"Here," said Snake, and handed him a knife.

They were in the living room, barefoot on a carpet doing its best to devolve to steel wool. It was the largest space they had, bedroom taken up by the bed, kitchen hardly wide enough for two people to stand in simultaneously. In the living room, at least, there was enough space between the couch and the TV's scarred table for a man to lie fully stretched out in either direction. It was here Snake did his indoor exercising, and here he had tossed the engineer onto the couch cushions until the slighter man learned to break a hold. Otacon would never be a fighter, and they both knew it. But Snake was determined to see that he would be a survivor. As if he'd ever been anything else.

Otacon took the knife reluctantly, holding it in a loose grip as if about to toss it away. He had agreed because things weren't looking good and they quite possibly had some real heat on their tails, and because Snake had come as close as he ever would to demanding it, which meant he was badly worried.

It was a serious knife, almost an eighth of an inch thick with a slight scimitar-like curve to the tip. The blade was almost six inches long, with a metal guard separating it from the moulded leather grip. From end to end it was about the length of the engineer's hand. Slightly longer when in its sheath, dull leather with a stiff strap.

"Kind of big for my pocket," said Otacon, who had been expecting something in the switch-blade line, with false levity.

"If you're anywhere near a mission, you'll wear it on your belt. Otherwise, here." Snake took a step closer and reached out to press the side of his hand firmly against Otacon's lower back, horizontally along the waistband. "With the shirts you wear it'll be out of sight, but still easily accessible. Things in pockets get lost or stuck, boots take too long and are too obvious and you don't wear them anyway. Here," said Snake again, holding out his empty hand. The engineer immediately surrendered the knife, only to have Snake grab his shoulder and turn him forcefully in a half-circle so that the soldier was standing at his back.

He made a "herk" sound as Snake grabbed the back of his pants, crushing the front against his stomach, and twisted his spine to try to see what was happening behind him. Snake caught his shoulder with a heavy hand and turned it back.

"Stop that." A second later he was finished, the hem of Otacon's pants feeling oddly stiff against the curve of his back. He reached around slowly, and paused when his fingers brushed against the grip of the knife. Wrapped them carefully around it and drew the blade out with a quiet whisper of metal against leather.

Snake had slipped around to stand in front of him again, and Otacon was conscious of his critical gaze as he raised the knife. He was very aware of the fact that he was gripping the knife awkwardly, with the stance of a man holding something he didn't want to be in contact with but who knew that dropping it would only make things worse. Not surprising; that described the situation perfectly. Snake sighed and then pulled off his shirt, tossed it onto the couch and stood in just his jeans, bare feet crushing the rough carpet fibres.

Otacon raised an eyebrow, smiling weakly. "Bribery? Or are you going to tell me you're turned on by knife-play?"

Snake ignored him entirely, eyes hard and considering. Without warning he shot an arm out quick as a cobra to grab Otacon's knife hand, warm fingers wrapped firmly around sharp knuckles. The soldier pulled their hands up until they were even with Otacon's shoulder, tip of the blade less than an inch from Snake's bare chest. Otacon tensed, grip on the knife tightening, while his eyes narrowed. The amusement drained from his face, replaced by a kind of melancholy gravity.

"Good," said Snake, and readjusted his grip for him as though moulding clay, dry skin against dry skin. "One hand, keep the other free to fend off attacks. Your instincts know how to hold the blade most firmly; lunging like this, stabbing downwards like this," he twisted the blade to point it at the floor, forcing Otacon to change his grip. "You'll never be able to fight with it, and odds are you'd never get into one anyway – if you draw it and stand around someone'll just shoot you, or disarm you. It's a surprise weapon, you don't pull it to try to scare people off. The only time you use it is if you're well and truly cornered and you've got to cut your way out." The soldier spoke in a calm lecturing tone, imparting information. There was no need to warn, they both knew Otacon would never use a weapon to threaten. Whether he would use one when it was needed was something neither of them knew.

"Alright," said Snake quietly, shifting the atmosphere with his word. He pulled at the blade with two fingers, until Otacon changed his grip back to hold the knife with the tip against Snake's just grazing his breast-bone, flat of the blade horizontal to the floor. The soldier ran his hand over Otacon's, settled for resting his fingers on the engineer's knuckles again, and pushed their hands down until the tip of the knife was pointing at the centre of his gut. Drew it across his stomach a hair's breadth above the skin as though tracing a line.

"Unless you've got more than one opponent, you're looking to rush and stab. That means aim for the centre of the mass. Anywhere above here," he tapped the bottom of his rib cage with his free hand, "makes it easy for me to deflect. Anything above my chin is easy to duck. Legs are less likely to incapacitate, and – for you at least – definitely unlikely to kill. Gut's harder to defend, and it's hard to miss something vital or at least incapacitatingly painful." He spoke with a quiet intensity, voice the only sound in the gritty apartment, trying to impress the lesson into the engineer.

