Ace was nodding in and out of sleep as he lay sprawled on the couch, just barely noticing a loud, rusty creak behind him. "And jus' where are you goin'?" Ace drawled, glancing over his shoulder at the lanky teen by the open door. "Just a quick sssmokes, boss..", Snake hissed quietly, pulling a pack out of his pocket as proof. "A'ight.. Don't smoke 'em all at once," Ace got a little more quiet as he started slipping into sleep again. "th' stupid things are freaking expensive..."

Snake paused for a moment longer at the entrance of the shack, letting out a small sigh of relief when he heard his leader snoring. Snake carefully slid past the sheet-metal door, shutting it as carefully as possible to not wake his boss. Alone on the porch, he flicked a lighter out of his front pocket and ignited the cheap cig, sucking in the toxic smoke and cherishing the brief moment of warmth inside his chest. A long plume of smoke slipped past his teeth and trailed around his head as he made his way to the City Dump entrance.

Snake's eyes gazed up at the star-less Townsville sky, watching his cigarette exhalations dissipate into thin air. The diamond-crossed fence squeaked quietly in protest against his meager weight leaning against it. The silence, the smoke, the cool comfort of the night put the reptilian gangster at complete ease. This was the best his life would get, honestly, so he cherished these fragile moments of happiness while he had them. As his cig died down to a butt, he hissed in annoyance and rummaged for his pack again. He popped it open and discovered he was down to his last one, feeling a bizarre combination of relief and agitation. Snake lit the new cigarette and for a brief moment he thought he saw a shooting star streak above him. When he realized was wrong, he grinned and waved at the blue blur of light headed his way. As the blue-dressed toddler flew closer and floated to a stop in the air above him, he said "Fancy meeting youse here." She giggled sweetly and drifted down to the ground. "Silly goose, you knew I was coming!" He hissed out a chuckle and muttered, "Exactlys, it wass a joke."

They sat side-by-side at the gate and started muching at a bag of various snacks and goodies Bubbles had snuck from home. "Ssso I heard you n' yer ssissters beat up a giant leech monsster yessterdays." Snake said, taking a handful of chips with his cig-free hand. Bubbles frowned and finished chewing before speaking up. "Yeah, he was so gross! And when he exploded there was a big mess everywhere!" she wailed, waving her arms as visual aid.

"Ss-ss-ss! But I thoughts you were ussed to that sstuffs.", he chuckled.

Bubbles pouted and cried "But it was bloody!"

"Ss'okay," he reassured, "It'ss impresssives enough that you were ables to do ssome'n likes that at all. You're allowed to be creeped out ssometimes, I thinks."

She smiled and scooted closer, hugging his arm. "Thanks." He smiled back and took another drag from the cigarette. "Oh, by the way!" Bubbles said, looking up at her green-skinned pal, "I heard you and the Gang robbed a grocery store a few days ago!"

Snake chocked on the smoke, lurching forward and coughing violently. "Oh-kkhh-KFHSS! Oh, yo-khf- yousse did? COGH-!" He sputtered, wiping tears out of his eyes with his free hand and trying to sound calm.

Bubbles panicked and spoke up, "Oh, don't worry! I- I wasn't going to tell my sisters about it, since you were just getting food to eat! I paid the grocery store owner myself for what you took!"

As the coughing died down, Snake looked down at Bubbles in shock and wordless awe. "H-how did youse pay fer that..?" was all he could put into words, his head still reeling at the whole concept and unsure of how to express gratitude for something like this. She smiled and answered "Allowance", like it was no big deal. Snake had never gotten an allowance before, but he understood the idea. Before he could even let out a timid "Thank youse", she said "I wish you didn't smoke so much."

He froze and noticed her blue-eyed gaze was locked onto the small, dying piece of burning paper and poison held between his fingers. They had been through this before. He had been through the "It's not that easy" speech over and over again. It wasn't just for smoking, but whenever she brought up something with that sad, pleading look in her ridiculously huge eyes. Why don't you stop smoking? Why don't you stop stealing? Why do you let him hit you?

Why don't you try being good?

