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The Enemy of My Enemy

Chapter Text

The morning of the day he meets Kazuhira Miller for the first time, Adam receives a dossier from Zero containing every intimate detail of the man's life that the world's own master of secrets himself has managed to scrounge up over the past several years. It's thick, weighty; something to kill the time on the flight to Salisbury.

'From Zero' is of course to say through a network of proxies so vast they could link hands across the Atlantic, but that's nothing more than he's used to. Zero values his privacy more than he does discretion; it's one of the many things on which they fundamentally disagree and it makes for generous morgue donations when Zero's overwhelming desire to remain a hermit causes somebody to put eyes on a document Adam didn't want anybody to see.

Frankly, though, he doesn't care who learns the blood type of John's latest cock warmer.

Adam flips through it. It's in Russian.

He closes it. Takes a soothing sip of bitter coffee and strokes his thumb over the engraving etched into the grip of his revolver. 'We are men,' he says, inaudibly, in Russian.

This was a courtesy on Zero's part because, you see, Russian is Adamska's native tongue. He's fluent in English, but Russian is faster, more nuanced. He flips through the files, from the mundane - Miller's college transcripts - to the obscure - an interview with the girl who took his virginity at an unsettlingly early age. He skims but does not read. He sees Zero's handiwork on every page - everything carefully curated to achieve the desired effect. The impression Zero wishes to impart of this man.

Instead, Adamska flips the pages over and begins to write. He poses himself a list of predictable questions and platitudes, and painstakingly crafts his responses. He memorizes these, complete with practiced intonation and expressions, in two languages and four dialects for each.

The files he discards piecemeal around the airport - trash bins, a stranger's luggage, the parking lot - upon his arrival. Zero loves controlling information and Adamska is ever so pleased to oblige him in that effort.

 

Really, John? Really?

Turns out, Kazuhira Miller is a tall, attractive, charming, charismatic, confident, sexually aggressive blond in his late 20s with a killer instinct and a penchant for playing all sides of a situation. Adamska isn't sure if he wants to drink, smoke, laugh, or bang his head against the wall. If it turns out the man likes motorcycles Adamska will be reduced to all four. You are predictable as the tides. Intrigued by the dash of the Asian exotic, far too red-blooded an American not to go for the blond(e).

Miller is cute, cutthroat, clever: he reads the change in Adamska's expression, the direction of his gaze, and the easing of his posture correctly within seconds of Adamska striding through the door, and leans back in his chair with his chin down for maximum effect. The most flattering view of his face and body. It's quick enough that it might be instinctual, rather than intentional; Adamska will have to explore that in future meetings. Yes, you're right. I do swing that way. And you're very handsome. This will, Miller no doubt knows from experience, give him the upper hand in their interaction. Adamska will want something Miller does not. A bargaining chip in his favour.

Yes, Adamska could play this angle. If he continues to acknowledge it for another heartbeat or two, he'll be forced to. He'll be standoffish and resistant and denying but eventually end up in Miller's bed where the two of them will consider it a business transaction and it will work its way to more than that from there.

But, frankly, Adamska is no charm agent; he doesn't have the training, and he doesn't play games he might not win. He is also capable of resisting decisions less favourable to his skill set and more favourable to his dick. (Unlike you, John.)

Consider instead, possibility #1: the jealous, grieving, jilted former lover of Big Boss. He's already made the mistake of betraying his inclinations - or was it a mistake? if this relationship turns out to be a long one, feigning asexuality or worse, an interest in physical relationships with women, will get tedious - so this could be the rationale for not pursuing the seemingly inevitable.

That could get old, though. He's not jealous because he's not your lover, he's not grieving because you're not dead, and he's not jilted because - let's be honest - he has more access to you than Miller does right now. Too many outright falsehoods.

Or how about possibility #2: he's the kind of man Miller himself doesn't want to fuck. The kind of man Miller finds insufferable - though he'll have to learn and adapt over the coming years - so much so that he'd decline the advantage it would give him.

That's more Adamska's style.

So, onto his linguistic options: #1 - he could speak no English at all, or only very poorly. He knows you've told Miller where he comes from, and you are fluent in Russian so it wouldn't have hampered your relationship any. They could speak through an interpreter, or painstakingly, through gestures, giving him ample time to react to questions posed and the opportunity to overhear comments the speaker might assume he can't understand.

He'll give Miller the benefit of the doubt and assume the man won't fall for that movie-style bullshit, though.

#2 - he speaks English well, but with a Russian accent. Many native English speakers find Russian accents intimidating, and Adamska's voice has deepened enough over the years to pull it off. He has the love of Westerns you've no doubt described to Miller, but is imperfect in his grasp of Western culture.

#3 - he speaks English natively. This could throw Miller off-guard, it could cause him to investigate how a man who'd spent his whole life training from childhood with the GRU managed perfectly fluency. He could throw him off the scent by affecting posh English RP to emphasize his ties with Zero, cause him to suspect FOXHOUND ties with standard midwestern or east coast US, cause him to question everything he knows by going Aussie or Welsh.

No, no, no. Given Miller's complicated relationship with his adoptive nation, cloying Americana is the only way to go.

And let's be honest, he was always going to pick #3.

Oh, he's wanted to use it for ages, and now he finally has the chance to stroll on in and drawl, a second or two after he opened the door to Miller's office, "You must be the man they call Kah-zah-he-rah Miller," like a west Texas cowboy from a 1930s radio drama, a spectacular mangling of the man's given name to boot.

That first strike lands for maximum damage; Miller's index finger actually twitches on his pen.

Ocelot's gait is low and slow, measured and smooth, and he lands each footfall with purpose - that purpose being to ensure his spurs jangle - as he approaches the chair set out for him. He rests his hands on the back it, instead of sitting, a petty gesture ostensibly intended to give him the higher ground.

"Ocelot." Miller inclines his head. "Snake told me about you."

The message: don't mock me. Cut the bullshit. I know things about you and you don't know things about me and that gives me an advantage. Snake tells me personal things about you. My relationship with Snake is personal. Yours isn't. You're here at my behest. My sufferance.

It's one of Ocelot's prepared lines, and he responds with some scripted platitude that he'd have to check his notes to recall. Miller does an amateurish job of parsing it, and triggers another. Might be 'how was your flight from (wherever Zero told him he was coming from)', might be 'where the fuck is Snake you piece of shit' - it's inconsequential. Ocelot is no longer paying attention.

You only get to meet someone for the first time once, and Ocelot isn't going to waste it on small talk. No he's going to watch every muscle in Miller's face move. Observe the direction of his eyes. Notice what his first instincts are. Pace the room to look like he isn't watching any of it. Handle objects to see which bother Miller and which don't.

Miller is wearing a conventional sidearm under his jacket; he also has a pocket pistol strapped under his desk that Ocelot spots when he wanders up behind him, daring the other man to object. Smart. Bland paperwork that will give away nothing but gives the impression of a Busy Man on the Up and Up; anything of consequence will be stashed well away from prying eyes.

Miller is still triggering scripted responses by the time Ocelot has touched and turned so many things that it'll be a convenient mature of the man's intelligence to see if he can put them all back correctly. A decent measure of his spite if he doesn't bother.

Oh, and yes, "Put that down," is one of his triggers.

Miller's patience wears out before his charm does. For all Ocelot will tease him in the coming years about his feminine traits, Miller's inability to master his own anger is so stereotypically masculine it borders on comical. Ocelot would burst out laughing, if that was part of his present persona. Which it is not.

"Are you ready?" Miller finally gets to the point, but not before betraying deep irritation.

"Thought you'd never ask," Ocelot truthfully admits.

It isn't one of his prompts.

 

(In case you were wondering, John, no: he doesn't normally put this much effort into his conversations. But making a good first impression is very important.)

 

Ocelot is introduced to the other two members of their four man team in the dingy garage that does double duty as their storage locker and target range. It looks like a hovel, frankly - walls rusted through tht point there are holes, and a single, swaying lightbulb - but after the CIA seized the MSF's assets, it's all Miller can afford.

Ocelot wonders if the man really thinks he can build a mercenary empire without standing on your shoulders. Unlikely.

Dingo is from the MSF, either loyal enough or stupid enough not to vanish to some uncharted island in the South Pacific, lucky enough not to be murdered by XOF, like most of the other survivors have been in the past few months. She's French Canadian - one exclamation of tabarnak upon having to kick the creaking door closed is enough to confirm that much - carries a spare shotgun, and makes eyes at Miller like a dopey little puppy.

Jackal is South African, Afrikaans - which Ocelot has always been partial to the sound of but never really mastered - and all. He has at least four handguns strapped to his body in various places, and his tactical sunglasses, from which he has not removed the strap, are as delightfully pretentious as Miller's aviators. Ocelot likes him already. A respectable new hire, fresh out of maximum security prison for armed robbery.

"Boss, I thought you said he was Russian," Dingo remarks, intelligently observing that he is not.

"Only on my father's side," Ocelot demurs, "My mother is as American as apple pie."

Apple pie isn't American, which he knows. And he knows that Miller knows. And with the slightest twitch of his lips Miller knows that he knows. (It goes without saying that he knows that Miller knows that he knows.)

But Miller isn't willing to burn their budding relationship to the ground and salt the ashes by confronting him, yet.

Clearly Ocelot has more work to do.

"You can change here," Miller offers generously; his tone makes it clear that Ocelot is his subordinate, suggests that he tolerates his presence out of loyalty to his old master. "You're welcome to use a real weapon, too."

By 'real' weapon, Miller must mean one of the bargain bucket FN FAL rifles they had lined up in their gun rack. Cast offs from the RAR. Not substandard by any means; rather bog standard: the McDonalds of of battle rifles, spread across the globe and just as flavourless. Unsuitable for a gourmet like Ocelot. "Thank you, Miller, but no. The Single Action Army is the greatest weapon ever made."

It's a statement so astoundingly asinine Miller apparently doesn't know what to make of it: the tactical advantages of a rifle notwithstanding, there is no way a double-action trigger isn't an improvement in every respect.

"No," Miller finally cuts through the bullshit. "No. Show me how you're going to lay suppressing fire with an antique showpiece."

"My pleasure," Ocelot spins one up into his grasp with an index finger, hits the hammer with his palm, and fires all six rounds in the space of a breath; follows that up with the second a beat later. All twelve across four targets, all at chest level.

He doesn't usually blow on his barrels, but he will this time. Why not. Spin the other and catch at the same time before holstering both.

"Not bad," coos Jackal. Pulls his own shiny new Mamba pistol from his thigh holster and uses a compressed surprise break to compensate for the lengthier action; all 15 rounds just above Ocelot's own.

Ocelot's eyes meet his, and--

"Okay, now you both need to reload, right?" Miller pours cold water over their burgeoning romance, "Yeah? That's what I thought," and dumps a plebeian FN FAL off on both of them.

"We leave in fifteen minutes."

Still all business.

This isn't going to be easy.

 

(He asks just enough questions to keep Miller from heading back to his office to put his belongings in order, though.)

 

The job is about as basic as can be: communist-backed revolutionaries of Rhodesia had been looking to overthrow their technically illegal minority government for some time now, in the form of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army. With the fall of - or, rather, the achievement of independence in neighbouring Mozambique, some, like their employer, saw the writing on the wall. They are to escort him, and his liquidated property, out of ZANLA-held territory safely.

Much to Ocelot's chagrin, hadn't even occurred to him why Miller might have called him up and asked him to come along on this routine contract, aside from: 1) an excuse to finally meet him in person (establish a relationship, exploit it for information), or 2) to get on Ocelot's good side (people react favourably to those who owe them debts, and unfavourably to whom they owe debts - seems counterintuitive, but it's true, look it up), or both.

No, Miller is all business, and all too keenly aware of a reality Ocelot often forgets. He's recruiting primarily from Africa these days, and with Ocelot in tow he has a four-man team with added value.

Good thing their client, a wealthy landholder named Augustus Reed, doesn't seem to know there's a little wasabi mixed with his mayonnaise.

"I love Americans," says Augustus when Ocelot admits to being out of town.

"We recruit from all over the world," Miller interjects, in an obvious bid to keep anyone else in his crew from doing the talking.

(In his defense, he did work for you, John, so he's probably accustomed to being the brains of the operation.)

"Well, not all over the world," Ocelot winks knowingly at their employer as his very own armoured car makes deep, rumbling tracks in reddish mud. Night has fallen - clear advantages to doing it that way, less obvious drawbacks. Miller either likes to play it safe or has a somewhat mediocre grasp of tactics.

"I see that," Augustus replies, hearing that particular dog whistle five by five. "It's good to see in this day and age, let me tell you. I hear you're running into the same problems back in your country."

"Yes we do indeed," Ocelot nods interestedly; turns around in the passenger's seat beside the driver - Miller, naturally - and accidentally bumps the windshield wiper.

Miller turns it off without comment. Opens his mouth to try to strangle this conversation in the crib, but Ocelot has the other man going, now, and he snaps it shut in distaste when their employer begins his diatribe about the doom Rhodesia is sure to face when the white man unshoulders his burden here. Adam manages to jostle free a few choice terms from his days with the CIA in the 50s, and after he drops them Augustus looks thrilled to have a kindred spirit aboard, Dingo disgusted, and Jackal furiously struggling to maintain some measure of neutrality.

Miller, though, is impossible to read.

Ocelot turns the windshield wiper back on when he shoulder checks to turn a corner.

Honestly, though, how in the world did Miller know for a fact that Ocelot was white himself? Did that come up in your conversations? How? 'Oh yeah, me and Ocelot go way back. He's pure Aryan, so if he ever had a threesome with us half-breeds it'd be like regular sex.'

Ocelot's a dirty slav, anyhow.

Or does Miller not know there are all kinds of people in the USSR?

It beats this particular lecture fresh from the 1860s, so Ocelot states, "If there's one thing Reds have right, it's that," before realizing belatedly that Miller isn't Eva, or Zero, or even one of his GRU or KGB acquaintances, and may not be able to track insinuations on that level, let alone respond in kind without giving the game away.

But Miller doesn't miss a beat: "You've clearly never been past the Urals. Siberia is full of Orientals."

Delivered deadpan. Not even the slightest quirk of his lips downward or upward, nor the faintest hint of self-deprecation. "Not quite the same thing, I'd say. They're a hard-working, industrious type. Just look at all the progress the Japs've made," Ocelot generously offers.

"They're crafty in their own way, but you can't trust them."

"I do like their girls, though. Nice 'n welcoming, and they still know their place. None of this Women's Lib nonsense."

"Sure, if you like sideways pussy."

Augustus nods sagely, Dingo's head snaps back in shock, Jackal tilts his head bewildered, and it's a dire struggle for Ocelot not to break character. As it stands he has to rub his gloved hand over his grin to quash it.

Ocelot is spared when Miller spots a toppled tree in the road and starts to slow; Ocelot grips his arm, "Go around it." Surely he isn't about to fall for the world's most obvious improvised roadblock?

"That'll be an invitation to open fire." Miller pulls them to a stop a stop in front of it. "Don't worry," he tells Augustus, "we'll have it cleared in a second."

Or does he plan to rob August himself? Doubtless the bigger payoff in the short term, terrible for business in the long term. Would he risk it? For all he's sized him up, what he's been able to infer, what was in the dossier, Ocelot doesn't really know Miller at all. And Miller hasn't told him a damn thing.

They leave the car first and Ocelot thinks the man is about to fill him in on the plan, but all he says, out of earshot of the others, is: "Nips."

"Pardon?"

"If you're going to pretend to be from the west, it's nips, not japs."

Dingo and Jackal form up behind them, lackluster rifles held in that casual but menacing 'I'm not firing right now but I could fire' way common to thugs of all stripes. Miller makes a show of inspecting their situation while Jackal steps off the beaten path, into the trees.

Where armed ZANLA rebels await him.

Ah, not tactically incompetent. Just risk-averse. Ocelot can lip read, but he can't lip read Afrikaans. Still, the body language suggests that their intrepid businessman leader has bribed these particular rebels into letting just this one colonial imperialist escape with all his ill-gotten gains; a win-win, and all it costs everybody involved is their integrity.

It's an excellent plan, really. If they were dealing with fellow mercenaries or other private forces it would've gone off without a hitch. Ocelot'd guarantee it.

But the ZANLA fighters aren't mercenaries. They're idealists. They have a cause they truly believe in; a cause they'll die for and, like clockwork one of them finds a conscience and kicks up a fuss. Ocelot can't lip read Afrikaans, but he imagines it goes a little like:

"Why are we only taking some of their money when we could be taking it all? It belongs to the people!"

Goddamn communists.

Jackal is jostled, rifles are raised, Miller steps in to settle things down while Dingo keeps her eyes on the car and their client like she should be, and Ocelot only feels a little guilty about the metaphor for world affairs that crosses his mind at that moment.

If things had gone a little differently that night he might've told Miller, though - he now seemed like the kind of man who'd get a kick out of it.

As it stands, well, their employer caught wind of what was going on and shouted something truly unfortunate. Miller did an admirable job of attempting to defuse the situation - more money, they all walk away, think about what you're doing, so on, so forth. Seemed to be winning most of them over, in fact.

But when Ocelot spots one with sloppy trigger discipline aiming directly at Jackal's head, knowing it'll take nothing more than a loud noise for him to fire, he knows he can no longer take any chances. Whoever shoots first is going to win this firefight and everybody on the opposing team is going to die.

Miller hits the ground when Ocelot starts firing, from behind the cover of the vehicle's hood. It's the smart thing to do and, after losing everything he'd ever worked for by not doing the smart thing, Miller seems to be more inclined to take the path of least fatality, these days. Dingo drags their client down behind the seats; the stopping power of her shotgun comes in handy when the rebels approach the door.

They have to reload and Ocelot doesn't; he fakes it, though, dropping back down behind the engine block and the survivors dutifully wait for his head to pop back up so they can blow it off. He rattles one magazine like it was jammed, slings the rifle, draws both of his revolvers, drops behind the wheel, rolls out and takes aimed shots from beneath the car.

Takes them a second too long to figure out where that's coming from.

The distraction's enough: Miller mercilessly guns down the rest. Steps over Jackal's bullet-ridden corpse, stalks toward the car, and picks Ocelot right up by the scarf.

"I had that under control," he grates through gritted teeth. "You just cost me one of my best men."

"It was him or us," Ocelot shrugs. Well, half-shrugs. Before Miller decks him, and he'd like to say it didn't hurt but it really did hurt. He sees stars and has to crack his jaw back into place afterward.

"I don't know what you learned in the GRU," Miller drops him, expression black, "but we don't sacrifice comrades."

Well, that's stupid, Ocelot thinks. That's how we won the war.

They don't speak for the rest of the night.

Ocelot tries pressing a few more buttons, but Miller's done playing. They deliver Augustus and his dirty money to safety. Get paid. Bonus and everything thanks to his and Ocelot's good rapport and God's work making the world a little brighter. Miller isn't even happy about that, nor when the lethal combination of grief and adrenaline looks sure to get Dingo's panties off for him.

No, even when Ocelot kindly offers to dispose of the bodies, Miller makes it clear that he never wants to see him again unless it's at the business end of a barrel. They part ways that morning as slightly less than enemies.

 

Too bad there's not much chance of that, Adam reflects, rewarding himself with another healthy dose of caffeine to ward off another sleepless night. His styrofoam cup is stained with pink fingerprints; he takes his gloves off when he's about to get them too dirty. He's in a good mood - corpses are the best anatomy practice. Ocelot will be far better prepared for the next encounter with the man, should there be one.

Jackal's report to XOF on Miller is much less carefully curated than Zero's, you see. Contains all kinds of naughty details.

Mamba pistols are still in development in 1975. A man who has them has ties to weapons R&D - he's no common criminal. And nobody who could shoot like that wouldn't be bought for a price Miller'd be able to pay.

From there Jackal's corpse has his address and his keys and his contacts aren't all that hard to find. Adam doesn't yank the chain, though. He'll wait. Miller's going to be gone on another job for days. Jackal reported as much. His death wasn't suspicious, in the line of duty, so when the bugs Ocelot's planted in Miller's office pick up the tell-tale sounds of a raid, he hits the detonator.

If any of them are unfortunate enough to survive, he's all warmed up.

(What. You didn't really think he was messing around with Miller's stuff just to get his rocks off, did you?)

 

(In payment for that aching jaw, though, he'll scatter a few breadcrumbs for Miller to find that hint that Ocelot was the one who sold them out.)

Chapter Text

"Miller's started drinking," Ocelot tells his semi-conscious one-sided conversation partner. His will-be closest friend.

Following the destruction of his offices and most of his equipment in Salisbury, Miller also lost most of his staff - mercenaries fight for money, after all. Not loyalty. Only the prestige bought by having the whole operation helmed by a hero, a legend had ever altered that particular fact of life. As a result Miller's barely been scraping by: doing jobs solo (ending up bloody, beaten, shot as a result with no money to pay for decent medical care) and sleeping in his office.

Ocelot drops in on him from time to time, whenever he has work nearby in Africa. Mostly to make sure the man hasn't starved to death (which he has been close to). Lately to water down his gin. It's paltry, predictable, pedestrian: finding solace at the bottom of a bottle because suicide would cause him too much pain.

Miller's rarely there, or rarely awake, when he does it. He usually shifts a few things around, leaves a few traces of his presence, just to rattle the ghosts in the man's mind. The sooner that breaks the sooner they can be done living out the childish fantasy that Miller could ever build an army - could ever fight the way the world is - without his better half. His better five-sixths or nine-tenths, really. This would all be so much easier on Ocelot if he could just put Miller in a scenic safehouse in Azerbaijan until you wake up, well cared for; the proverbial box in which the Japanese store their most desirable daughters.

There are faster ways to ruin a man's sanity, but Adam imagines you won't be impressed to awake and find Miller in an institution.

The salient question: does he care? Will he care? Should he care?

'He' the man who sleeps beside you, the not-you and never-will-be-you. But it is the closest thing to you that Zero's created so far, much closer than the clones, entirely because - unlike them - Adam's been involved in his creation.

His name and his past are immaterial, Adam had told him when Zero'd given him every detail he could about the man's life. His old life ended when he gave it up for Snake's. He'll be a blank slate. Tabula rasa.

Mostly because Zero's facade of polite dignity is nigh-impenetrable and Adam is always trying to crack it.

No, there is no way to 'erase' someone's memories without giving them brain damage. And that won't make for a very convincing Big Boss. Instead, Adam needs every piece of that intelligence, to coax out those experiences, to convince him that they were false or that they happened differently. They were dreams. They were stories. They were things he saw happen to someone else. That there's a rational explanation for all of it.

Solo missions required you to learn emergency medicine to a degree well beyond regular troops, who can rely on the presence of medics. You even learned some surgery. For example.

When that's done he can construct new ones from recordings. Photographs. After action reports. It won't work on muscle memory, but that can't be helped. Clearly, the shrapnel caused some brain damage. It's nowhere near the part of the brain responsible for muscle memory, but, well...

"Trust me," Ocelot intones soothingly. "That's what happened." He's already decided that this man's Ocelot will speak in the same voice he uses with Miller.

He's not a blank sheet: he's a written page, to which Adam is judiciously applying white out over the lettering, over which he'll copy another text. Convincing from a distance, it'll show through if held up to the light.

Still, it'll take thousands of hours of work. Neither of you were young when this happened.

But back to the original question: what should this man feel about Miller?

Adam has no idea what you feel, and can't ask. Not that he believes you'll tell him the truth even if he could. It doesn't matter; it's immaterial. It's entirely up to his discretion, now. Should he be unimpressed? Concerned? Proud? Lovelorn? Angry? Is he the kind of man who would ignore Miller; rush in and put him in his place; sweep him off his feet and carry him to safety?

Those can all wait until he gets to know Miller a little better. Learns what will have the best effect for keeping him in line.

The question for now, is: "What do you feel about me?" Adam asks, in Miller's voice. Standard school-taught eastern USA. Tenor. Biting off the ends of his words with breathy inflections. He won't find the answer to this in Zero's homework, after all.

Unlike you, this man is minimally conscious - none of this would work if he wasn't - and he reacts. The fingers of his remaining hand rise and reach for Adam's face, "...'ll be okay..." he slurs, with effort. "...'ll come for us..."

Adam leans forward to let him touch him. He does. Leans further forward to see if he'll draw back. He does not.

"There's no one else here," Adam tells him, in Miller's voice, against his lips.

Zero's surgeons have just done such a good job remaking his face to resemble yours that a shiver runs down Adam's spine when he's kissed.

"Oh," he says.

It's right there. Ripe for the taking. Adam hasn't been kissed in years and the sensation of soft lips and damp tongue and the taste of another man's breath are enough to make his own quicken. The scrape of facial hair against his skin the firm insistent fingers on the back of his head the broad muscles under his hand--

No, don't touch him!

Adam reels backward. Yanks his hand away. He's wearing leather gloves and his hands are nothing like Miller's - they're longer, narrower, his digit ratio is all wrong - and he has no idea how Miller touches his man, if he does at all. Unforgivable. Sloppy. Ready to give the game away because he got the chance to rub up on a photocopy of you.

He could kiss the real you for hours, now, if he wanted. But what would be the point?

He should get back to work. This will be a monumental undertaking; thousands of hours of effort. He's been at it for thirty-six already. He's hopelessly distracted, though, and a short break won't hurt.

Adam shuts the door. The hospital staff - Zero's loyal followers all - have learned that that means he is not to be interrupted. If they wish to spy on him they must do so subtly. He has an audio recording to distract your phantom, who mutters a feeble protest. Delicately he draws the blanket back to see if the rest of his body is as convincing as that face, palming his own half-roused cock to full wakefulness.

A little taller, a little broader-boned. These things can't be helped. Can't be altered. Well, they could, but they would require breaking and cutting his femurs, and risk crippling him for life. Not worth it for a hardly noticeable change. Adults can grow an inch or two after puberty (in their twenties, not at middle age, but Ocelot believes he can say that one with a straight face). His muscles have atrophied somewhat; still nice enough, thighs still thick enough, that Adam can imagine being buried between them, can imagine being bounced on top of them, can imagine them kneeing his own legs apart.

Adam's bitten down hard on his scarf to quell his ragged breathing. In his head you've woken to find this way, one cool blue eye watchful, and you rise to stand behind him, pressed against his back. Arm around his waist. Hand pressed to his stomach. The warmth bleeds from it and mingles with the heat pooling in his belly. He's close, so close, he tugs down the phantom's thin cotton trousers and his cock jumps; you tell him go ahead, Adam - he's yours, and Adamska climbs gratefully onto the bed to fuck the thing he's created with his own hands--

Ahahahah! No, no, no. Not entirely. Mostly the thing Zero has, so far, and oh Zero you monk.

The comical absurdity of what he's seeing almost kills his orgasm. He has to squeeze his eyes shut and conjure up a few images of your face, of you from behind, to finish. He catches the semen on a tissue and tosses it in the trash.

What a pure, heavenly obsession Zero has with you. He, rather clearly, would never debase it by spreading his legs for you or parting his lips for your cock.

Adam doesn't adjust the phantom's clothing when he calls Zero's surgeon back in. He doesn't care if there's still red in his own cheeks; let them report back that he's molesting their bodies. Make the old man jealous. "You missed a spot," Adam grins.

Like most Americans, you are cut. And this man is not.

This particular surgery won't take long. He's in the middle of a session; no point cutting it short. He'll spend that time at your side, after his hands are thoroughly washed.

There's no danger in touching you. You're completely non-responsive. All 1s on the coma scale. You have no idea that he's here, so if he pulls your hand to his face and presses it over the spot not-you touched, it means nothing.

He could kiss you and it would mean nothing.

He's trapped. You're trapped. Zero's won. He can't save you. He'd never get you out of this building alive. Even if he did through some miracle, through months of planning, there's nowhere he could hide. He has no choice but to play Zero's game in this, because no matter how perfectly he crafts your doppleganger it will never change the fact that Zero knows the man is a fake, and as such his ability to fool Cipher will extend only so far as Zero permits it to extend.

Zero sees all and knows all. He's had decades of experience on Adam; has the vast resources of what will become - if Adam plays his part well - the world's only superpower at his disposal. Adam's never been able to outplay him. The state you're in is proof of that. No one has.

"He's ready," a nurse shakes him awake with a tenderness that tells him he's let his expression slip. He consoles her with beautifully acted smile. Hopefully Zero's oversight hasn't delay--

A smile.

Wait. The state you're in is proof that Zero has been played. You're just a man, and so is he, and so are they all.

Zero's just a man, and there's a player who's beaten him.

"Not tonight," replies Adam, because this is time-sensitive. It has to be done now, before they report, because if anyone could infer Adam's next course of action from a seeming coincidence, it would be Zero. "I need to rest. Thank you, though."

No, he has a plane to catch. He has business in Africa, after all.

But first a detour to Russia to pick up something that he's kept for a very long time.

 

Click. Whir. Click.

 

But first a detour to Russia to pick up something that he's kept for a very long time.

--He has business in Africa, after all, so he might as well check up on Miller. The man's in Eritrea, these days. He has an office in Asmara, and while Ocelot would consider it inadvisable for a man in his position to establish a permanent location - a suggestion he's helpfully made through arson a few times, to get the man out of Ethiopia before the Derg seized it - he appears to have a childish yet insurmountable need for a place to call home.

(Well, hell, John, he even got you to nest.)

Maybe he'll even see the man in person, this time, rather than rifle through his things. See if he can't get a bottle thrown at his head this time. Again. Lightweights don't make for good alcoholics because they tend to drink themselves to death too quickly, but a carefully managed addiction might dissuade Miller from continuing this 'Diamond Dogs' nonsense he's dreamed up.

Ocelot himself has a spacious hotel room in Asmara's downtown, surrounded by stunning colonial Italian architecture, courtesy of a few caches he's sure no one important will miss. His role is the particularly oblivious sightseeing American.

There's plenty of work here to be found for Miller's type, after all. After decades under the Italians - until they lost the Great Patriotic War - Eritrea was forcibly federated with a new kind oppressor: the leader of the formerly oppressed Ethiopia, who'd fought for freedom against the Italians. The US backed him, and high on being the fascist-conquering heroes that they were at that time, he succeeded. Independence-seeking Eritreans had always existed; they'd never managed a stunning victory until the USSR-backed Marxist Derg had won Ethopia's recent civil war and suddenly found themselves the benefactors of all kinds of American generosity.

It's all so delightfully convoluted; the logical extension of the policy of deterrence. Mutually assured destruction meant battles by proxy. The ever-shifting alliances on the battlefield you and she spoke of so nobly decided by the whims of a man sitting behind a desk with money and power on his mind.

Ocelot's spent the last few days scaring up his own funds. Set aside for his fellow watchers in the dark: some bank drafts, mostly hard currency, some valuables, meant as emergency funds for transportation or arms or bribes. They aren't meant for him, anymore; doesn't mean he's forgotten about them. Call it a little inter-institutional rivalry, if you will. He conceals them in far less obvious places than he found them, back in his room. Those'll keep his operation in Dhekelia going for a while.

It's with a tourist's ignorance and lack of caution that he approaches the shadier parts of town. Finds Miller's office - a closet with an escape route, really - empty, and resists the temptation to take advantage.

(All right, you've got him, no he doesn't.)

Finding the six foot blond guy who never takes off his expensive sunglasses in the slums of an African city is not beyond Ocelot's tracking skills. Ocelot expects to find the man at a dingy bar; cruising for cheap release through one fluid or another. By the time he's made the rounds of the usual suspects and purchased a few drinks of his own - for others - he's so deep into the poorest part of down that the roofs are blue plastic and sheet metal, and the brisk mountain air of this landlocked metropolis is smothered in steaming garbage.

He's not surprised to find Miller in a back alley, exactly. Cutting deals with counter-counterinsurgents, blacked out drunk, these are all predictable; watching Miller double over as he's viciously kicked in the stomach by a grizzled rebel twice his size and twice his age is a fresh flavour on rock bottom. It's oddly satisfying, though. Ocelot watches with interest, spinning one revolver idly, as Miller has a bottle broken over his face. Is thrown into a trash can. Has his chest stomped on and starts to cough.

When Miller's angry, oversized assailant straddles him and starts to strangle him, however, Ocelot is regrettably forced to intervene. You'll want your war husband alive, John, and what you want is what you get.

The sound of a gunshot will attract unnecessary attention; Ocelot palms a long shard of that broken bottle, concealed in his sleeve. Doesn't speak a word of Tigrinya, so the threat of a readied revolver pressed to his head from behind will have to be their lingua franca.

He releases Miller, intelligently enough. Stands up with his arms raised while Miller scowls and spits and gasps and tries to say something that doesn't sound appropriately grateful. Unintelligently decides that either Ocelot is bluffing - which he is, in a sense, he's not going to fire his weapon - or is no threat and seizes the arm holding the gun with the clear intent to break it.

Ocelot jams the shard of glass through his eye and into his brain.

Steps backward so that the heavy, twitching corpse can't do anything ungainly like fall on him. Holsters the revolver, and offers his hand to Miller like a perfect gentleman.

Sure, he might have made Miller chase his own tail for a few months, maybe gnaw on it a bit in paranoia until even the devoted Dingo ditched him - took two weeks for XOF to find her, bereft of Ocelot's protection - but he did just save the man's life, and as such does not anticipate having his feet kicked out from under him.

This would have gone altogether differently if he had.

He does not anticipate Miller, who outweighs him by less than he used to, but still some, rolling on top of him and slamming his head into a brick. By the time Ocelot gets his hands up to defend himself he's already dazed enough to see double.

"If you don't tell me where Snake is I'm going to turn you into piano strings."

Hah! Because he's a cat - get it? Good one.

Miller won't kill him. That would doom his beloved Big Boss. This is playfighting and he's blowing off steam.

"That doesn't sound like 'thank you' to me," Ocelot's grin reveals bloody teeth.

"I was getting. Laid," Miller growls, low and menacing, with his fingers curled so tightly in Ocelot's hair they rip a few strands out by the root.

What.

Oh, John, your boyfriend's crazy. Chagrined, Ocelot observes what he'd been enjoying himself far too much to notice: Miller's half-hard; that's the heavy pulsing heat pressing down against his navel. The corpse dripping greyish blood and lens fluid behind them has a round-within-square bulge in his pocket that must be condoms.

"Might I recommend spending a little money--"

"What money?"

"--Or finding someone who doesn't need to tenderize you before he's served."

Miller snorts. Leans very close to Ocelot's face and, this close, the reek of cheap booze and poor hygiene finally overpowers rotting food, diapers, and dog shit. "It's my birthday and I'll do what I want."

Ocelot's nose crinkles in disgust. "Suit yourself." The minute he's released Ocelot plans to knock him out and find a water hose.

"Maybe I will," Miller's eyes narrow and he most definitely has not released him, nor has his cock softened one bit. "What are you going to do about it?"

Oh boy, a threat of sexual violence. Miller's found he isn't satisfied with rock bottom, so he's pulled out a chisel and begun to tunnel under. Ocelot's first assignment had been to serve under a nearly seven-foot sadist with electrical powers and a taste for pretty boys as a nubile teen he liked to rough up for his disobedience - but no, no a falling-down drunk desk jockey is just terrifying.

There are a couple of ways Ocelot could play it: 1) "try to" stifle a shudder or flinch or otherwise convey that his has affected him in some way that bashing his head against a brick hasn't. See if it won't lull him into a false sense of security and break out that way. 2) Break out; Miller's face and throat are completely undefended and Ocelot's hands are free, of all the shitty jobs subdual Ocelot's ever seen, this might take the cake. 3) Just let Miller fuck him. Whatever. 2) Might require him to injure Miller in a way that won't heal and he'll have to explain that to you when you wake up; 3) Miller might injure him and even if he doesn't, Ocelot doesn't want to spend the day with a sore asshole. 1) Is decidedly the professional option.

But he just can't resist: "Fuck you, Miller? All the socialized medicine in the world couldn't save me."

Sure, punch him. Ocelot saw that coming. He deflects it with his hands.

The next one lands so hard is bashes right into Ocelot's face, through his hand, which hurts so badly it might be broken; Miller has picked up that brick and is hitting him with it, over and over, and Ocelot can't reach up and gouge his eyes out or the next one will land and crack his skull - he grabs Miller's wrist to ward off the next hit, Miller digs his thumb into Ocelot's eye socket with the hand holding his head, Ocelot pries it off, and Miller uses his leverage and Ocelot's distraction to break free and Ocelot barely gets his forearm up in time.

The brick strikes the bone. Again. It hurts badly enough that it's hard to concentrate. If Miller breaks his arm he'll be out of commission for weeks; a smart man would beg for mercy. A smart man would've never let it get this far in the first place - he would have trembled and burst into tears, taken the path of least resistance, rolled over and let Miller fuck him face down in open sewage if that would expedite the process. Used it to even the score; to get Miller's guard down in their future meetings. Let him establish his dominance.

But there are a handful of things in this world Ocelot isn't the smartest man in the room when it comes to: this is one of them. You, John, are another.

Ocelot releases the hand gripping his hair just as the next blow is about to land catches the underside of the wrist holding the brick with his palm and redirects the force Miller's using to the side, to the ground; at the same time he twists his own torso in that direction. Hooks his knee around Miller's shoulder and a combination of leverage and leg strength easily reverses their positions - Miller lands flat on his back with a graceless yelp in a puddle of spoiled milk and broken glass.

Miller moves immediately to grapple him, just like you taught him, but Ocelot hasn't released the wrist with the brick; he has it in both hands, turns it sharply, and rolls to the side off of Miller's body with that wrist held tight to his chest, his thighs around the base of Miller's arm, his knee crushing down on Miller's throat.

It isn't fair, really. You taught Adam CQC. He knows all of Miller's moves. CQC is based on judo, which Miller would have learned, too, during his time with the JSDF. And with Russian sambo an off-shoot of judo, Miller no doubt felt pretty confident he'd come out on top in a wrestling match.

This isn't sambo or CQC. When it finally makes its way out of the KGB, GRU, and certain other spetsnaz units some decades from now it'll be called systema. No outsiders learn it, which means that she never did, and thus neither did you.

It is a beautiful arm bar, though, and Ocelot admires it a bit through the blood spilling from the gashes in his forehand, through a rapidly swelling eye, waiting for the world to come back into focus. While Miller gasps and bucks and grinds garbage into that pretty hair of his.
When your vicious little cock cozy finally realizes that there's no way out he utters a truly pathetic sob. Ocelot might be choking him a little more than strictly necessary - yet there's still a tent in his pants; Ocelot's lip curls disdainfully. "You sure you wouldn't rather have it this way? Looks like it to me."

Miller's head rolls to the side limply, away from Ocelot, and all the fight disappears from his sky blue eyes. "Do it."

Bullshit.

It's bullshit, right? Miller is doing what Ocelot should have before his pride got the better of him. Ocelot leans forward to prove it - keeps that arm locked up with his leg but frees one battered forearm to crush Miller's throat down with while he presses his lips to his mockingly. A hint of feigned hunger. Braces for the inevitable struggle as Miller thrashes for freedom with his newfound wiggle room.

It doesn't come.

No, a shudder runs through Miller instead. His mouth falls open - he can fake that, but he can't fake the small hairs that rise on his skin.

He wants this. He actually wants this.

Starving and drunk; beaten and bloody; scrabbling in the bloody dirt for scraps off the table of a pointless proxy war; desperate enough to submit to a man he despises because that'll be skin on skin, at least. Some relief.

"Snake..." His nearly soundless, pitiful plea.

Not desperate. Lonely.

Ocelot knows that ache--

Squeal. Click.

Ocelot knows that this man is no good to you completely broken, so with a sigh of regret he unbuckles the man's pants. He'll give him relief in a way that will spare him some dignity: he releases his arm, then he fishes out the man's damp, stiff shaft and frees it from his underwear. Curls gloved fingers around it and starts to tug. Miller could break free now. Easily. But he doesn't.

The combined give and stretch of foreskin and leather must be painful, and Ocelot isn't drawing this out or making it elegant - he squeezes tight, pumps hard, and tries not to look at Miller's face. Maybe the maggot-crusted chicken bone next to his head. Ugh. Maybe not.

Miller just lays there and takes it. Moans. Tries not to look at Ocelot, either.

Somewhere along the way they both decide it's best if they just close their eyes.

"Just get off already," Ocelot mutters; this is taking too long. Miller's good and hard, now, but the man will not blow his load no matter how hard Ocelot yanks on his cock or drives his thumb into his tip.

"How are you so bad at this?" Miller pants; he's sweating and he bucks his hips to help out, but it just isn't happening. "Even if you're... not gay - and we both know that isn't true - you've jerked yourself off before. Right? Please say yes."

This is what I like, Ocelot almost says, but doesn't. Trust your bitch to need a fancy fucking handjob, John. "Next time I'll take you out to dinner first."

Miller's stomach growls at the mere mention of food; they both snort because, yes, Miller would probably like that very much right now, he doesn't even need the breathy little: "Is that an offer?" that follows.

Fine. Fine. Ocelot can give a good handjob if he really wants to. Better than you, John. He slows. Spits on his gloved hand. Works that saliva all over Miller's shaft so that it isn't all skin-chafing friction; circles his head with his thumb and forefinger and moves that up and down, like the rim of what he'd rather be sticking his cock into, Ocelot's palm cupping it like the warmth he expects.

That makes Miller start to moan. That's good, because that's as far as Ocelot was willing to go; he's not going to play with the man's balls or finger his asshole.

Milller isn't his type. At all. Ocelot allows his mind to wander - not something he often does in any situation, let alone one that might rapidly change - because Miller starts to heave, either from the alcohol or the hunger or the stench, and the yellow-green bile he pukes up gets all over Ocelot's sleeve.

He thinks about the last time he gave anyone a handjob.

"Why do you keep avoiding it? It's the easiest way to hurt a man."

"A pretense of professionalism, John. You'd really let me?"

"Let you? You can do whatever you want here. You're in control."

The memory of those words sucks the air out of his lungs. His strokes turn languid, deceptively gentle; agonizingly tight at the tip. Miller's boots kick and drag against the ground. He whimpers; that has a nice ring to it. Ocelot would add his fingernails if he could. He is in control and there is a boneless, gasping wreck beneath him, completely at his mercy.

By the time Ocelot's gloves are coated with Miller's warm, sticky come he's hard himself.

Their eyes meet at last; the other man wipes his mouth. Ocelot shifts his hips to allow Miller to escape, though he moves no further than a few inches away. He pushes himself up onto his knees, facing Ocelot, and after looking him up and down with a calculating dispassion, reaches for his belt.

Ocelot seizes his hand; a smear of spit and the man's own fluids across the back. "No, thank you."

"It's only fair," Miller suggests. Then, admits, "I'm not going to owe you anything."

The other man's down on his hands and knees; filth encrusted and revolting and struggling to stay upright. Still handsome beneath all the grime. Fallen; ruined - Ocelot smears more come onto Miller, this time over his lips with his thumb. "Only if you use your mouth."

Ocelot never expected him to take him up on it.

But he does, and John, John, you have no idea--

No, wait, you definitely do. You know that he can swallow you whole and still use his tongue to tease your balls, that his teeth are light and sweet and blunt with the slightest hint of sharpness along your throbbing veins, that he will fuck his own throat with your shaft with breathy little moans like you were really fucking him and you'll wish you were the whole time.

But that's nothing; that's just a very good blowjob: it's when Miller shoves his fingers between his legs and jabs them into his perineum - milking his prostate from outside not in time with the bobs of his head and the gagging of his tight throat but counter to them that Ocelot has to clap a hand over his own mouth to keep from groaning some unfortunately revealing things.

When Miller finally sucks the seed right out of him Ocelot feels like he's fucking him and getting fucked by him at the same time; he collapses, panting, against the steel trash bin. Miller turns his head and spits. Collects what little remains of his dignity along with his aviators and turns to go.

"Wait," Ocelot calls for him, still trying to catch his breath. Warm from his lungs down to the tips of his toes; he knows he's red. He always turns red. "Why don't don't you come stay with me a while? Take a bath. You sure could use it."

It sounds more charitable than 'I bugged your office again.'

Ocelot walks him back to his hotel room in a relaxed haze of post-orgasmic pleasure. Sneaks him in through the back to avoid comment. Allows him the use of his shower while he towels off and orders room service. Starvation's made Miller's muscles all the more chiseled and Ocelot walks over every one with his eyes when he gets out, dripping wet, with a sorely inadequate towel wrapped around his waist.

Ocelot reserves a balance of protein, fibre, and fat for himself in the form of seafood and avocados; Miller tears into the rest ravenously with no pretense of grace. They say absolutely nothing to one another. The carbs he plans to get from liquor, which like most things in Ocelot's life, will serve a dual purpose. At least, until Miller passes out on his bed in what looks at first like a food coma, is upon inspection deep and genuine sleep.

Oh well. Later, then.

Ocelot takes his own shower to stay awake. Switches from scalding hot to ice cold until the last of the grime is gone. He has plenty of clothing; his gloves he rinses out carefully by hand in the sink. He fixes his hair with the same caution - it's starting to fall in his eyes if he doesn't style it back. Completely impractical, but nobody in the GRU has jacked him up for it. Yet. Privileges of rank and reputation. Combing it back also hides the white among the blond. When he finally emerges, he looks pretty damned good, if he can say so himself.

Miller is gone.

And so is all of Ocelot's money.

 

(When he calls up Zero for the first and last time to ask for more funds, it's a struggle not to laugh the whole way through at just how badly he's been played. Take a bow, Miller.)

Chapter Text

Ocelot can't get that blowjob off his mind.

He hasn't touched Miller in over a year now, yet it still creeps in at the edges at times, unbidden, when it is least expected and least desired. It's gotten to the point that he cruises for sex, which is unlike him. Never within the GRU, though it is readily available there, particularly for someone of his rank. It is, after all, a well-known fact within his unit that Ocelot has a girl back home to whom he is utterly dedicated. He spends every day of his leave rushing off to see her, a spring in his step. No one bothers to ask him where he's been when he returns anymore, the answer is always the same. The men beneath him know that she's dark-haired and wild and has him tied around her little finger; to his fellow officers who've asked him privately when he plans to settle down and start a family with her, he admits that she can't have children. It's all very tragic; it conveniently smothers future inquiries, as well.

Unlike the degenerate, hedonistic West, there are of course no homosexuals in the USSR, in the same way there are no thieves and murders in their workers' paradise. There are eyes everywhere, and men who'd kill to have that kind of leverage over him. So he gets dual use out of his trips to Africa, and Cyprus. Settles for reasonable facsimiles of the two depraved capitalists who get him much harder than any of this comrades.

(What? You've only given him so much material to work with. Nine years is a long time.)

Of course, when you've tasted something once, it doesn't really slake your thirst for it. You only want it again. It itches at the least convenient of times.

They've caught an American spy at the dockyards in Sevastopol; he was after naval intelligence, which has resulted in a crossing of wires between the GRU and the KGB. It all happens very quickly: the KGB wants to move him to a secure (non-military) location, and the loyal sailors of the Black Sea Fleet do an admirable job of stonewalling them with polite bureaucracy until Ocelot can arrive from Moscow. The KGB interrogator has the carefully cultivated appearance of an unholy crossbreed between mobster and Siberian gulag warden: burly (fat), shaved head (to conceal an unfortunate balding pattern), and bristling with animosity (genuine). Ocelot with his cheek-length hair and suit and scarf is immediately mistaken for the KGB agent and the other man the GRU major by a fidgeting seaman, which rankles him and amuses Ocelot.

The poor American spy is absolutely terrified. He reeks of sweat; he shakes visibly in their presence. "He'll break by midnight," the KGB interrogator assures Ocelot, and starts in with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Shouting, shoving, threatening. Ocelot leans against the wall, folds his arms, and takes it in like a comedy sideshow.

Because the American is so frightened he babbles anything that comes to mind. Obvious and not-so-obvious lies. Irrelevant information. Poorly remembered personal details. It's all useless.

Ocelot allows himself to flinch when blows land. Noticeably looks away. Opens his mouth to speak when the KGB man leaves the room for a short while, then closes it, thinking he'd better not say whatever was on his mind. In the middle of the night, he returns to ask his own questions. Presumably, the Americans teach their spies better than to fall for a blatant good cop-bad cop routine; Ocelot isn't kind, he is relentless in his questioning, but he gives every indication with his body language that he doesn't enjoy it.

It helps that the KGB agent isn't in on it.

The other man gets absolutely nowhere. Chews Ocelot out for his lack of utility where their prisoner can hear it, only he absolutely means every word, so it makes for a very convincing display. For his part, Ocelot slips in a few personal details, when he's alone.

He speaks English fluently because his mother was American. She met his father during the war. Ocelot lived in Maryland as a child. She died when he was very young, so he sought out his father in the USSR, and here he's stayed. The American spy tries feebly to tear down these obvious lies, to no avail.

Because they're not really lies, are they? They're almost true-esque.

The only issue is the matter of calling up the anxiety of having been caught between two worlds: two cultures, two languages. Their expectations pulling him apart. Rejecting, yet never forgetting, one in favour of the other. The exhaustion that never-ending performativity breeds; the cutting fear that he is failing in both contradictory aspects.

Ocelot feels none of these. For these, he conjures Miller.

His shield of affability and his sword of anger. Always on his toes yet deeply sympathetic in the strangest of ways. A veneer of strength over frailty over abiding resilience. It is inside Miller's more personable skin that he convinces this man that if he's helpful enough, he might just get to go home someday in a trade for a Soviet agent. They'll never release him if they suspect he knows more than he's letting on. He sells it as an aside, a charitable dose of reality and half-threat, and gussied up inside the Trojan horse of Miller's disarming persona, the man believes it.

The third night in the balmy seaside city begins with waterboarding, lulls into a heartfelt discussion of the spy and (Miller's) mother, and ends with Ocelot learning who he is, how he got in, and what he discovered about their new undersea warfare capabilities docked in caves just outside of town.

Charitably, he informs his fellow interrogator of everything he's found out before leaving for Moscow again that night on a red eye. The American's no more use to him - they can keep him.

His own one up in the GRU he informs of the other half of everything he's found out, over drinks in that man's opulent office. He also tells him what the KGB doesn't know.

"That's what I like about you, Adamska," he says with a fond smile that is occasionally genuine. "Loyal to the end. You'd like a little extra leave as your reward, I suppose?"

"You know me too well, colonel."

 

Channeling Miller has wedged the abrasive mercenary accountant in his mind, however; well, it has wedged the soft slick slide of his esophagus there, in any case, and Ocelot's gloved hand is woefully inadequate in comparison. As is the C-grade fuck he receives from a Yemeni sailor - those naval uniforms in Sevastopol were distracting, in his defense - over a toilet in the restroom of a whorehouse in Massawa after they lock eyes and decide that none of the merchandise there was worth paying for. Ocelot might be the only other natural blond in town, after all.

Miller tolerates his presence, these days. It took Ocelot a while to figure out how on earth their encounter in Asmara could have favourably disposed Miller toward him until he realized that every time Ocelot stopped by, Miller could preen over his most recent successes. He'd never be so gauche as to say so out loud, but there were new hires, new weapons, new vehicles, and as of the past few months, new offices on display. Miller had turned Ocelot's "investment" into brand new armor-piercing rounds for his mediocre hardware. Ideal for the ubiquitous armored vehicles of wealthy Africans, with the knock-on effect of putting him into contact with a higher grade of gun runner. As Miller was well-educated, reliable, multilingual, not a drug addict, nor a psychopath - a unicorn in his line of work, really - these began to hire him for protection gigs. And then to eliminate rivals.

According Ocelot's sources the Diamond Dogs were becoming known for their impartiality, professionalism, and willingness to do anything for the right price. Really, though, so long as Miller managed to feed himself and didn't get blown up to the point they couldn't stitch him back together, Ocelot couldn't care less if they were known for being bloodthirsty cannibals. Provided he satisfies your dick and does your desk work, Ocelot assumes you'll be happy.

He has no idea what explanation Miller gives for his visits, but not a single one of the deserters, ex-criminals, and disenchanted freedom fighters Miller can now manage to pay stops or challenges him. Miller himself is hard at work negotiating the price on a crate of rifles; a soft breathy growl of annoyance suffices for 'hello' when he hears the spurs, and he hands Ocelot a few files to read on his new recruits so that Ocelot doesn't have to do it by shadowing them or ransacking his cabinets.

Ocelot skims the first few before he realizes what Miller is buying. There is a decidedly unpatriotic lurch in his chest - Miller's not only finally ditching the FN FAL, he's found a supplier for the unquestioned highlight of 1978 in Ocelot's estimation: the Steyr AUG, that ugly duckling of carbines that handles like a beautiful swan. Ocelot would blow him just to be able to touch one, and he's pretty sure you would, too.

"Make yourself useful for once, and I might," Miller answers his unvoiced request after he sets down the receiver. Ocelot realizes he's touching the schematics page with two fingers like it was the photograph of a long-lost loved one.

"Useful how?"

"I don't know. What are you good for?"

Ocelot decides he'll head out to their range - which is an outdoor affair with life-sized, moving targets now - and give Miller's mercenaries a refresher on the principles of marksmanship. They know the basics: fire between breaths, don't jerk the trigger. Ease in nice and slow, you'd said with your lips on his ear, all the way in with every movement - the discharge should come as a surprise, and a lesser man might've found it hellishly distracting.

"The Boss wants us to use two hands at all times," some brown-nosing Somali informs him when he quickdraws from the hip.

"Miller's a decent shot. A solid B+ student of firearms." Ocelot shrugs and casually banks a ricochet off the concrete safety barrier and into the throat of his target. "But you're talking to the class valedictorian."

The remark earns him a lecture in the principal's office. "Don't undermine my authority in front of my men," Miller snaps. He breathes through his nose when he's angry, makes snuffing noises, and it's just the cutest darn thing.

"Your men? That's a little sexist, don't you think? I thought the Diamond Dogs were equal opportunity employers."

"I know English isn't your first language, but in this context, it's gender neutral."

"You know, it's exclusionary language like this that prevents women from becoming full participants in society."

Miller drops the conversation with a huff. "Well? Did I pass? Or am I going to find my troops-" Good inclusive alternative there, Miller, "-dead in alley tomorrow and my office firebombed?"

"You're good," Ocelot assures him, though he takes a seat on the corner of the man's desk to disabuse him of the notion that he can dismiss him that easily. He has no place for his feet, however, so he rests them on Miller's knees. "For now. You're not going to Argentina, though."

Miller rudely shoves them off. "Or what? You'll hijack the plane?"

"Or you and whoever you bring with you-" One of his best men - one of his best soldiers, excuse him - from the looks of it,"-are going to meet an untimely end. Five years ago, maybe. The junta has a stranglehold now." And CIA (read: Cipher) support. It's reckless. No, it's idiotic. Miller'll have to scrape his coins out of the dirt elsewhere.

"I can't turn down that kind of money," Miller admits.

"That should've been the first clue that they were desperate. Had to outsource, too, because nobody local was that stupid."

Miller leans back in his chair. Upholstered, this time. Fancy. "What does it matter to you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Whether I live or die? If the CIA captures me, I can't lead them back to Snake. You made sure of that." Resentful and calculating all at once.

Ocelot almost rolls his eyes. The CIA doesn't need to know where you are. They don't care. Zero knows, and if Zero felt they needed to know he could have told them - Ocelot doesn't know he hasn't, for all his touching platitudes on a tape Ocelot is still torn over whether to give to you or not - before shuffling off to die whatever lingering, undignified death awaits him. XOF cares. XOF aren't in the Americas at all these days; Cipher's presence there is too strong, and only growing stronger.

(If you aren't tracking all of these allegiances and their territories, don't worry - Ocelot will.)

"I'm looking out for you because you're Snake's..." The sentence gets lost somewhere in the woods before it comes to a meaningful conclusion. Or rather, the Russian jungle. Miller's what, to you? Your lover? Your property? Your right-hand man? All of these, or none? All Ocelot knows is, you'll be pleased to find Ocelot's keep him alive, displeased if he hasn't. Of that much he's sure. "...Special friend."

Miller is less collected than Ocelot, and does roll his eyes. "And what are you to Snake, exactly?"

That one's easy: "Another special friend."

"Oh. Perfect."

Ocelot is also less easily derailed. "You're still not going to Argentina."

"No?" Miller leans forward to rest a hand on Ocelot's knee. "Nothing I can do to change your mind?"

 

So, they went to Argentina.

 

Before he leaves Africa, Ocelot obtains a tape: a gift, commensurate with the one he left the last time he visited. Miller grumbles about the detour, but Ocelot didn't travel all the way here just to see his pretty face.

And no, by 'they' Ocelot does not mean 'Miller and the Diamond Dogs', he means Miller and himself. It's his one caveat to this fool's errand. To Miller it's supervision he doesn't need, and signals a lack of trust; to Ocelot, it's a tiresome side mission that eats valuable time he could have spent with you. Together, besuited and clean-shaven, with briefcases full of work to tide them over during the flight, they appear more business partners than guns for hire. Ocelot notes that Miller seems to sleep about as much as he does, rubbing his eyes while he reads, relying on strong coffee to keep himself awake. This was before the days where passengers were crammed in like cattle, so Ocelot can't irritate him too much by accidentally elbowing him or by getting up frequently to use the washroom.

The moment Miller does himself, though, Ocelot switches his coffee to decaf.

As such the man's even surlier than usual when they land in Buenos Aires. He loses the jacket and tie. Replaces it with a scarf, which Ocelot remarks makes him look like quite the snappy stewardess. To which Miller replies that it's preferable to a scarf that makes him look like a child who doesn't know how to dress himself, because there was a child listening at the airport and what Miller wanted to say was that Ocelot's scarf makes him look like an aging rentboy.

Ocelot wonders how long it'll take him to figure out that he speaks Spanish.

Miller doesn't figure it out for the entire ride through to Tucumán province. They've decided he'll "pretend" to be Soviet, as it's a sight more palatable to Miller's fellow Che fanboys in the ERP than a pistol twirling American (he knows, he knows: revolvers aren't pistols, but Ocelot couldn't tell whether or not Miller was just saying that to rile him, so he let it slide). Some of them know a smattering of Russian and Ocelot kindly indulges them with stories of the glorious motherland.

