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It has been said, 'time heals all wounds.' I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone. – Rose Kennedy

 

The cigar falls from the other man’s hand. Warm smoke emanates from it, reminding Snake of the day they met: he, an anxious young rookie; the other, his commanding officer, hardened by years on the battlefield. Amid the white flowers and gravestones, Snake picks up the cigar, and draws a wistful drag of reminiscence from it…

 

…“I heard that something happened on your mission today.” Despite him staring intently outside the window, Snake feels as though Big Boss’ single eye is scrutinizing his own. “I know you’re new, but that exercise is routine. No room for mistakes.”

 

Snake examines the floor of the sparsely furnished office, trying not to cough from the heady aroma of cigar smoke. “I was nerv—you’re right. I should’ve known better.” He feels a faint warmth creep into his cheeks, wishing he could hide, or at least avoid the intense glare from the hero he has only heard stories about. “It’s not like anyone was hurt…”

 

“What?” begins Big Boss, turning around and slamming his hands on the desk. “Someone has to be hurt before you’ll take an assignment seriously?”

 

“No! That’s not what I—”

 

“Sir. No, sir, is what you mean to say. How uncharacteristic of you, from what I’ve read.”

 

The rookie imagines a thousand ways to apologize, but they all sound awkward, so he remains silent. Suddenly, his commander draws back and seems to give a rare smile, or something close to it, and comes out from behind the desk. “It’s alright. As long as you…” He steps towards Snake, cornering him by resting his arms on the wall behind the younger man.

 

Snake feels Big Boss’ knee pressing uncomfortably between his legs, and his heart threatens to beat right out of his chest. The closest thing he has ever had to a role model is this close to his face, and the childish impulse to shut his eyes seizes him, to make the Big Bad go away, but what he really wishes for is just the opposite.

 

When he opens his eyes again, Big Boss has not gone away, and is instead, intimately close. “…Don’t screw up again, rookie,” he finishes. With the hint of a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth, he adds, “What—did you think I was going to kiss you?”

 

The warmth in his cheeks now a furious blaze, Snake replies hotly, “No! Sir.” He hopes that the other man will say something, anything, about how that exchange was just a joke, or maybe that it wasn’t, but Big Boss has already turned away. “Well, then. Get out there and show me you deserve your name…Snake.”

 

---

 

The days at FOXHOUND turn into weeks, and the weeks into months, blending into one another like colors on an artist’s palette, the canvas accentuated by more than a kiss. As the searing white pain tears into him for the first time, Snake clenches his teeth, gripping the desk in his commander’s office in futile hopes that the wood digging into his flesh will distract him from the agony. He wishes the other man would stop, or at least slow down enough to let him recover. But if it never goes further than this, he doesn’t know when the next time will be. If there is one.

 

“N…no…” Snake gasps, his hips bucking involuntarily into the older man behind him. “It h…h…” He breaks off, panting.

 

“Do you want to stop?” Big Boss pauses just long enough to let Snake get a word in edgewise.

 

“No…don’t…” Snake struggles to finish his sentence, as another thrust forces a moan out of him. He feels the gloved hands steadying his waist, and braces himself for another momentous push. It never comes.

 

“W-what…are you…?” he manages, his voice shaking and unsteady, like the rest of him. It is already embarrassing enough to be reduced to a drooling, teary mess in front of his CO, without the added injury of being deemed inadequate.

 

Big Boss finds a sturdy chair nearby, and leans back against the desk. He simply nods and says, “Lower yourself onto me.”

 

“…No, I don’t like this…” A cautious, almost apprehensive resistance.

 

“Slowly.” There is no room for argument.

 

Snake does as he is told, and finds that the pain is no longer a keen blade, but has dulled to that of an aching benevolence. Despite being confused at the change of pace, he is grateful for this small kindness. Perhaps it is another of Big Boss’ whims, and cannot be called mercy, but Snake appreciates it all the same.

 

Later, on that same wooden instrument of lust and the only heat he has ever known, Snake will come to be taken again and again. Never against his will, but drawn, like a moth to flame. However, that small kindness afforded him the first time never occurs again…

 

---

 

…Snake coughs haggardly, the cigar demanding its toll from his worn body. He hastily draws the remaining comfort he can from it, the memories now coming only seconds apart…

 

…In the heart of Outer Heaven, bullets are being fired, Big Boss dodges them between crates, and Snake learns that the mentor he trusted was the mastermind behind the very situation he was sent in to contain. Anguish swells up inside from this treachery, threatening to crush him. Before it can, Snake exhales a mournful breath. He pushes away the memory of Big Boss’ uncharacteristic empathy in his office all those years ago, and shoots the fatal bullet.

 

In the Zanzibar Fortress, Snake fumbles with his makeshift flamethrower. He gathers the courage to use it against the man bearing down on him with a machine gun—the man who claims to be his father. A time existed when he, greener in the ways of the world, would only have been too glad to call his commander that. But now he musters all his willpower into engaging the flamethrower and Big Boss perishes once again, by Snake’s own hand.

 

In 2014, among the petals of white in the Arlington National Cemetery, Snake kneels with an aching back, not the reminder of some lustful fantasy but the consequence of premature aging in the cloning process. He discovers that as the new FOXDIE virus inside him uproots the old, so too does it annihilate the last vestige of the Patriot era. He has erased Big Boss two times before. Today will mark the third.

 

Each time, Snake is less emotionally vested than the last. Still, Big Boss remains in his memories, in all places, all times. Wounding the younger soldier of fortune through his wit. His embrace. His betrayal…and his death.

 

…The vibrant embers on the cigar they shared fade to black, and Snake drops the remnants into his smoke canister. He wonders if Big Boss came to meet him despite knowing he would only meet his own demise. As if he knew this would be the last greatest wound he could inflict, to burn him into his memory forever. With a sigh and a deep sense of longing for his tumultuous yet halcyon days, Snake flicks the canister lid shut.

 

And hopes, that in death, Big Boss was finally able to flee the cage he called Liberty.