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"Boss, have you completely lost your mind?!"

There was a muffled, apparently chillingly calm response to the contrary, considering that the first man's immediate reaction was to swear while he struck at something hard. The nearby wall, based on the sound of it. "You conniving son of a bitch!"

Hand hovering above the office door, the young recruit gave pause to knock. It sounded like a bad time in there, but he was requested to see his CO immediately, no matter that it was long past midnight. The majority of '95 FOXHOUND recruits were long fast asleep; having to wake up bright and early at 0500 hours to begin their daily training all over again.

Making a decision and sticking with it, he gave two brief, loud, knocks.

Both voices were suddenly muffled behind closed doors, the second rising in an authoritative effort to calm the first enraged one. After a moment of silence, the second voice gruffly proclaimed, "Come in."

"You wanted to see me, sir?" Solid Snake entered the office of his FOXHOUND commanding officer, giving a smart salute. He was surprised to see the "Hell Master" himself standing next to Big Boss's desk.

Rumor had it his instructor refused to get prosthetic replacements for his missing right arm and left leg until five years after the fact. He had volunteered the information himself one training session, something about not allowing himself to forget the pain, although Snake didn't know just what his instructor had been through to receive such horrifying injuries to begin with. Regardless, Snake had enjoyed Master Miller's company just fine—despite the difficult training he'd enforced—and the feeling seemed happily mutual.

"At ease," Big Boss replied with the nonchalant wave of a hand, giving Snake the cue to take his seat, all while the young man tried not to glance too nervously between his superior officers.

The air was thick was tension, it was pretty obvious they were arguing only moments before about...something. One of their rumored rare fights, as the long time FOXHOUND recruits would call it, Snake supposed.

Miller was doing his damnedest to avoid looking the Boss in his eye, while Big Boss seemed lost in thought, pretending to busy himself by reading over some documents, an unlit cigar sticking out of the corner of his mouth. Snake didn't dare ask what had gone down. Not only would it have been extremely disrespectful, but the awkward situation wasn't his business whatsoever.

"Excuse me, Boss.", Miller interjected, his otherwise shaky voice holding back anger as he headed for the door. "Kaz.", the Boss gently began, his trench coat falling around his CO uniform as he stood—in an effort to stop Miller from leaving—but Kaz's aviator-clad eyes shot back a deadly glare. Big Boss grew silent, reclaiming his seat.

It was obvious Kaz didn't want John to call him by that nickname anymore, but too late to break old habits formed over a twenty-one year old friendship. While Big Boss could understand why Kaz was mad over their current fight, couldn't Kaz find it in his heart to forgive John for the overall unpleasantness surrounding 1984? Nothing between them had changed, at least in John's mind.

Maybe they could talk privately later, but as things stood now, it was useless. Best to give up.

Kaz was just about through playing his part, hoping the sickness in his stomach would settle until he returned to his own room. His little "chat" with Sna—with Big Boss certainly didn't decrease his feelings of being just about done, with him and FOXHOUND.

Perhaps it was time to retire already? Miller glanced at Snake, staring out of...pity? Concern? Snake couldn't begin to fathom the reasons behind it, but the pained look Miller gave the young man was certainly unnerving.

"See you later, David.", Hell Master feigned calm while shutting the office door tightly behind him. Something about his tone...It almost sounded like a permanent farewell. Weird.

"David…" Master and Big Boss were the only two who called Snake by his real name whenever the situation called for it, be it reprimand or praise. Everybody else at FOXHOUND just knew him by his codename, Solid Snake. David would be lying if he didn't admit the alleged special treatment by his superior officers felt pretty good, although he felt undeserving of such treatment all the same. He was a rookie who joined at the start of the year, just what made him so special amongst all the other recruits on base?

While Snake had performed brilliantly in training with the other men—even against "Hell Master”—he could never best Big Boss himself. Understandably so, given the Boss's status as a legendary war hero. Still...there were moments that Boss seemed to go especially hard on Snake, and only Snake.

It was an honor to personally train with the legend, very few of the recruits and soldiers were allowed, but... Why would Big Boss seem to occasionally glare at Snake's moments of rest during CQC training? Or push Snake to the point of nearly passing out during the basic workouts, such as push ups?

Big Boss was well-known for his unorthodox methods in winning on the battlefield, so perhaps it was special training to become just as skilled? Maybe even some unknown personal grudge? The latter wouldn't have made any sense, seeing as David never met the man before FOXHOUND. He would've remembered, growing up as a child to hear stories about the legend, secretly looking forward to the day he'd join the military and hopefully cross paths...

"Sorry you had to see that.", Big Boss kindly offered while reaching for the lighter on his desk, the fragrant scent of cigar smoke filling the room. Besides a bed and desk larger than other high-ranking FOXHOUND staff, nobody would've guessed this simple room belonged to the CO. A single white Star of Bethlehem stood in a vase on his desk. Snake momentarily wondered why it was just the one.

Some personal furnishings at least made it apparent: Various army photographs from Costa Rica alongside military achievements from the '60s and '70s via countless U.S. Government organizations plastered the walls, yet strangely enough, there wasn't too much from the 1980s. Snake recalled hearing that Big Boss was in a nine year coma from 1975 to 1984. He figured such a stressful event would make anyone want to take a breather, at least for a little while.

Filing away his personal concerns for a later time, Snake managed a faint smile. "Not at all, sir."

He straightened up in his chair to maintain a good impression, clearing his throat as the cigar smoke filled his mouth and nose. Too bad Snake didn't have his smokes on hand...

Getting straight to the point, his Boss inquired: "You've heard all about my first solo survival mission, yes? I was only twenty-nine at the time."

Snake didn't reply right away, his brain scrambling to remember the names of that two-part mission his CO would occasionally mention to the men. Missions Big Boss never gave too many personal details about. The only detail Snake really knew is one mission happened to be when Big Boss had lost his right eye; blinded by muzzle flash. "The Virtuous Mission and Operation Snake Eater, sir?"

Let the legends and myths surrounding him that Zero made back in the day—however true or false they were—do the work. Let the legend he and the Phantom were building together, do the work. Big Boss was past the point of caring. As long as he and the Phantom could change the world together, that was what mattered in the end.

"Yup." It was a little surreal when Big Boss would speak so casually towards him in private. Yet again, part of his apparent special treatment. As if the man had known David his entire young life. "Point being, I'm deploying you on your first mission—the rescue mission for Gray Fox—very soon." He paused for effect, "We need more Intel before Operation Intrude N313 can officially commence." A bold-faced lie, of course.

Although they didn't know each other terribly well, ever since Fox's disappearance into enemy territory, David hoped his brother-in-arms was safe and sound just the same. "That's such an honor. I mean, I'm only twenty-three, sir..."

"Exactly." He smirked, thinking about the real objective. The reason he and Miller had argued so intensely just moments before Snake dropped in. The Phantom would deal with the boy just fine.

The expression on Big Boss's face seemed to go completely unnoticed by Snake—the young man clearly on cloud nine at the opportunity to prove himself to FOXHOUND. "Thank you, Boss!"

"Something to drink?", the Boss offered. Ah, that's right. How could Snake forget? The most important part of any self-respecting military man's office: His private liquor cabinet.

***

Glasses of a French Pinot Noir clank together in cheers.

"Here's to you."

"Hm?" Snake, sipping slowly, was surprised by the flattery. Potential double-meanings behind the phrase spoken by his CO went right over his head.

The wine was excellent, although he preferred the harder stuff. The Boss for his part was obviously not partaking too much—He had an organization to run and needed to rest soon, after all.

"What year is the wine from, sir?"

"From '72.", Big Boss chuckled, remembering Cécile's verbal rampage against Kaz. Despite certain unpleasant issues such as defeating The Boss's AI, and Paz's spy revelation, John's MSF days were honestly some of the happiest he could remember. Everyone's sacrifices going up in literal smoke during the XOF attack simply added to his feeling dead inside—Feelings that first began due to Operation Snake Eater.

Snake felt like he was missing something. "Um, pardon?"

"Nothing.", Big Boss lazily leaned further back in his office chair, opening his formerly closed good eye while lightly swirling the glass around, "It's from '85. Not bad, huh?"

"Mmh.", Snake took another sip. Come to think of it, he and the Boss never really spent one-on-one time off duty before. The atmosphere between them seemed pleasant enough, but was it truly peaceful? Snake just couldn't shake the concerns he had lately during their training.

"Permission to speak freely, sir?"

"Hm?" Stubbing out his cigar with his free hand—he wanted to savor the rest before he slept—Big Boss reclined with a hand behind his gray head, boots propping up against the desk. "Granted."

His CO was certainly relaxed! Maybe the opportunity to ask his grueling questions was presenting itself, maybe it wouldn't have to be such a weight on his shoulders anymore.

"Well...", Snake had to choose his words carefully. Wouldn't want to get thrown in the brig for blatant insubordination and lose the chance to prove himself on the upcoming mission, now.

"I've noticed, sir, during our training sessions..." He trailed off. Nope, he couldn't bring himself to ask. His anxiety-ridden heart was beating too loudly for his liking.

"What's on your mind, son? Go on.", his Boss gently nudged. Relaxed attitude aside, he was honestly curious. Although he internally berated himself for his choice in words. Son? No.

Downing the remainder of his glass then gently setting it on the table, he nodded. "During our training sessions, sir, you seem to push me extra hard. More so than the other recruits. Are those simply your methods to build me up, so I'll become as skilled as you, sir? Or..."

"Or?"

"Or do you hate me for some reason, sir?", he blurted while keeping blue eyes averted towards the plush brown office carpet.

Big Boss snorted while incredulously looking on, "You've got to be kidding me. Just what good will that line of thinking do you on the battlefield? I've been training you better than that!"

And here Snake was hoping for a yes or no answer instead of a full-blown lecture! "Sir! I just meant on a personal level...Man to man." Snake stared him right in the eye while clarifying.

"Yesterday's ally becomes today's opposition.", quoting her despite his better judgment while taking two long swigs from his glass. The suddenly tired-looking Big Boss had a hint in his eye of anger and hurt. Snake didn't dare ask why. "It'd do you some good to remember those words, David."

"Anyway," Big Boss spoke with the now re-lit cigar firmly planted in his mouth. So much for trying to break chain-smoking habits in his downtime with unexpected stress like this!

"Hate's a strong word for a commanding officer towards their subordinate, wouldn't you say? If you want me to push you harder, that can be arranged."

Big Boss smirked playfully as both men remembered the day's CQC training session: Snake aiming for Big Boss's arm with a stun knife, only for the older man to sidestep and flip Snake on his back towards the muddy grass below. Repeat several variations of attacks with similar results of falling on his ass about fifty more times, and Snake had ended his session exhausted, skin caked in mud, as well as slightly bloodied. The training ended with Big Boss roughly slapping Snake's back in encouragement, ordering him to hit the showers.

"That's quite alright, sir.", Snake chuckled nervously, extending his hand as a peace offering to be met with a firm shake. Just thinking about the memory caused him to rub the back of his still-sore neck, comfortably leaning back in his own chair.

"Uh." Big Boss cleared his throat, "While I don't mind you sticking around, it's already 0100 hours. Shouldn't you be getting some shuteye, soldier? Dismissed."

Another smirk, which was all the proof David needed that he must have been imagining things, to somehow get the crazy idea that his CO hatehim. Laughable. What was he thinking?

As Snake stood to give a farewell salute, Big Boss reminding the young man about tomorrow's schedule, his heart was finally at ease.

***

He'd been unable to fall asleep.

Throwing on his trench coat over his silk pajamas, Big Boss had found himself in the boy's bedroom only an hour after dismissing him. While pulling the occasionally long night wasn't an issue for John, it was mandatory he himself awaken at 0500 hours for morning training exercises…

If worst came to worse, he could always push the duties onto Campbell, claiming he came down with something to catch extra sleep. Would Alektorophobia count? John recalled bizarre stories about Venom Snake occasionally wearing a chicken hat—a baby chick variety apparently existed, too—on the battlefield. Pity that John didn't have any Russian Glowcaps stored his private fridge to recharge his batteries the next morning.

Past sneaking missions having more than paid off, Snake continued to sleep undisturbed while Big Boss entered his private room in the barracks, both men illuminated only by the pale moonlight.

He felt somewhat guilty that Gray Fox had gotten caught up in all this. Fox was a good man at heart, raising that young girl as his adopted sister so many years back... But he couldn't make his goals come to fruition without a few sacrifices, and Big Boss specifically ordered for Ahab's men to go easy on him, to ensure Fox stay alive... But Solid Snake? That little freak of a project could rot as far as John was concerned. Damn fine rookie, but John wanted nothing to do with him otherwise.

Snake, clad in a white tank top and some boxers, turned in his sleep within the military grade cot, muttering something John couldn't hear.

Big Boss had been in Fox's room before to discuss mission deployments together, and the differences between his and Snake's were rather striking. Fox's room naturally featured posters of busty and half-naked women. Various genres of books—you name it, he had it—alongside various VHS tapes—from screwball comedies to thought-provoking documentaries to military—adorned his shelving unit. Last but not least, many photographs taken together with his sister throughout the years had been placed on the nightstand and work desk with care.

Snake by contrast, honestly didn't have much in the way of personal items, his walls completely bare. Save for his Walkman, a handful of music cassette tapes, and military-slash-historical books organized neatly on his desk. Naturally, his most prized possessions—his pack of Lucky Strikes—lay on the nightstand. No family photos or mementos of any kind, which...made obvious sense.

Had Solid Snake always been that serious-minded about his training? Seeing he'd gone as far as wearing his FOXHOUND standard issue bandana to bed, it seemed that way.

Cute., John supposed, regarding the bandana.

Although, even the legendary Big Boss would take it easy and enjoy life outside of the battlefield: Relaxing on the beach, eating and loudly critiquing whatever edible food or "food" he could literally get his hands on, enjoying a day at the movies—provided it wasn't James Bond...

Looking at David like this, the kid really did look like him; look like his son. It was unnerving, too unnerving, for him to handle. Big Boss's soldier instincts had taken over when David first arrived at FOXHOUND, taking his own words of wisdom by "treating him like any other person" due to seeing what a natural he was.

But Big Boss, rather, John, had begun to crack, little by little.

It began by personally showing David the ropes, regular training during daily CQC lessons. Which turned into ordering Kaz to help David and the new recruits whenever John was busy with other duties. Which eventually turned into private CQC lessons—one on one—because David had blown the competition away. John was impressed, very impressed. The kid had been nearly as good as himself in his younger years...Which turned into eventually awarding David John's own codename: Snake.

It was impossible to not see a lot of himself in the young recruit, although Solid Snake occasionally had a surprising sense of optimism and almost innocence, traits which had shattered like glass upon Naked Snake's completion of Operation Snake Eater. Maybe they were traits of Eva's, or something?

John was having feelings, bordering dangerously close to fatherly, without ever intending to. And it was obvious that Snake clearly felt the same way, some part of his subconscious knowingly seeking Big Boss out, wanting to always make his CO—No, his father—proud. Goddammit.

"They're no sons of mine, and they sure as hell are not me. What they are is much sicker than that."

Everything down there had been completely fried when he was only nineteen, as a result of the Bikini Atoll tests. Even the Phantom, Venom Snake, was rendered sterile at age fifty-two alongside the rest of his men as a precaution against the Vocal Cord Parasites. Due to John's miraculously survived exposure, having or wanting children was something he never gave any thought about.

He didn't mind that Eva—who he had rescued from Hanoi during the early days of The Patriots—volunteered for the Project—had things been different, maybe in another life, they would've eventually married and started a family of their own—but being forced against his will by his supposed close friend, by Zero?

That had been the last straw, already feeling weary from Zero's building up his fame and legend, something he very begrudgingly went along with.

In those days, John at least enjoyed Eva's company—a courtship which consisted of much passionate lovemaking—and Adam's genuine friendship. Adamska and Eva had made life within The Patriots bearable: They even became close friends, something John thought was impossible, given their playing multiple sides during Operation Snake Eater. Some final wisdom that The Boss imparted upon Jack about friends and enemies changing with the times couldn't have been more true.

Damn. His mind was wandering back to the past. Stuff he just didn't want to think about anymore, despite some happy memories. Big Boss just wanted to focus on the present, on his future, with the past being long dead.

John, to put it simply, desperately needed Solid Snake out of there. Just gone or preferably dead, it didn't matter which. The pain and anger was becoming too much to deal with; to see the flesh and blood result of that sick little project from '72. Naturally, he heard all about of Eli and George, having seen pictures of both and hearing stories of their exploits—particularly about Eli nearly fucking things up for Diamond Dogs back in 1984. But this...having David right in front of him...was different.

The Phantom would deal with the boy just fine. He couldn't feel too badly, secretly sending out Solid Snake on a suicide mission. Better that than letting The Patriots manipulate Snake for whatever schemes down the line. There was something to be said for being shrewd and gaining the upper hand when it was presented to you.

John leaned into David's ear, almost tenderly brushing some stray brown hairs out of the way with a gloved hand to encouragingly whisper: "Make me proud."

Straightening to adjust his trench coat, Big Boss headed towards his quarters, fists clenched. What the hell was happening to him?

That's it, all bets were off. He was going to need something stronger than wine before falling asleep tonight.

***

"This is Big Boss... Operation Intrude N313. Infiltrate the enemy's base Outer Heaven and destroy the ultimate weapon, Metal Gear! Let's go over the details first. Make contact with Gray Fox, and find the location of the ultimate weapon, Metal Gear. Let's use frequency 120.85 for all communications from now on. ...Over."

That was how the mission officially began, several hours ago. But...the little things building up one by one, was when Solid Snake had began to suspect he'd been—how would Master Miller put it—played like a damn fiddle.

Snake spotted two enemy guards standing watch at one of the single prisoner rooms.

