, though. Lovely paintings and all, but he was too busy fretting over the whole Ocelot-Solidus connection to concentrate on them. There was no point in pushing the subject, he already knew that, Ocelot would continue to insist that he would never pick one over the other, but…

Liquid tried to tell himself that if it came down to it, Ocelot would pick him. After all, even though their relationship unceremoniously ended when Liquid left Mother Base nine years ago, he was certain - no matter what Mantis said! - that Ocelot had genuinely cared about him back then and he still did now, at least on some level. Wasn’t that right? Even if Liquid was ashamed he’d done it (and kept doing it, he really didn’t have great self-control), that didn’t change the fact that the last time he and Ocelot had slept together had been only about three months ago. If Liquid went to him again tonight, he’d definitely take him up on his offer, too. Surely that proved something?

But speaking of tonight, Liquid found himself inexplicably bothered by Solidus saying “Oh, and Ocelot, as long as you’re in town tonight” as they had been leaving the Oval Office. Perhaps it wasn’t so much what he said as it was the way he’d trailed off significantly, giving Ocelot a look Liquid couldn’t quite interpret, and the empty smile Ocelot had put on as he said “Of course, sir.” But Liquid still couldn’t place how exactly that was any kind of worrisome - maybe this evening they would be dining together or something, but wouldn’t that be no different from what Ocelot was doing at this very moment, visiting useful acquaintances just to make sure his snares around them hadn’t been untangled in his absence?

Or, maybe Ocelot really did like Solidus. Which was, of course, perfectly fine, Liquid had no problem with that, there was no reason for Liquid to have a problem with that — it was just that he was still worried that Ocelot was closer to Solidus than he was to him, and that meant that if things came down to the wire Ocelot would defer to Solidus and that could be very, very bad news for FOXHOUND in general and Liquid Snake specifically.

But really Ocelot should be closer to Liquid than Solidus, shouldn’t he? They’d known each other longer… they used to be lovers… they still occasionally were, even if it was only because Liquid was no good at resisting his mostly unwanted impulses…

Solidus looked more like Big Boss, though.

All the art in the world couldn’t have done anything to dissipate the black cloud hanging over Liquid’s mood now, so when it started to get late he slunk back to Fort McNair, glad that Washington, D.C.’s only professional psychic had been fired from the FBI years ago because if someone had read his thoughts right now he would certainly have had the Secret Service called down on his head over his foul-tempered fantasizing of tearing the President limb from limb.

But speaking of Washington, D.C.’s former only professional psychic, Mantis was already back at Fort McNair and Liquid perked up when he walked into the room they’d been put up in together. (With two separate beds on opposite sides. Ha.) This was perfect, Liquid could really do with some attention right about now—-

“Unbelievable,” was all Mantis had to say about everything that had happened at the White House and Liquid’s thoughts afterwards, and he went back to his book, barely sparing Liquid a glance.

Liquid frowned. What, was that book somehow more important than him? Looking at it he could see Mantis had only just purchased it - he hadn’t bothered to take the price sticker off yet; it was a thick volume about the Cold War, which Liquid thought was absolutely ridiculous that Mantis should want to read it in the first place considering he’d grown up during the Cold War.

Besides, Mantis wasn’t often one to read nonfiction books, and when he did they were inevitably about bugs… normally, anyway…

“Mantis?”

“Mm?”

“What are you reading?”

Mantis shifted the book in his hands so that Liquid could see the cover, even though he had to know full well that that was not what Liquid meant.

“More interesting than me, eh?” Liquid said bitterly.

“No,” Mantis said, “but I want to finish this as soon as possible.”

“Important?”

“You could say that. At least, hypothetically… I have not found any useful information so far…”

“Ah. Well, you don’t seem to be very far into it anyway.”

“Mm.”

Frustrated now, Liquid whined loudly, “Mantis, pay attention to me.”

All he got was another “Mm.”

He should have kissed Ocelot back in the White House when their lips were so close they were almost kissing anyway. He should have just gone for it. There had been nothing stopping him. Mantis would have been furious but at least then he wouldn’t have been ignoring him in favor of his book and fine, then, if Mantis would rather read his book than interact with Liquid then Liquid just had to wait until Ocelot got back from dinner with Solidus. Ocelot wouldn’t ignore him, Ocelot would give him lots and lots of attention, Ocelot would make him feel it—-

Mantis snapped his book shut, marking his place with a finger, and stood up. “Hands and knees, Eli,” he said in the kind of stern, falsely patient voice that Liquid knew full well meant he was beyond irritated with him.

Liquid swallowed hard. This was kind of what he had been angling for, though… so he didn’t say anything in his defense, just wordlessly followed Mantis’ orders. And Mantis sat on him. And continued reading his book.

Fuck.

Liquid’s face burned. Being used as a piece of furniture was bad enough, but the book was just adding insult to injury. Still, it was acknowledgement. It was attention, after a fashion. And one of Mantis’ hands absent-mindedly pet his hair as he continued reading, which was… good?

But by the time Mantis finally let him go his knees were aching - his back, too, even though Mantis was very light - and he almost felt like crying. He hadn’t protested out loud the entire time and he more than suspected Mantis hadn’t been listening to his thoughts, either, but really he did think that that on top of his previous bad mood… well, that was just mean.

Mantis, as always, took him to bed. He still followed his self-imposed rule about that. No, he didn’t put down the book even now, but he leaned back against the wall and Liquid draped himself across his lap, throat tight, and Mantis gently played with his hair and tore himself away from the Cold War long enough to call Liquid a good boy for submitting to his punishment for thinking about Ocelot like that, even if it really was just a spiteful way to shift Mantis’ focus over to him.

Liquid snorted. No mention of the fact that he’d mutinously tried to buck Mantis off three or four times…?

Relax, Eli,” Mantis said, “I know you are upset, so I don’t want to be too harsh with you.”

“Put that bloody book down,” Liquid said, grabbing him around the waist and nuzzling his stomach, “I want you.”

“Fine, fine…” Mantis dogeared the page he was on, and set the book aside. “There. No more distractions.”

“Good.”

“But I do not like that you worked yourself into such a horrible mood over the idea that Ocelot might like Solidus better than you.”

Liquid rolled his eyes and groaned. “It’s strategic,” he protested, “it wouldn’t be in our best interests if Ocelot ultimately sides with Solidus.”

“You’re jealous.”

“No, I’m not! There’s nothing to be jealous of.”

“Nothing you should be jealous of, yes, but that does not change the fact that you are-“

“Well- I suppose you would know!” Liquid snapped, sitting up, “there’s no emotion you’d know better than jealousy, Mantis!!”

Despite his rather cold tone, Mantis evidently wasn’t going to rise to Liquid’s combative attitude tonight. He wasn’t going to let this argument escalate into a fight. “I have never doubted that Ocelot is going to backstab us eventually - I do not care if it is for Solidus or anyone else. If anything, I’m pleased that your suspicion of Solidus might just lead you to cast suspicion on Ocelot, where it’s really due. But jealousy is simply unwarranted. You are no longer in a relationship with Ocelot, Eli.”

Liquid snarled at him, but didn’t have a good rebuttal. Instead he just flopped onto his side at the end of the bed, back turned, deliberately not touching Mantis. Arsehole, he thought.

But barely a moment passed before he felt Mantis’ hands at his sides, and his chest at his back; Mantis had laid down next to him, calm as could be, tangling their legs together and resting his chin on the top of Liquid’s head.

“We do not need either of them, Eli,” he said, “we do not need anyone. Only each other.”

“Hmph.”

Slowly, carefully, Mantis’ hands slipped down Liquid’s hips. Of course. Liquid let out a long breath and pushed himself back against Mantis a little, finally relaxing.

Of course. After arguing, sex. Clearing the air after all the bad, ugly feelings brought out, reassuring one another of their mutual affection, setting all the nastiness aside to make love. Or, less charitably but more realistically, distracting one another from their glaring relationship problems.

They were predictable.


Back in the Huron again on the way back to FOXHOUND headquarters, Liquid had his phone out, carefully adding Solidus’ contact information. It was taking him forever to type PRAT YOUNGER BROTHER on the tiny numerical keyboard…

“Nice of him to provide me a direct line to get in touch with him,” he muttered.

“Mm. You would have forgotten to ask for it yourself if you hadn’t,” Mantis replied. He was still reading that Cold War book, which Ocelot had raised his eyebrows at when he saw it but made no comment.

“I wouldn’t have forgotten,” Liquid said, “it just wouldn’t have occured to me, there’s a difference. I would have assumed that I was expected to wait for him to contact me.”

“Or, if you absolutely needed to get in touch with him, to use me as a go-between, I presume,” Ocelot said.

“Mm. Quite.”

“Something the matter, boss?”

“No, it’s nothing.” He clacked his phone shut, sighing. He always got a good night’s sleep after getting fingered within an inch of his life, and after a good night’s sleep he always found things that had seemed like such a big deal the day before were much more manageable. In other words, he’d calmed down about the whole Revolver Ocelot-Solidus Snake thing, even if it was still a situation he’d resolved to keep an eye on.

“Eli, when you were talking to the President - and I ask because he monologued for so long that I really do not want to sift through your memory of it…” Mantis said, and he abruptly switched to Kikongo: “did he actually bother to tell you at any point why he is determined to take down the Patriots?” (He actually used the word ‘bamuéné’, meaning ‘kings’ or ‘rulers’, to refer to the Patriots instead of calling them by name.)

Liquid cocked his head at him. “Of course he did,” he replied in same, “spent probably half his lecture ranting about it. He’s obsessed with leaving a legacy of some kind.”

Mantis scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Typical,” he said dryly, “really it is a given that your brother would be sterile like you, but even then he still feels the need to participate in the atavistic desire to-“

“Not this again,” Liquid interrupted, rolling his own eyes, although even he had to admit there was a trace of amused affection in his voice. Mantis’ hatred of children, reproduction, passing on one’s genes/memes, et al. was really just kind of funny to him.

Mantis huffed. “Still… what need does he have of a legacy? He is President of the United States, a position considered by many to be the most powerful person in the world… even if the bamuéné had him installed with no effort on his end, that still ensures he will make it into the history books.”

“I asked him the same thing, actually,” Liquid said, “and he just said-“ he put on his best impression of Solidus’ voice, which admittedly wasn’t very good although at least he sounded kind of American, “‘Martin van Buren. Millard Fillmore. Chester A. Arthur.’”

“Who?” Mantis said, blinking.

“American presidents,” Liquid explained, “ones that no one remembers. It seems he’s afraid of going down that route himself when he’d rather have his name be right up there with George Washington’s.”

“And he aims to accomplish this by being the president who not only reveals that modern democracy is a sham, but also restores democracy to the country,” Mantis said.

“Precisely. To be fair, I’m sure that would have a very profound impact on American history… certainly nobler than doing this as revenge for Galzburg, he claims.”

“Certainly more self-centered,” Mantis said dismissively. “An obsession with one’s legacy is an obsession with one’s future… good for him that he has the luxury of worrying about that. Meanwhile, in the world we live in…”

“No future,” Liquid said, leaning back in his chair with his arms behind his head, “only buried pasts soaked in blood that cries up for vengeance. My little brother’s really spoiled, isn’t he?”

“Evidently.”

“But anyway, why were you wondering? I don’t suppose you actually care about his motivations.”

“No,” Mantis said, “I got a little off-topic just now. I was just wondering if you were going to think it was odd.”

“…? What’s odd?”

“That President Sears is all too eager to tell you why he wants the bamuéné gone, but Ocelot has never mentioned his own motive - not even once.”

Liquid blinked.

That was true. Ocelot had never said anything about it… Liquid had sort of presumed that Ocelot’s motives were similar to everyone else’s, except that, admittedly, it’d be over Big Boss’ death during the Zanzibar Land disturbance, not Venom Snake’s death during the Outer Heaven incident. But, it was logical to assume that the Patriots had been responsible for both, wasn’t it?

Wait, was it? Big Boss had been the one who had sent in Venom’s killer. He had been ordered by the Patriots to do so, ultimately. Liquid knew that Big Boss had broken from FOXHOUND after that incident, running off to take over the remnants of the PF that was rightfully Venom’s by that point, but… but that didn’t mean he’d broken from the Patriots, too, at that point, did it…?

“I… no, he hasn’t,” Liquid said, his brow furrowing. “I don’t know what he wants.”

“If you want to know,” Ocelot said suddenly, “you could always just ask.” Both Liquid and Mantis turned to look at him, shocked.

“Since when did you know Kikongo??” Mantis asked, startled back into English.

“I thought it might be useful to know,” Ocelot said, also in English, “and I was right. Not specifically for this moment, of course, but I was still right.” He switched back to Kikongo. “I would have thought that my reasons for wanting the bamuéné gone were obvious: I lost people important to me in the Galzburg incident, too. And…” he glanced slightly to the side, “you might also note that it isn’t a coincidence that I started all this the year after Zanzibar…”

“…I thought so,” Liquid said, frowning. Mantis scoffed.

“It’s the exact same reason your mother is with us, too, boss.”

“Oh,” Liquid said. Come to think of it, he hadn’t stopped and considered why EVA was against the Patriots. Then again, she was the one who’d said that she’d make a good vigilante superhero, so maybe on some level he’d just assumed she was doing it because it was the right thing to do.

Although of course taking out the shadowy puppet masters of the world would probably throw it a little bit into chaos, which made it being ‘the right thing’ subjective enough that Liquid didn’t feel ridiculous or hypocritical doing it. He was kind of a dick, after all.

“Any further questions?” Ocelot said.

“Er… no,” Liquid said, feeling a little silly. Mantis trying to turn him against Ocelot over nothing - or over things that were easily resolvable - wasn’t anything new, but he’d almost fallen for this one.

Mantis just glared at Ocelot, then turned away, folding his arms irritably and remaining silent. Liquid could pretty much sense that Mantis was sure Ocelot’s reasoning was only an excuse and that Liquid was being incredibly naïve and gullible for buying it. But trying to drive suspicion over something that was cleared up with a simple question, really?? If they were going to be making harsh judgments of each other anyway, Liquid was going to go ahead and think of Mantis as being lazy.

He heard Mantis’ offended scoff, but ignored it and took a nap until they arrived back at FOXHOUND base.

Chapter Text

“So you’re telling me you didn’t know what the President looked like.”

“Ah. No. I didn’t.”

“Incredible, boss,” Raven said, “I knew you did not watch the news, but…”

“Well, one of you could have mentioned it to me at some point,” Liquid said, annoyed, “since you all clearly noticed how similar he looked to-“

“Hey, I thought it was just a coincidence,” Octopus said, “I mean, it’s been all over conspiracy theory forums ever since he was still a Senator from New York. People absolutely noticed he looks like Big Boss, they still talk about how he’s got to be secretly related to him somehow. Hell, people have even guessed that he’s a clone.”

“…and you didn’t tell me about any of this?”

“Uh, no, you said that Les Enfants Terribles was just you and your twin, so I thought that President Sears was just Big Boss’ first cousin once removed or something.”

“I thought he was another body double that they got the age wrong with,” Raven volunteered.

“That’s… helpful,” Liquid said, “Octopus, you’re a part of a top secret special forces group, what the hell are you doing on conspiracy theory forums?”

“I make a point to never mention my job,” Octopus said indignantly, “and I only got started on them because you have no idea how fun it is to read people going nuts trying to figure out something we did, boss. My favorite threads are the ones where they compile evidence that such-and-such an official was totally secretly replaced by a doppelgänger in the months before his mysterious death… and I was actually playing his wife.”

Liquid had no idea how to respond to that.

“You’d be surprised at what a useful source of intel conspiracy theorists can be,” Ocelot said from the other side of the breakroom, where he was casually cleaning his guns, “sure, the vast majority of them are completely out of touch with reality, and even among those that aren’t they’re still wildly off-base most of the time… but they’re the only ones who notice things that get entirely overlooked by the mainstream media and the general public.”

“You prefer to get your news from the crazies?” Raven said derisively.

“I didn’t say that. But certainly if I want to know what the Patriots are trying to keep me out of the loop on, I just need to find the common threads in the ‘truther’ papers.”

“That’s way easier to do online nowadays, you know that, right?” Octopus said. Ocelot didn’t reply.

“…wouldn’t the Patriots just censor any mentions of what they’re up to?” Liquid said.

“Underground publications and the internet are nearly impossible to censor, even for the Patriots,” Ocelot said, “at least for now. Rumor has it they’re working on something… but either way, they leave the conspiracy theorists alone. They could openly reveal the Patriots’ existence and even provide proof, and all it would do in the public eye is assure them that the Patriots could not exist. Nothing ruins the credibility of a concept like putting it side-by-side with ‘9/11 was an inside job’ and ‘the moon landing was faked’.”

“So you’re telling us that 9/11 wasn’t an inside job?” Octopus said.

“Oh, no, it was,” Ocelot replied casually, “the moon landing was real, though. Mostly because they hired Stanley Kubrick to direct it, and, perfectionistic as always, he demanded that they film on-location on the moon.”

“…he is messing with us, right?” Raven said, “I cannot tell.”


A couple hundred miles north of there, Naomi dared to leave her hotel room for the first time in a week - she hadn’t eaten anything besides granola bars for the past three days, so at this point she was willing to risk it.

“Good morning, Dr. Hunter.”

Naomi screamed and dropped her keycard, then quickly picked it back up, scrambling to get back into her hotel room. She fumbled with the lock, though, and by the time she actually got the door open she could feel breath on the back of her neck.

Is was bad enough that they had to send a FOXHOUND assassin after her, but Sniper “sexual harassment on legs” Wolf? Seriously?

“You just wanted to make a grocery run, no?” Wolf said, reaching around Naomi and tugging the keycard out of her hand. “Such a mundane task would be nothing but undignified to die in the middle of…”

Naomi swallowed hard, composing herself. “So you’ll leave me alone,” she said, “because an undignified death won’t do anything to satisfy your sense of drama.”

“Of course,” Wolf said, pushing Naomi back into her hotel room. “Let’s get delivery.”

“What do you mean let’s—“

“I will pay, although I will need to keep the receipt.”

Naomi kept her mouth shut. Although she wasn’t worried about her cash reserves right now, it would certainly be in her best interests to save money - she didn’t know when the next time she’d have any kind of income would be, and she hadn’t been using credit or debit cards so it would be more difficult to track her, instead relying on what relatively little paper money her bank let her pull from her account the day she bolted. Of course, she’d been tracked down anyway, so maybe she shouldn’t even bother with…

Wait, Wolf wouldn’t consider killing someone after having dinner with them to be suitably dignified and tragic, would she? No… maybe if they were dining out at a very nice, incredibly expensive French restaurant and were both wearing black-tie dresses and strings of diamonds, but this was a shitty hotel room in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Wolf was ordering Chinese, and Naomi was wearing worn-out sweats and unwashed hair.

That would be even more undignified than getting shot on the way to Safeway.

Wolf put down the phone. “It is hot,” she sighed, “do you mind if I take off my jacket?”

“It’s not that hot,” Naomi said, “we’re in Canada. In October.”

“I mean in this hotel room… your heater is turned up too high.”

“We’re in Canada. In October.” And Naomi had grown up in Rhodesia, it couldn’t helped that she wasn’t a fan of cold temperatures.

Wolf took off her jacket without waiting for Naomi to give her the go-ahead, and Naomi realized- well, not really realized since Wolf had walked into the room with her jacket already unzipped almost to her navel, going completely past the normal definition of cleavage, but it hadn’t quite registered with her that Wolf wasn’t wearing anything under her jacket until her jacket was already down around her elbows.

“Put that back on,” Naomi said flatly, looking her in the eye.

“What is the matter?” Wolf said.

“You aren’t wearing a shirt, or even a bra—“

“You often do not wear a bra, either.”

Naomi couldn’t help but glance very briefly at Wolf’s breasts. She was still pretty young - only 28ish, close to Naomi’s assumed age - so they hadn’t started to sag despite her prancing around with no support and them half-hanging out of her shirt all the time, and she had the nipples and areolae of an adolescent, small and close in color to her skin, so if she’d ever been pregnant it had been a long time ago. In the warmth of the room they were soft-looking and rounded.

“Why is it acceptable for men to go around shirtless and not women?” Wolf said.

“Don’t bring that into this,” Naomi snapped, “this is my hotel room and I am not comfortable with you exposing yourself. Put your jacket back on.”

“But I’m paying for dinner.”

“…oh my god.”

“It is alright if you stare,” Wolf said, “I do not mind.”

“I have no interest in-“

“Really? Because I heard—“

“I don’t care what you’ve heard,” Naomi said. She wanted to turn away from her, but even though she knew the time hadn’t yet come for Wolf to kill her (not to mention the fact that she was ultimately a sniper and not only was she standing about two feet away from her but also didn’t even have her rifle right now) she still didn’t exactly feel comfortable turning her back to her. “I’m straight.”

“No you are not.”

“What? Yes I am. How would I not be? I have no sexual or romantic interest in women.”

“…did you not think your mouth tasted a little odd when you woke up the day after Liquid started your investigation?” Wolf said plainly… still not putting her jacket back on.

Naomi blinked, then her eyebrows drew together angrily. “How on earth did you know about-“

“The unremarkable office woman you had oral sex with was actually Octopus in disguise, trying to milk you for information while you were drunk.”

There was a long pause.

“Well,” Naomi said at length, “even if he was disguised as a woman, Octopus is still a man, so I’m still-“

“But he has a vagina, and you put your tongue in it.”

“He also has XY chromosomes.”

“A quze is a quze, Dr. Hunter.”

God damn it, Naomi knew from the moment she saw it in Octopus’ medical history that that vaginoplasty was going to come back to haunt her.

She was saved by the Chinese delivery boy knocking on the door. Before Naomi could stop her, Wolf opened it wide and greeted the boy, who went boiled-lobster-red and was unable to tear his eyes off her boobs as she took the food and slammed the door in his face. He’d forgotten to ask for payment…

“So much for paying for dinner,” Naomi said dryly.

“It is just as well,” Wolf said, setting the food down and immediately opening a fortune cookie, “Liquid hates reimbursing personal expenses. Hmm… ‘You will soon achieve your goal.’ Good news, I think.”

“Not for me,” Naomi snapped, opening her own fortune cookie. Of course it was missing the little slip of paper. Of course. Naomi sighed. She never much cared for fortune cookies, anyway.

The meal was eaten in about as awkward a silence as one could expect between an assassin and her target. Surprisingly, Naomi had entirely gotten used to Wolf’s shirtlessness…

“Have you ever met Solid Snake?” Wolf asked suddenly, her forkful of lo mein hovering halfway to her lips.

“What?” Naomi said, blinking.

“Why do you want to kill him?”

“What makes you think I want to kill him?” Naomi said, narrowing her eyes, “I’ve never even met the man.”

Wolf shrugged. “We know about FOXDIE,” she said.

Naomi was silent. That was kind of a given, and exactly the reason why she had run; it was only obvious that they were going to through her project files on that, and while she’d mildly held out hope that it would fly over their heads due a complete lack of bioengineering backgrounds in their unit, that was only a pipe dream. And, she knew Ocelot knew about her kill list with Liquid’s name double underlined, even if at the time she had been pretty sure that he hadn’t known what it was actually for.

“I was under orders to-“

“Not by the same people who ordered you to develop the virus,” Wolf said, “otherwise they would have put Solid Snake’s name on the target list in the first place. You would not have had to underline Liquid’s.”

“…”

“Is it perhaps some third party?”

“…”

“Does it have anything to do with the cyborg ninja?” Wolf pressed.

“Answer me one thing first,” Naomi said.

“Hn?”

“I saw the news about the break-in at the CDC a few weeks ago. Did you lot have anything to do with that?”

“Do you think we did?” Wolf said evenly.

Naomi hesitated before replying. Was this a trap? As far as she knew, Wolf wasn’t much one for interrogations or conversational mind games… “I don’t know what reason you would have to do so,” she said carefully, “your names on the development list notwithstanding… you were investigating me over Dr. Clark’s death. I can only assume that you’re with them.”

“Are you?” Wolf said.

“…I follow their orders.”

“Yet you killed Dr. Clark. I am sure that they would not like that, if they found out.”

Again Naomi was silent. She would have liked to outright accuse Wolf of FOXHOUND being responsible for the break-in at the CDC and the presumed destruction of FOXDIE - it couldn’t be about anything else, that would have just been too big a coincidence - but Naomi didn’t know that for sure. On the security still shown on the news, she’d thought she recognized EVA, but she wasn’t certain. She’d only met EVA in person exactly once, and while as far as she recalled EVA had driven the same kind of motorcycle (or at least the same color, Naomi didn’t know much about bikes) and had the same body type as the woman in the footage… EVA didn’t really have anything to do with FOXHOUND herself, did she…?

“I wasn’t the one who killed her,” Naomi said eventually. “The ninja did that.”

“But you were the one who set him loose, and covered it all up, were you not?”

This had to be a trap. Naomi didn’t answer. Wolf leaned forward, her hair slipping over her bare shoulders.

“Ocelot talked,” she said, “he told us everything.”

“Oh.” A flat response. It was all Naomi could give.

There was a long pause.

“Why don’t you turn him in to the Patriots, then?” Naomi said, “they would never believe it coming from me, but—“

“Why should we?” Wolf said, “the Patriots had you create FOXDIE to kill us.”

So there it was, then. FOXHOUND was in rebellion against the Patriots - or, at least, was brewing a rebellion. But this was just entrapment, wasn’t it? Certainly Wolf seemed sincere, and her position seemed logical… even if they realized that FOXDIE was only intended as a contingency plan in case of, well, this, Naomi somehow found it unlikely that the unit would take that lying down.

After all, if you point a gun at a soldier’s back, they’re going to turn around and shoot you even if you promise not to fire unless it’s necessary to do so.

“What do you want from me?” she asked.

“It may be a convenient arrangement, if you joined us,” Wolf said, “for both of us. FOXDIE is of no concern anymore, and with the Patriots gone you will not have to worry about retribution for Dr. Clark’s death.”

“What motive would you have for inviting me along?”

“A scientist on our side would be a useful thing,” she said, “and you are our best bet because you already know about the Patriots and have a history of making trouble for them.”

“That lab accident had nothing to do with the Patriots.”

“We know that, but do the Patriots?”

Naomi frowned. “Did Liquid order you to try to recruit me to your insurrection? Is that the real reason why you’ve just been harassing me all this time instead of making an attempt on my life?”

“To be fair,” Wolf said, “I had not yet had a good chance to kill you, anyway.”

Because Wolf was Wolf and that meant she had to lie in wait for ungodly amounts of time to find the perfect opportunity to shoot someone, instead of just taking the first opportunity. Because that was just the kind of person that FOXHOUND hired. Sociopaths. Inefficient sociopaths. No wonder Liquid was constantly bitching about their budget disappearing on him.

“So essentially you’re offering me amnesty for FOXDIE and protection from retaliation over Dr. Clark’s death in exchange for joining you,” Naomi said.

“Yes.”

“May I make a request, in addition to those?”

“Certainly. Although I have no idea if we will be able to fulfill it.”

She took a deep breath. “I want-… my cooperation in exchange for the life of Solid Snake. Additionally I would like the cyborg ninja recovered and returned to me unharmed.”

Wolf raised her eyebrows. “Do you wish to continue genetic experiments on him?”

“What I wish to do with him is my business and mine alone,” Naomi said, “however, those are my terms.”

“I can talk to Liquid about it… however… if you decide not to accept our terms, then you are only going to rat us out to the Patriots, aren’t you?”

“…”

Wolf stood, and shrugged her jacket back on, leaving it unzipped but covering her nipples at least. “I will get in touch with Liquid. In the meantime, behave yourself. I will return.” She walked out of the hotel room, leaving all the not-quite-finished Chinese with Naomi.

Shit. Okay.

Okay, Naomi had to figure this out. She had an offer on the table from FOXHOUND, and at the same time she also had some nasty dirt on the unit - in all likelihood the Patriots would be willing to give her the same things she had just asked of FOXHOUND (dropping suspicion from her over FOXDIE’s destruction - she knew that was being blamed on her, Wolf was here on an official assignment - amnesty for Dr. Clark’s death, Frankie’s safety, her revenge on Solid Snake) but… well, which group was less likely to turn on her? FOXHOUND was, as stated, the apparent result of someone somewhere creating a federal hiring quota for sociopaths. Most of them were pretty loyal to each other as far as Naomi could tell from the outside looking in, but she had no doubt that she would be kicked to the curb as soon as she stopped being useful. Plus, one of the people on their team already was Revolver Ocelot, the king of backstabbing.

The exact same things could be said of the Patriots.

Naomi flopped onto her bed, sighing, putting one hand to her forehead. She wasn’t a part of the Patriots, per se, just followed the orders they occasionally handed down to her through a cut-out, but she had a good idea of what was going on in their ranks. That was why she hadn’t been suspicious when EVA and Ocelot commissioned her to arrange Dr. Clark’s death in exchange for Frankie’s freedom from that movie-obsessed two-faced bitch. She knew Ocelot and EVA were both Patriot agents, she knew Dr. Clark had been one too, and she’d always been under the impression (perhaps knowingly cultivated by Ocelot, now that she thought about it) that Dr. Clark had needed to be taken care of because she’d done something to displease the Patriots. It had never occured to her that Ocelot or EVA might have been acting in their own interests.

But apparently they were. And while Naomi didn’t know about EVA, if Ocelot had let the cat out of the bag about her to FOXHOUND then he must be on their side - on the anti-Patriot side. Or maybe this was, as she’d thought earlier, a trap. The Patriots wanted to see what she’d do.

Or maybe Naomi wasn’t the one ensnared in a trap, maybe it was FOXHOUND. Maybe FOXHOUND was sincere and Ocelot wasn’t - maybe he was still with the Patriots and had entrapped them and so if Naomi joined with them now, she’d only be joining a doomed effort slated for extermination. And she’d lose her bargaining chip with the Patriots: the fact that FOXHOUND, and Ocelot in particular, was plotting against them. If they were the ones who set it up, then they’d already know.

But… suppose that wasn’t true? Suppose Ocelot wasn’t going to turn them all in and the Patriots had no idea what was being built up to here. FOXHOUND still had the cards significantly stacked against them, a tiny, broke, dysfunctional unit of six, only one of whom had even gone to a real college, versus a world-spanning shadow government with nigh-infinite resources that operated as a well-oiled machine and knew almost everything

FOXHOUND had come out on top of incredible odds before, though. In fact that was the unit’s claim to fame, and justification for its continued existence after all the scandals: its operatives were nothing if not good at making the impossible possible.

Naomi grit her teeth.

It’d be wiser to approach the dilemma with all things being equal. So it essentially came down to this: Which of the two, the Patriots or FOXHOUND, was more likely to betray her and her interests?

Maybe that was the wrong way to think about it. Maybe it should be an ethical question, a moral judgment about which would be the right thing to do, destroy the Patriots and free the world of their control, or leave them intact and avoid the chaos, uncertainty, war, and collapsing infrastructure that would come with the ensuing power vacuum?

She traced her hand over her stomach. Did it really matter to her? She’d only gotten the diagnosis this past summer, and no one knew about it yet, but Naomi was painfully aware that she only had another few years at most. Ten or eleven, if she was lucky and managed to finish the nanomachine therapy she had been working on in secret. If she didn’t… if she couldn’t get back to her lab or a Patriot-provided one… the cancer would take her by this time next year. So she didn’t have the option of running away from this choice entirely, not if she wanted to live.

Maybe she didn’t. After all, cancer was clearly written into her genetic fate, wasn’t it? Sure, it was likely enough a side-effect of all the radiation she’d endured during her research, but radiation didn’t directly cause cancer. It could effect DNA and cause birth defects, but as far as cancer went all radiation did was change the chemical components of her cells. If her body reacted to said changes by becoming cancerous and metastasizing then that was the fault of her genes.

She wouldn’t live to see the fall of the Patriots either way, and even if she did then she wouldn’t be around for the aftermath. And she’d never passed on her genes - never had a kid, couldn’t now even if she wanted to, the cancer had already spread to her uterus - she wouldn’t be leaving any legacy behind to inherit a world with or without the mostly-benevolent oppression of the Patriots. So it didn’t matter.

…right?

Naomi came to a decision.

Chapter Text

Naomi pulled over on the sketchy side of town and fished her cellphone out of her pocket as she stepped out of her rental car and walked over to an old payphone on the side of the road. The only surefire way she had of getting in touch with the Patriots was reaching out to the same cut-out who’d given her all her instructions regarding FOXDIE… their number was saved in Naomi’s phone, but to avoid having her location traced Naomi had cut off cell service the day she’d fled her hotel in the small town a couple miles away from FOXHOUND headquarters. Right now it was just a glorified address book.

She glanced around cautiously - no sign of Wolf, but then, she could be anywhere - then dropped some coins into the payphone’s slot and dialed the number saved to her cellphone and nervously put the receiver to her ear, still looking around.

It probably rang about twenty times before the Patriot cut-out picked up. “Hello?” they said - Naomi couldn’t tell their gender over the phone, because she couldn’t tell if it was a male doing a falsetto or a husky-voiced valley girl.

“This is Dr. Hunter,” Naomi said quietly, “and I have some very interesting information I’d like to offer in exchange for my life.”

“Huh…? You really think you know something we don’t, Dr. Hunter?”

“Reasonably sure, yes.”

“Go on, then, give us a little preview.”

“No,” Naomi said firmly.

“Then goodbye.”

“Wait, wait! …fine, I’ll tell you this much right now: It has to do with the break-in at the CDC a few weeks ago.”

“Hmmmmmm,” the Patriot on the other end of the line hummed to themselves in thought, “that’s not very useful, Dr. Hunter. We already know you’re responsible for it.”

Naomi held her breath. “If you think I’m responsible for that,” she said, “then not only are you mistaken, but the information I’m offering would clearly be valuable to you.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. I’d like to negotiate. And I’d like to do it in person.” That might get Wolf off her back…

“Hmmm…”

“If you won’t accept my offer,” Naomi said, “then I’ll go straight to your enemies.”

Enemies? Oh, oh, oh… let me ask my superiors, Dr. Hunter. Somehow I think they’ll want to hear what you have to say about this. Plus they might be interested in having you re-start your little virus project…”

“Thank you,” Naomi said.

“It’s no trouble. Stay right where you are, I’ll call this payphone back with when and where to meet up with one of us in fifteen minutes, okay?”

“Okay.”

The Patriot cut-out hung up. Naomi replaced the receiver, heart feeling lighter than it had felt ever since before Liquid walked into her office with a writ of investigation. Maybe things weren’t definite yet… but as long as the Patriots were willing to negotiate she might yet come out of this with her revenge, an extra decade of life, safety from the sniper’s bullet, and Frank by her side again. She could go back to her research and everything would be normal. Better than normal.

Wolf saw the glimmer of hope in Naomi’s eyes through her rifle’s scope.

She let out a breath and squeezed the trigger.


Liquid picked up Wolf’s call on Codec.

“She decided to turn us in after all?” he said.

“Yes,” Wolf said, “she has been taken care of. A rest stop along the Trans-Canada Highway, just outside of Medicine Hat, Alberta. Some passerby has already called an ambulance for her, but it is already too late.”

“She’s dead already?”

“My bullet went straight through her left eye and into her skull. No chance for the mercury to take effect. She did get a call back on the payphone she had been using, but obviously she could not pick up…”

“And you?”

“No one saw me,” Wolf said, “I am headed back now, south on Provincial Highway No. 41… I am approaching Wild Horse, so I will be over the border soon.”

“Right. Let me know when you’re starting to get near base, then.”

“Certainly, boss.” She hung up.

Liquid sighed, dragging his hands down his face. Okay. He knew from the moment that Wolf had reported Naomi waffling about whether to throw in with them or the Patriots, the chances of Naomi actually surviving the rest of the week were slim, but this was a little bit of a setback. For one thing, it was almost a given after all that stuff about FOXDIE that they were going to need some kind of scientist on their side, and Liquid could already tell that he wouldn’t trust any that Solidus sent to work with them.

For another thing, Naomi had been pretty much their only shot at finding out just who the hell the cyborg ninja was and why the two of them both wanted to kill Solid Snake. (Wolf had already told him that Naomi had confirmed their assumption about her being after Solid with FOXDIE - Liquid had belatedly realized about last week that technically Solidus would have been affected by a virus designed to kill Liquid, too.) Perhaps it was mostly only curiosity that demanded that Liquid find out, but hey - it could be relevant. Suppose the cyborg ninja had been some kind of top-secret Patriot project? (Actually, with Dr. Clark being a high-ranking Patriot agent before her death, that seemed extremely likely.) And Solid… well, maybe that was just something personal between Naomi, the ninja, and the patricidal former FOXHOUND operator. But maybe it wasn’t. It was perfectly within Liquid’s rights to pursue all avenues of inquiry, wasn’t it?

“That is just idle nosiness, Eli,” Mantis said from his office doorway. “So Dr. Hunter is dead?"

“Yes,” Liquid said, rifling through his desk drawers for the completion-of-objective paperwork he had to fill out now. Sometimes he shuddered to imagine how much paperwork the commanders of units who didn’t do nothing but black ops had to fill out…

“Oh, are those completion-of-objective forms I see?” Octopus said, appearing behind Mantis. “So… Dr. Hunter?”

“Dead,” Mantis said.

Octopus closed his eyes and made the sign of the cross, muttering “Haced, oh Dios omnipotente, que el alma de vuestro sierva Naomi que ha pasado de este siglo al otro, purificada con estos sacrificios y libre de pecados, consiga el perdón y el descanso eterno. Amén.” He opened one eye to see Liquid giving him a funny look and Mantis a somewhat confused, but entirely unamused one. “What?” he said, “she gave good head.”

Anyway,” Liquid said, “did you need something, Octopus?”

“Just wanted to let you know that I’m finally done going through all the files on FOXDIE,” he said. “At this point, I could probably qualify for a PhD in genetics and virology.”

“Anything of note?”

“Well, didn’t find a single reference to anyone else working on the project, except the person who, I guess, initially developed it in 1973,” Octopus said, “but I showed the name to Ocelot and he said that that person had died back in the ‘80s.”

“Really?” Mantis said flatly.

Octopus shrugged. “I did find some references to Dr. Hunter’s work being a ‘revival’ of the whole concept - used to be called a different name, Project Charon — I think Ocelot knows more about it, I only saw mentions of it, not any specific information. From what I can tell the virus was just on ice for thirty years.”

“But the person who developed Project Charon is already dead?” Liquid said.

“According to Ocelot, anyway. Other than that the only names that cropped up were people on the kill list… and a handful of anonymous test subjects from Central America. I actually found a note Dr. Hunter made to herself about how they were all known criminals who got in trouble for pushing drugs on kids, so I guess whatever helped her sleep at night.”

“She must have used them to make sure the ‘inducing a heart attack’ mechanism worked,” Mantis said.

“Or someone must have done it for her,” Liquid said, “the virus was in Atlanta the whole time she was working on it, wasn’t it?”

“Oh,” Octopus said, “I hadn’t even thought of that. Yeah, it was. Project Charon was turned over to the CDC when it was suspended, I saw that much in Dr. Hunter’s files. As far as I could tell it never left their labs.”

“That’s what I thought,” Liquid said, “and that would have been facilitated by Dr. Hunter using nanomachines to modify the virus - which would explain why they didn’t do anything with it until it was 2003 and they had a nanotechnology specialist on board…”

“But nanomachines cannot infect a test subject,” Mantis said.

Liquid nodded. “So there must be someone else involved with the project, at least tangentially. Which doesn’t rule out the possibility of FOXDIE being revived in the near future by someone who knows what they’re doing with it already.”

“Well, I didn’t see anything about it in Dr. Hunter’s files,” Octopus said, “if you want to find them, you’re just going to have to look someplace else.”

“Where do we even begin with that, though?” Mantis said, “I do not recall hearing anything about that while we were at the CDC…”

Liquid frowned, rubbing his chin in thought. “Perhaps we should start with this Project Charon…? Even if the person heading up the project died back in the ‘80s, that doesn’t guarantee that everyone involved with it is gone. And if you’re going to revive a project and need a gofer…”

“…might as well use an intern from the first go-round?” Octopus said, “makes sense to me. I’ll go find Ocelot.”

“Thank you, Octopus.” He waved him off. Octopus dutifully scurried off and Mantis pointedly stayed exactly where he was in anticipation of Ocelot coming to Liquid’s office - which Liquid rolled his eyes at.

“Don’t give me that look,” Mantis said acidly.

“Don’t be so paranoid about Ocelot and I being alone together,” Liquid retorted. (Mantis was definitely going to take that out of his ass later…)

Ocelot sauntered into the room, ignoring Mantis’ sour glare at him as usual. “Octopus said you had some questions about Project Charon, boss?”

“Yes. How much do you know?”

“Not a lot, I’m afraid. I wouldn’t say it was above my pay grade per se, but it certainly wasn’t my department.”

“Just tell me what you do know about it.”

Ocelot pulled out his revolver and started twirling it thoughtfully around one finger. “It was, in a way, the predecessor to the vocal cord parasites. They were being worked on at the same time, actually, but Cipher had started both endeavors in order to develop an efficient ethnic cleanser and it was Project Charon that produced results first.”

“What exactly was it?”

“In theory, exactly the same as FOXDIE, just on a wider scale. However, the technology wasn’t quite there yet - the Human Genome Project wasn’t even completed until early 2003 - so all Cipher ended up with was an airborne virus that could more or less reliably simulate a heart attack. After Code Talker got his parasites up and running in 1975, funding to Project Charon was reduced and it ended up being officially suspended in 1980. Just two years later the head developer on the project was murdered.”

“Why?” Liquid said.

Ocelot’s gun stopped spinning. “Internal squabbling,” he said seriously, “that’s always been the one constant in the Patriots’ ranks, no matter how much power they’ve managed to amass, or rather because of it. Although, as I recall, Project Charon’s developer was killed by XOF, so by ’82 this would be Skull Face we’re talking about, not Cipher.”

“Doesn’t that still qualify it as an internal squabble…?” Skull Face had been with Cipher, right?

“Wait a minute,” Mantis spoke up, “you did not mention any of the ‘ethnic cleansing’ aspect of it back when you first told us about FOXDIE.”

“I wasn’t certain that FOXDIE was a continuation of Project Charon,” Ocelot said smoothly, “and, either way, FOXDIE isn’t an ethnic cleanser. It’s an assassination tool.”

“Mantis, that really doesn’t matter,” Liquid said, catching the way Mantis’ jaw moved under his mask as he opened his mouth to argue. “Ocelot, the head of Project Charon - they weren’t the only one working on it, were they?”

“Not exactly,” Ocelot said, “although I believe they were the only one with all the details on the project. But they did need people to help them run their lab.”

“Do you know if any of them are still with the Patriots? There’s a possibility that at least one person was testing the virus for Dr. Hunter in Atlanta, and I thought it likely that a former member of Project Charon would be entrusted with FOXDIE.”

“That’s… logical,” Ocelot said, “but I can’t answer that right now.”

“And why not?” Mantis snapped.

Ocelot glanced at him dismissively. “As I said: not my department. Much of what I know about Project Charon I only found out after the fact, while I was trying to find out if Code Talker’s vocal cord parasites really were the only ones around. I’d have to go looking back into it to see if anyone who was involved with Project Charon is even still around, let alone at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

“But can you find anything if you do go looking?” Liquid said insistently.

“If nothing else, I can rule out possibilities,” Ocelot said, reholstering his SAA. “I’m afraid I’ll need to be taking a few weeks of vacation time, boss.”

Mantis snorted. Liquid pulled open a desk drawer and pulled out the requisite paperwork. At least, and thank God, the form he had to fill out when someone was taking time off only took about thirty seconds to be over and done with.

“There,” Liquid said, signing it. “I gave you a whole month. Come back with something good.”

“Of course, boss.”


“Project Charon?” EVA said, “didn’t XOF kill everyone on that?”

“I’m not sure,” Ocelot sighed, leaning his head back. “A lot of that happened while I was still working on frying my brain with self-hypnosis.”

“You know, I’m still in awe that you ever thought that was a good idea,” EVA said, “and the fact that no one decided to tell me about it until the whole thing had already blown over. You let me think Big Boss was still at Dhekelia until the next February!”

“Didn’t want to complicate things,” Ocelot said dismissively. “Anyway, I do find Liquid’s conclusions about any leftovers from Project Charon being Dr. Hunter’s anonymous assistant at the CDC to be sound… but I think it’d be more efficient to just look into the VSPB pathologists directly.”

“You’d still be cross-referencing them with anyone who’s worked on any previous medical projects for the Patriots anyway, though, wouldn’t you?”

“Right. So I still need to know about Project Charon.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “And any other ethnic cleansing project, I suppose. You wouldn’t happen to know anything…?”

“Hey, it wasn’t my department, either,” EVA said. “You’re going to have to get ahold of someone else - and come up with a good excuse.”

“Hmm. That might be fairly easy now that Dr. Hunter’s dead; it could be as simple as inquiring into whether or not someone is going to be restarting the project now. I can frame it as having been personally keeping an eye on her progress, and she’s not alive to refute me.”

“That should work,” EVA said. “But you don’t think anyone’s getting suspicious already…?”

“I can’t say. I know her claim that she had information about the break-in at the CDC caused a bit of a stir, but I’ve heard it’s presently ‘inconclusive’ as to whether or not she was just trying to cover her tracks.”

“…although,” EVA muttered, “since that picture of me was all over the news… I’d be surprised if Sigint didn’t recognize me.”

“He probably did. But somehow he hasn’t turned suspicion towards you yet.”

“Yes, I think I’d know if he had. But… well, it’s odd, isn’t it? That he’s just letting everyone run with the assumption that it had been Dr. Hunter.”

Ocelot frowned. “Perhaps the Patriots really have gotten that far out of his control.”

There was a long pause as they just watched the traffic go by.

“It’s nice to have confirmation that it really was Solid Snake that Dr. Hunter was targeting with FOXDIE,” Ocelot said at length.

“Mm.”

“However, I doubt she was the only one who realized that FOXDIE could be used to target more or less genetically identical individuals…”

“I know,” EVA said, “it’s been bothering me, too.”

“What would the purpose of designing something to take out John even be…? He’s still trapped in his coma. He should be a complete non-issue as far as they’re concerned.”

“I know, ADAM, I know.” Now she frowned. “Are you ever planning on telling FOXHOUND about that?”

“Won’t be able to keep it secret forever,” Ocelot said, “but… it’s hardly relevant right now, is it?”

“I’m not sure I’d call your and my primary reason for doing this ‘irrelevant’.”

“I’m still uncertain about how Liquid will react when he finds out. There’s a decent chance he won’t do anything drastic, but I want him to be too deep into this to go off the rails by the time I have to reveal it.”

“…”

“He still hates him, of course,” Ocelot went on, “finding a new father in V didn’t change that. But for the past nine years it’s been V’s death that has really driven his hatred for John, not anything else that happened. And I’ve got him convinced that it’s the Patriots who are at fault for that, not John per se, so given a choice between revenge on John and revenge on the Patriots he should-“

“You have Eli convinced of that?” EVA said, “or yourself?”

Ocelot didn’t reply.


“Eli, will you stop fussing over the mirror?”

Liquid didn’t turn around, just glanced at Mantis’ reflection behind his own. “I’m too young to have this many white hairs.”

“They are not even noticeable.”

“Yes they are,” Liquid whined, “just look at them.”

“I literally do not see any. Your hair is fine, Eli, stop fussing over the mirror and come to bed. It is three in the morning.”

“My hair’s going white and I’ve started getting heartburn recently - you don’t think this is just inferior genes, do you? Or maybe they programmed accelerated aging into me like they did with Solidus?”

“I think it is just stress.”

Liquid snorted. “Wasn’t that the excuse you gave when your hair started falling out and you just shaved it all off? Because that was malnutrition, plain and simple.”

“Don’t make this about my eating habits, Eli.”

“Then don’t be so blithe about my premature aging.”

Mantis sighed irritably. “White hairs and heartburn are not necessarily signs of premature aging. They could just as easily be symptoms of stress. Now come to bed, it is late and you are being ridiculous.”

Liquid finally tore himself away from the bathroom mirror, although he was still grumbling petulantly. “I just think, if Solidus was designed to look twice his age—“

“Would that not have been the case even when he was younger? You are leaping to conclusions. If you were supposed to age at an accelerated rate then we would be seeing something sooner and more definite than a few white hairs at age 32.”

He opened his mouth to protest but Mantis grabbed his wrist and started leading him out of the bathroom, down the hallway to their shared quarters. He shook his hand out of Mantis’ grasp, annoyed and a bit self-conscious.

Maybe he was right. It could be just stress, couldn’t it? Certainly there had been a lot going on lately…

“Of course I am right,” Mantis said, “when am I ever not?”

“You don’t want me to answer that, Mantis.”

“Mm. No, I don’t.”

Still, Liquid couldn’t help but fret over this even with how likely it was that the added stress would just make it worse. He couldn’t help it. Maybe he came across as vain to other people, but truthfully it was just that his appearance was the one thing he’d been consistently praised on his whole life - the one aspect of him that had never been dismissed as worthless, defective, or inferior - so he made sure to take care of it. So… white hairs? In his early thirties?

“They really are not noticeable, Eli,” Mantis assured him, “there is no reason to worry about this.”

“…”

“If nothing else, you have better, more important things to concern yourself with.”

“…right. That’s true.”

“Good. To bed with you. Maybe if you are lucky can get three hours’ rest.”

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Mantis blinked, broke eye contact with Liquid. “I only needed to-“

“Your Cold War conspiracy theory compilations again?” Liquid said, and grabbed him around the waist, picking him up and throwing him over his shoulder despite his squawk of protest. “Not tonight, Mantis. You’re coming with me.” He gave him an affectionate pat on the butt.

“Put me down! You need to sleep-!”

“And you need to realize that none of your books are going to give you any information about the Patriots, they’ve all been through the censors’ mangling. Why are you so bloody concerned about their past, anyway? We don’t need to know how they came about in order to take them down.”

Mantis fell into a sullen silence and let Liquid carry him the rest of the way to their quarters. He probably would have put up more a fight if it hadn’t been three in the morning and there was actually anyone else in the hallway.

Liquid deposited Mantis on the bed and clambered on top of him, but Mantis disinterestedly pushed him away and Liquid, undeterred, settled instead between his legs and grabbed the zipper of Mantis’ pants. He was determined to get the dick tonight and take his mind off things.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Mantis muttered, then gave Liquid’s hair a good yank. “You are supposed to wait for me to tell you to do this sort of thing.”

“Please?” Liquid said, looking up at him and giving him his best smile.

Mantis sighed deeply. “…fine, go ahead… if you are that desperate.”

“Mmm.” He undid Mantis’ fly, pressing a kiss to his stomach at the same time. Carefully he drew Mantis’ limp cock out, brushing it with his fingertips, then mouthed it, eyes still directed up towards Mantis’ face. Mantis watched him for a few moments, then turned his head away, his breath catching as Liquid drew his tongue in a long wet line down his dick, making it twitch.

The taste of Mantis’ skin was salty, mostly, and some other flavor that Liquid had never put a word to although he knew it was arousal-related somehow, and he also tasted a little of the way his soap smelled - like oatmeal. Liquid was always grateful Mantis kept himself fastidiously clean, even if it was only for his sake; he’d taken enough dirty, unwashed cocks in his mouth to last him several lifetimes over ten years ago.

“Don’t think about that,” Mantis said softly, lazily tugging on his hair again.

Yes, Mantis, Liquid thought, closing his eyes and focusing on sucking on the side of Mantis’ dick, down near the base, and squeezing his thighs with his fingers digging into them. The way Mantis’ cock had stiffened under his hands and mouth was turning him on so bad.

“Good boy.”

That wasn’t helping.

“Nothing to worry about, Eli,” Mantis said, pulling Liquid’s ponytail holder off and brushing his hand back through his hair, letting it fall down around his face, “I will take good care of you as soon as you finish what you started…”

Liquid pulled away from him, nodded, then tucked his hair behind his ears and took Mantis’ erection into his mouth, moaning appreciatively, making only the slightest choking noise when he pushed it past his (ostensible) gag reflex.

I love you, he thought dreamily, swallowing.

“I know,” Mantis gasped, “Eli, I know.”

Chapter Text

“I see. Thank you.” Ocelot hung up.

He scrutinized the card he’d written on during the phone conversation for a moment - he’d been given a name, three telephone numbers (a home phone, work phone, and cell phone), and a home address - then put it down and called Liquid on Codec.

“Turns out you were right on the money, boss,” he said, “one of the VSPB pathologists used to fetch coffee for Project Charon. He’s slated to restart development of FOXDIE pending the arrival of Dr. Hunter’s computers from FOXHOUND headquarters.”

“That’s what I thought,” Liquid sighed, “we got the order to turn them over this morning. I stalled for time and had Mantis ‘accidentally’ reformat the harddrive or fry the motherboard or whatever it is he did. Blamed it on the dearly departed doctor, of course.”

Ocelot twitched his moustache. He hadn’t gotten the opportunity to go over any of Naomi’s files himself, so while he would have picked up on more important things than Octopus had, it seemed he would be forced to take Octopus’ word for the significance or insignificance of the data he sorted through. “She might have backups somewhere - but if they request the backup data then they’ll have to tell you where to find it. Although I’d recommend only telling them it was accidentally wiped and just keeping the data for yourself - you never know what might come in handy later.”

“Hmm. Right. What about the VSPB pathologist?”

“He’ll have to reverse-engineer the Project Charon virus before he’s able to do anything, even without Dr. Hunter’s data,” Ocelot said, “but he should have access to all of the data from Project Charon, so it should only take a year at the most before he’s ready to start programming in the kill list. Dr. Hunter was only given a year to do that, so…”

“…so all we’ve really done is delay FOXDIE by about two years, and ensure that the entire development takes place in Atlanta instead of part of it being here where we can keep an eye on it.”

“Yes.”

“Damn it. Is there anyone slated to take over the project assuming something happens to him?

“Not presently, no,” Ocelot said, “not only does it require a rather specific skill set to work on almost entirely by oneself, but the pool of people that the Patriots are willing to give clearance to for this project is extremely limited.”

“So if this one’s taken out…”

“FOXDIE will, in all likelihood, go back on ice, yes. However, once it gets out to the Patriots what we’re doing, I imagine they’ll find someone to continue the project.”

“So as long as the data still exists, FOXDIE will always be hanging over our head,” Liquid said. Ocelot heard him drumming his fingers on his desk. “And it’s not just Dr. Hunter’s data, either, it’s the data from Project Charon…”

“Right. Get rid of that and FOXDIE will go the same way as the vocal cord parasites did.”

“And what should we do with the VSPB pathologist in the meantime…?”

Ocelot shook his head. “With Dr. Hunter already dead, killing him now may lend credence to the idea that she really didn’t have anything to do with the CDC break-in. Better to just go after the Project Charon data and render him incapable of producing any results on his own.”

“Then we’ll need to find that. It should be on a computer somewhere, shouldn’t it? Since it was ‘70s project…”

“Computer, yes, and since it was the ‘70s it’s likely on microfilm as well as a backup,” Ocelot said, “I can promise you that there’s going to be at least a copy of the Project Charon data in the CDC’s internal network, but at this juncture I don’t know where else the data might be stored. It may have been disseminating for thirty years, for all we know.”

“Well, see if you can find that out. In the meantime I’ll… well, infiltrating the CDC again would be pushing our luck, so I suppose that in order to remove the Project Charon data from their network we’re going to need a hacker. I’ll try to find someone in our R&D team.”

“I don’t think there’ll be a way to hide your anti-Patriot intentions from them,” Ocelot said dryly, “so if you must, send their personnel files to EVA and have her vet everyone first - we can’t guarantee anyone will join us, but at least then we can weed out any Patriot plants. Actually, you should do that anyway. As far as acquiring a hacker goes, though, just in case of leaks I would recommend calling Solidus.”

Liquid groaned. Ocelot resisted his urge to roll his eyes on Codec.

“He should be able to get you in touch with someone who can help, without all the fuss.”

“Fine.” He signed off without another word.

Ocelot looked at the card with the VSPB pathologist’s contact information again. Judging by his address, he was likely married and might already have kids - at least, he lived in the part of town where one could rent apartments with multiple bedrooms, so understandably it was where families lived. He ought to go check against his conclusions…

It might not point him in the direction of where the Project Charon data was stored, and it would be a bad idea to directly ask about it as that may raise a red flag, and it was too soon for that, too soon — but if nothing else it would be fun to terrorize a poor CDC researcher who was probably already in over his head, anyway, what with directly causing the deaths of some nameless Central American expats and suddenly being handed a virus development order after the previous researcher on it had been assassinated.

Harmless bit of relaxation, really.


Solidus wasn’t picking up his phone.

Frustrated after four times getting an automated “This user has not yet set up his or her voicemail inbox!” message, Liquid gave up on that (maybe he was busy? He was pretty sure Presidents did something besides play golf occasionally) and just texted him instead. Once again the numeric keypad slowed him down to the point of him just sending Solidus the words “CALL ME” and nothing else.

And then he waited.

He ended up falling asleep at his desk by the time his cell phone rang. He jolted awake, fumbled for his phone, and flipped it open.

“Hello…?”

“What do you want, Liquid?”

“Oh…” Liquid stifled a yawn. “Have you ever heard of Project Charon?”

“No.”

“Well, to make a long story short I need someone to hack the CDC computers and delete some data. It’s very important. As in, life or death for this entire unit important.”

“And…?”

“And Ocelot said,” Liquid grit his teeth, “that you would be able to put me in touch with someone who could do that for me…”

“Hmmm… you’ll owe me.”

“You’re my commander, anyway…”

“Let’s see…” There was a creaking sound, like Solidus was pensively leaning back in his chair. “Well, when you say ‘hacker’, there is this one girl who comes to mind…”

“Yes?”

“But she’s currently under close Patriot surveillance - they intend to recruit her - so using her would just be asking for trouble.”

Liquid had to stop himself from saying Why bring her up, then?! out loud. “Anyone else you can think of?”

“Hrm… I believe one of the men on one of my pet projects can be described as a hacker. He might appreciate a free vacation to Atlanta.”

Liquid perked up. “Oh?”

“Yes… yes, his name is Dr. Emmerich—“

“Eh? Emmerich?

“Hm? Do you know him…?”

“Er… no. Common name, isn’t it?” He knew that the Dr. Emmerich from twenty years ago had come to America after getting kicked off of Mother Base (although he’d never found out about most of the details behind that part of the story), but… that’d just be too much of a coincidence.

“Indeed. Anyway, he’s a relative of some sort of the girl I just mentioned, and - although I haven’t met him personally - I hear he’s extremely naïve, so you may be able to convince him to do whatever it is you want him to do without any mention of the Patriots.”

“I see. I’ll be needing him, then - but not immediately, I’ll call you back when I require Emmerich but there’s no point in destroying the data until the backups have been located and dealt with already. Are you certain you don’t know anything about Project Charon?”

“I’ve never heard of it.”

“Helpful. Also, about that helicopter I’ve been-“

Solidus hung up on him.

Git.

He put down his phone, thinking this over. Realistically, how many copies of the data were there going to be? He sincerely doubted that it would have been put on the internet anywhere, which was good - he’d heard that once something was on the internet then it would be preserved pretty much forever no matter how badly you wanted to delete it, since it would effectively (or was it potentially?) have a backup copy on every computer on Earth. But, even though that was the most secure thing to do if what you were trying to preserve was the existence of some particular data, putting something on the internet meant that anyone with the right URL could see it, so top-secret stuff like Project Charon wouldn’t be on there. That meant that there were a limited number of copies of its data.

So… the copy at the CDC would have to be taken care of last since that would be the data that someone was currently working off of - if something happened to it, they’d just retrieve the data from one of the other copies. That could be useful if things weren’t going so well and they really couldn’t find where else Project Charon’s files were being stored, couldn’t it? Liquid could just have the hacker, Emmerich, delete the data off the CDC network and then when they copied it over again, have him track where it came from. That was feasible, wasn’t it? It seemed feasible to Liquid, anyway.

Of course the Project Charon data on the CDC computers wouldn’t be the original; Octopus had said that Project Charon hadn’t been turned over to the CDC until it was suspended, so clearly when it was actually being worked on in the ‘70s that would have been using a different computer.

Logically, then, there were at least two versions of it that had to be taken out. Plus Ocelot had said it was likely backed up on microfilm as well. At least microfilm didn’t need any technological knowledge to destroy without making a scene, but what were the odds of it being stored with one of the computers that had the files they needed? Maybe that was likely, if Liquid was thinking about the computer that the original researcher had used here…

He leaned his head on the desk. Two separate locations, potentially three or more, and while one of them had to be done after the other it would still be prudent to have them as close in time as possible so the operation wasn’t interrupted by someone noticing something. And that was assuming that there wasn’t another computer somewhere that had this backed up. Or that it hadn’t been folded into some kind of network, because wouldn’t that be the same problem as the internet, except on a smaller scale? They needed a hacker just for the CDC one, and Liquid hadn’t yet come up with a way to explain himself if the Emmerich guy decided he needed an explanation to do his job… hopefully Liquid could just get away with flatly ordering him to do it, and he would…

Honestly, he felt like pulling out his hair. Liquid growled in frustration to himself. He could hardly come up with a plan with so little information, and he had to figure out how to do all this without arousing the suspicion of the Patriots. Sooner or later they were going to notice all the random stretches of vacation time, wouldn’t they? Plus Liquid had already sort of decided that someone would need to accompany Emmerich to Atlanta, and he had already decided that that someone would be him.

He couldn’t help it. This was a life and death situation for the entire unit, and as team leader he was responsible for them. Ever since taking command, Liquid had frequently asked himself what Venom would do in such-and-such a situation - and he was certain that here, Venom would have personally overseen the destruction of the last remnants of Project Charon.

His phone buzzed. He sat up. “Hm?”

A text, from Ocelot - Liquid hadn’t been entirely aware that he could text, nor why he felt the need to do that instead of just calling him on the Codec again. He opened it.

“despite buying 2 years destruction of p c data can t be delayed  patriots working on worldwide network  original digital copy of data has been located + is in location planned to absorb into network beginning of 2005”

Shit, that gave them a little over two months. “where” Liquid texted back.

“lima  will be sending pertinent information this evening”

Peru? Liquid thought, blinking. Interesting… mentally he prioritized Octopus, a native Hispanophone, over the others as far as who was going to get assigned to this off-the-records mission went.

He snapped his phone shut and slipped it into his pocket, standing up, and wandered over to the… well, ‘mess hall’ was a tad generous, really it was just another breakroom (FOXHOUND headquarters had a lot of breakrooms and a lot of storage rooms, just the natural result of the unit dropping so dramatically in size since the so-called glory days when Big Boss has run it) except this one had a decent-sized kitchen attached, not that the full thing was ever really used. It was already mid-afternoon, and Liquid had accidentally napped through lunch, although stepping into the mess hall he found that Wolf and Raven were still eating.

“Any progress on the Project Charon… thing?” Wolf said.

“Yes,” Liquid replied, walking past them to the kitchen, “evidently someone is going to take a nice ‘vacation’ to Peru soon.” Four minutes later he walked back out with a bowl of microwave ramen, sat down, and interrupted Wolf and Raven’s conversation: “Also, if we don’t get this sorted by New Year’s, we’re going to have FOXDIE hanging over our heads for the rest of our lives.”

“Oh?” Raven said.

Liquid gave them a quick summary of his conversation with Ocelot. He’d given up a long time ago on anything resembling security clearance as far as the other members of the unit went, mostly because Mantis had access to every bit of Liquid’s mind and, as much as Liquid thought of him as a very intelligent man, he could be a bit… conversationally absent-minded and didn’t always have the best grasp of what was or was not acceptable to share with others. Liquid was just glad that it was really only classified mission details that he let slip, and only to other members of FOXHOUND. Largely because he received complaints of being “standoffish” “uncommunicative” and “anti-social” to the medical and R&D teams, and rarely if ever talked to any of the residents of the nearby town.

“What time zone is Ocelot in right now, anyway?” Wolf said.

“I think he’s in Atlanta right now,” Liquid said, “so he’s an hour ahead of us.”

“So it does not make much difference if he meant his evening or our evening…”

He left Wolf and Raven to their conversation as he scarfed down his ramen, too preoccupied with Project Charon to participate. Afterwards he went wandering again - yes, he knew he needed to call EVA to see how he was supposed to get the personnel files to her, and then he needed to pull said files and do that, but he just didn’t want to right now - and he ended up at the shooting range.

It was, as kind of expected, completely empty and the lights weren’t even on. He only bothered turning on one light - Liquid looked around the shadowed, acoustically neutral space of the shooting range, and sighed to himself.

After five years of hardly thinking about Ocelot, it had been here that - a mere week after Ocelot had joined the unit - Liquid realized that no, he hadn’t really gotten over him. It was in this room, in the same dim light, that he had had a good tussle with Ocelot again and then when he was dizzy and bleeding and too excited to say no like he should have, Ocelot had pinned him against the wall and fucked him until he had no idea whose name he was moaning and couldn’t remember his own anymore.

Of course that was about two weeks after Mantis had seduced him and kept him as a lover. Liquid chuckled dryly to himself, walking over to the lit target and unholstering his pistol. Mantis had been pissed as hell when Liquid came staggering back to bed after that, and that night had been the night he’d put Liquid’s collar on for the first time. It never stayed off for long after that - just when Liquid was bathing, or on the rarer occasion that the collar itself needed cleaned. And it hadn’t been until the following morning that Mantis had actually yelled at him for cuckolding him.

Liquid lined up his shot and fired. He wasn’t renown for his marksmanship like Ocelot or Wolf were, but he was good enough to consistently get bullseyes. It used to be that his aim would drift when he was thinking about something else while shooting, but that wasn’t the case anymore. Practice had taken care of that.

He didn’t often stop and think about when Ocelot had joined the unit. From an administrative standpoint, it wasn’t particularly remarkable, since Raven had joined around the same time, arriving at headquarters just a few days after Ocelot did. He’d extended invitations to both of them the same day (Raven had responded first, despite reporting later), although when Mantis had found out about it… well, it hadn’t been pretty. Mantis overreacted and Liquid overreacted to his overreaction and there had been a lot of shouting, Mantis had bitterly accused Liquid of being some kind of whore, and in the end the only thing that had stopped them was Mantis threatening to take over Liquid’s will to essentially tell Ocelot to fuck off and Liquid panicking a little about that… he was embarrassed about it even now, on the rare occasion that he even remembered that, but back in Iraq…

Back in Iraq the only reason why he felt the rape was even bad - the only reason why it affected him - had nothing to do with the fact that it hurt, although it did hurt badly. Nor did he much care about the humiliation factor; sure, his pride might have been pretty much the only thing he’d ever had, at least at that point, but the only people who saw that being done to him were people who looked down on him anyway. He could spare a little dignity. No, the real trauma inflicted was the fact that he felt so powerless and out of control. If it hadn’t been for that then it would have just rolled off his back like all the torture and beatings and isolation had. But he hadn’t been allowed control of even his own body and—-

He was missing his shots.

