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Between a Purr and a Roar

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Clinging desperately to Snake’s thermal sneaking suit, perched on the back of a stolen snowmobile, Otacon was chilled to the bone.

The thrill of the escape had worn off at last, the adrenaline rush given way, and now he felt the glacial cold on all sides. In their rush to escape the Shadow Moses facility, Otacon hadn’t had time to put on anything warmer than his usual tattered jeans and sneakers. Normally he hated how cold they kept the computer lab—a necessity with that many server racks, but they were already in Alaska, for Pete's sake—and was embarrassed that he had to wear a huge parka indoors just to stay warm, but for once he was glad that his typical outfit included a giant coat draped over his knobby shoulders.

The rest of him, however, was not so lucky. Winds tore into Otacon from all sides, searching for a successful point of entry. His hands and face were rapidly growing numb, and he resisted the temptation to bury himself in the nape of Snake’s neck, which looked awfully warm under his collar. Or sliding his hands under that vest—

Otacon unwrapped one arm from around Snake’s torso and took off his cold metal glasses, letting the Alaskan tundra fade to a haze on all sides, sky and horizon bleeding into a blanketed void of blinding light. Like the vacuum of space, but inverted white, and without any stars. Glasses on or off, there wasn’t much of a difference. Even his thick lenses couldn’t penetrate the barren wilderness. He put them in his jacket pocket.

Shadow Moses receded into the distance, a memory in the making. Their snowmobile glided across the sea ice, traveling smoothly thanks to Snake’s deft piloting. The engine was quieter than he expected, its low hum occasionally punctuated by the clatter of rocks beneath them.

“Snake? Er... Dave?”

Taking his eyes off the ice for just a moment, Snake quickly glanced sideways at Otacon. “What is it? Everything okay back there?”

“Oh, uh, yeah, I’m fine.” Not entirely true, although he’d manage for now. “But how far until we get to wherever it is we’re going? We’re not really going to Jupiter, are we?”

“Jupiter? Heh.” Even looking straight ahead, Snake turned his head slightly towards Otacon to indicate he was listening. “No, this is a little closer than that. I have a cabin about fifty clicks northwest of here.”

“Clicks?”

“Kilometers. I’m still not used to the civilian thing yet. We’re probably a third of the way there. You said you like dogs, right?”

Otacon did like dogs. He mostly avoided any FOXHOUND members strewn about Shadow Moses (especially Liquid—only a maniac would go shirtless in this weather), but what little companionship he sought was usually from Sniper Wolf and her pack of canines. She wasn’t particularly friendly at first, and her wolfdogs attacked most people on sight. Maybe they could sense something inside him, maybe it was the little treats he’d habitually stashed in his pockets, but eventually the dogs warmed up to Otacon, and their human governess soon followed suit.

When one her dogs gave birth, Sniper Wolf let him visit the litter of newborns in their den. There were six pups in total, blind at first, crying for nourishment and affection. And they were all so soft. He hardly dared to touch them, even with a single finger, but their mother (and the Wolf mother herself) looked on in approval with two sets of piercing eyes. Otacon went back to his tiny, stark room that night and longed for something that warm, longed for the intimacy of someone with teeth and claws that would never be turned against him.

The wolfdogs were all grown by now. And Sniper Wolf herself was no more than a memory and an empty impression in the snow. Her pack of wolves had bayed at the empty moon, bereft of their guardian. At least they still had each other, Otacon thought.

“Hal? You sure you’re feeling okay?” Snake briefly let go of one of the handlebars and squeezed Otacon’s hand, which was becoming increasingly numb while holding Snake’s waist. “The cold getting to you?”

“Oh! Me!” Otacon sputtered. “Y-yeah, I’m alright. Just… zoned out there for a second.” Snake’s glove was smooth against Otacon’s bare skin. He felt a heat rise inside himself.

“We’re lucky that spring is almost here,” Snake said, putting his hand back on the handlebars, “but it’s still cold enough for the sea ice to be intact. The Alaskan winter is pretty brutal, though I’m sure you’ve figured that out by now, since you worked at Shadow Moses.”

“Well… I’m not exactly the outdoorsy type. But you probably guessed that already.”