Tricky maneuver, when he didn't have any stun grenades or the like procured. He snuck up behind both guards who thankfully began walking in the opposite direction, hastily applying pressure to their necks for a dual choke-hold. As they collapsed into an unconscious heap on the grass below, Snake glanced around before entering to free yet another prisoner. Another problem: He didn't have a Fulton recovery system on hand, meaning the prisoners had to fend for themselves with escape.

Some nasty bruises across his midsection and feeling as if he dislocated a shoulder made Snake wince, doubt suddenly clouding his mind. Was he really cut out for this retrieval mission? The lackeys he'd fought against were pretty tough. Stealth as required had been a cakewalk, but going toe-on-toe with Outer Heaven's best mercenaries? Not so much. Body aching or not, he couldn't afford to waste time here. He had to save Dr. Madnar and the others. Big Boss was right that this Operation would be like nothing he ever experienced before.

Snake soon enough made his way towards a mess of enemy trucks. Things seemed pretty quiet as he crouched behind one to perform a visible sweep of the area. Just where was Dr. Madnar being held...? Snake's mixtape began to play Wonderwall, which had peaked at the U.S. number one charts and the world over. Great song to help calm his frazzled nerves, although his combat high wouldn't fade away anytime soon.

"Let's use frequency 120.13 for all communications from now on...Over.", the transceiver in his ear hummed as Snake entered Building 2—it had felt like many hours later—while he gave an affirmative. He almost immediately spotted a lone guard, wasting no time in punching the shocked man in the face.

Poor guy simply wasn't quick enough to radio for help, but at least the guard was unconscious rather than dead. Although it wasn't necessarily out of compassion towards his enemies; Snake just didn't like to waste bullets. Wisdom that Big Boss himself would constantly advise.

His CO's switch from his normal transmission made enough sense. It'd spell major trouble if the enemy caught wind of this operation, Snake rationalized while throwing on the disguise. Comfy and pretty breathable for a uniform, he had to admit.

"This is Big Boss... They're trying to jam our signal, but we're OK on this frequency. ...Over."

Understandable, Snake silently agreed, while carefully adjusting the antenna above his earpiece. Considering he was deep within enemy territory, it was only natural some interference with the transceiver would occur.

He thought back to how peaceful it felt, sneaking around in the cardboard box he stumbled across. It felt like true nirvana. At least that was a happy moment during this tense situation. Diane also eased some tension considering she sounded pretty cute—when she wasn't busy shopping to give him sound advice. Steve never sounded too happy to hear from Snake, though. Maybe they were a couple?

"This is Big Boss... Solid Snake! Abort the mission. Return immediately. This is an order!! Turn off the power on your MSX at once!! ...Over."

Snake nodded while nimbly dodging a laser from one of the security cameras. Fine, that's exactly what he'd do! Turn off the MSX computer and—

Wait, what?

What MSX computer where?

Why was he receiving such bogus Intel ever since the frequencies changed? Entering that rightmost truck nearby Building 3 ended in an enemy ambush—although his Beretta made short work of the men. That trapdoor once he entered the room on the left within the building was a pretty nasty surprise, too.

Could the Boss's new frequency have been hacked? Or even worse: had Big Boss been perhaps captured by the enemy and forced to stall Operation Intrude N313? To be fair, the Boss seemed pretty forgetful at random intervals—He was already sixty, which over the hill in Snake's mind—but even at those points he'd provide Snake with the proper Intel, all the same.

Snake had already made it this far: Freeing Gray Fox, Dr Madnar, and the rest of the hostages, killing those irritating as hell mercenaries, being forced to run across an electrified floor to reach Metal Gear TX-55, only to finally destroy that horrifying creation with plenty of C4.

There was just no way he was betrayed by his CO at the last possible minute...was he?

Situation being what it was, there was nothing else to be done other than push forward. He shot some grunts that had burst into the room, TX-55 being blown to high-hell was more than incentive enough for the surviving soldiers to want his ass.

Yet again, his Beretta made short work of them. Snake couldn't afford to waste time here.

***

Just another day in a war without end: OUTER HEAVEN

Exchanging cassette tapes between Ishmael and himself was nothing new; it was the easiest means for his Boss to communicate over the years and provide Ahab with new instructions. The Boss relying orders was down to such a science, in fact, that the B Side instructions were included on Ahab's 1984 "From the Man Who Sold the World" A Side revelations. The B Side was titled via Big Boss's own handwriting, as always—"OPERATION INTRUDE N313".

Ahab over the past eight years carried the name of Big Boss with pride. Some regrets were attached to his past MSF medic life—such as his inability to save Paz—alongside regrets with the then-present with Diamond Dogs staff dying due to the vocal cord parasites. In another situation, another time and place—during their MSF days, for instance—that could have been him. Unwavering salute towards Big Boss, calmly awaiting the order to live or die by his commanding officer's hand.

Sobering thoughts aside, Venom felt he made the Boss proud, making decisions that weren't just true in spirit to the real Big Boss, but also decisions that would give Diamond Dogs the best possible future.

Fultoning their alleged enemies to show them another way for soldiers to live, without any forced political ideals shoved down their throats. Naturally in some situations, time in the brig—sometimes alongside Ocelot's methods of persuasion—would convince the more stubborn recruits to see the light.

It wasn't kidnapping if Diamond Dogs provided male and female soldiers—prisoners, too—of all backgrounds with a true sense of freedom. What Big Boss—real or phantom—would strive for.

It was when 1992 rolled around that Ishmael personally visited the Diamond Dogs Mother Base in the dead of the night—Ocelot was away on an Intel mission while Miller was busy slaving away with Base Development reports. Thus, they were none the wiser regarding a leather jacket-clad hooded man who touched down in an unmarked military chopper. He wasn't mentally prepared to see either of his old friends just yet, so things had worked themselves out nicely.

To prove himself to untrusting staff, Ishmael—disguising his voice—claimed he was an old friend of Big Boss's, naturally using Venom's medical MSF credentials, that he had miraculously survived the horrific chopper crash in '75. Ahab for his part was shocked that the Boss had arrived in person; it was far too risky for him to do so in normal circumstances.

Adjourning to Ahab's room, Ishmael removed all pretenses of his fake voice now that they were alone, offering his friend a cigar. The first thing both men noticed was that the other had long gone gray. Both carried something of a fatigued air about them which wasn't surprising given their hectic military positions.

DD, relaxing in his bed near Venom's office chair, began to growl reflexively at the mysterious man, cautiously approaching to sniff his real—not prosthetic like his master's—left hand.

DD paused in confusion that this man had the exact same scent as his master, which managed to calm the wolf-dog's protective instincts. He happily began licking away at the man's hand. Big Boss smiled at the wolf, scratching his ears and commenting what a good boy he was

It was surreal for Venom Snake to see an almost mirror reflection staring back as Big Boss sat comfortably; the real Boss was more than used to his body double by now. Naturally, Venom wasn't aware of the ruse during the Cyprus escape.

Despite their fatigue, there was no time for rest, their work had to continue if they wished to see the world changed, together.

Big Boss had good reason to arrive; requesting that Venom Snake officially disband Diamond Dogs, and reclaim his old, nearly long-forgotten identity. It was time for Outer Heaven to properly loom in the shadows while Big Boss himself would play both sides by taking leadership of the newly formed FOXHOUND in the United States, he had explained. What better man for the job of Outer Heaven's mysterious leader than Venom Snake himself? He'd still receive orders from Big Boss, of course, so in actuality he wouldn't be running the fortress alone.

The South African fortress had finished completion in the late 1980s, all it currently needed was some serious manpower—Diamond Dogs, naturally—and a strong figurehead to run the show. As a contingency plan for Outer Heaven itself, half of the former Diamond Dogs staff would be appointed to the slow-building military branch in the former region of Tselinoyarsk, where Operation Snake Eater occurred.

Venom had been more than proud to play the part of Big Boss's Phantom. His previous life ended the moment he shielded his Boss from the blast in '75. Big Boss forming FOXHOUND in the States while he'd look after Outer Heaven was a brilliant idea in and of itself, it was Venom having to reclaim his old identity that caused discomfort. His years of experience in helping the legend grow was fine and good, but was maintaining Outer Heaven a goal that he could honestly achieve?

Big Boss was naturally charismatic, generally—although not always—forgiving of his enemies. A genius tactician and soldier, it was no wonder that various men and women wanted to follow him; follow his ideals. Hell, it was no wonder that the Boss's charisma even caused two of his closest male friends—one being his second in command during Militaires Sans Frontieres—to fall deeply for him.

Back in the present of his dimly lit bathroom within Outer Heaven, Venom shook his head. He stared at the tape's B Side he had meant to play, before memories of the past had distracted him.

Blaming that damn shrapnel towards his forgetfulness about the current task, in the end, just what did he have to be concerned about?

Switching their identities back had worked out beautifully: As far as military powers were concerned, Big Boss throughout the 80's was busy destroying Metal Gears and dismantling nukes. Not too different from his actions during the Peace Walker incident, in all honesty.

Such tasks were ones that Venom was more than happy to follow through with, although he only hazily knew about Big Boss's potential plans for nukes—specifically nukes attached to a Metal Gear—in his back pocket. Deterrence if required—provided the nation properly developed—with the means to change the world itself was too appealing to pass up.

Disarming nuclear PFs within the 1980s had been one victory the Diamond Dogs were truly proud of; Venom Snake especially relieved he did his part to make her vision, The Boss's vision come true, even if he wouldn't see the end result in his own lifetime.

Weren't nukes hypocritical for Big Boss? Maybe. But all bets were off with how dirty Cipher, The Patriots, had been playing the past twenty years.

Any dealings throughout the 80s with Cipher and their PFs had been under the table, secretive black ops. Yet that all changed by the early 1990's when Cipher was growing in power, slowly but gradually overtaking the U.S. government itself. As if the Diamond Dogs weren't dealing with living people anymore, but instead, a concept. A will—more like a System—left in the machine.

***

Venom gave the Side B "OPERATION INTRUDE N313" a hard, curious, look before finally inserting the tape into his MSX Sony Bitcorder on the table adjacent to the bloodied sink—dried blood from long forgotten previous battles and God knows what injuries throughout the years. Stray bloodied bullets, needles, and various pills lay askew on the counter top above his sink.

Throughout the years, minor injuries would occur where he'd self-extract a bullet wound, then pop a pill or two for the seething pain. Memories of his medical knowledge certainly paid off. He wasn't the boss's top surgeon and best soldier back in the day without good reason. Self-healing sure as hell beat waiting around for one of the doctors, when his own expertise allowed him to just as easily deploy on a field mission the following day.

The tape data hummed as it read off the information, the green indicator light steadying as if it were an omen, Venom glanced down to read the instructions given to him. And froze.

This...this information couldn't be right. It had to be some kind of mistake.

FOXHOUND member Gray Fox infiltrated Outer Heaven several days prior, requested by his superior to retrieve whatever Intel he could on the mysterious fortress's alleged threats of nuclear power. The Outer Heaven Uprising. The young man naturally stumbled across information relating to Metal Gear TX-55, reporting the data back to FOXHOUND moments before getting thrown into the brig.

All of it, naturally Big Boss's secretive means to terrify the world stage with the threats of nuclear power—just as the world was gradually eradicating nuclear threats. Of course Venom had ensured his men weren't too rough on Fox. What good was a dead soldier, let alone a highly skilled one at that?

But these new instructions... Kill Solid Snake—one of Big Boss's sons—or die trying? Big Boss had ensured an inexperienced rookie like Snake would be dead easily within the first hour of the mission, be it a trap door here or an unseen land mine there. Although Venom was requested to step in and order Snake directly—once again posing as Big Boss himself—if things unexpectedly got too rough.

Ordering Snake to abort his mission wouldn't pose too hard of a challenge if worse came to worse. The boy would have no choice but to listen to his admired commanding officer, being the good little soldier that he was.

The sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach wouldn't quit as Venom heard himself bark orders at Snake mere hours later. None of this had felt right to him. "Let's use frequency 120.13 for all communications from now on...Over." Snake replied an affirmative, apparently continuing on his way.

He had stayed transfixed in front of the mirror within his darkened half bath, simply unable to look himself in the eye. Fists clenched tightly, his prosthetic hand emitted sparks due to the pressure he was causing.

Stalling for time had only done so much. Naturally, without the intended results of putting the kid out of his misery sooner than later. Eli himself had been a regular war machine at age twelve, so how could the inferior of the two boys surpass everyone's expectations like this? To murder several of his best men and free the prisoners with such ease?

For the briefest of moments, Venom's emotionally detached eye caught his own reflection. The image overtook a demonic version of himself. Shrapnel "horn" enlarged, his face and the entire body of his sneaking suit caked in the blood of countless adversaries. No. All of this was wrong; nothing felt right anymore. Knowingly sending a mostly innocent boy to his own death?

Phantom demonic self fading away in the mirror to be replaced with his true self, pain throbbed a dull ache within his right side. Radiating from his shrapnel to his bad eye to his facial scars.

This mission he was assigned to...A suicide mission of his own, just like Solid Snake.

After what had felt like several hours later but had been truthfully closer to a mere hour, Venom tiredly closed his eye to give Snake his final instructions. If this failed, the plan had failed with it. All his goals—their goals, together—down the shitter in one flew swoop. Venom Snake would have no choice but to fight Solid Snake; his gut instincts burning from a deep fire within that he would die.

"This is Big Boss... Solid Snake! Abort the mission. Return immediately. This is an order!! Turn off the power on your MSX at once!! ...Over."

Radio silence. No reply whatsoever.

But the sounds of gunfire outside his quarters mere moments later told him everything he needed to know. Solid Snake was close.

It was time.

And he was tired of being used by the very man he threw away his old life for. And so, this could have been Venom's chance: Cast away being used, explain the situation to Solid Snake and together cook up a revenge plot against the man himself, maybe even enlist Miller's help...But no. That inexplicable trait known as loyalty of his own choosing was just another betrayal. Venom couldn't do that to his Boss; to either of them. How irritating.

Red prosthetic arm hitting the mirror—it looked gray to him—shards shattered to the sink and floor. His cold eye focused at the mirror's remains which revealed his own cracked reflection. Feeling livid didn't even begin to describe it as he slowly realized "his" reflection was Big Boss's own, glaring back.

You want me to die that badly, "Boss"? I'm not going to hell alone—your son's about to join me.

Darkness overloaded his senses. Was the room always so smoky as his vision blurred? His footsteps sounded faint as he slowly turned to bitterly accept fate. He was ready—but nowhere near willing to be forgotten in the pages of history, marked as a traitor. Just like The Boss herself had to selflessly endure so long ago.

The whirring of the MSX console and sudden faint green glow stopped, its data-reading complete, amidst the sounds of close gunfire outside.

Those sounds of gunfire amidst screams outside his door, it was all too much to handle. Betrayed at the last moment, discarded like he—and the people of Outer Heaven—were nothing but garbage.

All by the man who sold the world a lie.

***

"Kept you waiting, huh?" Some dead bodies of fallen Outer Heaven members surrounded Solid Snake. The source of the gunfire.

So this was the other twin. Already his demeanor appeared far different from the brash and vengeful Eli. This bloodied young man, his eyes serious, suppressor-equipped Beretta M92F at the ready, was clearly someone "just doing his job"; a trained killer hired for wet-work.

TX-55 being destroyed was a minor annoyance at best, seeing as Madnar had been a third-rate scientist. He supposed the man could be "convinced" to rejoin Big Boss's men for the next project, if required. Almost a pity that nobody else throughout the years had compared to the genius of the Emmerich family, had Huey not been an arrogant, murdering, piece of...

The deadly glare never left Venom's face as he began his rant. But did Big Boss—that son of a bitch—have to make Venom sound so psychotic in this little prepared speech?

"Solid Snake! You've finally arrived. Yes, I'm Big Boss, the commander of FOXHOUND, and leader of this fortress, Outer Heaven. I gave a rookie like you this mission to return false information. But you've gone too far. Too far!"

So far so good...But...

No. If he was destined for hell, he'd drag the boy down with him. "Solid Snake!! I won't die alone! You'll join me!"

Venom immediately dodged behind a crate as Snake wasted no time in trying to shoot him with a rocket launcher of all things. It didn't take a medic to know he wouldn't survive the blasts to the face.

"NATO's set to bomb this place to hell soon! Ready Fulton extractions for any survivors immediately! Ensure that Madnar and the Resistance members are sent to HQ!", he barked to Ishmael and Ocelot's secure channels via his iDroid against the gun fire.

"Shit...!"

He rolled out of the way, the explosion of the attack nearly missing him by several inches. This kid was almost as ruthless as Eli was. Having ducked under a long-ago fallen body for cover, Ahab pushed himself off upon noticing the sudden silence.

Glancing at the body momentarily, Venom forced himself to choke back a scream with every ounce of willpower. It was none other than Malak. Looking to the left of him, Venom realized Silent Basilisk had unfortunately miserably failed in shielding Flaming Buffalo or himself from a precise barrage of bullets.

All the men and women surrounding Venom had been shot straight in the heart.

He could hear the iDroid's processing and updating against his hip, coolly reminding, "Staff Member has died" as his ears began to ring. His dear comrades from Diamond Dogs and the new recruits from Outer Heaven...So many of them gone within the blink of an eye...

Screaming in agony, vision blurred, Venom snarled while lunging towards the young man.

Panic-stricken by the unexpected reaction, Snake shot at the red prosthetic, of course, barely denting the metal. Of all the fucking ridiculous rookie mistakes Solid Snake could have made, it had to be something as idiotic as that, at the worst possible time.

Venom's body slamming hard against Snake's, their sneaking suits causing sickening squeaks from the blood meshing together, the enraged "leader" of Outer Heaven fiercely kicked away the flame thrower Snake previously held. Snake's reward for his haughtiness was a swift slap across the face.

War...Killing...Things that Venom never enjoyed, but had resigned himself to long ago as harsh necessities in the world.

Kill Solid Snake or die trying, huh? His last possible mission? No. He'd do things hiway.

In recent weeks, Venom began having the same bizarre, hazy, nightmare: Two old men sharing a cigar against a brave woman's grave; his own grave off to their right. His gravestone read A hero forever loyal to the flames of war rests in his Outer Heaven while her epitaph was inscribed with In Memory of a Patriot, Who Saved the World.