Why the hell was he even thinking about this?

Anyway, he’d never really thought it mattered much that Mantis had threatened to strip his will from him because he’d only threatened, hadn’t actually done it, and even if he never directly addressed it again it had still been pretty clear to Liquid the couple days after that that Mantis felt at least a little bad about it. So Liquid forgave him, as weird as it was to think of himself as forgiving someone. But he was sure Mantis hadn’t realized when he said it that Liquid would have that kind of reaction. And after that he’d always been careful about what he did do or say, so that Liquid wouldn’t have to suffer the mortification of breaking down in front of him like that any more often than he couldn’t help either way.

He reloaded his gun, dimly wondering where Mantis was. It wasn’t often that he was able to introspect about these subjects without him, at some point, butting in and distracting him. It seemed - just because he wasn’t getting any mental response from the man even though he just thought that - that Mantis actually wasn’t around right now. Perhaps he’d gone into town. Or the medical labs, which would have cut him off from the rest of his range. Or he might just have been asleep.

Liquid chased all those thoughts away his own damn self and went back to his target practice. He five magazines deep into the target when he was suddenly blindsided by some incoherent psychic message from Mantis that could only be transcribed as !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What’s going on?! Liquid thought, alarmed at the intense shock of the ‘statement’.

i just woke up and why is the cyborg ninja IN OUR ROOM?!?!

“Well, get rid of him!” Liquid said out loud, lowering his pistol to his side and taking off out of the shooting range and towards his quarters at a sprint. “You’re the world’s most powerful practitioner of psychokinesis, remember?”

i just woke up!!!

“That’s no excuse!”

and he just ran off before I could do anything.

Oh, great. Fantastic. Liquid raised Wolf and Octopus on Codec.

“He just ran by the med labs,” Octopus said before Liquid could say anything, “got one of the interns, Hamel. Looked bad, but she’s already being treated.”

“Raven has gone to get his cannon,” Wolf reported.

“Good, hopefully that should-“ He rounded a corner and almost ran smack into the cyborg ninja, who turned visible again just as he did. “Aaagh!!” Why the hell did he have the ability to turn invisible, anyway?!

“Boss? What happened?!”

Liquid signed off, jumping to the side as he narrowly avoided getting bisected by the ninja’s chokuto. He’d never entirely noticed until he’d been hit by it a few weeks before - always assumed the sound was coming from the ninja himself - but the sword made a faint humming noise as he swung it around. Vibrating, perhaps? At least, that would probably explain why it could cut through the walls like a hot knife through butter.

Shit, wasn’t that a load-bearing wall?

With a horrible rumbling sound, part of the ceiling collapsed, burying Liquid under a pile of lath, plaster, spray insulation, and bits of concrete. He just barely rolled out of the way of a long piece of steel rebar that would have otherwise impaled him.

And between that and the fact that on the other side of the now-missing wall had been Raven and his Vulcan cannon, the ninja didn’t have time to do make any more attempts on Liquid’s life, because a split second later the whole hallway was filled with the roaring of gunfire, the ninja was fleeing, and the wall opposite the one that had just collapsed had a huge round chunk torn out of it. Fortunately that one wasn’t a load-bearing wall and what remained of this section of ceiling stayed exactly where it was.

Despite the fact that the ninja always deflected - whether with his sword or his armor - FOXHOUND’s bullets, even he didn’t like having 6,000 20mm rounds a minute fired at him, so within moments he was gone, Raven pursuing. Liquid’s ears were ringing from a combination of the noise and the ceiling falling on his head.

Wolf came jogging up as Liquid was brushing himself off, pistol already re-holstered. “Are you okay, boss?”

“I’m fine,” Liquid said irritably, looking around at the two destroyed walls and partly caved-in ceiling. Now would not be a good time to call in some contractors to fix things, so they’d just have to handle it themselves… probably cheaper that way, too… plus it really only had to be a temporary fix, their time remaining on this base was limited. “Any casualties besides the intern?”

“No, I do not think so.”

“Where’s Mantis?”

“Over here,” Mantis said from the corner. Liquid strode up to him and grabbed him by the shoulders, getting dust on his outfit.

“Are you hurt?” he said very seriously, examining him intently, “the cyborg ninja, did he—“

“I am fine, Eli.”

“What was he doing when you woke up?”

“Nothing. Just staring at me.” Wolf gave them a quizzical look. Mantis shook his head. “I want to say he was interested in my gas mask, nothing more.”

“Perhaps he was thrown off by the fact that he could not see your face,” Wolf said.

“Did he say anything?” Liquid said.

“He muttered something about poison gas, and something about a fan. I do not know.”

Octopus came sauntering up, and Liquid let go of Mantis. “So,” Octopus said, “that was exciting.”

“Helpful as always, Octopus,” Wolf said.

“Hey, if it’s the Vulcan cannon that consistently gets rid of him, why shouldn’t I just step out of the way and wait for Raven to handle in?” He glanced at Liquid. “He didn’t get you again, did he?”

“No,” Liquid said, “just dropped half the hallway on me, I’m perfectly fine.”

“Right… actually, you’d better come to the med labs anyway, you kind of have a duty to check up on Hamel, don’t you?”

“I suppose that’s true,” Liquid said, although really it would only be for appearances’ sake, and maybe the new medical chief of staff ever since Naomi had run off - Liquid couldn’t recall her name right now - would pester him about something or other.

As it turned out Hamel was expected to pull through, anyway; the wound was deep and it had been a bit touch-and-go for a little while there and she probably wouldn’t have made it if she hadn’t been attacked (well, slashed in passing as the ninja ran down the hallway) right outside of the med labs, but, well, she was fine now. A bit too high on painkillers to really speak or do anything besides stare blankly at the ceiling, but when the medical chief apologized and said Hamel was going to need some time off after this, Liquid waved her off and said that she was free to give the poor half-disemboweled intern as much time off as she needed - just make sure that the medical chief was the one who filled out the ‘time off’ form and all Liquid had to do was sign it.

“And whose phone is that?” he said, annoyed.

“That would be yours, sir,” the medical chief said.

Whoops. That was probably Ocelot.

Chapter Text

“Alright, what’s going on?” Liquid said sharply, striding down the hallway away from the med labs.

“What are you so worked up about?” Ocelot said from the other end of the line.

“Wh- worked up? I’m not worked up.”

“I can tell by the sound of your voice, boss. What just happened over there?”

“The cyborg ninja came back,” Liquid said with a frustrated sigh, “snuck into my quarters, then gutted one of the medical interns. She’s fine, though.”

“…is he gone now?”

“Yes. Probably. Raven was chasing him off a few minutes ago so I doubt he’s still around. Now, you said you had information about Project Charon…”

“Yes,” Ocelot said, “I’ve found out where all the copies of the data are - I’ll admit we got a bit lucky, none of them are on computers that have already been folded into the Patriots’ general network, except for the one at the CDC, which is a sub-network anyway.”

“Is it being a sub-network good?”

“Yes, boss, it means that the data is technically separate and didn’t disseminate over the rest of the network. Anyway, as I said earlier the original digital copy of the data is in Lima, where the majority of Project Charon was carried out — on a computer in the National Library of Peru. I believe the microfilm is also there.”

“Any other copies?” Infiltrating a library, deleting some data off a computer there, and trashing some microfilm should be about the easiest thing in the world - Octopus could do this, he could replace one of the librarians with himself and simply walk right in.

“One in Hong Kong - a lot of South American systems have been neglected by the Patriots, but in this case we were saved by conflicts with the Chinese government — I went ahead and asked EVA to take care of that, she knows the city rather well.”

“Ah. I see. Is that all?”

“That’s all, boss.”

“Alright. I’ll have Octopus take care of the Biblioteca Nacional del Perú, and once I get confirmation of that and the copy in Hong Kong being destroyed I’ll see to the one at the CDC myself. I’ve already got Solidus started on the arrangements for a hacker… oh, and when can I expect you back?”

“Mmm… I was thinking about using up the rest of my vacation time, boss. I assure you it’s very important.”

“Oh. That’s fine. As long as it’s important.”

“I’ll call you back if anything else comes up,” Ocelot said, then hung up. Liquid put his phone back in his pocket yet again and went and found the breakroom where Octopus was hanging out, where he stood in the doorway and put one hand on his hip.

“So, Octopus,” he said brightly, “how do you like the idea of an extended vacation to Peru?”


Since Ocelot couldn’t/didn’t give any more specific information than “a computer at the BNP” and “the microfilm is probably there somewhere too”, Octopus requested two months to complete the assignment - one month to pick a victim and study them before eventually quietly murdering them, draining their blood, and stealing their entire identity, and then another month to unobtrusively work at the library and figure out where his targets were. He said he probably wouldn’t need the full second month but it was still with a bit of trepidation that Liquid signed off on the ‘vacation’, since two months only gave them about a week to spare before New Year’s.

At least it wasn’t weird to give Octopus such a long vacation. When he did take time off, which admittedly wasn’t often, he typically took a lot of time off, mostly because a two-month assignment was hardly out of the ordinary for him. Finding out every last detail of a person’s life was incredibly time-consuming.

Anyway, Octopus was off to Peru and Liquid was still holding off on pulling the medical and R&D personnel files to send to EVA, using the fact that she was “busy in Hong Kong, best not to interrupt or distract her” as an excuse. Mantis snidely commented that it was just that, an excuse, and Liquid, not particularly in the mood to get in an argument about his relationship with his mother, had stalked off to the garage and headed into town to buy some plywood. He’d patch up the holes in the walls and ceiling himself, goddammit.

“Do you know anything about repairing buildings?” Wolf asked him as he picked up pieces of rubble and dumped them in a wheelbarrow that he’d brought indoors and subsequently tracked dirt all over the floor. Sometimes he wished they could afford a cleaning crew…

“I know a little about building primitive shelters,” Liquid said, “that’s close enough, isn’t it?”

“Not when federal building codes are involved…”

“Well, this is just a temporary fix. All I need to do is screw the plywood over the holes and sweep up. Now, are you going to help or not?”

Wolf just laughed at him. It would have taken Liquid all day to complete the job - which he didn’t complain about - except Raven, possibly irritated by the way Liquid had appropriated a radio to blast ‘80s music down the hall while he worked, showed up after twenty minutes and helped him with most of it. Liquid ended up sweeping up all the dust, dirt, and small debris by himself, though.

“Another job well done,” he said cheerfully to himself, leaning on the broom. In actuality, it looked like shit. That was about all that could be expected from a couple panels of plywood screwed to both sides of the ruined walls, and carefully inserted into the ceiling where they more rested over the hole instead of covering it. But at least the holes were gone. And the floor was clean.

Maybe he should paint over the walls? Was there even a point?

“Trying to burn off excess energy, or genuinely that upset about me commentating on your relationship with EVA?” came Mantis’ exceptionally dry voice from behind him.

“I’m restless,” Liquid claimed, turning around.

“Lying by omission is still lying, Eli.”

“I don’t want to talk about this.”

Mantis shrugged. “As you wish, then. You worked right through lunch, aren’t you hungry?”

“Oh…” He was, actually. “When was the last time you ate?”

“The other day,” Mantis said, sounding mildly affronted that Liquid would even ask.

“I mean real food, Mantis, not multivitamins.”

“Multivitamins are good enough, are they not?”

“No.”

“…”

“…right. I’m going to go make some rice and whatever the hell else we have, and then we’re both going to your deserted little hangout outside of base and you’re going to-“

“Fine, fine,” Mantis said, waving him off. “If you insist.”

They were a week into November when Ocelot finally came back, which meant the abrupt end of Mantis’ relatively pleasant and compliant attitude. In other words, things were pretty back to normal around here.

Liquid got a call from an unknown number. After staring at his phone suspiciously for a few moments, he picked up.

“Hello?” he said cautiously.

早晨 Eli! 近排點呀?”

“…”

Well, he didn’t understand Cantonese, but he certainly recognized the voice…

“Ah— sorry about that, people were watching,” EVA said, “I’m alone now. But how have things been going lately? Ocelot only keeps me updated on the broad details.”

“How have things been going on your end?”

She sighed. “You mean about the Project Charon data…? It’s gone now, I torched the server it was on.”

“Good. I’m hanging up now.”

“Wait! I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“I’m fine, Mother.”

“Anything happen lately?”

“Not in particular.”

“…”

“…”

“…Ocelot told me you had some personnel files to send me for vetting?”

“Oh, right. Yes, I do. How should I-?”

It took them about ten minutes to figure out how to swing that once Liquid revealed he was a little bit on the technologically illiterate side. They considered just mailing the files to EVA, but the risk of said mail being searched was too great - and obviously this was a gigantic breach in confidentiality, not even Ocelot could talk his way out of that one probably - so in the end they just agreed that EVA would come to FOXHOUND headquarters and sort this out personally. “Agreed” meaning EVA suggested it and Liquid had no choice but to consent to that, and as soon as the phone call was over he screamed and pulled at his hair in frustration.

Now what is your problem?” Ocelot, who had evidently been passing by, poked his head in the door and said.

“Why can’t you vet the medical and R&D team?!” Liquid said, “you should be perfectly capable of it!!”

“I could root out any plants, but EVA is much better than I at figuring out who would be receptive to our cause. Truthfully I’m too suspicious.”

Word got out quickly to the rest of FOXHOUND. Mantis was pleased - which was why word got out so quickly - as was Wolf, Raven was entirely indifferent, and once Wolf was done mentioning it to Octopus over Codec she reported back that he was disappointed he wouldn’t get to meet her yet.

“Yet?” Liquid said, “what does he mean, yet?

“How is his assignment going?” Raven asked Wolf.

Wolf shrugged. “Evidently the man he is stalking likes anticuchos and picarones, whatever those are, which is good because apparently they are delicious.”

“…glad he’s enjoying himself,” Liquid said flatly.

Liquid spent the rest of the day holed up by himself, working on the eternal backlog of budgeting paperwork, and when Mantis dropped by to try and cheer him up at least a little bit Liquid just lashed out at him, shouting about how it really didn’t matter that EVA was his mother because she was technically only a surrogate and not even around much even when he was already an adult, so he didn’t know why everyone had to take this attitude about this, and it was completely ridiculous that Mantis in particular should like EVA so much when the only thing they really had in common was the fact that they’d both liked to butt into Liquid’s personal business back in ’94 and ’95 and considering EVA had cybernetic implants Mantis shouldn’t have even—

Mantis simply walked out before Liquid was done ranting, much to Liquid’s frustration. He couldn’t concentrate on the paperwork after that but on the plus side, at the end of the evening Mantis forced him to put on lacy, silky thigh-high stockings and panties, then handcuffed him, bent him over the side of the bed, and pulled the panties to the side and fucked him entirely into submission. In the morning Liquid felt a lot better about his mother’s impending visit.

“You wouldn’t have been acting like that if it had been your father who was coming here,” Mantis mumbled from where he wasn’t bothering to get up for the day yet.

“If Father were still alive, I wouldn’t even be here,” Liquid said, pulling his hair back into his customary ponytail, “I’d still be at Outer Heaven.” And honestly, if Venom hadn’t in some way died to Big Boss, and if Big Boss hadn’t come to take over Outer Heaven after Venom’s death - Liquid would still be there, too.

The following week EVA arrived and casually revealed that she’d be staying for two weeks - one week to handle the medical staff, and one to handle R&D. Despite Liquid’s protests she took up residence in the women’s barracks instead of that hotel in town - there wasn’t much Liquid could do about it without looking like a complete git since Wolf was completely fine with having a roommate for the next two weeks, and even helped EVA drag one of the beds that used to be in there out of storage — she also took over Liquid’s office, but in that case Liquid just let her have it. That was where the personnel files that she needed to dissect were, after all.

Liquid went so far as to call Octopus and ask if it were possible at all for him to get rid of the Project Charon data in the next few days so that he could go ahead and call Solidus and have him send Emmerich to Atlanta so he could be on his way there himself as soon as possible.

“Uh, no, boss,” Octopus said, “I’m still working on my librarian mask, it’ll be about another week before I’m ready to kill the guy. Why, is your mother already there?”

“…yes…”

“Hahahaha! Okay, tell her I said ‘hi’.” He signed off.

Helpful.

Unfortunately his plan to avoid EVA at all costs was rather difficult to pull off, mostly because FOXHOUND headquarters wasn’t very large and he didn’t have the cooperation of the other members of FOXHOUND. If EVA came wandering by and asked where Liquid was, literally anyone she was talking to wouldn’t even hesitate before pointing her in his direction. And EVA always seemed to have her breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same time Liquid did — Liquid initially planned to just start eating in his quarters instead of the mess hall, at least until EVA was gone, but Mantis had flatly forbid it.

Liquid finally lost his temper with her when she found him in the otherwise-empty shooting range while she was taking a “quick break” from going over personnel files all day.

“What do you want from me?!”

EVA was mildly taken aback. “What do you mean, Eli?”

“You keep following me around and— look, I don’t want to talk to you!”

“Why not?”

“I just— I don’t, is that bloody alright with you?”

“Eli… I’m worried about you,” she said, gently but firmly, “you’ve been skittish around me the whole time I’ve been here. I thought we were doing fine after Atlanta.”

“That was different.”

“How?”

“It just was. But this is my base, my unit- I’m in charge here—“

EVA raised her eyebrows. “What, are you worried your unit likes me more than they like you?”

“What?” Liquid said, “no! Of course not. I just… everyone’s just got these- ridiculous expectations of how I’m supposed to act around you. You’re not even my real mother.”

There was a short pause. EVA frowned. Liquid… sort of wished he hadn’t said that, but not nearly enough to apologize or try to take it back.

“I know I was ‘only’ a surrogate,” EVA said, “I know that as far as DNA goes, you have no relation to me - and you have barely any genetic relation to the egg donor to begin with. But I gave birth to you, Eli. I gave you life. You and your brother developed in my womb. Your first blood was my own.”

Liquid’s hands clenched and unclenched. “That doesn’t matter. Blood relations haven’t brought me anything but pain and annoyance anyway.”

“Let’s try this, then,” EVA said, folding her arms, “Eli, you thought of Venom as your real father, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t just think of him as my real father,” Liquid snapped, “he is my real father.” And then corrected himself: “was my real father,” even though it had already been nine years and getting close to ten now.

“And he didn’t have any genetic relation to you whatsoever,” EVA said, “and you had never met him at all before you were twelve.”

“…”

“And when you were twelve - you were only with him a few months, and hated him and wanted to kill him the whole time. And after you ran away, you didn’t hear anything of him until you were 22.”

“What’s your point?” Liquid growled, even though he already knew full well what EVA was getting at.

“I’m just saying… the circumstances of your and his relationship really weren’t all that different from the circumstances of yours and mine now.” She gestured with one hand. “I’m not saying you have to immediately accept me as your mother if you don’t want to, but I just don’t want you to hold my absence or lack of genetic relation against me. I’m doing my best.”

Liquid struggled to find words to explain himself for a moment, then said, “after Father rescued me from that prison camp… he didn’t start off by treating me like a son, if that had even crossed his mind then he had the decency to wait until I brought it up. It wasn’t until I started calling him ‘Father’ that he started referring to me as his son.”

“So you don’t like me treating you like a son?” EVA said, “you’re not comfortable with it?”

“I… no, I’m not.”

“Then, you would prefer it if I treated you like just another comrade?”

“I…” He tried to imagine it, EVA treating him in the amicable but somewhat cool and detached way that she treated the other members of FOXHOUND, or Outer Heaven back in the day - a way that might cause one to refer to her in passing as ‘a friend’ but if one actually thought about it, really, they were more just colleagues, acquaintances, practically strangers — and it wasn’t that he couldn’t imagine it. He could. But that made him uncomfortable too…

Because, honestly, she was his mother, wasn’t she? So he didn’t want her treating him like he might as well have never met her outside of work. And looking back on it…

…well, hadn’t Venom treated him at least a little bit like a son even before Liquid had accidentally called him Father and it just sort of stuck? He hadn’t called him his son or his family but he had obviously cared about him. Was that what he wanted from EVA?

Liquid realized he didn’t know what he wanted, and clenched his fists in frustration, gritting his teeth.

“Eli, it’s okay to want a mother.”

“…hn?”

EVA shrugged. “It is,” she said, “it doesn’t really matter that you’re in your thirties already. Growing up without real parental figures is tough - it leaves you wanting for the rest of your life.”

Come to think of it, Liquid had never asked about how EVA grew up.

“So if you want to think of me as your mother, there’s no shame in that. If you don’t, I don’t mind, as long as you’re satisfied with your decision even if you end up changing your mind later. And if you aren’t sure… well, I just want you to know that I do consider you my son and I love you unconditionally. You’ll always have that. You don’t have to do anything with it if you’re not comfortable with it, but it’s still there.”

Liquid just stared at her for a few moments, then turned away deliberately. “Don’t you have personnel files to be going over?”

“…Eli…”

“That’s more important right now. And I don’t want to discuss this- I mean, I’d rather figure this out myself.”

“…alright. I’ll see you later, then.”

“Yes. See you later… Mother…”

The last word just kind of awkwardly slipped out without him entirely meaning to say it, probably just because he was more or less used to calling her that, but thankfully EVA didn’t really react to it other than throwing a small smile over her shoulder as she walked out of the shooting range. Liquid sighed deeply. If nothing else - if absolutely nothing else - the middle of the lead-up to a full-on revolution right under the Patriots’ noses was not the best time and place to sort out his mommy issues.

He wondered if Solid ever felt like this.


“I know what your problem with EVA is,” Mantis said, “I just do not understand it at all.”

Liquid made a muffled groan from where he was lying face-down on the bed.

Mantis tugged a loose shirt over his frame - he wasn’t necessarily planning on sleeping tonight, but it was arguably more comfortable to lounge around for ten hours in and it prevented Liquid (who liked to sleep naked) from complaining about his skin to sticking to Mantis’ leather. “I find her to be a perfectly pleasant lady - very easy to get along with, even for me.”

Liquid propped himself up on his elbows, scowling. “People aren’t supposed to get along with their mother-in-laws,” he complained.

Mantis gave him an unimpressed look. “Mother-in-law? We aren’t married, Eli.”

“We might as well be.”

“But we are not.”

“Well, you get what I’m trying to say!” He flopped back on the mattress, grumbling again. You’d despise her if she hadn’t come out and said she didn’t approve of me sleeping with Ocelot back in 1994, he thought sourly.

“That proved she has a good head on her shoulders, even if I cannot read her mind.”

You were just hoping she’d be able to convince me to break it off with him. It’s ridiculous that this persisted. I did break it off with Ocelot eventually.

“Eli, you hardly realized that breaking it off with Ocelot would be a side effect of leaving Outer Heaven until about fifteen minutes before you got on the boat.”

…that still counts.

“It was better than nothing,” Mantis said dryly, “at least until he showed up again and it took you all of one week to-“

“Can we stop bringing that up?!” Liquid burst out, pushing himself up again. “That was over four years ago! I apologized!!”

“I would be more inclined to forget about it if it never happened again…”

Liquid flushed angrily. “I’ve been behaving myself,” he protested, “last time I slept with him was all the way back in the end of June.”

“The beginning of July,” Mantis corrected, “but the thought has crossed your mind since then.”

“But I didn’t act on those thoughts!”

“Again, better than nothing,” Mantis said, “however…”

Liquid let out a long whine, pressing his face against the bedspread. He really didn’t like talking about his chronic and repeated infidelity. Of course Mantis couldn’t help but wonder if part of the reason why it was chronic and repeated was because he too often let Liquid get away with not talking about it with him…

He hooked his finger into the lead of Liquid’s collar and tugged him back onto his elbows. Liquid glared at him petulantly.

“I love you, not him,” he whined.

“So I’ve heard.”

“It’s just- I— well, I— you- nn…” He sighed. “You’re not open to the idea of having another threesome, are you, Mantis…?”

“Absolutely not.”

“I thought as much…”

Chapter Text

“Any progress, Mother?” Liquid said, leaning against the doorjamb to his office.

“Stader’s wife works part-time at a Patriot-owned corporation in Belfield; Cotreau had some dealings with them when he was in college, but isn’t on their payroll anymore; Mahjub may or may not be with them, certainly the Patriots got ahold of some patents of his but at this point I don’t know if he gave them to them or if they were stolen,” EVA said, shuffling through the R&D team’s files.

“So no one here for the express purpose of keeping an eye on us so far?”

“No… I’m sure Ocelot was given an assignment along those lines at some point, though. And when it comes to Ocelot, or, at least, agents of Ocelot’s standing, they don’t typically assign redundancies.”

“I see. Well, anyone who might be persuaded to join our cause?”

Maybe Dr. Mahjub, as I said,” EVA said, “I know Blažej Čížek’s - sorry, ‘Blaise Sisken’, I never understood changing your name upon immigration to America of all places — anyway, I happen to know his younger brother Záviš, so we have an ‘in’ there. And that little Chinese girl, Mei Ling, she looks promising… but she’s so young, I’m afraid the Patriots are going to be thinking the same thing, too…”

“Mei Ling…?” Liquid said. He couldn’t recall her last name and she wasn’t the only Chinese-American woman on the R&D team, but the other one was pushing fifty and had just had her first grandchild. Could hardly be described as a ‘little girl’, unless you were talking about her height. “Is it Stader who’s always hanging out with her, or Staiger?”

“Stader,” EVA said, frowning. “She’s the one who invented the Codec, isn’t she?”

“Is she?” Liquid already knew she was only eighteen or nineteen and still technically enrolled at MIT, in some kind of long distance learning program. (He mostly remembered that because he was the one who’d had to deal with the stuffy MIT types for a while after the head of the R&D team begged Liquid to let him hire her.) That would explain how she ended up here…

“The Soliton Radar, too. Although with that one, that was more just a modification of currently existing technology. Still, that’s pretty impressive…”

“So the Patriots might be after her for a purely technological advantage.”

“Exactly. But I don’t think it’d be a good idea to bring any of this up to her until something definite happens. She might talk - I mean, she is a teenage girl. It happens.”

“Hm.”

EVA sighed, leaning back in the chair, then did that full-body spasm people do when the chair they’re in tips too far back and the instinctual fear of falling kicks in. Liquid felt a little bit of petty delight at that because it was his chair and only he knew the exact point when that chair leaned back too far past the center of gravity.

“Anyway,” she said, sitting up straight, “I can start on the medical team tomorrow. How’s Octopus’ BNP infiltration going?”

“Smoothly. The librarian he was stalking is dead now, so he’s free to search for the particular computer and the microfilm.”

“Hmm… how does he do that, anyway? The blood thing, I mean. How does that work?”

“I’ve never asked,” Liquid said flatly, “last time I got curious about how he does his job I ended up getting flashed.”

“You what?”

“Nevermind. Long story.” Although, frankly, it really wasn’t.

EVA stood up, stretching. “I’ll just find out from someone else,” she said. “In the meantime… what time is it…?”

“The clock’s on my desk…”

“Oh, so it is. Mm. It’s a bit early for dinner, isn’t it?”

Liquid forced a nonchalant shrug.

“You don’t have anything else to be doing this afternoon, do you?”

“Ah… no, not really.”

She smiled at him. “Want to watch a movie?”

“Hrm. Which one?”

“Have you ever seen Mad Max? I think you’d like it.”

He hadn’t, actually.


Biblioteca Nacional del Perú, Lima, Peru.

“Good morning Mr. López!”

“Good morning, Miss Quispe,” Octopus said, waving and smiling brightly at the energetic young assistant librarian.

“How is Melany this morning?”

Melany being the real Joaquin López’s wife. “Oh, she’s just fine,” Octopus said, “she’s going out to lunch with Cusi later.” Pidru “Pedro” Cusi was the man Melany was cheating on Joaquin with. Big part of the reason why Octopus didn’t feel bad about how she would feel once she found out about Joaquin’s death.

“Are you going to be working on the computers again today?”

“Haha, yes,” Octopus said, walking by her, “that new firewall isn’t going to install itself.”

“I’ll hold down the fort here, Mr. López!”

God bless her, she was so cute. Now here was a girl that Octopus did feel sorta bad about how devastated she was going to be when she found out that her boss was dead. Oh well. Octopus had a mission to carry out, and she was young. She’d get over it. She and Melany could comfort each other, even - they were pretty close.

The librarian he selected for this was, while not technically the BNP’s tech support guy, the most technologically literate on the staff otherwise and had a degree in some computer field. Octopus himself didn’t know shit about programming, but he knew enough to bluff detailed knowledge about it - this was true of almost any subject - so nobody batted an eye when Octopus said he was going to be spending the next few days installing a newer, better firewall on all the library’s computers.

That was a lie, of course. There was no firewall. But no one realized that if there had been then it would been possible for “Mr. López” to install it to every computer on the library’s internal network at once — what Octopus was doing was going through and “installing a firewall” on every computer one by one until he found anything related to Project Charon.

It took him a decent amount of time to finish sorting through every file on each computer, but Octopus wasn’t the type to get easily frustrated. With every computer he failed to find it on, he remembered that he still had another however many were left to look through, and he’d get to it eventually.

By the time noon rolled around, Octopus had so far had another day of turning up precisely jack and shit. So he stepped out into the warm streets and grabbed some ceviche and choclo (and a bottle of Inca Kola) from a vendor. Unlike some other places, Lima didn’t shut down for afternoon siesta, although when he returned from lunch Miss Quispe was always nowhere to be found for the next two hours, and the library was generally slow.

Miss Quispe was already back by the time Octopus finally stumbled across something on one computer, semi-abandoned and tucked way in the back of the building: a whole lot of English-language files which were headed, clear as day, PROJECT CHARON.

“Well, that was easy,” Octopus said, leaning back in his chair, then glancing over his shoulder and calling Liquid on Codec.

“Ah— yes? What do you want?” He didn’t pick up immediately and Liquid sounded annoyed and slightly out-of-breath, and in the tiny, grainy screen he was shirtless (although that was pretty normal) and his hair was messed up (which was not normal).

“Not the most opportune time, huh, boss?” Octopus said, in his natural voice instead of Joaquin’s. (Although he continued in Spanish, Liquid spoke it anyway even if it was European and his accent was sort of… Malaysian.)

“Er. No. So this had better be important.”

“I mean, for God’s sake, boss, it’s the middle of the afternoon. Don’t you two have anything better to be doing?”

“For your information, Octopus, no, we don’t - there’s nothing going on here except that my office is currently otherwise occupied so it’s not like I can— oh, would you just get to the point!”

“I found the Project Charon files here,” Octopus said, glancing over his shoulder again, “so I’m just calling to confirm whether I’m supposed to just delete them, or make a backup for our own purposes first and then delete them?”

“Hm. Well…”

“You haven’t thought about this, have you…?”

“I— nothing in them is going to be very relevant anymore, is it?” Liquid said, annoyed again, “it’s not as though we’re going to need any of the data to develop our own ethnic cleanser, and any information it might be able to give us on the Patriots is going to be horribly outdated since it’s thirty years old by now.”

“So, just delete it?”

“Yes. Have you found the microfilm yet?”

“Nah, but I can start looking for it once I’m done with this computer.”

“Right. Double-check that it was only on that one computer, too.”

“No problem, boss,” Octopus said, “I’ll handle that. You can go back to to your afternoon fuck-fest now.”

Liquid made a short, irritable growl, and hung up without another word. Now that Octopus thought about it, wasn’t this first time anyone had managed to Codec-call him in the middle of sex? Because it certainly hadn’t happened to him before and if it had happened to any of the others he was pretty sure he would have heard about it. He supposed it mostly had to do with official missions having official support capacities that, if Liquid was the one running support (which he frequently was, being commander and all), Liquid didn’t dare goof off during. Or maybe Mantis didn’t dare. Either one.

“Strange times we live in,” he muttered in Joaquin’s voice, setting about wiping this particular harddrive.


“So, Noche Beuna is coming up,” Miss Quispe said, mid-morning the next day after Octopus had finished ‘installing the new firewalls’. “Do you and Melany have anything planned?”

“You mean after the Rooster Mass?” Octopus said half-jokingly, “what, didn’t Melany tell you you were invited to dinner at our house?”

“Oh, I am? I’d love to, Mr. López!”

“Mhm. Cusi will be there too. I can introduce you if Melany hasn’t already.”

“Sounds like fun!”

“By the way, Miss Quispe…”

“Hm?”

“I need something from the microfilm storage. I forget what it’s labelled, but it’ll be in English—“

“Ay… I don’t speak English, Mr. López…”

“Sorry, I must have forgotten.” Actually, Octopus wasn’t even sure Joaquin had even known in the first place, although he himself did speak English, but still the conversation was going in exactly the right direction he wanted it to. Like reading off a script… “Hmm… you know, Miss Quispe, I think I might be getting old.”

“Oh, no, Mr. López!”

“No, no, I can’t seem to remember how to get to the microfilm storage room! Remind me again what part of the building it is?”

Miss Quispe gave him directions, apologizing for being unable to go grab the films he needed due to the fact that she wouldn’t be able to identify them (there were, evidently, more than a couple film sets that weren’t in Spanish or Quechua). It never even occured to her to question why Octopus needed a particular set of English-language microfilms.

Fortunately for Octopus, all the microfilm was in the same room, and it wasn’t a very large room, either - hypothetically he’d be able to go through the entire thing in a single day, well, assuming that Project Charon was clearly labelled ‘Project Charon’. The likelihood of that was… low, though, so although he would spend today checking the labels just in case, he was probably just going to end up feeding microfilm samples one by one through the old-fashioned reader in the corner.

Octopus laced his fingers out in front of him, cracking his knuckles.

“Alright, Joaquin,” he said, “let’s finish this once and for all.”

The desiccated, bloodless corpse hidden in the BNP’s basement didn’t respond to him at all.


In the end EVA turned up two people on the medical team with vague connections to the Patriots (Brennan had run messages for them in high school under the guise of a pizza delivery boy, Patel had a sister who was married to a Patriot agent) and no one who would probably believe their conspiracy theories, and then she quietly left in the middle of the night and didn’t pick up her phone when Liquid called her.

“She does that,” Ocelot said with a shrug.

“She could have at least said goodbye,” Liquid grumbled, closing his cellphone.

At least he had his office back now, but his chair still smelled like EVA - mostly like motorcycle gasoline, but with a faint hint of something… else, something more feminine, maybe fruity (apples? apple blossoms?), that Liquid supposed was perfume.

As much as he would rather not add to his reputation as high-strung, the smell of her on his things got under his skin enough that he hauled his chair outside and let it air out until the scent of her was gone. Which was accelerated by the fact that it was snowing that day and within half an hour he’d managed to lose the chair to a snowdrift.

“I’m sure I deserve this somehow,” he sighed.

“Well,” Wolf said, “at least now you have an excuse for not working on your paperwork backlog until spring arrives.”

“True.”

Of course, there wasn’t anything else to do — it had just been a rather slow season so far, and everything was going smoothly on Octopus’ end (or, at least, he hadn’t raised anyone’s suspicions and was still searching for the microfilm at his leisure). Mantis got tired of Liquid’s “I’m bored, can we fuck?” every twenty minutes, and when Ocelot wasn’t holed up on the roof, immune to the biting cold and somehow getting cell reception in the heavy snowfall, he was going through his extensive catalogue of spaghetti Westerns with Wolf and Raven, who seemed to find them entertaining enough. Liquid wasn’t much into Westerns, though. And of course Mantis wouldn’t be caught dead engaging in any could-be-vaguely-construed-as-friendly activity with Ocelot. In fact Mantis had gone back to that stupid Cold War thing.

Liquid was, despite the relative good cheer he’d found himself in lately, bored as hell. And he was in one of those moods, too, where he had energy to burn and desperately craved stimulation.

Mantis caught him out when he was on his way to go proposition Ocelot. He didn’t have an excuse to defend himself with.

“I— I just—“ Liquid stammered as Mantis dragged him off to their shared quarters by his collar, almost visibly fuming, “er, I wasn’t— I didn’t- Mantis, I’m sorry—-“

“Just because you were bored,” Mantis said, every word an increasingly sharp tug on the collar, enough that Liquid was sure his neck was going to bruise by this point, “does not excuse-“

“I-I wasn’t thinking,” Liquid said, “really, I wasn’t—“

“You always say that.”

“Look, Mantis, it’s just- honestly, I don’t— I’m really not doing this on purpose, I swear!”

Mantis shoved him into their quarters and closed the door behind him, glaring. “Not doing it on purpose?” he said icily, “the way you were specifically seeking out Ocelot with the express intent of having sex with him certainly seemed purposeful to me.”

“That was stupid of me,” Liquid said, “I know that was stupid of me, I just-“

“Can’t control yourself?”

“W-Well, I can’t! I know I shouldn’t even be thinking about it but I just can’t get it out of my head!”

“That does not mean you should sleep with him!”

“I- I— you caught me, didn’t you?” he said, spreading his arms. “Crisis averted. You intercepted and here am I, untouched by Ocelot.”

“The fact that you had the intention to do so is as bad as the act itself, Eli.”

“I’m sorry, alright? I am. Really, Mantis, I am. I know it upsets you, I know I shouldn’t do it, I know I… I… I’m sorry… it’s just so hard to- to think it through…”

He trailed off, shrinking in on himself a bit. Mantis was still glaring at him. Never had he ever been able to talk his way out of getting what was coming to him for cheating on - or attempting to cheat on - Mantis, and the longer this went on the more he had started to feel a little prickle of something like fear whenever Mantis was this angry at him.

“I-I’m sorry, Mantis,” he said in a small voice, kneeling in front of him and doing his best to look submissive, “please punish me however you see fit.”

Sometimes Liquid wondered if anyone else would be moved to mercy or at least pity at his pathetic supplications, but Mantis glowered down at him with no warmth in his eyes. The only thing that really kept Liquid from engaging a fight or flight reflex was the implacable trust he had that, despite everything, Mantis wouldn’t hurt him or cross any lines that shouldn’t be crossed and when he felt Liquid had learned his lesson for the millionth time he would calm down and be nice to him again.

No one ever said Liquid had to like it in the meantime.

Mantis wordlessly yanked him to his feet by the collar, and pushed him back onto the bed, where Liquid went as still as possible, breathing slowly and shallowly and watching Mantis carefully. “Well, go on, Eli,” Mantis snarled, “take your clothes off.”

Liquid hurriedly did as said, his mind racing. A sexual punishment? He was never sure how to feel about one of those, as much as it almost seemed like leniency - like Liquid should really enjoy it - it was always those that brought him closest to the edge of panic and left him jittery and anxious afterwards. The only thing that tempered it was the fact that he was certain Mantis would stop if he caved in and asked him to. He’d never tried it, though, not while he was being genuinely punished. He understood his transgression and besides, trying to get out of his punishment never ended any other way than further reproach from Mantis later.

“I’m sorry,” Liquid whispered as Mantis psychokinetically forced him back flat against the bedspread, leaving him with barely enough mobility to breathe and speak. “I-I’m sorry, I am, M-Mantis, I’m sorry… I’m really, very s-sorry…”

“Shut up.”

He loomed over Liquid, straddling him, hands resting on his chest - not clawing his flesh or pressing hard into his ribs, just resting, but Liquid felt the unfulfilled need to squirm under him anyway.

“Why do you do this to me?” Mantis asked him. “If you have no regard for the dangers to you that Ocelot poses, then why do you not at least consider how I might feel about this?”

“I… ah…”

“You said we might as well be married,” Mantis scoffed, “is this what husbands do? Go off behind my back and try to sleep with the person who raped and abused you?”

Liquid bit back his immediate reflex to protest, and defend Ocelot. There was no point in arguing right now. Even if Mantis’ snarlings about Ocelot were never going to be something he took seriously, Liquid already knew that trying to explain that he hadn’t been abused and, situationally, the rape had been the best he could hope for would just stoke Mantis’ fury.

“What attracts you to him over me, Eli? Tell me. What does he have that I don’t?”

“I… nothing,” Liquid said, “he just… I… I’m a st-stupid slut who c-can’t keep his l-legs closed,” his throat felt tight, “that’s a-all, Mantis.”

“Hmm.”

“Please, I’m sorry,” he choked out, “I love y-you, Ocelot doesn’t m-mean anything to me, he’s just a- h-he’s just a c-convenient dick to hop on when I’m b-bored, he n-never says ‘no’ to me, M-Mantis, that’s th-the only thing I—“

“Am I not enough to keep you sated, Eli?”

“I… nn… y-yes, Mantis, you a-are… you’re enough…”

“Then why must you go after more than you need?” He trailed his hands down Liquid’s skin, too gentle not to make Liquid’s stomach turn. “You really are greedy sometimes.”

“I-I don’t mean to be…”

There was a long silence, then Mantis raised one of his hands and snapped his fingers. Liquid’s hips were forced up, legs spread, knees folded underneath him with his ankles crossed - Mantis was still sitting on his stomach - the bedside table drawer snapped open, its contents rattling.

Liquid swallowed hard.

“If you are so bored today, then I suppose it really is my marital duty to entertain you, is it not?” Mantis said, a falsely pleasant irony in his cold voice.

“Y…Yes…? Mantis…”

Mantis gestured, sweeping his wrist upward, and a vibrator floated up out of the drawer, spinning airily. Liquid had to glance away. He wasn’t sure about where this was going - especially when he heard the familiar pop of the cap on the bottle of lube.

He shut his eyes tight when he felt the vibrator press against his asshole. He yelped a little when it turned on.

It didn’t take much to turn Liquid into a mewling wreck; Mantis knew that, and furthermore he knew how mortified Liquid was at his own sort of vulnerability, so if he was being nice then he usually let Liquid ease into his abandon. He wasn’t being nice right now, of course. Within minutes Liquid was panting and whimpering, his muscles straining against the need to shiver uncontrollably and Mantis’ psychic bondage.

“Oh, god— M-Mantis, please—-“

He let out a little groan, eyelids fluttering as the vibrator slipped in and shifted a few times - thrusting against his prostate — he barely caught the way Mantis’ eyes narrowed dangerously before he shoved the vibrator in there entirely, past his anus and well up into his colon, presumably never to be seen again. It was still on.

Liquid choked.

“O-Oh, my god,” he cried, staring at Mantis, his eyes wide in horror, “i-i-it’s not s-supposed to go up that f-far, Mantis, oh g-god, take it out—“

“Hm?”

“T-Take it out, take it out!” he repeated frantically, ineffectually struggling against Mantis’ psychokinesis. He could feel it still vibrating somewhere in his belly and his brain was kind of short-circuiting, screaming about how it was not supposed to be there. “Please, Mantis, take it o-out, I d-don’t want— please, it h-hurts!”

“You are fine, Eli,” Mantis said, casually inspecting his nails as if he weren’t currently perched on top of a hysterical Liquid. “It will be easy for me to retrieve it.”

“I d-don’t like this!!”

“You’re not supposed to.”

Liquid whined, grimacing in discomfort, clenching his entire body. “I’m sorry,” he said again, voice shaking, “I-I’m sorry, Mantis, I l-love you, p-please, take it out.”

“I will. But not now.”

“Then wh-when?!”

Mantis chuckled darkly, patting Liquid’s cheek.

“When the batteries run down a little bit.”

Chapter Text

It was taking a long goddamn time for the batteries to run down a little bit.

After a certain point, it wasn’t even about how uncomfortable it was to feel the still-buzzing vibrator somewhere in his belly instead of his ass - it started to get more and more about the shooting pain running through his thighs at being kept in this hips-up position for such a long time. Liquid breathed a shaky sigh of relief when Mantis let him back down, taking the weight off his legs… but he should have known that Mantis wasn’t feeling particularly merciful today.

Instead Mantis turned around and, before Liquid could raise his voice in protest, ran his fingers over Liquid’s fitfully hard cock. Liquid’s whole body jerked against his psychic immobility. He already knew exactly where this was going and the only thing he could choke out was, “Wh-why…?”

“You know perfectly well why, Eli,” Mantis said cooly.

And cut to several hours and three or four reluctant orgasms later: Liquid was on the point of tears, whimpering piteously, in legitimate physical pain from the still-on vibrator stuck somewhere deep inside him combined with his hypersensitivity from the orgasms. He still couldn’t move. He’d tried begging Mantis to ease up on him back when it had really started to hurt but Mantis didn’t - maybe because Liquid had never outright asked him to stop - and by now his voice was basically gone; he was really too overwhelmed to articulate anything other than the occasional breathless “P-Please, Mantis, take i-it out, please, I’ll do a-anything, just t-take it out…”

“Alright,” Mantis eventually said after Liquid couldn’t even mumble anymore, “I think the lesson has finally sunk in.”

He released his psychic hold on Liquid, although all Liquid could do was sag against the mattress, trembling, and instinctively curl his arms around his stomach.

“Just a moment, Eli,” Mantis said, his voice gentle now, sliding off of Liquid and brushing his hand over his abs, “let me get a good hold on it and then I will turn it off.”

Liquid nodded exhaustedly, whining. A few seconds later, the vibrations abruptly stopped, leaving just a sharp, pulsating ache in its place that quickly faded to a dull, faraway tingling. “M-Mantis…”

“Oh, hush, you are fine - just a little overstimulated.”

“I-It hurts…”

“Shh. Spread your legs a bit, and relax. Just relax.”

Liquid turned his head to the side and shut his eyes again, following Mantis’ instructions as he felt something foreign stir inside his body - a really unsettling feeling on top of the numbness - then the vibrator, flat end first, pushed against and then out of his asshole. Liquid grit his teeth.

“There,” Mantis said, rubbing his stomach affectionately as he psychically deposited the vibrator in a plastic bag for later cleaning.

“M-M-Mantis…”

“That wasn’t so bad, was it, Eli?”

“I’m s-sorry…”

“Hush, hush. Your punishment is over, Eli, you don’t have to apologize anymore.”

Slowly Liquid rolled onto his side away from Mantis, groaning. That was awful. He felt nauseated, and like his skin was on fire, and his ass and his head were throbbing.

Mantis put a hand to his shoulder. He flinched.

“P-Please don’t touch me r-right now,” he stammered, blinking, a few tears leaking involuntarily out of the corners of his eyes.

“Mm.”

He didn’t feel or hear anything that indicated that Mantis had gotten up off the bed, but he also didn’t feel Mantis attempt to touch him again.

“Did I go too far?” Mantis said suddenly, in an unusually hesitant voice.

“Mngh… n-no, Mantis, I-I’m alright…”

“Are you sure? You do not seem alright.”

“Y-Yes… I deserved th-that…”

Mantis tentatively touched Liquid’s shoulder again, and this time Liquid didn’t pull away - so Mantis laid down right behind him, slipping his arms around his waist, rubbing his stomach again softly.

“I only do this sort of thing because I care for you,” he murmured, nuzzling the back of his neck. “I do not want to see you get hurt again and I do not want to lose you… you belong to me… you are very important to me, I want to keep you.”

“I kn-know, Mantis. I-I’m yours.”

“Your body should feel better after a nap.”

“Mnn.”

He pulled a blanket up over the two of them. “You submitted to your punishment so well,” he said softly, “good boy, Eli.”

“I… I-I knew I… I shouldn’t h-have… O-Ocelot…”

“Shh. Enough. Get some rest, I will still be here when you wake up.” He found one of Liquid’s hands with his own and gave it a weak squeeze. “Alright?”

“Mmhmm…”

“Good boy.”


Yo intento pero nunca salgo del abismo,” Octopus sang to himself, gathering up the Project Charon microfilms from where he had them stacked by the reader.

Y todo queda en nada,” he went on, scattering them all over the floor, and throwing a few random sets in there for good measure. It wouldn’t do if anyone noticed that it was the Project Charon data in particular that was coincidentally destroyed, after all.

Mis— gritos hacen— eco al fondo- de— la nada—-” he sang breathlessly, dragging López’s body up the basement stairs with his arms hooked under his armpits.

Mientras mi cuerpo se resiste a caer!” He laid the corpse down on top of all the microfilm, and picked up a canister of gasoline and started splashing it all over the room. He made sure to get a good amount on López; it wouldn’t do, after all, if anyone figured out that he’d actually died almost a month prior to this. But it was hard to place time of death when the body was practically cremated…

Yo no te olvido…” Octopus pulled out López’s phone, and started dialing.

“…mujer.”

“Hello?” said the woman on the other end of the line.

“Melany!” Octopus said brightly.

“Joaquin? What are you doing calling me so late in the afternoon? Where are you? You should have been home three hours ago!”

“Oh, just taking care of some things at the library, you know,” Octopus said, shouldering the phone and taking out a book of matches. “It’s very important.”

“Hmph! It had better be! Don’t forget we have to get up early for Rooster Mass tomorrow!!”

“I know, I know, Melany,” Octopus said, “it won’t take long. I’m almost finished, and then I can go home. That’ll be nice.”

“Of course, Joaquin,” Melany said, her exasperation obvious even over the phone, “you hurry up. I’m hanging up now.”

“Oh, by the way…” He struck a match.

“Hmm?”

“I know you’re cheating on me with Cusi, you lying bitch.”

“E-Eh—?!”

Octopus terminated the call, chortling to himself as he tossed the lit match onto the real Joaquin López and all the microfilm he was atop of. It caught quickly, the microfilm curling into ember and ash. Octopus only stuck around at the BNP long enough to make sure of that.

Disguise shed, Octopus walked down Abancay Avenue, away from the library, whistling the rest of the song as the fire department sped by. He didn’t feel bad at all. A minor fire in the building was no matter - only that particular room would be wrecked, only a few reams of microfilm lost - and besides, even if the fire did get out of control, they were working on a new building for the library over in the San Borja District anyway.

Admittedly the bit about calling up López’s wife and revealing that he knew about her infidelity was mostly just petty of him, but hey - it’d give a good motive for the guy’s supposed self-immolation.

“Hey, boss?” Octopus said over Codec, “everything’s taken care of on my end. I’m going to get a cab to Callao and then I’m going to catch the first flight out of Jorge Chávez back to America.”

“Excellent,” Liquid replied smoothly. “I’ll get the final copy at the CDC gotten rid of immediately, then. I probably won’t be there when you get back.”

“Haha. Well, then, I guess if you aren’t - Merry Christmas, boss.”

“Mm. Happy Christmas, Octopus.”

“By the way, I’ve decided that next time I have to play an overweight guy, I want hazard pay. Do you have any idea how hard it is on your back to carry around an extra fifty pounds on your stomach for almost a month straight?”

“I said Happy Christmas, Octopus, let me hang up now.”


“Medical leave?” said the chief of medical staff in surprise.

Liquid shrugged. “It’s been slow around here lately, we’ve only had two assignments come in since the summer. I get… restless.”

“But you just went on vacation.”

“And it didn’t help much.” He threw an arm around the medical chief’s shoulders and whispered conspiratorially to her: “truthfully it was a mistake to do that with Mantis. Maybe it’s just because I’m starting to go a touch stir crazy, but we’ve hit a bit a rough patch in our relationship and I need some time away from him. Alone.”

“Ah…” the medical chief said, “I see…”

“So I was just going to give myself a few days off to go camping—“

“Camping? It’s fifteen below out there!”

Liquid gave her an unimpressed look. “And?

“Um…” She blinked. “So you need me to sign off on your self-imposed vacation because it’s for medical reasons, sir…?”

“Mhm. Mental health reasons.” He paused briefly, then added, “by the way, is Hamel enjoying being able to spend Christmas with her family?”

“Oh. Uh. Yes, sir.”

She must have gotten his little hint about his generosity in allowing her to give Hamel as much time off as she liked, because she signed off Liquid’s forms without further questioning. Liquid thanked her cheerfully, and wandered back over to their side of the base, mindlessly whistling “Stop The Cavalry”.

“What a wonderful excuse you gave to the medical chief,” Mantis said sarcastically, leaning with his arms folded in the doorway of Liquid’s quarters while Liquid threw a few things into a canvas bag.

Liquid gave him a smug look over his shoulder. “You know,” he drawled, “I think spending a week or so away from you might very well be good for my mental health. Nice to get a break once a while, isn’t it?”

“Oh, ha ha. When will you return?”

“Can’t entirely say for sure,” Liquid said, closing the bag and standing up, “I’m driving, which, as you’ll recall, takes about two days, but in this weather, well… I’ll try not to push my luck. Three days both ways. The job itself shouldn’t take more than three days as well.”

“So you will not be back until the second or so?”

“The fourth at the latest. Shame I’ll be missing New Year’s and Christmas with you—“ he put an arm around Mantis’ waist and pulled him towards himself, pressing a kiss to his cheek. “We’ll just have to make up for it next year.”

“Assuming we are even still alive next year.”

“Don’t be so negative - I’m doing this so we can be alive next year.” He pulled back, smiling at him. “Anyway, I’ve got to go now if I want to make any decent headway by the time it gets too dark. Give the others my regards, tell them about when I’ll be back - Wolf’s in charge again while I’m gone—“

“Stay out of trouble,” Mantis said, nuzzling him.

“Of course. I’ll see you in January, Mantis. I love you.”

A few days after that, almost 3,000 miles away on a top-secret civilian base just north of Unalaska Island, a completely different man was also packing for a little trip to Atlanta.

“This is, uh, a little random,” Hal said, laughing kind of nervously, “sorry I couldn’t give you guys more advance warning, I didn’t get much myself…”

“It’s no problem,” laughed Dr. Demolles, “I mean, it is kind of weird, but it’s some sort of assignment, isn’t it?”

“Yeah… I don’t know who it’s from, though… someone pretty high up in the pecking order, I think…” He took a deep breath, clutching a shirt to himself with wide eyes. “I’m supposed to be meeting up with a secret agent at the airport. This is… this is kind of exciting, actually!”

“Do you know what they want you to do?”

“No… I mean, not specifically. I know it’s got something to do with, erm, well…”

“Hacking?”

“Well, yeah, but…”

Dr. Demolles waved her hand good-naturedly. “C’mon, it’s not bad if you’re using it in the interests of national security!”

“Y-Yeah, but— I mean, shouldn’t they have their own information specialists instead of having to pull me off this project?”

“It’s only for a little over a week,” Dr. Demolles said, “maybe they didn’t want to bother. Or maybe all their guys are busy, I dunno. Either way, it’s a free vacation for you, right?”

“Plus it’s in Georgia,” said Dr. Jorgenson, standing in the doorway to Hal’s room. “I mean, it’s still winter there, but it’s going to be a hell of a lot warmer than it is here. No snow, even! You could practically go around wearing shorts and t-shirts!”

“I guess it will be kind of nice,” Hal said, almost sheepishly.

“Anyway, the boat that’s supposed to take you to King Cove is here. You ready?”

“Yep.”

“Need any help with your bags?”

“No, it’s just the one…”

“Bring us back some postcards!” said Dr. Demolles.

So Hal went off to King Cove, and from there a short flight to Anchorage where he boarded a plane to Atlanta; the flight to Georgia was long and boring, and Hal spent most of it playing his import copy of Pokémon Emerald on his new DS that he’d specifically mail-ordered to a P.O. box in Nikolski the day it came out. At the domestic arrivals terminal at the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, Hal suddenly realized that he had no idea who was supposed to be picking him up. He hadn’t been given a description of the man other than him being a secret agent - heck, now that Hal thought about it, he wasn’t entirely sure that it was a man.

“You’re not Dr. Emmerich, are you?” said someone with an affected, theatrical British accent behind him. Hal jumped and whirled around.

The man seemed almost as surprised to see Hal’s face as Hal did to see, well, him. There was a brief pause where they just scrutinized each other — he wasn’t a bad-looking guy, although, uh, definitely a guy, with long, slightly wavy blond hair pulled back into a ponytail and a dark, vaguely mixed-race complexion, and… wait… was that a leather collar? Hal found himself staring at the leather collar. Why was he wearing a collar? Like the kind dogs wore?

“Are you Dr. Emmerich?” the man said, slower this time.

“Huh?” Hal said, snapping up to look at the man’s pretty gray-blue eyes. “Uh, yeah. Sorry. You are…?”

The man snorted, then extended a hand. “Liquid Snake,” he drawled, “sent to pick you up. Shall we head off to baggage claim?” he added as Hal shook his hand, hiding a grimace at how firm Liquid’s grip was.

“Did your father also have a doctorate?” Liquid said as they walked towards the baggage claim. “Born on the day Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima? Spent some time in Afghanistan, perhaps?”

“Um… yes,” Hal said, taken aback and more than a little unsettled, “how did you know?”

“I might have been acquainted with him.”

“Oh. Well, er, he’s been dead for seven and a half years now.”

“I see. No great loss. Which bag is yours?”

Hal had… absolutely no idea how to react to Liquid casually saying “No great loss” in response to Hal’s father’s death. None whatsoever. He didn’t often discuss his father, but on the rare occasion that he did mention he’d already died - without going into the circumstances of it, of course - well, he was much more used to a somewhat insincere “I’m sorry to hear that,” or, if anyone did the mental calculations and realized Hal was only seventeen in 1997, “That must have been hard, I’m glad you seem to be doing well now.”

Some extremely uncharitable part of Hal’s mind came to the conclusion that, since Liquid had said “No great loss,” he must have really had known Hal’s father.

“Dr. Emmerich? Hello?”

“H-Huh? O-Oh, this is my bag,” Hal said, grabbing it, and overcorrecting when pulling it off the conveyer belt, nearly knocking himself over. Liquid tsked and picked up his bag for him, lifting it like it was nothing.

“Let’s go, then,” Liquid said, “I’m parked in the West Economy Lot. We’ve been put up in the same hotel room - separate beds, of course,” he added, catching Hal’s flustered expression.

The first thing Hal did when they got to the hotel room (following a rather long, somewhat awkward car ride where Liquid had just turned on the radio and flicked through channels until he found the local classic rock station once he realized Hal wasn’t terribly forthcoming with conversation) was take a nice, long shower. It was good to have consistently running hot water again, something that was frequently lacking on Shadow Moses, especially during the winter. When he got out of the shower, Liquid was sitting on his bed, facing the window, with two fingers held to the point where his jaw met his neck.

“-—you know how he feels about Codec,” he was saying in a careless voice, “and talking with him on the phone is impossible, you can’t hear what he’s saying at all. I think the gas mask interferes with… no, of course I’m perfectly fine being without communication with him for a week, you don’t have to-“

He glanced behind as Hal sat his own bed, then turned back to the window, still having his conversation.

“I just want to- …mmhm, yes, Wolf. Look, we had a bit of a tiff a few days before I left, I just want to know if he’s gotten over it yet. …well, yes, I am a bit worried, you know how he is. —yes, yes, yes-  hm. I’m a little concerned that he still felt sort of bad about that and he’s been stewing in the fact that I used getting away from him for a bit as an excuse to… uh-huh.”

Hal felt really quite certain that this wasn’t a conversation he was necessarily supposed to be overhearing, but he couldn’t turn on the TV or radio without being rude, and even playing his DS and turning up the volume a bit wasn’t going to cut it since he had neglected to bring headphones. He stared awkwardly at the wall, trying really hard to tune Liquid out on his own.

“Just- if he’s being more reclusive than usual tell him that I told you that I’m really not upset about it. It was kind of a dick move but I know I had it coming. …no, Wolf, you wouldn’t be saying that if you knew what I’d been thinking when he got mad at me. —no, of course I’m not going to tell you!”

There was a long pause.

“Alright, then,” Liquid said finally, “duly noted. Oh, and I’ve got that hacker with me now, we should hopefully be able to sort this out tomorrow. …no, I don’t know how long precisely it’s going to take, I- no, thank you, it’s better if I explain it to him tomorrow. When we’re actually doing it. …yes, I imagine it would work like that. That’s logical, isn’t it? …right. Yes, see you then.”

He lowered his hand, then turned around on the bed, looking at Hal again. Hal almost instinctively shrunk in on himself.

“Just checking in with my unit,” Liquid said lightly, “now, Emmerich-“ Was dropping the ‘Dr.’ from his name really necessary? “—if you have any questions, now would be a decent time to ask. Although, anything specifically related to the mission we’re carrying out together shall be left for tomorrow. So?”

“Uh… can we get room service or delivery? I’m kind of hungry.”

Liquid claimed he’d eaten earlier, so Hal just got something for himself, a single order of curry with rice from a nearby Indian delivery place. Which turned out to be a mistake, since it was pretty spicy and Hal had gotten used to fairly bland food at Shadow Moses, but he was hungry and a little spurred on by the entirely unimpressed look Liquid gave him when he coughed over the first bite, so he kept eating anyway.

“How did you know my father?” Hal asked between bites, the question coming out of his mouth without any forethought and almost without his consent.

Liquid, however, seemed like he entirely expected that question, even though it was pretty irrelevant to what they were here for. “I met him twenty years ago. Never liked him much.”

“…where, and how, and…?”

Liquid shrugged. “As I mentioned, Afghanistan.”

Hal tried to do the math in his head, although he wasn’t entirely sure how old Liquid was other in his early thirties, maybe? “And twenty years ago, you were how old…?”

“Twelve.”

“Why were you in Afghanistan when you were twelve?” He definitely wasn’t from there, not with that accent. (Although, maybe Hal shouldn’t comment on that… he’d been born in Afghanistan himself, even if it had been a Soviet-held hospital. But his parents had been American citizens!)

“Well, technically, I was in Africa,” Liquid said with apparent sincerity.

Hal waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t, and Hal had no idea what sort of question to ask to get him to explain himself, so he stayed silent. After a while Liquid, evidently satisfied that Hal had no further questions to ask about anything, stood.

“I’m going to go take a shower. Don’t bother me.”

“Er… right…”

With Liquid gone, Hal finished his curry and went back to self-consciously playing Pokémon. …he should have asked about the collar.

Chapter Text

Liquid threw open the hotel curtains with appropriate flair and gestured to the CDC building visible over the trees. “That,” he said, “is our target.”

Emmerich pushed his glasses up his nose, blinking. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?”

“Yes. There’s a set of files on its internal network that needs deleted — and it is of the utmost importance - and secrecy.”

“Um,” Emmerich said, raising his hand, “if this is a government-sanctioned mission and all, how come you can’t just ask the CDC staff to delete it?”

Liquid gave him an annoyed look. “I can’t go into detail about all the circumstances behind this,” he said, waving a hand, “as I said, it’s very secret.”

“Oh… okay.”

God, Solidus was right. He really was naïve.

“So,” Liquid said, “I’ll admit I’m not exactly an expert on computers - how do you do this?”

“Well,” Emmerich said, pulling out his laptop, “first I’ll need access to the network somehow. I guess I’m supposed to do all this from this hotel room, right?”

“Naturally.”

“Okay. Er… I can’t get the CDC’s wifi at all from here, which I suppose isn’t really surprising. So what- I guess what you’ll need to do is, um…” He rummaged through his laptop bag for a minute, then pulled out some sort of blocky rectangular metal… thing. “You’ll need to plug this into one of the computers in there. Or get one of the employees to do it for you, I don’t know. I guess I can’t tell you how to do your job…”

“What is it?” Liquid said as Emmerich handed it to him.

“It’s a kind of wireless router,” Emmerich explained, “with it I can hook my laptop up to-“

Liquid stopped listening, since he really didn’t care about all the technical details and just needed to know what he was supposed to do with this gizmo, which he turned over in his hands, inspecting it closely.

“-and after that it’ll be really simple to find the files that need deleted and—“

“What part of it do I plug into a computer?” Liquid interrupted.

“Th…the little USB cable, there,” he said, pointing at the cord sticking off of the router.

“…right.”

“Um… are you sure you can-?”

“You just said you can’t tell me how to do my job, didn’t you?” Liquid said irritably, handing him back the router. “You stay put. I need to go get changed.”

“Uh, yes sir.”

While normally Liquid just changed out in the open, having no problem with nudity in front of others, poor Emmerich was so awkward and nervous that Liquid figured his head would explode if he did that, so he extended the courtesy of changing into his sneaking suit in the bathroom… mostly because he figured he needed Emmerich to be able to concentrate on his hacking.

Of course, the bathroom, while nice, was a little cramped for stretching, so Liquid returned to the hotel room to do that. He didn’t miss the way Emmerich’s eyes snapped to him as soon as he stepped out, trawling up his body and taking in the sneaking suit, and lingering on his collar before finally looking at his face.

“What?” Liquid said, as innocently as possible.

“Uh… nothing,” Emmerich said, flustered, turning back to his laptop.

He also didn’t miss the way Emmerich’s gaze kept returning to him as he stretched. Hm. Interested, was he? Some part of Liquid earnestly wondered what Mantis’ reaction would be if he cheated on him with someone who wasn’t Ocelot, but after the vibrator incident… well, Liquid pushed the thought away. Besides, Emmerich seemed like the closeted type.

“You’re really going to sneak into the CDC dressed like that?” Emmerich said.

“The sneaking suit is standard in my line of work,” Liquid said indignantly.

“…in broad daylight?”

“I’ve already infiltrated the CDC at night. I think this will be a nice challenge after that, don’t you?”

Emmerich stared blankly at him, clearly thinking that he was better off not asking for details.

“Anyway,” Liquid said, “we’re going to need some way to keep in touch while I’m in there, just in case…”

“Oh, right,” Emmerich said, “er— last night, that was Codec you were talking on, wasn’t it?”

“Mhm.”

“I have one, too. It’s- it’s a lot better at getting reception when the weather’s bad, so my team uses it all the time in case one of us is on the other side of the… uh… anyway, my frequency is 141.12.”

So with that taken care of, Liquid grabbed the wireless router and set off for the CDC. Emmerich had glanced at the silenced MK23 SOCOM in his thigh-holster, but didn’t comment on it being lethal weaponry (Liquid couldn’t even be sure Emmerich knew enough about guns to identify it as lethal weaponry - then again, a secret agent using tranquilizer darts was a little less intuitive, wasn’t it?) Naturally Liquid’s first challenge was getting out of the hotel and over to the CDC without being seen by anyone or caught on security cameras, but all he had to do was take the exact same route he had the first time he infiltrated this place. He was leaving from the same room, even. And hotels tended to have more people wandering around the hallways in the evening than they did in the morning, at least before check-out time was imminent.

Once again he got in by carefully forcing a window round the back of the building. He slipped through the hallways, just out of range of any of the security cameras, focusing on the sound of staff and researchers walking in adjacent rooms and hallways. Quite a few more people around in the daytime as opposed to nighttime.

Right…, he thought, need to find a computer. Preferably one that isn’t being used. To that end he went up the stairs instead of down, away from the labs, doing his best to stick to the parts of the building he already knew until he ran out of that.

