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SELF-INTEREST

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The waiting room outside Ocelot’s office at Intel is quiet, and it makes you wish you’d just declined the invitation.

You’d been a Diamond Dog for about a month now, settled into routines and gone through the standard training with a fairly large batch of other recruits. Physical conditioning with Brass Moth, basic first aid with Canary, some appearances here and there from the higher ups, even the Boss had showed up once or twice. There hadn’t been a lot of contact with Ocelot after the very first interview, which sticks in your mind as a place of bright lights and questions that were easy to answer.

The good news is you’re not alone: Silent Rhino, Roaring Centipede, and Prancing Shrew are all guys you know from your batch. Rhino and Shrew were the two you’d put closest to the top, if you were honest: Rhino took to everything so easily and never turned away someone looking to learn from him. Shrew said nothing to nobody but did everything faster and better, maybe as a result. You class yourself closer to Centipede’s level, which is to say, average at best. 

The four of you are stuffed into the little waiting room together, and the silence is startling. It took you a while to place why, but the inner catacombs of the Intel platform are extra soundproofed, so the hum of the base has nowhere to go. You sit in a fog of it.

It’s impossible to say how long you’ve been there: there’s no clock, and nobody expects to see Major Ocelot right away. Either through his busy schedule or a psych out tactic, he never sees anybody on time, but he does know if you’re late.

Eventually the door opens and the four of you jump out of your respective skins. Ocelot looks bored as he calls for Silent Rhino, who stands up and reminds you of just how tall and broad he is. But he steps quietly, and the door closes behind him.

Prancing Shrew is next, and he doesn’t look at any of you as he stands and follows Ocelot. Rhino settles back down into the chair he’d left empty, and Centipede knocks his boot heels together idly in the silence.

Shrew comes back out, trades spots with Centipede. Time is passing strangely but you know Centipede’s is the shortest interview so far, and Ocelot lets him go with a sour look before reading your name off his list. You pass by him, smelling both cordite and the pervasive scent of horses, just briefly. 

His office is boring enough, just bookshelves, filing cabinets. No plants or pictures, almost papered in maps, but nothing indicating anything on any of them. No push pins or writing. It’s easier to look at Ocelot’s surroundings than Ocelot himself, even when you take the single chair in front of his wooden desk and he flips through a folder with your name on it. He’s very handsome in a troubling kind of way.

“Wounded Civet, hm?” He looks at you for probably the first time, pale and intense. “You know that prefix is reserved for those that have a history.”

You’ve gotten good at keeping your face composed, and you let it slide off you like oil. It’s a triage marker, not a condemnation. “It’s all in my file, sir.”

“Don’t like talking about it?”

“That was my last life, sir. It informs who I am now, but I don’t think it defines me.” 

He makes a face like he doesn’t disagree, and flips back and forth on something that looks like your medical records. “As you know, there are specialty divisions within the Diamond Dogs, and your intake results stood out to us as someone suitable for one of those specialties. So, we’ll have an interview and decide where you go from here. If you change your mind, you can back out at any time, no questions asked.”

“Gotcha, sir.”

Ocelot’s mouth quirks, like he hadn’t been expecting to fend off a smile.

He asks a lot of questions, which you answer truthfully. There’s no point in lying, and he doesn’t ask anything worth lying about. Things about what you’ve done in your life, what skills you have that you value, what kind of friends you’ve had, your moral estimation of warfare. A few ethical puzzles, like the train and the switch, a man accused of murder when your friend did it, stuff that you feel is more to judge about your character and decision-making qualities. His pencil scratches on a clipboard irritatingly after every response.

“You’re crossing a suspension bridge. Your destination is the other side, but the bridge is only wide enough for one person to pass at a time.” Ocelot looks up at you again and it strikes you that he hasn’t done that much, preferring to keep his eyes on the paper. You sit up straighter. “A man is approaching from the opposite side. He’s carrying a gun.”

You can feel yourself looking off into another direction while you think, but it doesn’t seem like a reflex worth trying to stop. “Do I have a gun?” 

“Yes.”

“Do I know the man?”

“Does it matter?”

“I jump.” You resist the impulse to shrug when Ocelot doesn’t immediately write something after your answer. “The guy’s irrelevant, right? The whole point is to get to the other side, and I can do that without dealing with him.”

Ocelot leans back in his office chair, and you feel like it’s the first time you haven’t seen his shoulders at exactly the same level. It takes you off guard in an unexpected way, and one red hand lingers near his mouth as he thinks. Fingers flicker in a dismissal when he makes up his mind. “Hm. That’s all for now, Civet. You can go.”

You shut the door behind yourself as you leave and let out a breath you didn’t know you’d been holding, before finding three pairs of eyes watching you. You sit down quickly and try not to nervously smooth or pick at your uniform, instead shifting towards the front of your seat to look at the others. “Hey, what did you guys answer for the bridge problem?”

“Bridge problem?” Centipede leans around Rhino with some difficulty.

“I shot him.” Rhino shrugs. “Tried talking to the guy, but he said there was no way to make him move.” Shrew says nothing, which doesn’t surprise you.

“You guys got a bridge problem?”

You lean your chin on your hand and prepare yourself for nonsense. “What did he ask you, Centipede?" 

“He asked what I would do if I were a cop and I pulled over a guy who was speeding, but it turns out the guy’s my dad…” Centipede explains, gesturing as he goes.

“What’d you say?”

“Well, first of all—my dad? After all these years, and this is how we meet again--?”

“I get the idea,” Rhino says, cutting him off. “And you, Civet? What did you say?”

 “I jumped. I probably should’ve shot him, though, that sounds like the right answer.”

“Wish I’d gotten the bridge problem, that sounds easier.” Centipede mumbles, tapping the toes of his boots together. “What if you wiggled the bridge until the guy fell off?”

 You crack a grin, but Rhino heaves a sigh that seems to go through his whole body. “Centipede, what are you doing here?”

“The guy with the shades said my scores were inconclusive, and a bunch of other stuff like, ‘he might be faking to get out of more work,’ and ‘leave it for Ocelot to find out,’ whatever.”

You catch Shrew pulling a face at the thought of causing so much bureaucratic strain and are about to ask him about it when Ocelot’s office opens back up, cutting through the mood like cold air.

“Rhino, Shrew, Civet, in my office.” Ocelot holds the door open while the three of you try not to trip over each other filing in. “Centipede, you can go right back to Miller.”

“Cool. What do I tell him?”

“Whatever you think will make him angriest.”

Centipede gives him a double thumbs up and spins on his heel to leave.

The office is more crowded with the three of you in it, and you seem to step back as one thing as he puts himself between you and the desk, leaning back against it. The posture emphasizes the holster at his hip, whether he means it to or not.

“What do you think I want out of the three of you?” he asks, and nobody jumps forward to answer.

He arches his eyebrows so you know it’s not rhetorical, and eventually Rhino stirs, lifting his chin. “I don’t think what we think matters, sir. You’ll get out of us whatever you want us to give you.”

“Good answer, Rhino. You’ve all been through basic, so I imagine you must’ve run into Commander Miller once or twice.” Ocelot moves his hands while he talks and it weaves a pattern of red that’s hard to look away from. “He makes good soldiers. Practical, efficient, perfectly dependable for what the Boss will ask them to do. And that can be you, any time you want it to be.” 

“I am not Commander Miller. I am not particularly interested in good soldiers. The only thing that interests me is the fulfillment of the Boss’s wishes, visions, and whims. Sometimes those require men who are not good soldiers, who can do vile, uncompromising things because they were told to.”

“That’s what I intend to make out of you. The creature that you transform into may be unrecognizable to you as you are now. But the nice thing is, you won’t care. You don’t have to care. Whatever happens to you, it’ll be of no consequence to you, because you are mine, and we all belong to the Boss.”

He drops his hands to his thighs with a little slap and the three of you jump. “That’s my big speech. If you’d like to drop out at any time, just swing by Command and have your designation changed.” Ocelot says it casually. “Training starts at sixteen-hundred, in hangar B. Try not to be late.”

 

 

 

Ocelot pushes you farther than you ever wanted to go. Up early, out late, constantly moving. You eat so fast that food doesn’t have a taste anymore. Your body hurts constantly and you sleep like the dead. But like all things, your body adjusts to it. You find yourself elbow to elbow with Shrew and Rhino in the cafeteria and make time to smile about it, finding that it’s a nice feeling to know exactly what they’re capable of. What you’re capable of. The three of you can pull, aim, and fire at the same target in almost perfect sync, and it feels like a dance.

 Training starts to shift from daily schedules to new things every day, once you’ve grown comfortable with each other. Sometimes it’s endurance, sometimes it’s fighting until you drop, sometimes it’s field stripping and reassembling guns you can’t even name, but the shape of their moving parts becomes more familiar to you than your own face.

Every day he tells you what fine Diamond Dogs you are, how valuable you’d be to the other units if you stopped now. How proud the Boss would be to see you alongside your comrades, your family. All you have to do is call it quits.

The scary thing is, you know he’s not lying. Other members of the Ocelot Unit—real, true Ocelot Unit members, who have gone through all this—have come up to you during dinner and told you with a kind of tired smile and genuine eyes that it’s okay to quit. That it’s better to quit before you injure yourself seriously: you’re no good to the Boss if you’re broken. That’s not what Ocelot wants, that’s not what the Boss wants. Diamond Dogs you’ve admired for their efficiency and smarts have taken you aside and told you that they dropped out of it, that they don’t regret it. Take care of yourself, Civet, okay? It only gets worse. 

You appreciate it, but it puts a bitter taste in your mouth. No one wants to congratulate you for getting this far. You’re losing track of your days and the number of people you speak to regularly is shrinking rapidly towards three.

You feel like you’re chasing Ocelot, and you have dreams about it, when you manage to dream. Sometimes long, huge hallways that you can’t see the end of, sometimes you’re crashing through cramped spaces behind him. Sometimes you’re drowning and you can see red gloves just above the surface, outstretched.

He looks at you like he knows. Your field of vision has narrowed down to yourself and your survival almost exclusively, so you can’t tell if he looks at Rhino and Shrew the same way. You smile at Ocelot whenever you can, even if you’re drooling from the heat or swishing a mouthful of blood.

He was right. It’s nice, to be his.

Chapter Text

 Something you weren’t expecting to hate is the way that other Diamond Dogs watch you.

When you’re alone or off duty it’s not so bad, not everybody knows you’re training with Ocelot, but when he parades the three of you around like his personal idiot vanguard, it stings. You know they’re watching, either thinking what poor bastards you three are or feeling jealous for not being picked to do it too. It’s not like there are many secret places to train, either. No natural features lead to turning Mother Base into an obstacle course. 

Ocelot will sit in the back of a jeep in his shades and not say anything while the three of you chase him around the whole base. He never stops anybody from cheering or hooting at you, although you think Rhino came close to clotheslining Devil Raptor for whistling at him. If it wouldn’t have broken his pace, Ocelot probably would’ve let him. The worst is when he catches up to Miller doing the same thing with a batch of regular recruits, because then the three of you have to sprint to outpace both the group and Miller and there’s inevitably a lot of shouting.

You learn a lot about the other two very quickly this way—Rhino can go for an insane amount of time on level ground but slows drastically for climbing. Shrew is great at weaving through pipes that you’ll smack right into, but he always takes the lowest possible path.

He doesn’t get that choice today, since drills have ended with climbing exercise. Mother Base is veined with vents and pipes strong enough to support the weight of an adult, so the three of you are wriggling around on them, burning yourself where the sun’s hit them all day and occasionally backsliding for extra chafed thighs. Like most exercises, you feel like this is the only thing you’ve ever done in your life, and it’ll be the only thing you ever do from this day onward.

“Come on, now, kittens! I’ve seen the Boss scramble up those same pipes in the time it takes you to catch your breath!” Ocelot hollers up at you, voice bouncing around the flat metal chasm. “He does it for fun!”

The metal scalds your face if you rest against it, and your hands are already singing with pain. It feels like being baked, being some kind of rotisserie item. The sun is hot, you’re sweating and only getting more slippery, and Shrew hasn’t moved from the same spot in a while now. 

You glance back down at him and regret it, made aware again of the height you’re at, and how difficult it would be to get down without killing yourself. Shrew’s face is pointed down towards Ocelot and you think he’s probably feeling the same thing, but worse. Heights. Shrew is afraid of heights.

It’s so tangible you feel like you can bite it between your teeth like a leather strap. “Shrew!” You make it as loud as you can, bellowing down at him. Rhino’s head snaps around to look at you, and Ocelot shields his eyes from the sun. “Trying look at my ass for a change! We’re going up! Eyes on the prize!”

Shrew’s face is a scared oval, but he’s looking at you. He’s looking up at the blue square of sky and the vents he’ll have to climb to get there, and you keep talking to him the whole way, until he joins you at your elevation. His fingers squeak against the metal, greasy with sweat, and you can see the muscles in his arms shaking. Your throat hurts from yelling and dehydration, so it’s nice that you can just mutter to him as the two of you continue climbing. You reach the top of this platform building, and Ocelot points you to the next nest of pipes. It just keeps going, and so do you.

Come on. Let’s beat Rhino. Look at that big asshole, he’s just going along without a care in the world.

I’m gonna get you a burger when we’re done. Gonna fight every idiot in line in front of us whenever Miller pulls out the good beef and I’m gonna bring it back to you.

Just make a pattern, Shrew. Foot, foot, hand, hand. I can do it and you’re way smarter than me.

All your limbs are shaking when you make it to the top of the last one, and the sun is just a bare slice above an orange horizon. The wind feels heavenly, and Shrew is flat on the roof beside you, Rhino spread-eagled not much farther away.

The sound of Ocelot’s boots on the metal grates precede him, and he puts his hands on his hips when he reaches the top of the stairs and finds you. “Well! Wasn’t that a touching display of camaraderie. I didn’t realize Civet was such an altruist.”

You wipe sweat out of your face and look at Shrew. His expressions still feel alien to you, but you can see him resenting you for the charity, and resenting himself for not being grateful. You shake your head, hanging it between your knees. “You told us at the start. ‘I want the three of you up there.’ It doesn’t mean anything if we don’t all get there.”

“Uh huh.” Ocelot sounds unimpressed. “Rhino, Shrew, you’re done. Shower and be ready for sparring tonight.”

Rhino has to peel Shrew off the deck and they look comically mismatched, one huge and one small man leaning on each other to wobble down the stairs back to the deck. They’ve never lingered when Ocelot dismisses them, although he always seems to have something to say to you after an exercise. Sometimes it’s questions that don’t seem pertinent, sometimes it’s a criticism and suggested improvement. Sometimes he chats about the Boss, and that’s your favorite: you’ve learned what kind of coffee the Boss likes and how he prefers to patch his boots rather than ever give up a pair, and how much both annoy Ocelot.

He holds an open hand with the expectation of yours, and you pull yourself up, legs and arms protesting. Everything protesting. The sea breeze as it threads between the two of you is nice, and life is strange enough that you don’t freeze up when Ocelot doesn’t let go of your hand. He matches his side with yours and an arm loops gently around your waist, your bodies paired together in a slow pantomime of a waltz. Your hand in his looks like an animal in a trap.