Rows of white Star of Bethlehem lilies covering the graveyard on that somewhat cloudy day, sun setting in the distance. Terrifying, to have a vision of yourself after your own death. He refused to be forgotten.

A butterfly effect—all because Venom Snake refused to die—was slowly unfolding.

Using all his strength to kick Venom away despite the older man's grunts, Snake's ears perked up at the sound of humming, of all things.

"Begin cover fire!", Venom angrily barked into his iDroid towards the unseen source as he steadied himself against the wall Snake nearly chucked him against. His own stupid mistake to nearly forget that he was dealing with a former superbaby in David.

Bloody battle intense as it was, the unseen source could do nothing more than take personal cover. Not allowing themselves to risk getting hit, a silent prayer was offered towards each fallen ally. One, two, five...She lost count somewhere around the twenty-third victim, vaguely aware of the created war-machine they were dealing with, memories of the petulant Eli returning.

Snake's eyes began to scan for the source of the humming just as something whizzed past to hit him right into his neck. A tranquilizer dart, he hazily realized, body slumping over like a sack of potatoes.

Face coated in the blood of his dead comrades, Venom cast a livid glare towards the young man, shrapnel appearing as that devil horn he usually despised, but now begrudgingly accepted.

"Oh, no." A deadly calm reaction.

Attaching some Fulton balloons to Snake's back—roughly digging his nails into the boy's shoulder so he wouldn't be sent flying just yet, Venom kicked Snake square in the ribs as a wake up call.

"No nap time for you, soldier. Thanks to your "handiwork", half of my best staff are dead."

Looking up through blurry eyes, the lightheadedness wasn't letting up anytime soon. A three-strapped eye patch and a prosthetic arm? An extremely scarred face? Was this man really Big Boss, his commanding officer? He looked too different. Weren't Snake's eyes just playing tricks on him?

"Unfortunately.", he coughed up some blood from the brutality of the kick, "killing is just one of those things that gets easier the more you do it."

Venom expressionlessly stepped away, more than ready for the Fulton system to do the work so he wouldn't have to deal with this little shit for the time being.

Weakly reaching into his pocket to ready one final smoke before a shot in the head or whatever else this guy had planned for him, Snake's lighter dropped to the ground, cracking, as the balloon took off. Snake could barely process what was happening, annoyed about unexpectedly losing his best lighter.

"Son of a—!!" His mid-air curse soon faded away as he was pulled up further into the darkening sky.

The engraved FOXHOUND logo caught Venom's cold eye as he stomped on the lighter. It had clearly been a gift to Snake from the bastard himself.

"First thing upon returning.", breathless, bloodied, towards Ishmael's private channel as much as towards his silent partner hiding in the shadows—in that moment Venom had shared the same intensity and anger as his dear friend Kaz, "is build a memorial. For our fallen brothers and sisters of Diamond Dogs, and Outer Heaven. They won't be forgotten, I won't allow it."

Not missing a beat, all business, Ahab continued, "The target's secured. We're going with your contingency plan to regroup in Zanzibarland. It's slow going, but camp's been set up half a year ago under your orders."

Ishmael hesitated at news of the boy being alive. He consented with a grumble, "...Fine. We can use him to our advantage." Solid Snake may not have failed, but capturing and indoctrinating the boy into their new Outer Heaven could prove beneficial, benefits that his potential death clearly wouldn't have brought.

Outer Heaven these days was as much of a concept as it was a physical place, in Big Boss's mind.

"Ahab. I'm glad he didn't—"

"Yeah, well.", V's voice coolly interrupted, nothing Ishmael could say right now would soften Ahab's feelings of utter betrayal by the person he gave his life for. "I'm fine."

Unrelenting, Big Boss continued, "Ahab, about the mission data you received, I honestly expected David to—"

"It's over and done with, sir.", Venom shifted his personal anger aside to all business; he could feel the Boss's wince over the transmitter.

"About half the survivors are badly wounded thanks to your son's handiwork. Unknown if they'll survive the Fulton extractions. We've evacuated as many of non-combatants and children as the staff could find. They'll receive immediate PTSD treatment and medical attention upon arrival."

Big Boss was livid, honestly shocked. He had no idea Snake would keep fighting relentlessly until the end. That freak of a soldier really was a natural...Or was he the freak, if Solid and the other two boys were based off of him?

With a heavy sigh, he tiredly added in regards to the incoming attack, "Good. Still makes me sick that there's not much we can do. Get out ASAP. Over."

***

Jumping down from her sniping point, Quiet re-shouldered her Guilty Butterfly as the butterfly-shaped battle makeup around her eyes disappeared. Her green eyes locked with Snake while she hummed a quick greeting. Both shell-shocked at losing some of the wonderful friends that had gone as far back as eleven years ago.

Her breathable cameo-style BDU bikini top, combat shorts, and combat boots were specially designed by Outer Heaven's R&D team in their first year, something she was grateful for. It was a nice change of pace from her somewhat embarrassing outfit from their Diamond Dogs days.

Not personal embarrassment, more the condescending or even saucy looks some male and even female staff would dare shoot her way. In those disrespectful situations, she'd shoot back a dangerous glare, or Venom would bark an order for them to continue their work, which would quickly shut them up.

Even those comrades, despite their occasional lousy attitudes, had been a valuable asset to their organization. And as of today, a monumental loss.

Gently wrapping an arm around her waist, Venom glanced at the Diamond Dogs butterfly emblem on his upper right shoulder, his left patch featuring the current Outer Heaven logo.

He returned to locking eyes with her as Quiet continued to offer Venom a gentle smile of reassurance. He was so thankful he had her help back there, so thankful she had never left Diamond Dogs, had never left him. Tenderly kissing her forehead in thanks, Quiet snuggled deeper into his embrace, shivering a little, as they prepared to Fulton away to safety. 

"You're ready to get out of here, right?"

"Mh.", Sounding sad despite the simple nod, breaking their gaze. Reluctance filled her heart as much as it did his; there were only so many survivors they could successfully recover before the bombings would soon occur.

Venom fell lost in thought. Code Talker had lived well into his one hundred and thirteenth year in early 1992, having spent the last years of his peaceful life researching a potential cure for Quiet involving Nanomachines. But until more Nanomachine research could be done throughout greater world, things had fallen at a standstill.

As a fail safe, Code Talker and Quiet herself gradually taught Venom some basic Navajo, should communications ever became an absolute necessity. Happily, the need for such a backup plan hadn't occurred. Their relationship of silent gratitude outweighed long ago past hurt.

Venom Snake long ago realized, had Quiet not stayed at his side these past eleven years, things would've probably been very different for him. He was more than certain his anger would've taken over, his demonic nature unleashed. No mercy towards his enemies on the battlefield. 

Although he still would've had his other buddies...Losing Quiet...he just wouldn't have been able to handle the grief. Although Quiet would've told him—if she could, had a personal sacrifice on her end occurred—that he mustn't waste his own life.

As for Quiet herself, she was more than fine to stay quiet. Her want of revenge towards Venom and the real Big Boss had long cooled, although it would be a lie that she wasn't frustrated upon hearing that Big Boss was the one who stopped her back at the hospital in Cyprus. The Cyprus incident, either way, was simply her following Skull Face's orders. It wasn't anything personal, as she admired Big Boss's abilities in Afghanistan, before she was brought back to Diamond Dogs. 

During his only private visit to Diamond Dogs in '92, she had gone as far as to slap the real one across the face—only to kiss his cheek afterward—in retaliation. Venom kept silent—a mixture of emotions across his face—as Big Boss had laughed off the woman's actions. He looked into her eyes while sincerely apologizing before stating that in his position, Quiet would have done the same.

Still, she had a hard time keeping her anger in check around the real Big Boss; it was his fault that Venom couldn't truly return to his own private life should the opportunity ever present itself.

Big Boss had understood Quiet's anger. There were plenty of people he was bound to piss off in the upcoming decade.

Quiet knew that giving it your all for your allies was a hard trait to find in the world. She certainly never saw the camaraderie that Diamond Dogs shared as an XOF member, having heard various whispers of sickening torture and rape stories, alleged "fair punishments" Skull Face would order for prisoners and perceived "traitors" alike. 

Even as a trained, hardened, assassin, she had shuddered at the most likely true rumors. XOF's twisted branches causing her to sadly wonder what the original sturdy trunk, Cipher—Zero—would have to say about whatever his original vision was, having tangled so disturbingly out of control. 

Being "in love with the legend" meant Big Boss was the one she originally desired. In a strange way it was Big Boss himself who bought Venom and Quiet together. Had the entire situation at Cyprus not unfolded as it did, she wouldn't have met Venom Snake. She wouldn't have allied with him and certain Diamond Dogs members begrudgingly. She and Venom wouldn't have gradually fallen in love. In their time together, she'd catch glimpses of the former medical surgeon—the real him, compassionate yet serious—not just the Phantom role he was destined to play.

That's not to say the Cyprus hospital situation wasn't without its own painful consequences: Quiet had ever since had something of an understandable paranoia around fire; much preferring the soothing drops of rain to the scorching heat of flames. Big Boss hadn't fared any better, although neither Venom or Quiet had known. Knowledge that Volgin had wanted him dead back then, alongside more recently, a bizarre nightmare where he'd been set fire in the midst of a battle, didn't exactly help. His seemingly last memories in the thankfully not reoccurring nightmare were about The Boss herself, all while cursing the cocky bastard who dared to not fight like a real man should. 

So many lost lives at that hospital; but required sacrifices for his and Venom's ensured survival, as Ocelot had more or less put it. Venom's personal anger at his rude awakening—later discovered via Ocelot's Intel reports that in that situation, The Third Boy was Venom's conduit—was surprising.

Certainly, Venom had subconscious deep-seated anger at Zero's plan that John had followed; alongside the mess they had to endure while escaping. For all of society's technological advances, one person couldn't be totally turned into another. Even if they were made to play a specific role and act like someone else. 

Tightly holding onto one another, the Fulton system activated towards former Tselinoyarsk.

Love hurts so bad,

But still saved my soul.

Flowers of a brighter past,

They bloomed so free,

Beneath the sun

***

"You're not just a snake, you're a constrictor.", Miller had told him during their first encounter, shortly before he gave up on the stalling for time to finally form a business partnership with the legendary Big Boss. With Snake.

Sitting in his office within FOXHOUND, Miller was still seething at the news a panicked Campbell stopped by to report only moments ago. Offering his superior some genuine reassurance, Kaz kindly suggested Campbell help himself to a hot cup of tea in the Mess hall and take the rest of the day off to gather himself. He added that the Boss would certainly understand, which had been true enough.

Big Boss wasn't exactly fond of inefficient soldiers wasting his or FOXHOUND's valuable time if they had pressing emotional needs that first required attending to. 

As it stood considering events in the 1980s, Kaz was more than happy to avoid Big Boss whenever the situation would present itself, only giving and receiving orders via Campbell. What shook the former Colonel was news that David—alongside the mysterious leader of Outer Heaven—had been presumed dead due to the NATO bombings.

Kaz buried his face into his hands from the built-up tension, somehow the cool metal of his prosthetic right hand felt soothing to his frayed nerves.

He knew better, his intuition telling him both David and Venom were out there, still alive. The Phantom, as far as he was concerned, had been a better man than the real Big Boss. As for David, Kaz had grown to care for the young soldier, pushing him as hard as either of their bodies could take during training, unwillingly self-admitting that the boy reminded Kaz of Big Boss in his earlier years.

Mentally unnerving, although something about David seemed more...innocent? Morally in the right? Pure? Whatever it was, David's own charisma even outshone Naked Snake's, at least in the Hell Master's mind.

If Venom and Snake were together, surely things would work themselves out. He'd seen it firsthand: their compassionate sides generally outweighed petty and fleeting emotions such as revenge. He still remembered the sense of pride and unity all the Diamond Dogs felt upon reducing nuclear weapons in the world. Until a certain someone was bound to screw up this fleeting measure of peace.

That man was where Kaz's true concerns lay. Miller had bided his time, playing his part within FOXHOUND, training David as his own means of eventual revenge against his former friend. That man had the nerve to not seek revenge for their fallen MSF brothers and sisters in 1975.

Instead, he up and left Miller and the rest of Diamond Dogs in the dust once 1984 came about. Matter of personal survival or not upon recovering from his nine year coma, it had been a complete asshole stunt for Big Boss to pull.

Regarding Kaz's next move...that was the tricky part. Before he could rationalize a plan of action, Miller heard the all too familiar sound of spurs clanking into his own open office, door gently closing behind the source. His prosthetic hand almost immediately slammed into his desk.

Without bothering to look up, he gritted his teeth. "Let me guess: You're here to make good on your promise? Campbell mentioned to me that he left for personal business. Wouldn't put it past him if you were sent to make things look like an accident."

***

Two days prior, sitting within his personal quarters at Zanzibarland's makeshift camp, Ocelot found himself thinking about the past. Memories of when once long ago, this land was called Tselinoyarsk. When he was a young Major, already tasked with playing three sides of the field.

When he had preferred to take orders from The Boss herself rather than Volgin, feeling some unexplained connection towards her.

Memories of when Adam had first met him. John. The man that Adam had admired...fallen for...from the start. Love at first sight.

He supposed The Boss felt there was a connection between them herself, considering the disappointed glares and even slaps Adam would receive whenever he'd screw up, whether his mistakes were a part of his ruse, or simple miscalculations. Shooting John's eye was a rather unfortunate example of the latter. The muzzle flash had blinded John from there on out, and Adam was left feeling horribly guilty since the situation, but...

In truth, Adam was privately thankful that John had been oblivious towards Adam's true feelings, even more so upon discovering—many years later—that The Boss was none other than his mother. What an incredibly awkward love triangle that would've been! It was no secret that John had been romantically involved with both The Boss and later on, Eva.

At the very least, Adam had always felt a strange sense of pride that he and John were on a first name basis with one another. The man most people knew as either "Snake" or "Big Boss". Fewer still were allowed to call John by his nickname, "Jack".

The two people who had were long dead like The Boss, or gone missing, like Major Zero.

Gray eyes staring off into the distance while he casually leaned back into his office chair, he twirled his gun out of habit, the crackle from an unknown radio transmission breaking Adamska out of reminiscence.

Frequency 120.85?

"Adam.", a strangely calming, all-too familiar voice began. Ocelot's heart nearly stopped from surprise, about to question how and why would his Boss be contacting him via radio when he was right within—

Wasting no time, John had spoken the phrase, the trigger for Ocelot's hypnotherapy to instantly come crashing down like a house of cards.

The hypnotherapy had been Ocelot's own suggestion to keep up appearances. John's Phantom.... Using Venom to John's own advantage so he could play both sides in order to best not Cipher or XOF, but The Patriots. While his genes, David, Eli, and later George—had disgusted John, the idea of a meme—His best man; his best surgeon and soldier during the Militaries San Frontieres days, had been too tempting to ignore. Using a meme was initially unsettling to John, but his hands were tied when the opportunity had already presented itself. Seemingly the whole world—in truth, XOF—wanted Big Boss dead upon his awakening from that frightening coma.

If John hadn't ever woken up, neither Ocelot, Miller, or Eva would've had any idea on where to go from there. Uniting to stop The Patriots, certainly, but without John's guidance, things would've likely fallen apart.

Both gene and meme, neither resulting from John's consent, were Zero's idea. Major Zero, who had visited both John and his phantom in 1977 at the hospital, who completely disappeared from the public eye for good, soon afterward. What had became of him was a true mystery to everyone including John, who played off the situation that he couldn't care less about the man's fate—ironically unaware of the personal visit from his once longtime friend.

Sensing that Adam was back, John finally continued speaking, "I'm sorry you've had to keep the lie going for eleven years. I didn't mean to keep you waiting this long, but it happened to make things easier for myself and Ahab."

"I told you back at Cyprus, there's no lie in believing the Phantom was you." He added, lightly teasing, "Anyway, you're one to talk about waiting, mister thirty-one years to realize."

Smirking, Adam happily imagined the extremely rare sight of John covered in a full-body blush, making his confession all the more worth it.

"As flattering as it is, Eva wouldn't appreciate that...", John sounded visibly nervous. "No wonder you ate all the food from my supplies back then. Eva implied as much but it all went over my head."

"John, your naivete's part of your charm. Gotta say, I didn't think snakes were palatable until you—"

"Adam!" Aha, had John turned redder still?

"Sorry,", he chuckled, "this old cowboy will leave you alone if you'd like."

Ocelot didn't mind whatsoever that he was most likely involved in an unrequited love. As long as he could continue working by John's side, making their ideals a reality—even protect John if the situation ever called for it—then he'd be happy. He'd go to Hell and back, commit unspeakable sins towards humanity itself, all for John's sake, if needed. That was the kind of unwavering love deep within Adam's heart.

John's eyebrow raised, cheeks still flushed. The two best friends continued their easygoing banter as if it had only been a week that they last spoke, not eleven lonely years. While John didn't exactly want anyone Hell-bound, if that was the inevitability from making his idealized world a reality, then so be it. "I've been meaning to ask...cute fake accent and all, but have you ever even been to Texas?"

Adam snorted over his end of the transmission, "Are you kiddin' me? Allowing myself to miss the opportunity of visitin' the state's eastern side where all those great films took place?"

John chuckled in turn, "As wonderful as it is to hear your voice again, I do have a favor to ask."

"Anything, Boss." Adam was loyal to John, Big Boss, until the end. Would his mother have been proud as he'd occasionally lay awake at night, wondering?

Pity that he only found out the truth about his parents in the early 70s, once he and the others were members of The Patriots. John didn't have much to say on the matter, other than gently remarking, "I should have known. You have her eyes."

Eva for her part was shocked but not completely surprised at the news, recalling how The Boss would reprimand Adamska's screw ups the same way a disappointed mother would. The one amusing point of the whole affair was realizing he had been born in Normandy. Finally, after such confusion throughout the years, The Boss's attitude around Major Ocelot had some needed context surrounding it.