He found a room with a bunch of computers in it, and no people, at least currently - the lights weren’t even on. After checking for a camera, then generously estimating the visual range of the camera he did find, he walked up a computer in the back corner of the room and called Emmerich’s Codec frequency.

“Do I have to turn the computer on before I plug the router in?” he asked.

“Uh… yes?” Emmerich said, like he was a little surprised Liquid didn’t know that… which irritated Liquid…

“Is there a way to turn on the computer without making it look like it’s on, though?”

“Well, yeah, you can just turn off the monitor.”

“…turn off the monitor?”

“Yes? There should be a power button on the monitor, just hit that after you’ve turned on the computer.”

“Wait,” Liquid said, staring at the computer, “if the button on the monitor turns the monitor on and off, then how do I turn on the computer?” He was used to them both turning on when the button was pressed - wasn’t that how it worked?

“…you press the power button on the computer…?”

“…”

“You’re kind of technologically illiterate, aren’t you?”

“With my job it’s more important to know my way around a gun than a computer,” Liquid snapped, “now, the computer is the rectangular thing, isn’t it?”

“Er… yes, assuming you aren’t looking at the keyboard…”

“I know what a keyboard is,” Liquid grumbled, turning on the computer, then quickly turning off the monitor. “I… don’t need to… log in or anything, do I, Emmerich…?”

“Oh, no,” Emmerich said, “just plug the router in and I’ll take it from there.”

“How long until you’re able to delete the data?”

“First I need to actually get into the network and past their security systems,” Emmerich said, “and then I’ll need to do a data trawl of all their computers until whatever it is you’re looking for comes up. But just the first part is going to take a while, so… you don’t need to stay there until I’m done, do you?”

“The router is going to need to be retrieved later, won’t it?”

“Uh… yes, but… maybe you should come back and get it later. I’m saying it might be a few hours before I can even start searching for your data.”

“Fine,” Liquid said, carefully tucking the router behind the computer where it was much less visible, “I’ll come back to the hotel.” And in the meantime, make sure no one wandered in here and messed with the computer, since that might not be good. He briefly considered writing an ‘OUT OF ORDER’ sign and taping it to the monitor, but decided against that and simply stole the mouse, figuring anyone who came in here would simply use a different computer upon noticing that.

“That’s actually pretty clever,” Emmerich said, glancing at the mouse Liquid threw on the bed next to him when he got back to the hotel.

“We aren’t all a bunch of meatheads in the Army, you know,” Liquid said, flopping down on his own bed. “Besides, you don’t get to where I am now by being stupid. Even a minor lapse in judgement can cost you your life - or worse.”

“Worse, huh…” Emmerich said, his rapidly typing fingers stilling for a second.

Liquid glanced at him. “What,” he said, “you don’t believe it’s possible to have a fate worse than death?”

“…”

Whatever. Even with as admittedly little Liquid knew about Emmerich’s family history, he wasn’t surprised that the man might have a few issues here and there.

“Anyway,” Liquid yawned, “you can go ahead and keep the mouse a souvenir, I’m not taking it back.”

Emmerich didn’t reply. Too wrapped up in his hacking, apparently. Liquid tried to recall if he’d remembered to bring a book or something. He couldn’t, and, upon checking his bag, found he hadn’t. He sighed. There was a very good reason why he considered the downtime - the waiting around for something to happen - to be the most stressful part of any mission.

Liquid went completely unnoticed as he casually picked up Emmerich’s little handheld game system and turned it on. He was marginally surprised to find the game in it wasn’t in English.

“You speak Japanese, Emmerich?”

“Oh,” Emmerich said, not looking up from his laptop, “not really. I mean, I can read a little bit of it. If you’re talking about the game I was playing yesterday, it’s actually kind of aimed towards kids, so it really doesn’t have very complicated vocabulary in it, plus it’s pretty repetitive, too…” He trailed off. Still didn’t seem to notice Liquid was holding said game.

“Hm.”

Well, Liquid’s knowledge of Japanese was probably about on-par with Emmerich’s, then. That, combined with the sense of “Well, what is anyone going to do to stop me?” that defined most of Liquid’s life, led him to actually start playing the game… once he figured out the controls and mechanics, anyway… wasn’t too hard, though. Simple game, really. Turn-based.

“Actually, I’m part Japanese,” Liquid said inattentively as he randomly selected the じしん option. The ラグラージ did a little animation and then the health bar of the opposing ハブネーク (which had a cute sprite, in Liquid’s opinion) dropped dramatically.

“Huh,” was all Emmerich had to say. Probably wasn’t listening at all.

It was just past noon when Emmerich finally looked up from his laptop and said, “Okay, I’m in. Now I need to— hey!! My DS!”

“What?” Liquid said, looking up.

“What are you doing with my DS?!”

“Nothing,” Liquid said, closing it, “what do you want?”

Emmerich gave him an affronted yet perplexed look, then shook his head and said, “what data is it that you need me to find?”

“Anything pertaining to something called Project Charon — C-H-A-R-O-N.”

“-—R-O-N, okay. It might take a little while but this program will return any files that have the words ‘Project Charon’ anywhere in their internal text. Now, give me back my DS.”

“But I was rather enjoying myself with it.”

“You’re going to ruin my run!”

“Say, when one of your little monster units dies - that’s not permanent, is it?”

“G-Give it back! I spent a lot of money getting that to the States!”

Honestly, if Emmerich had managed to gather the courage to try to physically snatch the DS back from Liquid, Liquid would have let him have it. But he didn’t. So Liquid opened it back up and continued playing Emmerich’s game. Emmerich glared at him for a minute, then sighed deeply, checked his laptop again, and mutinously turned on the TV, switching through the channels until he found some old sci-fi series playing.

By the time the episode of whatever he’d just put on was over, Emmerich was back at his laptop, typing again as he systematically destroyed every file that so much as mentioned Project Charon. Liquid could almost physically feel a weight lifting off his shoulders with every deletion.

“Alright,” Emmerich said as Liquid stood, returning the DS to the bedside table, “go get my router back, and then we’ll be completely done here.”

“Of course.”


Getting back into the CDC, and the computer lab, went as smoothly as it had that morning; if anything it was even easier - the hallway traffic had certainly declined, and Liquid supposed it was because most of the staff were still taking nice leisurely lunch breaks. The light in the computer lab was still off, too.

Liquid had just unplugged the router when he heard footsteps approaching the door to the lab. Seconds later, the door opened, and the light switched on. A researcher walked into the room, glanced disinterestedly around, and his eyes settled on…

“Huh,” he said, “a cardboard box?”

Liquid had been a fucking idiot to laugh at Venom for it the first time he’d seen this technique.

“Guess someone else’ll grab it later…” The researcher sat down on one of the computers near the doorway and turned it on.

Liquid sighed silently. Something told him that whatever the researcher was doing in here, it wasn’t going to be over in five minutes or less. And he was sitting right in front of the door! …not that Liquid would have been able to sneak by him if he had been sitting anywhere else - at least, he might have been able to slip by just out of eyesight if he had been sitting at certain other tables, but there was also the camera he had to avoid.

He shifted from a crouch, which would be hell on his knees and back after a while, to a marginally more comfortable sitting position that would only be hell on his back. He called Emmerich on Codec.

“Is something going on over there?” Emmerich said.

“…”

“Oh. Can’t talk, huh?”

Liquid shook his head.

“Someone’s blocking your way out?”

Nod.

There was a very brief pause. “Are you… hiding in a cardboard box?”

Liquid did his best to convey What, do you have a bloody problem with that? with just his face in a way that would still be interpretable on the tiny, grainy Codec screen.

“…think it’s gonna be a while?”

He nodded, rolling his eyes. Could be hours, he mouthed.

“Huh… well, I already saw that my router’s been disconnected, so I guess you got it already… so, now all you have to do is wait until the person blocking your path out is gone,” said Emmerich.

Liquid frowned.

“…um… are you gonna be alright with nothing to do but wait for a couple hours? You… seem like the type that gets bored pretty easily.”

“…”

“Do you want me to… I dunno, talk about something until you can leave?”

Liquid nodded, although was sure to put on an uncaring, dismissive expression.

“Okay. Hmm. Well…” Emmerich adjusted his glasses, evidently thinking hard about what to lecture Liquid about. “Okay. So, there’s this animé called Neon Genesis Evangelion, have you ever seen it?”

Liquid shook his head. What exactly was an ‘animé’, again? Wasn’t that what Japanese animation was called?

Emmerich’s face lit up. “It’s my favorite,” he said, “alright, so, first off you kind of have to understand that characters before you can really make sense of the plot - but first some backstory. Basically, there was this thing called the First Impact—-“

Oh, god. Liquid should have said no while he still had the chance. Or he should just hang up without explanation right now.

Then again, his alternative was literally watching a researcher sit almost motionless at a computer for the duration. Listening to Emmerich explain a cartoon to him was, strictly speaking, more entertaining than watching paint dry.

Downtime really was the most stressful part of a mission.


Liquid gave that one an S rank just because he somehow managed to survive Emmerich talking about Neon Genesis Evangelion for nearly five hours until the researcher in the computer lab hit the end of his shift and left. Liquid’s back had popped as he stood up, grimacing, grateful to get out of the CDC at last. There were no further incidents on the way out. Would have been S rank anyway.

Back at the hotel, Emmerich had already ordered pasta for two from some pizza delivery place that was there by the time he got back. Liquid wasn’t actually a huge fan of Italian, but he hadn’t had lunch, or, come to think of it, breakfast, so he ended up scarfing it down so fast he barely tasted it anyway.

“So I guess that’s the end of the mission, huh?” Emmerich said, “whatever Project Charon is, it’s gone now.”

“Yes. Your help is very appreciated, Emmerich.”

“Um, it’s no problem! I’m always glad to help. A-At least, when I’m ordered to, anyway.” He paused. “But why me?”

“I told you, that’s classified.”

“Okay, okay…”

The conversation sort of died while Emmerich pushed his pasta around moodily in the foil take-out tray with a plastic fork. Liquid was already done, lounging on his bed, absent-mindedly running his fingers underneath his collar.

“So,” Emmerich said at length, “are you leaving tonight, or tomorrow, or…?”

“Tomorrow morning,” Liquid yawned, “I’ve a lot of driving to do in order to get back to headquarters, but quite frankly I’m not fond of travelling at night.”

“Why not?”

Because the doomed SAS mission to track down and destroy those Scud missiles had started at 1900 hours, and they’d been shot down at 0430.

“No reason in particular,” Liquid said, “just a bit mind-numbing with less traffic around, I suppose. Hard to concentrate on driving.”

“Oh, I see.”

“You still have a few days left on your ‘vacation’, don’t you?”

“Yep. I, uh… I thought I might go to the World of Coke, it seems interesting and I’ve never been.”

“There’s a really cute snake at the zoo,” Liquid recommended.

“Really? I guess I should go there, too, then. I have a couple days and I haven’t really planned anything out…” He blinked. “Actually, i-it’s kind of funny to hear a guy like you describe something as ‘cute’.”

Liquid raised an eyebrow. “Like me?”

“Y’know… big and tough. Manly. Could probably snap me in half like a twig.”

Liquid shrugged modestly.

Emmerich adjusted his glasses again. “I would’ve thought that you’d be the sort that says, ‘I’m a grown man, of course I wouldn’t call something “cute”!’, y’know?”

“I’m a grown man,” Liquid said, “I can call things cute if I want to. And that black mamba is very cute, it looks like it’s smiling.”

“I see…”

Liquid found himself rather glad he was, in all likelihood, never going to see Emmerich or his strange notions of masculinity again.

“Anyway,” he said, “I get up fairly early, so I’ll probably be gone by the time you wake up tomorrow. You’re welcome to the room for the rest of your stay in this city, but I’d recommend avoiding the front desk at all costs when you leave. Trust me, you do not want to get stuck with this bill.”

“Your unit is supposed to be handling that, I suppose?” Emmerich said.

“Mmm… if you want to get technical about it, this room has been checked out to a certain woman since September. We’re only borrowing it.”

“…ah.”

“Oh, and don’t forget,” Liquid added, giving Emmerich a sharp look, “everything that happened here is top-secret. Not a word is to get out about this, not even to your closest friends, if you have any. Project Charon is probably the most classified thing you’ve ever set eyes on in your life.”

“I… kind of doubt that,” Emmerich said with a sheepish little laugh, “but I won’t tell anyone.”

“Don’t tell anyone about me, either.”

“I won’t. Really.”

“Good,” Liquid said, looking at the ceiling, “you’re not a bad fellow, really. I’d hate for the next assassination assignment to come in with your name on it.”

Chapter Text

“I have the champagne,” Raven said, throwing open the door to the breakroom and holding the bottles in the air.

“Ugh, finally,” Octopus said, “countdown starts in five minutes. We were starting to think you’d died in all that snow out there.”

“Do not underestimate my ability to drive in blizzard conditions,” Raven said, setting the champagne down. Wolf quickly grabbed a bottle and opened it. “This is nothing compared to Alaska.”

“All that matters is that we have the champagne, and now we can make a toast and do all that,” Wolf said, pouring it into the glasses - well, three out of the four glasses, anyway.

“Who’s getting left out here?” Octopus said, claiming one of the filled glasses.

Wolf jerked her head over to the couch, where Ocelot was snoozing, sitting up. “He is old,” she said, “I thought we should let him sleep.”

“We can keep our voices down,” Raven said, taking one of the other glasses.

“Mantis?” Wolf said, looking over at the corner where the man was brooding, “do you want to join us?”

“I can hardly drink champagne with this mask on,” he said.

“No, but it would be good to socialize a little. It is New Year’s, after all.”

“Yeah, 2004 is finally just about over,” Octopus said, “2005 is where it’s at, I’m sure.”

“The boss will be home by tomorrow, so stop worrying about him and come have fun,” Wolf said. Mantis shrugged and walked over, resettling at their card table.

“Has anyone considered yet what to say for a toast?” Raven said.

“I’ve got something,” Octopus said, raising his glass slightly, “to FOXHOUND. And us not getting a termination order by the Patriots in the near future.”

Wolf nodded, raising her own glass. “To the destruction of the Patriots,” she said, “before they destroy us.”

“To freedom from their control,” Raven rumbled.

“Yeah,” Octopus said, “to freedom from the world’s oppressors.”

“To freedom to be who we choose,” Mantis muttered.

Wolf clinked her glass to Octopus’. “To freedom.”


At a half-snowed-in truckstop somewhere in Illinois, Liquid was curled up in the back seat, staring blankly at the dimly-lit dashboard and the clock that slowly ticked towards midnight. He had a radio station on but the volume was down low, only faint static in this weather, barely audible over the soft tnc tnc tnc of the snow flecking against the car’s windows.

Would be nice if he could be back at headquarters already. He was sure he was missing champagne - and seeing if Wolf would kiss Octopus or Raven at the stroke of midnight, or fake them out and kiss Ocelot instead like she had last year.

Should… auld… acquaintance be… forgot… and never brought to mind…? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne?” he sang quietly to himself. Even he had to admit he was a little bit on the tone-deaf side, although maybe it was just because he’d never really learned anything about music.

For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne…” Spending New Year’s by himself at an Illinois truckstop was just a bit more depressing than spending Christmas like this - New Year’s he was actually used to celebrating. Liquid wasn’t religious, and didn’t exactly keep religious company, so Christmas was often overlooked. “We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet—“

What if they were all dead this time next year?

For the sake of auld lang syne.

12:00. 2005.

He’d do anything to make sure that wouldn’t happen.


The first two weeks of 2005 went exactly the same way the whole second half of 2004 went: slowly and listlessly. No assignments came in, no major breakthroughs from either R&D or medical (although that intern who’d been gutted by the cyborg ninja returned, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but she jumped about a foot in the air every time someone walked up behind her in the hallway). Even the cyborg ninja must have been lazing around somewhere, because he didn’t show up at all.

Wolf spent so much time in the shooting range that Liquid had to order new targets; Octopus got banned from one of his conspiracy theory forums for ‘trolling’, which no one else in FOXHOUND knew what that meant; Ocelot spent a lot of time on the phone with Solidus, which Mantis kept trying to eavesdrop on but always got chased away; Raven had started making increasingly intricate snow sculptures for lack of anything better to do; Liquid managed to behave himself and stay out of trouble with Mantis but he was bored and horny and with FOXDIE and Project Charon gone he felt oddly directionless and really, he just wished he’d gotten the name of that game he’d borrowed from Emmerich back in Atlanta. Surely that could serve to kill time, if he could order a copy for himself.

But eventually an assignment came in.

And while it wasn’t too out of the ordinary for an assignment to come in requesting a specific person be assigned - for example, a good majority of “we just need this information, that’s all” orders came with a ‘suggestion’ that Mantis be sent to get things done as quickly as possible - and it wasn’t unprecedented that two agents be requested for a mission - the most common arrangement being Ocelot getting an ‘in’ somehow to facilitate the other operative completing the objective — it was extremely unusual for the entire unit to be called on assignment. In fact, now that Liquid thought about it, he didn’t think that kind of thing had happened a single time before in FOXHOUND’s entire 34-year history.

At the same time his office printer spat out the assignment paper (as it was automatically set up to do ever since things had been switched over to some kind of online, wireless, long-distance system that Liquid still didn’t quite get), Ocelot walked into his office.

“Is that the Shadow Moses assignment?” he said.

“Erm… yes,” Liquid said, staring at it. “Ocelot, what the hell is this? The entire unit? For six weeks?

“Yes,” Ocelot sighed, “ostensibly it’s just to supervise the testing of a top-secret new weapon, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Liquid said, not even a little surprised at Ocelot having the mission details before Liquid had even read them himself, “it says something about how we ought to be able to ensure everything stays hush-hush. But that’s not…”

“No, it’s not something that makes sense. Even if they wanted FOXHOUND specifically there’s no reason to call in the whole unit. Well… if our only objective was that which the Army gave us, anyway.”

“So give me the rest of the mission details, Ocelot,” Liquid said, throwing the assignment paper on his desk. “Since you clearly have them and all…”

“Boss, our real assignment here is from Solidus — that top-secret new weapon they’re working on out at Shadow Moses is a Metal Gear.”

“Metal Ge… oh! Like Sahelanthropus?” Despite the fact that he now regretted attacking his father with the walking tank on three separate occasions, he still had to admit that those had been some good times and he had fond memories of dear old Sally.

“Perhaps not quite so grand,” Ocelot said, “as you’ll recall, Sahelanthropus didn’t exactly work without Mantis…”

“Hm. Right.” Liquid frowned. “What does Solidus want us to do with Metal Gear, then?”

“Take it over,” Ocelot said.

“Take it over?”

“This is the part where we throw ourselves into open rebellion against the Patriots, boss. This is the start of our revolution.”


Liquid kicked open the breakroom door. “Alright, who’s ready to— where’s Raven?”

“Outside,” Wolf said, looking up from her cards.

“What’s going on?” Octopus said, shaking a card out of his sleeve while Wolf wasn’t looking.

“Eli, just because you are excited does not mean you should go around kicking doors in,” said Mantis from the couch.

“…nevermind. Who’s ready to go to Alaska?!”

“Huh?” Wolf said, confused.

“A new assignment,” Mantis yawned. “Very important.”

“You’re bleedin’ right it’s important, Mantis, this assignment is the end of FOXHOUND as we know it and the beginning of our lives as free men. …and woman.”

Wolf waved him off. “…so,” Octopus said, “what exactly is going on?”

Liquid started briefing them, but had to start over halfway through since Ocelot showed up with Raven in tow - evidently he’d already known he was outside and had gone to go get him while Liquid beelined for the breakroom where the others were. “And so,” Liquid concluded, “we leave tomorrow at 2100. So get packed. Don’t forget that, dead or alive, we’re not coming back from this.”

“You know, I will be sad to see this place go,” Wolf said, putting down her cards and standing up, “although… perhaps not the section of hallway that still has plywood instead of actual wall or ceiling…”

That evening Mantis sat placidly on the bad while Liquid circled around the room, throwing their things either into one of two suitcases or onto the floor, depending on whether or not he decided it was worth keeping (most of it ended up on the floor). He had a tape player on and while he’d initially wanted to crank it up as loud as it would go, Mantis had kept him restrained to a more reasonable volume that wouldn’t be heard too much unless one was standing right outside their quarters.

        “—my own desire, my own remorse…

        “Help me to decide, help me to make the most of freedom and pleasure!

“Did you have any plans to reread any of these?” Liquid said, picking up one of Mantis’ Cold War books.

“No,” Mantis said, “none of them gave me the information I was after.”

        “Nothing ever lasts forever-“

“You never explained to me what exactly it was you were looking for.”

Mantis sighed. “It was only a vague suspicion based off of a memory I was unsure of anyway. Perhaps it really was nothing.”

“?”

        “Everybody wants to rule the world!

“Well, if you’re sure…” he said, tossing the book onto the floor. “I’ll assume you want to keep this old book on the order Mantodea…”

        “There’s a room where the light won’t find you—

        “Holding hands while the walls come tumbling down…

        “When they do, I’ll be right behind you…!

“I just realized how little we have in the way of personal possessions,” Liquid said, walking to the other side of the room, chin in hand. “I suppose we’ve just… never had the luxury of ascribing much sentimental value to particular things.” He absent-mindedly brushed his fingers over the wall, then stopped, pressing his palm against it. “Or places.”

“I have never particularly liked this building,” Mantis said with airy disdain, “it is ugly and cramped, and while the isolation is a plus I am not a fan of the climate or surrounding landscape.”

Liquid laughed. “I won’t be sorry to leave this boring state, either.”

        “So glad we’ve almost made it, so sad they had to fade it…

“You already put your copy of Lord of the Flies in one of the suitcases, no?” Mantis said.

“I’m not sure,” Liquid said, turning around and opening the drawer of the bedside table. “Could you check for me?”

Mantis got up off the bed and crouched by the suitcases, rummaging through them for a moment before looking around and finding the book - really the only object Liquid had any attachment to, besides his collar, that didn’t strictly serve any kind of practical purpose - and fetching it.

        “Everybody wants to rule the world!

“You don’t suppose someone’s going to search our bags, do you?” Liquid said, “I’d rather avoid embarrassment.”

“I am not sure… certainly someone is going to have to go through our quarters after we are gone, and see what we left behind…”

“Well… I won’t be there for that, so I won’t really mind.” He worried his lip for a second, then said, “I’ll just keep it low-key. Er… we can get rope anywhere, I suppose, but I’ll take the handcuffs—“ he started pulling things out of the drawer, “and I really like this toy…”

“You’re incorrigible,” Mantis said dryly.

        “I can’t stand this indecision…!

        “Married with a lack of vision…

“And lube, of course,” Liquid said, but he tossed that on the bed instead of into a suitcase and abruptly turned around, scooping up Mantis and nuzzling him. “But I’d rather use that tonight, before we pack it up.”

“Eli,” Mantis said, exasperated, “I thought you wanted to get all this sorted tonight so you could attend to other preparations tomorrow.”

“I changed my mind.” He dumped Mantis on the bed, crawling over him and kissing his neck. “I want to do this now.”

        “Everybody wants to rule the world!

“I want you.”

“As I said, incorrigible,” Mantis sighed, but he ran a hand back through Liquid’s hair anyway. He was in one of his moods, it couldn’t be helped.

“Mmmm.”

“What are you waiting for, then? Go on, Eli, strip.”

        “Say that you’ll never, never, never need it—“

“Good boy.”

God, I love it when you call me that, Mantis.”

“Mm, I know.” He curled his fingers under Liquid’s jaw, tilting his face up. “So— suggestions for right now? Any misbehavior to confess, or do I have to go looking myself?”

“Ahh,” Liquid said, moving his hands to Mantis’ thighs and squeezing them, “you know, I just might have snuck off and touched myself without your permission earlier this weekend.”

“Hmm, did you? I never noticed.”

“Oh- yes, I did—“

        “One headline, why believe it?

        “Everybody wants to rule the world!

“And?” Mantis said, “what were you thinking about? What fantasy did you find so overwhelmingly attractive that you simply had to break the rules I set for you, Eli?”

“I, ah,” Liquid was already a little flushed, and was rubbing his legs together a bit, which after all this time Mantis had really started to find this objectively abhorrent behavior kind of adorable and endearing, “I th-thought about you, Mantis.”

“Oh?”

        “All for freedom and for pleasure-“

“Y-Yes, I imagined that you came i-into my office, and bent me over m-my desk, and fucked me right th-there with the door unlocked.”

“And you liked that?”

“Mmhm. I-I liked that very much, Mantis.”

        “Nothing ever lasts forever—“

“Well, I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” Mantis said, pulling Liquid closer, then pushing him onto his side next to him and sitting up. “But you know the rules. No masturbation.”

“Yes, Mantis,” Liquid breathed, looking up at him with a naughty little smile.

“And I suppose if it’s the idea of me fucking you that drives you to break the rules, then it is only fair that I punish you by doing exactly that.”

“Y-Yes, Mantis!”

“Hmm… what a way to say goodbye to this bed, Eli…”

“Y— y-yes, Mantis… ah, yes…!”

        “Everybody wants to rule the world!


By 2100 Monday morning everything was ready to go, and no one was any the wiser that FOXHOUND wasn’t planning on coming back. A single suitcase each of personal belongings was about expected for a six-week assignment, mostly because it was assumed that ‘personal belongings’ meant changes of clothing and toiletries - no one had taken a peek in the barracks to find that wasn’t the case. The Aviation Branch pilot of the Beechcraft C-12 Huron sent to shuttle them to Alaska did ask about the fact that they were all bringing their customary weapons (or, in Octopus’ case, his disguise kit), but Liquid already had a good excuse ready.

“What if an emergency assignment comes in while we’re in the middle of this?” he said, “there won’t be time to come back here to get what’s needed, and any one of us could be the person ideal for it. I’m not saying that is definitely going to happen, of course, but it does pay to be prepared!”

The pilot not only accepted that explanation, she also made an admiring remark about what a competent leader Liquid was. Liquid was just glad that FOXHOUND’s SOP being OSP wasn’t common knowledge.

“What exactly is the itinerary, boss?” Wolf asked as Raven was loading his cannon into the plane.

“This flight will take us to King Cove,” Liquid said, “it’s a small town on the Alaska Peninsula and it’s where all the Shadow Moses base’s supply shipments come from via boat. Food and such…”

“So I take it we will be taking a boat from King Cove to Shadow Moses.”

“Yes, as long as there aren’t any delays or complications, we’ll be landing about an hour before the next supply shipment!” the pilot said.

“So we will be coming in with their supplies…”

“That reminds me,” Octopus said, “hey, Raven, you’re from Alaska, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Raven said.

“How far away from Shadow Moses is your hometown?”

“Metlakatla is on Taak'w Aan. Shadow Moses is part of the Fox Islands.”

“I have no idea how far apart those are,” Octopus said.

“The Fox Islands are part of the Aleutian Islands,” Mantis supplied, “Taak’w Aan is called Annette Island in English, and it is part of the Gravina Islands in the Alexander Archipelago.”

“…yes, thank you for reading Raven’s mind and telling me geographical details about a state I know nothing about the geography of.”

Raven sighed. “The Aleutian Islands are in the southwest, the Alexander Archipelago is in the southeast.”

Thank you.”

“Don’t look now, boss,” Ocelot said, “but I think a certain someone is interested in where we might be headed.”

Liquid looked over his shoulder just in time to see the cyborg ninja disappear behind the corner of the building. He sprinted over, but was unable to catch him - he was entirely gone, his only remnant being footsteps leading towards the fence, quickly being filled in by the falling snow.

How odd. Did he often show up just to lurk, and not attack anyone? Had they simply never noticed before?

Deciding it didn’t much matter if he warned the medical and R&D teams or not, since he’d never see them again (or at least most of them; Mahjub, Sisken, and/or the Chinese girl might come up again), Liquid returned to the Huron just in time for the pilot to insist on everyone boarding because staying out in this weather any longer might cause complications on her end, nevermind the plane.

Although Liquid was in high spirits when they took off, less than an hour into the flight he was leaning his head drowsily on Mantis’ shoulder and found himself unable to keep his eyes open any longer. He summarily nodded off.

“…he is asleep,” Mantis said, rolling his eyes.

Octopus checked his watch. “54 minutes.”

“I said fifty,” Wolf said.

“Fifty minutes have already passed,” Raven said, “you lost. I said an hour, so I was closest.”

“54 is closer to fifty than sixty,” Wolf argued, then held out a hand expectantly, “everyone pay up.”

“The time you allotted was already up,” Raven said, “I am not giving you thirty dollars.”

“You lost the bet, Raven, you have to pay me, that was the agreement.”

Octopus was pulling thirty dollars out of his own wallet. “I lost either way,” he said, since he had bet on half an hour, “but who am I supposed to give this to?”

“I would go with Wolf,” Ocelot said - he’d predicted ‘about’ 45 minutes but hadn’t actually wagered any money like Wolf, Raven, and Octopus had. “54 is closer to fifty than sixty.”

“She had already lost,” Raven said again.

“Raven, the way you view it, as long as the boss had stayed awake longer than fifty minutes you would have automatically won.”

“No, if he had stayed awake longer than an hour then I would have lost as well.”

“This is still my win,” Wolf said, “pay up. Sixty dollars will buy me a decent amount of diazepam.”

“No it won’t,” Octopus said, “that stuff’s expensive.”

“Sixty dollars and an implicit threat.”

“…that’ll do it.”

“I am not going to fund your drug habit,” Raven said.

Ocelot snorted. “That’s why I didn’t wager anything.”

“If none of you can decide who won the bet,” Mantis said, “then all of your money should go to me.”

“What, are you ‘the house’ here?” Octopus said.

“Yes, I am the one Eli fell asleep on, am I not? Besides,” he added casually, “I do need some sort of incentive not to tell him that you all bet on how long it would take him to fall asleep on the plane. You know he would not be pleased about that.”

After some deliberation, it was begrudgingly decided that Wolf and Raven were both wrong because 54 was neither fifty nor sixty, and Mantis made $90.

Fortunately the pilot had been trained to mind her own business.

Chapter Text

Per ‘Army brass doesn’t actually give a shit about FOXHOUND’ tradition, the briefing material provided to Liquid had been… vague, and he’d had to spend a bunch of time before they left just looking things up on his own. By the time they landed in King Cove on Tuesday morning Liquid had already told the rest of the team what he did know: Shadow Moses island contained a civilian base built in 2002 for the disposal of nuclear weapons, but in actuality the corporation contracted to “safely deactivate, dismantle, and dispose of decommissioned nuclear warheads” was a front for this big company called ArmsTech that had gotten funding from DARPA to build a Metal Gear of some sort… Raven was familiar with the concept, since (and Liquid hadn’t heard about this until now, despite Mantis knowing) there had been a Metal Gear at the Galzburg FOB and that was what Operation Intrude N313 had been about in the first place, but it had to be explained to Wolf and Octopus. Liquid also mentioned that the Shadow Moses base had its own foundry and power plant to cut down on how often they needed supply shipments - once every month, instead of every few days or so like would be required if they had to bring the metal used to build the Metal Gear in from mainland Alaska. Plus it helped with secrecy.

On the boat on the way to the island, Liquid tried multiple times to contact the head honcho on the base - that is, the team leader on the Metal Gear project - but either his cell phone wasn’t getting any reception out here on the Bering Sea or else the reception on Shadow Moses was fantastically bad and it was the team leader’s cell phone that wasn’t getting anything. Liquid didn’t know how to tell.

“Does anyone have any idea why we are going for six weeks?” Wolf said, “I thought the Army sent us here to supervise Metal Gear’s final test. Does that take six weeks?”

“No,” Liquid said, “the test itself takes place six weeks from now, on February 28th. What we need to be so early for is utterly beyond me… perhaps Solidus bought us some extra time to prepare for the uprising…?”

“Do we really need six weeks to prepare to hijack a walking tank?”

“We might need six weeks to bring in any reinforcements or extra materials,” Ocelot said, “you never know.”

“He has something up his sleeve already,” Mantis said in a low voice.

“Mantis, hush,” Liquid replied almost automatically.

They were greeted at the docks by a plumpish woman with a thick coat and a red-cheeked smiling face. She shook Liquid’s hand and introduced herself as Dr. Demolles, and while Liquid had initially thought she was the team leader she waved her other hand and said, “Oh, no, our team leader is busy working out some bugs in REX’s attitude control right now. He delegated showing you around to me. So, shall we?”

The first ‘stop’ on their ‘tour’ was actually the docks, where Dr. Demolles gestured to the men who were unloading the crates of food and supplies from the boat FOXHOUND had come in on and explained, “we’re actually separated into two departments here, Department A and Department B - creative naming, I know. I’m part of Department A - it’s smaller, and we’re the ones who work on design, troubleshooting, and the programming for REX’s autonomous functions. Basically, we handle the software. Department B handles the hardware: they’re the ones who actually put REX together. We have this joke that the ‘B’ stands for ‘bitch’,” she added conspiratorially, “since they have to do anything we tell them to.”

“…interesting,” Octopus said, “can we go inside now? It’s thirty degrees below zero.”

Despite being a civilian base, Shadow Moses very much had the air of a military one. Dr. Demolles even showed them what the engineers ironically referred to as ‘the barracks’, where they all slept: they were only barracks in the same sense that the so-called barracks in the R&D building back at FOXHOUND headquarters had been. Although slightly smaller. The point was that every member of both Department A and Department B had their own quarters, even though the kitchen and bathrooms were communal. There were also a number of leftover rooms, too, so each member of FOXHOUND was able to claim one and dump their bags in there. (Dr. Demolles blinked when Mantis claimed the same room Liquid did, but after another glance at Liquid’s collar seemed to resign herself to it.) Also, upon further inspection after Liquid got separated from the rest of the group due to getting distracted by something irrelevant, it turned out that Shadow Moses did actually have traditional barracks available, though unused.

Dr. Demolles showed them Metal Gear REX and excitedly explained the specs and purpose to them, although presently they couldn’t get very close to it or touch it, merely stand on a nearby walkway and look at it. Mantis snorted derisively every time Dr. Demolles described Metal Gear as being “a mobile TMD” or otherwise implied it was for defensive purposes; Liquid found REX to be rather unexciting after Sahelanthropus and the fact that it wasn’t fully put together yet and still had exposed unarmored sections didn’t help, but Raven found it very impressive, saying it was over twice the size of TX-55, the Metal Gear at Outer Heaven in 1995.

They didn’t have to meet anyone in Department B, which was just as well because literally no one in FOXHOUND had been remotely interested in Dr. Demolles’ tour after the first five minutes (even Ocelot, who was clearly trying to be polite, seemed tired of it) and Liquid made a mental note to just get some maps of the base since it wasn’t like she had shown them the whole thing anyway… but the last place Dr. Demolles took them was the second floor basement lab, where the rest of Department A was.

“Well, it looks like our team leader is out right now—“ she started.

“He went to go get some coffee,” said one of the engineers, “he’ll be back in a minute.”

“Oh, okay. Well, I’ll introduce you to everyone else. This is Dr. Wengret,” she gestured to the man who had just spoke, then started waving her hand towards the other scientists in turn, “Dr. An, Dr. Poholsky, Dr. Jorgenson, and then our team members who don’t have a doctorate — Lo, Marnon, Gomez-Ibanez, Rosenberg - actually, she should be getting her PhD in May - and Bashir.”

Liquid hoped he wasn’t expected to remember all these names.

“So who is the team leader?” Wolf said.

Appropriately right at that moment the door to the lab opened, and someone (the team leader, presumably) said, “Oh, is that special forces group here alre…ad…y……???”

Liquid realized he’d heard that voice before just in time for there to be the sound of a cup of coffee bouncing off the floor. He looked over his shoulder, then turned around, his eyebrows shooting straight up into his hairline.

You!!” he said at the same time Emmerich did.

“You two… know each other?” Octopus said as one of the engineers (Marnon?) grabbed some paper towels and started cleaning up Emmerich’s coffee spill while Emmerich just stood there and stared at Liquid in shock.

“Erm, yes,” Liquid said, blinking, “Emmerich here is the one who helped us out with that CDC thing.”

“I…” Emmerich said faintly, then tried to recover. “I, uh, didn’t know it was your group that was supposed to be coming to supervise the-“

“What CDC thing?” one of the scientists (Dr. Poholsky??) said, glancing at Emmerich, then Liquid, “this is seriously the special agent you were supposed to meet up with when you got that weird hacking assignment?”

“The way you described him,” Dr. Demolles said, “I would have never guessed it was the same guy.”

Liquid narrowed his eyes at Emmerich. “I thought I told you that everything that happened in Atlanta was top secret, Emmerich.”

“No, I-I didn’t-“ Emmerich started, but one of the other scientists (what was this one’s name again…) swooped in to save him.

“We already knew he was supposed to be meeting up with a secret agent and hacking something for them as part of some super important top-secret national security thing,” he said, “because that’s how it was explained to us when we got the call that he was supposed to go on ‘vacation’ to Atlanta. We didn’t know it had anything to do with the CDC until you mentioned it just now.”

“Yeah, and he didn’t tell us anything really important about you,” said one of the others, “he didn’t even mention your name! Just that you were British, and got bored very easily, and looked like a supermod-“

“That’s enough, Bashir!” Emmerich blurted out, then took his now-empty cup which Marnon(?) handed to him.

“Yes, all of that is completely irrelevant now,” Mantis said in an extremely dry, unamused voice. Liquid internally groaned. There weren’t going to be any problems over Emmerich, were there?

“Actually, it’s probably a good thing that you and Dr. Emmerich already know each other, boss,” Ocelot said evenly, “as the team leaders of your respective groups, you and he are in equivalent positions.”

Damn.

“Although, if anything, since this is his base you would be deferring to him in situations where it calls for that.”

Shit.

“I suppose that’s only to be expected,” Liquid said, putting on a smile despite the fact that he was internally screaming, and extending a hand for Emmerich to shake. Again.

At least he still winced when Liquid crushed his hand in his.


“There is no need to get worked up over Emmerich,” Mantis said over lunch. Or rather, over most of the rest of FOXHOUND eating lunch while he sat across from Liquid with his arms imperiously folded.

“I’m not,” Liquid said, pushing his food (seriously, what the hell was this? Whatever it was, it was bland, mushy, unidentifiable and unappetizing) around on his plate with his fork. “It’s only that I was thinking I wouldn’t see him again.”

“Did something happen when you two were in Atlanta together?” Raven asked. He didn’t seem to mind the food. Perhaps it was an Alaskan thing.

“If it did,” Octopus said, “don’t you think we would have heard about it from Mantis by now?”

Mantis rolled his eyes. Liquid frowned.

“Things were a little bit awkward,” he said, “mostly because I think I intimidated him. But other than that everything stayed perfectly professional.”

“It was not just intimidation,” Mantis said disdainfully, “Emmerich finds you attractive.”

“Oh.”

“I’m not surprised,” Octopus said, “I mean, if he described you as looking like a supermodel and all…”

“It does not matter, does it?” Raven said, raising a heavy eyebrow.

“No,” Liquid said quickly, “of course it doesn’t. To be honest, I’m used to random people thinking of me that way. It doesn’t bother me.” Anymore, at least.

“It’s hardly the most interesting thing in his mind,” Mantis said, cocking his head. “Let’s see… well, he is definitely Dr. Huey Emmerich’s son. Born at a Soviet-held hospital in Afghanistan, then when he was… hmm… a few months before he turned four, his mother had him sent to America to live with his paternal grandparents… a German Jewish couple living in Chicago, grandfather worked on the Manhattan Project… why the sudden decision to send him off…?”

“Wasn’t his father hanging out with XOF at the time?” Liquid said, “if I were her, I don’t think I’d want a toddler around, either.”

“You have a point. Although… well, it is strange… he has very vague memories of Sahelanthropus.”

“Seeing it?”

“Piloting it.”

There was a pause.

“Did you not just say he left Afghanistan when he was three?” Raven said.

“Honestly, I have no idea what Sahelanthropus is,” Octopus said, “or what the hell you two are talking about in general. Carry on.”

“The sad part is,” Liquid said, leaning back in his chair, “using a literal toddler as a test-pilot for a barely-functional Metal Gear is exactly the sort of thing I can see the late Dr. Emmerich doing. But that does explain why his mother sent him to America. What happened to her, by the way? What sort of woman would have a child with Dr. Emmerich?

“That is entirely beyond me,” Mantis said, “Emmerich never saw her again, so I do not think I can really put much stock in his own conclusions about her. Anyway… when he was eight, his father came and got him, and then they moved to the Boston suburbs… father remarried…” He stopped suddenly. “Oh, disgusting.”

“What?”

“Nevermind. I have decided I am done fetching his life story from his mind, it really does not even matter, anyway. He went to MIT and Princeton and he is the REX project’s team leader despite being the youngest person on the project, and that is the only relevant information here.”

“Mantis…”

“Ask him yourself if you are curious about him,” Mantis snapped, “I said I am through.”

“…so,” Octopus said, possibly to cut the sudden tension in the room, “where are Wolf and Ocelot, anyway?”

“Ocelot is on the phone,” Raven said, “Wolf is—“

“They have wolfdogs here,” Wolf half-shouted, suddenly throwing open the cafeteria door.

“Dogs?” Liquid said.

“Wolfdogs,” Wolf corrected, “not merely dogs. There must have been huskies here that interbred with native wolves.”

“Uh,” Octopus said, “well, congrats?”

And,” Wolf went on excitedly, “there is a litter of two-week-old puppies!”

“Puppies are ready to be separated from their mother at eight weeks,” Raven said, “perhaps you can take one with you when we are done here.”

Wolf gasped. “Liquid,” she said, “may I?”

“Erm… I don’t know if that will really be… feasible…”

She stared at him for a second, then pursed her lips, then sighed deeply. “I suppose you are right,” she said, “we are likely to be on the run for a while, and I am not sure that that would be a proper life for a wolfdog.”

“I’m not expressly forbidding it,” Liquid said, “just… well, if it really wouldn’t be best for the dog then you really should just leave it here.”

“Wolfdog,” Wolf corrected again, “and yes, I think I will just let them be here. But at least I will enjoy myself for the duration of this assignment.”


Back in 1995, after the fortress that would become the Galzburg FOB was taken over but before anything bad had happened, the floorplans of the fortress had been sent back to Mother Base per normal regulations for the intel unit to file away against the base development unit needing them in the near or far future. Mantis had intercepted a copy and had shown it to Liquid and Wolf, who had spent the day boggling over the architecture of it - it wasn’t very efficiently laid out at all, with too many small closets to be useful and a large open water drainage ditch for no reason, but worse were the notes about how there were two half-broken elevators which refused to operate if they had any extra weight going either up or down, depending on the elevator, and Liquid had burst into horrified laughter when he saw the attached photo of the offensively hideous bright blue tile on the roof of the second building.

Ocelot had ended up catching them, which could have been bad because while the intel unit wasn’t really keeping everyone else on a strict need-to-know basis they still weren’t supposed to casually pass this sort of information around to the foot soldiers, but… Ocelot had just shrugged and let them get away with it, citing the fact that Liquid was Venom’s son and Wolf was very close to Quiet. He did threaten Mantis with a talking-to, but after a few weeks passed Mantis had still never brought it up (and Liquid always heard about it whenever Mantis got lectured by Ocelot on anything, or hell, Ocelot had any kind of interaction with him that wasn’t giving him a sound bite of an order, being in charge of the intel unit and all) so evidently Ocelot had just “forgotten” about the whole incident.

Exploring the Shadow Moses base by himself, Liquid was reminded of that time. Especially strongly when he found that it was the cold storage that was far underground while the foundry was ground-level… just to make insulation and energy expenditure as steep as possible…? If this had been a purely federal thing, Liquid wouldn’t have been surprised, but surely ArmsTech was still answerable to its own accounting department.

“No wonder Father took the architect prisoner back then,” Liquid muttered, staring at the trap door that had opened but when he stepped on a certain floor tile in the armory. (Why did they have an armory? Sure, it was convenient for FOXHOUND, but what on earth was the government planning on doing with this base once Metal Gear was completed and the scientists were gone?) “I’ve half a mind to do it myself, if I could get my hands on them…”

On the plus side, he’d found the places where good cell reception existed - mostly outdoor areas, and it was actually pretty decent both at the docks and over in the living quarters, and the control room overlooking the hangar where Metal Gear was being built actually had really good reception but it also had the head of Department B, who asked Liquid if he had Dr. Emmerich’s permission to be here.

Which he didn’t, but Liquid lied about that because for God’s sake what was Emmerich going to do about it?!

Also on his hunt for good cell reception Liquid came across what one of the Department B grunts referred to as the “medical room”, and his initial reaction was a positive one - “Medical facilities on this island? Good, we might actually need those at some point…” — entering the room he found that its title was entirely euphemistic and, even though there were some shelves and cabinets in there with legitimate medical supplies, the centerpiece of the room was a large, square… well… torture rack. Liquid didn’t know how it actually worked, yet, but he still felt his assumption of it being related to torture somehow was a sound one, judging by the all the machinery it was hooked up to.

“Ocelot, what the hell.”

“What, boss?”

Back in the cafeteria now, where Ocelot was having an early dinner, Liquid gestured vaguely. “Why is-“ he started, “has that thing in the medical room always been there?”

“You found the medical room?” Ocelot said, “does it actually have medical supplies?”

“Yes, but, it also has some kind of device—“

“How is the cell reception in there?”

“Just fine, but Ocelot, why on earth does this facility even need a-“

“I don’t know anything about the torture device,” Ocelot said, turning back to his dinner. “I mean, I heard about it, and I know it’s a model I’m already familiar with, but its given reason for being installed in the first place is something I was not told.”

“How does it work, anyway?” Liquid asked almost despite himself.

“Electrocution,” Ocelot simply said. By now he had figured out that Liquid never stayed in the room if he ever tried to launch into an explanation of the finer points of torture. That didn’t always mean he kept his mouth shut, of course, but it did mean that he usually waited until there was some official, administrative, and/or tactical reason for Liquid to be a captive audience.

Sometimes Liquid wondered if Mantis didn’t have a point about Ocelot.

Finally, he heard Mantis’ voice in his head.

“Do you know where Mantis is?” Liquid flatly asked Ocelot.

“No idea.”

What? I haven’t done anything wrong. You, on the other hand…

Liquid slunk out of the cafeteria before Mantis could get in a snit about him spending any time alone with Ocelot, even if he was just asking about the torture device. A while back he had tried to protest ‘Don’t spend too much time with Ocelot, with no one else in the room’ as a rule because not fooling around with Ocelot was already a rule anyway, but Mantis was absolutely convinced that given the opportunity Ocelot would jump Liquid - or, at least, seduce him or something. Every time Liquid had cheated on Mantis it had been his own horrible idea, though, so he didn’t know (okay, he didn’t like to think about) what Mantis was so afraid of here… the point was that he’d ceded the rule and was still technically opening himself up for potential punishment (the un-fun kind) by socializing with Ocelot without any other company present.

Had he ever been in a healthy relationship in his life? Like, ever?

I have no idea what you are referring to, Eli.

“Nevermind,” he grumbled under his breath, stalking through the hallways.

He did end up finding Mantis, though, in a nice section of the first floor basement of the nuclear warhead storage building. Specifically he found him in a fancy office, with wood-panel walls and plush chairs, bookshelves, a mahogany desk and a hologram map of the communications towers… and fine ceramic busts that Mantis was systematically covering in electrical tape.

“What’s going on here?” Liquid said, brow furrowed, picking up one of the busts Mantis had already ‘modified’.

“I like them better like this,” Mantis said.

Liquid blinked at him, then glanced at the one Mantis hadn’t gotten to yet. Who had sculpted these, anyway? Surely it wasn’t someone who had known Mantis from somewhere… their faces did look a little… familiar, although they were lacking any obvious deformities… surely it wasn’t—

The bust Liquid was staring at abruptly exploded into glittering white shards. One bit cut Liquid on the cheek, some of the rest of it stuck to his coat in a gritty powder.

“That’s just unnecessary,” Liquid said, wiping the cut with his fingers. A little bit of blood came away on his glove, not nearly enough for even Mantis to worry about.

“I would destroy all of them if it was not a pain to clean up afterwards.”

“Why not just avoid this room?”

“Other than these,” Mantis said, pulling off another strip of electrical tape, “I rather like this room. I think I’ll claim it.”

Liquid looked around again. “What is this room, anyway?”

“The commander’s office.”

“…okay, Mantis, by rights then it should be-“

“I got here first.”

“But I’m commander.”

“Do not pull rank on me over an office, Eli,” Mantis said, annoyed, “I said I like this room, and it is not as though I would ban other people from coming in here, except perhaps Ocelot. It is in a convenient place, after all.”

“What do you mean a convenient place? I find this quite out of the way.”

Mantis gestured to a bookshelf against the wall behind the desk. “There is a secret passage,” he said, “why I do not think anyone knows, certainly I have found no explanation in any of the engineers’ minds. I do know that it is locked by a puzzle that none of them have solved… or, at least for some of them, bothered attempting to solve.”

“Oh. Huh.”

“Of course I need not bother with such things.” He waved his hand, and the shelf swung forward. Liquid peered behind it. Just a dimly-lit hallway, and a breath of cold air… “That is a shortcut through some caves to the communications towers. Could be useful.”

“Are those Wolf’s dogs I hear?”

“I think so, yes. The cave must also let out in the yard where the dogs are kept.”

“Interesting. And completely inexplicable.”

“Indeed.”

So, entirely forgetting about Mantis stealing the commander’s room from him, Liquid walked into the secret passageway.

Chapter Text

Liquid made a mental note as he bolted out of the caves and vaulted over the dog yard’s fence that Shadow Moses’ wolfdogs were very hostile towards men. He would have thought they’d be fine, since they apparently got on so well with Wolf, but no.

…oh, great. How was he supposed to get back inside from here without going through the yard? He might have been spending the last couple days just exploring the place, but so far he’d only been through the interior of the base, not the surrounding island.

Then again, if those ravens just visible over the tops of a nearby copse were any indication, perhaps there just might have been someone already out here he could ask for directions.

“Morning, Raven,” Liquid said, walking up to him.

“Mm.”

“I see you’ve found your pets here.”

“Yes,” Raven said, “but they are not mere pets. They are noble creatures, highly esteemed in nature for returning to the earth that which has overstayed its purpose.”

“Hm.”

“…boss, are you cold?”

“Huh?” Liquid hadn’t even realized he was hugging himself. Hm, usually temperature didn’t bother him too much, but then again it was thirty below and he preferred the heat… “I’ll get used to it.”

Raven laughed once. “Alaska is not the best place for Snakes, boss.”

“Ha ha. Do you know how to get back inside without going through the yard and getting eaten by dogs?”

Raven pointed towards the communication towers. “Just climb over the fence into the snowfield. Otherwise you will have to head back towards the docks.”

“Thank you.”

Heading back inside from the snowfield, Liquid dropped by REX’s hangar again just to take another quick look before getting chased away by the Department B guys. Unlike the last couple times he’d tried this, they were a lot quicker on the uptake now, their head almost immediately showing up to complain to Liquid about how he didn’t need to be here right now and everything was going smoothly but it was a very delicate operation so, implicitly, Liquid would just get in the way if he kept hanging out in their workspace - it was so annoying that Liquid let himself get chased off by the guy, and then outside the hangar he found the reason why they’d apparently already been on alert for unwanted spectators: Emmerich.

“I thought Department A had no business watching Metal Gear’s construction,” Liquid said, somewhat dryly.

Emmerich sheepishly adjusted his glasses. “We don’t,” he said, “I mean, we’re not allowed to - that’s what the president said, the ArmsTech president I mean. He said it undermined interdepartmental trust.”

“Hm.” Again, Emmerich was unbelievably naïve, so Liquid figured the real reason would be so that he wouldn’t see what precisely Department B was arming REX with and become disillusioned about Metal Gear being for defensive purposes only.

Come to think of it, wasn’t this the first time they’d had a private conversation since Liquid had come to a similar conclusion about Emmerich’s naïveté in Atlanta? (Or, wait, he’d come to a conclusion about his naïveté before that final night where he’d come to some even more interesting conclusions about Emmerich’s perceptions of masculinity.)

“So, uh,” Emmerich said, “I never asked about the collar…”

Liquid stared at him for a moment. Emmerich went beet red, like either he now regretting saying that or that wasn’t even what he intended to say in the first place. And Liquid was unreasonably tempted to fuck around with him a bit.

“You should have, I don’t mind talking about it,” Liquid said lightly, “truthfully I only wear it because - well, you use the internet a lot, don’t you? I’ve heard there’s a lot of fringe porn on the internet.”

“Uhm, w-wh-what?”

“I ask because I’m wondering if you’re familiar with the concept of a relationship where-“

“H-Hang on, I’m not sure I want to…”

Liquid cut off Emmerich’s escape route by subtly steering him against the wall and bracing his arms on either side of him, mostly because he was very, very bad at resisting temptation. “What’s the matter, Emmerich?” he said with a lecherous grin, “what are you so embarrassed for? It’s not like I’m inviting you to join us, Mantis would never tolerate a third person, not again, anyway…”

“Wh… Mantis…? What do you mean, again?

Liquid ignored the second question. “Of course Mantis,” he said, “didn’t Dr. Demolles mention to you that he and I claimed the same quarters for the duration of this assignment?”

“Uh… um…”

“He’s the one who put this collar on me,” he purred, “he’s the one who’s going to fuck me silly until we break the bed here. And you’re the one who’s going to have to pay for a new one, project team leader.”

Emmerich legitimately looked like he might faint. Liquid had to stop himself from bursting into laughter.

“What,” he said, “you think that might be a little unfair? Would you like to at least be able to watch? Or perhaps just have me describe it to you in graphic detail?”

“No, I don’t-“ Emmerich started, “what do you want from me??”

Liquid did laugh now, and stepped back from him. “I’m only messing with you.”

“That wasn’t funny.”

“I beg to differ - you ought to see yourself right now, your face is all red.”

“That wasn’t funny, Liquid!”

Liquid raised his eyebrows at Emmerich’s attempt at a harsh tone. And Ocelot had said Emmerich outranked Liquid here… feh.

“Look, we can change the subject if you like,” Liquid said, “actually, I’ve been wondering how you managed to land this job.”

“…what?”

“Well, you’re the youngest on your team, aren’t you? Even that Rosenberg woman is older than you?”

“Oh,” Emmerich said, blinking, lowering his hackles, “yeah. The next-youngest person on the whole base besides me is Erwin Brewster in Department B, and he’s 27. In Department A, Leah Rosenberg is… 28, I think? My 25th birthday is next week…”

“So, how did you manage that, then?” Liquid waved a hand vaguely. “24’s a bit young to be at any position like this, isn’t it? Let alone team leader. It wasn’t just because of your father, was it?”

“No, of course not,” Emmerich said quickly, “I mean, mostly. I- I’m good at what I do. Finished school early and all. Even if I was hired and given this position because of my father, there’s no way I would have been able to keep it except on my own merits.”

“Hm.”

“It’s just… well,” Emmerich started walking off down the hallway, not indicating that Liquid should follow, but didn’t protest when he did and in fact continued talking, “REX wasn’t ours, originally. I guess you could say it’s a continuation of an earlier project, but not really - we were just given some partial blueprints and vague specifications, and a couple photos of a Metal Gear built back in 1995—“

“TX-55?”

“Yeah, how did you know?”

Liquid shrugged.

“Anyway,” Emmerich said, “later in early 2000 we got some more scraps of information based off of the Metal Gear that got destroyed during the Zanzibar Land disturbance - I think it was called Metal Gear D. But the point is that the information was totally incomplete — ArmsTech has been working on REX since 1996, but it wasn’t until I got kicked out of the FBI’s ERF over a… minor hacking incident and then got hired here that we made any headway.”

“What happened?”

“Well, y’see, my father…” Emmerich sighed. “I guess if you knew him then you’d already know that my father worked on Metal Gear. He was never really able to let go of the concept, even after he came back to America. I remember as a kid, finding these blueprints he’d drawn up for something he called ‘Metal Gear ZEKE’, and y’know, I never found out if it was just a concept or something that actually existed once. But since I thought it was pretty fascinating either way, so I studied those blueprints a lot…”

“…and later, when you were expected to help reconstruct Metal Gear D or TX-55, you remembered ZEKE and it was easy to do so?” Liquid guessed.

“Yep,” Emmerich said. “Of course it wasn’t just copying my father’s plans. Keep in mind the last time I saw any of those I was eleven years old - he eventually destroyed them entirely, I think. Plus ZEKE was antiquated anyway, there’s a lot of newer technology going into REX that wasn’t influenced by previous Metal Gears at all.”

“But nonetheless, they made you team leader because you were the one finally able to put a definite plan on the table.”

“Yup. I was the only one who really understood how Metal Gear came together.”

“I suppose that’s something to be proud of,” Liquid said, “I myself am the youngest person to ever run FOXHOUND, but to be honest I’m not entirely sure why they made me commander. Sometimes I think it was a mistake.” Else his theory about him being considered too easily distracted to negotiate a bigger budget really did have merit to it…

“I don’t think the government makes mistakes like that,” Emmerich said with wide-eyed innocence.

Liquid snorted. “Go ahead and believe that if you like,” he said, “while we’re on the subject, I was also the youngest person in history to join the SAS. But I think that mostly happened because I harassed the recruiter so much.” Or maybe Cipher or the Patriots or whatever the hell they were calling themselves by that point had facilitated it somehow? That had never occured to Liquid before. Hadn’t he been abandoned…?

“Really? How old were you?”

“I had just turned eighteen. Actually, there was another man back in… 1959, I think? who also joined the SAS at age eighteen, but I was told I beat him out by a few months.”

“Neat.”

They turned the corner, only to run into an extremely unamused Mantis.

“Hello,” Liquid said brightly.

“Er, hi,” Emmerich said, taking a step back.

Mantis ignored Emmerich entirely, instead fixing his beyond-annoyed gaze at Liquid. “You are in big trouble, Eli.”

“I have done nothing wrong,” Liquid said in mock indignation, but nonetheless he waved ‘later’ to Emmerich and followed Mantis off, head held high.

“I knew Emmerich was going to become an issue,” he said when Mantis had led him back to their temporary quarters.

Mantis glared at him. “I was not planning on making him an issue, and then you decided to flirt with him.”

“I wasn’t flirting with him, I was just yanking his chain a little. It was hilarious.”

“You were flirting, Eli.” He sat down on the bed and sighed, rubbing his temples. “What am I supposed to do with this…? I am trying to think of what I did last time you insincerely flirted with someone just to get a rise out of me, but I honestly cannot recall any other such occasion.”

“Well, my options have been a bit limited, generally speaking…”

“Nevermind. Misbehavior is misbehavior, Eli, I will treat this as I do anything else.”

Liquid gave him his most seductive smile. “You’ll show me how wrong am I to dare entertain the possibility of sex with someone other than you, perhaps? Demonstrate that you’re the best in the world for me? Make me beg for your dick until I can’t even remember that other men have them?”

“That isn’t funny, Eli. Come here.”

As it turned out Mantis had put his camera in with the rest of his luggage while Liquid wasn’t looking. But Liquid went along with the punishment photos so well, no matter how humiliating a position Mantis ordered him to contort into, that once they were finished with that and Mantis had deleted all the evidence of it, Liquid was generously rewarded.

Maybe he should flirt with people more often.

“Don’t even think about it,” Mantis muttered, giving Liquid’s hair a slight tug.


Tacitly ignoring Liquid and Mantis having sex in the middle of the day like they usually did when there was nothing else going on, the rest of FOXHOUND quickly found their own ways to pass time and acclimatize to Shadow Moses while they waited for the time to prepare for the uprising to approach. Even Ocelot was indulging in the downtime, to everyone else’s surprise - they would have expected him to be drawing up plans or something. But Ocelot had elected to wait until the situation developed more, and REX got nearer to completion, and Liquid started to come up with specifics about how they would hijack Metal Gear and what would happen next.

“We have our goal,” he said, “and it’s still more than three weeks until the next supply shipment comes in and the boss inevitably tries to convince Solidus we need an attack helicopter in order to pull this off.”

“I wonder if I should ask him to request a tank as well,” Raven said.

Octopus caused a minor scandal by seducing the only woman in Department B only for her to unceremoniously discover his vagina, which Octopus thought was hysterical although the woman in question threatened to sue, which ended up forcing Liquid to intervene on Octopus’ behalf. Which actually just made things worse because Liquid snidely suggested to the woman that it was a good idea to double-check that your prospective partner had your preferred set of genitals before bedding them, and apparently that wasn’t reasonable or something because one should be safe in the assumption that Decoy Octopus, in particular, had a penis? Personally Wolf had never cared about that sort of thing, she was fine with whatever.

Besides, it was pretty rare that she found herself attracted to anyone she hadn’t spent any time obsessing over in preparation for killing them. Which, granted, could be men or women, but that didn’t help her when she had to spend the better part of two years trying to live down the time she’d fallen for a wizened, reclusive, somewhat smelly 98-year-old man. But he was an enemy of the state! And by God she had gotten that liver-spotted dick and enjoyed it too. She also enjoyed watching him die of mercury poisoning.

Of course Wolf kept up-to-date on the drama, since there wasn’t much else to do, but evidently the situation ended up resolving itself with Octopus letting the Department B woman pick whichever prosthetic penis she thought would feel best from Octopus’ disguise kit, and that was the end of that. Deprived of entertainment - since Raven was too busy enjoying being back in Alaska to play cards or anything like that, and Ocelot was catching up on his sleep, which God knew he needed it - Wolf ended up spending more time with the wolfdogs than she had initially planned (she had been trying not to get too attached). And that was how she properly met Dr. Emmerich.

“O-Oh,” Emmerich said, somehow supporting the bag of dog food in his skinny arms, “um, hello!”

“Hello,” Wolf said politely. “Are you the one who feeds the wolfdogs?”

“Yeah, usually.”

“I thought these wolfdogs did not like men.”

“Er… well, generally, no, but they like me.”

“And do you like them?”

“Uh-huh.” Emmerich put down the bag of food, and Wolf helped him collect the bowls. “I love dogs, actually. I always wished I could have one growing up, but, well, it didn’t pan out. And then later I just never had the space for it, so coming out here has been the first time I’ve really been able to… y’know…”

“I… also like them,” Wolf said, petting one of them, “when I was little, my family- or perhaps a neighbor, I do not remember— we had a Kangal.”

“Those really big Turkish dogs?”

“Mm. I suppose they are from Turkey originally, but there is a Kurdish breed. Or sub-breed, I suppose. That would have been what we had.”

“What was its name?”

“I do not remember. I was very young, and it took a mortar shot for my… I think she was my cousin, but maybe she was just a neighbor…”

“Oh,” Emmerich said in a (likely unintentionally) flat voice.

Wolf shrugged. “When I was fourteen, I was picked up by a mercenary group, and they had plenty of dogs. Wolfdogs, in fact, a lot of them. The first ‘dog’ they had turned out to be a wolf, but he fathered a lot of puppies with domesticated bitches, so…”

“Oh. So, what was his name?”

“DD. I was never sure what it was short for.”

“What’s your name?”

Wolf blinked. “Sniper Wolf,” she said.

“No,” Emmerich said, “I mean your real name, if that’s… well, if that’s okay to share. My first name’s Hal. I don’t like it much, but you can use it if you want to.”

Wolf glanced down, unsure how to respond for a moment. “I do not have any other name,” she said eventually, “I am sure that my parents must have named me something, but I honestly do not remember it. Before I was Sniper Wolf everyone just called me ‘keçik’, ‘girl’. As in, ‘you there, girl.’”

“Oh,” Emmerich said again.

There was a sort of awkward pause. Emmerich kind of started, like he’d been surprised by something, then quickly started scooping dog food into the bowls.

“Can I ask you something?” he said, “not something personal, I mean. About one of your comrades.”

“Which one?”

“The gas mask one… Mantis, I mean. I think that’s what he’s called…?”

“Yes, that would be Mantis.”

“Is he… I don’t know, anti-social? I passed him in the hallway earlier and he hissed at me.”

Wolf raised her eyebrows, and very briefly wondered if she should keep her mouth shut. “Do you know if you have done anything to cross him?”

“I don’t think I have… I haven’t actually talked to him, really, outside of just saying ‘hi’ once or twice…”

“…you know he is psychic, no?”

“Huh?” Emmerich looked up. “He is??”

“Yes?”

“I… I guess that explains the ‘Psycho’ part of his codename— but, uh…”

Wolf sighed. “I am not sure if it is a good idea to tell you this, but… my room is right next to his and Liquid’s, and the walls are not really very thick…”

“Oh, yeah,” Emmerich said, “you can hear just about anything going on in the quarters next to you.”

“Right. The other night I heard them having a little argument about you.”

Emmerich frowned, like he might already know where this was going, and by now Wolf was pretty sure that the redness of his cheeks wasn’t just because of the cold and wind. And it was… sort of cute, in a somewhat pathetic way…

“Was it about the fact that Liquid came onto me?” he said.

“Oh, no, Liquid claimed that was only a joke and Mantis seemed to accept that explanation.”

“Didn’t feel like a joke at the time…”

“The first thing to remember about that man is that he has zero impulse control,” Wolf said wisely. “Anyway, what I heard them arguing about was that Mantis overheard you furiously masturbating to the thought of spitroasting Liquid with him.”

There was a long silence.

Wolf had to cover her mouth to stifle her laughter as Emmerich went completely scarlet.

“I- I— what??”

“He did not physically hear you,” Wolf clarified, “I do not think that was even possible, your department’s quarters are rather far away from all of ours. But he psychically overheard you fantasizing. Evidently.”

“I… I…!” Emmerich hurriedly closed the bag of dog food and picked it up again, spilling a few kibbles on the snow as he did, still wide-eyed and bright red. “That isn’t- that wasn’t— does that guy have any concept of privacy-?”

“No,” Wolf said.

“W-Well, it’s Liquid’s fault anyway for putting that image in my head in the first place! I never asked for that!!”

“But apparently you jacked off to it…”

Emmerich’s mouth opened and closed like a dying fish for a few moments, then he turned on his heel and scurried away, making it a couple yards before he stumbled and fell flat on his face. Wolf would have gotten up to help him, but decided against it, especially since he jumped up so fast he might as well have fallen into an open fire and continued fleeing without so much as glancing over his shoulder at Wolf.

Wolf called Liquid on Codec.

“You are right,” she said, “Emmerich is hilarious when he is embarrassed.”

Thank you,” Liquid said, “I was beginning to think nobody understood what I was getting at.”


“Stop using Emmerich as your chewtoy,” Ocelot said to both Liquid and Wolf, pinching the bridge of his nose. “He’s team leader on the REX project. We need him.”

“I haven’t done anything,” Liquid said, splaying a hand on his chest, falsely offended.

