Christ. Three-forty. Rose did the meteorology reports for one of the local news stations, and that meant those obnoxious birds that started chirping three hours –before- the sun came up had nothing on her. Snake knew he'd have to make this quick.

Something in him told him this was a very, very bad idea. More trouble than it was worth, certainly, and asking for the proverbial 'it' with a hand held out. He was going to mess some crucial detail up, and the consequences would be terrible and far-reaching indeed. The feeling wasn't exactly unfamiliar to Snake—basic jitters, really—but why was it there in the first place? Hell, he knew where everything was. He knew when Rose got up, which was getting increasingly soon. He knew what was in the damned refrigerator.

Some of it was the prospect of explaining an armload of bodice-rippers. That was daunting enough. The rest, well…it –was- just a little embarassing. Old habits, and all. But Otacon would understand, wouldn't he? The last thing Snake needed to be right now was more tense.

BREEP BREEP

"…hrm?" The CODEC transmitted an indistinct snort. Otacon's daemon looked perky enough, but then it always did. It –sounded- like somebody who'd just been hauled by a cruel and arbitrary world out of some really satisfactory REM time. "wuzza…huh?"

"Sorry," lied Snake. "Had an itch."

"W'sec…'ng on…"

"Go back to sleep. Everything's fine."

"…'kay…"

Right. He felt –much- better, now. Time to get this over with.

Raiden and Rose's apartment was two floors up, not three, which was fortunate considering it didn't –have- a spare bedroom window. It didn't have a spare bedroom. It did have a balcony. A narrow one, barely wide enough to get both feet on, and almost entirely taken up by terra-cotta pots, but it would certainly do. A key to the front door would be under the second pot on the left if the sliding door itself wasn't unlocked. It usually was. Snake knew these things--he and Otacon had on a couple of different occasions been briefly entertained by Raiden locking himself out. The kid had a real thing for dangling from high places. Who knew why?

Snake was a little less fond of hanging from things. It wasn't going to stop him, of course. He trudged down into the plot of grass and paving stones that passed for a courtyard in the middle of the U-shaped complex, and looked up. Sure enough, everything dark. He was in the clear. The ground floor apartment had its flat rectangle of cement directly on the ground—no railing, not even any big potted plants to stand on. There –was- a good-sized rhododendron to one side, however. Some of the interior branches looked thick enough to support him, if he stepped lightly. He'd only need a few feet up, anyway.

"Neither wind, nor rain, nor sleet, nor dark of night," he reassured himself, "nor having to climb a goddamned flower, will stay the Snake from his appointed rounds." He pushed the outer leaves aside. Nice thick wood in there. A bit of rustling and a mildly worrisome crack, and he could wrap one hand securely around the bottom of the railing. Success!

He swung up. Still had it, even if –he- didn't insist on doing that flip- thing every chance he got.

Life was good—the sliding door was unlocked. The top half looked to be steamed-up. Snake checked his watch again. No time like the present, even if the present gave him about ten minutes to get in and out. How hard could it possibly be to find of few of the sleazier-looking ones and make tracks? He padded inside.

The layout was nothing special—the balcony opened onto a sort-of-den on the end of a hall that ran pretty much straight into the living room a few yards down. A bedroom and a bathroom had doors into the hall. So far, so good. Nobody'd done any illicit remodeling since he'd been here last. There was a wet hiss from the bathroom and the air smelled thickly of girl's shampoo—like a wierd combination of tropical foliage and artificial sweetener. The word 'freesia' was probably on the bottle somewhere. It usually was. So Rose was up already. No big thing. He'd be gone before she had time to rinse.

She started singing. Snake shivered. For some reason the whole soprano register made the hairs on the back of his neck prickle.

Down the hall. Pay no attention whatsoever to the racket in the background, especially now that it had resolved into a rendition of "I'm Like A Bird". Agh.