Even with his glasses off, Otacon could make out the angle of Snake’s sharp jaw against the white brilliance of the tundra. The muscles in Snake’s throat danced in the light as he chuckled dryly, sending small vibrations through Otacon’s body. “You never know. I don’t like to make assumptions about people. Although sometimes I can’t help myself.”

“I suppose that’s fair. I really don’t spend much time outside of the computer lab, except when I visit Wolf. Or… when I used to.” Otacon was silent for a moment. “Even then, though, I would usually freeze my tail off.”

“It’s worse out here on the ice. The wind chill doesn’t help, either. Check the saddlebags on this thing—Mei Ling said she spotted it on a satellite image, so maybe its real owner kept it stocked. Could be a blanket in there or something.”

“Worth a shot, I guess.” Otacon leaned back, keeping one hand firmly placed on Snake’s waist (firmer than it needed to be?), and rummaged through the bags packed on the rear of the snowmobile. He hoped for a space blanket, or maybe some mittens, but all he could find was a box of fish hooks, a few emergency flares, and a half-crushed ration.

“Find anything in there? Any cigs?” Snake asked.

“No! Those are bad for you, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah, so I’ve heard.”

“I couldn't find a blanket or anything, but there's a ration if you want one. Feeling hungry?” Otacon held it out in front of Snake, as if its tantalizing scent would tempt him to eat it.

“Nah, I already had, like, four rations today. You should try one though. They're pretty tasty.”

“Okay, I’ll bite.” Otacon was, admittedly, rather famished. How long had it been since he'd last eaten? What he wouldn't give for an instant ramen, so hot the steam fogged up his glasses…. But a ration didn’t sound too bad, and it might take his mind off of the cold.

Otacon could barely tear off the wrapper with his numb fingers, which were already clumsy on a good day, but eventually he opened the ration with enough force to send a flurry of crumbs flying in all directions. He’d been expecting something similar to a chocolate bar, but this was more like a dry, dense biscuit. Otacon bit off a little piece, which immediately expanded into a huge mouthful with the texture and taste of sand.

“Ah,” Otacon sputtered, “it’s, uh—”

“You like it?” Snake asked, amused.

“It's good, it's good. Very, uh, filling.”

“That's alright, you don't have to pretend. They're not for everyone. Something of an acquired taste.”

Otacon didn't know how or when he'd acquire a taste for that block of sawdust, but he was relieved Snake wasn't going to make him finish eating it. He stashed the rest of the ration in his other jacket pocket.

“We're pretty close to my cabin,” Snake said. “Just hang tight a little longer.”

“The chill doesn't feel as bad anymore. I think I'm finally acclimating.”

“Don't be so sure. One of the last stages of hypothermia is suddenly feeling warm.”

Otacon knew about hypothermia and paradoxical undressing, but he didn't feel particularly compelled to start taking his clothes off. Or so he thought… until Snake took Otacon's hands between his gloves and rubbed them together for a few breathless moments, recklessly allowing the snowmobile to go unmanned, and suddenly the idea of removing some of the layers between them didn't sound so bad.

Maybe Otacon really was losing his mind from the cold.

“Is this the part where I start panicking?’ Otacon asked.

“Not yet. You'll be okay as long as you don't fall asleep. Then you're a goner for sure. We better keep you talking and alert.”

“Uh, okay…. So, this weather we're having.”

Snake groaned.

Small talk was not Otacon's strong suit. “Well, do you have any siblings?”

“I did,” Snake said. “Not anymore, though.”

Well, shit. What an idiotic thing to say. It's like he'd asked Cain if he was an only child.

“Oh, jeez, I—I'm so sorry,” Otacon blustered, “I’m such an idiot, I wasn't thinking! Obviously, with Liquid and everything…. I'm really, really sorry.”

“You don't have to apologize. It's okay.” Snake’s voice was surprisingly soft.

“No, no, it's my fault, I'm sure you're going through a lot right now, and I just had to reopen the wound with my careless talk.”

“Really, I'm not mad. If anything, I'm mostly relieved to be putting distance between us and Shadow Moses.”

His shame had given way to curiosity, and Otacon was surprised that Snake was so nonchalant about witnessing the death of his twin brother. “You're not grieving?”

