Disclaimer: Don't own MGS, or the characters.

Notes: I admit to switching Alaska and Alabama for better effect, thereby throwing off the alphabetization. I'M A BAD PERSON, OKAY?

ALASKA

According to Hal, someone once said that all great journeys begin with a step out the door. The door they stepped out of happened to lead to a frozen wasteland. Hal sometimes wonders that they managed to get out the door at all. Dave, who moved there explicitly because that door was so damn hard to get out of, sometimes wonders that anything managed to convince him to. He supposes this is why idealism is something that has no price: not even the richest man could pay its equivalent.

ALABAMA

They took a trip to Alabama in the beginning of August one year, in order to scope out an aeronautics facility which Hal suspected of manufacturing complicated mechanical parts for Metal Gears. The temperature spiked to105. They spent approximately 85 percent of their time, Dave estimated, standing under showers, hoses or sprinklers. They didn't find any evidence of Metal Gear production.

ARIZONA

"I had a girlfriend from Arizona, once," remarked Dave as they drove through.

"Yeah?" said Hal, staring out the window at the pine trees passing by. He had been surprised to discover that there was more to the state than desert. But then geography had never been his strong point. "What happened to her?"

"She slapped me for moving too fast."

"You can be a bit hasty," Hal deadpanned.

"Time moves fast," returned Dave.

ARKANSAS

"I failed my geography test because of Arkansas," said Hal. "'Saw' my ass."

"You failed your geography test for misspelling one state name?"

"No. But it was the one that threw me over the line."

"What the hell else did you misspell? Please don't tell me it was Mississippi."

"I didn't misspell anything else."

"Well?"

"I have a problem with capitals."

"How many did you get wrong?"

Hal muttered something.

"What?"

"Forty nine."

"... the hell."

"At least I got my home state right."

"Good for you, Hal."

CALIFORNIA

Dave sang 'I left my heart in San Francisco.' Hal broke in at the refrain with 'If You're Going to San Francisco.' They had another round of beers. Later that night, Dave dreamt he was jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, falling unseen through a cold shower of rain to a landing far below. But that had been another bridge, a long way away.

COLORADO

They flew in to Colorado Springs one morning in April, when the mountain air was crisp and cool and smelled like winter. They took a visitor's tour of the Cheyenne Mountain facility, which was boring and uninformative.

"I've heard there's weird stuff going on in there," said Hal.

"You watch too much TV," said Dave.

CONNECTICUT

They fled to Connecticut after everything went south with the Tanker mission, crossing the state border at 4am, Hal driving like a maniac, Dave somewhere between unconsciousness and sleep in the back of the van, wrapped in all the blankets they owned. The radio, a quiet undertone, chattered on, early morning DJs voicing their opinions on the already-public disaster while Hal hunched over the steering wheel, knuckles white and teeth clenched and Dave twitched damp eyebrows and bumped bonelessly along with the movement of the van.

DELAWARE

Sitting on a hill looking out across the landscape, Hal whistled. "You could throw a stone across this state."

Dave snorted. "You could spit across it."

"So you say. I'd like to see you try."

Dave made a sucking, hacking sound in the back of his throat. Hal looked over.

"I take it back."

"Too late now," said Dave indistinctly, and spat.

FLORIDA

"Everyone I ever met wanted to retire to Florida," said Dave once, sitting inside a rented Subaru with the AC cranked all the way.

"I don't. And apparently neither did you. In fact, you retired to the state furthest from this one, both geographically and climactically."

"Climactically isn't a word."

"Sure it is."

"Everyone in this car who ever failed a geography test on a spelling error, raise their hand." Dave didn't raise his.

"That is totally unrelated," said Hal.

GEORGIA

Dave actually had quite a good singing voice, although he usually only sang in public when in the proper mood of drunkenness, by which point it was more of a tuneless crooning than anything else.

He sat in the driver's seat, chair rolled all the way back, long legs resting on the dash, watching rain hammer down on the windshield, and more whispered than sang 'Georgia on My Mind' to himself. In the passenger seat Hal sat curled, shoulder at an awkward angle, sleeping a drugged sleep, thunderstorm bringing a deep ache. When he finished, Dave closed his eyes and tried to sleep. It didn't come easy.

HAWAII

Hal returned from his shopping trip with several plastic bags, all bearing colourful touristy logos. He handed the currently shirtless Dave a wad of dark fabric from one. Dave unfurled it and pulled it on, only then stopping to look down at the front, which depicted a group of turtles waddling happily across his chest.

"What is this?" Dave's tone wasn't so much one of disgust as astonishment.

"You don't like turtles?"

"I don't like pictures of cartoon animals on my shirts," he explained with some feeling.

"Well, you should have been more careful with the one you had, then, shouldn't you? Or possibly done the shopping yourself," shot back his partner. He pulled off his own filthy shirt and donned one from the same bag with a matching print.

Dave looked on in disbelief. "You bought us matching shirts," he said in an ominously calm voice.

"Sure. We're partners." Hal shrugged, face suspiciously innocent.

"We are not happy turtle partners, Hal."

"Then next time you get an urge to swim with the fishes in a swamp, you can leave me out. Or be subjected to happy turtles. It's your choice," he finished brightly.

Dave swore at him.

IDAHO

Hal stuck in a CD and cranked the volume, heedless of Dave's irritated growl. They had been on the road for thirty-two hours straight, relocating Philanthropy half-way across the country, and neither of them had been sleeping much. On top of that, Dave had been cranky for the past six hours, and Hal was getting sick of it. The stress was so thick he felt he could almost touch it. The upbeat opening of Kiki's Delivery Service pounded out of the speakers as they sped past miles and miles of flat, boring fields. Dave hunched in an offended slouch over the steering wheel. But by the end of the song, Hal thought he could catch a hint of the other man tapping his finger against the wheel.

ILLINOIS

Dave had been to Illinois eight times in his life, visiting Chicago five. But when he thought of the city, the only image which any longer came to mind was that of himself sitting by Hal's bedside in the dark gripping a cracked laptop tight in his strong fingers, watching his partner struggle to keep breathing with a bullet-hole in his back, lit only by the pale blue light shining from the machines monitoring his uneven heart-beat.

INDIANA

"Have you ever been to the Indianapolis 500?" asked Hal, seated awkwardly on his partner's shoulders, fiddling with a complicated trail of wires hanging out of an open ceiling panel. Dave, for his part, was standing with knees well spread and bent, hands firmly anchoring his partner's knees.

"Awkward time for a conversation, Hal," he grunted.

"Oh, like your pack doesn't weight more than me," dismissed Hal. "Just a minute longer," he added in a slightly more formal tone.

"No," said Dave.

"Everyone in the room with a degree in electrical engineering, raise your hand," shot back his partner, pausing to raise a hand briefly before returning to fiddling with the wires.

"I meant," hissed Dave, "no I haven't been. To the Indy 500."

"I'm surprised. You like cars."

"I mush dogs. Iditarod's more my thing." He shifted, ignoring Hal's squawk, and knocked a knuckle against his knee. "Done yet?"

"Just a sec. There," Hal pushed the wires back up into the ceiling and resealed the panel behind them. "Okay, all bugs will send their data here. Goddamn wireless scramblers."

"Great. Now get off." He dropped abruptly to his knees, letting the engineer scramble down.

"You know... we've got a couple of hours until the meeting starts. Wanna go check out the racecourse?"

"Hal, the Indy 500 isn't until Memorial Day. It's March."

