Sub Secreto
Some secrets were never meant to be shared. S/SE. A silly bit of fluff.
A little ficlet for TiamatV, who responded to my offer of bribes to anyone willing to beta for me. The first and last lines were provided, with 2,000 words to fill in the middle.
Plain ol' PG.
Seriously, if I owned any of the rights to these characters, do you think I'd be writing fanfic?

Her choice in reading material was the best-kept secret in a life that she'd spent keeping some very important secrets.

Oh, the other Joes and her family were well aware of many of Scarlett's reading choices – books written by and for the intelligence community, tomes on the martial arts, her fondness for historical novels, especially those set in the South, the silly romance books the guys always bought for her birthday. That was common knowledge, and every year she received enough paperbacks in the form of gifts to start a small library.

Those closest to her knew of the more esoteric choices formed during her time as a pre-law student, such as Rousseau and Machiavelli. (Although, looking at those now produced a trace of embarrassment. Back in the days before she became friends with Lady Jaye, they had routinely tried to one-up each other. One of Scarlett's barrages was asking if Jaye had ever read the material. The linguist won that round decisively by simply answering, "Not the English translations.")

No, those were all things various people knew. No one – absolutely no one – knew what she picked to read when she needed to wind down, to forget about Cobra, ninjas, a bullheaded lover or any other general frustrations. That was a secret she would never share, not even with her bullheaded, but otherwise very satisfactory, lover.

It wasn't shame, per se, but, well, how did a grown woman, a highly-trained martial arts expert, counterintelligence specialist and founding member of the world's crack anti-terrorist organization explain that she liked to read novels based on the old The Partridge Family musical sitcom? Her friends would find itodd.

How did you explain the joy of slipping into the nostalgic glow of an innocent world where the worst that could happen was an annoying brother ruining your date? (A fate she had had to endure much too often until she realized her taekwondo skills far exceeded theirs. Her Da hadn't been too happy with either her response or the behavior that prompted it, but at least her social life improved afterwards.)

No, it was a part of her past that had always been private. She remembered watching the reruns on the old black-and-white TV in the attic in the sweltering heat of an Atlanta summer, all so her older siblings wouldn't tease her about her childhood crush on David Cassidy. Even back then, she felt it was something to keep to herself, a personal indulgence made more precious by the lengths necessary to obtain it.

Some things were never meant to be shared, could never be fully understood by someone who hadn't had the same background. Experience built perception after all. Oh, Snake Eyes would laugh in that silent way of his, but he wouldn't tease her about it – not much, anyway. But he wouldn't understand why the books appealed to her, why the simple language and silly plots provided a type of solace against an insane world.

Besides, who was he to judge? He certainly had his share of secrets, and they went beyond fondly remembering a childhood infatuation. It was only fair that she had one thing that was all her own.

Of course, if she told the others they might help her round out her collection – once they convinced themselves she hadn't finally cracked under the pressure. There were seventeen books published, and she had only been able to get a hold of eleven. Three of those were on the verge of falling apart and needed replacing, but it was hard finding the paperbacks. Even the owners of used bookstores gave her weird looks when she requested they try to find copies, and she knew some of the things they were normally asked to locate.

So she kept this secret, even from those closest to her. Embarrassment had nothing to do with it at all. It was a private pleasure that simply wouldn't be so pleasurable if it didn't remain private.

Some pleasures, though, were meant to share.

Stretching silently, she watched as Snake Eyes headed to the river, a fond smile forming as he signed a parting endearment. Whenever possible, he liked for them to slip away to the remains of his mountainside cabin; to make up for the lack of amenities, he always let her sleep in late while he caught and fixed their breakfast.

Little did he know how she really spent that time.

Once he disappeared into the tree line, she fished the battered treasure from the bottom of her rucksack, carefully snuggling into her sleeping bag to read. It wasn't that she felt guilty keeping this from him, but it always paid to be safe. He'd be gone for a minimum of an hour, but she always put the book away long before he returned. He was a ninja after all; doing the unexpected was to be expected from them.

When he returned – exactly sixty-seven minutes later – her book was safely packed away, and she acted like she'd been dozing the entire time. After he put the fish over the fire, she slipped out of the sleeping bag and wrapped his flannel jacket around her, delighting at the way his eyes followed her body.

Oh, some pleasures were definitely meant to be shared.

"It's chilly out here this morning," she purred, "why don't you get back in the sleeping bag while the fish cooks?"

His eyes twinkled, but he reached for his backpack instead. "I have your birthday present."

"What? It's not until next month," she said, her curiosity quickly morphing. "What did you get me?"

"Something for us to share privately," he signed, smiling seductively as he handed her a shirt box.

Tilting her head quizzically, she stared at him for a moment. He had never once given her an item of clothing, and the "private" comment piqued her interest. They'd never gotten into the whole silk and lace brouhaha of lingerie, and now she wondered if it was something he had wanted all these years. If so, she certainly knew the people to ask for advice, although a shopping trip with Cover Girl and Lady Jaye promised to be expensive.

Gingerly, she took the box, a frown forming as she gently shook it. The weight was wrong for clothing, but nothing was rattling around. She looked at him again, but Snake Eyes' smile never changed.

She took off the lid, not surprised to see a mass of tissue. Pulling it away, she finally found the book-shaped bundle wrapped in its own paper. Grinning, she took it out and starting slicing the tape away with her thumbnail. The man had excellent taste when it came to picking out reading material for her.

"I see you've been talking to Shipwreck. He always picks out the trashier novels for my birthday. I'm guessing you want to try out some of those sex scenes," she teased, and that caused his grin to falter.

"No," he signed, and she noted the infinitesimal tightening around his mouth that showed he was less than pleased. "But I may go talk to him."

Scarlett's laugh died in her throat as she tore the last of the paper away, staring in disbelief at what he'd given her. One of Shipwreck's porn novels would have been less surprising, and the glare she gave him indicated her…discontent.

Sitting in her hands was number seventeen in The Partridge Family series. The Holy Grail of collectors, the hardest one to find, and it was in excellent condition. The one secret she had from him, and he'd found it out.

"How?" was all she asked, uncertain if she wanted to know where he'd gotten the book, or how he'd known to get it.

"I know people," he answered mysteriously.

"What type of people?"

"Those who know how to find things. Or find them out."

Scarlett's eyes narrowed, wondering just how many people he'd let on this secret. Or if he had. The man had a poker face that couldn't be beat. And damn it, she wanted to know how he'd pulled this stunt off.

Had he enlisted Jaye's help in finding out her secret reading habits? No, he liked her; he wouldn't put her in that much danger. Jinx maybe, but that woman had no poker face at all; she'd have been blushing around Scarlett if she'd ever checked her private footlocker. Snakes valued his own life too much to have sent Tommy spying on her, and Stalker valued his life too much to have taken the job.

No, he had done this on his own. Somehow. And if it was the last thing she ever did, she'd find out how – especially where he found the book; she still needed the rest of the series.

Right now, though, she was going to wipe that self-satisfied smirk off his face – but first she carefully put her present away. The thing was virtually irreplaceable, even if he'd taken her one secret away from her.

In a graceful movement, she quickly shed the jacket and t-shirt covering her body and settled on his lap, smiling at his sudden intake of breath and other bodily reactions.

"You," she murmured, wryly, "really need a hobby."

A/N II: No, I don't have any personal knowledge of The Partridge Family novels. In the original Marvel run, Scarlett's the right age to have watched the show as a kid, and the Internet is a wonderful tool for research. This story obviously took place before eBay was around. The title is Latin for "In Secret".