“Of course I am, but I don't mourn him more than I mourn any other fallen man. I do feel deep sorrow for every casualty on the battlefield, especially the ones that I killed.” Snake paused, letting the silence settle on his words. “But Liquid was my brother in name only. We weren't raised together. To him I was no more than a rival, an enemy he'd created out of abstract ideas about who we were destined to be. He was my blood, but not my kin.”

“That makes sense, I guess. And the opposite is true, too. Sometimes people can be your family even if they're not related to you.”

“Mmhrnmg.” Snake grunted in agreement. “You're right. Frank—well, Gray Fox—was like a brother to me. We served in FOXHOUND together back in the 90s. But he deserted our unit and we ended up on opposite sides of a conflict. I left him for dead in Zanzibar Land, and yet he still gave his life to save me from Metal Gear REX.”

“I'm sorry.”

Snake said nothing.

“Uh, I have a sister,” Otacon offered.

“Yeah?”

“Well, not by blood. My dad married her mom, b-but we were really close as kids. And I wasn't there to help her when she needed it most. I don't think she'll ever forgive me for that.”

“How can you be sure?” Snake asked.

“We haven't spoken in years. I… I don't even know what happened to her.”

“Maybe your dad knows where she is.”

“Him? No, he's dead,” Otacon stated bitterly. There was a hint of remorse in his voice, but only a hint.

“Oh. I'm sorry.”

“Don't be. My dad was a real piece of work. But it's sort of my fault he's not alive.” Or that's what Huey had claimed with his dying breath. Otacon was just a kid at the time, caught up in forces beyond his control. Try telling that to his father, though. Or Emma.

“If it makes you feel any better, I killed my dad, no way around it,” Snake said. “But at the time, I had no idea we were blood relatives.”

“Big Boss, right? And you're his… clone?” Otacon broached, unsure how to phrase it.

“Yep. Me and Liquid are both clones of Big Boss. Although I didn't know that until today. To me, Big Boss was just my commander, but that made killing him even worse.” Snake paused. “I didn't know he was my father, but he was family all the same.”

“Oh, jeez. I-I'm really sorry, Snake. Dave, I mean. That's a lot to deal with. I can't even imagine.”

“That's the life of a soldier. Leaving a trail of destruction in my wake. Liquid, Big Boss, Gray Fox, Meryl, the list goes on. All of them were my family, friends, conrades. People I should have fought to protect, but who died because of me....” Snake's voice dropped as he trailed off, sounding even throatier than usual.

Otacon was deathly afraid that Snake might start crying.

“It's not your fault, Snake,” Otacon reassured him, “and we don't know for sure if Meryl is dead. She could still be okay. Sure, Ocelot likes to torture people, but I don't think even he would just kill her like that.” It wasn’t a lie. Otacon had had some run-ins with Ocelot, and even though the old coot scared the hell out of him, he didn’t strike Otacon as someone who got off on killing people, only someone who got off on hurting them.

“You really think so? You're not just trying to make me feel better?” Snake asked suspiciously.

“No, honest! I know what those guys are like. I mostly kept my distance, but I did work for them, you know. Liquid was probably just trying manipulate you into thinking she was dead.”

“Hrmmph. I guess you're right.” Snake gazed into into the distance, but at something far away, unseeable. “And I'm sorry about Sniper Wolf. I know she was your friend.”

“Well, ‘friend’ isn't the right word. More of… an acquaintance, I guess. But that sounds too formal, like we were work buddies or something. I guess the best way to put it is that we had an alliance. A truce.” Otacon thought of the mother wolf, vulnerable in her den, letting him stroke the ears of the smallest pup.

“I get it. But you liked her, and I think she liked you, too. You were kindred spirits, in a way.” Snake sounded remorseful, even more so than when describing the death of his own father and brother. “She deserved a better life, and a better death.”

“You did what you had to do. She shot you first. And she hurt Meryl really bad! But—” Otacon paused, choosing his words carefully. “I also think Wolf was ready to die a long time ago. This is going to sound funny… but if anyone had to do it, had to kill her, then I'm glad it was you, at least. You took the time to understand her, even as an enemy.”