"I know. But it'd be nice to say you've been there."

"You mean, to say you've been there."

"Picky picky."

Dave paused, then shrugged with a slight grin. "All right."

IOWA

When a mission blew up in their faces in Nebraska, they fled east with what felt like half the US Army on their tails. They went to ground in a cabin out in the woods, Dave driving and Hal directing from a map. The cabin was furnished but clearly abandoned, inches of dust and grime covering all surfaces. Only the furniture had been left, bookshelves standing empty, cupboards mostly bare. It was only when Hal went to unlock an ancient trunk sitting in the corner of the tiny dining/living room and pulled the key out from underneath it did Dave realise their happening upon the cabin hadn't been random chance.

"You've been here before," said Dave, moving to stand behind his partner. The trunk, once opened, revealed a bellyful of old paper, mostly letters and envelopes with a couple of yellowed newspapers lurking amongst them like sharks in a school of fish.

Hal said nothing for a while, then began to sort through the letters, scanning their contents quickly and setting them into piles by his knees. Eventually, when he had pulled out several missives and sorted them primarily into one large pile, he answered in a quiet voice, almost as dry as the papers. "This is where my grandfather lived."

"The engineer," said Dave, concern raising hairs on the back of his neck.

"Yeah," replied Hal.

"Hal, we can't stay here. They'll trace him. You've brought us to the most dangerous place we could possibly be." Irritation warred with sensitivity and lost.

Hal's shoulders tensed, then drooped. "Right." He looked down at his sorting. Whatever his categories were, he was only half-way through the chest.

"Hal," said Dave again, voice gruff with growing anger.

"Right," repeated Hal. He scooped the letters up in his arms and piled them into the trunk. He then grabbed it and pulled it across the room, out the door and down off the patio steps onto the wet grass, grabbing a large rock as he went. Dave followed him, closing the door behind him.

"You have your lighter?"

Dave handed it to him wordlessly, anxious to be gone. Hal pulled a letter out of the box, lit it, and tossed it back in. He then jammed the rock between the lid and body of the box, keeping the lid open enough to allow the fire oxygen. Inside the contents of the trunk were already burning merrily.

"Let's go," was all he said. Dave, in no mood to talk, returned to the truck, turned the engine over, and backed the hell out of there as soon as Hal had closed his own door. They didn't talk about it.

KANSAS

Hal lay on the bed in the million-degree motel room, watching his partner smoking outside, silhouetted against the florescent light from the streetlamps. Dave stood motionless, moving only his arm occasionally to take a drag, the rest of him still and silent as a statue, back slightly hunched where even a year ago it would have been straight. Hal watched him until he finished, put out his cigarette, walked slowly out of the window frame, and then heard the quiet click of the door opening. He closed his eyes, and pretended to be asleep.

KENTUCKY

They flew in separately, having been attending to missions on opposite coasts, and due to some innate evilness of Delta, were both routed through Kentucky where they were to meet to fly up to Chicago.

Dave was the first to spot his partner, struggling through the crowd towards the departure gate. He smiled to note the way the engineer held his laptop to his chest as a woman would her child, apologizing conscientiously as he bumped into passers-by.

Dave stole up behind him, clapped a hand on his left shoulder and as the other man started in that direction, hissed in his right ear, "Your money or your life!"

After a single beat of silence, Hal relaxed and turned to his partner, rolling his eyes. "Very funny. What would you have done if I had hit you in the head with Rain?" he asked, meaning the laptop.

Dave grinned. "You value that laptop above your life. I knew I was safe."

LOUISIANA

A snake dropped out of a tree onto Hal's head in the bayou. Afterwards, it amused him to remember that his own partner had reacted more quickly than the serpent, grabbing it instantly by the neck and flinging it into the water. And then, more sombrely, he remembered his thought of the time, oh god, I really am going to be killed by a snake.

MAINE

"Ow! Shit, shit shit shit, would you get this damn thing off me?" Hal waved his hand about frantically, lobster attached to the end by its pincer. Dave watched, slightly shocked. After a minute, he reached out, grabbed the lobster, and broke its claw right off. Hal then prised it off his finger. "Fuck that hurt."

"I cannot believe you just stuck your hand in that bucket." Dave wore an expression of complete disbelief to match.

"Never touched a live lobster before," replied his partner sulkily. Dave laughed so deeply that Hal looked up and smiled slightly, self-consciously.

It was at this point that the fisherman, from his dress and sports-boat clearly a recreational fisher, returned to find his lobster lying brutalized in its bucket. The rest of their trip to the pier was slightly less amusing.

MARYLAND

They flew to Maryland when first returning from Alaska, partnership not yet forged, Philanthropy still just an idea being bounced between them, with the thought that the state was convenient for most of the East Coast. They ate lunch in a cafe in Baltimore, Hal wondering how he could expect the Legendary Solid Snake would want to work with him, Dave wondering whether he shouldn't have tried harder with Meryl, stayed in Alaska. In the end, Hal managed to spit out his proposal, an anti-Metal Gear organization where he would find the data and Snake would stop the proliferation, and Dave agreed.

They returned years later, late in the evening to find that the cafe had gone out of business and been replaced by a laundromat. It was cold, and the lights were on, and they were at loose ends, so they entered. None of the machines were running, although the room retained the warm scent of drying clothes. Dave perched himself on a front-loading washer, and after a minute Hal copied him, scrambling up with less grace.

"You know, I always wondered why you agreed to join Philanthropy. I mean, it was easy for me. A job with plenty of moral vindication, and little danger. Well, relative to you," Hal added, seeing the glance his partner shot him.

Dave thought, and then shrugged.

"After Shadow Moses, I was tired of being alone. It was you or Meryl, and I wasn't sure which."

"And in the end you chose me." Hal cocked his head. "So, my superior conversation skills won you over after all. "

Dave snorted, then smiled slightly. "No. I thought you were a stuttering geek who couldn't get to the point if you paid him." He ignored the engineer's squawk and continued slowly. "I chose you because of your hands." He folded his own out before him, large and calloused. "Meryl and I only had hands that could kill. Yours," he glanced at Hal's, set loosely on the engineer's knees, long and thin and slightly elegant. "yours could build and not just destroy. At least, that's what I thought then."

"And now?" Hal glanced down at his hands. "I've got plenty of blood on them."

"Now, I don't have to look at your hands to know you're a good man."

MASSACHUSETTS

"You know, I visited Boston ten years ago, and I swear the same damn construction's going on now as it was then." Dave inched forward in the bumper-to-bumper traffic, ignoring the blaring of a horn somewhere behind him.

"Reminds me of that time we hired people to redo the bathroom. That took forever."

"Hal, it took two weeks. You were just bitter because they screwed up the internet."

"Out of complete incompetence. I still think we could have done that ourselves."

"It was major plumbing. We put in an entirely new set of pipes."

"I'm an engineer."

"Right. That helped us out so much that time the kitchen sink broke."

"That was not my fault."

"Strangely, that's not what the plumber thought."

"You just believed him because he fixed it."

"Almost certainly."

MICHIGAN

"We used to drive through Michigan sometimes, when I was a kid, on the way to visit grandpa," said Hal, staring bleakly at his reflection in the passenger side window.

"This was your grandfather in Iowa?"

"Uh huh. My father's father. The engineer."

"He's dead?" Dave glanced at his partner out of the corner of his eye.

"Yeah. Died when I was ... I don't know. Ten or twelve. I stopped visiting him before that."

"Why?"

