"Yeah. Funny how that happens. Hal, why don't you tell me what happened." "...and, well, I guess the most embarrassing part of it was that I brought my driver's license..." Hal felt like he was going to burn up from the embarrassment. Not only did he have to tell Dave about how he'd gone on a mission that had failed, and miserably at that, but he had to tell him about the completely stupid mistakes he'd made.

Like how he'd walked out without thinking about an electronic jamming device. Or how he'd ended up coming home without the gun - Snake's gun - and the computer. Or how he'd done the unthinkable and actually carried identification with him on a mission.

After Snake's initial glowering at him, Hal had taken to looking at the table, not daring to look up. Consequently, it took him completely by surprise when the laughter came bubbling up from Dave's lips like blood after a lung shot. His head shot up. "You don't have to laugh!"

"Believe me, I do," said Dave between gasps of laughter. "It's the only thing stopping me from punching you!"

"Oh." Hal sank down into the chair. It wasn't fair. If Dave had been around, Hal would never have done something so stupid! He sat back up. "It's not all my fault you know," he protested.

Dave stopped laughing and glared. "Go on," he said with a dangerous tone of voice.

"Well... because you weren't here... and all..." Hal sank back down, not managing to escape Dave's Look.

"I'm not here gives you license to do any damned fool thing you want?" He didn't have to yell. Hal wasn't an idiot, and if Dave had been around, they could have decided things together. It wasn't Hal's fault that Dave had gone somewhere without even taking a cell phone! Dave couldn't talk to him like this! "God damn it, Hal-"

"You're the one who took off without a word! Why are you laying everything on me?"

"Because you're the idiot who got caught!" Dave stood and leaned over the table. "I'm an expert, and you know damned well how long it takes me to prepare for a mission-"

Hal got to his own feet, toppling the chair behind him. "You must be kidding. You act like you've never made a mistake in your life! The great Solid Snake, never does anything wrong, never makes a mistake-"

"That isn't the point, and you know it. You rely on technology and you haven't got a clue, Hal! You think life is an animation? You think life is a bunch of toys sitting on your desk?"

"That's below the belt, Dave. I think life's an anime? You think life is a porno video, with a bunch of women waiting for you to watch them and return them to the nearest Blockbuster!"

Dave's face turned to ice. Hal glanced down to see Dave's hand slowly closing and opening. Hal almost - almost - wished he could take back what he'd said. He glared back at Dave, covering his nervousness with bravado.

Finally, Dave tossed some papers onto the table. "See what you can come up with," he said, his voice sharp and restrained. "I'm going out."

Going out? "Where do you think you're going?" Hal asked, as Dave reached the door.

Dave smiled nastily as he glanced back. "I think I'll get myself a taste of that Blockbuster life. The last one you got was... ah, from the step-mother who probably slept with you for money. Well, see you tomorrow, Hal." He shut the door with that, stealing the last word.

Hal stared at the door, mouth open on an angry response he couldn't quite think of. He picked up his chair, sat and put his head down on the table. Funny. You always remembered that Snake was a guy who could take the enemy down without anyone getting wise to it. You remembered, every now and then, that he was fluent in six languages. Once in a while, you were reminded that his IQ had been measured at 180, whatever the differences meant at that high level. But the fact that he could take you down with a few words just wasn't something you tended to remember about the legendary Solid Snake.

Or maybe it was something you didn't want to remember about him.

Hal stood and went to the window to watch as the car sped away. "Damn it!" Hal hit the window, hard. "Why do you have to be such a bastard?"

Hal sat back down, feeling drained. "You're such a bastard."

Hal put his head in his hands and looked down at the papers. Distracting himself with work might just be the thing. What had Dave thrown at him?

Papers. Well. Might as well start looking at them. Maybe if he was all done when Dave got home, they could pretend that little exchange never happened.

The first one was the Wizard. According to the paper, he was an extremely intelligent individual. He was loyal once his trust was earned. He could be a very callous individual, but at the same time, he had a need to protect others. He'd been one of two children, but his elder brother had died in a war when he was very young. He'd gotten three undergraduate degrees in the sciences: one in biology, chemistry and physics. He'd done graduate work in bio-chemistry. He'd been involved heavily in unspecified crime, but had never been caught with anything incriminating. There were strong ties between him and the second file.