“It's what we owe each other as humans. She wasn't born my enemy. Being a soldier will turn you into an unfeeling machine, force you to see your adversaries as just another target, but I try to cling to one last shred of humanity. It's all I have left.”

“That's not true!” Otacon protested.

“You're right. I also have my huskies.” Snake turned to look at Otacon and grinned. It was the first real smile Snake had shared with him in their brief time together. Otacon secretly wished he’d been wearing his glasses in that moment, to see Snake’s rare expression of joy in perfect clarity. Even with his poor vision, though, it was enough to ignite a small heat within Otacon's belly, a beacon of warmth amongst a long-frozen climate.

“Actually, we're almost here,” Snake added. “Can you see it up ahead?”

Otacon scrambled for his glasses, which had warmed up a bit inside his pocket. Peering over the breadth of Snake's shoulder, two buildings came into focus amongst the frost and rocks.

“Is that where you live? The grey building with a little shed behind it?”

“No, that's my cabin,” Snake said, pointing straight ahead towards the tiny shack. He then pointed to the wide, flat building next to it. “That one is for my dogs.”

Before Otacon could say anything, Snake went hard on the throttle, sending their vehicle careening over the ice. A cacophony of barking dogs rose across the distance as they closed the last few hundred meters of space, and they finally pulled right up to the door of the cabin, which had a sloping roof and crooked windows.

Snake hopped off the snowmobile with ease, landing in the snow in an impressive display of agility. Before Otacon could attempt to peel his stiff legs off of the seat, Snake offered him some help: one glove on his waist, one to hold his hand. Otacon was too embarrassed to say anything, but not too proud to admit that he needed the assistance. He took a few wobbly steps, tightly gripping Snake's hand to support him before feeling steady enough to let go. Remaining upright in the slush was tough, but the potential humiliation of falling proved to be motivation enough.

Once upright, Snake handed Otacon a key. “You can head inside. I just wanna check on the pack real quick, make sure they're okay.”

“Is it okay if I come along?” Otacon didn't particularly want to be alone, especially not in another man's house. A man whom he had just met, no less.

“Of course. I'll make it quick.”

Snake led them to the concrete building behind the cabin, which was partially surrounded by a tall, wooden fence. This enclosed area was swarming with wriggling huskies, a rippling blanket of grey and white fur. The dogs jumped gleefully, clamoring to see their master once again.

Snake lit up at the sight of his huskies. “Hello! Hello there, beautiful! Did you miss me? Did you miss your papa while he was gone? Come here,” he crooned. Snake opened a gate, and the dogs came swarming out, surrounding him with enough force to topple a lesser man. Otacon couldn't believe he was witnessing the legendary Solid Snake make kissy noises at a bunch of big puppies.

“This is my friend Hal,” Snake said. “You all better be nice to him.”

One of the dogs, which had a gorgeous coat and crystal blue eyes, trotted over to Otacon and began to sniff his jacket.

“Hey, I think he likes you already!’

“I think he likes the ration in my pocket,” Otacon said.

Snake laughed. “Maybe you're right. I don't like to spoil them with human food, but you can feed it to him if you want. This is a special occasion.”

Otacon unwrapped the rest of the ration and held it in his cupped palm. The husky eagerly snapped up the treat—a treat to a dog who didn't know better, anyway—with his hot doggy tongue. Even though he could feel the husky's teeth against his hand, Otacon could sense how gentle these dogs were raised to be.

“Aw, you're a good boy, aren't you,” Otacon said, scratching the husky's soft head. The husky wagged his tail in agreement. He felt warmer, both by the presence of a furry animal and from the satisfaction of winning its affection. It was so easy with dogs. Not like people at all.

Snake shepherded Otacon and all of the dogs inside the fenced area and closed the gate behind them. Producing another, smaller key from a hidden compartment in his sneaking suit, Snake opened the door to the compound. Some dogs darted in through the doorway, while others slipped inside the doggy doors along the lower wall. A few milled about at their feet, sniffing Snake and his guest.

“I just want to make sure they have enough food and water,” Snake said. “They're pretty self-sufficient, for the most part, but they get antsy if I don't take them out enough.”