“Which would you prefer I believe about you, Civet?” Ocelot asks, close enough that you think you can feel the bass tones in his voice. “That you’ll do anything I tell you, or that you care about your comrades?”

“Can’t it be both, sir?”

“What if I had told you to kick Shrew’s fingers? His face?”

It’s been a long day and you’re learning that Ocelot prizes your honesty more than your stoicism when it’s just the two of you, so you let your face grimace. It was unhappily easy to imagine Shrew falling, hitting the stairs or railing on the way down. He’d be killed by the first impact, if he were lucky. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t like difficult decisions.” He says it more as a statement than a question.

“Does anybody? Sir.” Maybe it’s all the time you’ve spent near him, but your feet never step on his boots. From this distance, the spurs sound like bells. “I’d like to leave it up to you and the Boss.”

“Ah,” Ocelot says, and you look up to see him looking past you, towards the horizon. “You’ve got a knack for saying what I want to hear.”

You tighten your grip on his hand and ball your fist around the loose fabric of his shirt, the texture worn soft. The wind is active enough that the way he smells only hits you when the breeze throws it in your face. “If you’re asking me if I would kill him just because you told me to, I wouldn’t. You can kill me instead. But if you want to know if I would kill him because I had to keep going, then I would.”

“Curiouser and curiouser. Still, it’s always easy to answer when it’s hypothetical, isn’t it?” Ocelot lets go of you, disengaging with no lingering touches or longing. You struggle not to throw your hands down to your side, but the alternative is to stay open, waiting.

He gives you a new look, one almost pitying, and you’ve never seen it before. You don’t want to see it again. “I want you to think seriously about what you’re willing to do, to keep going. With me… with this. All of it. The point of getting away unhurt is going to pass you by faster than you anticipate.”

Your body moves to salute and suddenly thrashes as your balance panics, pitching you forward onto your hands and knees. Looking back, you can see the long drop behind you, the edge formerly under your boot heels unnoticed.

Chapter Text

Rhino beats you in training worse than he means to, and Shrew watches it happen.

Ocelot stands by and watches too, but you can’t even count him as guilty: his presence is absolute, a baseline taken for granted, almost part of the scenery. You can’t get mad at him for not calling it early because your capacity to be angry at Ocelot is diminishing. It’s like getting mad at the rain or the sun. Complaining is just lip service, and the only other two people on Mother Base that understand it don’t want to hear you, since they’re too busy stewing in it themselves.

Rhino fights methodically: due diligence to the basics and not terribly inventive, but his size and reach are dangerous. He had the honed physical presence of an athlete when he joined Diamond Dogs and it’s only gotten sharper under combat training. You never expect to win against him, just last long enough until Ocelot gets bored and sends Shrew in on one of your sides.

You know he dislikes fighting you because you’ll dance out of reach and weasel away at the last moment, making it a war of attrition. There’s something on his mind as well, but you couldn’t begin to imagine what, just that you feel like you should’ve seen it coming when he sweeps a leg underneath you and sends your back crashing into the hangar floor. 

It stuns you momentarily, enough for you to see him lift his foot to kick you, but there’s not enough time or air for you to get away from it.

His boot feels like a blunt instrument slamming down on your side, so hard that it shoves you across the hangar floor and rucks your shirt up, a big scrape standing out on your ribs. It pales in comparison to the side that he’s hit, which is pain so complete that it’s knocked the breath out of you and leaves you struggling to take in air without crying out.

Rhino’s boot lifts again and you feel your eyes rolling like a frightened horse, and he stops, swaying back onto both feet. “Jesus. Civet, I—” His voice sounds broken. “That was out of line.” He kneels and gently starts to roll you over, looking towards Ocelot. “Major, permission to end the exercise?”

If Ocelot says anything, you don’t hear it: too much blood is rushing through your ears and you sink your teeth into Rhino’s hand with everything you’ve got. His yell and jerk backwards are like electricity straight to your limbs and you scramble up tasting copper, one fast and hard jab with sloppy form to the side of his head—and another, and another, before he can raise his guard. It’s got him rattled and you press while he’s still shocked, boxing his ears and then grabbing hold of both of them, prepared to use them as handles to smash his face into your fucking knee until he stops, until he doesn’t kick you ever again—

Ocelot shouts a one-word check command that freezes you both where you are, and by the time it wears off you’ve already let go of Rhino, staggering back. If he gets back on his feet he’ll probably knock you out with his next punch, but you’d welcome it. It’d probably hurt less than you do right now.

Rhino gets up unsteadily and slowly, wavering a little. Maybe boxing his ears had hurt him more than you thought, and the two of you just try to breathe and stare at Ocelot. As much as you hurt, if he said to keep going, you were going straight for Rhino’s throat.

“You won that fight, Rhino,” Ocelot says slowly, arms folded across his chest. “And then you gave it right back to Civet.”

“I didn’t want to permanently injure them, sir.”

Ocelot makes a dry little face, eyebrows arched. “They wanted to kill you.”

Rhino glances at you. “Can’t say I blame them, sir.”

“Alright.” Ocelot sighs, hands on his hips. Shrew watches every move, something in him tensed to spring at one of you, and you feel a big swell of hatred for him. For Rhino. Let them both try. You’re running hot and electrified with adrenaline, if this is how you die, that’s fine, you’ll do your worst before the end.

“Civet.” The Major snaps, like you’d been saying it out loud. “Shake hands.”

Rhino’s hand is slippery with his own blood, and you force yourself not to run your tongue along the back of your teeth to taste it there. He still locks eyes with you and nods, eyes watering. The energy you feel is impersonal and already fading: you know Rhino. He doesn’t look angry. You both just had moments that were too much.

“Shrew, take Rhino to the Medical platform, get that sterilized. We’ll continue afterwards.”

You double over as the two of them leave, one hand on your ribs. Breathing still aches, and you’d be surprised if the ribs themselves weren’t bruised. Ocelot’s spurs jingle in the periphery as he walks, winding a path towards you. “Sorry, sir.”

“For what?”

“Biting.” You rub the back of your hand across your mouth, and it comes away red. “He—he was just trying to help, he asked to end the exercise.”

His voice is soft enough that it doesn’t rattle or bounce around the hangar, instead sticking to you like the humid air. “In that moment, he was your enemy. You had a weapon that you didn’t shrink from using. What are you apologizing for?”

“I don’t know.” You shake your head and regret it, dizzied.

He sounds like he’s smiling, from behind you. “I think you do.”

“I wanted him to stop hurting me.” It’s such a primitive thing. Ocelot has ostensibly done worse to you at this point in total. “And I shouldn’t be afraid of pain. Not at this point.”

Ocelot’s arms twine underneath yours, one hand grabbing the big scrape and grinding the heel of his palm into it, briefly buckling your legs. “Are you afraid of this pain?”

You can’t lie to Ocelot. You shake your head and he makes a questioning noise as you try to lock your knees, stay upright against him. “No. No, I’m not, sir—”

“Show me.” 

You close your eyes and operate on sense alone, fumbling briefly with a few stiff and sore fingers to get your pants undone. If this wasn’t what he meant, you were about to take a long walk off a short platform, but it feels like the only thing to do. Your fingers work against the tight confines of your uniform just as Ocelot’s hands slide up and under your shirt to the bruise and answering scrape on either side of your ribcage, and you lean urgently back into him as his fingers drag across the open wound. He lets you, but his hand doesn’t move until yours does.

“Are you always this easy, Civet? Or is it just for me?”

“Just you, Major,” you breathe out, with difficulty. Always you comes to mind, but it feels like too much, too fast. Talking is also ranking lower on the hierarchy for you—everything is heat and hurt, your skin exposed to the air feels slippery and feverish. You can roll your head against Ocelot’s shoulder and pant into the side of his neck, his hair tickling your face. The stupid scarf is in the way, but you’re glad for it too: if you could touch his skin with your mouth, there’s nothing that would keep you from biting him, too.

Ocelot adjusts to the rhythm you set for yourself easily, with no signs of wanting to drag it out. His nails underneath his gloves are catching on that scrape and you jerk helplessly, unable to keep your body from trying to move away from the source of pain. Pushing yourself back against it is perverse revelry: you can make yourself enjoy it.

“Breathe a little more,” Ocelot advises, just smooth murmur on a gust of ragged breathing that bursts out of you at the order. “If I want you to choke, I’ll do it myself.”

It’s so hard to keep any voice out of your panting, and breathing more—even unevenly, desperately—keeps stars from prickling at the base of your skull the way you need them to right now. “Will you?” Your voice is a wreck, hoarse and swerving all over the place. “Please?”

“Oh, Civet.” Ocelot sighs, hot on your face and neck as he twists what feels like nothing but nerve endings in your side. “You don’t do anything by halves, do you?”

Before your brain can actually let you say I’ll do you by a half or something conceivably worse, Ocelot’s supporting hand snakes up your front and anchors to your throat. You rock back into him and force yourself to keep going, keep your pace steady and fast and let the pressure do the rest. You can feel him pushing forward against you half to keep you balanced and hopefully to let you know he’s not unaffected by your display, and you give up, eyes fluttering. The thought of him doing anything more to you is what you chase to finally drag a climax out of yourself: something slow and almost wrenching in its intensity. Ocelot’s hand releases your throat but stays in place like scaffolding while you lock your knees again and relearn some kind of balance.

He lets you stand alone, hazed over, and he swims back into view in front of you. There’s darkness on the tips of his gloved fingers that looks like black on red, and you know it’s your blood right before he sticks those fingers in his mouth, tasting you with an appreciative noise.

You drop to your knees when his other hand goes to his belt buckle, although he swats away your hands when you try to help. “Not yet.”

It feels good just to be there beside him and rest your face on the tough-soft corduroy of his trousers. The way he jerks off is just as smooth and oiled as the way he fires a gun and you have to admire the efficiency of it. His free hand drifts down to your scalp at some point and your eyes almost shut from the pleasant pull of his fingers woven into your hair, even when he yanks you away just to come on your neck and chest with a single restrained sigh.

The whole affair is so much more elegant than you think it’s got any right to be, but he doesn’t look displeased when you swab a bit of his come into your mouth. The taste is different with blood alongside it. “You’ve got until Rhino and Shrew are back to clean up. You’re done for the night, but I expect you to pay attention and learn something when they spar.”

“Can do, sir.”

Ocelot ruffles your hair.

Chapter Text

The Boss discourages infighting among groups, units, anything that differentiates one Diamond Dog from another. It should be enough that you’re all his, and it mostly is. Until he’s gone for a long time, and there’s nothing to do but maintain and wait for him. A whole city on the ocean, holding its breath, occasionally broken by small sobs of personal tragedies. The Boss can’t save everyone. 

There are as many ways to deal with grief as there are Diamond Dogs, but you know the Combat guys hate talking to anybody else about it. They have a kind of leftover pride from their former lives or how they’re wired that makes it hard to visit doctors, or even speak to listening ears. You wish they’d take care of themselves, and on this particular day, you wish they’d do it somewhere far away from you.

Three of them are up on the catwalk, and have been for most of the day. The clink and hiss of cheap beer opening has punctuated their low conversation since the sun started downwards after noon—which, by all rights, you shouldn’t have to hear, given that this is a shooting range. 

Maybe they thought you and Rhino and Shrew would move on eventually, but they’re underestimating the length that Ocelot will go with exercises. You’re all coming up on the end of the third day with no sleep, and by rights, none of you should be anywhere near guns. But here you are: breaks taken for meals and showers, but they all have to be done together, to make you accountable for keeping each other awake. (It’s long gone beyond being awkward: you’ve sparred in the nude with both of them at this point. Ocelot believes a human that can fight naked is fundamentally stronger than one who can’t. Your bodies have homogenized in some ways, similar scars, similar bruises, similar muscles.)

He didn’t give you a specific goal, so the assumed one is to stay awake until he says you can sleep, and ostensibly get some time in at the range. The methodical nature of it is easier to parse for people running very low on everything, and he hasn’t told you to stop.

Your Combat brothers showed up at some point and spent the nigh-requisite amount of time literally catcalling: the meows bounced off the bulkheads and formed a cute wallpaper for your gunshots for a while, and then became annoying. The sun set a while ago and took all the color with it, sodium lights buzzing in the range. Your arms are fantastically tired and there’s a little pain in the action of absorbing recoil that tells you it’s past time you stop. You keep waiting for hallucinations to start like they have in the past when it comes to sleep deprivation, but something feels different with your internal balance, makes it harder to get to that state.

The musical sounds of boots stampeding down a metal stairwell make it past your ear protectors, and the three of you lower your handguns as one, looking over at the guys. Their lawlessness is exotic in some unbelievable way: you can’t imagine being off-duty, drunk, and in the range. Ocelot wouldn’t even touch you to kill you, he’d use Miller’s crutch to push you off a platform and into the sea. 

“Hey there, Self-Esteem Team,” Buzzard, Golden Buzzard, maybe? He only slurs a little, with his two brothers leaning on him and chuckling. “You’ve been here for hours, take a break. It’s our turn.”

They don’t know that they are kicking a hornet’s nest, stomping their boots into crackling walls and fat white larvae. Shrew and Rhino set down their handguns and move out of their respective lanes, and you join them to present a united front.

Glancing at Shrew, you can see him doing the same calculations you are: is it an acceptable use of exercise time to throw down with a couple of sad Combat guys? What’s Ocelot’s position on infighting if it’s you? Maybe he wants you cutting your teeth. Maybe it should be below you.

Rhino takes a stand as your unofficial leader, stepping forward a little and spreading his open hands wide. “Come on, guys. There are plenty of other ranges available, and you didn’t make an off-hours reservation.”

“Neither did you.”

“Buddy, we might as well live here. Go somewhere else.”

At Buzzard’s shoulder, Raptor makes a tch noise and Ibex boos softly. Working against himself, Buzzard has leaped straight to anger. “Just the tone of your voice pisses me off! You think you’re so much better than the rest of us, just because you’re licking Ocelot’s boots?” You trade a look with Shrew. He doesn’t know the half of it.

Rhino’s palms rotate downwards, slowly. “Easy, Buzzard. Is this what you’re really mad about, or do you just want to blow off steam?”

Don’t act like you know me!” Buzzard shouts, and you smile to yourself. There was a time when the sound of a man’s raised voice would make you uneasy, but that fear has been burned out of you. Nothing anybody can do to you is worse than what Ocelot does. “What I’m really mad about— what the hell would you know about it? The three of you have just been stuck here training longer than everyone else, while the rest of us—” 

“Sounds like you could use some work,” Ocelot says, and Shrew lets out a little strangled noise as your heart just about leaps out of your chest.

There’s no telling how long he’s been there in the range with you: he might’ve just arrived in his own quiet way, or he could’ve been there for hours, out of perception under the pattern of gunfire and the single-minded focus of your exhaustion.