Otacon watched the soldier's stomach as he spoke, tanned skin rising and falling with each breath. Watched the tip of the knife, so near to skimming the skin. He looked up when Snake finished, gray eyes catching green and waiting for a moment. Reluctance facing down determination, and losing.

The soldier let go, hand hovering close by the engineer's wrist. "Where's my heart," he asked flatly, continuing the lesson. Otacon reached up with his left hand to rest the tips of fingers against the soldier's chest, a dull warmth. "Here," corrected Snake, and with his free hand moved them slightly downwards, slightly to the left, and then held them pressed tight against the smooth skin. "Feel it?"

Otacon made no answer, holding the knife in a slack grip by his side.

"Right," continued Snake as if he had. "Where do you have to stab to hit it?"

"Only you would ask that," said the engineer, quietly, with a slight twist of his lips, but he moved the blade all the same to a point slightly below that indicated. Snake corrected it, pushing the blade lower, glistening tapered point gliding like a gull over sand.

"Here. Always stab up, no matter where you aim. The ribs'll deflect a blade stabbing downwards, but if you go up you'll be able to slit it in between them." He steered the blade with his fingers on Otacon's knuckles again and in the air above his skin sketched out a map. "Here's no good; breastbone's in the way. Here or here, you'll get the lungs, that's fine. Heart here. Here," he raised the blade to skirt his collarbones, a cloud over hills, "you're too far. You might nick an artery if you're lucky, but odds are you won't." Raised the blade further, to brush its dull back against his neck, shining edge reflecting a golden streak up beneath his jaw in a ridiculous parody of a buttercup. "If you cut the neck deep enough, anywhere's fine; left's got the jugular, right the carotid, centre the windpipe. Any of them'll kill instantly."

Otacon pulled the knife away as soon as the soldier let go.

"Got it?"

"Go low, aim up, avoid the centre," parroted the engineer, staring dully at the wall behind Snake.

"Right." Snake turned around, exposing a long back crisscrossed with faded white streaks. "Now," he said, voice slightly quieter with his head turned, "back's harder because of the muscles, so you'll need to put more force into it. Avoid the spine. Same as before; lower's better, stab up. Here," he reached back to tap a crook-shaped scar below the curve of his ribs, "you'll get the spleen. Here or here," smooth skin on one side, a straight slash on the other, "you'll get the kidneys."

He paused for a moment, then forged on through the silence, "higher you've got the same targets again; lungs on either side, heart if you're lucky but the spine gives it some protection. If you have to go for the neck, reach around and slit, don't stab. You'll have to pull fairly hard, lots of cartilage to cut through."

Snake stopped, ending on a gruff note, and then sighed as Otacon pressed against him from behind, wrapping both arms over his bare shoulders, loose shirt soft against the strong muscles of his back. The knife dangled limply from the engineer's fingers like a pendulum, swinging back and forth gently in a shallow arc before Snake's chest.

"You know I might never use this," he said, chin on Snake's shoulder. "To protect myself, to protect you… I might attack someone." There was no certainty in his tone, and it was just as much a statement of disbelief as of belief.

"I know." Snake reached up and took the blade of the knife between two fingers, plucked it from Otacon's grip as easily as an over-ripe fruit. Tossed it once to catch it by the grip instead. "You don't have to be a soldier, but for better or worse, you're a fighter now. If it comes down to it, it might be this or death."

"Someone else's death, or mine." There was no surprise in his tone, no protest. Just the tired repetition of a fact they were both well aware of.

"You're no pacifist, Hal."

"I don't know if I can be what you want me to be." Unspoken: a killer. Unspoken: a murderer. Unspoken: like you. There was a difference, and they knew it, and they left it out of their conversation because once let out of their cage the words cut deep regardless of intention, always.

"I want you to live. Beyond that… I won't ask anything else." Without looking, he swung the knife up into a horizontal grip, slid his arm behind him and slipped the blade into the sheath at Hal's waist. "There's a difference between self-defence and violence. They don't bleed into each other. Not if you don't want them to."

Otacon sighed, resting his forehead against Snake's shoulder, long bangs spreading over tanned skin. "I'll wear it. After that… I can't promise anything."

"I know," said Snake, again, a steady confidence. Reached back again, arm twisted around his partner towards his waist to lay a hand on the knife's grip. "Again?"

Otacon smiled against warm skin, and pressed a careful kiss against the junction of Snake's collarbone and shoulder. "You don't think I know where your heart is?"

Snake gave a quiet huff of laugher. "My heart, yes. But can you find my liver?"