These are the leftist revolutionaries fighting for mere survival against a totalitarian military regime that has them against the ropes, for the second time. And it's clear they have no intention of repeating the same mistake they made in the 60s: the junta wants them annihilated. But still they fight, for a dream and a cause, based out of an abandoned auto factory deep in the forested Pampas Mountains just outside of Lebreras.

Miller loves it. The balmy weather, the relentlessly cheerful people, the Spanish, the nostalgia. He's here to consult and to trade, but these hopeless rebels start to stir an enthusiasm, a peace, in Miller that Ocelot has never seen in the man, only heard about it from description. He smiles without baring his teeth. He offers free advice. He agrees to play the guitar, once, for a 14-year-old in an ill-fitting beret.

For his part, Ocelot is found no further than armslength away from Miller at any given time. This goes over about as well as you'd expect, and while Miller does an admirable job of smothering his irritation behind a veneer of professionalism, when it scuttles one (but far from all, he assures you) of his trysts with a generously curved guevarista they nearly come to blows. Miller returns the favour by ignoring every single piece of tactical advice Ocelot offers, and struts like an albino peacock when his new friends manage to take out a military helicopter.

Unwanted, Ocelot inspects the rusted assembly line. The bare bones of the mouldering machinery are still here. They're solid iron and steel. Bulletproof. It doesn't seem like a man could get under them at first glance, but the rails themselves are recessed, and with a little effort, he could.

This is very important, you see, because - well, you would see. You know what's going to happen next. Miller doesn't.

The first and only warning is gunfire, and that's all Ocelot needs to grab Miller by a painfully twisted elbow and drag him forcibly into his hiding place. Nobody bothered to listen to Ocelot about the placement of sentries: they're spaced too far apart, they have no discipline. Speaking of which, half of these people have no weapon discipline either - it takes seconds for soldiers to storm the place; the searchlight of a gunship is an ominous beacon that touches vehicles an instant before they're obliterated in a shower of shrapnel.

Ocelot pins Miller with his body. Claps a hand over his mouth. The unforgiving staccato of boots on concrete - they're going to sweep the place, room to room, and when voices Miller recognizes start to scream for mercy, he struggles. Sweats. Snarls like he'd kill Ocelot if he could.

The battle's already lost, though. A heartfelt futile death might appeal to Miller but it holds none to Ocelot. When and if Ocelot ever dies it will win some game-changing battle for you. Ensure the defeat of one of your greatest enemies. It can be as pitiful and ugly and gruesome as need be - it will matter. Still, it's not entirely Miller's fault. Humans are social creatures. It's difficult to ignore cries of pain or pleas for help. Especially from children. These last make Miller panic; gasp; hyperventilate.

Ocelot chokes him until he passes out.

Lays perfectly still, listening to the sound of his own breathing to ensure it's audible only to him. Time distorts to a standstill under a torrent of adrenaline; Ocelot's watch anchors him to the present in spite of it. Footsteps and voices recede. Ocelot can't believe this is going to be that easy.

Then they bring out the dogs.

сука, блядь. Ocelot slaps Miller quietly awake, hand still over his mouth. It's a gamble, but they're nowhere near the entrance - Ocelot planned for them not to be - and it's more than likely that someone else thought to hide here. The dogs will find them first, providing them with a sufficient distraction to make it to a nearby broken window Ocelot also cased with most of their body parts bullet-free.

He points to it. Miller nods. He has to go first. He understands this. There's hate - real hate - in his eyes, directed at Ocelot as much as the junta soldiers.

Ocelot exhales with relief at excited barking some fifty feet behind them. He waves Miller up; surely the man knows to go quietly. To stick to the shadows.

He does. He looks like he'd consider alerting them to Ocelot's presence, if he wasn't sure that would doom him, too. Doom you as well. He makes it all the way to the windowsill on the balls of his feet, just like you taught him.

Of course it's that fucking kid with the guitar. Of course. The dogs drag him out and he shrieks in terror and Miller, the sentimental imbecile who has no business in this business, turns around.

Ocelot bolts for it and shoves him out the window. Jumps down after him and rolls his ankle a little; not enough to stop him from herding Miller toward the treeline because they definitely heard that. Soldiers on the perimeter turn and Ocelot has to shoot them and now everyone in a whole fucking mile knows where they are.

There's nothing for it but to sprint. Into the forest because the helicopter will gun them down and the vehicles will run them down out in the open and on the road.

Miller outruns him for the first few hundred meters, until he hits a root and eats a faceful of dirt, stone, and angry armadillo. Ocelot drags him back up by the scarf as he passes.

"We need to lose them," Miller hisses, unnecessarily.

"We can't lose them," Ocelot spells out the obvious for him: "Dogs. We need to outrun them."

"Outrun...?" Miller pants. Oh, does he think you can't outrun a dog? Not in the short term, to be sure, but there's nothing short term about the situation your bumbling secretary has gotten them into. "To where...?"

"I have contacts in Salta. They'll smuggle us over the border to Chile."

Salta is a hundred kilometers away, over mountainous terrain. Best he could do, though. Shouldn't take them more than a day or two.

Miller slows to argue with him, but those wonderful canines shut him up and sheer survival instinct sends him forward. He's bigger, younger, faster than Ocelot. He knows vaguely where they need to be: away from here, toward the mountains.

That lead lasts about an hour. He hits the limits of his endurance, gasping and spitting like a dying race horse. "Pace yourself," Ocelot chides as he passes him, in a patronizing tone Miller fully deserves.

Ocelot glances back occasionally to make sure Miller's still behind him when he lags too far back to hear. Gives Ocelot time to rest and scout.

He curses himself for giving the man too much credit when, at about hour three, a growl and Miller's pained cry force him to backtrack. He's slipped again; Ocelot rips his own shirt off and wraps it thickly around his arm. They've outrun the tracking party, but they let a few animals off leash to search ahead.

Miller's been dragged down and is barely keeping a shiny Doberman from mauling his throat. Needs both hands so he hasn't drawn his pistol. Unforgivable.

"Here boy," Ocelot whistles. Its docked ears prick; Ocelot is the threat now, and it bears down on him.

He offers it his arm. It bites and thrashes savagely, right through the shirt, in the half-second before Ocelot gets a hold on its head and snaps its neck. Drops it limply to the moist earth.

"F-Fuck." Miller rises, shuddering, to his feet. He's covered in bites and scratches.

Ocelot sticks to his side from then on. Keeps a pace Miller can handle. Evasive detours flee from his mind; it's been less than twenty kilometers and the man you've saddled him with is already shaking.

Dawn greets them with bloody feet, bruised shins, and the cries of birds. They can barely hear the dogs or the soldiers over the sound of their own ragged breathing. "I-I can't," Miller mumbles and staggers. "We can't... it's days, there's... no way..."

He needs to stop talking. It's only burning more oxygen. They aren't even climbing yet. "Did you know that armadillos are natural reservoirs of American trypanosomiasis? Leprosy, too, due to their low body temperature compared to other mammals."

"...What...?" Miller puzzles over that a while. Keeps moving forward.

Ocelot lets him rest for about a minute the next time they find water. "Maybe, we should..." Miller manages between gulps, "...the road."

"Armadillos are fascinating creatures. Too bad we're too far south, or we just might have crossed into the natural territory of the ocelot." Ocelot pushes him upward to begin their scramble up a ravine, and up further still. Miller barely has the strength to climb.

"Fuck ocelots," Miller grunts, taking the offered arm regardless. "I'm on team margay."

"You would be. But we're out of their range, too. The central sierra of Argentina is home to the colocolo, which is a smaller spotted wildcat." The dogs won't be able to climb this; Ocelot's picked a steep enough slope to ensure it. The only trouble is hauling his (your) baggage up it. "It's cute, but it lacks the charisma of the ocelot."

A little life comes back into Miller when he snorts a laugh.

Good. The dogs might not be able to climb it, but their handlers can. Ocelot doesn't give it long until they're cut off by men with access to vehicles. Slipping by will be their only chance.

Luckily Miller takes the hint to shut his yap when Ocelot refuses to respond with anything other than wildlife trivia.

 

"Kitty."

Spots. Ears. Gleaming eyes. It looks so soft.

"Tell me about the cat. Tell me everything you know and you can pet her."

See, here's the thing. He already knows it's a trap. He's never going to get to touch that cat. She'll keep probing until he forgets something. Makes a mistake. Then it'll be his fault he couldn't. They've played this game too many times - once was enough, but it's been more than that - for him not to know his hopes will be dashed.

He could curl in on himself and give up before he starts, like he's seen other children do. He could try anyway and hope for the best this time - he's seen that too.

No, no. You never get to trick him twice. Nobody does. He's spent days memorizing every book about animals in his room; he knew this was coming.

He tells her everything he knows about the cat. More than she knows, and when that shows on her face, he starts making things up. Then he tells her about other cats. And dogs. For hours. She's been instructed to refuse him using his own failure, she can't just walk him away.

She's only human; she has places to be; she gives in with an exasperated sigh.

Later he'd learn that they intended to reward him later, at their own discretion, with the cat. The failure would teach him humility; the undeserved reward would build attachment.

He doesn't care. The cat is every bit as soft as he imagined.

 

A metallic glint on the horizon wrenches unwillingly back to the present, where Miller's slobbering with his own fatigue. He'd said no detours; now he has no choice.

No, wait, there's always a choice. Victory to the cleverest, or so they'd drilled into him from birth.

"Wait here. I'll scout ahead," Ocelot tells Miller and he drops like a sack of bones.

It's a lie: Ocelot goes just far enough ahead that he can circle back, doused in water and mud from the stream that created the ravine. Miller draws them with his stink, his panting, the gleam from his sunglasses.

Ocelot crawls under the brush, close enough to hear 'Where's the other one?' and 'Must have left him behind.' He waits until the last one passes, grabs him and cuts his throat with a speed and violence that would make you proud. Lowers him to the ground gently and pads forward on agonizing blisters, his boots removed. Miller's plainly no threat. They'll take him alive for questioning.

That probably sounds good to him right about now. Too bad Ocelot isn't finished with their nature hike.

There are five. Ocelot kills four before they notice him; the last one is trying to bind Miller but abandons that effort for his rifle - Miller flips him over his shoulder, winding him, and strangles him to death with his bare hands.

"...What... you...?" Miller mutters uselessly.

"I doubt the rest will catch up if we keep moving," Ocelot says it like he believes it and it's enough for Miller to cling to. He falls silent, trudging stoically; he's in real pain now.

For the remainder of the day Ocelot uses the sun; when it sets, he uses the stars. North-northwest. When those are covered by clouds he uses line of sight: one prominent object in the right direction. They pick their way to it, then he spots another. It's all very nostalgic. Only here, there's no danger of hypothermia, and falling in the water will be refreshing rather than lethal.

It rains, turning the rocks slippery during the worst of the climb. Miller falls badly before Ocelot can catch him with a trembling arm. He sighs inwardly and reverses his own progress, finding the other man in a heap below a cracked boulder overgrown with vines.

"I can't." Miller swallows. His face is streaked red. "I won't make it. Tell Snake, I--"

"--Bit players like you and I don't get dramatic death speeches," Ocelot chides, grabbing his scarf once more.

"I can't!" Miller half-snarls, half-sobs, and refuses to stand.

Ocelot is too tired to carry him.

He sighs deeply. Checks him over for injuries. Sprains, gashes from the trees and the dog; his feet are no doubt an unsightly mess inside his boots. Nothing he can't push through. Ocelot's been walking on a sprain since they started.

So, Ocelot starts whistling. Loudly. Some old folksy tune from a radio drama he heard snippets of, once.

"Hey! They will hear us," Miller snaps.

"What's it matter to you? You're ready to die, anyway." Ocelot shrugs, and continues.

Miller lunges for him. Ocelot takes a few steps backward. Keeps whistling. Miller lunges for him again. Perhaps he's decided that his dying wish is to throttle Ocelot before he kicks off.

Fair enough, but he'll have to catch him first. Back up the way they came. And further. Long strides are sufficient to outpace Miller, now.

"Fuck you," Miller spits.

"Don't like the music? I take requests." Ocelot tries any old thing that comes mind: europop. The Beatles.

"No, fuck you. Fuck everything about you. Are you a fucking punishment? Are you Zero's practical joke?" Miller gets louder to be heard over The Yellow Rose of Texas.

"Seriously: what are you? Am I dead, and this is hell? I can't be dreaming because I'm not a fucking masochist."

"Could've fooled me, Miller." Ocelot doesn't miss a beat, before changing tempos to the theme from For a Few Dollars More.

"Hahahah. Oh, of course. The cowboy shtick. Is that the best you could do? It's nineteen-seventy-fucking-eight, Americans don't do cowboys anymore. They like disco and fucking Star Wars."

"Star Wars is a western when you really think about it," Ocelot attempts, just a bit too fatigued to chased down a rationalization for that particular non-statement.

"Oh my god. You don't even hear yourself speak half the time, do you?" Miller astutely observes, at last. "You can't. You'd go insane. You know, I can't even tell if you dislike me or you're jealous of me or you have a fucking crush on me. You know why?"

"No, why?" Ocelot inquires, before moving on to Katyusha. For Miller, you see. For the boy he sent off to war who hasn't come home.

"Because you're a fucking four-year-old with a pair of revolvers. You play dress up and make faces and have zero impulse control. The only reason no one can tell when you're lying is that everything you say sounds equally moronic. You look ridiculous - I'm sure Snake found another boyfriend because he was tired of not having one he could take out in public."

"Uh-oh, the claws are out," Ocelot chuckles. Why not Sweet Home Alabama - for old times' sake, John.

"No, no they're not! Snake barely mentioned you! I wish he had, or I never would have called you in the first place! I was fooled into thinking you were his old war buddy, not his comedic relief boy sidekick PITY FUCK!"

It takes all of Ocelot's willpower to keep his shoulders steady and not to wipe his eyes.

"You are pathetic. You are petty, you are pretentious, you are cloying, you are a terrible lay..."

He goes on like this for quite some time.

"And - AND - AND! You. ARE. OFF KEY!!!"

"Aw, shucks," says Ocelot after a long silence. Pauses to wait for Miller to catch up to his shoulder and points. "That's Salta."

They're at the crest of the range: the city lights are visible only a few miles off, and it's all downhill from here. They should make it under cover of dark and be out before dawn. Miller's face is absolutely priceless.

So priceless Ocelot doesn't see the punch coming until it lands. Which in retrospect he really should have.

 

Food, rest, bandaged feet, and the promise of a long boat ride to Nicaragua puts Miller in somewhat better spirits. The surviving remnants of his fellow revolutionaries have fled there to one of the few sympathetic governments the CIA hasn't toppled. He has real street cred among them now. Fought the junta. Best buddies with a real Soviet.

Fate sees them bunk together because of course it does; Miller makes an aggravated peace with this until Ocelot tells him after the first hour that he gets seasick. They don't talk. Miller sleeps fitfully and Ocelot pukes. Drifts off a few times between visits to the bucket; blinks dazedly at a cup of water next to his head.

"So," says Miller finally. "You're spetsnaz."

Ocelot blinks. "Why, yes."

"You're actually spetsnaz," he continues, bafflingly.

"I'm fairly sure that would be one of the first things Snake told you about me." The water's good, though. "Do you want me to backflip while I throw a hatchet for you?"

Miller ignores the last part. "Yes, but..." he trails off. "I guess I have it backwards. You joined the GRU spetsnaz and then defected to the KGB."

"I don't work for the KGB." Ocelot sips, honestly a little incredulous. It isn't not not untrue.

"Don't bullshit me. I traced the stash in your hotel room. Funds for undercover KGB instigators in Eritrea and Ethiopia." Miller's eyes narrow. Ah, yes, smarter than your average bear; or stud, case being.

"Oh that." Ocelot waves it off. "I steal from the KGB."

 

"They will believe you've defected. Contain the damage, but let our operative do the heavy lifting. You have one goal, and one goal only. Everything else can be sacrificed."

"Understood. One goal. I am, as ever, loyal to the--

 

"The west will see this as an act of aggression from our own military. Khrushchev will be forced to step aside. Do whatever you can to let Volgin off his leash."

"Of course. I am, as ever, loyal to the--

 

"The KGB did? Much obliged, major. Why don't we put those espionage skills to use? Colonel Volgin is a war criminal and an embarrassment; he's refused direct orders and his connections protect him from reprisal."

"You want me to take care of him?"

"It has to be absolutely, positively deniable. There can be no sign we had any hand in it."

"As you wish. I am, as ever, loyal to the--"

 

"You steal from the KGB." Miller rolls his eyes. "Of course you do. Why not. That's never going to come back on us."

"On 'us'? It's my problem, not yours, Miller."

Miller snuffs again. Folds his arms. "You're fucking spetsnaz." Then he flops down on his bunk, smiling wryly like he's just said something funny.

"Since I was 16 years old." Ah. Miller thought Ocelot had somehow faked his way into the GRU spetsnaz. As if that were a simple matter of some fudged paperwork. As if that wasn't a tight-knit community of specialists who trained together all the time. Not possible. ...No, wait, Ocelot can think of a few ways you might do it. But that's not what happened.

Is it?

"Is there some kind of signal we can work out when you're trying to tell me I'm about to do something stupid that's actually stupid, and not just yanking my chain?"

No, of course not. That would spoil the game. "You'll just have to trust me."

For once, Miller doesn't react with his breathy little grunts. They've found some kind of truce. "You're telling me I've had an active member of one of the most elite special forces units in the world - who specializes in recon - willing to work for me for free, and I've been turning him down because he's an asshole?"

"More or less. That was nice, you know. Reminded me of my final ex. Only with smaller dogs and better weather."

"What are you up to next week?"

Like all truces, it doesn't last. There's still a day to port when they're ready to rip each other's throats out again, and this time it's Miller who comes up with a way to keep the peace in a confined space an armslength away from one another with no way out, and no entertainment save for one another.

"Want to learn how to give head like I do?"

"Yep."

 

Miller's put up in a safehouse in Managua, where he plans to make business contacts, but winds up crashing like a tonne of bricks the moment he climbs onto a bed that doesn't move. Adam boards of a flight to Dhekelia via Heathrow via JFK. It gives him time to plan his next steps in your phantom's treatment meticulously; to compensate, he hopes, for wasted time. So that he'll have something to show you if you wake up tomorrow.

He falls asleep on every leg and has to be walked to his connections by a stewardess.

 

There's only one person left by the time he reaches the end. A grizzled GRU starshina, veteran of the Great Patriotic War. Adamska can no longer stand under his own power; the older man hauls him to his feet by the scruff of the neck.

The night is quiet save for the sound of his heavy breathing. Hot breath and warm cigarette smoke curls around their faces. Adamska stuffs his frozen hands under his armpits. They're yanked back out again for the starshina's inspection; he shakes his head when he sees that Adamska can no longer make a fist. "That won't heal, you know," he says, and pats the spot beside him.

Adamska doesn't know what to say to that, so he sits in silence, shivering.

"You weren't really supposed to win this, lieutenant. That's not the point of the exercise."

"Then what was the point?"

"To test your limits," he offers Adamska a smoke.

Adamska can't hold it, or light it, or even put it in his mouth. "I did that."

The starshina does all three for him. "To bond with your men."

"I'm an officer," Adamska frowns, rolling it to the side of his mouth so that he can talk. "I shouldn't be seen to fail in front of them."

"It's one thing to fail through lack of effort or incompetence. It's another to reach your breaking point," he rolls his own into his teeth and grabs Adamska's hands, rubbing them between his own. "A wise man might have made it just a little further than any of them before he quit."

"I wasn't done yet," Adamska shrugs, though every part of him hurts; there are scars from razor wire on his back and he can't feel his legs below the shin.

"I can see that." There's a wistful smile in his tone, not on his face. "Your loss. You might have won a few friends if you'd stopped. Nothing binds men together like seeing one another reach their limits. And struggling onward, regardless. Not even sex."

That's something else Adamska will have to pass on, he supposes. It seems downright paltry compared to the rest: a home, a people, a family. Sentimental idiots long for things they never had. "Well, what did I win by getting to the end?"

"Only you know the answer to that."

Chapter Text

The key to being a KGB spy-turned-GRU interrogator-turned-Patriot saboteur-turned-hospital warden-turned-memory reconsolidator-turned-personal bodyguard-turned-private mercenary all at once, Ocelot discovers, is to multitask. It's good practice, in general, to have more than one agenda in any given act, and to have more than one beneficial outcome to any given scenario, but these days Ocelot has multiplied this to three or four at the minimum. Trips to visit you are conducted when one of Zero's agents has to be put back in line or replaced; when your phantom is ready for the next stage of his reeducation; when fresh lilies are in bloom.

It is abiding by this principle that Ocelot finds himself alone on a moonlit night in southern Algeria, trotting across the Sahara dunes on the back of a silver-grey Akhal Teke. Where Italy's withdrawal from Ethopia left civil war and conflict over Eritrea in its wake in the east, the departure of Spanish colonial masters from Morocco have left a corresponding power vacuum in the west: the struggle over the desolate yet resource rich Western Sahara has encompassed that nation, its neighbour Mauritania, and the locals fighting for their own independence.

It is, ostensibly, not a proxy conflict, yet it's old Soviet armour that Major Ocelot has been sent to escort into the hands of SADR. Nothing special - T-55s and 62s, almost as old as Ocelot himself - but between those, the vehicles they've appropriated from enemy forces, and a centuries' old tradition of whipping up out of the desert like a sandstorm only to dissipate without a trace just as quickly, these freedom fighters are doing rather well for themselves.

Which is why Adamska's been sent to ensure they have no other backers. (Adam knows they don't, which saves him some time on that count.)

Algeria is friendly to their cause but can't support them openly without being drawn into the conflict. No SADR forces can be allowed to cross the border; the Diamond Dogs, however, are a private business, and can go wherever they please. His final purpose here is to that end: to scout a path through friendly, neutral, and enemy territory amenable to vehicles that will give them the advantage of surprise when they pincer an eastern Mauritanian outpost with SADR ground troops.

It's chill enough to call for his jacket, and dusty enough for him to unfold his scarf and wrap it around his mouth and nose. The breeze keeps the hair out of his eyes - for the most part. He needs to do something about that soon.

As he passes the desiccated husks of even older armour - Panzer tanks half-swallowed by the sands - he wonders if his mother ever came this way. It's a little far south even for her insertions, yet there's something undeniably appealing to imagine her trotting across the same salt beds, laid flat against the same rust-coloured rocks, socks chafing uncomfortably against the same grains of sand. Alone, or with her Cobras? With Zero and the other SAS? These steel bones a testament to her kills.

After he parts ways with the Algerian forces the only sounds for miles the hoofbeats of Ocelot's own horse.

To his abiding unsurprise Miller has chosen an ancient water-formed depression for their RV, as opposed to Ocelot's suggested high ground. It's true: they're out of sight, and with good light and noise discipline they would remain undetected. Unless someone happened to be downwind of them, like Ocelot is, in which case their diesel fumes can be smelled from a mile away.

It leads Ocelot right to them - it only took, what? Five years, for Miller and his survival-challenged guns for hire to afford APVs. Third-hand BTRs at that, but to be fair, they beat both getting shot and walking. (Or hitch-hiking, but he'll tell you that story some other time, John.) The only problem is that, as you know, Miller knows sweet, fuck, and all about mounted combat.

Miller's excuse, then, for Ocelot's permanently temporary affiliation is that he is their 'tactical instructor', which is a very convenient way of drawing on his expertise without giving him formal authority or rank of any kind.

Battle-hardened mercenaries can read between the lines, though, and more than one mounted gunner relaxes visibly when Ocelot crosses their near, wind-blown horizon. Ocelot's the one that has been teaching them battle convoy formations and maneuvers on the move while Miller's arranged resupply and fake travel documents for their band of mostly criminals.

Ocelot spots Miller the jeep they'll be using as their mobile command center and reigns in beside it. The other man's jaw is tight with displeasure - Ocelot's early, and this has made him grumpy in the same way that arriving late or on time would have made him grumpy.

Ocelot swings down into the passenger's seat in a single fluid movement that does not visibly impress Miller at all.

Instead, Miller greets him with, "Oh goddamnit," as he swats away the plastic bag of Asian crackers on which Ocelot has just sat and most definitely did not see before he did so. "What are you supposed be? A bank robber with a bad haircut?"

Ocelot tugs the scarf down and stuffs a smushed cracker-half into his mouth.

"Sure, help yourself," Miller snorts.

It tastes like seaweed; one of those bizarre affectations Miller has dragged with him from the homeland he purports to hate, like that pipe that makes him look like a high-class courtesan from 18th century London. "Hey, these crackers aren't bad," Ocelot observes as he crunches crumbs all over the seat.

"They're not crackers. They're senbei," Miller retorts, feigning some kind of vehicle maintenance.

"Oh? What makes a senbei different from a cracker?" Yes, yes, Ocelot is aware.

"They're made out of rice."

"So they're rice crackers."

"They're coated in nori and shoyu."

"So they're seaweed and soy sauce-flavoured rice crackers."

Ocelot knows he's won his particular skirmish when Miller yanks the bag away and tosses it into the back seat. "Just give me the map."

Ever faithful, Ocelot does as asked and only holds onto it a little longer than strictly necessary to force Miller to tug it out of his hands. "Those are the two main OPs this side of the border; there's their ORV. Patrol routes run along the ridge east to west and the MSR runs south to north, here. I've accounted for all the batteries that our intelligence turned up."

It's as straightforward as he could make it without insulting the man's intelligence (too much) so Ocelot lets him pore it over while he tries to fish the cracker bag out from between two water jugs. He eats these with his mouth (mostly) closed so as not to interrupt the other man's concentration.

At about minute fifteen of consulting a map drawn for the world's worst second lieutenant, Ocelot finally nudges him with his elbow. "Just get presciption sunglasses. Nobody will know the difference."

"I don't know the Soviet symbols for all of this shit," Miller admits with a quiet hiss.

Ocelot blinks, pausing mid-chew. "Those are NATO. I used NATO standard. For you." Dots, bars, triangles. "I thought you were in your country's fake army for a while."

"The JSDF isn't NATO," Miller protests, though the chagrin in his tone accepts the fact that this is something he should probably know, regardless. "It's been... over a decade since I did nav courses."

Is that an admission of weakness? Ocelot is genuinely surprised, and graciously makes no comment. Instead he says, "Here, I'll fix it up for you," and takes the map back. Snatches up a pencil.

His tongue tucked into his cheek, Ocelot turns those boring formations into the symbols of Miller's people: infantry units wield samurai swords and sniper teams draw comically large bows, bandanas with the radiating Rising Sun of Imperial Japan emblazoned across their foreheads. Tanks breathe demon fire; good ambush points feature bayonet-wielding soldiers with long grass strapped to their backs shouting TENNO HEIKA BANZAI with five or six exclamation points. He writes the four cardinal directions in hanzi - he assumes the kanji will be the same or close enough - then decides he can do one better and sketches byakko and suzaku and so on in their stead. It only takes a few minutes, and they've got time to kill.

This he hands to Miller.

Who nods, slowly. "Oh, I get it. It's because I'm Japanese." Then adds, to cover the way his mouth twitches: "I didn't know you could draw."

"Well, I'm navigating and you're driving, I suppose," Ocelot shrugs. Which does put him in the command position between the two of them, not that that was intentional.

Miller's underplucked brows furrow in that way they do when he thinks he's being cunning. "No. I think you should drive," he says, cunningly.

"Suit yourself." Ocelot switches positions by clambering over him with exactly the amount of crotch-knee the situation calls for and Miller retaliates with an undue amount of knee-stomach.

If Miller thinks he's going to embarrass Ocelot this way, he's entirely mistaken: Ocelot's a perfectly passable driver. "I ride a horse because it's more practical out here, Miller. It's not going blow a fuse or get stuck on a steep sand dune."

"Uh-huh. Why don't we go get into formation?" His expression hasn't changed.

Ocelot keys the ignition, releases the break, and steps on the gas, but nothing happens, curiously. Just an odd grinding sound. He glances down to see what the problem is, only to find that there is one more pedal than he expects. Oh. It's one of these. He knows the theory of these - he needs to pull the lever into... first gear? That seems logical. Then depress the clutch and gas at the same time? No, that's not right.

Is it?

Ocelot tries a number of different combinations, as the vehicle continues to make ever keener noises of distress and Miller's facade of indiscriminate umbrage crumbles into something like a smile.

"First time driving stick, Ocelot?" Zebra calls out from behind his .50 and if Ocelot were Miller, he might have flipped him off.

"Who are you?" Miller asks at last with a breathy little laugh only Ocelot can hear. "No, really: who the fuck can ride a horse but not drive a standard?"

"You've made your point," Ocelot mutters as Miller gets out to go around the side of the jeep like a grown up this time, leaving Ocelot to ride bitch with his map and his cracker bag. Now that he thinks of it, he did always let you drive. Or Zero. Or some corporal, before that. Motorcycles aside, of course. He reflects on this as he drinks from Miller's canteen, and word quickly spreads through the Diamond Dogs that Ocelot just stalled their vehicle half a dozen times.

"I'll teach you." Miller offers belatedly, pushing the pedals in the engine's acceptable timing. "Just not on something we'll need to drive later."

Ocelot could guarantee him that he'll figure it out faster than he did, but right about now it would sound petty.

Even pettier would be to allow his disgruntled chauffeur the generous helpings of sand he's going to swallow tonight without something over his face. Ocelot, however, is the bigger man, and gestures for him to stop as soon as they're in position. "Come here."

Miller looks skeptical; Ocelot collects the man's own scarf. Removes his aviators and sets them aside. Sits up on his knees and wraps it around his head and face, the loose end draped to allow him to drink or speak with ease.

It suits him, actually. Night washes the yellow out to white; smooths the fine lines collecting between his brows. It's not the right place, or time, or even headdress, but in the combination of blondness, blue eyes, and classic bone structure Ocelot sees Peter O'Toole.

Then he places the aviators back on his face, and the effect is to transform him instantaneously into a sleazy oil sheikh.

Glasses off: Lawrence of Arabia.

Glasses on: I'll buy your sister for three camels.

Ocelot slides back into his seat and leans out the side of the jeep.

"You have a nice voice, you know," Miller tells him.

Ocelot has nothing to say to that.

"When you laugh," Miller continues, "You use your real voice."

"How would you know?" Ocelot contends. Kicks his feet up on the dashboard. Stuffs his face full of seaweed crackers.

The moonlight that night is blinding.

 

 

She's startled when he takes her by the waist and spins her onto the dance floor, but Eva's training is such that she looks mildly taken aback, at most. That pouty playfulness is enticing, endearing. The objective of the technique is to test but never truly threaten. Men enjoy challenges. They don't enjoy losing.

Adam's touch turns as light as courtesy will allow. She will follow his lead, regardless. They both know these steps well enough to follow them without thinking.

"Oh, Adam, were you feeling left--"

"Don't do it," he says sharply. Flatly. He's not in the mood to play; he's not in the mood to muster up the pretense that he'd have any vested interest in the outcome. Not tonight. Zero's words are the sword over their heads that she imagines securely tied and he sees fraying. "He'll never forgive you."

The music is too loud for anyone who isn't her to hear; turning rapidly, randomly behind heads will prevent whoever Zero has planted in the crowd from reading their lips.

"And I'm sure you're just so invested in our relationship that you speak now out of the most genuine concern." Her words deliberately convoluted to ensure that.

He can't claim to understand how she feels. How tempting it might be to get that close to you, on such a visceral level: to have a part of you inside him not in a temporary or poetic sense, but one that is literal and biological. All he sees are cause and effect. Patterns. Things forgivable and things not. "I've grown to tolerate you. I'm not looking forward to meeting his brainless, bottle-blonde mid-life crisis."

Her elegant heels make her as tall as him; she revels in his as she looks down her nose. Your cologne is on her neck; he picked it out for you. "You don't know Jack as well as I do. He would never fall for anyone who wasn't intelligent enough to excite him."

Adam would tell her not to flatter herself, on any other evening. It's the retort she expects. She can turn it back on him. And so they'll banter. Her crimson lips curve downward when he fails to respond as he's - they've - been taught. "Be that as it may, you do this, you lose him. For good." An indelicate bluntness that's seen him slapped, scolded, and starved in the past.

Back when he was too young to do anything about it. Adam is no longer that young.

"So?" Eva cocks her head defensively; Adam knows he's lost the battle. Zero has armed her with a rationalization so impenetrable she can no longer see the hypocrisy in it: "Not everything in this world is about him. There are more important things out there than 'John'."

"No," Adam informs her with finality, "There aren't."

 

After escorting you safely there, Eva never comes to Dhekelia again. Not even once. The flowers, she says, remind her of a graveyard.

Adam's always found graveyards very peaceful.

 

"To your left, Miller, not your other goddamned left!" Ocelot hollers at the stubborn stone you've tied around his neck for the past half-decade when he forgets to check his corner and comes within a hairsbreadth of serving himself, Ocelot, Zebra, and Manx with a faceful of steel jacketed 7.62 rounds from the Iraqi side.

You see, John, this is what your sexually transgressive beach towel has gotten them into this time: the recent Iranian revolution has deposed the US-backed Shah, and now America's new best buddy Saddam Hussein is here to bless everyone on this side of the Shatt al-Arab with a taste of secular freedom. And bullets. Their current employer, who like everyone else a thousand miles in any given direction is named Muhammed, has realized that the wealthy Persians who live along this river will probably not be able to flee with all of their belongings, and is willing to risk a little gunfire from both sides if it means making off with much of that loot. In addition to their base fee, the Diamond Dogs will get a cut of whatever they (mis)appropriate. (He wouldn't sweat it too much, if he were you: this is the third war crime your wife has committed this week.)

The only problem is that the Iranians have dug in hard and this should-be pushover battle has turned into a siege that'll go down in history. All his multi-layered plans of sabotage and spying on the forward line shot to pieces. It has devolved from bombardment into room-to-room fighting, and if Ocelot hadn't dug his spurs in and insisted they bring two of the most skilled personnel they have they would be four very out-of-place atheist corpses right now. Miller groused about it, as he does. Zebra - a former Rhodesian SAS operator and Selous Scout made homeless by the Bush War - and Manx - an urban assaulter from South Korea dishonorably discharged after she threw her boyfriend from a second story window - not only command some of the highest fees, but are part of Ocelot's slowly forming clique of People Who Know What The Hell They Are Doing, or as Miller calls them, combat specialists.

But unlike Miller and his limp-wristed pencil-pushers, Zebra knows how to clear a room and Manx can watch their six and still advance without looking backwards while walking into--

"Miller!" Ocelot snarls, drops to his knees and lobs the well-cooked grenade that your bobble-headed blowup doll has just about stepped on because he can't shoot and watch his feet at the same time through a window - so close the pressure wave makes his ears pop past the concrete.

"Fuck!" Is his cogent, informative retort, dumb blue eyes flicking between too many targets to choose one and his random spray riddles part of an Iraq arm and most of a decorative flower pot with holes. "Fuck!"

They've been surrounded for going on ten minutes now, which as you know is roughly equivalent to geological epoch in a firefight this intense, making point as intense a position as rearguard and he can't ask Miller to do either; he has to protect Miller which makes Ocelot himself less than optimally effective.

"Three! Seven!" Manx shrieks because it's the only tone at which her high-pitched voice will carry over the screams of wounded, roar of artillery, BANG of outgoing and snap of incoming gunfire. She's much, much too busy at five and six to help them out and Zebra is caught up countersniping at twelve, and Miller doesn't know which of those targets is his, because Miller is too busy with his backroom business deals to drill with them.

блядь.

Ocelot takes out both - one through the head and the other through a metal shop sign that is far less bulletproof than his target had obviously hoped - and realizes he's called Miller a whore in Russian when Zebra takes a full precious second to stare at him.

"Russian's a beautiful language," Ocelot curses inwardly in Russian, too.

"If you say so, mate." Zebra points to a cramped alley that doubles as a storm-sewer drain right down to the river, walled in by brick. "I think that's clear to the boat but there's no cover from this side. If we take it they'll fuck us right in the arse."

Sage advice, but it doesn't mean they can't put it to use. Ocelot snags Miller by the scruff and points it out to him. "Get out of here. We'll fight our way back to the docks." He braces for the argument he knows is going to come; Ocelot is ready to fire at his feet to get him going if it comes to that.

Miller does something that utterly astounds him instead. He nods, and he goes.

Ocelot blinks a few times at his sweat-soaked, retreating back, wondering just how far into the black with panic he is not to posture like he belongs anywhere near combat this at this level, but is swiftly punished for it with a ricochet that grazes his whole jaw bloody.

Well, to hell with it. He'll just start swearing in Russian, then.

He, Zebra, and Manx are well-trained enough that they know which angles are theirs; target-calling is minimal and they rotate covering and moving in a triangle pattern that sings a chorus of invectives without borders: Ocelot's ёб твою́ мать, Manx's 씨발놈아, and Zebra's bloody fucking hell goat fucking christ motherfucker. Advancing through superior numbers in quarters this close is hard enough; advancing and retreating simultaneously, backwards--

--Turning into barrel a meter away, throwing himself to the side, one round through a tanned, too-young shattered cheekbone, bounce the next off the wall of a tea shop at a thirty-degree angle as his comrade rounds the corner--

--While cement powder rains down two inches above his head--

--"I'm out!" No good, Ocelot only has two magazines left, but he can spare one--

--"Twelvetwelvetwelve!" Why isn't he covering twelve? No, Zebra's down. He's not out, he's down, can he walk?--

--There are too many targets, John. Too many, and he can't line them up. If you were here what would you do?--

--There's no sound here. Just ringing. Ringing and the static that creeps in at the corners of--

"We're clear!" Ocelot spots the jetty and colour floods back into the world, they have a hundred yard headstart on the unravelling insanity behind them and he half-carries Manx while he drags Zebra, not because he gives a shit but because he now knows exactly how much they cost and how difficult they will be to replace and how unpleasant Miller will be about the whole damn thing if they die here.

Out of ammunition, all three of them bleeding, Muhammed's rotund, mustachioed figure on the deck of his motor boat bursting with booty seems almost Christ-like. Until, that is, Ocelot realizes that the man is armed with his own AK47, and the vessel has been untied from the pier. It's only ten feet from shore, but in their condition it might as well be a million.

"I was thinking, my friends," Muhammed grins the grin of a man who knows he can bend them all over and take whatever he wants, "That we should renegotiate the terms of our agreement."

"You're right."

Ocelot can't hear the click, but he does see your beautiful, angelic, perfect-in-every-way dripping wet boyfriend press the muzzle of his M1911 to the back of Muhammed's skull.

"I was thinking instead of twenty percent, we should get fifty. Or maybe a hundred?"

 

Ocelot only eats half of Miller's rice crackers on the boat ride back down to the Gulf.

 

For all he's a Soviet officer, Colonel Volgin is the direst example of American-style plutocracy that Adamska has ever met. He's not particularly bright, or talented, or inspiring - he's not even that good a fighter, as you discovered. All he has are his rich daddy and his unusual powers, neither of which he did anything to earn. He wielded both to gracelessly bludgeon his way into the highest echelons of the GRU. He believes these gifts make him better than other men. Make him untouchable.

For all that you're an American hero, John, you came from nothing. Not even the healthy, wholesome, heartland farm from which American heroes are supposed to come. Adamska knows she bled you for every inch of prowess you gained.

Raikov, well, if anything Raikov is even worse. He doesn't even have the wealth - which Adamska supposes Volgin could have squandered - or the lightning - which might take some skill to master, who knows. Volgin certainly isn't telling. He has the pretty face he was born with and a willingness to angle it in the direction of a rich man's genitals.

And so, Major Ocelot is a cocksure strutting brat who leaned on his famous parentage to buy his rank and all the favouritism he receives. They see him and know him for one of their own; the percussion section in their parade of fools, who sets the beat with his spinning pistols.

Makarovs have a very heavy trigger pull, for their size.

But you're right, John, there's no risk of firing the action of a revolver when you play with it at all.

It's all a joke, you see. A joke everyone refuses to call him on, even when he declares that his personal unit will fight in their dress uniforms, parade boots and all. His have cavalry officer spurs; he rides no horse and they are not a mounted unit and never have been.

It's the most amusing joke he's ever told, and you, when you arrive, are the punchline.

 

Major Ocelot first arrives in Afghanistan by special request. At this point the war is a proxy uprising and skirmishes to the north. The soldiers here are largely reconnaissance and all spetsnaz, the GRU included. The 40th Army won't roll in for some time yet; first it will put these masked and hooded feelers out, where Hinds will follow.

Their airborne shadows have not gone unnoticed; quiet stalkers lurk local mountain ranges and report back to the Mujahideen resistance. They are to be captured alive when they can - everyone here in this low-lying border camp works in intelligence, just as the Major himself does. Last week they snared quite the prize: a Mujahideen scout-sniper called Snow Leopard in Pashto. Only they can't break him. He sits chained in a barred cargo container, as craggy and unmovable as the cliffs where they caught him, waiting to die.

A few years from now, the sound of Ocelot's slow, rhythmic footfalls will stir every prisoner who hears them. At present, all they garner are odd looks.

"What have you tried?" Ocelot asks a Kazakh lieutenant who knows him by reputation.

"Everything but the kitchen sink, comrade Major." A self-effacing laugh. "Threats, bribes, torture. The only thing he's reacted to is sensory deprivation, and not enough that he breaks before he'll lose his mind." And become worthless to them. "He's a fanatic."

"I'll bring in the kitchen sink, then," Ocelot tells him with an encouraging smile. A demeanour that plays well with the Diamond Dogs troops, perhaps it'll work here too.

A polite one-sided conversation with the man discredits the fanatic idea. Snow Leopard does not respond to his bad Pashto even once; he remains stony, looking all of 50 while his teeth tell Ocelot he can't me more than 35. Ocelot can relate. That's fine, it's mostly nonsense. Babble. The words aren't important, only the cadence. The cadence speeds and slows subtly to make the other man lose track of time. When Snow Leopard is unbothered by the fact that he's forgotten to pray, Ocelot knows that a fervent desire to cleanse his homeland of infidels and steely faith are not what sustain him.

No, this man crawls amidst the dusty rocks and cuts throats because he wants to. He enjoys it. He is not afraid of death or pain; they could force a whole Christmas ham down his throat and have a dog fuck him, the humiliation would mean nothing. He's no true believer. He wants to hunt. To kill. He relishes it. From the tally they've given Ocelot he's very, very good at it.

This revelation doesn't help Ocelot much. Still, he's not one to give up either; determined not to have his first trip to this cursed country go to waste, he pulls out a silver and blue Sony Walkman, already loaded with his precious tape.

He fastens the headphones, kicks his feet up by the warmth of a flaming oil drum, and presses play.

It is a work of art. Every cut is perfectly timed, every detail and omission a meaningful part of the story and from start to finish it is simply inspired.

"What are you listening to, Major Ocelot?" He hears the lieutenant ask him during a hushed, heartfelt conversation.

"Ennio Morricone," Ocelot replies.

The lieutenant is clearly unfamiliar; a GRU starshina claps him on the shoulder, helpfully. "He scored The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Still like cowboys, eh Major?"

"Always," Adamska grins. "I don't suppose you have a spare car battery, Pyotr?"

"We tried electrocution days ag-" the lieutenant begins, but Ocelot is already up, already slicing the plastic housing of the battery offered open with a borrowed knife and draining the fluid it contains into a cup.

"Ssh," the old GRU hand chides: "Don't disturb him. He's an artist."

Major Ocelot strolls across the dusty plains by firelight as the chorus joins a single soprano in defiant song; the door to Snow Leopard's cell clangs open, and closed. Ocelot cups the man's leathery jaw and without a word pours battery acid into his eye.

He grunts and thrashes; the pain is excruciating but they've already done worse. It means nothing to him. None of this means anything to him.

"Well, you've won," says Ocelot, his accent vanished somewhere in the mist-laden valleys that this man prowled, "You're no use to us, so I'm ordering them to let you go."

He squeezes the other eye open and raises the cup. "You'll serve as a warning to your comrades. But we can't have you killing our soldiers, can we?"

It's no threat. He'll do it.

"Wait--" Snow Leopard rasps, the first word he's spoken since he got here, far more terrified of living as prey than he is of dying a predator.

 

Ocelot finally figures out how he'll start his thank you note. He's tried a few times, oddly nervous, and scrapped them all in a bin of notes that fills up beside your bed that he later burns.

Here's to you,

 

Adamska towels himself dry and changes out of his sodden parade dress for the first time in days, that night. Nothing is over until it's over; you assumed your mission was complete one night too early, but Adamska won't make the same mistake.

You, the only other soul who is in on the joke. Oh he nearly fell out of his chair when Zero first lent him the mission records from Snake Eater; he's not sure what's more hilarious: your 'Middle Eastern technique' or the fact that Dr. Clark provides support for military operations yet knows so little about firearms that she bought it.

You watched him jam his weapon with an utterly pointless half-rack of the slide so that the would-be ejected round caught in the extractor and you knew all that you needed to know. He wasn't going to kill you. And when you have every possible opportunity to break his neck but refuse to do so, he knows that you're not going to kill him.

That's all you need.

After that it's fun and games: pretending that a marskman who can bank ricochets into targets thirty feet away and at an angle would miss you from across a body-width ravine, or you, with your thousands of hours at the range, would miss him. He drops a beehive on your head and watches you struggle desperately not to laugh. He loads a single cartridge so that he can fire the action on empty chambers to give you an easy exit. He carries a blank 9mm round ringed to an SAA chamber around his neck and tells his men it's the round that jammed; they believe it, because Major Ocelot really is that dramatic.

Actually, it's the round he extracted by hand when he first arrived in Rassvet. The one he loaded to give his American contact a fighting chance to escape should things go south, then removed because it is a blank and he needed to kill those KGB operatives.

He's certain you never figured out he was ADAM, per se. He's kept his cover intact this whole operation. But you did figure out that he wasn't trying to kill you, just play with you, and that makes you smarter than anyone else here. All the more so given some of them have been trained since birth in subterfuge while you were wrestling wolves in the wilderness.

If only you could go a full fourty-eight hours without thinking with your dick, you might not have needed his help at all. But that is, admittedly, part of your charm.

Adamska waits outside your safehouse until dawn, when the Chinese double agent departs on her motorcycle with the fake microfilm he slipped into your fatigues while you played CQC and pretend dueled on the WIG. Adamska is a busy man these days, and you are the perfect vector to carry the real one back to the US without revealing his real loyalties.

He could shoot her dead right now. She hasn't seen him. She was, after all, his only real enemy: the only person in all of Tselinoyarsk who either didn't think Ocelot was on their side or was, in fact, on Ocelot's side. His attempts to kill her by proxy by pointing out her discrepancies to you and to Volgin were a total failure. She is too skilled at making men believe what they want to believe. And this will be useful to him, later.

Much later. For now, Adamska will let her go. He was never made; her handlers will infer that you or The Boss deceived her, an absolutely unforgivable sin for someone of her ostensible talents. She'll be disgraced. Have no one to turn to. And then Adamska will feed her to his KGB contacts and she will go away for a very long time indeed.

It's nothing personal. It's only that she and he, unlike he and you, aren't playing a game. They're playing for real. She thinks sparing you is a mercy, says so in the message so cloyingly calculated to implore your favour after her betrayal; Adamska would have shot her through the windows if she'd tried.

He won. And when you play for real, the winner takes all.

You're still carrying the revolver he gave you, he notes, as he slips the real microfilm back into the pocket from which he took the old. Her recording will sound very bizarre indeed when you see it. He wonders if you'll figure it out, then.

"Thanks for the ride, John," he presses his forehead to yours. He won't forget you; you, the playmate he never had. The one who came to the same conclusion he did on an icy morning in Berlin.

Then Adamska departs. To leave you to your grief and him to seek out the only other party who has been playing for keeps. The one that's been shadowing your footsteps since you arrived.

 

At least you'll always have Vietnam, Adam reflects, though this piece of it looks nothing like viciously green jungles, bombed out cities, or drab muddy camps through which the two of you wheeled in a daze of dirty fighting and bad sex and even worse marijuana. Culminating in the world's least advisable threesome and the first (questionably) heterosexual sex of Adam's life.

When he jumped this time all he could see were the two of you falling, arms at your sides, two dark stars blotting out the rest for deadly flickers that everyone below you scanning the sky ignored. The howl of the wind a hurricane; she might be gone, but the skills she developed live on in the two of you, and for once he really does feel like he could be her son, refusing to be the first to pull his chute as you plummeted together into Hanoi.

The explosions turned two dimensional like fireworks seen from above on a fourth of July flight did not take his breath away, this time. He's seen them before. No rhythm or symmetry; chaotic randomness in red and orange and white only, pounding the buildings below to pieces. He saw them behind his eyes, soaked with sweat and semen, while you moved inside him in an equally aggressive, erratic frenzy.

They told Major Ocelot that they passed mounds of burning bodies. That there were rows of skulls stuck up on spikes around a schoolyard, a medieval gesture of hate so out of place among our modern niceties two other GRU spetsnaz soldiers turned vacant, hollow, and their officer had to radio in the locations of the anti-air batteries they'd come to find while they vomited violently in the courtyard.

Adam was too busy leaning out of an Iroquois in his head to notice. Spotting targets for you. Listening to your CCR and your Rolling Stones and tasting your camouflage paint and memorizing every curve of your bare thighs. Because you're young, and he's younger, and this will obviously last forever.

The colonel asked him if he wanted time off, afterward, and when he shrugged indifferently the man reacted like he'd just admitted to wanting to hang himself.

So here he is, blowing a few days on a pristine beach surrounded by teal seas and picturesque islands good for absolutely nothing but to gawk at. Under orders. In the white sand between his toes he finally sees those skulls.

Standing out here is a good way to get a sunburn and he's losing track of time, so he heads back in to an open air cabin and does what all bored, lovelorn men do: he drinks. It won't do anything for him, but he goes through the motions because he sees other men do it, and because he sometimes likes the taste. His own music is playing - too soft and mushy for you, this smooth tenor admonishing his love not to fear death; asking her to wait for him when she commits and he falters. At least, that's what Adam gets out of it. Good guitar solo, though, so maybe you'd have tolerated it. He pops the tape out and flips it to the other side.

If I stayed here with you, girl
Things just couldn't be the same

That's when the phone rings. Adam contemplates ignoring it, but, on the off chance it's one of your caretakers - his caretakers, he should say, he either turned or murdered all of Zero's years ago - with news, he knows he can't. He snaps up the receiver.

"Where the hell have you been?" Oh, it's him. You're really breaking the laws of thermodynamics with this rebound, John. You dated Eva for all of eight months before she shivved you in the heart; Kaz seems to be under the impression you'll grow old and die together.

"Really, John? He's better than Eva in every way?" Adam asks dubiously, receiver cradled to his ear and a grin on his face, lounging in bed like he knows you are, voices low like you're up past curfew and your parents could be listening. "He feeds you fancy French foods and still smells like lilacs after you busted him out a prison camp?"

"Kid, he just played Free Bird for me." You sound happy for the first time since Eva and Zero gutted from behind. It melts some of the ice that sits permanently in his own insides, now that Zero is hours closer to you than he can be. "I don't care if he smells like a snake took a shit on him."

"He did, huh? I'm surprised you didn't nut right there."

"Who says I didn't?"

You both laugh; it's fine, John. It's fine. Adam will still be there when this one stabs you in the back, too. "So when do I get to meet your mid-life crisis?"

"If I have anything to say about it? Never, Adam."

You didn't, though.

"Helping overthrow a genocidal tyrant, Miller," Ocelot tells him, pausing to throw back Jack Daniels - the only whiskey they had - and wipe his face with his scarf. The heat in this part is just as oppressive, if nothing else. "You should try it some time: soothes the soul and clears the sinuses."

"Just like lounging at a beach resort in Vietnam and fucking 12-year-old cross dressers."

"Don't make me regret giving you my phone number and cutting out the middle man, Miller. Besides, that's Thailand."

"No, I mean it: if there was action in Cambodia, why didn't you cut us in on it?"

He supposes he could point out the obvious, that he has a day job with his home country; it isn't as if he's never blurred those lines before. "It wasn't much of a fight. Besides, too politically complicated: the Chinese and the Americans were both in bed with the losing side." Like looking across the broad chest of the man who's keeping you both horny at the face of someone you'd gladly kill and wondering just who is cutting who in on this as a pity fuck.

"Awkward," Miller agrees, "And you were wearing your colours? Isn't that technically blue-on-blue?"

Miller's been giving himself a refresher on military jargon, Ocelot sees. "I think, technically, it's red-on-red."

His soft, huffing little snort of amusement makes Ocelot smile.

"Hey, is that Ocelot?" says Zebra, somewhere close by in the background. "Tell him to get his arse back here the new recruits are starting to think they can shoot."

"What are you doing in my office?"

"Wanted to ask if I could have some of your crackers, boss."

"Senbei."

"Right, some of your senbeis."

Ocelot may or may not have put him up to that.

Miller sighs in aggravation and a plastic bag thwacks against the wall. "Anyway. Are you busy for the next few days? I have a business deal coming up and our muscle is all out on missions."

"I could probably manage it." Anything is preferable to pissing time away in poisonous melancholy. "Where?"

"Hong Kong."

 

Now, John, this is going to sound like a crazy idea, but hear him out: what if they did build an army, while you were sleeping? What if Miller is every inch as good as he thinks he is at cobbling coins together to pay the defective but deadly unspent cartridges of the globe to rally to your name? He's not you, that's for sure, and neither is Ocelot, but he wouldn't be the first warlord's widow to rule because she was in some way part-you and the men who followed you want that so badly they're willing to settle for second best.

What if they armed it, carved it out a home, and gave it to you when you woke up? So that this wasn't all a waste of precious, irreversible time - it was spent resting, ready to step into the bespoke command they'd tailored for you together, stronger than you were before?

Wouldn't you be proud of him, if he did that?

Wouldn't she?

 

John, you wouldn't believe what happened in Hong Kong if he told you.

Chapter Text

But he'll try. Anything for you, John.

Your reverse sugar baby refused to shell out for the Mandarin - when Ocelot told him how much a suite there costs he actually heard the man spit - so Ocelot had to foot the bill himself. Even Miller can't deny the tactical advantage: one of the other interested buyers is staying there, the bodyguard of which has a room next to Ocelot's. And that is most definitely why he chose it.

Not because with its black-lacquered oak-panelled walls and faux-Ming furniture, complete with jade art pieces and indigo-inked porcelain tub, it is akin to stepping inside a white colonist's fever dream of the Orient. Miller refuses to step more than a foot inside; Ocelot compensates for this lack of generosity by greeting him in a shiny satin bathrobe with dragons on it that Ocelot relentlessly refers to as a 'kimono'.

And not because there's a long-forgotten service alcove that leads to that bodyguard's room, locked from both sides in such a way that any spy worth his seaweed-scented crackers could pick his way through with a drill and a hammer.

No, it's because Eva always wanted to stay here with you and never got the chance. So she can gaze vicariously through him out at the skyline of Victoria Harbour, and Miller can be as brusquely unappreciative about all of it as you would have been.

Ocelot does like symmetry, after all.

It does mean, however, that he has to pad over to Miller's underwhelming single room with its pauper's silk sheets and mountain view in his kimono and slippers to apprise the man of their situation. (Just kidding, John, of course he's still wearing his cowboy boots. And scarf. And leather gloves. They match the dragons.) Miller's actually made himself tea, which Ocelot believes is missing the whole point of room service.

"How do you walk around in public?" Miller asks, and Ocelot sips out of his cup.

"Heel-to-toe like most people, Miller. It gives my hips that little sway all the ladies like," Ocelot replies, and continues, businesslike as always: "The yakuza boss staying across the way in the grownup suites is Hiro Takanashi." A grizzled iron gray work of body art with so many gold watches all he needs is a street corner and a trench coat.

"And you're sure he's yakuza?" Miller's brow furrows behind the sunglasses he is wearing indoors. Fashionably. Yakuza, you see, are traditionally the champions of outcastes and half-breeds, and Protagonist Hawkpear has had a hate-on for Miller since the man met him. Most are fooled by Miller's coat of genetic paint: his blue eyes and blond hair are the proverbial pink Abrams in the jungle. When the mind looks for camouflage, it thinks 'that couldn't possibly be a tank'. Yet beneath the most superficial of trappings, Miller has the flat face and stubby nose and bulbous skull of his people. If he dyed his hair and wore contacts, anyone aside from those who assume the faces of all Asian men are effeminate ovals with no jawlines would recognize his heritage.

"He's yakuza. The CIA embedded him with them as a teenager. He's here to make sure the commies don't come out the winners of our arms deal. "

"Then why--"

"While he was there, he developed ultranationalist sympathies so deep Mishima'd compose a haiku about them with a hard-on." 'Turned' - in as much as one can use that word about a middle-schooler - during his father's transfer to the overseas branch of his zaibatsu in Los Angeles. With a penchant for library fines on articles of Nihonjinron. Now, Ocelot doesn't speak the language, only read your basic Standard Chinese, his impression of the jist of these - that only Japanese people recognize seven colours in the rainbow and only Japan has four seasons - is too idiotic to be correct.

Actually, Russians see eight.

That's funny, but even funnier: unbeknownst to him, Hiro's bodyguard is KGB, and here to ensure the commies do get the goods.

That makes Miller growl in consternation. He was privately hoping to use his ethnicity here to win his way into Hiro's heart; if they could form a bidding block, the other organized crime boss at the table can't win. But Miller's pursuit of the American Dream would rankle anybody who figures shilling reliable cars and cooked books for profit signifies the pure superiority of the Japanese Soul. "Fine. What about the girl."

"The girl? Show some respect. Tien Trinh's managed to keep slitting throats for nickels alive as a bustling enterprise in their new worker's paradise." A ruthless triple-crosser who played all sides of the war as a teen patriot, TT's all grown up and smuggling contraband through Tranh Hoa. "She also a front. Communist China is backing her because if they don't, they know for sure our warheads will end up in Taiwan."