“He deserves it for staring at my breasts,” Wolf said. “He was not even trying to be subtle.”

“Try zipping up your jacket once in a while, Wolf,” Ocelot said dryly, “but nevermind. Boss, we need to talk about our plan once the final test rolls around.”

Wolf raised her hand. “Am I just here for Mantis’ peace of mind?”

“Yes, because this is too important to interrupt with him throwing a tantrum over something.”

“I did try to talk with him about that,” Liquid said, somewhat defensively. “What is it you need to say about the plan, Ocelot?”

“Well, for one thing it’s not Metal Gear REX we need per se - it’s the plans for it, and all of their virtual test data. Physical results, especially, if we can get that far.”

“…Solidus is the President,” Wolf said, “if he needs the data so bad, why not simply ask for it? Surely that is under his jurisdiction?”

“It needs to be done completely behind the Patriots’ back,” Liquid said, “Solidus can’t reveal he’s against them yet for whatever reason.”

“Right,” Ocelot said, “FOXHOUND has greater freedom to cut ties with the Patriots than Solidus does. But even then, it might still be possible to get the data and get out without this turning into open rebellion. If it weren’t for one thing…”

Liquid bared his teeth in a grin and took a wild guess.

“Solid Snake?”

Chapter Text

“Solid Snake?” Wolf said.

“Of course,” Liquid said, “the last two times Metal Gears needed taken down, it was he who was sent in to deal with it - despite being retired already, the second time. If we highjack a Metal Gear now, it’s only to be expected that it’s going to be Snake who is sent in to take us out.”

Ocelot raised his eyebrows. “I’m surprised you’ve thought that far ahead, boss.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? Anyway, it’s really an obvious conclusion. Nevermind the fact that we could use the Metal Gear, I want to meet Snake. Of course,” Liquid continued, “he has a bit of a track record of completely blowing through even well-staffed bases, so I’ve already arranged for the Genome Army to join us the next boat in. I convinced the brass this is a good place for a training exercise.”

Both Wolf and Ocelot stared at him for a moment.

“Training exercise?” Wolf said at length.

“Of course. Patrolling, guarding, all that. Plus it would be good for their morale, I’m sure they’re all very unhappy cooped up trying to fix themselves in a top-secret military hospital in Guam.”

“Boss…” Ocelot said, “the Genome Soldiers are…”

“…complete failures of gene therapy, yes, I know. Every one of them is like the tail end of Flowers for Algernon, I’m well aware — they’re barely worthy to be called cannon fodder, but fortunately that’s all we need them for.” Then he added in a mutter: “I shouldn’t be so harsh on them, it was my biological father’s genes they spliced into them, so in a way they and I are blood relatives…”

Ocelot sighed. “I’m not trying to overstep my rank here, boss, but I would have liked to hear about this before now.”

“Tsk. I’m only doing the best I can with what I have - I was only able to convince my dear little brother to agree to send a Hind D and two M1A1 Abrams with the soldiers. He denied any requests for further armaments… although why he’s willing to send two M1s I have no idea, Raven’s the only one here who actually knows how to drive a tank…”

“Even if the Genome Army was everything they were intended to be,” Wolf said, “does Solid Snake’s track record not make this whole endeavor somewhat… suicidal?”

“Not if we don’t make this our hill to die on, Wolf. With a definite goal in sight, we… hang on. Ocelot?”

“Hm?” Ocelot had a perfectly mild expression…

“How long has Solidus been planning this?”

“Years, boss.”

“Even before we removed FOXDIE from the equation?”

“…yes, sir.”

Liquid narrowed his eyes. “And before we found out about the Patriots? Before he had a reason for giving us explicit instructions?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Where are you going with this, boss?” Wolf said.

“Oh, I’m just wondering,” Liquid said, starting to pace, “how Solidus was going to get all of this rolling without us being any the wiser. The assignment to Shadow Moses isn’t anything too suspicious, all things considered, but if he wanted stolen data on Metal Gear, well…” He stopped in front of Ocelot. “This was originally your assignment and your assignment only, wasn’t it, Ocelot?”

“Yes, sir,” Ocelot said again.

“Right down to inciting a rebellion?”

“You have to admit, boss,” Ocelot said, “that you are startlingly easy to manipulate—-“

Liquid seized Ocelot by the throat. Wolf gasped. “Boss!”

“You were just going to go with it?!” Liquid hissed, throttling him, “you were just going to stand idly by while Snake and FOXDIE got the rest of us killed! You were the going to be complicit in the death of the entire unit—“

“Boss, stop that!”

“You were going to murder us all!!”

Liquid!” Wolf bodily grabbed Liquid’s arm and dragged him, still snarling, off of Ocelot. Ocelot coughed, eyes streaming, rubbing his throat with one hand. “If he intended for us to die here, why would he tell us about this now?” Wolf demanded.

“She has a point, you know,” Ocelot said hoarsely, “at this juncture, you and the rest of the unit are intended to survive this. I don’t want you dead.”

“But you were going to-“ Liquid started, jerking his arm violently out of Wolf’s grasp.

“As I told you back in D.C., I won’t contradict an order. I am not, however, above making it so that the order must be changed.” He sighed, coughed again. “That’s why I brought you all on board with the anti-Patriots endeavor. Having FOXHOUND in the loop forced Solidus to change the plan for me.”

“Change it to something where we might live?” Wolf said.

“Precisely. Boss, didn’t you ever find it odd that I would bring it up so suddenly?”

Liquid didn’t reply, just glared murderously at him, unsure how to feel.

“It was because this was coming up so quickly,” Ocelot said, “and I had to give you enough time to take care of FOXDIE before REX started to reach completion. I told you what I told you precisely when I told you because I did not want FOXHOUND to be sacrificed on the altar of Shadow Moses.”

“…and you didn’t even warn Solidus that you were planning on bringing us into the fold,” Liquid said grudgingly.

“No. Because he didn’t want you. And here I was about to tell you another thing that I haven’t cleared with Solidus first…”

“Go on,” Wolf said before Liquid could bitterly comment on Ocelot saying If Solidus ordered me to kill you, then you would be dead long before you ever got the opportunity to order me to stand down back at the White House. He supposed that the I wouldn’t even get my hands dirty part of it referred to Solid or FOXDIE.

“We already know Solid Snake will be coming as soon as the uprising starts,” Ocelot said calmly, still rubbing his neck with his hand although somewhat absently, “therefore I propose a secondary goal: recruitment. We lure Snake into a trap, flee the base with him in tow, and convince him to join our crusade against the Patriots.”

“Abso-fucking-lutely not,” Liquid said flatly, “as soon as I get my hands on Solid Snake, I’m going to destroy him for killing Father.”

“He would be a very valuable addition to the team, boss.”

“No. I’m going to kill him.”

“Boss, I do not mean to be rude,” Wolf said uncertainly, “but you told us you were the inferior clone. Are you sure you will be able to match him, let alone defeat him?”

“I’ll use the bloody Metal Gear if I have to,” Liquid snapped.

“He has already taken down two Metal Gears on foot…”

“And?! This one is bigger and better than the ones that came before it! It can make up the difference if I need it to!!”

“Boss, Snake also killed the man who took down Sahelanthropus on foot,” Ocelot pointed out.

“Yes, but- well— that’s exactly the point! That’s why I must take revenge on him, that man was my father!!

“It was the Patriots who made him do it,” Ocelot said, his voice suddenly stern, “Solid Snake was nothing but a tool to them. Take your revenge on him if you wish, but if you do so then you may very well lose your chance to take your revenge on the system that orchestrated your father’s death. It would be like destroying the gun that took his life while letting the hand that pulled the trigger go free.”

Liquid was silent for a long time, his hands clenching and unclenching, then suddenly spat on the ground and turned on his heel, his coat flaring out behind him. “Fine,” he growled, sweeping out of the room, “we can kidnap Snake. It won’t change the plan much, we’ll need to put on enough of a show to get him out here anyway. But don’t expect me to like it.”

“I wasn’t going to,” Ocelot said as Liquid slammed the door behind him.

“…you should have told him this from the start,” Wolf said.

Ocelot cleared his throat. “I should have told him a lot of things from the start.”


The Next-Generation Special Forces numbered only 150, although due to medical problems several of them were already being replaced by other, somewhat random soldiers - of those originally in the squadron, as Liquid recalled from the one and only time he’d ever met any of them (it was requisite, the Genome Army was supposedly FOXHOUND’s reserve pool), there were a lot of familiar faces. A lot of bought-out Outer Heaven contracts following the Zanzibar Land incident… some of them were from after Liquid’s time, but for the most part he recognized them as being from D- and E-rank units.

Which, actually, explained a lot.

Liquid spent a couple days drawing up routes and schedules for patrols around the base for the Genome Soldiers to rotate through, keeping everything as simple and easy-to-remember as possible because, well… Liquid was honestly a little suspicious that at least some of the failure of the gene therapy had been intentional, and the backfired attempt to give all of them a 180 IQ was really just so the U.S. government could end up with child soldiers without the ethical backlash of using actual children. Sure, the Genome Soldiers were all grown men - but for the most part they were as simple-minded as toddlers, fearless and good at following directions but with the collective intelligence of a sack of bricks.

Okay. Liquid was being overly-harsh again. These were his brothers, after a fashion.

None of the engineers seemed particularly alarmed at the news that a small army was going to be arriving at Shadow Moses (although Emmerich did seem particularly alarmed that Liquid was attempting to talk to him, necessitating Liquid pass him over and give the news to Dr. An instead). They seemed to find it reasonable that FOXHOUND use their base as a training grounds for their reserve troops for two weeks while they were on assignment here anyway…

“Mantis, how good are you at brainwashing people?” Liquid asked. (Mantis was already here, in the commander’s room, because they were still passive-aggressively butting heads over whose office this was.)

“Decent, I suppose,” Mantis said, “it would be like a milder, more passive version of taking over someone’s will.” He seemed slightly uncomfortable about that particular subject, but Liquid didn’t press.

“Can you do it on a large scale?” he asked instead.

“With how dumb the Genome Soldiers are…? I could leave the island and they would still bend to my will for several hours.”

“Good, we might need that. I’m sure that of all people, the Genome Army would be receptive to forging a home for soldiers in a world where we’re only dead weight - a new Outer Heaven - even without hearing about the Patriots, but… well, having ideals and acting on them are two different things.”

“If you can sway them all to your ideals, Eli, then it will be easier for me to bend their wills,” Mantis said, “all I would have to do is ‘suggest’ they take up arms for what they believe in, instead of idly complaining about it while they slowly die in Guam.”

“And anyway there might be a few who don’t agree with the concept of Outer Heaven,” Liquid said, “you’d need to take care of those as well, so they don’t disrupt anything.”

Mantis tilted his head. “Peer pressure could take care of that in and of itself. But I suppose I will need to address idealogical consistency… if any of the soldiers interpret your ideas differently, there may be friction.”

“As long as you can remove that…”

“Of course I can. We’ll have no problem subverting the Next-Generation Special Forces to rebellion.”

Liquid grinned at him. “Not just rebellion, Mantis,” he said, “revolution. The first step to dismantling the Patriots and bringing chaos and honor back to this world gone soft.”

“Eli, I really do not care about chaos and honor,” Mantis said, “I would honestly prefer a quiet life.”

“And yet you go along with this anyway.”

“I know how much you need war, because you are hardwired to come alive only on the battlefield and waste away in times of peace. I am just saying - me, personally, I would like a quiet, calm life, mostly alone. Perhaps a cabin the woods somewhere.”

“You can have a quiet life running support for me in the anarchy that follows the downfall of the Patriots. Would that work?”

“Mm. That seems best, doesn’t it? A good compromise.” His lower eyelids kind of scrunched up a little, and Liquid suspected that Mantis was actually smiling at him underneath his mask, which gave him the warm fuzzies. “Besides, I always welcome the opportunity to kill.”

“Oh, but you don’t enjoy it the way I do,” Liquid teased, standing up, “you only like it conceptually, just because you’re a misanthrope — you’ve no appreciation for blood running over your fingers, the feel of a gun recoiling, or the way the light fades from someone’s eyes…”

“Compared to you I’m a saint, boss.”

Liquid laughed, for once not minding Mantis dropping his given name, and leaned over the desk and pulled Mantis towards him, kissing his jaw.

“‘Love the sinner’, eh, Mantis?”

“Don’t try to ascribe that silly word to me…”

The days slowly ticked down towards the arrival of the Genome Army, and Liquid decided to try to mend the bridges he’d accidentally burned when he’d sexually harassed(?) Emmerich as a joke. So he cornered him in the lab, in front of the rest of Department A where he couldn’t escape, and put on as friendly and innocent a smile as he possibly could.

Of course, Emmerich was still plainly nervous around him, but relaxed when Liquid managed to steer the conversation towards the little technological… things he seemed to be currently working on.

“Stealth camouflage,” Emmerich said, a trace of pride in his voice as Liquid turned one of the units over and over in his hands, carefully examining it, “I’ve been- I mean, my team and I have been working on it. It bends the light around the user in such a way that they’re rendered nearly invisible.”

“Really?” Liquid said, “such a thing is possible?”

“Yep.” Emmerich picked up one of the other five units, then flicked a switch on it and was rendered invisible, just like he said. Liquid very nearly gasped out loud. Emmerich switched it back off and continued: “Actually, it’s not my design originally - from what I hear it was originally developed by someone in your unit, but nearly all of it was destroyed in a lab accident two years ago. I’ve managed to reverse-engineer it from what survived this far, so far.”

Originally developed in FOXHOUND, and destroyed in a lab accident…? Liquid thought, oh, of course, it’s the same technology that makes the cyborg ninja invisible… well, that explains that!

“The original plan was to incorporate it into REX’s armor,” Emmerich continued, completely oblivious to the shady circumstances in which the original stealth camouflage-enabled armor had been created, “but there’s still a few bugs that need to be worked out - the fact that anything using it is still visible with infrared technology is a pretty big one. We made these small personnel units to try and iron out the kinks, but… well, I’ve been doing impact testing recently, too, and it turns out that the optic technology is so unstable that just jostling it too much makes it short out. In other words, there’s no way this is going to make it into REX’s armor. This iteration of REX, anyway…”

“Aren’t you too close to completion to incorporate it even if it worked properly, anyway?” Liquid said.

“Well, yeah… and a lot of REX’s capabilities are long-range anyway, so I guess it wouldn’t really matter too much if he were invisible…”

“It’d serve just as well suited for single-person use, Emmerich,” Liquid said, “it’d be bloody useful on a sneaking mission - for amateurs still learning the ropes, granted, and I suppose if it were used too much it’d just become a crutch — but still, consider me impressed even if I’d never use it myself. Do you mind if I borrow this one?”

“Huh?”

“Of course you don’t,” Liquid purred, slipping it into his coat pocket. “Much obliged, Emmerich.”

“Er—- you’re… welcome?”

After Liquid had left the room, Hal turned to the rest of the engineers and said, “I’m never going to see that again, am I?”

“Nope,” Gomez-Ibanez said.

“Should I have… stopped him?”

“I don’t think you could have,” Dr. Wengret said sagely.

“Huh… well, at least there’s still another five left…”

“But there’s six members of his unit,” Gomez-Ibanez said, “what if he comes back and takes the remaining five for the rest of them?”

“He just said he’d never use it himself,” Dr. Wengret said, “Dr. Emmerich will be left with at least one even if the commander does come back for more.”

“Yeah…” Hal mumbled, “great…”

Meanwhile Liquid had dropped off the ‘borrowed’ stealth camouflage off with Mantis, who was deeply offended by the acknowledgement of his inability to turn invisible on his own anymore - and even more offended at Liquid’s tongue-in-cheek mental comparison of him to a man with erectile dysfunction who couldn’t believe his physician was trying to prescribe him Viagra - but he ended up accepting the gift anyway. And using it. In fact that first thing he did after Liquid gave it to him was terrorize some hapless Department B personnel by appearing and disappearing before their eyes while they tried to chase him out of Metal Gear’s hangar.

At least someone around here was having fun.

There was also a minor incident where Mantis fucked up one of the cargo elevators in communications tower B (which was Liquid’s fault, he knew full well Mantis was going to get flustered at the idea of receiving a blowjob in a public elevator and that was exactly why Liquid had tried to initiate it), but it was quickly fixed. Mostly. The weight limit had to be reduced to 650 pounds, which rendered it completely useless as a cargo elevator, but at least it could still shuttle people around. The communications towers were so tall that even FOXHOUND, infinitely more athletic than any of the scientists, didn’t want to take the stairs.

“Why have you been so destructive lately?” Wolf asked Mantis.

“…I am not a fan of this weather.”

The weather was, actually, getting worse despite time marching on away from the dead of winter. Being so far north the nights still dragged on endlessly, although it was none of the engineers’ first winter in Alaska and of course Raven was from here, and Ocelot never complained about this sort of thing, so the remaining members of FOXHOUND were left without sympathy in missing the sun. In the meantime a glacier was encroaching on the sea-space around Shadow Moses, and boat access to one side of the island was expected to be blocked off within a few weeks — on the plus side, if it turned out to be the east side of the island, then getting to the mainland via car or snowmobile was going to become suddenly feasible.

Mid-February arrived and with it, a boatload of Genome Soldiers.

They were installed in the empty barracks, their weapons stored in the armory (“Why do they have live ammunition?!” Emmerich asked. “Why does this base have an armory?” Liquid retorted.), and their leader (although Liquid wasn’t sure if he was commander in any kind of official capacity) tried to get in good with Liquid as respectfully as possible.

“You look familiar, soldier,” Liquid commented.

“Yes, sir,” the Genome Soldier said, dropping his salute but still standing ramrod-straight, “we knew each other back at Outer Heaven.”

“…” Liquid didn’t want to incredulously say We did??, but honestly, he had no idea who this guy was…

“B rank, unit three, sir. Coarse Albatross…?”

“…sorry, doesn’t ring a bell.”

The soldier cleared his throat. “Probably better if it doesn’t,” he said awkwardly, “and anyway, we all just use our real names, so you can call me First Lieutenant Edward Gomolka, sir.”

He didn’t really look like an Edward, in Liquid’s opinion, but almost immediately after that conversation the name of the Genome Soldiers’ de facto, possibly self-appointed (officially, the Next-Generation Special Forces should be headed by a Captain) leader slipped his mind entirely.

And then that goddamn cyborg ninja showed up again.

Near as anyone in FOXHOUND could figure, he’d followed them to King Cove and then snuck on board the ship that brought the Genome Soldiers, and laid in wait hidden in the dark corners of the base for a few days before striking. Of course, everyone in FOXHOUND tacitly agreed to not share the fact that it was sort of their fault he was here, even if they couldn’t really conceal that they already knew of him — he’d announced his presence at Shadow Moses by ambushing a pair of Department B guys walking through the hallways on their way back from a break, and both of them wound up being the not-so-lucky recipients of some free above-knee amputations.

One of them bled out in the hallway. The other one was rushed back to King Cove in Liquid’s Hind D, which meant he was the one who had to pilot it because he was the best (and only, really) pilot here. (And he didn’t trust anyone else with his new toy.)

As was probably to be expected, the engineers fell into an utter panic about the cyborg ninja, and most of them threatened to leave - Dr. Poholsky, Lo, and a handful of Department B personnel disappeared the next night, along with one of the Jeeps - but Liquid quickly restored order as soon as he got back from King Cove.

“We won’t let that metallic freak attack any more of you,” he assured them, “there’s nothing to worry about. FOXHOUND is the deadliest unit in the world, and even if you’re concerned about the fact that there’s only six of us, we have the Next-Generation Special Forces here as well.”

“I think the biggest help the Genome Army will be is the statistical likelihood of the cyborg ninja going after one of them next,” Wolf said under her breath. Raven snorted.

And, as it turned out, he did.

Chapter Text

A few days after the pair of Department B men were attacked, and one killed, the cyborg ninja jumped out of the shadows again, tearing through a small group of Genome Soldiers while screaming about Snake and how he wanted to feel alive again. End result: four dead soldiers, one so severely injured that once again Liquid had to airlift someone to the hospital in King Cove from where the soldier would probably just be sent back to Guam, and half a dozen minor/moderate injuries that were treated on the base.

Upon getting back Liquid found that three of the four dead soldiers (and two of the moderately injured ones) were among those who weren’t actually technically a part of the Next-Generation Special Forces and had only been assigned here to keep the ‘proper’ number of soldiers for ‘the exercise’. The one dead Genome Soldier was being mourned vigorously by the rest of the Genome Army, who ignored the other three KIA with a kind of childish sociopathy even though all three of those guys were married and two of them had young kids.

Personally Liquid was much more concerned about the first lieutenant who went ahead and sent for more replacement soldiers. So another five were set to be shipped in over the glacier as soon as possible from some military academy.

“Is this really alright?” Liquid wondered out loud. “We don’t know what kind of people they’ll be sending in as replacements.”

“At this point it’d be more suspicious if we refused them,” Ocelot said, “did the lieutenant mention the cyborg ninja?”

“No, he just said that some of the soldiers had gone missing — I told the Genome Army the other day that the cyborg ninja was top-secret, and word of him wasn’t to get off this base…”

They had to get rid of the cyborg ninja before the replacement troops arrived.

Liquid had a plan. It was, granted, somewhat of a shitty one, but it was a plan nonetheless, and even only had to involve three members of FOXHOUND: Liquid would be bait, to take advantage of the cyborg ninja’s perpetual confusion of him with Solid, and draw him out of hiding; Raven would be waiting in the snowfield with his Vulcan cannon to kite him into the foundry; Wolf would be lying in wait on a walkway in there, and as soon as the cyborg ninja was within her sights and too busy deflecting Raven’s bullets to deflect hers, she would fire. At such a close range, even if the bullet itself had little affect on the cyborg ninja (which it probably would), the force behind it would still be enough to knock him backwards into the vat of molten steel. Surely even he couldn’t survive that.

Octopus quickly volunteered to stay the fuck out of the way. Mantis wanted to participate to begin with, mostly because he was somewhat concerned about Liquid using himself as bait and wanted to ensure the plan went smoothly so he wouldn’t get too injured, but after a short argument with Liquid it was determined that since the cyborg ninja’s mind was too broken for Mantis to really do anything with, he should stay on the other side of the base while all this was happening for his own safety. Ocelot was in charge of making sure the engineers and the Genome Soldiers were kept away from the action.

Liquid walked through the largely empty nuclear warhead storage building, his footsteps echoing conspicuously. He didn’t know if the cyborg ninja was anywhere nearby - he’d already been wandering around, looking as attackable as possible, for the past 45 minutes - and he also didn’t know if the ninja would even attack upon seeing him or just continue lurking in hiding like he’d done ever since arriving here. After all, despite the two attacks already the ninja still hadn’t come after Liquid yet. Maybe he didn’t realize he was here at all, or maybe he was waiting until Liquid was alone, since ever since coming to Shadow Moses Liquid realized he hadn’t actually spent very much time by himself. He was usually with others, whether they were other FOXHOUND members, any of the engineers, or the Genome Army.

There was a slight scrape of metal against concrete. Liquid glanced over his shoulder just in time to jump out of the way of a chokuto slicing through the air where he had just been standing.

Snake,” the cyborg ninja’s tinny voice box ground out as his stealth camouflage deactivated, “you and I… must fight to the death—“

“You’ll have to catch up with me first,” Liquid said in an American accent, taking a few quick steps backwards and then turning around and sprinting towards the exit. Snowfield, snowfield, had to get to the snowfield—-

“Snake! Why do you flee?!” Despite the ninja’s protest his metal footsteps still clicked against the floor as he pursued Liquid.

Liquid threw himself against the door, his heart briefly seizing as it didn’t open immediately, stuck in a snowdrift blown up against its exterior - he forced his way through just as the ninja attacked again, cutting a wide slit in the bottom of his coat as he leapt over the threshold. He’d have to repair that later. Right now he just kept running, slowed down by the snow and fuck the ninja was catching up again, he was just jumping instead of running, hopping from place to place without having to extricate his foot from the snow with each step.

Just as the cyborg ninja threw himself at him, Liquid ducked, leaving him to crash harmlessly over his head and into the snow. The ninja flailed around the ground, shrieking, his exoskeleton sparking, as Liquid clambered back up and dashed for the snowfield fence. Thank God Liquid had always been fast on his feet and extremely agile. Despite the snow and how high the fence was, Liquid only had to jump in order to get a good grip on the top of it and start pulling himself up and over. He glanced at the cyborg ninja again as he cleared the top, making sure he had gotten up and was continuing to chase Liquid.

“We must do battle, Snake!” the cyborg ninja screeched, jumping over the fence entirely in one leap, landing directly in front of Liquid. He slowly raised his sword towards him. “I have returned from the depths of Hell to do battle with you.”

“Who are you?” Liquid said, backing up against the fence, glancing around. Where was Raven? He had about three seconds to get his giant rear in gear and open fire before the ninja turned Liquid into mincemeat.

“I… I’m like you, Snake…” the ninja said, his mechanical voice suddenly uncertain, then his body sort of jerked and he gasped out, “I’m your number one fan, Snake—“

There was the roar of a Vulcan cannon from the direction of the communications towers, and Liquid dropped down into the snow as the immediate area filled with the kng kng kng sound of bullets ricocheting off of the ninja’s exoskeleton, some of them smashing divots into the fence behind where Liquid had just been standing. A second later the ninja was gone, screaming over the snow with Raven at his back and the invitingly open door of the foundry ahead of him.

Wolf had been settled in on her stomach on one of the walkways for just under an hour now; to her it was utter child’s play to stay still and attentive through her scope for that long. The mild buzz from her last dose of diazepam helped. On the downside, it was extremely hot in the foundry, so Wolf ended up becoming an echo of Quiet after all, stripping down to just her boots and panties and laying her winter-thick clothes down on the walkway so the metal of it wouldn’t burn her skin.

She’d have to cover up a little real fast before Raven and Liquid came in once she’d taken care of the cyborg ninja. Either that or one of these days she really would have to invest in a bra.

She heard the sound of Raven’s Vulcan cannon thundering away outside almost a full minute before the cyborg ninja burst into the room, a few stray bullets glancing off of the foundry equipment behind him. After that point it was only a second and a half until he was in the view of Wolf’s scope, swinging his sword so fast it left afterimages, still deflecting Raven’s bullets — Wolf fired.

Crack.

Just as Liquid had calculated, at this range there was much inertia slamming behind the bullet that even though the cyborg ninja reacted in time to bring his arm up and protect his head, the force of the shot still pushed him sideways, right onto the very edge of the vat of molten steel, where he lost his balance and fell in. There was a loud hissing crackle, and a cloud of steam and smoke, and he was gone, sword and all, the only remnant of him being the acrid smell of burning plastic.

“He’s done,” Wolf said to Liquid over Codec, sitting up and shrugging on her jacket, not bothering to zip it up. A moment later, Liquid must have signalled as much to Raven, because the noise of the Vulcan cannon died down and Shadow Moses seemed very, very quiet all of a sudden.

A few minutes later Liquid and Raven met her in the foundry. Raven glanced at her bare legs, then looked away respectfully, while Liquid didn’t seem to notice her lack of pants at all, instead walking over to the steel vat and squinting at it.

“And he didn’t try to come up from it at all?” he asked Wolf.

“No,” Wolf said, “I was watching. I think he really has been completely melted.”

“…glad that’s done with, then.”

“And we never found out who he was, or his relation to Solid Snake or Dr. Hunter…” Raven said.

“I suppose it didn’t really matter.”

There was a short pause.

“Boss,” Wolf said, mildly alarmed, “there is a spot of blood spreading on your sleeve.”

“Eh?” Liquid looked down, then took off his coat, draping it over his unbloodied arm, and inspected his injury. “Oh, it’s just a scrape, Wolf. Must have gotten clipped by a stray bullet.”

“It… is bleeding pretty badly,” Raven pointed out.

“I’ll be fine. It could have been worse, really.”

“Just makes sure you get it bandaged,” Wolf said. “Wouldn’t it be awful if infection set in?”


After that, some of the Department B foundry workers reported to some patrolling Genome Soldiers that they’d found some strange, twisted little clumps of hardened steel littering the area all the way to the cargo elevator, but by the time that information actually made it to Liquid it sounded more like Department B was complaining of some kind of minor malfunction with the foundry equipment, and he was just confused about why they were even telling him.

Besides, he had more important things to worry about. The five replacement soldiers would be coming in soon, along with some VIP guests that were here for the final testing of Metal Gear REX. Liquid went over the names on the notice for it — Donald Anderson from DARPA and Kenneth Baker from ArmsTech, two names which meant absolutely nothing to him, and as for the rookies under the impression that they were just building numbers for a training exercise following some mysterious disappearances: Steve Holland, Johnny Sasaki, Rueben Schaar, Baltasár Cordero Caraballo, and Meryl Silverburgh.

“Silverburgh?” Liquid said out loud, “why does that name sound familiar?”

“It was Campbell’s brother’s name, remember?” Octopus said, “we all thought it was kind of weird that he took his wife’s last name.”

“Huh. Right.” Liquid took a closer look at Meryl’s papers. “Do you remember what his first name was?”

“Matt? Might have been short for Matthew, I guess.”

“…”

“Wow,” Octopus said, coming around to look over Liquid’s shoulder, “are we seriously getting the old colonel’s niece here for a replacement?”

“Unbelievable…”

The microwave beeped and Liquid got up to fetch his (late) lunch, leaving the papers on the table. He got back to Ocelot perusing them and no Octopus in sight.

“Boss,” he said, “Donald Anderson is with the Patriots.”

“He is?” Liquid said, blinking and putting down his sad little TV dinner tray meal. “It was really just a matter of time until one would come, though, wasn’t it? Even assuming that none of the engineers are with them directly.”

“Any of the engineers with the Patriots are going to be completely over their heads when it comes to dealing with us. Anderson, on the other hand… well, let’s just say he and I are of equivalent rank. Or rather, you could say he outranks me.”

“Seriously…?”

“So we’ll have to take care of him at the earliest possible convenience.”

“Or pump him for as much information as we possibly could,” Liquid said, “if he’s even higher up than you… well, I’ll grant I don’t know how high up you are exactly, you never really mentioned it. How many people do outrank you, Ocelot?”

“Let’s just say not very many and leave it at that. And when it comes to Anderson, it’s better not to leave anything to chance.”

“I’ll think about it,” Liquid said. Ocelot twitched his moustache but didn’t object. Mantis came over and sat down on Liquid’s other side, dropping a bandage on the table in front of him.

“How is your arm, Eli?” he said, deliberately ignoring Ocelot.

“It’s fine, Mantis.”

“You have not changed your bandage since last night, you know it’s supposed to be changed every so often…”

“Really, Mantis, it’s fine.” He threw an exasperated look at Ocelot, who seemed almost amused.

“Take off your coat, Eli, I don’t want to take any chances with this,” Mantis said. “The final test is rapidly approaching and we cannot afford distractions.”

“Fine, fine…” Liquid slipped out of his coat and surrendered his arm to Mantis, who carefully removed the old bandage (there was a little bit of blood still, but mostly it was just the normal serous drainage) and applied the new one. Liquid ignored him entirely and ate his lunch with his other hand. Ocelot was still going over Liquid’s papers.

“Are you sure you are alright?” Mantis said quietly, “you did not sleep last night. You haven’t slept but three hours in the past two days.”

“I don’t feel tired, Mantis,” Liquid said honestly, “besides, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep anyway, remember? My chest was hurting all night.”

Ocelot glanced up from the papers. “Sub-sternal chest pain, boss?”

“Hm? Well, yes, but I’ve just been thinking it was heartburn.” He frowned down at his lunch, which had been cold in the middle to begin with and by now had cooled past the point of being worth eating. “Maybe it’s the food here…”

“You were having heartburn before we came up here, Eli,” Mantis said, picking up Liquid’s coat and inspecting the torn hem of it, which Liquid hadn’t gotten around to sewing back up yet. “By the way, you really should wear a shirt under your coat, it is February and we are in Alaska.”

“Mantis, will you stop fussing over me?”

“Is it actually a burning sensation, boss?” Ocelot said, “it doesn’t exactly qualify as heartburn if it isn’t.”

“Hmm…” Liquid absentmindedly rubbed the side of his hand between his pecs. “Now that I think about it, it isn’t really…”

“That’s probably not a good sign. If we had any actual medical personnel here I’d recommend mentioning it to them, but…” he shrugged. “Perhaps you’re just getting old.”

Liquid suddenly felt very self-conscious about his white hairs again, and stood up. He stalked out of the cafeteria without another word, dumping his TV dinner in the trashcan as he went.

“Wait, Eli,” Mantis called, standing up, Liquid’s coat still in hand, “your… he isn’t listening to me…”

“You two fight recently?” Ocelot said, tapping the papers about the VIP guests and the replacement soldiers into a neat little stack.

Mantis glared at him. “Everything is fine between us, Ocelot.”

“I’m not saying it isn’t. In fact, arguing is a normal part of any relationship. Healthy, even. It’s good to be in a place where you feel comfortable enough with each other to disagree and express yourself.”

“We haven’t been arguing.”

Ocelot raised an eyebrow at him.

Mantis suddenly remembered how thin the walls between the living quarters were. And while he and Liquid were at the end of the row and it was Wolf who was right next to them, that certainly didn’t preclude Ocelot from hearing about everything from her.

“We’ve… had discussions,” he said evasively.

“Anything to do with the fact that you think you’re too good to apologize?”

“I— I haven’t done anything to apologize for.”

“If you insist,” Ocelot said, then took out his revolver and started methodically disassembling it to clean it, disregarding Mantis now. Mantis, fuming, turned on his heel and slunk out of the room in the same direction Liquid had left in, Liquid’s coat bundled up in his arms.

Where the hell did Ocelot get off trying to advise Mantis about his relationship with Liquid? All their problems could, in one way or another, be traced back to him and what he did.


The final test for Metal Gear REX - culminating in the launching of the dummy missile from its railgun - was scheduled for February 28th, a Monday. According to the weather forecasts a terrible blizzard was supposed to whip through the Fox Islands the night of the 27th, although it was expected to die down by the next morning.

It was on the 25th that a Department B man and a pair of Genome Soldiers drove a van over the glacier to King Cove to pick up the VIP guests and the replacement soldiers who had flown in from Anchorage that morning. By now Liquid’s ideas about a free world where warriors were valued had disseminated among the Genome Army, even if none of them had any idea that the crux of those ideas was the downfall of a system that took advantage of soldiers and discarded them carelessly, and for the more hesitant, cynical, or peace-loving among them Mantis had spent the past two-ish weeks grooming them for his subtle mind control anyway. (Which was quite a sight to see, Mantis hanging out with the Genome Soldiers and pretending to be social.)

Mantis had also been grooming a hapless man in Department B who knew quite a lot about the communications system here on Shadow Moses, so that when the metaphorical spark finally turned into a flame he would be able to use him to cut Shadow Moses off from the outside world completely with a snap of his bony fingers.

When the van came back, Liquid had no choice but to meet briefly with the VIP guests. He put on the same confident smile he always put on in front of Army brass and shook their hands firmly, then handed them off to Emmerich using the excuse of getting the replacement soldiers settled. (Which, actually, he did legitimately need to see to - it hadn’t really occured to him earlier, but the Silverburgh woman was, in fact, a woman and as such really couldn’t be in the same barracks as the rest of the Genome Army, but at the same time he needed to make sure giving her a separate space for sleeping and showering wasn’t going to come across as special treatment in any way. Both because the Genome Soldiers might get jealous and resentful, and because Silverburgh might feel condescended to.) (He ended up just sticking her in Wolf’s room. Wolf made her sleep on the floor and strongly implied she was going to backhand her for giving that little wolf plushie Liquid got her from the Zoo Atlanta a funny look.)

“Ocelot,” Anderson said rather flatly as Emmerich was busy explaining something to Baker.

“It’s been quite a while, hasn’t it?” Ocelot said with a joyless smile.

After that two-sentence exchange Ocelot developed a noted tendency of suddenly disappearing from the section of base Anderson happened to be in. He could move very silently for a man wearing spurs.

On the 26th Wolf heard from Emmerich (Emmerich really liked talking to Wolf, even if she was pretty disinterested in the conversation and really only hanging out with him for information leaks) that REX was technically ready to go and they were only not doing anything presently just to stick to the schedule. So Liquid decided, almost impulsively, that today was the day. Wolf had her misgivings.

“Are you sure this is the best way to go about this?” Wolf said, “using the Genome Soldiers…”

“They’re really only cannon fodder, Wolf,” Liquid said. “We don’t need them to do anything important, just to patrol and slow down Snake.”

“I am not sure they will not become an active hinderance to us, though,” Wolf said, “they really are quite dumb. Here, follow me. Watch this.”

She went out to the heliport, where a couple Genome Soldiers were practicing their patrol routes, and walked behind one of the storage crates sitting in the snow. She knocked on the side of it opposite the nearest soldier.

“Huh?” said the soldier, who apparently hadn’t noticed Wolf walking behind the crate, “what was that noise?”

As he’d been trained to do, the soldier walked over to the crate and circled around to the back of it, gun at the ready, but by the time he got there Wolf had already walked around to the other side of it, behind his back. The soldier looked down.

“Whose footprints are these?”

He followed them. Wolf kept walking, returning to the back of the crate and knocking on it again.

“Huh? What was that noise?”

Liquid watched, fascinated, as Wolf repeated the process four more times before he finally said, “Alright, alright, I get your point, Wolf.”

“Is it too late for a change in plans?” Wolf said, walking back over to Liquid. The Genome Soldier circled around the crate a few more times before giving up and returning to his patrol route, a deeply confused man. “Perhaps we can just lock them in the barracks.”

“I’m sure they’re going to tell Snake that they’re supposed to be here, since they are officially stationed here right now. He’d get suspicious if they’re not around.”

“If you say so… but perhaps you should not have brought them here in the first place…”

“Hindsight is 20/20, Wolf…”

But as Mantis had said earlier, their simple-mindedness made them extremely easy to brainwash. So around 3:00 in the afternoon, when Baker and Anderson were having a very important meeting with the remaining members of Department A, eerie music began to play as if over a PA system, which the base didn’t have. They all looked around in mild confusion.

“What the…?” Anderson started.

He didn’t get to finish his sentence. Two dozen Genome Soldiers, guns drawn, burst into the room. “Hands up!” one of them yelled. Baker, Anderson, and the engineers had no choice but to obey. A few of the soldiers stepped forward to pat them down for weapons, pulling a Kahr PM9 from a shoulder holster under Dr. Demolles’ jacket and an old but well-maintained Colt Mustang Plus II from Anderson’s hip holster and a SIG Sauer P238 concealed at his ankle.

“My, my,” Liquid said, walking into the room, smirk plastered on his face and hands shoved deep in his pockets as the Genome Soldiers parted before him like the Red Sea before Moses. “I certainly hope the two of you were up-to-date on your conceal carry licenses. Or are those not required in Alaska?”

“Um, wh-what’s going on?” Emmerich said nervously.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Liquid put on foot on the table, resting his arms on his knee and leaning forward to sneer triumphantly at his hostages. “I’m claiming my birthright.”

Chapter Text

Meanwhile, halfway across the base, Meryl Silverburgh was running for her life.

She didn’t get very far. Even discounting FOXHOUND, it was still 149 versus one and while she managed to evade the other Genome Soldiers for a while, a small group of them finally cornered her in the commander’s room. She fumbled with her FAMAS, and one of them - she didn’t know which one under the standard-issue balaclava - snatched it away.

“Careful, now,” he said in a kindly voice, like a teacher trying to correct a frustrated student, “the commander won’t be happy with us if we get blood all over his office.”

Meryl surrendered, or at least pretended to while they escorted her to the holding cells in the first floor basement of the tank hangar building. As soon as the elevator door opened, she headbutted the man holding her arm and fled.

Again, didn’t get very far. There weren’t many places to hide in the tank hangar’s basement, and she ended up getting a gun pointed at her by the guard already standing by the holding cells. The rest of the soldiers caught up a second later, and after stripping her of the rest of her equipment (including the bulky temporary Codec she was marginally glad to get out of her ear, at least) and some of her clothes (it was a good thing that Meryl was practically immune to the cold, they had left her in just her tank top even if they’d let her keep her pants, boots, and gloves) she was herded into the empty holding cell and the door clanged definitively shut behind her.

There was a long silence, apart from the alone-again guard in front of the cells whistling as he paced back and forth. After about ten minutes, he wandered off in the direction of the bathroom.

“Young lady,” Meryl heard come from the cell next to her.

“Yes?” Meryl said uncertainly.

“Do you know what’s going on around here?” Sounded like the ArmsTech guy, Baker.

“No, not really,” Meryl said, “all of the other soldiers just went crazy all of a sudden. I mean, I knew they were all pretty resentful of something, but I never thought they’d try to take over the base. This was just supposed to be a training exercise… I only just joined up as a new recruit, I didn’t want to take part in any rebellion, so they threw me in here…”

“It’s that FOXHOUND commander, Liquid Snake,” Baker said, “he’s poisoned their minds. I’m sure he intends to threaten the U.S. - no, the entire world - with REX.”

“Oh…” Meryl frowned. “Yeah, with all the discarded nuclear warheads around here, he’s got a nuke stockpile to rival the government’s, doesn’t he? Oh man…” She didn’t want to say We’re doomed… out loud, but she was certainly feeling it nonetheless.

“Well, in order to activate it he’s going to need the codes,” Baker said, “or the cardkeys. I’m sure he’s going to come after me, I know one of the codes, but you…”

“Huh?”

“Hurry, while the guard’s still in the bathroom. Come to the window.”

Meryl walked up to the window in the door and peered through. She could see Baker holding his arm out between the bars of his own door’s window, waving a little cardkey.

“Take it,” he said insistently, “hide it, and keep it safe. We can’t let FOXHOUND get it.”

“Yes, sir,” Meryl said, reaching through her own bars. It was a good thing she was flexible, she practically had to dislocate her shoulder to reach Baker and even then he had to give the card a little toss in order to get it to Meryl’s hand and Meryl nearly cried out when it almost slipped through her fingers.

“Don’t tell anyone about it unless you’re sure they came here to take care of the situation,” Baker said.

“I won’t,” Meryl said, “not unless I know they’re one of the good guys.”

“Good. I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be around, young lady — they’ve already got the DARPA chief in the medical room, and I’m sure I saw a torture device in there. I know I’m going to be next.”

The guard returned. Meryl and Baker shut up.


Department A and Department B were gathered in a building at the supply port. They waited in nervous, whispered conversation while Ocelot and Liquid argued in a nearby room with Mantis silently watching them from a corner.

Demands?” Liquid said, “it doesn’t matter what our demands are, they’re not going to fill them.”

“The demands make it look realistic,” Ocelot said. “They’re going to suspect we’re up to something if we don’t present them with a list of demands.”

“Can’t our demand just be that they hand over Solid Snake?”

“No.”

“…okay. What sort of demands are they going to take seriously?” Liquid said grudgingly.

“Money,” Ocelot said. “Armaments.”

“…”

“Just throw a number out there, boss. Whatever you want.”

“One billion dollars,” Liquid blurted out.

“…” Ocelot pinched the bridge of his nose. “Just what kind of budget has FOXHOUND been working with the past five years, anyway…?”

“What??”

“Nevermind. Just money won’t suffice, there’ll be a nonzero chance that the government will just decide to give us the billion dollars and leave us here to try to fight the world alone on this island.”

“To be honest,” Liquid said, “I wouldn’t really mind that result.”

“I know,” Ocelot sighed. “But we need something to guarantee they’d rather try to take us out than acquiesce to our demands.”

Liquid paced for a moment, then said stopped, glanced at the closed door, and said, “Big Boss’ remains.”

“What?” Ocelot said, genuinely taken aback.

“The Genome Soldiers - we can use them as an excuse. With Big Boss’ genetic samples, they might be able to correct the errors in their gene therapy. Or, well, they would if we had any equipment for it - I suppose we can ask for that as well - or if we actually thought we might get any of these things, or if they weren’t as dumb as-“

“Demanding Big Boss’ remains will certainly get them to send Snake,” Ocelot interrupted, “if there’s one thing they can’t afford to hand over, it’s that.”

“And why is that?” Mantis finally spoke up.

“His DNA is… tactically significant.”

“That works for me,” Liquid said, and swept out of the room.

“Tactically significant?” Mantis said dryly, giving Ocelot a sharp look.

Ocelot nodded. “Tactically significant.”

“Must you be as unhelpful as possible?”

Liquid was addressing the engineers. “There’s no need for anyone to die senselessly,” he said, his voice loud and full of teeth, “in fact, I’d rather prefer if you didn’t. There’s no challenge or honor in gunning down defenseless scientists like yourself, so there’s no reason to worry about your safety.”

“Does this mean you’re going to let us go?” said someone from Department A in a small voice.

“Of course we will,” Liquid said brightly, “as soon as you’re all ready I’m going to put you all on a boat to Anchorage along with a list of our demands to the U.S. government. You should arrive tomorrow morning, and from then on the government will have 48 hours to respond or we’ll use REX to launch a nuke. The serial number of the nuke we’ll launch first will be included with our demands so they know we’re serious.”

“What about Mr. Baker?” said one of the Department B people.

“He’s staying with us - him and the DARPA chief. We do still need a few hostages. Oh, and speaking of…” his eyes roved over the crowd of engineers for a moment or two before settling on Emmerich, who went completely pale. “We’ll also need someone on hand just in case REX malfunctions. Emmerich, I’m afraid you’ll be staying with us. Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of you…”

Emmerich swallowed audibly.

“The rest of you,” Liquid continued, “grab your things and get ready to go. You’ll just be unnecessary dead weight if you stay here.” He signalled, and the Genome Soldiers lining the sides of the room stepped up to escort the scientists back to their quarters. “Don’t try anything,” Liquid called after them, “or you just might make me change my mind about extending mercy like this.”

Emmerich was left standing alone in the room with Liquid, who had Ocelot and Mantis standing behind him.

“You’re really… you’re really not going to sink their boat on the way to Anchorage or something, are you?” he said hesitantly.

“No,” Liquid said, “as of this afternoon the island is in a complete communications blackout. We need some way to relay our demands without compromising that.”

“A-And you won’t kill me as soon as you don’t need me anymore, will you?”

“As I said, there’s no challenge or honor in murdering a defenseless scientist,” Liquid said, “it’s just not fun. Don’t do anything to necessitate it, and I’ll let you live. I might even let you go once we’re done with you, if you cooperate well enough.”

“Yessir.”

“If you plan anything,” Mantis piped up, “I will know before you act.”

“Y-Yessir. Um… will I still be able to feed the dogs?”

Liquid and Mantis looked at each other. “As long as Wolf is there,” Liquid said, turning back to Emmerich. “Expect to be under constant supervision, Emmerich.”

Emmerich nodded mutely.

A Genome Soldier walked into the room and saluted Liquid. “Sir,” he said, “one of the new recruits refused to take part in the revolution and has been confined to one of the holding cells.”

“What?” Liquid said, raising his eyebrows, then glanced at Mantis again.

“…I will go see to this,” Mantis said.

“I’ll go with. Ocelot, you’re in charge of Emmerich. Do as you like with him for now but remember we need him coherent and intact.”

“Of course, boss,” Ocelot said. Liquid and Mantis followed the Genome Soldier back to the tank hangar building.

Liquid was mildly surprised when he looked into the holding cell with the insubordinate (or rather, refusing to be insubordinate) soldier in it. “Silverburgh?”

She jumped. “Liquid?” she said nervously, “what do you want?? Why are you doing this??”

Liquid didn’t answer her, just stepped back from the cell and turned to Mantis. “Explain yourself,” he said flatly.

“Hm…”

“She doesn’t have cybernetic implants, does she?”

“No,” Mantis said, “nor is she unusually strong-willed, at least compared to the average person. Still, I accounted for the replacement soldiers with stronger wills than the Genome Soldiers in the mass passive brainwashing.”

“Is it possible she’s like Ocelot?” Liquid said, “just naturally resistant to your powers?”

“No, no. I can still control her will any time I want. Watch.”

Liquid wasn’t actually watching, per se, but he did hear Meryl say “H-Huh? What the hell?!” right before a loud thunk and a “Wh-why did I just do that?!”, then another two thunks and “Why do I have an uncontrollable urge to walk into the wall?! Hey!! What’s going on-?!”

“I will stop now,” Mantis said, “but you get the point.”

“So… why didn’t the brainwashing work?”

Mantis stared at the floor for a moment, then looked up at him, blinking. “She’s a teenage girl,” he said, “all the other soldiers are grown men. Of course. Men’s and women’s brains work differently to begin with, and an 18-year-old’s brain isn’t going to be same as someone in their twenties or thirties or forties already — why didn’t that occur to me before? It was never going to work on her.”

“Oh, I see,” Liquid said, “that does explain why it was just her. Hang on a moment.” He walked back up to her cell and spoke to her. “Colonel Roy Campbell is your uncle, isn’t he?”

“Yes!” Meryl said. She was sitting on the bunk, rubbing her head where it had presumably smacked into the wall. “And when he hears about this, you’d better believe you’re going to pay for this!!”

“Duly noted. Be glad your relation to Campbell makes you a potentially useful hostage, Silverburgh, otherwise I’d rather just shoot you.”

“Wh—?”

“Well, you are a soldier, aren’t you? So I wouldn’t have any qualms about slitting your throat, unlike the other hostages. So you’d best behave yourself.”

“…”

“Hey, boss,” Octopus said, poking his head in the room, “those hostages you’re playing catch-and-release with are ready to go. Do you have the list of demands and stuff drawn up?”

“Ah, already?” Liquid said, “goddammit. I’ll go grab some paper and a pen, er- Mantis, go get me a serial number…”

“Wouldn’t a typed list be more professional-looking?” Octopus said as Liquid brushed past him.

“If you ask me, this would work best if I wrote it in blood,” Liquid said over his shoulder.


“Boss, I’d like to talk to Anderson alone,” Ocelot said.

Liquid narrowed his eyes. “Why?”

“Just for part of the interrogation.”

“I would rather-“

“He might not talk with you in the room.”

Liquid seemed unimpressed with Ocelot’s excuse. “Then I can watch and listen from outside the room. But anything he has to say to you can be said to me - even if I weren’t there I would still expect you to relay everything he said to me anyway.”

“Of course, boss. However…”

“What are you up to?”

“Nothing,” Ocelot claimed. “Nevermind. You can watch from outside the room, but it’s best I be the only person he can actually see. And anyway there’s no need for anyone else to be there, as a Patriot agent he’s going to have cybernetic implants as it is so Mantis will be useless and we’re the only two in the unit who are any good at interrogations.”

“…I’ll be keeping a close eye on you, Ocelot,” Liquid said, regarding him suspiciously, “and if you happen to say anything I can’t hear very well in the next room, and you don’t tell me exactly what was said—“

“I understand, boss. Anyway, I’d better start the interrogation soon. If I can break him then Anderson should be able to give us some very interesting information.”

“Mm.”

Of course Ocelot had already checked the acoustic transfer between the medical room and the room behind the two-way mirror. It was good enough that any conversation held at a normal volume would be decently audible but whispering and lowered voices would be largely incomprehensible. It was only natural that Ocelot would bait Liquid into insisting he watch from the other room instead of being in the room with Ocelot, since he was now under the impression that his only options were ‘other room’ or ‘absent entirely’.

Besides, as much as he had no moral or ethical objections to torture he wasn’t overly-fond of being in the same room while it was going on, particularly if Ocelot was the one doing it. He would have wanted to be in the other room anyway, Ocelot just needed to give him an excuse to do it as a “compromise” so he wouldn’t have to admit he was uncomfortable. That guaranteed he would choose being in the other room.

Anderson probably didn’t appreciate the nuance of any of this.

“And here I thought this sort of device lacked the personal touch you enjoy,” he said as Ocelot entered the room. He was already hooked into the electrocution device.

“Ah, well,” Ocelot said, “I am getting old, and I’d rather conserve my truth serum. As such, precision is important, and this is a very precise machine.”

“Hm. What is all this about, Ocelot?”

“Do you really have reason to believe it’s about anything other than what Liquid already told you?” He took a step forward, and lowered his voice enough that Liquid would only be able to hear him if he strained his ears. “I suppose you do have reason to believe I have a different motive here.”

Anderson also kept his voice low, although unintentionally - it was just the natural impulse of any person to match the volume of the person they were speaking to. “Don’t you always?”

Ocelot stepped back again, walking over to the console of the machine and setting it to a painful but safe amount of electricity. “You haven’t even asked about our demands yet.”

“It doesn’t matter to me.”

“Well, I’d be interested in hearing your opinion on the likelihood of the government acceding to us. After all, we really would hate to launch a nuke.”

“This is insane, Ocelot.”

Ocelot gave him an unpleasant smile. “One billion dollars, various mint-condition vehicles and armaments, equipment to continue the Next-Generation Special Forces’ gene therapy, and the remains of Big Boss.”

Anderson’s eyes widened. “The remains of Big Boss? Ocelot, you know that’s-“

He was cut off with a scream as Ocelot hit the button. It only lasted a few seconds, but once that was done and Anderson had caught his breath enough to open his mouth to talk, Ocelot pressed it again and electrocuted him until he had screamed so much that his throat gave out.

Good. Ocelot relented. From now on Anderson’s voice was going to be so hoarse and quiet that Liquid wasn’t going to be able to hear anything he was saying and was just going to have to take Ocelot’s word on anything.

“It doesn’t matter if you have a nuke or not,” Anderson whispered painfully, “it doesn’t matter how many nukes you have. We’re not going to hand Big Boss over to you.”

“You know,” Ocelot whispered in turn, walking over to him and leaning too close for Anderson to be comfortable, “I wouldn’t mind just getting a location.”

“Absolutely not. We’re not going to wake him up for you.”

“Really?” Ocelot said in a normal volume, stepping back over to the console again and electrocuting Anderson again for a moment. “And why not?”

Anderson coughed. “Forty years ago I would have agreed in a heartbeat, Ocelot. Hell, thirty years ago. But he changed too much. Bring him back and he’ll only plunge the world into war-“ He cut himself off on his own, eyeing Ocelot’s finger hovering over the shock button. “Not what you want to hear, huh?”

“You’re not going to tell me anything I want to hear,” Ocelot said. “Figured I’d try anyway. Now, about those detonation codes…?”

“No,” Anderson said, “no way.”

“Come now, Sigint, you know how good I am at this. It may take some time, but I can and will break you eventually.”

“…”

“You might as well tell me now.”

“I’d rather hold out as long as I can, thank you.”

“Tough man,” Ocelot said, fiddling with the controls again, verging on lethality now. “Zero made a good decision, leaving you in charge of the Patriots,” he whispered.

Despite everything, Anderson laughed humorlessly once. “I wouldn’t really call them in my control. The AIs…”

“Different ideas of how to run the world, hmm?”

“I was the one who made the decision to fund Metal Gear,” Anderson coughed, “despite JD concluding it was an unnecessary and subversive project. But that’s been my focus these past few years. That’s why I didn’t identify EVA in the system when she was on the news after that CDC incident.” He sagged in his restraints, sighing hoarsely. “I didn’t want to draw attention to myself… and besides, I never agreed with any of the ethnic cleansing or biological weapon stuff. If I’d known about FOXDIE before then, I would have done all I could to override the order for it.”

“And could you even do that?” Ocelot asked him softly, “I’m afraid I don’t know much about how far the AIs will bend to a mortal’s will. You removed EVA and I from its guest list half a decade ago.”

“I… I don’t know.”

Zap.

“R-Really! I don’t know! I’ve never tried… I’ve been afraid to try, in case I found out I couldn’t…”

Ocelot turned his back to him, in full view of the room next door now. “Tell me your detonation code,” he said in the same volume as before, although Liquid would be able to read his lips at this distance.

“No. No.”

He turned back to Anderson. “John is being held, isn’t he? He was ready to wake up years ago. All you need to do is release him.”

Anderson shook his head.

“Well, it doesn’t matter if you don’t,” Ocelot hissed, “if we take down the network keeping him held in his coma, he’ll wake up. Simple as that.”

“The whole system… Ocelot, there’s no way—“

“For John I could. You know that. And I’m going to use his sons to do it, too.”

“You were never going to be handed Big Boss on a silver platter just because you convinced Liquid to highjack a Metal Gear and take over Shadow Moses. You know that.”

“Yes, I do. Now, tell me the detonation code.”

Anderson grit his teeth, and finally his eyes flicked up to the mirror behind Ocelot. “That’s a two-way mirror. Liquid’s back there, isn’t he?”

“He is,” Ocelot confirmed.

“How much does he know?”

“Enough.”

There was a pause, then Anderson took a deep breath. “Ocelot’s with the Patriots,” he shouted at the window, “he’s going to sell you all ou-“

Ocelot hit the electrocution button again. Anderson’s body convulsed.

As soon as the current stopped he gathered his strength and yelled again. “He’s been with the Patriots since-“

“He already knows, Sigint,” Ocelot said patiently. “He and his whole unit want the world rid of the Patriots as bad as I do.”

Anderson gave him a wide-eyed look, then tried one more time.

“Big Boss will never—!”

Ocelot’s elbow bumped the amperage up to certainly lethal levels a split second before he hit the button to electrocute Anderson again.

Chapter Text

Liquid stared at Anderson’s body, sagging from bones broken by uncontrollable muscle contractions and skin blistered and charred, with his arms crossed and his brow furrowed. He turned to Ocelot and glared at him.

A full ten seconds passed before Ocelot opened his mouth to defend himself.

“You fool!” Liquid snapped before Ocelot could get a word out. “You’ve killed him!!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Ocelot said.

“What was he about to say?” Mantis, who had joined Liquid in the room next to the medical room halfway through the interrogation, “something about Big Boss…”

“And didn’t sound like it had much to do with his remains. Ocelot, what the hell is going on here?”

“I’m not sure,” Ocelot said, “I only interrupted him because I assumed the rest of the sentence did have to do with his remains. After all, Big Boss’ death was confirmed, wasn’t it?”

Liquid and Mantis exchanged a look.

“There wasn’t another body double, was there?” Liquid said, eyes narrowed.

“No, boss. I assure you I would know if there were.” He turned back to Anderson’s body. “It was an accident.”

“Of course it was,” Mantis said sarcastically. Liquid gave him a sharp look.

“Mantis, we saw what happened. I don’t think it’s really all that feasible to change the voltage on this thing with one’s elbow on purpose.”

“This is Ocelot we are talking about,” Mantis said, gesturing to him furiously.

“Actually, boss, it was the amperage, not voltage,” Ocelot calmly said at the same time.

“Not a word from you right now, Ocelot,” Liquid snapped.

“Yes, sir.”

Liquid frowned at him for a moment, then sighed irritably and said, “I didn’t catch most of the interrogation, what did he say?”

“He didn’t give me the detonation code, so if worse comes to worst we aren’t going to have access to REX’s nuclear launching capabilities,” Ocelot said. “I did get out of him why he didn’t turn EVA in to the Patriots when he saw her on the news following your infiltration of the CDC.”

“Wait, that was a risk?” Liquid said.

“Yes. There aren’t many people out there who would have been able to identify EVA, but Anderson - or Sigint, as he was known - was one of them, and really the only one with the Patriots. However, he kept his mouth shut.”

“Why?”

“Internal squabbling, what else?” Ocelot said, “he didn’t like the fact that the Patriots were developing a biological weapon. The destruction of FOXDIE was, in his eyes, no great loss.”

“I see…”

“Is that really all you talked about?” Mantis said suspiciously.

“Yes, of course it is. And if it makes you feel any better, boss, we shouldn’t have suffered a Patriot agent like him to live long in the first place.”

“It’s still troublesome that you killed him in the middle of an interrogation,” Liquid retorted, “you, of all people. I thought you were better than that.”

“I’m… sorry, sir.”

“Plus we may need an Anderson around for negotiations - or, perhaps, if the Patriots find out our most important hostage is dead already they’re going to launch a full-on assault on us instead of sending in Snake on an infiltration mission. Nevermind the fact that that ruins our plan with Snake, we don’t have the capability to repel a full assault.”

“They think we can use the nukes here,” Mantis pointed out. “They should err on the side of caution.”

“They might assume Anderson failed to give us his detonation code before being killed.” He gave Anderson’s corpse a look of great distaste, then Ocelot. “Correctly assume, that is.”

“I don’t know what to say, boss,” Ocelot said. “It really was an accident.”

“Forget it.” Liquid stalked out of the room, grumbling. “Just take care of the body, Ocelot. Tell Octopus to get the blood he needs before you do, though - as I said, we might need an Anderson around for negotiations, or for Snake to encounter. We don’t want him getting suspicious before we spring our trap…”

“Of course, sir.”

“Eli, you saw that,” Mantis said as he followed Liquid into the elevator. “Anderson tried to out Ocelot as a Patriot agent. He said he was going to sell us out.”

“And you heard Ocelot tell him that we already know he’s ostensibly with the Patriots,” Liquid said dismissively, “Anderson didn’t know that already. It was useless information.”

“He is not ‘ostensibly’ with the Patriots,” Mantis snapped, stepping in front of Liquid and leaning close. Liquid didn’t move back at all. “He is with the Patriots, Eli, and he is going to sell us out. Just you wait.”

“He wants the Patriots gone as his own revenge for the Zanzibar Land disturbance,” Liquid said. “I don’t much care for his motive but he’s on our side.”

Mantis lost his temper, snarling and pushing a mildly alarmed Liquid back against the back wall of the elevator as roughly as he had the physical strength for. “You naïve—“

The elevator dinged and its doors slid open. Both of them froze. “Is now really the time for this?” Octopus said, blinking.

Liquid ducked under Mantis’ arm and away from him. “No,” he said brusquely, throwing a glare over his shoulder at Mantis as he strode off. “No, it isn’t.”

“…that was not what it looked like just now,” Mantis said stiffly.

“Sure,” Octopus said, “and the boss hasn’t been having a manic episode since November. Are you planning on staying in the elevator all day?”


“That was foolish of you,” Wolf said, picking Hal up by the scruff of his jacket after she shooed away the Genome Soldiers with her rifle.

“They were-“ Hal started, wiping blood off his face with his hands, “they were going to shoot the dogs—“

“I stopped them, don’t worry about it,” Wolf said, setting him on his feet. “If any of those incompetent soldiers did shoot any of the wolfdogs, I would shoot them myself.”

“Yeah, I kind of figured, but you weren’t here right then so I-“

“They might have shot you if I did not get here in time,” she said sharply, then sighed, staring at his bloody nose. “Do you remember which of them it was that hit you with the butt of his rifle? I can report him to Liquid, he won’t be happy with them roughing up any of the hostages.”

Hal winced at the word ‘hostage’, but shook his head. “I couldn’t tell you, they’re all wearing balaclavas…”

“Well, it is cold out,” Wolf said, “I mean, I do not think it’s so bad because I did some training in Nepal a few years ago, but they just came here from Guam. It is little wonder that they would wear their heavy winter uniforms constantly.” She pulled a handkerchief out of her pocket and handed it to Hal. “Here, clean yourself up.”

“H-Huh?”

“You have blood all over your face, clean yourself up. And go ahead and keep the handkerchief, I do not want it back all stained.”

“Oh, uh… but…”

Wolf walked off. At least she trusted him enough to leave him alone with the dogs for a few minutes? Then again, the dogs would probably bark if he tried to escape or anything… Hal looked down at himself. Jeans, tennis shoes, and a thin button-up jacket weren’t exactly a great ensemble for escaping in, even without the blizzard brewing over the horizon. Sure, he’d gotten used enough to sub-zero temperatures that he was fine for now, but…

Well… he should be fine anyway, shouldn’t he? Liquid had promised his safety and eventual freedom if he cooperated, and while he wasn’t sure he could trust Liquid he did think as he looked down at the handkerchief in his numb hands that Wolf would make sure Liquid kept his promises. She was pretty nice. Hal didn’t dare entertain the possibility that she actually liked him but he thought she was a good person.

He put her handkerchief in his pocket without using it, wiping his nose on the sleeve of his jacket instead. Once he got back his quarters somehow he would change into his thick, wool-lined hoodie anyway.

Just in case.


Twin Lakes, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska.
Three hours since released hostages arrived in Anchorage.

Solid Snake woke up the sound of all fifty of his dogs barking their heads off.

It was early afternoon but it wasn’t the right time of year for hunters, so in an instant he was off the couch, gun in hand, and cautiously approaching his front door. Paranoid? Maybe. But maybe also it was better to keep his razor-sharp instincts honed even in his self-imposed exile from the rest of the world. If nothing else it let him cling to a modicum of safety no matter how hard his PTSD tried to rip that away from him.

But it seemed his paranoia was justified. After all, dogs barking at a passing animal usually aren’t interrupted with the distinctive squeal of being kicked in the side.

A moment later the door was busted open, along with the shutters on each window, and a full dozen armed-to-the-teeth special forces soldiers poured into Solid’s house. It wasn’t a large house so with operators closing in on every side Solid didn’t have anywhere to hide, but between about twenty dogs lunging at the soldiers, growling, teeth snapping, and Solid firing his gun at one of them - succeeding only in bowling him over, he was wearing a bulletproof vest - he managed to buy himself just under thirty seconds.

But once those thirty seconds were up he was on the floor, disarmed, boot pressed against his head, eleven guns trained on every part of his body. His dogs surrounded the group of soldiers, growling and barking but not attempting to advance, clearly sensing that Solid would be in danger if they did.

The soldier Solid had shot stood up, brushed himself off, and approached him. “We aren’t here to fight,” he said, “we only need you to come with us.”

“Go to hell,” Solid spat against the dirty, scuffed wood of his floor.

“It’s a top-secret mission and you’re the only one who can handle it,” the soldier continued as though he hadn’t spoke, “the whole world is in danger from these terrorists.”

“I’m retired.”

“If we had any other choice, we’d take that. Come with us.”

If Solid had any other choice, he’d take that.


Ohio-class nuclear submarine USS Discovery, Gulf of Alaska. 600 miles and twenty hours from Shadow Moses.
Four hours since released hostages arrived in Anchorage.

“It’s been a long time, Snake.”

Solid scowled at his former commander. “I should’ve known you were behind this, Colonel.”

“That’s no way to greet an old war buddy, Snake,” Colonel Campbell said with a dry chuckle.

“What do you want from me?”

“I just invited you here so we could talk.”

“Invited!?” Solid growled. “That’s what call sending armed soldiers after me?” They’d bruised him, broken his doors and windows, and worst of all, kicked one of his dogs.

“Sorry if they were a little rough with you,” Colonel Campbell said. Solid did not feel any better. “But we’ve got a serious situation here. Only you can get us out of it.”

“I’m retired from FOXHOUND. You’re not my commander anymore, and I don’t have to take orders from you or anyone else.”