The Combat kids stop leaning on each other and straighten up, scalded and caught. Ocelot is more disconcerting as an authority figure than Miller, because Miller knows the rules. Miller enforces the rules. Ocelot knows the rules and has his own approach to justice. “You’re Jade Tree Frog’s unit. Where is he?”

Buzzard’s wide, thin mouth twists in an expression of pain and embarrassment. “Don’t know, Major.”

Ocelot makes a long face, glancing away like he’ll remember to hunt Tree Frog down. “I suppose everyone has their way of mourning. And yours is to pick fights?”

The three of them make identical guilty faces, shamed at having been so transparent. You’d picked up from snatches of their conversation it had something to do with a team member that had gone missing on their own, maybe off a platform after too much battle stress. “Sorry, sir. We know the Boss doesn’t like it. 

“Well, the Boss has been out in the field for weeks. He isn’t here to be gently disapproving. You’ve got me. You want to fight? Come on outside.” Ocelot gestures to the door leading out of the range, into the open Seychelles night. The lot of you stare at him, but the Combat guys are the first to move, glancing at Ocelot like they’re expecting him to announce it was a prank. He doesn’t, and they slink outside, muttering among themselves.

Shrew takes after them after a deep breath in, steeling himself. Rhino rubs his face briefly, before giving Ocelot a pleading look. “Sir?”

“Get ready, Rhino.”

“Sir, we’ve been up for… for days—”

“Did you think I came to rescue you?” Ocelot gives him a look that’s more effective than a slap, and Rhino jogs after Shrew. You make it a few steps before Ocelot grabs your shoulders and drags you with enough force and swiftness to rock you back on your heels, all your weight on him. He doesn’t budge.

“You should still be able to hand them their teeth.” His hands are tight on your arms and heat of his breath near your ear and neck sets your heart racing erratically. “Go.”

You light out of the range like he’s chasing you, stumbling to a stop beside Shrew and Rhino. It’s just a three on three fight: you’re all beyond exhausted and they’re drunk, so it’ll probably be close to even. The sensation of falling has flooded you with adrenaline and you’re so, so ready to do this, actually. These guys have been annoying all night long, they were rude, they have no idea what the three of you are or what you’re doing. They want a fight, they’ll get it.

Ocelot leans against the doorframe of the range, and it’s selfish, but you feel like he’s watching you.

Shrew and Rhino pair off automatically and you’re sure there’s some trash talking going on, but it’s all static. You’ve ended up with Ibex, who you don’t know very well.

Ibex lifts his hands slowly, stepping back like he’s getting ready to grapple with you. He’s got kind of a square, friendly face and you’ve heard rumors he’s a bookish sort of college boy. “You wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses, would you?”

You take a running start at him, and he’s absolutely not prepared.

He has a weight advantage, but his movements are so slow and irregular compared to Shrew, to Rhino. You’re expecting much worse when you hit him, you’ve thrown yourself against Rhino like a wave breaking over cement and scattered yourself a hundred times. You’ve been sidestepped by Shrew and flung with more than your own strength into the floor by Ocelot. Ibex just stands there to your perception, and you knock both your bodies onto the deck, although you’re the first to twist back onto your feet.

You look up in time to see Rhino simply taking Buzzard by the front of his uniform, stitches snapping from weight before he throws him down, shaking the asphalt underneath your feet with the impact. Buzzard makes a whoof noise and sucks in air with something so automatic as to sound painful, and Rhino puts one big boot on his chest, keeping it there.

Ibex is back up by now, or at least enough to try and guard against you when charge at him next, but he’s not expecting the strength behind the way you turn his own weight against him: his back hits the deck hard and you punch him once very sharply, to the face as a warning shot. Your fist hovers back and doesn’t fall, although Ibex isn’t dazed enough to miss the threat and stays down.

Devil Raptor cusses loudly as Shrew finishes twisting his arm behind his back at a bad angle, and Ocelot just shakes his head. “Enough. You boys satisfied?”

“Yes, sir!” Raptor shouts as he tries to wriggle away from Shrew, Ibex saying the same with a thick voice. Buzzard is still re-inflating.

Ocelot gestures as if the next thing should be obvious. Knowing him, it is. “Then shake hands.”

When Ibex sits up, blood streams down his face, shockingly dark and gleaming red when the night shift’s lights hit it. You must’ve hit his nose harder than you meant to, but he just wipes it fruitlessly on his shoulder and offers you a clean hand, which you find yourself willing to take.  “Sorry, Ibex.”

“You’re cute, so I don’t mind it much.” He smiles, pink teeth framed with red.

Ibex and Raptor support Buzzard between them and still manage something like an energetic salute for Ocelot, while Rhino claps both you and Shrew on the shoulders, big hands even heavier for your exhaustion.

“As for you three.” Ocelot crosses his arms, but falls silent as he thinks. Maybe for dramatics. “The exercise is over. One of you can stay behind and tidy up the range.”

Your shoulder joint aches as you swing your arm up, cutting off the both of them. “Volunteer.”

“Good. Rhino, Shrew, you’re dismissed. Get some rest.”

He almost always tells you what the next exercise is, and the fact that he hasn’t this time makes you imagine him kicking down the door to your quarters at four in the morning and firing a round into the ceiling. Upsie-daisy, kittens!

That thought makes you smile as you clean up the range, sweeping shell casings and making sure the handguns are in order. You turn the lights out to save power and your own tired eyes, and the slow adjustment to the dimness is comforting. Ocelot watches you work, and you’re too tired to wonder what he sees. The part of you that never tires wonders if he thinks you volunteered because you wanted to be closer to him. The truth is you do, but only because you’re terrified that once you have the option to sleep, your body won’t. You never have to worry about what you might not be able to do, when Ocelot’s around. In any case, you’re not cruising for some kind of flirty reason.

“Interested in a wager, Civet?” Ocelot asks, and for a moment you try to remember if you’ve just said any of that out loud.

“Sir?” 

“Marksmanship. You’ve been practicing all day, I would hope some of it stuck.” The holsters of both his guns click as he draws them, looking more like gleams of reflected light than actual guns in the darkness.

Your hands tighten on the broom handle as his gives them both a lazy spin. “What’s the bet? Sir.”

“Whoever loses will take those back to Requisitions to be cleaned,” he says, one gun barrel pointing down to the three handguns cased in foam that your team had checked out.

It’s very tame, but mouthwatering nonetheless: if you didn’t have to stop by Requisitions, you could potentially be asleep so much faster.

Ocelot’s steps are all heel and spur as he crosses over to you, easily spinning one of his revolvers to offer you the grip. You’ve seen them before, but the thought of holding one makes you stop even as your hand lifts to take it from him. “You’re sure, sir? Your Tornado?”

He pushes the revolver’s grip up into your hand and you’re startled by the warmth and heft of it, handling it carefully as he pulls away. “Live a little.”

There are a couple of Uragan-5’s you’ve checked out of the library just for fun: Shrew hates the recoil and Rhino believes in more reliable stopping power, but you didn’t feel one way or the other about it. The Tornado-6 is heavier, and his are maintained so beautifully: you can smell the oil and the leather of the holster. Only holding it with one hand as you pull on your ear protectors makes you afraid of dropping it, although you know you won’t. Ocelot has been waiting for you an indeterminate amount of time.

It feels surreal to be taking your spot in the lane again, sighting down another gun’s barrel at the target. Ocelot’s presence is gravitational, drawing your spine straight, heart pounding raggedly. You’re so tired. You know how your body moves when you aim and it feels even more wildly off than before, like you haven’t spent all day doing this. Like you haven’t spent a ridiculous amount of time doing this in general, with and without Ocelot watching.

“Is it too heavy for you, Civet?”

Fuck off. You take a deep breath, and try to float back into the quiet concentration, the mindfulness of aligning your body with the machine and blurring the line between the two. “No, sir.”

“Good.”

You’re glad he’s at your back so you aren’t obsessively watching him, but you still startle yourself when you fire and hear his shot as well, forced to wonder who fired first, if you fired at all. The Tornado bucks in your hand for the first shot while you adjust to the recoil—it’s bigger and demands more attention than the Uragan, but you feel the power somewhere in the hollow of your chest, like thunder or a drum. The low bore pushes it back through your arm, feeling less punishing than the handguns you’d held all day.

If you had been struggling to keep alert before, you aren’t now. The revolver eats concentration and gives you back results: your aim is rewarded or punished fairly. You like the finality of the last shot and hold your stance beyond the trigger pull, feeling for a moment the taut extension through your body stretching through your core and out into the Tornado, down the sights, through the target.

Ocelot calls up the targets while you try not to get tangled in your ear protectors, half afraid to look at the results. He’s not, and surveys the two paper targets with more amusement than genuine criticism. Or so you hope. “Not bad shooting, Civet. For someone almost asleep on their feet.”

You’d hit the target every time, but… that was about all you could give yourself. His is almost perfect, disgustingly. If Ocelot wanted a real contest, he’d try again when you weren’t trembling from sleep-deprivation. “Thank you, sir. I’m just glad I didn’t drop it.”

He gives you a strangely fond look before bringing the barrel of his revolver up to your cheek, pressing it lengthwise along your cheek in a burning line. Your first reaction is to back up, and once in motion he advances forward until your back hits the range’s wall, and he removes the gun from you like he’s satisfied with the branding.

You’re too startled to do anything but hurt with your mouth open, and Ocelot takes advantage of it, lowering his gun to instead slide the barrel up past and between your knees, eventually coming to a stop right between your legs.

The weight of his other Tornado is in your hand, but seems to be held against the range’s wall like magnetism. You couldn’t turn his own gun on him if you wanted to. Which you don’t.

Just the pressure and presence would be enough to pin you to the wall, but the low-set barrel is warm against your thighs—it would’ve burned your skin if it touched any, but through your uniform it’s just an insistent, dangerous heat. Your cheek throbs in commiseration.

“How was Ibex?” Ocelot asks, his other hand resting on the wall near your face. His tone is conversational even as he leans forward into your space, unavoidably intimate. He smells like he always does at this range: cologne, cordite, sweat.

“Sloppy. Slow. But he—he’d been drinking and…” You give yourself time to take a breath and Ocelot presses the gun against you further, like he’s impatient. “I think I might’ve been ruined for regular sparring partners, sir.”

“He’s yours for the taking, you know. You could go after him. I’m sure he’d love to let you kiss that nose of his better.”

You think about Ibex and his bloody smile: it wasn’t unattractive, he wasn’t a bad looking guy, and when he wasn’t binge drinking, you’d heard he was the alright sort. You try vaguely to imagine yourself kissing him, touching him, but it’s as if your body simply wasn’t made to interface with his anymore.

You try to picture sleeping with him. Maybe if he hit you hard enough to make your nose bleed and then you could call it even… but that’s not right for him. You might be good friends with Ibex one day, but there’s something in your heart that tells you he’s a lights off, under the covers, missionary boy. Must be nice.

Ocelot’s eyelashes flick with his eye movements, and you think maybe he’s reading as much on your face. You snake your free hand around the one sighting between your legs and adjust the angle of it to where you want it, giving you the whole length of the barrel where it needs to be. “I’m… focused on my career right now, sir.”

He smiles, slow and studious. “And here I thought you were tired, Civet.”

You’ve gone beyond tired and circled back into another cycle of intense restlessness, all your decision-making processes sacrificed to help you chase the friction and the unyielding warmth between your legs, the source firmly in Ocelot’s hand. “I’ve got enough left for this, sir.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Ocelot says, before he ducks down to seal his mouth against your neck. He’s all teeth and it almost takes your attention from the way his thigh moves between yours, hiking you up further and giving you something to ride beyond the Tornado, which you know he must feel as a line of heat against his leg. He chides you if you make noise, so you do your best to breathe out anything that would give you away—it means deep, hurried breaths as you hitch your hips against him, barely keeping up with the demand. The pain on your neck from his teeth is intense, almost enough to distract you from the light burn on your face.

Ocelot won’t let you forget it, and licks a long, open-mouth kiss against your cheek that manages to burn even more, hot breath rolling over your face. His free hand holds your jaw steady and pins your skull back against the wall to expose the other side of your neck, and you come without meaning to the moment he sinks his teeth in. The pressure of his gun doesn’t let up and it isn’t something you can ride out as much as something you wait to end, struggling to breathe through every wave and punctuation.

When he finally steps back from you, it feels like the last thing holding you up has left, and when his belt jingles, you’re glad to let your knees buckle and sink yourself down to the deck. You love this angle of him, looking down at you with color in his face and his gloves taut and shiny with precum. When he finishes, he’s still quieter than you, although his free hand does yank your head back in an unspoken demand: open your mouth.

His come ribbons out not unpleasantly, most of it in or adjacent to your mouth. Ocelot watches with unguarded intensity as you deliberately smear some over the burn his gun left on you. He huffs when you’re done, like he’s fussed that you knew he would like it, and sets about making himself presentable. “Clean the guns yourself. You’ll need them tomorrow.” His mouth smirks, although it doesn’t reach his eyes. “I don’t think Requisitions deserves to see you like that.”

You know better than to ask whether or not that’s a compliment, and you’re not even sure if you care. “Can I…?”

“Yes. I’ll send Rhino for you when it’s time for your next exercise.” You close your eyes in relief, flirting with the idea of just passing out here on the range instead of dragging yourself back to your quarters. Ocelot taps your unhurt cheek with a couple of insistent fingers, and holds his hand out expectantly for his borrowed Tornado: you hand it back to him without getting off your knees, feeling unbalanced without it. Your body had adjusted to the weight before you’d realized it.

Ocelot’s hand reappears after he’s done holstering his guns, and you stare at it for a moment, nothing left to give. Then it strikes you to just take his hand, and he pulls you onto your feet whether you’re ready or not, using the momentum to turn and push you into walking with a hand between your shoulder blades. “Sweet dreams, Civet.”

Chapter Text

There’s a certain place you can get to when you’ve been jogging for a long time that’s just a kind of mindful state. You prefer the solo runs that Ocelot puts you on rather than the big group runs where someone always starts a marching cadence that you don’t like. Rhino and Shrew are off on their own routes, all plotted to link back to a central point where Ocelot is waiting to give you a judging look and click his stopwatch. 

The afternoon is dragging on and you know you’re on your last lap. He’d been happy with your times all day and actually let you know you’d been closing in on the end of the exercise: an unexpected treat. You might even get enough time off at the end of this to shower and maybe eat before evening drills.

The thought of sitting down among a bunch of other Diamond Dogs and chatting about something stupid sounds heavenly, and you’re smiling to yourself when you almost run down Commander Miller. He shies like a horse and you panic, throwing all your weight to the side and skinning your knee open before you regain balance, heart pounding overtime. “Sorry, sir! Are you okay?” 

“I’m not made of glass, back off,” Miller huffs, resettling his weight on his crutch. He looks to have just come out of the cool darkness inside the Base Dev platform you’ve been orbiting, squinting in the bright light. The day is hot enough that he’s missing that big greatcoat and vest, down to just a shirt. You’re wearing enough to be decent, and already sweated through it all probably three times over. His expression goes from stormy to clouded as he recognizes you. “Wounded Civet, right?”