Adam couldn't help but fall deep into the bottomless pit of a month-long depression due to missed opportunities with The Boss. He was especially depressed from the heartbreaking story that The Joy was forced to kill The Sorrow, least he be hunted down and killed himself. The Joy herself was years later on the receiving end of a gun in her difficult situation with Naked Snake.

He initially couldn't understand what good would come from sacrificing yourself for the sake of the world; would it truly accomplish any positive results? Ocelot had watched the entire fight between John and The Boss—it was crystal clear that his mother wanted—needed—to die, to make the world whole again. In any other situation, John wouldn't have stood a chance against her.

I give my life, not for honor, but for you

Strange, that Ocelot had thought he heard rustling from nearby trees—as if somebody else had been under strict orders to keep a close eye on events—yet his own triple-crossing senses were momentarily dulled, too caught up in the emotions of the moment. Had he been asked, Ocelot couldn't have explained why a lump formed in his throat watching John very reluctantly pull the trigger, but now...Everything had fallen into place.

Surprisingly, it was Eva alongside John—when he wasn't deployed on usually retrieval-based missions per Major Zero's request—who reassured Adam on those mornings where he'd flat-out refuse to leave his bed, an inexplicable dull but persistent pain aching throughout Ocelot's entire body. Or those long days of boringly sitting behind a computer, inputting and encrypting various Intel data where he barely ate a thing, they'd have to offer him a few bites of exotic Japanese sushi or a juicy prepared steak. All while John wouldn't cheerfully shut up about how tasty the food was.

Eva was glad they'd always receive the best food as Patriot members, but privately felt John needed more tact when it came to cheering up his friend. At least his hyperactivity made the faintest of smiles reach Adam's lips.

Their kindness had been the stepping stone for Adam and Eva to become close friends.

Upon regaining his inner strength, Adam hoped The Joy and Sorrow were together watching over him; that he had made them proud with how far he had come in life. The dead are not silent, so maybe they were keeping watch, somewhere out there.

Of course, seemingly good things didn't last forever. Already feeling fatigued from the various missions and errands Zero would have him run, pointlessly building up Big Boss's legend, John complained to Adam one morning in 1972 about not feeling well; as if he'd been poked and prodded throughout the night. Concerned, he and John went straight to Clark's office.

The woman formally known as Para-Medic had strangely feigned ignorance much to their annoyance, so they went straight to the source: Zero.

And Zero's reluctant admitting to his project idea was how the parting of ways soon began. Adam and Eva following John's beliefs on what he felt The Boss truly believed in; while scientifically-minded Clark and technology-lover Anderson continued to work alongside Zero's interpretation.

Ocelot focused his mind back on the present, awaiting his Boss's instructions. He'd have plenty of time to reminisce later.

"Adam, he's been completely avoiding me. I'm sure he'll resign or retire soon if things keep heading in this direction. Try to convince him to join us?"

A pause to carefully mull over Big Boss's words. "By convince, you mean—"

"Right, don't go Room 101 levels on him. Nothing too rough."

"Sure thing, Boss. And if he refuses?"

The tired shrug was evident in his voice, "I'll leave that to your judgment."

"I'm still holding you to our promise of meetin' again, you know. Maybe a night in with some beers while watchin' good ol' Westerns?"

"How quaint." He appreciated his best friend trying to cheer him up. "Definitely sometime soon."

Back in 1984, after the Cyprus situation, John had left for the States—California—using Venom's old identity to lay low. Adam frowned at the memory, realizing that John probably never did get the recommended plastic surgery, although Venom Snake pre-operation had looked similar enough that John could have easily passed as him—Minus John's facial hair and eye-patch.

In the States—eventually heading for South Africa—John busily recruited interested men and women, building Outer Heaven—his true vision, his nation for soldiers for to be free—from behind the scenes, while Venom and his Diamond Dogs grew stronger. The Diamond Dogs eventually folded into Outer Heaven, thanks to their combined efforts, all to stop Zero's forces.

Zero.

Last Intel they had received, Zero had fallen horribly ill after his final visit to Dhekelia SBA Memorial Hospital in 1977. Most likely, Ocelot and Miller personally deduced, the illness was a result of some parting "gift" from their old friend Skull Face, although the exact details alongside Zero's current location, were a mysterious unknown to the entire world.

Adam wondered what Major Zero would've done differently, had he known Cipher and XOF would've spiraled so out of control... Skull Face's XOF branch had been long quashed thanks to Diamond Dog's efforts in the 80s, while Cipher, rather, The Patriots begun gradually evolving into something much more frightening within the United States. Absolute control of the people. The Patriot AI System.

***

"Be more than happy to make good on an eleven year old promise, if that's what you'd like.", Ocelot calmly replied to Miller, their eyes locked and his revolver raised.

Without warning, shots fired. Miller flinched slightly before realizing the bullet had whizzed straight past him. A cabinet door behind him had been struck with a still smoking bullet, some stacked papers on his desk were sent flying from the impact.

Pumped full of adrenaline while icily spiting out with a venomous glare, "If you're not here to kill me, then what business—"

Ocelot calmly re-holstered his gun as their eyes met. While he and Miller weren't exactly what one would call friends, Ocelot never harbored anything stupid like a grudge. During their time at Diamond Dogs, Ocelot simply felt it was best to leave the hard decisions up to the Boss's own judgment.

Understandably, Miller would forcefully interject his own two cents, but he was certainly wrong on matters like distrusting Quiet. Ocelot couldn't help but admire the girl's abilities considering their similar weapons of choice, let alone their mutual attraction towards Big Boss.

Ocelot's hair was longer, tied back in a ponytail, having long ago gone gray as Miller himself. He maintained his serious composure despite desperately wanting to laugh with remembrance of the second in command's loud bitching within Motherbase's bathrooms at his first signs of gray. Naturally, Kaz started dyeing his hair as soon as he had the chance.

Miller took pride in his blonde locks and his unique Japanese-American heritage, always having been a charmer towards the ladies, although any romantic urges ceased once the Diamond Dogs Mother Base had been developed.

Kaz, for his part, was simply irritated that Ocelot had been the same calculating asshole as always. Big Boss's number one fan. He could feel his prosthetics twitch—both arm and leg replacements were genuinely kind suggestions from Ocelot himself—as the man replied to Kaz's query as casual as ever.

"You still know a thing or two about base development, right? He could use a man like you while we're searching for Eli, seeing if we can't convince him...By force, if required."

Using what should've been Big Boss' deterrence to his own advantage? Well, Snake was certainly as shrewd as ever, yet...

He scoffed, "Since David's KIA as far as the public eye is concerned, I'll be retiring real soon. I already told you, Big Boss can go to hell."

Expression grim, Ocelot just shook his head while plunking down into Kaz's guest chair.

"The System will go haywire sooner than later, if we don't put a stop to things now."

Removing his sunglasses to rub the bridge of his nose, his tired pale-blue eyes bore into Ocelot's serious demeanor. He'd developed a minor case of cataracts due to the stress of his position at Diamond Dogs, alongside the vicious torture he received before Venom had rescued him in Afghanistan. Yet neither his eyes nor other injuries would slow him down.

He had far too many important things to do, like figuring out how to contact David and Venom without the bastard somehow catching on. "And your little war games are really the answer?"

"Better than doing nothing." A beat before Ocelot—sounding tired himself—added, "John understands why you feel betrayed, but it's not the way he wanted things to end up. Hell, our current Mess hall serves plenty of those damned burgers you researched so much, just to honor your memory."

Stubbornness gradually gave way to fatigue as Kaz took his own seat behind his desk, no longer standing as a superior to Ocelot—he certainly didn't feel superior throughout their discussion, anyway. There they sat, separated by a mere wooden office desk, as supposed equals.

"Hmph. Some way to honor me."

Ocelot made an honest attempt by using the friendly approach to lean in, lips mere inches apart. It was a bit too close for comfort in Miller's mind if his death glare was anything to go by, while the diehard cowboy draped his hand over Kaz's good shoulder.

His fake southern drawl deliberately absent to sound like a theatrical and crazy old man instead: "There's nothing like the feeling of slamming a long silver bullet into a well greased chamber."

Paling at the obvious innuendo, the Hell Master was extremely disgusted at the thought of doing anything like that with this man of all people. Ocelot smartly knew exactly how to get under his skin, a far cry from the pleasant bantering between Kaz and Snake during MSF. It wasn't as if Miller was jealous of Ocelot and Snake being best friends or anything. Miller was well above such petty jealousy, he'd lie to himself.

Ocelot for his part could only imagine having to keep that little theatrical act up if some situation ever called for it. Had been it for John's sake for whatever reason, however, he could've begrudgingly put up with the theatrics, more than used to ruses and triple crosses in his line of work.

Ocelot's eyes were surprisingly gentle, sincere, as he leaned in even closer, breath hot, despite Kaz's obvious squirming and flushed face. "If you love him as much as I do, I'd reckon it's time to let go of the hate."

Smirking at Kaz's discomfort, the cowboy seductively inquired, "What do you think he'd say if he saw us right now?" Kaz rolled his eyes while letting out a snort for good measure, "Knowing him, he'd congratulate us for dating. Snake was always oblivious to you too, right?"

He added his suddenly occurring thought, "Actually, what if he'd get jealous of us?"

They shared an uncomfortable laugh, knowing how possessive Big Boss could be of his friends, before Ocelot replied. "To be fair, I don't think John or even David concern themselves with things like labeling sexuality. They're probably just very particular in who they like and don't like. I'd say the same is true enough for us, wouldn't you?"

Too close. Especially when Ocelot's hand brushed against Miller's real one, which he reluctantly, slowly, began to hold. In turn, Ocelot said nothing while giving Kaz's hand a light squeeze in reassurance as they silently stared into each other's emotionally drained eyes.

Dry, partially anticipating, lips still mere inches apart. Kaz felt awkward to stare at another person without his sunglasses on; they gave him a small comfort and feeling of control over most situations. Ocelot for his part played things cool and collected as usual, but he'd be lying to himself if he didn't admit that even he was clueless as to where things would go from here.

"Come on, pretty boy." Ocelot slipped back into his theatrical voice. "What's it gonna be?"

Still, the two granted one another unspoken physical comfort through their shared emotional heartache. Passage of time had only made their mutual pain worse, rather than bringing closure or healing.

"Shut. Up. Already." Kaz finally broke free of the older man's hand holding and intense gaze, slowly hissing in annoyance to demonstrate his displeasure at the almost-kiss. He had enough of the repressed heartache resurfacing, enough of Ocelot acting so damn nice to him, regardless of his own genuine reciprocation.

It was a rule between them that the feelings either man had for Big Boss remain unspoken. No need to discuss mutual private yearnings which would never come to fruition, after all. No need to start breaking their unspoken promise now, of all times. Words that were killing him.

Strange how Big Boss's charisma had that effect on people, spurring most likely unrequited romantic feelings in them without his ever realizing, or intending to. He was a man you'd gladly follow into the depths of Hell, simply due to the intense passion he held for his beliefs within his steadfast clear blue eye.

"Ocelot, any love evaporated the moment you let me in on Snake's behind the scenes plan regarding him and the Phan—Venom." He paused in the midst of speaking to correct himself, refusing even in hazy memories for Venom to be reduced to a mere object for Big Boss's use.

Aviators placed once more between his eyes, thankful his pained expression was at least partially obscured from Ocelot, Kaz wanted to suppress those memories.

Peacefully watching the Costa Rican sunset together, having pilfered Cecile's freshly baked macarons from the Mess hall so he and Snake could share. He later feigned ignorance about the minor theft, going as far as pinning the blame on Emmerich. As Miller would find out nine years later, Huey deserved much worse than an angry French woman threatening to kick his ass. Regardless, Snake having a large appetite had happily wolfed down the macarons, Kaz chuckling at the sight.

Big Boss afterward either hadn't noticed or simply not commented on the glances Kaz would sneak his way while the two swimsuit-clad men sat on the white sandy beach in comfortable silence. Kaz, in that moment, desperately wanted nothing more than cuddle into the Boss's strong arms while inhaling his scent, feeling protected and safe. Instead, all he could do was offer Snake a warm smile, who actually smiled kindly in return. A rare sight indeed.

The last rays of the sun warmed their muscular bodies as it had slowly sank beyond the horizon. A break at the beach did them good; even the legend needed some time for rest and relaxation.

Behind the scenes, Miller was a shrewd businessman in occasional contact with Zero himself. Yet it was strange how Kaz's time together with Snake in MSF was one of the few times they had actual moments of peace and happiness. For the Diamond Dogs nine years later with Venom Snake at the helm, life became all about their revenge, Miller's revenge. On XOF and that bastard Skull Face for ruining their hopes and dreams.

Cecile. His heart still occasionally ached to see his Parisian one last time. But he couldn't do that to her. She, just like Amanda, had their own lives to live outside of the mess that MSF nearly created for them, had the civilians and the kitten Nuke ironically not left mere weeks before the trojan horse attacks occurred. Missing Cecile, even longing for the old days of MSF, was all just another phantom pain.

"I'll kill you, you shit! Seriously, get lost!!" Miller angrily muttered in Japanese with gritted teeth, ready to kick Ocelot out of the FOXHOUND premises by force if necessary. Memories of the past were badly getting to Kaz, all Ocelot's fault.

Unable to understand yet honestly not really caring that he couldn't, Ocelot gave a lopsided smile in amusement, casually replying in Russian: "Calm down." He gave a moment's pause to add in English while standing from his seat, "All I can tell you is think about it."

"Like hell I will.", Miller viciously replied.

"By the way,", Ocelot began while placing the same hand had he held Miller with on his door. "I know as Diamond Dogs staff, Venom made sure we'd annually celebrate Peace Day, but I don't think Big Boss would be interested in such festivities. At least, not as this rate."

His voice went low as he added, "I don't want to see him heading towards such extremes. Maybe with you on board, he'll change his mind, hm?"

Having said all that was needed, Ocelot left the office, to make his way back home in hopes of seeing him after so many years apart, together in their new-found Outer Heaven.

Hopefully Kaz would see the light, then do whatever he could to help him help Big Boss. Ocelot never held any ill will towards Miller, though the latter's paranoia as the Diamond Dogs second-in-command made him think otherwise. Honestly, Miller could be pleasant to spend time with, on those rare days when life was relativity peaceful; no mission deployments to stress over or fresh-faced recruits to train.

Peace Day... Kaz could still hear the opening guitar strings of Love Deterrence in his head, even after so many years. At that point in time, Kaz was still a business partner with Zero himself. Surely some of the blame for Paz leaving, for tipping off Zeke's activation, had been on him, hadn't it.

Miller thought back to Venom's personal story of confusion and pain. During his early months as Diamond Dogs Commanding Officer, Venom had been seeing phantoms and butterflies as a result of his own dissociative identity disorder and personal guilt. Only when his truth was unearthed was that Venom realized the Paz whom he'd occasional visit at the medical platform was never really there to begin with.

He choked back the sob, the lump forming in his throat, that he didn't realize was there when Ocelot had said those words. The dam burst, his emotional circuits completely overloaded. Paz. Chico. MSF. Even after all these years, Miller knew the real Big Boss didn't forget about them all.

Didn't Militaries San Frontieres still die in vain?, he wondered as silent tears escaped from his eyes.

Both he and the Boss held some resentment towards Paz due to her betrayal—had their retrieval operation not failed, neither necessarily wanted her dead unless she would've proven uncooperative in explaining what Cipher was really up to. Although, Paz's depressing sacrifice as a result of her second bomb turned Miller's views around. In the end, she kept her true to her initially false words of being MSF's angel of peace; she had at least succeeded in saving Snake, Venom, and Kaz from certain death. After the horrifying torture and rape she and Chico both endured at the hands of XOF, Paz did what she could just to save them.

Still, if Big Boss never received the emotional closure that Venom seemingly did, and if Ocelot was extremely concerned for their Boss, maybe it was up to Kaz to help reassure him?

So Snake...John...could get over his stubborn behavior, little by little, being reminded that peace was still an option, even as they reached fifty and sixty years of life. It'd be a hell of a lot of work, but maybe possible with David's help. George being helpful was an uncertainty, considering his war criminal activities, while Eli willingly assisting anyone was a whole other can of worms.

Isn't peace what their fallen comrades would've wanted in the end? Wasn't this their way of telling Kaz to help Big Boss however he could?

Beginning to dry his tears, Kaz's still nagging loyalty was telling him to do the right thing, show Snake that his stubborn desire for constant war would only get him killed in the end. Regardless that his romantic feelings had long cooled, he owed his former best friend at least that much.

Miller was clueless as to what he'd do with himself, or for Big Boss, from here on out. But at least he had plenty of time to think about things in his somewhat lonely FOXHOUND office.

Maybe he would take Ocelot up on his offer and see just what Snake was planning for David and the other two boys. His protege David would probably feel more at ease if Miller was there, so the situation would work out for everyone.

And maybe he and Ocelot could find a private moment to sit down and talk, try to make amends for their past tensions. Kaz occasionally felt guilty for being so hot-headed towards him.

When Shalaska's sadistic tendencies during interrogations kicked in, however, he transformed into an entirely different person. Something that Kaz never wanted to cross, especially whenever their next chat would be. Hopefully on happier terms than today had gone. Of course, it wouldn't be anything as ridiculous as a date 

That would just be stupid., Kaz thought while trying to ignore the sudden thudding in his chest, already picturing Ocelot's stupid smirk and teasing at the suggestion of them talking, alone in either of their rooms. The conversation would inevitably turn towards their private lewd fantasies about Big Boss, one thing possibly leading to another between him and Ocelot.

Dear God, maybe we are beginning to drive each other crazy in the worst possible way.

Face flushing, Kaz couldn't tell if his stomach was suddenly doing back flips out of excitement or fear as he locked his office door, desperately needing some alone time. Whether that involved a stiff drink or losing himself his long-forgotten in lewd fantasies, he'd have to see.