“You will take these orders,” Colonel Campbell said, “I know it.”

“Excuse me,” said a rather short, moustached man with a thick accent, sidling up to Snake with a syringe in hand and taking his arm.

“Who’s this?” Solid said as the man injected him with something.

“Dr. Vihaan Patel,” Colonel Campbell said, “he’s part of FOXHOUND’s medical staff. I wanted to get the recently-installed chief, Dr. MacCulloch, but this was extremely short-notice and she was very busy. However, Dr. Patel should prove a competent replacement.”

“I’ve been contracted to FOXHOUND for seven years now,” Dr. Patel said helpfully.

Solid grunted. “Contracted? You’re not military, then?”

“No, I’m civilian. I technically work for ATGC, like most of FOXHOUND’s medical team.” He prepared another syringe.

“What’s the shot for?” Solid asked.

Dr. Patel opened his mouth to explain, but Colonel Campbell cut across him: “We can get to that later, Snake. Listen up. It all went down five hours ago…”

“Liquid Snake,” Colonel Campbell said, “the man with the same codename as you.”

“Tell me what you know,” Solid said.

“He fought in the Gulf War as a teenager, the youngest person in the SAS,” Colonel Campbell said, pacing back and forth slowly. “His job was to track down and destroy mobile Scud missile launching platforms. You were there too, I believe. Didn’t you infiltrate western Iraq with a platoon of Green Berets?”

“I was just a kid myself back then,” Solid muttered.

“The details are classified, but it seems that originally he penetrated the Middle Easter as a sleeper for the SIS.”

“He was a spy for the British Secret Intelligence Service?”

“But he never once showed his face in Century House,” Colonel Campbell said flatly. “He was taken prisoner in Iraq, and after that there was no trace of him for several years, at least until he cropped up as a member of a certain merc agency…”

“Don’t tell me… Outer Heaven again?”

“Exactly. Rumor has it that it was Big Boss himself who rescued him, but then again there are a lot of rumors about him concerning his time with Outer Heaven. I don’t believe most of them.”

“Hrm.”

“He ended up leaving the agency immediately following the Outer Heaven incident, when you retired, and within six months he was a new member of FOXHOUND.”

“I thought by the time I left they were no longer using codenames.”

“I don’t know his real name. That information is so highly classified I can’t even look at it,” Colonel Campbell said, then picked up a little square of stiff paper and handed it to Solid. “Here’s a photo of him.”

He was an attractive blond with long hair pulled back into a ponytail at the nape of his neck and few small, faded scars on his face, the most noticeable of which neatly split his left eyebrow. He was wearing a commander’s uniform that Solid was much more used to seeing Colonel Campbell - or Big Boss - in, although somehow it seemed out of place on him… maybe it was the way he was holding himself, not quite looking at the camera and like his whole body was comprised of nothing but coiled tension waiting to strike. He looked like he should be wearing plain fatigues, or maybe nothing at all, if the strange raw, primal, almost feral energy even his photograph exuded was anything to go by. Or, at least, if the leather collar at his neck was anything to go by. Kinky.

But that wasn’t the most striking thing about him.

“Pretty shocking, huh?” Colonel Campbell said, “his skin tone is a bit different, but otherwise you two are exact duplicates.”

What, did Colonel Campbell think that Liquid bleached his hair? It looked natural to Solid, although admittedly Liquid’s eyebrows were fairly dark. But Colonel Campbell was right, they did share a face, and body type too. “I have a twin?” Solid said incredulously.

“I don’t know the details, but it seems so. That’s why we really need you. You’re the only one who can beat him.”

“I agree,” Dr. Patel said, “you have something Liquid doesn’t. I can see it in your eyes.”

“Why don’t I find that thought more comforting?” Solid wondered out loud.

“By the way,” Solid asked Dr. Patel, “what were those injections for?”

“The first one was anti-freezing peptide so that your blood and other bodily fluids don’t freeze in these sub-arctic temperatures,” he said cheerfully, “the second was a cocktail of nanomachines.”

“Nanomachines?”

“Yes, designed by a former member of the medical team. Although, she’s dead now… but that’s beside the point. These nanomachines will replenish the sugar, adrenaline, and miscellaneous nutrition in your bloodstream. Additionally, I added in some nootropics to improve your mental functioning.”

“Huh… anything else?”

“Benzedrine to keep you alert and responsive for twelve hours,” Dr. Patel said. “However, the nanomachines will keep that on a delayed release so that it does not kick in until you’ve been launched. Same thing with the nanomachines keeping your Codec batteries charged - they’ll only last for about twelve hours as well, so they’ll be inert until the terrorists’ countdown reaches 24 hours.”

“So, when we get there…”

Solid gave his hair a quick, inelegant trim - he’d let it grow quite long over the past couple years in Alaska, but now he was leery that he’d get mixed up with the terrorist leader. Which, in another mission, would be more useful than anything else, but since he didn’t know anything about Liquid’s personality and mannerisms that was more likely to put him right in the middle of a situation he’d have a hard time getting himself out of. He pulled back what remained of his hair in his customary bandana and picked up the sneaking suit they’d provided him.

It was kind of weird. Last time they’d pulled him out of retirement he’d had to wear standard fatigues, but maybe wearing a sneaking suit was kind of like riding a bicycle - your body never forgot. It fit easily, like a second skin — which was the weird part. These suits had be custom-tailored, and while he would have guessed that they’d just used his measurements from back when he’d been with FOXHOUND, he really didn’t think they’d had the time to do that. Plus that would mean that he’d lost some muscle in his thighs, which didn’t seem all that likely to him.

Also, judging by how snugly it fit down there, this sneaking suit had been made for someone with a flatter butt than Solid had. At least the fabric it was made out of precluded tension-ripping, no matter how acrobatic a move Solid might have to make.


“Twenty-four hours left,” Liquid said, glancing at the clock as he walked by. “Snake should be arriving any minute now.”

“Going to go warn the Genome Soldiers?” Wolf said.

“The most likely infiltration point is going to be the docks - they’re not going to dare approach by air or ‘land’, so that leaves sea. A submarine, most likely. A boat would be too obvious. They’d launch an SDV from there.”

“I’ll trust your judgement on that… by the way, Octopus says-“

“—he wants some sort of compensation for playing an overweight person again, yes, I’m well aware. He can suck it up, he won’t be in that disguise for long. Either this ends in the next few hours or our deadline comes and the government realizes that we’re only bluffing and bombs us to hell.”

“This is a hardened base,” Wolf said, “perhaps we could survive a siege.”

“I doubt it. They’re the ones who built this place, so they’re the ones who are going to know exactly what they’d need to blow it up.”

He stepped into the elevator and rode it down, leaving Wolf on the floor above. Warning the Genome Army to be vigilant wasn’t going to accomplish much - Wolf’s demonstration earlier had thoroughly destroyed any hope in them being anything other than a minor obstacle for Solid that might buy FOXHOUND precious seconds if they needed it - but Liquid wasn’t a patient man and was half-hoping that scoping out the docks himself just might result in him being able to ambush Solid early.

The Genome Soldiers saluted as he walked by, mostly ignoring them. He went up to the edge of the water and stared down into it, his breath fogging in front of his face. It was dark. That was a given, of course, it was the middle of the night and there was a blizzard raging outside anyway, and even then the water was probably sort of murky to begin with, but… he couldn’t see anything, not even bubbles rising to the surface that might indicate someone swimming underwater.

His phone rang.

“It’s me,” he said, “what’s going on over there?"

“The radar just picked up some aircraft coming in from the north,” Raven said. “Likely from Galena Air Force Station, probably F-16 Fighting Falcons.”

“I see. I’ll take care of them, then.”

“…are you sure? Our only aircraft is a Hind D.”

“Don’t underestimate me. And be warned that by the time I get back, Snake will probably already be on the island.”

“…of course, boss.”

He walked back to the elevator, unable to keep a spring out of his step, and pressed the button to head up to the helipad with a little more force than necessary. “Stay alert,” he called to the Genome Soldiers as the elevator ascended, “he’ll be through here, I know it. …I’m going to go swat down a couple of bothersome flies.”

Chapter Text

“By the way, how’s the diversionary operation going?”

“Two F-16s just took off from Galena and are headed your way. The terrorists’ radar should have picked them up by now.”

Cautiously Solid edged to the corner of the storage crate he was hiding behind and peered out towards the helipad. There was a helicopter parked there, standing by it a small group of soldiers like the ones by the dock, along with Liquid Snake, whom Solid almost didn’t recognize out of the commander’s uniform - instead he was wearing a rather unremarkable long brown coat that seemed even at this distance, in a way Solid couldn’t quite place, to be somewhat worn. Liquid was climbing into the helicopter and saying something to the Genome Soldiers that Solid couldn’t hear at this distance.

“A Hind D?” Solid said, keeping his voice low anyway, “Colonel, what’s a Russian gunship doing here?”

“I have no idea… it’s recorded on the list of equipment brought in with the Genome Army at the start of the exercise, but usually you’d expect the military to lend them a Black Hawk or an Apache. But anyway, it looks like our little diversion got their attention. Now’s your best chance to slip in unnoticed.”

Solid watched as the helicopter took to the air, snow billowing around it, and wondered if whatever government official had signed off on a Hind D had really gotten it via any branch of the United States Armed Forces… and if they’d known what it was going to be used for. Colonel Campbell said something about how Solid had to hurry up as the Genome Soldiers either saluted or shielded their eyes from the whipping wind as the Hind D disappeared into the whirling snowstorm above them.

“Wow,” came a new voice over Codec, a young-sounding woman with a Chinese accent, “he must be crazy to fly a Hind in this kind of weather.”

“Who’s that?” Solid said.

“Oh, sorry, I haven’t introduced you two yet,” Colonel Campbell said, “this is Mei Ling…”


“…please tell me you’re joking,” Ocelot said.

“No,” Raven said.

“…” Ocelot rubbed his forehead. “It’s like his brain has a switch that’s permanently set to Make the worst, most reckless decision possible.”

“Explains a lot about his relationship with you,” Mantis said snidely.

“Mantis, you don’t need to be here,” Ocelot said, “Baker has cybernetic implants… as you just unceremoniously found out.”

Mantis grumbled, but stalked off, turning on his stealth camouflage as he walked through the door. Raven watched him go with a frown.

“Have the two of you ever gotten along, General Ivan?” Raven said.

“We were quite close at the KGB, actually,” Ocelot said dryly, “and if you’re going to call me that then I insist you pronounce it properly. It’s ‘ih-vahn’, not ‘eye-van’. You should know that already. Anyway, I’d better get back to my interrogation.”

“Is there any information that Baker can give us that the engineer cannot?”

“None that would be useful now that the DARPA chief is dead. Still, I intend to leave him where Snake can find him, so I’d best give him a good story to tell…”


Belly-crawling through the vent on the second floor of the disposal facility, Solid’s Codec rang. Frequency 140.38 - not someone who’d called him already today. Interesting. He picked up.

“Snake,” said a voice he hadn’t heard in years. “It’s… been a while.”

“Master?” Solid said in surprise, hoping his voice wouldn’t echo too much through the duct, “what are you doing here?”

“I moved out here after my daughter went off to college for some peace and quiet. You remember Catherine?”

“Oh, yep. She’d be about nineteen now, wouldn’t she?”

“Yeah. Got into a good school in North Carolina, so I figured there wasn’t much reason for me to stay in Los Angeles. Plus, out here I can help train local scouts once in a while.”

“Passing on the skills to a new generation, huh?”

“Campbell called a few hours ago and told me about the situation here,” Miller said, “I figured you’d be in the base by now, so I thought I might make myself useful.”

“There’s no one I’d rather have in a foxhole than you.”

Miller chuckled at the comment. “You’ve lived in Alaska longer than I have,” he said, “but I imagine I’ve learned more about the flora and fauna here than you ever bothered to. General survival techniques, too. Call me if you have any questions.” He paused thoughtfully, and didn’t hang up.

“Master?” Solid prompted.

“Huh? …oh, nothing, Snake. Give Liquid a good kick in the ass for me, will you?”

“Uh… sure…”


“Aircraft approaching,” Raven said, scrutinizing the radar display in the command room. “Just one.”

“An F-16 or a Hind?” Wolf said, frowning.

“Difficult to say…”

“It’s Eli,” Mantis said without glancing at the screen, “I can sense him.”

“So he really shot down two fighter jets with a helicopter…” Wolf said, “honestly, I am impressed.”

“He should be back soon,” Raven said, “which one of us will get the pleasure of telling him that three of the Genome Soldiers are already dead?”

“I will handle it,” said Mantis, “there is just one thing…”

“…how they died?” Wolf said, “the fact that it was cutting wounds instead of broken necks or bullets…”

“Perhaps Snake was using a knife,” Raven said.

“Too big for a knife,” Wolf said. “It was… more like a chokuto.”


Solid carefully moved the grating on the vent into the second holding cell, after passing over the one with a pretty redhead doing some exercises, and dropped into the cell. The man sitting on the bed - sort of stocky, wearing a tie, probably in his mid-sixties but sometimes that could be hard to estimate when it came to black people - jumped up.

“Who… who- who’s that?”

“I’m here to save you,” Solid said, raising his hands non-threateningly, “you’re the DARPA chief, Donald Anderson, right?”

“You’re here to save me, huh?” the DARPA chief said, “what’s your outfit?”

“I’m the pawn they sent here to save your worthless butt.”

“Really?” He looked Solid up and down for half a moment, then frowned and said, “it’s true… you don’t look like one of them.”

He must not have talked directly to Liquid, then, Solid thought.

“In that case, hurry up and get me out of here.”

“Slow down,” Solid said. “Don’t worry. First I want some information… about the terrorists.”

“The terrorists?”

“Do they really have the ability to launch a nuke?”

“What are you talking about?”

“The terrorists are threatening the White House,” Solid explained, “they say if they don’t accede to their demands they’ll launch a nuclear weapon.”

The DARPA chief sat down on his bed again, heavily. “Sweet Jesus…” he mumbled.

“Is it possible?!” Solid demanded.

“…it’s possible,” the DARPA chief said somberly, “they… could launch a nuke.”

“How do they plan to launch? I thought this place was just for keeping the dismantled warheads. They shouldn’t have access to a missile…”

“What I’m about to tell you is classified information. Okay?” The DARPA chief gave him a sharp look. “We were conducting exercises of a new type of experimental weapon. A weapon that will change the world.”

“What?”

“A weapon with the ability to launch a nuclear attack from any place on the face of the earth. A nuclear equipped walking battle tank.”

“Metal Gear!?” Solid said, taking a step back. “It can’t be!”

The DARPA chief looked at him again in surprise. “You knew?! Metal Gear is one of the most secret black projects! How did you know that?”

“We’ve… had a couple run-ins in the past,” Solid said, composing himself. “So that’s the reason you were here at this disposal site?”

“Why else would I come to a god-forsaken place like this?” the DARPA chief groaned, covering his face with his hands.

“I’d heard the Metal Gear project was scrapped.”

“On the contrary,” the DARPA chief said, looking up again. “It’s grown into a huge joint project between ArmsTech and ourselves. We were going to use this exercise as raw data and then proceed to mass production. If it hadn't been for the revolution…”

“Revolution…?”

“REX has fallen into the hands of the terrorists,” the DARPA chief said as if Solid hadn’t said anything.

“REX?”

“Metal Gear REX, the codename for the new Metal Gear prototype. They're probably already finished aiming the warhead they plan to use with REX. These guys are pros. They're all experienced in handling and equipping weapons.”

Solid heard about two careful footsteps just outside the door and just barely ducked into its blind spot before the guard’s face appeared at the window, banging on the door as he did.

“Hey!” he said, “shut up in there, will ya?!”

The DARPA chief just shrugged at him. The guard gave him a suspicious look, but walked off again. Solid breathed a sigh of relief.

“But I thought all nuclear warheads were equipped with safety measures,” he said, “some kind of detonation code you need to input.”

“Oh, you mean PAL,” the DARPA chief said. “Yes, of course, there is a PAL. It's set up so that you need to input two different passwords in order to launch the device.”

“There are two passwords?”

“Yes. Baker knows one, and I know one.”

“Baker? The president of ArmsTech?” Solid would have thought that sort of thing would be left to government types…

“That’s right,” the DARPA chief said. “Each of us has to input our password or there can be no launch. But…” he sighed, cringing. “They found out my password.”

“You talked?” Solid said, his eyebrows drawing together.

“Psycho Mantis can read people’s minds,” the DARPA chief said, gesturing towards his head. “You can’t resist.”

“Psycho Mantis?”

“One of the members of FOXHOUND. He has psychic powers.”

Right. Solid remembered hearing about him during the briefing. Granted, the only thing really mentioned was that he was a psychic, but still. He frowned. “…this is bad…”

“It’s just a matter of time before they get Baker’s, too,” the DARPA chief declared gravely.

“If they find out Baker’s password…”

“Yes. They’ll be able to launch a nuke anytime. But— there is a way to stop the launch.”

“What?” Solid said, blinking.

“The cardkeys.”

Solid stared at him. Cardkeys? He’d sworn to himself back in 1999 that if he ever saw another cardkey as long as he lived, he’d shoot himself on the spot. Then again, he’d sworn a lot of things back in 1999.

“They were designed by ArmsTech, the systems developers, as an emergency override,” the DARPA chief went on, “even without the passwords, you can just insert the cardkeys and engage the safety lock.”

“And if I do that?”

“Yes. You can stop the launch.”

There was a quiet sound from the cell next to them. Solid glanced at the wall, but elected to ignore it for now. “So where are the keys?”

“Baker should have them,” the DARPA chief said. “Listen. You need three card keys. There are three different slots to put them in. You need to insert a card into each one of them.”

“Okay,” Solid said, “three cardkeys. Do you know where they might be keeping Baker?”

“Somewhere in the second floor basement,” the DARPA chief replied without stopping to give it much thought. Someone must have told him.

“Second floor basement?”

“I heard the guard say they moved him to an area that has a lot of electronic jamming.”

“…any other clues?”

“Yes... they cemented over the entrances but but didn't have enough time to paint over them. Why don't you look for the areas where the walls are a different color?” He got up and fished something out of his pocket, then handed it to Solid, who looked at it quizzically. “Here, take this,” he said, “it’s my ID card. It'll open any level one security door. It's called a PAN card. It works together with your body's own electrical field.”

“Personal Area Network, huh?” Solid said, vaguely wondering why such a VIP only had level one security access. Or maybe he was just usually accompanied by people with higher security cards anyway…

“It transmits data using the salts in your body as the transmission medium. As you approach the door's security devices they'll read the data stored in the card.”

“And the doors will open automatically, gotcha. Okay. I'm going to get you out of here.”

“Wait a minute,” the DARPA chief said.

“What is it?” Solid said. Although, he hadn’t really considered just how he was going to get the DARPA chief out of here yet, anyway.

“You haven’t heard of another way to disarm the PAL, have you?” the DARPA chief said, almost carelessly, “from your bosses or anyone.”

“No,” Solid said.

“Are you sure you haven’t heard anything?”

“I just said no.”

“So, does the White House plan to give in to the terrorists’ demands?” the DARPA chief said. Solid frowned again. He would have called the DARPA chief oddly insistent on this if it weren’t for his almost too casual tone of voice.

“That’s their problem,” Solid said, “it has nothing to do with my orders.”

“Do you know what they plan to do if you don’t make it back?”

“No idea. Not making it back really isn’t an option for me.”

“You really don’t know? Are you sure?”

“I wasn’t told.”

“I guess I can’t help but be worried…” the DARPA chief sighed. “Well, you’d better go. Now that I think about it, you should leave me here.”

“But-“

“I’d only slow you down, and the nuke’s more important,” the DARPA chief said, “besides, we’re on an island. How am I supposed to escape even with your help? I’d never make it over that glacier.”

“Glacier?”

“Just leave me here. The terrorists won’t bother me, they’ve already gotten what they want. Just don’t forget to come back and get me once everything’s over.”

“…right,” Solid said, “hang on.” He took a knee and called Colonel Campbell on Codec. “The chief’s safe and sound,” he said.

“Good,” Colonel Campbell said, “but he’s probably right. It would be better to just leave him in the cell until a more convenient opportunity to arrange his escape.”

“He’s not injured, is he?” said Dr. Patel, “most likely he’s been interrogated by Ocelot. That usually isn’t pretty, from what I’ve heard.”

“He looks fine,” Solid said.

“Then go find Baker,” Colonel Campbell said, “get those cardkeys from him. And while you’re at it…”

“Meryl?”

“Just make sure she’s safe. Thanks.”

Solid hung up and stood. “Alright,” he said to the DARPA chief, “you stay put. I’ll shut down that nuke.”

“Good luck,” the DARPA chief said, sitting back down on the bed.

Solid was about to jump up and grab the edge of the still-open vent in order to climb back into the ducts when he heard a commotion coming from the cell next door.

“What the hell?” the DARPA chief said, his voice sounding a little… off for just a second there.

“Hang on,” Solid said, “let me check-“

The door to the DARPA chief’s cell opened seemingly on its own. The DARPA chief glanced at Solid, but Solid motioned for him to stay put (which he did) and crept towards the door.

The guard from earlier was totally unconscious on the floor, face-down ass-up, and stripped completely naked. Solid blanched. Not what he wanted to see at this time of night, at least without a few drinks and some cheesy pickup lines first.

“Don’t move!” said a woman behind him. “Who are you?”

Solid turned around, arms up, to see that the woman was wearing a Genome Army uniform and was pointing a FAMAS at his nose. “Liquid?!” she said, taken aback, then squinted at him, “no… you’re not…”

Solid moved to step back, but it startled the woman and she twitchily curled her finger around the trigger, not pulling it yet but definitely thinking about it. The gun trembled in her grasp.

“Is this the first time you’ve ever pointed a gun at a person?” Solid asked. “Your hands are shaking.”

The woman gasped, glancing to the side skittishly. Solid grabbed the barrel of the gun and pushed it against his chest.

“Can you shoot me, rookie?” Solid said, looking her in the eye. He could hear the DARPA chief mumbling to himself in his cell, but figured it wasn’t important.

“Careful,” the woman squeaked out, “I’m no rookie!!”

Liar,” Solid said, “that nervous glance… that scared look in your eye. They’re rookie’s eyes if I ever saw them. You’ve never shot a person, am I right?”

“You talk too much,” the woman hissed.

“You haven’t even taken the safety off, rookie.”

“I told you I’m no rookie!!!”

“You’re not one of them, are you?” Solid said.

“Open that door!” the woman said, jerking her head towards it. “You’ve got a card, don’t you?!”

“Why?”

“So we can get the hell out of here! I’m not going to just wait around in that cell until this place gets bombed!!”

The door opened, although entirely without Solid’s input. Several Genome Soldiers rushed in.

“Looks like we’ll be a little delayed,” Solid quipped, whipping out his SOCOM. He glanced at the woman, who hadn’t even pointed her FAMAS at them. She seemed petrified. “What are you doing?!” Solid yelled, “don’t think! Shoot!!”

“Thanks for the help!” the woman yelled, jumping over the Genome Soldiers’ bodies and running for the door.

Damn. She had a cute butt.

“Wait!” Solid said, shaking himself, “who are you?!”

If she answered he didn’t hear her. Everything when white all of a sudden, along with a weird pulsing sensation like his heart had suddenly started beating in every part of his body. He fell forward.

“You fool!” a ponytailed blond man in an old coat snarled at a moustached man with a red scarf. “You’ve killed him!!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the moustached man said. He sounded closer to the DARPA chief’s age than the first man’s.

“What was he about to say?” said a third man, a bald one wearing a gas mask and a coat similar to the ponytailed man’s except with gratuitous belts strapped where belts didn’t belong. He stared intensely a limp African-American man restrained in some sort of metal frame. “Something about Big Boss…”

The ponytailed man jerked his head towards the gas mask-wearing man. Solid still couldn’t see his face. “And it didn’t sound like it had much to do with his remains…”

The word returned with a crushing sensation in Solid’s head. He gasped, straightening himself. Big Boss? What the hell??

The woman had reached the elevator. She spun on her heel, sort of flailing, and it looked for a second like she really should have lost her balance and fallen over but somehow she stayed on her feet, and then she raised the FAMAS and fired at Solid. He jumped out of the way.

“Damn!”

The gunfire stopped. Solid peeked out behind the wall just in time to see her pump her arm triumphantly just as the elevator doors closed. Suddenly Solid’s head pounded again, and he squeezed his eyes shut for half a second, and when he opened them again the gas mask-wearing man from his vision just now was floating in front of the elevator. He didn’t seem to acknowledge Solid, though.

“Good girl,” he mumbled instead. “Just like that…”

And he was gone just as suddenly as he’d appeared. Solid still had a bit of a lingering headache behind his eyeballs and was deeply confused. He glanced back into the DARPA chief’s cell. He was still sitting there placidly.

“What the hell?” Solid asked him.

“I’m not sure,” the DARPA chief said, “I haven’t talked to that girl.”

“And that… vision just now?”

“What are you talking about?” the DARPA chief said, “are you hallucinating? That can’t be good… are you sure you’re up for this mission?”

Solid blinked. He might have a point. Solid was no stranger to hallucinations because that had been one of the symptoms of his PTSD for a while, but he’d never seen anything in them that he hadn’t seen in real life beforehand. He called the Discovery on Codec again. “Dr. Patel,” he said, “I’ve just had some kind of hallucination. Is it from the nanomachines?”

“Hallucinations aren’t a reported side effect of these nanomachines,” Dr. Patel said. “Perhaps it was psychometric interference from Psycho Mantis. He is a psychic, you know.”

“Psychometric interference?”

“Think of it as a mental feedback loop.”

That didn’t really mean anything to Solid, either, but if it was something that originated from FOXHOUND’s psychic then that meant that there wasn’t anything medically or psychologically wrong with him… not that that it precluded it happening again… still… “So that was Mantis…?” Solid mumbled before hanging up. At least he knew what the guy looked like now. Two down, four to go. (Come to think of it, one of the guys in that mental feedback loop a moment ago had looked like Liquid.)

“I’ll stay put,” the DARPA chief assured Solid when he stood up. “You go deal with the nuke. Oh, but close my door first. Don’t want the terrorists getting suspicious.”


“So Snake’s off on a wild goose chase to find three cardkeys when we only confirmed the existence of one,” Liquid said, pacing around the command room, “and Ocelot’s already set to ambush him in the second floor basement where he’s holding Baker. If everything goes perfectly then we’ll have him bound and gagged within the next half hour.”

“But more than likely it won’t,” Wolf said.

“Yes. Still, it’s a good idea to get a good gauge on his fighting abilities so we know how to best capture him once he inevitably gets past Ocelot.” He paused, and after a second realized he was sort of subconsciously waiting for Mantis to say something like, It’d be best for us if Snake killed Ocelot entirely. “Say,” Liquid said, “where is Mantis, anyway?”

I’m right out here, Eli, he heard in his head right before there was a plastic-sounding thump against the wall next to the door of the command room, followed by a muffled Russian curse word. Wolf walked over and opened the door, and glanced down.

“Mantis?” she said, “did you just walk into the wall?”

“…head hurts…”

Liquid stepped over and helped Mantis up. “What’s the matter?” he demanded. “What happened??”

“Took a quick look in Snake’s mind…” he muttered, shaking his head, “mental feedback loop… headache… I was fine a minute ago, honestly. Then everything went sort of… fuzzy… when I reached out to your mind, Eli.”

“Hm. That’s… probably not good, Mantis. Here, sit down.” He deposited Mantis in a chair and then put his hands on his hips, frowning deeply. “An unusual reaction to Snake’s mind…? Just passively reading it, too?”

“Maybe your mind and his and too similar, and Mantis’ brain got confused,” Wolf said, “you are twins.”

“I am… not sure that is how it works, but…” Mantis said, rubbing his temples.

“Can you not read Snake’s mind at all?” Liquid said.

There was a brief pause, then Mantis said, “no, I can do it perfectly fine now. He is on his way to the armory.”

“So it was just the first time you did it…” Liquid relaxed. If it was just the first time, then it wouldn’t happen again… or wait… “Dammit. Something like that will probably happen again if you try to do anything more invasive than just reading his mind - and it’ll probably be worse, too.”

“Well…”

“Just… avoid it, Mantis. Things are going smoothly anyway. Don’t strain yourself.”

“…yes, Eli.”

Chapter Text

“A hallucination?” Miller said, “that’s strange. Last I checked inducing hallucinations wasn’t one of his powers.”

“You know Mantis’ powers already?” Solid said, keeping an eye on a nearby guard just out of earshot of him.

“Hm? Well, yes. He’s telepathic and psychokinetic - and when he was younger he could turn invisible, pass through walls, teleport, generate flame from nowhere, and assume people’s wills. I don’t know how much of that he can still do. But causing hallucinations specifically… even if he were technically capable of it, I don’t know if he knows how to do it…”

“Did he join the unit before you retired, Master?” Solid said, confused.

“No… I retired right after you did, Snake. Too much had happened. Mantis, Liquid, and Wolf all joined up at the same time, about four or five months later. I… never met them personally at that point.”

“Then how do you know so much about Mantis’ powers?”

“It’s a long story,” Miller said, then smoothly changed the subject. “From the way you describe it it sounds like what happened wasn’t intentional. Why would he show you what you saw?”

“I don’t know… I’m not even sure what I saw…”

“Maybe it’s… no, it couldn’t be— I can’t believe it, after all this time…?”

“Master, what are you talking about?”

He probably blinked under his sunglasses. “No, it’s nothing,” Miller said, “I’ll tell you later. You get to the ArmsTech president right now, Snake.”

Solid nodded and hung up, pulling out the C4 he’d appropriated. That guard he was keeping an eye on earlier was now far enough away that, while he’d certainly come running at the sound of Solid blowing a man-sized hole in the wall, Solid would have enough time to slip out of sight before he got there.

He ended up finding Baker tied to a concrete beam in the middle of a room, with wires criss-crossing around him. Solid approached, explaining that he was here to rescue him, but Baker shouted him off and Solid finally noticed that the wires were attached to…

“C4!” Solid exclaimed.

From the corner of the room there was the click of a hammer cocking a split second before the crack of gunfire. Solid jumped back. The bullet ricocheted off the floor at his feet.

“Right,” said a moustached man - hey, he looked familiar - stepping into the light. “Touch that wire and the C4 will blow up along with the old man!” Old man…? This guy seemed a little old himself to be calling anyone that… the man narrowed his eyes at Solid. “So you’re the one the boss kept talking about.”

“And you?” Solid said, taking another step back.

“Special Operations FOXHOUND,” the man said, spinning his revolver around on his finger, “Revolver Ocelot.”

Oh, the gunslinger and ‘interrogation specialist’. Solid finally realized that this was the third man from Mantis’ hallucination — had the unconscious or dead man in the metal frame been someone Ocelot had been interrogating?

“I’ve been waiting for you, Solid Snake,” Ocelot said, “now… we’ll see if the man will live up to the legend!” He raised his gun - Solid’s hand flashed to his own - but instead of firing immediately, Ocelot paused thoughtfully, then slowly (almost sensually) rubbed his gloved fingers over the barrel. “This,” he said in a reverent voice, “is the greatest handgun ever made. The Colt Single Action Army.”

He started loading it methodically. Solid wasn’t sure what to do. Had he only had one shot in his gun just now? Had he stepped out to confront Solid completely out of ammo? He must be either insane, or really, really confident, with the skills to back him up. Both seemed likely.

“Six bullets,” Ocelot said, sliding his gun back into his holster and giving Solid a look from under his eyelashes, “more than enough to kill anything that moves. Now I’ll show you why they call me… ‘Revolver’.”

He dropped into a semi-crouch, hand hovering over his gun. Solid mirrored his move. Ocelot smiled at him.

“Draw!”


“Well,” Wolf said, where they were monitoring the battle in the command room, “it is nice for him to finally be as dramatic and showy as he likes.”

“He is awful,” Mantis said.

Wolf shrugged. She was so used to Mantis’ hatred of Ocelot that she hardly cared anymore. “Can you tell Liquid Ocelot has ambushed Snake? I cannot raise him on Codec, I think he is going through an area with too much harmonic interference. Is he still on his way to check up on the engineer?”

“Yes,” Mantis said, “hold on. …wait, what did Ocelot just say?”

“’There’s nothing like the feeling of slamming a long silver bullet into a well-greased chamber’?”

“…he is the worst, I hate him…”


Ocelot ducked behind one of the concrete pillars, grinning. “Just what I’d expect from the man with the same code as the boss,” he said gleefully. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a good fight… but I’m just getting warmed up.” He leapt out from behind the pillar, SAA pointed directly at Solid—

And suddenly he instead of a hand with a revolver he had a wrist with a spray of blood.

“What!” he cried out, “my hand!!!”

Solid jumped back from the center room as quick as he could as the same rapidly-moving blur that had just truncated Ocelot’s forearm sliced through the wires surrounding Baker. A series of small explosions rocked the room, a hoarsely screaming Baker falling to the floor as Ocelot was thrown against the wall, hitting the back of his head hard. He squinted up at the vague distortion in the air in front of him.

“Stealth camouflage—“ he hissed, “can’t you even die right?!”

He jumped up, grabbing his severed hand (still clutching the SAA) in his left hand and running out of the room. “You were lucky!” he called to Solid over his shoulder, “we’ll meet again!”

At the same time, the thing using the stealth camouflage deactivated it, suddenly flickering into being as what Solid could only describe as a cyborg ninja. He even had a faintly humming chokuto.

“Who are you?!” Solid demanded.

“I’m like you,” the ninja said in a mechanical-sounding voice, “I have no name.”

Baker was groaning in pain on the floor, but managed to lift his head enough to look at the cyborg ninja. His eyes widened. What little blood he had left in his face drained from it. “That… that exoskeleton!”

Solid ignored him. For now the ninja wasn’t moving, just staring at Solid, so Solid decided it would be best to stay still and unwaveringly return his gaze.

Suddenly the ninja started screeching as if in pain, and convulsing. He fled the room, leaping from place to place as he did. After a second, Solid blinked and reholstering his gun.

“Who the hell…” he said to no one in particular.

He shook himself, then walked over to Baker and helped him up, leading him over to sit down and support himself against the wall. He was in bad shape. “Can you talk?” Solid asked him.

“Who are you?” Baker coughed.

“I’m not one of them,” Solid said, and decided to get straight to the point. “The DARPA chief told me he gave them his detonation code. What about yours?”

“Oh, I get it,” Baker said, “Jim sent you… you… you’re from the Pentagon.”

“Answer my question! What about your code?! There’s no time!”

“I…” Baker looked down. “…talked.”

“What!” Solid growled. “Now the terrorists have both codes and can launch anytime!”

“It’s not like I didn’t fight,” Baker protested, “I managed to resist Psycho Mantis’ mind probe.”

Now Solid was thrown for a bit of a loop. “He couldn’t read you?” he said, “how’d you do it?”

“Surgical implants in my brain,” Baker said.

“Surgical implants?”

“Kind of like a psychic insulation. Everybody who knows these top-secret codes has it.”

“Even the DARPA chief?” Solid said, raising an eyebrow.

Baker’s scoff turned into a wheeze. “Of course.”

“But the DARPA chief said Mantis got his code by reading his mind…”

“Are you sure you heard him right?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Maybe the DARPA chief had lied… because he was ashamed of giving it up for other reasons? “In that case, how did they get your code?”

“I never had any training on how to resist torture…”

Baker started coughing. He pressed one arm against his side - just under the edge of his coat Solid could see blood beginning to spread across his vest. Baker shook his head when Solid stepped forward slightly.

“It looks like he had some fun with you, alright,” Solid said.

“He’s not human,” Baker said through gritted teeth, “I tell you, he loved every second of it.”

“What happened to your arm?” Solid said, glancing at the one still hanging limply by his side.

“He broke it.”

“Looks like you’re more than even now. His was sliced off.”

“Ha,” Baker coughed, “you’re a funny man. …so… the DARPA chief… is he okay?”

“Yeah,” Solid said, “but I don’t have a way to get him off the island yet. He’s laying low in his cell until things blow over, the terrorists should leave him alone.”

Baker sighed. “Good…” he said, “I guess it’ll be a little harder to find me a place to hide around here, but the terrorists shouldn’t need anything else from me, either.”

“I know,” Solid said, “they have both codes now.”

“Those boys are totally insane,” Baker said, shaking his head. “They won’t hesitate to launch.”

“I agree. But what do they really want?

“Who knows…” Baker coughed again. “Maybe they're like us in the arms industry... always looking forward to the next good war.”

“Well, I'm not going to let these maniacs start a war toady. Do you still have the cardkeys?”

“Cardkeys?” Baker said.

“To override the detonation code!” Solid said, “I heard you had them…”

“No, not anymore,” Baker said.

“What?!” Solid said, “who does, then? Not the terrorists…!?”

“No,” Baker said, shaking his head again, “that woman.”

“Woman!?” Solid said. Didn’t FOXHOUND have a female member? “Who?!”

“A soldier that was thrown into prison along with me…”

“A female soldier?” Oh. “It must be…”

“She said she had just joined up as a new recruit,” Baker explained, “she said they threw her in prison because she refused to take part in the rebellion.”

“A new recruit? Could that be the Colonel’s niece…?”

“I gave her the key,” Baker said, “looks like she managed to break out of here, though. I hope she’s okay.”

“I’m sure she is,” Solid assured him. “She’s green… but as tough as they come. But how did you know she escaped?”

“I was in contact with her by Codec. Until I was tied up here, I mean.”

“Codec?”

“Yes. She stole it from the guard.” Baker coughed again for a few moments. The blood was spreading further now. “If she still has it,” he said, catching his breath, “you should be able to contact her.”

“I’m sure she still has it. What frequency was she at?”

“Oh yeah,” Baker said, “let me tell you. It’s…” he paused, his eyes rolling up in his head as he tried to remember. “Hmmm…”

“Huh?”

“…oh… sorry, I forgot,” Baker said sheepishly.

Solid stood up, snapping his fingers angrily. “Damn!”

“Oh, that’s right!” Baker said, “just look it up on GameFAQs. Try to contact her.”

“I’ll contact her right away,” Solid sighed, “but tell me… if this doesn’t work, is there some way to prevent the missile launch?”

“Hmm. You need to find Hal Emmerich, one of my employees.”

“Who’s that?”

“The team leader of the Metal Gear REX project. A genius at engineering, but a little bit of an oddball. If there is anyone who can figure out how to stop Metal Gear from launching, it's him.”

“What if he can’t come up with anything?”

“You’ll have to destroy it,” Baker said firmly, “Emmerich knows how to destroy Metal Gear.”


Ocelot stalked into the command room. Liquid gave him an extremely unimpressed look.

That went well.”

Ocelot grunted. “The medical room is completely out of painkillers now.”

“What? Completely out?”

“It takes a lot for them to effect my system… also, I packed my hand in ice and put it in a cooler. There’s still a chance I can get it reattached - if not, I’ll just get a prosthetic like your father’s.”

“Hm. And that cyborg ninja?”

“Must have crawled out of the steel vat after a while. It’s amazing he could survive that, but… well, we aren’t the only ones after Snake tonight.”

“We’ll just have to catch him before he gets dismembered by the ninja,” Liquid brushed him off. “By the way, if you took all the painkillers in the medical room… you’re not high, are you?”

“…”

“…well, you’re missing an arm anyway… stay out of everyone else’s way.”

“Yes, sir.”


Baker shakily handed Solid an old-fashioned floppy disk. “What’s that?” Solid said, taking it.

“An optical disk,” Baker said, “it’s all here. The main harddrive was destroyed by gunfire. This is the only remaining copy of the data.”

“What kind of data?”

“All the data collected from this exercise. Don't play dumb. I know you were sent to get this. I hid it from that sadistic maniac while he was torturing me. They don't know that this disk exists. Make sure that you report this to Jim... to your boss. I'll give you my card too.” He handed that to Solid as well. “It'll open up all level two security doors.”

“Can you walk?” Solid said.

“No… you go on without me. Just leave me here.”

“I don’t think that’s very safe… here, I’ll move you someplace a bit more hidden.” He crouched down. Baker groaned in pain as Solid levered his shoulder under his arm, helping him stand up. “Also, I have one more question,” Solid said, “who or what was that ninja thing? It looked like you knew something.”

“That ninja?” Baker said, wincing in pain as Solid started walking him towards the exit. “That was FOXHOUND’s dark little secret.”

“Dark little secret?”

“An experimental… genome… soldier…”

He coughed. A bit of blood spattered to the floor at their feet.

“You know him?” Solid said, trying to think how feasible it was to get Baker to the medical room, where there’d be first aid supplies. It didn’t seem likely.

“The person who’d know the most about him is dead now,” Baker wheezed, “I’m not even sure her successor, Dr. MacCulloch, would know anything. The project was aborted in 2003.”

“Hrm…”

“You’ve got to stop them,” Baker said, grimacing, “if it goes public, my company and I are… finished…”

“What?” Solid said, “doesn’t Metal Gear use currently existing technology?”

“Metal Gear itself does, but… oh, god, oh, no…”

Solid looked down just in time to see what Baker was groaning over - the blood dripping from under his coat was increasing in flow. Shit. Maybe moving him too much had exacerbated it. Solid put him down against the wall again and took off his coat.

Shit.

“God, this can’t be happening…” Baker panted. “I don’t want to die…”

A loop of intestine was sticking out of a long gash in his side. He was bleeding out fast. Solid shoved the organ back in Baker’s body and applied pressure to the wound, but he already knew it wasn’t going to do much. He didn’t have much time and there was just too much blood.

“Stop them,” Baker said, his eyelids drooping, “stop the terrorists…”

“I will,” Solid said, “just hang in there.”

But moments later Baker slipped into unconsciousness. Within two minutes he was dead.

Solid wiped the blood off his hands on Baker’s coat, then called the Discovery.

“Baker’s dead,” he reported, “that ninja thing got him. Does anyone know what the hell that was?”

“I have no idea,” Colonel Campbell said.

“A member of FOXHOUND…?” Solid said.

“No,” Dr. Patel said, “we don’t have anyone like that in our unit.”

“I guess you’d know…”

“Snake,” Colonel Campbell said, “the terrorists are ready to launch and we’re running out of time. I want you and Meryl to work together!”

“Can I trust her?”

“Yes. She’s a smart girl. Get in contact with her.”

Mei Ling cut in. “Snake, there is a lot of electrical interference coming from there. It should be okay if you do burst transmission like us, but normal transmission is probably impossible. Try moving away from that area.”

Solid hung up and called Miller first.

“Do you know anything about that cyborg ninja, Master?” he asked.

Miller sighed. “Snake,” he said, “just because half my limbs are prosthetic doesn’t mean I know anything about cybernetics.”

“Er… sorry. I didn’t mean to imply…”

“I was just teasing, Snake. But seriously, Campbell stayed with the unit much longer than I did - if he didn’t know anything about that ninja, why would I?”

“I guess you have a point…”

“Stay focused on your mission. I don’t think the ninja has anything to do with it, so just stay out of his way. He seems dangerous.”

“Of course, Master.”

Chapter Text

“What’s your name?” Meryl demanded over Codec.

“My name’s not important,” Solid replied.

“Aha! Could you be Snake? Are you Solid Snake?”

“That’s what some people called me…”

“The legendary Solid Snake…! You?!” Meryl laughed, and took off her balaclava. “Sorry about before,” she said, “I heard a lot of talking in the next cell about how to stop the launch and wanted to get out of there to go help… but I wasn’t sure if you were one of the good guys.”

“But I knew you were,” Solid said.

“How?”

“It’s your eyes.”

“My eyes?”

“They’re not soldier’s eyes.”

Meryl rolled her not-soldier’s eyes. “They’re rookie’s eyes, right?”

“No,” Solid said, “they’re beautiful, compassionate eyes.”

Meryl laughed. She guessed her uncle hadn’t told him she was only 18, but maybe he did and Solid just didn’t care. Legal was legal, after all. And Meryl definitely thought of herself as an adult. “Just what I’d expect from the legendary Solid Snake,” she said, smirking, “you trying to sweep me off my feet?”

“Don’t worry,” Solid said, suddenly evasive, “you’ll land back on them once you meet me. The reality is no match for the legend, I’m afraid.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“Why did you look so surprised when you saw my face?” Subtle subject change.

“Because you look just like him!” Meryl said anyway.

“…you mean the terrorist leader, Liquid Snake?”

“Yeah, you know him? You’re not brothers, are you??”

“I have no family,” Solid grumbled.

“So, what’s the deal then?”

“Who knows. Why don't you ask him? But first I want some information. You were involved in this exercise from the beginning. What exactly happened here?”

“I’m sorry,” Meryl said, frowning, “I was captured along with President Baker right after the terrorist attack.”

“That’s okay,” Solid said. “But what is this place? I don’t think it’s just a nuclear weapons disposal facility…”

“Boy oh boy… it’s just like them! Nobody told you anything, did they?” Meryl took a deep breath. “Okay… you see, this place isn’t really for disposing of nuclear weapons…”


“Any predictions for what he will be like?” Raven said into the phone. He had Liquid on speakerphone, and he was in the command room so Ocelot was there too.

“Well, he is my twin,” Liquid said, “and not only that but we were granted the same codename, Snake. You can probably expect a lot of similarities in his combat style.”

“That was my assessment until we got interrupted,” Ocelot said in the background.

“We’ll keep an eye on things here,” Liquid said. “Don’t kill him, Raven. But give him a good run for his money.”

“Naturally, boss.”


A call from another new Codec frequency. Solid picked up.

“Snake, be careful!” said a voice he didn’t recognize at all, “there are Claymore mines around here. Use a mine detector!”

“Who are you?” Solid said cautiously.

“Just call me ‘Deepthroat’.”

“Deepthroat?” Solid blinked. “The informant from the Watergate scandal?” (Admittedly that wasn’t his first thought, but he wasn’t sure he wanted whoever this was to think of him as a pervert.)

“Nevermind about that,” Deepthroat said brusquely.

“You’re not using burst transmission. Are you nearby?”

“Listen. There’s a tank in front of your position waiting to ambush you.”

“Who are you anyway?”

“One of your fans.”

Solid opened his mouth to reply but Deepthroat signed off. Solid bit the inside of his cheek. One of your fans… your number one fan… no, it couldn’t be. Whoever Deepthroat was, they were just messing with him. Found some top-secret radio logs from the Zanzibar Land disturbance and were just trying to trigger him, ruin his concentration. Must be with FOXHOUND - Liquid would have access to those logs, probably.

But using the mine detector proved that the intel about the Claymore mines had been accurate. And, moreover, so was the bit about the tank ambush.

This is Raven’s territory.

A very large tattooed man emerged from the M1’s hatch and pulled the turret-mounted machine gun around in front of him, aiming at Solid.

“Snakes don’t belong in Alaska,” he rumbled, “I will not let you pass. Send him a message!” he shouted down to whoever was in the tank with him.

The tank’s turret fired. Solid leapt out of the way, avoiding the shell but failing to land properly on the snow, instead crashing down on his back. Dammit.

The giant man laughed. “That’s right, you belong on the ground. You should crawl on the ground like the Snake you are.” He disappeared back into the tank. “Come. Let’s fight!”

Solid moved on, keycard looted from the ejected Genome Soldier in hand. Raven silently watched him go, then dialed Liquid, fully prepared to ignore any imminent complaining about his snake puns.

“Well, boss,” Raven said before Liquid could get a word in edgewise, “I hope you are happy. He got the card.”

“…we’ll play with him a little longer…” Liquid said. Hmm. That was his assessment, then?

“You would be wise not to underestimate him.”

“What did you think of him?”

“He is just as you said,” Raven said gravely, “in battle he is as if possessed by a demon. Much like you. I would expect no less.”

“You see?” Ocelot said suddenly. Unlike before he was no longer in the background, and now seemed to be standing right next to Liquid and therefore the phone. “I told you so.”

“So, General Ivan,” Raven said, “I hear he took your hand as well as your dignity.”

“Watch your tongue, Shaman!” Ocelot snapped, finally losing his temper with Raven.

“In the language of the Sioux people, ‘sioux’ means ‘snake’. It is known as an animal to be feared.”

“Well, Snake is mine now,” Ocelot snarled, still ticked off, “when I meet him next, I’ll take special care of him…”

“Ocelot,” Liquid said sharply.

“How far will he get?” Raven said. “Who will apprehend him? I am more than willing to meet him again in battle. The raven on my head’s appetite has been whetted…”

“Right now he’s going after Emmerich,” Liquid said, “but it doesn’t matter if he gets to him. Besides, I’ve filled the whole hallway in front of his lab with Genome Soldiers, he’ll be hard-pressed to find a way in without going straight through them.”

“And after that?”

“Mantis was going to intercept him on his way out of the warhead storage building.”

“Boss,” Ocelot said, “about that…”

Underground maintenance base, the control room.

“What is it?” Liquid said, closing his phone.

“I don’t think Mantis should face Snake,” Ocelot said, “it’s dangerous.”

“This is Mantis we’re talking about, Ocelot,” Liquid said, glancing at him. Mantis was still in the chair in the corner of the room, but had nodded off a little while ago after telling Liquid to wake him when Solid was approaching his intended ambush position, the commander’s office.

“And? You haven’t forgotten that hallucination incident.”

“That was a one-time thing. I’ll grant it could happen again, and worse, if he tries to do anything less passive than just reading Snake’s mind, but he shouldn’t have to do that. All he needs to do is read Snake’s intentions-“

“We’ve already observed what Snake is just like you when it comes to combat,” Ocelot said patiently, “and I know Mantis has already observed that you’re difficult to read in the heat of combat - and that’s with a preexisting psychic link. It’s possible that he won’t be able to read Snake’s mind at all.”

Liquid glanced at Mantis again. “He should still be fine. We really only need him to harass Snake a bit so that he doesn’t start thinking we’re being a little too quiet, that isn’t exactly full-blown combat.”

“Hmm. Mantis,” Ocelot called, picking up a pen, “wake up.”

Mantis cracked his eyes open with a “Mm?” just in time for Ocelot to fling the pen at him. Mantis flinched, and the pen disappeared in mid-air, but right after that Mantis said “Ow” and massaged his shoulder where the pen would have hit if he hadn’t vanished it.

“See?” Ocelot said, turning back to Liquid, “he can still make projectiles disappear but he can’t entirely dissipate the force behind them. And this was just a pen, Snake’s going to be shooting bullets at him.”

“So… he could get injured, and that’s being optimistic…”

“What is this about?” Mantis yawned, lowering his hand from his shoulder. “Eli?”

“Mantis, Ocelot has a point,” Liquid said, “you shouldn’t face Snake.”

“…hn?”

“Let me rephrase that: Mantis, I’m ordering you not to face Snake. There’s too much risk you won’t be able to retreat in time if you do, and we need your talents elsewhere.”

“…”

“You can stay here and keep us updated on everyone’s positions. But no combat.”

“…yes, boss,” Mantis said sourly, rubbing the back of his neck.

“So where is Snake now?” Ocelot said.

Mantis glared at him.

“He’s on his way to Emmerich’s lab. …oh, but wait… something is happening…”


Solid hadn’t seen this much carnage since the Zanzibar Land disturbance, and even then, there was something about the way that these soldiers were cut down with a blade instead of just shot that made the scene extra gruesome. He stepped over a guard who had just collapsed and the steadily expanding pool of blood emanating from him, and rounded the hallway’s corner just in time to see another guard lifted into the air by something invisible and practically gutted before Solid’s eyes. The guard fell to the floor. There was a swish then the electronic lock on the lab door exploded into sparks, the door shuddering open.

Not a good sign…

Inside the room, Hal was backing up into a corner, goggling in horror at the person-shaped distortion in the air that was brandishing a sword at him. He was so terrified that he felt the end result of the fact that the Genome Soldiers had refused to let him out of his lab since noon yesterday soaking the crotch of his jeans.

“S-Stealth camouflage?” he gasped, trying to flatten himself against the wall and also ignore the fact that he’d just wet himself, “who are you?”

His assailant turned off the stealth camouflage, revealing himself to be some kind of robot, or at least a person with a orange-red-and-blue-gray armored exoskeleton so cutting-edge Hal would have called it conceptual. A single round, red eye in the middle of his faceplate glared menacingly at Hal.

“Where is my friend?” he rasped.

“What…” Hal gulped, “what are you talking about?”

Oh fuck there was a guy approaching behind the cyborg… ninja… person. He wasn’t with him, was he?

“What next?” Hal whimpered.

The ninja slowly turned around to face the man behind him. Hal could see every fiber of his artificial muscles tighten.

Snake!!” the ninja said.

“You’re that ninja,” the Snake guy said eloquently.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Snake,” the ninja said.

“Who are you?”

“Neither enemy nor friend…” he bared the back of his sword towards Snake. “I am back from a world where such words are meaningless. I’ve removed all obstacles,” he declared, “now you and I will battle to the death.”

“What do you want?”

“I’ve waited a long time for this day. Now I want to enjoy the moment.”

“What…” Hal started. Snake stepped closer to the ninja, and Hal blinked and his vision suddenly got a lot clearer - oh, he hadn’t even noticed it was blurry. He must have been on the verge of tears. “What’s with these guys…?”

The Snake man was so ruggedly handsome that Hal thought he looked like the love interest in an action shoujo manga. This was so unreal. It was just…

There was no way it was real.

“It’s like one of my Japanese animés…”

“I’ve come from another world to do battle with you,” the ninja declared.

“What is it?” Snake said, his pistol trained on the ninja’s head. “Revenge?”

“It is nothing so trivial as revenge,” the ninja said with a tinny scoff. “A fight to the death with you. Only in that can my soul find respite. I will kill you or you will kill me... it makes no difference.”

Hal slowly stood up, wincing as his twisted ankle throbbed when he put weight on it. He started edging towards a nearby locker, keeping a close eye on Snake and the ninja. He saw Snake’s eyes flick towards him. The ninja’s head moved. Hal couldn’t stop himself from shrieking and diving into the locker, slamming the door behind him.

“Hah! Fine!” the ninja said, “he can watch from inside there.”

“I need that man,” Snake said, “keep your hands off him.”

“Now, Snake. Make me feel alive again.”

What followed next was a cacophony of flesh against metal and the ninja saying things like “That’s good, Snake!” and “Hurt me more!!” in what Hal could only describe as a rather sexual tone of voice. Which just added to the unreality of the situation. Hal really did not want to know what was going on out there.

Out there, the battle paused. The ninja knelt on the floor, vibrating slightly, and Solid imagined he would have been catching his breath if he had any.

“I felt that, Snake,” the ninja wheezed out, “do you remember me now…?”

Solid swallowed hard. All that Hurt me more stuff… there was only one person Solid had ever known who took such fetishistic delight in combat.

“It can’t be,” he choked out, “you were killed in Zanzibar…”

Maybe it was the word Zanzibar that set him off this time, but the ninja suddenly started seizing and wailing again, and only responded to Solid’s alarmed questions with a drawn-out, pitiful “The mediciiiiiine!”

He fell to his knees and started banging his head against the floor. “What’s happening?” Solid said, unsure if he should attempt to help him up or get to the other side of the room as fast as possible.

“…I… I… I’m losing myself…”

“…is it over…?” came from inside the locker.

The ninja screamed again and ran out of the room. Solid immediately called base.

“Gray Fox…” he said, “Colonel, that ninja is Gray Fox. No doubt about it.”

“Ridiculous!” Colonel Campbell said, “you of all people should know he died in Zanzibar.”

“Maybe he didn’t,” Dr. Patel said.

“What?” Colonel Campbell said.

“Well, it’s only a rumor,” Dr. Patel said, somewhat hesitantly, “supposedly a nearly-dead soldier was used as a guinea pig to streamline the gene therapy process before applying it to the Next-Generation Special Forces.”

“I… never heard that,” Colonel Campbell said.

“It is only a rumor, as I said,” Dr. Patel insisted. “But if it were true, it would have happened after you retired. It was Dr. Clark, the medical chief before Dr. Hunter, who would have been in charge of it.”

“Dr. Hunter?” Solid said, confused.

“Dr. MacCulloch’s predecessor,” Dr. Patel said. “But it is true that Dr. Clark started the gene therapy project. I just never thought she had used an actually alive person for it.”

“And they used Gray Fox…” Solid said, “they recovered him after the fall of Zanzibar Land?”

“But he was already dead,” Colonel Campbell said.

“Perhaps he was only brain dead,” Dr. Patel said. “But even if he were, if he is running around Shadow Moses now… they must have revived him. I’m sorry, I don’t know anything, this would all be highly confidential information. Colonel, should I call Dr. MacCulloch and ask her to pull the files for us?”

“Don’t bother,” Solid said, “if I really need to know, I might be able to get the information out of Gray Fox himself.”

“I’m not certain it’s relevant anyway, Snake,” Colonel Campbell said.

“True… and that’s probably good. From what I could tell, he didn’t know who he was.”

“Are you saying he’s just a mindless robot?”

“I'm not sure, but he seems intent on fighting me to the death. We'll meet again, I know it.”

“And… you’ll kill him?” Mei Ling piped up.

“Hmmmm… I’d rather not,” Solid said honestly, “but maybe that’s what he wants.”

“How horrible…”

Solid signed off and stood in front of the locker where Emmerich was still hiding. “How long are you going to stay in there?”

“Huh?” Emmerich said, still not opening the door. “…are you one of them?”

“No, I’m not. I always work alone.”

“Alone?” He paused. “Are you an otaku too?”

A what…? “C’mon, get out,” Solid said, annoyed, “we can’t stay here forever.”

Emmerich slid open the door partway, and gave Solid a long, careful look, taking in his sneaking suit in particular. He kept his hand on the door like he was ready to close it again at any moment, like that would really stop Solid from getting at him if he wanted to.

“But your uniform…”

“What about it?”

“Their leader— I’ve, I’ve seen him in that exact same getup before.”

“Here?”

“No, a couple months ago. I guess none of them are dressing anything like you now.”

“I’m not with them,” Solid repeated, “look, you’re the head Metal Gear designer, Hal Emmerich, right?”

“You know me?” Emmerich said anxiously.

“I heard about you from Meryl.”

“Oh.” Emmerich visibly relaxed, and climbed out of the locker. Solid took a step back. He was sure it wasn’t his fault, but Emmerich smelled like piss. “So you’re here to rescue me?”

“Sorry, but no. There’s something I’ve got to do first.”

Chapter Text

By the time Emmerich - or Otacon (“It stands for ‘otaku convention’! An otaku is a guy like me who likes Japanimation.”) - was done explaining REX and the new type of nuclear weapons until now only tested in VR to him, Solid was having some serious doubts about this mission. Mostly about the parts Colonel Campbell hadn’t told him going into this, which would be all of that… could he really believe that Colonel Campbell hadn’t known it himself, either?

Otacon gave him directions to REX’s maintenance base, and Solid had to stop him from trying to go with him, citing his injured ankle although even without that a skinny nerd like him would still likely prove to be more of a liability than an asset, at least when Codec existed. Left on his own, Otacon should have been fine, anyway, since he had some stealth camouflage of his own, but just in case Solid called Meryl to tell her to babysit him.

“Meryl, the engineer’s okay.”

“That’s a relief.”

“I want you to look after him,” Solid said, in as authoritative a voice as he could muster. “Where are you now?”

“Very close.”

Some other voices cut in on Meryl’s side of the Codec link, and she glanced over her shoulder in alarm. “There she is!” “Over there!”

“Oh no!” Meryl exclaimed, “Damn… they’ve spotted me!” She quickly put her balaclava back on.

“Meryl!” Solid called out. “What happened?!” But it was too late, she’d already disconnected. “Something’s wrong…”

“Meryl?” Otacon said uncertainly.

“What did she look like?” Solid asked him.

“She… she was wearing the same green uniform as the terrorists.”

“A disguise?” Same one as earlier, apparently… she must not have changed. Which meant some of the blood from those soldiers they’d had to gun down then was probably still on it - Solid hoped the smell of it wasn’t bothering her too much, sometimes rookies had a hard time handling that.

“She had such a cute way of walking,” Otacon said thoughtfully, “she kind of wiggles her behind.”

Solid snorted. “You were really looking.”

Otacon flushed. “Well,” he said, with a ‘You would have looked too’ air, “she’s got a very cute behind.”

“Way of walking, huh?…”

Solid decided to go find Meryl himself, and Otacon gave him a level four security card. He assured Solid he’d stay out of the way and answer his Codec whenever called, then turned on his stealth camouflage and ran out of the room, his sprained ankle apparently forgotten. (Or maybe when he said he’d twisted he really meant just that - he’d twisted it, and it had stopped hurting a while ago.)

Solid presumed Otacon was going to make a quick stop by wherever the residential area was to grab a fresh pair of jeans.


“Don’t move,” Wolf said, pointing her rifle at a slight distortion in the air. “Who is there?”

“D-Don’t shoot! I’m sorry!!” Emmerich deactivated his stealth camo.

Wolf raised her eyebrows. “What are you doing here?” She was only here to grab a new bottle of diazepam, her old one was down to the last pill and she was going to need it.

“I was just… uh…” He flushed as Wolf glanced down at his pants and her lip curled. “I needed to… go to my quarters…”

She lowered her rifle. “That’s fair,” she said. “Who let you out of your lab?”

“That cyborg ninja…”

“He let you out?”

“No! He just— killed all the guards in the hallway in front of it, so…” Emmerich looked a little queasy just thinking about it and Wolf frowned. He probably wasn’t used to blood and gore, after all.

She decided to change the subject. “My apologies for pointing my gun at you,” she said, “I only thought, because of the stealth camouflage and because you were near my quarters too, you might have been the person who was stealing my panties.” She blinked, then raised her rifle again. “Wait - it was not you, was it?!”

“Huh?!” Emmerich stumbled backwards. “Your p-panties?! No way!”

“You do seem like the kind of social maladjust that would do that…”

“N-No, no, I swear! I’d never— it must have been one of the Genome Soldiers!”

“Hmm…” she lowered her gun again. “Come to think of it, it did start when the Genome Army got here.” Still, she stepped towards Emmerich, who just stood petrified, and checked the pockets of his hoodie. (No way was she going to touch his jeans.) She did find a folded-up square of fabric in one of them, but it turned out to be the handkerchief that she gave him the other day, not a pair of her underwear. She handed it back to him.

“Go back to your quarters,” she said sternly, “and stay there. It is dangerous for you to be running around.”

“Y-Yes, ma’am,” Emmerich said, scurrying off. She followed him far enough to see him run into his room and close the door behind him, then called Liquid on Codec.

“Is it alright if Emmerich is running around loose?” she said.

“It shouldn’t matter,” Liquid said, “I’m sure he’s already in contact with Snake, so any damage he can do won’t be curbed by him being imprisoned. He’s smart enough to stay out of our way, anyway.”

“Alright… I will leave him alone, then. I had better get to the communications tower.”


“That’s strange,” Meryl said as she and Solid exited the ladies’ bathroom following a long heart-to-heart about her father and a short argument about her Desert Eagle. “There’s no guard.”

“Something’s funny…” Solid said.

“I’ll keep a look out,” Meryl assured him. “Make sure you’re ready, okay?”

They started walking towards the commander’s room. Still no guard… in the hallway leading up to it, Meryl explained, “like I said, since the overland route north is blocked by glaciers right now, we’ve got to go through this room. I’ve heard there’s a secret passage somewhere in here that leads to the communications towers.”

“Secret passage?” Solid said.

“Yeah,” Meryl said, “I don’t know all the details since I haven’t been here very long, but I’ve heard you have to solve a puzzle in order to open it. I’ve also heard that no one’s solved it yet…”

“Hrm. This could be difficult.”

“Don’t worry,” Meryl said confidently, “I beat Myst when I was in middle school. And my uncle told me you’re supposed to be really smart, too.”

“Uh… right,” Solid said. “I guess if we get stuck, we can always call Otacon. He’s probably good at this sort of thing. Master Miller, too…”

Solid used the security level five card that Meryl gave him on the door, and it slid open. He stepped in ahead of Meryl, sweeping the room with his gun, but it was totally empty.

“Huh…”

Meryl walked in, first looking at the holographic display of the communications towers, then one of the several busts in the room covered with electrical tape. “I wonder if these have anything to do with the puzzle?” she said.

“Uh, Meryl…”

“You know, back before the takeover I actually heard from one of the Genome Soldiers that one of the engineers who was building Metal Gear said that the person who sculpted these used to be a facial reconstruction artist in the FBI, and that’s where they met their model.”

“Meryl.”

“Also, I heard that the kid they were using as a model didn’t even know they were making sculptures based off of his face! That’s kind of creepy… what do you think, Snake?”

“Meryl, I think we don’t have to bother with the puzzle,” Solid said, gesturing to a bookcase in the corner of the room that was diagonal to the wall, with an obvious draft blowing out from behind it.

“Oh,” Meryl said sheepishly, walking over. “Well, I guess let’s head over then.”

“I’m not so sure about this,” Solid said, eyeing the passageway behind the bookshelf.

“I bet it’s fine,” Meryl said, “look, the terrorists would have to use this route to get between here and the maintenance building too, right? They must have just left the door open so they don’t have go through the trouble of solving the puzzle every time.”

“I don’t know…” Solid said, so he called the Discovery just in case.

“In China they say, ‘A man grows most tired standing still,’” Mei Ling advised him, “that means you can’t waste time on uncertainty, Snake. You’ve got to go for it!”

Solid figured she was right, so he and Meryl stepped into the passage, which lead into some caves. There were a few dogs wandering around in them, which growled and nipped at Solid’s heels, but they seemed to like Meryl.

“Those are wolfdogs in there,” Miller said when Solid called him on Codec, “just like their name, they're a cross between huskies and Alaskan wolves. They were bred to be used as sled dogs.”

“They were trying to create an animal that would combine the gentleness of a dog with the endurance and ferocity of a wolf,” Solid said, nodding, “but they didn't get the stamina and power they were hoping for. On top of that, their personalities wound up closer to wolves. Most of them won't even let you get close. That's why they never caught on.”

“…oh, that’s right,” Miller said, “you’re a musher. I almost forgot - of course, I haven’t talked to you since ’99…”

“…yeah… anyway, after they outlawed the use of hybrids in dogsled races in 2002, no one even wanted to breed them anymore. I heard that most of them were put to sleep after that…”

“Yes, but some of the wolfdog pups that were thrown away went wild. I've heard that wild wolfdogs hunt in packs just like wolves. Better be careful.”

“Master, hang on,” Solid said before he could hang up.

“Hm?”

“How do you know Liquid? Mantis, too. You sounded like you knew them — and Ocelot, when I called during my fight with him… how would you know about his personality? Didn’t he join FOXHOUND after you retired?”