“Yes, sir. Sorry about that.” You nod, wiping sweat out of your eyes and trying not to think about what a mess you must look like. Even talking to him feels uncoordinated.

Miller stares at part of your body pointedly and you don’t pick up on it until he frowns. “Your knee is bleeding.”

“Huh? Oh, sorry, sir.”

“If you keep apologizing, I’ll stop believing you mean it.”

It takes you a moment to process that, brain cooked in the heat. “What… am I supposed to say to that?”

He frowns. “Don’t you have a lap to finish? I’ve been watching you run past the same window all day. Go,” Miller urges, leaning briefly away from his crutch to gesture you on.

It’s bewildering. You had forgotten for an indeterminate amount of time that other people could see you. You had limited contact with people outside of Rhino and Shrew—and of course, Ocelot—to the point where you really did look forward to making it to dinner just to socialize and relearn human mannerisms. It seems bizarre that Miller would take notice of your activities, and you wonder if he would’ve been so relatively nice to you if he knew that you were training under Ocelot.

In the end it doesn’t matter: your sights eventually fix on Ocelot, waiting in the shade. When you stop in front of him, it seems like your legs want to keep going, shaking at finally stopping for real. His expression is mostly smug behind his sunglasses, and you see yourself reflected in them, tiny and shining.

“Good job, Civet. Even including your leisurely little chat with Commander Miller, you still beat your last time.” He clicks the stopwatch. “I’m sure you’ll be even faster without him to distract you. Again.” 

Your mouth opens and you’re smart enough now not to let anything come out, but you give him a look. Ocelot’s eyebrows lift over his shades and his jaw tilts the slightest bit like he’d love for you to say something, so you shut your lips and put your head down, starting off at a jog again.

This is more about concentration and obedience, you’re learning, because Ocelot has put you through endurance before. You understand endurance, you know running until you can’t, that’s an old friend. Glacier Harrier has dragged you out of the sun and into the shade on boneless legs more than once. Rhino tore a muscle at one point and got scolded within an inch of his life by Canary for trying to hobble back into where he’d left off in the lap. Shrew just goes and never seems to stop.

When you pass by the spot you’d almost run over Miller, he’s still there. Incredibly, in a folding chair well into a patch of shade and peering over some paperwork in his lap, iDroid at the ready. It seems bizarre, but you couldn’t really imagine him doing anything else. What, like you’d find Commander Miller with his heels up, reading a paperback?

He doesn’t look displeased to see you. “Back again?”

“Are you doing paperwork, sir?”

“Even I need fresh air sometimes.” His face changes as he squints at you from behind his shades, and you feel weirdly put on display. “When was the last time you rehydrated?”

“Huh?”

He rummages around in a bag you hadn’t noticed before, and lobs a bottle of water at you, underhanded—you don’t have any choice but to catch it. “Here.”

It shines in your hand like a cool jewel, and how long it’s been since you took a break makes your mouth dry up. Ocelot would probably fuss if you indulged, but surely water didn’t count—water was a basic human need. “Commander Miller…”

He waves his hand dismissively. “It’s an order, Civet. Take care of yourself.”

“Thank you, sir.” You grin, cracking open the bottle. It’s an order! You drink as much as you can and let the rest pour out over your face and body: the coolness as it evaporates will be wonderful. You stretch happily, hoping Miller got an eyeful for his trouble. “I think you just saved my life, Commander!”

Miller makes a disconcerted face and shakes his head, burrowing back down into iDroid menus. “You’re welcome.”

It’s kinda cute, if you’re honest with yourself. The Commander’s hard to get act has always been alluring to you in a kind of theoretical way, and it's fun to see it up close. Your heart light and your step refreshed, you finish the rest of the lap, briefly ducking out of your way to recycle the emptied water bottle and get rid of the evidence.

Rhino and Shrew are already back at the starting point and toss you disbelieving stares, like they know exactly what you’ve been up to. Ocelot’s expression is unreadable behind the shades, and you decide not to give anybody any reason to think you’re in trouble, falling in beside Shrew.

He puts his hands on his hips, all business. “Our regular training space is going to be shared tonight by some of our comrades from the Combat unit. As such, I see no reason why you shouldn’t train with them—although I do expect a great deal more out of you three. Regular drill time, don’t be late. You’re dismissed… except for Civet.”

You try not to heave a sigh, knowing you’ve been found out. Someone saw something, or you took too long—hell, maybe Miller ratted you out himself. It had been momentarily worth it. Rhino gives you a rueful look but Shrew is already headed to the showers. Supportive as always. They rarely suffer for your transgressions: Ocelot doesn’t want you fighting when he isn’t around to spectate, so there’s hardly ever any bad blood between you three. They certainly don’t seem to envy you, at least.

Ocelot takes off his shades and hangs them on the front of his shirt. The extra weight exposes more chest and collarbone. You’re already in trouble, so you let yourself stare. He shakes his head. “I wonder about you sometimes.”

“Sir.”

“It hurts my feelings, Civet,” he says, walking behind you and sounding very fake. “When you don’t trust me to take care of you." 

Take care of yourself. Fucking Miller probably was a honeypot. Tempting you with water bottles. Shirtsleeves siren.

You only hear Ocelot’s clothes when he moves, and not fast enough to avoid anything that happens: his spurs glance across the backs of your calves in one kick and surprise folds your legs, the deck biting into your knees. 

“Get up.”

Hot blood trickles down the backs of your legs as you stand back up, although the pain seems incidental. You resist the impulse to twist around and look to see what the damage is: if you can stand, it’s not too bad.

Ocelot punches you in the stomach.

You practically fold over his fist, grabbing for balance on his arm and heaving. Cold water and hot bile come rushing up your throat and you fall to the deck, retching. Ocelot steps out of the way and just watches you—the first heave turns into another, and the cool water comes boiling out of you, scorching your sinuses with bile. You brace yourself against the deck and blink sweat and tears out of your eyes, shuddering. Sweat stings the injuries on your legs and you can’t bring yourself to stand back up, hollowed out and shaking at the force of your own body.

“Are you getting the idea yet?” Ocelot calls, from where he’s unwinding a nearby length of hose from the spool on the platform wall. You wonder blearily if he’s going to hit you with it. “When I tell you to go, you go.”

You’re making the mistake of looking at him when he turns on the hose, and belatedly cringe away from the high pressure spray. It still gets into your mouth and nose and you hack what you can out of your face even as more runs into it. The force of it against your raised forearm is enough to prickle with hurt.

“When I tell you to stop, you’ll stop,” Ocelot says after a thousand years, this time closer.

The water is stronger, and you grit your teeth, keeping yourself focused on staying still. Your heartbeat is erratic and the water’s chill has gone so far beyond refreshing, you can’t believe you were ever hot.

“And when I tell you not to play with Miller…”

Even when you’re expecting it, the water feels like a slap that doesn’t stop. You brace yourself against the deck and let it scream onto your shoulders and back. If he sprays you again, you’ll lunge for his knees. Better to get pistol whipped defending yourself than continually take abuse you don’t feel you’ve earned.

Ocelot stops, tossing the pressure hose away. You shake water out of your face and sit back on your heels, looking up at him. “Well?”

“I don’t play with Miller,” you finish for him, panting. It seems terribly petty and overall not as constructive as other things he’s done to you, but you can appreciate the novelty of it. Your stomach muscles ache.

“Good.” Ocelot grabs your jaw and presses a thumb against your mouth, almost pinching your jaw between his fingers as your lips part. All your complaints take flight like a flock of birds, and you’re left staring at him, a red dust monument against the bluest sky. “He wouldn’t know what to do with you anyway.”

You tear both your knees open following his lead to the shade, but he didn’t tell you to get up, and he smiles when the two of you are finally alone in the shade of the platform. It must’ve looked stupid, but there’s no one watching: no one on this side of the platform but the two of you and sea.

Ocelot settles with his back against the platform and undoes his belt: the noise is so specific and symptomatic that that’s what gets you going more than the sight of him, already half-hard. You lay your forearms flat against the wall behind him and it brings you unavoidably close. Ocelot buries a hand in your hair almost in warning when you kiss his dick, shuddering slightly as you press your face to him. The water must be cold.

The leather of his gloves squeak when you duck down to take him fully into your mouth, determined not to use your hands. Your throat still hurts from earlier but it’s not nearly enough to give you pause, not now. The smell of his body is cologne and sweat, machine oil and gunpowder when his hand passes by to stroke your cheek, then lower. 

He leans over to fit his hand around your neck not tightly, but you think he must want to feel himself in your throat, and you hum aggressively around him at the thought, Ocelot’s grip in your hair tightening. You can do that. You can do anything, for him.

Your already overworked gag reflex is sluggish and you take full advantage of it, opening your jaw as wide as you can for him. Spit and water are a mixed mess on your face, your chin, your neck, his precum the only thing with any kind of taste. He makes a noise when your eyes flutter shut, chasing a rhythm like you want to fuck your mouth on him.

His spurs jingle as he adjusts the set of his feet, hips canting to take more advantage of you. You wonder if your blood is still on them. How long it’ll be on his boots until he cleans them. Maybe he’ll show up to sparring practice that way, bloodied spurs and knowing what your throat feels like.

Ocelot yanks you free for a moment and you gasp for air, pleased at the way spit and precum stretches in bridges from your mouth to him. “What are you thinking about, Civet?”

You risk a glance up at him, his pale eyes glittering and color high on beautiful cheekbones.  “Sparring practice.”

“Feeling competitive, are we?” Ocelot returns you to the task, voice still steadier than you’d like it to be. “If you flunk out of this, I’m sure Combat will snap you right up. They love… a good team player.”

You want to tell him that you would do it if he said to, but it means taking him out of your mouth. Your tongue is so tired as to almost be useless but you know your throat can bring him home. You’d get on your knees in front of the whole Combat unit. You’d let them take turns, if that’s what Ocelot wanted. The thought of it makes you whimper for a reason you can’t fully define, and Ocelot chuckles breathlessly—it’s cut off when you shove yourself close to him and he tips over the edge, spilling into your throat, then your mouth as he draws back. Come rushes briefly over your lips but you keep your mouth open until he’s done. Salty and hot. You breathe hard through your nose.

“It’s fine, Civet. Swallow.” Ocelot runs a hand over your forehead, carding briefly through your hair. He watches the bob of your throat and the way you wipe your mouth on the back of your hand like he’s committing it to memory.

“Now, about practice.” He takes your sore jaw in his hand and almost shakes, like trying to dislodge a toy from a dog. “You won’t be late, will you?”

“No, sir. Not me.”

The rounded toe of his boot comes up between your legs and you hadn’t, had not been expecting that. The pressure is insistent but not painful. Steady. Somehow both a threat and a promise. Ocelot holds your gaze. “And you won’t get distracted by the good Commander?”

“Who?”

Ocelot lets out an amused huff, retracting his foot and buckling his belt.

Chapter Text

You couldn’t tell anybody how your morning had gone, since you can’t remember. A lot of time seems to pass by you and leave no memories behind, which is something you’ve had to accept about yourself since the first initial panic. You can’t remember when it had first surfaced, just that it had been constant for long enough not to be shocking anymore.

You know the drills for this afternoon are practicing throws and essentially just landing right, learning to roll out of them reflexively, which strikes you as light work. The only challenge is the rain coming down: it can make the asphalt slippery if you hit an over-smoothed patch, and the metal grating gets treacherous. It also erases any sense of what the time is, with no sun to track. The light is diffuse, flat, and gray, even the horizon hazed over with low rain clouds.

It’s been raining since before you got up, you feel like, but you can’t remember looking out a window to check. Everything is automatic for you, showering, eating, assembling. The three of you rarely have to talk anymore, so it’s been almost entirely silent since Ocelot left you to your own devices, however long ago that was.

You pause in unison at the sound of a helicopter starting up somewhere nearby, listening intently as the speakers make a little noise of static before the music tape decides to kicks in.

Rhino blinks rainwater out of his eyes and tilts his head like a dog, and you feel like it’s the first time you’ve seen him voluntarily make an expression with his face for the last week. “Is that Queequeg?”

“No, he’s all classical these days.”

Shrew makes a hushing motion and the two of you shut up, straining to hear over the rotors and the rain. Guitar—no, piano. Both? It raises the hair on the back of your neck, and you try to think about the last time you heard music. The bass drum kicks in and you place what it is, turning to Shrew and Rhino in delight, finding Shrew already grinning at you.

What I want! You’ve got, it might be hard to handle, echoes out over the platform and Shrew lip syncs them back at you, the both of you starting to dance, badly. But like the flame that burns the candle! The candle feeds the flame, “Guys,” Rhino says, hoarsely. Yeah, yeah! What I got! “What are you doing?”

It just gets louder as Pequod brings the chopper around to the landing pad above you on the platform, even through the rain, and you’re not sure if you or Shrew grab Rhino’s hand first, but it doesn’t matter. He’s a big lug as Hall and Oates clank through the next verse, trying to pull you both back into practice, but it’s useless. Shrew is laughing and it’s infectious, dance kicks spraying up rainwater, and you grab his hand, completing the circle and making it impossible not to boogie just a little. Wellwellwell you, oh yeah! You make my dreams come true!

Rhino gives in and you can see he’s blushing even under the pallor of rain, and you know it feels weird not to participate when the other two are so into it, so you cheer joyfully, wordlessly, when he finally gives in. The three of you can shoot, fight, and run in almost perfect sync, but none of you can dance worth a damn, all conflicting arm swings and off beat steps. That makes it better. Your body is light even underneath the sodden uniform and untold days of fatigue, in this moment where it’s the three of you and Pequod’s speaker.

As soon as you can appreciate the moment, Shrew’s boots squeal on the deck as he stops and you track where he’s looking, craning your neck up to the edge of the helipad. Raindrops smack against the flat planes of your face. You can see two men silhouetted over the edge, watching the three of you. It couldn’t be anybody else but Ocelot and the Boss, and you feel Rhino’s hand constrict in yours. 

You feel something hot in your face that should be shame, but it’s warm where the rain is cold, and you don’t want to lose the way you can feel your heart in your chest, your body moving in play rather than practice. 

Twist and shout! My way out,” you yell, not particularly musical, but it beats the scream that’s living deep inside. “And wrap yourself around me!” Rhino joins in and he’s loud enough to cover up Shrew’s voice if he’s singing, but that’s alright. The dance resumes, and it’s worth whatever comes after. Cause I ain’t the way you found me, and I’ll never be the same!

You don’t let yourself glance up to see if they keep watching or not, but you think you hear the speaker’s volume boosted.

The Boss has places to go and the song has to end eventually, but Pequod shows off and dips low to pass close by your level of the platform before they leave, and that gets you all cheering and jumping, trying to climb on Rhino to wave higher. The Boss’s boots dangle off the edge and Quiet is a long pale mark next to him, waving her glove like a fancy lady’s handkerchief.