***

It had been 7 AM in Zanzibarland when they next communicated, both men having needed time to recover after their strenuous ordeal. The memorial service Venom arranged upon almost immediate arrival at base had been hasty and solemn, yet heartfelt. In the meanwhile, the injured, regardless of their previous status of alignment on the battlefield, had been administered equal care. Most were honestly too exhausted to take in their location, simply thankful they weren't left like discarded garbage to die, alone at that.

Had the situation ended differently with Solid Snake being the victor, Venom Snake wouldn't have allowed them to die alone. Even if the rest of the world would soon enough forget Outer Heaven and their ultimate sacrifice, he wouldn't. Regardless of where their allegiances lay, he would've stayed by the men and women's side. Eternally grateful for their service and hard work.

"How is he?" Feigning disinterest about David's well-being had been the easy part. Although the operation wasn't executed exactly as Big Boss planned, at least he'd manage to take off some personal time from FOXHOUND to refocus. He'd flown and checked himself into an upscale hotel within New York City.

Despite initial misgivings of traveling there, it's not like he had to worry anymore about Zero being somewhere in the vicinity, especially considering John would be flying out the following afternoon.

"Sulking in the brig. I made sure nobody laid a finger on him, but we'll persuade him if he doesn't want to willingly join."

"Do whatever you want with him.", came the flat reply. Venom could hear the sound of slow-blowing smoke from his end of the transmission. The twinkling city lights seemed to capture John's interest momentarily as he sat by his balcony window, naturally a cigar in hand. Past midnight, and yet again another sleepless night. Why bother quitting at his age? He'd most likely one day die on the battlefield, where he always belonged.

His voice turned quiet, sincere. All those lives lost, all their hard work ruined in a mere instant. "Things seriously went to hell during N313. I'm sorry. I—"

"Water under the bridge, Ishmael."

"That's good and all, but there's no way to change your mind about retirement? The young Kurdish girl that's been under rehabilitation, she's a hell of a shot. Wants to assist FOXHOUND once she's healed up mentally, but I was thinking when the time comes, Quiet could train her."

"If she's that much of a natural already, all Quiet could really do is refine the kid's skills." Politely stifling a yawn, he was so tired in so many ways. It was no wonder he was feisty in making his voice heard; during one of their potential final chats. "After so many years of bloodshed, Quiet and I could do with living in peace."

Big Boss snorted. "You're bound to be disappointed, Ahab. Long term peace isn't viable. We survive by changing alongside the times." Somebody was certainly still bitter about Paz. About ideals of peace.

Ahab maintained his unwavering respect despite the clashing viewpoint. How many more years Naked Snake would continue feeling betrayed by The Boss was anybody's guess.

"Changing alongside the times is fine, but none of us want to see your solution to deterrence blow up in your face. The times aren't what killed her, it was the situation that—"

"I'll do what I think is right." Frighteningly, Big Boss was completely calm. Venom doubted either Kaz or even Ocelot could help the Boss see the light; unless the situation was brutal enough where he was actually threatening to launch.

A horrifying thought, when Big Boss was the very same man who prevented nuclear threats several times in the past. His stubborn tendencies only grew worse in recent years, although it didn't change the loyalty Venom and the others felt. Would Ishmael eventually come to the same conclusions that he and Quiet had?

Or would it be too late for John to change, dying miserably alone on the battlefield, instead of in peaceful comfort surrounded by their family, their fellow soldiers? Maybe even surrounded among his real family, provided he and the sons would open their stubborn as hell hearts.

"We'll never have the chance to die peacefully of old age. We have no tomorrow."

Deciding it was best to give up the fight before it even begun, Venom's aching muscles reminded him of the shower he badly needed. "I have to look after things here, and I'm sure you need your beauty sleep, no?"

Thankful for the intentional change in subject, Big Boss agreed. He was far from being in the mood for an argument, especially with somebody he considered a close friend. A friend he'd willingly use, same with Ocelot or Kaz if it meant his goals would be reached, but a friend nevertheless. "Yeah. Contact me if anything changes regarding him. Do whatever you want, as long as he's kept alive. Over and out."

Venom leaned back into his chair once the transmission ended, letting out a tired breath. He could understand the Boss's anger behind that project, but it had been twenty-three long years ago. So many things the man hadn't let go of, despite his claims to the contrary. In FOXHOUND, he'd busy himself with his desires for war by training soldiers while in the 80s and early 90s within South Africa, Big Boss would eagerly take his frustrations out on the battlefield.

On occasion he'd slit the throat of a guard or two when having a particularly bad day, but usually Fultoned any knocked out soldiers Venom's way. Venom, after dealing with Skull Face and XOF, would continue to build up Diamond Dogs, later Outer Heaven, with more recruits and more resources. A powerful stronghold, so nobody would dare mess with his vision of his family of soldiers. That's what Big Boss was going for.

***

Stretching while walking towards the makeshift portable shower close to his office, Venom was a little surprised to see Quiet around, the early morning sunlight illuminating her muscular figure. She seemed to be spaced out, eyes focused on the grass below.

"Thought you'd be enjoying a sunbath."

Startled while taken out of her thoughts, her eyes met his. Their eyes stayed on one another, gentle smiles beginning.

She had been wondering where things would go from here on out, if the real Big Boss's plans were honestly the right choice for the rest of the world...As a member of Diamond Dogs, she and the others made certain that future generations would be able to sleep easier at night, nuclear threats somewhat one less thing to worry about in this crazy world.

She just couldn't begin to understand where the Boss was coming from, or what good would constant warfare do for whom. Wasn't he getting tired, getting older, like the rest of his allies?

Quiet didn't think she could live with herself if in the end, she was forced to make good on her initial attempts at Big Boss's life. Hunting the man down, let alone killing him, would be too easy, considering her post-Parasite abilities, but not a decision she'd come to lightly.

The renowned soldier dying as a result of strangling or a silenced sniper sounded like a pitiful end to his legend, at any rate. For Venom's sake, and for her own, she wouldn't disrespect Big Boss in such a way.

"Quiet? What are you thinking about?"

She shook her head, offering another faint smile. Nothing to concern her sweetheart with. Everything was fine, the Earth itself would continue spinning. Hope would still flourish in some fashion. Maybe in thanks to one of Big Boss's sons.

He gestured with his thumb towards the portable shower behind them. "Go first if you need to. I can wait."

Shaking her head again, Quiet's smile grew brighter as an idea formed. Time for some beneficial stress relief for them both, she decided, while teasingly beginning to tug at the short ponytail he retained after all these years.

"Watch the ponytail.", he chuckled, tugging her own while Quiet's fingers moved to caress his cheek. His hands found their way down towards her butt, giving it a gentle squeeze. He'd always look away embarrassed, during their rides on the ACC whenever she'd flirt and smile at him as their relationship grew. Truthfully, he wanted to grab her wiggling ass so badly, even take her then and there aboard the helicopter, enjoying their mutual happy moans. Of course, nothing ever came out of his private fantasies.

Not only did Venom have a reputation to uphold, but he'd rather their first romantic encounter not be such a public, heat of the moment, situation for either of them. Happily, neither had to wait too long to consummate their feelings.

He suddenly winced, taken out of his dirty thoughts, as the sniper's fingers lightly brushed against his forehead shrapnel in the midst of her tender affection, his vision blurring for a few seconds.

"Careful...Quiet.", he lightly chided at the accident, needing another few seconds to gather himself while she kissed his nose in sincere apology. In spite of discovering creative ways to maintain a healthy romance, they still had to take precautions by not kissing on the lips, amongst avoiding certain sexual activities.

Venom reassured Quiet their first night together that he was fine since receiving the Wolbachia treatment, but she was insistent on not risking his very life for fleeting urges. Their first night together, when they decided to privately celebrate Quiet no longer being confined to that inhumane cell of hers, instead, permanently sharing his room from there on.

Their relationship up until that point had been somewhat secretive, but Venom, after receiving the truth about his duties from Big Boss's tape, wanted to happily bask in his new found lease on life. Ocelot took the official relationship announcement well, but Kaz need some coaxing, although he'd somewhat relaxed in those more recent months about Quiet.

Somewhat.

Much preferring to stay together than either dying from the illness or Quiet becoming a walking epidemic, Venom and Quiet taking precautions was an unspoken agreement they were more than happy to keep. No matter the occasional frustrations that would occur in moments of passion. Although some would see their situation as sad, they took it in stride, agreeing the vocal cord parasites were a challenge they could overcome together.

Venom offered Quiet a slow-building kiss on the neck, only to be rewarded with a happy moan while the grip of her hug tightened. His fun way to reassure his partner that he felt fine again, no need for her to worry.

Her eyes once again met his, but now they were full of pure mischief.

Wondering what she had planned, Venom nervously recognized the look a moment too late as he let out a surprised grunt. Giggling, Quiet had pushed him into the shower with ease as she closed the door behind them.

***

How many days had passed since he was thrown in the enemy brig? About three? Snake had spent the majority of that time silently sulking—and occasionally sweating. The surrounding jungles of Zanzibarland were so hot to handle that he was forced remove his standard issue FOXHOUND bandana, least it get drenched in sweat.

He grew pretty fond of wearing the silly thing, which just made him sulk further. As exciting as exploring the surrounding jungle could potentially be, he was fine to stay within the confines of the camp.

Thankfully the staff didn't dare try to confiscate his smokes. Heads would've rolled. Only problem was, he somehow lost his lighter during that last mission. Just another thing that added to his misery. As such, he barely ate any of the meals offered, usually preferring to light up after eating something tasty.

One bright side was the staff had been nice enough to clean his bloodied sneaking suit upon arriving to the brig. He currently wore it pulled down around his waist, chest visible as he sweat. Not like there were many cute girls around to flirt with, so what did it matter?

Snake sighed heavily, thinking about Operation Intrude N313. Why...why had his CO betrayed him? He had put so much trust, so much respect, towards Big Boss over the past year, only to be stabbed in the back.

Did the reality just not live up to the legend? Bastard was probably choking back his stupid cigars, feet propped up while silently laughing to himself in-between their radio calls. Were Fox, Madnar, and the others even safe?

Or were they captured—maybe even brutally tortured—too? Having the blood of innocent lives on his hands, lives he tried to protect, all for nothing...

David wanted to throw up at the chilling thought, clutching his stomach. He was about to puke. Where was that toilet when he needed it?! There should be one in his cell, otherwise that corner on the other side of his cot was starting to look more inviting by the second.

"Woof!"

Adrenaline kicking in, he whirled around only to remember he didn't have his Beretta on him, given the circumstances. On the other side of his cell, a large, gray, wolf-dog sat—wearing of all things an eye-patch like Big Boss's right eye had.

The tail-wagging fella was clearly happy to see David, panting loudly in between his barks and whimpers of wanting to play.

David's love for dogs overtook his anxieties as he estimated the big guy was about eleven or so. A couple of good years left in him, then. Carefully and slowly extending an index finger through the bars of his cell, the dog sniffed it out of curiosity, before happily licking away.

"Well, you're certainly friendly, huh?" Snake gave the faintest of smiles, amused that his new friend wasn't stopping with the love anytime soon. It was as if the wolf-dog recognized Snake somehow, picking up on something familiar within the fatigued soldier's scent.

Maybe one day, whenever he'd retire, he'd own a couple of dogs himself. Huskies and sled racing in the peaceful Alaskan wilderness, perhaps? Sounded good, provided he'd make it out of his own hostage situation alive.

"DD! Come!"

DD barked, breaking off his kisses to run towards his approaching master. DD ran in protective, happy, circles around the man; it was a few days since they last saw each other.

David frowned at the man he recognized from their battle. He was roughly sixty-three, decked out in a sneaking suit and eyepatch. A red prosthetic left arm and shrapnel lodged on the right side of his head, scars around his face. A body double of Big Boss himself? What the hell was going on?

A few steps behind them was a woman in her mid to late thirties, more than twenty years younger than his CO's body double. She was decked out in a military-patterned bikini top and shorts, sniper rifle attached to her back. She opted to bend down to pet DD, smiling and ruffling his fur without saying a word.

She was probably the one who tranquilized him. Snake figured maybe she kept her distance because the man was holding—of course—an unlit cigar; the smoke probably bothered her. Or, maybe this woman was afraid of Snake himself? Strangely enough, besides giggling, she stayed completely silent while playing and petting the wolf-dog.

Gritting his teeth, he mentally prepared himself for whatever was to come. He didn't like this situation one bit.

"Not bad that you nearly finished me off, rookie. Word of advice: Look after that body of yours. You won't be doing so good in about ten years' time."

Solid ever so slightly winced, otherwise maintaining an air of composure towards the older man. He brushed off the strange comment about his body, assuming it was some out-of-the-blue health precaution. Probably another pointless warning about the health risks associated with smoking. Had David known about the accelerated aging, not much would've changed with him doing whatever was needed to prevent idiots from blowing themselves and the Earth to smithereens with nukes.

"Have to admit, I'm still aching from that kick to the ribs. And you should know I could easily punch my way out of here if I found a weak enough spot on the wall. There's just no real point if you and your men were "polite" enough to not shoot me upon retrieval."

"....." Venom said nothing, taking the boy's demeanor in.

His expression at Venom was serious rather than angry. "Anyway. I may be a FOXHOUND rookie, but don't underestimate me. I've seen enough proof of war being hell to last me a lifetime."

"If that's the case...", Venom's prosthetic hand, his index finger, flicked open to reveal a lighter. Lighting a cuban, one of Ishmael's favorite brands, he offered it to Snake, who shook his head. Ah, that's right. According to Ishmael, David hated cigars. He offered the soldier a light for one of his Lucky Strikes, who greedily accepted the nicotine fix.

Being a rookie, what the hell kind of Intel would he have to offer to the enemy? He wisely choose to stay silent, so far having opted to give one word answers about what he needed or what he knew whenever the staff tried speaking with him these past three days.

"What are you doing still fighting? Why not give it up for a peaceful life? Hell, even my partner and I are planning on retirement soon."

Solid Snake blew out a ring of smoke, "It's the only thing I'm good at. Feels like it's in my blood."

"You have no idea."

"Huh?"

"...Nothing." Whoops. It wasn't Venom's place to reveal David's heritage, so he wisely dodged the issue from there on out. All things considered, Venom sometimes wondered if he'd retroactively be the three boys' uncle.

He imagined tolerating David and George just fine, but if he'd never have to personally deal with Eli again, that would be fine by him. Eli was clearly somewhere out there, alive and miserable, after that island incident involving Sahelanthropus. That much was obvious.

"As far as the U.S. government knows, you and the "unknown leader" of Outer Heaven died in the NATO bombings. This means you're a free man. But for the Resistance fighters and children of Outer Heaven...NATO considered them a liability to be disposed of."

Venom left out the important detail that Madnar and a handful of the Resistance fighters were safely nearby, secured on-site. They were Big Boss's business to deal with as he'd see fit, after all. Most likely, he'd offer them freedom to leave, alongside an option to join his cause.

"...No...How the hell could they..." David, a good little soldier who believed in his government, left feeling betrayed. Bitter. Like a certain someone Venom shared memories with. Snake just fell silent, his blood boiling at the revelation.

Just what the hell was Big Boss doing with a body double? Snake himself managed to be fooled briefly, in the heat of the moment, but...Whatever. That traitor was going to do as he saw fit, so why should it concern him? Onto more important matters.

"Fox and the others...Where are they?"

"Safe at FOXHOUND. Our men were too rough, but he'll be fine. Fox's sister was furious enough to chew out Ishmael for putting her Frankie in danger, even contacting an old flame of Fox's out of concern. His sister apparently went on about someday creating a bisexual vampire to get back at Ishmael."

"Umm...come again?" Bisexual...vampires? Was Solid Snake hearing things right? Big Boss was rumored to have a hilariously unfounded fear of vampires, but a mythical creature hitting on the hardened legend? Snake wanted to get some popcorn ready for the occasion, seeing as it served the jerk right.

Venom continued speaking, unfazed, "The rest of the survivors have been secured, too. They'll be free to leave once any injuries and PTSD is seen to. Our men aren't brutal enough to harm innocents."

"Big Boss" stared off into the distance, good eye drooping as if suddenly overcome with fatigue.

"So, Ishmael, huh? Who's..." Snake began to ask, then blinked at this man's complete silence. "Uh..."

"Oh." He pointed at the shrapnel in his head. "If I'm seeing things that aren't there, blame this. Seeing red as gray does not do you any favors during an operation. Damn thing makes it easier for me to just silently take everything in."

Solid Snake had the gall to otherwise calmly stare at his captor with...pity?

Venom shut his eye to refocus. Deep breath. Stay in control. Don't make yourself look bad in front of this rookie, one of the Boss's own sons.

"We'll need your help on a retrieval mission."

"Retrieval mission? After I was just captured in the middle of one? Are you shitting me?!" Snake didn't know what was worse: that his captors had the nerve to "request" this favor, or that the real Big Boss truly had left Snake out in the cold. There was no way out for him, no chance of escape.

"Quiet here", Venom began while almost lazily, comfortably, resting his real hand on the woman's shoulder. She met Snake's serious expression with one of her own, "Will be your backup. You should receive more details in the oncoming days."

"Hmm..." Snake grinned, arms crossed as he casually leaned against the door to his cell. Quiet was busy readjusting the Guilty Butterfly against her shoulder, double-checking her supplies. With a hectic military life like theirs, one never knew when they'd be deployed at a moment's notice.

Constantly busy with his own young life in the army, David had limited sexual experience with women or men. But he damn well knew when he liked what he saw. And this woman...damn.

"You know, I didn't think a female sniper would be so...cute."

Butterfly battle makeup manifesting in annoyance, she rolled her eyes as if to say "Nice try", placing a fulton recovery system at his cell's door. She crossed her arms to glare at the upstart. She'd show this rookie the ropes if ordered to, but hoped he'd at least have the decency to treat her with respect. If not, well, she did have her knife on hand, an excellent threatening tool to keep the occasional pervert in line.