“How do you walk this many dogs at once?”

“You use a sled.” Snake gestured towards a wall of tack and ropes. “I'm a musher. That's what I've been up to when I'm not busy playing soldier.”

Otacon watched Snake toss around huge sacks of kibble, saw how his muscles curl under the burden. For the first time in ages, Otacon started to sweat. The air was hot and thick with the smell of hounds. Snake uncoiled a line of hose and filled the huskies’ trough with water, and a few dogs drank, lapping up the cool drops. Otacon's own mouth felt chalky with the memory of the ration he'd eaten earlier. He fought the urge to drop on all fours and drink beside the huskies, to fulfill his primal desire to be thoroughly quenched.

“That should be good for now,” Snake said. “Tomorrow we can take them out for a run together. I'll show you the ropes to sled driving.”

Tomorrow. Otacon hadn't thought that far in advance, but it was a good word to hear. Almost as nice as hearing Snake say 'together.’

Snake locked up the doghouse, giving farewell pats and kisses to his dogs on his way out, and the men finally made their way towards the human living quarters. Otacon suddenly felt the weight of the day's exhaustion catch up with him, and he thought he might collapse.

“Just a fair warning,” Snake sheepishly said, “I wasn't expecting guests. The only other person who's ever been to my cabin is Master Miller, and this place is like a palace compared to the pigsty he lives in. Or lived in, I guess. Anyway.” He cleared his throat and unlocked the door. “This is it.”

Otacon braced himself, expecting the worst, but the cabin interior was clean, if not somewhat plain. The walls and floor were bare wood, but a single light bulb hung from the ceiling. A blackened potbelly stove stood in one corner, next to a single bed (would they have to share? Otacon pushed the thought out of his mind...) and a stool with some clothes draped over it. Some of the furniture, including a dresser and table, appeared to be handmade out of hewn wood. Solid craftsmanship. There was a little kitchenette with a sink and an icebox, and even curtains on the windows. It just needed a throw rug and some picture frames and the place would be downright cozy.

“It's nice,” Otacon said. He meant it, too. “Nicer than my room at Shadow Moses. Want me to leave my shoes by the door?”

“If you don't mind.” Snake plopped down on the floor and began peeling off his boots. “It's not much, but this is what I call home.”

“I like it. It suits you.”

“There's two rooms in the back, behind that door. One is the storeroom, and it's mostly full of weapons. I don't recommend going in there. The other is the bathroom. There's actually a flush toilet and a shower, and you can even get hot water. It takes forever to heat up, and you only get a couple minutes before it gets cold again, but it's better than nothing.”

“I'm impressed,” Otacon said. “And I’m relieved to hear there isn’t an outhouse situation going on. Indoor plumbing is one of the better technological advances humans have come up with.”

“Little comforts add up when you're out in the middle of nowhere. I have some solar panels, but those aren't super reliable in this climate, so there’s also a backup generator. I try to keep the electricity use to a minimum, though. A kerosene lamp is your best friend during those long Alaskan nights.” Snake nodded towards an old-timey lantern sitting on a hook next to the door. “Every couple weeks I run the dogs into the nearest town and pick up some supplies. You can hunt big game or do odd jobs to barter for goods, and nobody asks too many questions. The place is full of drifters, so I don't stand out at all.”

“Does it get lonely out here?” Otacon asked.

Snake shrugged. “My dogs are good to me, but they don't talk much.” He stood up, finished unlacing his boots, and began fiddling with the wood stove.

Even among the commotion of Shadow Moses, Otacon knew loneliness. Not solitude, not when you share a bunk bed with another scientist, but isolation? Loneliness? How could he not?

“Still cold?” Snake asked.

“Not like I was before. But my hands are pretty numb.”

“Sounds like some mild frostbite. You just need to warm up. I'll get some water going for a shower.” Snake walked over to the dresser. “Uh, feel free to wear some of my clothes. It'll be warmer than what you have, and probably cleaner too—no offense. We're about the same height, so everything should fit okay.”

Otacon padded over to the dresser in his sock feet. The cabin slowly began to warm from the crackling fire, and he rifled through Snake's wardrobe. Mostly outerwear and other practical garments, and a pile of bandanas next to carefully-bundled underwear, but he was surprised to see a variety of sweatpants and pajamas.

