Title: The Focal Point
Series: Metal Gear
Rating: R, for language and violence.
Warnings: Shounen ai~~~~ Mild MGS spoilers.
Pairing: Snake/Otacon
Notes: Takes place in the two years between Shadow Moses and the Tanker incident. Otacon grew up quite a bit during the four year gap between MGS and MGS2... here's my version of what it would take to make Otacon get 'serious'—about Philanthropy and about Snake himself.

Codec conversation is indicated by ["codectalk!"]. That's all. ^^

~Tomo T.


Closing his eyes, Hal Emmerich indulged in a long moment of thought. He sat slumped down amidst a virtual sea of laptop computers, connecting cables and scrambler boxes, the sharp monitor light casting long, malformed shadows across dingy walls. The world beyond his small hotel room slept on, oblivious to the purpose of its foreign visitors. Hal—now Otacon, as the mission was officially 'on'—could imagine the sharp lines of the canal-lined homes outside, the bright box-houses all lit up with old lanterns—the whole town slept a peaceful, ancient sleep beneath the ropes of cloud disguising the stars.

He mused silently, that world beyond was alien to him—he could not remember being a part of the faceless, nameless masses. He couldn't just take a vacation, either—no, here on business, as always. Venice, three AM—the classical city of canals. The last place one would expect to find any semblance of the notorious Metal Gear weaponry.

It was hard to believe.

["Otacon? Do you read?"]

Since the publicity of Metal Gear information following the Shadow Moses incident, robotic walking battle tanks were spewing from every dark corner of the world—and if a country wasn't financially backing the mass-production of its own personal army, it was harboring laboratories filled with scientists testing and experimenting, conjuring information to sell on a veritable worldwide Metal Gear black market. The most secretive Pentagon black-op project now flooded the modern world, rendering the possibility of nuclear war alarmingly close at hand.


Philanthropy faced grim odds short months after its formal recognition by the UN. While many civilians backed the pacifist organization, most governments and all politicians with military ties were sternly opposed to the free speech exercised by the organization. Otacon was grateful to leave the political aspects of the group to those more suited to talk—he and Snake acted as the under-the-table branch, collecting photographs, occasionally sabotaging a particularly nasty model... it was what their purpose. In all honesty, Philanthropy was sanctioned—Snake and Otacon were not. They were, at best, fringe direct-action protestors and at worst flat-out military terrorists. He knew that—it was half the reason he felt no sense of unity with the sleeping city just outside his window.

["Otacon, you know, you've got the codec for a reason!! It's my ass on the line out here, so you'd better—"]

Otacon blinked in surprise, Snake's voice finally registering in his mind—oops. Pressing his lips into a thin line he realized, with some embarrassment, that he'd been completely ignoring his field agent. Big mistake.


["Oops! Sorry, Snake... Sorry. I was just thinking..."]

["Well, cut it out,"] Snake growled, bristling with annoyance. He was never pleasant when ruffled—and tended to hold grudges on top of that. Otacon instantly regretted his moment of error. ["I can't afford your stupid mistakes."]

["Y..yes. Yeah. Sorry."]

There was silence for a moment before Snake's voice returned, newly centered on the task at hand. He, unlike his partner, never lacked the focus necessary to complete a mission.

["Let's get this show on the road! I've reached the designated sneaking point."]

["Okay, Snake. There should be several large warehouses nearby. Use your scope to scan for them."]

Otacon began typing at one of his many keyboards—he preferred working with desktop models, but for international missions that required four of five computers, bringing along such an extensive setup was impossible. He tapped into the city maps via the municipal building before checking back in on Snake.

["How's the soliton radar working?"]

["Seems to be okay... there's a lot of interference up here on the street with all these civilians."]

["Once you get inside you should be okay. Do you see warehouse building five?"]

["No... no... oh, there. Yeah. Is that it?"]

["Operatives have reported massive shipments and supply trucks unloading into that building for the last few months—more than any warehouse, no matter how large, could manage. You should be able to enter the warehouse through the ceiling skylights. From there, go down."]

["Gotcha. Snake out."]