"Bit of an outdated retrieval method, huh?", David murmured at the items which would've been otherwise at his feet, lamely playing off the woman's rejection like it was nothing. "Anyway, I prefer to work alone."

"Your loss. Like it or not, you will have radio backup, soldier.", the body double said with a shrug, ignoring Solid's smart-ass quip to give Quiet a smile. "Things are fine."

Battle makeup disappearing, she looked into her sweetheart's eye, puzzled. She followed him to Solid Snake's cell not only awaiting possible orders, but because she naturally enjoyed Venom's company. "Hm?"

"Feel free to relax until we get further orders."

He pulled out his iDroid, showing her the weather forecast via its holographic display. "Looks like you might want to recharge your batteries with a sunbath before the rain tonight."

Quiet couldn't hide her grin at the word "rain". She nodded, almost girlishly bouncing away before dematerializing to silently search for a section of the camp where she could privately relax. She knew Venom would arrange some down time to later accompany her.

It was a while since they just relaxed and played in the rain together. Her heart already happily raced at the thought of the more intimate moments between them that would be sure to follow.

Were Snake's eyes playing tricks on him, or did that woman just vanish into thin air with her body's red muscular system quite visible? To be fair, he'd heard some pretty weird stories from Big Boss himself, about Operation Snake Eater.

Snake thought his disbelief flew out the window somewhere around the story of Big Boss's fight against the man that shot bees from his mouth.

***

Noticing someone approach, Snake looked up to see a scrawny, lab coat-wearing kid around fifteen years old, carrying some food in a paper bag. Smelled like something good, whatever it was.

The young boy, glasses slipping down his nose, seemed like he was a fresh recruit himself, clearly nervous about dealing with a hardened enemy soldier. "Um...hi there. Have you eaten anything? I was asked to give you this."

He handed Snake a cheeseburger alongside a small bottle of ketchup, tossing the bag into a nearby wire wastebasket. The scientist did his best to ignore the intimidating leader of this organization leaning against the cell's wall, having fallen silent.

Snake was pleasantly surprised. "Hot damn, a burger? They must eat well here." He wasted no time in unwrapping the burger's paper to noisily scarf the meal down, the loud growling of his stomach betraying his refusal to eat much in the past few days.

"What's the matter? Don't like ketchup?"

"Nah, not that." David lightly shook his head while pocketing the tiny bottle, resuming his meal to talk through a full mouth. He was a little surprised about falling into such an easy-going conversation with a complete stranger, let alone a kid. 

"I just remembered something my former commanding officer taught me. Don't be afraid to consider unorthodox means when out on the battlefield. It could mean the difference between life and death."

The teenage scientist crossed his arms, looking intrigued, "So...you think ketchup could save your life?"

"Never know when it could come in handy." A beat before he resumed his meal. "So, what's your name, kid?"

"How rude! I may be young, but I'm smart enough to attend university! Anyway, I'm Hal. My friends call me "Otacon". I'm a huge fan of Japanese animation, you see. It stands for 'Otaku Convention'. It's based on this really cool event that started last year—"

The boy was interrupted by Snake's laughing. "I'm dealing with a total nerd, huh? Next thing you're gonna tell me is that's why you want to be a scientist."

"Hey!" Hal's fists angrily balled up, face a little red. "Ju-just because the hottest anime out of Japan right now is Evangelion and I like the giant robots and that cute female scientist Ritsuko doesn't mean--"

"Anyway, what's a nerdy kid like you doing in a warzone like this?"

"Um, well. I was requested to help the scientists like Dr. Madnar with the development of some new Metal Gears. I can't say I'm not concerned, though. Rumor has it they're to be equipped with...nukes."

Snake nearly choked on his burger, "What?!" In vain, Snake flung towards the young man, desperately trying to grab the scruff of Emmerich's labcoat through the bars of his holding cell.

"Don't tell me the men were idiotic enough to agree to build those death machines!"

"No way! My family—Well, my father...He...He sounded like a brilliant man in his time, but..."

Hal shook slightly as a fuzzily remembered snapshot of his childhood came to mind. He was sitting in a large, scary, metal robot as Mommy and Daddy were yelling loudly. He had began to cry at their shouting match, Mommy gently pulling Hal away from the robot, and into the comfort of her warm and soothing arms.

Daddy had looked really angry, the words "important experiment" being the only ones that stayed permanently burned within Hal's mind even today.

The only memory he truly had of his mother, because before long, Mommy sent him away to live with family friends in America. It was supposed to be temporarily, but Mommy never arrived to pick him up like she promised. Hal continued living with his mother's long-time acquaintances, until one day in 1985, his distraught-looking father, wearing brand-new metal legs, unexpectedly arrived so they could live together again.

An innocent five-year-old boy, Hal didn't think to ask whatever happened to Mommy, or why his Daddy had looked so angry in certain moments.

"There's this weird tension between me and Jul—my stepmom while Dad constantly makes lame excuses about not raising me and my kid stepsister properly. I just had to get out of there! Weirdly enough, some organization called FOXHOUND requested my assistance a week ago. They promised that in compensation for my time here I'd get an excellent education. I just hope E.E. doesn't think I abandoned her."

He took off his glasses to rub his tired eyes, "You think I could request E.E. to join us when she's a little older? She's a whiz with machines like I am, you know."

"Couldn't tell ya about your sister. But my name's David. So...bad homelife, much?" Shaking his head, Snake knew that he really wasn't one to talk, having been raised by various military and educational instructors growing up. Completely unaware of the family he had, the family who avoided him.

Hal backed away as he readjusted his glasses, irritation written across his face."You don't have to worry about my bad home life, mister! I refuse to go down the same path as him. What our world, what future generations need, is proper and safe disposal of nukes. Don't you think?"

Letting out a tense breath, Snake leaned back against the cell wall.

"Agreed, but let me guess," he began darkly, "They're forcing all you scientist types into help with development anyway?"

"Listen!" Hal was beginning to look frustrated, stamping his foot. Being forced to think on the spot like this wasn't doing him any favors. "If you're as concerned as I am, let's brainstorm! You look really strong and I'm a natural with technology....I mean, what do you think?"

Not a bad idea, given the reasoning behind it, but how the hell would they pull it off? "Give me some time to think it over, kid."

In ten years time, if their partnership was still going strong, would they have become friends, even best friends? Despite hating to admit it, Snake did feel lonely at times. He could easily see himself forming a deep emotional bond with at least one man, preferring women for romantic relationships. Given the current situation, he highly doubted he'd be hanging out with Gray Fox anytime soon.

Venom Snake snorted, more so at the mentions of Huey than these rambling endeavors for the future. He straightened up and uncrossed his arms, finally reminding the two new partners in crime of his presence.

Hal swallowed his fear, in self-disbelief he was foolish enough to go on about a sabotage plan right in front of the enemy. How stupid of him! Once again maintaining calm, Snake quietly stared at Venom, honestly curious what was going through his mind.

"Good thing for small miracles.", he dryly began. "Gotta say, kid, there's a world of difference between you and your father."

Hal just whimpered in acknowledgment, clearly about to piss himself. Sighing, Venom gently placed his prosthetic hand on the trembling boy's shoulder.

"Do I look that scary?", he chuckled as Hal only nodded in reply. The real Big Boss would probably roll his eyes at people finding him so intimidating. Not that he wouldn't be, if it was required.

Then again, finding a sixty-year-old, six foot tall, muscular military commander as frightening was probably a normal reaction to have.

"Relax, Hal.", he began, voice as gentle as his grip was on the lad. "I hate to tell you this, but your father...He's a dangerous man. You'll be safe from him as long as you stay with us. We'll look into what we can about your stepsister, but what about your stepmom?"

"Umm...I overheard Julie threatening to leave during one of their recent fights, so she should be fine. Whenever she threatens that, though, Dad just begs her to stay and reminds her the fighting's never his fault." He seemed depressed at those words, completely dumbfounded by his father's lack of personal responsibility, let alone lack of spine.

Venom Snake rolled his eyes. Typical Huey. "I knew your father, and I know all about that dark history of his, more than I'm sure you'd like to tell your friend about."

The former leader of Outer Heaven gestured towards Solid Snake, who actually looked concerned as Hal grew more uncomfortable, wincing, as if he was now about to puke. Hal remembering the swirling rumors that his mother died in an accident, one that had been his father's fault. He never wanted to believe it to be true.

Venom continued, "I'm personally acquiring nukes for disposal. Rumors of equipping them are just to scare our enemies; remind the world that we are a force to be reckoned with." 

Big Boss could do things his way, but while Venom was still in charge, not yet relieved of his duties, he'd do things his way.

"Strangelove and a friend she greatly admired... Nukes aren't the world, their will, that they wanted to leave for the future. So, will you help us out, son?"

Hal offered another silent nod while slow backing away from the strong man's grip. He was slightly curious about this greatly admired friend of his mother's, yet the mention of both his parents, alongside private memories of his stepmother's recent seduction attempts...It was all too much. No matter how hard he tired, Hal was beginning to feel sick to his stomach

"Excuse me.", he politely blurted out while rushing off towards the bathrooms, feebly praying to God that he'd hold out until then. The last thing he wanted was to embarrass Zanzibarland's science division.

Sighing loudly, Venom shrugged, while offering David another smoke from his lighter. David again accepted, silently enjoying the relaxation.

"We have no tomorrow but there's still hope for the future. Someday the world will no longer need us, no need for the gun, or the hand to pull the trigger.", he recited the very same words he once told her in reassurance, back in the '80s.

David blinked, taken aback by the very wise words. Who was this guy really speaking to, given that far-off gaze of his? "Hope for the future, huh? Yeah...that's exactly it."

The two men stared into each other's eyes, searching, before breaking out into a shared, faint, smile. The lines between enemy and ally were rapidly starting to blur. When all was said and done, they really did want the same outcome for the world. Maybe hope did still exist, whether or not peace was an illusion...Just another phantom to be held onto. 

"You know, smoking's a seriously bad habit. Quit while you're still young. In your case especially, your body will thank you." 

"What do you mean, in my case?" Solid Snake groaned at the unexpected chastising, feeling the moment was ruined. Venom calmly ignored answering, apparently walking off towards whatever duties he was required to overseer. 

It was the first and only discussion where they personally connected: Venom, Quiet, and DD would leave for retirement in Prague during Solid's retrieval mission. Prague, where Eva was rumored to be currently living. Where Venom and Quiet would occasionally, eventually, help David and Hal with the behind-the-scenes slow beginnings of the Philanthropy organization.

First as a means of preventing Metal Gears from being developed, Philanthropy's objectives would eventually shift towards anti-Patriot activity.

There was still hope for the future.

***

Venom had walked into a nearby tent not far from David's cell. His eye followed the direction where Hal ran off. He couldn't blame the kid, his own memories flooding back of what an utter piece of shit Huey had been. He could only imagine the kid's current screwed up home life.

Venom felt some apology, no matter how feeble, towards Huey's attitude and treatment of Strangelove was needed. Big Boss had been happy to oblige with arranging Hal's departure from his home; the news of what Huey had done sickened him as well.

The denials of murdering his own wife, nearly endangering their son...Let alone his various excuses whenever something went wrong at either Mother Base, be it MSF or Diamond Dogs. Violence within war was a sad necessity, not that atrocities weren't a disturbing topic on its own, but to be so unhinged in one's domestic life?

Huey—Emmerich—never had been one of them. His self delusions, being caught up within his own lies so strongly that they'd become truths, certainly would get the better of him, one of these days.

"Boss!", Ocelot had cheerfully begun, offering the very surprised Venom Snake a tight bear hug. He had been sitting atop the tent's simple military cot while lost in thought, springing to life upon Venom entering.

Miller and Big Boss were heavily on his mind, although the waiting game was the best course of action towards either. For now, Ocelot needed to keep in mind that conversation he made damn sure to overhear.

Venom, for his part, was rather surprised at the hug, although that's not to say it wasn't welcome. "Good to see you too.", he murmured, offering a gentle pat on the back. Neither subordinate or commander had properly talked face-to-face in about a week's time.

Considering the recent stress regarding Outer Heaven, some kind physical contact was more than welcome.

Nodding, Adam let go, slinging a friendly arm across his other Boss's shoulder as they sat down together to talk. "Been so busy runnin' around since your return..." His voice went low, "I'm glad you're safe. Miller feels the same way. You're one of our closest friends, after all."

It was hard not to feel flustered about Ocelot's honest admittance that the three of them were friends, but made Venom happy all the same, hoping his slight embarrassed blush would soon die down. Ocelot's overly perky attitude probably meant one thing as Venom's own voice lowered, "You remember him?"

Another nod. "Honestly, I can't help but feel torn between the two of you, but...I promise to follow you until John arrives to take the reins. You're my Boss as much as he is."

Venom felt strangely touched by the gesture as their sincere eyes met. "Ocelot...Thank you." He didn't have the right to go first-name basis with him. That was clearly something special, something reserved, between Adam and John themselves. 

The cowboy continued as Venom stood to stretch before taking a seat on the cot across from him. "Although I hope this situation won't force me to undergo the hypnotherapy, again."

Ocelot absolutely hated the thought of having to forget about Big Boss just because he didn't agree with his ideals completely. It would've been easier to carry on with the lie of Venom Snake being the real Big Boss, if that's how the stress would turn out.

"I can understand where Ishmael's coming from on having a "security measure", although—!"

Forced to cut himself off, Venom's shrapnel and bad eye were beginning to painfully throb, as if the entire right side of his body was on fire. He winced while clutching onto his eyepatch with his prosthetic. His fleshy right hand had tightly gripped onto the now rustled bed sheets. On occasion, Venom found himself wondering if his right eye was intentionally damaged post chopper crash to keep up the body double ruse, not that it mattered anymore if true.

"Hey, don't push yourself now." Ocelot helping his friend ease on top of the bed, his fake Texan drawl creeping back full force. "Wise men only speak when it's important, right?"

Eye still shut tightly from pain, Venom could only offer a nod in reply. He lay on his side against the surprisingly comfortable cot, vaguely aware that this spare tent—a resting quarters for whoever needed it at the time—included a small bookcase and desk. Some medical journals were scattered about. Venom made a mental note to give them a look over once he felt better. No point in letting his long ago valuable training go to waste.

"Need a minute here to rest.", he finally muttered, currently not-so-good eye closing.

Left to his private thoughts, Ocelot glanced at Solid Snake's cell within the near distance. He frowned while feeling his cheeks redden slightly, the longer he stared at Snake. Add John's eyepatch and some facial hair and then you'd have...No. No, not quite. Father and son were more similar than either cared to think, although their approaches to life were quite different.

"Mind talking to him?" Unaware of his friend's inner turmoil, Venom slowly requested Ocelot through shut eyes. He stood, shakily popping some aspirin and downing a bottle of cold water—ready to keep an eye on the proceedings, despite not feeling at one hundred percent. 

"As long as you feel up to it, Boss."

The sound of Ocelot's jangling spurs faded away as he casually left the tent, needing to attend to a personal matter before mentally readying himself for his other role.

***

Otacon was still a nervous wreck after emptying the contents of his stomach. Thinking back to the layout he mentally mapped out of this camp, he remembered the Mess hall should be behind two large trees before the shipment container section. He understood that a military base needed its resources, be it fuel or minerals, but so many in one place felt like a bizarre collection, of sorts.

Regardless, gathering his thoughts with some hot tea before helping the other scientists with whatever needed certainly sounded like a good idea. Stupidly bumping into someone due to staring at the dirt as he walked, the boy offered a hasty apology before realizing the other person didn't move out of the way.

Puzzled, Otacon looked up to be face to face with a dangerous looking cowboy, about to let out a surprised yelp before the older man raised a finger to silence him.

Ocelot grimly began, "About your father...Let's just say you did yourself a favor by gettin' the hell out of Dodge."

Frowning, Hal couldn't help but take personal offense at this straight-forward assessment. "Why does everybody have to make Dad out to be some bad guy?! Since you're talking as if you knew him, did you ever bother giving him a fair chance?"

"Too many to count, kid. And he blew them all spectacularly." He gestured towards the general vicinity with his hands as if to prove his point.

Not knowing any other way to handle this sensitive topic but the blunt approach, he continued with deliberately slow-paced words. "Now, I didn't personally know your mother, but. In another life, had certain situations played out very differently, well...We could have been family, you and I. Almost like brothers."

"Uhh..." Hal looked extremely uncomfortable at the remark. He could easily picture this older man bullying him within a domestic setting. Harshly critiquing Hal's taste in anime while loudly clamoring about watching boring westerns together instead.

"That's..a scary prospect.", he dryly chuckled.

"Anyway.", Ocelot placed his hand firmly on Hal's shoulder, his gray eyes turning cold. "Don't get too attached to your anti-nuke philosophy."

To say Otacon was utterly floored by this strange man's depressing words was an understatement. Was a teenager honestly one of the few sane people appointed to this organization?

"Hey, quit kiddin' around! What kind of life do you people plan on leaving for the future besides none whatsoever? What about letting the world just be?"

Bingo. That was all the confirmation Adamska needed, based on Strangelove's final tape recovered from the AI Pod so long ago. This boy… He really was meant to be his mother's meme.

Just how many personal tragedies would Hal encounter—or manage to overcome—in his still young life, as a result of the burden which had been thrust upon him, thanks to destiny?

An organization to restore the world without inference from opposing fractions...would it truly be possible? Whether the opposing sides were East vs West like the Cold War, or The Patriots vs John's military outfits, like current times.

The deeply embroiled mess that had a current stranglehold on humanity made Adam doubt a positive outcome, but he was more than happy take part in whatever sins were required to remove Patriot control from society at large. The end results would be certainly interesting to see!

"Prove me wrong, Hal. See if you can make our mothers proud, hm?" Revolver Ocelot gave the utterly confused Otacon a rough pat on the back, his gruff voice in preparation for his momentary "performance" in front of David.