He held up a pair of lounge pants covered in dog bones as Snake re-entered the room. “These yours?”

If he hadn't been wearing his glasses, Otacon would have missed the fact that Snake was blushing, patches of red spreading across his scowling face. Another milestone. “They're, uh, nice and warm. It's a survivalist technique.”

“Uh huh. Real tactical print,” Otacon teased. “I was expecting camouflage.”

“Camo isn't my thing. Real stealth doesn't rely on visual tricks, you know.” Quickly changing the subject, Snake added, “The shower's almost ready. There's a towel in there too. I'll give you some privacy.”

Choosing the bone-print pants, a plain tee, some wool socks, and plaid boxers (trying not to think about the implication of wearing someone else’s underwear), Otacon set his glasses on the table next to the bed and headed off to the bathroom. He peeled off his filthy lab clothes and threw them in a basket next to the shower—Snake was shaping up to be surprisingly domestic—and stepped into the stream of water. It was hot, as promised. Though he was tempted to just stand idly under the steamy cascade forever, Otacon knew he was racing against the clock and immediately got to work.

He managed to scrub his body, wash his hair, and got halfway through a second lather on his body before the water abruptly turned icy cold. Otacon inadvertently let out a yelp and finished rinsing the soap off his arms before drying off. Snake's towel was plush, blue and white striped, and large enough to cover Otacon from his shoulders to his knees. But waiting would only make it worse, and he bared himself to the cold before frantically dressing in the borrowed clothes. Even though there was no mirror in the bathroom, Otacon could still tell that the shirt and pants were way too big. He may have been about Snake's height, if not slightly taller, but Snake easily had fifty pounds on him. Otacon's tiny frame hardly filled the clothes as intended, but the pants were soft and the socks were warm.

He returned to the main room and found Snake sitting at the table, an unlit cigarette in his mouth.

“I didn't want to smoke indoors, in case that would bother you,” Snake explained, apologetic, putting the cigarette away. He held out a metal water bottle. “Here. This is water from the well out back, which isn’t potable by itself, but I purified it with iodine drops.”

“Oh, thanks!” Otacon unscrewed the lid and took a swig. It was awfully cold, but very refreshing.

“How was the shower?”

“It was exactly what I needed. My hands are still kind of numb, but I feel better overall.”

“Good. I'm gonna hop in, myself.”

“Uh, there's no hot water left. Sorry about that.” Was he supposed to have saved some for Snake? There was barely enough for one person, let alone two.

“No worries,” Snake said, “I'm used to it by now. Nothing like a little bracing cold to keep you on your toes.” He grabbed a couple of things from the dresser and headed off to shower.

Otacon sat on the bed, which was springy and covered in an abundance of blankets. The evening sun slanted through the windows, already setting this early at such a northern latitude. Sparks danced around the fire, and a few leapt from his heart. He hadn't felt this kind of hospitality in years, even in his own home. Sure, he'd left behind everyone he knew and everything he owned, but it wasn't like he had much of a choice or felt particularly happy there. Starting from scratch wasn't so bad, even if he had to abandon all of the model kits he'd poured hours into—

And then Snake walked in, wearing only boxers and a t-shirt. It was the same type of shirt that Otacon was wearing, but where Otacon drowned in the too-big cotton blend, Snake held strong. His broad torso commanded the attention of every woven fiber, as well as the attention of Otacon himself. Not that the sneaking suit had left much to the imagination, but seeing and imagining were entirely different things. It didn’t help that Snake looked extra naked without his trademark bandana, his hair now free to hang in little tufts.

Otacon let out a small noise, like a balloon softly deflating.

“That felt good. All the blood washes right off.” Snake yawned. “And I'm beat.”

“You're not… cold? In that?” Otacon asked, red-faced.

“Me? Nah, the stove keeps me warm enough.”

“I see.” And he did see.

Snake sat next to him on the bed.

“You doing okay though?” Snake took Otacon's hands in his own, this time without gloves on. It was the first time they'd had skin-to-skin contact. Snake's hands were wide enough to completely encompass Otacon's, which were thin and delicate, almost brittle compared to Snake's thick fingers. “Your hands still feel cold.”