"Wait, wait - let me guess. That's exactly where she plans to sell them." Miller rolls his eyes. He looks tired. Ocelot serves him some of his own tea.

"Of course. She's managed to keep that one under wraps, though. Not even our host has figured it out." Too bad Ocelot recognized her for one his sisters-in-arms the second he saw her, escaped from her Philosopher's school when the Americans renovated it with napalm. He won't out her to your pusillanimous penny-pinching paramour unless he has to, though.

"And our host?"

"Luk? Just your average 489 in the 14K," Ocelot shrugs, and Miller's eyes narrow.

"What is he actually? A plant for Sun Yee On with communist sympathies raised by former Nazis in Venezuela spying on rivals for the cartels?"

It's Ocelot turn to snort in amusement. "No, he's just a Triad boss. Hard to believe, I know, but sometimes people are exactly what they appear."

"Then how the fuck did he steal North Korean nukes?"

"He didn't. One of my cleverer coworkers slipped them to him to distract the Chinese and the American spies with this dog-and-pony sideshow while we marched on Phnom Penh. Now the milk's done gone spilled and there's nothing for it but to kick their feet up and watch the underworld burn."

An agent who is certainly not South African has offered the Diamond Dogs a truly jaw-dropping amount of money to obtain any of these warheads on the down-low. Not only that but exclusive operating rights within their matchstick borders and truckloads of kit. A willingness to look the other way from all of their operations in Africa. Ocelot's vetted the offer; it's genuine. It's as much cash as the XOF dumped into the sea nearly six years ago - it has Miller salivating. Ocelot's painted a lovely water colour pretense that they actually intend on selling these to Saddam Hussein to end the still-raging Iran-Iraq war in a hurry. Their benefactor approved; it was worth it just to hear his Afrikaans.

(Ocelot may or may not have sealed the deal with a few tricks Miller taught him.)

Miller rubs his stubbly chin and Ocelot contemplates how he'd look with a porn star moustache. Assuming he can grow one. "How do you keep all this shit straight in your head?"

Ocelot has to consider that for a second. "I think about it like a story - one I'm explaining to the audience as I go."

"And what if you discover new information that contradicts what you've already said?" Miller asks, irritated. That he's not intelligent enough to play this game on Ocelot's level.

"I never said I was a reliable narrator."

Miller purses his pouty lips and yanks his tea back. He has no crackers to eat - that's just cruel. "You're telling me."

"I could draw you a helpful diagram."

"No, thanks. I'm good. Just make sure you're ready for tonight. Our host's banned firearms in his building so you'd better be good for something else."

"Oh, I am. But are you?" Ocelot takes a step closer to brush that satin up on Miller's chest, and Miller manhandles him all the way out the door. Slams it in his face when Ocelot leans forward.

Ocelot slips Miller's wallet into his robe as he walks away and wonders what an appropriate punishment for being so damned surly would be. Shopping spree on his credit cards? Room service call girls he'll spend the day playing chess with on his jade-and-ivory xiangqi board? In his defense, he did leave the man one of his room keys in case something serious comes up.

There are too many truly dangerous players afoot for Ocelot to let your fair maiden leave his tower.

And so much he himself could be doing with those players, given half a chance. If only he wasn't so damn exhausted. The lure of the bath is more than a siren song of gold-plated kitsch: he hasn't had a full night's sleep in five years and he feels it in his bones. But he can't waste his time here playing Miller's personal attendant. There are three, four, five other intrigues he could set in mo--

The trouble with multitasking is that it turns every single one of your multiple actions to shit.

He doesn't need to tell you that strangling someone in real life takes a lot longer than it does in the movies. Particularly to death. It's why you prefer to break necks for lethal takedowns; unconsciousness can occur within seconds if you've got a good enough grip, but to choke someone fatally requires long, awkward minutes. It's why most executions by hanging are from drops: again, to break necks, not to force the audience into the grotesque, lengthy spectacle of real asphyxiation.

There are a whole lot of things the victim can do in those minutes to avoid the seemingly inevitable, provided the perpetrator isn't a solid wall of muscles and leather - more force of nature than man. If the strangler is so undisciplined as to use their hands, well, even the weakest woman can break a single finger with both of hers. And you will flinch, when someone does that, even if you are some kind of hell-wrought commando. It's why you prefer to use your forearm. And always, always from behind. From the front the victim has a clear shot at your eye(s). And groin. Even so, he or she can still smash their head back into yours, break insteps.

Most people panic instead, though. Like he said: it only takes a couple of seconds.

Ocelot doesn't panic. He hasn't been expected to. Professionals don't need to get in close, and they don't use vulnerable flesh and bone.

Still, when Ocelot feels the wires close around his throat, he does curse himself for being a goddamned brainless idiot; no, that KGB operative isn't here to ensure the warheads end up in the right hands - his home team pushed that crib down the Nile when they gave them to the Triads in the first place - he's here to kill the GRU major who's been in bed with the Americans for the last decade and a half.

That door goes both ways.

Then he swallows the biggest breath he can before they tighten and hurls himself backwards with all possible violence to close the gap. If he can knock the other man off his feet the tables will turn in a hurry; they crash through a latticework room divider and smash a gaudy Tang dynasty knockoff vase to pieces on the floor, but the assassin is too good for that, he knows perfectly well who he's dealing with, he steps backwards along with him and uses the leverage his garotte provides to yank Ocelot off balance.

Black starts to close in very quickly. The room is already grey and white, overexposed with oxygen deprivation. Ocelot knows better than to clutch at the wires themselves - he reaches for the man's gloved hands, but they are locked into fists. His scarf tangled up between them - he yanks on it with both hands hard enough to win a single ragged breath before his would-be executioner gets a better grip and cinches it closed. He slams his heel down on the other man's foot with as much force as he can manage, but he is wearing steel-fucking-safety shoes and to be honest, if Ocelot had been told his mark was GRU spetsnaz, he might've invested in those himself.

Ocelot's spurs, however, are not decorative: the deep gash he tears in the KGB assassin's shins results in a satisfying gasp, the realization by both men simultaneously that he is not prepared for this and that the next kick will either ruin his chances at children or slice him open to the femur. The man makes a grave tactical error: he steps to the side to avoid it, and in the instant one of his feet is no longer on the ground Ocelot swipes the other out from under him and they both topple.

Ocelot turns as he falls to take the pressure off his neck. He can no longer see and his consciousness is fading fast; he doesn't observe the assassin roll backward to get behind him, only feels him on his back, forearm up under his throat just like you like to do.

Fortunately, unlike the movies, it takes a monumental amount of strength to break someone's neck with your bare hands.

Particularly with Ocelot biting down on your arm right through to the muscle.

Oh, fuck it, this gets bloody, Ocelot hears, distantly, though soft static, and the man reaches into his jacket.

Then: "Where the fuck did you put my wal... let..."

The steel cylinder pressed to Ocelot's back is raised; you'd always said he was quick, quicker than you could follow at times, and right now if he wasn't he'd have a bullet in his brainstem and Miller would have one through the forehead. But he is. Faster than the assassin can pull the trigger, Ocelot slams his head back into the other man's jaw and his elbow back into the weapon. He's bought them maybe a second. Less than two.

He has to hand it to your war wife: Miller doesn't hesitate. It is a poodle pouncing on a porcupine, to be sure, but Miller is a big man, and through weight alone manages to knock the KGB assassin to the floor. Ocelot can't see and isn't entirely sure what happens next: it sounds like Miller took a swing at him and nearly got his arm broken for his trouble, all that matters is that he keeps himself from getting shot.

The man expects that Ocelot is now out of the picture. Ocelot still has a few seconds of consciousness left, and a sane man would use them to unwrap the wires from around his throat. A sane dead man. Ocelot uses them to grope for the wrist with the weapon, and when he has it, locks it in place with all of his remaining strength.

He fades out to the sound of trusty Miller cracking the KGB assassin's head open with one of those tacky jade statues.

Ocelot's eyes flutter open to see Miller peeling the scarf from around his throat. It's wet; bright red stained dark crimson. Miller moves to toss it aside haphazardly, and Ocelot catches it weakly with his fingers. Then he coughs. For a good couple of minutes. Miller offers him water, but he shakes his head - no point. Crushed cartilage. Worry about it later.

"What the hell do we do about this?" Miller hisses, nodding sharply to the corpse with its caved-in skull and statue slimy with bone and brain matter.

Ocelot gestures to the alcove. He knows people; they'll sort it out in the morning. It's not as if Ocelot is staying here under his real name.

Whatever that is.

Miller mutters and grumbles and generally sulks like the toddler he is while he drags the body back there and locks it away. Then mops up the blood on the floor and tosses the towels in along with it. Rinses the statue off under the sink; sweeps the vase and the wood into the trash. They can't have been the first drunken guests to topple those. For his part, Ocelot swallows copper and tries unsteadily to stand. Succeeds on the fourth or fifth try.

"Who was that?" Miller demands, arms folded chastizingly.

You're not my mother, Ocelot muses, dizzily. My mother could've thrown him right out the window.

"KGB," he croaks instead.

"Oh. Good. I'm glad that never came back to bite us."

Fine, fine, you're right. I should've let you starve to death in Eritrea, is what Ocelot should have said, but it hurts very badly to talk, so he abandons the effort and staggers into the bathroom. He'll just rinse out his scarf and hang it to dry; if he needs to launder it, oh well. He'll just pop his collar this one--

The mirror reveals deep wire cuts. His neck is purple-black from jaw to collar bone. His scarf is torn in several places; it'll have to be repaired, and he doesn't have a sewing kit. He crumples it in his hands.

"Hey, uh..." Miller speaks from the doorway from which he uselessly gawks, "Maybe you should sit this one out?"

"I'm fine," Ocelot rasps, rinsing the red cloth out under the tap before hanging it to dry over the towel rack. "You'll just have to do the talking."

Which was the plan anyhow, however inadvisable. Miller catches him by the arm on the way out, and guides him to sit on the corner of his fake-Asian four poster bed. For a moment Ocelot thinks the man is going to insist that he lay down and sleep it off, however he imagines that is going to help.

But no, Miller begins to undress him, and at his size nothing short of a swift kick to the crotch is going to knock him off. Ocelot sighs inwardly; the man is checking him over for injuries. As if Ocelot wouldn't tell him if he was injured. All Miller finds are a motley of bruises; his brow furrows at the old scars that don't make sense. His frown deepens at the sight of his throat - at length, Miller unravels the yellow scarf tied around his own neck and settles it around Ocelot's shoulders. Fusses over a way to tie it broadly enough to cover all the damage, teeth on his lower lip.

A polite rap at the door roots them both to the spot.

"Your pardon, the door was unlocked and I heard..." A somewhat affected Japanese accent. Oh, it's the yakuza boss. Dignified and survival-inclined enough to wait until the commotion is over before rubbernecking.

Briefly, Ocelot wonders what he'll make of the situation. He's positive Hiro didn't know who his bodyguard really was. So why are the two of them sitting on the bed face to face with Ocelot stripped to the waist, head bowed, covered in bruises while Miller endeavours to hide them?

Right. Of course.

"Ah," says Hiro, with just the right amount of feigned distaste, but not before Ocelot is positive he catches a newfound measure of respect for Miller. He glances up to see if Miller caught it too. "I'm interrupting. My apologies."

He did. The two of them exchange one look.

Miller settles one hand on the back of Ocelot's neck possessively. The shift in his posture is subtle yet unmistakable: he's closer, his shoulders are straighter. Ocelot's hands are balled into fists and his shoulders are slumped. He looks up through his lashes while Miller looks down past his nose.

"Not at all," Miller states calmly, and his voice has an edge to it - Ocelot could just about pinch his cheeks. "David-" An assumed name Ocelot likes to use because every once in a while a spy will recognize it and drop everything in a flurry so panicked it could be December 24th and none of their Christmas shopping is done. "-Why don't you make Mr. Takanashi some tea."

It isn't a question, or a request, or a favour. So Ocelot does not react as if it were; he rises meekly, uncomfortably, and hopes that watching Miller do it once will be enough for him to figure it out. He can feel Hiro's eyes on him the whole way. Particularly when he bends over to pour water.

Ocelot hates to break it to him but, however it might appear with his hair half-white these days, he's about two decades too old for Ocelot's tastes.

By the time he returns they've switched to their native tongue, effectively shutting Ocelot out of the conversation. Ocelot can read body language, mannerisms, and expressions, but the brilliant, sagely Philosophers saw Japan as a bit player compared to China, and that culture has many of those that are utterly unique. It's a hole in Ocelot's repertoire of knowledge; another reason to rankle over the men and women who raised him.

Ah, well. He nailed shut their coffins a long time ago while the real David poured the gasoline. You provided the match.

Ocelot serves that bitter green tea dutifully before taking his rightful place beside Miller on the bed. When Miller 'idly' lays a hand on his thigh there's nothing whatsoever Ocelot can do about it without breaking character. Except maybe fuss.

Miller glances back at him sharply. His grip tightens. Ocelot swallows, theatrically.

There is a small measure of genuine frustration behind Miller's eyes, and at first, Ocelot believes his negotiations aren't going well. But Hiro's posture grows ever more relaxed, comfortable. It's clear as day his regard for Miller has changed, whatever the man's said. Business babble. Haiku. BDSM pointers. Who cares. All the while drinking in Ocelot's bare torso, thirstily.

So turn that frown upside-down, Miller. Somebody's been fooled into conceiving that you're the man in this relationship, for once.

No, wait. That's exactly it. Your pseudo-exotic bedroom decoration is genuinely ruffled by the fact that he's not the object of desire, here. He thinks he's just so damn cute that if any cradle should get robbed, it's his, and now that their lecherous tattooed grandpa only has eyes for Ocelot, he doesn't know quite what to make of it.

But here's the thing: when someone thinks themselves superior to something different from them, particularly something they're attracted to, they exotify it. Put it on a pedestal.

Miller's blond but Ocelot's blonder. Miller's pale-eyed but Ocelot's eyes are paler. Ocelot's features are sharp and narrow and his nose is high and his limbs have a proportion difficult to find east of the Urals. And, yes, Ocelot is well-aware that while he looks older than Miller with his clothes on, he has a body that could just as easily belong to a 21-year-old.

As soon as he realizes it he drives it in up to the hilt: stretches his slim legs and brushes Hiro's arm as he passes and arches backward to expose the curve of his neck and of his still sub-30 inch waist. There is not even the suggestion of loose skin on those abdominals, let alone fat. Miller doesn't have nearly as much time to work out as he used to, and Ocelot wordlessly taunts him with that fact.

When he rises to his feet and takes Hiro's empty cup, Ocelot brushes Hiro's fingertips with his own. Miller scowls; hopefully, their guest will mistake it for jealousy.

Isn't it, though?

It's a dire struggle not to laugh at the pettiness of it all when Ocelot returns with fresh, steaming tea to find Miller's knee folded up on the bed close enough to touch Hiro's. Speaking with him in the hushed tones of a confidante. Ocelot can't resist: he sets the tea down and, unasked, turns on the radio to a station he found a few hours ago. A lounge singer crooning about love, saxophones and all.

Miller glares balefully; Ocelot loops his arms around Hiro's neck, willfully oblivious to the scent of cheap cigarettes and bad cologne; Miller's lips quirk upwards cunningly again as he replies, "By all means," to some question of Hiro's in Japanese, and Ocelot finds himself drawn into a kiss that tastes like gold and silver fillings.

The joke's on him, however: Miller's the one who has to watch the man he despises suck on the tongue of a dirty old bastard who hates him for sullying the purity of the Yamato minzoku. Ocelot's the one with his eyes closed, a thousand miles from here. Come to think of it, Hiro's not a terrible kisser. If you're partial open mouths and sucking sounds. And skin like old car leather. He could use that to convince himself he's into this - it's one of the tricks they taught him. Like how to pick apart someone's flaws, dehumanize them, to make it easier to hurt them. Over the years these techniques have made Ocelot highly skilled at pretending he utilizes these.

Instead, Ocelot is repeating the entire conversation Miller just had with Hiro so that he could reproduce the sounds to someone who does speak the language, if need be. His body will do whatever Hiro wants it to do.

Which appears to be lactate.

The nasty old ash tray is gnawing on his nipple so hard he could be teething, and it snaps him back to the immediate present. Ocelot's pretty sure he's going to be bruised - he cracks one eye open to glance at Miller's smug face, as if he wouldn't be one with his pecs in Hiro's maw for millions of dollars if Ocelot hadn't been here, as usual, to throw himself on this decrepit flesh grenade. Hiro switches to tongue, and Ocelot inserts the appropriate noises of pleasure while, in reality, he's so unaroused his dick may as well have crawled inside his body to die.

This seems to be an unsatisfactory level of schadenfreude for Miller, however, and upon a second smoothly delivered suggestion Ocelot's head is eased down gently by the hair into Hiro's lap.

He could say no, he supposes. Hiro might just break a hip if Ocelot shoved him too hard and Miller's got the same artless, bog standard CQC he did back in Eritrea, so it's not as if either of them could force they issue if he did. But would it make Miller more or less smug, if he backed down from a challenge for which Miller himself would be game?

It's just skin, he decides. An unpleasant taste, foul smelling pubic hair against his cheek - Hiro has definitely apprised himself of those room service call girls, which as a mostly homosexual man is not Ocelot's favourite scent in the world - and a few agonizing minutes of breathing through his nose while an old man's wrinkled tip probes his glottis.

But no, your charming cock comforter isn't satisfied to leave it at this, either. Ocelot feels his hands on his hips, roughly, and tugging him back against his own pelvis, and John, John, he is hard.

Ocelot doesn't usually fantasize during sex, but at that moment he has a strikingly vivid vision of strangling Miller to death in the bathtub.

No, no, no. He's not winning this round. Ocelot is still wearing his spurs and when he shifts his legs to let the other man 'get more comfortable' he presses one right up against Miller's nuts. Castration sounds like a perfectly keen safeword for this little roleplay.

So Miller can hump him like a horny, awkward preteen if he likes but woe betide him if he decides to get his dick out. It's difficult to concentrate on other things when he's on edge, though, and Miller's erection forces him to taste and feel the last moments of the second-least-favourite blowjob Ocelot has ever given, from the second-hand slime that oozes out of Hiro's foreskin to the way he pets Ocelot's head with trembling, wrinkled hands while he comes. He might've nicked Miller a little on his way back up to his feet, but Ocelot is a professional, after all, and will fawn over Hiro all the way to the door, which he then throws the deadbolt on.

"Why the long face?" Miller asks with a malicious grin, standing behind him and trying to loom. "You should be happy I got you laid."

Miller expects a punch. He's ready for it. Ocelot can see that in the set of his feet. He's not even sure he can block it; he's willing to take it as a fair exchange for spiking this ball in the end zone.

Ocelot doesn't punch him, though. He fish-hooks Miller's open mouth before the man finishes speaking, drags his face down - which Miller must move with or have his cheek ripped right open - and covers it with his own. Pours every drop of fluid he received from Hiro, plus saliva, down into it and forces it down his throat before he'll let him breathe. Miller struggles furiously to spit it back up, but Ocelot has his mouth sealed, and his own blocked with his teeth and tongue. He struggles until he's red-faced, choking; Ocelot doesn't release him until he swallows.

"I wouldn't play this game with me, if I were you," Ocelot warns him, out of the kindness of his own heart, "You won't win."

Miller would like to contend that point, it seems. Ocelot blocks his punch easily, but Ocelot is not the only one who fights dirty, when pressed. Miller gets his hands around Ocelot's half-crushed throat and squeezes--

 

They say that being strangled feels like drowning. Does that make your weight the pressure of water? Does it make your forearm the fluid he's swallowed, struggling to breathe? Does that make your fading eye the sky above the surface, hopelessly out of reach?

"I mean it: you're in control. You can do whatever you want to me."

The other shoe drops like a siren that he is too naive, too confident to heed.

"Only thing is, anything you do to me, I get to do to you."

This was a mistake.

There is no air to gasp and nowhere to go that isn't you. He's trapped; the squared edge of a magazine bites into his hip in a way that was agonizing seconds ago, now if feels so distant it could be jutting into someone else's bone. He's going to die here. Like this. No more consciousness to fight for. You've smothered him to death.

Then you make the mistake of kissing him.

And he rips into your flesh with his teeth, and he will tear it right off your face if you pull back. You reach for his jaw; that frees his hands, and he dislocates your fingers; he has two hands and you have one; he chokes you, he bites you; bloody, vicious, at your throat like a wild animal--

"Adam. Adam. Fuck, Adam," he's never felt as ecstatic as you sound right now, "...Boss..."

 

SCREECH.

Whir.

Click.

 

"...Boss..."

That's not your voice, it's Miller's. Sighing, pained and resolute. The room resolves itself from grainy pixelation into full colour around Ocelot.

He's pinned Miller on his stomach. On the bed. The silk sheets are torn away from one corner, crumpled throughout the rest. Two chairs lie askew, on their sides. A glassed-in artwork rests in pieces beside them. Miller is covered in bruises, welts, and bites so deep they seep blood, all over his torso. The bites went right through the fabric of his shirt. His pants are down around his knees, and Ocelot has his own knee on them, helping to keep the other man's legs trapped, and open.

Miller has a thousand yard stare, away, out at the city skyline. Ocelot can see the mental recalibrations of his self worth underway, the ones he needs to do in order to respect himself tomorrow, after this happens. He's so hard his cock is curved up against his belly, dripping onto the sheets. Ocelot is in a similar condition - his pants are stained and his lips are throbbing.

He withdraws his gloved fingers from inside Miller and sits back on the bed. Tugs his belt off and reaches into his underwear. Squeezes his eyes shut. They're both past the point of no return. No amount of envisioning saggy old taint in the sento is going to help Miller now; Ocelot tries to conjure up tepid swamps and grease-coated fuselages, only to succeed in bringing to mind cramped shipboard cots and chicken bones--

"Shut up." There's a rustle as Miller pushes himself up to sit. Closes the distance. "Just shut the fuck up."

And then Ocelot is kissed. The aging come and rancid hooker snatch is gone - he tastes only blood, and spit, and he opens his mouth for it willingly.

It's slow. Nice. Miller's tongue slides against his while he thumbs the other man's throat. Miller's damp tip presses against his bare stomach; Ocelot's soft moan sounds unsettlingly genuine.

Their lips part with a string of saliva between them, and Ocelot sees that Miller's eyes are as half-lidded as his own.

Miller cranes his head down to Ocelot's abused nipple; where Hiro was a demolition sledgehammer, Miller is a sculptor, and the pleasure-pain he coaxes out of it with his tongue sends a shiver down Ocelot's spine. Ocelot returns the favour by closing his fingers around Miller's shaft; languid strokes that twist at the tip, smearing that precum all over his gloves, and all over Miller's cock. Digs his knuckles into Miller's lower abdomen on one stroke and feels the man gasp against his chest.

Miller straightens again, one hand firmly on Ocelot's waist, the other on Ocelot's cock, pulling him close with both so that they grind together with the movements of their hips. So that they can rest their heads on one another's shoulders and kiss again to ensure that neither of them speaks.

Miller's groans grow in pitch and intensity first; his cock pulses against Ocelot's belly but Ocelot isn't done yet. So he releases him and parts his thighs ever-so-slightly instead, guiding Miller's cock between them. They're sweat-damp and the skin is slipperier than the leather of his gloves; the other man can't get as much friction, and has to thrust instead, his dripping tip nestled in the cleft of Ocelot's ass as he does so.

Chest to chest, mouth to mouth. Skin to skin. It's a refreshing change of pace from being balls deep inside some prisoner or another, on their knees because that way they can't see just how furiously he has to rub his own cock just to stay erect between rounds. From having his thighs wrapped around the hips of some ostensible mercenary who is really an XOF operative because he can buy Ocelot's holes for war stories (intelligence) rather than scarce currency. Of maintaining a watchful edge in case this goes south while at the same time working himself to orgasm in the lap of a bad lay.

(All right, all right. They weren't all bad lays.)

But there's no need for tension around your pretty little liar. They can both pretend so politely that there's no one else they'd rather be with; that their bodies don't ache and their mouths don't water with the desire for more, harder, that the thought of you striding in to push them face down and fucking them into the mattress isn't half of what's keeping them going, that they wouldn't let you do exactly that if you did, that they wouldn't whisper encouragement into your ear all the while watching the other one get wrecked.

The other half, after all, is so much more uncomfortable.

Glistening, grunting with exertion, Miller's tongue on the roof of his mouth, his grimy glove tangled in Miller's hair, the other squeezing Miller's well-muscled ass, Ocelot blows his load all over Miller's chest and stomach, and Miller follows a few stuttering seconds later. Ocelot watches, fascinated, as the other man's pupils go wide and glassy. Pleasant. For once. He looks as if he's gone somewhere far away, and Ocelot would ask him where that is, if he cared.

He doesn't, though. All he cares about is the arm wrapped tightly around his waist and the broad chest he settles on as his eyes slip shut in the afterglow.

It's a testament to how tired Ocelot is that he doesn't awaken until Miller begins to whimper and twitch; by then the other man's brow is already beaded with sweat, and it's clear he's been shifting and suffering for some time. Usually, the slightest noise or movement is enough to rouse him - it has never been a problem with you, who sleeps like a stone - but this afternoon Ocelot's dozed right through the still softly crooning radio and a fist tugging at his hair.

"Snake, please," Miller mutters, and where Ocelot expects incoherent babble, he hears: "Please just breathe."

He pries tightly wound fingers loose. Rubs crust from his eyes. Neither of these wake Miller, so Ocelot clears his throat.

Deepens his voice - though only a little, these days. Collects saliva to reproduce a gravelly rasp wrested from years of nicotine addiction, hands pressed firmly to Miller's face and shoulder. "I'm fine, Kaz. I'm right here."

"Oh thank fuck," Miller sighs, sagging back down to the pillows. He inclines his head upward expectantly under Ocelot's touch, and Ocelot drops him.

He rises with a stifled yawn. Kicks his soiled pants off all the way and turns off the radio. Makes a few phone calls from the sitting room; a chance to practice his painfully rusty Cantonese. That should have the body taken care of. It isn't anyone he knows - he'll have to look into it when he gets back to Moscow. Then he dismantles one of his revolvers into its component parts. He strips a few to clean off the carbon. Yawns again. Checks the clock.

Crawls back into bed with that warm body.

Ocelot's roughly shaken awake a few hours later, as Miller snaps: "Were you just going to let me sleep through the meeting, or what?"

Ocelot would remind him that he's not his secretary, or really even his subordinate, but all it takes is a sharp glance to silence him, at the moment. That fear will fade; right now it is as raw and bloody as Miller's wounds and he goes so far as to cover himself with the blanket before realizing how ridiculous the gesture is. Ocelot strides to the bathroom without a word. From there he watches Miller hesitate on the suite's threshold: he doesn't have a change of clothes, aside from borrowing Ocelot's bath robe, and appearing the hallway bite-covered and semen-stained requires a level of shamelessness that even Kazuhira Miller apparently does not possess.

They don't have time to take turns. When Miller joins him in the bathroom - with its spacious porcelain double sinks and gold-accented faucets - neither of them speaks. Neither makes eye contact. They both know that the water has to be scalding to get the dried come out. Miller hisses when he nicks himself with the razor; Ocelot doesn't bother to shave. Miller slips on the wet tile; Ocelot, who saw it coming a mile off, catches him by the elbow and guides him to sit on the edge of the tub. Miller is swearing under his breath. He needs time, and a good stiff drink. They don't have either. So Ocelot asks, instead: "What did you get out of Hiro?"

"Huh?" Miller blinks for a revealing second or two, as if trying to make sense of the question. Ocelot makes a mental note to teach him trigger words to help him refocus the next time adrenaline brings him this close to collapse. "Oh, we're in. He's with us."

Ocelot allows himself a smile. "Then we won."

"Yeah..." Miller releases the breath he's been holding. Still unsettled, but the grit is back in those sky blue eyes. "Yeah, we did. All that's left is to go through the motions."

"Nothing's over until it's over, Miller," Ocelot reminds him, on his way out to give the man privacy. Surprised when Miller catches his forearm.

"Are you okay?" Odd traces of reluctance, there.

Ocelot is naked; he has no idea how Miller thinks he'd be hiding an injury - cracked ribs and concussions would've shown through by now. "My neck's seen better days, but that won't stop me from scowling at street thugs."

"No, I mean--" His nod toward the alcove is even more perplexing. "--Nevermind."

Even more curious is his hesitation to leave as soon as he's presentable. Surely he can swallow his pride for the thirty seconds it will take him to return to his room in a silk bathrobe, however gaudy. Surely he doesn't think there are more KGB assassins lurking in his closet. Ocelot is not going to escort him or hold his hand. "Clock's ticking, Miller."

"What am I going to wear?" He holds up his crusty, shredded dress shirt. The buckle of his belt is broken too, Ocelot notes with some satisfaction.

"The change of clothes you brought with you, I assume."

"We were only supposed to be here overnight, I didn't bring--"

Ocelot dumps a suitcase full of clothing onto the bed for him.

Miller reels back, as if he'll be burned if he touches any of it. "I'm not going to a business meeting dressed like a gay cowboy."

"Neither am I, apparently," Ocelot nods to his own soiled outfit. "We'll find something that suits you."

They're close enough in height that this seems feasible, in theory. In practice, however, their proportions are all wrong. Ocelot is all arms and legs, Miller is all shoulders and torso. Dress shirts are right out - he'd have to roll up the sleeves and leave the collar wide open. Even then he'd look like the protagonist on the cover of a particularly titillating grocery store romance novel. (Which, to be honest, John, Ocelot would be fine with but Miller's no fun at all.) Ocelot isn't sure why Miller thought the belt would be a problem - he'd be better off worrying about finding any waists he can actually button. He abjectly refuses to wear anything neon or patterned. At last, they settle on a black turtleneck that doesn't quite cover all of Miller's lengthy trunk - Ocelot does his best to persuade him that showing a little midriff is rather fashion-forward, for the times - but doesn't look too bad when he rolls up the cuffs, over which he adds a cream-coloured, knee-length suit jacket with the sleeves folded up to the elbows and the collar popped. The only pair of pants Ocelot owns that will fit him - a pair of loose, low-rise blue jeans that look delectable in knee-high boots but afford enough movement to be practical - are so tight on Miller they stretch at the seams and make visible every muscle in his thighs. He mutters something about Ocelot making himself throw up in the bathroom; Ocelot reminds him of how well all that vanity muscle worked out for him in Argentina.

Miller sighs in consternation at his own reflection. "Great. We should start a boy band."

"You're right. Something's missing." Ocelot snaps his fingers. Then gets a little pomade on them, which he uses to tousle a few of Miller's bangs forward from his otherwise slicked-back style. "Perfect."

His usual attire - what he's taken to thinking of as his Diamond Dogs uniform - sadly spoiled, Ocelot decides his own outfit had best blend in with the other Romans. At what future point will he get to dress up like an East Asian mobster? He settles on an alarmingly bright purple suit with shoulder pads so generous they turn him into an eye-popping triangle. This, and the teal blue undershirt, he unbuttons to the middle of his chest. Between them, Miller's yellow scarf, and his own red gloves, it is a merciless assault on good sense, taste, and the eyeballs of everyone who isn't colourblind.

His only regret is the lack of tattoos.

Or maybe something orange?

Miller looks him over with the same thousand yard stare he used face down against the pillows, knowing full well he can't dictate Ocelot's wardrobe. Instead, he rakes a hand through Ocelot's hair. "Short or long. It's time to decide."

He's not wrong: Major Ocelot is well known to have assignments behind enemy lines, and requires a civilian hairstyle, but he's pushing even that now that he needs a sweatband just to work out. He'll mimic Miller, he decides, and have it all swept back with product. At the same time, he collects the mostly dried scarf from the towel rack, folds it, and stuffs it into his pocket.

 

(Yes, of course he's still wearing the boots.)

 

Miller's ever-present aviators reflect the brilliant city lights that line Hong Kong's skyscrapers. They bathe the black sky in a civilized violet-orange through which not a single star shows. The buildings with the best views of the harbour are a testament to continued colonial prosperity; borrowed land, borrowed time. Red China looms spectrally out of sight behind gorgeous green hills.

To call their destination, Kowloon Walled City, an underbelly would be to imply that it was in some way hidden, as opposed to freely standing like it does, a ramshackle, rusting hive of tenement blocks so close they could be touching amidst modern, elegant, moneyed architecture. It is neither walled nor a city - it is in Kowloon - rather, a collection of lawless, poorly maintained high-rises separated by alleyways so narrow they are passable only on foot or by bicycle. An effective anti-law enforcement measure which the Triads, its de facto government for the past three decades, doubtless appreciate.

Lazy rain beats against corrugated steel and blue tarp roofing; neon signs with burnt out radicals leave the characters for (unlicensed) doctors, dentists, and every manner of massage parlor largely illegible. Still, this is a place where businesses operate and people make their homes: one of those adorable Datsun half-trucks, the kind you only find in Asia, loiters about the periphery collecting unhygienic garbage, so that all Ocelot and Miller need wade through to arrive in style are well-trodden aluminum cans and indestructible plastic packaging.

Billy Luk wears a beige Armani suit with satin lapels and no neck tie, speaks posh British English, and smokes one cigarette approximately every thirty seconds. Ocelot and Miller are already going to die of lung cancer thanks to you, John, and so do not cough or object. His strict no firearms rule - which has made him a low-priority target in recent police crackdowns, no doubt - seems to apply to his bodyguards, one of whom is large enough to give Volgin a run for his money and wears a pair monocular orange-framed sunglasses, the other microscopic in comparison but armed with two of those handled fighting sticks Ocelot can't quite recall the name of. A bored-looking woman half his age in fishnet stockings and blue eye-shadow materializes spare packs from between her store-bought cleavage and refills Luk's drinks. Cyclops, Kung Fu Extra, and Lucky Strike, Miller dubs them on sight.

Hiro's wearing white, which Ocelot understands is the traditional colour of gangsters among Miller's people, and an aggressively lime undershirt, both open wide enough to put Ocelot to shame. He brushes against Ocelot's hip as he passes; Miller tugs Ocelot to the side with a hand on his shoulder; Ocelot notes with a pleasant smile that Hiro hasn't showered, and whispers to Miller that if he plans to lend him out as a party favour afterward to seal the deal, he's taking it out of his asshole. His bodyguard has been replaced by a buff 19-year-old with a bandana tied rebelliously sideways and honest-to-god red paint under his eyes.

Finally, their lucky red flower among all the black - Ocelot is going to have to learn that saying in Japanese one of these days, really throw Miller for a loop - Tien Trinh, is also the only one without an escort: removed, possibly, to make room for her spectacularly large perm, thigh-high platform boots, and black studded motorcycle jacket. Accented with fluorescent orange triangular earrings and lipstick in an identical shade.

Oh, and she's also heart-stoppingly gorgeous.

She has a slender throat and heart-shaped jawline and perfect pink lips that walk a narrow line between Eastern and Western aesthetics of minimalism and fullness. Tiny manicured hands, delicate yet toned arms and thighs (with gap). She draws the eyes of everyone in the room when she moves, even the bored cigarette server's.

You forgot the flaw, Ocelot wants to tell her. The one that deludes men into finding her approachable as well as arresting. But she's a grown woman and this is her show, she doesn't need him to backseat drive this performance.

When she parts her lips for one of Luk's proffered cigarettes, he sees she has it covered, anyway: slightly crooked teeth, a classic choice in this part of the world.

(Eva's was her height, John. Another non-flaw that some insecure men do a little song and dance about finding off-putting but in fact has profound cultural cache in the West. See: the heights of all beauty queens, models, and pageant darlings. He's fairly sure that, with your face buried in her sizeable silicone, the last thing on your mind was 'oh heavens what if we go on a date and she wears heels'.)

Miller's gaze is hidden behind his shades, but Ocelot need only feel the quickening of his breath and see the shift in his seated posture to know that he's as besotted as the rest of them. Ocelot's done an adequate job of straight-passing for most of his life, in his opinion, and there's no reason to stop now: he'll ogle her legs while trying to find the brand label of her boots for Eva. He won't fool her with it - genuine sexual interest is one of those animalistic things it's too hard to feign unless the other party has a vested interest in self-delusion (which admittedly is most of the time, when it comes to sex) - and he probably won't fool Hiro, but that's fine. It can be their little secret. It's good enough for the straight men, and for a military man like Ocelot, that's all that's ever mattered. If Ocelot's preferences are all Trinh manages to read out of him, he'll be sorely disappointed.

A disclaimer before the business proceedings begin: Ocelot has no idea how these things usually go. He had no idea what to expect. Miller's fully responsible for this side of the business, and as far as he can tell it involves a lot of posturing, a lot of talking, and an end price somewhere between the low-ball and high-ball offers either party started with. He's heard other people say that Miller works magic in this realm; a lifelong Soviet, Ocelot couldn't tell you the price of bread. Or rice, case being.

So take this with a grain of salt.

Miller was probably hoping to either keep his alliance with aging white fever under wraps until the end, or at least save it to play as a trump card - this gleaned from his cute little frown when Billy kicks the whole thing off with: "I've seen your offer, gentlemen. It's an amount I'd be willing to take into consideration, but you must understand, these goods are priceless."

Calling goods for literal sale 'priceless' is such an inane non-statement Ocelot saves it for later use.

"They're valuable," Miller acknowledges, "But not unique. And you've asked us to shoulder protection and transport costs ourselves."

Apparently this will be An Amount that should, in Miller's opinion, detract from the overall amount, as opposed to door-to-door service, like a milkman in Maryland with a basket full of uranium. Or perhaps it's a logistical consideration: the Diamond Dogs can provide this protection, on a professional, military-grade level, whereas Trinh's street toughs could drop the ball and if this - pardon the phrase - goes nuclear, it could come back on Luk. In which case the Diamond Dogs themselves add value. Ocelot doesn't know and isn't being tested on the material, so he checks out Hiro's jailbait while keeping his attention, once again, on the real threat in the room:

Trinh looks utterly unruffled by the proceedings. But every so often, she bites a nail.

"More than financial considerations," Luk is saying through smouldering filter, "I am responsible for where these end up. To future generations. My brother and sister, here, have the people's interests at heart," the denizen of a previously conquered city nods unironically toward the CIA plant with imperialist sympathies, "But you, Miller, want to fuel a war. A war that might end up in my backyard."

It's very unlikely that South Africa's internal struggles will blow over into Asia, of course, but if everybody here laid what they actually wanted out on the table: 1) Luk would kill Hiro (and face US reprisal), 2) Luk would give the warheads to Trinh (who would then be assassinated by the Chinese), 3) Miller would not only go home empty-handed, the Diamond Dogs would be driven out of Africa in a heartbeat. All it comes down to is who is a better liar.

"Better your backyard than your living room," Miller objects. "Just how long do you think she'll be able to keep these out of communist hands?"

"Not my problem," Luk shrugs.

"It will be seventeen years from now," Hiro contends, but there's a waver in his voice. It's Miller Luk doesn't seem to like - if he broke their deal and partnered up with Trinh this could go well for him.

"Hm," says Trinh, and slides another cigarette past her pouty lips in a way that would make Freud blush, "Seems like a long time, to me. Where's the immediate payoff?"

It's a masterclass in sultry suggestion and Ocelot wants to clap her on the shoulder with a hearty brava, as right about now no man in the room has more than a milliliter of blood left above waist level, and poor Lucky Strike is wondering if maybe that middle school crush on her best friend didn't mean more than she thought it did, in retrospect.

Instead, Ocelot digs his heel directly into Miller's junk.

His eyes (probably) bulge, and he growls. Which he covers by turning it into one of those growls he always does: "Be that as it may, I have the highest offer on the table. You let me walk away, you'll never find another buyer with these funds again."

Ocelot might not know much about economics, but he does know psychology: namely, loss aversion. Losses are twice (or more) as affecting as gains. 'You'll lose $20 if you don't give me a blowjob' has twice the impact during negotiations as 'I'll give you $20 for a blowjob.' It's difficult to pair with the fact that positive reinforcement has greater effect than negative punishment, but that's neither here nor there. You're probably bored already; he'll skip the lecture.

It means Miller has at least a college freshman's grasp of the subject, and Trinh bites her nails again when Luk's suckered in by Miller's phrasing.

Shit.

"This may be true," Luk begins, but his tone betrays a change in mood, and Hiro falls right in line. Ocelot mulls his options over furiously. He can't ask for a time out. Cause a scene? It might not work. And what if there's something he hasn't considered? He's so far out of his element he's about to slide right off the periodic table. How can he talk to Miller without giving the game away to the rest of them? Ocelot does write hanzi, which are deceptively similar to kanji, meaning that could go very poorly - and so does just about everyone here. Everyone also speaks English. Spanish is the sole remaining option, and there's no guarantee Trinh doesn't know it. Damn. They should've worked out a cipher ahead of time. Miller can rarely stand to converse with him for more than five minutes, though. That would have made that a challenge. And of course he doesn't read lips, because he's your bedroom furniture not your brains.

Ocelot did happen to brush up on Miller's language a little. Just in case it ever came up. No, he doesn't speak it. But he did look over those phonetic symbols they use to write foreign words.

So he'll use those to approximate the sounds of Spanish. On the back of a cigarette box.

Miller scowls at it like a dumb, angry puppy for about a minute before he parses: This is going well for you, right? TT isn't worried.

After an agonizing pause, Miller responds: Yes she is. Because he's a sucker. Textbook. Nervous.

Yes, Ocelot replies, because he is not. Textbook.

Miller gets it, then. He gets it, but he can't go one step further. That's alright. Ocelot can go several. Miller's expression tells him all he needs to know: there's no secret business magic she should be using to turn this into a comeback win.

Ocelot knows exactly why she doesn't have an entourage. They're a little busy right now.

He releases the pressure from Miller's groin and reaches into his boots, under the table. Snaps the parts of his revolver back together silently and stands in one fluid motion, weapon drawn. Aimed at Trinh.

Lucky Strike gets the hell out of the way, while Cyclops and Extra drag their boss about a foot backwards before he stops them. Hiro cracks his neck, amused and impressed, while his kid sidekick gapes. Miller looks about ready to throttle him (again).

"So where are your men taking the warheads?" Ocelot gets right to the point.

"Mr. Miller, what is your man talking about?" She sounds incredulous; doesn't display anywhere near enough trepidation. He has her dead-to-rights on this.

Luk seems more pissed off that someone smuggled a gun in here. Ocelot imagines that he imagines his goons can jump him before he fires more than a round or two (yes, Ocelot could kill everyone in the room). "Sit down. Lower your weapon."

"Are you sure you want me to do that? She's about to walk away with the prize for free," Ocelot cocks the hammer; Trinh doesn't even sweat. Miller grinds his teeth. She came here to put up just enough of a fight to make it convincing. To stall, while the cat was away. To win by losing. It is a concept with which Ocelot is intimately familiar.

"Ocelot--"

Oh, there we go, your ornery office ornament can't even keep his handles straight under pressure.

"I'd go check on them, if I were you," Ocelot suggests, though like as not they're gone already. Now she does start to sweat. He's running out of options.

He unlocks the cylinder and dumps all but one of the cartridges into his hand. Spins it. Cocks it again.

Luk isn't going to do it. He nods to Cyclops. Ocelot pulls the trigger, and they all freeze.

Click.

Trinh flinches, visibly. Cyclops starts to move around the table. Extra heads around the other side.

Ocelot tosses the revolver up into the air and catches it, cocks it, fires.

Click.

"Two of six. I'd start talking."

"David, might I suggest another--"

Spin. Cock. Click.

"Ocelot, I will murder you."

"Seize him."

Spin. Cock. Click.

The two hired thugs start to lunge as the revolver spins into the air again, Trinh swallows, and as it lands in his hand with his thumb on the hammer, Miller rams his shoulder into Ocelot.

BANG.

Cyclops and Extra collide like a brick hitting an egg carton; Miller has tackled Ocelot onto the table. Lucky Strike wipes blood off her face, Trinh smears her lipstick with the back of her own hand, and Hiro turns, slowly, as it dawns on the lot of them that Luk's head has a new hole in it.

He falls, poignantly, a second later.

A second after that, a score of suited Triads burst into the room, the first of which shouts: "Boss! The warheads!"

Ocelot elbows Miller in the gut to get him moving; Trinh kicks over the table; Extra screeches in Cantonese something about the Vietnamese whore being a thief and the white dogs being her assassins (however that works in his head); Hiro knows that all he has to do to emerge the winner now is turn coats and he does so with relish, ordering his own muscle into the fray. All the rest really understand is that there's a fight on right now, and by god they will punch anyone who gets in the way.

With Miller dragging him toward the door under a mass of flailing limbs, Ocelot only manages to wing the baby yakuza in the thigh to put him out of the fight, but he does take a whole precious second to aim, wait for a gap, and shoot Hiro right through his half-metal teeth.

They've locked it - Trinh smashes it open with a kick that belies her size, and then the three of them are running in the only direction available to them: the stairs. Gunfire was enough to signal to the entire block that Billy has finally run out of Luk; the narrow alleyways could be cut off by a particularly large linebacker, and they're thronging now.

Ocelot doesn't need to holler to Miller to head for the rooftops; it's tempting to do so anyway.

Heads pop out at the top of the stairwell. Before they're cut off Trinh produces a Colt Cobra from somewhere inside the padded shoulders of her jacket and topples one with a mediocre shot under the shoulder blade right off the catwalk and into the lane below - Ocelot tucks Miller against the wall to keep him from being struck by the howling, soon-to-be corpse.

"Did everybody bring a fucking gun?!" Miller hisses against his shoulder.

"I don't know. Did you?" Ocelot inquires.

With an aggravated sigh, Miller produces the KGB operative's tiny silenced Tokarev and Ocelot musters up a fraction more respect for the man.

When they reach the rooftops and are met with an angry mob, however, Ocelot takes matters into his own hands. The longer they wait the more organized they'll be: Ocelot makes all three of his final shots kill shots, then wrenches the weapons out of both Miller and Trinh's hands, firing both at the same time, on the run, about 90% better than they would have. Despite the fringe of white-blond strands currently in his face.

"Hey!" They both snarl behind him, blending into the background noise.

There are a few decent jumps to make in a flurry of motion toward the border. Ocelot knows that Trinh will be more athletic than she appears; it's standard the world over. It's Miller's heavy ass he's concerned about, and he is absolutely unsurprised when he has to catch the man from falling to an ignoble demise when a plastic canopy full of flowerpots gives way under not Trinh's, not Ocelots, but Miller's weight. The elderly Hong Kongese woman inside keeps on smoking like this were any given Sunday.

They're right at the edge when Cyclops and Extra finally catch up to them. They know the place better; they stand right in front of the sole staircase, while the collective fury of the 14K advances from back the way Miller and Ocelot came.

"Go. Find us a vehicle," Ocelot tells Trinh. They're never going to make it out of here without one. And adds, in Russian: "I'm going to make it out of this. If you ditch us, I will find you."

Her beautiful brown eyes widen. But she goes, hand over hand, patio over patio, toward freedom.

Ocelot smooths his sweat-tousled bangs back. Yanks the scarf from his pocket, snaps over into a fold, and ties it around his head. A makeshift bandana.

"I've got the big guy," Ocelot informs Miller. "You take the baton twirler."

"Tonfa. They're called tonfa."

"You say senbei, I say rice crackers."

Too bad, Miller doesn't get the chance for a witty comeback. Extra leaps at him with a spin kick, which Ocelot doesn't get to see if he ducks or not, because Cyclops is less Crouching Tiger, more charging bull, and Ocelot can feel the air whistling by him like a freight train when he steps to the side.

Punches him right in the kidneys of that exposed back, but he might as well have been pounding on a rail car: Cyclops is already flexed, and Ocelot does little more than hurt his own hand.

This could go very poorly if Ocelot doesn't get some distance. Or a weapon. Cyclops won't let him have either. He turns on a dime and Ocelot can't dodge forever; a punch to the throat that should have rendered him breathless, a punch to the forehead that should have rendered him unconscious, and he just keeps coming until he finally manages to grapple the (much) smaller man into a stack of newspapers set out to serve as kindling.

Ocelot knows how fucked he is in both the metaphorical and possibly unmetaphorical sense if Cyclops pins him; he thrashes like a rabid raccoon with precisely zero dignity - nose-biting, eye-scratching, nut-kicking, scrambling backwards under a flurry of shredded print to freedom.

Out of the corner of his eye, Miller isn't doing much better. None of the CQC you taught him will work if he's not fast enough to follow his opponent's moves, and Extra is pounding him with fast, painful jabs that will leave him more bruised tomorrow than a bad date with his CO.

Ocelot hurls a rainwater pail at them to get his attention. "Switch!"

Cyclops barrels down at him; Extra strides forward with lightning-quick strikes. But Miller turns around and grabs Cyclops by the forearms - he skids back a few feet before coming to a stop. And Ocelot, Ocelot just ducks and sweeps the legs right out from under his half-sized opponent.

Miller can use CQC on Cyclops, and does so to introduce him swiftly and with prejudice to the roof tiles. Miller is the resident subject matter expert at having a larger man try to throw him around; a headbutt that would have knocked Ocelot out cold merely makes him grunt, and the two of them roll around gracelessly while Ocelot combines superior range and superior reflexes into a very bad day for Extra. Extra lunges forward too close to hit Ocelot in the stomach he left undefended on purpose; Ocelot catches his arm and twists the tonfa right out of it.

They're running out of time, though. Sooner than later, they'll be surrounded. All the Triad goons need do is continue this holding pattern until reinforcements arrive.

Ocelot generously allows Extra some distance so that he can scan the vicinity. Nothing up here but a cold firepit and a radio receiver--

Into the jagged prongs of which Miller is hurled--

Ocelot catches him before he can be impaled--

Extra leaps on him while his back is turned, knife drawn from his suit pocket--

Ocelot drops like a rock--

--So that Extra's momentum carries him right over the side of the building--

--Cyclops brings his leg up to crush Ocelot's head--

And Miller skewers him with a snapped-off piece of antenna.

Ocelot covers his face while Cyclops screams and jerks above him, mostly to keep the blood from running into his eyes. When it's over, he pulls them away to find Miller's hand in front of it instead.

Well, what the hell. He'll take it.

They're about to be surrounded by thirty, maybe fourty Triads. Time to see how CQC stacks up against kung fu. This will be one for the record books, if only anyone saw--

Trinh lays on the horn of the Datsun.

No looks need to be exchanged; Ocelot and Miller swing down over the side seconds ahead of their would-be murderers, clambering balcony to balcony until the fall is remotely survivable. And then they plunge into bags of soft, slippery trash so Trinh can floor it back toward the harbour.

 

To make a long story short, yes, they get (most of) the nukes. There's some foul-smelling flirting, some steamy showers, some off-key karaoke, and the second least-advisable and (debatably) heterosexual threesome of Ocelot's life in there later, but that's all Miller's wheelhouse. When they finally make it back to Africa Miller is gleefully rolling around in all his new money like a happy dog rubbing against a dead animal.

And just as inordinately proud of himself. "So, how did you know her?"

"Hm?" Ocelot asks, replacing the screws in his revolver, with his feet up on Miller's desk.

"Trinh. You knew her." Miller flips through vehicle schematics like a giddy child gazing in wonder at the Sears Christmas catalogue. "Something about Berlin?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about." He's cute, when he's happy. Cute, cutthroat, charming, clever. But none of these things enough to really play with the big boys. "But you seem surprisingly satisfied, given how things went."

"Why wouldn't I be? You know what we can buy with this? Helicopters. We can hire pilots. We can start looking for a base, maybe--"

"You're not mad about Luk, I mean. Neither of us will ever be able to go back to Hong Kong, you realize."

Miller grins. Cunningly. How sweet. He has a plan to-- "Why would I be? You shot him on purpose."

"That's crazy talk," Ocelot whistles low, "How could I possibly have known which chamber was loaded?"

"I've watched you on cameras, you know. Sometimes I can't even tell when you drop bugs and steal my documents at quarter-speed. You're telling me you couldn't memorize which chamber you loaded? Know where you stopped spinning it? Put some subtle mark on it visible only to you, then count to six?"

Ocelot offers him the revolver, handle first.

Miller inspects it; it is entirely smooth, but he remains undeterred. "Or you didn't cock it all the way, you just released the hammer. The cylinder wouldn't spin, then, but who could tell when you're tossing it up in the air with every shot? Then when I bumped into you, you cocked it and fired it."

"Sounds paranoid to me. Besides, what could I possibly have gained from executing our good host?"

Miller hands the weapon back by the barrel. "Because it made us his enemy. Same as Trinh. And the enemy of my enemy--"

"--Is my friend," Ocelot replies with a smile that makes Miller swallow.

He covers it by fishing around in his drawer.

"Here, I even bought you your own bag of crackers," Miller holds it up, while Ocelot's grin turns lopsided, and he has to cover his mouth because he really is about to laugh.

"Are you sure they aren't senbei?" Ocelot asks.

Miller's fuck has never been more satisfying.

Chapter Text

You don't even want to know about 1981.

He and Miller did spend a couple of months together in 1982, though. Settle in and make yourself a sandwich: this one might take a while.

 

Adam rinses his mouth out with a cup of coffee.

It's not that his subject is entirely uninterested - Adam can relate - it's just that he isn't anywhere as interested as he should be. You made the mistake of making your relationship with Eva public by adding it to the record books of your operations, which leaves him with no choice but to ensure that the new you takes more than a passing interest in women. Or, at the very least, will react appropriately when one of them throws herself at him.

The trouble is, this conflicts with both the phantom's self-image and his own experiences of adolescence. He's not a pure Kinsey 6 by any means - if he were, Adam would have castrated him ages ago and chalked it up to crash damage, saved himself some trouble - he's somewhere in the realm of a low 5 or high 4. As opposed to your perfectly even 3. So while the phantom reacts to images of attractive women with no aversion and occasional pleasure, it isn't as convincing as it could be.

It helps that the man himself is genuinely attracted to Ocelot. Positive reinforcement is much more effective than positive punishment, after all. As with all things, that long hair he's grown serves multiple purposes.

Adam's lovely assistant offers to help him out with his own unconscious physiological consequences; he declines. Tells her she can leave.

The other man's features are smooth, relaxed. He hasn't seen nearly as many sleepless nights as you have, John, nor spent as many weeks of starvation in the field. It shows: he is a handful of years older than you but looks a decade younger. The facelift helps too.

If anyone questions this, he'll tell them it was all those years spent in beauty sleep (he doubts they will).

The phantom's guard is down right now. The serotonin and oxytocin Adam and his friend have manually released dissolve his unease. The sensation of being trapped, eroded, that sometimes makes him fight it. It's an old trick - one of the first Adam learned. This man is not overly complicated.

"Morning, Boss," Adam eases into bed beside him. They both smell like sex; at times this skin-on-skin contact will make the phantom's cock twitch and he'll try to cover it, adorably.

Wouldn't want to complicate things with his platonic old friend.

"Ocelot." He smiles. His eye is half-open, unseeing.

"Boss, can I ask you a personal question?"

"Of course. Anything."

"Have you ever been captured? By the enemy, I mean."

"Yes." The answer is automatic; Adam raises an eyebrow. There was still a time delay between his questions and the correct responses the last time he tried this. He doubts the man's self-awareness has diminished that much in the interim.

Which means this is an honest answer.

"Wait - you know I have been, Ocelot. You were there." Ah, there we go. The correct response surfaces, only slightly faster than the last time.

Adam should proceed with the rest of the list, but his curiosity gets the better of him. Professional curiosity, that is. He needs to know everything about this man, intimately, in order to succeed. "I don't mean Groznyj Grad." This will cause him to filter through the induced memories first, force him to pilfer from his own when he finds nothing. Ocelot knows him better than anyone else alive, after all. What wouldn't Ocelot know?

The phantom bites his lip. Nods. "Yes."

Hm. The recollection is plainly an unpleasant one, but his pupils don't constrict. His heart rate remains the same. No sweat. "Were you tortured?" Adam asks, quietly.

"No," the phantom replies. His tells are so obvious Adam knows it's the truth.

"Were you raped?" Quieter still.

"No."

These are experiences Ocelot will have to replicate, then. You've certainly had them. Might take care of that lingering arousal; no, that's mixing business with pleasure. He'll need proxies again. Still, that curiosity remains: "Why not?"

"Jack came for me. That night." His use of your pet name leaves an unpleasant taste in Adam's mouth; getting too close too your soldiers, just like you always do. At least he didn't call you 'Snake' - that might have been a little too much cognitive dissonance. With a little pushing he can be brought around to imagine 'Jack' as a different person entirely.

"Jack did? Don't you mean she did?" Adam adds a feminine lilt to his voice, raises it an octave. His mother's voice surprised him, he has to admit, the first time he heard it. From all the stories about her he was expecting something deep and powerful, or harsh and cutting. Many female soldiers either affect these so that their voices will carry, so that they'll have an air of authority in a male domain, or have it naturally by virtue of the same chemicals that caused them to excel in that domain in the first place. But her - her actions and reputation commanded more than enough respect. If her voice was soft, almost pretty really, it hardly mattered. "Don't you mean I did, Jack?" Adam's touch is firm yet cautious, as if checking him over for injuries.

"Yes..." The phantom blinks repeatedly, struggling to make sense of these conflicting ideas. Emotions. Ocelot would never lie to him. The Boss would never lie to him. "...Yes, that's right. It was her."

It's the correct answer and he deserves a reward; Adam covers the phantom's lower lip with both of his own and bites, gently, before he sucks, while the phantom sighs her name against his mouth in your voice.

Adam wants Ocelot back, but the phantom's mental barriers are up again, as strong as he could forge them, and if they're kissing then it couldn't possibly be Ocelot, could it? All other evidence be damned. The phantom will have to rationalize this situation in some other way. Adam doesn't want to play his mother; he has no idea how you fucked her, and if he does the man will surely notice a few things all the conditioning in the world can't fake. He breaks the kiss and leans back to--

The phantom tangles fingers in Adam's hair and rolls him onto his back.