Chapter Text

Ocelot has started giving you days off, and it’s the most unsettling thing possible.

None of you are enrolled in regular work shift rosters, so you can float around and pick up odd jobs if someone else is out sick. It feels nice to do regular work that you know keeps the base going, but there’s a kind of surreal quality to it that never leaves. You know Shrew has given up and spends his time in the library, after he reflexively knocked a tooth out of Glacier Harrier with a mop handle. 

You mostly walk, enjoying the sun and the breeze. You know Mother Base intimately now, and there’s nowhere you can go to get lost. Today, you’ve got a purpose, and it’s finding Rhino. You know you’d made vague plans to maybe visit the Animal Conservation platform and really live it up, so it’s strange that you haven’t seen him. Strange can no longer be ignored for you, especially not when it’s Rhino. Not knowing where he is or what he’s doing feels like having one of your limbs asleep.

You ask around enough and eventually somebody’s seen him hanging out on one of the raw construction edges of a platform: Base Dev is still finalizing the plans for the expansion, so it’s uninhabited for the most part, smelling of welding flux and fresh paint. Containers are already stacked in preparation, and you see him sitting on one, underneath the shade of scaffolding. 

Making a lot of noise as you go up to warn him of your presence is easy, but he still startles when you touch his shoulder. “Rhino? What are you doing out here?”

Your heart plummets as he smiles, because there are still tears drying on him, and he plays at casually wiping his face. “Enjoying the view. Before it gets filled up with construction cranes, I guess.”

Sitting down next to him, you’re glad there’s nothing left keeping you from putting your arms around him. Physical closeness is nothing when the two of you have seen each other at your lowest, although he doesn’t lean any weight on you. “C’mon, Rhino. It’s just us.”

He takes a big breath and you can hear the shuddering in it, the way his face moves uncontrollably. “I don’t know what I did, Civet. I don’t know where I went, I dunno how I got here, I just—”

That happens a lot to you these days, there’s a lot of missing time, and it rattles you to see it in Rhino. It rattles you to see someone upset about it, since it had become such a part of you. You’d forgotten it should be terrifying.

Big tears roll down his big face. He puts a hand to his eyes, unable to look at you. “I gave you up. I gave you and Shrew up. They were everywhere. They went in my mouth.”

“Hey, easy.” Gave you up? To who? You rub his back, try to stroke the short cap of his hair, anything that might help. It feels increasingly desperate. “What happened?”

“Spiders. But they weren’t real. Or they were? I thought they were, I don’t know, but I still broke. I got all this way and I fucking broke.” 

He isn’t trying to stop himself from crying, but the way his voice shakes is so viscerally upsetting, there doesn’t seem to be anything you could say that could stand up to it. “It’s okay. Was it an exercise? Rhino? Let’s go find Shrew, we’ll talk about it—” 

“He won’t let me be with you two anymore, I know it. It’s over. I just want everything to stop.”

He repeats that more than once as he stands up, even with your whole weight trying to keep him down. Your feet and shins scrape against the container and he puts a hand to your skull to push you off, push you away, while he heads for the edge. There’s nothing but ocean out over the end of that container, and you panic.

Rhino will always be bigger and stronger than you, but he’s doped up and you’re more frightened than you have been in a long, long time. He isn’t able to push you off and you’re still able to swing your weight, drag him back and get enough space to shove him where you want him to go, which is back to the platform, away from the edge, away from the ocean and sky and all the blue out there.

You want so much not to shame him by dragging him all the way to the Medical platform in front of everyone, but you don’t know what else to do besides call it in. You’ve got your radio and there’s a snap in your voice that gets your request for a pickup pushed through quickly, and you ride with Rhino to Medical. He makes one lunge towards the edge of the platform there before you tackle him with your full strength and both your hands come up to crash down on him because how dare he, how could he do this, but there are enough people waiting for you at the helipad to grab you before you can beat the shit out of him.

It’s for the best. You would’ve regretted it in the long silence at his bedside. They drew blood for a rushed toxicology and then sedated him when it turned out to be safe enough to do so, and all you can do is sit and look, hands between your knees. 

Someone puts him on a saline drip and occasionally Canary comes by to check on the two of you, but there’s nothing else in the room that moves. You can’t count the rise and fall of Rhino’s chest the same way you can’t count your own: it’s a granted. It’s given. You’ve been near him so long it barely registers as movement. You know the way his ribs move, his chest’s expanse, how he sounds in his sleep.

Time presumably passes and your stillness ignites the moment you see Shrew enter the room, face stricken with grief. It looks like someone’s played a joke on him that he can’t reconcile. You stand up and grab him by both shoulders, even though his eyes are locked on Rhino. “Stay here. When he wakes up, you have to be here.”

Shrew nods finally, swallowing thickly. He glances at you.

You should tell him where you’re going in case this goes even worse than you’re expecting it to, but Rhino is more important. Shrew drags the chair across the room to be closer to him, and you run. Out of the building, out of that platform. The sun set and you hadn’t noticed the passage of time.

Nobody stops you because nobody knows who you are. Nobody asks you what you’re doing when you scale partway up an adjacent platform to make sure the light is on in Ocelot’s office, because nobody sees you. Nobody seems to wonder what you’re doing, or maybe they all wonder and you don’t hear them asking. All you can hear is the ocean, the wind over your ears, Rhino saying It’s over, it’s over.

Ocelot’s the only XO who doesn’t have a secretary guarding his door, and it’s late enough that your full-tilt run down the hall to his door goes unnoticed, unheard. It takes everything in you not to shoulder charge it and just go in swinging: you know rationally he’s heard you and is ready, so there’s no point in ambushing someone expecting it.

You open the door without knocking, and Ocelot is indeed there, staring at you with an impressive array of paperwork in front of him. When you slam the door behind you, it’s louder than you thought it would be, and you take strength from the noise. Like priming a well. “What did you do to Rhino?”

He looks bored. “I treated him as if he were as tough as you.”

“There was no use for that. There was no point to that,” you say, slowly and struggling to be clear through your anger. It feels like he’s broken a promise he never made.

Ocelot puts his pen aside and laces his fingers together on the table in front of him. “I wanted to see what would happen.”

You lunge forward and sweep everything off his desk with a crash. The lamp there smashes before it gets knocked to the floor, embedding glass into the wooden desktop in a bloom of glitter. The room is dark without it, you can still see the white sheets of paper scattered and floating. Ocelot’s had more than enough time to get out from around his desk and you’re ready for him by the time he gets to you.

Ocelot moves with his whole body, and there’s never any hesitation once he does. You’ve seen him throw Rhino over his shoulder like he’s Shrew, and the barest reminder of Rhino pushes you to be faster, stronger. The office is a cramped space to be fighting in, but you shove yourself off a filing cabinet and it gives you an edge: he can’t just throw or knock you to the ground with his own weight or momentum. Hitting him is like hitting a wall, but you’ve done that before.

He still gets you in the end, hooking a foot around your heel and dragging one leg out from underneath you before you can shift your weight to accommodate it. His hand is red pressure on your throat and you watch him watch you go down, back and shoulders crashing into his desk. You manage to throw a handful of glass at him and get in one good kick you can feel echo through his ribs and lungs before he hauls you up, just to slam you right back down into the desk, body twisted the other way. Glass digs into your chest and cheek and the big oak monument to paperwork slides a couple of inches as he grinds you into it for good measure.

There’s the sound of his spurs and your own boots struggling on the floor before he hikes a leg up and plants a knee in the small of your back, leaning his full weight on you. The edge of the desk digs unbearably into your thighs at this angle, but he’s taught you to be silent. The only sound is ambient hum of Intel and your breathing.

His left hand anchors onto yours, pressed flat onto the desk. Rose fingers thread through yours, even as you can feel his other hand curl into your hair and scalp. “You’re forcing my hand, Civet.”

“What did you do to him?”

Ocelot draws your head back and slams it into the desk, and for a moment your legs go slack just from the pain and disorientation. His voice is the only thing that makes it through to you. “What is it about Rhino that got to you? Shrew’s been crying in the showers for weeks, but you never stormed in here on his behalf.”

That takes the fight out of you more than the knock did, and you can feel Ocelot’s smile surfacing as your own expression goes slack.

“If it makes you feel any better, neither of them have ever approached me about you. Maybe they think you get it easier because of all our alone time.” 

“Answer me,” you say, feeling blood pooling underneath your face. “Or I’ll bite off my tongue and drown.”

He sighs, and it’s a bitter victory. He knows you can do it, he’s made sure that you have the willpower and the physical ability. “What are you really asking, Civet?”

“You said you treated him like me.” 

“Ah,” Ocelot says, his hand retreating from yours and instead trailing back to your shoulder, kneading your back. “The question is, ‘did you rape a soldier under your command,’ then?”

“Yes.”

“No. Rhino is the Boss’s even before he’s mine, and I respect that. Regardless of rules, I don’t care quite enough to break him in that fashion.”

If he had phrased it any other way, you might not have believed him. But the logic makes sense, and you feel that if there is anything certain in the world, it’s that Ocelot does truly obey the Boss. You shut your eyes briefly, heart hammering with pain and fear and even a sickening relief.

“What I did to him is just what’s eating up all your lost days, Civet. He’s just not built to withstand it.” Ocelot cards through your hair, idly. “You may not be, if I push you too far.”

All the time you can’t account for. All the times your arms have prickled with healing needle marks and you were sure it was just more vaccines. Rhino saw spiders—what did you see? What has Ocelot made you see? “Why don’t I remember?”

“My best guess is compartmentalization. You’ve already proven that you’re tough physically, but mentally? Well, you saw it with Rhino. I suspect Shrew will fare better.” His voice sounds like a shrug. “You know why I have a wooden desk, Civet?” 

You’ve got a great answer for him concerning the longstanding Western tradition of bespoke writing desks and the history of knowledge as a commodity that you think he’d love if he weren’t angry, but the noise you make to talk back to him is flattened out into a wordless shout as he slams a letter opener through your hand. 

Your back arches up under his weight and his hand goes from your scalp to your mouth, catching a cry and bottling it in your throat. He withdraws as soon as he feels you stop, patting your cheek. “Mainly so I can do that.”

The letter opener is still upright, his fist closed around the end of it. You’ve never felt anything like it, being pinned to something. A foreign object holding you in place. It hurts beyond any way you can articulate to yourself, and the blood coming out looks black in the dim light of the office. Your arm is shaking.

Ocelot pushes off of you and the release of his weight helps you breathe again, although it’s coming very short and even more quickly. You’re a little shocky, but he doesn’t seem concerned as he picks up the lamp and sets it back on the desk. The bulb is all around the office and mainly in your face, but the filament still works when he turns it on. The light is uncompromisingly yellow, but your blood still just looks black. It’s getting everywhere

“Did he tell you that he sold you out?” Ocelot asks, conversationally. He’s picking up papers scattered around the office. “‘Take Civet,’ he said. ‘Do it to Civet, fuck Civet, fuck Shrew, not me, not this.’ Broke my heart, really.” 

“You’re lying.” 

“No, you’re just upset. I don’t fault him for it. He isn’t built the way you are.” Ocelot locks the door. 

You’re squirming around on the desk, about to try touching the letter opener. “He didn’t… he didn’t deserve it…”

“What anyone deserves will often be far beyond your control. Rhino’s a good man, and I hurt him deeply, for small reasons and because I could.” He drags your whole body back by your waist and your heart thunders as your hand throbs. You wish he’d sound more out of breath, because you can’t seem to get enough air. “What makes me different than a shell on the battlefield, than shrapnel?”

You lay your face against your arm, unable to look at his shadow moving on the wall in front of you. “The choice. You’ve got the choice not to.” 

“I know I do, Civet. That’s what power is. That’s what you give to me every day you don’t leave,” he says, undoing the fly of your uniform and dragging your pants past the bend of your hips over the desk. 

You hate him so vividly in that moment, but you still want him to fuck you to pieces. Your face hurts from glass, your hand is still pinned to the desk but you still want him to do it, crying out in frustration as his hand slaps the inside of your thigh, squeezing with painful strength. When he pulls away there’s lubricant left behind, but it doesn’t smell like the oil he uses for his revolvers. You wish it was, you wish he would dismantle you like he does his guns and there’s no way he doesn’t know you don’t want it.

He kicks your legs closed and you arch, shaking, as he pushes in between your pressed thighs. It’s not enough, he knows it, he has to know that this isn’t enough. Ocelot lets out a tense breath and sets his pace, bitterly long and too slow.

“What’s that look for?” His voice is strung tighter than usual. “This is your parting gift to me.”

You twist around and ignore the shriek in your hand. “What?”

Half a smile pulls at his mouth. “I won’t touch you for a time after this, Civet. I wouldn’t want to distract you. This could be our last evening together.”

It’s been too much work to train yourself into silence now to give it all up, so you bite your lip and try to clench your thighs together even tighter, like you could beat him at his own game. There’s so much to process, but you just want him to come, to get it over with so you don’t have to ache for him, for something he won’t give you because he knows you want it.

The worst is when he presses his thighs flat to yours, and you make a small sound at the thought that it’s probably the most skin he’s ever put to you. And it’s silent.

Ocelot makes a soothing noise and runs hands higher up your waist, pushing your uniform higher up your back. One hand stays there while the other reaches down into your range of vision and jerks the letter opener back like a gearshift.

He’d threaded it through bone, but not cartilage. Not muscle. Static burns through your whole body and the relief when he stops is almost as good as pleasure. You’re panting and your other limbs are going chilly, numbness might be next. Your hand is so thoroughly bloodied that you can’t tell if it’s still bleeding, consumed in slick darkness. The sound of your breathing through the pain must be what’s doing it for him, because he shoves forward on the letter opener and finishes all over your back as you struggle through it, hot lube turned to liquid down your thighs.

You listen to him buckling his belt before he walks around to the front of the desk, leaning down to be at your eye level. “When I take this out of your hand, you have to put pressure on it.”

“Yes, sir.”

The way he jerks it straight up actually drags you with it before it slides free, and you snatch your injured hand to your chest to squeeze, even when it sends up stars behind your eyes. Ocelot watches to make sure you’re not going to faint away, and sighs as he puts his hands on his hips. He doesn’t offer any mocking praise or rueful smile.

You’re expecting that enough for it to be hope, but he just leaves. The door is left open and unlocked behind him, and you try to collect yourself before you hobble to the Med platform. No one seems to notice you, and you wonder if it’s because you’re not really there.

Shrew slaps you when he sees you leaning against the doorway, and Canary wakes Rhino up yelling about how you goddamned idiots just won’t stop hurting each other, will you? Get out of the way, Shrew. What did you do to yourself? Is that glass? Jesus wept.

He doesn’t ask where it came from, or who it was that hurt you. Ocelot is one of three kings in this archipelago, and his signature is respected. 

Chapter Text

They ambush you after your second day on no sleep, and by all rights, you get in a few good kicks. One of them almost loses a finger getting a hand too close to your mouth.