"I... my grandpa..." Hal paused, took off his glasses and began to polish the lenses. "He was really torn up inside. His life was basically one big contradiction. He was German, and proud of it, but he hated the Nazis and was ashamed of what his country did in the Second World War. His first language was German, and he would have liked to speak it I think, because his English wasn't much good, but that reminded him of home, and he hated his home half the time. And he loved his job, loved nuclear engineering, but hated what it created; atomic weapons. And then of course there was my father, born on the day Hiroshima was bombed; I know he loved him, but at the same time when he looked at him, sometimes all he saw was the horror he helped to create. When my father decided to become an engineer I'm sure he was proud, but he was also afraid of what his son might create, afraid he might add to the family curse." Hal paused, "I guess it skips a generation."

"Hal..."

"Anyway, I used to go stay with him for a couple of weeks in the summer when I was a kid, which was not really any fun because he was old and boring, and I had to speak German half the time which I hated, and half the time he would yell at me for stuff I couldn't have known not to do. And then one day he locked me in his tin shed for a day in the middle of summer and forgot about me. After that, I didn't go back anymore. My father only mentioned in passing when he died. I never visited his grave." Hal strewed out the entire explanation out in one long breath without pausing, then fiddled with his glasses. "Anyway, I guess you know why I didn't mind burning the letters."

"Yeah." Dave couldn't think of anything else to say. But in his mind, he could see the small pile of letters next to the large one, and wondered what the engineer would have kept, had he had the time.

MINNESOTA

"No, no, don't struggle. You're just wasting your energy. Flailing about almost never helps you. If someone grabs you from behind, don't bother trying to pull their hands off. Drive your foot into their instep, and your elbows into their gut."

A moment of struggle, two men standing alone in a snow-covered park at dusk. Hal, by stomping down his feet on Dave's toes and driving his head back into his partner's face, managed to surprise the taller man into releasing him by practicing neither piece of advise given.

"Well, that was... good." Dave rubbed his nose.

"You let go!" replied Hal defiantly.

"Yeah. But what do you do if I grab you like this?" Dave darted forwards and grabbed him by the collar, pulling him forward. Hal, after a moment of wide-eyed surprise, let go and fell forward on Dave, who wasn't expecting it. They ended up in a pile in the snow.

"Ha!" crowed Hal, face muffled in Dave's coat. He levered himself up onto his arms, expression jubilant. Dave smiled slightly.

"Yeah, yeah. Just don't get cocky."

MISSISSIPPI

"When I was a kid," began Hal as they stood on a bridge watching the Mississippi river thunder past below them, "I used to go to the same doctor to get my shots. They had a poster of the Mississippi river, which said Mississippi, and when they went to give it to you, they'd make you spell Mississippi backwards to distract you Like that'd make everything okay." He threw a stone in the river, which disappeared immediately.

"Did it work?"

"Hell no. You can't distract a kid from a giant needle you're about to stick in their arm. And it sure didn't make everything all right."

"I'll keep that in mind."

MISSOURI

Snake stood at a computer terminal, feverishly inputting the text Otacon was reading to him over the codec as he hurried over to help his partner. Only a few feet behind Snake, a guard was silently taking aim at his back.

Otacon slipped into the room, laptop in his arms ready to link with the computer and end their unexpected troubles. His eyes widened as he saw the guard and he rushed forward, raising his only weapon. He shouted something incoherent as he brought his laptop down on the guard's head with a crunch. Snake swivelled instantly, gun appearing in his hand out of nowhere. Otacon smiled regretfully, lifting his cracked laptop as the guard collapsed to the ground.

"Looks like I did value something higher than-"

Snake's eyes widened as behind Otacon, a pair of guards ran into the room, guns raised. He dove forward at the slighter man, but not before one pulled the trigger. Snake returned fire instantly, felling both guards, and moved forward to grab Otacon.

"Screw this, the system's fried enough with that script you made me run- Otacon?"

He watched in horror as his partner took a step forwards and crumpled, laptop crashing to the floor, the back of his white lab coat stained bright red. Without thought, he pulled the slighter man over his shoulders, grabbing the computer as he went, and began to run. They had to get the hell out. When their presence was reported, the whole state would be up in arms in a matter of hours. They needed an exit, and an escape vehicle. All he could think, though, was that Otacon's life was bleeding away down his back.

MONTANA

Dave rode his first and last horse in Montana. Hal laughed himself sick.

NEBRASKA

Hal first noticed the grey in Dave's hair as they changed a tire by the side of the road in Middle of Nowhere Nebraska. His partner was bent over by the tire of their current rental truck, winching the vehicle up off the ground. He found, partially to his horror, that he was searching the other man's face for wrinkles, and finding some which he had not noticed. Dave's hands, as well, were becoming more obviously veined where before they had been smooth and strong. Hal stepped forward instinctively, stuttered out awkwardly "Da- do you ne- want help?"

Dave glanced up, surprised, but upon seeing Hal's face his own expression shifted sharply into cold emptiness. "Why?" he asked, sharply.

Hal, aware that he hadn't handled this well, opened his mouth, then shrugged apologetically. "I just thought... I don't know." He paused and then, more quietly, eyes cast down, "I'm sorry."

"I don't need-"

"I know," cut in Hal immediately, anxiously. "I know, I understand. I just... suddenly... I wasn't expecting..."

"You're not the only one," replied Dave quietly.

NEVADA

"Think you can earn us some money, Hal?" They stood outside the Sands, staring up at the brightly coloured building.

"What?" Hal turned to stare at his partner. "I don't gamble."

"You're smart with numbers. Can't you count cards or something?"

Hal stared blankly, than rolled his eyes. "As it happens, 'smart with numbers' isn't the same as 'mathematical genius.' I could probably predict cards a little better than the average person. When it comes to gambling, I look to the one experienced with debauchery." He looked pointedly at Dave.

Dave glared. "When I win big, don't expect me to cut you in."

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Hal sat up in his bed in the hotel room as soon as Dave slipped out to take a walk and light up. He was out of the bed in an instant, pulling on the clothes he had for once carefully folded, cramming everything he had been forced to unpack in verisimilitude back into his duffel. The only thing which he left out was a sealed white envelope, addressed in a simple hand to Dave.

He hadn't realised, when forming Philanthropy, when roping Dave in, how little time the other man had. It had seemed like they had both had a long future before them back in Alaska, when they had met. Hal had imagined, perhaps slightly idealistically, a long career of saving the world, of eventually training up some new recruits and grandfathering them into the business, a retirement of less work but continued service. He had imagined a hard life, but a decent one. Plenty of work for the immediate future, and then hopefully less as they made a dent in the world proliferation of Metal Gears. And then, of course, he had realised that Dave for all his skill and knowledge and genius, had a fatal flaw and that was that he had been created badly, a product of a science which was producing ahead of its capabilities.

What Hal hadn't realised until the day before, as the two of them sat together scoping out a potential Metal Gear components factory, was that the other man had dedicated himself to spending his final few years in this crappy life style. That Hal had dragged him out of retirement in Alaska- the "retirement" had suddenly made so much more sense- to spend the rest of his days on the run, risking his life infiltrating dangerous factories to clean up after Hal's mess. That was the reward given to Solid Snake, hero of Zanzibar Land and Shadow Moses.

But Hal had been the one to form Philanthropy, and he could break it as easily. Without him, Dave could not find Metal Gears, could not create infiltration plans. He would have to find a new operative, which would be difficult, made almost impossible by the fact that Hal knew he would never work for an organization again after his years in Fox Hound. It was private practice, or nothing. And Hal was the only partner he had access to. Without him, Dave would return to retirement, and live the rest of his years in, hopefully, whatever peace he could build for himself.

