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Another peaceful day is done. Kaz tucks the dogs in for the night, and makes his way back inside under the silver starlight to the soft crunch of snow. The firewood's been neatly stacked beside the wood stove and he stokes it a few times, rewarded with the satisfying rush of pleasant heat. Then he pours himself a drink, sets his feet up on the coffee table, and settles in for a well-earned rest.

Kaz swirls it contentedly, watching the white flakes outside spin toward the earth across the monochrome landscape. The perfect way to while away the hours.

His eyes drift shut; the warmth of alcohol spreads through his limbs - the ones made of flesh, in any case - and into his fingers and toes. The tingle, gradually going numb. His mouth is dry and his breath comes in shorter and shorter pulls, sucking at the air.

His eyes fly open again.

Kaz, he doesn't play fair.

His first thought is to escape; he flies to his feet and makes for the door as fast as they will carry him, but they won't obey. They lock in place and he falls, hard enough to shatter the glass of the coffee table, which he follows to the floor.

The shards slice open his cheek. He's gasping.

He won't give up. He starts to drag himself forward, outward, toward the door.

Ocelot announces his presence behind him at last by stepping on the scattered pieces. Kaz spares a glance upwards; his assassin isn't even wearing a mask. Of course he would use something he's resistant to, himself. No chance of mistakes, that way. "You actually bothered to come in person," Kaz spits, his chest already a bloody mess from the few feet he's gained. "I'm touched."

"I'm a professional, Miller." It's odd. This was always going to be the way this ended, but Kaz had thought he'd be gloating. Instead Ocelot sounds utterly unaffected.

His lungs are filling with fluid; it drips, pink, from his mouth, in a thin trail from his chin across the floor. The tingling numbness is turning into pain. "Any chance they could call this off?" Kaz rasps with a weak smile, and looks away.

"Not on my watch," Ocelot moves closer, looming above him now. Kaz ignores him, focused futilely on clutching the carpet, gaining a few inches at a time. He won't lay down and die like a dog at Ocelot's feet. He won't.

"Here, let me help you with that," Ocelot offers kindly, and crushes the heel of his boot into Kaz's hand. Bones snap and cartilage breaks off as he grinds down with it; Kaz hisses through bloody teeth: "Just fucking shoot me you sick fuck."

"To do that'd be the easy way out, wouldn't it? I thought we could catch up a little first." That aggravating drawl is back; it burns in the back of Kaz's mind while the rest of his nerves start to light up again. White agony eats at the edges of his vision. He tries to use his metal hand but the muscles of his shoulder seize and lock. "We have nothing to say," Kaz's teeth chatter; spasms course through his entire body. "H-ee... trust...ed... you. You didn... have to..."

"Kill him?" There's no chance he'll escape now. He'll suffocate or his heart will stop on its own. Whichever comes first. Ocelot knows it; he steps back, leaning against the wall. Arms folded.

"You know... I know you spoke with him, right before Outer Heaven fell - we were monitoring all of his transmissions in and out, and I'd recognize that frequency anywhere," Ocelot looks down, impassive, as Kaz writhes. Saliva foams at the corners of his mouth, and he chokes on it.

"But - funny coincidence - I was on comms with him, too, back in '99." Ocelot's expression doesn't change, but his pale eyes can't hide the way his pupils constrict to pinpricks. Kaz thinks he hears a waver in his voice and he'll take that satisfaction with him to the grave. "G-...ood..."

"We're not so different, you and I - but you did always get off on their misery a little more than I did," Kaz's vision dips, swims, and sinks. Fading. Instinctive panic fuels desperate gasps as he starts to drown in his own blood; he doesn't want to give him the satisfaction of showing him fear. It was over six years ago, Kaz tells himself. You're dead.

"Being burned alive, though... even I wasn't expecting that - well done." Ocelot isn't even looking at him. He's somewhere else in his mind while Kaz finally grows quiet; still.

"Watched the whole thing go up in flames," Ocelot unholsters one his revolvers and Kaz thinks, at last, that they're finished. That Ocelot got what he came for. But he just spins it, idly.

"...why...?" Barely audible, but Kaz knows that it's the last thing he'll ever say. Why are you telling me this? Why didn't you come for me six years ago? Ten? Why didn't you save him? Why did you follow him, when he uses everyone and casts them aside? Why are you so fucking broken?

"...Because this has never been about you, Miller. Your small-minded dreams of profit, business, brotherhood. I've been playing a much bigger game. One where you don't belong - one I doubt you can even comprehend."

I still won, Kaz thinks, an echo rattling through his dimming mind as white turns to grey turns to black.

Some part of him cries out for V, weakly. Some part of him screams. Begging the other man to respond. Tears flow down his face for the first time in a decade, his resolve smashed to pieces by a torrent of hate, love, and regret. "Can you hear me, V?!"

"I can hear you, Kaz."

That can't be his voice, but it sounds just like it. No, this never happened. This isn't what happened. But Kaz drags himself foward with his fingers, anyway. Toward the voice. "V... I can't get up..."

"Not even for me?"

His outstretched hand, in the darkness. Beyond them are coloured lights; dim flickers of fire as the men raise their lighters to the sky.

Kaz takes it. V draws his thumb across the back of his hand in slow, soothing circles. Everything he every loved is being dragged to the bottom of the sea, but V anchors him here, above the surface.