Leaning back in his chair, Otacon sighed gustily, eyes trained on Snake's relative position through radar. He watched the little green dot move and duck for cover, impressed as he always was by Snake's ability to infiltrate any compound without fear. Of course, working without government backing was difficult—it had taken them several tries to find a substitute for the expensive nanomachines that allowed Snake to appear on Mei Ling's coveted soliton radar. In the end they'd settled on a plastic capsule that could be swallowed; one that would function for approximately twenty-four hours before the stomach acids took over and made short work of it—unless death came first. If the capsule ceased to detect the steady vibrations of the human heartbeat, it would cease to function as well.

God forbid.

The nanomachine substitute was their newest success, and Otacon was more than grateful for it. Though they'd done very few missions without radar, it was enough to make Otacon decide he would never, never do that again. Seeing Snake—or at least, a digital representation of Snake—safe in the center of his radar made waiting just that much easier.

Not that the wait was comfortable at any rate—Otacon still hated the long hours of silence that sometimes stretched between codec communications. It was the worst part of his job, to be sure. Snake was out there making a difference through his actions and hands while his tech support sat in the center of the floor in a seedy Venetian hotel room, constantly searching enemy frequencies and databases for signs that infiltration had been detected.

It wasn't an easy place to be. Sometimes he didn't even feel qualified for it—and sometimes his helpless position made him sick. He'd actually thrown up on their first joint mission when the agonized gurgling of a felled guard interrupted one of Snake's codec transmissions—that had been hard to explain.

["Otacon, I've reached the skylight. It's unlocked. What am I looking for in here?"]

Otacon's fingers twitched to life automatically, shooting over the keys as he brought up the security grid and through that, accessed the video of all cameras in the area. The upper-level security was almost laughable—it took him just under thirty seconds to gain access. ["One of the corners is squared off for an elevator. You have to take that down two floors and then find the access doorway to the west. Canal-side."]

["Okay...elevator, second basement, west door."]

["You've already got the M9, but you should be able to break into some of the labeled crates to find more effective weaponry,"] Otacon reminded dutifully. ["Plenty of FAMAS and SOCOM boxed up around there..."]

["Will do. ...Thanks."]

At least Snake was thanking him, now. At first working alongside the disgruntled mercenary had been miserable—while Otacon found Snake to be infinitely attractive, fascinating, brave, intense—everything he himself had never been, Snake found his tech to be... well. Boring. Inane. Useless. Or at least, that's all Otacon could surmise—the way Snake treated him was the exact same way Snake treated everybody else.

And Snake, as a general rule, didn't like people.

Only recently were small changes in their relationship growing more noticeable. It might have been Hal's overactive imagination, but he was sure that Snake was beginning to humor him, letting him get away with little familiarities they'd never shared before. While he was still subjected to the occasional "you-are-a-fucking-idiot" stare, he was also making Snake laugh from time to time.

It was a nice sense, Otacon decided, this closeness—it made them feel more like a team than merely two operatives in an underground activist branch.

Could it be that Snake was becoming a friend? His friend? Otacon smiled faintly—he'd like that. Life had given him notoriously few opportunities to befriend anyone, especially not someone as fantastic as the legendary Solid Snake. He ignored the fact that he was befriending possibly the only person on the planet with a life more confused and depressing than his own.

On radar, Snake himself was traveling by beam, hanging hand-over-hand until he reached what Otacon supposed was a tower of boxes. From there he began to climb down, pegging the occasional guard with tranquilizer rounds.

Hal grabbed a bottle of water and a bag of potato chips before settling back in front of the computer. He kept one eyes on Snake's inventory, smiling to himself as his partner whipped out a cigarette lighter. He considered chastising him for a moment, but decided Snake's stress could probably be credited to his poor mission start. It couldn't inspire confidence to have your support forget about you...

Otacon was content where he was, though. Living with a world-renowned infiltration artist, traveling from country to country incognito, fulfilling dramatic missions complete with gunfire, explosions, beautiful women—it was like living in an action anime. Content, yes—but not quite happy. Sometimes he wondered if he'd forgotten how to be happy.

The mission went on, stretching into hours as Snake made his way down, discovering that most of the city's canals were built over a sprawling network of passages and rooms, outfitted by modern scientists. Neither of them were surprised. Security was tight—it took Otacon over an hour to hack into the main map of the base and direct Snake to the massive caverns where the new metal gear prototypes were being held.

["You really seem distracted tonight, Otacon. You've gotta focus."]

["Hey, Snake! I'm supposed to be giving you advice, not the other way around."]