So Hal pulled his duffel onto his shoulder, dropped the letter onto Dave's bed, and slipped out the door, heading west.

NEW JERSEY

"I am never going to get used to this." Hal made another attempt at crossing the living room on his crutches, caught one on his good leg half way over and fell onto the couch next to Dave.

"Well, you should have thought of that before you jumped off that bridge," said Dave reasonably. "Look, you just have to keep them further from your legs. Make an A shape, not a V. It's not that hard. See?" He stood, took the crutches from his partner, and swept easily in a circle around the room, one foot lifted theatrically off the ground. He returned and handed them back to Hal, dropping to sit next to him. Hal took the crutches with a sigh, pulled himself up, and slipped them under his arms. Five steps in he knocked his crutch against his broken ankle, yelped in pain and shifted his weight badly, loosing his balance. He pitched forward towards the wood floor, crutches clattering away, pulling his arms up protectively in front of his chest, eyes squeezed shut.

He opened them when, against all odds, he didn't hit the ground. Behind him Dave grunted, and then set him down gently on the floor, releasing his hold on both of Hal's shoulders. Hal sighed in relief, rolled over to look up at Dave, half squatting above him. "How the hell can you be so bad at this?"

Hal shrugged with an embarrassed smile. "Never really had much coordination," he said, and reached over to grab the nearer crutch. Dave grabbed his wrist instead, pulled him up to stand on one foot, swaying slightly. "Uh, I need those..." Hal trailed off, indicating the crutches.

"Yeah, about as much as you need a shot in the foot." He pulled Hal's arm over his shoulder, walked him back to the couch, Hal leaning the better part of his weight on his partner. "Until you can prove you're not going to kill yourself with them, you'll just have to use me instead." He smiled slyly at Hal, who flushed and smacked his shoulder. But he didn't protest.

NEW MEXICO

Hal was sleeping outside on the ground, wrapped only in a light blanket in an effort to escape the boiling interior of the truck. Even at night in the height of the summer the desert was warm, although the ground was still rock hard.

He was woken by Dave shaking his shoulder. His partner's eyes shone bright in his shadowed face as he leant over. "You're going to want to come inside," he said.

"Huh? Why? 'S too hot..."

Hal turned over, ignored Dave's quiet, amused, "Fine," and closed his eyes again. A second later he opened them with a yelp as what felt like a tub full of water dropped on him. He sat up in shock, only to find that it was in fact pouring rain. He grabbed his blanket and ran back to the car with a shriek, yanking the door open and vaulting inside in record time. Dave sat in the driver's seat watching him, eyes alight with amusement.

"Very funny," said Hal, chucking his damp blanket into the back seat and shaking out his hair. "Freaking desert," he muttered under his breath.

NEW YORK

Snake floated in the frigid Harbour water, clinging to a piece of wreckage, trying to keep himself conscious. The rain had picked up again, and with it and the wind it was almost all he could do to keep his head above the waves in the rough water.

His thoughts were muddled, unable to hold on to an idea for more than a couple seconds; the only thing he could keep a grip on was that he needed to stay awake. That was his one objective. Everything else would be taken care of. Someone would come get him. He wasn't sure who that someone was, or why they were coming, but he knew they were.

He had lost feeling in his hands some time ago, awareness of time having itself been washed away previously. The only sensation he felt any longer was the sharp edge of the plank digging into his ribs, and even that was numbed. In the pounding storm he could not see the lights of the city, was trapped in his own dark world.

Liquid alive… Ocelot… Dreaming… Hurry… Dropped by USP? … Not brothers, never had…Someone…

Consciousness, despite his efforts to keep hold of it, was drifting away as he was beaten about by the waves, unable even to keep his head above water constantly. His hearing was deafened by the waves pounding against his ears, sight darkened by exhaustion, the onset of hypothermia. He lay his head down on the plank, eyes closed against the stinging salt. Even the water in his mouth no longer tasted of anything. He felt nothing, adrift without any anchor, sinking into silent darkness. He was losing hold of any thought of rescue, any memory of a rescuer.

Finally … won't… no one left… Figures.

Even the pain of the wood crushing into his bruised ribs wasn't coming through anymore. The water no longer seemed rough, just a gentle rocking motion. Almost comforting. He was drifting off to sleep in a grey world. No colours, no sounds, no taste. No one.

"SNAAAKE!"

The only sound he could hear was the faint thrumming of the storm, and even that was far away.

"Snake!"

He had the vague notion that he was shifting, position changing. The sea wrapping its gentle fingers around him, pulling him. Everything was dark. Sound was going.

"God Snake, don't do this to me!"

Snake fell into silent, empty darkness.

He woke sharply with a biting pain in his chest, opened his stinging eyes to cough. His lungs felt raw, mouth burning with the taste of salt water. He rolled slightly, staring up with only weak focus. Above him hovered a pale face, bright against the dark sky, light eyes narrow with worry. Long fingers dug into his arms, holding him tight.

"Otacon," he breathed, and felt as though a weight had dropped from his shoulders.

NORTH CAROLINA

Hal stared at his face in the mirror, glasses sitting delicately on the bathroom counter by a contact lens container. His pale eyes stared back at him, burning with rarely used determination. Closing them, he bent his damp head over the sink, and picked up the open bottle of bleach.

NORTH DAKOTA

Dave came back from a trip to North Dakota with a large cardboard box in the back of the truck. He carried it into the house, box shifting slightly in his grasp every few seconds.

"Hal!" he shouted, taking a left into the den and putting the box down on the empty carpet space between the TV and the dirty, stained coffee table.

"Hey," said the engineer as he walked into the room, nudging his glasses up the bridge of his nose with the tips of two fingers. His eyes tracked down to the box on the ground. The box which, as he watched, moved three inches to the side and yelped. "This is…?" He wandered further into the room, safe in the knowledge that Dave wouldn't bring anything too dangerous home. Or at least wouldn't let his partner near it, if he did.

Dave knelt down by the box and flipped the lid open. Inside, six husky puppies were rolling over each other as they scrambled about in competition. As the lid opened and light flooded in, several of the furry pups looked up, tiny black eyes blinking up at the two.

"You bought puppies," said Hal after a minute of staring into the box. One of the pups stood up on its hind legs, paws resting on the box's side, whining quietly.

"Hn," grunted Dave, leaning down to rub the pup's head. Several of the others scrambled over, knocking shoulders to reach Dave's hand. "I figured we'd be here for a while. Have some time to raise 'em properly…" He dropped his other hand into the box to chuck one of the pups under the chin slightly, scratching at its ears with one finger when it craned its head up to look at him.

"Can we really?" asked Hal wistfully, kneeling down on the other side of the box to pull a puppy out and into his lap, pet it gently as it scrambled about and nosed at his shirt.

"You keep telling me I need a hobby. Besides, they'd make good guard dogs," said Dave with an amused smile.

OHIO

"I see your dishwashing, and raise two meals," said Hal, writing 2 DINNERS on a slip of paper and tossing it into the heap in the middle of the table.

"Remind me why we're playing for chores again," said Dave, glancing at first one hand of cards and then the other.

"Because since we share an income money is pointless, I'm sure not going to gamble for smokes, and I doubt you're going to bet any anime merchandise. Remind me why we're playing poker with only two people," he shot back, laying one hand down and staring morosely at the other.