From everything he's heard, he wasn't expecting that. Nor the tongue shoved so deep into his mouth it strokes his soft palate, nor the insistent crush of the larger man's hips down against his own pelvis. The taste of oversweet apple mush and the sterile scent of bandages. Insufficient to kill his erection before the phantom feels it; he can't think he's his mother. He can't.

So who does the phantom think he is, then?

"You kept it long," the phantom strokes his hair. Kisses the curve of his throat while he hikes up Adam's shirt to run his fingers tenderly down his sides. "I like it long."

No. No. No. Get off. This ride is over.

Adam eases him off by the shoulders, and over onto his side. He should have rewarded him with something else; food, music, the absence of pain. Distracted by his own urges - perfect. Failure to read the changes in the phantom's mental state as they occur can lead to all kinds of idiotic mistakes. He swings his legs over the side of the bed as fingers trail down his back so affectionately Adam shudders.

"Kaz," the phantom whispers, longingly.

Adam glances past him, at the sheet that separates his bed from yours. At the flowers; one has an ant skittering across the surface of anotherwise pure white petal. At the scuffed toes of his boots.

"Not tonight, Boss," Adam demurs in Miller's voice. "I'm not in the mood."

"Alright, Kaz. Feel better." A sweet kiss is pressed to his cheek.

 

Click.

 

"No." Adamska's tone transforms so utterly the phantom reels backward, bracing.

He speaks the man's name.

The phantom crumples into a ball clutching his head; it's too much. He can't make sense of it. No, he can, he knows in that moment, he knows what he's lost and his horror at the void that yawns before him is his and Adamska's precious secret. His pupil constricts to a speck and he trembles violently - before he was accustomed to it, and a man grows accustomed to anything, eventually - he used to clutch his temple and scream. Scream names that Adamska plucked from him, one by one, until none remained; until he screamed wordlessly.

The demon, he calls Adamska. With bloody hands, who speaks a thousand tongues and all of them violence. It's all so biblical. No, said Adamska, I am your god.

I created you.

I give, and I take away.

I am in control.

But, grinning, this time: "You won't let him walk away from you. You don't let him walk away from you. It's not what he wants, deep down. He wants to stay. He wants you to make him stay."

 

Click.

Whir.

 

"Or I could make you feel better." A rough kiss is pressed to the side of Adam's neck; the phantom's hand wraps around his throat. He struggles experimentally, and the phantom passes the test by squeezing. He drags Adam down to the pillows; he is so weak that Adam has to let him, has to help him with the buckle of his pants. Has to sigh and grunt and growl while sucking in air the way Miller does to get the phantom's cock to thicken, rewarding him with shivers and warmth when the phantom quashes the tiny movements he makes toward freedom, punishing him with a ruthless twist of his swollen red tip when he doesn't.

"You sure about this?" Adam hisses through gritted teeth, just like Miller does when he's defiant. The phantom hooks Adam's knees over his shoulders, one at a time. Adam digs his thumb into the phantom's tip so hard it leaves the crimson cresent impression of his fingernail, through the gloves, while he paws around with the other hand for lu--

He's not really sure why he doesn't see the slap coming.

"Ssh, Kaz."

It wasn't hard. Just - surprising?

A few of Adam's breathy little Miller whimpers are entirely unfeigned as the phantom starts pushing his sizeable dick in dry. The panting, the 'B-boss' stuttered half through his nose comes so easily when that thick tip breaches his rim; he wonders if Miller squirms and grabs the headboard when your thrusts scrape the bed against the wall, because Adam's ass hasn't had anything inside it in years, now, and is so tight the phantom takes the better part of a minute just jamming his cock in deep enough to thrust. Sweat's pooled in Adam's navel by then; he tilts his head up into hungry kisses and the spasms of his painfully stretched muscles pass for something like sex.

The wheels of the bed creak. The ceiling fan whirs. The phantom's unkempt beard bristles against his throat while he praises another man passionately in another man's voice, and Adam does the same, coaxing him to relax, he's so tight, oh Boss you're the best, oh Kaz you feel so good, and Miller's expletives are unexpectedly soothing when Adam's rim finally tears and blood slicks the stiff object battering him all the way into his bowels.

There was rain on the weather forecast tonight. Mist and sleet for the morning. Adam wonders if he shouldn't move his flight up lest the deicing delay it and he misses the connection to Asmara.

That won't give him any time to raid some sleeping patient's dinner, but Miller usually feeds him. He can wait that long. Besides, he might do better with fluids for the next couple of days.

I am in control.

The phantom comes inside him with a jerk and a squelch and an adoring sigh, petting his hair. Adam won't make the same mistake twice: his gaze is fixed on that familiar blue eye as all the barriers come down again. "Have you ever been in love?" he asks, easing the other man's cock out with the utmost care so as not to take any ripped skin with it.

"Yes," the phantom admits, nestled comfortably atop him until Adam rolls him gently to the side to free his own limbs.

"Oh?" That's interesting. Adam's never found any mention of a serious relationship in this man's past. Only casual lovers. With his only living relative - his mother - having overdosed on sleeping pills soon after she heard about the destruction of the MSF, some might take consolation in that fact. "Did they love you back?"

"No." Yet the phantom says it with a smile. Adam rubs the tension out of his calves - having braced them both stiffly to keep from digging his spurs into the other man's back - while wiping the slippery ooze of come and blood and shit off the phantom's shaft with a prewet sterile tissue before it can stink enough to shatter the illusion of lovemaking.

"That didn't frustrate you?" Another wad of it held in place by his underwear will keep it from ruining his own clothing; the sheets he'll have to tear off and dump down the laundry chute. It's a hospital - they've seen worse.

"No," the phantom responds, and his smile is downright beatific as Adam picks the last few red-brown chunks out of his pubic hair, pressing against his hand like a lover's caress. "Love does not want."

"That's not exactly how it goes," Adam smiles back, tossing the wipes down into the stained sheet and bundling it all up together. "Love is patient. Love is kind."

"It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud," the phantom echoes.

Adam skips to the end: "It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." He straightens his clothing, then swings the bundle over his shoulder. "Sleep," he commands, and the phantom sinks into the stripped mattress like a stone.

He's really going to have to get rid of all the biblical nonsense. The phantom might not have been all that religious, but the only sermon you ever got outside of brief naps next to an army chaplain was when Adam read you the list of relatives you're not allowed to fuck - and those you are - in Leviticus over a bottle of scotch and the two of you'd howled for hours.

Another time.

Adam presses his lips to your still forehead before he limps off to his flight.

 

Adam sits slumped over a glass of whiskey he hasn't touched at the bar of an upscale lounge in London. It isn't raining, which is novel, though it is still chill enough and damp enough to fog the tinted reflective windows that offer its patrons privacy. He worries the white-blond stubble of his upper lip with a gloved thumb; he is still young enough that the increasing speed with which it reappears over the course of the day surprises him. The years he could go days without shaving long gone, now.

You don't know he's here. It wouldn't bother you if you did know. The two of you had sorted that out the night you'd confessed to him that you still thought of Eva, that you missed her, that you wanted to find her again. And he, with his head tucked into your shoulder, promised you that he would make that happen.

Adam does not make idle promises.

He does not stir, either, when Zero labours onto a stool beside him; the miserable weather wreaks havoc on old bones. The sharpness of smartly ironed wool blends poorly with cherry red vinyl and fist-thick carpets.

"Bourbon. Neat," Adam says without glancing up. It will be, just like everything else has been these past five years, on his tab.

"I do prefer martinis," Zero comments blandly.

Adam has nothing to say to him.

He is far too busy watching you smile. With Eva's fingers resting lightly, warmly, on your forearm at the private table you share with her. Her polished nails and white teeth and perfectly coiffed (freshly dyed) hair glint as brilliantly as her jewelry and he watches you drink her in. Your eyes haven't left her face or her body since you arrived.

"But, Jack," he watches her say, "I wouldn't want to interfere with your relationship."

For a moment, you're perplexed. "My relationship?"

"We were good together, you know," Zero remarks offhand, greying armhair twined in the intricate metalwork of an expensive watch with which he gestures, "We accomplished great things."

Adam hums a noncommital noise while what she means finally dawns on you: "Oh, the kid? Hah. He... gets me, you know? In a way nobody else does."
For someone of her training, the fleeting downward cast of her lips reads to Adam the same as any other woman flipping the table over and dumping her drink onto your head.

"But eventually, I suppose, the true object of affection must return, and the other can do naught but stand on the sidelines, where he belongs." Zero punctuates his words with an unthinking sip of his bourbon; the cough of discomfort that follows is a balm to Adam's soul.

"Look, I'm sure he likes to get his dick wet as much as I do," you, ever the romantic, suggest, "But we're not going to go pick out furniture together, if that's what you're asking."

"Are you saying you'd like to pick out furniture with me?" A coy head tilt; Eva's smile is positively glowing.

"I have no idea what you mean," Adam shrugs, eyes on on your jawline.

"Nah. You're not the type. Bikes, though... I heard you were looking for a new one." It's not the offer she expects. It's far better than that - you have that effect on people. Her polished facade sultry sweetness melts into genuine delight, and she kisses you, girlishly gleeful.

Adam takes a long pull of whiskey.

"I wouldn't play this game with me, were I you," Zero advises him dourly, "You won't win."

Adam wonders if Zero will ever realize that was the night he lost.

 

It is an unusually brisk winter for Eritrea - high in the mountains as it is, the temperatures in Asmara flirt with the freezing point. Ocelot himself is accustomed to weather fourty degrees below (a convenient number were archaic American Fahrenheit and shiny new Celsius dovetail) and so does not even do up his duster; the other Diamond Dogs have a curious collection of dress states ranging Nordic snipers in polos and Sahel scouts in borrowed ski jackets, shivering as they pray for the sweet release of spring.

"Oi, Ocelot!" comes the call from across the training yard. It's Zebra, milling around a collection of promising padded body-length cases with the aforementioned pair of Nordic snipers.

"What have we here?" Ocelot asks as he strolls up to join them.

"New kit, sir," Forest Cat - he'll tell you about the argument he had with Miller over whether or not that constituted a 'real' animal some other time - points out the obvious, hand twitching with a stifled salute.

The arsenal harvest of 1982 features a bumper crop of sniper rifles. The Accuracy International L96, the Barrett M82, the Walther WA2000 - a weapon suited to every marksman's tastes, served with a side of state-of-the-art optics. The Diamond Dogs have earned enough international infamy to be sent samples to try out before they make major purchases.

"You want to help us break them in?" Zebra asks, eagerly.

"I've got a meeting with the boss," Ocelot tells him, that title spoken in a way a man might use for his wife, rather than his commander. Curious, the way all three of them seem disappointed that he can't play today. Major Ocelot's never garnered that reaction; neither has Adam; the freshly dubbed Shalashaska, certainly not.

"What the hell," Ocelot grins, toeing open a case, "She can wait."

 

Since Queen (Cassandra?) Miller will already be made disconsolate by his prolonged absence, Ocelot supposes he can let the man linger a little longer. He passes the threshold from courtyard to castle; the faces change from his knightly combat and reconnaissance staff to Miller's ladies-(and gentlemen)-in-waiting: supply techs, logistics, medics. Princely pilots and a singular sorcerous doctor, all under the thumb of their master of coin.

All waiting for the King to return.

Where exactly Ocelot fits into this fairy tale he isn't sure. He has a desk, though, a place to put - in Miller's words - his "crap," by which he means his gun cleaning kit, CLP, spare parts, recording devices, Diamond Dogs-related intelligence, a change of clothes, an ironic Che t-shirt purchased in Nicaragua, Cyclops' neon orange sunglasses, a bottle of whiskey, a signed Johnny Cash print, and occasionally, his three precious tapes. Miller bought it for him the third time Ocelot had knocked CLP onto his papers, and the second time the Che t-shirt had found its way onto Miller's bed. Ocelot is fairly sure he acquired one with one of the legs too short on purpose, to watch Ocelot struggle in vain to prop it up using various escalating means which seemed only to change which leg was the problem, but was woefully unprepared for Ocelot to return fire by thumping it around every time he needed to concentrate. Miller got down on his hands and knees, turned some kind of foot-dial to appease the machine gods, and that was that.

Ocelot only leaves his tapes here when he could lose them, otherwise they are always on his person. The one you gave him first and foremost, with your blocky scrawled 'GOD I MISS THE 60s 70s ALREADY' in the title box and radio-recorded collection of hard rock hits on one side only. With headphones, in some places, between the fade-out and fade-in he can hear your fingers fumble with buttons, hear your happy sigh during a guitar solo, hear you cough, once. On the other side Adam himself has neatly written 'The 80s Aren't So Bad' and added a collection of music from 76' onward that he thinks you'll like. He leaves it in a locked drawer alongside the other two and finally goes to greet her Highness.

Miller looks pissy - his native state of being - and does not look up from his map nor break from his adorably accented Arabic conversation with their Saudi fuel supplier. A stack of paperclipped dossiers sit on the corner of Miller's tidy desk so that, in theory, Ocelot could pick them up and peruse them without coming within armslength of the other man. It's a little game they play; sometimes Ocelot will take him up on it. Other times, like now, he'll wander around behind Miller instead while he's shackled to the receiver.

Miller doesn't immediately move to cover anything. He's learning.

Ocelot flips through them while he waits. Makes notes. These are personnel files for prospective hires. As these will be largely under his command, some of them are his own suggestions. The usual gamut of ex-cons, dishonorable discharges, and exiles - nobody will be joining them for glory until you do.

"A scout-sniper with one eye. Really." Miller concludes his conversation and inquires flatly.

"You of all people shouldn't be put off by a one-eyed soldier." Ocelot 's grin is blithe. "Besides, he already has a nickname."

"'Snow Leopard'. I see that. You can't name them all after cats, you know. You're going to run out."

"You can never have too many cats."

"And that's why you're single."

Ocelot takes a seat on Miller's desk; Miller maneuvers himself tactically out of range of his feet. "Seriously, though, Miller: we're going to start getting work in Afghanistan. Soon." It'll be dangerous for them, with hostile Soviets on one side and Cipher-backed CIA on the other, but the money will be good. That's all it takes for a green light from the greedy golden goose you've taken for a girlfriend. "Someone like him could come in real handy."

"Hm. Tortured by the Soviets, though, that could be a double-edged sword," Miller surmises correctly that that could leave a man with a grudge.

"I'll make sure he stays on the reservation."

Ocelot takes Miller's breathy grunt of acknowledgement as approval. Sets the papers down and shimmies over politely so that the other man can tidy up. Miller's in range, now - Ocelot traces the outline of the Miller's knee with the toe of his boot. Mildly surprised when, instead of batting it away, Miller rests his hand on Ocelot's ankle.

"How was the flight? I hear Italy's lovely this time of year." Miller's pretty blue eyes are narrowed.

Ah, yes. That's where his connection was from, on paper. Ocelot's begun to leave breadcrumbs for the man, you see. Flimsy trails for him to follow to gauge Ocelot's activities and whereabouts. The KGB did the same for Ocelot in his younger days; Miller is so utterly pleased with himself when he gets it right - asking him if he'll need a warmer jacket if he's off to the mountains of Afghanistan, for example, leaving a Hindi phrasebook on his desk when hunting a Cipher contact took him to Mumbai - that Ocelot imagines him to be almost as cute as a young Adamska. It's good practice, and anything that makes Miller more useful to you will please you, he's sure.

Ambitiously - and amusingly, to Ocelot - Miller's also begun to sweet-talk a few business connections with contacts behind the iron curtain for information about Ocelot himself. Gleaning juicy details about the insufferable, overconfident Major with a burgeoning crush on you who got beat up by a girl on a motorcycle. Ocelot'll see if he can't wrangle up a little of the rusty old indignation and petulance he'd perfected back then if Miller ever tries to toss it back at him. Major Ocelot has calmed down somewhat in the past two decades - it would be unbelievable if he hadn't - which Miller will discover if he manages to find anyone who's known him in the interim. Yet he has also acquired an unsettling reputation for his interrogation tactics - a holdover from how he was treated under Volgin, perhaps? It's all so tragic. Ocelot hasn't decided how he'll play it, should it ever come up.

The worst parts were the endless, unsubtle, lowbrow insinuations, honestly. Shit or get off the fucking pot, comrade Colonel, a teenaged Ocelot had once muttered under his breath to his grandstanding, shirtless commanding officer when he'd been cornered by the man in the showers, giddy Raikov in tow. Either pull your dick out or don't. By the end of it all he'd just about run out of ways of pretending to be cowed by rape threats.

"I wouldn't know. Just a stopover from Spain." Ocelot makes to rise and Miller pulls him down by the leg instead, until Ocelot is seated in his lap, Miller's hands around his waist. Miller's mouth on the swell of his Adam's apple; he can feel his lips when he speaks. "You really need someone to shape your beret," Ocelot murmurs idly, because apparently Miller has time to kill, and given the stiff flesh jabbing the underside of his thigh, an idea of what he means to do with it.

Miller responds with a disgruntled noise as he yanks Ocelot's belt open, and Ocelot rolls their hips together. "No, really. You look like a dishevelled pastry chef."

"Oh my god, just shut up," Miller growls, abandoning his efforts with Ocelot's shirt left untucked and his fly open. Ocelot is brusquely shoved to the floor - which he allows, he could have locked his legs around Miller, made him fight for it, but the motions of the other man's body are already making Ocelot's heels drag, his abdomen tighten reflexively - before Miller grabs a fistful of long hair and drags him between his spread knees.

Joke's on him: this is exactly what Ocelot wanted. Let's be honest, John, Miller's easy on the eye(s). Ocelot has no objections whatsoever to fishing Miller's cute little cock out of his underwear and swallowing it. It's an equitable exchange, after all: Ocelot doesn't have to feign attraction or (usually) worry about Miller trying to strangle him; Miller doesn't have to wine and dine Ocelot or make him mushy promises. Neither of them have to tidy up or trim or shave or wear cologne or change into clean clothing that they'll only take off again. They don't have to go through any of the usual motions - sometimes they'll kiss because it makes them both hard and they're both good at it - but Miller is perfectly welcome to tug Ocelot's head down between his legs, and vice versa.

The feel of Miller's blunt, oozing tip on his tongue, the musky scent of his sweat, and the front row seat to the fine blond hairs that trail up the otherwise crisp details of Miller's muscular torso - these are the perfect things to chase away the last vestiges of the ugly old colonel from Ocelot's brain and free up all that blood to make his own cock throb. He paws it free while Miller urges him downward and Ocelot breathes out to accommodate the thick head in the back of his throat without gagging. What was so difficult before he can now do without thinking. While stroking himself. He stares up at Miller's face, tossed back in the throes of pleasure with his soft lips parted, and the image of seeing that expression from above, of being buried to the hilt inside him, makes Ocelot pulse and drip and he strips one glove off hurriedly to replicate the sensation of skin on skin.

He reaches between Miller's legs with the other hand and strokes his damp, heated perineum until he hears the catch of Miller's breath. Is rewarded with a tense groan when he slips his fingertips inside Miller's rim, pulling and stretching, taunting him to ask for more as the bobs of Ocelot's head bring him closer to orgasm. Ocelot imagines the knees braced against his shoulders flung over them instead; feeling the same shudders and convulsions his slowly circling fingers wring out from the inside. Ocelot's nearly finished himself by the time hot viscous fluid drips down the back of his throat. Miller tastes much better when he eats well; Ocelot swallows that milky alkaline mixture thirstily, coaxing a surprised cry of ecstasy from the other man.

Miller's slack and dazed as Ocelot rises languidly to his feet. He doesn't remove his hand from Miller's body, it gently, temptingly massages his swollen prostate while Ocelot leans foward and slings the ungloved arm around Miller's shoulders. Miller's eyes flick to it, confused. Unable to react just yet.

"Do you want to feel it? I can wait," Ocelot offers generously. His teeth scrape Miller's ear as he speaks, and a shiver runs through Miller's whole body.

If Ocelot's being entirely honest, your overpriced throw pillow looks more terrified than aroused. They did put to bed the notion that Ocelot couldn't have this any time he wanted it back in Hong Kong; Miller seems to have made his peace with that, so it does come as a small measure of surprise when, after glancing at Ocelot's hands, Miller tries to take a swing at him.

Ocelot's already tied his ankles to the chair with his belt, though.

So all he need do is step around him and watch Miller trip with his pants down. That arm around Miller's shoulder becomes an arm around his neck and Ocelot holds him up with a chokehold. "Come on now. Is that any way to treat somebody who just sucked your dick?"

Ocelot half-expects Miller to try to CQC him into the floor. Instead, Miller huffs one of his little nose laughs, wrenches his own head around, and kisses Ocelot's bare hipbone. Then he licks his parted lips so invitingly, so close to Ocelot's still-throbbing shaft that he can feel the moist heat, and Ocelot defies any man alive to do anything other than slip his cock between them. Right into that tight circle Miller can make that makes Ocelot's toes curl and leaves him utterly boneless.

He's pretty, with his mouth open, looking up from under those lashes. Flushed. Skin glistening and eyes damp from stifling the need to cough. Ocelot doesn't need to coax him forward, or deeper, or harder - he does it all of his own accord. Ocelot crumples the misshapen beret off Miller's hear and tosses it to the floor. Miller cups his ass and probes inwards with his own fingers.

He wants to--

Slide into his lap and

Strangle

Kiss

Bite his throat out

Fuck him until he bleeds--

Sigh. "No, wait."

Click.

 

--He is in control, right John?

Click.

Miller looks rattled; Ocelot strokes his cheek idly with his gloved hand, panting in the aftermath. Stringy, sodden strands of limp hair cling to Ocelot's face and it's through a haze of these that he feels more than sees Miller pull off his cock. The burst of cold air on sensitive wet skin; the thin trail of come on Miller's chin between the bristles of his stubble.

Miller reaches for the trash can beneath his desk to spit, and Ocelot cuts him off by swinging down into his lap. He flicks the tip of his tongue up from Miller's jaw to his lips, licking him clean, then pushes into Miller's mouth. Ocelot always tastes the same; Miller's saliva adds an accent of salt and rice and cheap liquor and bitter coffee. Ocelot laps it all up from the inside: from the roof of his mouth, under his tongue, between the teeth he hasn't brushed and his cheeks, all with hum of pleasure.

He licks up the overflow on the corners of Miller's lips, too.

By the time Ocelot pulls away, Miller's breaths are unsteady and his cock is curved upwards.

Ocelot isn't sure if Zebra has the world's most impeccable timing, or has been standing outside the office for the past several minutes waiting for the moans and grunts to die down, but either way his "You busy, boss?" and slow opening of the door sends them both into a rabid flurry buttons, buckles, and surreptitious mopping up of stray droplets of sweat and semen - Ocelot folds down Miller's collar to cover the drool and Miller wipes come out of Ocelot's hair.

"Sorry, mate." Zebra's tone and expression are forcibly unreadable. "Wheels up in fifteen."

"And that's how you get out of a chokehold, Miller," Ocelot carries on, as if they'd just finished a sparring session. As if that would explain the sweat and their rumpled clothing. Miller looks almost grateful for the excuse.

Of course, when they're out of earshot, Ocelot adds, "Every time he loses to me in CQC he has to give me a blowjob," with a shrug. Wondering why Miller has blood on one of his hands.

 

As enticing as Ocelot finds sailors, he has to admit he doesn't know that much about naval warfare. But neither do you, John. Long days with lonely men at sea aside, it seems to mostly have to do with math. Go in the wrong direction at the wrong speed and you won't even find, let alone attack, your adversary. You'll be two sad ships passing in the night.

At least that was how it was before air capabilities took all the fun out of it. The Diamond Dogs' helo ("Helly", so-called for the shortened form of helicopter preferred by Zebra and the other members of the British diaspora) spotted this evening's prey off the coast of Massawa, making its way south with ill-gotten gains to Ethiopia or Somalia.

If caught before it passes Assab and thus plausible Eritrean coastal waters, the Diamond Dogs have tacit permission to scuttle it and take its belongings. Border clashes with Ethiopia and a rapidly disintegrating power structure have left many Somalians with no livelihood but the high seas, and with the ever-watchful US Navy temporarily distracted by Iran, crisis has turned into opportunities to pirate anything from globe-trotting yachts to defenseless Yemeni fishermen. Many of the surrounding countries don't even have a coast guard, let alone a navy, at this point in history. Eritrea is among them. And so, following the acquisition of a few patrol boats on the cheap from still-grateful South Africans, Miller sat down for coffee with an Eritrean bureaucrat and emerged with a contract to be their quasi-legal counter-pirates.

Privateers? Is that the right nautical term?

Captain Miller is down where belongs with the other salty sea dogs on one of the patrol boats, while PO Ocelot rides a mile higher on Helly with the other members of the boarding party. There was some disagreement about that, of course; far be it from Ocelot to countermand Miller's orders, but after Khorramshahr, he's laid it out in no uncertain terms that Miller doesn't accompany the combat personnel unless he's done all of the work-up training for that mission with them (which he never has time to do). Besides, Ocelot would feel less like a proper Navy SEAL than he does now with his best friend's girlfriend in tow, what with his NVGs and low-profile survival suit under a flak vest. He's even tied his hair back. They have face black and MP5s and their approach is under total light discipline - critical controls only lit up in eerie red for their pilot, Cerberus, and her co-pilot in training, Pequod. (Sorry, John, new rules: pilots don't get animal names, they get vessel names. Miller was going to name her after some butterfly and trained combat pilots are scarce.) He knows you'd be jealous.

Their target - a stolen decommissioned Italian warship from the pre-war era on the frigate side of corvette - is badly rusted and billowing black smoke. It (she?) also has no idea they're coming. Just as well - this is a much more ambitious undertaking than tipping over zodiacs. Provided anyone aboard knows how to use them, one shell from her big guns could blow poor Helly apart.

Thus Miller and his patrol boats: faster, lower on the water, there to swim circles around the SS Somali Pirate Mk. Infinity while Ocelot and his favourite crew get dropped off curbside. They haul the doors open as soon as flashes light up from below; the novel BOOM BOOM SPLASH of naval artillery audible over Helly's rotors. Ocelot takes aim through the sights of his - rather, their - brand new Accuracy International and puts one round through the throat of a private enterprise bosun and another harmlessly through a bridge window (what? he misses sometimes, too).

There's no flight deck on HMS Rust Bucket because there were no helicopters back when she was built; they rope down onto the aft parade deck presently in use as a booty hold. Modern day pirates rob shipping containers full of Saudi-bound electronics, not gold and jewels, so the plan is to have her limp back into port, if possible. Ocelot doesn't weigh a thousand pounds, like you do, and so hits the deck light as a dancer ready to provide covering fire.

"We've boarded." Ocelot doesn't bother to hide the exhilaration in his voice. Miller grunts, which Ocelot has learned means 'understood'.

John, it is perfect. There's just enough cool wind whipping off the balmy Red Sea to keep them all from melting in puddles of their own sweat; they fan out just as planned - when do things ever go as planned, in combat? - from the drop point, and Ocelot covers Zebra at point like clockwork around cargo blocks and gun mounts and pirate corpses. When a line well-aimed shells from a 57 catches up to Miller's boat - the radio buzzes 'could you fucking do something about that?!' in his ear - Ocelot signals for a boost up to a mast and takes the whole crew out without reloading, the last shell fired spitting distance from Miller's stern. He's pretty sure he hears the words 'nice shot' from Miller's mouth, but he wouldn't want to lie to you.

You should be here.

This is your army; at least, it will be. It might be smooth sailing for Ocelot, but you'd be at the bridge already. He could be covering you, instead: no words necessary. He would understand what you wanted before you knew it yourself. You'd sweep and clear the decks together, and where they stack up to cut doors open with acetylene, you would climb railing to railing.

Who knows, perhaps the two of you would even go in alone.

"We're at the bridge," Ocelot informs his sea-borne secretary. "Cutting through the doors now."

"How long before you start puking up my lunch?" So, still salty about the boat ride from Chile.

"I took my Gravol, mom."

"If you didn't you're riding bitch with a bucket." Miller's pissy again. Probably because everyone else can hear the radio. "We're pulling up alongside you."

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Helly's door gunner had finished raking the deck and was off to refuel, all the guns were down; Ocelot told you - he doesn't know anything about naval warfare. Neither does Miller. Neither of them expected the sharp turn to starboard that knocks Ocelot and his whole team on their asses and leaves Miller himself with nowhere to go but directly into the hull of the larger ship.

Screeching, grinding, smashing; it is an aquatic car accident on steroids and in slow motion and Ocelot finds himself flung every meter it takes from the bridge walkway to the side of the listing ship.

In Russia you learn early that life-giving water is more frenemy than friend; land in it most times of the year and you have scant minutes to live. The Red Sea, on the other hand, is more like swimming in soup, but the impact on it is every bit as concrete-esque at this speed (remember: not only did he drop from several stories up, he is an object in motion at the same velocity as the ship) and it feels distressingly like he now has two halves of a collar bone.

Fortunately for him the safety jacket works as advertised, though he shouts and curses and maybe even whimpers a little when it squeezes the break. Ocelot spends the first few seconds after the crash spitting up sea water.

There's fire everywhere, which Ocelot understands will be problematic when it reaches both the fuel reserves and the munitions. The late pirate ship has a boat-shaped hole in it and is going down on its side; the patrol boat is much the worse for wear - at least, the three pieces it is now currently in are.

Miller.

Ocelot hurriedly rigs up the straps of his flak vest to lock his shoulder in place, then swims as fast as his legs and his other arm will carry him to the likeliest of those pieces. It takes more than one attempt to haul himself up over the twisted railing, one-armed and soaking wet. The enclosed cabin is now entirely open concept: the sad remains of a bolted down pilot's chair crushed under glass and iron. When he spots overgelled blond hair beneath a flak helmet he sighs with relief. Falls to his knees and rolls Miller over: he's fine, John. He's fine. A nasty-looking prong from a radar mast stuck in his vest, but that's why you wear them. Miller hit the deck and hung on for dear life like a good boy.

"W-where is everyone?" Miller's trembling under his touch; he's clearly in shock, but Ocelot won't hold it against him, just this once.

Ocelot drags him to an inflatable life boat; Miller paws at him, eyes wild, and when he yanks on Ocelot's shoulder it really hurts. "Ocelot they need help."

"I know, dear." Ocelot grits his teeth and does not slap the sense back into him, because he is a gentleman.

With Miller tucked safely away Ocelot scans the surface for survivors. Everyone in the boarding party was wearing a life vest; provided it didn't malfunction or they didn't end up trapped on the Somali ship they should be fine. It's Miller's crew Miller's worried about, and he's right: Ocelot can't see any of them.

Which means they're under the swiftly sinking corvette.

Ocelot deflates his own vest and wrestles the flak off while Miller mewls in panic; Miller's sidearm will work underwater so Ocelot takes it. This is going to hurt very badly the whole damn time, but you taught him to compartmentalize pain, didn't you? He uses the wreckage to swim up to the yawning, creaking, looming hull, and finds a welding line to follow with his fingers. He knows this one leads back up to the surface.

Ocelot takes short, rapid breaths to overload his blood with oxygen, followed by one deep inhalation he'll use as a reserve, and for buoyancy. Then he dives into the dark. Perhaps he'll get pinned between the two hulls and crushed. Perhaps a shark will eat him. It's all worth it to spare Miller's feelings, isn't it? God forbid the man himself get his hands dirty.

Ocelot finds Tree Frog, their navigator, only five feet down caught in a cargo line and nearly hysterical with fright. Ocelot doesn't blame him; drowning's a bad way to go. Ocelot hacks him free - but not entirely, so that the man doesn't drag him down in panic - just enough to tow him to the surface.

When he spots another face on the way up Ocelot nearly shoots it - Ocelot's stereotypes about Somalis spare Miller's life. Ocelot doesn't have another hand to haul him back to the boat where he belongs, so he pulls Tree Frog to the life boat instead, deciding he'll get him on the next one.

"Dios mio, gracias--" Tree Frog spits between gasps, but Ocelot is already on his way back.

Where he passes Miller, who has their helmsman Rhino by the shoulder. The lacerations to his face look bad but they're very shallow; Miller is consoling him anyway, reassuring him(self) that he's fine, they'll be all right. Ocelot stares but doesn't gawk, because Ocelot is not the kind of man who gawks - he helps Rhino into the boat wordlessly, not really believing what he sees when Miller follows him back to the wreckage.

Does he not know how dangerous this is? If any part of their kit gets caught underwater they'll die too - yet Miller has the same rapid-fire breathing pattern as Ocelot himself, dives just as deeply. Directs Ocelot to work in logical sectors so they don't cover the same ground. Keeps going back down until everyone from his boat is accounted for; the other patrol boat has circled back to pick up the boarding party and help them off the bridge (they don't have divers, obviously - yes, he knows, they'll rectify that soon). Miller's pasty face is even pastier and his eyes are glassy with fright, but he follows Ocelot on one last meaningless descent to retrieve the fractured body of his .50 gunner from under a shipping container at nearly 60 feet. Points to bubbles when Ocelot, who is (naturally) doing the heavy lifting, gets turned around.

When they return to the life boat with it Tree Frog gives them a thumbs up - they got Lemur breathing again, which means nobody drowned. Only two of nine dead, and both died on impact. Miller is shaking too violently to climb back into the boat himself, mumbling under his breath where only Ocelot can hear: "We got everyone, right? That's everyone? We didn't leave anyone down there?"

"We got everyone." Ocelot swims around behind him to help him up. The situation is stressful enough - nobody needs to see that their commander is about to have a panic attack.

"Thank fuck," Miller spits, and it's pink, and that's when Ocelot sees the other end of the radio mast, sticking out of Miller's back.

Ocelot's recollection of the rest of the night is a little hazy; he'd begun to crash from his adrenaline high by then. Rhino tells him nobody could understand what he was saying because half of it was in Russian, but Ocelot doesn't really believe that. He rarely slips up. He knows he called for a medic from the other boat; he knows he shoved someone away who was going to try to pull the mast out; he knows he kept pressure on it. He remembers when Miller finally started to feel it and stopped protesting the cost of calling the helicopter back, saying he could go back in the boat - by the time Cerberus got there Miller was screaming, until they got some morphine into him. Ocelot remembers holding him down with Pequod because the medic was off treating the other casualties.

Apparently they took Miller to a hospital in Assab - the Diamond Dogs' own medical facilities not being much to look at at present - for surgery. Something about his spleen being punctured, that they might have to remove it. They didn't end up having to; that's all Ocelot remembers. That and bad vending machine coffee and a matronly nurse who took one look at how he was dressed and sniffed, her hand on a cross, that those who live by the sword die by it.

Ocelot told her that those who wield swords cause a lot of other people to die by them, too, so you might as well go down swinging.

She was not impressed by his rebuttal. Though he thinks you would have been.

 

"A third son?"

Adam won't refer to them as 'sons' in your presence after the lid inevitably flips off this roiling pot of poorly concealed lies and damnable stupidity. That term is for Zero's benefit; a politeness offered in return for the whiskey he was given to sip idly while the older man trails fingers down the bare skin of Adam's back.

You know that Adam is so very careful with his words.

"The real one, so to speak. The twins are an experiment and, as such, it remains to be seen whether or not they will be a success." Zero reaches for a gloved hand. He's stopped asking why Adam keeps them on. "They will both express a mixture of recessive and dominant genes - Jack's genotype, yet not his phenotype. The third son will be Jack himself, down to the last strand of hair."

Hair is protein, and its appearance - and colour - largely dependent on diet, health, and sun exposure, but far be it from Adam to interrupt an old friend when he's lying. "And I get what out of it, exactly."

"He'll be yours. Yours to shape as you see fit. I understand if you have no interest in raising a child - I am certain you can afford help in that aspect. He won't be a child forever. In fact, the failsafe will cause him to live about the same lifespan you have left yourself." Zero is not a born salesman, nor is he being subtle. He believes his product will sell itself: Adam cannot have the real you, Zero can offer him the next best thing.

"And in return?"

"You wait. By all means, be the one to have 'discovered the truth' when Jack is committed to his family. You do so value his perception of your loyalty. All I ask is patience."

 

Oh, Zero's a real bastard. He surprises even Adamska, at times. (Someday he'll tell you how Zero recruited Paz.) You don't know about George yet, do you? You were busy with your project in the Caribbean, and he wasn't sure if Zero'd actually gone through with the third son or not, at the time. He'd never hide anything from you, so don't worry, he'll bring you up to speed.

For all Zero's talk about how it 'had' to be one of them, one of the Patriots, to convince Eva to carry the twins, he found a faceless surrogate for George readily enough. Adamska suspects the whole point of asking her was to drive a wedge between the two of you when you found out. And it worked. Couldn't have the pesky lady you loved getting the way of his plans for you. Eva's always had her own mind, as you know.

Too bad it isn't as devious as Zero's.

Though Zero himself never managed to figure out that genetics would not be sufficient to make George you, nor the twins, in the same way that Adamska's genes are not sufficient to make him a saint and a patriot. Adamska knew that to start with.

He tried to tell them, John.

He tried.

 

The Diamond Dogs HQ is different at night. There's a barracks in a nearby building - at Ocelot's suggestion, nobody likes to spend their personal time around their boss - which Ocelot has passed out in a couple of times after Miller kicked him out of bed. Or his office. Or the bathroom. Or the back seat of the vehicle they're 'inspecting'. Normally he stays in the city, which is what most of their hires who aren't desperately broke choose to do.

It's cold at night. At least in winter. No heat; piss poor insulation. Ocelot doesn't mind it. He can (and has, you would know) rolled around naked in the snow. Miller, on the other hand, is the kind of man who could wear a jacket in the tropics. Between the gloves and the coffee, Ocelot's hands stay warm.

It's also quiet. No insects hum in this season. No fans whir. No rustle of Miller's shirt, no mutter and scratch and snuff, no voices from the training yard, no distant crack of gunfire. Only the sounds Ocelot himself makes, rifling through every drawer and shelf in Miller's office, now that he finally has the chance to do so unmolested.

Nothing much. A woman's photograph with her phone number written in red on the back, a guilty mostly finished bottle of gin, a bag of crackers that Miller's probably spiked with rat poison to punish him for swiping it. Ocelot knows he keeps his real food in the bedroom.

Which is where Ocelot goes next. It's across the hall - symbolic of the narrow space between Miller's professional and personal lives - and where his office presents the image of the crisply organized, smart businessman, his room has the semi-structured chaos so common among those who are truly intelligent. Maps, charts, network diagrams, books ranging anywhere from tax codes to local history, garnished with a sweat-stained dress shirt and at least five coffee cups in various states of completion.

Right now it contains the man himself. Shivering, semi-conscious, bandage-wrapped, and pale. Ibex, the duty medic, has the day shift. Ocelot trades off with her at night.

"You did it to yourself, Miller," Ocelot sighs, though there's no fun in it now that Miller can't fight back. "If you'd stayed still in the boat and let me call the chopper right away it wouldn't have been fun, but you wouldn't be in the world of hurt you are right now."

He tucks the blanket he swiped from the barracks around Miller's shoulders and takes a seat on the chair he dragged in. Some deeply uncomfortable spartan wooden relic of the 50s; good for staying awake.

Miller's shivering stops a few minutes later. He sleeps a while, which will be good for him.

Ocelot picks up a dog-eared copy of Human Captial: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis and very nearly joins him. He's midway through a riveting examination of the importance of education in production from a Keynesian perspective when Miller makes a noise that is half-groan, half-hiss, half-whine.

"Morphine."

Ocelot shakes his head, chin on his gloved hand. "You've had all your doses for today."

"I don't fucking care." That's less hiss, more growl.

"We can't have you turning into an addict." Which is ironic, given how easy it would be to do now. How tempting it would have been five, six years ago. But Ocelot's seen the light: Miller is far more useful sober.

"What do you care? Seriously? What do you care?" Miller snarls and Ocelot wipes a speck of spit off his cheek. "Strap me to a bed and wean me off."

"Have you ever tried that?" Ocelot asks wearily. "It's not fun. If you think you're suffering now--"

"What am I suffering for? Tell me. Is Snake actually still alive?" Miller's trying to laugh. The pitch is all wrong.

"He is."

"Will he ever wake up? Or am I wast--"

"He will."

"How the fuck do you know?"

"I know."

"No you don't you stupid piece of shit, you're just telling me that, maybe he's fucking dead, you don't know..." Here Miller trails off, head in his hands.

John, Miller's crying.

"I don't have... anything left of him, you know? Nothing to remember him by - they took it all... it's all gone... You, you get to see him..." Miller chokes, like he doesn't realize what a double-edged sword it is to stand next to you and watch you breathe in a pattern that never changes and touch you when you never respond.

What should he do? Eva's cried on him, but that was over a bed of her own making; she'd seemed more angry than sad, at Zero, at you, at herself. Ocelot had understood that he was there as a proxy for her rage and sorrow, the only man in her life still willing to be burned as an effigy in your shape. Miller sounds stricken. Lost. Grieving.

Ocelot approaches him tentatively. Sits on the bed beside him. Offers him his warm cup of coffee but Miller bats it away. It sloshes over his fingers, but Ocelot's wearing gloves. It wrenches his shoulder, but Ocelot grits his teeth.

"Just leave me alone," Miller sobs, but Ocelot doesn't think he really means it.

Ocelot sets the cup down next to the others. He doesn't have a strategy for this. Miller's sad and he's in pain. He's too discerning for any hollow, comforting words; Ocelot can't knock him out with sleeping pills in his condition.

So he murmurs 'ssh', and reaches down under the blankets. Follows the trail of hair on Miller's stomach past his navel to find his flaccid cock and stroke it. Gently, at first. Hardly making a fist. He presses his lips to the side of Miller's neck - it's not about getting him in the mood to fuck, just enough of a response that he'll climax. Eventually.

Miller turns his face away, but not before giving him the strangest look. Ocelot doesn't say anything. Keeps pulling, gradually increasing the pace and intensity and Miller's body does respond, unconsciously, stiffening and thickening under his hand. Warming up. Ocelot offers his uninjured shoulder for Miller to lean on, who does so, panting. A light grip on Ocelot's forearm.

Ocelot knows what Miller likes. Slow, tight, lots of spit. He fetches the water-based lubricant from the side table where Miller keeps it - for his lady friends, Ocelot's never had Miller's dick inside anything but his mouth or the space between his thighs - and brings his hand out to receive a glob of it for good measure. Ocelot likes friction; Miller likes him to squeeze almost as hard as he can, likes to be pressed right up against the other body, too.

Miller makes tight noises in the back of his throat that get more strangled as he gets closer. Tucks his head into the crook of Ocelot's neck and shudders when he comes. Then goes very still while Ocelot cleans him up with a tissue. His breathing evens out and the angry flush fades from his skin. Ocelot thinks he might be asleep; a little odd to have someone sleeping in his arms, but not entirely unpleasant.

That lasts all of five minutes.

Then Miller starts in with that wrong-sounding laugh again - he's not crying anymore, though, John - and shoves him off by his broken shoulder which lands Ocelot back in the chair with a deep wince. "Hahah... did you just give me a handjob to cheer me up?" He's grinning, but every other muscle on his face reads like pain, and his pupils are tiny. "What are you? No, really - where did Snake find you? Did he scrape you out of the sewer after your mother flushed you down the toilet?"

Ocelot doesn't know what to say to that. John, what's happening? Why is he angry?

What should he do?

Does he want to banter? That's what they do, isn't it? Trade insults. "At least my mother had the foresight to try. When you ditched yours to die so you could go commit war crimes for cash she never even saw it coming."

No, Miller's crying again. "GET OUT," he howls and hurls a coffee cup so hard it breaks across Ocelot's jaw.

Ocelot gets up. Picks up the pieces. Wipes his face. Sits back down again.

He doesn't really remember the rest of that night, either. He was tired. Miller cried himself to sleep at some point. Ocelot sat in his chair. His shoulder hurt, and it was cold.

 

 

Adam pours himself a full glass of whiskey, waiting for the phone to ring.

By the time it does his nerves are so dulled he fumbles the receiver only once, a broad smile on his face and warmth in his voice. "So good to hear from you, David."

"Hm. I suppose I don't have to mention what will happen should anyone be in earshot of this conversation."

"What do you take me for?"

"All manner of indelicate words, at the moment. It will take a great deal of work to undo what you've done. If that is even possible at this point - for me, perhaps. For Eva, unlikely."

"Was that what you promised her? That she could secure his affections for good by going through with this?"

"Adam. I am disappointed. There is no room for pettiness or idealism in our line of work."

"I have no idea what you mean."

"I'd always thought of you as one of us, you know. Capable of subtle understanding; that ephemeral losses that cut more deeply than physical pain.

"...But perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps you are just a soldier like him. A man of strength and violence, who need not fear anything an old man behind a telephone has to say to him. Adam, I assure you: I have men under my command whom you will understand rather well." A sigh from the other man, before his voice frosts over like German corpses with their throats cut on an icy night in North Africa:

"If you should ever turn on me they will flay the flesh from your bones."

Adam says nothing.

"They will strip the skin off of you and feed you to my dogs while you still live, and I will keep your skull as a memento in my office. I'll send the video of it all to Jack - I am sure he'd like a keepsake of you, too. His dear friend."

Without hesitation: "My loyalties haven't changed."

"Oh, so glad to hear it. In that case, I hope you won't mind picking up where you left off with your old work in the Soviet Union. It will keep you some distance from Jack, I'm afraid, but I'll be sure to keep you apprised of his circumstances."

"Of course. You have my gratitude. Stay well, David."

"And you, Adam."

Adam waits until he hears the click. Waits a few seconds longer for the dial tone. Takes another pull of whiskey; reaches for the bottle to refill his glass, only to knock it onto the floor.

It smashes into pieces. He sinks to his knees and collects them into the cup with his bare hands.

He feels nothing.

 

 

Miller's predictable moodiness notwithstanding, it's a trying time for Ocelot. Because he's both not very bright and not military, Miller has no specific second-in-command, and everyone looks to Ocelot in his absence in spite of the fact that Ocelot's hardly even on the team. People understand social power dynamics intrinsically - the same as any other social animal - and they know that while Ocelot defers to Miller's authority most of the time, he defers to no one else's.

So it's up to Ocelot to decipher Miller's arcane notes and catch up on missions he was never a part of; to delegate half-finished business deals and transfer funds he doesn't have legal access to, because Miller is a micromanager with his hand in every pot. Fortunately for him, Ocelot is capable, worldly, well-connected, and bored enough to speed read every document in his room and office in the first couple of weeks, as Miller evolves from morose morphine zombie into annoying ambulatory asshole.

Ocelot is in the middle of closing a perfectly respectable contract to provide arms to honest freedom fighters in Sierra Leone when Miller shambles in to harangue him about how they 'technically' have a contact with the interim government already, and how much money that makes for them, he has no financial authority, blah blah blah.

"Why can't we do both?" Ocelot, the voice of reason, suggests.

"Because if we get caught we can no longer operate in the country without getting arrested. Or shot at," Miller says in that shrill, patronizing tone of his.

"No risk, no reward."

"No stupid risks, slightly less than optimal rewards. Didn't you get anything out of reading my--"

Ocelot is the leader of a very successful mercenary business right now and has no time for your hysterical woman, so he drags Miller out by the elbow and puts him to bed. He's healthy enough for sedatives, now. "What the hell are you... sticking me... with..."

Much better.

Of course, that doesn't last. Ocelot is about to acquire high value technical augmentation for their existing equipment when Miller barges in again, raving about how he can't spend the food budget on optics - 'can't' is a word for those who don't try hard enough, frankly - and Ocelot swallows the dried plum he found in Miller's coat pocket before dragging him back to his room again, this time by the hair.

Miller struggles so hard he starts to bleed. Ocelot clicks his tongue.

He needs a permanent solution, so this time while kneeling on Miller's back he straps Miller's wrists to the rails of his headboard with some bandage wrap, nice and tight. Miller spits and fusses: "Great. And you're going to come in and feed me and clean me up when I need to take a shit, I guess."

"What exactly do you think I was doing before you could get up?" Ocelot responds, nonplussed.

Miller's face actually flushes, like an innocent little girl. Or maybe he's just angry again. Ocelot doesn't particularly care if it's indignation or virtue; he's done caring. Miller can sort himself out.

When Miller chews his way out of the bandages and tries to go get some of the combat troops to rescue him, Ocelot knocks him out with a punch. It feels good.

Then dumps Miller's unconscious body back in bed. Props both doors open and drags the desk across the hall. Takes the phone, too; tapes the cord down so nobody trips over it. Rummages through his filing cabinets for relevant documents and takes those back to his room, too. Takes the coffee cups. Makes stacks of books - if Miller can't find something because he's moved it, Ocelot will know exactly where it is. He's seen all the titles. Changes the sheets; steals more pillows from the barracks so that Miller can sit up in bed comfortably.

"What...?" Miller stirs, groggy.

"It's our new office." Ocelot was getting bored of all that paperwork, anyway.

Miller, exhales. Resolute. "We're going to kill each other."

He's speaking for himself, however. Ocelot didn't spend seven years pulling his ass out of fires across the globe to murder him now, no matter how soul-soothingly satisfying it might be.

Chapter Text

Of course he can't describe the whole of spring '82 in that level of detail or you would be here all week. Nor can he recite every argument they had, or you'd be here all day. Most it was bookkeeping anyhow - they were both injured - and you've never troubled yourself on that account. So he'll fill you in on the most fundamental disagreements only.

 

 

Miller continues to nest: he makes a fortress of his blankets and pillows, seals all of the gaps under the door and windows, piles dishes in spaces Ocelot just cleaned, disorganizes folders Ocelot just organized, and complains bitterly about how Ocelot has 'eaten all (his) food'. This forces Ocelot to shed layer after of clothing, until Miller tells him he can't meet with clients without a shirt on.

Ocelot can do anything he wants, as a matter of fact.

Like clear those dishes away. Every time he puts one down. Miller, petty creature that he is, accuses him of getting up so many times just to let cold air in, but Ocelot would never sink so low.

Nor would he bump Miller's leg with his boot when the man is fidgeting it. Their latest misadventure has brought out Miller's red pen more than he is clearly comfortable with; nothing lines up right in his balance book and this has made him even crabbier than usual. And deeper in thought. When Miller is thinking, he mutters. Bites his fingers. Cracks his knuckles. Shakes his limbs.

Not that this is infuriating for Ocelot, who is trained to observe and follow and respond to every movement someone else makes. Oh no. Ocelot's occasional cough or chair thump is what's infuriating; or so snaps Miller. The next time Miller is about to chew an almond with his mouth open, Ocelot swaps it out for a pen lid he just doused in white out.

"Snacking is bad for you," Ocelot reminds him helpfully, munching on a dried apricot he acquired from the stock room - besides, Ocelot is the one getting them in the first place.

Miller is particularly scowly today, it seems like. He wipes the endearing white stain off his face, and grouses: "Then why don't you cook us a meal?"

"It's 3am, Miller. Kitchen's closed." Grazing on fruits, nuts, and dried meat was how their primitive ancestors lived; it's healthier.

"So open it up." Miller suggests, doing that not-at-all-aggravating pen clicking thing he does when he's thinking.

"You want me to wake up the cook at 3am." Ocelot raises an eyebrow.

"No, I want you to do it yourself." On obvious ploy to get him out of the office on Miller's part. Ocelot won't take the bait.

"I'm not a cook." That should be self-evident.

Miller's eyes narrow. "How do you make meals at home? Does your boyfriend do the cooking?"

Ocelot straightens, affronted. "First of all, Miller, I'm a major in the Red Army. I don't have time for home-cooked meals. Second of all: like all Soviets, I'm a heterosexual."

That wrenches an amused huff from Miller, thawing him from frigid to merely frosty. "So you eat at the mess. Just like here. What do you do when you're not here?"

"Restaurants. Room service. Rations." Hospital food. Miller's food, if he doesn't finish it fast enough.

"Then make us some toast and eggs. You can't fuck that up," Miller proclaims boldly, a challenge Ocelot is absolutely positive he can rise to.

Luckily, Miller is gracious in defeat. The second time Ocelot comes back in - after having returned the first time to ask him how to turn on the stove - to inquire as to at what temperature one bakes toast, Miller is wiping tears of laughter out of his eyes. "There's a device called a 'toaster' that does it for you. There's a stick at the bottom. You turn the stick to the picture of a slice of bread. Then you put the bread into the bread-shaped holes at the top. Then you push the stick in the middle down, and wait. The toast will pop back up when it's done."

With Miller's coaching, he manages to boil eggs in water on the third attempt, toast that is not burnt on the second, and coffee on the first (not strictly the first time he's done it). He serves Miller the first and only home-cooked meal he's ever made at around 4 am. Miller informs him, wrongly, that the coffee is burnt - you can't burn coffee, it's boiled - and eats an egg and half a piece of toast before passing out in his blanket pile.

Thus he sleeps right through the cook berating Ocelot for not cleaning up after himself and leaving the stove on, banning Ocelot from the kitchens for life.

 

 

It's snowing in Asmara.

Miller's deep into his opiate withdrawal and about as cheerful as you'd expect. Sweaty, shaking, a little delirious - not a state the Diamond Dogs should see their commander in, so Ocelot's locked him in his room. There's food in there if he needs something vomit up, and all kinds of cups he can piss in. The mental anguish it would cause your miserly mistress at the waste of money will prevent Miller from breaking a window.

And Ocelot's impromptu morning training session will prevent anyone he could order to unlock the door from hearing him.

"Today you're going to learn about winter warfare," Ocelot announces. Half of the staff laughs while the other half wonders why. A few scattered flakes do dust the ground, it's true, but there will be no snowshoeing or digging trenches in frozen ground with explosives. Instead, Ocelot runs through conventional drills, with a catch: everyone has to kit up or kit down so that they're not sweating while they move, and they're not freezing when they stand still. The weather serves as punishment enough for failing the exercise.

It's a skill they'll all need at the higher altitudes in Afghanistan.

The Rhodesian SAS has taken Zebra to places with real winter, places where exposed flesh freezes in minutes, so he acts as Ocelot's observer and 2IC instead. While Ocelot watches a cadre of supply techs build a sloppy wall of sandbags, Zebra stands at his shoulder and advises him quietly: "You and the boss could stand to be a little more subtle, mate."

"We're sharing an office." Ocelot shrugs. "It's a matter of practicality."

"Right. And that scene on the heli was you providing medical care."

Ocelot spreads his hands. "He's essential to the operation. Do you want to be out of work?"

"All I'm saying is, this is Africa, not southern California."

"For the last time, partner: I'm from Texas."

Unlike Miller, however, Ocelot is not too stubborn to take recommendations from his inferiors under advisement. When you resume your relationship with Miller you won't have time for soldiers whose small brains can't comprehend that their own sexual aversions don't extend to the entirety of the species, or who cannot summon up the degree of cognitive dissonance required to separate the sin from the sinner. There are those who unthinkingly go along with what society requires, and those who truly believe ancient just-so stories form some kind of natural law. Children's allegories of sex as marriage as a lion head-of-household and his pride of lioness wives.

Ocelot wonders what they'd say if he showed them a photograph of two male lions fucking.

Or pointed out that the same fairy tales tell them not to kill, but hypocrisy is the spice of the human spirit, so instead he'll just plant evidence and spread rumours about anyone who suggests that he and Miller are anything more than business partners (and that this is somehow abhorrent). That they engage in the same activities themselves. How else would they know? Ocelot's hardly ever here; Miller's made the rounds of just about every female member with the inclination to have him. Clearly, jealousy has reared its ugly head.

It gets a particularly strident story-believer beaten to death after a round of drinks in Salisbury; the cost of doing business, as Miller would say.

 

 

The relationships between older Soviet officers and younger ones make such a joke of communist morals that there are all kinds of special terms - like 'grandfather' - to describe someone who likes to perform the induction to the process. By the age of 17, freshly promoted Lieutenant Ocelot is so inured to this behaviour that when a long-haired captain with balding temples corners him outside the party the junior lieutenants have thrown to celebrate passing their final exercise, his first thought is whether he's going to ask Ocelot to drop to his knees or do it himself.

The cold slices right through Ocelot's protective layers of vodka; he could definitely do with some warming up. He leans in.

The captain eases him away, and gets an arm up under his shoulders kindly when that gentle motion is sufficient to make Ocelot stumble. "I hear congratulations are in order."

Ocelot takes a second look, and curses inwardly. Alcohol's made him read the other man's body language all wrong. There's no lust in it at all. There's physical contact, yet it's in the wrong places: his shoulders. His arm. The back of his neck. Affection, not attraction. Curious. Nobody - quite intentionally - likes Lieutenant Ocelot. Especially not other officers. He's arrogant, disrespectful, and hot-headed. The only commander who shows any partiality to him at all is Volgin, who calls him 'spirited' in a way that makes the other lieutenants' skins crawl. Colonel Volgin likes the spirited ones.

If he's not going to get one last good lay before he's relegated to the role of back up bed warmer, then what does this man want from him? "If you say so. Seems to me like they're giving out ranks to any idiot these days." Ocelot cocks his head back toward the door, in spite of a shiver.

The captain loops a red scarf around Ocelot's bare neck to ward off the chill. "I don't doubt you've earned it."

"Did you want to get a drink with me, then?" Ocelot's small frown is the epitome of mild confusion. His posture retains the same defensiveness it always has, his chin tilted upward haughtily to take the measure of this stranger, with his high nose and his sharp jaw, straight-backed and long-limbed, with elegant hands that fold the scarf neatly into Ocelot's collar.

"I would love to," the captain admits, blown snow melting across his face, steaming his glasses, "but I don't have the time, tonight."

Ocelot, too, has noticed that he's managed to shake off his watchers for the moment. Their bar crawl took a random turn; from his listing Ocelot is plainly in no shape to do anything untoward. For once, he is entirely alone.

Adamska takes the captain's glasses and cleans them with the scarf. Wipes the moisture off the captain's face with his sleeve. "Another time, then."