It's not that easy. You're born into it. It creeps into your life and never lets you go, it's a bittersweet addiction that eats you from the inside out. You can feel the hurt, but the goodness that comes from it is the only kind you know, the only kind you can feel anymore. It's part of who I am, don't you understand? I can't make it go away, it's as much a part of me as my hiss, as my name. You can't make me stop, nothing can. I can't stop being a Gangreen, I can't stop the poison that feels so warm, burning my life so brightly but killing it so quickly. I can't stop burning, smoking-

I can't-

"Oh!", she exclaimed, the worried look in her eyes suddenly vanishing as she reached into the knapsack of snacks for something. "In school we were learning about smoking and why it's bad and unhealthy for you, and the teacher was talking about ways that people can stop, and if we knew someone who was smoking that we could get stuff to help and and-" she pulled out a small pack of gum and held it out to him. He raised an eyebrow curiously and took it, examining the name "NICO-AIDE" sprawled across it. "What'ss thiss?" he hissed, opening the pack and holding a small white piece in his fingers. "It's Nicotine gum!", she said, smiling up at him. "It's a type of gum that has the chemical that makes people addicted to cigarettes in it, so you eat the bubble gum and then you won't be addicted to the cigarettes anymore!" She was just bouncing with glee. "And you told me that you like bubble gum, so I thought this would be perfect!"

Snake couldn't put a finger on the emotion he was feeling right now. There was a sickly apprehension and insecurity that just made him want to shove the pack back into her hands and keep living life the way he was comfortable. It was pulling him and drowning him in this NEED to keep his life the way it was forever, if he didn't there was a chance that things would never get this good again- He was happy in the Gang, that was who he was- he couldn't give that up.

But the feelings that were trying to hold him where he was couldn't stand a chance to this new, confusing emotion he felt as he held those little white pieces of magic in his fingertips.

She cared about him. For the first time in his pathetic, miserable freakin' life, someone cared. She didn't want to see him get hurt anymore. She knew, she knew that he couldn't stop being who he was, but she was trying to make some of that pain go away. She was trying to ween him off of the poison and live a little longer. She cared that he lived. He felt an overwhelming sense of importance and meaning in his life, for once.

"Snake? Are you okay?"

"Yeah, yeah.. I jusst got a sspeck a dusst in my eye, that'ss all." He mumbled, wiping his face and shoving the pack of gum into his pocket. She yawned and leaned against him, her eyes-half lidded. "You gettings ssleepys, Bubblesss?" he asked.

"Yeah.. a little. I can only visit after Buttercup and Blossom go to sleep, so I've been having to stay up later than normal.."

"Ssssorry."

"s'okay.. I should go soon, though..."

"I can carry you homess, if yer too tireds."

She let out a soft mumble and he just decided to take that as a yes. He carefully picked her up and held her in his arms, dropping his cigarette and rubbing it out into the dirt with his shoe as he stood. He walked gently, shuffling as smoothly as possible as she nodded off in his arms. He took the dark back-alleys and light less streets as he made his way to her neighborhood, glowing pink eyes on keen alert for any civilians who might notice them. Her breathing was slow and quiet, Snake could feel the subtle rise and fall as he held her close. She was so warm, little arms wrapped around his cold, thin shoulders and her head resting beside his. She would occasionally mumble in her sleep and he couldn't help but smile.

It didn't take long before they had finally reached her stark-white house. Snake hissed quietly to wake her up, and despite his wishes, he carefully held her out. He could instantly feel the difference when her warmth was no longer against him, but he knew it was time to let her go home. She yawned and rubbed one of her eyes, smiling a little and floating up to her bedroom window. She gave him a small wave and quietly slipped inside.

As soon as Bubbles had left, he felt overwhelmingly uncomfortable standing in the center of the street in the sleeping neighborhood. The black-windowed, hospital-white houses seemed to stare at him accusingly. The lawns were almost too perfect and well-groomed, no weeds struggled for life here, and no cracks decorated it's sidewalks. He felt filthy and misplaced in this perfect world, a single blemish in a landscape of perfection.

This is where she belonged. Why put up with him and his pitiful gangster life? Why did she lose sleep every night and fly across the whole city just to see him? It didn't make any sense.

He reached into his pocket and pulled a small, white piece of gum out of the pack; popping it into his mouth to chew on as he made his way back into the darkness- to the pile of garbage he called home.