"Because there comes a time in a man's life, Hal, when he finds he can no longer play Go Fish."

OKLAHOMA

"Keep your head down," whispered Snake sharply, lying flat in between the endless rows of corn.

"My head is down," answered Otacon, face pressed into the dirt two rows over. Far to their left people were shouting, thrashing through the corn. "Snake?"

"Shh!" hissed Snake. A pause. Their pursuers were getting closer. "All right," whispered Snake, barely audible above the crunching of corn stalks. "When I tell you, you run, run, to your right. Put your phone on silent and only answer it if you're sure you're alone. I'll find you."

"Got it," said Otacon quietly. To their left, the sounds were quieting. Their pursuers were going more cautiously. Otacon could feel his pounding rapidly against his chest, stomach tight with nervousness.

"Go!" hissed Snake. Otacon shot up, levering off his hands and toes like a sprinter, and dashed off through the rows of corn. He ran bent over, arms held tight to his chest in an attempt not to knock against the dry stalks.

He sprinted through nearly the whole field, breath coming in quick gasping gulps as he tried to run silently, before he slowed to a fast jog. He almost made it to the edge of the field. He could see the dirt tractor road through the thinning corn, when a strong hand clapped down on his shoulder from behind. Instead of trying to struggle free, as he would have done a few years before, he relaxed and slammed his foot into his attacker's insole, jammed his elbow into their stomach. They gave a pained grunt and let go, but a second pair of hands grabbed his wrists, twisting one arm painfully up behind him. Then came the unmistakable sound of a gun cocking. "Don't move, Mr. Emmerich."

Hal took a deep breath, held it for a minute, considering. Then, without warning, he shouted at the top of his lungs, "They've got me, Snake!"

The gun was rammed into his back, between his shoulder blades. "That's enough of that, Mr. Emmerich," said the voice reproachfully.

"What now?" asked Otacon with a slight hitch in his voice, stepping back and straightening his back in an effort to relieve the pressure on his wrist. "You won't catch Snake, you know, ow- okay, okay!" he shut up with protest as the man twisted his arm further behind his back, wrist almost level with his neck.

Across from Otacon, a patch of corn shook suddenly, stalks waving violently to and fro. The second man, the one he had elbowed in the stomach, started forward, gun in his hand, as Otacon's captor pulled him back.

From somewhere nearby came the sound of a second gun being cocked. "You're going to want to let go of him," said a gruff voice from directly behind them. A split second later the grip on Otacon's wrist was released. He stepped sharply to the side, away from the second man who was turning, face full of dismayed surprise. Otacon swivelled to see Snake standing with his gun to the trainee's head, free arm twisting his wrist away from his body. The trainee's gun dropped into the dirt. "You too," said Snake, glaring at the second man, who dropped his gun and raised his hands above his head.

With the gesture, Snake released his captive who scrambled away awkwardly to stand next to his colleague. "And you two are?" said Snake authoritatively, crossing his arms heavily over his chest.

"Dean and MacPhearson, sir. Uh, if you don't mind me asking, what happened to Dover and Stodge?"

"The girl and the hippy? Caught them trying to sneak up on my on my way over here. They're both out. You'll find them by your truck."

"So we fail, then," said either Dean or MacPhearson with a grimace.

"Well, manhandling my partner's not the best way to get on my good side," said Snake with a grin. "But no. You don't fail."

"Uh, so, if we don't fail, then…?"

Snake's grin turned secretive. "That's for me to know. If it makes you feel better, though, you did better than the previous bunch who didn't do anything to shut Otacon up and were actually captured by him."

"Thanks, sir."

"Yeah, right. Now get out of here." Snake watched as the two picked up their weapons and scurried away into the field, then turned to face Otacon. The engineer was rubbing vaguely at his wrist while watching the two flee.

"You're not really interested in the new crop of Fox Hound soldiers, are you?" It wasn't a question.

"No," said Dave straight up, completely without guilt. "It's just a good opportunity for us to train."

"And by us, you mean me."

Dave grinned, but didn't deny it. "You're getting better."

"Right. It is good practice, I suppose."

"Good. Because the next bunch should be arriving any second." Dave checked his gun, tucked it away in his shoulder-holster.

Hal groaned.

OREGON

Dave was standing alone on some beach in the dark, the only light coming from the full moon's pale reflection on the ocean, the wet sand. The ocean itself was calm, lapping quietly at the rough sand and leaving long furrow-like imprints. Behind him the wind whistled in the long pampas grass, ruffling Hal's hair as he sat in the dunes watching his partner, hunched down in his coat. Dave stood straight-backed, shoulders slightly hunched but head held high as he watched the moon setting slowly over the ocean. Even in its dim glow, his hair held an unmistakably silver tint. It took no work on Hal's part to imagine his partner's thoughts as the moon sunk low over the water, losing its brightness as it came closer and closer to the dark horizon. It wasn't hard for him to think along the same lines either; they did so often these days, the pair thinking the same thoughts separately, silently.

Without a word, Hal pulled himself up out of the sand and walked over to his partner, feet silent on the damp sand. Dave turned slightly anyway, somehow sensing his presence. Hal wasn't surprised, but he instead felt a slight guilty tinge of relief.

Dave said nothing when he stopped a foot behind the soldier, but slipped his hands into his pockets, turned back to look at the ocean. The moon was half gone already, sinking fast. They stood there together watching it disappear, drifting lower and lower, swallowed up by the darkness until only a pale sliver was left above the horizon. Slowly, silently, it melted away below the horizon, into the dark.

Hal drew his own hands out of his pockets and slowly, deliberately, wrapped his arms around Dave's shoulders from behind, pulling the man into a tight embrace, which Dave leant back into. Neither said a word.

PENNSYLVANIA

"You ready to go?" Dave finished putting the newly purchased bungee equipment in the back of the van, slammed the back doors shut. He turned to look at Hal, who was standing watching him, large black messenger bag slung over one shoulder holding his precious laptop. "Hey," said Dave, when Hal didn't answer. The engineer started slightly, ran an embarrassed hand through his unruly hair.

"Sorry. Yeah, I'm ready."

"You okay? You've seemed distracted lately." Dave gave him a hard stare.

"I'm fine. Really. It's just all this preparation. Arranging exits from a boat's a lot harder than a land base, you know. I had to find the harbour schedules, and the marina information, and the average docking time for different sized vessels, and-"

"Okay, okay. As long as you're sure." Dave cut the engineer off before he could ramp up to full-bore whining, shrugged and headed around the driver's side of the van.

Hal took a deep breath of cool autumn air and let it out in a sigh. "It has to be a coincidence, doesn't it, E.E.?"

RHODE ISLAND

Dave adjusted his tie with a tight frown, the black silk constricting his breathing. The entire damn suit was constricting, waistcoat cutting down on quick turns, pants too tight to allow any kick above knee-height. It didn't help that he looked like an idiot either. If he had ever thought of it, he would definitely have placed himself into the ruggedly handsome category. A category which was at its best in loose, outdoor clothing where the tangled hair, sideburns and stubble contributed to an air of overall competence. This was not a category which looked well in formal wear, where the tangled hair, sideburns and stubble contributed only to an overall air of fashion offender. Dave glowered morosely at his reflection in the mirror, twitched at the lapels of the tuxedo jacket to no apparent avail.

"Well?" said Hal from outside the dressing room.

"You're just going to have to go on your own," said Dave

"We already decided that wasn't an option," returned Hal, rattling the doorknob. "Quick, let me in, the salesman's coming."