Right. Last time he'd actually been in here—and it had been a month or two—there had been a stack on the coffee table. There still was. The sodium- vapor light through the window was enough to show him the top cover was a pastel purple and had a truly suggestive-looking lily on it. Personally he didn't find protruding stamens sexy, but who was he to complain about somebody else's kinks? He tucked the top one under an arm. More of the same underneath, with a tulip. Where the hell did the publishers get these photos? Was there an agency somewhere that specialized in making perfectly normal blooming plants look like genitalia? Snake considered a moment. Technically, flowers –were- genitalia. However, and this was an important distinction, they were not –human- genitalia, and that tulip looked like it should have pubic hair somewhere. Maybe on the back cover?

"Ahem."

…oh, hell.

"Snake, what are you doing in here?"

Hell and damn.

With as much dignity as he could possibly wring from the moment, he set the tulip down. The lily was still under his arm. Couldn't drop it now, too conspicuous—he'd just have to count on his jacket concealing it somewhat, and hope for the best. He turned.

At least it wasn't Rose.

"Morning," Snake grumbled. "You're up early."

Raiden's head and one shoulder poked into the living room. He looked mildly dazed. A small haystack seemed to have landed on his head. At least he'd taken the time to put some clothes on. Did he wear –anything- that wasn't blue and black?

"At least I'm up early in my own apartment," he said. "What's going on?"

Snake's brain had been spinning its wheels for a while now, and he –still- hadn't come up with an explanation for rummaging around in Rose's girl-porn at four in the morning that didn't sound painfully pathetic. If he'd been at the top of his game he'd be back outside by now and none the wiser. If he'd been at the top of his game, for that matter, he wouldn't need to be here in the first place.

So he didn't say anything. When in doubt, keep your mouth shut. It had worked before. He put on his best surly look. Several increasingly awkward seconds passed.

"Let me guess," Raiden sighed, rubbing at an eye. "It's that time of the month, isn't it?"

"What?"

"Otacon said if you don't infiltrate something twice a month you get a rash. I don't really –mind-, but…"

"It's not like –that-." Snake made a mental note to leave Otacon's window open a few times this winter.

Raiden made a 'go on' gesture. Damn the kid.

"…couldn't sleep," Snake admitted finally. The surly look climbed of its own accord back onto his face.

"Oh," said Raiden. "That all?" He seemed pleased, somehow.

"…yeah," said Snake. At least Raiden hadn't noticed the book yet. With luck he'd get out of here with nothing worse than a bruise to his pride, and a nap and some smokes would fix that right up.

"Happens to everybody," said Raiden. He was positively –cheerful-.

"I'll be going," said Snake, orienting on the door. Four steps and he'd be gone. The shower had stopped. Speed was called for. He tossed a wave back over his shoulder.

"Right," said Raiden. "One thing, though."

If he'd been at the top of his game, Snake reasoned, he'd have seen it coming. Never turn your back on someone whose hands you can't see. Never underestimate the potential of someone you've worked with to screw you over. Never forget—and this was important--that Raiden kept his M9 in the bedroom. For some reason.

"Bed time, Snake," said the insufferably smug voice behind him. The sting at the back of his neck was almost humorously anticlimactic.

…god. He just hoped he'd wake up with his clothes on.



----------



Rose emerged pink and scrubbed from the bathroom, wrapped in enough green terrycloth yardage to pitch a decent-sized tent. "Jack?"

"Out here." From the living room, Raiden stifled a yawn.

"What's going on? I heard voices!"

"Just Snake. Don't worry."

"Oh. Hi, Sna-eeek! Jack! What –happened-?"

Raiden prodded at Snake's recumbent ribs with a toe. "He's all right." Damn, but he'd wanted to do that for –months-.

Rose shook her head, and scrubbed water out of her hair. "Well, I have to get going in just a few minutes," she said. "I'm sure you'll be able to take care of –whatever- is going on here, exactly." She retreated into the bedroom. No, she wasn't going to ask. With the three of them, most of the time it really was better not to. At least Jack was home –most- nights.

Out in the living room, Raiden pondered. This was going to be a little tricky. Sure, he'd managed to cross off one of the items on his 'Things To Do Before You Die' list, but now he'd have to drag the old bastard out to the car.



…oh, well. It was worth it. Where the hell were his boots?







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Just to ease your mind: Snake –does- wake up with his clothes on. I'm just not going to bother writing about it, that's all. Sorry, yaoi fans. Thanks for reading!