Sighing, Otacon pushed his glasses up and rubbed sore eyes absently. The room was hot despite the fans—with all those computers running at once, temperatures tended to jump in huge increments. He stripped off his long lab coat and unbuttoned his shirt; then, studying his reflection in the window, ran fingers through his newly-cut hair. Snake said it made him look younger—but he wasn't certain if he liked it just yet. He slid the window open, but tried not to inhale—city air was disgusting.

Reaching for a bottle of Aspirin, Otacon concentrated his attention on Snake's slow progress.

["Mini-Gear, huh? They're only about eight feet tall..."]

["We need to know whether or not these things have nuclear capabilities,"] Otacon reminded. ["Get to a computer terminal and download the specs."]

["Right. Gotta take out these guards first."]

Otacon counted three shots of a silenced pistol before the little green radar blip moved across the room. A fourth shot, then (apparently satisfied) Snake logged into the computer. He popped in one of Otacon's handy programs as instructed (Snake was a bit of a dunce when it came to non-weapons-related technology) and waited cautiously for Otacon to do his work.

["Doesn't make much sense. Why in the world would Italy need an army of miniature nuke-wielding battle tanks?"]

["We're not sure if they're nuclear or not. But... They could probably get a fair price for the specs and data,"] Otacon suggested, ["You've noticed that the scientists aren't all Italians, right? It's a fairly mixed bag there. Perhaps some sort of league or alliance?"]

["In Italy?"]

["Well, it's not likely... and therefore it is a viable option. From a secrecy standpoint, nobody would think of searching someplace like this."]

["Except you. Good call, Otacon."]

Otacon found himself smiling thinly, despite his sore eyes and joints and lack of coffee. The sense of satisfaction he gleaned from Snake's compliments was probably foolish—and could only end up getting him in trouble. Still, it felt good to have his skills acknowledged... or was it simply the fact that Snake was doing the complimenting? He wasn't sure—and probably didn't want to know.

Snake's charisma effected women everywhere—they flocked to him like pigeons to a five-year-old's fist of sunflower seeds. Fortunately enough, Snake brushed them all off—he knew better than to get deeply involved with anyone while he was on the run. Otacon was silently glad for that—he sensed that life would be awkward should either of them invite a third party to accompany them in their travels. Mei Ling was enough—she was friend to both of them, but couldn't take off work to travel as back-up support overseas.

They were often alone.

The specs downloaded fully, transmitting themselves straight into Otacon's hands. Eagerly he brought up the documents, scanning them expertly. "Great, great..."


["We're in luck. These models aren't built for nuclear combat—they're meant to augment an army of larger Gears, like Rex. Our lucky day."]

["That's a nice surprise. Where do I go from here?"]

["It'd probably be best to take a few pictures and get the hell out of there. No fireworks—you're under a city, remember, and we don't want to hurt any civilians overhead."]

["I'm on it."]

Otacon cruised through the security cameras again out of boredom—no harm in double-checking the secrecy of the mission. His mind was elsewhere, considering with some surprise the information they'd just uncovered. Italy with an army of miniature Metal Gears... it was strange. Really strange. However, Philanthropy's main stand was against the nuclear armament of battle tanks such as the Gears—so there wasn't much for them to do here. They would return with the information and leave the big-wig talkers to decide what should be done.

Small tanks like that could be used to take over cities with much less damage than its larger counterparts. They could swarm through the streets like ants, he supposed, simplifying takeover immensely. Sleek design, well-armed, ingenious—much like Rex was meant to be.

Distracted as he was, Otacon closed his eyes for a moment, removing his glasses to wipe sweat from the bridge of his nose. He leaned back, heaved a sigh, and—


Hal jerked in his seat, heart plummeting into the pit of his stomach as he blinked blearily. What was going on? Where was he?


The sound of gunfire pierced the engineer's sleepy consciousness just as a wave of panic beset him. Otacon's eyes flew to the radar screen. For a moment his brain wouldn't register the sheer number of dots filling the chamber Snake occupied—he couldn't believe it.

"Oh, my god." ["Snake! Get out of there! NOW!"]

Snake didn't—or couldn't—respond. Otacon tried to ignore pounding of assault rifles, their empty rounds hitting the ground with a bone-like rattle as he studied Snake's slow progress around the edge of the room. He found himself gripping the corners of his laptop, knuckles stretched white with tension and the fear he was unable to suppress. "Snake! Shit... Snake... run!"