The Warrior. A soldier "of some repute," the paper mentioned little about formal education. He'd joined the military young, but his intellect had set him apart from the others and he'd been taken into the secret service. He had been a strange sort of bully as a child. According to the paper, the Warrior had alternated between protecting other children and stealing their lunch money. He'd grown up in the great Depression, the child of wealthy parents, rebelling against them at the young age of 10. It mentioned a turning point when he was almost 40 years old, but there were no details.

The Black Knight was the next one on the list. He had been cross referenced in the Warrior's paper, along with the White Knight and the Politician. Hal made quick work of this one. The Black Knight was almost the exact same as the Warrior had been, except that the turning point mentioned was much younger.

The White Knight, on the other hand, was listed quite differently. A child with no siblings, he had listened to his parents throughout his own troubled teenage years. He had always tried to fit in at school. His parents had died when he was 15 from something related to the military (actually, it gave a reason, but Hal couldn't pronounce the words), and he'd become a ward of the state. When he was 16, he'd killed his foster father in self-defense, and the military had taken him in.

The Politician was next. He'd been a child in a large, fairly well-off family. Even so, there had never been enough money for everyone in the family to get what they wanted. He was always the center of attention, both in the family and in school. He'd been intelligent, but had pretended to be less so, manipulating his peers to get everything he wanted.

Next was the Theurgist. He'd been the only child of the Wizard. He'd grown up sheltered from war and "overt militaristic interests." He'd been tested for intelligence and aptitudes starting at an early age. At fourteen, his father had married, and he'd no longer been an only child. Then... stories about nuclear war and his family were told to him...? Then he'd begun rebelling, so...

"What the hell is this?" Hal stared at the sheet. "Step-mother began relationship to counteract and eliminate friends? Fostering instinct to protect others? Progress reports continue to be positive? Protective of younger children, unable to relate to his own age group... Attachment to fantasy? Gullible? Left home after unforseen death of father..."

It was a coincidence, it had to be. The family's dark history and his mother's abuse and his father's death did not link Hal to this Theurgist. This was not him. It just wasn't. "Current goal: meet with White Knight... additional notes, positioned in Alaska. Best case: link by deaths."

He pulled the White Knight's sheet back. "Current goal... current goal... there isn't one on here. Nothing to confirm this... This is crazy! I am not this guy, Dave isn't this one... It isn't true!" Hal put the papers down and pushed them away.

"Where the hell did he get this garbage from? Why am I even looking at it? I might as well be looking at the information I recovered from the Chernobyl disk. At least that's true."

True? If the disk was true, this whole thing could be too. If he was Theurgist, the only son of Wizard, that meant Wizard was his father. And if Wizard was his father, it was not unthinkable that the connected Warrior was Big Boss. Which meant it might even make sense that White Knight was Dave.

"Where did he get this from?" Hal stood. "I need to know where he got this from." He picked up the papers, putting them into his trademark lab coat. He didn't have a location in mind, but he had to try to find Dave.

He locked the door behind him and took the elevator down. Dave probably wasn't going to apologize, even though he'd said the worst part of it. When he got to the ground flood, Hal sighed. It looked like he wouldn't even have to leave the building. Dave was sleeping on a couch, the car parked out in front where you wouldn't be able to see it from their apartment.

Hal sat down on the same couch. Dave didn't wake. Or rather, knowing Dave, he was quite aware of who it was sitting on the couch, and probably had known since he got off the elevator, but just wasn't about to show that he was awake.

"Dave... were you ever in foster care?"

He grunted. "I'm tired, Hal. If you want to talk about the past, we can do that tomorrow."

"What did your foster father do?" Dave sat up and glared at Hal. The edge was taken out of it by the sleep that was still in his eyes. Hal looked away. "Well?"

Dave sighed. "Do you want the official reason, or the real one?"

Hal sighed and leaned back into the couch. "So it's true..."

"Yeah. Guy went nuts. He'd had too much to drink or something, tried to kill me and a couple of others. First person I killed, and I don't feel at all sorry about it."

"Funny how you drink anyways."

"How did this come up, Hal?"

Hal pulled the papers out of his pocket. "Where did you get these from, Dave?"

He shrugged. "Took 'em from somewhere."

He handed the White Knight paper to Dave. "Where?" he asked more pointedly.

Dave scanned the sheet. "Julie's," he said absently.

"You... you went to her house? I can't believe you did that."

Dave shrugged. "It seemed like a good way to find out if it was true about your father and Big Boss."

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