"Another time," the captain agrees. Replaces the glasses and departs, leaving a trail of footsteps in the snow that gradually fade into white oblivion, as if they never were.

His moonlit shadow stretches torturedly across the unbroken surface.

Ocelot observes this with flawless indifference. He doesn't even turn around when an arm is looped tightly around his waist, and he feels hot liquor-scented breaths on his ear. "Waiting for someone?" some major or captain or another asks in a low purr; Ocelot no longer remembers the man's name or face.

"Oh, yes," Adamska confesses with a brilliant smile.

--and he learns to his delight that blood doesn't show on his gloves or his new scarf.

No accusations are made and no charges are laid when that man's stripped corpse is found with its throat ripped out, all his limbs broken. But the very next week Ocelot hears that Colonel Volgin has asked that he be posted to his unit.

 

Ocelot approaches the padlocked door to Miller's bedroom-office with the same caution someone would use to open the cage of a blood-crazed badger about to be released into the wild. He has no idea whether or not your rage-fuelled receptionist can pick locks - one of the few non-firearms-related technical skills Ocelot himself possesses - but rage and desperation are friends to ingenuity. So he had a bribed tech bolt it from the outside while Miller was sleeping. When he swings the door open with a push, he takes a step back out into the hallway, expecting at the very least to take a coffee cup to the face or crotch, if not a chair.

Instead he spots Miller's pale, drawn face poking larva-like from his blanket cocoon, hunched over Ocelot's own notebook on his desk.

This has to be some kind of trick, to lull Ocelot into a false sense of security. Miller must have a weapon under there, waiting until Ocelot steps in and can no longer hurl himself out of the way. Ocelot lingers on the threshold, and Miller burrows deeper into his nest. There's nothing particularly incriminating in there - Ocelot's notebook contains only Diamond Dogs-related information - thus, what has captivated the other man so, Ocelot can't even guess. Until Miller muses: "That's where this money came from? Some Saudi commodore wanted to pad his promotion portfolio by claiming credit for our attacks?"

Ocelot spreads his palms. "When life gives you lemons, sell them to someone who actually wants lemons."

"And he's willing to sweeten the deal with a dirt cheap patrol boat and... divers?" Miller's face is a blank slate of low grade misery. Unreadable.

He can't be upset about this, can he? He was out of the game for weeks; what else was Ocelot supposed to do? Sit on his hands? "For salvage."

"Mmhm. I see." Miller flips a page. "And now we're free to travel through Morocco again."

Aligning with SADR hadn't exactly put them in Moroccan officials' good books; a few leaked, deniable maps of SADR strongholds had put the Diamond Dogs back in their good books. "Just a matter of finding the right person with a vested interest in keeping quiet about his sources."

Miller nods. Flips through more pages. Nods again. Then he slides a piece of paper over to the edge of the desk, facing Ocelot. Who hesitates, still wary. Miller has to remove both hands from the blanket and lay them flat on the desktop before he'll approach.

Even then, it's cautious. Slow. He picks up the paper one-handed, to leave the other free. There are a bunch of numbers on it. 'FY 81/82 Int Div'. Ocelot cocks his head.

"That's your budget. For our new Intelligence Division."

 

That gesture kicks off another temporary truce between them. They're both relatively intelligent men - Ocelot builds a makeshift barrier of books so that he doesn't have to see Miller fidget. Miller does his best to keep his muttering to a minimum and Ocelot refrains from breaking his concentration when he really needs it. They try, briefly, to work with separate rooms, but Miller still needs a nurse and translator and Ocelot not to let cold air in every time he has a question. Or is bored. Or tired.

It's still chilly in April, when something happens that leaves both Ocelot and Miller transfixed to the radio. Argentina invades the Falklands. The UK sends the Royal Navy to defend them. Neither of them saw this coming: it's not a proxy war, nor is it overtly asymmetrical. It is not the result of governmental collapse, either. Not a civil war. Not a former territory. It is an honest-to-god land grab by one modern nation with a modern military against another. As if this were a pre-deterrence, pre-UN world with Exocet missiles and nuclear submarines. Miller and Ocelot watch and listen to newscasts, rumours, and reports from acquaintances with rapt attention.

They wonder if they're witnessing something that will never happen again.

They set up a map of the islands on the other end of the desk and move repurposed Battleship pieces and green plastic army men around it in their downtime. Battles like Bomb Alley and Goose Green are their ball games; they snack and talk billion dollar equipment and make friendly bets on strategy. Ocelot's shoulder knits up in the interim; Miller seems grateful for the sporadic reprieve from his company when he goes to exercise it.

Argentina is no podunk third-world African nation with nothing but a herd of technicals and a handful of RPGs to its name. It is a solid B+ student of territorial expansion. Alas, it is playing against the class valedictorian; of course, the Yankees win again. One more (last?) time for old times' sake.

Did you ever even watch baseball, John?

(Doesn't matter. He's taped some highlights for you.)

 

 

1982 is a good year for warfare in general. The World Series of Dog-Wagging aside, conflicts kick up across the globe, from Sierra Leone to Lebanon. The Iran-Iraq war rages on - the Iranians take back the city he and Miller almost died in. Business is booming. It spills out of Miller's bedroom and across the hall and onto Ocelot's own desk; transforming what was the clean, shallow appearance of prosperity into the bustling, messy operations center of a real international organization. One that runs 24/7. Ocelot isn't accustomed to providing mission support on the radio, but Miller shows him the ropes. Miller's books are back in the black by May, and by June so deep into it no light can escape. He buys another helicopter; Pequod starts solo-flying.

Their continued prosperity permits Miller to relax a little. Let his hair down (not that he ever doesn't - not that Ocelot's one to talk). It's 3am again, and after a successful supply run to South African-backed rebels in Mozambique, Miller cracks open a fresh bottle of gin. Offers a generous shot to Ocelot in a coffee-stained cup.

Ocelot watches the dirty ring dissolve and muddy the otherwise clear fluid. "Classy," he remarks, but drinks it anyway.

"When did I say I was classy?" Miller drains his own with relish. "My mother was a hooker." He's got that cute, cunning look about him again. Somewhat marred (improved?) by the way his cheeks have already coloured. "You, though. Somebody tried to give you class."

"I am a man of but humble origins, Miller." He doesn't like gin; never did. "The USSR has a good education system, that's all."

Miller snorts. "No, you were a rich boy. You had drivers. Somebody to cook meals for you. Tutors who taught you languages when you were young enough to learn the accent perfectly."

"Actually, Miller, the critical period hypothesis is still a matter of some debate." Ocelot gestures with two fingers on the side of the cup.

"There. There!" Miller points emphatically. "Right there. Someone taught you how to 'make conversation'. Reply to something someone says in a way that seems to comment on it, but doesn't really mean anything at all. That's straight out of the Victorian Era. You're old money."

In Miller's defense, John, he's not so far from the truth. "Now whyever would some son European aristocrats join the spetsnaz GRU?"

"Got cut off, maybe? Parents fell out of favour with the Party? I know your parents landed you your commission." Oh, that old story. Miller's eyes are bright. "Heroes of the Soviet Union. Wouldn't look good if their baby boy didn't make it."

"You caught me." Ocelot grins amicably. Pours himself another glass because he has a lot of catching up to do. "That's exactly who I am. The spoiled son of wealthy patriots."

"And yet, you're a combat veteran who keeps himself in top shape, even though he's pushing 50. No wonder Snake took an interest in you."

Ocelot coughs. "I'm 38."

"Jesus." Miller recoils in sympathy.

"Thanks."

Miller's the one messing around with somebody he thought was 50, though. Come to think of it, won't that be you, soon?

"So, wait - you were a major at 20?" Miller's mental recalibrations appear to continue. John, you never told Miller he was younger than you? You never called him 'kid' or 'brat' around Miller? Never used age-loaded terms like petulant or cocky?

Huh.

"At 19, actually." Ocelot is more than happy to let him run down all the wrong conclusions.

"Definitely old money." Miller nods to himself, unsteadily. He's smiling, though. Which is interesting - Ocelot would've taken him for an angry or a weepy drunk. Is this a taste of what you got back then? "Since you're finally opening up, tell me: what is Snake, to you?"

"I told you, I'm a spe--"

Miller cuts him off with a gesture. "Not what you are to him. What is he to you?" Ocelot takes the time to mull that over; Miller reaches out for one of Ocelot's revolvers. Ocelot passes it to him without complaint. "He still has one of these, you know."

"I know."

"Bit of a museum piece, but there's no mistaking the engravings." Oh, so this is a tactical conversation. Get wasted, learn about your business partner. Another curiosity Miller has dragged with him from his home country. "He never uses it, so I assume they're yours."

"You assume correctly." A smile ghosts over Ocelot's own lips. "And here I had it on good authority that engravings provide no tactical advantage whatsoever."

"What?" Miller blinks. "Who said that? They let you differentiate your weapon from someone else's. They increase the value. They could even help you field strip it in the dark."

"Mm." Ocelot stares past him a moment, indulging a little nostalgia.

You and he were both young, once.

"You're avoiding the question, though." Miller leans in woozily for the kill. "What was your relationship like?"

"Strictly platonic."

Ocelot delivers it deadpan - it's Miller who can't keep a straight face, and the twitching of the other man's mouth sends Ocelot over the edge into a snicker, which Miller follows up with a genuine laugh. Before he knows it Ocelot is laughing so hard he has to wipe his eyes, and Miller is guffawing breathily into his folded arms. "It was him, wasn't it--" Miller manages, "--the 'engravings' that's exactly the kind of lecture he'd give, right in the middle of a fight--"

"--It was right in the middle of a fight," Ocelot admits, barely able to breathe.

"How does a man that fucking literal believe in vampires?" Miller's wiping his eyes now too, sunglasses held in one hand.

"No, no wait - it was after the fight," Ocelot corrects, sloshing his cup helplessly. "You know, his 'you lost, now you have to - to - listen to the world philosophy of a middle school dropout' talks."

"Oh my god I love those," Miller has his head thrown back; he looks even younger without the aviators. His yellow hair catches the light just so.

So this is the man who made you happy.

Miller leans back with a contented sigh; Ocelot wipes the last of the tears away. Pours himself another drink, and reaches over to refill Miller's gin mug.

Fingertips rest lightly on the back of Ocelot's hand. "Come on. It's been seven years. No more bullshit: who is he, to you?"

You, the only one alive who is ever pleased to see him. You, the only one who has ever caught him in a lie. You, the only one who would care if he lived or died. (Briefly, fleetingly, no doubt, but still-) You, who laughed with delight when his teeth were around your throat--

"The only family I've ever had."

Miller retracts his hand. It's plain he doesn't know what to make of that answer. He sips thoughtfully, while Ocelot watches him add those new pieces to the puzzle forming in his mind. Wherever he thinks they fit in. Ocelot honestly couldn't tell him. "Oh, we fucked." Ocelot'll give him that one for free. "But who didn't in the 60s? He had his woman back then."

"The one who broke his heart." Miller muses, and Ocelot is mildly surprised you told him about that. He says as much, and Miller replies, "No, not really. I inferred."

"And now he has you."

"He has me," Miller agrees. "But not you? Why didn't we ever meet?"

That's a good question, and Ocelot suspects the answer is that you were afraid of what would happen if they did. Afraid of what would happen to Miller, that is - really now, Ocelot is gentleman. He would never give your lovers anything but the tenderest of care. "You were housebound and I had nothing to do with the MSF."

"Why not?" He's got that cunning look about him again.

"Not interested," Ocelot admits. "More important things to do with my time." Than chase down some easily shattered pipe dream in the tropics.

When you're ready to build something that has a chance of withstanding Zero's slings and arrows, you'll come to Adam.

"Enough about me." Ocelot punctuates the declaration with a tilt of his cup. "What is he to you?"

"He didn't tell you about me?" Miller is wisely skeptical. Ocelot hasn't inquired about him much at all. He's implied that he knows things about Miller that the man hasn't told him on multiple occasions; it's not one of his most elaborate games, but then, it hasn't needed to be. Miller plays in the minor leagues. Ocelot saves his best performances for more discerning men.

"Of course he did. But you know him: the world and everyone in it revolves around him. Everything I know about your thoughts has seeped through the sieve of that middle school philosophy."

"He's not wrong, you know," Miller's voice is wistful; his gaze distant. He holds that cup protectively against himself. "I can't escape his orbit. His pull. I know you feel it too, or you wouldn't be here."

A bold assertion, against which Ocelot makes no comment.

"He's less like a man, more like a force of nature." So quiet, now - no doubt longing for that gravity to return. "And I am the tides, dragged helplessly along by him out to sea."

No, you're just drunk, Ocelot wants to tell him, but he doesn't. Snake isn't a force nature, and you are not water, you are men-- He grips his temples against sudden pain--

with names--

"You're mixing metaphors," Adamska responds smoothly, meaninglessly, "The moon affects the tides, not the sun. The moon also orbits the earth." He spins his fingers to demonstrate. "You're calling yourself helpless while describing something mutual."

"Am I?" Miller blinks slowly, suggesting consciousness won't be with him much longer. "God, I hope so."

"You are."

Miller's head lists to the side curiously. "You don't sleep in that chair, do you?"

"No," Adamska says truthfully. He doesn't sleep at all.

"Come on." Miller pats the bed beside him. Beckons using a gesture he must have learned as a child: arm held out straight, palm down, fingers curled as if testing the temperature of a bathtub. Americans beckon with their hand raised, palm inward. "I know exactly what you need."

"Do you?" Adamska rises to his feet. Walks around the desk.

Miller nods, swaying. He is defenseless. He-

Click.

couldn't

Click

-wouldn't resist. Adamska kneels at the foot of the bed and crawls up to him, over him, hands on either side of Miller's body. Stale sweat. Gin. Musty sheets that have gone too long without a wash; on them some woman's perfume and Ocelot's cologne but mostly Miller, Miller, Miller. The grease from his hair, the salty smoke from his skin, the silk from his scarf loose around his beating throat.

Where are you, to tell him he is still in control? This is yours, this thing trapped beneath him. He could push down on its still-healing stomach and make it shriek. He could smother it, break its neck - it would be so easy. He is finally going to take--

"I do." Miller pulls Adamska's head down gently into his lap and drags his fingers along Adamska's scalp. No one has ever touched him like this before. It isn't unpleasant at all, in fact, it's--

 

"You want me to tell you how to use operant conditioning on your boyfriend."

You laugh. "I asked you for relationship advice, Adam."

Adam laughs. "You asked me how to make it so he doesn't leave. Aside from locking him in a cage and throwing away the key, there isn't one. We all have free will. You could give him the world, and he could decide it isn't enough."

"The Philosophers taught you how to get inside somebody's head. I know they did. I've seen you do it. Seen Eva do it, too."

Adam acknowledges it with a dismissive wave of his hand, even though you can't see it on the other end of the radio. "They taught me behaviour modification. They taught Eva something else entirely. Speaking of which, I seem to recall how much you prized her independence. 'She's her own woman, Adam.' 'Now that's a woman I can respect.' 'She doesn't need me.' 'She chooses to be with me.'" He could recite every conversation the two of you have had about her, in fact, but that would be petty. Adam isn't petty a man.

"Turned out to be overrated," you acknowledge with a grunt.

"What about mine?" Adam asks softly, and the resulting pause stretches so deep he almost convinces himself you didn't hear it.

"Adam."

Almost.

"I really like him. I want to keep him."

Yes, almost.

Adam sighs, wistfully. "Anything for you, John. Start by taking away his freedom. If you can't do that, isolate him. Make it so that he has no one to turn to. Tangible threats works as well as legitimate barriers. That way, any latitude, any help, any attention you do give him will seem like a gift..."

 

Ocelot awakens in a sleep-addled daze. From the position of the sun he knows that noon has come and gone. Someone has removed his boots. He's wrapped up in one of Miller's blankets, fully clothed, while Miller worries some line or another in his ledgers.

Ocelot goes back to sleep.

 

"It's bleeding overkill, is what." Zebra shakes his head, admiration in his voice.

"Are you kidding me? It's the best idea I've ever heard," Ocelot disagrees. Fundamentally. He knows you will, too. They've both gotten word of an experimental South African design: a revolver chambered to fire both .45 rounds and shotgun shells. Miller is sure to gripe, but he'll see if he can't slip that through in the budget - he's said he wanted to start doing in-house weapons R&D to save money and stay on the cutting edge, so why not start with--

"Ocelot!" Ibex pipes from across the firing range. Her fists are balled on her hips; an ominous sign. She finds Miller about as cute as you do, and Miller's sweet, impotent anger rolls off her in waves so thick Ocelot can feel it from where he stands.

"Uh-oh. Trouble with the missus?" Zebra winks.

Ocelot responds with a smirk. "What can I say? The feisty ones are always the best in bed."

"Too right."

Ocelot strolls back inside at an even pace, brushing off Ibex's 'Commander Miller wants to speak with you' with the same grace he does the mud off his boots. Asmara has thawed, and your meddling middle man is back in his office where he belongs. Where Ocelot joins him shortly, musing aloud: "Why do they call you 'commander' anyway? You weren't the commander, Snake was. And they say it like it's rank. It's a title. A position. ...Unless we're talking navy ranks, I suppose. Navy ranks for an oil rig? Does that make Snake your Captain?"

Miller is silent. Chin down. Brooding. It's charming, the way he thinks his glasses hide his expressions, when every muscle on his face betrays the fact he's fuming. What petty inconsequentiality has set him off this time?

"So." Miller slides the intelligence report from their latest operation in Angola across the desk to him. "Your source for the frequency of their daytime patrols - this is him?" He taps a fingernail against the photograph of highly reliable, ambitious 13-year-old who sells clean bottled water stolen from aid workers to the soldiers in question.

Ocelot nods. "Yes. That's right in the report. From all accounts his intel's been better than good." What has Miller discovered about him? What has Ocelot missed? Ocelot is highly trained, but he's not - as you know, John - infallible. He braces for a serving of humble pie from your shrewd sex toy.

"Mmhm. I do see that. That's right in there. Do you know what else is in there? His date of birth." Damn. Had he lied about that? Did the numbers not add up? Ocelot should've doubled checked the town - if he's spying for someone else, or playing both sides, this could be humiliating. Played by a kid. Sounds familiar.

Maybe Ocelot'll make him a job offer?

"Did I get the date wrong?" Ocelot inquires.

"No. Not. At. All." Miller taps it to emphasize each word.

Ocelot'll let him grandstand this one. He's genuinely stumped. He'll wait for the reveal.

"He's THIRTEEN!" Miller snarls in frustration at last. "He turned 13 last week."

Oh. Oh, really? That's all? "Miller, I'm not asking him to cut throats for nickels. He was selling water to them anyway. It doesn't hurt him to tell us what he saw."

"Sure. They'll never get suspicious that someone might be spying on them. Nothing will ever happen to him if they do." Miller's so angry his teeth click together when he bites off the end of his sentences. Ocelot wants to pinch his cheeks again.

"He knows the risks. I spoke to him myself."

"He's a child. Children don't--"

"He's a teenager."

"He's a child. We don't use child soldiers -- or child informants!"

Ocelot leans back skeptically. "Is that a new rule? I thought you had a few in the MSF."

That only makes it worse. Miller swallows and grinds his teeth at the same time. Impressive. "One. We had one. And do you have any idea what happened to him?"

Oh, yes. Better than Miller does himself, no doubt. "He died in the helicopter crash." Tens of thousands of children die in car crashes every year.

"Yes. He died. Maybe - maybe the MSF did. But the Diamond Dogs will. Not. Use. Children." Miller's trembling. Bad memories, perhaps?

"All right." Ocelot shrugs. "No children."

Miller sputters. His mouth is half-open, expecting an argument with every fiber of his being. Prepared to strike with every verbal missile he clutches. Ocelot's reply disarms them all. "You... you're fine with that?"

"Sure, if you say so, so it'll be. We'll sacrifice strategic advantage for moral high ground on this one thing - it's your business." Miller seems oddly wounded by that statement, but it's a simple fact. "Just one question for you."

"Okay." Miller doesn't quite know where to put the photograph now.

"Define 'child'."

Miller tosses it at him in vexation. "What do you mean 'define' child? Children: 'human beings younger than adults'."

"Well, if 13's off limits, is 14? That's when Snake enlisted."

"He lied about his age."

"By a couple of years. The US'll take 'em at 17. 16, in the UK and Canada. And those are first world countries: out here in Africa, I guarantee you we've faced 14 and 15-year-olds as enemy combatants and didn't even notice. So tell me, Miller: how old do my informants have to be? Give me a hard limit, and I'll follow it."

Miller tosses the idea around in his head before coming to the obvious conclusion: "It depends entirely how risky the situation is. If they could be hurt, or killed."

"Any situation could escalate unexpectedly. You want 18? 21? Those choices seem popular."

Miller seems to realize how ridiculous that is, at least. There 18 and 19-year-old Diamond Dogs. Miller himself has traded with 16-year-old wives and mothers of multiple children for food and supplies. Ocelot is about to suggest 14 - that is the age you were, and this is your operation when it all comes down to it, so there's a precedent - and it will allow Miller to keep his moral outrage over this incident and Chico's death intact, when Miller launches a sneak attack of his own: "Explain to me why you thought it was fine to hire a 13-year-old. Maybe you'll win me over."

Shit. "I told you, I spoke to him about it. He understood the risks. He wanted the money. He has his own agency, you know."

"And you," Miller spits flatly, "A man who talks adults, with businesses and commissions and PhDs, into doing what he wants, did not influence him in any way?"

"No, not at all. I had other options. I didn't need to resort to coercion. Willing help is always bes--"

"Adults. Influence. Children." Miller's tone is the same as it was when he explained the toaster. "They want to please us. They value our esteem. Our size, our knowledge, our experience, our resources: they are implicit threats. Their brains aren't fully developed, and--"

"--Technically, the human brain isn't finished developing until one's mid-20s. That would cut off an awful lot of good--"

"IT'S WRONG! It's FUCKING WRONG!" Miller hurls another cup at him, but Ocelot sees it coming and dodges it this time. He's shuddering, seething - Ocelot has no doubt the whites of his eyes are showing behind the aviators. Ocelot studies him, intrigued: Miller's furious, yes, but something about his posture and the twist of his mouth suggests that, like Eva was, he's mostly angry with himself.

Why would that be?

Ocelot is dismissed.

(He doesn't get any direction regarding an age limit, either, so the whole conversation was useless.)

 

 

Ocelot is booted out into the proverbial dog house after that. No more naps on Miller's bed and certainly not beside the man himself - if he wants to sleep, he can sleep with the rest of crew in the barracks. Miller is unreasonably surly in general: he scours Ocelot's reports for any minor fault. Harps endlessly if he happens to find one. Whinges about minor details like lost vehicles when business has never been better. Ocelot is relieved to head back out into the field - Miller no longer requires a nurse - if for no other reason than he can shut off the radio to quash Miller's voice when it gets to be too much.

There's no 'good shot' or 'nice work' anymore, that's for sure.

(Of course he whines about the radio being turned off, too.)

Ocelot tries, John. Believe him, he tries. He does everything in his power to establish another truce: he chases down every bonus a client offers to add to Miller's money pile. He reshapes Miller's beret with cold water and a borrowed ski cap, until Miller's is the sharpest one there, and does not say a word when Miller tugs it down too far and ruins the trench. When he sees Miller's lights on in the middle of the night he brings him coffee, only to be yammered at about the waste of power and heat.

After a few weeks of this Ocelot's patience for your petulant pencil pusher has worn so thin he can't stop himself from reshuffling Miller's papers whenever he goes to the bathroom. Smuggling hot sauce in to pour on his sandwiches. Pretending he can't hear him until Miller repeats the question a third or fourth time and, when Miller starts shouting at him, pulling out his Walkman and covering it all up with peaceful music.

Miller knows better than to try to snatch the headphones off his head. The last time he did that his wrist was sprained for weeks.

Ocelot has your songs and your voice to tide him over, at least. It's not that he's avoiding you. It's that this is a critical time for their organization. They've grown large enough to attract attention - the wrong kind of attention - and until they have sufficient funds to move their operation offshore like Miller's always dreamed of, they need to be watched. He's come too far to see it all in ruins now, however satisfying it might be to RPG Miller back into the sea he crawled out of.

Speaking of which, Ocelot finally gets a response to his thank you note.

It's not in a language Miller reads or understands, so he kicks up his feet in Miller's office peruse it. Miller gripes about his boots - Ocelot may or may not have forgotten to wipe his feet - but Ocelot tunes the man out entirely. He's getting very good at it.

It's well-written. Eloquent. Measured. While Ocelot flips through the pages a small photograph slips out and flutters to the floor. He reaches down to snap it up, only to find that Miller already has his grubby paws on it. Ocelot frowns and yanks, but Miller squeezes--

A torn half comes off in Ocelot's hand. The other is crumpled in Miller's fist.

Together they form the picture of a very young child. Blond, scowling, with the ear of a stuffed cat shoved into his mouth.

"What the hell is this?" Miller asks, smoothing his half out with his thumb.

"Nothing," replies Ocelot, already halfway out the door, "Just something somebody picked up off a corpse."

 

 

This isn't fun anymore, John. It was for a while. Something to pass the time until you wake up; a distraction in which Ocelot has very little invested, to be honest. Now it's all tainted. He's not sure what changed. One of those little mysteries of life you or Eva might explain to him, but you're not here and Eva's not privy to most of this anymore.

The letter was a job offer. One he might have taken up if you'd died; run with it for a while until it served its purpose and then burned it down from the inside out. He'll have to decline, for now. Politely. Respectfully. Several weeks hence he'll receive a response thanking him for not pulling the obvious ploy.

And the photo? Well. It's just a photo, isn't it? Just a picture. What does it really mean to anyone, anyway? Something for sentimental idiots to stroke, to fawn over. He tossed his own ruined half away on the doorstep to the Diamond Dogs offices.

He's not entirely sure how he got to the train platform, but by the time Ocelot boards the midnight run to Massawa, he remembers;

Ah, yes. He did used to chew his toys.

 

 

"But why?" asks the Woman with the Red Nails. Adamska will always remember her: she teaches him French and when she slaps him or drags him those nails bite painfully into his skin. "Don't you like your toys?"

There's nothing wrong with Adamska's toys, particularly. From blocks to plastic dinosaur to the stuffed cat he now holds every one has teeth marks. Red Nails and all the rest don't like that. They think he should have stopped doing that a long time ago. That means he failed something, and that means he'll be punished.

"They're fine." He says it in French, placatingly.

She purses her lips; she doesn't like that answer. "Which one is your favourite?"

There's an inflection in her voice that implies that this is a test. Everything is a test. Adamska doesn't want to fail. "This one." He holds up the cat. A plausible answer?

"Why is he your favourite?" She isn't finished yet. He can see it in the slight narrowing of her eyes.

"He?" Adamska doesn't have an answer; he stalls.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Is that a girl kitty?" She kneels and strokes his shoulder in the way they do for the other children when they're sad.

"...Yes," Adamska lies, "She's my favourite because she's red."

Red, he's learned, is good. He's supposed to like red. They soften and nod approvingly when he chooses red. So in a way, doesn't that make what he just said the truth? He likes 'her' because 'she' is red.

"Hm," Red Nails smiles insincerely, "And what's her name?"

Red? No, he can't use it twice. Kitty? No, too obvious. Kotik? No, that's a boy's name--

Oh no, he's waited too long. She knows he's lying now. Her lips curve downward, and she yanks the stuffed cat out of his hands. She takes the blocks, too. And the dinosaur. And the sheet off his bed, so he'll be cold tonight.

She locks him in and he sits there until morning, shivering and hungry.

He chews his toys because he's hungry. Especially the soft ones. He's learned not to eat them, after biting down to the stuffing and heaving it all back up one time. That's all it is. He can't tell them that, because they wouldn't understand. They never understand anything. They're mad, and the world they see isn't real. They get angry when he tries to explain.

That toy is not a cat. It is down filling and cloth. It doesn't have a gender and it certainly doesn't have a name. It doesn't really even look like a cat. It's a toy. They've implied that his dinosaur is ferocious. It is a piece of plastic. It can't 'be' anything but a piece of plastic. It isn't frightening; his handful of blocks cannot build a 'castle'.

He tries to figure out the answer to this puzzle all night. His eyes hurt.

The next day Red Nails gives him scone and a glass of milk so that he won't shake so much during his French lesson. Adamska thanks her sweetly; sometimes that helps. Afterward she takes him to a place with a carpet, where he sometimes sees other children.

Other children cry a lot. They come, and they go. They talk about other places. Adamska has always been here. Today there is only one other child. He is dark-haired and he has his toys with him. Red Nails leaves; they are alone with the man who wears his glasses far down on his nose. He uses them to write his notes while he watches the children.

"Don't you have any toys?" The other boy seems sad about this, for some reason. Even though all his own toys are here. "Here." He gives Adamska a plastic horse.

"That's Blackie, he's a stallion." The plastic horse is neither black in colour nor visibly male. And yet, the boy continues, "He's the fastest horse in the West. He's friends with Silver," another horse, which is grey, "And Rover," which is a stuffed dog.

Adamska is utterly captivated as the boy explains the names of his toys. Which toy likes which, where they grew up. The adventures they've had. Their goals and aspirations, likes and dislikes. The boy explains to him that a coffee table is a mountain, that the carpet is an island, surrounded by lava. This is impossible, of course. The lava would melt the rocks of the island. Adamska tells him as much, but the boy is unperturbed by that fact: Carpet Island has magic that keeps it afloat. Blackie and Silver ride to the top of Coffee Table Mountain to rescue the ash tray that holds that magic.

Later, in his room, Red Nails asks him what he did that day. Adamska says he played with a boy. He tells her everything about the boy; how tall he was, what colour his eyes were, what accent he had, and repeats every word he spoke until she stops him. (Except the boy's name; names aren't allowed.) She is very pleased with all this. But when she asks him why the red cat is his favourite and he still doesn't have an answer, she gets even angrier than before.

"Because she's friends with Blackie?" Adamska tries.

She slaps him.

He lays on the floor quietly with his hands over the cuts on his face while she takes everything out of his room. When she's gone, he growls.

And then he realizes: the cat has never met the horse. They can't be friends. Not because they're fabric and plastic, not because the idea itself is insane, because it's a lie. It's a story you tell yourself and others and pretend to believe it because it's more interesting that way. Describing things as they really are - trapped, friendless, miserable - upsets those who would rather think of inanimate objects as companions and bloodless evaluators as caretakers.

The next day they put him in the room with carpet and other children again. This time they give him his own toys. The other children see how chewed they are and they shy away. Perhaps they think he'll bite theirs.

"Ew. You still chew on your toys?" A girl asks him in German, her lip curled in disdain.

"No, I don't," Adamska tells her, and her brow furrows. "A monster chews them."

"A monster?" asks the boy with the horses, trepidation in his voice.

The girl folds her arms. "What monster."

"The monster that comes at night." Adamska lowers his voice. Leans in. "If you listen very closely, you can hear it. Creak creak." He mimics the sound of floorboards shifting underfoot. "Creak creak."

"I don't hear a monster a night." She scowls. But Adamska sees her lip tremble.

"Maybe you don't. Maybe you only see its shadow. It's long, as long as the hallway is wide. It is covered in scratchy fur, like wires. If the lights are on you can see it has four eyes, and they gleam with hunger." Adamska draws his fingernails along the carpet. "It's quiet. It's so quiet. Maybe you won't wake up until its already on top of you, and you can smell the poison in its mouth." He leans so close to her he can feel her breath on his face.

"It's so heavy you can't breathe, and it hurts. But you must lay very still. You musn't make a sound. Because if you do..." Adamska opens his mouth next to her ear.

And SLAMS his teeth back together in a chomp.

She jumps, trembling. There are tears in her eyes, and when Adamska looks up he sees that the boy is crying, too. Many of them are. They stare at him; their sobs and sniffles summon an adult before long, and Red Nails speaks with the man with the notebook in a hushed voice while Adamska watches their lips move.

"--causing trouble again?"

"No, not at all. He--"

"--Ghost stories?"

"Quite advanced for his age, in fact. I believe we've had his case entirely backwards. He is bored of the trappings--"

The rest he doesn't recall.

That night Adamska finds his room furnished again, and warm. The blocks and the dinosaur have been replaced by toy soldiers and a chess board. Only the cat remains, restuffed and stitched back together as if he'd never bitten into it at all. He examines the chess pieces; after a time, he removes them from the board and puts the toy soldiers on it in their stead.

Then Adamska lays in his bed on top of his blankets to wait.

When the monster leaves he chews all of his toys to pieces again.

 

Adamska can tell you a story about anything you like. Give him a tragedy and he'll gild it with hope; describe the most inspiring act you've ever seen and he will taint it for you so deeply you'll never want to hear about it again. He can be anything you want him to be - don't like that story? He'll tell you about how he was raised by Volgin (why would the Philosophers give a child to the son of a man who stole from them?) and the GRU (what use would military intelligence, let alone special forces, have for one?) instead. Don't trouble yourself about the details. Adamska will supply them.

All you need to know about Adam is that he fell in love with you a long time ago.

And for that, he'll tell your story however you like.

 

 

When Adamska steps off the train platform in Massawa the station clock reads 0410h. The watch of the man next to him reads 0413h. Four other passengers and two staff depart at the same time he does. Three passengers take the main street south. The fourth sits on a bench outside. His posture suggests that he is waiting. The staff stop one meter from the entrance. They light cigarettes and begin to talk.

Adamska walks approximately 1300 meters to the southeast. Three vehicles pass him. At his walking pace 15 minutes will have passed. He stops at the phone booth across the street to the west of the Dahlak Hotel. He inserts 25 santim and calls the number for the hotel. He tells the front desk agent that he wishes to make a reservation for October 9th in Arabic. He waits until the man checks to see if his dates are available. He hangs up the phone.

He waits until the street is clear. He throws a rock through the back office window. He watches the front desk agent stand up and go to the back and begins to walk.

He crosses the lobby in 12 seconds. The front desk agent has inserted his floppy disk and entered his password to make the reservation. It will lock out in 30 seconds. Adamska finds the target's name in the register. Room 311. He flips over the key terminal to find the key code. He enters the code and swipes a key through for Room 411.

He exits the menu. He walks up the stairs to the fourth floor. He opens the door to room 411. It catches on the deadbolt. He unscrews the bolt. He walks into the room. There are two suitcases on the floor and two occupants in a king size bed. He shoots them both in the neck with tranquilizer rounds. He removes the rounds and places them in his pocket.

Adamska opens the window to the decorative balcony. He swings down over the side and drops. He grabs the windowsill of the floor below. He pushes a wire through the silicone insulation of the window frame and levers the latch open. He opens the window ten centimeters. He pulls the curtain back three centimeters. He spots the target. He shoots the target in the temple with a tranquilizer round.

He opens the window the rest of the way and climbs inside. He goes into the bathroom. He stoppers the bathtub and begins to fill it. He returns to the bedroom and drags the target into the bathroom. He braces his foot on the target's chest and dislocates both of the target's arms. He straps the target's ankles together with the man's belt in three loops. He drops him into the bathtub with his boot hooked behind the target's head to keep it out of the water while he sits on the closed toilet. The target opens his eyes and begins to cough.

"You know, if you'd left a year ago, you would have made it out alive," Adamska says. The target opens his mouth widely and Adamska removes his boot. The target's head sinks under the water and he thrashes.

Adamska waits 45 seconds before raising it again. "I wouldn't scream if I were you," he says. The target spits water. "I get it. I do. I was undercover for as long as you were, once. I remember waking up each day knowing what would happen to me if I was exposed. So let me make you an offer: you tell me the one thing I don't already know, and none of those nightmares you've dreamed up become reality. I'll put you to sleep, and you'll never wake up."

The target laughs. "What am I supposed to believe you don't know, mate?"

"So he's told you about me," Adamska says. Adamska smiles. "Where has he moved his operations in Africa?"

The target laughs again. Adamska removes his boot for 90 seconds. The target thrashes after 60. Adamska pushes him back down with his foot. When he raises his head again the target is coughing and gasping. "You're afraid. You can compartmentalize pain but you can't compartmentalize fear. You know who I am. You know that I could take you with me to Afghanistan and make the years you've spent in existential terror seem like a very pleasant dream."

"Then why don't you?"

"Because it would be extremely inconvenient. Time is a precious resource for me these days." Adamska pauses and leans closer. "Do you think I like you? I know that you like me. You like many of us. Genuinely. That's the trouble with living a lie: you begin to believe it. I suspect you've thought about defecting."

The target laughs again. Then he begins to cry. "As if he would ever let me."

Adamska blinks. "I could turn you. Men like you don't do well in these positions. You feel too much. To flourish as a spy you want to be the kind of man who could watch his own mother die if it served a purpose."

"Nobody could do that. Not even a bloody psychopath."

Adamska removes his boot for--

"What the fuck are you doing?!" Kazuhira Miller says from the doorway.

"He's XOF," Adamska says.

"Bullshit!" Miller approaches the bathtub quickly. Adamska blocks his path with a leg. "Bullshit! He's been with us nearly from the start, he's killed XOF!"

Miller grabs Adamska's leg. Adamska reaches for his tranquilizer pistol. Miller grabs Adamska's wrist. Adamska drops it into the other hand. Miller grabs Adamska's hand. Miller is standing and uses his weight and leverage to pin both of Adamska's arms.

Adamska kicks him in the chest above his spleen. Miller gasps. Adamska does it again with twice as much force. Miller's eyes roll back and he drops to the floor. Adamska shoots him in the back with the tranquilizer pistol.

He lifts the target's head out. The target looks to Miller. He looks back at Adamska and begins to shake violently. "No. No. Fuck you. Fuck this. I saw you - you would've done all to save him. He's the only fucking thing you've got."

"Yes," says Adamska.

For the first time, Zebra sees him for what he really is

"Afghanistan." The target says. "Most operations in Africa got pulled. Everything's the robotics lab in Afghanistan. Outside Kabul. I don't know coordinates - never been there."

"Thank you." Adamska reloads the pistol. "For telling me the truth. I lied to you, though."

Adamska shoots him in the neck with a tranquilizer round. "I do like you." He waits until the target loses consciousness and removes his boot. He kneels at the side of the tub and reaches into the water. He waits until he can no longer feel a pulse.

Miller moans. He reaches into his coat. He pulls out his M1911. Adamska kicks it out of his hands and it slides across the floor out into the bedroom. Miller reaches for Adamska's ankle. Adamska steps on his hand. He grinds it into the tile until he hears a break. Miller shouts. Adamska kicks him in the mouth. He steps on Miller's other hand and begins to crush it.

"Why were you following me?" says Adamska.

"W-I- what?!"

"Why were you following me?" says Adamska.

"I... wanted to make..." Miller laughs. Unpleasantly. "...Wanted to make sure you were okay... hahah..."

Adamska blinks. "How did you find out where I was going tonight?"

"I... didn't."

"Then why were you following me?" says Adamska.

"Fuck... Jesus... really...?" Miller smi- no. Miller's lips turn upward but his eyes don't crease. His brows knit together. "You were crying."

"No I wasn't."

Click.

Wasn't he?

He wasn't, was he?

Click.

Miller kisses his ankle.

Click.

Say my name. Say it. Please. Tell me who I am right now. Am I in control? John, John - AM I IN CONTROL?

"You've never told me your name," Miller's lips are on the inside of his calf. He raises his other leg and rests the sole of his boot on Miller's shoulder, but he doesn't press down. He doesn't want to. "Snake never told me your name either."

My name is whatever you want to call me.

Names are stories, too.

How does this one go again?

"Ocelot?" Miller whispers.

Oh yes, that's right.

Click. Whir.

Ocelot eases the weight off Miller's hand by raising his heel. He stoops to pick up a fistful of Miller's scarf and drags the other man upright by it.

He has to admit he doesn't really see the kiss coming. He was braced for a punch; Miller tastes like blood and tile cleaner and one of his molars is loose. He's still woozy from the tranquilizer - Ocelot kicks the bathroom door shut without breaking the kiss and shoves him up against it.

Ocelot's rewarded with a satisfying groan, both when Miller hits the unyielding recessed panels and when he presses his body up against Miller's, hard. That tranquilizer has a muscle relaxant in it; Ocelot finds to his delighted surprise that this has not affected Miller's libido one iota - the thigh Ocelot forcibly inserts between Miller's leg rubs up against the other man's rapidly thickening cock.

"You like to watch me work?" Ocelot chuckles into Miller's ear, which he tongues the lobe of before licking the straight line of muscle down the side of Miller's neck.

"I thought you were you going to kill me," Miller admits. He's still trembling. Ocelot grinds his knee up against Miller's crotch and is rewarded with a throaty gasp for the effort.

"Maybe I still am," Ocelot murmurs against his pounding pulse. He pulls his head away, and yanks viciously on Miller's scarf until the other man gags.

Miller's cock doesn't soften at all.

"Mm," Ocelot hums to himself pleasantly, "Bed?"

He starts to pull his thigh away and Miller shakes his head quickly, still struggling to breathe. Ocelot teases him with the lightest pressure; he slots his leg in and rocks it in with the shifting of his body.

Miller reeks of sweat. Both the clean, heady kind that suggests he's been running and the sharp, acid note of fear. Faintly the musky, bittersweetness rising up with the heat between his thighs. Ocelot drinks it all in from the crook of his neck; he strokes his thumb under Miller's shirt along his belt line so very gently while he chokes him.

Miller starts to wheeze and his eyelids flutter. Ocelot laps up the thread of saliva that has oozed out of the corner of Miller's mouth and made its way to his jaw. Miller's precum has soaked through both layers of clothing; Ocelot feels it damp and warm against his thigh.

When Miller comes it's soundless; strangled. He shudders and jerks and Ocelot runs gloved nails over his heaving chest the whole time.

Ocelot releases the scarf just before Miller blacks out. He's heavy, John. And Ocelot doesn't have all night.

Miller's aviators are on the floor - Ocelot stares into his eyes while they refocus. Dazed. Satisfied. Well-pleased. Ocelot's beginning to think he's inadvertently conditioned your sweet, feisty shack job to be aroused by the sight of a corpse (not that this should be too much trouble for you, he's sure).

Miller leans forward to reach for Ocelot's belt. To kiss him again. But if this is to be déjà vu, Ocelot stops him with a forearm braced under his neck. With a hand on Miller's cheek and a thumb on his bruised lower lip. "Use your mouth."

Miller opens it, obediently. His eyes are half-lidded and they stare right back into Ocelot's own, simmering, while he tongues Ocelot's thumb. Then clamps down lightly with his teeth, scraping them along the surface with the movements of his head. Ocelot isn't quite sure what he's do--

Miller worries enough leather free to sink them into the fabric and pulls Ocelot's glove off with his teeth.

Ocelot utters a noise, low in his throat, that he's certain he's never made before, and Miller repeats the gesture with the other. Ocelot's tongue flicks out over his own lips unconsciously; his bare hands are wet with Miller's spit and they feel the bristles of a day old shave turn downy toward his hairline and the fine ridges in his jawbone.

"Put them around my neck," Miller suggests, and Ocelot obliges.

Because the next thing Miller does is lift Ocelot up by the hips and reverse their positions, Ocelot shoved hard against the door under the grind of Miller's body. Ocelot wraps his legs around Miller's waist with his elbows tucked behind Miller's shoulders so that the other man doesn't have to hold him up with a broken hand. He rakes fingernails under Miller's scarf; no response save a grunt of lust that sends Ocelot's already stiff cock throbbing.

Miller isn't gentle at all. He crushes Ocelot back up against that door with the weight of his body; he grinds against him viciously, his teeth sunk into Ocelot's own scarf, Ocelot's shaft smothered and weeping between the press of their bodies together.

Ocelot grins. Between desperate gasps of air, above Miller's head, where Miller can't see.

Yes, he is still in control.

And it feels so good. To be rutted against; to feel Miller's body heave. To have all his blood rush to the surface of his skin. To feel stabs of pleasure while he rends flesh with his heels and his fingernails and, when he coaxes Miller's head up, his teeth on Miller's swollen lip. All it does is spur him on; harder, harder, until Ocelot's head slams back against the wood. Yes, yes, yes. This mimicry of sex can be as good as the real thing if they both pretend.

And, god, John, John, oh god John, can they ever pretend.

So well it's Miller's name on Ocelot's lips when his mind floods with pleasure. Blanks. Returns seconds later to find them on floor again, his legs still around Miller's waist. Seated in his lap. Sweat-soaked and trembling; so is Miller.

Miller's tongue is thick and coppery in Ocelot's mouth. He sucks it. His face tilted to the side so that Miller can push in all the way. His naked fingers in Miller's hair; it's softer than he thought it would be, usually, Asian hair is coarser--

He's not sure how long they spend like that. Past the point they've cooled; pressed up tight for body warmth. Until tentative rays of grey light pierce the blinds, and Ocelot knows they have to go back to work.

They clean up as best they can. Ocelot wraps Miller's hand with his yellow scarf - it's already blood-stained - and lends him his duster. (He rolls up the sleeves. He looks good in it, though, John. When Miller glances in the mirror he knows he's thinking the same.) Ocelot's orgasm was less messy. Rinsing his shirt out will do.

Many hands make light work, as they say, and with Miller's help it's much easier to two-man carry Zebra's dripping wet corpse down to the adjacent pier. Untied, its arms snapped back into place, it is indistinguishable from that of any other drowning victim. If Miller is surprised by Ocelot's professionalism he doesn't say so; Ocelot trusts Miller to smooth out any inquiries by local authorities into the matter.

"So what did he tell you?" Miller asks at last, as they trudge back to the train station together.

"Afghanistan. Kabul. That's where they've gone." Good thing the Diamond Dogs have a man with a reason to be there, under the radar. This little vacation is over; Major Ocelot's long leave of absence will have to come to an end. That's quite all right - he's sure no one will have forgotten him. "Little ways from where we get most of our work, but--"

"The Seychelles are about halfway there." Miller's voice is tense with excitement. "I've found a place. The deal's just gone through--"

"I know." Ocelot smiles wanly. Fondly. Watching the other man through the corner of his eye.

"Right. You're always watching. Then why didn't you know about Zebra? What tipped you off?"

"Oh, just the little things. Allusions he'd make to the US, rather than his homeland." When Miller is justifiably skeptical, Ocelot chuckles. "I knew when we hired him. I've been using him to send them misinformation for years."

Miller sighs through his nose in that way he does. "Of course. Of course." He's working himself up to something. "Ocelot, whatever the fuck this is - it ends when Snake wakes up."

Ocelot nods. He knows that. He's always known that.

"Whatever you and he were, it's over. It'll be easier on all three of us if you left." Miller's jaw is tight.

Ocelot slings an arm around the other man's shoulders. "You know, when you dump your old dog in the woods, it works better if you just drive away and don't sit there crying."

Miller shoves him off with a huff.

They have a car to themselves on the ride back to Asmara. Miller's asleep by the time they get there; Ocelot may have dozed off a few times himself. Why not? He's sure it's the last time they'll ever fall asleep together.

Miller calls out for you. Brokenly. Tucked into Ocelot's side.

He escorts Miller back home safely, whereupon the man has a shower and passes out in bed in the span of a few minutes. Ocelot lingers in the doorway; just a moment or two, before he makes his way back to the curb to which he's been kicked.

 

Click.

 

He fishes the tape you made for him out of his coat pocket before he goes. He leaves it on Miller's desk.

 

(Two weeks later he receives a package: in it a restored photograph, and two modern revolvers chambered to fire shotgun shells.)

 

"He is the sun, to you," Adam tells V--

Chapter Text

He doesn't recall where they raised him. Not even in this state. Perhaps they never told him; perhaps he's buried that fact so deeply no trigger, not even a photograph or recorded audio, will flush it back out to the surface.

His clear, lucid memories begin with this one: Adamska riding in the back seat of a car with tinted windows. Flurries of snow dance down from the sky in a stately fashion, only to be squashed against the windshield and wiped away by the blades. His later knowledge will supply that this is Berlin, but the Adamska in the car doesn't know that. All he knows is that this is the first time he has ever been moved, and though he was not allowed to take anything with him, he knows he is never coming back.

He is handcuffed to the inside door handle. His cheek hurts.

Adamska is a much older child in this memory. He has realized that everyone else truly does believe the world is as they see it. He no longer attempts to correct them - in fact, he plays along. He mimics the movements of their faces and their gestures with a skill that improves every year and will eventually become perfection. When they asked him if he would like to give his toys to someone else before he left, he crafted a masterful expression of sorrow and said he couldn't bear to do it. In fact, he felt nothing for any of them.

Except the cat, which he ripped to pieces so that no one else could have her

His monsters visit him with the lights on, these days, and it has simply become another part of his training. Something that, if he performs poorly at, he will be punished. If he does well he will occasionally be rewarded, at their whim. The same as anything else.

There are two men in the front seats. Adamska has never met either of them before. Even at this age, he understands that segregating the caretakers by function prevents them from growing too attached. He has seen this happen, now: an adult failing to punish and being punished for it. Red Nails is long gone; she deals only with young children, and Adamska has finished this stage and is ready to be shipped to the next factory for completion. These two men speak Dutch, because they believe Adamska doesn't speak it.

It's true. He doesn't. But mind your words, around Adamska - 'doesn't' is not the same as 'can't'.

Be so very careful with them.

"--Give me the creeps, you know?" the man on the passenger's side is saying.

"The ones they take when they're very young are always creepy," the driver responds nonchalantly, "beats the older ones, trust me. They cry the whole way."

"Mm." The passenger nods agreeably. Unconvinced. He glances into the back seat at Adamska's handcuffs. "Is that really necessary? All the kindergarten assassin training aside, I'm pretty sure I could still take him."

"Oh you'd be surprised." The driver looks up into the rear view mirror. "If they locked him up like that it means he's hurt somebody. Bad."

Yes, that's right. By this age Adamska has realized that he had the story backwards. The thing that crept around in the hallways was just a man and, one night, had stumbled into the den of a baby monster. All it took was one bite and that man had screamed like he was dying; there had been so much blood on Adamska they'd had to throw him into a bathtub.

"He's violent? They didn't train that out of him?" The passenger sounds surprised.

"Oh god no. Their client might want it. It's all up to them, you see: I mean, sure, if they want him as a charm agent, they'll do it themselves. Fuck him until he either tells himself he loves it or kills himself."

"Him as a honey trap?" The passenger laughs. "That nose'd have to go."

The driver laughs too. "Oh yeah, definitely. But we don't do any cuts unless they're specifically requested. That's an end-user modification, so to speak. It's a bad idea before they hit puberty; they might grow into it. You never know. But no, if they want him as an assassin or a soldier, him being violent is added value."

"A soldier? He seems a little skinny for that."

"That's intentional. A restricted diet makes them more susceptible to suggestion. Keeps them from gaining weight even if they're genetically predisposed. So long as that returns to normal by mid-adolescence they'll gain muscle and body fat just like any other kid. That's all up to the client to decide; this ensures that they arrive with a default factory setting. You only get a curvy charm agent if you want one."

"Kids hit adolescence at different times, though."

"Yes, they do. It has to be timed exactly. Not just to their stage of development, but their mental state - when done correctly, it's beautiful to see. Right about now he's ready to bond to whoever we deliver him to, so strongly it'll last the rest of his life. Kid's never even been to the USSR but by the end of the week he'll bleed Red - metaphorically speaking."

This will be helpful to know. Adamska has another headstart on what it is he will have to pretend to do. He speaks Russian most fluently of all; his earliest stories were of Baba Yaga and Vasilissa the Beautiful. He loves the snow. Red is his favourite colour.

He watches it drift down from above; a plow clears the corpses of fallen snowflakes to the sides of the road.

The men are silent a while. The driver's posture shifts: his shoulderblades pull back tensely. They spend less time looking at one another and Adamska and more on the other cars. From side to side and behind them, like prey.

Finally, the driver curses: "I thought we lost them in Dresden."

The driver increases the vehicle's speed; the passenger's gaze flicks between both side mirrors and the back. Adamska's eyes burn only forward; his mask of ambivalent serenity slips the moment he is no longer being watched. They weave between cars, trucks, motorcycles. Take turns at random, only to circle back. At last, the driver's shoulders slump, and the passenger breathes out deeply.

Then. That moment. Their guards are down.

Adamska's cheek hurts because he has had a hairpin tucked up inside it for weeks. He is not allowed to have hairpins, but the girl he was practicing with is, and he took it when he kissed the top of her head. She said nothing. He played the roles neither of them liked in return.

This is one of the few technical skills he has perfected: he spits it out, rusted so badly one of his back molars is permanently stained - he's still young enough he'll grow new ones - but functional. He depresses the sole tumbler with it. He starts reaching forward as soon as the lock clicks open. The passenger notices it. Adamska grasps the wheel in the instant before he's stopped; it's so close a thing that he feels the passenger's fingers brush his sleeve.

He spins the car nose first into oncoming traffic.

Another passenger vehicle hits it first. Half-swerved, horn blaring. Adamska remembers this because time has slowed to a crawl; later in life, he'll learn that perception of time is highly subjective, and that this is very common. This causes the car to turn, and the second vehicle to strike is a delivery truck, from the side. The passenger and driver are wearing seatbelts. Adamska is not.

Adamska is airborne. Through the side window, out of the car, through the falling snow. Away from the maelstrom of twisted steel, shattered glass, and fire revolving outward from where he started it. Of course, he could have been thrown in the opposite direction. Under that truck. Hit the window with his head instead of his back and broken his neck. Hit the pavement and been mangled beyond repair.

But opportunities arise for those who create them, as she said. Fortune favours the bold, as you said. Who dares wins, as David said.

Adamska lands in a bank of plowed snow at the side of the road. He's shaken and hurting and a little bloody, but he's well enough to stand. Which he does. As soon as the ear-splitting loudness of the horns and the impact have faded. He has to see. It does not look amiss for him at all to ignore the other cries for help and walk directly to the vehicle from which he was ejected.

Flipped over onto the hood and half-flattened, Adamska has to get down onto his knees to peer into the unthinkably tiny space into which the front seats have been transformed.

They're alive. For the moment, they're alive. The passenger's legs have been torn off his body and crushed under the crumpled dashboard. The driver's skull is leaking purple-grey, but he still blinks.

Adamska grins broadly. This will forever be one of his most cherished memories.

There are sirens in the distance. Sirens are bad; Adamska is not the first child to have escaped, only to learn that civilian authorities are owned by the same people who own them.

But the men and women in the cars that were hunting them are not. Adamska's wagered everything on it. His only chance. His caretakers will break him for this, if they don't kill him first. These pursuers arrive first, their tires screeching, their hurried footsteps muted by the snow.

Adamska doesn't know who they are. All he knows is that they are the enemies of the people who own him, and that's good enough.

They drag him away from the wreckage, and for the first time, Adamska finds himself awash in a sea of English.

 

 

He'd love to tell you that the move-in to their brand new home went smoothly - he's quite sure it's what Miller will tell you, if you ever bother to ask. But offshore oil rigs cost quite literally hundreds of millions of dollars; the only reason Miller was able to snag one in the realm of seven digits was that the oil reserve beneath was all tapped out. Which means it's old, John. Old as dirt.

Nothing a little rust remover and paint won't fix, Miller's sure. His primary requirement was that it be structurally sound. The rest can be retrofitted - after all, they're not drilling for oil. But when Ocelot steps off onto the helipad for the first time, only to discover that it has holes the size of his bootheels pocked across the surface, there's a little doubt in his mind.

"I thought cats were supposed to land on their feet!" Miller hollers above the sound of the rotor blades. Cerberus has Ocelot's back: she raises her middle finger in Miller's direction before taking off to acquire more cargo for their singular quasi-functional launch point. So quasi-functional, in fact, that she refuses to land completely and dumped him off at a hover. (Ocelot's not so graceless as to bail out otherwise - what do you take him for?)

Ocelot declines to dignify that dig with a response. "Your pilots don't like your schedule," he observes instead. Wipes the red-brown flecks of rust off his gloves onto his pants.

"That's not her problem," Miller mutters. Then adds, audibly: "Downtime costs us money. This was a big investment - I need to recoup costs sooner rather than later."

Ocelot reads lips, however. "Oh? Then what is her problem?"

Miller turns crisply on his heel, but his telling scowl is all Ocelot needs to see to chuckle. "And you were doing so well, too. Been a couple of years since you cost us a valuable employee by sticking your dick into everything you see, I reckon. At least two."

Miller refuses to acknowledge that remark; his supply tech footmen are milling about unloading critical supplies. He strides briskly to a row of orange safety helmets and tosses Ocelot one. He follows it up with a flashlight. Ocelot's not entirely sure what it is Miller expects him to do - to say that Ocelot's skills as a tradesman leave a little be desired is akin to saying that you perform marvelously at fancy parties - and the clipboard he follows it up with isn't any more enlightening.

"We've checked the main deck and the tower already. You and I are going to go below decks and take note of any major, obvious defects." When Ocelot holds up the flashlight, Miller continues: "Power's not up and running yet."

This seems inadvisable; Ocelot's known the man long enough to know what his response to that objection will be: the schedule. Miller does manage to surprise him a little, though: "The earlier I know about any major renovations I need to make, the better. I'm not asking you to tell me which pipes are broken, I asked you here as a security and design consultant. We'll need places to train. Plan. Keep prisoners."

Ah, so he wants Major Ocelot's advice more than Ocelot's. Fair enough. Ocelot makes it quite easy to forget he's been a company-level officer for twenty years. Only took Miller eight to see through it completely. "All right. Still want me to take note of broken pipes?"

"Would you even know a mechanical defect if you saw one?" Miller's face scrunches up dubiously.

"Now, Miller," Ocelot spreads his hands, scandalized, "As it happens I've already listed two."

Miller's mouth flattens. "You better not have listed the helipad."

In fact, Ocelot has listed the helipad and his commander's morals regarding intercourse.