The sadist could hardly wait, excited heart beginning to pound loudly, leaving the poor soul without another word exchanged between them.

Some choices were best left for Hal to make on his own, in his own time.

***

Despite the camp's somewhat primitive resources in certain capacities, such as forcing tents as living quarters for all staff, a proper Room 101 had been developed first thing. Similar in function and feature to Diamond Dogs and Outer Heaven.

No real point in having a contingency plan if Zanzibarland had no proper means to deal with unwilling recruits, potential spies, and the like.

Snake lay against the cold, vertical-facing metal table wearing only his boxers, restraints tightly holding his wrists and ankles in place, smirking despite his predicament. "If it's information you're after, sorry to say that I know shit."

He sighed, sounding more tired than generally annoyed, otherwise keeping his collected wits about him, "Not that I mind the change in clothes since this camp's hot as hell, but why am I almost naked?"

"To make things more fun for me, my boy." Ocelot purred like the cat he was, a dangerously affectionate glint in his cold gray eyes.

"Hey, whatever you do in your private time's your business." Attempting a shrug, which was in all honesty a stupid mistake due to Snake's current bound state, rewarded him with his shoulders loudly popping. "...Ow." He winced.

"You shouldn't play naive." The man was laughing at the boy's misfortune, truly a sadist at heart. "It's not information I'm after, but you. You'd be a worthy addition to our cause. Why don't you consider it, so your little situation can be over before it begins?"

Venom Snake seemed like a fine enough leader, provided he wasn't just pulling over the wool over his or Otacon's eyes in Venom's agreement with their position on nuclear war. But doing anything that could potentially assist Big Boss?

Those opportunities had long ago passed. Had Snake not been sent on a suicide mission, he would've been more willing to hear Ocelot out.

"Retrieval missions are a part of my skill-set and all. It's not like my assistance is some huge moral dilemma. But willingly helping Big Boss? Screw you."

Silence was the response he had been met with, so all he could do was look straight ahead. Inexplicable annoyance quickly reached the boiling point as he struggled against his shackles as a means of getting his point across.

"Get your ass over here and untie me right now. You're seriously wasting your time."

Another stupid rookie mistake. Snake glanced out of the corner of his eyes to realize Ocelot now held the remote that activated the electric table he was trapped against. Deeply inhaling, he awaited the incoming shocks. No way in hell he'd give his captors the pleasure of seeing him squirm; one benefit of being under Big Boss's leadership was resistance training to torture. 

Neither man seemed to break regardless of the emotional or physical torment thrown their way. Yet another example of their sometimes similar dispositions had left Snake feeling as if something just wasn't right, some kind of crucial information was being withheld.

There was no reason for Snake to over think things, he'd rationalize. Of course Big Boss personally taking him under his wing meant they'd have similar traits.

"Shame.", Ocelot finally replied, his back turned to Solid as he prepped something that the boy couldn't quite see. "You're truly something special."

David twitched, gritting his teeth. There was no way he'd give in.

Prickling, hot, sensations suddenly overloaded Snake's nervous system, he let out a yelp despite being trained better than that. Absolutely the worst possible time to be lost in thought, as he noticed Ocelot calmly raising the remote's dial further for the electrified bed.

Snake's hips and ass inching slightly off the metal bed as deeper pain continued overloading his senses, his chest began to drip with sticky sweat, muscles twitching. He couldn't help himself from letting out a strange noise that sounded like a cross between a shriek and groan, music to Revolver Ocelot's ears, if his smug expression was anything to go by.

"Weakest of the three boys, and yet you're still holding your own? You're pretty good." Ocelot threw a gloved punch square into Snake's chest the instant he'd cut off the electric voltage, the table having rotated to its regular horizontal position.

"Gh~!" The young soldier could only let out a garbled noise when another punch, this time directed towards his stomach, followed suit. Wind adequately knocked out of him, were his ears playing tricks on him, or did Ocelot momentarily slip into a completely normal voice, no theatrical or fake accents of any kind?

"Whatever personal grudges between you and Big Boss is your deal. But continue that stubborn attitude of yours, and you'll end up far worse than dead; you'll end up being used. Don't you value your freedom?"

Snake didn't know what to make of the strange advice, so he didn't bother replying, breathing somewhat hitched. His fatigued brain registered a radio set on the table, alongside various tools—God knows what their use was—against to a long mirror. If instincts taught Snake anything, it was certainly a one-way mirror. 

Thinking about the Russian alphabet or counting backwards from one hundred in French did nothing to take his mind off the pain. Damn it.

The sorrowful Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division faded in and out of his consciousness, heart pounding loudly throughout his brain. If he remembered the story right, that song was created shortly before the lead singer's tragic suicide. 

Maybe there was some truth in those words, about respect running dry and inability to function, be it a romantic love or a love out of deep respect. He could certainly relate to some of those feelings towards that man...

Of course, it all came back to Big Boss. Why should Snake care? Why did a part of him still care, knowing full well he had the mental and emotional strength to just cut the bastard off and move on with his life?

Giving a start, ice cold water flooded his entire body, gasping for air as his body shivered on instinct while Snake's "cowboy" friend set the bucket on the bloodied floor below. Snake could only imagine just how many men were already tortured—probably even killed—in this special room of theirs.

"Feeling better, tough guy?" The theatrical voice was back in full force, Ocelot leaning in uncomfortably close to Snake's dripping now face.

Not dignifying the man with a response, Snake felt his mind go blank. Numb. The fatigue from the torture and recent stress regarding his alleged father-figure finally catching up in both body and mind.

The reality of his situation already hit him hard, but suddenly reprocessing it all just left an inexplicable wave of depression and heartache.

"And just where did your confidence go, hmm?" The gunslinger’s hands lay against either side of the boy's cheeks as he whispered in his ear, "I love to reload during a battle. There's nothing like the feeling of—" He cut himself off, surprised at the boy's lack of response.

"Bad kitty." David's eyes looked dead, empty, before he continued in his disturbingly calm voice while staring straight ahead. Barely aware of the older man staring him down, trying to intimidate him. "Listen. If you're planning on offing me, just get it over with. He wanted me dead from the first day I joined FOXHOUND, right? Might as well make him happy, because everything's about his ultimate goals, right?" 

Son of a bitch. Ocelot cursed internally, without the luxury of being amused by his ironic choice of thoughts towards poor Eva. He hadn't intended to break his victim. Rather,

Shalashaska needed Solid Snake to open up. Which is what he accomplished, but not like this. Heavily sighing, Adam roughly slapped the boy.

"Ow!''

Thank goodness that a new shock to his system apparently opened the boy up. Big Boss's organizations had always prided themselves on their standards of prisoner treatment, something that Cipher and XOF let go completely out the window. Naturally, a valuable and rare asset like Solid Snake deserved special treatment from the rest.

"David, do you need to visit our psych ward? Get some PTSD treatment underway?" His voice, now carrying his preferred Texan drawl was flat, unsure of what to make of the kid's extreme reactions.

Certainly David had no way of knowing, not yet at least, about his father's identity. Looking up to Big Boss as his father without realizing the truth, however, was a logical explanation for the boy's depressive freak-out.

"No. A nice drink or ten would certainly help, though."

Adam snorted at David's poor joke. Yeah, no way he'd cater to the boy's potential alcoholic tendencies, apparently his brain's natural reaction to his extreme stress. Odd, considering Big Boss allegedly kept tabs on such undesirable behaviors during his own PTSD case when dealing with The Boss's AI in the '70s. Christ, he was beginning to psychoanalyze the kid when that was nowhere near his line of work, although psychology knowledge certainly helped. Either way, the medical staff could tend to Snake's troubled heart and mind.

No need to get personally involved, as any potential attempts at friendliness towards "the sons" long ago soured, mostly due to Eli. Now, if Ocelot didn't have to see Eli ever again, he could die a happy man.

Something about that brat seriously rubbed him the wrong way.

"That's enough for today." He unlocked David's shackles, shaking his head and muttering something all the while. Frustrated at himself for his botched interrogation attempt, Ocelot should've known better to properly read the kid's emotions and body language before diving right into things.

Ocelot's eyes serious, he pointed at David, as if reprimanding a misbehaving child and not a hardened soldier. "I hope we won't have to meet in here again. Get yourself looked at, boy."

***

David sat upright on the table, throwing his sneaking suit on over his underwear then readjusting his bandana. Sure he could have requested a fresh set of clothes, but wearing his uniform brought him the most comfort, especially if he'd be forced to deploy for whatever mission at a moment's notice. He figured that given enough time, Zanzibarland would grow into its own thing. Would it really become a nation though?

He didn't bother turning upon hearing a door open, his suspicions confirmed. So there was an observation room behind that mirror. Great way to make his discomfort about the torture session worse, especially when the approaching footsteps clearly weren't Venom's. 

"Let's cut to the chase. I'd rather not help with anything if your buddy that runs this place will give me false Intel again. Turns out he's treated me nicer than you ever have, so I can give him the benefit of the doubt." 

The older man grumbled in reply, resting his hand on David's shoulder. The boy stubbornly refused to face him. "I'm not saying what I did was right, but I had no choice. Better to let you die an honorable death than be used as a government tool, or them using you to kill me." 

Of all the nerve, for him to just...! Wasting no words, David turned around, punching straight for the old man's face. A simple punch wasn't even a fraction of the anger, of the betrayal, that had gnawed in his heart over the past few days, but letting it out was a good start. 

Big Boss quickly grabbed Snake's arm, dismantling the oncoming attack only to bend said arm backwards. Snake screamed in pain, wobbly taking two steps back from the sudden shock. His former boss was wearing a leather jacket and dark jeans, obviously he couldn't be in his FOXHOUND commander's uniform behind supposed enemy territory.

"This is why you're still a rookie; letting your senses dull during rest. You're too sloppy! Shape up!" Big Boss calmly grabbed his injured left arm and snapped it back in place. Snake winced, teeth gritted, otherwise not allowing the man to see how much pain he was in. Yet the glare had never left Snake's face.

He couldn't forgive him. Wouldn't forgive him. To be unknowingly sent on a suicide mission, being expected to fail? And here Snake had thought that Big Boss saw the potential within him, had wanted Snake to show FOXHOUND that he was no ordinary rookie. That there was truly something special about Solid Snake; and that special reason was why Big Boss had given Snake the honor of sharing his codename.

Snake frowned, eyeing Big Boss's pocket lighter, then the Boss, then his lighter again...If that bastard really didn't need Snake, what would be the quickest way to take him out, once and for all? If Venom wasn't in the back room, Big Boss must've excused him upon his arrival, whenever the hell that was. Wouldn't the staff question two identical men walking around? Oh well, not Snake's problem. No witnesses around would make things easier.

"Just what are you thinking about?", the old man asked flatly, eyes narrowed. For a moment, that bizarre nightmare about being set on fire came back to light, before he just as quickly brushed it off. Did that idiot boy really think he'd die so easily? 

Snake gave a start. So much for that plan of attack. "Er...nothing."

A heavy, fatigued, sigh. "Listen. Do me a favor and quit acting ridiculous. I'm not looking for a fight." Big Boss then sat on the table, gesturing for the reluctant young man to do the same.

"So many of my best men and women...Murdered, thanks to you. It's a miracle we were able to save those we could alongside some of the child orphans before those bombings occurred." Big Boss had returned Snake's exact glare, but otherwise kept his anger in-check. 

He badly needed a smoke if their conversation was going to go in the direction he just knew it would. But no, not yet. He could be patient. Big Boss shut his eye in an effort to calm his heart. It was beating far too fast, too loud, for his liking. He really didn't want to go down this road, he just wanted to ignore it, but…

Why else did he fly down here, under the pretense of needing personal time away from FOXHOUND, if he didn't face his own fears, his own disgust?

He finally continued, "I've never thought of you... As a son. But I've always respected you as a soldier. And... As a man."

"What?", David asked, breathlessly.

John pulled out a photo from his pocket, handing it to David through fingerless gloved hands. It was a weird feeling for their hands to brush across one another like that.

David vaguely recognized the photo from 1974, during Big Boss's days as a member of MSF. Not that he knew too much about it. Standing together in the weathered photo was their pilot, Master Miller, Big Boss, and somebody he didn't recognize...but...those piercing eyes. Venom Snake before the plastic surgery, perhaps?

Staring long and hard at his alleged father's face, the physical similarities between them were pretty striking, David just never realized...

Well, that had certainly had explained why some of the older FOXHOUND members were taken aback when he joined as a fresh-faced recruit!

Handing back the photo while shaking his head, David could only awkwardly begin, feeling very strange to formally address the Boss, "...Sir...I've always looked up to you as a father—"

 John's eye twitched, his anger overtaking him in the end. His knuckles turned white into tightly clenched fists, the memories flooding in. His private exchange with Ocelot in that Cyprus hospital room in 1984. He had sat upright in his bed, enjoying a cigar. John would occasionally glance at the bed to the left; where his neighbor slept. Time was running short. He had woken up, the world—XOF at least—wanted him dead and buried. The phantom—Venom Snake's—actual coma at this point had been artificially induced in a haste, in an effort to continue his psychological conditioning according to plan. Both John and Adam hoped that time would stay on their side.

"They're no sons of mine, and they sure as hell are not me. What they are is much sicker than that." His words back then, when Adam brought up Les Enfants Terribles, and the current known locations of the three boys. "Treat him like a human being, just another person.", he had said, if Ocelot and the others would somehow encounter Eli during their missions.

Just treat them as people, don't treat them somehow related to me. That was how Big Boss still felt, his heart hardened. Genes were one thing. But a meme, a means to carry out his legacy, his legend? Something different entirely. Something to use to his own advantage despite initial reluctance. There was no time to feel guilty given the circumstances.

Turning to David, John grabbed the younger man by the scruff of the neck before slapping his face, a sickening sound on impact.

"What the hell was that for?! You told me you're not looking for a fight!" His stinging cheek turned into a harsh shade of red. Snake was about to further question Big Boss's actions until the man quickly threw his arm around Snake's neck as he dangerously leaned in, combat knife glinting. A CQC choke hold. Going on sixty years strong and he still hadn't lost his touch.

"Want to keep talking like that, you sick fuck?" His voice was low, close to a growl, like a caged animal. Big Boss clearly didn't hear Snake's question, too disgusted by the boy's feelings of family love. Something inside of him snapped. He couldn't take the years of built-up anger and frustration anymore, needing to lash out. So he let his feelings out the only way he knew how: Beating the shit out of Solid Snake. "Try and push me. I never wanted you."

That comment...had really stung, adding to David's misery, despite not knowing the circumstances of his own birth. Still, Big Boss's unhinged attitude seemed to be a combination of a legitimate threat and a bizarre challenge. Maybe if he successfully backed off, Big Boss would in turn?

No time to over think it, Snake cupped his hands together to brutally elbow Big Boss, hard, in the stomach. Playing dirty for good measure by rising his leg for a kick towards the groin, a slightly winded Boss was too fast, grabbing Solid Snake's leg and slamming him onto the floor covered in week's old dried blood.

Snake coughed, blue eyes blurred as the steel walls of the torture room spun like a Merry-Go-Round. Still couldn't win against him, huh? "Out of your system yet?", he coughed again.

"Maybe. You?", was the honest, breathless, reply.  Physical combat was exactly the sensation he craved to feel better about things. His combat knife placed back in his pocket, Big Boss offered a hand to help his understandably cautious subordinate. The next action, however, was the real surprise, as Snake was pulled into a tight hug, arms pinned underneath Big Boss's hold. He was too flabbergasted to attempt backing away. Seemed to be Big Boss's way of saying Thanks, I needed that, but there seemed to be more behind the embrace. 

He just stood there, feeling awkward as hell, inhaling the Boss's mild sweat from the impromptu CQC practice which mixed in with those damn sweet-smelling cigars he loved so much.

"You're a soldier. Freedom for soldiers the world over is what I—No, we—crave. It's in your blood, after all."

A beat had passed as their eyes rather awkwardly met. "You are my son." Seems the former war hero finally relaxed, his pent-up rage unloaded during their scuffle. His voice was surprisingly gentle, sincere. No intent to betray within either his eye nor his voice as the man continued embracing him. "David. I need you."

David was legitimately taken aback in the older man's arms. "Wh-what?"

"I need you. If you don't help me, help us. Then..." He trailed off. Finally permitting himself to show his deep seated fears to someone. To his own son. "The Patriots AI System will unknowingly enslave humanity. Information control—whether soldier or civilian—will become a very real concern. Please help me free the rest of the world."

"So you can enslave humanity yourself, huh?", Snake inquired with a calm air, his eyes never leaving his father's. He didn't understand what that...whatever...group was, as lack of Nanomachines within him at his early age meant no censorship or means of speaking the words. Whatever, he figured things would be explained to him soon enough.

"No. So that my men and I can function, so that we can continue to live and change alongside the times. Metal Gears are the only way to maintain constant warfare."

Snake shook his head. "Those damn killing machines are better left destroyed from my encounter with one." He reluctantly managed to reciprocate the hug, his head spinning, completely unsure of how to feel about Big Boss, about himself, about anything anymore.

Neither man was sure if he felt love, although neither didn't necessarily felt hate, either. Does it have to be one or the other, love or hate?

"Pft, I've dealt with plenty of Metal Gears back in my day. I'm only now just starting to see the tactical advantage they can give us."

For some reason, John found himself thinking how The Boss AI was still secured within the current R&D department. They had considered installing it into a newer Metal Gear, but he just couldn't bring himself to do anything with it. Not after what poor Strangelove and her son had been through. Best to leave it as a relic from the past. Maybe it'd finally recognize Jack for Jack, as the silly thing had reacted with confusion towards Ahab.

Big Boss finally let go of David, who glanced up, slightly curious why his former CO fell lost into thought. Naturally, John's mind turning towards her, since he stupidly decided to think about that damn AI Pod. He considered throwing the stupid thing into the ocean himself, if only the scientists wouldn't have his ass after the fact.

"Are you smoking a cigar?" "Uh huh." "I don't approve of you smoking during a mission." "Hey, you used to smoke them." "Never mind what I did." "....."