Dave leaned back and unlocked the door. Hal slipped in and pulled it shut behind him, watching it with tense shoulders until the steps of the salesman walked by. He relaxed and turned to face Dave, and started violently on seeing his reflection in the mirror.

"Uh-"

"Still want me to come?" Dave smiled viciously.

"I think," said Hal slowly, "That you might want to try something a little less penguin-ish."

"This is standard," replied Dave.

"Yes, but it makes you look like a hick penguin. Uh, why don't you just… wait here. I'll go see what I can find." He slipped out the door before Dave could answer, and Dave pulled it to behind him, locking it immediately. The guile of salesmen was not to be underestimated.

Hal returned approximately five minutes later- four minutes thirty-eight seconds, Dave's internal clock told him- and handed in a pile of clothes. Dave slipped out of the tuxedo with no regrets, and pulled on the new suit.

Hal had chosen a black suit, which Dave approved of given his lurking tendencies. The pants were much the same as the previous ones, although the fabric was slightly coarser. The shirt, rather than the white of a tuxedo, was a silvery grey, with a darker grey suit-tie. Over this went a silver and grey chequered waistcoat to match the shirt and tie. Finally, a black coat cut to remain open with sharp lapels of the same charcoal grey. Overall it produced a more subdued look, and enhanced Dave's appearance of competence, rather than fashion illiteracy. And he figured, as he turned, that the suit was slack enough to allow him to do a full roundhouse.

"How is it?" asked Hal from the other side of the door.

"It'll do," said Dave with a grin.

SOUTH CAROLINA

"It's too dangerous, and you don't need to be involved in the first place," said Dave with fierce finality, and stood from his seat on his hotel bed. Seated across from him on the other bed was Hal, form tense with confrontation.

"You could be killed going after these men. That's a pretty good reason for me to be involved," Hal crossed his arms but didn't stand.

"No Metal Gear activity. And you heard Jack; no one can dig up anything on their base. It'll only take a week. You can have a break, watch anime, go down to Florida and hang out on the beach, whatever."

"I'd rather spend my free time making sure you don't get shot, thanks."

"Hal, these guys go after anyone looking for them. They've taken out two arms dealers, an undercover FBI operative and his family. They almost got Mei Ling, for Christ's sake. You're just… the risk is too great."

Hal stood, hands fisted. "I don't care." He raised a hand to run through his hair, a common gesture when he was upset or anxious. It was because of this that he didn't see Dave's fist coming until it hit him in the stomach. "Da- ugh…" he reached forward to grab Dave, arm falling as consciousness faded. Dave caught him easily and lifted him onto the bed.

"I know," he said, and left.

SOUTH DAKOTA

Otacon leant against a tall fir tree, right hand clamped tightly over his bleeding left arm, face paler than usual. Around him the dogs were gathered, some growling with raised hackles in the direction of the house, others whining and pressing against his thighs. Snake appeared out of the darkness, gun in hand, face tense. Several of the dogs started forward to meet him, fell back when he hissed "Stay," sharply.

"There are at least five in the house, six more surrounding the perimeter. They're heading in this direction."

Otacon stayed silent, waited for his orders. Snake glanced back at the house.

"They'll be here in a few minutes. They're moving faster than us."

"The traps?" Otacon glanced at the ground of their wooded back yard, filled with hidden pit and rope traps which the pair had spent days constructing.

"Probably won't slow them down enough. I'll stay here and take out a few. You get going on ahead. Wait for me at point C." He reached behind him and pulled a second SOCOM out of his waistband, handed it to Otacon. The engineer took his hand off his arm with a wince, hand slick with his own blood, fumbled with the heavy gun. "It's all I've got," said Snake by way of explanation. "You've only got 14 shots; I'll need the extra ammo."

"Right," whispered Otacon.

"Fay, heel," said Snake abruptly. The largest of the huskies, Fay, trotted instantly over to his side and stood there, waiting, strong body tense. Otacon's favourite, she had an unusually white face, black marks framing her face in a style similar to one of the engineer's anime characters. The rest perked up their ears.

Snake gathered them with his eyes, and said in a low, harsh, voice, "Angriff!"

At the order to attack, the dogs bounded off silently towards the house at his order, teeth bared, hackles raised.

"Snake, what the-"

"Take her and go. If anyone comes, tell her to protect, in German."

"You trained them to attack people?"

"I told you they would make good guard dogs," said Snake grimly. Behind him, the first sounds of barking came, and then the gunshots. "Fay, stay," he ordered the dog, then raised his eyes to Otacon. They were filled with anger. "Get out of here," he growled, turned, and ran after his dogs. Fay whined, but stayed.

Otacon forced himself to turn. "Come," he said quietly, and took off into the woods, dog trotting along at his side. He winced at each gunshot, each whining cry.

They reached the large cedar, point C, in about fifteen minutes. The tree stood slightly apart from its neighbours, an unobtrusive landmark, branches starting some five feet up its trunk. Otacon stumbled to stand under it, leaning against the tree. Fay followed him, sitting by his side when it became apparent that he wasn't going anywhere.

Around them afternoon was turning to dusk, air cold and crisp. Otacon shrunk closer against the tree, SOCOM held tightly in his good hand. Fay fidgeted, twitching her ears, looking up at him every few minutes. From here any sounds of fighting were muffled, making it impossible to tell what was going on at the house.

Night was falling in full force before Snake appeared, shoulders hunched, walking slowly with a slight limp. By his side one sole dog was struggling along, Skip, the most serious of the bunch, blood matting the fur of his right flank and staining his white muzzle red. In his arms he held a second. Tiger, the runt of the litter, and Snake's favourite. Otacon hurried out to meet his partner, Fay bounding over to sniff anxiously at Skip.

The dog in Snake's arms was struggling to breathe, blood flowing darkly from several wounds in her side. Snake dropped awkwardly to his knees, favouring his right leg, and set the dog down in his lap, stroking her head as she panted, thick foamy saliva pink with blood.

"Snake?" asked Otacon, throat tight.

"This is it," he said quietly, meaning the two dogs he had returned with, and then, "we have a minute."

Tiger was whining quietly, beginning to shiver and spasm. Snake stroked her harder, one hand pressed tight to her wounded side. "It's alright, pup, it's alright," he crooned softly, voice gruff. The dog gave a final shudder and lay still in his lap. Slowly, he shifted her off his legs onto the hard ground, the other two dogs beginning to whine.

"We never should have raised them," said Otacon softly, staring at the limp bundle of fur.

"They saved our lives," returned Dave harshly, pulling himself to his feet. Skip, who had sat, stood as well and moved to stand by his master. Fay, already standing, brushed her shoulder against Otacon's knee.

"In exchange for their own."

"Sometimes, that's the way it has to be." Snake checked his SOCOM, slipped the safety off and back on.

"It shouldn't be."

"No. It shouldn't." Snake turned away from the house. "Let's go."

TENNESSEE

"Hal?"

"Yeah?"

"Suppose I closed a laptop while it was turned on. Would that be bad?"

"It depends how the laptop was set up, and if there was anything running on it. Why?"

"Say I closed your laptop while it was running…"

"Dave-"

"…And then when I opened it again it was turned off."

"Dave, tell me you didn't-"

"I'm just going to go out for a walk…"

"Dave, get back here right now!"