Miller grunts something unintelligible about kicking Ocelot into the sea, and waves for him to follow. A two-man team is a good idea in case a rusty beam collapses on one of them. This way the other can stand there and laugh a while before calling for help. They pass through what plainly used to be worker's quarters - rotting cotton mattresses, stained linen sheets, a ripped page from a porno mag focused on the generous behind of the kind of amply endowed woman popular in these parts - and Miller has a score of tiny details like broken lights and off-center doors written down before Ocelot manages one. Ocelot could tell you exactly what he surmises about the men who lived here - and one woman if a small blood stain halfway down one mattress is anything to go by - but a creaky cot hinge and a poorly angled ventilation exchange might as well be the wallpaper, to him. Miller's a fascinating man.

"Maybe I should buy one of these for you." Ocelot raises the magazine clipping with the tip of his pen. "Cheaper than finding new pilots."

Miller heaves an aggravated sigh. "She has a girlfriend. We were drunk. It was a one-night stand. That's all."

"Oh, so you were bad in the sack." Ocelot drops it and lets him lead onward to the musty-smelling remains of the kitchens.

That's a surefire way to get him riled. "I ate her out for an hour. She said I was the best dick she'd ever had."

"So what went wrong?" The beam of Ocelot's flashlight sets several pairs of eyes aglow. His heavy, rhythmic footfalls still.

Miller scrubs a fist through his hair. "...I forgot to use a condom."

Ocelot can't still the snicker that wells up at that confession. Oh, the trials and tribulations of straight men. Unless they're defective straight men like you, John. He pads to the corner on the soles of his feet, stalking.

"I never forget the condom," Miller grouses, clearly lying. "I got too used to fucking..." He trails off. Ocelot would dare him to finish that thought, but that would be petty. He has more important things on his mind, anyhow.

"Men, Miller? We were in Africa. Condom's still a good idea." There. They're all watching Miller bang and trod and lumber about. Ocelot loads a single cartridge into his his revolver. "Besides, didn't you forget them with the brunette?"

"Which brunette? The really tall one? No. And that was spring of '79." Miller stops pacing, gaze up to the corner left in a struggle to remember.

"No, the six footer was after. I mean the jailbait co-ed on her gap year doing aid work. They're really fertile at that age." Or so Ocelot hears.

"No, no. The tall one was after. College chick was '77."

"I thought the racist redhead was '77."

"Redhead was '76."

"Then who was '80? That sniper?"

"Manx. Manx was '80. Sniper was '81."

Ocelot chuckles. Tugs the hammer back. It's going to be a beautiful shot, John. He wishes you could have seen it. "Well, hell, Miller. Going to have to start putting your child support payments into the budget."

"She's not going to keep it, if it comes to that. I'll pay for it. Just like I did for the fucking co-ed when it broke," Miller glowers. "But I'd take any of them over the badly aged blond I started fucking in '8--"

BANG.

Miller's so startled he trips right over an upturned soup pot and slams to the floor in a graceless clatter, which is not at all satisfying to see. He fails around for the flashlight and looks as if he means to throw it, before realizing that would be a grave tactical error: Ocelot would have caught it, walked out, and left him in the dark. "DID YOU JUST FIRE A GUN DOWN HERE?!"

Right. It was pretty loud, too. Enclosed space and all. "Rats, Miller. You've got rats. And I just took out three of them with the same shot." Ocelot preens.

Miller throws the soup pot instead. "You fired a .45 at RATS?!"

Ocelot tsks. "That was clearly a shotgun shell." It wasn't, it was a .45 round, but Miller is so bad at telling firearms apart by sound, John, that he honestly believes it for a second.

Miller groans and lowers his plastic helmeted head into his hands. "Go. Just go. Give me your notes when you're done."

Ocelot takes that as a dismissal. He was getting bored of following Miller around to look at every bent pipe and frayed outlet anyhow. It's much more interesting to rifle through the relics of oil riggers past. To sketch possible ingress routes by serpentine infiltrators. To partition off an unused mechanical repair hangar as the perfect interrogation room: complete with booth, blast door, and ceiling hooks.

(To make a few spooky noises in Miller's periphery and hear the man curse.)

Ocelot is seated on bench inside his will-be work space with the flashlight in his mouth, sketching a rat interrogating another rat with a cage full of humans strapped to his head when a cataclysmic bang reverberates throughout the entire structure. It flushes both him and your skittery sweetheart back out to the surface, whereupon they spy a smashed crate with its repair-related contents laying in mangled pieces all around and half-off the helipad. Miller wrestles his radio back from the foreman to yammer at an abashedly circling Pequod - something about angles of approach, weight - Cerberus responds that he doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about, that he should go back to what he's good at, which she asserts is sucking cocks. While Pequod attempts to interject with an apology.

Long story short, John, the helos have to be sent back for a repair crew. They don't have quarters and there's not enough room to take everyone back; Ocelot, courteous gentleman that he is, offers to stay the night with Miller. Miller warns him that there's no food, no heat, no beds, and that he's not getting laid.

Ocelot offers him the can of beans and bottle of rum he found below decks. Miller refuses both. It takes him about three hours to crack. Ocelot cuts the can open with his pocket knife; they have to share a fork.

Their first meal on the brand new Mother Base is a decade old can of black beans and a bottle of gut-rotting brown rum. They eat it without complaint, sitting with their legs over the side of the platform, watching the sunset.

 

Click.

 

"They could leave us here to die, you know. Just fly away and never come back." Ocelot gestures the flight with his hand. "We'd have to drink the rainwater and eat the rats. Then eat each other."

Miller is flat on his back beside him - he's cold, somehow, in spite of the fact that Ocelot's sweating - all tucked up against his shoulder, nicely toasted. "I would eat you," he slurs, taking another pull of rum out of the bottle that he loses a good half of in his hair and onto the deck. "But first you'd tell me, tell me where... Snake is. Then I would sail. For Africa."

"You think you'd make it all the way to Africa in a dingy? Huh." They're so far away from civilization they can see every star. It's so bright the space between them is blue, rather than black.

"I would lasso sharks and they would pull me, cowboy." Miller nudges him.

"That's some imagination you've got there."

"Then I'd wake up Snake with a kiss. That's how every dumb American fairy tale ends. Right?"

"I don't know. I mostly know European ones, and they usually end with matricide and cannibalism."

"Pffft." Miller snorts, beet red. "You're funny. God I hate you, but you're funny. Why are you funny? Rich people never learn to be funny."

Ocelot smiles to himself and says nothing. Miller rolls over onto his chest, arms beside his head. "Rich people. Complain a lot too. So? You never complain. You nurse your own wounds and you eat whatever's served and you suck dick without a shower. Who are you?"

Miller's head sways; he wobbles. Ocelot braces his shoulders gently. "Who are any of us, really? Who are you, Miller? Deep down."

Miller drools rum onto Ocelot's cheek when he snorts. "A slut. So? So what? I love to get laid. Yeah, I said it: I love sex. What's wrong with that? The world would be a better place if everybody had more sex. You. YOU would be a better person if you had more sex. You're too uptight." Miller paws him as if to emphasizes that fact. "I bet you're one of those people who didn't start fucking until they were 25 and couldn't stand the blue balls anymore. I had my first pussy at 15."

"You sure that's something you should be proud of?" Ocelot laughs. Miller's so lit his eyes won't focus. Wandering between Ocelot's nose, his throat, and his bare torso.

"Why not? When did you suck your first dick? 30? You were fucking terrible."

Ocelot doesn't know why he tells him the truth. He's never told anyone the truth about that before.

"Oh... ...shit. Shit." Miller tries to reel back but topples instead; Ocelot catches him with one arm. "Shit, I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

"Why? It wasn't yours." Miller seems genuinely unsettled by it, however. His eyebrows pull together and he peers into Ocelot's face, checking for god knows what. His chin brushes Ocelot's cheek. He's upset; Ocelot has learned to recognize the signs. "Wasn't the worst blowjob I've ever given, either."

"Oh yeah?" Miller licks his lips like he has a bad taste in his mouth. "What was? Gotta be the yakuza guy."

"My least favourite blowjob? A man who'd been in the field for a week. No shower. Swimming through swamp water. Recently pissed himself. Eaten nothing but raw meat. He stank so badly I nearly puked every time he hit my gag reflex."

"Ugh, but why. Why would you...?"

Ocelot grins. "I was a thirsty kid back then. Couldn't keep it in my pants."

Miller smiles an unreadable smile and murmurs 'liar' next to Ocelot's ear.

Miller passes out on Ocelot's chest shortly after that. Doesn't remember anything about that night; Ocelot gives him the last of their bottled water and holds his hair while he pukes, until Pequod returns with electricians, food, aspirin, and blankets.

 

Click. Whir.

 

Ocelot's missions in Afghanistan go much more smoothly than yours will, he suspects. If their client's directions take them into Soviet-occupied territory all he need do is write himself a set of orders to be there. Which he rarely needs - unless the job takes him within a mile radius of an HQ, nobody will outrank him. You were never much for convention though, John, so in case you've forgotten: major's the highest rank of field officer. Past that in the chain of command they weld you to your desk.

Needless to say, Ocelot's never bothered to seek another promotion.

Outside Soviet-held territory things get a little trickier, however. The forward line is shifting all the time, and if he's caught in a Diamond Dogs uniform that could be trouble. He's sure he could talk his way out of it, but he doesn't want to hear your wearisome woman whine about it for the next week.

His solution is simple: an easily removable arm band over nondescript civilian clothing. Nothing save the scarf screams Soviet officer, and the Reds don't wear scarves with summer or desert dress orders. The cowboy chic suggests American, or friendly, to the Mujahideen; it's a style Major Ocelot is known to be fond of, as well. Ocelot prefers to play games where all sides believe he's on theirs - makes things simpler. A lot more relaxing.

(That would spoil all the fun for you, he's sure.)

As you know, the 40th Army would and could blow their oil rig to hell and back with a single formation of MiGs, so Ocelot has put his foot down on their small band of mercenaries engaging in the Soviet-Aghan War directly. Ocelot will not provide intelligence on troop movements or battle plans to the Mujahideen or the CIA, no matter what the price. Miller was swayed by the argument of seeing his multi-million dollar investment destroyed in a single missile strike; Ocelot is pretty certain that if he himself got made at this point in his spy career you wouldn't even be able to find pieces of him left among the grains of sand.

So it is that he is in the middle of an entirely innocuous request searching for signs of the critically endangered Paghman stream salamander for an environmental protection NGO when your dourly delightful darling chirps in over the radio in that entirely endearing way he does to give helpful advice.

"Ocelot." Ocelot's earpiece crackles with a nose-sigh. "You've been at this for six hours. How hard can it be to find a lizard?"

"Actually, Miller, salamanders are amphibians, like frogs." Ocelot feels for the off-switch; this new-fangled iDroid is a prototype, and he wouldn't be surprised if Miller had its location moved around on purpose. "Meaning they're anamniotes - they can't lay their eggs on dry land. Hence the stream."

"Whatever. Hurry up. I need to re-task your support helicopter." Miller suggests sweetly, while Ocelot abandons the effort and continues to wind his way up the muddy stream he is currently in. "You have thirty minutes until you're walking back."

Ocelot's honestly surprised Miller even bothered with the heads' up. He's been working like a man possessed to get his house in order. Ocelot was all too happy to get out from underfoot; contractors swarm like hungry ants over Mother Base these days. Miller wants to have the house clean and supper on the table should you wake up tomorrow, he supposes. Besides, as Miller is all-too fond of reminding him, they need the money now more than ever. "Aw shoot. You're going to make me start thinking you care."

The sound of papers crumpling. A long sip of coffee. A pen click. Ocelot's sure Miller knows he's got a hot mic; he just wants Ocelot to have to point it out to him while he pretends not to hear. Well, turnabout is fair play: Ocelot hits his own transceiver and kicks up the water. Smacks his lips. Kicks a pile of rocks over, too, for good measure.

"--Stop or we'll shoot!" or something to that effect in Dari, which Ocelot does not speak well, but gathers the meaning of by way of a warning shot that ricochets two inches from his earlobe.

Ocelot raises his dripping wet arms obligingly. Makes sure that armband is highly visible. A charming local gentleman who looks about 80 (so, probably 55) gestures his lethal intent with a Type 56 that's seen better days. Ocelot would be chagrined that he missed spotting him behind a boulder, but John, Miller distracted him. He prays to Lenin the man speaks Pashto: "Âmrikâyi!"

It's close enough for horseshoes, hand grenades, and inter-tribal warfare. It lures a handful of similarly-clad and armed heroic freedom fighters from the rocks around him, and Ocelot makes a mental note not to come back here without Snow Leopard in tow. They argue amongst themselves for a bit, ask him what he could possibly be doing here. He explains - partly through gestures - that he is looking for a rare salamander and they all have a good laugh. Nobody's diamond shoes could possibly be so tight that they'd prioritize the lives of half-breed frog-lizards while a war was going on, now could they. People are dying here, John. A whole country's been invaded; their sons are being butchered and their daughters are being raped (and the other way 'round at times, if he's being entirely honest).

Yet here Ocelot stands, being paid by an NGO that pays their own executives six figures, to make sure the Soviets haven't bombed all the poor salamanders to death.

Once he's made it clear that he's on their side they welcome him with open arms - without American support this would have been a terribly short war, after all - and even show him a few nests of those precious spotted aquatic creatures on the way back to their village. "Mission complete. Reroute the chopper," Ocelot tells Miller, snapping a few pictures, "I'll spend the night with the locals. See if I can't scare us up some more job offers. Practice my Dari."

"Sure. Good work. But..." Miller sighs and worries his lip, audibly. "...Ocelot... It's been 72 hours since you had a full night's sleep. Don't you think it's time you--"

Whistle. THUMP.

A Soviet sniper silences him mid-nag. The old Mujahideen's right shoulder disappears into a fine mist and he spins 270 degrees before he collapses in a pile of rags and bones. Ocelot's first thought is to take cover - there isn't any, this creek bed is a fishbowl and the water's only knee-deep - his second, is to survive the only other way he possibly can: switch sides in a hurry.

Every movement of his body suddenly suggests that he is hostage rather than friend, and as soon as the shooting begins he whips out both revolvers and takes out anyone unlucky enough to survive the initial volley. The microsecond of shocked betrayal a grey-eyed jihadi musters up just before Ocelot sprays shot through it is the story of Ocelot's damn life.

He didn't choose this, John. They should've swept this mountainside. They should've had a patrol at nine and three. Someone needs to give them real training in tactics; movement.

"Ocelot! Are you okay?!" Miller buzzes needlessly in his ear.

"Always," Ocelot sighs quietly. He was looking forward to chai.

"How the hell are you going to talk your way out of this?"

It takes Ocelot a second to realize what he means - speaking fluent Russian and giving the impression of a captive should be good enough - that he's still wearing that armband. The Diamond Dogs aren't at war with the Red Army. Not directly. But he'd certainly be captured. Interrogated. When a brown-painted sniper in a sweltering ghillie suit emerges worm-like from the crest of a hill, he orders Ocelot to drop his weapons and get down on his knees.

Ocelot does so quite amicably. Miller can't see the way his expression changes, of course. The curl of his lip. Haughty. Nor the narrowing of his eyes; the flick of his hands as he spins his revolvers before he lowers them. Miller can't understand his Russian, either; he can hear the change in his tone and timbre. Ah, but, hell: Miller already knows he can do this. The only thing he's revealing is how well - that his voice now might as well be another man's entirely.

"Evening, comrade. Can I offer you a drink?" Sweat beads over the sniper's face paint; Ocelot emphasizes this offer by toeing the water.

"You're one of those mercenaries?" A little put-off by just how un-cowed Ocelot is by his predicament; makes things riskier, but, as you know, it's all part of the character.

"I am most decidedly not. Go on," Ocelot tilts his chin, "Radio your captain. Tell him you're holding up the Ocelot commander."

"Commander...?" Ocelot has to admit it is a little odd for a commander to be out in the middle of bush by himself, but that's certainly never stopped you, has it. Still, rank-pulling is as effective as ever; the sniper obliges him. It takes a few minutes - when Ocelot hears a staticky 'GRU' he knows he's in the clear.

"Comrade Major." The sniper raises his head in an unprofessional bob of surprise. "Strange to see you out here."

"Is it, though? The GRU has been behind enemy lines gathering intel since this war started." Major Ocelot is decidedly unimpressed and recollects his weapons without permission; flips them back into their holsters underhand. "Befriending the locals is part of our directive."

The sniper swallows, visibly. "You were--" Undercover, obviously. Hence the fake mercenary emblem. Hence the Pashto and the claim to be American. And some overeager corporal has jumped the gun and cocked it all up for him. There'll be hell to pay, surely. "--My apologies."

"There's no taking it back now." Major Ocelot's lip curves down disdainfully. "You will be taking me back to your captain, though. I have a few words for him."

"O-of course."

"I need to ditch the gear," Ocelot mimes finding a place to climb up so that his back is turned when he murmurs to Miller. They can't catch him with the iDroid and everything on it. "I'll leave it at my last marked location. Have Pequod pick it up in an hour. I'll find my own way back - don't worry. These are my people."

"How did you do that...?" Miller asks with the tone of a man struggling furiously not to be impressed.

"Sweetheart, I tricked some of the best spies in the world with a haircut and a bad attitude."

The sniper team offers Major Ocelot some conciliatory vodka. Ocelot clicks his tongue but accepts, giving the impression that his ire will be directed at the men in charge. Turns out all of their officers back at base camp. By the time Ocelot arrives word has spread among the tents and barred hardshacks - a few whispers of spetsnazovtsi, GRU, and even 'interrogator'. His melodic footfalls peal threateningly up to the desk of a scrawny lieutenant whose lip - he swears, John - honestly trembles at the mere sight of him. His troops mill around rubbernecking outside. It's bad form for officers to dress each other down in front of the men; Major Ocelot has never given two shits about form.

"Major," the unfortunate lieutenant begins, "Perhaps if we'd had word that you were in the area..."

"You and I will speak privately about that." Ocelot's eyes narrow. He strokes the grip of his revolver with his smallest finger. "But first, I want the name of that sniper."

The other man nods a little too quickly; eager to save his own skin. "Yes, of course. Grigori Vasiliev. You can select whatever punish--"

"Vasiliev, hm? I'll remember that. Five hundred yards, downhill, bad angle. Nice shooting."

The lieutenant gapes; did Ocelot not mention that, for all his other glaring flaws, the good Major doesn't punch down? His men love him.

Ocelot spends the night drinking real vodka, eating fake food, and catching up on current affairs in the USSR. Between Miller's enterprise, babysitting your bedside, and the war in Afghanistan, he hasn't been back in years. They're reluctant to speak to him, at first, intimidated; their relief at discovering that this sword who makes chains rather than severs them is a perfectly normal if prickly soldier with a gun fetish warms them up quickly enough. Ocelot indulges a little nostalgia while he picks up useful leads for Miller.

When they all go to sleep save the watch, Ocelot makes the rounds of their prisoners more out of boredom than genuine interest. They've been bled dry; some'll be moved, most'll be shot. That means tears, rage, bleak acceptance; the various stages of grief. When he sees relief on the face of a young woman, it gives him pause. He stills outside her cell. Beams a genuine smile at her.

People instinctively reproduce the expressions they see on other faces, John. When she smiles back unthinkingly, she exposes teeth that've seen wires in childhood; she didn't grow up around here, that's a fact.

"What didn't they get out of you?" Ocelot asks pleasantly. In English. A guess; her face crumples in abject despair.

He unlocks the door. Takes a seat opposite her. "You know who I am."

She does. Does she ever. Adamska drags out of her, screaming, what these amateur had missed: secret Soviet labs and burning ghosts from the past. Cipher operations in the east. His good old friends making their own opportunities out of this crisis. A few whispers of 'Shalashaska' drawn out of nearby cells.

Well, names are stories, as he said. One region's telling takes on a slightly different flavour than the next.

He leaves the door to her cell unlocked with a tracking device embedded so deeply in her flesh that no one will ever find it. A risky move, to be sure, but after all these years it's nothing for him.

Besides - if he doesn't do this, who will?

You're never coming ba--

 

Click. Squeal. Click.

 

When you come back, you won't get the chance to be as startled by the progress Miller's made as Ocelot is. You never saw it how it used to be: a yawning rusty death trap waiting to topple into the sea. Gone are the pits in the helipad, the bent pipes, and the doors that don't open: Ocelot approaches one with the wariness of a man who's been fooled before, wondering where the handle is, when it beeps blue and hisses open for him.

That's not all, not by half. More than a fresh coat of paint and fancy electronics, there are security systems in place everywhere you turn. Cameras. A fully-automated firing range with pressure sensors and timers and targets that pop back up mechanically. Gone are the days of replacing cardboard cutouts of WWII Germans; Ocelot tells himself he'll try the system out a few times, just to troubleshoot, before he gets back to work, and winds up running the combat personnel through increasingly creative scenarios until sundown.

Then it's past Pequod - successfully unloading his cargo, this time, with the help of a controller on deck - past the medical team practicing what Ocelot assumes is an emergency resuscitation on a hyper-realistic training dummy. Seems Gucci to Ocelot, but hell, who is he to argue. He'll probably spend the rest of the night at the range too. Down to the mess, from which the smell of seafood risotto and fresh fruit wafts. More importantly, a sign with its hours of operation: 24/7.

Ocelot brushes fingers over it before he goes in to eat, buoyed by the lovely prospect of never having to cook again. John, even you didn't have it this good.

The stock rooms are slowly being filled; laid out by Miller's sense of practical necessity and Ocelot's knowledge of security. Everything has its place, and though it's as far from Miller's own as possible without being in the ocean, there's a place for Ocelot, too. His very own room, sea view and all. He doesn't keep much of any importance there. It won't be secure - he doesn't believe for a minute his codes and locks will keep Miller out of his own home.

He keeps the photograph in a desk drawer, where he won't see it unless he needs to. The tapes don't stay.

Miller's gone off to meet with local authorities over some legal contract or another. He looks the part when he returns: his long hair smoothed back into a semi-professional ponytail, beret neither eating his ear nor untrenched, dressed in a suit and tie. Less mercenary warlord and more billionaire despot. It suits him.

All he needs is the harem of female bodyguards. (Though perhaps, like you, he'd be less choosy about it.)

Ocelot arrays the combat personnel out to greet him at the helipad. They salute him; Ocelot nods. "Welcome home."

Miller's mouth warps into something that isn't at all a smile, and he dismisses the rest with a wave. To Ocelot, he says sweetly: "What are you doing here?"

As a matter of fact, Ocelot has a surprise for him. Pequod is off to fetch it right now. But Ocelot won't spoil it. "You were the one who told me to get more R&R."

Miller's squints. "You never take me up on that." When no further explanation is forthcoming, he grunts and turns on his heel. "Well, fine. We need to talk."

Miller leads the way up into their command and control tower. Into the signals room, where feeds from their assets in the field are splayed across screens and on audio. It's already packed with maps, charts, and pins from their latest operations; Miller's coffee mugs fill every available surface, aggressively invading even the second chair. Ocelot gets it: the man's marked his territory. "I take it I won't be spending much time here."

Miller nods. Pulls up his own seat. Waits for Ocelot to do the same - Ocelot leans against the corkboard with his arms folded, instead. "Neither will I, as I soon as we get sufficient support staff."

"I don't think that's a great idea, Miller." Ocelot knows this'll be a lost cause; he'll sally forth anyhow. If nothing else, it'll be an I-told-you-so for later. "You're vital to the operation - we're past the point we need you in the field."

"And you're not?" Miller raises an eyebrow.

"No, I'm not."

"Maybe not here, but to Sna--"

"I made myself redundant there a long time ago. I'd never have left his side if I hadn't. If I die, he'll survive."

Miller's chair almost topples over. All the times he's thought about killing Ocelot or leaving him to die, only to reconsider solely for your sake, no doubt flashing through his mind. "Hah. Supposing I believe you - and that's a big if, at this point - that last mission proved you're in more danger out there than I am. You keep pushing it, you'll blow your cover with the GRU, and you'll have the whole Soviet war machine hunting you down. I don't need that."

Ocelot would tell him that he doesn't have a 'cover' with the GRU - that he honestly works for them, same as he works for the Diamond Dogs - but that level of understanding of the game might be a little out of Miller's league. "True. There are certain missions I can't be a part of without risking exposure. We've discussed this, Miller. So why--"

"We're going to start training the Mujahideen." Miller's tone brooks no argument; he raises a hand needlessly to preempt one regardless. "The money's too good. I can't turn it down. We won't fight the Red Army openly, so they won't seek us out where we live, but..."

"...We'll be enemy combatants in field." Ocelot sums it up for him succinctly. Ocelot just enjoyed the last of their collective nine lives - after this, the next sniper'll shoot him first. "You know I can't--"

"--I will. I'll do it myself. I'll keep my head down." Miller eases his aviators off, examining something in Ocelot's expression. Exactly what, Ocelot himself can't imagine. "Besides, I'll have you to watch over me. A major in the GRU spetsnaz that even the locals have a name for, I hear."

Oh.

"I knew you were intelligence, which means you'll have done an interrogation or two. I knew you were a cold-blooded killer, but so's half the combat staff. It's good for business. I have to say, though, that even I wasn't aware that I had a..." Miller trails off, and for once these days, Ocelot can't finish his sentence. "...a legend under my command. They tell all kind of stories about you. My favourite's the one with the ants and the guy with his eyes sewn open. Or maybe the one with the teenage supply runner dragged behind a car from Kabul to the Kush."

Ocelot smooths a strand of grey hair back from his face. "Stories tend to be exaggerated for effect. Intentionally so, if the purpose is to strike fear into your enemies."

"I don't doubt it. I'm sure you're as good a liar as you are a sadist." Miller brushes it off. "They say that about you, too: that you're a master of psy ops and nobody who's been your prisoner is ever the same again. That you can break someone without touching them."

Miller's angry at himself again. Ocelot's learned to recognize that expression. Anger, laced with quiet contempt, and something new, something Ocelot knows intrinsically: hate.

"It's fine. That's good for business, too. All I'm saying is, I finally see why Snake wouldn't let you join us. You? Side-by-side with Chico and P--"

"Oh, I think Paz and I would've gotten along famously," Adamska whispers.

Miller's lips curl into a real snarl. "Don't misunderstand me. I know what you are, now. And I need you to fight Cipher. Fire with fire. I won't make the same mistake Snake did. I will get as dirty as I need to, to win. And when we finally capture Zero, you have my fucking blessing to do whatever you want. Whatever your sick mind dreams up."

Adamska merely nods. Blinks. This man's opinion of him is immaterial. As is Miller's desire to hurl himself headlong into reckless danger in pursuit of profit. "Welcome to the winning team," is all he has to say to that.

"Commander!" Pequod's voice crackles across the wireless, right on time. "We have a situation down at the helipad!"

It's unsubtle, unpolished; Pequod is as guileless a man as they come. It works only because Miller wants an escape route from the strangling tension he's wrought as much as Ocelot did and, unlike Ocelot, cannot escape inside his own head. "I have to deal with this," Miller mutters by way of excusing himself, and takes care not to brush past Ocelot on his way out.

Adamska shadows him soundlessly.

Pequod is grinning ear to ear - guileless, as Adamska said - while ten fresh recruits disembark with their belongings shouldered, favourite weapons in hand.

It only takes a second for Miller to get it. It's been eight years; enough time for a few new wrinkles and grey hairs, but for the most part their faces are still the same.

"Miller!" Badger, a broad-faced black machine gunner from the MSF spots him first, and wraps him up in a crushing hug.

All of them are survivors from eight years ago.

Miller's shock thaws into warmth and he greets each of them by name. Helps them unload their equipment. They try to brush him off; it's all grins and laughter and pats on the back. Only Adamska off to the side, in the shadows, sees Miller's lip begin to tremble. He slips back into his role.

"Hate to interrupt, but your boss is a busy man these days. Why don't I show you all to the 'racks, get you settled in? He'll come join you for supper." Ocelot breaks in with a welcoming grin, one boot forward to step into the light. "It's this way."

They file in behind him, chatting amongst themselves about how the new Mother Base stacks up against the old. A few unfavourable comparisons, but they haven't seen the whole thing yet. Give it time.

"Ocelot." Miller calls out. He doesn't turn around.

Ocelot tells the old newcomers that he'll catch up and treads cautiously back to Miller's side. He's removed his sunglasses; a black-gloved hand covers his eyes.

"Why?" It's breathy, almost inaudible.

"Not everybody wants to live as a battle hermit on War Island - you've lost good men, moving out here. Besides, if you're going into the field by yourself, you could use a few loyal bodyguards."

"And you tracked them all down for me... because it's safe to do so, now." Where, unlike Asmara, they won't lead XOF directly to their doorstep.

"Yes," Ocelot tells him kindly.

Miller sucks in a breath. Wipes his eyes. Reaches out toward Ocelot in a gesture that doesn't quite come to fruition before he thinks better of it and crushes it into a fist. He turns to go back to his office. Ocelot turns toward the barracks; they walk off in opposite directions.

Miller's right, you know. Ocelot is a good liar. He didn't track them down just now. He's been watching over those MSF soldiers for eight years. Protecting them and their families. Making sure they found employment that would make them even more useful to Miller when the time was finally right.

Rather, useful to you, he means.

 

Click.

 

"This is what you want, isn't it?" Miller's liquored up again, but not to the point he's slurring. When Ocelot left the party to let the old friends catch up - he's not one of them after all - he wasn't expecting Miller to show up on his doorstep an hour later.

Nor for the man to push him back into bed by the chest and straddle his hips.

Ocelot hits play on his stereo - a courteous habit he's developed over the years.

We are young
Heartache to heartache, we stand

Miller grinds down against Ocelot, the cleft of his ass squeezing Ocelot's rapidly hardening cock. He tosses a condom and a pocket-sized bottle of lubricant down beside Ocelot's face; Ocelot feels the soft thumps on his pillow.

"You sure this isn't what you want?" Ocelot laces his fingers behind his own head. Cocks it teasingly.

"Oh? You gonna give me what I want?" Miller rumbles, lowering himself over Ocelot's torso with a languid intensity that Ocelot didn't know he possessed. He digs an arm under Ocelot's back, hooks it around his waist. Uses it to pull their bodies together. Pushes his tongue so deeply into Ocelot's mouth it leaves him breathless when he finally pulls away.

And if we get much closer
I could lose control

"Yes."

"All right." All traces of temptation vanish from Miller's expression; he rolls to the side, and takes one of Ocelot's arms with him. Pulls Ocelot tight against his back, with that arm trapped under his, wrapped around his chest.

"Don't say anything. Don't move."

Adamska doesn't.

Miller sleeps.

 

Click. Whir.

 

It's not that Adamska doesn't speak English - he does, and can, quite fluently - it's that this English is very different from the one he's been taught. The vowels are strange and the words sometimes unrecognizable; medial 't's soften and hard terminal 'r's emerge. The pitch at which the men and even the one woman speak is a half-octave lower. Immersed in that sea, Adamska drinks in the water so deeply and thirstily they no longer have to ask him to repeat himself by the end of the first evening.

"How is that a KGB asset?" A man with oil-slicked hair still dented from his sharply angled fedora asks, philosophically. No one in the dim basement of their safehouse has an answer for him.

"What's your name, sugar?" The woman, who is all fake curls and dark eyeliner, asks him.

"Adamska," he replies.

"Adamska?" She flutters her painted eyelashes rapidly. "That's not Russian, is it? Is it Polish? I've never heard it before."

"'-ska'? Isn't that a girl's name?" A man with a neatly trimmed moustache ponders.

"It's Russian. It's a diminutive, like Misha for Mikhail or Dimka for Dimitri," the oldest man, smoking a cigar, observes in a voice so deep Adamska feels it in his bones. "His name's Adam."

Oh, is it?

"Still not a Russian name," the woman points out. "His parents must speak English. Who are your parents, Adam?"

No one has ever addressed him by name before. Not that he can recall. It feels strange; he wants to tell her names aren't allowed, that Adam isn't his name anyway - but who says it isn't? He no longer remembers where or when he first heard 'Adamska', only that he internalized it and used it to refer to himself in his own mind. But these people do not look at him like his caretakers used to. They aren't asking him to invent a story - they want him to tell the truth.

"I don't know." He gives them that truth. It tastes strange in his mouth. He's invented so many imaginary families and pleasant-sounding orphanages he is to recite if he ever finds himself alone; they are supposed to rise to his lips unbidden.

They don't.

Adamska's other answers are equally vague. At first he expects to be punished for failing to draw conclusions - he can describe where he was kept and who kept him in precise detail, but not their identities or purpose - but his new caretakers listen with a mixture of calculated indifference and genuine concern.

He must know something of importance, they decide. Or be the child of someone very important. Either way, he needs to be moved. As soon as they receive permission from their handler in the field, 'Adam' will be transported back to the United States.

He can't understand what they're thinking. What the purpose of their game is. It's unsettling, at first, having to rebuild his expectations and behaviour from the ground up, until he begins to realize that they have no expectations. They never ask him to repeat a conversation. To translate a passage. To practice an act until he has perfected it. They apologize for keeping him downstairs in the dark, out of sight. They surmise that he must be frightened, and bored.

They're wrong on all counts: Adamska - Adam - has never had more fun in his life. He is allowed to sleep whenever he wants, as long as he wants. Eat as much as he wants; though the first time he realizes they are sincere in this offer, not simply expecting him to infer the correct amount and punish him if he infers incorrectly, he eats so much he makes himself sick. When they catch him shivering they give him a blanket and never take it away. They speak unguardedly about the mundane details of their lives; when it's the man with the moustache's turn to watch him he talks about the wealthy politicians wives he's been shipped over here to seduce and all their irritating habits. Adam inquires about the habits of the man with the fedora and he gives a sputtering cough - he doesn't seem to realize that his pupils widen whenever that man is around, regardless of the light. The woman, who is plump to the point that his old caretakers would have taken all her meals away and told her she was worthless, but does not seem concerned by this fact, gets him to help her paint her nails. Adamska wants to bite them off her fingers; Adam thinks they're pretty.

But it's the man who smokes who introduces Adam to his first love: a tiny Walther PPK-L, perfect for his tiny hands. Aluminum, not steel, it feels weightless. This man does not enjoy small talk; he listens to the radio and shows Adam how to dismantle his weapon into its component parts, how all those little innocuous pieces fit together to form a whole that kills. He shows Adam how to clean it, too. How it works. Adam is permitted to pretend to fire it, but never given ammunition. When he is given ammunition, he doesn't get the gun; either or, never both. He learns to reload magazines and, eventually, how to reload the cartridges themselves with bullets and propellant.

His old caretakers would never allow him to handle firearms. Not even unloaded. They were wary of so much as describing them to him - they spoke of weapons with a reverence that bordered on religious, said that if he were introduced to them too soon his 'path would be decided for him'.

They were mistaken, Adam decides. There's nothing dangerous about handing Adam a weapon. The baby monster has gone to sleep; sated, comfortable. Safe. Adam is a person, too.

 

 

"Just you and I?" Ocelot remarks when he gets the job offer from Miller. "Sounds like old times."

It's not exactly like old times; Miller's asked him along on this hit because he's the only member of the combat personnel with a valid US passport and no criminal record, not because he's desperate and Ocelot will work for free. Their suits are no longer flashy and form-fitting - they're sleek black and slate grey with stark skinny ties over white undershirts. They've both tied their hair back in the ceremonial headdress of the people they are to represent: The Yuppie Corporate Ponytail. Though on this coast they're as likely to be aspiring assistant producers as Wall Street up-and-comers. Ocelot, too, is wearing sunglasses - an affectation he's adopted in blinding bright Afghanistan, though the lenses of these ones are small and circular.

Miller's planned potential delays at LAX and the apocalyptic, Road Warrior-esque rush hour for which the city is known into their schedule; when they encounter neither, they arrive at their hillside resort with hours to kill, as well (as their target - sorry, John).

Their private suite is perfect in every way: California King-size bed, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a private patio with its very own infinity pool with a sea and city view. The furniture is monochrome: black and white leather with glass and stainless steel accents. Ocelot variously sits, lays, and sprawls across every piece, until Miller wheedles him into doing his job.

Needlessly, because Ocelot already knows the patio provides a view into every part of their target's own home. Floor-to-ceiling windows are excellent for that. The blinds are drawn, but it won't make a difference through an IR scope.

All that's left is the waiting. The target won't get off work for another hour and likely won't get home for another two or three. The acoustics check out - this annex is separate from the rest of the resort, and they selected this date specifically because the suites nearby are empty in the low season. Combined with distance and a suppressor, no one will hear the shot. Ballistics will eventually trace it back to this annex and even to this room, no doubt, but by then they will be halfway across the world. The names and identification they gave fake; the security footage of them erased. Descriptions generic, misleading, and wearing shades. Nothing touched with bare hands. Their wire transfers untraceable. Law enforcement knows better than to look too hard for professional hitmen; if by some miracle they were somehow ever identified, it's not as if Mother Base has an extradition treaty.

He's done this for the KGB and CIA before, after all. Many times.

It's all wrapped up in a neat little package for Miller. No need to get their hands dirty by creeping around in the target's home past all his bodyguards. It is, frankly, almost boring, and what's worse, Miller refuses to take any hints about how they should spend their free time, no matter how unsubtle.

"I told you - we're done," says the man who ground down on his dick a few days ago with a bottle of lube in hand when Ocelot cups his ass from behind on the balcony, lips pressed lightly to his neck. (Oh, right, Miller tried to fuck him again while he was drunk and ended up passing out, John. He'd complain about the mixed signals, but he's a gentleman, and a lady reserves the right to change her mind.)

Miller still gets hard from it and Ocelot still ends up sucking him off in the bathroom.

But after that, Miller is persuaded to go to dinner solely on account of the fact that a) the singular hostess thinks she looks prettier without her glasses on and can barely make out the menu let alone reliably identify them, b) apart from physically gagging him there's nothing he can do to stop Ocelot from singing to himself until he gets fed, and c) it's included in their stay so not making use of it would be a waste of money.

That one's the clincher.

Miller tells the squinting hostess that Ocelot is an important client, and so requests to be seated away from the other patrons. Ocelot informs her afterward, conspiratorially, that Miller is his shy boyfriend and he suspects the man means to propose. That should guarantee them real privacy. And free champagne.

In fact they're seated in a section entirely by themselves with a spectacular view of the sunset; Miller doubtless patting himself on the back for his smooth-talking ways. The red-gold hues fade to warm orange candlelight as day slips past. It washes out the soul-suckingly beige decor and brass accents plastered on every available surface, no matter how tacky.

"You might as well talk to me, Miller," Ocelot suggests after the appetizer and salad have slid down soundlessly. He wishes they weren't working tonight; wine pairings would make this a much more enjoyable experience. "How often are we ever in the same room, these days?"

Either Miller is out in the field, or he is. They have their own specialties; their own commands. In Miller's defense he's been a good boy about staying behind the Mujahideen lines for the most part. Training and support. Nice little vacations like this aside.

Miller makes a sour face around a crouton. "What do we have to talk about? I'm not discussing our operations in public."

"Whatever you want," Ocelot sighs. Rests his chin against his palm. Yes, this stopped being fun back in '82. Your moody mistress is no longer cute when she's crabby. He pushes his glass of water around futilely, mentally preparing to spend the next few hours in silence. Possibly the rest of the night. And the ride back to Mother Base.

"Fine," Miller cuts in, "Let's talk."

Ocelot's smile returns in a flash; he opens his mouth to say 'about what,' but Miller ripostes: "Let's talk about the tape you left me."

"Snake's." Ocelot shrugs. "Thought that was obvious."

"Old war buddies. Do not make each other mix tapes." Miller punctuates the words with pauses to make clear that he brooks no bullshit. "Yeah yeah, you sucked him off in the 60s. I heard you. Fuckbuddies don't make each other mix tapes either."

"Miller. Why do you care?" And here Ocelot thought the man would appreciate hearing the sound of his lover's voice. "He loves rock. I'm sure he's made you--"

"No, he hasn't. Never. He's never written me so much as a damn letter, I thought he wasn't the type, I thought--"

Ocelot laughs out loud. Helplessly. Incredulous. "Are you jealous?"

Miller snarls, hands on the table, suddenly endearing all over again. He actually thumps the surface with his palms. Ocelot has to take a sip of his water just to settle down.

"He doesn't give a shit about me," Ocelot confesses, wiping his eyes with the napkin against tears of mirth. "He wants you."

"How do you know?" The edge of Miller's voice is serrated with antipathy.

"He told me himself." Ocelot replies, and they are forced to pause for a change of plates; the half-blind hostess mistakes his reddened face for something else entirely and flashes him a sympathetic frown. "He wants to keep you. If he woke up and I was dead, haha--" Ocelot can't keep a straight face anymore, "--hahah he'd wonder where else he was going to get Soviet helicopters."

It's not entirely true, you might also beat yourself up a little for letting another piece of her slip through your fingers, another failure, you do enjoy that--

"Then why are you helping me?" Miller's rage has run its course; it simmers mildly between his creased brows.

"For Snake," Ocelot spreads a palm upward.

"Snake might never wake up."

"Then for myself, I suppose." Ocelot takes another sip against the strangeness of the words. "I am a person."

"Are you? Because it sure as fuck doesn't seem like it sometimes."

Ocelot reaches out to lay fingertips on Miller's jaw. "Then what am I? Don't tell me you believe in Snake's ghost stories."

"Soldiers are superstitious." Miller smacks them away. "It's natural, living life that close to death."

"Superstition is the opiate of the masses, Miller. A good communist--"

"If you want me to talk to you, talk. Don't make conversation. Don't give me platitudes. Tell me: what do you think happens after you die?"

This is great date material. No wonder Miller is such a legend with the ladies. "Snake always said--"

"Oh, fuck what--"

Ocelot stomps on his toe under the table, a gesture so breathtakingly immature the man is speechless for a second. But it was warranted, John. Trust him. "Nobody knows what happens after you die, Miller, but I like the idea of what Snake always said. Based on one of your Japanese traditions, I believe. That you face all the people you've killed. Or badly wronged, I suppose. That would be a short walk for most people, otherwise."

"Sanzu-no-kawa. The river of the dead." Miller rubs his temples. His retaliation postponed, struggling to be the bigger man. "Yeah, he did say that. Swore it was true. But you... why do you like that idea? Wouldn't yours be longer than the Nile? You're one of those guys who likes the idea of fighting forever? Lives for the battlefield?"

"Do I look like I 'live for the battlefield'?" Ocelot asks blithely, switching Miller's misappropriated entree fork to the correct one for emphasis. "No, I wouldn't fight them. What would be the point of that? If I killed them once, I'm sure I could do it again. I'd talk to them."

"I don't think it works like that. You're not the hero of a comic book for preteen boys - you can't weasel your way out by telling them a story about your sad childhood. You have fight them. Those are the rules."

"Since when have you and I ever played by the rules? No," Ocelot smiles wistfully. "I would explain myself to them."

Miller snorts. "See: this is the kind of shit I'm talking about. That's not how people work. They aren't rational about grief. Loss. Suffering."

"They're dead. Their suffering is over. They have nothing left to lose."

"You don't think death is suffering." Miller states flatly, and for once, Ocelot isn't sure if it's a question. There's nothing in his expression to suggest either way.

"Oh, no. Death is mercy." When Miller's mouth turns skeptical, he continues: "Believe it or not, I don't kill wantonly. Ever. If you kill someone, you'd better be sure you have no more use for them. Because you're setting them free."

His grin mirrors back at him in the red-tinged reflection off Miller's black sunglasses. "If I really hated someone, Miller, they'd live to be a hundred. Trapped inside their own body. I would paralyze them, ruin their mind, and make sure they got the best medical care money could buy."

For all his talk of using Ocelot to amplify his revenge, Miller doesn't have much to say to that. He permits petty pleasantries to filter back through; to banter. To speak, vaguely, about work. Upcoming jobs. By the end of dessert Ocelot's mind has shut it out entirely, no longer giving conscious thought to his replies. If Miller notices he's good enough not to say so.

They stroll through the temperate smog of night together in silence. The city beyond is a haze of dirty white stars glinting in a sea of fluorescent grey-orange skyscrapers.

Ocelot was honest with him: he's not one for needless death. A corpse can do nothing more for you; much better to let your enemies live, to continue to use them to your own ends. It's one of your fundamental differences in philosophy, though he suspects that, after all this, you might come around to seeing it his way. You've always preferred to befriend them. Make them one of your own.

(And about all that maudlin nonsense at dinner - Miller would never understand your relationship, now would he? You might not be in love, but you are inseparable. Where you go, he will follow. The crow to your battlefield. The shadow cast by your still-breathing corpse.)

Miller thinks he doesn't understand human nature. Doesn't he? Would not, for example, the KGB soldiers he killed the day he first met you be interested to know that their own superiors were the ones who gave him that order? That they had been considered expendable for a higher cause?

He would have no patience for any ire directed his way by a fellow combatant; choosing a violent path is a good way to die violently. Should he be lucky enough to go down fighting, he won't have any resentment for that man or woman at all. Kill or be killed. And he thinks it might salve the wounds of those who he's condemned to death by other means to know that his greater purpose is the utter destruction of their invaders. A costly war to bankrupt the USSR; to bring the world one step closer to unity. That they died victorious martyrs after all.

And he would tell Zebra about the letter he'd received from his employer that night, from some other proxy. Not through him. Meaning that they no longer trusted him; Ocelot was far kinder, far gentler about his interrogation and death than Zebra's own master would have been. Perhaps he should have played it differently. Not tried to win him over to the cause. Not played on his empathy or cultivated friendship. Perhaps he'd still be alive if he hadn't.

Ocelot didn't say he didn't have any regrets.

For all the stories he's weaved about you (and some about himself) you're flesh and blood, two genetic dead ends in an uncaring universe built on randomness, chance, chaos, and predictable patterns, and when Miller flips on the news on their colossal 32" TV and cranks up the volume so that neither of them have to speak to one another, the perky Asian anchor chirps the words 'carmageddon on the 405' with absolutely nothing you, he, or even she could do about it.

A 50-car pileup. All lanes shut down. Their eyes on the ground tell them their target is caught up in it, is still heading home, and could very well arrive by next Tuesday.

"Well?" Ocelot asks with his feet up on a glass end table, "Do we wait?"

"I don't see what other choice we have," Miller mutters inanely, loosening his tie. "I'll make us some coffee."

Miller's left it on the news; Ocelot doesn't particularly care whether or not the Raiders make the playoffs, nor is he concerned about the fact that it's dry in California and, shockingly, some trees are on fire as a result. He swipes the remote and turns to a much more relatable program about a renamed super detective rebuilt through plastic surgery and his artificially intelligent talking car.

Miller sets their coffees down. Swipes the remote back while Ocelot is momentarily distracted by David Hasselhoff's chest hair. Turns it to 60 Minutes: Diane Sawyer is struggling admirably to make a report on President Regan's tax policies sound interesting when all she really wants to do is ask about his newly announced and very convincing plan to knock nuclear missiles out of the air with other missiles.

He waits until she leans in to ask a riveting question about trickle down economics so intently her bra strap is visible and snatches the remote back. Finds a Dukes of Hazzard re-run. Holds the remote up and away from Miller's grabbing fingers - the benefits of longer arms - until the other man sees enough of Daisy Duke's short shorts to be amenable to the program.

God bless America.

Miller shoves him away the first few times Ocelot trails idle fingertips down from his knee to his hip. Huffs a few ineffective and unconvincing 'no's and 'knock it off's when Ocelot untucks his shirt and strokes his stomach. (No attempts to push that hand away, though.) Miller's breathing hitches pleasantly and by the second episode he's climbed into Ocelot's lap.

That's how they spend the rest of the evening and most of the night: making out on a stiff, white leather couch, wiping the occasional handful of sweat and dribble of precum off on a faux fur throw, while sitcoms and infomercials drone on in the background.

Ocelot is licking a bruise he's sucked into Miller's collarbone when the other man shudders in his arms; the glove he's been slowly teasing his rim and sac and the underside of his shaft with suddenly hot and slippery. He needs to rinse them off before the come dries; he needs to piss; he needs to check the scope, anyway. It's Miller who mumbles a protest into his shoulder when they detach, delightfully mussed in his tieless, jacketless, crumpled suit.

His watch tells him it's nearly 0200 - the VCR above the television tells him it's 1200, 1200, 1200 - which isn't particularly late for either of them, so he's a little taken aback by the trembling of his fingers when he washes the gloves. He makes fists; tries to still them. Nothing works. His skin is hot to the touch but he feels cold. Getting sick?

Doesn't matter. All he needs to do is pull a trigger.

But the Jaguar that pulls into the target's driveway is blurry. No fine adjustments to the optics bring it back into focus. His shoulder vibrates against the stock. "He's home," Ocelot observes, and Miller pads over in socked feet.

"Wait until he's gone to bed. That way they won't find him until morning." Or afternoon, depending on how late their target sleeps on the weekend. They'll be on a JAL flight leaving Hawaii by then.

"Good idea. Wish I'd thought of that." Ocelot's usually delightful sarcasm marred by the chattering of his lower jaw. His head scratches like steel wool.

Ocelot wishes very badly that Miller would go jerk off to the TV lady shilling bracelets to depressed housewives, but no, he takes a seat on the patio table behind him. "Ocelot... are you okay?"

"Never been better," Ocelot responds; the shakes are getting worse and worse.

Miller stands again. Walks to his side. Stares at him a while; eventually, tugs his head up by the hair and bores into his eyes. "Oh my fucking god." Miller drops Ocelot's head and digs curled fingers into his own. "You're coming down. From what, Ocelot? On a mission?"

Ocelot doesn't know. He doesn't remember taking anything. He touched down in LAX and met up with Miller in the business class lobby after a flight from--

--Where?

--From DC. No, from Houston. No, it was too cold, too humid for that, and it smelled like rain, like--

Ocelot groans plaintively and drops the rifle. There's something he's supposed to be doing right now. But he's not doing it, because this job was supposed to be finished by late afternoon. They were supposed to be out on a red eye in opposite directions, which Miller has rebooked for an early morning flight, and might have to rebook again. What was that thing?

The light behind them sears his eyelids. The pain is unreal; trying to parse his disconnected thoughts hurts so badly he almost vomits.

"You do it..." A pitiful whisper from disembodied lips pressed against the patio table; a voice that barely sounds like his.

"Fuck. Fuck. Fine." Miller pushes him aside with a tenderly vicious shove that topples Ocelot down onto the bench and takes his position behind the scope. Takes an eternity adjusting it for his proportions. Ocelot can see the barrel sway.

He'll be lucky if he hits the same building, at this rate. Miller licks his lips. "It's... how far away is it again?"

"Depends where he is in the house. Use your range finder." Laying on the bench seems like a good idea, actually.

"Yeah..." Miller trails off. "Sure, but..."

"Which of the grids does he fit into?"

"Grids...?" Have you honestly never shown him a real marksman rifle? "There are a hundred fucking hashmarks on this reticle, and he's laying down, and--"

Ocelot sits back up again with a grunt, swallowing bile. Pushes Miller's head out of the way. Peers. "850 yards, give or take." Thumps back down.

"So...? Then, I, uh..."

"Do the math." Surely they taught him algebra at Harvard. Or wherever. Ocelot's sure he read Miller's transcripts at one point, but can't remember where or when and trying to dredge up details right now is like crawling on coals.

"What math?"

Oh. No, he never went to sniper school in his mom's candy store or whatever that was, the JSDF didn't even have one back then, and you and he spent your time practicing CQC as foreplay instead of putting time in at the range (as foreplay). It takes Ocelot the better part of 15 minutes to do calculations he normally does in 15 seconds. Doesn't even tell him the elevation or adjustment; grabs the rifle and moves it for him. "Point. Shoot."

Miller still misses by a good thirty yards. Right into a decorative koi pond.

English fails him. Only Russian will do - the kind he learned not from the Philosophers but from the other spetsnaz brawling with broken glass fist wraps. What is he supposed to do? Go over the whole Principles of Marksmanship like Miller is back in boot camp? You told him Miller was a solid B-grade soldier when you met him; he's honed some skills in the interim and lost others. But this is an A-grade shot. "You know, maybe if you spent more time with the tools of your trade and less time licking every snatch that spreads for you--"

"This. Is. Not. My. Job. This is your job." Miller grabs him by the shoulders and shakes him. Ocelot almost pukes again. "I don't even care that you're a fucking junkie. Honestly, I'm not all that surprised. But the least you could do is bring a hit of whatever it is with you just in case things go longer than planned."

Now there's an idea. "Go buy some coke. I'll make the shot."

"What?" Miller lets him go.

"You're a terrible shot, not deaf. You heard me. I'm sure finding cocaine in LA is not beyond the skills of an intrepid businessman." It might sound counter-intuitive to use a stimulant for sniping, but it is the one drug Ocelot knows he does use when coffee won't cut it in terms of prolonged wakefulness, and if this is withdrawal a little twitchiness beats violent shakes.

Miller gripes and bitches in the periphery of Ocelot's roiling consciousness, but he puts his shoes and departs to presumably do as asked.

Now that Ocelot is alone, he can try his triggers. Whatever this one is it's hard-wired; everything in him rejects, rejects, rejects because this is neither the time nor place, there are scents and sights and sounds he needs that he can't reproduce. The scrawled calculations on the table make his skull throb. Whatever he doesn't remember is dangerous to remember. Must be. His hands grip his own throat when he goes too far, starts to see--

--double?

--a hospital room?

"Christ." Water from Miller's dirty coffee mug is splashed onto his face. "Don't die on me."

Ocelot's watch reads 0245. That was fast. Dazed, groggy, shivering, the clean lines Miller's laid out on their coffee table promise bliss - one is already a fine opaque smear. Ocelot smirks up at the rapidly blinking man above him: "Pot, kettle."

Coffee doesn't always cut it for Miller either, it seems.

"Just hurry up." Miller jars his head in the direction of the table, where Ocelot kneels and inhales and yes, yes that hits the spot. That's good. That'll do. He's still damp and nauseous and in pain and faintly aroused but it doesn't hurt anymore, at least for a little while. It's all bearable again. Another line and he could go another eight years of this.

It takes him about fifty seconds to set up and make the shot. Cleanly. Through the head. Through the window their target has cracked open. Doesn't even flinch at the recoil, the nasty habit you're always on him about, because right now nothing hurts anymore.

There's nothing else he'd rather be doing. There's nowhere else he'd rather be.

Miller calls for their ride. But he, too, has been sucked into the automotive thunderdome spiraling around the city; he'll be another hour, maybe more.

They mutually decide they'll spend it finishing up what they've bought.

"Let's fuck," says Ocelot.

"No," says Miller.

Ocelot pushes him against the short backrest of the couch and straddles him. "I want to fuck you," says Ocelot. The kiss Ocelot presses to Miller's face can barely be called such: he mouths over his jaw, nose, lips. Swallows powder.

"I want to fight you," Miller mumbles out between attempts to catch Ocelot's tongue.

"What?" Ocelot pauses. Miller's cock rubs hard against the underside of his thigh.

"Fight me."

"Why?" Miller tries to buck him off; the movement makes Ocelot's toes curl. He rocks with him.

"Because I want to beat the shit out of you. Because I could beat the shit out of you."

"Oh, Miller." Ocelot grins, holding him down with ease. "That's the coke talking. You couldn't beat me if you were a john and I was your mother."

"Then prove it. Fight me." Miller snarls. His teeth snap. Ocelot reaches for his belt, Miller struggles furiously against his hold.

Miller wedges one knee up; Ocelot thinks that's adorable, that he's trying to create a little distance in spite of his raging erection--

"FIGHT ME!"

Ocelot is kicked so hard he lands more off the coffee table than on it, curled over, heaving. He didn't see it coming, didn't have time to tense; Miller stalks over warily, as if he were approaching a wounded animal - not warily enough, because the moment he reaches down Ocelot grabs him by the arm and slams his head into the glass so hard it cracks.

Then it's on. Oh, it's on.

No weapons, no injuries to prey on, no systema, no dirty tricks. If Miller wants a CQC match, that's what he'll get. He moves immediately to grapple Ocelot after that, put him in a chokehold while blood oozes from his nose, thinks his useless vanity weight will give him an advantage but Ocelot slips out under it, seizes him by the chin and hair, and bashes his face against the glass again. Miller paws, flails, uselessly--

Finds a good grip. Hurls Ocelot across it and into the couch, toppling both.

Miller rushes him to seize his advantage; Ocelot has already kipped back to his feet, uses that momentum and all the strength in his legs to land an uppercut that sends Miller staggering backwards. This is all Ocelot's game now: he's faster, he has more reach. He lands five hits to every one of Miller's - to his face, to his stomach, to his kidneys. He tries to grab Ocelot and Ocelot punishes him for his hubris with punch to the throat that leaves him wheezing and coughing. Ocelot cracks his knuckles. His neck.

"You know, I think I'm starting to enjoy myself." Ocelot chuckles. Actually, this wasn't a bad idea at all. Very stress-relieving. Just what they needed, maybe. "This is what gets you in the mood, right?"

Miller lunges for him; Ocelot blocks it and redirects his momentum over the end table, chuckling again when he trips. "I beat you up, you put out? Try to stay conscious for me, I hear it's more fun that way."

Not that it would be the first time he wasn't, from what you've told him.

The dumb animal you like to stick your dick in just doesn't know when he's beat: he gets back up after every hit. Maybe he thinks he'll tire Ocelot out. Ocelot, who can run a five-minute mile. Ocelot, who carries Miller's body weight in kit on 10-mile marches. Maybe he just likes getting hit. Who knows. It's nostalgic, a little - reminds Ocelot of the few hours he spent alone with his mother twenty years ago, only in reverse. You'd humiliated him so much he'd demanded she teach him CQC.

She'd smiled the only smile he'd ever seen from her, cracked her knuckles, and beaten him around the ring until he couldn't move.

"Is that all you've got?" Miller's not quite there yet. Woozy, punch drunk. Glowering. Taking a few steps back. Probably means to tackle him. Well, that won't go well for him either. "Miller, I don't have the time to be the one who chokes you on his cock until you tell yourself you like it."