“…yeah,” Miller said, “look, I said I would tell you later, and I meant it. But now isn’t the time. You’ve got to go north, to where Metal Gear is. And don’t forget Meryl is with you, and she’s just a rookie - you need to keep an eye on her. Don’t let me break your concentration, okay?”

“Okay… but I’ll call back about this later.”

“Right. I guess it might be important after all…”

Miller hung up. Meryl, who seemed to have been waiting for him to finish his conversation, said, “Snake, can I ask you something?”

“What?” Solid said.

“I was just wondering… well, what’s your name? Your real name?”

“Names mean nothing on the battlefield,” Solid said quickly.

She frowned. “How old are you?”

“Old enough to know what death looks like.”

“Any family?”

“No, but I was raised by many people.”

Her frown deepened. Maybe she was starting to pick up on the fact that Solid didn’t want to have a personal conversation about himself? “Is there… anyone you like?”

Solid groaned internally. “I’ve never been interested in anyone else’s life,” he said.

“So you’re all alone,” Meryl said. Ouch. She sounded almost sad, too.

“Other people just complicate my life,” Solid grumbled, “I don’t like to get involved.”

“You’re a sad, lonely man.”

Ouch. She didn’t have to come for his whole life like that. “Let’s just keep going…”

They reached the end of the caves and the beginning of a man-made passage - Solid could see a building at the end of it. Meryl was about to blithely walk into it when she suddenly stopped, doubled over and grabbed her head, and hissed. “D-Don’t come here,” she stammered out.

“Meryl, what’s wrong?” Solid demanded.

She grit her teeth, then stood up, blinking like it was twenty times brighter than it really was, and smoothed her hair. “I’m fine now,” she said, sounding pretty confused, “I just… hey, Snake, your radar doesn’t work in this area, does it?”

“No…”

“So the mine detector won’t work…?”

“No.”

“Ugh… well, that’s not good. Something tells me there are- gkk.” She grabbed her head again, but the pain seemed to last even less time than before. “What the heck?”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I just… I just had some kind of vision.”

“Maybe it’s psychometric interference,” Solid said, “the same thing happened to me earlier.”

“You think? Oh, I wonder if that kind of thing happens whenever Mantis tries to read someone’s mind. He must be trying to figure out where we are right now.”

“Hm. We’d better hurry, then. What’d you see?”

“Where the mines are placed! Hang on, I’ll walk through, you just follow my footsteps.”

“Be careful,” Solid said dubiously. But if he had reason to take her feeling that there were mines there seriously, then he also had reason to believe she’d just seen where they were, didn’t he?

Meryl got through with no problems, so Solid followed her quickly. They started walking down the canyon. They got about two yards into it when Solid spotted the red point of a laser light slowly trailing down her body.

“Meryl!!” Solid yelled.

“What is it?” she said, looking at Solid instead of down at herself. The red light had reached her leg. Solid was was already backing up.

“Meryl, get down!!”

Bang.

Meryl screamed as blood spurted from both the entrance and exit wounds on her right mid-thigh. She fell forward.

“Meryl!!” Solid shouted, ducking behind the concrete wall. Wouldn’t be able to help her if he got shot himself, but…

Meryl tried to crawl forward, but there was another retort of the same rifle, and this time it was her left leg that was shot. She screamed in pain and fear again, unable to support her weight now. She reached towards her gun, which she’d dropped when she’d fallen, but the sniper shot her in the arm. Meryl rolled onto her back, whimpering. Solid started edging towards her, for the moment forgetting about the sniper, but the sniper reminded him of their presence with a bullet glancing off the wall a few inches ahead of his face. He drew back.

“Snake…” Meryl groaned, “leave me and run…”

“Meryl…”

“I guess… I am a rookie after all…”

“Don’t worry, Meryl,” Solid said, “it’s me they want.” He’d been standing slightly behind Meryl, so he supposed that the sniper hadn’t gone for him in the first place just now because they weren’t confident in their ability to take him down in one shot at their current angle… and maybe they thought he was good enough to get away if they failed to kill him immediately, although Solid wasn’t so sure about that himself.

“Even I know that,” Meryl protested weakly, “it’s the oldest trick in the book. The sniper’s using me as bait to lure you out.”

“Damn!!” She didn’t deserve this!

“Shoot me, Snake!!”

“No!”

“My gun… I can’t reach it by myself.”

“Don’t move!” Solid hissed at her.

“I promised… I wouldn’t slow you down! I… I… I can still help… I want to help you!”

“Quiet down!” Solid said, “save your strength!”

“I was a fool, I wanted to be a soldier,” Meryl said in a wavering voice. Solid could see tears in her eyes from where he was standing. “But war is ugly… there’s nothing glamorous about it.” She turned her head to look at Solid, her face tight with pain. “Snake, please! Save yourself. Go on living and don’t give up on people! Don’t forget me… now get out of here!”

What choice did Solid have? He started backing up, making sure to stay out of line-of-sight of where the sniper seemed to be stationed, judging by the shooting at Meryl. As he retreated, his Codec rang.

“Meryl!” Colonel Campbell cried, “damn!! Snake, it’s a trap! Sniper’s trick to lure you out. The sniper’s waiting for you to go and help Meryl so they can pick you off… don’t do it!”

“It must be Sniper Wolf,” Dr. Patel said, “FOXHOUND’s best shooter.”

“Snipers usually work in pairs, but this one’s alone, huh?” Solid said.

“I suppose so.”

“I’ve heard about her,” Mei Ling said, “they say she can wait for weeks at a time, just watching for her target.”

“Weeks? Meryl can’t hold out that long,” Solid said.

“Can you see Wolf from where you are?” Dr. Patel said.

“There’s nowhere to hide between here and tower,” Solid said, “she must be on the second floor of the tower.”

“If Wolf is in the communications tower, she can see you perfectly!” Colonel Campbell said sharply, “it’s the classic sniper’s position!! At that distance you won’t be able to hit her with a standard weapon, either! You’ll need a sniper rifle.”

“Colonel! Take it easy.”

Colonel Campbell frowned, but didn’t say anything.

“I’m going to save Meryl no matter what it takes,” Solid assured him.

“Okay,” Colonel Campbell said, calmer now. “Thanks.”

“As long as she stays still, she shouldn’t be in too much risk of bleeding out,” Dr. Patel said, “don’t rush and make any stupid mistakes, Snake.”

“Good luck!” Mei Ling said.

Solid signed off and called Otacon. He managed to get the location of a PSG-1 out of him, but he was oddly reluctant and seemed weirdly attached to the subject of a sniper. On his way to the second floor basement of the tank hangar, Solid called Miller back.

“Tell me what the hell is going on around here, Master,” he said gruffly, “Meryl’s just been shot and I need to know.”

“It doesn’t really have anything to do with Meryl…”

“Master, please!

“Right,” Miller sighed, “right, I’m sorry. To be honest, I should have told you this years ago. Okay. Snake, I know that Big Boss eventually told you that he was your father… but did he ever tell you that you weren’t his only son?”

Chapter Text

“What?” Solid said, stopping in his tracks for a brief moment before getting moving again. “What did you say, Master?”

“You aren’t Big Boss’ only son,” Miller said, “you have a twin brother.”

“Don’t tell me it’s…”

“…Liquid, yes. That’s why he looks exactly like a palette-swapped version of you, Snake.”

“Damn. Master, how long have you known about this?”

“I’ve… I’ve known about the two of you since not long after you were born.”

“What?!”

Even on the Codec screen, Solid could see Miller wince. “It’s true,” he said, “and when you joined FOXHOUND and I found out you weren’t aware… I was going to tell you. Big Boss stopped me. Said he didn’t consider you a son anyway, so there was no point in you knowing about it. It goes without saying that that was his attitude towards Liquid, too.”

Solid wasn’t entirely sure how to process this. “But…” he thought back to the briefing he’d gotten on the USS Discovery. “I thought it was Big Boss who rescued Liquid from Iraq.”

“Well, it was and wasn’t. It’s a long story, Snake.”

“And how do you know Liquid, anyway?”

“That’s… part of the long story. As is how I know Mantis… and Ocelot.”

“Master…”

“It’s better if I don’t tell you all at once,” Miller said quickly, “we can continue this conversation later. For now you need to focus on taking out that sniper.”

“I…”

“Don’t worry about Liquid being your brother - you have to take him out, so so be it. Remember, family ultimately doesn’t have much to do with blood. It’s about who loves you, not who shares your genes.”

“…”

Solid hung up, picking up the PSG-1 and looking around for some ammo. He knew Miller had a good point about family, probably one that was born from, as far as he knew, the divorce that had ended with him taking full custody of his daughter Catherine, at least until she went off to college. He was probably trying to say that Big Boss wasn’t any more Solid’s father than his ex-wife was Catherine’s mother, and by extension Solid shouldn’t really think of Liquid as being his brother. Honestly, Solid wasn’t planning on worrying about that anyway.

But mostly because after committing patricide - twice - fratricide really didn’t seem so objectionable.


“You’re in position, Wolf?” Liquid said over Codec.

“Yesssss,” Wolf said, drawing the word out in anticipation, “I am ready. Is Silverburgh…?”

“We’ve bandaged her and put her up in your quarters,” Liquid said, “don’t want her too close to where we’ll be holding Snake for a bit… video feed from the medical room’s already set up, but last I checked she was still unconscious. Still, we’ve got guards. Well, a guard, anyway.”

“Snake should be there any minute now,” Mantis said from where he was still pouting the corner.

“Do you know where Emmerich is?” Wolf asked suddenly.

“Hm? Emmerich?” Liquid said.

“I told him to stay in his quarters, but I doubt he listened to me.”

“He wasn’t there when Silverburgh was getting dropped off. Mantis?”

“I… am not sure,” Mantis said, “he is certainly still on the island somewhere, but it is not a part I recognize. I’m afraid I do not know my way around this place very well.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Liquid said. “Just remember, Wolf - you are not to kill Snake.”

Fine,” Wolf said in almost exaggerated disappointment.

Liquid hung up for now, sighing. Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t recall another time when Wolf was hunting someone she was expressly forbidden to murder. And it didn’t help matters that the more she thought about Solid, the more she decided she really liked him. She had actually said, to Liquid’s face, that she thought Solid was pretty sexy because he looked exactly like Liquid but better because while Liquid was of course very attractive she happened to prefer dark hair, pale skin, and unkempt stubble (all of which was news to Liquid), and also she was fairly certain that Solid wasn’t gay.

Liquid didn’t bother pointing out to her that he wasn’t gay, but bi. He’d already told her that a dozen times, and she always forgot.

“Eli, you have never expressed any actual, visible interest in women,” Mantis said in an extremely bored tone of voice.

“That’s because I never express any actual, visible interest in anyone besides you. …and Ocelot, at one time.”

“At one time,” Mantis scoffed.

Wolf called back on Codec. “He’s here,” she breathed, “he’s here, he’s here, he’s here…”

“Hurry up and shoot him already, then,” Liquid said.

There were two successive gunshots, and Wolf made a small grunt. “He is good,” she said, “Snake… you will not be getting away from me that easily…” Another gunshot. Wolf cried out.

“Everything going alright over there?” Liquid said, alarmed.

“He clipped me!” Wolf said, “he tore my coat.”

“I can fix it later, Wolf…”

“How dare he-! I will shoot him. I will. Oh, I want him—“

Liquid hung up, mouth drawn into a thin line. There had been excitement, in every meaning of the word, extremely evident in her voice. As much as he and Wolf were pretty much best friends and had been for more than a decade, sometimes she really was just too weird for him.

Meanwhile on the second floor of the communications tower, Wolf was having a hard time getting a bead on Solid. Of course, he was probably having an even harder time getting a bead on her - he was lying on his stomach with a PSG-1, but also angling his body so that it was hidden behind the corner of the wall. On the plus side that meant he had to bend his arms pretty unnaturally to aim at Wolf, so his shots largely missed and whenever they narrowly scraped by her, all she had to do was move a few feet over.

But she just couldn’t line up a good shot. A couple times his head had been exposed, but she couldn’t take those - as badly as she wanted to just kill him right now, she knew she couldn’t. Solid Snake himself wasn’t her prey per se — the Patriots were. Solid was going to help her - help FOXHOUND - hunt them down.

As such she was restrained to non-lethal flesh wounds (hence why she’d swapped out her mercury bullets for normal ones… if she’d had a tranquilizer rifle, she would have used that. Perhaps she should look into it sometime), and those were very difficult to do when concrete walls prevented any body shots.

A laser sight shone directly into her scope, and she recoiled instinctively to protect her retina - and a good thing too, a second later Solid’s gun went off and the glass of her scope shattered, and Wolf cried out as she felt a hot pain under her hair. “God-damned fucking donkey shit son a of whore,” she hissed in Kurmanji, clapping her hand to the side of her head, which was bleeding profusely, “he shot off half my fucking ear!”

Abandoning the battle, figuring Solid would assume he won and make his approach, she jogged off down the stairs (leaving spatterings of blood on the ground behind her) and back inside, quickly finding a tucked-away closet with a towel, which she used to wipe all the blood off her, and a small first-aid kit. She tossed her hair out of the way and, ignoring the feeling of her ear canal slowly filling with blood as she tilted her head to keep her hair out of the way, hastily taped a gauze pad over her ear. An inelegant solution, but it would work for now. She could disinfect it and all later. At least she wouldn’t need painkillers, the diazepam made her not care.

Taking her rifle back in hand, she headed back outside and saw that, just as planned just in case, a group of more-intimidating-looking-than-they-actually-were Genome Soldiers had ambushed Solid as soon as he walked up to where Wolf had been stationed. She sneered at the way Solid was holding his hands up and waiting for something to happen, and walked over.

“It’s hard to miss when you’re this close,” she said, keeping her rifle levelled at Solid’s chest. “Toss your weapon over here… slowly.”

Solid, keeping his eyes fixed on Wolf, pulled out his SOCOM, dropped it to the ground, and kicked it in Wolf’s direction. One of the Genome Soldiers picked it up. Wolf didn’t doubt that Solid had more weapons on him, but she also didn’t doubt he was at least bright enough to not try anything right now - that, and she didn’t doubt that it was technically Liquid’s sneaking suit they’d given him to wear, so in a few minutes Liquid would be able to turn out all of his hidden pockets anyway, so to speak.

“You are a fool to come down here,” Wolf growled, still a little pissed about her ear, “stupid man!”

“A lady sniper, huh?” Solid said, raising an eyebrow.

Wolf scoffed. “Didn't you know that two-thirds of the world's greatest assassins are women? Do you want to die now? Or after your female friend? Which will it be?”

“I’ll die after I kill you.”

She laughed. Cute. “Is that right? Well… at least you’ve got spirit.” She lowered her gun and ran her hand back through her hair, un-sticking a few strands that were caught in the medical tape - although to Solid it would look like a purely showy gesture. “I am Sniper Wolf,” she introduced herself, “and I always kill what I aim at.”

She walked up to him. He didn’t move, even when she reached out and took his face in her hand.

“You’re my… special prey. I need you for something,” she said. “Got it?”

Solid stared at her blankly. Wolf abruptly raked her nails down his cheek, leaving three long red lines. Solid’s only reaction was a little displeased noise, and nothing else. Wolf scowled.

“I’ve left my mark on you,” she said, “I won’t forget it. Even if you try to escape, I will find you. And as long as I must hunt you, you’ll be all I think about.”

She signalled subtly, and the guard behind Solid hit him hard in the back of his with the butt of his FAMAS. Solid groaned and fell to the ground. Wolf could see the consciousness fading from his eyes as two of the Genome Soldiers took him by an arm each and started dragging him back towards the underground passage and the nuclear warhead storage building.

“He is on his way,” Wolf said over Codec. “Is everything prepared? Has Emmerich been located?”

Liquid’s reply was rather indistinct. Wolf frowned. Oh, of course, it was her right ear, the one that had just been shot and was now filled with blood, that had the Codec installed in it. She’d have to take care of that before she could really get in touch with the rest of her team… she disconnected, and started following the Genome Soldiers. They were headed for the medical room anyway.


“I want no more accidents like the DARPA chief,” Liquid said to Ocelot dryly as Mantis was helping Wolf clean and bandage her ear properly in the corner of the room. Solid was already hooked up to the torture device, more or less horizontal and still unconscious.

“Yes,” Wolf snapped, turning her head towards Liquid and Ocelot and eliciting an annoyed noise from Mantis, “if he will not join us and we must kill him, I want to do it.”

Liquid shook his head - he supposed Wolf had a right to be irritated about having everything above her crus of helix ripped off by glass shards and a 7.62x51mm NATO round. He walked over to Solid and scrutinized him. “Can you hear me, Solid Snake?”

“He’s tougher than I thought,” Wolf grumbled, letting Mantis go back to fixing up her ear.

“Do you know who I am?” Liquid said to Solid, even though he wasn’t getting any kind of response from him currently, “I always knew that one day I would meet you. I always wondered what you were like, what you were doing out there all alone in the world…” He stepped back, more talking to himself than Solid now. “And now, after the sacrifice of our ‘brothers’… after thirty long years, finally the two of us meet. The brother of light…” he titled his head, running his eyes up and down Solid’s body. He’d been sent in in his sneaking suit alright, but that just meant that Liquid happened to know that all his inventory space was in the top part of it, which was easily removed. “…and the brother of dark.”

Wolf walked over. Her ear must have been taken care of now, because she had her hair brushed back over it and if Liquid hadn’t already known he would have never guessed she was injured. “Is the video feed to my quarters working properly?”

“Yes,” Liquid said, “is your Codec?”

“It should be. Try calling me.”

Liquid touched the side of his neck and a second passed, then Wolf nodded. “I hear it ringing,” she said.

“Good,” Liquid said, “they’re bloody useful, I’d rather as much of the team as possible keep theirs.”

“What about Snake’s?” Wolf said, staring at him. He still hadn’t stirred. “His needs to be disabled, no?”

“He should be using a temporary model like Genome Soldiers’,” Liquid said, “the kind with nanomachine batteries that don’t last very long.”

“And the kind that can be short-circuited easily,” Ocelot said, “high voltage, low amperage. It’ll knock out his Codec, at least until we get it repaired or replaced if we need to, but there’s very little risk of him dying.”

Keep it on very little risk of him dying,” Liquid reminded him.

Ocelot twitched his moustache in annoyance, but nodded anyway. Then he glanced at Solid. “Boss,” he said, “it looks like our friend is awake.”

With his one functional hand Ocelot did something at the machine’s control panel to lower Solid into a more vertical position. Liquid stood in front of him, unable to keep the gleeful smirk off his face, which the still woozy Solid didn’t appreciate.

“There definitely is a resemblance,” Liquid said thoughtfully, looking Solid up and down again. He stepped forward, deliberately invading Solid’s personal space, even going so far as to brush a strand of hair off of his forehead. Solid’s lips twitched. “Don’t you think, little brother? or should I say big brother? I’m not sure…” Liquid stepped back again. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter.”

“Eli,” Mantis said abruptly, “there’s an incident brewing in the residential area.”

Liquid glanced at him. “Hm? Is it important?”

“Better not to say in front of Snake.”

“We’ll talk outside.” Mantis nodded and stepped out of the room. Liquid turned around again. “Ocelot, you’re in charge here.”

“What about you?” Ocelot said to Wolf, “wanna stay for the show?”

“I’m not interested,” Wolf said, “it’s time to feed the family.” She pulled out her diazepam and took a few.

The corner of Ocelot’s mouth twitched. “So, you prefer your wolves to my show, huh?”

“Ocelot, don’t screw up like you did with the chief,” Liquid said warningly.

“Yes, I know,” Ocelot said, “that was an accident. And about that ninja…”

“He’s killed twelve men today,” Liquid grumbled, “whoever he is, he’s some kind of lunatic.”

“Bastard took my hand…”

“Well, we won’t have to deal with him for much longer anyway. Make this little torture show of yours as short as possible, Ocelot.”

“Torture?” Ocelot said indignantly, “this is gentle persuasion.”

“As you wish,” Liquid said dismissively. He looked at Solid again. “See you later, brother…”

He left the room, his coat sweeping dramatically behind him as he did. Dimly Solid noted that the reason why it had looked so worn earlier was because it had obviously, at some point, sustained a long cut in the tail and had been sewn back together, quite skilfully but with the wrong color thread.

“Your woman is still in this world,” Wolf said, walking up in front of Solid and casually feeling up his chest.

“Meryl…” Solid said hoarsely.

“Catch you later, handsome.” Wolf followed Liquid out. Ocelot let out a low whistle.

“Once she picks a target, she doesn't think about anything else,” he said to Solid. “Sometimes she even falls in love with them before she kills them.” He shook his head, a gesture Solid found strangely… fatherly? Perhaps that was too close a relation. Uncle-ly, maybe. “Finally, just the two of us,” he went on, “how are you feeling?”

“Not bad,” Solid replied, “I caught a nice nap on this revolving bed of yours. Too bad I was sleeping alone.”

(“He would never say that if he knew what kind of track record Ocelot has,” Mantis muttered out in the hallway.

“Mantis, focus,” Liquid said, “what’s going on in the residential area? I’m guessing it has something to do with Silverburgh.”

“She has not escaped, has she?” Wolf said.)

“Glad to hear that,” Ocelot said. “This is some bed alright. I'm about to show you some of its nicer features…”

“Where are my things?” Solid said.

“Oh, don’t worry. They’re all here.” He started adjusting settings on the console to the machine. “Washington was taking quite a chance sending you here. Quite the mistake, as it turns out, actually.”

“What are you talking about? And what Wolf said…”

“You’ll see soon enough. Now…” His hand moved over to what Solid presumed was the ‘begin torture sequence’ switch.

“I don’t have any information,” Solid said flatly.

“That’s alright,” Ocelot said right before he hit the switch.

Outside in the hallway, Liquid poorly hid a wince at the screaming emanating from the medical room. His only real consolation here was the fact that the missing hand was probably killing Ocelot’s mood. Then again, he was in all likelihood still high from all the painkillers, and Liquid couldn’t say for sure how that affected Mr. I’ve-had-drug-resistance-training in there.

Mantis shook his head. “Anyway, the guard assigned to Silverburgh, the one called Holwell - yes, Eli, I know that name means nothing to you - he—“ He cut himself off with an annoyed huff as Octopus strolled up to them, peeling off his DARPA chief mask as he did.

“Figured there wasn’t much point in staying around in the cell now that Snake’s been captured,” he said, “what’s going on right now?”

Solid’s screaming started up again as if in answer.

“Oh, I see,” Octopus said, putting his hands in his pockets. “You know… did it occur to any of you that torturing someone might not be the best way to convince them to join your cause?”

There was a long pause. Liquid, Wolf, and Mantis all exchanged glances. Solid’s screaming died off, being replaced with muffled conversation.

“…I kind of figured,” Octopus said, “let me guess: That’s how they did it at Outer Heaven.”

“Well, it was effective,” Liquid sniffed.

“May I speak now?” Mantis said.

“Sorry. Go ahead.”

“For one thing, Silverburgh is about to wake up. For another thing, that guard assigned to keep watch - he’s noticed that she is, in fact, currently injured and vulnerable, and therefore unable to fight back, and he is planning to… take advantage of her.”

“…pardon?”

“Oh, disgusting,” Wolf said, “surely you’re not serious, Mantis.”

“I would never lie about this,” Mantis said, in an even more disdainful tone than he used on even Ocelot anymore. “He thinks he would be able to get away with it.”

Liquid pulled out his SOCOM, checked that he still had a bullet in the chamber, and put it back in his holster. “Well,” he said brightly, “torture’s fine, but I’m not about to let that happen right under my nose.”

“Uh… you feeling okay, boss?” Octopus said.

“Of course I am. Besides, one of us needed to head over to Silverburgh anyway, she simply must see what’s about to happen to Snake and it wouldn’t do if she gets it into her head that she’s free to look away from the video feed.”

“I’ll handle that, boss,” Wolf said, giving him the same mildly confused, somewhat concerned look Octopus was giving him, “you can discipline the soldier.”

“Certainly. Come along then, Wolf.” The two of them headed off in the direction of the sleeping quarters.

“…think you should go with?” Octopus said to Mantis.

“Most likely,” Mantis said, “but… I also want to keep an eye on Ocelot, we have come too far for him to ruin our plans somehow…”

“If you insist. Me, I’m going to go take off the rest of this costume. Seriously, half this nation needs to go on a diet…”

Chapter Text

“Holwell, was it?”

The Genome Soldier Liquid addressed jumped and turned around, and saluted. “Yes sir!”

“I’ve just had a rather interesting conversation with my dear friend Mantis - you know, the psychic in our unit,” Liquid said in a very light tone as Wolf brushed past him and the soldier to enter her room, where Meryl was.

“Uh… sir?”

“Do you know what he said about you, Holwell?”

“No sir.”

Liquid’s strained smile widened. “He said you were planning to rape the female prisoner here. Is that true, Holwell?”

The soldier stared at Liquid blankly for a moment, then looked evasively to the side. “Well, she’s just a hostage, sir,” he said, “and it’s not like Geneva convention applies to us, anyway, I mean, Ocelot’s been torturing people with that electric shock machine for like half the time since the revolution started.”

“So it is true.”

“What’s she gonna do about it?”

“Nothing,” Liquid said, “she can’t. She’s injured fairly badly and I’m certain at this point she’s still rather out of it, too.”

“Exactly, sir. Say,” the soldier said, looking at him again, “ya know, if you want, you can join in—“

Liquid shot him in the face.

Wolf poked her head out the door, looking at the dead Genome Soldier on the ground, then back up at Liquid.

“I do not think that’s good for morale,” she said.

“I think getting rid of a professed rapist would be extremely good for morale,” Liquid said. His maniacally cheerful demeanor had dropped, and he was scowling as he changed out his SOCOM’s magazine and pulled back the slide before returning it to his holster. “Unbelievable. I knew the Genome Army wasn’t exactly the cream of the crop, but to think people like this were in it…”

“There are always a few bad people in every group, boss,” Wolf said, “just one out of 150 is actually pretty good.”

“Well, it’s zero now. How’s Silverburgh?”

“Semi-conscious.”

“Wake her up. It’s very important that she sees this.”

“I know, I know, boss…”


The current abruptly stopped, letting Solid’s body un-tense slightly, head lolling as he sagged against the frame. Ocelot watched him appraisingly from under his eyelashes, fiddling with the controls with his one hand.

“You’re a strong man,” Ocelot said, “you’re the boss’ brother alright.”

Solid didn’t reply. His mouth tasted like charcoal.

Ocelot left the control console and stepped closer, but thankfully not as close as Liquid had earlier - not enough to encroach on Solid’s personal space and make him legitimately wary of an unwanted touch. It’d be extra unwanted from Ocelot considering how many rounds of high-voltage electricity he’d just been through.

“Your brother…” Ocelot murmured. “He’s an amazing man. Who else could shoot down two F-16s with a Hind helicopter? The ‘Les Enfants Terribles’ project was not a… total failure. It was actually quite successful, I’d say. Just not in the way they intended.”

What the hell was he talking about?

Ocelot stepped away again, returning to the control console. “He,” he said, “will make my dream into a reality.”

“And what…” Solid cleared his throat. It hurt. Maybe talking wasn’t such a hot idea right now, but he didn’t want to let Ocelot think he was getting to him. “What would that be?”

“You’ll be finding out soon enough,” Ocelot said, starting up the current again.


Meryl was roused back to full consciousness by Wolf roughly shaking her shoulder. She squinted up at her, for a moment forgetting everything that had happened over the past few days and only vaguely thinking that she had overslept and Wolf was just considerately waking her roommate in time for the Genome Army’s morning roll-call. Only she couldn’t quite figure out why she was in bed instead of in a sleeping bag and pad on the floor, surely she hadn’t… done anything with Wolf? Meryl generally considered herself straight even if for some reason she recalled sarcastically telling someone recently that she’d had psychotherapy to destroy her interest in men, so maybe it had just gotten really cold last night.

“What was…” she mumbled drowsily, her mouth strangely dry, “what was that noise just now…? Sounded like a gunshot…”

“That would be Liquid defending your virtue,” Wolf said.

Meryl blinked, extremely confused, and then went pale(r) as she suddenly remembered everything, the revolt, her imprisonment, the ArmsTech president, escaping, meeting up with Solid, getting shot— the wounds in her legs and arm started throbbing hot and painful as though triggered only by her thinking about it. She felt very woozy. She belatedly realized her uninjured arm was zip-tied to Wolf’s bed-frame.

“W-What? What the hell’s going on?!”

“Snake tried to rescue you,” Wolf said, “but he failed.”

“H-Huh!?”

“Look.” When Meryl didn’t react fast enough, Wolf grabbed her hair and dragged her up, forcing her to look at a TV someone had wheeled into the room at some point. It took Meryl a second to figure out what she was seeing - the rumored torture chamber, the so-called medical room, and the centerpiece was a large metal device with Solid Snake strapped to it.

Meryl opened her mouth to cry out in shock and horror, but no noise came when electricity arced on-screen, and Solid started jerking and convulsing. She could see his mouth open like he was screaming but there didn’t seem to be any audio.

“Why?!” Meryl screamed as Solid stilled, then started twisting in his restraints a little. “Why are you doing this?!” She wanted to look away but Wolf’s fist in her hair kept her face pointed towards the screen, and somehow she couldn’t bring herself to close her eyes.

“This is a terrorist operation, not an actual armed conflict,” Wolf said, “the rules of war do not apply. There is no Geneva convention. We are free to do whatever we like with the two of you.”

“But— please, you can’t do this to him! He doesn’t know anything, I swear!!”

“This is as much about you as it is him.”

Meryl cried out again as Solid started getting electrocuted once more, and she felt tears start to drop down her cheeks and to the blanket below. Weakly she tried to push Wolf away with her injured arm but it hurt to move and Wolf just ignored her.

“In fact,” Wolf said, “I would say this is more about you.”

“Please, no,” Meryl sobbed, “this is worse than torture, please let him go!”

“Mmm… I’m afraid we do not have that option at this point.”

“I-I’ll do anything!”

Solid abruptly slumped. He didn’t seem to be moving now. Meryl’s breath caught in her throat.

“He’s not… he’s not-—“

“It seems so,” Wolf said.

“S-Snake’s not… he’s not dead!”

“Look at him,” Wolf said, pushing Meryl’s head towards the TV screen until the shoulder of her zip-tied arm spasmed in pain. “Absolutely still. That last shock must have been too much for him.”

“No way! No way, not Snake-!”

“Even Solid Snake is only human, and humans can only survive so much electricity coursing through their fragile bodies.”

“He’s fine! L-Look, he’s breathing!! See?!”

Wolf let go of Meryl and walked up to the TV, and scrutinized the screen for a moment before turning back to Meryl. “Post-mortem spasms,” she announced, “electricity will do that sometimes.”

“No!! No!!! That’s not true!!!” Desperately Meryl tried to raise Solid on Codec, but… he wasn’t picking up.

No way. No way.

“Noooooooooooo! Snake!! Snake!!!

Her sobs returned full force. Wolf watched her for about half a minute, then turned off the TV and walked out, shutting off the lights and closing the door behind her.

“You,” she said to a passing Genome Soldier.

“Uh, I’m still on my patrol route,” the soldier said, “I was just on my way back from the bathro— is that Holwell?!”

Wolf glanced at the body of the soldier Liquid had shot earlier, which was still lying on the floor. Whoops. “Yes,” she said honestly, “I will tell someone else to come put him with the other bodies. In the meantime, I need someone to guard the woman in this room here.”

“…woman, huh?” the soldier said suspiciously, looking up from the corpse. In the brief lull in conversation, Meryl’s crying could be heard even out in the hallway. “She’s not going to knock me out and strip me naked again, is she?”

“…what?”

“Um… nevermind,” the soldier said, then sneezed. “Ugh… yeah, I’ll guard her, no problem.”

“Mm.”


Even before Solid cracked open his eyes he took a moment to appreciate how much the aftermath of being electrocuted within an inch of your life felt strangely like the overstimulated exhaustion that followed jacking off one too many times in the same hour. He was numb to his core and yet his skin was excruciatingly hypersensitive, and every breath was ragged and felt like it didn’t quite fill his lungs all the way, but on the plus side it was his hands and feet that ached and felt horribly raw instead of his dick.

He opened his eyes to a maggot squirming its way out from under the DARPA chief’s dull, flat eyeball.

“Gah!”

He sat up quickly, ignoring his body’s protest, and took a second look. Yep, that was definitely the DARPA chief. And he’d definitely been dead for… at least a couple days, it was hard to tell considering his blood seemed to have been drained. But he was starting to decompose - Solid’s senses were still a little fried, but nonetheless he could still pick up the overpowering, sickly sweet, wet stench of something dead.

Except… last Solid had checked, the DARPA chief was still alive…

Very confused, Solid attempted to call Colonel Campbell, but his Codec on the fritz. Huh… it must have gotten shorted out. None of his frequencies were working, not even the non-burst transmission ones. He didn’t have any way to contact anyone. Hell, there wasn’t even a guard in here.

Solid was completely alone.

He tried to piece together what had just happened, and what FOXHOUND wanted from him. What mostly bothered him was Wolf saying something like “If he will not join us…” Of course, he’d only been semi-conscious at best when he’d overheard that, so he supposed he really couldn’t be positive that she had even said that in the first place. And, his mind now returned to that hallucination Mantis had accidentally given him - why had they been talking about Big Boss? He remembered that Big Boss’ body had been part of their demands for the sake of the Genome Army… but that little snippet of conversation didn’t exactly seem like they were talking about anything to do with the Genome Army…

And Solid had never got to hear the rest of the ‘long story’ Miller had promised him. What did he know about the current members of FOXHOUND? Was it anything that would help him escape right now? Not that it really mattered if Solid had no way to get in touch with him…

Solid hauled himself up off the floor and sat down on the bed, hissing as he did. His whole body really was very tender, and keeping his balance for even the few short steps over to the bed had been difficult as his muscles kept twitching and spasming randomly. He held a hand up in front of his face. The skin of his wrist was blistered and white, and while it didn’t look too bad Solid recalled from a million first aid lessons back in his Army days that the real damage behind electrical burns was usually subdermal.

Wasn’t much he could do about that right now, though. Just resign himself to the fact that he was going to be hurting for a long time.

The door to the room his isolation cell was stationed in slid open. Solid glanced up. No one. Huh.

“Hey!”

Huh?

“I’m here!”

Solid sat up, looking around. There still wasn’t anyone there - was he hallucinating again? “Where?” he said cautiously.

“Here.” Otacon deactivated his stealth camouflage, and… that explained why the voice had sounded so much like him… “It’s me,” he said, standing right in front of the door to Solid’s cell, and gestured for him to come closer.

“Otacon!” Said said, unable to keep the warmth - and surprise - out of his voice, standing up and walking over to him. It was easier this time, his muscles had started to stop jerking around so much.

“Wow,” Otacon said, “they even captured you.”

Solid reached through the bars of the door’s window and grabbed Otacon - who didn’t react for a second before going completely stiff - by the hoodie, lifting him up so his heels left the floor and shaking him back and forth. “Hurry,” he hissed, “get me out of here!”

“Let me go!” Otacon whined, eyes wide, hands scrabbling at Solid’s, “that hurts!”

“Hurry up!”

“Is that how you ask a guy a favor? Let me go.” Solid dropped him, and Otacon huffed, straightening his hoodie. “Jeez, it’s like an animal’s cage.” He paused, sniffed curiously, and then leaned forward, trying to get a good look at the interior of the cell. “What a smell…!”

Solid stepped aside, giving Otacon a better view, and gestured to the corpse in the corner. “Because of him…”

Otacon let out a short shriek (“Eeyah!”) and stepped back. “The- the DARPA chief?! How? I thought you said he was still alive!”

“He is,” Solid said, “or at least, he was last I saw him.”

“No way he would be this decomposed by now, anyway… what the heck, Snake? He didn’t have a twin or anything, did he?”

Solid snorted. “Nevermind that. If you don’t hurry up and get me out of here, I’ll be laying next to him.”

“Those bastards!” Otacon said, although he sounded more offended than aggressive. “This lock won’t open with a security card; you need a key like the soldiers carry,” he told Solid.

“So what are you doing here, then?” Solid retorted. Then he blinked. “Actually, what are you doing here?”

“I overheard some of the soldiers talking,” Otacon said, “about how you’d been captured. About how you’d been…”

“?”

“…nevermind. Anyway, I figured you’d probably be here, so I came right away, just to make sure.”

“Make sure? That I’d been captured?”

“Uh… yeah.” Otacon glanced to the side. “But I thought, just in case, I’d bring something that might be able to help…” He pulled a ration out of his hoodie, and handed it to Solid through the bars. “Here. I… I thought you might be hungry. If you need more food, I can bring some more later.”

Solid stared blankly at the ration in his hands. Well… maybe he would have been feeling sort of hungry by now if he hadn’t just been electrocuted, and it wasn’t like he had any food of his own at the moment, since he’d been stripped. But mostly it was just the thought that counted, right?

Otacon seemed to pick up on Solid’s dubiousness, and pulled some other stuff out of his hoodie, handing it to Solid through the bars again. “Also, I got this level six card, it’ll get you out of that torture room. And…”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a handkerchief,” Otacon said, almost sheepishly. “I got it from Sniper Wolf.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know why, but she’s nice to me.”

“Sounds like Stockholm syndrome to me.” Right after he said that he remembered that captors sympathizing with their hostages was actually called Lima syndrome, and Stockholm syndrome was when hostages sympathized with their captors. But he didn’t correct himself — the weird fondness in Otacon’s voice when he talked about Sniper Wolf convinced him that he was right anyway.

“I was taking care of the dogs here,” Otacon was saying, “After the terrorists took over, they were planning to shoot all the dogs. But Sniper Wolf stopped them... she even let me feed them when I asked. She likes dogs. She must be a good person.”

Solid decided not to point out that Hitler liked dogs.

“Please don't hurt her.”

“Wake up, you idiot!” Solid said, irritated, “she’s the one who shot Meryl!”

Otacon took a step back, not looking Solid in the face. “Well,” he said waveringly, “that’s all I can do…”

“They’re planning to launch a nuke! I’ve got to stop them!”

“Then you’ll have to get past the communications tower.”

“First you’ve got to get me out of here!”

“C’mon…” Otacon adjusted his glasses nervously, “I’m trying my best…”

“There’s got to be a soldier around here somewhere with a key,” Solid said, “you’ll have to find him, and take him out!”

Otacon blanched. “Give me a break!” he cried, “I’m no soldier! I can’t take anybody out!”

“You have to!!”

“I’ll be killed!”

They both froze at the sound of someone walking none-too-carefully down the adjacent hallway.

“Someone’s coming,” Otacon said in a terrified whisper, backing away from Solid. He turned his stealth camouflage back on. “See ya later…”

“Wait!” Solid called after him. The door slid open, then closed.

He was gone.

Solid stared at the door for a moment, hoping somewhat grudgingly that Otacon would be able to just slip by whoever was out in the hallway, then turned his attention to the ration, the keycard, and the handkerchief.

Wolf’s, huh? he thought, raising it to his nose and inhaling. Yup, smelled like her alright. Like gunpowder, mostly, with hints of dog.


As Otacon fled into the hallway, he found that the footsteps he and Solid had heard had belonged to Wolf. He felt oddly relieved. Good, he could probably get away clean, then—

Wolf must have heard him breathing or something because she whirled around, rifle at the ready, and smacked Otacon across the jaw with its barrel. His stealth camouflage deactivated at the blow. They both stared at each for half a moment.

“Mantis said you were in there,” Wolf said with a sneer, adjusting her rifle so that she was now aiming it at Otacon’s forehead. Otacon wanted to believe that hitting him in the face with her gun had been an accident, although it made him fremdschämen a little to think he was probably right about that…

“U-Um,” Otacon said, eyes fixed on the bore of the gun, “if he knew where I was, how come no one came to apprehend me sooner?”

“…” Wolf frowned. “He finds out where people are by looking through their eyes… it isn’t very helpful if the person he is locating is in an area he is unfamiliar with…”

“Ah.”

She shook her head. “Nevermind. You must come with me now.”

“Am I… getting taken prisoner again?”

“Yes.”

She lowered her gun and started walking off, not even glancing over her shoulder like she just expected him to follow her. Except Otacon wasn’t stupid, so he… followed her obediently.

Hey, if he didn’t, he’d just get shot. He knew that.

“At least I’ll get to see Meryl again,” Otacon said, largely to himself, with a kind of weak optimism.

“Oh, no,” Wolf said, “absolutely not. You and she cannot see each other anymore.”

“Huh? Why?”

“None of your concern.”

By that point they were already standing in front of the cells that had once held Meryl and the DARPA chief. Both were empty. Wolf patted him down, presumably for cardkeys, and confiscated his stealth camouflage but left his other belongings alone, then herded him into one of the cells and locked the door behind him.

Great. Right across the hall from Solid, and no guard, either, but Otacon was still stuck here with no options other than waiting around for what he didn’t even know.

“Stay put this time,” she said, “we will decide what to do with you later.”


The door to the room Solid’s cell was in opened and closed again, and when Solid glanced up there was no one there. He got up off the bed, rubbing his arm.

There was a brief spark at the lock of the door to his cell, and then it slid open. Someone was standing there, but Solid couldn’t exactly tell who, since right now it was less a person and more a person-shaped distortion in the air. Stealth camouflage again.

“Otacon?” Solid said, somewhat uncertainly, walking towards him quickly. “So you’re here to get me out…”

The stealth camouflage deactivated. Gray Fox stood in front of Solid for about half a second before jumping up and disappearing somewhere past the ceiling tile that had just ‘spontaneously’ been sliced neatly in half.

Chapter Text

“We could always just shoot him,” Liquid said.

Wolf put her hands on her hips. “You told him you would let him live if he cooperated. He has been cooperating.”

“Well, yes, but… no one’s supposed to know Snake’s still alive, so we don’t really have the option of letting him around free…”

“That’s why I put him in the prison.”

“That’s only a temporary solution, Wolf.”

“We could take him with us,” Mantis yawned, “after all, we never did find someone on our R&D team to join our cause. He could be extremely useful.”

Liquid and Wolf both blinked at each other, then turned to Mantis at the same time.

“Was that an actually helpful suggestion just now, Mantis?” Liquid said incredulously.

“Oh, enough, Eli. Just because I find nearly everything you have planned to be completely ridiculous does not mean I cannot contribute.”

“I second the motion,” Wolf said, throwing one arm up, “I think we should take Emmerich with us, and make him use his talents to our advantage.”

“A travel-along hostage, huh… well, I’ll think about it. Mantis, how is the, erm, ‘evacuation’ going?”

“All the Genome Soldiers in the basement of the tank hangar are gone by now,” Mantis said, “the ones stationed in the hangar itself, the heliport, and the dock are filtering out.”

“And they’re all under the impression that they and everyone else have just spontaneously decided to desert?”

“Yes, none of them are any the wiser. Word has naturally gotten around of Snake’s ‘death’, so I am simply letting their fear of being bombed out of existence override their ‘loyalty’ to you.”

“Nice of you to evacuate the Genome Army, boss,” Wolf said.

Liquid shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t think any of them are going to last very long in the wild anyhow. But I don’t want to risk any of them getting in our way as we leave, so… anyway, I’m going to go talk to Snake.”

Five minutes later Liquid came running back into the command room, snow-caked boots sliding the last few feet back to Wolf and Mantis. He was livid.

“Where the fuck is Snake?!”


“Hey, boss,” Octopus said over Codec, “Snake just passed by me, he’s headed to the communications towers now. Didn’t even glance my way…” Of course, why should he when Octopus was rather lazily disguised as a Genome Soldier…

“Good,” Liquid said stiffly. Octopus could tell he wasn’t really paying attention to the call - he was seated in Metal Gear, working on getting it activated and functional before Solid showed up at the maintenance base. As far as Octopus knew the only instructions Liquid had on how to run the thing had been entirely verbal and given three weeks ago, but somehow he didn’t doubt Liquid would figure it out.

“Want me to call Raven and have him intercept and buy you a little time? Last I checked he was hanging out in warehouse, Snake’s gonna have to pass through there.”

“No, there’s no point. I’ll call and have him fall back to wherever the hell Ocelot got himself off to—“

“He’s over in the residential area, he needed to go lie down for a while. Painkillers wearing off, I think.”

“—the point is that I want Snake here as soon as possible and I don’t give a damn if he thinks he’s walking into a trap or not. I want to take him down-! I know, Mantis, I know!!”

Probably reminding him that killing Solid was the literal opposite of their goal. “Okay, boss,” Octopus said, somewhat skeptically, “by the way, why are there dogs wandering around everywhere?”

“…that would be Wolf. She opened up their yard so they could run free from this place, but some of them just came inside instead.”

“I see…”

Solid was in fact starting to suspect he was walking into a trap. Or maybe he was just extra on-edge because of his broken Codec. He hadn’t happened to run into Otacon again, nor Gray Fox, and for whatever reason the population of the base seemed to have dramatically lessened, leaving most of it in an eerie, empty silence. Where had all the Genome Soldiers gone…? On the rare occasion now that he did pass one, they were inevitably walking anxiously towards the nearest exit. Solid could pretty much prance around the base openly without anyone seeing him.

He had a sinking feeling that, since his Codec was no longer responding, he was assumed dead now. Solid vaguely recalled overhearing while on the USS Discovery that the Secretary of Defense fully intended to destroy Shadow Moses entirely if necessary, as a last resort. And Solid’s alleged death just might push him to take that option - and then, Solid really would be dead.

This wasn’t just paranoia setting in, was it…?


The door to Wolf’s room opened. Meryl looked up blearily.

“Um, hey,” said the guard, kind of awkwardly, “so, weird question, but… you wanna get out of here?”

“H-Huh?” Meryl said, sitting up (or rather, shifting herself so that she could look at him better without putting too much strain on her still zip-tied wrist) and rubbing her eyes with her free hand. By now the gunshot wounds had faded to a dull, feverish ache.

“Listen… that intruder who was supposed to take out FOXHOUND - he’s dead now.”

“Yeah,” Meryl said miserably, “I know. I saw.”

“And that’s not really good news for us.”

“Wh…?”

The guard gesticulated vaguely. “With him gone, what’s stopping the government from just blowing us all up? Nothing, that’s what. And I don’t know about you, but I really don’t have much faith in this Metal Gear thing, so I’m, uh… well, I’m leaving.”

“What?” Meryl said, genuinely taken aback even though this guy was a terrorist, “you’re deserting?

The guard nodded. “To be honest, I was only with them because I was scared of what would happen if I wasn’t. And y’know, I’m not the only one leaving. The Genome Soldiers have all been wandering off for the past hour or so. So if we want to be able to grab a Jeep to get over the glacier back to mainland Alaska, we’d better go now.”

“What do you mean ‘we’?” Meryl said, perplexed.

“Uh… well, do you want to come with me or not?”

She blinked. “…yes!” she burst out, almost without thinking, “yes, I want to get away from this godforsaken place!” Away from the cold and snow and everything that had happened - away from where Solid Snake died…

“Okay,” the guard said, stepping over and pulling out a pocketknife, and cutting the zip-tie. Meryl sat up, shaking feeling back into her hand. “Can you walk?”

“I’m not sure…”

“It’s not very far to the garage, I can carry you if I have to… I guess. But hang on, we’d better grab you something heavier to wear…” He looked around, then yanked open the plain chest of drawers that Wolf had dumped her stuff in. “Hey, these panties look like the ones Sayers was showing off the other day.”

“Huh??”

“Nevermind.” He opened another drawer and pulled out one of Wolf’s coats, and handed it Meryl. She stood up unsteadily, her legs burning but not giving out under her, and put it on.

“Thanks…” she said, “by the way, what’s your name?”

“Oh,” the guard said, rubbing the back of his neck sort of sheepishly, “my name’s Johnny. We’d better go.”


When Solid arrived at the underground maintenance base, he wasn’t surprised to find what he did: Metal Gear REX, already active. The only thing he didn’t expect was that currently the cockpit was wide open and technically empty; Liquid was perched sitting on the edge of it, legs crossed and hands folded on his knee, grinning humourlessly down at Solid like a very handsome but more than slightly unhinged take on a gargoyle. He’d shed his coat at some point, and his chest was instead completely bare despite this being Alaska in February - the leather collar was a lot more noticeable like this, but Solid’s eyes were drawn more towards the large, upside-down-V-shaped scar on Liquid’s stomach.

“Liquid!”

He tutted softly at Solid’s SOCOM aimed at him. “You’d point a weapon at your own brother?” he said.

“So you’re really my twin brother, huh?” Solid said, relaxing his stance slightly. Liquid didn’t exactly look poised to strike at this exact second, and although Solid knew full well how quickly that could and would change, something told him it would take more than one shot to take Liquid out anyway.

“I wasn’t sure if you ever knew or not - but, it does seem that someone told you. Big Boss?”

“Master Miller,” Solid said, “a few hours ago.”

“Hmm.” Liquid frowned. “I didn’t know he was involved in this… no matter. He always did play favorites. Just like Big Boss did, and it seems you were the golden child in both their eyes.”

“I wouldn’t call it that,” Solid said, eyeing him suspiciously.

“Again: no matter. You know, Snake, I would dearly love to kill you, but you’ve yet to serve your purpose. Your real purpose, not the wild goose chase the government sent you here on. Truthfully, it’s all been a bluff since the DARPA chief died a few days ago without giving up his detonation code - a feint, Snake.”

Solid’s brow furrowed. “A feint?” he said, “you mean Metal Gear isn’t actually launch-capable?”

Technically it is,” Liquid scoffed, “we can still use it to deliver a payload anywhere in the world, it just wouldn’t be nuclear. Conventional explosives only - which we’re shorthanded on anyway — perhaps we could jury-rig a biological weapon or ‘dirty bomb’, but the threat Washington called you out of retirement for has been nothing but a fairytale for the past several days. But I have no interest in that.”

“Then what do you want?” Solid said.

Liquid stared down at him for a moment, and then his tight-lipped, mirthless smile returned. “Tell me, Snake, do you remember Outer Heaven?”

“…”

“Of course you do,” Liquid purred. “I wasn’t there when you blew up the base near Galzburg, but I was a part of that group inelegantly referred to nowadays as a ‘mercenary company’. It was more than that, Snake, much more.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It was home,” Liquid said as though Solid hadn’t spoken. “We lived and died in a war without end, for no greater cause than simply because that is the only way we could have existed. But things have changed. This world is diseased, Snake, it’s rotting — it’s gone soft. The eternal war ended. People like us - soldiers, warriors - we’re useless and disposable now, and discarded without a second thought. Where’s our place in the world, Snake?”

“I’d rather have no place in a world at peace than a place in a world at war,” Solid said.

Liar,” Liquid said, his eyes flashing. “I saw your face as you fought with my comrades and killed Genome Soldiers — it was filled with the joy of battle.”

Solid couldn’t answer for that.

Liquid went on. “The world needs a little shaking up, Snake. A little chaos and honor. We need good, honest wars again instead of just waiting around for the next brushfire started by the liars and hypocrites that control society. Conflict will breed conflict, new hatreds will arise…”

“But as long as there are people,” Solid said, “there will always be war.”

“But the problem… is balance,” Liquid replied, gesticulating, “Father knew what type of a balance was best. He never got us into unnecessary skirmishes.”

“So what, you want to be just like Big Boss?”

Liquid didn’t reply for a second, then his expression abruptly changed to an ugly scowl and he jumped up, still balanced on the edge of REX’s cockpit, one hand clawing the metal of its armor to stay upright. “Not him,” he spat, “not that shifty, honorless coward.”

“Wh-?”

That man will never be the real Big Boss in my eyes — I’m referring to my father - my real father - Big Boss’ phantom.”

“Hold on, what are you-?”

“The man you killed at Outer Heaven.”

Now Solid was really confused. “Outer Heaven?” he said, “Big Boss survived the Outer Heaven uprising, he… was killed in Zanzibar Land.”

“No! Not him!! His phantom, Snake, do keep up.”

“You aren’t trying to say there was more than one Big Boss?!”

Liquid rolled his eyes. “Of course there was,” he said, “in fact, you could even say there were five of them: the original, his memetic clone, and his three genetic clones.”

“Three…?” Solid said, “wait, clones?

“Yes,” Liquid drawled like he was explaining a simple concept to a stupid child, “you and I, along with our other brother, Solidus, whom I presume you’ll be meeting within the next few weeks… we were all cloned in a project called Les Enfants Terribles, ‘the terrible children’. The goal was to artificially create the most powerful soldier possible. The person that they chose as the model was the man known then as the greatest living soldier in the world…” (There was a trace of sarcasm as he said the last line.)

“…Big Boss,” Solid said.

“It was all a very long and complicated process,” Liquid said, “I’ll explain it to you later. You and I were used as guinea pigs during the project - but you’re fine, you got all the dominant genes. I got all the flawed, recessive genes. Everything was done so that you would be the greatest of his children. The only reason I exist is so they could create you.”

“I was the favorite, huh.”

Liquid’s scowl returned. “That's right! I'm just the leftovers of what they used to make you. Can you understand what it's like to know that you're garbage since the day you were born!?” Then he relaxed, his face smoothing over. “But that doesn’t matter,” he said, rather serenely, “Father was able to look past all that.”

“…”

He closed his eyes. “And then you killed him,” he said, voice still calm but now it was tinged with rage. “And that’s why I ought to kill you… but consider yourself lucky. I’d rather hold those who engineered his death guilty, even if it means letting you, who carried out the order, go unpunished… at least for now.”

“What are you talking about?”

Liquid clicked his tongue. “Oh, Snake,” he said, gazing down at him in pity, “you poor, stupid fool. But rejoice, brother! You’ve been selected to help usher in a new age of freedom, belonging, and power. The ‘sons’ are being gathered, you see. To bring down the Patriots…”

“The… Patriots?”

“I’ll explain later,” Liquid said again, “right now, Snake, you’re being evaluated.”

“I am?”

“Yes.” Liquid smoothly slid into REX’s pilot seat, and flashed a smile at Solid. “Nothing to worry about - just a simple test of your mettle, to see if you’re really worthy of joining our revolution.”

Why the hell Solid would want to join them after all this aside, Liquid’s eyes said plainly that this was anything but a test. Liquid was just dying to “accidentally” kill Solid.

“Draw your weapon and face me, Snake!!


Alone in the command room, Mantis sighed behind his mask and watched as Liquid closed REX’s cockpit up and Solid started firing at it with Stinger missiles. As hilarious as Emmerich’s weird insistence on including an obvious design flaw was, Mantis wasn’t too worried that Solid would figure out on his own that he needed to take out the radome and force Liquid to open the cockpit again so he could shoot at REX’s unarmored interior. Plus he’d already decided to intervene if the battle was going too badly in Solid’s favor, even though he knew Liquid would be annoyed to no end and probably would give him the silent treatment for a month. (Besides, Liquid was durable as hell - even if the cockpit had to be opened, it would take quite a lot for Mantis to start seriously worrying.)

Solid’s death was a more pressing concern, but unfortunately for everyone else, Mantis was of the opinion that Solid wasn’t needed, so they’d been stupid to trust him with supervising the fight Liquid had insisted on having, and even pulled rank on everyone to do it — Mantis wouldn’t lift a finger (metaphorically, although gesturing did help him concentrate) to help Solid out even if he were on the brink of death.

He watched REX stomp around the room, occasionally bathed in the light of explosions courtesy of Solid, and idly regretted the fact that the rest of FOXHOUND plus Solid and Emmerich were still too many people around for him to take his mask off and eat some popcorn.


“Nice try, Snake!” Liquid crowed, moving in to crush Solid under REX’s foot. Then, out of nowhere, the last thing Solid would have expected — Gray Fox. He held up REX’s foot with his arms, his exoskeleton straining audibly, giving Solid enough time to stumble back.

“Hurry!” Gray Fox said, “get away!”

“Gray Fox!!” Solid shouted.

“A name from long ago,” Gray Fox rasped, “it sounds better than Deepthroat.”

“So it is you?!”

“You look terrible, Snake. You haven’t aged well.”

“I’ll send you back to Hell!!” Liquid screamed at Gray Fox before Solid could say anything his defense.

Gray Fox leapt away from the Metal Gear, firing a few shots at the shield-like radome before joining Solid behind the crate where he was taking cover. Between the sudden shift in balance and the assault on the radome (which, now that Solid thought about it, might have impeded his view of the hangar, since the cockpit didn’t have a window he had to be relying on something else to see what was going on), Liquid seemed to have lost track of them. REX continued stomping around the room but its guns were still and it actually turned away from Solid and Gray Fox’s crate. Solid turned back to Gray Fox.

“Fox, why?!” he said, “what do you want from me?”

“I’m a prisoner of Death,” Gray Fox said, his faceplate sliding back to reveal his natural face - it was just as Solid remembered it, except perhaps a bit paler, with redder eyes and more scars, but it seemed he hadn’t aged a day. “Only you can free me…”

“…Fox…”

“Snake… before I die, there’s a message I need you to pass on…”

“A message?”

“My sister, Naomi…”

Solid nodded. He wasn’t sure it was a good idea to tell Gray Fox that he didn’t know her - he’d just have to find her, once he got out of here. Somehow.

“I'm the one who killed her parents,” Gray Fox choked out. “I was young then, and couldn't bring myself to kill her too. I felt so bad that I decided to take her with me. I raised her like she was my own blood to soothe my guilty conscience. Even now she thinks of me as her brother…”

“…”

“From the outside, we might have seemed like a happy brother and sister. But every time I looked at her, I saw her parents' eyes staring back at me... tell her for me. Tell her that I was the one who did it.”

Again Solid nodded. Hell of a thing to tell this Naomi woman whenever he found her, but…

“There you are!” Liquid suddenly called out, opening fire at their crate.

“We’re just about out of time,” Gray Fox said, dropping into a pre-run stance, “here’s a final present from Deepthroat. I’ll stop it from moving!”

“Fox!” Solid yelled in horror as Gray Fox sprinted out towards REX.

Liquid fired at Gray Fox, but he jumped over the bullets - but damn but Liquid was fast, and before even a full second had passed he was sweeping REX’s lazer towards Gray Fox. His arm was severed neatly in a spray of blood, some of it spattering against Solid’s face and he had to look away to wipe the blood out of his eyes. When he looked back up, Gray Fox was perched on a high vantage point on the hangar wall, readying his gun, acting as though he didn’t even notice his missing arm - although granted it looked like his cyborg body had automatically sealed off his major blood vessels, he wasn’t bleeding nearly as much now — and as Solid watched, Liquid pinned Gray Fox to the wall with the nose of REX’s cockpit. It made a sound of metal clanging against metal and Solid thought he might have heard something start to give.

Liquid laughed. “In the Middle East,” he said brightly, taunting Gray Fox, “we don’t hunt foxes, we hunt jackals. Instead of foxhounds, we use royal harriers!

“Fox!!” Solid yelled up at them.

“How strong is that exoskeleton of yours?” Liquid wondered mockingly aloud, pushing REX forward a little bit more. Gray Fox creaked. “Snake, are you just going to sit by and watch him die?

Gray Fox’s remaining arm jerked up, trembling a bit, but once he had it fully raised he held it steady and fired off several shots at REX’s radome. It was destroyed in a hail of sparks and bits of shrapnel. “A cornered fox is more dangerous than a jackal!” Gray Fox cried.

“He destroyed the radome…” Solid said out loud, watching as REX’s cockpit opened with a shudder. Liquid was still manning the controls, but scowling. His eyes were wild.

“Impressive,” Liquid said, cocking his head arrogantly, “you are indeed worthy of the codename ‘Fox’! But now you’re finished!

Gray Fox groaned, his exoskeleton almost buckling under the pressure of Metal Gear pinning him to the wall. “Now!” he called weakly down to Solid, “fire the Stinger!”

“Fox!” Solid shouted again.

“Can you really shoot?” Liquid said derisively, “you’ll kill him too!”

Solid lined up the shot.

“Now, in front of you…” Gray Fox said, his head lolling on his shoulder, “I can finally die…. After Zanzibar, I was taken from the battle neither truly alive nor truly dead... an undying shadow in the world of lights. But soon... soon.”

If he fired now, from this angle, from this distance, Liquid wouldn’t stand a chance. But Liquid was right - neither would Gray Fox.

Gray Fox wheezed. “It will finally... end.”

Solid had already killed Gray Fox once.

He tried to pull the trigger.

…nothing happened.

“I…” he said quietly, “I can’t do it…!”

Chapter Text

Liquid moved REX back, allowing Gray Fox to fall unceremoniously from the wall. He hit the ground hard, and made a brief attempt to push himself up with his one arm but then REX’s foot was on his back.

Die,” Liquid hissed, pressing down.

Gray Fox’s exoskeleton started to warp and spark under all the pressure. He looked at Solid, not with fear or desperation in his eyes, or even resignation - just… relief. “Snake,” he said, “we’re not tools of the government or anyone else. Fighting was the only thing… the only thing I was good at, but… at least I always fought for what I believed in…” Solid could actually see him start to flatten. A bit of blood trickled out of Gray Fox’s mouth. “Snake…”

Solid could only watch helplessly.

“…farewell.”

REX’s foot hit the floor, its claws digging into the concrete. And then it scraped, leaving a wide smear of blood that had once been Gray Fox where it passed.

Solid screamed.

“FOOOOOOOX!!!”

“Foolish man,” Liquid scoffed, tossing his head so that his ponytail flicked across the pilot seat’s headrest, “he prayed for death… and it found him. And what a ridiculous thing to choose as his final words… you are, and always have been, a tool of the government, Snake. A tool of the Patriots.”

“What the hell are you going on about?!”

“I’ll crush you into dust!!”

Reasonable.

At least Solid had a definite target for his Stingers now - Liquid’s stupid, smug face in REX’s now-open cockpit. The man must be an absolute lunatic to continue coming after Solid with Metal Gear’s delicate innards exposed and his squishy human self seated right where Solid needed to be shooting anyway.

Unfortunately, as Solid soon found, Liquid was, well, indestructible. He was either insanely lucky, insanely good at somehow managing to use the back of his chair to shield himself from the explosions, or insanely adept at not acting like he’d been injured at all. Perhaps, Solid thought, his codename was ‘Liquid’ because shooting him accomplished no more than blindfiring into the ocean would. Bullets just sunk harmlessly into the depths, and the sea felt no pain.

When Metal Gear REX exploded and Solid was thrown against the wall, hitting the back of his head hard enough that he started to lose consciousness, the last thing Solid saw was a bloodied-up Liquid approaching, his expression hard.


“You have done enough damage.”

“Don’t you dare point that at me, Wolf.”

Wolf didn’t lower her rifle - it was still aimed squarely at Liquid’s head, where Liquid was crouching in front of Solid, who was still unconscious.

“We need him,” Wolf said.

“I’m only going to-“

“If I let you persist then it will end with one of you dying. We need Snake, and we need you as well.”

“But—“

“And I would not want you to die either way. You are at a supposed genetic disadvantage in the first place - and you’re injured! You shouldn’t do this and if you insist on it then I am going to kneecap you,” she said very seriously, “twice if that is what it takes to make you stand down.”

Liquid glared at her for a moment, then stood up. He looked down at Solid, lips drawing back from his teeth a little.

“I hate him,” he said. “He killed Father.”

“The Patriots killed Saladin. Snake was just their tool.”

“…I know, I know. This… isn’t fair, Wolf.”

“Liquid…”

Evidently satisfied that Liquid wouldn’t try to continue his fight with Solid, Wolf lowered her rifle. A few moments later, Mantis came strolling up, eyeing the still-smoldering remains of REX warily.

“Not injured too badly, are you, Eli?” he said, turning to Liquid.

Liquid looked down at himself. Okay, blood, yes, and it was in fact entirely his own, but all his limbs still worked and he didn’t feel like he was going to pass out in the next thirty seconds. Would have to do a more thorough examination later for embedded shrapnel or burn blisters or whatever, but… “I’m fine.”

“Good. The assault on the base could begin any minute now.”

“Right,” Liquid said, staring at Solid again. “Yes. Of course. Let’s grab our things and go.”


        “Were you jealous? I knew what I was doing.

        “If I could pass your will onto a child I carried… my genes, your meme. The father would be… irrelevant.

        “If I did that, the child would be ours.”

Otacon stared up at the dirty ceiling and reminded himself to fix the faint clicking that his old Walkman made whenever he played this tape. It occured to him that it might be able a problem with the tape itself, but he liked to think it was the Walkman - since the Walkman was replaceable, if a bit hard to find since the success of the iPod.

That was probably why he kept forgetting to see if he could fix it, actually.

He kept listening.

        “Joy… I know you can hear me… you remember my voice, don’t you?

        “Please… take care of our son.”

Back when this tape had anonymously arrived at his P.O. box along with a letter detailing his father’s crimes right after the funeral, right after Otacon ran away from home for the last time, he’d listened to it almost constantly until he’d started fearing he’d wear it out. Right now, he hadn’t listened to since he’d been fired from the ERF.

        “Hal…”

He closed his eyes.

        “Don’t ever be afraid. Whatever happens out there, she’ll be watching over you.”

The letter, which he’d long ago lost in some cross-country move or another, made no mention of Joy or who she was. Otacon had searched for information - in fact, that was what had gotten him fired from the ERF, trying to see if any of the FBI’s database might give him the slightest clue who his ‘other mother’ was — but he’d never turned anything up.

        “The system - the framework for your world - will protect you. You don’t need me…

        “You just need to be strong enough for the both of us.”

Nor had he been able to find any information about who Zero was. He barely had any idea who his mother was - he hadn’t even known her actual name until he’d gotten ahold of his birth certificate. His father had always just referred to her as Hal’s mother, occasionally appended with ‘late’, and very rarely by the name ‘Strangelove’. (Similarly, it wasn’t until he’d found his birth certificate that he found out that his father’s legal first name was not, in actuality, Huey.)

        “Talked… too much…”

Otacon hated this part of the tape.

        “I’m glad it’s you… here at the end…

        “…I think I hear your pulse…”

Otacon opened his eyes and held the Walkman up in front of his face, still listening to the final bits of ragged breathing and slowly tapering-off heartbeat that marked the end of its playback. Through the window on the Walkman he could see the label on the tape - A.I. Pod’s Final Recording (Copy), in handwriting he’d never seen before or again.

Sometimes he wondered what kind of person would send a homeless seventeen-year-old a recording of his mom’s death.

The door to his cell opened.

“Be glad, Doctor,” said Raven, “it has been decided that you are to come with us.”

Otacon pulled his earbuds out of his ears and gave Raven a weak, scared smile.

I mustn’t run away

“Fun,” he said.


“Alright,” Ocelot said, rubbing the back of his neck with his remaining hand, “Raven, the addresses on that paper I gave you are safe houses from here to Québec. Pick one and call it good, don’t move unless you need to.”