"In the 21st century everyone will be able to see that we are all just inhabitants of a little celestial body called Earth. A world without communism and capitalism...That is the world I  wanted to see. But reality continued to betray me."

"One must die and one must live. No victory, no defeat. The survivor will carry on the fight. It is our destiny...The one who survives will inherit the title of Boss. And the one who inherits the title of Boss will face an existence of endless battle." 

"Jack... or should I say Snake...You're a wonderful man. Kill me now. There's only room for one Snake and one Boss."

"You're crossing a suspension bridge. The bridge is wide enough for only one person to pass at a time. A man is approaching from the opposite side. He's carrying a gun."

"I shoot him."

"Suppose he's your husband."

"...I shoot him."

"In self defense?"

"To spare him the grief. One must die, and one must live."

"Kill me... Kill me now..."

No. No, no. She, as his other half, had abandoned him. Everything that Jack and The Boss had once stood for. Naturally drawn to each other due to their life's circumstances, The Boss might've been Jack's first, teaching him both the art of lovemaking and the art of combat, partners in and out of the battlefield...

But any such feelings had died—He himself had died—the moment he was forced to pull the trigger. A convenient lie to tell himself that he couldn't care less: Jack never stopped caring. He had given up on them to forge ahead on his own path in life.

Unwilling to afford turning himself into just another government tool, like she had been. Discarded like trash despite her willing, unwavering support towards NASA, the United States, even the very Earth itself. Preventing the Cold War from heating up in the worst possible way with her ultimate sacrifice.

As things stood these days, he refused to give up on the many long years of sacrifice and hard work. He would make his military nation a reality, having been destined for Hell a long time ago. Not that it made the pain, the loss of his beloved, his Mercury Lady, any easier. 

If a God did exist and decided to take pity on him, perhaps Jack would be lucky enough to be reunited with The Boss in death. But he knew he wouldn't deserve such mercy, given his sins.

Patience be damned. Sighing, John reached for one of his cigars, lighting it, exhaling... That was much better. "This is bigger than all of us." He spoke with the cigar in his mouth, "Hell, we'll fight our views out next training session. For now, I need to know if you're on my side."

Eyeing the cigar, David felt his pockets for his Lucky Strikes carton. "Damn." He had somehow stupidly left his smokes back in his cell!

Yanking the cigar out of Big Boss's hand, David hurriedly and reluctantly puffed, wanting to get the bad taste over with. He coughed loudly, nearly choking out the words while handing it back, "Tastes like shit."

Big Boss snorted, puffing his cigar away. "Tastes a lot better than those disgusting cigarettes of yours. How can you stand the stuff?"

"Uh, are you serious? Why the hell would anyone want to smoke something that smells like a spice rack?"

The older man tsked, as if mockingly implying the boy was just ignorant. "Maybe when you're older you'll naturally gain an appreciation for fine taste."

"I wouldn't count on it." His worried eyes betraying his relaxed countenance. "I've been told to quit or else something shitty will go down in ten years time. Do I have some kind of illness nobody's telling me about?"

The accelerated aging, huh? Wasn't George rumored to be suffering the effects of it already? Only a matter of time before Eli and David would follow suit. In the meantime, grown men, trained to be war machines their entire lives would be quite beneficial to John's cause, whenever the other two boys would be either forced or willingly join. Solid Snake had more than exceeded his expectations during Operation Intrude N313, surely this was a sign of good things? The best is yet to come.

Big Boss actually offered his son a friendly pat on the back in reassurance. "I'll explain all that to you later, just...enjoy your youth while you can. It's honestly better to be a physically fit soldier than have vices. In my case, I'll be dead soon enough." He offered a slight shrug.

Naked Snake hoped he at least wouldn't die without seeing Eva again. His sweetheart would naturally help settle Quiet and Venom into their new lives within Prague, fudging whatever paperwork was required. If she afterwards visited John and the three boys for an awkward family reunion of sorts, that was her prerogative.

Eva had every right to see them, being the one to name the boys before they were soon enough sent away to their respective lots in life. Eva and John kept in touch somewhat throughout the years. They spent a week alone in a hotel room back in '84, after his alleged skipping town towards Diamond Dogs.

He needed the stress relief—Eva's companionship—then and was in desperate need of it now. They truthfully had fallen deeply in love, although circumstances couldn't allow them to settle down, to live together. He lost The Boss, his beloved other half, so many years ago...But at least Eva had been there to console him that night. At least he still had Eva throughout the changing years, although they mainly communicated via cassette tapes. Not once had Snake blamed her for participating in that project, completely understanding her feelings.

As for the other two boys...Solidus would want to follow his political dreams, restoring America to her former glory without irritating Patriot interference. Liquid, the brat who wanted his own Outer Heaven, had misunderstood the family situation from the very beginning, wanting Big Boss's head on a platter ever since. Strange that the only boy with his priorities straight—no ass-kissing or murderous intent towards Big Boss—was the biologically inferior of the three sons.

"You, I, every single one of us, is part of an ongoing battle, a war of ideals to change the world: the age old debate of freedom vs control. The Patriots want to control society at large; my men and I want to give soldiers their freedom. We will win." The faintest of smirks crossed Big Boss's features. He would have the upper hand, have his "children" fight by his side—Not threatening to kill him.

"Why continue down this path, Boss?" David wasn't mocking him at all. On the contrary, completely sincere. "I don't understand how this war for control of yours began, but—"

"Don't worry about me." His voice went flat, eye narrowed. "Once The Patriots are off everyone's ass, I'll consider our next move. Start a war, fan its flames, and create victims...Then save them, train them...And feed them back onto the battlefield."

Solid Snake looked very uncomfortable. Intentionally starting wars? Towards other nations and citizens which deserved peace? This isn't what he signed up for at all.

Upon remembering the rumors of the third son's exploits, something about one Jack The Ripper, Big Boss had finished off the remains of his cigar to add, "Training may be one thing, but child soldiers are not the way myself or my men operate."

If that next move was indeed threats involving nukes, then Snake's limits would certainly be pushed. He'd have no choice but to pull the trigger. Regret it for the rest of his life.

"Boss." Snake couldn't bring himself to meet Big Boss's eyes. He sounded legitimately frightened, at his own thoughts, and at Big Boss's own twisted logic. "Some day, one of us will have no choice but to kill the other, won't we? I...don't want your blood on my hands."

John shook his head. He realized it now, he didn't want that either. "No. We can break this cycle of mentor and soldier without raising the gun. Together." He offered his hand.

David slowly accepted, and shook.

Posture relaxed as they sat, both emotionally drained soldiers passed the next several minutes in a seemingly comfortable silence, otherwise avoiding eye contact. To an extent, things were still awkward. Unless one of them said something, anything, to open up their lines of communication again. 

Boss's eye locked with Solid Snake's serious ones. Already awaiting orders like the good soldier, the trained killer, he was. Kind of creepy.

"That was a pretty impressive use of your cardboard box during Operation Intrude N313. I never did teach you the importance of it during training.", the commanding officer began.

Snake blinked; taken aback by the seemingly random praise, unusual topic aside. "Er...thanks. Something about that box. it just felt...right..."

"It's nirvana, isn't it?", John blissfully continued before clearing his throat. "What we'll need from you, Snake, is a retrieval mission. One hundred percent stealth, understand? If you come across any hostages, free them immediately. If you cross paths with enemy guards, then use the Fulton recovery system you've been provided with."

"But isn't that retrieval method becoming somewhat outdated", he then lamely added, not wanting to forget his place, "uh, sir?"

"Our Research and Development team is top of the line. No need to worry. And for added security measures to crush our enemies, we've imported Okinawan squeaky sand and have begun looking into genetically modified poisonous hamsters."

"...." Snake was speechless.

Big Boss was lost in his private thoughts. As David was completing his mission, he had his own to complete. Mercy killing an old, long forgotten...friend? Enemy? who had become very sick, although the exact cause was unknown. Ocelot and Eva's Intel mentioned that most likely, it was Skull Face who did Zero in, although neither agent was completely certain.

Kill Zero within his vegetative state, and the Patriot System AI in its early development would follow suit. A domino effect of the Patriots losing their power.

Jack wasn't exactly looking forward to the very real possibility of killing Doctor Clark and Anderson, his old friends during Operation Snake Eater, but if he had to, then...Would they join his cause? Would they even try to understand the situation? This was one mission that Jack had especially wanted to stay as silent and bloodless as possible.

Shit. He made a mental note about asking Adam to find a bottle of good whiskey to split. They were both going to need it after this upcoming operation had succeeded. Maybe he'd invite David for a glass upon his return—Solid would certainly need a drink after dealing with Liquid's bullshit.

He noticed David had been calmly staring at him the entire time he was lost in thought. Somehow managing to offer...his...son, he supposed, an actual, albeit faint smile, Big Boss broke the silence.

"I'll be resigning from FOXHOUND soon. Campbell will be left in charge. I'll be starting my nation, here."

John tried not to chuckle to himself, already picturing the scene: Announcing his retirement to the recruits, officially handing the reins to Campbell—who had been a good, supportive, man throughout the constant stress of the job—while the men and women of FOXHOUND would beg for their tough but incredible CO to reconsider. Had they known the truth, the whole damn unit would want to follow Big Boss, his natural charisma and amazing battle sense drawing in whoever's life he touched.

As tempting as it was to make his military power grow, in good conscience, John knew couldn't do that to FOXHOUND, or to Campbell. It was best to let things happen naturally, let his people within the FOXHOUND unit crave their own paths in life. Being on opposing forces one day would be a true shame; hopefully that wouldn't be a reality.

The question remained: When the time came for the Boss's departure...How would Kaz react? Would Miller give up on him—on them—for good, staying behind at FOXHOUND? Or would Kaz maybe, finally, come around, letting go of his eleven years of bitterness and regret? Then together with him and Ocelot, they could properly realize their dreams for—

"I'm still not sure what or who I'm meant to be retrieving, Boss.", came Snake's quiet comment.

Maybe his old age was beginning to catch up with him. "A man named Eli. As far as I know, these days he goes by the codename Liquid Snake. He has a powerful telepathic friend, so don't underestimate either of them." Fishing into his pocket, he handed Snake an old weathered photo that once belonged to Venom; the twelve-year-old Eli from 1984.

Snake blinked. Then blinked again. "I have a twin?"

"Don't plan on growing out your hair anytime soon.", Big Boss joked.

"You have another brother as well, who's hopefully more agreeable. George fought in the First Liberian Civil War and wants a life in politics, without The Patriots around to determine what the public needs. Eli, however, will be in the brig for a very long time, under constant surveillance. He wants me dead so he can create his own Outer Heaven, on his own terms to stop The Patriots. Be sure to refer to him as Liquid. Though I never personally met him, the kid's anger issues are ridiculous."

Solid frowned. "Sounds like they have a bizarre case of hero worship towards you. They really need to get over you."

Big Boss just laughed bitterly. "And? What about you?"

Snake blinked. "....I..." He paused, awkwardly put on the spot, but making sure to look his father in the eye. "I've always respected you, but I sure as hell don't want to turn out like you."

Big Boss smirked, amused despite himself.

Still, that psychic man was a huge concern. Tretij Rebenok being a conduit meant that at any given moment, he could favor someone else's anger over Eli's, completely ignoring their symbiotic relationship. Would Big Boss qualify? Or an even more frightening prospect, Snake's anger?

"Ah, almost forgot that I have something for you." Boss hoped to do something to soothe any bad feelings between them, but Snake just felt wary. He still didn't quite trust the older man as far as he could throw him. Which wasn't very far, and probably part of the reason David was in this mess to begin with. Stupid rookie mistake. 

"I just...can't believe in her anymore, but you seem to." A green bandana, faded and weathered with age. "It's yours, Snake. Ahab took good care of it for me. Here."

He almost tenderly removed Snake's FOXHOUND bandana, tying The Boss's own against his forehead. "I'll be borrowing yours." He began, placing it on his own forehead. "It's given you good luck so far, right?"

David felt strangely moved by the gesture, if not a little puzzled. "Who did this belong to?"

"A wonderful woman." Big Boss looked tired, resigned to his own fate.

Awkward feelings of love and respect threatening to surface, David slowly asked, "So, uh. Do I start calling you Dad, or...?"

Big Boss paled, looking uncomfortable as hell. "N-no. That's fine."

Although, that brought up a very good question, as he began musing to himself. Boss was too awkward, considering their new-found relationship. John was far too forward, and frankly slightly rude in his eyes. Jack...The only two people to call him that were either dead or near-death. Probably an omen of bad luck. As for Dad, or variations thereof...No way, no how.

Mind made up, Big Boss calmly replied "Call me Snake."

"Er, won't that just get confusing during transmissions?"

"It's fine. Real names are meaningless on the battlefield; it'd be best to use our code names."

Despite himself, David felt a little disappointed. "Yeah, that's true enough." He suddenly muttered, "I'll probably still call you Dad, though."

Big Boss just grumbled in annoyance. At the rate things were going, he'd turn into a cranky old man before hitting seventy.

Helping David up, John led the boy outside to get him patched up and rested before Snake's upcoming deployment. He could only imagine what bullshit or rage-filled rants Eli would spew towards Snake on the helicopter ride back, the pilot probably fearing for their life. Assuming Snake managed to successfully recover Liquid and Rebenok in such a manner.

A butterfly found its way within the camp, calmly fluttering between various tents and patches of grass to find a nice flower to relax against.

What on earth was a Blue Morpho Butterfly doing all the way over here?

This time. He'd finally do it. Using all his stealth prowess to sneak up against the peaceful creature, John let out a curse as the butterfly flew off mere seconds before he caught it.

David just laughed at his old man, amused when it landed on his own nose. The butterfly of peace was momentarily still before flapping away, this time its destination unknown.

Neither man spoke, staring at each other with surprising calm. Maybe even the gradual beginnings of understanding.

 

=END=

 

So...Since I can't draw worth a hill of beans (if I could, these would be 4-panel style), please enjoy these silly extras!

Snapshot from 1984:

Stealing a moment of downtime at Mother Base with Quiet, Venom had led the young woman to the mostly empty Mess hall. He had slipped into his fancy tuxedo while she wore her usual outfit. Not being one to talk much himself, he silently hoped she'd get the idea that this was a date.

Her gentle smile, whenever they exchanged glances, had shown Venom Snake that Quiet more than understood. Sitting next to her at one of the vacant tables, he handed her a glass of water. "Here."

Quiet grinned, wasting no time in happily dumping the water over her head, some of it spilling onto the bench they sat on.

Stunned silence was all Venom could lamely offer in reply.

Snapshot from Christmas Eve, 1999:

Metal Gear D had been successfully destroyed, but the battle wasn't over yet. Solid Snake still had one last job to do: defeat Big Boss—unbeknownst to Snake, for the first and last time.

"Snake, that guy's a monster! You can't beat him with just your fists.", Master Miller informed him over the transmitter. "Use your head! Isn't there something you can use as a weapon?"

"...." Staying resourceful as always, Solid Snake ripped off one of the few items still on his person, chucking it across the room.

"Ow!" The transmitter managed to hit Big Boss square on the head, giving Snake the perfect opening. Father and son both heard Miller angrily muttering, "That's not exactly what I meant by—"

"...Kaz? That you?" Big Boss was surprised by the voice he hadn't heard in a few years, picking up the transmitter.

"Snake? I..."

"...Yeah...", his former old friend muttered, completely understanding why Kaz had felt so personally betrayed, but...

Having successfully snuck up behind Big Boss, Solid Snake was about to strike, but his former commander whirled around to face him, annoyed. "Way to make things awkward, David!"

Snapshot from 2014:

Old Snake let out a sigh, his eyes never leaving Big Boss' body, slumped against The Boss's headstone. So, this was it. He had to live on until it was his time to go, to see what the future brought the new generation, the new world...He managed a smile despite himself, curious how much Otacon and Sunny both would beg him to stay aboard the Nomad.

A neighing horse interrupted his thoughts. Puzzled, David turned to see an all-too familiar cowboy atop the majestic white beast. "Ocelot?! I thought you were dead!" David was sweating bullets, shame he didn't have the real kind on him anymore, thanks to his father dismantling his gun.

Big Boss abruptly stood, cheerfully speaking as he mounted the horse, arms tightly wrapping around Adam's waist, "David, meet your stepdad! Well, see ya~"

A flat "What." was the only response David could muster. Perhaps his damned accelerated aging was catching up with him, and this was all some strange fever dream!

Rearing his hind legs, the horse whinnied as John felt a sudden chill run down his spine. 

"Jack, what the hell do you think you're doing with my son?", an angry female voice he could never forget rang in his ears. The Boss huffed, arms crossed, "What about us?"

John feebly replied, "I swear I can explain..."

Adam and David looked on, puzzled, wondering who Big Boss was talking to. Shrugging, Adam grinned at the younger man, "Try adding more facial hair besides that silly mustache, then you really will look like you fath—"

"That kiss on Outer Haven was bad enough! Quit hitting on me!"

Eva's spirit could only facepalm at the madness unfolding before her.

Snapshot from another time, another place:

Miller threw his sunglasses on with a flare, clad in a white t-shirt and some gym shorts.

"Training or not, I play by my own rules.", he began, as Love Deterrence blared through his personal iDroid's speakers.

What kind of training music was this?! David twitched slightly as he stood within Zanzibar Land's makeshift training facility. He was about to ask if Master Miller was feeling alright, before...

"Wow, Mizuki Nana-chan!"

Intrigued by the sounds of J-pop, Otacon sprang up from out of nowhere, excitedly holding several idol video tapes, "Ooh, can we trade? Let's go eat sushi together sometime! What's your favorite Japanimation?"

"I'm more of a manga fan myself.", Kaz began before grabbing the videos in shock. "Hey! Aren't you a little too young for thes—”

Kaz nose-bled at one of the rather busty females on the cover as a not-suspicious cardboard box caused the rest to mysteriously disappear. Snake's training could wait another day!