Miller's face blackens. Ocelot almost expects him to howl; he doesn't, he charges. With rage-fueled strength, flinging them both backwards--

So, California gets a lot of earthquakes. And as such, most exterior windows - particularly of the floor-to-ceiling variety - are safety glass. Unlike plate glass, which might have sliced Ocelot's back right open and ended this story rather abruptly, safety glass shatters into little tiny pieces that hurt like a son of a bitch, but won't kill anybody.

Landing on concrete tiles on a back full of glass with another man on top of him is not an experience Ocelot would care to repeat; Miller looks down, triumphant, at the agony he's in while he writhes.

No, now it's on.

Ocelot grabs a fistful of the tiny, sharp kernels - leather gloves, remember - and grinds them into Miller's smug face.

Miller cries out; only those stupid sunglasses save his eyesight, and Ocelot knocks those off his face next with punch after punch until Miller finally recovers enough to use his leverage to try to pin him, try to make him stop hitting him. Ocelot smashes his forehead right into Miller's broken nose. Hooks his knee up and flips him over again - or tries to, Miller's learned a few things since that alley in Eritrea, he keeps his balance, ducks out, grabs Ocelot's knee and uses it to roll him onto his stomach.

"You're done. You're done," Miller croaks, and it sounds like a plea because it is one. Ocelot's barely getting started. Miller's not so heavy Ocelot can't throw him, and if Miller tries to get his arm around his neck Ocelot will tear his forearm apart with his teeth, just like he did that KGB assassin.

It's ugly, John. It's slippery with glass and blood and he can't get a grip. He has long hair now and Miller is not above using it. He can't kick or elbow free; Miller's pleas for him to stop get increasingly desperate.

He should stop, shouldn't he? What is there to this fight, but pride? Ocelot doesn't need that. Never needed it. Let Miller have his victory. Ocelot knows the truth - he could get out of this, but to do that, he'd really have to hurt him.

Ocelot is just about to tell him to stop when Miller dunks his head into the pool.

Just go limp, his rational mind suggests. Miller isn't going to drown him. He just wants him out of the fight.

But what if he is?

John, what if Miller drowns him?

He can't breathe.

John, what if Miller doesn't let go?

He can't breathe.

You wouldn't hurt him you're smothering him you wouldn't really hurt him you're killing him you'd let go as soon as he lost consciousness but what if you didn't.

 

I don't want to die.

 

Adamska grabs the hand with fingers in his hair, holding him under, and breaks them one by one. Miller screams; Adamska rolls into the water, drags that arm with him, and pulls it out of its socket.

Don't kill him.

Adamska pulls Miller into the pool by his limp, dangling, excruciatingly painful limb; he gets an arm up under his throat and forces him under the water, starts drowning him, knees him in the stomach mercilessly to force Miller to cough and swallow.

Don't kill him.

Miller struggles. Thrashes. Kicks. He knows he's dying.

They say that being suffocated feels like drowning. Does that make Miller's blue eyes the depths under which they've--

both--

Adamska lets him go.

Miller's still conscious. He finds the strength to fight back to the surface and collapses on the pool's edge. Coughing. Gasping. Spitting up water. Tears of pain in his eyes. He peers down at his hand. Grimaces. "I wasn't going to kill you you stupid fuck."

"Neither was I."

The only difference is one of them proved it. Adamska supposes he'll never know if Miller meant it or not. He swims, silently, up behind the other man. Miller's a shuddering wreck. His high is wearing off and so is his adrenaline. When Adamska presses up against his back he's cold. Soaked to the skin. No aviators; flat, dripping hair. Covered in cuts and bruises. He utters a few soft, oddly vulnerable noises of protest when Adamska unclasps his belt.

He's still a little stiff.

"Ocelot?" Miller's eyes are wide and round. They flit from side to side. His pulse is racing. "Ocelot." He cranes his neck around and says it again, against Adamska's mouth.

"I still could, you know." Adamska states plainly. Tugs Miller's trousers down and strokes his cock; slippery, underwater. The fine blond hairs around it stand on weightlessly on end. "I could fuck you while you drowned."

It's true. It would probably feel very good.

Miller does not like that idea. He starts to struggle again. Adamska holds his face under the water until he stops. He swims them backwards, Miller's back pressed to his chest, his one useful arm pinned. "I could fuck you any time I wanted. I could drug you. Tie you up in your own office."

Miller does not seem to like that idea either. He kicks, but in the water he has no leverage. He gets some notion of what Adamska means to do and he really starts to fight again; starts using his teeth, realizes that if he drags them both under on purpose Adamska will have to breathe, too. Creates some distance between them that way.

But when Miller resurfaces, Adamska hits him harder than he's ever hit anyone in his life. And then he drags him over to the edge, the other edge, the one overlooking a cliff and trees and the city sprawled blow. The one from which they'd take weeks to recover his body from if he toppled.

Because you chose him, John. And he failed you. Adamska left him alive, let the two of you alone, left him to you and he didn't protect you.

They'll all fail you, John.

Adamska presses Miller's throat down hard on the glass lip of the pool, face toward that precipitous fall. "I could sell you to any interested takers. I know more than a few. Chain you to a bed in the barracks and let your own men use you between missions."

He's considered it, idly. Wondered what Miller would really do about it; without his protection, he's a dead man anyway. "Or maybe I'll just fuck you right now and let you fall to your death."

Miller looks like he has something to say to that. Adamska eases the pressure off to let him speak. It quells the strangled noses; his eyes stop bulging and Adamska half-expects the saliva that's collected at the corners of his mouth to get spat at him.

Instead, Miller says: "Go ahead." All traces of fear gone. Nothing in his gaze left but challenge.

Well, all right then.

Adamska wets his lips. Fishes his own cock out and eases it between the solid muscle of Miller's ass cheeks and past his unresisting rim. Water does not make for the best lubricant; Adamska forces the whole length inside him, raw, with a sigh of delight.

It does feel good.

He likes the friction. He likes the way Miller feels inside when he squirms to get his good hand under his throat, to keep it from being crushed against the glass. He likes the way Miller instinctively fucks back against him, even as he struggles to keep from being strangled. Likes his wheezing moans of pleasure; Adamska's first few thrusts are rough stabs to see just where he likes it, and on the third Miller's breath catches in a waste of precious oxygen to express just how helpless he is when another man drills him just right.

And then he really starts to move. Forearm braced across the back of Miller's neck, chin in his hair; the other hand caresses Miller's hipbone and steadies his pelvis against the press of Oce--Adamska's own. It's impossible to move quickly under water; he fucks Miller with forceful finesse.

Miller's body sucks him in, so wet and giving he could dissolve in it. Tighter, hotter than his mouth. More helpless. All he can do is take, take, take - the slosh of water, the occasional moist gasp and choked sigh. "Is this what you wanted from me all along?" Ocel--Adamska presses a kiss to his dripping, lank hair. "To give you the one thing Snake couldn't?"

He can, though. It would be his pleasure.

Miller looks like he has something else to say. Adamska eases off his neck again; fucks him through it the whole time, and it makes Miller's voice rasp, throaty and wanton: "Go ahead."

"Fuck you." He spits. Right onto Ocelot's lips. Ocelot rewards him with a brutal thrust that rams him right up against the glass, and Miller's cry of pain sounds more like ecstasy.

Adamska blinks. He lowers his head, lips brushing the other man's ear curiously. "Oh?" He's given up? He wants to die?

"Do it. But then you'll never get what you really want from me, will you?"

Miller's face is burning: with effort, with lust, with oxygen deprivation. He drools wantonly over his lips and down the glass in an oozing smear - droplets break off and fall into the darkness below. Ocelot slows. Scarcely nudges his prostate with the tip of his cock. Curious to see what he'll beg for first: air or release.

"And what is it I want?" Amused. Adamska's never wanted anything in his whole life but to hurt, to terrify, to kill.

Miller forces his own head to the side effortfully. Stares into his eyes a long moment before speaking, wet lips touching Adamska's own with every word: "You want me to fuck you."

Miller's shaking violently with denial - Ocelot'd tell you how good he looks like this, but he's sure you know. He doesn't beg. He spreads his legs temptingly. Loosens up to force Ocelot to thrust harder to get the friction he needs to get off. Strokes the side of Ocelot's calf with a bare foot.

"Do I?" Adamska smiles against them. His hips have slowed but they haven't stilled. Puffs of breath and the softest sounds escape Miller when he's struck exactly how he likes it.

"So badly it shows in every move you make when I touch you." Miller tongue is touching his lips when he speaks now, too, and draws over their surface. "You spread your legs for me when we sit together. Your hips move with mine. Your muscles tense like I was inside you."

Fine. Ocelot'll give him what he wants. He'll put all his weight into it. Pump into him so viciously it'll leave him bruised. Stretched. Brace him motionless, trapped, while he writhes beneath him. Of course, that's when he starts begging for it.

"F-Fuck..." A rattling sigh; he wants more; he's loving every second of this. "Ocel-... lot... christ..."

"You finger yourself when your lips are around my cock." Adamska tries to catch that tongue between his teeth; Miller allows him. Lets him bite down until he draws blood. Lets him swallow it. Strokes his jaw until he lets go. "You don't want to kill me. You want to push me down, wrap your legs around me, and feel me under your skin."

Adamska opens his mouth for Miller's tongue. Releases Miller's neck entirely.

That pleasant crimson stain flushes down his shoulders and between the blades. Miller's orgasm is a rasp half-drowned in foamy spit and pool water; he convulses, forgets to breathe, and after winding up so tight around Ocelot's shaft he has to fight to fuck him through it, passes out draped over the glass.

Ocelot follows him a dozen or so seconds later. His come is warmer than the pool water - he can feel it spread throughout Miller's hole, coating it, before it cools.

Adamska strokes Miller's tongue with the tip of his own, swallows it, grins at Miller's shiver when the man has to pull off his dick in order to turn over. Adamska's throbs painfully at the suddenly loss of pressure and heat, but Miller's is just as thick and achingly swollen when Adamska pushes him around the rest of the way and straddles his lap.

The fingers of Miller's one good hand are tangled in his hair. Adamska returns the gesture with both of his.

Ocelot eases him up off the wall. Checks his pulse carefully. Inspects the damage to his neck. He's fine, John. Albeit gently used. He'll return to factory condition after a few months - good as new.

Miller can't guide his own cock in, and he can't make Adamska do it; but rather than snarl in frustration he merely thrusts up into the cleft of his ass, for whatever faint pleasure he can find there. Whatever Adamska can pressed tightly up to his shifting body. Adamska can hear it in his mouth; when Miller pulls his head back, breaks the kiss, a thick trail of saliva joins them until Miller speaks: "Take what you want."

Yes.

He doesn't need to be stretched, much. He likes the friction. He releases Miller's head and hooks one arm under his shoulders to keep him from sinking back under the water. Works his own rim open with two fingers while Miller watches, so aroused his lips are swollen and his nipples dig painfully into Adamska's chest as it heaves. Then he uses Miller's own cock.

Just the tip, like he was fucking himself on a toy. And had all the time in the world. Halfway in and all the way back out. Miller whines in the back of his throat and writhes; when his hips move up, Adamska's do, too, chasing pleasure that eludes him with every thrust, until--

Ah. That's right. Right there. A shudder runs through Adamska's body. The white fades from his vision to find Miller's hand tight around his waist, seated in Miller's lap with Miller's cock sheathed fully inside him.

And it feels good. They rock together until Adamska's legs shake; he grasps the glass for leverage, supporting them both while Miller angles and rocks his hips in a rhythm that spreads heat from the lowest part of Adamska's abdomen to the tips of his fingers.

Miller's face is flushed crimson; from the warmth radiating off his skin Adamska knows his is too. Miller's blue eyes are glassy with pleasure, and he bites upturned lips while they walk over Adamska's body riding his.

"Was it me who wanted this, or you?" Adamska asks breathlessly; his own cock is leaking badly and Miller hasn't even touched it - that cute little curve of Miller's he loves to suck is tilted right into his prostate and he groans.

"Pretty sure it was both of us," Miller admits with a pleasant hiss. His cock pulses - Adamska can feel it, buried deep - and he eases off, hand on the small of Adamska's back instead.

"Going to come?" Adamska asks teasingly, though his voice shudders around the words.

"Mmnn. I'm good." Miller's eyes slip half-lidded. He parts his lips invitingly. Adamska's muscles are spasming reflexively around him, and the pleasure that inflicts soaks through his expression while Adamska watches from above. "Are you?"

Adamska nods.

"Go on." Miller strokes his spine with a thumb. "I want to feel it."

His own eyes are hardly slits when he leans down to take Miller up on the unspoken offer: to push his own tongue into that yielding warmth and make him taste the growl that rises in the back of his throat as he finally - finally - loses control.

Miller doesn't last more than a few seconds longer; his come is warmer than the water, and Adamska can feel that heat linger briefly, after his cock slips out.

And Miller slumps over, passed out cold.

Ocelot keeps Miller's head out of the water during their solitary swim of shame back to the other edge of the pool. Grunts at the effort of shoving him back up over the side onto the tiles. Makes a mental note to tell you to put him on a diet. Hell, maybe he'll lock him in a cage himself.

Or maybe that's just the crash talking. He collapses beside Miller in the same sodden, battered, miserable heap for a while before he thinks to call the driver.

Still half an hour away. Hasn't even been that long. Miller'll come to in a few minutes. He's half-conscious now.

This was a mistake. Sure, he was never really going to murder your boyfriend - of course not - but he almost lost control, almost said some truly unfortunate things. The kinds of things you can't take back. The kinds of things that will wreak havoc on their working relationship going forward.

He has rudimentary supplies here. Most of the right drugs. Miller's in a passably receptive mental state.

"We've fooled around," Ocelot tells him some time later, and that suggestion will become his truth. "But we've never fucked. Just hands and mouths - neither one of us willing to relinquish control to the other."

Come to think of it, there are a few things about tonight Ocelot himself could stand to forget--

To Miller, it will be the night they had a coked out fistfight and finally beat the hell of each other. When he awakens the other man isn't even surprised. To Ocelot, it'll be the night Miller finally - fucking finally, John - put out.

Though Ocelot will always wonder how in the hell Miller managed to splatter semen between his legs.

 

 

To be sure, Ocelot felt like death warmed over after that night. He and Miller both drank themselves into a coma on the flight home; Miller's still in a cast, though he tells the men he broke that fist on Ocelot's bony face. Ocelot wonders if he thinks that's true.

It takes a lot more force than Miller usually possesses to crack someone's skull. Your brain - yes, even yours, John - being the most important part of their body, it's made to withstand a lot of punishment.

Ocelot's cheekbone is broken, and so's his jaw. He knows from how they feel, face down in the sand.

They took a crowbar to it. And to the rest of his body. He managed to slip the ties just before they pulled his eye out with the hooked end. And though that would have made you a matching pair, he needs that to shoot.

So, yes, he bit off more than he could chew. A little. Followed that tracker into Khost, right into a Cipher trap. Alone. Couldn't even kill everyone who saw him in his escape. Not if he wanted to survive it.

And what's the point of dying for you, anymore? You'll never wake up. It's been nearly nine YEARS and the chances of you ever regaining consciousness were nearly nil after one. John, don't worry, Ocelot can pretend with the best of them, but it turns out the limits of the best top out around a decade. His undying faith in you is on its last legs.

Which means it's up to him. While you sleep peacefully and Miller cobbles his coins. He has to fight them, fight all their power, fight the times, fight them for the fate of the world, fight them alone.

He won't give up. He'll struggle on until his dying breath. And he will win.

He's been walking all night on a break; no food, no water. Violently sick every other mile and pissing red. He won't give up, he won't. He--

The sound of rotor blades on the horizon drives him to his knees. He can't outrun a gunship in this state. It's broad daylight. It'll be quick, yes. But he'll be alone, and he's never wanted to die alone.

Ocelot's off the grid. Well outside of the Diamond Dogs' AO. Who knows, though - maybe he has a signal. He thumbs the radio on. Wonders what he'll say. Honestly? All he wants is to hear your lover's voice. The closest thing he has to family left.

Maybe it's better if all Miller hears is gunfire.

"This is Pequod! Arriving shortly at LZ." A pause. "Or there. There's fine. I'll come to you."

Ocelot scrubs a hand over his face to wipe away the dust and disbelief. He hasn't left Miller any breadcrumbs about this - it's much, much too dangerous. He hasn't been tracked.

Has he?

Pequod touches down for him; he can't pull himself up over the side under his own power. He takes Pequod's offered arm. Accepts his water, his bandages, and his help setting an IV.

"Don't get the wrong idea..." Miller's voice a terse crackle in his earpiece. "...We're not lovers. We're not even friends."

A pause.

"But you are one of us."

 

Adam's been neglecting his duties. He hasn't seen you in longer than he should have; hasn't been able to muster up the will. The effort of this has sapped so much of his life, what was left of his youth, away. He didn't want to admit that to you, but he'd never lie to you. Could never lie to you. It's painful in a way he struggles to describe to work on the fake you, wondering if he'll ever see the real you again.

But Miller, well. Miller's let him rest a while. Do desk duties at Mother Base for a few weeks. He's eaten. Slept. And so he has the strength to roll that boulder just a little higher yet. When he's finished he rewards himself by taking your palm in his a little while.

He wasn't expecting it all to come crashing back down with a twitch of your fingers.

Or to be crushed boneless by the weight of the first word you spoke.

"Kaz?"

Chapter Text

He couldn't tell you how long he spent in the basement of that safehouse in Berlin. The perception of time is highly subjective, as he said. Perhaps it was only a few nights; to Adam, who had crossed the threshold into an alien world, every unstructured hour is a lifetime.

Adam likes those hours he spends with the man who smokes most of all. That man doesn't talk much; plainly doesn't enjoy it. The rest speak beautifully, artfully - this one watches. Notices things no one else does as a result, like the fact that Adam knows why he turns the radio up so loud and that Adam struggles to understand what people mean in the dark.

"You like cowboys, eh, russki?" Questions still raise Adam's hackles, try as he might to beat them mercilessly back down. There are still marks on his skin from wrong answers, and it will be years yet before he can rationalize alternative explanations for those at will. So the man leans forward into the light of their sole dangling bulb, kindly. There is nothing whatsoever in his expression invested in Adam's response.

Adam nods.

The man shrugs. "What kid doesn't?" He passes Adam another fistful of clean brass.

Adam has already mastered the mechanics of the little Walther. He can field strip it almost as fast as its owner, and clean it much faster - smaller hands, not stiff with age. Adam's scrubbed and scored every surface until it gleamed in the dull, smoky light. He's oiled and snapped it back together before the man's eyes, over and over until he received a grunt of approval.

At first Adam was mesmerized by the fact that a collection of so many tiny, innocuous pieces could be assembled into something that killed; then the man told him that it wasn't the weapon that killed at all.

Staunchly prepared for a discussion of ethical philosophy - of man versus the devices of his own making - Adam could do nothing but stare mutely when a handful of cartridges were shoved into his palm.

"Those kill, son."

They have since whiled away the hours Adam is in the smoking man's charge teaching him to reload the ammunition itself. Not into a magazine, but from component parts: casing, primer, propellant, bullet. At first the only thing Adam is permitted to do is clean the brass casings, and every one is inspected before it continues down the line. But Adam picks this simple task up as quickly as he does anything else with which he is utterly fascinated - soon, the man realizes that he can continue to light cigarettes safely on the other side of the table if Adam's the one who seats the primers and measures gunpowder.

They do this while the radio hums jazz, croons the news, and occasionally airs a drama. Adam listens with rapt attention to the Westerns in particular; in his mind, this is the America to which he is going. He will have his own horse. His own gun and holster. He'll ride with his posse - the handsome man with the fedora and the plump woman with pretty nails and of course the smoking man - and spend nights sleeping under the stars. America is wild; vast; dangerous.

Free.

The man chews his filter audibly. This is something he does when he's frustrated; his German isn't as good as Adam's, so at times Adam will translate the radio for him. "Hm. They're back in town already? Think I missed the last episode of this. You catch it?"

Adam nods.

"Care to fill me in?" A smile. Adam imagines it to be an encouraging one.

Adam waits until the current chapter ends; after, he turns the radio down - down, but not off, they leave it on so that Adam can't overhear their conversations upstairs - and tells him what happened.

At first, the man's brows draw together in confusion. Then he blinks. Then a few casings fall to the floor. Finally, he rests his chin on his hand, blowing smoke while he listens. When Adam is finished he glances around. At first, for something he doesn't find. "How long did you practice that?"

Adam doesn't know what he means. "I didn't. I just copied it." Someone else wrote the words. Actors acted the performances he mimicked.

"Word for word. Without a script. In translation." The man is unduly impressed; Adam's performance was far from perfect. He is also melancholy, for reasons Adam can't explain. He looks hard at the stairs.

"I didn't memorize it," Adam protests, nervous. He's upset him somehow. They won't want him anymore. They'll send him back. No, no, please don't. He'll be good. He swears.

"Then what did you do?"

Adam doesn't know quite how to explain it; this type of recall is one his old caretakers taught him, and most children couldn't master it. It's not so much remembering as it is reliving the experience, exactly as it happened. Every sensation. Every feeling. Using memory triggers: the shape of .32 ACP brass, the lisp of a German actress.

"I wouldn't tell anyone else I could do that, if I were you. Make your life a whole lot easier."

 

Yes, John, much later he'll realize how suggestive he is in this state. That altering what he recalls via this method will alter the memory itself, until some tangible evidence of what really happened confronts him.

Later still he'll realize he can do the same to others.

 

He wonders if that skill wouldn't be useful to you, at present. Not that you would ever take him up on it. Who knows what might happen if you set down those crosses you bear, even for a little while. The places you might go. The things you might realize. Better not to chance it.

The first time you awoke you were conscious for a few seconds only - long enough for Adam to tell you that the man you called out for was alive, where you were, and how long it had been. But you didn't slip back through his fingers: he knew before the doctors told him that your brain patterns had changed, from the way your breathing shifts and your eye now moves beneath your eyelid, that you are merely asleep. That he could reach out and shake you and your eye would open for him again.

He doesn't, of course.

Instead Adam spends the night milling listlessly about the room in a daze of surreality; this thing he'd long since given up as a thing that would never happen, has. He takes his misappropriated meals of chalky mashed potatoes and clammy liver by your side and jogs back from trips to the bathroom, lest you wake and he not be there.

You, John, always manage to surprise. He expected a rapid recovery from you. To be back to climbing the walls within five minutes, gun in one hand, cigar in the other. To turn around and find you halfway to the Seychelles, ready to rip the jacket and tie right off Miller and carry him over your shoulder away to the bedroom.

He did not expect you to wake up and shout brokenly. To shiver and sob almost soundlessly, soaked in sweat.

Ah, but, to you this all happened only yesterday. Your conscious mind hasn't processed what you saw. Watching all those men and women you'd so carefully bonded with, trained, and reared slaughtered unceremoniously or left to drown. Seeing the woman you cared enough about to risk everything to save ripped to pieces by a blast wave; skin splatter and bone shrapnel; the spin and whine of a crashing helicopter - the last thing you knew was that you'd been buried at sea with the men closest to you. That all of their blood was on your hands.

Miller'd once told him that you acted like he'd never seen you, that night. Adam's covered most of their discussions about you - you rarely came up, being a touchy subject to say the least - but he'd never believed this one, so he hadn't bothered to note it for posterity. Miller said that you'd been stunned into inaction. That you stared blankly. That a woman less than a hundred pounds was able to knock you aside. You've never been much of a bystander, John.

Adam believes it now.

He wasn't around for most of Miller's early processing, aside from brief check-ups to ensure the man hadn't starved or drank himself to death. What he does know about handling grief he's learned from him, however: this time, Adam knows not to speak. Not to try to touch you unless you initiate it. He sits on the sheets beside you and eventually you cling to him to keep your head above the churn of bloody, oil slick seawater. A warm, solid body. That much he can provide.

He offers to bring Miller, once. Perhaps you'll find the differences in your stages of grief off-putting, perhaps you'll want to hold each other and cry; Adam doesn't know. He is a first-time parent waving toys in front of a sad child, hoping one of them will do the trick. You refuse it for the same reasons Adam would have raised had you been the one to ask: it's too risky and Miller is needed where he is. Adam comes and goes from the Diamond Dogs, has spent his life slipping past watchful eyes; Miller's sudden departure would be cause for alarm. Cause to follow.

He still would have done it, though. Had you said yes.

 

You might be wondering why he's bothered to record past the last session. Surely, this is all old material to you now - you've come on stage yourself, and while Adam's tellings are particularly insightful and delightful, this is a story you know.

He'll tie it all together, trust him. He hasn't lost the thread; the theme here will become clear if it hasn't already. Very shortly.

 

 

"Adam." A low growl from behind the curtain. For the first time he finds your bed ominously empty; you need his shoulder just to walk, meaning you've dragged yourself across the room. He sets the tray he's brought for you down gently beside it and raises his head. You speak again: "What did you do?"

He declines to answer until he's crossed the room himself. The stiff soles of his boots click loudly on machine-polished linoleum in the otherwise palliative hospital stillness. It's well past midnight and the two (three?) of you are alone in the ward.

Positioned strategically on the other side of the other you's bed, Adam explains his side project: "Finished what Zero started. Which means that anyone Zero chose to tell about this little ruse won't be fooled, but he'll pass muster with just about anyone else. Meaning that unless they choose to act against you, publicly, they'll be forced to maintain the charade. He'll buy you enough time to establish--"

He's not quite sure how you manage it: you were using the steel bed frame to hold yourself up and he still has to lift most objects for you. But your hands are around his scarf before he can react - rather, he saw them coming, but did nothing because he did not expect you to have the strength to yank him down, across your phantom's body, face to face with your snarl.

"Do you hear yourself? You've played right into his hands."

Adam takes your palms in his fingers. You're not choking him, much. "Tell me, John: what would I have gained from refusing to play along?"

You don't have an answer, because of course you don't. Adam continues: "I would have lost access to you. That would've been helpful. Put a target on my back. He would have moved you god knows where and found some other sucker to do it. Someone who might have destroyed his mind and been unable to put it back together. So tell me, John, please - what should I have done? What did you do to protect all those people you cared about so much?"

That last was a step too far. You dig your thumbs into his throat.

But why? "You know how I operate," Adam gasps, waiting to see it - waiting for you to admit that he's right. You are the both of you predators, albeit with different methods. You stalk and pounce; all traceless subtlety one instant, all force and fury the next. Adam wears the skins of his prey and walks right into their own hive; they treat him as one of their own as he eats them one by one from the inside out. Together, you've found symbiosis of a kind. He marks targets for you that are too big to handle by himself. He disposes of threats too small for you to see. So why wasn't he there when you needed him most? "I should've been there that night. You should've asked my help planning it from the start. These men are playing on a level so... far... pa..."

Now you really are choking him. You could've just asked him to be quiet. "Yes, Adam, it should've been you," you respond, and it doesn't sound like an admission. It sounds like a threat. He can't tell, because his vision's already faded to white-grey static.

But when Adam chooses to pull your hands away, he does so with an ease that is sickeningly wrong. At first he thinks you aren't resisting him; you are, though. He isn't supposed to be the stronger one. He isn't supposed to be able to pry your thumbs off tenderly and trap your hands at your sides.

He can, now.

He doesn't ask himself what would have happened if he couldn't.

You would never really have hurt him, though. Of that much he's sure.

 

Click.

 

"Oh, so good of you to join us." The door hisses shut. Miller doesn't even look up from his map.

"You sound surprised." Ocelot strolls over to the chair opposite him and sweeps up an armful of mugs before taking it.

"I was beginning to think you forgot about your own business." Miller sounds nonplussed; he sips his coffee-gin and pushes a marker around in an exploratory, listless way that Ocelot's learned means he's had it up to his eyeballs with planning.

Ocelot plucks it from his fingers. "Miller, am I even on the payroll?"

"Do you want to be?" Miller stretches and snaps a yawn, both hands braced against the desk. A drumline of pops and crunches stutter when he turns his head to crack it.

"I'll pass." Ocelot's fingers settle on Miller's tight shoulders. The other man makes no complaint. "All that money might corrupt my good communist morals."

Miller huffs through his nose. "So how was... nngh-Greece?" The last word half-smothered by a groan as Ocelot kneads the tension of hours spent hunched over out of his muscles.

"Wouldn't know. Work's keeping me back in the USSR." A smirk at Miller's frown of consternation. He must've been so sure, this time. He's close, but even if he had said the word Cyprus, Ocelot's poker face is as impenetrable as a concrete doomsday bunker.

"Mm," is all Miller says as he leans in for a kiss. Looks up from over the top of his aviators with his index finger gently tucked into Ocelot's scarf. His thumb pressed over a thumb-shaped mark. "Be careful out there."

 

Click. Whir.

 

You're in a much better mood the next time he sees you. Urgent business with the Diamond Dogs wrenched him from your side for a few weeks. Spillover from the still-raging Iran-Iraq War turned naval, brought ships within spitting distance of Mother Base for a few dicey encounters that swiftly outstripped Miller's linguistic, diplomatic, and eventually tactical capabilities. Luckily, Ocelot still has those divers. He used them to decorate their new home's impressive water feature with a rather aesthetic arrangement of mines.

You probably weren't allowed to do that back in Costa Rica. Hell, Ocelot's probably not allowed to do it either. But all leather jackets aside, Adam is decidedly the bad boy between the two of you.

Did you know the Iran-Iraq War is call the Ira-Ira War by the news media in Japan? 'Iraira' being one of those ubiquitous onomatopoeic words in their language, referring to the sound of being frustrated, annoyed. Irritated. Just a little tidbit courtesy of Miller. They got to drinking after Ocelot's mines scuttled an angry Iranian patrol boat. Miller's been teaching him some Japanese.

Ahem.

Nevermind.

Adam hears you paw the stereo he's left in your room, muttering, "Now he's trying to torture me," as you fast-forward through The Safety Dance and Material Girl, settling on When Doves Cry with a resolute sigh. Too bad. You'd love Careless Whisper, he's sure.

You've been busy, he sees as he cracks the door to the room you share with your still-dozing reflection. Adam's own notes are strewn across the side table, laid on your sheets, and piled on a nearby chair. Nine years of global politics. And the continuations of politics by other means, as von Clausewitz put it.

You glance up from Soviet surveillance photographs of the Khyber Pass and your expression softens. "Adam." You smile.

Warmth prickles up the back of his neck. "Sure didn't take you long to get through all that."

You hold up a red leather-bound ledger and tap the page. "This is a KGB cipher. An old one. Even I can read it." Of course you can - he taught it to you. Still, you click your tongue chidingly. "Sloppy."

Adam spreads his hands wide. "Is it? Or did I use that on purpose, knowing that someday you'd be hard-up for reading material?" His grin is positively shameless.

Your eye twitches. And then you laugh, for the first time since you woke up.

You cross the room on unsteady feet. Adam waits; you toss the book aside and tangle fingers in his hair. Pull his forehead to yours. Exhale with your eye closed, and admit: "I missed you, kid."

Adam's own remain half-lidded to watch your mouth while you speak. "You did all this for me." A gesture toward the books; your breath is hot against his lips.

Yes, he did. And he was beginning to think it was all for nothing. That you would never rise to claim any of it: not the mercenary force he's built with Miller, not the foundation he's laid for another utilizing those connections in Africa. Not the copy of a man he made, nor the locations of weapons you'll need from around the world and the weaknesses of the facilities that hold them.

Not the landfill's worth of corpses he's crafted out of those who tried to murder you in your sleep.

Suddenly he's very tired. He thinks he hears word 'thanks' but it might only be his own fancy; you might've kissed his forehead, too, but all he sees are the slowly spinning blades of the ceiling fan and the pocked square tiles above them. What's the flight schedule like from Dhekelia this week? Only three transfers through to Asmara, and he can't be late, Zebra can't run CQB drills on his own...

"Adam? Ah, shit..."

 

 

"Adam." A firm hand on his shoulder spreads warmth through the joint. Adam blinks sleep-crusted eyes drowsily; the rest of his body refuses to stir and a cautiously levelled scoop of propellant tips out of his fingers. "Time for bed."

The sensation of being lifted; carried. That vicious part of him rears its head from the dark corner where it slumbers - he quashes it forcefully. Adam isn't in trouble. He isn't going to be punished. He's staying here. He's safe, and the man who smokes is only trying to help him.

They notice that something is wrong at roughly the same time. The man frowns around his cigarette, stops moving; Adam leans away from his chest, listening.

There's no sound from upstairs. No hushed conversations, no laughter. Absent are the clink of plates, the creak of furniture springs, the tap of familiar footsteps.

Only the nearly soundless thud of an unfamiliar one, close to the door.

Run.

The man spits out his cigarette, shifts to hold Adam in one arm. Looks to the table, where his weapon lies empty and in pieces.

Run.

The door doesn't open. A noise as loud - louder - than two vehicles colliding accompanies a hole that appears in the wood, blown outward. Then another, and another, impossibly rapid. Adam is hurled out of the way with all possible conviction, past the table that disintegrates into a flurry of wood shavings, and up against the wall. Casings and bullets go flying; they plink and spin across the floor. The chemical tang of propellant coats the air.

Adam watches the smoking man, bleeding from his thigh and shoulder, reassemble his handgun with a speed that makes Adam's own seem embarrassing, pathetic. Knowing now that he'd been going easy on him, treating him like... a child?

Is that not what he is?

The smoking man slams a fresh magazine in just as the door finally opens; Adam spies just a glimpse of another man, a stranger, with his pale hair oiled flat to his scalp before they fire at one another. The smoking man fires first--

Click.

Adam will never know if he was the one who loaded that magazine. Probably, he was. If he hadn't seated the last cartridge properly, or if he'd overloaded the spring. Or if none of these had happened, if it was just dumb luck. The tides of the battlefield, as you'd put it. Ever-shifting, uncaring. The man pops it back out again immediately, unlocks the slide, but it is far too late. The stranger has time to aim, fire. A spray of bright arterial blood adds a metallic tinge to the gunpowder. Adam sees him claw his throat; hears him gurgle and gasp wetly.

The pistol slips from his hands and clatters to the floor before he falls. The magazine lays where it is. The weapon lands within lunging distance.

The stranger takes this all in cautiously before he walks down the stairs. His firearm is as long as Adam's own arm; drum-fed. He moves with a wariness that Adam finds achingly familiar. Droplets of fresh crimson fluid mar the surface of his shoes; the leather of his black-gloved hands.

Adamska hurls himself forward to grab the empty Walther.

The stranger puts his shoe on the magazine and kicks it to the opposite side of the room. "Are you all alone down here?" he asks, warmly, in Russian.

Adam is unprepared for the jolt of soft numbness that tingles in the back of his skull at the sound of those words. The ache of nostalgia that slows his heart rate and makes his hands and his eyelids heavy.

Adamska scrambles out of his reach; what he has is useless - that's not what kills - and there are no finished cartridges on the floor, only their lifeless limbs.

"Ssh, I'm not going to take you back." The stranger steps lightly over the growing pool of blood on the floor and ever closer to Adam. His weapon is lowered, but every footfall lands with a sense of finality - Adam won't be able to get away from him. This adult holds himself with an intention to use his size against him, and Adam will be trapped. Helpless. "I'm going to take you home. To Moscow. Don't you want that?"

Adamska finds a primed casing with only some of the propellant spilled out; he snatches up a bullet and presses down as hard as he can.

Adam does want that. Very much. This stranger will take him home. To the snow and the smell of thick stews and silver-blue cats, where he'll speak only the words he wants to speak. To where he belongs. He's never seen this man before, but he looks at him and sees himself, and sees that this man sees the same.

Adamska yanks the slide back and jams his cobbled-together cartridge through the ejection port.

Adam's back hits the concrete basement wall. He's crawled backwards as far as he can go. He holds a pistol in trembling hands, blinks through a haze of tears. The unseated bullet rattles in the chamber ominously; it hisses as grains of propellant leak out.

"I'm not going to hurt you," the stranger says, and every muscle in his face reads true. His mission is to protect Adam - he doesn't want to harm a child, besides. Disgust at the idea that he might have to creases the corners of his eyes. He kneels down in front of Adam.

Adamska raises the weapon.

Adam opens his mouth to say yes, he'll go, but a sob comes out instead.

"You can't fire that, котик," the stranger tells him gently.

 

 

Mind your words, though, around Adamska. Be so very careful with them.

Or he just might catch you in a lie.

Can't is not the same as shouldn't.

 

 

Adamska pulls the trigger.

There's a bang, but it doesn't sound much like a gunshot. An ear-splitting, metal-rending explosion as the primer's struck and the propellant ignites. Accompanied by a blinding flash that leaks from chamber as well as muzzle. The sound of the bullet itself; a subsonic hum, like a ricochet.

Still enough power in the right direction to propel it forward, through the stranger's still-open mouth, and lodge it in his spine.

The sound of him gagging on it; toppling; twitching, writhing.

Adamska's growl.

The patter of tears of pain from Adamska's face and the blood that drips from his fingertips in rivulets; his palms are a greasy, slick mess of torn flesh and skin so burnt it's black up to his wrists. He drops the ruined Walther.

He doesn't know how to use the weapon the stranger carried in his hands. In his jacket he finds a Makarov pistol instead, and deems that sufficiently close to a Walther.

Adamska shoots the dying stranger twice in the head.

He's wrapping his hands with strips ripped from his bedsheets when a wheeze from the floor behind him causes him to whirl around, gun drawn.

"You want to come with us, kid?" The smoking man's voice is weak and nearly silent. His face is shockingly pale; more grey than white. Adam runs to his side to Adamska stalks over cautiously. Makarov held in one blackened, mangled, dripping hand.

Adamska nods.

"If you can make it to Leipzig, there's another safehouse. I'm carrying a map," he says, and Adamska infers that he doesn't have the strength to reach for it, "and the current sign-countersigns. Don't let them stall you. Tell them you have critical information, make up something if you have to, you're so damn good at stories, kid... You'll make it."

Adamska knows he will.

He presses the muzzle of the Makarov to the top of the smoking man's skull tenderly and pulls the trigger.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Adamska strode out into the snow with his bandaged hands and that Makarov shoved into his pockets. He wove beautiful tales to passersby about having lost his way; avoided the police, and lied all the way back to Maryland. There he learned that agents still sympathetic to the Philosophers had sold his friends out to the KGB. Those who were hostile to them, however, or knew nothing about them, quickly found uses for Adam's skills at the CIA.

The KGB believed his staged defection because it was proof positive of the Philosophers' conditioning. He could only fight it for so long. He came home to Moscow and toiled for the KGB flawlessly, for years, earning so much trust that they embedded him with GRU. (Another point of view might suggest that they trusted him so little they removed him from their organization altogether.)

Did you know that, while the CIA and KGB were fronts for the Philosophers' projected force for decades, the GRU never was? That's how Volgin thrived there, with his father's stolen funds. They remain independent to this day. Adam suspects they might even survive the fall of the USSR. Their ties are to the motherland only. And when Volgin raised his hand against her, they sent their very own KGB-trained assassin to deal with him.

Yes, exactly.

How did you think he kept his rank and position after that debacle? You know as well as he does that shit rolls uphill in the military. With Volgin and Raikov dead, Major Ocelot was next in the firing line.

When all's said and done, he supposes that makes it a quintuple-cross.

Adam rooted out every last one of those Philosopher loyalists in the CIA, including the man who would become the DCI, and ruined them. Some twenty years later, to be sure, but Adam's never minded playing a long game. Oh, he only murdered a few; the rest he sold out to their enemies.

He does so love symmetry, after all.

And it would be years before his interrogation skills were up to par with the KGB and CID operatives who tortured them all to death.

 

When Adam stirs awake the powerful scent of you wrenches him forward through time, past the mud and grime of the 60s and the silk and champagne of the 70s, to crisp starched hospital sheets of the 80s. They wash these weekly, but your sweat still clings to every fiber. He knows he's been undressed from the feeling of them; it's the sensation of unyielding cloth under his fingertips that startles.

They operated on his hands back in the US. Stitched torn joints and muscle, set bones. Did a wonderful job, too: covered, they're as graceful and elegant as the hands of the man he inherited them from. Uncovered, like now, they are a mass of scar tissue and permanently blackened skin. His palms don't feel; his fingers still do, and that's all he's ever needed to shoot.

You've seen them before. That Adam's gloves now sit one atop the other on a side table doesn't bother him. It's only you, and the other you, in the room.

He pushes himself up onto his elbows. Stretches languidly. Sunlight glints off the beads of sweat on your back as you churn out pushup after pushup, arms trembling with the effort.

"What's that - five hundred?" Adam asks, before placing his heels down carefully between your shoulderblades.

"...Fifteen," you grunt with a wry grin. "Don't tell anybody."

"I'd never," Adam promises, and with the added weight you only manage to make it to twenty. Couldn't even pass the army fitness test. "Let me help you. I've been studying physiotherapy - I'll give you all the time you need, but your phantom's recovery could be time-sensitive." You rise from your puddle of perspiration wordlessly, so he continues. "You'll regain both cardiovascular and anaerobic fitness faster if you switch between exercises. It creates muscle confusion..." He trails off, confused himself when you take his hand and raise it.

"I've seen guys age five years in a single tour doing night patrols, so I knew you weren't sleeping," you remark, turning his hand over so that the back of it faces him. All those veins and all those track marks. Adam pulls the sheet up with the other one. "But what's this? Drugs, Adam? Really? You?"

"It's not what it looks like," Adam assures you, wondering if that's true. "They assist in reaching a more suggestive state of consciousness, that's all."

"Mm." You hum skeptically and return his hand to him. Fold your own arms. "And that serves what purpose, exactly."

"Freedom." Adam smiles. You frown. All right, all right. "I know some very dangerous things, John. Your location. The phantom's existence. The skills I possess that made him possible. As much as I'd like to think I don't mistakes, or that I'm unbreakable, you and I know that just isn't true - no one is. If I slipped up, or I was captured, and I gave away the wrong thing, all of this comes crashing down. Yet, I couldn't stay chained to your side for nine years. There are things I needed to set in motion for you. Intelligence I needed to collect. Miller needs my help with his - your - business. And so on."

"So you hypnotized yourself into forgetting this hospital." Astute as always, John. You were wasted on the army. If the Philosophers had trained you... "About him." You jerk a thumb towards the other man in the room.

Not quite. "No, I hypnotized myself into forgetting you."

You scratch your beard. Your frown deepens. But you wait, patiently, for the punchline. "He'll be your public face, remember? That puts a target on his back - the whole point of this exercise. He'll need me. Much more than you will. So he'll be you, to me. The man I'd never let down. The charade will be flawless, because it's what I'll truly believe. I've field tested it for years now. It works."

You nod, thoughtfully. He thought you might. "All right, Adam. If you're sure. But what if I need your help? Or something comes up that requires you to acknowledge the existence of us both?"

Of course he thought of that. "For starters, this isn't meant to last forever. Never was. Just to get us through the critical period in the spotlight. Take out XOF. Eventually, you and your phantom will have to collaborate, and that'll be awfully difficult if he doesn't believe you exist. For myself, I'll give you triggers. They'll pull me out of it for however long you need, then I'll put myself back under." You nod again. You seem pleased - maybe even impressed. Adam's scalp tingles pleasantly. "Did you want me to give them to Miller, too, or...?"

"Hm," is all you have to say to that. You tug the damp hospital gown up over your head with both arms and toss it aside; the warmth leaves Adam's head and goes somewhere else entirely. "I'm surprised you and Kaz didn't slit each other's throats."

Now, John, you really think Miller could kill him? Never. "I am capable of putting aside personal feelings to run a business, you know."

"I see that." You stoop to fetch another of Adam's notebooks, back to him. Adam wets his reddened lips. "These look exactly like the diagrams he used to draw." You flip to a pristine Gantt chart, in four languages, which means it looks nothing like Miller's frenetic scribblings, thank you very much.

"You're cute when you pout, kid," you take his chin in hand and brush your thumb over his lips.

Then you release him, and go take shower.

One discarded tissue later, Adam reaches for his tape player.

 

It's 1980 again: the heady days of the Diamond Dogs' first big contracts, guaranteed employment, real vehicles, corporate offers. Miller's cheeks have finally filled out; he's finally starting to smile. He's wearing Ocelot's Che t-shirt for lack of clean clothes; Ocelot is nibbling on a bag of Hello Kitty strawberry senbei, courtesy of your lovely lap warmer.

"C'mere," Miller waves Ocelot forward, and Ocelot scoots around the side of the desk. There's a chair for him, but he's never needed it. "I'm going to show you something that'll change your life."

"Is it sounding?" Ocelot cocks his head, intrigued. "Because I'll watch, but I'm not doing it."

Miller scowls flatly, but he doesn't really mean it. "Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with your dick."

"That's a shame."

No, Miller pulls out a folder from his desk drawer and shows Ocelot a graph with staggered lines running parallel to one another. Smaller lines between them. A central number in each block, and two little numbers below it. Beginning with the word 'START' and the numbers '0 - 0,0' and finishing, predictably, with 'END'.

"So, whatever the hell it is you get up to, it seems a lot less like routine operations, and more like a project. Multiple interdependent initiatives leading up to the same goal," Miller observes, in that way he does that builds confidence that he's not entirely brainless. "But you keep trying to do everything at the same time, and that going to fuck you - and us - in the ass."

"Not soon enough, honestly." Ocelot grins a leer.

Miller ignores it. "This a Gantt chart. You make a list of all the things you have to do for your project, and estimate the longest and shortest times you could complete them in. I usually number them in serials, you can do whatever you want. Make a table with the dates at the top, and put each item in order. Lines connect items that have to be completed prior to another item."

Miller sketches lines on a fresh page to demonstrate. "Say your project is to murder someone for the KGB--"

"For the third time, Miller, I don't work for the KGB," Ocelot sighs.

"No, you're just on their payroll."

"Yes, exactly."

Miller snuffs. "Whatever. So you need at least an hour to wheedle someone who knows what they're doing into buying your plane tickets. But it could take two. Your flight's scheduled for four hours, but delays could bump it up as much as a day. Then an hour - or maybe three - to jerk off to John Wayne, buy some polonium, track him down--"

"Miller, have you honestly never done a hit before?" Ocelot asks, chin on his palm, bemused.

"Yeah, all the time. They were a big part of my mom's business, and you needed at least two per semester to graduate from Brown." Ocelot imagines Miller rolling his eyes endearingly behind his sunglasses. "Now you add up the numbers and find the path that takes the longest time, in theory. Using your maximum estimates. That's your critical path. Items not on the critical path will have 'slack' time; wiggle room for delays to be built in, while ensuring the project as a whole is done on time. You calculate them by..."

Miller carries on for a bit, but Ocelot's already figured the chart out. He spends the rest of the time staring down at Miller's thighs and certainly not trying to get crumbs down Miller's collar.

He was right, though, John. It did help. Imagine that. Ocelot got his house in order and, by extension, so did Adam. There are whole layers to his intrigues with the old Patriots charting made possible--

Right, he should explain some of those.

 

 

Adam's spent the whole day with you - an indulgence careful planning and that 'slack' time has bought for him - and now he reclines braced up against your thighs, in bed, facing you as you rest against the pillows. "Nuclear disarmament is their current play," Adam is explaining while you listen, fingers twitching with the urge to smoke. "But they can't be overt about it. There are still too many supporters of deterrence. It'll take the fall of the Soviet Union to win over the old guard. So that's what I mean to have your phantom pursue. It'll make him a highly visible figure - and they'll be at loathe to kill him while he's playing the saviour they always wanted. The uniter."

"But why? I thought they were using the US to unite the world. Much of America's global dominance comes from its nuclear program."

"Right, but, the US also has a number of other strengths. Its conventional military is the largest in the world, and its economy is a powerhouse. It's far from toothless if you take its nukes away. But the same can't be said for a number of other nations who might want to resist coming new world order."

"End deterrence, end the Cold War, everything becomes conventional arms again." The moonlight filtering through the blinds deepens the hollows of your face. Your eye. "And good conventional arms cost money. And money requires buy-in to the system."

"Exactly, John," Adam indulges himself with a hand to the side of that hollow, too. "No nukes leaves smaller actors with no choice but to align themselves with a superpower. And when the USSR breaks, there will only be one of those."

"What about asymmetrical warfare? That's still an option." You catch that hand, but decline to remove it.

"Well, sure. And a very effective one at that." You stroke the back of his hand, where he can still feel it. "But unpalatable. It requires the successful invasion of your country, to start with. You'll have no control over what - or who - you lose while that happens. It's dirty, bloody, takes years. All the while sabotaging your own infrastructure - your own resources. And then, even if you win, you've got a populace trained in it that could just as easily unseat you if you do something they don't like. Ruling over the shattered, unstable state your nation has become for the foreseeable future. I'd call that a Pyrrhic victory, at best."

You press your lips to Adam's thumb and he does his best to suppress the soft shiver that runs along his spine. You might be grateful, but this can't be what you want. He looks older than you, now. "So those are your choices in our nuclear-free brave new world: surrender to the system or become a fourth world hellhole."

"Hm." Your other hand comes to rest on his hip while you mull that over. Adam's eyes slip half-closed. "I'll say whatever you want for the tapes, but maybe we should tone down the neo-liberal dystopia for him."

"Why?" Adam's head feels thick. Warm. "Afraid he'll come to the same conclusions I did?"

You shake your head, wistful. "He was the smartest man I've ever known."

Adam blinks. Purses his lips. "Oh. I see."

Your lips crack into a broad smile. "You're cute when you're jealous."

You pull his lip down from his teeth. Lean forward. He doesn't - you're not. You - "Mm." He sighs through his nose as he's wrapped up in your arms - how is there already so much flesh back on your bones? - and he opens his mouth for yours.

You seem as surprised as he is by how swiftly the rest of your physiological functions have come back online, too.

"Allow me." Adam's smirk is cocky, playful. He pushes you back against the pillows again, watches up through his eyelashes and strands of silver hair at how wide your own eye goes when he swallows your cock whole in a single movement, a single exhaled breath, causing you to claw the mattress.

It's a lot more work than deep-throating Miller's cock, but then, it's not like he only had Miller to practice on. After all, if you want him to get physical with your phantom, he'll have to know what that man likes to make a twenty-year relationship convincing.

After nine years in a coma you last about thirty seconds. He chuckles - the vibrations of which make you gasp again - and swallows. Is in the middle of cleaning you up while you wipe your damp brow when you say: "Business partners, huh."

Adam shrugs one shoulder. "Nine years is a long time, John."

"It's fine." You ruffle his hair. "Little brothers always fall for their big brother's girlfriend."

Adam spits a tongueful of your come into the wastebin with a scowl. "Do you want me to suck your dick or not, John?"

"No, I want to fuck you."

 

 

That's a little awkward for both of you, to be honest. You're overly sensitive. Have no endurance. And for all your teasing, nobody else has fucked Adam in years - he is, as you hiss out through gritted teeth - too goddamn tight.

That's fine. Like the pushups, he'll never tell anyone. Adam is a safe thing on which to practice for your lovers. Get off on without things getting messy. Always has been. Always will be.

Sometimes you even let him scratch that itch of his; it tastes even better now that he really is stronger than you, can outlast you. Just don't call him by--

Adam pulls out as soon as you're done and rolls over to finish in his own hand. The two of you pant, backs facing one another. "Do you want him and I to be like this?" Adam suspects not; so strongly that he's built it out of the initial programming. There's still time to do some fine-tuning, however.

"No," you say immediately. Sharply. Well, you don't always manage to surprise him, now do you.

"You don't have much of a choice with Miller, I'm afraid. Your relationship him was public - well, public enough. More than a few of your men knew about it when asked, which means most of them probably suspected." Adam glances over his shoulder. "I can implant memories of a break up, if you'd like."

Your grunt is non-committal. "My relationship... and what do you know about it, Adam? What did Kaz tell you?"

"Not much," Adam confirms with a shrug. "I improvised."

"And what about your relationship?" You sound dubious. "With Kaz. 'Nine years is a long time'."

"I wouldn't kick him out of bed for eating crackers."

"Adam... A decade, with your training and his habits. You're trying to tell me you never slept with him." What's all this? Adam would never lie to you, John.

"'Slept with him' or fucked?"

"The latter."

"Once," Adam admits.

Your shoulders unwind. He imagines your grin his back - this, this is what you expected. "You topped?"

"Of course. Had to see what all the fuss was about."

"And?"

"Frankly, overrated."

You laugh. Not a snicker, or a chuckle. A real, mirthful laugh. "You know, Adam, your mother once told me not to put my trust in people, because people change." You roll over to face him and pull him around to you, too. "You never do, though, do you?"

Adam spreads his hands. "There are lot of things my mother never understood about me."

"Mmhm." You cup his chin between your thumb and forefinger. Amusement still smoldering in your eye brightly. "Tell me more about how your parents just didn't understand you, kid."

"Making up for lost time?"

"You spent your teen years with Volgin, didn't you? Can't imagine he was a sympathetic listener."

"No, Raikov was the one with all the daddy issues." Adam groans inwardly, knuckles pressed to his eyes. Oh yes, that's right. He almost forgot.

"What's the matter?" You ask off-handedly, already fishing around for the smokes he's told you ten times already you're not allowed to have in here.

"We need to talk about Volgin."

 

"Clean yourself up, Major." The back of his head hits the shower handle so hard he wakes up on the wet tile; the acrid stink of body fluids and ozone.

Greatly surprised that he's in one piece, a little surprised that he woke up at all.

White boots enter his spotted, monochrome field of view. A white-gloved hand is offered.

He doesn't take it. Major Ocelot would never. "Why?" He spits. She knows; she can't think she's saved him. He's been here for years. This isn't the first time; it might be the last. Might've been the last.

"Even I wasn't working alone at your age." Her tone full of reproach. "Circumstances devolve quickly under tangible threats. I see you weren't prepared for that."

"I can defend myself--"

"With weapons. In that case it's inexcusable to be caught without them. Shower with them if you need to. Use the excuse that you're cleaning them - this is something many soldiers to do expedite the process. Dry them and oil them directly afterward."

Major Ocelot scowls petulantly. He doesn't need her advice.

Adamska, though, will remember that.

"Why?" he asks again. He doesn't expect sympathy or benevolence from her, nor does he receive it.

"I want a favour from you," she replies.

"Oh?" This is something he understands. He dresses while she watches, arms folded. Bends over to retch when his belt closes around the bruises on his stomach.

"Don't kill him."

She doesn't have to specify who she means. It tastes odd, this confirmation that even she hasn't figured out his real purpose here. She, who has the benefit of knowing who he is and where he comes from. Or else she wouldn't need to ask - his goal here is to ensure that you remain alive.

For all those who will see her as a legend, as an immortal, infallible beacon to all soldiers, he now sees her for what she really is: just a woman.

To him, that makes her all the more impressive.

"No," he replies.

"No?" Her brow quirks slightly; her mouth remains hard and flat. "You've developed personal feelings for him. I'm giving you the opportunity to back out honourably from that part of your mission. I'm certain you can invent a reasonable excuse for his survival."

"No," he repeats.

"Everything for the mission, then?" she asks, and when he nods, there's no disappointment in the unforgiving lines of her face. No anger.

Only pride.

"Then promise me this: that you won't be the one to kill him." At least, prevent them from pitting one son against the other - the unspoken request.

That much he can grant. "It won't be me." And then it occurs to him: she doesn't realize he knows. For all it's stamped on their faces. "After all, he and I have shared blood. Blood is thicker than water, as they say."

She adjusts his scarf with a lingering touch and he can't tell if she tracked his implication or not. Her face is as unreadably expressionless as his own can be. So he repeats, to remove all doubt, his real favour to her: "Though you and I have shared both."

Her lips curl upward and she takes his bare hand in a crushing grip. Clasps it. "Do you believe in luck?"

"I believe it comes to those who make it."

"Good luck, then. You'll need it."

He doesn't realize what she's left in his palm until a bead of blood drips through his fingers.

 

'Luck' might be debatable - though chance and randomness are not - and he might or might not have it, but what he does have is the will. That's all you need, he realized that bitterly cold morning in Berlin. Modern weapons are such that a child can kill a grown man with the pull of a trigger. A single person could kill a hundred thousand with the push of a button.

That KGB assassin wasn't willing to kill a child. That child was willing to kill him. All his training and all his advantages obviated by the truth that young Adamska held in his tiny palms.

It's a truth you know, too, he realized the first time he met you. When you realized he wasn't going to kill you and he discovered you weren't going to kill him, there was nothing else you needed to know about each other. You weren't enemies. Two people with the will to kill one another are enemies. One person with the will and one without are a live man and a dead one. Neither with it - are friends.

And, eventually, something more?

Or not. You are the first friend he ever had. That's enough.

Yes, there is one truth, and that truth is violence. You are all of you just men, and women - human. And human beings are animals. For all the pretty songs and dances of society, violence is power, just as in the wild.

So let him do the singing and the dancing while you tell the world the truth. He was always so much better at it anyway.

 

He told your phantom as much once:

"Do you believe in God?"

"No. But I do believe that myths hold a certain reality in the collective consciousness. Only, in my canon, the Holy Spirit is a father, the Father a mother, and the Son the snake in the garden - whom Eve seduces."

"What about the first man?"

"Adam? He plays the only role left: the one who comes along to tell everyone the Truth and sets them free."

 

Like he said, you don't always surprise him: your recovery is faster than any of your doctors thought possible. Within weeks you go from stuttering out twenty shaky pushups to a hundred; pump out a few more still after Adam takes a seat on your back. You do pullups on the doorframe and muscleups hanging out the window. You polish off five trays of hospital food per sitting - soon Adam is smuggling you raw eggs and precooked chicken, which you eat without complaint. You do complain bitterly about your inability to do leg work in here; Adam offers himself and you squat him a few times, the both of you laughing. You also complain bitterly about the no-smoking policy, but after the third time you almost set the sprinklers off, Adam swears to you he'll light you a cigar the second you're released.