You’ve known they’re coming for you, dark shapes have been at the edges of your vision for days. Shrew is gone, you don’t know where. You can’t bring yourself to visit Rhino. You feel like a sick animal, staggering to and fro around the platforms, avoided by others like they can smell the impending doom. 

The Ocelot Unit is good, they do a great job of abducting you. There’s the black hood, although you chuckle to yourself as you think old hat. It should be scarier than it is, but you’ve known this would happen. It happened in practice. It happened to Rhino, it happened to Shrew, it falls to reason that it happens to you.

They lock you into a chair in what sounds like one of the hangars, judging from the acoustics. You’re thinking about the blue sea, the blue sky. Interchangeable, if gravity stopped working.

Ocelot takes the hood off, and he looks monotone in the red light. Ah, you know where you are. This is Room 101. He smooths your hair, and you catch one of the Ocelot Unit figures behind him shifting in irritating. “Civet. How’ve you been?”

“Same old, same old.” It feels nice to sit down. You’ve been in bad shape, and despite his greeting, you know this isn’t the first time you’ve seen him since his office. You can remember his smell among the parts of your days where there’s nothing but movement and light. You’ve given up on chasing those memories: every single one is a nightmare the moment you touch it.

“Ready to start?” he asks, and you can’t even answer him. The idea that you would get to this point and turn back isn’t even something you can comprehend. The possibility of it flashes by you briefly like a bird and you understand fully and deeply what Rhino meant when he stood up to walk into the distance. If you came all this way and stopped now, that would be too much to bear.

You can see Ocelot’s face move based on the way the light changes on what you can see of him. It’s jumbled, distant. Already swimming. His hand tugs briefly at your jaw again and you lean forward to linger in his grasp as long as you can before he moves away: you deserve that much. Ocelot doesn’t look back at you and doesn’t have to say anything to the Unit members before he leaves. You try to imagine him telling them what to do to you, and even in your exhaustion, there’s a little thrill to it.

It’s apparent he’s outsourcing the boring stuff to the Ocelot Unit, pretty quickly. You can recognize them by gait and sometimes by scent, although their balaclavas and berets are carefully engineered to be identical. You know one of them by the hard on they get at the sight of your blood, even a little of it, and you find yourself wondering how on earth Ocelot thought that was an acceptable quirk. It’s fine if he does it, but a subordinate?

You say as much out loud and your own teeth cut the inside of your cheek on somebody’s backhanded slap.

Everything he’s done to you has made this bearable. They fake drowning you—you’ve almost really drowned more than once. Ocelot has doused or waterboarded you with every possible combination of water, hot and cold, salt and fresh. Naked and clothed. They pull out the electrical rods: boring. Shrew lied about how much he ate during a fast and the three of you learn how not to choke on your tongues during voltage. They only briefly try keeping you in a hot room, sensing that much is pointless. You’ve been dehydrated enough to hallucinate the Boss packing you gently into hot quicksand, and temperature has long ago ceased to truly bother you. The energy expenditure to make you dangerously cold wouldn’t be worth it.

There are lots of impermanent ways to cause pain, and they do their best. It’s not as if it doesn’t hurt—it does, it’s terrible, but it has a point. This is a test. You’ve been patient. You’ve been practicing.

You wish they’d let you fight them instead of just taking beatings, it’d be better practice for them in stringing an opponent along. Beating up someone trapped in a chair is child’s play, but you keep that to yourself. You don’t want to look like a teacher’s pet.

There are long periods where they don’t do anything. Might be taking a smoke break or just waiting to see if isolation gets to you. It could be hours or minutes and it passes all the same. Whatever’s been happening to you for so long has completely erased time as a fear, and it seems like an oversight that they wouldn’t know that.

Ocelot reappears at the end of what might be a long stretch, flanked by Unit members. He kneels down and reaches a hand up to your face, stroking his thumb over a split in your lip. “Aren’t you a vision.”

You make a little kiss at him.

One of the Ocelot Unit laughs, but it’s a mean bark. Ocelot stands up and folds his arms across his chest, gesturing with a nod. The group of them file out and you can hear locker room discussion and some laughter. There’s the vague impression you should be ashamed of yourself, but you’re too far gone.

Ocelot waits for you to look up at him, and you focus hard on him. Your eyes have adjusted more or less to the red light and he looks sad. “You’ve failed, Civet. If you were going to be a usable tool for the Boss, you’d need more self-preservation instinct than what you’ve got.”

The vague smile freezes on your face. He’s lying. He has to be lying. Adrenaline you shouldn’t have left floods your body and feeds a chill all over.

“As ever, you’ll make an excellent Diamond Dog. You can go back to how things were. But you won’t be a part of the Ocelot Unit.”

“I…” Your voice is sandpaper to use and to hear. “I can’t, sir. I can’t.”

“The way I see it, you’ve got two options.” Two red fingers, two red marks. “You leave now, or I kill you here. No shame in either. Dying now might spare your comrades some grief, instead of making it a spectacle for them to clean up. Remember Rhino?”

Something within you seems to lock into gear and begins churning up something. You have two memories of Rhino. There’s one where you drag him back from the edge, and another where he jumps from the top floor of the Medical platform. You haven’t seen him since. They are equally probable.

Just as easily, it’s you: the incredible sensation of having nothing there, nothing underneath you, the sunlight warm and the air cold as you fall, and then the loudest and last noise.

Your lips are dry and cracked. “I jump off the bridge.”

Ocelot slaps you hard enough to rock the chair. “I’m not going to dote on you forever. Make up your mind.”

“I jump off the bridge.”

You can hear the salty drool fly out of your mouth and patter on the hangar floor in the darkness when he hits you the other way. “No one’s impressed, Civet.”

It’s maybe the first time you’ve heard him sound openly angry with you, and you smile. “I jump off the bridge, sir.”

He disappears from view and the back of your chair is yanked off-balance, the sound of it as he drags you across the hangar absolutely unbearable. It’s so loud, it’s the loudest thing you’ve heard in a while, it seems to go on forever while your internal balance cries that you are falling, you really are! 

You come to a stop under the red auxiliary light and Ocelot doesn’t chat while he works. There’s a little calfskin portfolio you hadn’t noticed before and what looks like a strange lamp that he turns on. The light it makes is blinding and colorless, something medical about the precise way it fades and snaps back on, again and again. You’ve seen it before. You’ve seen it a thousand times, and this is the first time you’re seeing it. 

Ocelot has two shots for you: one for the side of your neck and one for your stomach, neither given with much care. It should hurt more than it does. There’s the distinct sensation of detaching from yourself in some fundamental way, and your head lolls briefly until you can find some way to set it that feels stable.

Kneeling between your legs, Ocelot rolls your shirt up and you wish he’d just cut it off all together. It feels hot, stifling, even though it’s the same kind of hospital wear you’ve been in for as long as you can remember.

The knife he carries with him is the plain black folding one you’ve seen a hundred times before, in training and in use. He moves it with a delicacy in a straight line descending down from your sternum towards your navel, once, and even though it bites in on the second pass downwards, it doesn’t seem quite real. It’s a slow, unfelt injury, unzipping. 

“No, no, no,” you whisper, watching and not entirely feeling. You’d never realized what a tight bag of blood you are until you see the contents released from pressure, and you pour over Ocelot’s gloves. They look orange underneath the real, true red from you. The pain is coming from everywhere but the cut.

Ocelot looks up at you from underneath his lashes in an unspoken question.

You’re worried opening your mouth might let a sound out that you can’t control, so you gesture weakly to one of your legs. Ocelot smiles a touch and reaches down to undo the restraint, watching as your foot moves weakly around his waist. Your limbs are practically dead from how long you’ve been in this chair, but you have enough to try and pull him in closer, to dig your heel into the low of his back. He feels warm, even through the clothes.

His free hand goes to your collarbone, pushing your shoulders back against the chair.

The next incision is horizontal, and he finishes it with a little tug to saw through the muscle. The knife clatters to the hangar floor and Ocelot reaches his hand into you, and your pulse grows sluggish. You can see and feel him inside you on one layer. On the other, his hand is flat against your stomach, squeezing. Both are real.

“Deeper,” you gasp, taking a hurried snatch of short gulping breaths before you seize up again. Your vision blurs as Ocelot’s arm angles a different direction, his hand a living spade between the things that keep you alive. There’s an incongruous lick of pleasure from it and you try to bow your back forward to push him farther in. It gets more consistent, more like something you could rock your hips against if you could move that much. His fingers are inside you while his hand is inside you while his hand is holding you against the chair.

Something thick catches on his wrist as he moves and you watch him drag it out of you right before your eyes squeeze shut and his hand that isn’t inside you that’s still inside you pushes you over the physical precipice that shouldn’t even be within sight and you come, jaw dropped and thighs twitching uselessly. There’s a loop of something steaming hot sitting on the tops of your legs, and you stare at it, knowing what it is.

He lets out a low noise that you can barely hear over your heartbeat, and tugs your shirt back down. It sticks to you and grows deep blooms of blood. It doesn’t do anything.

You look down again and there’s no blood there, although your body is still screaming wet, pink, slippery, hot and so so so cold, cold air burning you from the inside out. Your teeth chatter, and Ocelot hunkers down beside you. Your eyes unwillingly track the gleam of his spurs. “Civet? Are you with me?”

Something spills out of your mouth when you try to speak, bile and blood. “Always, Major.” 

He takes a long breath in and takes even longer letting it out. When he finally moves again, it’s to finish undoing the rest of the restraints holding you to the chair. You compulsively touch your stomach, your chest: there’s nothing there. A little thick-feeling with numbness but intact. There isn’t even blood. 

Ocelot tips the chair forward and you collapse onto the hangar floor, hunching over to protect your insides from touching the deck, even when nothing falls out. Your knees and arms are wailing and too weak to push your body up at first, and you have to prop yourself up onto your hands and knees, shaking. Ocelot drags the chair back to the center of the room and sits down in it, watching you.

The lantern nearby is still going, each strobe accompanied by a clicking sound. There’s a space inside your skull that feels soft and if you push at it, you can feel guts hanging over the edge of your arm, your whole front soaked with gore. Nothing about it seems unreal, and your first scream rips out of you before you can stop it. Just noise behind your teeth. Muscle wall tears like a run in a stocking and more of you slops out onto the hangar floor, dragging at your ribs with the weight of it, your spine.

You can hear yourself breathing in big, open-mouth gusts. That’s real. You know you’re sweating, although it’s both hot and cold. The room around you is red and black and nothing else: Ocelot is a series of shapes that have to work to resolve into something human, and you see yourself vividly from an outside perspective. Not his. You are a split bag of guts. You are whole. You are dying. You are fine.

Setting your teeth against each other, it slots into place. You’re both. You exist in both states. The reality of it doesn’t matter, because the job is to continue. The point of you is to continue. Your head bobs as you breathe through it, loud and almost angry. The pain could be real, or it could be imagined. It doesn’t matter. You are both and unchanged.

Your sense of balance gets worse the farther you get from the hangar floor, which pitches under you constantly. You can stay low, you can thread your hands through guts that might be there, might not, rub at your legs with hands that feel thick and clumsy. Getting the blood flow back. It takes every part of your mind and body to work together to make yourself stand up, but you can. Hunched over almost double, but you’re up. Walking comes next, although it’s a useless hobble.

Ocelot stands up and you follow him wordlessly, arms cradled around your stomach. He does you the kindness of opening the door to the outside slowly, although the light and heat is overwhelming even immediately. You reach out and eventually knock your fingertips against the doorframe, moving from the still air of inside to the torrent outside. 

“There,” Ocelot declares. “You’re free to go.”

Go. The sun is blinding even with your eyes shut, the deck is boiling on your feet—these clothes do nothing to protect what hurts from the sun or even the breeze when it’s enough to cut you. You are fundamentally unsuited to this environment, and he made you this way.

You’re afraid, and turning back to blinking through the light at Ocelot, he looks like safety. The darkness of Room 101 is a known thing, you can survive there. You know that space. You have filled it. But this bright world outside that you had somehow managed to forget—it had to have forgotten you.

“See you soon,” Ocelot says, before shutting the hatch behind you, and it sounds like a tomb sealing. You raise your fist to hammer on the door, but stop yourself before you can stumble your weight into it. Your instinct is to run away from the idea of that—of the idea of waiting for the axe to fall, something unable to live in this world and merely waiting to return to what you know.

But your instinct is wrong. You chew at your lips and try to force yourself to open your eyes more, despite the pain and heat. Your body is a liar even as it tells you the truth. It says you can’t take this, it refuses to imagine any kind of future, but it’s greedy for your will to survive. Even as the only thing that feels like a solution is death, you want even more to survive. Both states are within you, concurrent and contradictory. 

You make a low keening noise, bracing against the platform’s wall and scorching yourself in the process. You know there’s power in both truths, but it seems like it’s too much for your body. You have it, but you don’t know what to do with it. Maybe all there is to do is just hold on.

The wind snatches at you in a hot gust and you hear conversation from a pair of approaching guards: they are your family, but you still manage a stumbling run like a feral thing, taking shelter against the corrugated wall of a container. Your whole body hurts, you need water, you need to rest. You can take care of that, and then you’ll figure out what to do next. Start at the bottom of the pyramid, work your way up.

The shakes start from deep inside when they do, and even holding yourself doesn’t seem to help. Ocelot has spent every waking moment since you met him training you to come back to him. The last test is walking away.

Chapter Text

The Diamond Dogs are collectively too kind to let you wander in a fugue state, so you end up in the cafeteria on the Base Dev platform. You must look absolutely alien to them, like someone replaced with a bioroid that hasn’t been taught how to be human. Your clothes are still paper, and although outside is too hot, inside is far too cold. You smell bad enough that they stay away. Maybe there are orders to let you be.

Nobody talks to you, and that’s when you start to doubt if they recognize you. You could’ve been gone for months in there, there’s no way of telling. You don’t know when you went in, you don’t know when you left. You don’t know for how long. You don’t know if you look like you did when you went in. They let you sit by yourself, near a wall so you have something to lean on. A cup of water has been left nearby and gets replaced when you’re through trying to drink it without slopping it all over yourself. You can’t seem to identify who does it. Faces slide away like oil on water.

You put your head down on your arms at one point, just meaning to get a little darkness and peace, but you fall asleep almost immediately into somewhere red. 

When there's a gentle touch on your back, you lunge forward in anticipation of the moment it hurts, unable to stop yourself. Your arms crash forward into something very hot and very metal, and the sound that results is deafening.

When your senses catch up, you’re covered in breakfast. Some kind of eggs flop forlornly off your chest and onto your lap, some of the caf’s thick oatmeal has slopped onto your thighs, making you shudder from a sense-memory that sends cramps shooting through you. You planted your hand in a cup of coffee and the contents of it are still in the process of scalding your arm. Maybe badly, but you can’t tell. There’s no reliable information coming back. You’d tried to throw yourself into a tray of breakfast food.

Devil Raptor, of all people, is laughing and mopping at you with a napkin that’s already saturated with oatmeal. “Good morning, sleepyhead!” His face is colorful and extraordinarily detailed. You don’t even know what muscles move to make someone smile like that. “You scared the daylights out of’em, Boss!”