“Changing location will attract too much attention,” Raven said, “I understand.”

“Boss, you’ll be taking Snake back to his cabin in Twin Lakes - keep him under house arrest there, I’ll be bringing Solidus to join you when convenient.”

“Is that really necessary…?” Liquid whined.

“Yes, it’s absolutely vital that the three of you learn to work together and that process should be accelerated if the three of you live together for a time. Snake’s house is as good as any, with him allegedly dead no one’s going to bother taking a look.”

“And in the meantime I’m the one in charge of convincing him to our side,” Liquid said, rolling his eyes and sneering, “wonderful.”

“Am I-“ Mantis started.

“Yes,” Ocelot said, “you’re going with the boss, Mantis. I have no interest in dying.”

Mantis actually chuckled dryly at that comment. “So I guess Wolf and I are going with Raven?” Octopus said.

“That’s right,” Ocelot said, glancing at Otacon, who was standing quietly behind Wolf, staring at his feet. “As is Emmerich.”

“And what about you?” Wolf said.

“I need to meet up with Solidus’ people as soon as I can - so I’m going with the four of you, but I’ll need dropped off in Anchorage.”

Octopus looked around. “Aren’t we missing something?” he said, “something like a cooler with a severed hand in it…?”

Ocelot’s moustache twitched. “It’s been severed long enough that I wouldn’t be able to regain 100% functionality even if it were successfully reattached,” he said almost with a sigh, “I’m just going to wait for the stump to heal and get a prosthetic. That’s actually exactly why I need to meet up with Solidus as soon as possible…”

“Well, have fun with that,” Liquid said, and then nudged Solid, who was still unconscious on the ground, although at this point also bound and gagged, with his foot. “So this is where we scatter, then.”

“It’s only temporary,” Wolf assured him.

“Our cell phones are still secure, are they not?” Raven said.

“Yes,” Ocelot replied. “You’re still free to keep in touch that way… as long as both parties can get reception.”

“We’ll figure something out,” Liquid said, “alright, let’s go. We’ve wasted enough time as it is.”

Raven and the rest of his group, sans Ocelot, headed for the garage, where there was a van that had gotten passed over by the fleeing Genome Soldiers - largely because Octopus had casually pilfered the keys days ago. Liquid told Mantis to wait there, and left to get the Hind D ready for flight. Mostly he just needed to get as much extra fuel as it could stand on board, since he anticipated still maybe needing to use it even if after they’d landed in Twin Lakes.

That left Mantis and Ocelot alone, except for Solid.

Solid supposed that Mantis, being psychic, would realize that he wasn’t fully unconscious, and was in fact mostly just pretending at this point. Or maybe he just wasn’t paying attention.

“Before I catch up with the others, Mantis,” Ocelot said in Russian - did even Mantis know that Solid knew Russian? - “I have a favor to ask. And you know how I hate to ask favors of you…”

“And you know I hate to give them to you,” Mantis replied, also in Russian, not even sparing Solid a glance. Maybe he really wasn’t paying attention.

“Well, it’s not about me really,” Ocelot said, “just thought you ought to know that I didn’t decide to send you off with the boss because it’d make you happy.”

“Of course.”

“I need you to watch after him.” Ocelot gestured towards Solid. “Liquid, too.”

“Is there a reason why you waited for Eli to leave before telling me this?” Mantis said, eyes narrowed dangerously, “or, perhaps, a reason why you started this conversation in Russian just in case Eli came back before we were finished?”

“I don’t want to offend him.”

Mantis scoffed loudly.

“Mantis, you should know how important it is-“

“Yes, yes,” Mantis said, waving a hand irritably, “I’ll be the mediator. But make no mistake, Ocelot, I’m doing this for his sake, not yours.”

“Wouldn’t expect it any other way,” Ocelot said, then left in the same direction Raven, Wolf, Octopus (which, this was Solid’s first time seeing him here, but now that he thought about it they’d been in FOXHOUND at the same time even if he hadn’t recognized his name up until this point), and Otacon had.

Mantis watched Ocelot go, eyes hard and body language tense, then suddenly turned and crouched down next to Solid.

“I know you’re awake,” he hissed, still in Russian, “I know you understand me.”

Solid decided to not react. He could faintly hear Liquid’s footsteps approaching.

“I have no reason to like your presence, but for now I will follow the plan,” Mantis said, “I will ensure that Eli, that is, your brother, does not kill you. However, I will only guarantee your safety as long as you do not attempt anything. Eli’s safety is always my priority. …I hope I have made myself clear.”

Crystal, Solid thought.

“What are you doing down there?” Liquid said.

“Nothing,” Mantis said, standing up and returning to English. “It really is amazing how similar he looks to you.”

“Well, we are twins.” He stooped down and grabbed Solid bodily - Solid concentrated on staying convincingly limp - then hefted him over his shoulders with a small grunt. “Come on,” Liquid said to Mantis, “the Hind’s ready and I have the coordinates. Let’s go.”


Raven drove. Ocelot rode shotgun, although he’d be getting off in Anchorage, and was currently asleep. Otacon managed to get a window seat, and Octopus took the other one, and they had Wolf sandwiched between them. The back was filled with what personal belongings FOXHOUND had brought with them - plus they’d let Otacon grab some of his clothes and things, during which he’d found that his DS was missing and got almost irrationally upset, like that was the worst thing that had happened all day, and Wolf had to flatly tell him to stop crying or she would would break his nose — most of the space was taken up by Wolf’s rifle in its carrying case and Raven’s fuck-off-huge Vulcan cannon.

On their way out of the base, headed towards the glacier that would take them over the strait and back to the mainland, several dogs chased after the van, barking. Wolf encouraged Raven to keep pace with them and draw them away from Shadow Moses before the inevitable bombing began, but he didn’t adjust his driving at all. After a few minutes, most of the dogs had fallen away, except for a single puppy that was still determinedly yapping after the tires.

“Oh, stop!” Wolf said, practically throwing herself over the back of the driver’s seat, “stop the car!”

This time Raven obliged, and Wolf clambered over Otacon (who went bright red) and jumped out of the car, returning a second later with the puppy in her arms.

“Seriously?” Octopus said.

“Do you intend to keep it?” Raven said in a flat voice.

“Yes,” Wolf said fiercely, “she has followed us all this way, it is only right that I claim her.”

“If you insist,” Raven said, starting the van up again. “But make sure it does not make a mess in the vehicle.”

“I will let you know when we need to pull over for her.”

Another few minutes passed in mostly silence, except for the happy panting of the puppy in Wolf’s arms. Ocelot snored exactly once.

“So,” Octopus said at length, “planning on naming it?”

“Yes,” Wolf said, “her name is Bêdeng.”

“Gonna go out on a limb here and say that’s something in Kurdish…”

“‘Quiet’,” Raven guessed. His voice was strangely solemn.

Wolf nodded. She, too, had a very serious attitude all of a sudden.

Otacon didn’t know what to make of it.

Octopus glanced across Wolf at him. “What’s the matter, doc?” he said, “I’ll have you know we’re a perfectly friendly bunch once you get to know us.”

“You… staged a hostile takeover of my base,” Otacon said, “and now I’m your hostage.”

“Well, yes, but - you just need to get to know us. We’re not a bad group, really… just passionate about our beliefs.”

“Beliefs.” He hadn’t intended for that to come out as flat as it did, but for God’s sake.

“Has no one told him why we staged this rebellion?” Raven said, glancing in the rear-view mirror.

“I don’t think so,” Wolf said. Bêdeng barked.

“I’ll explain,” Octopus said brightly.

Otacon really didn’t know what to make of this.

He adjusted his glasses. “Umm… no offense,” he said, “but that sounds like something off of the conspiranet.com forums.”

“You use ConspiraNet?”

“…uh-“

“I do, too!” Octopus said. “I mean, I’m on a lot of conspiracy theory boards and forums, but ConspiraNet’s one of my favorites.”

“Oh… I don’t really use it anymore, I didn’t find the community there to be very… welcoming.”

“Really? I think it’s a lot of fun. For instance, there was this one guy in the Extraterrestrial Encounters subforum who had a Rei Ayanami icon - he always got so mad whenever I poked holes in his logic, it was hilarious.”

“…hang on. pulpo_esceptico? Is that you??”

Escéptico,” Octopus corrected his pronunciation, “yeah. Why?”

“So you’re the one who kept derailing my UFO threads!!”

“Otaku1980??”

“Can I change seats?” Wolf said.


“Mantis, can you get the radio?” Liquid said as they were just encroaching on Togiak National Wildlife Refuge’s airspace.

“Certainly.”

        “-—of Defense, Jim Houseman. The terrorists inadvertently detonated their own nuclear warhead, wiping them all out and rendering Shadow Moses island inhospitable. Residents of King Cove, Belkofski, and other areas of the Alaskan Peninsula as far north as Nelson Lagoon are advised to evacuate and seek medical attention if necessary. The symptoms to look out for of radiation poisoning are-“

“So that’s that, huh,” Solid said, “they nuked the place.”

“Only real way to make sure, I suppose,” Liquid said. “You know they must have planned this.”

“Hrm.”

        “—estimates of terrorist casualties currently unknown. Civilian casualties consist of: Dr. Hal Emmerich, engineer, age 25; Donald Anderson, head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, age 64; Kenneth Baker, CEO of-“

Solid remembered, vividly, listening to the radio report on the Outer Heaven incident immediately after it happened. They’d called the NATO bombings an ‘earthquake’.

        “The Army has reported only one casualty, a special forces member whose name is being withheld at this time pending notification to his family.”

Liquid snorted. “I think your family already knows, brother.”

“Save it,” Solid grumbled, “you’re no brother of mine.”

“You’ll come around.”

Solid tried to ignore him and light a cigarette - Mantis had untied him when they’d gotten out over the sea, after ripping off the duct tape over his mouth so fast and hard Solid was pretty sure he lost half his stubble - but as soon as he had the pack out it flew to Mantis’ hand.

“No smoking,” he said flatly.

“You wear a gas mask anyway,” Solid said, annoyed.

I don’t and I don’t like it,” Liquid called over his shoulder.

“Can’t you just focus on flying the damn helicopter?”

This relationship was off to a great start.

Chapter Text

Over the wide open space dotted with lakes and rivers between Wood-Tikchik State Park and Lake Clark National Park and Reserve, it finally occured to Solid to ask, “Do either of you know someone named Naomi?”

Neither of them said anything for a moment, then Liquid said, “what’s this about?”

“Fox’s sister. I need to find her.”

“And Fox’s full name was… Frank Jaeger?” Mantis said. Solid shot him a glance. He wasn’t sure he was comfortable with someone reading his mind like that. “So you would be looking for a Naomi Jaeger, unless she got married.”

“Right… any clues?” Kind of a longshot, really…

“No, I don’t think…” started Liquid, then he trailed off. “Hang on.”

“?”

“Oh,” Mantis said, “that’s right. Eli, you don’t think—“

“What are you two talking about?” Solid said.

“‘Jaeger’ is ‘Hunter’ in German,” Liquid said, as though that explained everything.

“Uh… yeah,” Solid said, “I know. I speak German.”

“I don’t,” Liquid admitted, “but that’s the correct translation, isn’t it?”

“Yup. But Fox wasn’t German, I don’t think… well, he never really told me about his life or family, but I think he was from… somewhere in Africa?”

Mantis shook his head. “That’s not it,” he said.

“FOXHOUND’s previous medical chief,” said Liquid, “was named Naomi Hunter. And Octopus said her only family was some sort of unrelated older brother figure, my god, it all fits.”

Solid blinked. “Wait, really? You think your old medical chief was Fox’s sister?”

“Yes! It explains why she wanted to kill you, too!” Liquid tilted his head back and laughed. “It all adds up!! And why she killed Dr. Clark and released the ninja - because he was her beloved older brother! But you, of course, you’re the one responsible for putting him in that state in the first place, it’s only natural she’d want revenge!”

“Do you have her contact information still?” Solid said, unsure of how to react to most of what Liquid said.

“You really think we’d allow you to contact someone?” Mantis said, “that is a privilege you have to earn, Snake.”

Solid glared at him shortly. “I could do it anonymously. She just needs to hear what Fox told me.”

“What a pleasant thing to hear out of the blue,” Mantis said snidely, “that the older brother who rescued and raised her was the one who made her an orphan in the first place.”

“And anyway it doesn’t matter,” Liquid said, “Dr. Hunter is dead.”

It took Solid half a moment to process what Liquid said. “What? …are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure, I’m the one who signed off on her assassination order.”

“You…” He slumped in his seat, sighing. “Of course. Killing Fox wasn’t enough for you, huh?”

“Come now, Snake,” Liquid said, “Wolf killed Dr. Hunter months ago, on an official assignment, no less. And what happened yesterday - no need to get worked up about it.”

“That was my best friend you crushed under your goddamn Metal Gear.”

“You already killed him once, brother.”

Solid didn’t - couldn’t - respond. He knew Liquid was just carelessly needling him, but he did strike a nerve here — what right did Solid have to be devastated about seeing Gray Fox die in front of him again, when the first time he’d died had been because Solid Snake himself had punched him to death in a minefield?

“Snake,” Mantis said suddenly, “do you wish to seek an end to the system that forced you to face your best friend on the battlefield in the first place?”

“…the Patriots, right?”

“Yes.”

Solid considered it for a moment. Like hell he could trust FOXHOUND, or anything that came out of any of these lunatics’ mouths, but as of right now he was still trapped in a helicopter with two of them (one of them being a psychic who was probably reading his thoughts currently) and he didn’t have anything else to do. So.

“Tell me what you know,” he said.


Ocelot was dutifully dropped off in Anchorage, with Wolf (and Bêdeng) taking over his seat before Raven had even shifted back out of park. His next order of business, however, was not in Anchorage, nor did it have anything to do with Solidus. Not that he’d been lying about needing to meet up with ‘Solidus’ people’ as soon as he could - or even that this would take place in Anchorage - Ocelot just had some time to kill here.

Enough time to rent an unremarkable car from an agency that didn’t ask questions, paying cash and using a false identity, and head north until the roads gave way to trees… and visit an old friend.

He knocked on the door and waited patiently. Eventually he heard, under the sound of dogs barking, footsteps on the other side of it. He kept waiting. The door opened, and Ocelot had just barely enough to time to neatly sidestep before the gun went off.

Ocelot glanced down at the steaming hole in the snow by his foot. “Huh,” he said, stringing his voice out into a purposeful drawl, “that would have hit my left leg if I hadn’t moved.” He held up the stump of his right hand. “Trying to make us match, Miller?”

Miller - old, worn, carefully maintained prosthetics, long hair stubbornly dyed blond, same style of sunglasses as he’d worn in the seventies and eighties - glared sourly at him. “Where the hell did you come from? I was told you’d gotten yourself killed.”

“And you didn’t believe that for a second. May I come in? We need to talk.”

“If you don’t get the fuck out of here in the next five seconds I’m going to shoot you, and it isn’t going to be in your leg.”

“It’s very important.” He leaned forward slightly. “About the Patriots.”

Miller went completely rigid.

“May I come in?” Ocelot said again.

“…yeah. Yeah, come in. It’s cold outside.”

Miller ushered Ocelot into the house, closing the door behind him. It took Ocelot a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the relative darkness after all the sunlight glaring off the snow - of course, even then it was still unusually dim inside Miller’s house, dimmer than he’d ever kept his office back at Mother Base, especially considering Miller was still wearing his sunglasses… he really must be blind, or mostly blind. That would explain the lack of any vehicles outside.

Other than that the house was unremarkable. Yes, it smelled like dogs and as Ocelot followed Miller into the living room he saw a couple watching them curiously, wagging their tails but not barking anymore. Pretty, well-fed, obviously lovingly cared for. Miller had a few pictures on his walls (making Ocelot reconsider his assessment of how blind Miller really was, keeping photos was a very visual response to nostalgia): they were mostly of Catherine, largely without Miller in the picture at all, and none with Catherine’s mother, Nadine, and there was also a fairly prominent photo of Miller with his arm slung around Solid’s shoulder back when he’d just been a kid with FOXHOUND. They were both smiling.

Ocelot didn’t miss the fact that the singular photo from before 1985 was a faded black-and-white photograph of a smiling Japanese woman in her early- to mid-twenties manning a cigarette shop with English signs.

“Smoke?” Miller said, offering Ocelot a blunt.

“No thank you,” Ocelot said.

“Suit yourself.” Miller lit up, took a drag, exhaled sweet smoke. “More for me.”

“And here I thought the fact that you’d settled down was attributed to you going to therapy.”

“I did go to therapy - after the divorce, anyway.” He took another drag. “You have a lot of explaining to do, Ocelot.”

“That I do.”

“First off - Shadow Moses. What the hell happened? Is Snake really—“

I have a question for you first,” Ocelot said, raising an eyebrow. “And depending on how you answer…”

“Shoot,” Miller said, then immediately cringed at his unintentional pun. They both knew that the wrong answer here was going to end with Ocelot killing him just as he predicted he would- or else the other way around- back in 1984.

“The Patriots, Kaz. For or against?”

“…”

Ocelot stepped into his personal space, smoothly taking his hand and removing the blunt from it. “It’s a simple question,” he said, “for or against? If it came to war and neutrality was no longer an option, which would you chose? Where would you stand, Kaz, if you had to stand for something?”

“…I…”

“Twenty years ago you would have given anything to hunt them down, but after Skull Face died, well - you grew so aimless that it must have been child’s play for them to draw you back in and stick you in FOXHOUND. You’ve played both sides of the field.”

“…as have you.”

“Yes,” Ocelot said. He dropped the blunt to the floor and snuffed it out with a clink of spurs, at the same time grabbing the collar of Miller’s shirt - a tank top in February, really? - and pulling him so close that he could see him blinking and squinting suspiciously behind his sunglasses. “Yes, I have, Kaz.”

“So what side are you on today? Which way do you want me to answer?”

“I’m not about to tell you that. That’s cheating, Kaz.”

Again Miller was silent. His jaw was set, his breathing a touch too deliberate through his nose, ruffling Ocelot’s moustache with every exhale.

“I don’t know,” he said at length, “I haven’t thought about any of that stuff in years.”

“Liar.”

“No, seriously, my therapist said I— mm-! mnn…”

Ocelot would be lying if he said he didn’t find it just a little pitiful, the way Miller stiffened when he kissed him but melted against him a second later, grabbing the lapels of his coat to crush him closer to him. But god, the man probably hadn’t been touched in over a decade now, maybe two, and even if he was in his late fifties by now Ocelot had always been good at giving Miller just the right look, just the right tone of voice to stir up that hate-fueled lust he’d felt for him since the moment they’d met.

Whether or not Miller closed his eyes was his business. Ocelot gazed past his head, deliberating on the framed photograph of Miller and Solid while Miller bit down on his lower lip.

Abruptly Miller pulled back. Ocelot tasted blood, just a bit. Miller licked his lips frenetically, a vague Why the hell did I think that was a good idea expression on his face.

He tried to salvage the moment. “You still taste like you suck a lot of dick, you old-“

“Snake’s alive.”

Miller stared at him. Cleared his throat.

“What?” he said.

“Snake’s still alive,” Ocelot said, “I faked his death in the torture chamber, and Liquid flew off with him bound and gagged in his gunship.” He stepped away from Miller, instead walking over to the wall and taking down the photo of Miller’s days as a FOXHOUND drill sergeant. “I’m gathering the sons, you see,” he said.

“Why…?”

Ocelot looked up from the photo, the corners of his mouth twitching in a listless attempt at a smile that probably came across more as him baring his teeth.

“The Patriots are finally coming to an end, Kaz. I’m fixing my mistakes.”


It had taken Liquid and Mantis most of the rest of the helicopter flight to explain who the Patriots were to Solid, partially because Liquid had a tendency to go off on tangents and had by now told Solid in excruciating detail the process by which the two of them had been cloned and how the Genome Soldiers, Gulf War veterans, and ‘Gulf War babies’ were all technically their siblings in a way. Solid made a mental note that Liquid considered abortion murder, although he wasn’t sure if it would ever come up again or if he would even remember it, to be honest. Also, Liquid had ended up being unable to explain how Solidus was born or how exactly his accelerated aging worked (although he did inform Solid of the accelerated aging, he just didn’t say much else about the third-and-final clone)… all he was really able to say for sure was that their surrogate mother hadn’t been the same as Solidus’, he would have heard about it if she was.

“You know Mother, of course,” Liquid said carelessly.

“Uh, no,” Solid said.

“Really…? Surely you’ve met her at least once. Blonde hair, blue eyes, good with a gun, spends a lot of time in the Czech Republic and dresses like a coked-up teenager…?”

“…no.”

“He has never met EVA,” Mantis informed Liquid.

Liquid didn’t reply out loud, although his face did light up in petty vindication.

There had also been a general exchanging of backstories, although all three of them elected to provide as few details as possible (even though Solid knew full well if Mantis felt like it he’d just read his memories anyway… mostly because Mantis had pointed that out…). Solid didn’t really get any more information than he had already, apart from Liquid making a passing reference to first meeting his adoptive father, Venom Snake, when he retrieved him out of a war zone and attempted to rehabilitate him - it wasn’t for another fifteen minutes that Liquid casually said they’d attempted to rehabilitate him from being a child soldier - he also mentioned running away from Venom after a few months anyway and coming to America.

As for Mantis, all he really had to say was that he was from somewhere in what used to be Czechoslovakia, not Russia like his official files said, and he’d met Liquid when he was ten (probably) and the latter was twelve.

“And you’ve just… what, been together since then?” Solid said skeptically.

“Well,” Liquid said, “there was a time when we weren’t, but it was only a few years…”

“Oh, right. I was told during the briefing that you went missing in the Middle East for a couple years.”

“…right.”

Solid noticed that Liquid had clammed up but he didn’t say anything and wasn’t sure what to make of it anyway.

He also tried asking Mantis about the weird tension between him and Ocelot - switching over to Russian, which Liquid made a loud, annoyed scoff at but for some reason didn’t comment other than that.

“It’s simple,” Mantis said, “I hate him.”

“Yeah, it kind of came across that way.”

“No. I mean I hate him personally, not just as part of my general hatred of humanity.”

“…what’d he do to you?”

“To me? Nothing, or at least nothing that matters. To Eli…”

“Alright, I heard my name,” Liquid said, “this is now an English-conversation-only flight. What are you two talking about?”

“Ocelot,” Mantis said.

“I gathered that, Mantis, I heard his name half a dozen times already - what are you telling Snake?”

“Not nearly enough,” Solid said, “did something happen between the three of you?”

“It’s nothing,” Liquid said dismissively, “I used to be Ocelot’s lover and now I’m Mantis’, that’s all.”

It took Solid a second to process that, then decided that since Ocelot was, what, thirty years older than them? it was better not to think too hard about it. He presumed that Mantis’ hatred of Ocelot was just jealousy and if Mantis was reading his mind at the moment he didn’t correct him on that so hey, maybe that was right.

Also, Liquid and Mantis being shacked up did definitely explain the BDSM collar, if the gratuitous belts on Mantis’ coat were anything to go by.

Mantis made a disgusted scoff.

By the time they were close enough to Solid’s cabin that Liquid had started attempting to visually locate it, Solid had somehow offended Mantis and Mantis was trying to prove to him that he really could read minds.

“You primarily clicked on this fic either out of a sense of morbid curiosity or because of the author’s reputation, particularly following the doxxing incident that wiped out the original version of this,” Mantis said, waving his arms around, “but by this point, over 119.7 thousand words into it, you are genuinely invested in it and want to see how it ends. You also think it’s mildly clever that aireyv chose to adapt the fourth wall-breaking in this way. And now I’ll read your future: you are going to be very shocked by upcoming plot twists that will seem blindingly obvious in retrospect.”

“Plot twists?” Solid said skeptically.

Mantis was silent for a moment. Then he glanced over his shoulder at Liquid. “The plot twist is always Ocelot lying to or backstabbing someone,” he said, switching over to Kikongo, “what sort of story would this be if the plot twist were him playing everything completely straight for once in his life?”

“Mantis, that’s enough,” Liquid said, then went back to English again. “Snake, I believe I’ve located your house.”

Solid got up, looked through the chopper’s front window, and frowned. “Yeah,” he said, somewhat grudgingly, “that looks like the clearing alright.”

So they landed. Solid vaguely hoped he’d be able to either get rid of Liquid and Mantis or else take the run out himself once they were asleep, but Mantis intercepted his thought and said that he didn’t.

“Don’t? You don’t what?”

“Sleep.”

Solid just decided to hope that when Solidus came, as Liquid had said he would sooner or later, the addition of a fourth person would shake things up enough that he could escape. In the meantime he figured he’d just tolerate their presence - he was outnumbered, had no way to contact anyone (he’d never bothered getting a phone for his cabin), his presumed death would cause problems with the national authorities anyway and there was no way he wanted to risk involving the local authorities… Liquid would tear them to bits and Solid didn’t even know what Mantis was capable of… and if he was being honest with himself, he was still too shell-shocked from the whole Gray Fox thing to put up much of a fight here. He only hoped Meryl had gotten out of it okay and hadn’t been included in the terrorist death count like the rest of the Genome Soldiers had.

Besides, if he was being really, really honest with himself, he had to admit that their whole thing about the Patriots was… intriguing, if true. So maybe there was just a part of him that was tolerating his captivity just to see where they were going with this.

Despite Solid being under house arrest, Liquid had enough tact to act like he and Mantis were unwanted guests rather than serious threats to Solid’s life if he didn’t cooperate. He allowed Solid to set the house rules - “The huskies will stop barking and growling at you eventually, in the meantime if you lay a finger on any one of them I’m going to shoot you, consequences be damned… but petting is okay, I guess…” “I smoke in the house and if you don’t like then you can go outside!” “It takes forever for the water to heat up this time of year, so if you want a hot shower then you’re only allowed to actually be in it for five minutes.” - and demanded that he show them around, although there wasn’t much to see.

Mostly it just cold and cluttered and hadn’t been properly cleaned in years, the doors and windows needed to be fixed badly, and stank like whiskey, cigarettes, and his fifty huskies, all of which had names. Solid insisted on telling them what all their names were (and he named nearly all of them after people he’d known at some point, or names he’d heard on the radio or read in the paper, and there were multiple dogs named after brands of cheap liquor) even though Liquid told him up-front that he would never remember any of this because nearly all of the dogs looked identical to him anyway.

“And this is Diane,” Solid said, patting the head of a fat tan-coated husky. “She’s pregnant, should be giving birth three weeks from now.”

“Weren’t you supposed to be in the middle of the Iditarod three weeks from now?” Liquid said. (Solid had mentioned that on the flight over, when Mantis had referenced his alcoholism and Liquid asked why he wasn’t getting the shakes or anything - the reason being that Solid had gone cold turkey as his New Year’s resolution so he could participate in the Iditarod sober.) (Solid sure as hell craved getting blackout drunk now, just to drown the memories of killing Gray Fox again, but when he’d quit in January he’d gotten rid of all his alcohol, even the disinfectant kind, so he wouldn’t give in to temptation. And with Liquid and Mantis here it wasn’t like he could make a quick run to town and add another couple hundred dollars to the liquor store debt that he still hadn’t paid off…)

“There was a guy in town she was going to stay with, just in case… the rest of my dogs would have been fine on their own for a few weeks, though.”

“I should hope so,” Liquid said, “they’re half-feral anyway.”

Solid had a car but it hadn’t been used in about five years, since not long after moving here he’d been arrested for drunk driving and, since he couldn’t afford the fine, the judge had given him the choice between attending an alcoholics recovery program or forfeiting his license and being blacklisted from getting a new one. Solid had taken up dogsledding. The car remained exactly where it was since then, slowly rusting, tires deflated, gasoline still stocked up but pretty well frozen this time of year. Liquid filed that information away for later.

Also, as it turned out the sleeping situation was already conveniently, unintentionally handled. Not only did Solid have a couch, but he also had a spare room - several spare rooms, actually - and one of them had an unused queen-sized bed. The mattress had obviously and noticeably been purchased used, and the boxspring seemed ready to fall apart, but the bed-frame was in excellent condition and Liquid was able to find sheets after half an hour of snooping through Solid’s things. He wondered why Solid even had the extra bed when he clearly lived by himself, and moreover why he slept on a twin bed with a rickety frame instead of the other bed, but Solid had refused to comment. Mantis answered for him: “Waking up in the middle of the day with hangover is depressing and lonely enough without doing it in a bed meant for two people.”

So Liquid and Mantis took over the ‘storage’ room next to Solid’s bedroom, and Solid was glad to temporarily get them out of his hair.

It didn’t last. A few hours later Liquid was criticizing the sorry state of the house - Solid caught Mantis rolling his eyes behind his back - and got on the subject of food. “I assume you hunt for your food out here - how do you cook it? I didn’t see a smokehouse or anything.”

“I mostly just boil everything,” Solid said honestly, “that way if I overcook it, I just end up with broth or stock that I can use for soup.”

“That’s…”

“—disgusting,” Mantis finished his sentence for him.

“I was actually going to say that doesn’t sound that bad.”

“That is because the English do terrible things to their meat, Eli.”

Liquid’s face changed to a hilarious pouty one so fast that Solid couldn’t help but snort, which caused Liquid’s expression to return to his previous slightly disdainful one in an instant, although he was clearly a little bit embarrassed. “You can’t survive off of just meat, though, you’ll get scurvy.”

Solid shrugged. “I can forage for berries part of the year,” he said, “and I stock up on canned fruit every few months in case I crave something sweet.”

“…when was the last time you ate a vegetable?”

“Are beans and potatoes vegetables?”

“…”

Solid narrowed his eyes slightly. “Picky eater, huh?” he said.

“No,” Mantis volunteered, “he will eat anything he can get his hands on, he just likes complaining.”

“Mantis!” Liquid cried, his face going red.

Solid shrugged. “Hope you like rice,” he said, “aside from venison, it’s about all I have.”

Chapter Text

Meanwhile in the Yukon Territory, a very dull car ride - occasionally interrupted by Raven pulling over so Bêdeng could go do her business outside for a few minutes - had been somewhat livened up by talking about the past. Mostly the discussion was monopolized by Wolf, who turned around in her seat to describe what Kurdistan was like to Otacon.

“Hunted like dogs day after day, driven from our ragged shelters... that was my life. Each morning, I'd wake up and find a few more of my family or friends dead beside me. I'd stare at the morning sun and pray to make it through the day. The governments of the world turned a blind eye to our misery. But then... he appeared. My hero, Saladin - Liquid’s father - he took me away from all that.”

Otacon wasn’t really sure how to respond. Raven and Octopus didn’t at all, they seemed pretty used to Wolf talking about this sort of depressing thing, in fact.

The thought occured to Otacon that, her being Kurdish and all, Wolf was probably Muslim… or used to be, anyway, she certainly didn’t seem to be practicing anymore if her absolute cleavage was anything to go by… Otacon thought his grandmother wouldn’t approve. If she were still alive. Which she wasn’t.

Wolf described a mercenary group headquartered at an offshore platform near Seychelles for a while (mostly talking about a sniper named Quiet, which started to explain the exchange re: Bêdeng’s name earlier), with Raven occasionally interjecting - he’d joined up with the same group two or three years after Wolf was picked up.

“You know, Raven,” Octopus said suddenly, “I’ve never asked why you joined Outer Heaven.”

“Why…?” Raven said. “Do I need a particular reason?”

“I guess not. But it’d be interesting to know, I mean, the boss and Wolf were both war zone kids that they took in, and I guess so was Mantis in a way, and Ocelot helped run the place, didn’t he? But you…”

“That is a good point,” Wolf said, “how did you end up there? Just for the glory of it, or were you supporting your family?”

“No,” Raven said, “I joined because I already knew Ocelot, and I had recently left Vympel and needed a job. My only living family at that time was my mother, and she did not need my financial support.”

“What happened to your father?” Octopus said, somewhat insensitively in Otacon’s opinion.

“He did not like living so far south, so he moved back to his village in the North Slope Borough when I was very young. I stayed in Metlakatla with my mother,” Raven said. “I do not think he and she ever divorced, in fact, they stayed on good terms and I did spend many summers with him. However he died in a whaling accident when I was fifteen. My mother passed on due to a heart condition two years before I joined FOXHOUND.”

“What did your mother think of you joining a mercenary group, though?” Otacon ventured to ask.

Raven chuckled. “She said I was just like my grandfather,” he said, “her father. He was part of the Alaska Territorial Guard, the Eskimo Scouts, in World War II. He perished during the Aleutian Islands Campaign.”

“I wonder what my grandfather was like,” Wolf said thoughtfully, “or my parents. I do not remember them. I can hardly remember which people from my childhood were blood relatives of mine, or neighbors I had become close to.” She turned in her seat again. “What about you, Dr. Emmerich?” she said, “do you have any family who would be sad that you are allegedly dead? I heard that your father used to work for Outer Heaven back in ’84, and I think during the seventies too.”

Otacon winced at both of the last two sentences. “Uh, he did, but no,” he said, “I mean, I’m sure my stepmother’s still around and I had a sister- well, a stepsister, too, but I haven’t gotten in touch with either one of them in a while.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Octopus said, “your dad’s dead, isn’t he?”

“What about you?” Otacon said, trying to deflect this entire line of conversation, “your family, I mean.”

“Aha,” Octopus said, “both my parents are still alive and they live with my older brother near Campeche. And I’ve also got a little sister who lives in Puerto Vallarta with her family - she married a nice Catholic boy and they have three kids now and another one on the way last I heard.”

“Really?” Wolf said, raising her eyebrows. “You never told us about that before.”

“No one ever asked.” He kicked back in his seat a bit. “I’m pretty sure our names and faces aren’t going to make it on the news, but I wonder if the Army will tell them I’m supposed to be dead? They definitely won’t be happy about that… my mama was my biggest fan back when I still worked in Hollywood.”

“I thought you were an SFX artist, not an actor,” Raven said.

“I did some acting. But mostly she’d just look for my name in the credits and then make me pay for an international call so she could criticize the lead actress’ makeup.” He sighed. “You know, if we ever get the opportunity, I’d like to call home and tell my family I’m safe. Don’t want them to worry.” He cracked a grin. “Maybe I’ll even tell I’m working on saving the world. My nieces and nephew already think their Tío Pulpo is a superhero anyway - they’re just kids, all they think an American special forces group would do is fight bad guys, like the Coast Guard versus the Narcos. They don’t know how many innocent people I’ve killed. And what’s my sister gonna do, tell them? She’d rather tell herself they’re right.”

Otacon sort of wished he didn’t ask.

The safe house they decided to put themselves up in to start with was the third address on Ocelot’s list, one outside of Tulsequah, British Columbia. Otacon was initially concerned about the fact that the house only had two beds and one couch, but as it turned out that for the FOXHOUND members it went without saying that they would sleep in shifts so that at least one of them was always awake. As such, they only needed two beds. They let Otacon have the couch all to himself. (Wolf insisted they offer one of the beds to Otacon, but Otacon declined anyway, since he was kind of uncomfortable with the idea of sleeping in a bed that had just been occupied by someone else.)

“So this is it, huh,” he said.

“It isn’t a bad house,” Wolf said, looking around. Bêdeng barked and started tugging on the cuff of Otacon’s jeans. Wolf looked down. “I think she likes you.”

“I… I guess that’s good…”

Octopus quickly found that the cable bill was evidently something whoever maintained this house kept up on. (They’d neglected to ask if this was provided via Solidus, Ocelot’s own initiative, or if it was a Patriot holding that they could squat in without being checked up on. Ocelot had never volunteered the information himself.) He turned on the TV, switched over the news, and found that every station was all over the nuclear detonation on Shadow Moses Island.

“Oh my gosh,” Otacon said quietly, staring at the screen.

“I am not surprised,” Raven said, “they would have wanted to eliminate all traces of what they were building there.”

“Kind of drastic, though,” Octopus said, crossing his arms, “I mean, look how many towns they’re evacuating.”

“…three?” Wolf said. She hadn’t been watching the TV very attentively, instead sitting on the other side of the room and changing the bandage on her ear.

“It could be worse,” Raven said, “it could be much worse.”

“This is… kind of surreal,” Otacon said, “being listed as a casualty, I mean.” He grimaced slightly. “They’re using the photo ArmsTech took for my ID card, too… that was a terrible picture…”

“Better get used to it,” Octopus said, “if I know the media - and I do - they’re going to turn this into a big crusade against the President and they’re going to turn you into a martyr for it. After all, you were the youngest civilian there, brilliant, bright future, nonthreatening appearance, white - and the other two civvies were a scumbag CEO and a political figure.”

“…”

“He may have planned it this way,” Raven said.

“Who?” Otacon said, blinking.

“The President.”

“Oh. Right.” Yeah, they’d mentioned the President being with the Patriots but not really because he was their CO in this whole secret war revolution thing except he couldn’t cut ties with the Patriots just yet. Maybe he’d use a media campaign against him to resign and do exactly that. “I guess so.”

“I think,” Wolf said, pulling off another strip of medical tape, “that it is more likely that Ocelot planned it this way. Perhaps he had something to do with the boss deciding to release all but four of our hostages…?”

Raven and Octopus agreed. Otacon didn’t say anything. He mostly knew Ocelot as the guy who’d asked him some weird questions about his father - in retrospect, he must have just been trying to see if he already knew anything about the Patriots, which his father might have known - and later tortured Solid, so he wasn’t sure that him planning anything was a good sign.


Liquid, who really had run himself to exhaustion with the whole Shadow Moses incident, was eventually persuaded by Mantis to just go to bed - and while he’d protested that he wasn’t tired even as he was lying down, he was asleep within literal seconds of his head hitting the pillow. Mantis pulled a blanket up over him and set about organizing the room they were in, just a little, for his own sake.

When Liquid woke up the next morning at his usual time, long before sunrise, both he and Mantis could already tell it was going to be yet another one of those days when Liquid had more energy and motivation than he knew what to do with. Mantis reminded him that picking a fight with Solid (who was still asleep at this point) was not a productive use of his time, especially considering his minor burns and moderate lacerations from REX blowing up with him inside it were still healing. Liquid acquiesced, and produced Otacon’s DS from his suitcase, deciding to stave off boredom by playing Pokémon Emerald.

“You shouldn’t have stolen it from him,” Mantis scolded. “Wolf and the others are going to have a hard enough time keeping him in an emotionally stable state as it is without you making things any more stressful for him.”

“What? I’m only borrowing it,” Liquid said defensively, “I’ll give it back next time I see him. Besides, it’s just a game system, it doesn’t matter that much.”

“It is a comfort item for him!”

Liquid just shrugged; not much he could do about it now anyway. Mantis implied he’d punish Liquid for being so rude later, and then explicitly said as much when Liquid started a new game and saved over Otacon’s old one. Much to Liquid’s disappointment, though, he wouldn’t just do it now because with their current relatively cramped living conditions he’d rather wait until Solid was asleep.

As far as Solid went, later in the day he discovered he’d run out of cigarettes and decided to make it into a big deal.

“If I can’t leave the house,” he said firmly, shaking his empty cigarette box at them a little, “then one of you needs to go into town and get me a couple more packs. And you should pay, too.”

“Fine,” Liquid sniffed. “Except how do you expect either of us to get there? Isn’t the nearest town miles away? Do you expect us to ride a dogsled like you do? I can’t image flying the Hind there will go over very well and besides, we need to conserve the leftover fuel.”

“I’m pretty sure the car still works.”

“The petrol is frozen.”

“I can un-solidify it,” Mantis said.

Solid blinked. “How?”

Liquid just waved him off, then blinked, like he’d suddenly realized something. “Mantis, a word,” he said, grabbing his arm and pulling him into a different room.

“I do not want you and Snake alone together,” Mantis said before Liquid could say anything, “you should go.”

“No. I don’t want you and Snake alone together. I’ll stay here, you go.”

“Eli, I’m not confident that the two of you would not get into a fight while I am gone.”

“We’ll be fine.”

“But-“

Liquid put a finger to his lips and thought, I don’t trust Snake not to assault you in an attempt to escape - and we went over this at Shadow Moses, Mantis, he could overpower you.

“Tch.” How ridiculous. You have that little faith in me, Eli?

It’s not about how much faith I have in you, it’s about how concerned I am for your safety. Even if you anticipated the attack and took steps to protect yourself, what’s the likelihood that that would involve fleeing? And if I’m not here, and Snake is left alone, he’ll surely run…

I will just make sure he doesn’t. Mantis spoke out loud again. “I still do not want the two of you alone together. You should go.”

“Mantis, it really isn’t-“

Solid stepped into the doorway. “You didn’t answer how you were planning on un-freezing the gasoline,” he said flatly.

“I can heat things with my psychic powers,” Mantis said.

“…heat. Gasoline. Psychic powers.”

“If it’s a low heat, that should be alright,” Liquid said, “just enough to get it melted and usable again. I wouldn’t exactly call that a combustion risk.”

“No, but I’d say that shows a dangerous lack of common sense,” Solid said. “I don’t think I trust you two with gas. At least, not near my dogs.”

Liquid scowled at him. Then, again, he blinked like he’d suddenly realized something and turned to Mantis. “You don’t need petrol to work a car,” he said, “you don’t even need an engine.”

“Eli…”

“So you have to be the one making supply runs, it’s very simple, really.” He started pushing Mantis out towards the door. “Don’t worry about Snake and I, I assure you we’ll get along just fine with you gone for an hour or two. Snake, where’s the nearest town?”

“Port Alsworth, south and a bit west of here,” Solid said, “it’ll take you a couple hours just to get there. But the liquor store sells the brand of cigarettes I like and there’s also a general store if you feel the need to pick anything else up.”

Mantis looked like he might protest for a moment, then sighed, put on his coat (which Solid hadn’t seen him without the entire first day, and when he got dressed this morning he’d put on a sensible if too-loose turtleneck sweater, under which he wore his usual self-bondage), and headed out the door. “Behave yourself,” he said to Liquid pointedly. Liquid rejoined with a grin that Solid could only describe as ‘seductive’.

To Solid’s surprise, Liquid decided that he’d rather not cross Mantis and didn’t actually try to fight with Solid… which was fine by him. The only problem was that Liquid kept coming to bother him, not by talking or even interacting with him really, but just walking by to see if he was still there. Other than that he continued playing his game for a while, but Pokémon Emerald was no match for his need to burn energy so about mid-afternoon he decided to clean Solid’s entire cabin top to bottom.

It was past dark when Mantis came back. A very tired-looking Solid greeted him at the door. ‘80s music was loudly playing in the cabin.

“Did you get my cigarettes?”

Mantis silently handed them over.

Solid sighed, immediately taking one out and lighting up. He took a drag, exhaled smoke for a long while, then said, “is he always like this?”

“Like what?” Mantis said.

Solid opened the door the rest of the way. From here it was visible that Solid’s miscellaneous junk had been moved around, the floor swept, and Liquid was in the background with his sleeves rolled up, dusting the wall with a rag.

“No,” Mantis said, stepping in, “normally he is a complete slob. He is just bored.”

“I… I see…”

“Don’t insult me, Mantis,” Liquid said indignantly, turning around, “I know you’ll at least appreciate having this dump cleaned and organized.”

Mantis looked around, then looked Liquid up and down, and said, “you really did not have to put on an apron in order to do this.”


Anchorage, Alaska.

“-—and, of course, all the design data for Metal Gear REX,” Ocelot said, handing the floppy disk over to Colonel Jackson. “To be honest, I don’t think Snake ever noticed I took it out of his things.”

“Your work is always appreciated, Ocelot,” Colonel Jackson said, carefully putting the disk into an interior pocket of his coat, “now, about FOXHOUND…”

“Alive, but scattered,” Ocelot said, “where precisely they all are is my business.”

Colonel Jackson narrowed his eyes slightly. “So untrusting of us,” he said.

Ocelot shrugged. “In my line of work, it pays to be untrusting. Even my closest allies I keep on a need-to-know basis.”

Closest allies,” Colonel Jackson scoffed under his breath, then said in a normal volume: “well, is there anything you’ve decided President Se- I mean, Solidus needs to know right now?”

“Not that I can’t tell him myself when you bring me back to D.C.”

“Just admit that you think Dead Cell is a Patriot plant…”

“Of course I don’t think that,” Ocelot said smoothly, “after all, none of you are stupid enough to dare involve yourself with the Patriots right under Solidus’ nose. Apropos of nothing, how’s your wife?”

Colonel Jackson swallowed audibly. “She’s fine,” he said. He glanced down at Ocelot’s right arm - he’d kept it in his pocket almost this whole time, but Colonel Jackson had already seen the way it ended at the wrist. “About your arm…”

“It’s all handled already, I can take care of it once I leave D.C.,” Ocelot said.

“Really…?”

“If you must know, I’m meeting up with someone in eastern Europe who can introduce me to a bionics specialist.”

“Eastern Europe, huh,” Colonel Jackson said, “that’s… vague.”

“That’s none of your concern,” Ocelot replied. “Take me to Solidus.”

From Anchorage it was a tense, silent flight in a Learjet C21-A to Naval Station Everett in northeast Washington, where the Learjet was refueled and then they were off to Washington, D.C. Ocelot texted Mantis just to ask if Solid and Liquid had killed each other yet, and judging by the deliberate lack of a response he could assume that they hadn’t. Texting Raven, he was informed that they were settled into one of the safe houses (Raven didn’t say which one; Ocelot didn’t ask) and were having no problems with Otacon although the poor man was scared out of his mind and had gotten very attached to Bêdeng, presumably as a form of coping.

When they landed in D.C., it was very late at night, or rather very early in the morning, but Ocelot had slept on the flight here so once he was off the Learjet he went straight to the White House. On his way in, walking along the sidewalk in front of the south fence, a popular place for tourists to take pictures with the White House in the background, Ocelot noted the abandoned signs littering the ground that hadn’t been picked up yet. Looked like people had been protesting whatever perceived mismanagement lead to the detonation of a nuclear weapon on American soil by terrorists, but had been dispersed some time ago. It must have been raining earlier, because the ground was damp and the protest signs soaked, ink and paint running and smudging into illegibility.

“The media moves fast, doesn’t it?” Ocelot said, stepping into the Presidential Bedroom. Solidus was still awake, although sitting up in bed, reading, with a single lamp on.

“Yes,” Solidus said, barely glancing up at Ocelot and turning a page. “But it’s just as you said… Emmerich makes for a convenient martyr. Sooner or later Congress will move against Houseman - once it’s been assured that he’ll take the legal responsibility for this, I’ll step down and… disappear.”

“Not letting Houseman know that you were aware of the situation was a wise move, sir.”

“Indeed. Although START III ended up being more of a hassle than I anticipated - shame I couldn’t take advantage of the fact that I already knew my trip to Helsinki was going to be interrupted. How’s your arm? I heard…”

“It’s fine, sir.”

Solidus nodded, then marked his place in the book, put it down, and gestured for Ocelot to join him on the bed. Ocelot did, hiding a sigh as he did.

It had always been obvious, Ocelot reflected as Solidus methodically took off his clothes, that in Solidus’ mind all this ever was was just taking for himself what rightfully belonged to Big Boss.

Chapter Text

An unanticipated problem about Solid’s cabin was that everything that happened in the ‘storage’ room Liquid and Mantis were put up in was perfectly audible in Solid’s bedroom. Perhaps that wouldn’t have necessarily been a problem, but Solid was a pretty unfortunately light sleeper when he didn’t have alcohol in his system.

That was how he learned that Liquid could probably medically qualify as a nymphomaniac.

Every. goddamn. night, and sometimes during the day, he was going at it with Mantis somehow; half the time it sounded like Mantis turned him down and that always lead to an argument, and as Solid had found from other situations where they’d started bickering about something - thankfully they had the sense to keep their fighting either in a low whisper or completely silent, apparently communicating mentally, or in a language Solid didn’t speak so Solid didn’t have to know what was causing so much contention in their relationship — they always fucked after they argued.

They didn’t so much keep their voices down when they fucked. Or, at least, Liquid didn’t. The first night - or rather, their second night here - Solid had been woken up around eleven o’ clock to the sound of Liquid moaning. He heard Mantis sternly tell him to be as silent as he could be Snake can hear us he is awake right now, oh my god Eli shut up—- and Liquid’s response had been bouncing around Solid’s head for close to two weeks now.

“I don’t care. Let him hear. What’s he going to do about it?”

Granted in real life Liquid had stammered quite a bit more than he did in Solid’s memory of it, and immediately after he said that from the sound of it Mantis had smothered him with a pillow until he started kicking the bed, but still. The scornful What’s he going to do about it? came to Solid’s mind whenever he curled up on his bed with his back to the wall dividing his room and theirs, and tried not to listen to way Liquid whimpered and gasped and was probably just melting against the bed as Mantis did whatever he liked with him, and tried to ignore the way the noises carried through the wall sent a familiar but currently unwanted jolt to his groin.

He’s your brother, he told himself, aghast. And when that didn’t do anything to calm down his dick he reminded himself that he was technically their hostage and oh god, Mantis was psychic, what was the likelihood he didn’t realize they were having this effect on Solid? He hadn’t said anything one way or the other, and also hadn’t ever stood his ground when it came to telling Liquid no.

Solid just let himself get blue balls at night, too perturbed to do anything else, and then in the day he’d take care of it — maybe it was because he’d lived alone for so long but quite frankly he just had a habit of masturbation and while he tried to find privacy for it, mostly by hiding in the bathroom, there had still been several occasions when Liquid (never Mantis) walked in on him. And while he didn’t apologize for barging in on him he did always get extremely - unusually? - flustered and leave, slamming the door behind him. But he never gave any indication that he might have wondered if Solid’s jacking off was in any way related to his nightly escapades after arguing with his boyfriend.

But Jesus Christ though, why did they argue so much??

In the meantime, Liquid was still trying to convince Solid to join their crusade. Solid wouldn’t exactly say he was coming around on it, but he also couldn’t exactly say he didn’t believe them - mostly because of how much information had been withheld from him at Shadow Moses, that was pretty suspicious - and when Liquid told stories about his father, Solid could see (even if Liquid was clearly biased) exactly why Liquid was so hung up on destroying the system he thought of as being responsible for Venom’s death. (Solid was just glad that the question that had haunted him for a decade now - how had Big Boss survived the Outer Heaven uprising? Solid had killed him personally - was finally answered.)

Solid also found himself getting along fairly well with Mantis — although by Mantis’ own admission, he was only hanging out with Solid because he found it interesting, the way Solid’s mind felt so much like Liquid’s at first glance but Solid had different trauma - “more similar to my own” except he hadn’t clarified on that comment yet - and seemed more emotionally stable.

“I am not emotionally unstable!” Liquid poked his head in from the other room and shouted.

“You are and you know it, Eli,” Mantis sighed.

At least, for all his numerous, numerous faults, Liquid was getting along well with Solid’s dogs. There wasn’t much Solid would have been able to do if he hadn’t, apart from hoping the dogs ripped him to shreds, but it was still… nice?

Honestly, a lot of the time Solid was sort of feeling like this wasn’t really a hostage situation and was really just a case of his brother and his boyfriend overstaying their welcome but sort of compensating Solid for it by keeping his house cleaner than it’d been since he moved in.

Solid was pretty sure he’d lost touch with reality at some point.

After two weeks had passed there was a period of about four days in which Liquid acted like a normal person instead of a highly caffeinated teenager, and then one morning he just decided to not get out of bed and slept all day instead. From that point on he was listless, refused to eat, and had lost all interest in everything, even the game he’d stolen from Otacon. Solid recognized the depression right off the bat - he’d been through his own phases of it. Mantis just muttered that this happened sometimes and made a disinterested remark about how Solid wasn’t planning on worrying about it anyway…

Mantis had said that he’d try to draw Liquid back out of his funk (citing that his “bad moods” were never this severe at FOXHOUND because he had a job and therefore some form of stimulation - even if paperwork couldn’t, strictly speaking, hold his interest for longer than thirty seconds no matter what kind of mood he was in, having something to do kept him grounded). Solid didn’t really question what he planned to do although at night sometimes he heard the slight, repetitive squeaking of the queen-sized mattress that Solid figured meant Mantis had turned to physical stimulation to try and cheer Liquid up but at least now Liquid kept his fucking mouth shut. Aside from some indistinct mumblings that could have come from either one of them, all Solid heard was the mattress.

With Liquid depressed and Mantis preoccupied by that, Solid figured that if he was ever going to get the chance to escape from them, it would be now. But Mantis caught him when he was shoveling snow off of his dogsled.

Neither one of them said anything. Solid just gave up and went back inside.

He wasn’t even sure what day it was anymore. Normally he relied on the radio to keep that sort of thing straight, but as it stood Liquid had relocated it to his room and was keeping it set to a staticky classic rock station from Anchorage, the volume low.

One day all the dogs started barking and then someone knocked on the cabin door.

Mantis opened it. All he said, instead of a greeting, was a flat “Oh.”

“…god, is that really you? When the hell’d you get so tall?” said a familiar voice that got Solid up off the couch and sprinting down the hall, almost tripping over himself as he came to a stop in front of the door.

“Master Miller!”

Miller gave him an uncertain smile. “So you really are alive.”

“What are you doing here??”

“It… took me a while to decide to come, actually. I…”

Solid looked between Miller and Mantis, then said in a low voice to Miller: “We don’t have the element of surprise, but with you here, Master, we can take both of them easily. I can get out of here.”

“Actually, Snake, I… well, we have a lot to talk about. Can I come in?”

“Uh… sure,” Solid said, disappointed but mostly confused.

Miller stepped over the threshold, and at the same time Mantis took several steps back, pressing himself up against the wall and staring at Miller suspiciously. Solid raised his eyebrows at him. Miller sighed.

“No,” he said, “you shouldn’t be able to read my mind anymore.”

“Implants?” Mantis hissed.

“Yes.”

Mantis made an audible snarl, then his eyes flicked to Solid. “It is always the Patriots who have implants.”

“Relax,” Miller said, taking off his jacket and throwing it onto a nearby dog, “I left the Patriots. I’d be the first to admit it was a mistake to ever go back to them… but that’s why I’m here.”

“So the Patriots are real, then?” Solid said.

“Uh-huh. Where’s Liquid? I was told he’d be here.”

Mantis narrowed his eyes at him, but disappeared further into the cabin, presumably to go get him. Miller made a low whistle after he left.

“He used to be so tiny,” he said to Solid, “never would have thought of him being so hostile, either. …Snake, could you get me a hot drink? It’s kind of a long way from my place to yours, and I had to hike the last bit. Better make three, actually.”

Solid got Miller’s drift. He made a cup of coffee for himself and two cups of tea (purchased by Mantis) for Miller and Liquid - all the shitty instant stuff, of course - and returned to his living room, where Miller was already sitting on the couch surrounded by huskies, just in time for Mantis to drag Liquid away from his depression nap and into the living room, where he went shock still as soon as he laid eyes on Miller.

“What the fuck are you doing here?!” he blurted out.

“What the fuck happened to your accent?” Miller retorted, then took a cool, collected sip of his tea. “Did you watch My Fair Lady at some point and say to yourself, ‘Hey, I should do that too’?”

“Mantis, what is he doing here?”

“That is beyond me. He got cybernetic implants.”

“My god, really?” He rounded on Miller, his voice suddenly accusatory. “You joined the Patriots! After all that shit about revenge on Cipher, you went and-“

“He never wanted revenge,” Mantis said, “I would have known.”

Miller cleared his throat. “The way I acted back then was largely just projecting my own feelings of responsibility for what happened in Costa Rica on others. I didn’t want to admit to myself that MSF most likely never would have sunk if I hadn’t been involved with Cipher, so instead I assigned blame and acted on that instead.”

“…that sounds like therapy talk.”

“It is.”

“What’s going on?” Solid spoke up, sitting on the coffee table. “What are you three talking about?”

Liquid scoffed loudly, then snatched up the other cup of tea and sat down on a nearby box. “Ancient history,” he said coldly, “as to what’s going on, I have no idea. Miller, what the hell are you doing here?”

“Ocelot came to visit me right after the… incident at Shadow Moses,” Miller said. “Told me about how Snake hadn’t really been killed like we’d all thought when his Codec went dead. Also told me what you all were up to, Liquid.”

Liquid grit his teeth. “And why did he do that?”

“Figured I’d make a good ally, I guess. He wanted me to join him. Join… you.”

“But-“ Mantis started. Miller held up a hand. Solid found it a little weird that Mantis actually shut up, even if it was with an offended huff.

“If I were still with Cipher - that is, the Patriots - he would have murdered me then and there.”

“So you’re joining us out of fear, then,” Liquid said in a low, dangerous voice.

This time it was Miller who scoffed. “Ocelot and I have known that one of us would kill the other for decades,” he said, “I’m not afraid of him. I’m not afraid of death.”

“Why are you here, then?” Solid said.

“Because like it or not Ocelot brought me back into this world. He’s right - I have to stand for something, so I chose my side. That’s why I came here.” He turned his head slightly towards Solid. “Snake, have you decided anything?”

“…not really. I wasn’t sure if the Patriots were even real or not. Plus I don’t think I’m finding kidnapping people to be a good way to convince someone to join your cause.”

“What, was I just supposed to sit you down politely and ask you to join?” Liquid said sarcastically, “everyone knows the best way to recruit someone is to just snatch them up and tell them they’ve arrived at their new home—”

Miller laughed. Liquid stopped talking, evidently surprised.

“I’d heard you made up with V, Eli,” Miller said, “Snake, looks like you got Fultoned - just without the balloon.”

“I don’t get it,” Solid said at the same time Liquid said, “Don’t you dare call me that!”

“Miller,” Mantis said abruptly, “I want you to tell us, explicitly, which side you chose. You haven’t said, only implied.”

Miller paused, then looked at Mantis and opened his mouth to speak-

“And take off the sunglasses, I want to see the expression in your eyes as you say so.”

Miller grumbled, taking them off. “What,” he said, “you think you can spot a lie even without reading someone’s mind?”

Solid wasn’t sure if it was polite to look at Miller’s eyes or not as Miller turned back to Mantis. Solid already knew that Miller was legally blind and had been for years (although this had been information given to him privately, on the condition that he tell no one else in FOXHOUND, even/especially Big Boss) but he’d never seen him without his sunglasses before, and was sort of surprised at how cloudy they were.

“My grievance with Cipher was - is - legitimate,” Miller said firmly, unblinking, “the Patriots have no right to run the world into the ground like this. I’d rather have them gone. I’m taking Ocelot up on his offer, and joining you.” He then put his sunglasses back on, muttering about how it was too bright in here, and turned to Solid. “I’d recommend you do the same, Snake.”

“…”

Mantis glanced at Liquid. “What do you think, Eli?” he said, his voice somewhat uncertain, “should we accept him, or kill him?”

“What?” Solid said, “kill-??”

Liquid took a sip of his tea, glowering. “Miller,” he said, “just why did you go back to Cipher? And what do you mean, you went back to Cipher, and you were involved with them?”

“Back in the seventies,” Miller said, “it’s better to describe it as a parasitic relationship. I used them to make the Militaires Sans Frontières a force to be reckoned with. But in the end, well… things happened. I’d cut ties by the time XOF came after us, you understand.”

“And going back to them?”

“A couple years after we found out the truth about V and Big Boss. I’d left Diamond Dogs, couldn’t keep in one job for more than six months at a time… I wasn’t directly with the Patriots, not at first, anyway. All that happened was I got recruited to FOXHOUND as the drill instructor. What could I say? It was a good job, fit my skills well enough, and I was a single dad with a young kid and needed the money.” He looked down. “Then they asked me to keep an eye on Big Boss for them. It was… easier to just go along with it. It wasn’t like I trusted him anymore anyway.”

“I assume that is when they gave you the implants,” Mantis said.

“Yeah. Said it was standard for all their agents, but I never considered myself an agent of theirs. I was only… keeping watch. And when I left FOXHOUND after the Outer Heaven uprising, they just let me go.”

“They don’t normally let people just leave, do they?” Liquid said, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

Miller shook his head. “Just goes to show how unimportant I was to them.”

“Or it just goes to show that you are still with them,” Mantis said.

“What makes you say that?”

“Because you came saying Ocelot recruited you,” Liquid said. “Mantis is… uncertain of where Ocelot’s loyalties lie.”

Miller snorted. “This is Ocelot we’re talking about,” he said, “he’s more predictable than he’d like to think; his loyalties have always laid with Big Boss. If Big Boss wasn’t around, then his phantom. Neither of those - then his son. Kind of goes without saying that he’s loyal to you now, Eli.”

“I said don’t call me-“ Liquid cut himself off, growling and tossing his head arrogantly. “Well, what about Solidus?

“Who?”

“Big Boss’ third clone,” Solid said.

“The President,” Mantis said.

“Wait, what?”

“Seriously…? I only ever knew about you twins, he must have been born after ’74,” Miller said. “Well, whose side is he on?”

“Solidus?” Liquid said, “he’s also against the Patriots. He’s… sort of our ringleader, I suppose, at the very least FOXHOUND is taking orders from him. More or less. For now.”

Miller shook his head. “Okay,” he said, “so it doesn’t matter which one of you Ocelot is loyal to, because you’re both standing against the Patriots.”

“I wouldn’t say it doesn’t matter, but…”

“Look, the point is that we know what Ocelot wants. Why so suspicious of him, Mantis?”

“Don’t answer that,” Liquid said sharply before Mantis could say anything.

Solid and Miller exchanged a glance at that, but Solid just shrugged. Miller frowned.

“I’ve made my choice,” he said, settling back into the couch, “Snake, have you?”

“I…” Solid wasn’t sure what to say for a moment. “I guess if… you’re on board, Master…”

“So you’ll join us?” Liquid said, perking up. “Excellent, I knew you’d come around eventually. Make it worth my while to not have killed you back at Shadow Moses.”

“Liquid…”

Anyway,” Miller said, “Snake, it’s late, the weather’s bad, neither one of us has a car, and my neighbor’s taking care of my dogs. Do you mind if I stay for a few days until we start to get the details of this whole ‘revolution’ thing ironed out?”

“It’s no problem, Master,” Solid said, jumping up, “you’re welcome to the cou— actually, I’ll take the couch, you’re welcome to my bed. I’ll go change the sheets.”

“Thanks.”

Solid left, leaving Miller, Liquid, and Mantis in an awkward silence. Miller eventually broke it.

“Eli, is that a collar?


“The news again?” Wolf said, sitting down next to Otacon, who had Bêdeng sleeping in his lap.

“Yeah,” Otacon mumbled, “I just can’t seem to look away.”

“It’s so late, though… you should be asleep.”

Otacon shook his head.

Wolf frowned slightly, but it wasn’t an unkind expression, or at least Otacon thought it wasn’t. “You can’t?”

“…no…”

He tried, and sometimes succeeded, but ever since Shadow Moses it seemed like every time he closed his eyes he was assaulted by visions of the incident. Most common was just the memory of walking down the hallway outside his lab by himself, invisible, pretending he didn’t exist, surrounded by blood and viscera and hacked-up Genome Soldiers left behind by the cyborg ninja. Sometimes he dreamed about the ninja himself - his brain replaying what had happened when the ninja threatened him and sometimes it continued the scene as if Solid hadn’t shown up and he’d wake up and clutch at his chest and stomach and be somehow surprised that his body was intact when he could swear he still felt the blinding pain of the ninja’s sword cutting into him.

Sometimes he dreamed that the FOXHOUND members “watching over” him decided that they didn’t need him anymore, and they killed him. Sometimes his brain supplied ways they might torture him before they killed him even though Otacon knew that it was Ocelot who was the sadist of the unit, not any of them.

And sometimes he dreamed What if they’d really been able to launch that nuke, and did? and he got lost in a nuclear winter hellscape version of Princeton or Cambridge or Boston or even Chicago. But then, that kind of dream hadn’t started with Shadow Moses. He didn’t remember when that kind of dream had started. They just usually involved his father standing culpable against the ash instead of Liquid.

“Huh, an interview?” Wolf said, snapping Otacon out of his reverie.

“What?”

His eyes widened as he looked at the screen. A girl in her early teens, with slightly curly brown hair and glasses, was furiously gesturing to the camera on the dreary street of a city - advertisements in the background implied it was somewhere in Maryland. A bit of text at the bottom of the screen identified her as “Computer prodigy Emma Robinson, 14, stepsister of Shadow Moses victim Dr. Hal Emmerich”.

“Get out of my face!” she was screaming at the reporter, “I don’t want to talk about my stupid dead brother! No comment! No comment!!”

Otacon scrambled for the remote, switching the channel to a blank one just as Emma was starting to screech about how she hadn’t seen or talked to her brother since she was six. He and Wolf just sat on the couch for a moment, the only sound being the static of the TV. Bêdeng made a little yip in her sleep, legs twitching.

“We all handle grief in our own ways,” Wolf said awkwardly.

“No…” Otacon said, “I mean, yes, we do, but she has a point. I haven’t seen or talked to her since she was six.”

“What happened when she was six?”

“…I left home.”

Another pause.

“You don’t want to talk about it?” Wolf said. Otacon shook his head again.

She left it at that.

Chapter Text

Much to Liquid’s irritation, Miller told Solid the rest of the long story he’d promised him back at Shadow Moses, although when he got past the part where young Liquid (consistently described as a brat) had hijacked Metal Gear Sahelanthropus for the second time Liquid shut up and listened too as Miller described what happened to Otacon’s father.

“He really wasn’t colluding with me, you know,” Liquid said, “it might have been incredibly stupid of him to tell us how to fix Sally, but as far as I remember he never gave any indication that he thought we were doing anything other than practicing the mechanical skills we were supposed to be learning anyway.”

Miller sighed. “I’ll admit that some of the charges against him were a bit… trumped-up.”

Liquid also had to answer to Miller about Mantis’ personality, since he guessed - correctly, as Solid found - that when Mantis ‘developed a personality of his own’ it had been based off of Liquid’s. But as it turned out the fact that Mantis was so cold and hostile and (assuming Solid was reading him right, which he might not be) really possessive and overprotective of Liquid didn’t actually have anything to do with Liquid himself, even though the symbiotic psychic bond they’d developed back in ’84 was still in place (which Miller had been shocked to hear, but said it explained a thing or two even if Solid had no idea which things he was referring to).

“A serial killer, seriously?” Miller said in surprise, “I mean, with how long you two were together it’s weird enough that someone else was even able to replace your influence over him, but it wasn’t even someone he’d met before?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Liquid said, clearly uncomfortable.

“And he kept the personality too, and never went back to normal…”

“This is normal now,” Liquid snapped, “there’s no point in pining for the ‘old him’ and just because someone else took over his bloody will doesn’t mean he doesn’t care for me, and it wasn’t like it was even voluntary in the fir-“

“Alright, alright, we get it,” Miller said with a placating hand gesture, “didn’t mean to imply anything about your relationship, Eli.”