Which can't be yet, to Adam's chagrin. Even though you're starting to hold your own in the impromptu CQC matches that flare up between the two of you whenever you think you're strong enough to take him again. They're not real fights - Adam is dirty and vicious when he fights for real and you break bones with your bare hands - they're just friendly sparring. Still, his ability to put you down bothers you both. He could let you win, he supposes, but John, he'd never lie to you. Your phantom still needs time. He's semi-conscious, these days. Soon, very soon. But not yet.

And yes, that is Adam's fault. But he was alone, and you know how hard it is to work alone.

Mistakes, when you're working alone, can be unforgivable.

It is following one of these light CQC sessions, while you've gone off to shower - Adam doesn't sweat as much as you do, wouldn't presume to share one with you besides - that he spares the time to call home to your lonely sweetheart. He borrows the office of a doctor who hasn't worked here in years, whose absence the other staff are very careful not to question. Dials a number that routes the call through the USSR, a connection from which the call will originate should it be traced.

Major Ocelot is an upstanding, trustworthy enough Soviet citizen to have contact with the outside world.

"These calls cost money," Miller grouses as a greeting. He doesn't seem as annoyed as he could be; Ocelot's sudden prolonged absences at the peak of their operational tempo should have caused him no end of consternation. Yet, they don't.

For all his other faults, John, your lover is not a stupid man.

"So you'd better have something."

"Oh, nothing much. Just wanted to hear the sound of your voice."

"Hm. That's interesting. I would've thought you did have news for me."

"Oh?"

"I got a call from this number yesterday. Didn't get a name. Just a message: 'V has come to'."

A lesser man might've dropped the receiver. Might've gasped 'what' pathetically or fallen to his knees. But concrete doomsday bunker, John. The kind you'd keep a president in for decades until the fallout clears. "That is interesting."

"I assume it didn't come from you."

Miller reads his silence correctly; Adam can't wrangle up a response that'll diffuse this situation quickly enough.

"Okay. Which means more than that two people know. And anything more than two people know--"

"--Is no longer a secret." What did he miss? How is one of Zero's agents still here? He was so sure, John, so certain that this was airtight. He worked at it for years. He planned the whole goddamned thing.

No plan survives first contact with the enemy. Your voice, or hers?

"They'll be coming for you, Ocelot. No - I mean, they're coming for him."

Adam wants so badly to deny it. To say it isn't true. That Zero in his unlife hasn't managed to outmaneuver him, or that one of the other Patriots hasn't. He feels so helpless; cornered. Back to the wall. Like a child - all his games and pretensions stripped away, nothing left but his guns and his teeth. "Thanks for the heads up, Miller."

"Don't mention it. Just do this right. Bring him home. I'm going to buy you some time."

Oh, no.

"We've been contracted for another training op with the Mujahideen. This one's much closer to the front. Near Kabul. High profile. I'm going myself, to--"

"Miller, you can't bait these men." He's not good enough for that. Maybe with a few more years of Ocelot's training in subterfuge. Not yet. It's too early. It's all happening too fast. He had nine years - how is it all coming to a head right now?

"No? Then it'll be an uneventful mission that earns us some cash. Besides, who else do I send? You aren't here. It's three weeks, Ocelot. I'm bringing our best men with me. That's what you brought them back for, right? I'll be careful - but it doesn't matter now. What matters is Snake."

Your dopey little dick-addled dog just used your code name on the telephone, John. Adam could weep. This is going sideways so quickly; the ever-evolving battlefield taking an epochal leap forward and now they must all adapt or die. "He'll be there when you get back," Adam promises.

"Good." The resolve in Miller's voice gives Adam some small hope you'll all pull through. "And, Ocelot..."

That resolve wavers, and Adam's hope crumbles again.

"Stay with us."

"Sounds like a bad idea to me." Adam plasters on a smile. "Won't I get in the way?"

"We'll... work something out. Some way to coexist. I don't know how the fuck I'd replace you, at this point."

"I'll think about it," Adam offers, and hangs up.

He slumps into the desk chair, head thudding onto his crossed arms. How is he going to find a mole, finish your phantom's indoctrination, plan their trip home with enough time built in for a realistic enough recovery period while completing his own semi-permanent hypnosis that he can't even begin to start until all these loose ends have been tied off--

"Why were you talking like a cowboy?"

Only you ever make Adam jump, John. He has no idea at what point you slipped in, but you're a handsbreadth from his back before he knows it. "Because that's what Ocelot sounds like, Радость моя." You don't like it when he calls you that, but Adam doesn't like it when you sneak up on him. "It helps me get into character. That's the voice I'll be using for the tapes, too."

"Oh?" You settle your hands on his shoulders; the burning warmth is back in them at last. That calloused, coiled intensity, inches from his neck. "I don't think I heard you speak English at Groznyj Grad."

"Not Major Ocelot. Ocelot." Adam smiles up at you.

"Hm?" You smile back down. "I think I prefer Adam."

"I know you do," Adam says.

 

There's so little time left, but he needs to do one more of these.

The year is 1982 - that frozen spring in Asmara, with Miller stewing in a puddle of misery and blankets. Ocelot's collarbone hasn't knit yet, grounding him in the office they share, and the two of them are running out of ways to ignore each other. Up hours past when all the other Diamond Dogs have gone to bed, no missions on the books that day - no precious, fleeting distractions.

Ocelot is bored of practicing his sleight of hand by shifting Miller's office supplies around when he isn't looking; Miller is bored of mustering up irritation at having his office supplies moved.

Miller tugs a case out from under his bed. Blows dust off the surface. Wrestles a guitar out and into his lap. Wanders over a few rusty chords.

Ocelot knows he plays the guitar. You've told him as much. He's seen the man try his hand at a few folksy tunes in Argentina; you've crowed over the fact that Miller can shred some of your favourite solos, too. Ocelot expects either something cloying, or something that reminds him, painfully, of you.

When Miller deems he's had sufficient practice and begins to play in earnest, however, that isn't what he hears at all. Ocelot recognizes the tune within the first three notes.

Anyone would.

Ocelot's eyes slip half-closed. His lips curve upward. He hums - on key, for once.

"How do you do that?" Miller asks.

"Ssh." Ocelot doesn't have time to describe all the hours he's spent mimicking the sounds he hears on the radio. He wants Miller to keep playing.

So that Ocelot can sing:

There's a lady who's sure
all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to Heaven

"Not bad," says Miller, but he's the one with the hard part.

"Snake never liked this one, you know," Miller sighs. "Too long to wait for the payoff."

Ocelot nods. He knows. He can hum and he can sing and he can keep a beat, too, but he never learned to play the guitar, and for once it's not Miller's face he watches - it's his hands.

With undivided attention, when they reach the solo, and Ocelot falls silent.

"Sing the rest with me," he dares Miller.

"Can't sing." Miller shakes his head tersely.

"You know the words." Ocelot smirks. "And what do you care what I think of your voice?"

"I don't," Miller grunts. "I just don't want to."

"Coward."

There's a gleam in Miller's eye when he's called out, but Ocelot isn't sure if the man intends to rise to the challenge, right up until the moment Ocelot opens his mouth and is joined by Miller's hesitant tenor:

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold

Miller's voice is weak but Ocelot's rounds it out with his own volume; Miller misses notes but Ocelot covers them. Corrects him when he's off-key. Stages him in the best possible light, while remaining in the background.

That is precisely what he was made for, after all.

He could do it for anyone, perhaps. If you never awaken he'll have no choice but to try. The two of them will forge on together in your memory. Build your heaven for you.

 

Ah, but, you did. And they are all the better for it.

One of these days he'll have to sing for you, too.

 

Singing does not appear to be what you're interested in from Adam at present, however. The phantom is at the stage where he can be awakened with a word or a touch. The tapes are almost finished - you decided to take the ones Zero's made with you. To be given to him at your discretion. Adam agrees, because should Adam listen to any of them, it could undo everything.

Passage is booked - Ocelot only need visit the ship to finalize the transaction and move his equipment there - and your bike is on its way. Soon, very soon, Adam can rest.

One last round of CQC before he goes, you urge him. Just to knock the last of the rust off. Who knows, you might need it. Adam indulges you, just like he always does.

Everything is back in its rightful place, it would seem. You're stronger than him again, much stronger, and you've memorized his new moves. It starts fierce and ends in a scuffle on the floor; Adam chuckles when he's pinned on his back to it. Laughs when he feels your erection weigh down thickly against his stomach. "Bed, John." He pats your shoulder. He doesn't want his bare ass rubbed raw against the linoleum.

You flip him over.

He grabs your wrist when you tug his pants down; you twist it away and pin them both. He either manages to unlock his legs and get up on his knees, or you let him. You use your weight to keep his arms trapped and his shoulders pressed down.

That puts a lot of strain on his neck, John, so he protests - cut off when he realizes you're really going through with this. It's not that he minds. It's just that you're a lot to take, dry and unprepared. You're really into it, though, and he can't move. He almost manages to relax enough to enjoy it by the end.

You groan softly as you pull out. Pat his hip to let him know he can roll over. Whistle low. "Ah, christ, I needed that. Thanks Adam."

You reach down between his legs and seem mildly surprised by his utter lack of arousal. "I'm good."

You wander off to shower again. Adam cleans himself up with tissues and gets dressed. On his way out, sees that your phantom's eye is half-open.

Yes, yes. He gets it, John. You're not that subtle. You need your toys back, and he needs an answer. Time's up: no more vacillating on this.

 

 

You spot him from across a crowded room of suits and dress uniforms. A celebration for another successful operation, one that will lay the groundwork for the first iteration of FOXHOUND. He's not sure how - his hair's grown out, he's grown, he holds himself like a different man entirely - but the sight of him wrenches you right out of melancholy and into a genuine grin.

They all part for you like a school of fish. "Adamska, wasn't it?" Your hand offered.

Which he takes, grinning too. "Adam."

 

You and Eva bark and snap and snarl; two dogs scrapping in the alley of her living room, one tall and elegant and tawny, the other bristling, dour-faced, and wild. Voices are raised. Objects are thrown. Adam sips pinot gris swiped from her refrigerator while he reads Riders of the Purple Sage on the sofa.

She made the mistake of agreeing with something Zero said at dinner tonight. You took it with your customary grace and comportment; she escalated by hurling your meagre belongings out onto the porch.

The door booms shut at last and there is silence for a few seconds before it creaks open again.

"What do you want now?" Eva growls through tears of indignation.

"I forgot my cat." And Adam is bundled out and onto your motorcycle with the rest of your things.

 

Almost a year later your hand is wrapped so tightly around his no one else sees it tremble when the two of you walk out together, abandoning the Patriots for good.

 

"Ssh, ssh. Adam." He tastes your blood in his mouth and your weight is on top of him and he would kill you right now if you released him, he wants to, he absolutely would.

But you don't. You press your injured faced to his and hold him for as long as it takes. "You're in control. Adam. Ssh. You're in control."

 

 

Click.

 

 

Adam shut the door to the bathroom behind him as soon as he entered. John heard him, of course. He made sure of that - an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Or more attractive, depending on your point of view.

He sipped the cup of burnt vending machine coffee he bought while the other man showered, leaning back against that door. It didn't lock. His back would have to suffice. John had his razor out and was wetting the blades; still as vain about cultivating his facial hair as ever. God forbid the legendary Big Boss have a neckbeard.

John glanced up, into the mirror, at Adam's reflection. "You hungry, kid?"

"Hm?" Adam tilted his head curiously. Saw that he'd chewed half the rim of the styrofoam cup off. "Old habit." He shrugged, and tossed it , half-full, into the trash beneath the sink.

"You have something to say to me?" John was always more observant than most gave him credit for; at least, when he wanted to be.

Adam nodded. "You need to make up your mind about Miller."

"I made up my mind about Kaz a long time ago," John grunted, as he lathered up the upper half of his throat.

"So? Where does he fit in to all this?" Adam was, frankly, indifferent to either option: if John decided Miller was to stay with the Diamond Dogs, Adam would look after him. They'd have to keep him out of the field, and he wouldn't like that very much, but Adam could arrange enough visits between him and John to mollify him. On the other hand, if John decided Miller was going to come with him, help build that new nation - well, there was a symmetry to that Adam found appealing. Miller at John's side, himself at the phantom's. That's what all of this had been leading up to, no?

John paused with the razor held mid-stroke. "He doesn't."

Adam's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean 'he doesn't'? Fire him from the Diamond Dogs? He's the best manager of that operation you're ever going to find. We need him. Besides, what are you going to tell him?" John clearly hadn't thought this through.

"Nothing. He stays where he is, and we tell him nothing."

Adam considered that a while, gloved hand on his unshaven chin. Then he strode up behind John slowly, a heavy clink with every step. "You know what'll happen if you do that. Between him and Miller. There's a word for that, John. An ugly one."

John's mouth hardened. He raised his singular brow at the man standing at his back. "Adam, you just told me you wanted to sacrifice everyone in this hospital for my protection. Because if it's full of bodies they can't just level the place, or they'll never know if I've survived or not."

"That and to kill whoever's still working for Zero." It was always more efficient to take care of two things at once. "I'm not quibbling ethics with you - I wanted to make sure you knew what you were asking. John... Miller is not a stupid man. He's going to notice sooner or later - I can only gaslight him for so long, especially seeing as I won't be at one hundred percent myself. And when he does, he won't take it lying down."

Adam was unsurprised to see John flinch; see a line of red appear amidst the white. Not looking while he shaves will do that to a man. He was surprised to see John ignore it. To find himself dragged forward and held, with palms pressed to the sides of his face. Foreheads touching. All the intensity in John's hands shifted into the eye that stared up into his. "I don't trust him, Adam. I've listened to your tapes - I know exactly why you're putting yourself under. You don't even trust yourself not to break under what Cipher - what XOF - will do to you if they catch you."

Adam knew exactly which one he meant. His gift. Ennio Morricone - Here's to You. At least, near the end. "When it's safe, and if Kaz has proven that he can be trusted, we'll bring him in. Fill him in. Until then you're the only person alive I can count on. It's just you and me now, Adam."

Warmth flooded from Adam's face down to his fingertips. He nodded; smiled, sadly, up at John. "He won't accept that. He'll be out for blood." Not after nine years. Not after everything they'd done for him. If their positions had been reversed...

John released him and made pretenses of going back to his shave.

"I'll take care of him, John." Adam offered quietly, his tone leaving no room whatsoever for doubt as to what he meant.

"No," John said, just a little too quickly. He winced; that blade passing close to the open wound. "Like you said, we need him. Besides - it's just Kaz, Adam. I can kill him myself. If it comes to that."

"I see." Adamska nodded. Eased the blade from John's fingers and finished his shave for him.

 

 

 

 

Mind your words, around Adamska. Can is not the same as will.

If one person lacks the will, and the other has it, you have one victor and one corpse. Either John will realize that and find it, or Miller will kill him first.

 

Adamska's footsteps echo resoundingly on the linoleum, each falling with purpose. He makes his way, expressionless, to the room that holds the last of his belongings. The last of his three precious tapes. Miller has one, John the other. If it stays like this it is symmetrical: just like the tape he gave Miller with John's thoughts on one side, his own on the other. Just like the circumstances in which he now finds himself. Torn between two. Whichever takes the third tips the balance. Wins.

But Adamska, you see, hates symmetry.

Symmetry implies duality, and duality is a balm for the simple-minded. There are always more than two options - if not, there will be some mixture of the two. Some middle ground. A shade of grey.

He pulls the last tape out of the player, the door closed and locked behind him.

'On Kazuhira Miller' it says in the title box.

It contains the story of all of his nuanced, personal interactions with that man. All of those that built a connection with him. His living memories, as vividly recalled as if he was experiencing them in real time. It is a masterwork of dissociation - heard in the correct state of mind:

He =/= I

Just as:

2 + 2 = 5

The tape is complete. He was in the midst of making John a copy. Played back to him second time, with the right trigger, it would cause him to realize:

He = I

Just as:

2 + 2 = 4

Of course, it is a tape. Meaning that John could choose to edit it however he pleased - it made no difference to him. Or simply choose not to give it back to him at all. It is a vital part of the conditioning he is now to undertake. Without it, his enemies will be able to use his relationship with Miller against him, just as they could his relationship with John. An exercise in pre-emptive disarmament.

Adamska drops it to the floor. Crushes it under his heel. Grinds the black plastic to pieces and stretches, rips the stringy, shiny recording tape itself underfoot. Stoops to pick it all up and tosses it into the trash.

He picks up the phone. Routes a call through the USSR.

"Oh? To what do I owe the honour?" the voice on the other end asks.

"Egy szívességet szeretnék kérni, ellenségem ellensége," Adamska replies.

When he's finished, he heads back to the longest game he's ever played.

 

Adamska is on his way from the safehouse grounds to his own vehicle when he hears the clapping. He stiffens; straightens. He has a reason to be wary - he half he now carries makes him the wealthiest man alive. --He's known there was another party shadowing the American's - 'John's' - footsteps for days now. They're good, but they're not perfect.

"Well done." A smooth, full-bodied voice with enunciated syllables. Speaking in English. Adamska hasn't heard English in years. "You truly are your mother's son."

Adamska turns with a hand on the grip of his revolver to see a markedly disfigured man in a mask. Who doffs his hat for him, politely. "My apologies. But I felt it unfair for no one to congratulate you on this spectacular performance. I was beginning to despair that no worthy contender could take my place in the East now that I've found work elsewhere."

Adamska says nothing. There's nothing to say. The stranger emerges from the treeline and Adamska permits him to draw close enough to touch him. To cup his unmarked face in a black-gloved hand, appearing to marvel at it. To see himself.

"It'll start to show, eventually. It always does."

 

Adams-Ocelot reloads his revolver more clumsily than he is accustomed, but that will soon pass. Or perhaps he won't remember how well he could do it before - if perception is reality, what's the difference?

Adamska could tell him, but the drugs are slowly lulling him to sleep. Adam went under a long time ago. They've set up targets on the deck of their whaling ship, so that Venom Snake can get some much-needed practice in, and so that Ocelot can pass the time. Their seemingly pointless journey - why not fly back, be there tomorrow - serves a dual purpose: to give Venom time to recover, and to give Ocelot time to complete his hypnosis.

He's looking forward to it, frankly. A much-deserved vacation, a well-earned rest. Only one focus for his attention. Little danger, full nights of sleep in a real bed. Besides, his life as Ocelot thus far was the most fun he'd ever had.

There are some drawbacks to his choice to remember Miller, of course. At least, to remember more than important events listed on a page. There always are with things like this. A lack of clarity. Of singular focus.

But in his new mind he'll be giving him to a man who truly is a brother to him. Who will protect, love, and care for Miller the way a cobbled-together cartridge, a half-finished killing tool of the Philosophers never could. The way whatever shattered shell of a handgun John is never could either.

Ocelot won't let Miller get close enough to smell the gunpowder trickling out at the edges.

Venom's wave almost distracts him from the shot. "Hey, Ocelot - you've got a phone call." Ah, right. They'll have a signal all the way through the Suez Canal. He planned for this.

Almost.

He swings it wildly to the side as if startled. Instead of the target in front of him, the bullet lands in the eye socket of the target to the right. At a glancing angle. Not deep enough to penetrate the brain.

"Thanks, boss." Ocelot smiles kindly.

That personal connection could pose a problem providing support for Miller in the field. But Miller will never work in the field again.

He can't wait to forget about this.

His mother said that personal feelings for a comrade are an unforgivable sin. Ocelot never quite understood her; just as he doesn't about so much else. He's seen the truth of her words, to be sure: seen her hesitate, blade in hand. Seen John hesitate just the same. Watched the two of them ready to make unforgivable mistakes.

Personal feelings have never stopped him from pulling the trigger.

He'll take this call in private: "Hello, Pyotr? I heard you just received a very interesting captive. Yes, the blond American. He'll be tough to crack, I think. But I have a few ideas..."

Chapter Text

I am overwhelmed by the amazing art that's been done for this fic. Artist are, essentially, wizards. So behold this dumpster sorcery:

From Chapter Two:

By starlock the God Tier Quiet author and fan, and cryptovolans artist of the most badass mgs furries, Kaz is starving in a gutter with his Rolex on. As you do.

By cryptovolans, making out after a fistfight. As they do.

From Chapter Three:

Scruffy low-rent Kaz and thirsty Ocelot by cat, based on one of my favourite lines in the whole thing.

From Chapter Four:

By millio who did yellowcake and that's, like, all I should have to say at this point. That's a mic drop. Here's Lawrence of Arabia/Sleazy Oil Sheik Kaz.

From Chapter Five:

By Johnny who is the king of tastefully sordid art. These outfits are as bright as you deserve.

 

From Chapter Eight (confessions; fist fights in suits, broken glass, and fucking in an infinity pool with feels):

One of my favourite scenes to write in the whole damn story, this one captures it perfectly - by fern:

Kaz getting the party started Holly:

By starlock:

By cryptovolans:

By Fala:

By Johnny:

By starlock, after it all:

If there's more and you want it linked it would be my pleasure and honour to post it here, so let me know with a comment!

Chapter Text

Starring

Lia as... The Dumpster Aunt, Die-For-Our-Ship, Ocekaz Muse
Emily as... A Stuffed Cat With Teeth Marks On Its Ear
Toril as... Pequod, and A Sun Emoji
Feusgan as... All Fifteen Named Firearms In This Fic
Millio as... Ocelot's Triangular Torso In Shoulder Pads
Johnny as... The Hotel Staff The Day After Ocelot and Kaz Have Stayed Somewhere
Mango as... Every Typo
Vir as... A Colocolo
Oni as... Kaz Smiling For Once
Pixie as... Legitimate Characterization Discourse
Holly as... The Use of Spurs As A Safeword
Izzy as... The Two Whole Paragraphs of BBKaz
Deer as... Afraid Of My Word Count
CV as... Holy Shit You Read My Fic
Elle as... The Bag Of Senbei Ocelot Sat On, But Ate Anyway
And... To everyone else in the trash pile, I love you guys. Thanks for reading. You've been wonderful.

 

A Kojima Production

 

 

 

*The sound of wracking coughs. The rustle of clothing. Muted noises of protest followed by skin on skin.*

The fever makes it so hard to concentrate. On holding up the house of cards in his head; on compartmentalizing the pain in his arm and the thirst that's growing so strong he's beginning to hallucinate from it. On holding his shoulders straight and facing the wall, pretending he doesn't waste precious fluid every time they rape Miller.

Still, Ocelot knows he's misplayed this badly. Overconfidence. John always said that would be his downfall. His mother, too. He assumed they'd bought his act of helplessness. Hadn't even chained him down. He could strangle the big one, take his keys, stroll out with his head held high.

At least, he could have, many hours ago. But he had no idea what setup they had in the hallway; besides, if he stayed, he was sure he could figure out what their real game was. Could keep Miller company. His past trauma'd make this a struggle, Ocelot knew. He'd start coming apart at the seams Ocelot could keep him from getting himself hurt. Explain how all this worked to him. This was child's play.

A mistake that Ocelot is now paying for with a fever that is swiftly stripping him of the only weapon he has left. Could spike and take his life at any time.

The one with the tattoos knows what he's doing. This isn't his first rodeo: he took the keys. Always comes armed, or in tandem, or both. Took anything Ocelot could possibly use to pick a lock, too - from his lighter to his boots to his belt buckle to Miller's goddamned sunglasses. 'Mike', they called him, knows what he wants. And he wants it from Ocelot.

He'll kill Miller if Ocelot runs without him. Of that Ocelot has no doubt whatsoever. Miller's an unwanted loose end. So, he has a choice to make.

Very soon, it'll be made for him. He's so cold. He can hardly raise his head. He can't sleep or he might miss a mistake on their captors' part. To either take the chance while he still has the strength left to stand. Try to escape. Best case scenario: make it off the platform and arrange an assault team to collect Miller's body. Or stay and last as long as he can, hoping that's long enough for help to come.

He rouses the part of him that will protest the most: the unflinching, pitiless part he summoned to say the cruelest things he could think of to Miller when he saw the fight start to leave him. He has a name for it; can't bring it to mind just now.

He'll tell Miller it was theatre, before he dies, he decides. A performance. He'd much, much rather they raped him than dismembered, mutilated, or killed him. And so he had to act like he hated it. Like it was working. I don't hold it against you. Yes, those are the words he'll use.

Ocelot's good eye flicks to Foxtrot's back. Yes, he probably could still take him.

Miller stopped struggling hours ago. The whimpers of pain are back - Foxtrot's less violent about it, less brutal than the Russians would have been - but no doubt he's raw and hurting by now. Foxtrot murmurs an apology and shifts; pain, laced with sickening notes of pleasure and half-sobs.

You're willing to do this for him?

The silence is answer enough.

I'm not afraid. Unsure if that's the fever, his own voice, or something else entirely.

I'm terrified, Ocelot admits. Of how ugly this is going to get before the end. Of how ugly it'll have to be to work within the limited schedule their captors will have before Snake returns. Before the Diamond Dogs give them up for dead and raid in force. Of being tortured to death. But then, didn't he always know it would happen this way?

Don't be. He'll hold you and talk to you while you die.

Ocelot's shoulders pitch forward. He covers his face.

I'll protect both of you.

Just... let me hear what he says?

Ocelot nods. Wipes his face. Steadies his expression, ready to face what he knows he will - all the bruises on Miller's skin, the half-agonized, half-dead look in his eyes.

Time to put a little more life back into them.

"Told you," Adamska says in a voice that is overwhelmingly unimpressed.

Yes, it's back. Miller picks himself up and snorts, "Finally getting to sleep and you fuck it up again. Thanks."

He'll fight for this man until his heart stops beating.

Chapter Text

I don't think anybody writes a fic this long without leaving a few pieces on the cutting room floor, so to speak (if they do they're a far better planner than I am). As per the notes, the whole scope of this story changed, for a few reasons. A great deal of it was originally intended to be part of a bosselot fic - a response to my first mgs fic, Ad Infernum, but from Ocelot's point of few, called Red the Shade of History (based on the song that serves as my general Big Boss theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGNlEtjaoHE). The Enemy of My Enemy was supposed to a series of 1000-2000-word shorts set during the nine-year-gap that culminated in Ocelot betraying someone who very well could have been his closest friend. The ending was the whole point, frankly.

But as I borrowed these ideas and reframed them into a less shallow 'these two are in love with the same man and don't like each other' take on ocekaz, and more of a 'these men have survived together for nine years at great sacrifice and built Big Boss's army back up for him' take. Interactions that seemed to work at first glance didn't hold water or were drastically altered the moment the story grew from a series of stereotyped soundbites and into more realistic, long-spanning relationship. Oil rigs, military helicopters, missiles, planes for Fulton extraction... these things cost tens and hundreds of millions of dollars, and Kaz no longer has access to Cipher funds. Meaning that the Diamond Dogs were very successful indeed. All while avoiding Cipher/XOF assassins/capture.

For all the cat/dog parallels, Kaz and Ocelot work together very well, in fact.

Add to this the fact that they couldn't possibly know that Big Boss would ever really wake up yet chose to work together regardless, and how Ocelot behaves in canon if you put Kaz's life in danger during Phantom Limbs, well, another explanation for why GRU spetsnaz lead interrogator Major Ocelot didn't just hop on a plane to Afghanistan to order a prisoner transfer the day Kaz was captured while Venom recovered on the slow boat back to Mother Base required a different explanation entirely.

And so here are a few things I cut from EoME for various reasons, and some excerpts from the aforementioned bosselot fic (of which I've written around 20-some-odd pages, never to be used >>).

 

Story Time with Solidus

Meant to be a gap-filler for the period this fic went dark around Christmas in order to rejigger it from what it was meant to be into what became, this got way too long. Also made the fact that Ocelot is not being entirely forthcoming about the real extent of his interactions with the Patriots to John a little too obvious, as well as his real relationship with SF/XOF. Set post-Argentina, pre-Iran.

 

We're halfway through our story now, which makes for a good time as any for a recap of past events. It's been awhile since we left off, but you remember, don't you?

There was once a great warlord who crowned himself King and built a castle in the sea. There he dwelt with his Queen, and the fiercest warriors from across the land - some flocked from the four corners of the earth for the chance to do battle at his side, others he selected by hand, champions whose prowess had impressed him. Friend or foe, it made no difference. Those who fought under his banner forewent old loyalties and raised their swords as one.

For a time, they were victorious, and happy. The King was just, the Queen was fair, and it's said you could hear songs and laughter echoing from their castle, even from the shore.

But nothing lasts forever, Солнышко моё.

In a land to the north of their sea lived a Wizard of fearsome cunning and power. He was an old ally of the King; they'd fought dragons together in their youth. He had schemed and magicked his way into becoming the true power behind the throne in his own kingdom, yet - and always remember this - men who seek power are never satisfied. Their lust for control only multiplies over time; before long the Wizard sought to rule the world. He could never succeed on his own; with the King at his side, his dark dream would transform into a certainty.

The King refused him. He was satisfied with his lot. What he conquered he would do so by the strength of his right arm, not spells.

The Wizard was undeterred. If he could not appeal to the King's own desire for power, he would appeal to his other wants: he sent comely, golden-haired women to seduce him to the Wizard's cause. They were so charming no man could turn them away. The King remained unmoved by their beauty. The Wizard offered him sons through sorcery - both the King and his Queen were barren - and these, too, were scorned by the King.

At length the Wizard abandoned his efforts and turned to his Queen instead. Her love of gold was legendary - she hoarded it like a dragon, and with her at his side, the King's coffers were never empty - and so, the Wizard offered her wealth beyond imagining. She accepted. Yet, to the Wizard's consternation, offered nothing but paltry gossip in return. She remained loyal and true: the words she whispered into the King's ear did not move him any closer to the Wizard's side.

"Isn't that bad?"

"What is, Yurachka?"

"She took his money but didn't do what he wanted. That's stealing."

"That's all a matter of perspective."

"Um..."

What the Queen didn't know was that the Wizard had a Dragon in his service-

"The dragon!"

A dragon. The Wizard had caught him when he was but a hatchling, and the Dragon had followed him ever since: soaring across the sea, feasting on his enemies. Unbeknownst to the Wizard, the Dragon loathed the King. He had fought for the Wizard for so long, yet it was the King the Wizard wished to have at his side, not him. Even worse, the King was a dragonslayer; he was a hero, handsome, with a beautiful lady love who turned everything she touched into coin. He had everything, including the affection of the Dragon's master. The Dragon hated the King down to his very bones.

"Why didn't the Dragon just tell the Wizard he was mad?"

Because, in secret, he despised the Wizard too. But if he attacked the Wizard openly, for all the bad blood between them, the King might rush to his aid.

"That wasn't part of the story last time."

"No, it wasn't."

"Can you tell me more about the Dragon, please?"

"Of course."

Dragon eggs are formed deep within the earth by the eternal fires at its core. There they sleep as stones until so much blood soaks through the soil that it coats their shells, dissolving them, and they hatch. They crawl out of yawning crevasses ripped open when mighty armies clash. In our Dragon's case, he was born when the Black Knights of the west stormed into the east on horses carved of steel and thunder. They fought to conquer the world, just as the Wizard later would. The vast Red Army stood in their way with naught but humble swords and armor. The Black Knights were peerless warriors who summoned lightning, burning hail, and terror; the soldiers of the Red Army were peasants defending their homes, with a single folk magic at their disposal:

Winter.

It was so cold men froze where they stood. The Black Knights' armour became coated in ice, so heavy they couldn't take a single step. Howling winds blew their steeds out of the sky. Still, the fighting was fierce, and terrible. The fields of the east were littered with the fallen, with the corpses of millions--

"Millions?"

"Yes, millions."

"Really, uncle, millions of people? I know this is just a story, but you don't have to make up--"

"Millions, Yura. I'll take you there someday."

And in this woeful chaos the earth was rent asunder between them; the Dragon climbed out onto the snow, coated in so much blood it dripped from his scales, still newborn and soft. The frigid depths of Winter froze it solid across his skin. Locked him in place; covered his snout.

"Oh no."

He could have died the day he was born; instead, with a roar he ripped free - right out of his frozen scales, stripped down to hideous, mangled flesh and bone. And so, none knew him for a Dragon. They thought he was an animal - some took pity on him, and fed him. Others put him to work for them, for he still had a dragon's ferocity, strength, and guile. Only the Wizard recognized him for what he really was.

"So why does he hate the Wizard?"

Because magic, and those who wished to conquer the world, were what cost him his scales.

"And then he found out when the King was going to be away from the Queen's gossip, and he smashed their castle to bits, and the King rescued her just in time but the Dragon cast a spell that made him fall into an enchanted sleep. I remember. But why does the Dragon have magic?"

"All dragons do."

"Okay. Then the Red Knight came out of the east because he heard the King was in trouble, and he's his sworn brother. But if he's his brother, why wasn't he there in the castle? Shouldn't he be a Prince?"

Because they were brothers by vow, not by blood. The Red Knight had sworn fealty to him, but he was only one of many Knights to have done so. His kingdom was not the King's - he had his own land, and his own people. The first time they met, in fact, it was as adversaries. The King and the Wizard still fought together, and together they faced a Lightning Dragon. The Red Knight was this Dragon's vassal. He met the King - who was still a Prince himself back then - in combat, and they dueled. The Red Knight lost the battle, but the Prince spared his life.

"Why?"

Some say the Red Knight's skill impressed him so deeply the Prince wanted him for his own; the Red Knight was still a mere boy, and others say the King showed him mercy on account of his age. No one knows for certain. All they know is that from that day onward the Red Knight's loyalty has been to the King above all others. The Lightning Dragon defeated, the Red Knight swore to come to his aid should he ever require it.

"He should've been at the castle. He could've protected the Queen."

"Maybe so. Maybe not. Maybe he'd be dragon food. Only a Dragon can truly challenge another Dragon."

"But you said--"

In any case, the Red Knight wasn't at the castle. His first thought was for the King's safety: he cast a spell of protection to guard him in his slumber. Then he offered his sword to the Queen, to be her protector as she quested to find a way to break the Dragon's curse. Which she stubbornly refused, willful and suspicious, until her carriage was waylaid by an ambush and the Red Knight, who had followed her against her wishes, charged in to slay them all. Rather than look to him as her saviour, however, she held him responsible for the death of one of her guards, who was in fact--

"One of the Dragon's henchmen. But she didn't know that. She thought he was a friend."

"First you turn into an apologist for the Dragon, and now you're on the Queen's side?"

"It's not the Dragon's fault. He's just being a Dragon. I feel sad for him. How would you like to lose your scales?"

"I wouldn't know. I've never had scales to lose."

"It's a metaphor. Anyway, the Queen is sad too. She doesn't know this guy at all and she's lonely. That's why she throws herself at other men next and the Red Knight has to save her honour. What if you were a Queen with a handsome King and a court full of fun and friends one day, then you were all alone and poor and scared the next?"

"I've never been a Queen, either."

"Use your imagination? You have friends and family and a home, right? How would you like to lose them?"

"I suppose that would be very painful."

"So the Red Knight should be comforting her."

"The Red Knight has better things to do with his time."

The Queen had begun to gather some warriors of her own, her circumstances grew less dire than before. She could weep into their sleeves, if she felt the need. She had collected the coin to travel, and she'd heard that a magic existed in the deep jungles of the south that could cure her love. But these lands had been conquered by a Necromancer: a black sorcerer whose magic could raise the dead and add them to his army. This scourge spilled across the continent unchecked by the King, who had fallen, and the Wizard, who tacitly permitted the conquests of his own kind. It was far too dangerous for a woman to travel alone--

"But you said last time the Queen could fight."

"Sure. After a fashion. About as well as you'd expect."

"You said she was a warrior princess the King had defeated who almost killed him through treachery. He admired her spirit so much he fell in love with her."

"Spirit, not skill. She'd also spent the last few years lounging on her throne playing her lute and counting money while the King and the Red Knight were slaying all kinds of monsters."

--so, even though the Red Knight knew it was a fool's errand and they'd be lucky to escape with their lives, he had no choice but to accompany her into the Necromancer's domain. He refused to allow her to bring any of her warriors with her, for they would surely perish. She gave him her favour--

"What does that mean?"

...The, ah, golden shawl she always wore around her throat. The favour of a lady is some favoured piece of clothing they wear, or a lock of hair. It brings protection to men in their darkest hours. She tied it 'round his arm, and with it, his sword, and shield, they crossed the ocean together. She turned to wine to soothe her nerves during the journey; the Red Knight switched it for juice when she looked away.

The Queen had travelled these jungles before, you see. Before they fell under the Necromancer's sway. She spoke the language, she loved the people. They knew her, too; she was very happy there, and her grace won the hearts of the embattled villagers. Heedless of the shadows looming around them - the Red Knight was never to be found more than an armslength away from her.

The skeletons came in the night, as surely as the Red Knight knew they must. Teeming thousands of them, clambering relentlessly over the vines and through the brush. Animals fled their path and birds stilled; the Red Knight took this as a sign to flee. The Queen wanted to stay and fight a hopeless battle to save the villagers--

"Wouldn't you?"

"No, not really."

--But the Red Knight had sworn to protect her, and could not let her lose her life here. Or be captured and used against the King; be turned into one of the undead creatures against which he now stood. Valiant, noble defeats make for good stories to the unaffected - the Red Knight could not bear to tell his liege lord, his own sworn brother, that he'd lost his lady love. And so he hid her away safely amongst vine-smothered ruins.

Or so he thought. Keening howls echoed from the horizon - soon slavering beasts, enormous dire wolves, bore down upon them. Twice the size of a man, black as night, and covered in spines so sharp they could slice a man in twain, these were the Necromancer's own personal bloodhounds. They found the Knight and the Lady straightaway - only the knight's raised shield kept them from being devoured at once. He called out for her to flee, and for once, she listened: there were far too many of the creatures to fight.

The Red Knight took pains to stay behind her, to shield her. When she slipped, he gently raised her to her feet. The dire wolves snapped at their heels; sheer desperation urged them onward. The beasts were faster, and soon had them surrounded. Sword flashing in the night, the he carved path to freedom. But do to so he'd turned his back on the Queen, and he knew from her cry of terror that one of them had her in their clutches.

He whirled around to find her pinned beneath its jaws. He rushed to her and pried its mouth open with his sword. It bit down and hurled the blade off into the trees. He bashed it backward with his shield; it ripped that, too, from his hand and swallowed it whole. He urged her to go - he would hold it off as long as he could. She refused to leave him.

The wolf sank its teeth into the Red Knight's raised arm, all three certain this was the end of them. Instead, there was a blinding flash: the Queen's favour smote the beast.

There was time for neither celebration nor astonishment: the Knight kissed the Lady's hand in gratitude and they hurried on into the thick foliage, toward the jungle's edge, where they could no longer be followed. Harried for a day and a night, at the limits of their strength, the Queen began to lose heart. Beleaguered and afraid, she could run no more. She begged him to leave her behind.

But the Red Knight knew that she was stronger than she realized, she need only have courage. He raised his voice in song for her, to lift her spirits. He sang and sang for her, for hours, and she followed, enchanted by the melody. Before she knew it they had reached the sea, and safety.

They sailed home together to await their next adventure.

"Uncle Adam?"

"Yes?"

"...The Red Knight and the Queen fall in love, don't they."

"The last time I talked to you, girls were gross and the Queen was annoying."

"I was a little kid back then."

"Why would they fall in love? They're companions of circumstance, not choice."

"Because the Red Knight's been the one protecting her and fighting for her for years. The King's just sleeping."

"It doesn't work like that, Yura. You could dedicate your life to a girl and she doesn't have to love you. Besides, why would the Red Knight fall for the Queen?"

"She's pretty, right?"

"A little past her prime, but it's not like the King's getting any younger himself."

"So she's a pretty girl."

"It doesn't work like that either, you'll find."

"Okay, okay, but what happened to the Dragon? Last time you said he was exiled by the Wizard. Exiled doesn't mean dead."

"I'm fairly sure most people would call the Dragon the villain of this story. Why do you care what happens to him?"

"I told you: he's just being a Dragon. It's not his fault."

"So whose fault is it?"

"The Wizard's. He knew what the Dragon was. He used him anyway, because he wanted power. He didn't care about the Dragon at all, or he would have known he was angry. The Wizard's the bad guy. ...Right?"

"Oh, I agree."

But every so often men come along who think they can control Dragons. They think Dragons are beasts who exist to serve them. Dragons can do a very good job of pretending that this is true. No, Dragons have free will, and they follow men because they wish to. Never forget that: for when a Dragon turns on his master there will be a terrible price to pay. He'll not only swallow you whole, he'll slaughter your other followers. He'll tear down everything you've built and crush everything you care for. They have magic, like Wizards, are as strong as warriors, and have no mercy or fear. They are relentless: they never falter until they're slain.

"So the Wizard's dead."

"Or will be soon enough."

"Uncle Adam?"

"Yes?"

"Can there be ninjas, next time?"

"You like ninjas?"

"They're... cool I guess."

"I'll see what I can do."

"...Uncle Adam..."

"Hm?"

"Is the Red Knight--"

"George!"

"Don't mind me, I was just leaving."

"You never stay. Can't he stay?"

"No, George, I think... uh, Uncle Adam has other places to be."

"See you soon."

"How did you get in here?"

"I walked in through the front door."

 

Chat with Eva

As you can probably tell from what does appear in EoME and my bosselot fics, I love Ocelot and Eva's frenemy-ship, and I fully intend to explore that in its own story someday. Unfortunately this scene didn't work because it too revealed way too much about revelations set to come later in the story. Most notably Adam's past with the Philosophers. Also based on comments a lot of people weren't 100% sure that Ocelot/Adamska/Adam were entirely different personas at this point, and this piece is pretty unsubtle about that. Set pre-Hong Kong.

 

"Is this more to you liking?" Eva asks him flawless Parisian French as they recline on the balcony of her opulent suite overlooking Plage Royal. She sips delicately on a particularly rich, spicy Amarone that pairs perfectly with their foie gras.

"Je m'en sacre," Ocelot replies, and watching her struggle not to spit it right back out at that makes '75 worthwhile, if for no other reason than to meet Dingo.

"You've never liked French, have you?" she inanely observes to cover her recovery.

"That made it all the way to Idaho?" Ocelot switches to English; taunting her with the fact that he speaks three more languages than she does got old years ago - besides, his Mandarin still leaves a lot to be desired.

"No, of course not. Things would've gone very differently had I known anything about you aside from the stunt you pulled in Berlin." Ocelot would ask her how she managed to hear even that much with her face stuffed with some charm school instructor's saggy ball sack, but Ocelot is tired. And the food is good. GRU food is about as good as hospital food, most of the time.

Step one: ease your way into a relaxed atmosphere with fine food or alcohol.

Step two: tease lightly - if you can, make them laugh.

Step three: mention common ground or a shared memory - preferably something nostalgic.

Ocelot was bored with this when he was ten. "If you're going to fuck me, can we skip the foreplay?"

Eva frowns. Then tosses her head. "You look like shit, Adam."

His English name tastes foreign; he hasn't heard it in years. "And you're less Mrs Robinson, more hungry cougar."

"I mean it. You look older than I do and you're going grey. How long's it been since you slept?"

"I'm a busy man these days," Adam deflects. Regretting the decision to accept her invitation already. If he wanted an argument he could have struck up a conversation with Miller about any topic in the world. And unlike Miller, Eva - for all her dwindling charms - does not get his dick hard.

There's a great deal a man can tolerate for someone he finds attractive. You would know.

"Yes, watching Jack sleep must be terribly burdensome." She rolls her eyes.

She knows full well he has more going on than that. He doesn't even bother to say it, though the pause in her speech has been opened specifically for him to interject.

"But that's right," she continues at precisely the moment he knew she would - just long enough for him to give a considered response if one was forthcoming, not so long that the lull would grow awkward, "you, the loyal one, are still running Zero's errands."

Among a host of other things. "In case you haven't noticed, he has my balls in a vice right now."

She snorts. It's one of those things she will actually do of her own volition, when she's playing neither the sultry femme fatale nor your oversexed faux-tomboy girl next door. You've never heard her do it; Adam has, many times. "David would never hurt Jack. He sought you out to put another chain around your neck. He has a thousand other capable bodyguards to do that job."

That's what Adam loves about Eva: she'll follow intrigues 95% of the way to their conclusion and present them like killing blows. It drives Adam to drink. Again. "Oh. The thought had never occurred to me," he mumbles through a sip of pinot noir and a layer of sarcasm so thick he can hardly taste it.

"That. Was. A. Question," she grinds out, bobbing her neck with every word. "I. Know. You. Know. I am asking you why you're doing it anyway."

"Oh, were you? Interesting." Adam drains his glass and Eva drains hers. With a huff, no less. John, darling, he's beginning to think you have a type.

"Now who's playing rhetorical games?"

"You are."

"Fine." She throws her arms up at last. "Fine! Adam: what the fuck are you doing? You're helping Zero. Jack is in a coma and doesn't need a babysitter. XOF is the bed David shat himself - let him sit in it."

That makes Adam smile, at last. Makes him laugh, actually.

"Stop! Just stop. Get some sleep, take a vacation. Take up a hobby. Date someone, some who actually gives a shit." It's advice she herself has been taking, John. She looks good. Objectively. (For her age.) She's been cougaring it up across the countryside of Europe while she rebuilds her spy network, outside of what she believes are Cipher's prying eyes.

"I don't really feel like it," Adam admits. It's all he'll say, and however woefully inadequate she may have been as a spy, she knows enough to know he's hiding something.

"Adam." To his mild surprise, her tone softens. She leans forward to refill his glass, and hers. Maintains the distance of a confidante. "I know you think you're better than me. You chose your own path, while I kept walking the one they laid out."

Adam frowns. She continues. "But, Adam, I chose to do that. They release you, when you're an adult - of course, you wouldn't know . They were harsh, yes. Brutal. I wouldn't wish them on any child. But what's done is done. Instead of letting them tear me down, I let them make me stronger. I embraced their teachings and they gave me the world. They selected the People's Republic for me because it was the option that suited me best, and the Chinese let me choose my weapons, my tactics, my methods, and even my limits. You believe you're above me by rejecting the past?" She straightens, proudly. "I refuse to squander it. Everything I've been through. I'll use the pain I was forged in to shape the future I want, while you've done nothing but trade your old masters for Jack and David. I stayed shackled, but now I am free, and you drag your broken chains with you wherever you go."

Adam stares at the floor while he drains his glass in one long pull.

"Adam..." His expression must have revealed more than he thought it had, because her voice softens even further, turning downright featherly. "...I'm sorry. I just don't want you destroy yourself for a man who doesn't even love you."

Like I did, she does not say, but Adam will oblige her by filling it in in his head. "Fine, Eva. You want me to say it? I can't. I can't stop. You know that. Did you invite me here to gloat? I'll pass on the next outing, then--"

"No, I thought you might need someone to talk to." He looks doubtful; she presses on. "I heard it from Jack: you insisted on coming along, in Hanoi. You risked your life for me. And you warned me. I won't say you were right--" No, god forbid she admit what she did to you was as cold-blooded a thing as Adam has ever done to anyone, "--But you did warn me. David's a bastard, and Jack never lets go. Not of anything. So, in a way, you've been more of a friend to me than they ever have. If you want to talk, my door is open."

He has to admit: the offer is tempting. She might not know much of what he's up to, but she does know more than most. She relates to him on a number of levels. She knows you. He might just take her up on it. He's clearly fond of her.

"...I suppose I have been wondering what you're up to in Europe these days."

After all, if he wasn't, he might have told her that every single one of the Philosophers' children he's ever met has given him the same speech upon finding out who he is. Almost verbatim. Each nearly identical sermon delivered as if it were the most original, captivating idea they ever had. A conclusion arrived at after no doubt the most intense soul-searching and self-doubt. A crushing blow to his false confidence.

Obedience is freedom. Escape is imprisonment. Submission is strength. Torn back down to be built up stronger. It was all worth it in the end. The world is now theirs.

They chat idly about inane details Adam already knows, wistfully about the past, and you, while Adam drinks Adamska to sleep.

 

Ocelot Meets Putin

Exactly what it says on the tin. If True Blue can have Margaret Thatcher, why can't I put Putin in? I didn't actually end up writing this at all, but Major Ocelot was going to encounter an ambitious young KGB counter-intelligence expert with an unfortunate early balding pattern named 'Vladmir', during which they would discuss the future of the USSR/Russian patriotism/the functions of the KGB vs GRU. The collapse of the USSR and the reorganization of the KGB are major plot points in MGS2, but back then, I don't think Kojima anticipated that not only would the GRU - to which Ocelot and Gurlukovich actually belonged - survive into the new era, they would thrive in it. Insinuating that Ocelot's loyalties to his adoptive countries are far more complex than they seem.

But observant people already realize this, I'm sure.

Excerpts from Red, The Shade of History

A few pieces of what was intended to be a very long bosselot fic, which will never see the light of day. For a few reasons, first and foremost being that I cannibalized so much of it for EoME; secondly, that neither Ocelot & Big Boss's relationship nor Ocelot & Kaz's relationship work as I'd planned them in light of a much more in-depth reading of MGSV; lastly, and somewhat shallowly, based on my observations re: the fandom I honestly don't think the vast majority of bosselot fans are interested in a serious, canon-heavy, in-character interrogation of the ship as opposed to AUs in lighter settings with a greatly pared-down, more palatable dynamic between two. By contrast ocekaz fans seemed really into the idea of a nine-year-gap epic. The ideas were better-served here, I think.

Introduction:

It was always going to be framed as a tape to John in second-person, but I like the slow reveal of this in EoME much better

Ad Infernum: a counterpoint

No, John, that's your story. This is mine.

Or, one time John and Adam fucked, and five times they didn't.

*chuckle* You didn't really believe that, did you, John?

We've fucked a lot more than five times. It's a cute framing device, but this time, I'm looking to tell you the truth.

Try not to get too excited.

They tell me that you might not be all there, when you wake up. When you went into cardiac arrest on them it was only for a matter of seconds, but before that, in the helicopter, they have no idea. They pulled you out of the water - depending on how long you went without oxygen, it could be there's a lot you don't remember.

Do you like the accent? You always hated the British one I had back in the 70s. It suited my purposes back then, but I think this one suits me better, now.

Where was I? Right. You might not remember me. And I might not be here when you wake up. In that case, I figure I'd better apprise you of our situation.

I promise there'll be a few things in here that you never knew, to make it worth your while. Plenty of sex and violence, too.

 

Raising Adam(ska):

Again, I like the gradual reveal of his different personas better than spelling it out right at the outset. I also think framing it in the sense of 'we become what we pretend to be' was a little too obvious re: his relationship with Big Boss. Plus I prefer EoME's drippingly sarcastic!Ocelot to Red's drippingly pretentious!Ocelot though they're both hilarious in their own ways imo.

Adam(ska) learned from a very young age not to pretend to be something he wasn't.

Pretending is well and good for a little while, maybe even fun. But it grinds a man down over time; pretenses wear thin, grow painful, until they hurt every time they're used, and everyone who cares to notice can see through the threadbare illusion. Living a lie their entire lifetime is a slow torture has destroyed strong men and women, utterly.

What to do, then, when faced with a choice between pain and pretense?

His earliest memories were gentle enough. Indistinct faces speaking to him in a collage of languages, exhorting him to play, read, make friends. Though he realized quickly that every game was an evaluation of his skill, every book was one that he was required to memorize, and that he was judged on every word he spoke to someone else, there was no punishment for failure, in those early days. He didn't really know what failure was.

But as the increasingly bitter divorce between his myriad parents from their ill-advised union grew violent, stakes arose. Pungent tea, indigo ink, and words that sounded like singing disappeared from his curriculum, replaced by soda, stews, fur, leather, letters with different sounds when they faced backwards, and men with guns, guns, guns. Saying the wrong word, or the right word in the wrong language, forgetting something he had seen, or talking to the wrong person in the wrong way all had consequences. Sometimes, he wouldn't eat. Sometimes, he wouldn't see that person again. He pretended he didn't care, but it hurt.

It was something as petty as French that did him in. Adam didn't like the way it sounded; especially the way the words were so close to English but different, and he was in very, very big trouble if he said something wrong in English. He'd fuss, but nothing made the woman who spoke it to him go away. When she slapped him, her sharp red fingernails bit into his cheeks. He tried his hardest to learn, but it hurt; he hated it. He tried to convince himself that really, it wasn't so bad. But it was that bad. Just like English, only the adjectives and nouns were in the wrong order, except when they weren't. He pretended to like it; he pretended to be a little French boy, or maybe Napoleon, or maybe Charles du Gaulle, but his enthusiasm fizzled until he got slapped again.

That night she took everything out of his room - every single object, down to the furniture - and locked the shuttered windows. He sat on the bare floor with his arms folded across his knees. He recited that day's entire lesson to himself out loud, out of habit. Descartes. Only he translated it into Latin, spitefully. She was probably listening.

Ego sum, ego existo, quoties a me profertur, vel mente concipitur, necessario esse verum

But why?

But not just like French?

It sounded silly and it was too much like English and he hated that woman.

No.

It was breathy and beautiful and English was too much like French and she was one of the most knowledgeable, most demanding instructors he'd ever had.

... est nécessairement vraie, toutes les fois que je la prononce, ou que je la conçois en mon esprit

"I like French."

Adam liked French. It was the language of Philosophy; of history, of love, of great continental heroes. He was sore the next day from sleeping on the floor, but his eyes were bright with eagerness. He greeted her, his stern yet charming instructor, in her own language and didn't use another until she asked him to translate.

The answer was so simple all along that he could scarcely believe other people didn't do the same. Abandon pretenses. Just become whatever it was you wanted to be. All these needlessly painful subjectivities; was fear the sign of a coward, or overcoming fear the mark of a hero and fearlessness the sign of a madman? Neither. All these were just words. They were a story. Stories changed with the teller. Tellers changed with the story.

 

Major Ocelot

The creation of his Major Ocelot persona as written in Red doesn't work for a number of reasons: for one I think it's too obvious he's putting on airs trying to impress John, which might've been in character as Major Ocelot but certainly isn't for TPP-era Ocelot. For two: it's also too obvious he's playing dumb re: The Boss. There's too much telling and not showing - all told, I'm sure you can see why it was cut/revamped. It's much more impactful to reframe this as his first and only meeting with The Sorrow.

"Oh?" Adamska'd assumed he was the son of someone important, based on the evidence available. How much trouble two superpowers had gone to for his sake. But a common soldier? He'd thought a politician, at least. The director of the KGB, or CIA, and some mistress, perhaps. She must have been a legendary sniper with hundreds of confirmed kills. Or one of the Night Witches? When his handler made no response, he knew none was forthcoming. He'd have to discover the truth for himself. "So I'm to follow in her footsteps and do my patriotic duty."

"Exactly right. You will, of course, have to undergo their training. And succeed."

"Consider it done."

Adamska's reputation preceded him. The GRU worked closely with the KGB at times in the same way that the CIA supported the US military's own intelligence and black operations. His second (third?) defection was staged without as much fanfare; he took the Makarov pistol the KGB had given him as a parting gift, nothing else, showed up at the entrance to their ostensibly top secret recruiting facility in Moscow, and told the bald, one-eared bodyguard at the door that he was going to be Spetsnaz.

He was laughed at, pushed, and when he refused to leave, ordered to take off his gloves and do pushups in the snow. For hours. At one point, a man in a suit came out, spat on the ground next to his head, and told him to go back to the KGB. When morning came and Adamska was still on his now red and purple hands, the guard finally relented. He told Adamska to stand up and called inside; Adamska blew on his numb, frostbitten fingers.

They told him he could join if he could pass their marksmanship test. Without practice. Right now.

"Sounds fair to me." He couldn't bend any of his fingers; he had to unholster the Makarov with both hands. He had to stick his thumb through the trigger guard and yank back on his arm to pull the trigger, resting the grip in the open palm of the opposite hand. The ludicrous audacity of it drew a small crowd of hardened instructors and more than a few derisive snorts.

Adamska didn't miss a shot.

"Comrades," he didn't even bother to watch the last one; he spun the Makarov back over his shoulder and holstered it neatly. "When do I start?"

Becoming Major Ocelot was like putting on a pair of well-worn boots, molded perfectly to the shape of his feet. He allowed the story to unfold slowly: he let the whisper of his parentage seep through the ranks, then how he crushingly bored he was of pencil-pushing for the KGB. They wanted him to become a well-dressed, double-talking spy; he was born for the battlefield. Brash, cocky, indomitable, enthusiastic, and never too good for special treatment on account of his past. By then word had gotten out that he loved cowboys; which he did and always had. He found a pair of old cavalry officer's spurs, put those on his boots, and no one dared to tell him to take them off.

As a lieutenant he stayed up all night drinking with his men before his command exams; he stumbled in like walking death, passed out in his seat for minutes, twice, and still got the highest score.

They disciplined him for it, of course. With a mark on his record that meant no commander would want him to serve under them. He was overconfident, insubordinate, vain, held grudges, and encouraged loyalty to himself over superior officers. No one would touch him. None, that is, except for Colonel Volgin. Who convinced the rest that he could break him in. He assured Ocelot himself the first time they met that he very much liked the spirited ones.

This is all background; the story proper was set to start with the scene edited out of the tapes in the final chapter of EoME wherein Ocelot meets The Boss and she gives him the SAS pin badge; from there he stumbles outside to get some space and runs into Naked Snake and the first scene from Ad Infernum occurs. But honestly, as per the EoME: Ocelot's been with Volgin for years at this point. This wasn't the first time and only might've been the last. Not only that but the KGB/CIA would've briefed Ocelot thoroughly on Volgin ahead of time and trained him specifically for his task. He knew exactly what he was getting himself into. Either Ocelot hams it up for his audience (John) expecting him to be oblivious or he doesn't, revealing the fact that his motivations for seeking "comfort" from the American don't at all add up way too fast way too early.

Ocelot edits out the scene of the first night on the oil rig with Kaz in EoME for exactly this reason. Kaz calls him on it.

Most of the chapters from EoME were short interludes from Red, greatly expanded/evolved, which I feel is an apt metaphor for (my take on) ocekaz in general: something brief and tightly managed that wound up spanning decades and spiraling completely out of control.