TEXAS

The two of them stood together in some tourist store, The Alamo, or the O.K. Corral, or something. Hal hadn't paid much notice. The walls were made of rough wood intended to simulate a corral, and were mounted with the obligatory ox skulls, lassos, boots and spurs. On display were all kinds of Wild West paraphernalia, cowboy hats and boots, leather chaps, lasso kits and the like. Dave was browsing through the selection of boots, picking up the occasional one to examine the underside. He had scared away two attendants so far, although a third looked like he was working up to try his luck.

Hal busied himself inspecting hats, none of which looked anything but ridiculous on him, until his partner finished, glanced over for him. He put down the hat he had been examining, a white one with an excessively large brim and a strip of leather wrapped unevenly about it, and walked over to Dave.

The soldier was staring at a pair of dark, low heeled boots made of some kind of reptile skin. Hal bent closer to read the sign. 100 Snakeskin boots.

"Isn't that kind of like cannibalism?" he asked. Dave glared.

UTAH

"Ever think of looking up that girlfriend from Arizona?" asked Hal as they drove south through Utah, landscape one big red desert.

Dave blinked, glanced over at his partner. "What?"

"You told me you had a girlfriend from Arizona, once, who slapped you for… I forget. Probably just on principle, actually."

"Ha ha," said Dave dryly. "No, actually."

"Probably a good idea. No one wants to end up in that kind of relationship. Unless, of course, they do," he added slyly, glancing at Dave, who glared with feigned anger. "Yeah, you're probably better off."

"Yes. With you, there's only the chance of grievous injury by tripping over your computer cords."

"Ha ha," echoed Hal, equally dryly.

"Besides," said Dave. "She had an annoying laugh."

"Are you saying I don't?" asked Hal in something like incredulity.

"Nah. I like the way you snicker like an idiot. Reminds me of a badger I ran into once."

"Thanks."

"In a good way."

"I'll bet."

VERMONT

Hal lay on the motel room's double bed, laptop by his side but closed, power off. Outside it was raining; he could hear it pounding down on the roof, the windows. He had pulled the curtains shut and turned the lights on, but he still had the feeling that he was alone in the dark. Shaking his head, he rolled over, turned to his laptop, and pulled the lid open. He could see his reflection in its dark screen, face sad and worried, unruly hair even more so than usual, glasses slightly crooked on his face. His finger ghosted over the power button, but he didn't press it, tracing over it again and again instead as he stared vaguely at his reflection.

Outside a sudden gust of wind threw the rain violently against the wall. Hal started, then relaxed suddenly. He didn't have to jump at footsteps anymore, at least until he found a new way to shut down Metal Gears. For the first time in almost five years, he felt he wasn't currently an international criminal. Well, of course, he still was, but he wasn't actually doing anything criminal right now, or even contemplating it. Behind him, the door shook. He forced himself to ignore it, turned his attention back to his laptop. He glanced at its dark screen, and in it saw a dark, blurry face behind his own, staring at him.

Hal's heart leapt into his throat, stomach tensing so hard it felt like icicles had been stabbed through it. It's your imagination, it's your imagination, it's- a heavy hand dropped down on his shoulder, gripped it hard. Hal screamed, pulled away hard and rolled over to the other side of the bed. He overestimated and pitched himself right off, landing with a hard thump on the floor.

"What the hell, Hal? You're gone for two days and you forget everything I ever taught you about safety precautions?" asked a gruff voice, halfway between amusement and anger.

On the ground, head spinning from a mixture of fear, relief and hyperventilation, Hal watched as Dave's feet appeared around his side of the bed. He looked up to see his partner staring down at him, face set in an unimpressed expression.

"God, Dave, you almost gave me a heart attack." Hal sat up, then pulled himself to his feet. His stomach heaved and his vision dimmed sharply, and he sat down hard, only managing to fall on the bed because Dave pulled him hard to his left as he dropped.

"I can have that affect," said Dave dryly, but with a hint of sympathy in his eyes. Hal's vision cleared, and he sighed.

"How did you find me?"

"It wasn't easy. I had to call Jack. And Mei Ling. And tell them I lost you. You can imagine."

"And they believed you? What am I, your dog?" Hal passed a hand across his face, straightened his glasses. When he opened his eyes again, Dave was holding a letter in his hand. Any amusement had vanished from his expression.

"What is this?"

"Exactly what it says it is," replied Hal quietly, his own expression becoming hard, serious.

"You want to disband Philanthropy."

"Yes," said Hal evenly.

"Why?"

"Does it matter?"

"Yes, it matters, Hal!" Dave growled, angry.

"When we formed it, you said that either of us could leave at any time, unless we were in the middle of a mission. There would always be that option, you said. Well, I'm calling it in now. I quit."

"You don't want to work against Metal Gears anymore," said Dave carefully, trying to understand.

"I don't want to be part of Philanthropy," corrected Hal, looking at his shoulder.

"Why? You're sick of the lifestyle? You're sick of … of the pay?" said Dave, grasping for reasons. "You're sick of me?"

"I, I just don't, okay?" Hal stood. Dave grabbed him by the shoulders.

"No, it's not okay. Tell me why." Dave's voice was gruff, low. An order. Hal flinched. "Hal, tell me why."

"I don't want this future," he answered finally, still looking at the floor, voice almost inaudible under the roar of the storm outside. Dave released, expression suddenly disheartened, but not surprised.

"The life does eat at you," said Dave, "you get tired of it after a while, if you're not used to it. I understand." He backed off.

Hal sighed. "Its… it's not my future. It's yours. You shouldn't have to do this. I don't want you to live the rest of your life doing this, because of me."

Dave paused, stopped moving, stopped blinking, even stopped breathing, for an instant. Then he said slowly, carefully, like a man trying hard to restrain his anger, "And by 'this' you mean…?"

"Philanthropy. Well, sneaking, fighting, getting shot at, moving all the time, living alone."

"Hal…"

"I mean, I know you're committed, of course. It's always amazed me, that you would want to do this, when you don't have any reason to. I mean, it's not like you were involved in creating Metal Gears."

"Hal…"

"I just… I think you should do what you want to do. The world owes you that-"

"Hal, you idiot," said Dave sharply, cutting Hal off before he could continue. Hal looked up sharply, eyes wide. "You're telling me you're trying to disband Philanthropy for my own good?"

Hal looked down, shrinking slightly, but nodded.

"You," said Dave, dropping a heavy hand on his shoulder again, "are an idiot," He squeezed Hal's shoulder tightly. "Didn't it occur to you to ask what I thought?"

"Well, of course, but I knew you'd argue, and I just… I wanted to do this. To help you," he finished softly.

"Hal, I tried to retire once. You saw what happened."

"But you were forced to participate in Shadow Moses," protested Hal.

"Do you really think," said Dave, "that I couldn't have gotten out, if I had really wanted to?"

"Uh…"

"I came back because I was tired of retirement. Tired of spending my days mushing dogs and my nights drinking. This is the only lifestyle I've ever known. It's the only one I want."

"But-"

"Hal. Listen." Dave waited until the engineer brought his eyes up to look at him. "I'm going to die living this life. I know that. But at least, I'll die fighting for something I believe in. You know?"

Outside, the rain beat a steady pattern on the window.

"Yeah," said Hal, finally. "I know."

VIRGINIA

Snake pounded the open button next to the metal airlock-style door. Nothing happened. Behind him, he could hear footsteps pounding down the corridor. Gritting his teeth, he dialled into his codec.

Faust! The door's locked. I need you to open it.

There was a second of silence, and then his eardrums reverberated as the nanomachines patched in Faust's answer.