Unless Snake got out of there fast there was no hope—and what was he doing to help? Watching?

Swearing at his own hesitation, Otacon began typing furiously, throwing caution and secrecy to the wind in the process of wreaking havoc on the compound's security mainframe. His brain blanked, ultimate focus falling too late to salvage what was left of their mission—he managed to block all cameras and shut down the infrared sensors and explosive triggers—but it wasn't enough. Snake's little green dot was flat-out running down the halls, a swarm of enemy guards plaguing his heels.

"Damn it!" He felt so helpless, sitting there banging away at a keyboard while Snake was running—probably injured and certainly—

Then, it happened.

Otacon watched in disbelief as Snake turned to face his enemies, rounding on them with one of their own weapons. More gunfire, then the click of an exhausted ammo supply, and—

And without warning, the reassuring little green dot at the center of the radar blipped once, twice, and disappeared entirely.

For a moment Hal Emmerich wanted to scream. He would have, too, if his throat weren't clogged with terror. No sound escaped him save a strangled half-sob as he stared darkly at the screen, as if by the intensity of his emotion he could bring his partner back.

["SNAKE!"] Shit, no. This couldn't be happening. This wasn't real, it was some sort of horribly nightmare—he would answer. Just wait. He'd answer.

Nothing. Silence. Not even gunfire.


The small room echoed as Otacon pleaded with his codec, begging for some sign of life on the other side. When his terrified voice faded away only silence reigned over the whirring fans and blinking lights of inanimate computers—

Hal Emmerich realized that he was back where he'd started from. Alone. Strange world. No friends. No relatives.

No purpose.

No tears.

He hunched in on himself like a broken doll, throat and eyes painfully dry. Unconsciousness hit him like a bullet to the brain.


Wham. Wham. Wham.

Someone knocked on the door, rattling the thin wooden pane on its hinges. Otacon rose sluggishly to awareness for the second time that night, wondering where he was. He'd had such a nightmare...


Outside heavily accented voice began to speak in almost indistinguishable English, "Open this door, now! This is the police! We've taken care of your friend, Mister Emmerich, and if you do not cooperate you will be charged with resisting arrest!"

It wasn't a dream. Otacon yawned heavily, tempted for a moment to stay right where he was and face the capture and incarceration waiting beyond the door.

He pushed the thought aside. Snake would not allow himself to be taken—neither would Hal.

How did they find him? Despite his careless hacking, a trace should not have been possible—not this direct a trace, at any rate. Could Snake have talked?

(No, his memory reminded, Snake was no longer capable of such things.)

Then it must have been a trace—Otacon reached across the floor to where a small disk lay, the request for assistance sent by Philanthropy. It must be destroyed—should any ties be discovered between themselves and their non-violent backer, the organization would be finished. He kept a small, shielded magnet with him for just such a contingency—without second thoughts he swiped the disk several times, effectively erasing the contents.

Was there anything else to take care of?

The door rattled again, followed by a round of angry Italian speech. Otacon scanned his possessions for any sort of weapon—there was none, of course. Taking a deep breath he unplugged the largest laptop and moved to hide.

When the door burst open, three uniformed military agents stalked across the floor, guns trained at chest-height. They did a cursory check under the beds, in the bathroom and closet, before lowering their weapons. When no immediate target was located, two stood sentinel while the third prodded the array of thickly wired computers with one foot, gesturing from the machinery to several boxes piled near the door. He seemed to be giving orders.

One took out a small contraption, recognizable as a comb-detector. After sweeping the rooms and declaring it safe, the trio began to debate hotly.

Hal waited.

Finally a decision seemed to be reached. One pf the three stooped and began unplugging the computers, piling them gracelessly for apparent transport. Another went to the window, scanning the alleyway beyond.

This was it, Hal decided. He'd seen Snake break out of worse situations thousands of times before—but he was no sneaking expert. He was just a terrified technician in way over his head.

He'd just have to give it his best shot and hope he didn't end up with a bullet in his chest.

In one clumsy motion Otacon burst up from beneath an empty box, a trick stolen from his late partner. One hand clutched a laptop—the other flung the lightweight cardboard distraction across the room as he barreled forward. Grunting, the engineer brought his favorite laptop down across the head of the nearest officer, stunning him into unconsciousness.