“Like hell you didn’t.”

Speaking of Mantis, it was he who finally told Solid that Meryl had made it safely off of the island long before the bomb dropped - one of the Genome Soldiers hadn’t been comfortable with the idea of abandoning the sole remaining prisoner while everyone else fled, so he’d taken her with him a while before Solid made it to REX’s hangar. Miller tacked on a comment to the end of Mantis’ about how Colonel Campbell had gotten in touch with him one last time after everything got blown up, and said that Meryl, at least, had contacted him and was safe in King Cove, and at the time of the call Colonel Campbell and the USS Discovery were on their way to pick her up so she should have been out of there before the fallout hit.

Solid was unspeakably relieved to hear that. Knowing Meryl was safe after all was a huge weight off his shoulders - she was just a kid, for God’s sake. Even if she hadn’t said as much out loud, she’d trusted Solid to get her though the incident alive, and he hadn’t wanted to let her down. Plus she’d be one hell of a soldier once she got the wet behind her ears dried off; if she’d died there it would have been nothing but a waste. (Plus she had a cute butt, that too would have been a waste.)

“Are you still in touch with Campbell?” Liquid asked Miller suspiciously.

Miller shook his head. “I don’t have a Codec,” he said, “I stayed online at Shadow Moses via a radio uplink at my house. Besides, that frequency Campbell was on - 140.85 - that’s the official FOXHOUND command support frequency. If I tried to call him back at this point I don’t think anyone would pick up.”

“Wait,” Solid said, “I thought the official command support frequency was 120.13. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what you drilled into us back then…”

“We’ve never used 120.13,” Liquid said, frowning.

“The frequency was changed immediately after the Outer Heaven incident,” Miller explained, “that was the channel V took over, so we couldn’t use it anymore.”

“I’m guessing you also dropped Big Boss’ personal frequency…” Solid sighed. “I did always think it was kind of weird that Big Boss suddenly started using the official command support channel when before that he always just used his personal.”

“That must have been when you stopped talking to that Big Boss and started talking to the real one,” Liquid said, nodding.

During a different discussion Liquid made a passing reference to the fact that he and Ocelot used to be lovers, and Miller suddenly got very, very worried, quietly demanding if Ocelot had ever done anything to or with Liquid back when he was twelve. (He seemed to have entirely forgotten Solid was still in the room at this point, and also said, “I always knew he was planning something but I tried to make sure I kept an eye on him - and he knew it, too — did I miss something, Eli?”) Liquid got extremely defensive about it, vehemently denying that Ocelot had touched him or tried to touch him when he was a kid.

In fact he was so vehement and defensive about it that when he eventually stormed off after Miller insisted that it was okay to tell him, especially after all this time, he was just concerned… Miller and Solid exchanged glances, and Miller gave his verdict on the matter.

“I’m going to rip Ocelot’s head off next time I see him.”

Mantis brought the conversation up again later, while Liquid was holed up in the ‘storage’ room again, having raised the volume on the radio slightly but other than that just taking another depression nap as far as Solid knew.

“While I am always in support of ripping Ocelot’s head off,” Mantis said evenly, “for Eli’s sake I feel the need to point out that nothing happened between him and Ocelot back in ’84, at least to my knowledge.”

“I guess you’d know,” Solid said.

“I’m not sure about that,” Miller said, “maybe Liquid repressed the memory, or Ocelot drugged him - or maybe he subconsciously recognizes only in retrospect that Ocelot was grooming him or making some kind of advances toward him, but… well, that whole conversation just put him way too on edge.”

“…he would be angry at me if I said what really did happen,” Mantis said, “but he was, at least, already an adult by that point.”

Cue all the blood draining from Miller’s face. Solid, for his part, wasn’t sure he understood what Mantis was getting at.

That night Liquid and Mantis had a shouting match about Why the fuck did you tell them that, Mantis, did you honestly think I wanted them to know?! that was audible through the whole house and had set at least forty of Solid’s dogs to barking and howling. Funnily enough, they managed to have the whole argument without once actually saying what had happened between Liquid and Ocelot, and the next morning Miller bluntly asked Solid if he’d given up his bed because he didn’t want to hear those two having sex through the wall anymore.

“Well, yeah,” Solid said. “Better you than me.”

“…that’s fair.”

Other than that Miller kept encouraging Solid to try to find common ground with his brother, or at least with Mantis if that was easier, and Solid tried to comply mostly since he wasn’t technically being held hostage anymore (wasn’t he?) so it was no longer… weird. Except Liquid, unlike the first two weeks in which he had basically never shut up, would always tell him he didn’t feel like talking and Solid, in all honesty, really just could not wrap his head around Mantis’ worldview. He honestly did not see how the “selfish and atavistic desire to pass on one’s seed” was why war existed. What kind of leap in logic was that?

“Anyway, isn’t it kind of hypocritical of you to hate sex so much when you and Liquid are always…?” Solid trailed off and made a lewd hand gesture.

Mantis snorted. “That is different,” he said, “we are both men and even if we weren’t, Liquid is still sterile. There is absolutely no reproductive function served.”

“…right. Didn’t you just get through saying that even if people aren’t boning to having children, they’re still catering to an instinctual desire to, even if it’s ‘misplaced’?”

“…no, this is different.”

“I don’t see how…”

“We don’t even have proper penetrative sex most of the time,” Mantis said, annoyed enough to start giving Solid way more info than he’d asked for… although he wasn’t about to stop him… “It really is only a means for him to get off because he is so demanding about it, I am sure that you would be the same way if you actually ever had a lover instead of just running away from every person you have ever felt remotely close to.”

Ow. “Okay,” Solid said, “so what’s up with the collar?”

Mantis stood up abruptly. “Why am I even discussing this with you?”

“I’m just wondering… if you won’t tell me, I can always ask Liquid.”

“It isn’t any of your business, but go ahead if you dare,” Mantis scoffed, “the last person to ask him that was Emmerich, and he would have quite the interesting story to tell you about that if only we could actually contact any of the others.”

“Not my fault there’s no reception out here,” Solid grumbled, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it.

One day Liquid was woken up from his mid-afternoon nap by Miller calling for Solid: “Snake, I think Diane’s about to give birth.”

“What?!”

Seriously, Liquid wondered tiredly, sitting up and rubbing his eyes, how do either of them keep the names of all those dogs straight…?

Yawning, he stood, threw his blanket over his shoulders, and wandered out into the hallway, quickly finding Solid crouching in front of an open closet with Miller standing next to him. Mantis hung in the background, watching them closely.

“You woke me up with your shouting,” Liquid whined.

Solid shushed him immediately, and quite rudely in Liquid’s opinion. “Diane needs it to be quiet right now.”

Liquid stepped forward a little, looking over Miller’s shoulder. The fat tan husky was lying in a nest of blankets and towels at the bottom of the closet, twisted around and licking at her backside. Every so often a visible ‘wave’ of muscle would ripple across her stomach, under her fur - Liquid supposed this would be the contractions.

“Ever watched a dog give birth before?” Miller asked Liquid in a respectfully low voice.

“Er, yes, but it- it’s been a while.” Like ten years a while. And it hadn’t been a dog per se, at least not like this one; it had a been an African painted dog and Liquid had only been there because he’d happened to get stuck cleaning the animal conservation platform that day (as discipline, actually, following an altercation with someone in the base development unit that got physical. Or was it that time with someone from the support unit? Either way he kicked the shit out of them).

Liquid watched, keeping his mouth shut as the dog strained, whimpering, and slowly but surely pushed a puppy out of her, nose-first, with a yelp. It was in a thin, red, wet sac, which she nosed and bit at a little but couldn’t seem to figure out how to break it, so Solid intervened, breaking it for her.

“First time mom,” he said with a soft laugh. Liquid still marvelled at how affectionate Solid could sound around his dogs.

The puppy was tiny and pinkish although it had the beginnings of a dark coat, and soon it was tucked up against its mother’s body, sucking on a teat and being licked over and over. And then the straining began again and Liquid stepped back, standing next to Mantis.

“It’s incredible,” he said.

“Hn.”

“What?” He turned his head towards him. “Surely it’s alright if animals perpetuate. Animals don’t do any wrong.”

“I know, I know…”

The two of them decided to leave Solid to his careful watch over the birth, since it was kind of obvious that this was going to take a while. Not long later, Miller joined them in the living room, flopping down on the couch between them and stretching his limbs obnoxiously.

“So,” he said, “about Ocelot.”

“What about him?” Liquid said stiffly.

Miller raised his hands. “We’re not going back to the molestation thing,” he said, “I’ll take Mantis’ word for it. I just thought you should know that Ocelot definitely only went for you because of your father… biological father, I mean.”

Liquid’s lips twitched in irritation, but decided not to dignify that with a response.

“That is obvious,” Mantis said anyway.

“He did not,” Liquid snapped, “he views me as my own person and he cared about me back then.”

“Is that what he told you?” Miller said, one suspicious eyebrow visible over his sunglasses.

“Is there a reason why I shouldn’t believe him??”

“Ocelot is a liar,” Mantis said, “you know that.”

“Mantis, that’s enough!” He glowered at Miller, too. “And why the hell are you making this claim - what does it even have to do with you!?”

“He slept with me, too,” Miller said plainly.

There was a very brief pause. Liquid blinked.

“I already knew that,” Mantis said.

Liquid shot him a glare. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

“You didn’t care at the time.”

Miller sighed. “Okay,” he said, “anyway, Mantis - I assume that’s something you saw in my mind when you were a kid?”

“Yes, but I did not really remember until you brought it up just now… I didn’t care at the time, either.” He paused, then added, “In fact, I still don’t.”

“That’s understandable. And, actually, I probably owe you an apology for the fact that you had to see that when you were… hm… however old you were back then,” Miller said, waving a hand. “But nevermind. Do you get where I’m going with this? Anything else you also saw…?”

There was another pause, much longer this time, and then realization dawned in Mantis’ eyes, swiftly followed by disgust. “You slept with Big Boss,” he said.

“I don’t see what this has to do with-“ Liquid started.

“Eli, do you remember what I said a few days ago about Ocelot’s loyalty?” Miller cut him off, “about how it lies with Big Boss, and when Big Boss wasn’t available he deferred to V, and when they were both dead he passed himself on to you and Solidus - Big Boss’ sons?”

“…I don’t like where this is going,” Liquid said.

“He’ll go for any scrap of Big Boss he can get — even, yes, sexually. He never had much of a chance with V since, as it turned out, we managed to find the one straight guy on Mother Base for that, but…” He scratched behind his ear, almost embarrassedly. “Actually, our first time was before V - and Big Boss, I guess - got out of his coma. But still, in his pursuit of Big Boss’ leftovers he ended up with me, Big Boss’ former lover.”

“That sounds like a personal problem.”

“I sincerely doubt it was any different with you - except at least with me, he had the decency to tell me up front who he was really thinking about. Probably because I was doing the same thing - thinking about Big Boss, I mean. At least at first.” He sighed, hanging his head. “I have terrible taste…”

“I won’t refute that,” Mantis said, sounding thoroughly repulsed by the entire conversation.

“This is ridiculous!” Liquid protested, “I’ll have you know I’m the one who started the whole relationship, not him.”

“Eli, you were-“

“I wasn’t manipulated, we’ve been over this!! Stop saying that!”

“I take it you’ve had this conversation before…” Miller said.

Fortunately they were saved before the discussion could devolve into complete chaos: Solid appeared in the doorway of the room, smiling for once.

“Six puppies,” he said, “well, six puppies and a stillbirth, but that’s fairly normal. Fast delivery, though - Diane could barely keep up.”

“Are the surviving puppies healthy?” Miller asked.

“Yup. You can come see after they rest for a few hours.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“I assume you’re going to name them,” Liquid said, glad for the change of subject.

“Of course I am. But I’ll wait a few days before I check to see what their sexes are.”

And a few hours later, when Liquid got the opportunity to peek into the whelping closet, the only comment that came out of his mouth, as intelligent as he was (or was at least supposed to be) was…

“Ohmygod look at them they’re so small.”


“Three girls and three boys, huh…” Solid said, standing leaning against the wall opposite Diane’s closet. “Well, I already had three girl names picked out, but…”

“At least that works out,” Liquid said. He was sitting in front of the closet - he had, in fact, grown completely enamored with Diane’s puppies and had taken to watching them nurse or crawl around for hours instead of just sleeping and/or wallowing in existential despair. “You said you liked to name your dogs after people you know - anyone from Shadow Moses?”

“No way I’m going to name any of them after someone from your unit.”

“I wasn’t saying that! I was just wondering. What about Silverburgh?”

“Yeah, I was thinking Meryl was a good name.”

Liquid indicated a tan-coated puppy that very much resembled its mother. “Is this one of the female ones? Because I think this one looks like a ‘Meryl’.”

“Uh… yeah, she is, so we’ll go with that.” He crouched down next to Liquid. “This gray one can be Nastasha… and this black one right here is Mei Ling. But maybe I’ll shorten it a bit…”

“Just call her ‘Mei’?”

“Right. So that leaves the three boys… figured I’d name one after Otacon.”

“Funny name for a dog.”

“Actually, I was going to go with Hal.” He softly touched a puppy that was light gray his whole body over. “Think this one looks like a ‘Hal’?”

“I think so.”

“But what to do with the other two…”

“Trying to decide on names?” Miller said, walking up behind them.

“Oh,” Solid said, looking up at him, “actually, that gives me an idea.” He turned back to the remaining two puppies, two almost identical dark brown ones. Of course Liquid had made note that one of them had a white spot over his eye where the other one didn’t. “I’ve already named one dog after you, Master, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do it again.”

“Eh… McDonell’s more than enough for me, Snake, he’s a good dog.”

“They’re all good dogs, Master.” He gestured to the two as-of-yet-unnamed dogs. “I can call one ‘Master’, and one ‘Miller’.”

“That’s dumb,” Liquid complained.

“If you want to name two of them after me,” Miller said, “you can use Benedict and Kazuhira - or Kaz for short.”

Solid looked up at him. “Huh? Kazuhira? Benedict?

“…I’m more confused about the ‘McDonell’ bit,” Liquid said.

“I’ve… used a couple different given names over the course of my life,” Miller said, “for what it’s worth, ‘Kazuhira’ was the one my mother gave me.”

“I… I didn’t know that,” Solid said. “Master…”

“So this one can be Kaz,” Liquid said, turning back to the puppies and brushing the one with the white spot with the tip of his finger - Diane watched him warily, but didn’t growl or snap - “and this one can be Benedict.” He touched the one without the white spot.

“…yeah,” Solid said at length, “that works.”

“They’re cute puppies,” Miller said, looking down at them. “Still healthy?”

“Yes!” Liquid reported.

Barking started. Solid glanced up.

“Are we expecting someone?” Mantis said, suddenly appearing at the end of the hallway, nervousness tinging his voice.

“What’s wrong?” Liquid asked, looking up at him.

“A car just pulled up, and I cannot read the minds of whoever is in it…”

“Oh god. Patriots?”

Miller stepped over to the nearest window and pulled the curtains a little out of the way. “That,” he said, “is Ocelot’s car.”

“…so yes,” Mantis said.

“Hang on, someone else is getting out of it.”

Liquid joined him at the window, and immediately put a hand to his forehead and groaned. “It’s Solidus.”

That’s Solidus?” Miller said.

“This does explain that breaking news I heard earlier about the President stepping down over all the protests…”

“Wait,” Solid said, “what does that have to do with Solidus?”

Liquid turned back to him, lips tight. “Do you know what the President- well, ex-President, I suppose his Veep is in charge now — but do you know what he looks like, Snake?”

“No. I don’t really pay attention to politics, plus my only real news source is the radio anyway… oh, by the way, when you are going to give it back?”

“Never, probably. Anyway, before you meet him it’s probably a good idea to mention-“

There was a knock on the door.

“I’ll get it,” Miller said, and walked off.

“…anyway,” Liquid said, “Solidus was, up until yesterday, the President of the United States.”

Solid stared at him. “So that’s what Mantis meant the other… you’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Nope. And he’s our younger brother, too.”

“But we already mentioned the accelerated aging to you,” Mantis said, looking in the direction of the front door, “come to think of it, this will be my first time meeting him. I can already tell I will not like him.”

“That was a given, Mantis…”

Miller?” came Ocelot’s voice from the front of the cabin, “what are you doing here?”

“I was just leaving,” came Miller’s slightly strained reply.

Chapter Text

While Liquid awkwardly introduced Solid (and Mantis) to Solidus and vice versa, Miller and Ocelot (who still hadn’t gotten that prosthetic) talked outside.

“What are you doing here?” Ocelot said, leaning against his car and folding his arms, raising his eyebrows at Miller. “I’m not surprised you’d decide to come see Solid after our little visit - in fact I anticipated it - but how come you’re still here after three weeks?”

“I haven’t been here for the whole three weeks,” Miller said, “I’ve been here for about eight days now.”

“Overstaying your welcome a bit, aren’t you?”

“Snake doesn’t mind. Besides, I didn’t have a way to get back to my house. Was waiting for the weather to clear a bit.”

“I can offer you a ride if you like.”

Miller narrowed his eyes at him, a completely useless gesture behind his sunglasses but Ocelot more than picked up on the hostility being radiated here.

What?” he drawled.

“What the hell did you do with Liquid?”

“…how much do you know?” It was too flat a question not to raise Miller’s hackles.

“Well for one thing I’d say it’s pretty strange to hook up with someone almost three decades younger than you and you first met when he was twelve.”

Ocelot sighed. “For the last time,” he said, “I’m not a hebephile.”

“And for another thing, Mantis implied—“

“Mantis would imply a lot of things about me. He and I have never gotten along.”

“I thought as much,” Miller said, “but when I asked Liquid about it his reaction was pretty telling.”

“What were you asking about specifically?”

“Whether or not you tried anything back in ’84. He got all defensive and left, and afterwards Mantis came to say that ‘at least he’d been an adult by the time Ocelot did something to him’.”

There was a long pause, and then Ocelot leaned slightly forward, snow crunching under his boots, gaze intensely fixed on Miller. “Not sure if this information ever reached you or not,” he said, “but back in the early nineties Liquid spent nearly four years in a POW camp in the Middle East.”

Miller’s back stiffened. “You aren’t saying…”

“Mm. You know what sort of things happen there.”

It was, granted, extremely cold out at the moment, but nonetheless the certain iciness that crept up Millers spine was definitely not from the temperature. “So he was r…?”

“Yes.”

“…what does that have to do with you?”

Ocelot settled back against his car again. “I was the one who eventually located him,” he said, “EVA sent me, actually. But the only way we could figure out to find him as quickly and efficiently as possible was to send ‘Shalashaska’ around as an interrogator-for-hire. Our bet that Liquid’s captors were going to be looking for someone to break him paid off, but… well, I have quite the reputation, I’m afraid, and it always precedes me.”

“Just what the hell did you do to him…??”

Ocelot shrugged. “I had to break him, you understand,” he said, “otherwise he would have been killed. I needed to buy time for me to get back to V on where Liquid was, and for him to get there.”

“What did you do?!”

“The most efficient thing possible.” He tilted his head back, looking up at the gray sky. “Played to his existing trauma. Didn’t take too long to shut him down, and relatively little physical injury.”

For a long time, there was only the sound of muffled conversation in Solid’s cabin and the slow tick of the engine of Ocelot’s car cooling. Other than that - complete silence.

“You disgust me,” Miller spat.

“I always have. For what it’s worth, I’m not proud of myself. But I had to do it.”

“If that’s what helps you sleep at night, you sick fuck.”

Meanwhile inside, Solid was once again giving a tour of his cabin - much more carelessly this time - although he hadn’t gotten to the house rules or the naming of all his dogs yet. “It isn’t,” he said, gesturing to the living room, “exactly presidential.”

“That doesn’t pose a problem,” Solidus said, “I’ve lived in worse conditions.” And when both Solid and Liquid made skeptical expressions at him, he clarified: “I participated in the First Liberian Civil War as a teenager. Ever since then I’ve thought having electricity and running water makes a place luxurious in comparison.”

“Right…” Solid said, “when did you say were born again? ’76?” He did the math on his fingers quickly. “Wouldn’t that make you thirteen at the beginning of the war?”

“He did say he was a teenager,” Liquid said.

“…hang on. And you were Senator in 1998, right?”

“That’s two years after the war ended, it makes sense that he’d be back in America by that point—“

“No, I mean - you would have been 22 when you were sworn in. The Constitution says that senators have to be thirty. And the President has to be at least 35, and you’re only 29 now if your birthday has even passed yet and this was your second term.”

There was a kind of an awkward pause.

“Well,” Mantis interjected, “he looks to be at in his late fifties at least, and I am sure he has fake records.”

“…yes,” Solidus said, somewhat uncomfortably, after a moment, “yes, that’s right. I’ve always appeared to be about twice my actual age, and most of my past has been completely falsified by the Patriots - the successful business I owned before running for Senator was handed to me, and the murdered wife I used as an emotional prop for pushing gun control policies was an utter fiction. My military history was completely sanitized — even my platforms weren’t my own, being from New York I was forced to run as a Democrat when I personally see the Libertarian party as being closest to my own worldview…”

Solid grumbled. “I guess it’s just as well that I don’t bother to vote…”

Miller and Ocelot stepped inside for a moment, Miller to say goodbye, I’ll see you later, and Ocelot to have a quick word in Russian with Mantis (“Solidus is extremely interested in seeing whether Solid or Liquid would win in a fight, so don’t let him instigate anything, he can be very persuasive when he wants to be.”). Solid was disappointed that Miller was leaving but on the other hand, that answered the question of where Solidus was going to sleep.

“The couch,” Solid said firmly.

“But brother aren’t you the one sleeping on th-“

“I sleep in my bedroom,” Solid cut across Liquid, “and Liquid and Mantis have already claimed the spare mattress.”

“This is fine,” Solidus said.

Truthfully it was just that Solid found himself remarkably uncomfortable with the idea of someone else occupying his bed… it was mostly strange because he’d never felt weird about letting Master Miller do it this whole past week.

Miller and Ocelot left, to both Liquid and Mantis’ relief. Mantis was glad Ocelot was gone for obvious reasons (not that Solid knew, still, what precisely pissed Mantis off so much about him except that it had something to do with Liquid sleeping with him) and Liquid complained about how Miller “kept singing The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain around me, which wouldn’t even be so bad if he didn’t wear the joke completely thin and wasn’t bloody tone deaf.

Solid’s introducing Solidus to his dogs was capped off by Liquid proclaiming that Solidus wasn’t allowed to see Diane or her puppies because he’d stress them out, being a new person and all. Solid didn’t think he necessarily would, considering none of his dogs, Diane included, had ever been too bothered about Liquid (in all likelihood he smelled too similar to Solid for them to really register him as a stranger), but he didn’t intervene on Solidus’ behalf and let the ban stand.


After Ocelot had dropped Miller off back at his house with a warning that they might have to mobilize soon, depending on what the Patriots decided to do with the brand-new Johnson administration, he drove for a while, then, in the middle of nowhere, pulled over and called EVA.

“Have you ever,” he said with no preamble, “had a nightmare where you’re in the same room as everyone you’ve ever had sex with?”

EVA paused before answering. “It’d have to be a pretty big room for me, ADAM.”

“…right. I really wasn’t expecting Miller to be there - he must have taken longer waffling about whether or not to go see Snake than I thought he would.” He sighed. “I’m too old for this…”

“Aren’t you the same person who said you were only making up for lost time since you had to stay celibate during your twenties and half your thirties?”

“That was a joke, EVA. And I said that decades ago, why do you even still remember that?”

“Because I thought it was funny. I also thought it was funny that it was Miller you broke your dry spell with when he had to be the most likely candidate for stealing your sperm for Zero.”

“Not at that point,” Ocelot said with a scoff. “That was a completely ridiculous plan anyway… The Boss’ grandchild would be so diluted by traits from other parents that you could hardly call it a real genetic legacy. I’m just glad he gave up on that idea entirely and never tried to clone me.”

“Yeah… I know he set you and I up on dates, what, half a dozen times? but how many other women did he send after you until he finally accepted that you’re gay?”

“I wasn’t keeping track. Nevermind, EVA.”

“While we’re on the subject…” He heard a vague click of a gun being reassembled. She’d probably been cleaning one. “I don’t fault your logic on putting all three of Les Enfants Terribles in the same house in an effort to force them to get along, ADAM, and to be honest I think it’s a good idea as long as we can rely on Mantis to keep the peace…”

“He will,” Ocelot said, “I might not like the man very much but he’s trustworthy… at least when it comes to Liquid.”

“I’m not worried. I just think you’ve got to be insane for doing this - you know Eli and Solidus are going to eventually realize you slept with both of them, right? There’s no way that isn’t going to end in a bunch of drama. And I’ll bet David is going to be… pretty weirded out, it might affect how much he’s willing to trust you.”

“I know, EVA.”

“So why…?”

“It was going to come out eventually.”

“That’s a pretty shallow excuse, ADAM.”

Ocelot sighed again, rubbing his face tiredly. “I’m all about shallow excuses in controlled environments, EVA.”


“I remember this one time,” Octopus said over cards, “when I was assigned to take out this one mafioso type dude. It took me a little while to find a good angle to get at him from - but as it turned out, he had this fiancée, a sweet little Catholic girl…”

“Did she know about his activities?” Raven asked, playing his card.

“Oh, no. Kept her completely in the dark — that’s why it was so perfect for me, since he’d decided he had to tell her about his ‘family business’ before they got married.”

“I remember that,” Wolf said, “the boss was genuinely surprised at the quality of the intel you kept sending back.”

“Yeah, I was surprised too,” Octopus said, “and if I do say so myself, I put on an Oscar-worthy performance, crying and talking about sin but how I loved him so much I forgave him and just wanted him to clean up his act, et cetera et cetera… Dr. Emmerich, it’s your turn.”

“Oh,” Otacon said, startled, “uh, right.” He hunted through his hand for half a moment before playing his card. “Okay. Go on.”

“Yeah, anyway… while I was stalking her, I found out that she and her future hubby had never had sex - never even seen her naked — she was a total virgin. As I said, good Catholic girl. And as it happened my assignment was going right up through their wedding, so…”

“Oh, no,” Wolf said, laughing, “what did you do?”

“I am almost afraid to hear this,” Raven said.

“Ahaha. I thought it’d be, ya know, funny to fuck with him a little, so when I was making my disguise for his fiancée I decided to throw in a dick. Just to see how he’d react.”

“So what’d he do?” Wolf said, leaning forward a little while Raven and Otacon both grimaced.

“He cried, it was hilarious. I should have gotten an Emmy just for keeping a straight a face. And then, guess what.”

“What?”

“Once he was done crying he sat me down, explained that he still loved me even though he was totally straight, and then he offered me a blowjob.”

Wolf laughed loudly enough that Bêdeng started yapping and running around in excitement. Raven rolled his eyes, a mildly disgusted look on his face, and Otacon stared blankly at the cards in his hand. Dimly he thought not about Octopus’ story but more about the fact that he never would have taken a group like FOXHOUND to be into Magic: The Gathering, even if they did ‘house rules’, gambled over it, and Octopus and Wolf both cheated like motherfuckers.

“You know,” Octopus said, thoughtfully shuffling his deck, “I don’t often think about it, but I did get legally married to that guy before I killed him. I mean, I signed the licenses, stood for the ceremony, everything. Not the only time that’s happened, too.”

“I do not think it counts, legally, if you are doing it under an assumed identity,” Raven said.

“Oh, I don’t care about the legality of it, within a month of the marriage both parties are discovered dead anyway. I’m just wondering if in this case, I’d be considered a widow or a widower…?”

“You are male, so I would say widower,” Raven said.

“But he married the man as a woman,” Wolf argued, “that would make him a widow.”

Otacon quietly interrupted them. “Didn’t you have to kill the fiancée in order to take her place?”

Octopus blinked. “Well, yeah,” he said, “it’d kind of screw me over if she happened to show up while I was pretending to be her. Besides, I needed her blood - I always take the blood of the person I’m imitating, my bone marrow adapts to the blood type and then I can’t be distinguished even with a blood test.”

“But she… she didn’t do anything wrong. You said she didn’t even know about her fiancé being in the mafia.”

“Innocent people die sometimes, doc, it happens.”

“…”

“If it makes you feel any better,” Wolf said, “this is an official assignment we are talking about. Octopus was ordered by the government to kill the man, and his fiancée was considered acceptable collater-“

“Just because the government sanctioned it doesn’t mean it’s okay,” Otacon burst out, “just look at Metal Gear.”

No one said anything for a little while.

“…forget it,” Otacon said at length, standing up and putting down his cards. “I… forget it.”

“Emmerich,” Wolf called after him reproachfully as he walked off. He didn’t even turn around.

“…everyone’s a critic,” Octopus muttered, playing his card.


Solidus, it seemed, had brought his own entertainment in the form of a small collection of books carefully tucked into his suitcase. Solid had initially thought that Mantis would get along with him since he’d done the same thing, but it seemed he had really been serious when he said he automatically disliked anyone whom he could not read their mind. Now that they were on the subject, Solid had to wonder if the fact that he seemed to have tolerated Miller’s presence relatively well was just because he’d known him as a kid…

While Solidus and Mantis were deliberately ignoring each other, Liquid also seemed to be ignoring Solidus, but then again that could have just been because he was still in the grips of his depression. Solid once found him taking a nap on the floor in the middle of the hallway with Diane’s puppies all snuggled up to him, and he didn’t know if Liquid falling asleep or the puppies deciding his body heat was as good as Diane’s came first. He did, however, step over him and steal into the ‘storage’ room to take back his radio. He switched it over to a news station just in time to catch the tail end of a bulletin about how the Secret Service had reported former President George Sears missing, although at this time foul play was not suspected, and Solid turned the radio off when they started summarizing the Shadow Moses incident.

He ran into Mantis outside when he was just taking out his Ruger 10/22, tailed by a couple of his dogs.

“Aren’t you cold?” he mumbled around his cigarette.

Mantis shook his head. “Going hunting?”

“Yeah… figured we could use more meat with three extra mouths to feed, even if you don’t eat much. And I’m sure the dogs will appreciate some fresh scraps, Diane especially. So I figured I’d go get a couple rock ptarmigans.” He nodded at the white-all-over dog next to him, one with mismatched eyes and a furiously wagging tail. “Frank here is my best hunting dog, so it shouldn’t take too long. Want to come with?”

“…I suppose. I don’t have anything better to do.”

“I guess you aren’t still worried I’d decide to run off if I don’t have supervision… there’s a good place to get the ptarmigans within walking distance, but if you want to tag along I don’t mind hitching up the sled.”

“That would be appreciated.”

Solid whistled. About a dozen dogs came running over, not counting the ones already by his side - he picked seven of them to hook up to the sled, and, after watching Solid do it with the lead dog, Mantis helped him put harnesses and booties on the other dogs. They were ready to go in under twenty minutes. Frank was going to just run alongside until they got there. After Solid and Mantis got on the sled they were joined by a steel-eyed three-legged dog who immediately stuck her face under Mantis’ arm, expecting pats.

“Which one is this?” Mantis said, leaning away from her slightly.

“Girl,” Solid said.

“…right. The one that doesn’t have a name.”

“She does have a name,” Solid said, “it’s ‘Girl’. It’s all she responds to, so that makes it her name.”

“I see…”

“Hike!”

The dogsled started moving with a lurch away from the cabin. As they cleared the edge of the yard, Solid decided to explain why Girl’s name was Girl even though Mantis could have just casually pulled it from his mind if he wanted to.

“She was my first dog,” he said, “not my oldest - that would be Roy - but my first. She was just barely an adult when I found her caught in one of my traps. That’s why she’s only got three legs.”

“The trap took it off?” Mantis said, looking at her. It was obvious that this had all happened years ago, her fur had grown so well over the stump of her hind leg that at first glance, one might not even notice she didn’t have it until she started walking.

“Sort of. When I got her out of the trap she still had it, although even then it was obvious that she was going to have a bum leg for the rest of her life. I… sort of decided to nurse her back to health - I felt pretty bad about her getting caught — I don’t know anymore if I screwed up or if the wound was just beyond my abilities, but she got infected and I had to cut off her leg to save her life.”

“She seems to have forgiven you for it.”

“I’m sure it helped that I fed her. And she and I had… something in common, I think. Something that made me think it would have been a waste to just put her down when I found her in my trap. And then I decided to keep her…”

Mantis didn’t say anything for a few seconds, then said, somewhat skeptically, “because she comforted you after you had a nightmare?”

Solid coughed out a single laugh. “They’ve been using dogs to help vets with PTSD since World War II. Anyway, it wasn’t until my second dog, Gustava, wandered into my life that it occured to me that I should have given Girl a name.”

“And by that point she already responded to Girl.”

“Yup… at first I just tried to rename her ‘Holly’, but she wouldn’t take it. She was set on Girl. Ended up using the name ‘Holly’ for a different dog later, anyway…”

Girl barked, thumping her tail against the sled. Frank barked back, then ran up to the front of the line to trot along next to the lead dog.

“Your only family, hmm?” Mantis said after a while.

Solid shrugged. “The only things on Earth that care about me without me ever having to doubt their intentions,” he said, “dogs are simple. But they’re honest.”

Chapter Text

After about ten minutes Mantis had decided that he really was cold after all, and Solid offered him his coat, which was much heavier than Mantis’ - without so much as a second thought, which gave Mantis pause but he accepted it anyway.

“There is another one over there.”

“Damn, you’re even better at this than Frank is.”

Mantis shrugged. “I used to help Eli with hunting.”

“Guess you had to find some way to feed yourselves in Africa, huh…”

Of course, back then, even if Mantis was the one supplying information as to the game’s location with absurd accuracy, he had still made Liquid go get it himself. In this case, it was the dog Frank who ran forth and came back moments later with a newly-dead rock ptarmigan in his mouth.

“Can I ask you something?” Solid said as they were walking further into the hills, dutifully followed by Frank.

“About Ocelot?” Mantis said with distaste, pulling Solid’s coat tighter around himself. Solid was roughly the same height as Liquid (Liquid was about a centimeter taller, which amused him to no end — but that made both of them still shorter than Mantis) but both of them, while lean, were undeniably more built than Mantis, leaving the coat to completely swamp him.

“Uh-huh. Don’t take this as a suggestion in case you haven’t thought of it already, but - why the hell haven’t you killed him if you hate him so much? Somehow I doubt that your morals are getting in the way.”

“It’s generally frowned upon to kill a teammate.”

“There’s no way FOXHOUND isn’t officially dissolved now, he’s not technically your teammate anymore. And you’re telling me you really cared about keeping your job?”

“…”

Neither of them said anything for a while. Eventually, Mantis said, “Eli would never forgive me if I killed Ocelot.”

“Yes he would.”

“…what makes you say that?”

“I have eyes. I can see how he looks at you. He’s completely head over heels for you - even if he swears he’ll never forgive you he won’t be able to stay away from you for long and he’ll eventually get over it.”

Again Mantis paused. “You,” he said at length, “are just trying to convince me to kill Ocelot right now.”

“Hey, don’t turn this back on me. I’m just asking you a question — it’s been bothering me...”

Mantis turned his head away, silent. After a while Frank barked and pointed Solid toward a ptarmigan to shoot. Mantis finally spoke again after Frank had run off to go retrieve it.

“I can’t,” he said.

“What do you mean, you can’t?”

“I… I owe Ocelot more than you can ever imagine, Snake. My debt to him is one that can never be repaid.”

Solid blinked at him. “What,” he said, “he saved your life or something?”

“Yes, and more. If it were not for him I’d…” Mantis looked down at the snow beneath his boots. He couldn’t feel his feet - all his senses felt dulled in this cold. “He preserved my life, my freedom, everything, back at the KGB. He taught me to read and write, put me back in touch with Eli, sheltered me from those who would prey upon me, took care of me. Our colleagues thought we seemed like father and son, and looking back on it I can understand where they got that impression. He showed… such kindness.”

“…why? That doesn’t seem like him.”

Mantis shook his head. “He had his reasons,” he said, “I was a loose end from ’84, he was only keeping me compliant and under surveillance. Although he said at the time that he didn’t want to hold debt from me, because I was only sixteen or seventeen - a child - I am sure that he anticipated that I would feel I owed him.”

“Well, if he had ulterior motives, I don’t really think that…”

“There is one thing I never found out his ulterior motive for, though.”

“?”

Mantis looked back up at Solid. “Why did he send for me back in ’94?”

“Huh?”

“After Eli was recovered from Iraq — Ocelot contacted me and invited me to come to Mother Base to be with him. It was done without Eli’s knowledge and, later, despite his protests. And as far as Ocelot is concerned, that is the point when I went from an uneasy dislike of him to outright hatred. I cannot, for the life of me, fathom how he possibly benefited from that.”

“And that’s another thing you feel indebted to him for?” Solid said.

“Yes,” Mantis said, firmly, “in the KGB he preserved my life. At Mother Base, he brought me back to life. I don’t understand why.”

“You really love Liquid, don’t you?”

Mantis flinched at the question and broke eye contact again. After a little while Solid muttered, “I see,” and turned away. A little while longer and he said they had enough ptarmigans to last them a couple weeks and suggested they head back. Mantis numbly agreed.

When they got back to the cabin and Mantis headed inside, he was still wearing Solid’s coat, which Liquid, upon seeing, completely flipped his shit at, tearing it off of Mantis so hard that he would have torn some of its seams if Mantis had put up any resistance. He tossed it on the floor and picked up Mantis, throwing him over his shoulder - Mantis still didn’t resist, and for courtesy’s sake used his psychokinesis to put Solid’s coat on the oft-disused coathook by the door — and stalked back to their room. They passed Solidus on the way, who looked at them with confusion but Liquid ignored Mantis’ audible growl and feeble kicking.

“I told you,” Liquid hissed after he unceremoniously dumped Mantis on the bed - the boxspring creaked warningly - and slammed the door closed, “I do not want you alone with Snake.”

“And I thought we agreed that we no longer needed to worry about Snake trying to attack me in a bid to escape,” Mantis said, voice deliberately calm but hands irritably straightening his sweater. “He is on our side now, Eli, Miller suddenly showing up here cemented that.”

“You never know if he might change his mind!”

Mantis stared at him. “My god, Eli,” he said, surprised, “you’re jealous.”

“I— what?”

“You are. You’re jealous! You’re afraid I might come to like Snake more than I like you.”

“No I’m not!! I’m concerned about your safety. Snake’s a threat to you, I don’t want you alone with him!”

Mantis scoffed. “I suppose if nothing else,” he said snidely, “now you can understand how I feel about you being alone with Ocelot.”

Liquid was gobsmacked. It took him a second to scramble for a response. “This is- this is different! That’s just you being paranoid—-“

“Paranoid! After what Ocelot did to you-!“

“Don’t change the subject! I don’t want you alone with Snake.”

“Jealous,” Mantis muttered.

“I’m not!!”

“You’re a terrible liar, Eli.”

Liquid went bright red. “Well- so what if I am?! Why shouldn’t I be?!”

“Eli—“

“We’re twins - we’re practically identical! Only Snake’s the superior one, he’s like a better version of me, why the hell shouldn’t I be concerned you might like him better??”

“Eli, I am not interested in Snake.”

“Then why do you spend so much time with him?!” Liquid demanded, stomping his foot.

“…let me rephrase that. I’m not interested in Snake in that way-“

Liquid made a choked, indignant cry. Mantis continued quickly before he really got attached to the wrong idea.

“—and Snake is not interested in me whatsoever, Eli, there is nothing to be worried about.”

“Like hell he isn’t. You saw how he was with Silverburgh, he’s into redheads!”

“How would Snake know that I’m a redhead?? I’m bald.”

Liquid’s jaw worked for a moment, then his eyes flicked down. Certainly he could think of one way Solid might come to know Mantis’ natural hair color…

Mantis’ lip curled behind his mask. “Don’t be disgusting. I would never.”

“You do it with me all the time.”

“Because you want to, I don’t much care for it myself.”

Liquid closed the space between him and Mantis with a single leap, Mantis only barely recoiling enough in time to avoid being crushed by Liquid’s landing but not nearly enough to avoid being pinned to the mattress underneath his weight. Liquid was snarling in his face, fogging up the lenses of his gas mask, hands too tight at Mantis’ forearms.

“What if Snake wanted it?”

“Eli, I wouldn’t-“

“That’s bloody right you wouldn’t! I’m yours, not him!!”

“I never said otherwise—“

Liquid pushed himself against Mantis, rubbing his crotch against his, and pressed his mouth to Mantis’ neck, biting him savagely, not quite enough to bleed but certainly enough to leave a mark. Mantis’ eyes widened.

“Eli,” he said, “stop it.”

Only a growl in response.

“I said stop it!” He tried to push back against him, kicked his legs, too, but it didn’t accomplish anything. “You have ten seconds before I throw you against the wall, Eli, now get off of me.”

No.

“Ten,” Mantis said warningly. “Nine.”

Liquid sat up, still glaring but not grinding against him anymore, and Mantis had just barely took a breath when Liquid’s hands shot out and he shrunk against the mattress almost instinctively - right now Liquid’s state of mind was unsettlingly similar to how it was in the heat of combat, difficult to read and prone to catching Mantis off guard.

Liquid’s fingers tore at the latches on Mantis’ gas mask. Mantis grabbed his wrists.

Stop,” he said firmly. “I don’t want this.”

“It’s fine,” Liquid snarled, “the only other people in three miles besides me are Solidus - and you can’t even hear his thoughts anyway - and your best fucking friend, Snake— and you’ve had your mask off here before-“

“That does not mean I want you to take it off! I don’t want- not in front of you—“

“Would it be alright if it were in front of Snake?

“Eli-!”

Mantis didn’t fight back as much as he could have as Liquid roughly pulled off his mask. Immediately he could hear Solid’s thoughts from outside the cabin, where he was cleaning the ptarmigans in peace, letting the crowd of dogs squabble good-naturedly over the cast-off entrails, blissfully unaware that he was being fought over — he could hear the odd hum of each dog’s mind, not loud or overpowering or anything he really understood, mere background radiation, only a little more noticeable than the hum of the forest and mountains themselves — he could hear the vague static of Solidus’ cybernetic implants — and his head filled with Liquid’s thoughts, inarticulate, irrational, insecure, a chaotic swirl of doubt and jealousy.

The most he really offered was a little displeased noise as Liquid took his mouth, his tongue invasive and their teeth knocking unpleasantly together.

After arguing, sex.

Predictable.

Mantis pushed Liquid back, using his psychokinesis to supplement his meagre strength when Liquid refused to follow the move. “You want this?” he said, keeping his voice low. “You want me?”

“I need you,” Liquid breathed, eyes flashing.

“Then first you had better apologize for being so rough with me. You know I do not like that.”

“…”

Mantis sat up, forcing Liquid to kneel on the floor, ignoring him struggling and straining against his psychic powers. He crossed his arms, glaring down at him - he felt much less intimidating, much less confident without his mask on, but his anger and annoyance now was genuine, not playful affectation. “And I also expect an apology for being accused of cheating on you with Snake. I am not you, Eli, I am loyal.”

Liquid hid a wince at being reminded of his infidelity - Mantis almost wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t heard a vague flash of resentment about Mantis holding his past mistakes over his head, and guilt, too, for the mistakes. Liquid looked away deliberately. “I don’t like you spending so much time with him.”

“Spending a lot of time with someone does not mean one holds romantic or sexual interest in them, Eli. Tell me — I will acknowledge that I am the possessive type, yes, but have I ever gotten jealous of you spending time with, say, Wolf? You and she are very close, after all."

“…”

“Well, Eli?”

“No… but-“

“No ‘but’s,” Mantis said, hooking his foot under Liquid’s chin and forcing him to look up at him. “You are being ridiculous.”

“But you can see my intentions in my mind— I-“

“-will simply have to take my word for it. Trust me, Eli. I have no interest in Snake, Snake has no interest in me — nor does he have any intention of attacking me. Your… worry is entirely unfounded in reality.”

Liquid stared at Mantis for a moment, then closed his eyes, frustrated.

“Just trust me, Eli.”

He silently acquiesced.

Mantis let out a sigh of relief, lowering his foot and releasing his hold on Liquid. “Good boy,” he cooed down at him, deciding there was no point in pushing the ‘apology’ thing. He picked up his mask; even though he could tolerate not wearing it in Solid’s cabin, he still didn’t like being without it and if he was sure if he left it off for too long he would end up with a headache.

“Wait,” Liquid said, standing on his knees, putting his hands on Mantis’ legs and looking up at him pleadingly. Despite his ceding, and Mantis’ assurances, his jealousy hadn’t abated by much and it was more that he’d changed strategies… now wanting Mantis to thoroughly establish that it was he who belonged to him and no one else.

Again: predictable.

So Mantis let Liquid kiss him again before he put his mask back on, this time keeping a finger curled into the lead of his collar and tugging gently to remind him to be soft and sweet about it instead of aggressive. Then with his mask back on he didn’t have to listen to Liquid’s churning emotions and was free to just give him what he wanted without having to take his own weird sort-of-friendship with Solid into consideration.

And he did eventually get those apologies, anyway.

Meanwhile, in the living room.

“Where’d Mantis get off to?” Solid said, wiping blood and bits of feather off his hands with a rag.

Solidus barely glanced up from his book. “Liquid walked by carrying him over his shoulder earlier.”

“…oh.”

In the brief silence that followed, Solid became aware of the stifled moaning coming from the direction of the ‘storage’ room.

“I wonder what they argued about this time…”

“I heard a bit of shouting,” Solidus said, “Liquid sounded upset that Mantis is spending so much time with you.”

“Considering our current living arrangements, I’d be more surprised if he wasn’t spending time with me…”

Solidus turned a page in his book. “Like how you all are deliberately ignoring me?”

“…”

“Nevermind, I’m entirely used to it. Anyway, I wouldn’t be too bothered about Liquid’s jealousy if I were you. I may not have talked with him much, but personally I would describe him as a basket case.”

Solid let out a little “huh” of a flat laugh. “You have no idea.”

There was a loud creak from the ‘storage’ room, followed by a crash and high-pitched yelp that sounded like it came from Mantis.

“What was that?” Solid called. When he didn’t get an answer he walked over to their door and, again when he didn’t get an answer after knocking, nudged it open. (It wasn’t locked, but then again Solid wasn’t sure the lock on this door even worked.)

Neither Liquid nor Mantis were anywhere to be seen at the moment, but what was visible was the fact that the boxspring on their bed had finally given up the ghost, catastrophically splintering and sending the mattress half off the bed and partially onto the floor. Even from here Solid could see that a stray spring had put a sizeable hole in the bottom of the mattress.

“Great,” he said.

Liquid, still somewhat flushed and hair half-pulled out of its ponytail, poked his head up from the side of the ruined bed not visible from the door.

“Go away,” he said flusteredly.

“I have no idea where we’d be able to get a new mattress, Liquid.”

“I can fix it myself later, just go away!”

“Ow…” came Mantis’ faint voice, also from behind the bed, “Eli, I think I broke something…”

“Yeah,” Solid said, “the bed.”

“…I suppose it was inevitable…”

Liquid went (even more) scarlet. “Snake! Close the bloody door!!”

Solid did, and wandered back over to Solidus. “Nevermind,” he said.

“…were you doing that on purpose?” Solidus said, raising an eyebrow.

“Doing what on purpose?”

“…nevermind.”

Chapter Text

SHINJI
An unknown ceiling ……


TITLE


EPISODE: 38
見知らぬ、天井


Shinji and Misato is waiting for the elevator coming. The door opens.
They found Gendo in it. Shinji turns his face away. The door closes.


HOUSEWIFE A
Are you also going to move?

HOUSEWIFE B
I had never thought seriously that this city really became a battlefield.

HOUSEWIFE A
My husband told me that our children and I should move for safety at least.

HOUSEWIFE B
Move for safety ...... Even if this is the fortress city, we can't rely on anything at all.

HOUSEWIFE A
Yesterday incident, the mere recollection of it makes me shudder.


Shinji is taking a bath.

SHINJI
Katsuragi Misato-san ......  She isn't a bad person.

MISATO
(flashback)        
Taking a bath is a life washing.

SHINJI
In the bath, more unpleasant things come to my mind than others.


Shinji lays on the bed.

SHINJI
This is an unknown ceiling, too. It's natural ... because I don't know any places in this city.

MISATO
(flashback)        
This is your home.

SHINJI HAL
Why am I here?


        You are the only one そうよあなただけ!

        『あふれてる涙救うのは。

        You must fly away いつも想ってる!

        『奇跡起こす力を信じて~

        You are the only one きっとあなただけ!』

“Emmerich?”

        『閉ざされた扉ひらくのは。

        You must fly away 夢をすてないで!

        『奇跡起こす力を信じて…』

“Dr. Emmerich?”

“H-Huh?” Otacon jolted up off the couch, his Walkman clattering to the floor, yanking his earbuds out on the way. “Oh… Wolf…”

“We’ve decided,” she said, “that car that kept coming round our street…”

“Might be one of the Patriots…?”

“Right. Gather your things, we will leave in half an hour.”

Otacon nodded. Wasn’t like he had much to gather, though, and apart from things like his toothbrush and razor (that he didn’t use as often as he should, he reflected, scratching the scruff on his chin) most of his stuff hadn’t left his bag at all. Even his clothes just got put back in there after they got out of the dryer, although it meant Otacon was constantly wearing wrinkled clothing now. “Where to?” he asked.

“Manitoba this time,” Wolf said, “Raven has been looking at maps, and says it should be a little over three days, maybe four, and we must head downriver to Juneau first so that we can get on the ferry to Haines, and then the ferry to Skagway, and then from there we can get on Alaska Route 98 which will take us to Klondike Highway and eventually the Alaska Highway, then Yellowhead Highway…”

“…and then at some point we end up in Manitoba…?”

She nodded. “It did take us a while to find Notre Dame de Lourdes on the map, though…”

There was a little but loud part of Otacon’s mind that said he should use the directions Wolf had sort of given him to escape at a rest stop or something - he’d taken a road trip through Canada once, back in college, and he’d gone down both Alaska and Yellowhead Highways. So while he wasn’t overly-familiar with the route, he’d still have half a clue where he was and might be able to make it somewhere he could get help.

…no, that was being ridiculous. For one thing it was next to impossible that he’d manage to lose FOXHOUND, and he wasn’t afraid to admit he was scared of what FOXHOUND might do to him if he attempted to escape. And for another thing every knew he was supposed to be dead — it was all over the news. At this point, he might risk getting killed by the government - or the Patriots, which he still couldn’t be sure if they were real or not - for daring to show his face after his so-called murder had forced President Sears to resign in disgrace and subsequently give the Secret Service the slip. He’d already caused enough trouble for them.

Besides, whether or not the Patriots were real, he still had a duty to see this through to the end, didn’t he? He’d unknowingly signed on for exactly this when he joined the Metal Gear REX project. He couldn’t run away now.

Otacon went along unprotestingly when they got in the car thirty minutes later, leaving Tulsequah behind. His only solace was Bêdeng, who was getting bigger and more energetic all the time, although she was still covered in the absurdly soft fluff of puppyhood, and Wolf, who was still nice to him for he reasons he didn’t understand. Octopus had already told him, after he caught Otacon gazing absently at her last week, that there was no way she was interested in him.

Late in the afternoon the next day, the forest gave way to flat, open plain. It seemed like a long time since Otacon had last seen the horizon stretch forth so distantly like this, and for some reason he thought of his grandmother.


Prague.

“EVA’s mentioned you before,” Ocelot said, extending his left hand - Dr. Ilya “Elliot” Madnar, a slender man with wide hips, short black hair, downturned eyes, and a decent attempt at sideburns and a moustache, briefly fumbled, instinctually extending his right hand before quickly switching so he could shake hands with Ocelot. “Although, your name did sound familiar regardless.”

Dr. Madnar let out an awkward little laugh. “You’re probably thinking of my father,” he said, “Matka Pluku said you used to be with Outer Heaven.”

“That’s right - Drago Petrovitch, the man behind both TX-55 and Metal Gear D. Died in Zanzibar Land, didn’t he?”

“Yes, that’s him,” Dr. Madnar said, clearly uncomfortable.

“ADAM,” EVA said from where she was leaning against the wall near the door with her arms folded, “don’t be insensitive.”

Ocelot inclined his head slightly. “My apologies,” he said smoothly, “I wasn’t aware that he had a son, though. I only heard about the daughter, Yelena - or Ellen, I think she preferred to go by. Your sister?”

“I… I’m an only child.”

“Oh? No former Bolshoi Ballet star…?”

“I, er… well…”

“ADAM, now you’re just being an ass,” EVA cut across, then addressed Dr. Madnar: “So how about his arm? Think you can get something prepared?”

“Let me see,” Dr. Madnar said, his shoulders visibly untensing in relief. He took Ocelot’s right arm and briefly inspected it - “Looks like it’s healed up pretty well!” - then stepped over to his counter, self-consciously explaining that he didn’t really get much into bionics research until about ten years ago, less even, but he enjoyed his work and everyone said he was good at it and he really did feel like he was going it for a good cause, or at least EVA made him feel that way.

“Do you want your prosthetic to look realistic?” Dr. Madnar asked Ocelot.

“I’d prefer it, yes.”

“Okay… that might take a while. But here, I can hook up a temporary one.” He held up a metallic right hand, displaying it carefully. “I mean, it’s a bit on the obvious side and it might not be quite the right size compared to your natural hand, but it’ll work in the interim.”

“Hmm…”

“He’ll take it,” EVA said. “How soon can a proper replacement hand be ready?”

“Let’s say… Saturday?”

Ocelot shrugged. “Works for me,” he said, “although I suppose with that so soon, I may as well stay in the country for the rest of the week.”

“That’s not a problem,” EVA said.

They couldn’t leave Dr. Madnar’s place for another 45 minutes or so, since Dr. Madnar had to take very precise measurements of Ocelot’s right wrist and what was left of his arm and also his left arm up to his elbow and his remaining hand in its entirety so it could be copied over to the right, and then Dr. Madnar had to take a casting of the stump of his wrist so he could ensure that the prosthetic could attach properly… and after all that, at least, attaching the temporary prosthetic didn’t take too long and Ocelot didn’t even blink when Dr. Madnar forced his nerves to connect, a typically painful process. EVA thanked Dr. Madnar profusely when he was done and then they left the poor man alone to his work.

“He usually isn’t so…” EVA waved a hand, “anxious.”

“I must intimidate him,” Ocelot said dryly, flexing his prosthetic, then fishing his glove out of his pocket and tugging it over it. An ill fit, although he’d almost definitely have to get a new pair of gloves tailored after he got his permanent new hand anyway…

“Or you just have a habit of immediately latching onto sore subjects and watching people squirm.”

“I won’t deny that. Still, I could have done worse.”

EVA sighed. “I know, I know… wasn’t he technically V’s prisoner back at Outer Heaven?”

Technically yes,” Ocelot said, “although we preferred to use the word ‘recruit’. And I will say that the senior Dr. Madnar being under the impression that his son - well, daughter, back then - would come to harm if he didn’t help finish developing Metal Gear was simply the result of miscommunication. The younger Madnar’s life was never in danger. For that matter, he was treated extremely well.”

“Funny how the senior Dr. Madnar ended up joining Big Boss anyway. Although I don’t think Ilya had anything to do with that, he stayed in Russia and minded his own business.”

Ocelot raised an eyebrow. “Solid Snake was the one who killed Drago Madnar,” he said, “so is it possible that-“

“—Ilya might want revenge on David?” EVA said, “no, I don’t think so. As far as I’ve ever heard - and keep in mind I didn’t meet him until after Zanzibar Land - Ilya holds David in high esteem for ‘rescuing’ him back in ’95. In fact, he admitted to me that he had quite the infatuation with him for years and years, up until he started his transition.”

“Still, I don’t often find people who would take the deliberate killing of their father lying down.”

EVA shrugged. “He didn’t agree with his father defecting to Zanzibar Land,” she said, “and firmly believes that David was only acting in self-defense. A bitter pill to swallow, I guess, but he doesn’t hold any resentment for it and I’m not sure he ever did.”

“…hmm…”

“Look, ADAM - he’s trustworthy, alright? I’ve been friends with him for almost half a decade now.”

“If you say so,” Ocelot said. “I can’t argue with the idea of a bionics specialist in our pocket being prudent, either.”

“Hopefully no one else will be losing any limbs any time soon,” EVA said, somewhere between exasperated and genuinely sympathetic towards Ocelot.

“Mm. Hopefully.”


“Still can’t sleep, Eli?” Mantis sighed, sitting up.

“Nn.” Liquid had been tossing and turning all night so far - and it was about four or five in the morning, by Mantis’ estimate. If their lives had still been normal then Liquid would have been getting up soon anyway, although his bout of depression (which he’d more or less pulled himself out of following his blowing up at Mantis over Solid) had completely wrecked his sleep schedule.

Mantis probed Liquid’s mind to see if it was that there was something wrong, or at least something he could help with, that was keeping him from sleep, but Liquid had a tendency of being able to feel when Mantis was doing that and he sat up as well, rubbing his hand just under his clavicles.

“My chest hurts,” he complained.

“Again?”

“I don’t know what it is, but-“

“It’s alright, Eli, I do not find it annoying. Just… concerning.”

Liquid shrugged, dropping his hand. “It’s fine, really. Actually, it’s not so bad tonight.”

“Hm. If you like, I could go to Port Alsworth tomorrow and get some painkillers for you. Although I believe that over-the-counter would probably be the best I can do…”

“Oh, no - it’s so far, I don’t want to inconvenience you—“

“Hush, it’s no trouble. I only wish I could do more.” He dug his fingers into Liquid’s hair, scratching his scalp lightly, and Liquid tilted his head down into his touch. “Besides, someone around here needs to go pick up some more soap and toothpaste and such. We’re starting to run low since Solidus came.”

“I see…” Fortunately for Mantis, Liquid was rather easy in some aspects, one of them being that he hated people, even Mantis, doing things for him unasked (that is, out of kindness) unless it were a ‘Well, I was going there anyway’ situation, at which point he’d be annoyed at a refusal.

“Anything I can do tonight?”

Of course, that didn’t stop Mantis from offering to do things for him anyway.

“Erm… well…” He considered it for a few moments, then said, half seriously and half just trying to deflect Mantis, “you know, I recall reading somewhere that orgasms release endorphins, which are natural painkillers.”

Mantis snorted, but played along sort of. “You’re incorrigible.”

“And you haven’t been keeping up your end of the game lately…”

“What, breaking the bed was not enough for you?”

“I fixed it, didn’t I?” (No. Well, yes, he’d repaired the hole in the mattress although the damage was still obvious when one laid down on it, and the boxspring had been unsalvageable - the mattress now sat directly on the bedframe.)

“Hmmm…”

After Liquid had blown up at him over Solid Mantis had given him not quite a new rule, but a stern warning about aggressively coming onto him, so it was with a certain amount of caution that Liquid pushed Mantis back onto his back and straddled him. “Come on, Mantis. You asked if there was anything you could do…”

Mantis reached up, pulling himself up a little to meet Liquid, although mostly Liquid just leaned down. He nuzzled his face, then whispered in his ear: “You know, Eli, I recall reading somewhere that the lead-up to the orgasm releases endorphins on its own… no orgasm necessary.”

“Gh… you really like to deny me satisfaction, don’t you…?”

“You are adorable when you beg.”

Liquid was tempted to hit Mantis with his pillow for saying that but was prevented by Mantis suddenly using his psychokinesis to reverse their positions, sitting in his lap now with Liquid pushed back against the bedspread — although, Mantis thought, perhaps if Liquid behaved himself for the next half-hour or so he’d give him permission to ride him. And he let Liquid hear that thought, too; Liquid’s face lit up. He liked riding Mantis, even if Mantis always tormented him before allowing him to and even if he was still a little distracted by the ache beneath his sternum.

Minutes later, in the adjoining room, Solid was grappling with the perennial problem of trying really, really hard to ignore how thin the walls were in his cabin even when every muffled whine and whimper went straight to his dick.

“Oh— oh, god, M-Mantis—-“

“Shh, keep your voice down. Snake is awake, he can hear us.”

Solid couldn’t quite make out Liquid’s response, but his brain supplied it anyway:

What’s he going to do about it?

Solid turned his back to the wall, curling up under his blanket. Maybe it’d be a good idea to just get up and take a little night-walk, like he’d done sometimes before — but no, he’d have to pass Solidus at some point and Solid didn’t know if he was asleep or not and like hell he was going to risk being seen by him with a noticeable tent in the front of his pants. Solidus had come across as a major space case to Solid so far but he was pretty sure he wasn’t stupid, he’d know there was only one thing in the cabin right now that could put Solid in this state without him really wanting it and it started with “L” and ended with “iquid Snake can’t keep his pretty mouth shut when having sex with his boyfriend”.

One of the dogs lying on Solid’s floor lazily raised her head when Liquid let out a loud moan that was quickly stifled - by something being put in his mouth from the sound of it. Solid couldn’t help but wonder what that something was (fingers? his own? Mantis’? Mantis’ tongue? Mantis’ cock? had it just been to shut him up or was he sucking on whatever it was even now, and pressing his tongue against it, maybe wetting his full, pink lips until they were shiny with saliva) and even though he chased the thought away as fast as he could his stupid dick still twitched insistently.

He’s your brother, he told himself like a mantra, still lying on his side with his eyes closed deliberately like he was sleeping, but he was clenching his fists until his nails dug little half-circles of pain into his palms, he’s your brother. He’s your brother, Snake, that’s incest, that’s not right, that’s sick— and Liquid’s voice in his head kept repeating: What’s he going to do about it?

What are you going to do about this, brother?

Solid wondered if Mantis was reading his mind right now. Probably not. Clearly he’d taken a glance just to confirm that he was awake, but in all likelihood he was ignoring Solid in favor of Liquid. Reasonable. They were busy right now, after all.

For the first time it occured to Solid to wonder if they were doing this on purpose.

“M-Mantis, Mantis, please—!”

“Eli, be quiet.”

…there was no way Mantis was. Solid thought about it and he just couldn’t see it. Mantis simply wasn’t that kind of exhibitionist (Solid would hesitate to call him an exhibitionist at all, even though he’d already seen his weird self-bondage a few times when he shed his sweater; he really did get the impression that Mantis did that for aesthetic reasons, or because he found it comfortable, or whatever, instead of anything remotely sexual) and Solid was pretty sure that Mantis ordering Liquid to shut up was done in complete sincerity and if he could have gotten ahold of a good gag in Port Alsworth then he certainly would have.

The image briefly flashed to Solid’s mind of Liquid, shirtless as usual, nipples so hard they could cut glass, tied or handcuffed or something to a frame Solid’s brain didn’t supply the details of, arms spread and shoulders wrenched back, chest heaving, head hanging - maybe his collar had a weight or a bell attached to it just to make noise every time he moved or to make it harder to breathe — a ball gag stretched his plush lips and forced his jaw down, thick saliva streaking his chin, and for once his incessant prattle was halted and he couldn’t ask What’s he going to do about it.

Fuck. Maybe Mantis wasn’t doing this on purpose, but maybe Liquid was.

“-—let me finish, let me finish, Mantis, l-let me cum, tell m-me I can c-cum, p-pl-please—“

Desperate pleading that quickly devolved into incoherent mumbling barely audible through the wall. Solid wasn’t sure he could reconcile that with the fact that this was the same guy who’d hijacked Metal Gear REX, took over a top-secret base, and gave Gray Fox the death he’d been seeking. It probably didn’t matter if he did or not.

Despite their alliance against the Patriots, Solid had no qualms in admitting he felt no love for his brother - if anything, he hated his guts. But god damn wouldn’t he have loved to be the one making those noises spill from Liquid’s hot wet mouth right now instead of Mantis, maybe holding him down even as he squirmed and bucked and giving his tight ass the hardest, roughest, most overwhelming and excruciating pounding of his oversexed life as payback for Shadow Moses—-

No. No. Bad thought.

Solid was so hard it hurt.

And what was he going to do about it?

Without even opening his eyes, body still tense, Solid Snake guiltily slid one hand down his pants and stroked himself, listening to his twin brother bounce up and down on someone else’s cock and imagining that it was his own.

Chapter Text

The next day Mantis didn’t talk to Solid anymore.

Despite it only being a few hours between when he woke up and when he dusted the snow off the still-entirely-nonfunctional-without-his-psychic-powers car, Liquid absolutely noticed that Mantis wasn’t talking to him anymore. And while Mantis would have thought that Liquid would find that a relief, considering he was still jealous and suspicious of Solid even if he wasn’t openly saying as much anymore, what it in reality did was just raise Liquid’s hackles.

“What happened?” he demanded, cornering Mantis outside. “Why did you suddenly stop-“

“Why are you so suspicious about this, Eli…?”

“Because you’re you. You don’t just suddenly stop talking to someone you like, not without good reason. Tell me the reason, Mantis!”

Mantis sighed. “Eli…”

“What’s the matter, Mantis?” Liquid sneered at him. “Perhaps you feel guilty about something?”

Mantis glared at him coldly enough that Liquid frowned, fidgeted a little, and backed down from his unspoken accusation that Mantis had cheated on him. Although the question did set off a little twinge somewhere in Mantis’ stomach — he hadn’t really stopped to consider it until now, mostly because he wasn’t sure ‘guilty’ was the word he’d use (he was, by and large, pretty much incapable of feeling it ever since the serial killer personality absorption thing), but it was true that he did feel sort of… bad about the fact that he’d told Solid about his history with Ocelot in the KGB while Liquid only got the barest hints about it. Usually from other, non-Mantis people. Liquid didn’t have a clue that Mantis felt so indebted to Ocelot and Mantis had never mentioned it to anyone up until Solid last week.

Huh. Maybe the fact that Mantis felt so insistent about making the trip to Port Alsworth just for some ibuprofen for Liquid was some sort of subconscious attempt at making things up to him. Or maybe it was just his usual ‘would do anything for Eli’ attitude?

“Erm…” Liquid shifted his weight uncomfortably in the snow again, then tried again about why Mantis might have stopped talking to Solid: “He was planning something, wasn’t he?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, something! Maybe he thought he would throw away all our plans and try to kill you, or—“

“Eli, if he thought that, I would certainly take more drastic action than simply refusing to talk to him.”

“…so… what did he think, then?”

Mantis sighed. “It was- simply a late-night fantasy that I found particularly abhorrent. But I don’t think it indicated any kind of threat, it was just a fantasy. I won’t say more.”

Liquid wondered if maybe he could get Solid to tell him himself but he sort of doubted it, and anyway he ended up going back inside to fetch a thicker coat for Mantis, which Mantis knew would take him a while because his only options were Solid’s coats but he’d be wanti