The door can only be opened from this control station. If I open it, it will give away my location.

Do it. I'm on my way there anyway.

Done, answered the voice in his ear. The door hissed open as the first of his pursuers rounded the corner. Stray bullets ricocheted off the metal door, dug themselves into the walls. Snake darted through the doorway and around the first corner, took the next right, pausing only to pull the pin of a grenade and throw it behind him.

The door to the control room slid open as he approached, and he ran through into safety. Faust was standing at the door control, thin face tense, short ash-blond hair standing up in a shock. He was an odd-looking character, tanned skin contrasting with his pale hair, pale hair contrasting with his brown eyes, entire look made even more odd by his loose slacks, black turtle-neck and thick hip-length jacket.

"Snake, are you- are you all right," he began in a rushed tone, moderated his worry half way through. Snake gave him an odd look, but shrugged. Faust nodded, expression carefully controlled, brown eyes glinting slightly. His voice, while not as deep as Snake's had an odd quality to it as well.

"Close that door," Snake ordered, indicating the door he had come through, beginning to walk towards the other exit.

"Ri- look out!"

Snake was tackled from behind as a clip's worth of bullets strafed through the open door. Faust had miscalculated his dive, and the two men rolled across the hard metal floor separately. Snake rolled straight to his feet, leapt back across the doorway and slammed the control to close the door. He then turned back to Faust, who had landed badly against the opposite wall. Snake hurried over to him, grabbing an elbow and pulling him up. "Hey, you okay?"

Faust shook himself, moaning, and looked up at Snake. One eye was brown, the other grey where before it had been brown. Snake's eyes narrowed. "What the hell-" he reached down and rubbed a hard thumb across Faust's sharp cheek bone. His thumb came away brown, while Faust's cheek was left with a pale streak. "Otacon," said Snake dangerously.

Otacon smiled in a pained way, gathering himself clumsily to stand with the aid of the wall. "Hey," he said, and reached to his throat where he clicked something under the turtleneck. "Better?" he asked, in his normal voice.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"Helping you," answered Otacon.

"I don't-"

"Need it?" finished Otacon. "Because it sure looks like you did."

"I could have found someone else."

"How many people would have given away their location to save you?"

"Still…"

"Someone once said," began Otacon with a glint in his eye, "that 'at least I fight for what I believe in.'"

Snake's eyes narrowed, but after an instant he sighed, nodded. "Point taken. Let's go. And wipe off that damn face paint." He turned to go. "Faust, my ass," he muttered under his breath.

WASHINGTON

They flew together from Alaska to Seattle, Hal stuttering nervously whenever he had to speak, Dave refraining from speaking whenever possible. They had a four hour lay-over at Sea-Tac before their plane to Baltimore was scheduled to leave, and found themselves standing aimlessly in front of the Departures board.

Finally Dave, realising that Hal was never going to work up the nerve to propose anything, sighed and headed off in a random direction. The engineer tagged after him like an awkward duckling. Self-leadership, he was used to. Directing others was something that hadn't been required of him for long years. And it wasn't as though his civilian people-skills had been stellar before that. From the looks of it, the engineer was, if anything, even worse with people than him. A hell of a partnership indeed. Alaska was looking better and better. But in Alaska was Meryl, and with Meryl was … he sighed. Maybe this would work out. Maybe he could forge himself a new life. Maybe the engineer would shape up into … something. Even though right now he was about as far from a swan as was possible.

"So," said Dave, forcing himself to be sociably. "Want to get some coffee?"

WEST VIRGINIA

They sat in the waiting room of the Rental Car office, Hal clutching their number tightly in one hand. The room wasn't overly busy, but he was pretty sure they were the last number of those who were there. Which meant they would be waiting for a while. He leaned back against the chair and closed his eyes. Canned music was coming from the ceiling, quality gritty and slightly tinny. The tune was familiar, one of those songs you heard around a lot, but didn't really notice. At least, not if you were Hal. To his surprise, though, as he opened his eyes to glance at the line, he noticed Dave was taping his finger along gently. Hal perked up his ears.

Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong

West Virginia, mountain mama

Take me home, country roads

Folk music. He had never had much time for it. "Know this song?" he mumbled. Dave turned to look at him, face surprisingly relaxed.

"Sure. It's famous."

"Ha." That explained why he had heard it around.

"I used to think sometimes… when I was wandering… it would be nice if you could just follow a road, find yourself in a place you belong."

"I haven't had a place I belong since I was…" he paused, engaged in some complicated mental calculation which made sense only to him. "… fourteen. God."

"I never did, really."

"Well, that's good, then. We can be partners in not belonging."

"You can't not belong together. Then you're belonging."

"You realise you've just said that you're the place I belong, right?" said Hal.

"Shut up," said Dave.

WISCONSIN

Hal fumbled with the kindling, piling up twigs and leaves together, slightly larger sticks on top of them with desperate, dirty hands. Even in the lee of the wrecked truck, the wind was fierce. It caught a flurry of leaves and stole them away, carrying them far into the woods. Dave shivered, curled in a ball on the ground, Hal's jacket wrapped around his shoulders, a strip of his own shirt tied around his forehead, muttering something quietly to himself. Hal cursed and bent in lower to the twigs, Dave's lighter gripped tight in both hands, and began to try to light the fire. The wind caught hold of the flame and blew it away too.

Hal shuffled around so that his back was to the wind, crouched almost directly over the wood, and clicked the lighter again. "Come on, come on…" A twig burned orange, then red, then went out in a wisp of smoke. He cursed and tried again, burying the lighter deeper in the small pile of kindling. "Come on, please…" The lighter flickered and several leaves caught. The flame licked slowly at the surrounding twigs, retreating again into the now almost burned out leaves, then venturing out again, tasting the sparse kindling before finally catching hold more firmly. Hal carefully fed it more branches, snapping small ones off of larger boughs, pulling choice bits into the flame directly with his hands. After a few minutes the blaze was burning more steadily, had caught several thicker branches and spread significantly. Only then did Hal turn to pull Dave closer to it. "Help will be here in a few hours. Just stay awake," he told the soldier, tucking his coat more tightly around him. Snake continued muttering, eyes barely open.

"What?" Hal leant in closer, strained to hear over the shriek of the wind, the crackling of the small fire.

"s-s-i-m… i-p-p-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-m… i-p-p-i-s-s-i-s-s-im…"

Hal's eyes widened slightly. Startled, distracted, he pulled his coat tighter around Dave's shoulders, then turned back to the fire and pulled some larger branches on.

"That's right," he said with false confidence, "Everything'll be okay."

WYOMING

They sat together on the porch of their small rented cabin. Inside their bags were packed, waiting by the door. The air was chill in the early morning, everything crisp and new. Hal looked over to Dave, sitting silently in the dirtier of the two chairs, watching the horizon, waiting for the sunrise. He was wearing an old coat, seams coming apart in places, stuffing coming out of one corner. He hadn't bothered to buy a new one, had forbidden Hal to do so. Hal himself wore a newer trench coat, not much good for Wyoming's frigid spring, but more appropriate for New York's, and wherever they might end up afterwards.

"We need to be going soon, Dave," Hal said quietly, glancing at his watch.

"In a minute," said Dave gruffly. In the early morning light, some of his wrinkles were smoothed, white hair shining dully. "Just this once," he said after several minutes, "I'll let myself wish I had more time."

Any answer of Hal's stuck in his throat. Together, silently, they watched the sun rise on a new day. The last day they would spend together in America.