You stand up and trip yourself backwards over the bench, going down hard on legs that weren’t ready for weight. Your fall is mostly cushioned by the person you’re falling onto, who doesn’t move. You watch breakfast splatter onto the tiled floor as he helps untangle you from the bench—Raptor is useless, wheezing laughter and returning to his own food. The Boss is monolithic, propping you upright without any difficulty, without impatience. You’ve gotten oatmeal all over his sneaking suit, and you can’t seem to balance correctly.

“Civet?” The Boss asks, and you reach out your hands to steady yourself, legs threatening to buckle. You had been aiming for a table but it’s his hands and arms that ground you. “What’s wrong?”

There’s a brief memory of sunlight and someone offering something you want that you can’t place, but you know it was bad. You don’t want to hurt the Boss’s feelings, so you stagger more upright and try to keep the floor under your feet. “Nothing, Boss, I just—I was just—” You want something familiar. You want someone to pick up your slack and reassure the Boss, but no one is there. Where’s Shrew? Where’s Rhino? Where--?

The Boss takes your jaw in his hand and even though the touch is unfamiliar, you submit to it right away. His proximity is painful—there’s such concern on his face, you can’t imagine what would make another human look at you like that. “Come with me.”

You whisper a yes, sir, although he’s already leading you by the hand out of the cafeteria. A lot of other soldiers are watching, but you can’t even begin to deal with that. You feel a vague shame for making the Boss lead you like a child, but he doesn’t seem bothered. There are a few tables outside the caf that smell strongly of cigarettes, but it’s too early on the platform for them to be occupied. The chill in the air tells you it must be morning, although it seems just as unbearably bright as any other time of day.

The Boss sits you down like an invalid and washes coffee off of you with water from his canteen: it feels cold despite having been so close to his body, but the discomfort doesn’t make you jerk or move back from it. The physical feedback is inconsequential at this point.

He doesn’t talk while he works, but you get patted dry and the burn from the coffee is revealed: nothing too serious, just enough to bother covering it with gauze. Does he carry that around just in case? He handles you as if you are fragile or valuable, when you know for a fact you’re neither.

You’re so busy staring at him and feeling fond that you barely notice when he speaks up. “How does that feel?”

“Huh?”

“You’re burned. It’s not serious, but you’ll want to keep it cool and clean.” He holds your arm in his open hands until you think to reanimate and draw it back towards yourself. “How’s training with Ocelot?”

Your semi-automatic nod just keeps going, and only stops when you grind the heels of your palms into your eyes. You had failed, but you don’t want to say that to him, not before somebody makes you admit it. “It’s… challenging. Sir.”

“Who else is with you?”

“Silent Rhino and Prancing Shrew, sir.” Are they alive? You can’t remember the last time you saw Shrew, what he was doing or what you said to him. Rhino is suspended in blue. 

The Boss hums. “You’ve been with him a while. Feels like I haven’t seen much of any of you.”

You’re incredibly touched that he even knows who you are, and have to resist the urge to pat his hand like a kindly parent. “It’s been busy, sir. Hopefully we’ll be around more to help with regular duties soon.” You have no idea where the hell any of that came from, but it sure sounds reassuring. 

“Getting enough sleep?”

“Yes, sir.”

The Boss sighs, but whatever kind chastisement he was going to bestow on you stops, as he looks over your shoulder. You twist around with difficulty and find Ocelot there, a red wound in bright light, and you almost fall on yourself again trying to get up, to stand at attention, heart racing. The Boss’s hand clacks a little when he stands too and claps you on the shoulder, which makes you feel worse.

He approaches, ignoring you in favor of the Boss. “I heard we had a scene at breakfast.”

“It was my fault,” the Boss says, and you feel horrible that your first reaction is fear that Ocelot will think he’s spoiling you, rather than gratitude. Ocelot reads something off your face and gives the Boss a look, who just folds his arms over his chest. “That’s the end of it.”

“Far be it from me to argue. No one was hurt?”

You see the Boss’s mouth open and jump before you can think to keep your own shut. “No, sir! It was embarrassing, but I’m fine now.”

They both look at you now, and you can feel yourself shrinking, crumbling away. You don’t even know who to look at—Ocelot is unreadable and you can only get as far as his cheekbones before your eyes dart away, unwilling to look directly. The Boss just seems a bit sad, but it’s hard to tell.

“You shouldn’t lie in front of the Boss. Especially not poorly.” Ocelot takes your arm from where it’s been glued to your side, and you can’t be surprised that your body doesn’t resist in the slightest. He turns your arm this way and that, inspecting the Boss’s bandage. He’s very gentle. “Coffee?”

“It was embarrassing,” you repeat, both hands trembling.

“Ocelot,” the Boss says, leaning just the barest bit towards him, conspiratorial. “Training’s almost over, isn’t it?”

He looks at you. He looks at you, even though the Boss is right there, and he should look at him. “I’ve finished with the others. We’ve just got one more exercise left together.”

“Think it could wait? They look like hell.”

There’s a sudden and overwhelming horror, like seeing the oncoming car that will hit you. You shake your head no, even as Ocelot sighs. “Civet, the earth is flat. Throw him off the platform.”

You hook a foot around the Boss’s heel and twist with your whole body to push against his top half while destabilizing the other, and it works. It doesn’t feel like the kind of enjoyable triumph of getting in a good throw during sparring, it’s just excitement, adrenaline. The hunt. The man on his back is prey. You go to grab the front of his armor and start dragging, anticipating the way he grips back and throws—he’s stronger than you, and briefly his strength is enough to let him roll the two of you over, putting him in a position to pin you to the deck. Your legs come up between the two of you and you push him up, rabbit kicking into the space he leaves behind when he lets go of you and dodges away to avoid broken ribs. 

His stance is still low when you roll over and charge him, shoulder lowered, and you feel him grab onto your waist and back even as you latch onto his thigh and drag with all your weight—you have to get him on his back, off balance, where his weight can’t work against you. Every movement is spent shoving the two of your towards to where you know the edge of the platform is. Go. Go. His back leg skids, boot struggling to grip and hold him in place. Something somewhere within your calf snaps like a guitar string and you push even harder feeling the pain shoot up your leg like fire, filled with nothing but hunger. This is the strongest you’ve ever been in your life and you won’t stop.

The glint of something on his belt catches your eye and it’s in your hand before you need to recognize it as a combat knife, and it crunches right into his prosthetic arm at the seam. You’d been aiming for his face or neck, but you can still twist around with it and feel the snaps of delicate mechanisms breaking against the blade. His grip on you is strong but it’s not committed to stopping you, which is why you can drag the knife back out and plant it in his thigh between the armor plates before he grabs for it. He’s not fast enough to stop you whipping it out and up, although it lodges somewhere in the underside of his arm and you have to abandon it to reapply forward pressure. It doesn’t matter, it’s done what you needed it to do. He’s off guard, and you keep pushing, feeling him give way.

The heel of his boot scrapes on the grating at the edge of the platform and projects out into space and you feel a gratification so powerful that it seems to bleach the color from your surroundings, and your whole body coils up to launch him over the edge, even if it means you go too.

“CIVET, STOP!

It’s the only voice you can hear, and you can’t tell who it is. It might’ve been the Boss, it might’ve been Ocelot, but it takes all your strength in an instant. The Boss’s resistance overwhelms you immediately and you fall on your ass, feet working vaguely to push you back, push you somewhere. This is dangerous. What did you just do?

“On your feet.” Ocelot grabs your arm and hauls you upright as the Boss returns from the edge, and you make a stupid little uh noise. Something like pins and needles rushes through all of your tensed muscles and you almost reflexively vomit at the sudden reality you’ve made for yourself: you tried to kill the Boss.

When your knees give out he’s there anyway, propping you back on your feet and supporting your weight. You don’t deserve to cling to him, but you have to, you have to as you crush your face against him and start crying for what feels like the first time in your life. You don’t know what sounds to make or how to modulate the wordless noise. His compassion shames you deeply as he rubs your back, damaged bionic hand curling stiffly around the back of your skull. The combat knife you’d put into his arm clatters to the deck nearby and that’s it, that’s all you can take, you scream into his shoulder, heaving with pain and grief.

“That was a bit much, Ocelot.”

“You need to know what you have at your disposal, Boss. There’ll be times when you need something done, no matter what it is.”

“How many have you trained like this?”

“Only a couple. I’d like to have one in every unit, just to be thorough. There’s Weeping Eagle, Brass Moth, and Painted Lion. So far.”

“The Ocelot Unit?” 

“Best not to have all your eggs in one basket. They’re good, but they aren’t cut out for this.”

The Boss makes a thoughtful noise and you dig your fingers into his back like claws, afraid of yourself, afraid of what your body will do when it has space to move. “And Civet is.”

“You saw it yourself.” Ocelot sounds impatient. “Boss, they’ll go back to normal life, like any other Diamond Dog. Just with a little extra.”

“If they break… if any of them break, it’s on you.”

“Naturally.”

Chapter Text

Ocelot threads a needle into your arm and you wonder what’s in it. It doesn’t register as cold, and if anything, you feel better once he draws it out. One red hand presses against the vein there, bruised and dotted with older tracks, applying pressure. He doesn’t have to linger there long. He zips up the little folio with all his needles and vials in the meantime, and you wait for whatever is inside you to happen.

Nothing else has emerged since he took you away from the Boss. They sat back down at the table until you couldn’t cry any more, talking about the day’s schedule over your miserable animal noises. The Boss kept one arm around you and another hand on the wound in his thigh the entire time, as if they were equally important priorities to him. You’re glad they didn’t talk about you. 

Eventually you could make your hands uncurl and let go, the Boss said something low and soft like he does to D-Horse that went in one ear and out the other, and wiped your face for you. Ocelot carried you off after that—really carried you, in his arms. Properly. Watching the Boss turn into a blur over his shoulder was when you knew that the last exercise was over. Mother Base had passed by in hot sun and intense color until the air had gotten still again, closed up and closed off.

Ocelot fills an electric kettle from the sink nearby as you sit on the kitchenette’s counter in your rags and tired skin. Your leg hurts. The Boss’s blood is still on you. His quarters are quiet, maybe the same kind of sound proofing as his office. The blinds are all drawn shut but the light is still toned warmly from what should be the sun. It smells of coffee and DD.

Coming back to you, Ocelot rubs a thumb over the injection site and blood beads slowly. He lifts your arm carefully and presses a kiss to the inside of your elbow that hurts, underneath the tickle of his moustache. His eyes flicking up to yours are the cold glimmer of fish scales. “Penny for your thoughts, Civet.”

What are you thinking about? Most of it feels disjointed, fragmented glass that hasn’t fallen out of its frame yet.

There’s one thing that is still lodged in you that you can’t seem to swallow past, and your hands curl into the front of his shirt with strength you have no right to still have left. Something deep in your guts threatens to stir. “I almost… you told me to—” 

Ocelot covers your hands with his, speaking very low and very clear. His voice is just for you now. “I would’ve stopped you if he hadn’t.”

He’s close enough at this range that you could probably get your teeth into his neck, but you let that thought go. You lick your lips. “How?”

“Hm?”

“Tell me how you would’ve done it.”

His fingers work between yours, prying your hold off of him with gentle but insistent force. “I would’ve shot you. The Boss believes in rehabilitation, but there’s only one cure for a rabid dog.” 

It’s a vague, after-the-fact comfort. Ocelot picks up on that and slides both hands up your neck to bracket your face, holding you steady to look at him. “But you stopped. You were perfect, Civet.” 

You almost lose the grip on your next concern at the sound of that. Perfect. You know he’s just praising his own work, but you let yourself enjoy it anyway, drifting between distress and pleasure. “But you said that I… that I couldn’t be…?”

“And I meant what I said.” Ocelot’s thumb moves over your cheekbone, thumb a rusty blur close to your eye. “I didn’t train you to be in the Ocelot Unit. I trained you to be independent of it.”

Independent means alone. You must make a pathetic face, because he chuckles. You can smell his breath. “You didn’t fail, you passed with flying colors. You’re a masterpiece.”

Even as free-floating as you are, there isn’t the reaction you’re expecting from yourself. You can see Ocelot looking at you with artisanal pride, and you think that he has to know you aren’t melting from the praise. You enjoy it, but it isn’t necessary. There isn’t anything outside of you that’s necessary anymore. You don’t even feel like you owe him thanks for it—probably because in the long run, he doesn’t deserve it.

At such a close range, it’s impossible not to notice him watching you process things, and it’s with an intensity you haven’t seen before. He either knows exactly what you’re thinking and likes following the movement of it, or he has no idea what you’re thinking and enjoys the chase. Probably both, and you’re too tired to get into it with him. “I don’t… feel like a masterpiece.”

“And you won’t, not for a while.” You can’t tell the difference between a pat and a gentle slap with him, but you get one all the same before he moves to take the kettle off its base. “You’ve got a lot of detoxing to do, and I have some threads to unravel.”

He leaves a cup of mild-smelling tea steeping while he hefts you around like a sack of potatoes, eventually setting you down on a long, utilitarian fainting couch. There’s already an IV stand there, and you watch him hook you up to something, businesslike. He adjusts the shades on the window and sunlight streams in over your body, but not into your eyes.

You’d be content to die or pass out or whatever, right there, in the warmth. There’s a table nearby with an assortment of needles, a stopwatch, and another strange little lantern. You’re already too much under for your heart to speed up, so you let your eyes drift shut until Ocelot returns with the tea and a book, settling down in a nearby chair.

It’s so bizarre you hear yourself sounding incredulous, even though this is his space and you are a guest. “What are you doing?”

“Taking the edge off. You’ll have enough recovering to do physically, might as well get to work on the mental part of it.” He squishes your IV bag and you feel a swell of softness carrying your limbs off without you.

You stare up at the ceiling tiles, struggling to stay awake. “What are you… doing? To me?”

“You’re a glass cannon right now, Civet. And we need iron.” Ocelot leans forward into the shallow space you have left where things are still in focus. “How much do you want to forget?”

You think of Shrew. You think of Rhino. You think of yourself, screaming into the Boss and trying to hold in guts that aren’t there. It’s been a nightmare for months. A year? You don’t know. But it was your time. You seized it, you held on. In the vague allusion to your future that you can sense stretching out, some things might be easier if you didn’t have to hold onto all of it. But it was yours. You roll your head over to look at Ocelot directly. “None of it. I want to keep it. All.” 

His smile is lopsided and a little mean. “If you’re lying, we’ll know soon enough.”

You know you aren’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you wake up, it’s in a bed.

It’s how you’ve woken up before, in the series of wakeful snapshots you’ve been accumulating. Sometimes it’s just undetermined stretches of fitful dozing, sometimes you’re drinking water straight out of the tap. At the beginning, you were vomiting a lot of it back up. Meals are simple and bland and mostly eaten by yourself, out of plastic containers left in an otherwise empty fridge. It’s rare that you’re awake at the same time Ocelot is there, although that’s no real indicator of whether or not he’s spending time with you.