"Stop picking fights with men like him," V tells him wisely. Sternly. "You won't win."

"I'm sorry," Kaz smiles through tears. "I didn't listen."

Gunshots. Shattering glass. But someone's always training, on Mother Base. These sounds blend into the background, not disturbing him or the shy doctor who tends his wounds and makes his pain disappear so tenderly. "Actually... V? I wanted to ask you. Can I stay the night?"

"Of course," V says, brushing his hair back into place. "Stay as long as you like."

 

 

 

 

 

Miller: Can you hear me, V? Respond! Please respond!

Miller: V? V?! V!!!!

*RUMBLE* *BOOM* *CRASH*

*rattle* *hiss* *click*

Snake: Master Miller?! I can hear you.

Miller: David? Is he still alive?!

Snake: Yes, sir, but--

Miller: That is not Big Boss. He's an innocent man. And you are going to carry him out of here.

Snake: Yes, sir. *heave* *grunt*

Snake: Uh... Master... there's a ladder...

Miller: His left arm has a prosthetic. Sling it over your shoulder - you can lock the digits around your belt.

Snake: ...It's huge...

Miller: And you have 24 seconds left. Why aren't you climbing?

Snake: *grunt* *gasp* I. Can't-

Miller: Are you telling me you can't climb a ladder, soldier? There are one hundred and fifty six rungs in that ladder, and you will take them three at a time. MOVE!

Snake: *clank* *clank* *clank* *puff* *wheeze*

Miller: That's not fast enough! Do you want to die, soldier?! Because if you die because of lack of PT I will come over there, pick up your bones and make them run laps around the base until they are ground into dust, do you hear me?!

Snake: *clankclankclankclank* *ragged gasps*

Miller: One hand, next hand - even you can't fuck this up, Solid! You have fifteen seconds left to make it to the top, which means I want five more seconds out of you than I hear your girlfriend gets every night! And you will give it to me!

Snake: *dizzily* I'm al--

Miller: The correct answer is yes, sir! I'm not tired, sir! My body belongs to Master Miller, and it doesn't stop until he says it stops!

Snake: I'm... at the top... *panting*

Miller: Outstanding! NOW RUN, BITCH! RUN like I'm coming after you, because I will be if you fuck this up!

Snake: Yes, sir!

Miller: Now you're getting it! Slow as one-legged dog on tranquilizers, Solid! ...There's a a truck with emergency medical supplies parked thirty yards from the exit, to the left. The keys are under the mat. Hope you like to drive with a fire under your ass because you've got five seconds left and I hear fried snake tastes like chicken!

Snake: *thump* *slam* *roar* *screech* ...Master, how do you know all this?

Miller: ARE YOU TALKING WHEN YOU COULD BE DRIVING, MAGGOT?! I AM NOT YOUR GIRLFRIEND IN THE PASSENGER'S SEAT, I AM THE INFERNO OF HURT THAT IS COMING YOUR WAY IF YOU DON'T MOVE, MOVE, MOOOOOOVE!

*BOOM*

Miller: ...David...?

Snake: Driving, sir! We made it out.

Miller: *long exhalation* Fuck. Solid. Find a place to pull over. You need to stabilize him.

Snake: I don't know if I can-

Miller: He can talk you through it. He needs adrenaline, and morphine. Wake him up.

Snake: How can he-

Miller: Because he's a fucking trauma surgeon. Not Big Boss. And a good thing, too, because your useless ass couldn't kill the real one with the world's nuclear arsenal strapped to your forehead.

Snake: *click* *hiss*

V: *cough* ...Kaz...?

Miller: ...

Miller: ...Tell him I'm coming, David. I'm coming.

Snake: What do I tell the rest of them?

Miller: That you accomplished your mission. Big Boss is dead.

Snake: That's not true, sir.

Miller: It will be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He raises a cool steel finger to stop her, silently. There are headlights in the distance, shrinking as an unknown vehicle drives away along the sole road that runs out this far. They wait together until it vanishes from sight. Neither of them hear the dogs; a bad sign.

Someone has shot out the windows. His heart lurches, because he knows that the one person who could have found them here doesn't miss.

She taps his shoulder and signals that she's found no one on infrared.

No one. He swallows. Signals them both to advance. They sweep all of the entrances, together, before circling back to the living room. He sees the faint outline of a man lying face down and fights back tears.

"Dad," she murmurs under her breath and walks inside before he can stop her. Tell her that there could be traps; mines; poison. But she reaches his side safely. Turns on a red-filtered light and winces, choking back a sob.

He moves to Kaz's side in a daze. Puts two warm fingers to his cold throat out of habit rather than hope.

"He's not breathing," she shakes her head. But he responds in kind, bewildered, for a second--

"In freezing temperatures the brain can survive much longer without oxygen," he reminds her, and the slight tug of his lips upwards tells her he's found a pulse. He stops her before she leans forward. "No, he's been poisoned. Get the kit." And she runs.

Hours, sometimes even days. If he was still taking in some air. He's battered and bloody and hypothermic, but he's alive. And that's all this tough bastard has ever needed to claw his way back from the brink.

He stares out the broken windows and whispers thank you, Adam before she comes back with the kit and they revive him, together.