Several things happened all at once—the flying cardboard box was plugged full of holes from a silenced pistol, as the incapacitated guard dropped his weapon, unwittingly arming their target. Otacon brought the gun up, pressing it to the temple of the captured man and glaring as furiously across the room.

"Freeze," hissed Otacon, a thin smile edging across his taut face. He wondered what Snake think of the stolen line, then brushed all other thoughts aside. "Don't move, or this guy gets it."

Slowly his assailants raised their hands over their heads, still clutching their weapons. Otacon swallowed, tightening his grip on the gun—this wasn't so hard after all.

"Drop your weapons."

The pair gave him blank, impassive looks as Otacon jammed the barrel of his gun against his hostage's head demonstratively. "Guns. Down, NOW."

One guard obeyed politely, leaning down to toss his gun across the floor of the room. A suspicious smile slid across his face as Otacon nodded in approval.

Hal blinked—why smile at a time like this?

Before he could speak again a silenced shot whispered through the air and his right shoulder exploded in pain. A terrified cry broke from his lips as blood splattered up his neck and face, beading up on the rim of his glasses. Hal's face twisted into an expression of shock and agony as he dropped backwards, nearly losing his weapon.


The second guard was laughing outright now, one hand pressed across his face. He spat a few words in English, the tone brutal. "I would have thought a terrorist like yourself to have more intelligence regarding weaponry," the nameless officer jeered. "Mister Emmerich."

Through fading vision, Otacon realized his mistake, stomach heaving. The weapon he'd acquired was a tranquilizer pistol—an M9.

"Oh, damn it."

With all the strength left in his body, Hal grasped and leveled the M9, plunging a tranquilizer dart into the face of his armed attacker. The officer staggered backwards with the force of impact, clawing at his eyes. Without warning, his legs came up against the windowsill.

Nothing registered across the young man's face but a sudden blank sleepiness as his balance toppled and he went plummeting through the open window. The resounding crash of garbage and empty boxes outside echoed for a moment—then the last assailant, shocked by his sudden lack of support, turned to face Otacon.

Stumbling once, Otacon fell to his knees, pulling the trigger again and again—the sharp clicks of an uncocked pistol were muffled to his ears. He could feel blood trickling down his side, soaking the brilliant white of his customary coat with dark stains.

It was everywhere, covering his face and hands, dripping into his eyes—Hal turned, heaving up his dinner as the weapon, slick with red, slid from his hands. Never mind that the blood was his own—he'd just killed a man.

He'd killed another man...

"...is it possible for love to bloom on a battlefield...?"

"...you really seem distracted tonight ... you've gotta focus...."

Death began to close in with freezing fingertips, gripping his extremities numbly. Otacon sank into himself, the pain beginning to lessen. Snake would not be caught like this, on his knees in a pool of vomit and blood...

.....you've gotta focus......

The M9 dropped from his slack fingertips as blood loss and overwhelming fatigue finally grew irresistible.

As Hal Emmerich pitched forward, he heard the sound of a weapon cocking and knew it was the end.



.....he felt wind. Wind? A breeze, gusting across his burning brow with wonderful coolness.

.........and light, light pouring in from what might be an open window—daylight, morning. Death was endless night—so he must be alive.


Otacon moved, tightening his fingers into a fist, cracked lips parting in a feeble attempt at speech. Where? Why?

"Oh, good... You're awake... don't move. You need to drink."

The voice was gentle and soft—a mother's voice one could not help but obey. Hal forced himself to lay back once more, feeling the cold rim of a metal cup brush against his lips. The water was delicious—oh, so good and cool sliding down his parched throat.


"I'm a Philanthropy sympathizer. You're in my home, outside Venice. I'm a doctor."

"How did you ..."

"Questions later. Right now you need your rest—the bullets are out, but you're still very weak."

He slept, woke, slept, woke—and finally, when full consciousness returned hours later, squinted out the window at the dark, empty sky. He really was alive—against all odds, alive.

Upon examination of his person, Hal found that his shoulder was bandaged and set in some sort of heavily gauzed brace. While his whole side felt sore and stiff, there was no pain... how much medication had he been given? Reaching up with his left hand he felt a bandage wrapped around his forehead. His glasses were gone.

Otacon stared at the blurry ceiling, pressing his good hand over his mouth and stubbly chin. The door across the room opened then closed softly. There were footsteps.