If you were doing anything other than going through withdrawal, it would probably be an unbearably boring space. As it is, you’re grateful for the silence, the ease of closing the blinds if you need to, the solitude of it. The colorlessness. Your leg healed before you had the presence of mind to worry about the severity of the injury.

You have all these memories now, safely preserved. You’ve even got some back that you didn’t know you’d lost.

The bed is perfectly flat underneath you, smelling of the base’s familiar detergent and Ocelot. You shut your eyes and feel the linen with your whole body, naked and warm.

True to his word, you remember everything. There were parts that were still lost to you: all the hours you must’ve spent with him when he tested your limits and your depths, instilling the trigger phrase he’d used, subjecting you to all kinds of internally generated horrors. You can’t tell if he was erasing as he went or if you’ve locked that time away yourself. He can do a lot with drugs and lights.

You don’t mind not having those memories. They’re not essential, and even if they were, their absence wouldn’t weigh you down. If you press on the emotions you can feel them like flesh knitting back together: there are parts that are still painful, that may always be painful, but it’s something you can bear. You can carry it. You have the strength and the tools.

“What time is it?” You ask, stretching and feeling the pleasant pull of sleepy muscles. 

Ocelot shifts a little to look at the hour on his iDroid, before rolling onto his back. One hand stretches out to smooth your hair, a pet like he might give DD. “Early. You getting up today?”

“Yeah.”

“Stop by the Med platform at some point. They’ll want to give you a physical.” After your breakfast disaster goes unsaid, and you can only imagine the gossip that’s incubated in your absence. You’re looking forward to it, really. This is a strange and comforting liminal space with Ocelot, but you know it’s a reward for you just as much as it’s an assurance for him that you won’t shatter after cooling down. It’s a transitory period, and you’re ready to move on.

You sit up, patting him on the chest before you get out of bed.

The only thing that’s yours in his quarters is a toothbrush, which you suspect is out of his own pickiness. As an officer, he’s got his own shower, which is a privilege you’ve been abusing. You haven’t needed clothes while you’ve been here, and the feeling of your own skin has become not only natural, but comfortable. You’re looking forward to seeing what you’ll walk out of here wearing—some part of you is thinking he’s got a secret closet full of identical red scarves. 

You put on water to boil for instant coffee, which he’s switched to while you’re here. The nice mixes are hidden further back in the cupboard, not that you care. Besides that, there’s not much else to do but stretch, perform morning ablutions, and enjoy the quiet. He’s asked you not to open the blinds, although you can peek out whenever you want to see the sky.

Ocelot props himself up when you bring in two mugs, looking ruffled to be up before his normal time. The coffee mellows it. “Ready to go, hm?” 

“Yeah. I’ve got to have outstayed my welcome by now.”

He sets the coffee down on the side table and keeps his eyes on you as he stretches back out on his side. “You might be surprised. Maybe I’ll lock the door, keep you here a little longer.”

It’s an empty, flirty threat, and you put down your mug as well, leaning over him. “You’re welcome to try.”

Ocelot makes an amused noise as you move into his space, and his mouth opens for a kiss even as you tilt aside to softly bite his jawline.

Your heart’s going faster than you’d like to admit: he sleeps just as naked as you and he’s been taking care of you for however long this limbo has gone on, but it hasn’t led to much intimacy. He took care of you when you needed it and you know it’s just a part of the finishing process, polishing up rough edges, checking for defects. You feel finished.

But he is handsome, in his troubling way. And you’re really awake for the first time in however long it’s been. You roll him onto his back and he goes over easily, long limbs held loose and open.

There’s so much skin of his for you to touch, and you run your hands everywhere you can reach. He’s covered up often enough that not much of the Seychelles sun gets through, although there’s a triangle of his chest unprotected by his scarf that has a few more freckles than the rest of him.

You press a kiss there while you shift and put a leg over him, settling down to straddle his lap—Ocelot makes a little oof noise and helps resituate your weight where he wants it, and you stay there to continue exploring him.

He’s got lots of scars, most of the small or very old variety, faded to silver. His clothes have always disguised exactly how rawboned he is in some spots, bones just under the surface. He’s woven with muscle that seems less intimidating given how soft his skin is, but it’s been turned against you too many times for you not to respect it.

You keep expecting to touch somewhere that ends up being off-limits, but he just stays still, lets you move him how you want him. You’re sure it’s telling him all kinds of things about what you’ve been curious about, what you find attractive—that doesn’t really matter to you anymore. He can know those things about you, there’s nothing you have that he could turn against you.

Your hands their journey on his neck, feeling his pulse while you judge where would be the most likely to be covered by the scarf if you wanted to leave a hickey. You’re nicer than he is.

“I hope you aren’t taking it slow for my benefit,” Ocelot says, husky and unnecessarily. He’s been getting steadily harder since you kissed the bare palms, bare fingertips of his hands during your travels.

“What’s that look for?” You ask, sliding your hips against his and playing up his accent. “This is your partin’ gift to me…” 

He sighs, settling his hands on your legs. “Point taken. Do your worst.”

You’re delighted that you could get away with it, and he listens to your laugh with a look like he’s never heard it before. Because he hasn’t. You lean down and forward to kiss him, one hand sinking into the bed while your other slips between your bodies and palms his cock. He tastes like sleepy mouth and instant coffee, and you find out quickly you can get him to curl upwards and chase an open kiss if you match it with a stroke of your hand.

The soft hunger behind that stokes the warmth in the pit of your stomach, and you’re happy to relent and realign him where he needs to be. You make a guess and are charmed to find that he has lube in the bedside table, well within reach, and he looks more smug than proper at being so obvious.

It’s the quietest time you’ve ever spent with him. The soft creaks of the mattress and the breathing of two bodies is all there is, all you want.

Ocelot’s eyes only shut when you bottom out, close the space left between your bodies. He makes it easy to rock against him, his hips moving on the slightest, most pleasant delay behind yours. The feeling of him seated inside you is better than when you had imagined and ached for it on his office desk. The urgency and violence of it isn’t here, and you haven’t lost your taste for that. It’s not what you want today. There’s no doubt in your mind that you could come back to him any day and pick a fight, as long as you were prepared to give it your all.

His hand slides from your thigh up to your stomach, fingertips drifting above your navel. His eyes are slits and his color is up higher than you’ve ever seen it, flushed his cheeks and chest. Maybe even his ears. You thread your fingers with his and press him further against your middle and he makes a weak noise as you lean over, changing the weight of your movements.

Your lips bump against his cheek before you can get closer to his ear, but that’s fine. “You’re back here again, Major.” His hand is where there is no scar on your stomach. “Inside me.”

Civet,” Ocelot hisses through clenched teeth, like a warning.

You bite the side of his neck and he shoves up like he wants to flip the two of you over, but you’ve got the gravitational advantage, and the fact that he doesn’t really want it badly enough. Maybe another time. You keep him in place with a hand at the base of his neck and let him pretend to struggle until you come at your own pace, the feeling sudden and pure, too much to be expressed with sound.

He’s still hard when you finish, all his attention on the way you ride him, how you press down on his throat when you want more from him. There’s an impatience in his body, like he wants to be done so he isn’t chasing after you quite so helplessly. You’ll pay for all this later, but it’s more than worth it now. You’ve earned it. 

When you reach back and slap him across the face, Ocelot comes with a hoarse noise.

 

Chapter Text

Eventually, Ocelot reveals he’s had a spare uniform in your size stowed away for a bit, and you leave him sleeping in. It’s not until you shut the door behind you and hear the click of the lock engaging back into place that it strikes you that you might not see him again for a while.

Your first reaction is an old and deep fear, which only increases in pitch as you make your way out and into the sun. The sunlight bouncing off the water seems harsher than when it fell through the blinds in slats, and there’s so much noise—construction, a helicopter in the distance, and everyone seems like they’re talking at full volume.

But you hold your ground and breathe. You had known it wouldn’t be immediately easy to jump back into things, and it might be a while until you’re ready for crowds. But you will be, and it feels more like anticipation for that future than dread of your present.

Life continued on for Mother Base without you, and you see a few familiar faces, most new. Occasionally someone will wave or cock their head in confusion, and you try to make it look like you’re headed somewhere important so it doesn’t turn into a conversation—not yet, anyway. You do have somewhere important to be, you’re just not quite sure where they are yet. Where he is yet.

Intel is your best bet so you make your way there. You pick a spot and stand, watching Diamond Dogs ebb back and forth through patrols and errands while you wait. The way time passes for you has definitely changed: the shadows move consistently as the sun does, but it could be a few minutes just as easily as hours. You’re patient.

You see Shrew from across the platform—you’d know him anywhere, that stature and the way he carries himself, and you yell for him even as you barrel across the platform. You’re still weak for a full sprint so he picks up the pace to meet you more than halfway, and the two of you hit each other like ocean waves. Amid the hugs and reluctance to let go, you make a grab for the pleasing red beret he’s got on. “Shrew! You did it! That hat— you did it! You look amazing, you look so strong—” And he does, he’s got more color in his face than you can ever remember seeing. He looks fed by the sun and the wind, and when he grins he’s got dimples you’ve never seen before. Even his body looks stronger, and he holds you without reservation or embarrassment.

He shuts you up by speaking, with a stutter so severe that you know even welcome home was a lot of practice and a lot of struggle, and it’s the most beautiful gift he’s ever given you. All you can do is bring your forehead to his and try not to cry, which sets him laughing. You thump him on the back and he rocks back and forth on either foot, and it feels like a long time before you part.

Eventually, he pats your cheek in a question and you shake your head. “It’s a long story. I’m… I need to ask about Rhino.”

Shrew grins at you and bounces on the balls of his feet in a boyish gesture you’ve never seen from him before but makes no move to answer you, in words or his usual fashion. You’re left wondering what there is to grin about, and by the time it dawns on you to turn and look at the sound of a stampede, Rhino is already crushing the both of you to his chest.

Your cry of delight bounces off the platform and out into the ocean as he spins the both of you, and Shrew’s fancy hat goes flying.

Rhino looks fantastic—you hadn’t realized how much training had thinned him until its effects had started to stop and let him be full and real again. He seems bigger than ever and the two of you talk over each other for a moment, both louder than you really need to be, until Shrew breaks it up.

“Jesus, Civet, you look awful!” Rhino says, and you smack his chest to hear the healthy hollow sound. “Hey, what’s that look for? You made it, you’re alright!”

“I missed you! I was so worried—” You bite back on what might turn into tears, although he’s still blurry when you put a hand to his face. “You’re okay?”

“I’m okay.” He covers your hand with his and leans into it. “Got a big lecture from the Boss and I’m taking things slow. What about you?”

“Ask me another time. I’m good, though. I’m really, really good, now that I’ve seen you guys.”

He nods, grinning as he reaches out to ruffle your hair and maybe shake you off balance for old times’ sake. The two of you tease Shrew about his hat and eventually get chased off to the cafeteria by Screaming Wallaby, who has it on good authority that the middle of the Intel platform isn’t designated for tearful reunions.

The three of you eat lunch together and you take it entirely too quickly, but the hurt feels nice. Food tastes incredible . Rhino makes a big deal out of trying to get you to eat more while Shrew just eats what he puts on your plate to spare you, and Golden Buzzard shows up to chase you guys out of the caf for being too damn loud—you guys aren’t even training anymore, shove off! Do some work!

You know more or less where to find Shrew, and Rhino’s been working with Base Dev on construction. It’s not exactly the punishing special ops career he thought he was destined for, but he enjoys the engineering, the building of one thing after another. Waving them off doesn’t feel like saying goodbye forever, although in some ways, the sight of them is bittersweet. You know Shrew will flourish in the Ocelot Unit, and to see Rhino in the sun and alive is everything you could ask for. You’ll always have the two of them, no matter how far away they might be, and you hope that they’ll hold onto you, too.

It leaves you alone and at loose ends. Buzzard was right, it was time you began work in earnest. Training was over.

You give yourself time to think over what you would like to do while you go through a physical at the Med platform. Canary drops by specifically to twist your ear for not coming sooner, but it’s good-natured. He looks surprised by your zeal, but it doesn’t stop him from putting you on a bunch of supplements and scheduling an impending check-up in one fell swoop.

The day is winding down and you don’t want to keep anyone at Command later than they want to be there, so you decline a sweetly offered Jeep ride from Ibex in favor of the walk. The ocean smells as if nothing had changed, and the wind is still hot. You can stretch your fingers out and feel it carved between them, warm and limitless.

It doesn’t surprise you to know Commander Miller’s still hard at work, but it is surprising when he calls you in to deal with your assignment personally. His office is a landscape of ravines and mountains made of paperwork and books, so you stay standing and let him shuffle around looking for your records.

It’s a thicker file than the last time you saw it, but he only has to scan the first page. “Training’s done with Ocelot, then? Took him long enough.”

“Yes, sir. Ready to go.”

“He normally makes placement suggestions, but we weren’t graced with any this time.” Miller cross-references something with another piece of paper before squinting up at you. “Your stats would make you an asset just about anywhere on base. Although…”

“Hm?”  

“You’ve got the clearance and approval if you want to join the Ocelot Unit. You don’t have to, Moth—Brass Moth is the same.” He clears his throat. “Don’t let him bully you into it if you’d rather do something else.”

Your gaze drifts out the window, and in the time it took you to make your way through the day, the sky had turned from blue to orange. The sun is setting right behind the R&D platform. Yellow. “It’s my choice?”

“Yeah, Civet.” Miller sounds off guard. “Whatever you want to do.”

You can see the familiar landscape of Mother Base from where you are, painted against the sea and sky that are always changing, and at the same time, constant. It doesn’t feel like a moment that you’ll need to return to in the future, but you hold it closely all the same.

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah, sir. I’m good.” You move to shift your shoulders back and straighten up, and find that your body is already aligned in confidence. “I’ve made up my mind.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[EPILOGUE] MUCH WAS DECIDED BEFORE YOU WERE BORN

 

“It’s not like you to call me.”

“Not much of a reason to maintain radio silence if you’re going to bulldoze through everything sooner rather than later. Besides, I get sentimental. Are you busy?”

“Not apart from the usual way. Gonna try and change my mind?”

“Might as well try and change the tide. I figure you’ll always do what you want, might as well enjoy the current.”

“Nautical. You really think a visit’ll break him?”

“Probably not. I trust my work. Frankly, I would be more worried about Miller, if I were you.”

“Kaz will adjust. He always has. You can’t expect him not to be angry, you just have to wait for it to blow over.”

“So you’ve said. Repeatedly. I consider it out of my hands, but if he falls through—”

“He won’t.”

If he disappoints you— if either of them do, we won’t be alone out here.”

“You think it’ll come to that? Just got done saying you trust your work.”

“I do. Trust my work, that is. Never hurts to have a few contingency plans in place. Don’t you ever sharpen a knife when you’re bored?”

“Huh. Sounds like you’re just showing off at this point.”

“Well, you’ll have to come and see for yourself, won’t you.”