Something welled up inside of Otacon. “I hadn't really noticed,” he whispered.

Maybe it was the cold, the exhaustion, the shock of the day's events. Maybe it was the touch—the first time he'd been touched with such pure motives in so many years, raw and chapped and calloused yet so, so gentle. Maybe it was the cabin, being the only two people around for miles and miles, alone in their little space, untouched by the rest of the world. Maybe it was the plush husky on the bed, worn and tired but full of love and stuffing, somehow not out of place in the room of this deadly soldier, a trained killer who was now rubbing little circles into Otacon's finger pads to encourage better circulation.

Maybe it was just how he was, how he always had been. But Otacon broke down crying, a torrent of sobs unleashed into this small room in a dusky corner of Alaska. He sat folded into himself, hunched over his cocooned hands, felt blood rushing into corners that had been oxygen-starved for so long, and he wept. Snake patiently went to work massaging, caressing, articulating every inch of Otacon's hands, driving back the frostbite that had threatened to settle in for good, until at last he intertwined Otacon's fingers among his own.

“It's okay now,” Snake said, his voice full of understanding. “They're warm again.”

Otacon buried his head in the hollow of Snake's neck, their slumped bodies falling over against the bedframe, and sung his song of aching. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry,” he wailed, dampening the front of Snake's shirt, shuddering into the chest of a man he'd only met yesterday.

And Snake, using his last shred of humanity as a bandage to treat someone else’s pain, gently kissed Otacon's forehead. His stubble was rough, but his lips were tender against Otacon's worry lines. Otacon looked up, squinting through his tears and uncorrected vision, and could see that Snake's eyes were glistening wet in the firelight.

Otacon's heart lurched, its beat reaching a crescendo. More than a purr, but less than a roar—something in between.

“I'm sorry, too,” Snake said, cradling Otacon against him in the bed. Snake lowered them both into a horizontal position, lying sideways on top of the covers, and held Otacon's back pressed to his front, for once not alone in his too-big bed. Otacon could feel Snake's body with its hard angles and lazy curves pressed against him from behind, radiating warmth on all sides. They laid in tangled silence, Snake idly stroking Otacon’s damp curls as the sky outside darkened.

Some time passed like this, with Otacon lying perfectly still, every muscle aching, before either of them spoke.

“Thank you,” Otacon sniffled.

“I thought you were asleep by now.”

“No, not yet.” He turned onto his other side to face Snake, who shyly cast his gaze aside. “I mean it, though. Thank you. For saving me from Shadow Moses, for the clothes. For letting me into your life like this. For the...” Unable to say the word aloud, Otacon settled for recreating the act itself, and leaned up to kiss Snake’s forehead in turn. “...for that.”

Snake reddened. “Of course,” he said gruffly. “Thank you for letting me into your life, too. For being someone I’d let into mine. I’ve been alone for a long, long time.”

“Me too.” Otacon took Snake’s hands and held them up to his chest, guiding one palm to rest on his frantic heart. “This is going to sound crazy, but I feel like… I already know you from somewhere. You know what I mean?”

“Like in a past life?”

“Not exactly. More like different versions of ourselves. And this is a continuation of that.”

“Hrmm. Maybe. But I don’t know, I think I’d rather have a fresh start.”

“Fine by me,” Otacon said. “Let’s do it right this time. I do have one request, though.”

“And what’s that?”

“Can we please get under the covers? I’m freezing out here!”

“Wow,” Snake groaned, feigning annoyance, “am I not warm enough for you? You’re wearing more clothes than I am!”

“We can’t all be Mr. Survival Expert, roughing out here it in Alaska....”

Laughing, Snake pulled the covers up around them. They fell into a pile of arms and legs, all boundaries apparently gone between them. A waxing moon hung in the window, illuminating the edges of the world.

“If I’d known being a fugitive was this cozy,” Snake joked, “I would’ve done it a long time ago.”

“It’s never too late to start, I guess,” Otacon replied. And he started by relaxing, letting himself fully sink into the hollow of Snake’s outstretched body—against all the odds, finally home at last.