He blinked his eyes, squinting up at the form standing next to the bed—not a female figure, but broad-shouldered, tall—" ... awake, Hal?"

For a moment Otacon choked on his words, disbelief crippling his vocabulary. Reaching up, his fingers curled around something thin and cold being offered up—glasses. He slid them over the brink of his nose and stared.

"You're a fucking idiot, you know that? You're damn lucky just to be alive." Snake growled, his newly visible expression an indescribable mix of anger and something... else. Something unfamiliar. Hal could suddenly sense a body very close to his side as a heavy weight sank down onto the mattress. "Blowing off missions, ignoring your operative, failing to use code names... what the hell happened?"

"I... I thought you were dead," Hal said at last, voice cracked and tired. Not even a kind word after all that? Snake shoved a glass of water into his hand and glared fiercely as the invalid drank the contents down.

"Yeah, well... 's mutual." Otacon watched the fleeting, conflicting expressions that chased themselves across Snake's face. He seemed at a loss for words—and then reached out, catching his partner's good shoulder in one hand. Speaking again, he punctuated his rage with a string of rough shakes. "I figured you were toast. What the hell were you thinking? Using my name?" Shake, shake. It hurt. "Did you think they were too stupid to figure out where you were?!"

Hal closed his eyes. He knew what was coming next. "I... I'm sorry. I don't know what happened. I'm sorry. Please—you're hurting me—"

A deep squeeze, digging harshly into the muscles of his arm. "We can't do this anymore. You know that, right? It can't go on like this. You listening?"

God, he thought. Here it comes. "I understand. Completely. I don't want you to get hurt—I won't get in your way."

Hal looked down. "We'll find someone more qualified than..."

The grip on his shoulder tightened. "Idiot," Snake half-whispered leaning in close. "Such an idiot. That's not what I meant."

There was silence for a long moment, tension rising to a peak as whatever internal battle David was fighting came to an abrupt and conclusive end. He leaned forward fully, pressing his mouth off-center against Otacon's thin lips in a sudden, unexpected kiss.

For a heartbeat Hal didn't know how to respond—then settled for tilting his head until they met in full. He felt no surprise at the intimate contact; in fact, it was as if he'd always known they would one day be here, like this, alone together. Snake's tongue ghosted against his lips and the chaste touch deepened into a raw expression of all the wordless waves of affection, attraction, companionship they'd shared over the last few months. Snake took his mouth completely, fingers tightening against his skin.

Hal felt that he would fall into this new sense of security, of happiness—but as he gasped for air between the fervent kisses, they pulled apart for a moment. Snake worked one hand up against Hal's face, attempting to kiss and issue a string of breathless orders all at the same time.

It was an interesting combination.

"You've got to learn... to protect yourself..."

Hal buried a hand in David's shaggy hair as the heavier man captured his lower lip, speaking mouth-to-mouth. His voice was hungry.

"Field training... or... or something...VR maybe..."

A broad palm came to rest against his side, lingering there possessively like a rough caress. David's voice husky and full of what Hal could now identify as fear, as worry, as protectiveness, all of it focused entirely on him. Not a sneaking mission, not a new threat, not a confusing new piece of technology—only him.

It was comforting.

"You have to be able to defend yourself. I—I can't ... ever since Shadow Moses—"


"I can't look out for both of us—it's so—"

"David—" Funny how difficult it was to make Snake hush once you finally had him talking.

"—frustrating, and you could have died—"

Hal silenced further exclamation effectively by lightly bumping his nose against an unshaven cheekbone, feeling day-old sandpaper stubble tickle his lips. Seeing Snake so concerned was way too much for his drained mind to handle all at once. "I know. I know. Training... I'd like that."

"I—...okay ... I'll call Mei Ling, have her arrange it for us, as soon as—"

Drowsily Hal slid his free hand down the nape of Dave's neck, tracing across his shoulder and then letting it fall between them. The movement successfully distracted his partner, giving him ample time to speak. "Do me a favor?"


Unable to suppress a lengthy yawn, Hal removed his glasses and pushed them in Snake's general direction.

"Just let me sleep... we can talk in the morning."


"In the morning!"


The airplane was cold—uncomfortably so, as airplanes always seemed to be. Hal leaned heavily against David's shoulder, his injuries bound and braced for the long flight home; he was already shivering.

"Cold?" Dave asked, voice rough in his ears. "Hey, miss," he called, beckoning the nearest stewardess. Hal didn't miss the sudden sway in young woman's step as she analyzed them—two strong men, apparently alone... she leaned down to meet them face-to-face, her low-cut shirt gaping open freely in the process. "Sweetheart, could I get another blanket for my friend, here? He's injured, and prone to taking chills..."

"Sure thing," the young woman winked, flashing Hal a dazzlingly white smile.

"Thanks," Otacon found himself grinning back. "I'd appreciate it."

"I'll be right back, boys-!"

Hal began to laugh quietly, muffling his amusement with his good hand while David sat back, rolling his eyes. "Tsh. Women these days—no taste."

"Mad because she gave me the old one-two instead of you? If you shaved you'd look a lot younger, you know... not that I'm complaining."

Still grumbling under his breath, Snake smiled slightly. "They were probably fake, anyway."

Another blanket came their way—David spread it across their legs, Hal twisting so that his injuries wouldn't be bumped or knocked. The bullet hadn't shattered bone, but the puncture was still newly-stitched and prone to bleeding profusely when moved awkwardly. Overall, they'd really lucked out—in retrospect, it was difficult to believe they were both still alive.

After the fact, Snake and Mei Ling pieced together the reason he'd disappeared off the radar—it seemed obvious in the clarity or hindsight. Snake had taken the butt of an attacking AK straight to the gut with enough impact to shatter the protective shell surrounding the small signal-capsule in his stomach. At the same time he was being chased and Otacon was hacking the security camera weaponry, their angry hosts disrupted the burst transmission between the pair, shifting Snake's frequency to a separate receiver and effectively rendering Otacon both blind and deaf to the well-being and whereabouts of his field agent. Once they knew Snake's real name, it had been a simple matter of calling up nearby hotels until they found a set of rooms under a name that matched.

The stewardess was back. "Honey, do you need any help with that seatbelt?"

"Uh, no thanks—" Hal began timidly, unused to the attention. Someone had once told him that the two things women couldn't resist were cute animals and dramatically injured men—that seemed to be holding true. (In fact, he thought, that might have been Snake, explaining why he kept dogs...)

Before he could politely refuse, David interrupted, waving the girl away.

"I've got it under control, sweetheart. He's all buckled up."

"Oh. Oh. Excuse me, sirs..."

"Dave?" Otacon asked as she flounced away, a smile playing across his mouth. "Tell the whole world, why don't you..."

"Hm? Why not? Life is short, Hal. Real short."

Otacon looked down, feeling a shadow slide across his state of mind. "I'm... I'm really sorry about that whole mess. I really am. It was my fault, all of it my fault—I freaked out when I lost sight of you and stopped thinking straight. I really—"

"That's enough... It's over and done with. A few weeks of VR training will make all the difference—and you'll be armed from now on. Safer that way."

"It'll be rough to schedule missions around my training..."

"Missions? With that arm? Not. Gonna. Happen. You may pack a serious punch when armed with a laptop, but I'll take my chances and sign Mei Ling on for a while. She'll find it nostalgic... you know how she is."

Things were not all that different, now—there'd been no confessions of undying love, no timid first times; the world was still out there and he was still in here. The only marked change was that he was no longer in here on his own—now it was him and Dave against the world.

He'd never before found himself the recipient of any emotion half so strong as the intensity filling Dave's face while they were together. It was as if he were the mission at hand—and he could just imagine the agenda: Infiltrate One Hal Emmerich, Find What Makes Him Tick. Enjoy.

But Snake was good at infiltration—if anyone could manage to figure Otacon out, it would be him.

As for love... Love?, the scientist inside him pestered, leering at his emotional center and the thoughts he did not want to put into words. Was that this feeling of utter contentment he derived simply from sharing a cheap airline blanket and leaning against Dave's shoulder?

Otacon didn't know. Maybe one day he'd find out—but until then, he felt infinitely prepared. The world could do its worst—he was finally on a team, and they were together to stay.

At some point he fell asleep, again—he was sleeping a lot these days. When he woke up they'd landed—and he was staring into Dave's face as the older man rolled up their extra blankets. Snake flashed a private grin and offered him a hand.

Hal smiled back and stood, ready to go home.