What The Dickens?!
Summary: Despite meticulous planning, there were certain circumstances the designers of the Pit had failed to take into account. A bit of nonsense that is literally quite literal. Flint/LJ, a hint of Scarlett/Snake Eyes.
A/N: This is for bugsymutt, who encouraged me to cultivate this plot. She wanted me to write a story to go with the Dickens' theme in the recent stories by her and Hagan99. Set fairly early in Flint and LJ's relationship. Thanks to bugsymutt and Amykay73 for providing beta services, but I'm keeping all the mistakes as my own.
Rating: Let's go with a PG-13 for slight swearing and at least one really bad pun.
Summary: Seriously, do you think the legal owner of this material would treat their possessions like this?
When designing the Pit – the secret, underground headquarters for the elite anti-terrorist team, G.I. Joe – brass at the Pentagon had been remarkably thorough. They had considered a multitude of risks, both likely and unlikely, before finally settling on a design. However, for all their assessments, risk analyses – and a set of worst-case scenarios only a group of drunk generals could conceive of while snowed in at an airfield in Nebraska – it had one fatal flaw. No one had planned for when Scarlett was both bored and pissed off.
Normally when one or the other occurred, she'd seek out Snake Eyes for some form of satisfaction. However, he was responsible for her current mood and had the presence of mind to vacate the Pit as soon as humanly possible. So quickly, actually, that he hadn't bothered to warn anyone else of her mood, which is why Dial-Tone is currently hiding in the Junk Room and does not appear elsewhere in this story.
Scarlett got that the ninja crap was important to Snake Eyes, she honestly did. But the fact was that as soon as some Arashikage business cropped up, he immediately shut her out. Of course with his background, she understood his protectiveness. But, at some almost-hidden level, she worried that he didn't consider her good enough. While they trained extensively together, and Snake Eyes had never questioned her abilities, he also had never showed her any of the Arashikage moves, let alone offered to let her join.
Normally, she would shrug it off – again – and go about her business, but Storm Shadow's rather pointed and rude admonishments for her to leave had rubbed her the wrong way.
"Fine, but if you two want to watch Japanese porn together, all you need to do is say so," she had huffed as she stormed out.
There had been some satisfaction that her outburst had left Snake Eyes speechless (so to speak), but she knew she'd pay for it later. For all his life experiences, and spending most of his adult life in the Army, Snake Eyes couldn't escape his Midwestern Lutheran ever-so-slightly prudish upbringing. When he got back, he was going to spend days insisting that he never watched porn, and even if he did – which he'd insist he didn't – it wouldn't be with Tommy.
Prowling the hallways, the aforementioned fatal flaw looked for something to distract her. (At this point, it should be noted that it would be difficult to find any male Joe who would classify Scarlett as flawed. Fatal, yes; actually, she was graphically, frighteningly, reliably, unerringly so, a fact that did little to deter attempts at flirting by team members who had inhaled far too many motor oil fumes.)
Walking towards the crowded canteen, an idea began to form: Lady Jaye would be done with her debriefing by now. It had been ages since Scarlett had deliberately pushed her bunk mate's buttons. It was a game the two of them had been unable to engage in recently, and it was just the thing to lift her spirits.
Scarlett's mood took a drastic upturn when she spotted her target sitting at a table against the far wall. And sitting next to her was an even better target: Flint. It wasn't that she disliked the warrant officer; she didn't know him well enough to either like or dislike him. Professionally, she had no problems with Flint, but on a personal level his bragging did tend to get on her nerves. And Lady Jaye wasn't showing any signs of getting bored with him yet. If Scarlett wanted to hang around with her friend, she'd also have to endure Flint's ego, so a little preemptive deflating was in order.
With his chair leaning back on two legs, his beret at a jaunty angle, he was shooing away Lady Jaye's attempt to help him with a crossword. That prompted a humorous harrumph – Lord knew he would need her help unless he had found a kiddy puzzle somewhere. As Scarlett got closer, she smiled after noticing he was working it in ink.
"You can't erase your mistakes when you use a pen," Scarlett pointed out as she took a seat at their table.
"What makes you think I make any?" he answered without bothering to look up.
Inflated ego: Check. Mad redhead: Check. Dangerous combination: You'd think so, wouldn't you? Anyway, don't try this at home.
Before she could answer, Lady Jaye nudged him on the shoulder. She looked over to Scarlett, who was far too well-trained to miss the hint of a spark in her compatriot's eyes. Ahh, challenge acknowledged and accepted.
"Did you hear Shipwreck, Flint? He's quoting Shakespeare."
Eh? What is she up to? (Fair warning: Not having access to Flint's Hasbro file card puts Scarlett at a decided disadvantage in this story.)
Frowning slightly, Scarlett listened to the various background conversations until she picked out Shipwreck's voice. Against all probability – and probably against the laws of man and God – he was talking about Shakespeare.
For his part, the warrant officer seemed to ignore the comment. But Scarlett had learned to read subtle changes in body language – since Snake Eyes' adorable handwriting took him forever to write out – and something was irritating him.
"Hey, Jaye, you can help us," Shipwreck called out. "I'm giving Clutch here some pointers."
"On how to impress the ladies! The boy needs all the help he can get."
Having been on the receiving end of countless of Clutch's efforts for a date, Scarlett had to agree: He did need help. Shipwreck, however, wasn't exactly a prime candidate for an instructor himself. In fact, it was hard for her to imagine someone who would be worse. Hell, even Flint had managed to snare Lady Jaye. "Oh, this should be good," she said.
"Hey, never underestimate the power of romance. A little bit of poetry covers a multitude of sins," the sailor said, studying his companion. "Okay, okay, it's not going to cover up his face, but it'll help."
"Bite me," Clutch said in a good-natured laugh.
"A classic, to be sure, but not what I had in mind. Shakespeare, Clutch, that's the secret. The ol' bard never fails."
"Shipwreck is an expert at Shakespeare," Lady Jaye said to Flint, again with that glint in her eyes.
This time Flint did spare her an irritated look. "So why does he need your help?"
That earned him a passing whack to the back of the head; Scarlett nodded her head approvingly. She was still uncertain what game Lady Jaye was up to, but anything that led to Flint getting a smack was good in her book.
Shipwreck came closer to their table, unaware of his role in the ongoing battle. "I can't remember what play this line comes from. It's the perfect romantic quote: "'Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved before.' It's one of his greatest lines."
"Oh, bother," Flint muttered under his breath.
"It's not from a play," Lady Jaye laughed, again nudging an even more annoyed warrant officer.
"It's not? Is it from one of those things he wrote? You know, sounds like a sneeze?" Shipwreck asked.
Now Flint actively glared. "A haiku?"
"Those are Japanese!"
"Nah," the sailor insisted.
"I think he's right," Clutch said, scratching his beard. "Shakespeare wrote, uh, things that kinda sounds like a lady's hat. Bonnets."
"Sonnets. Shakespeare wrote sonnets," Flint barked loud enough that others turned to see what was going on.
"That's what I said, sounds like bonnets. So what sonnet was it?" Clutch asked.
Flint tossed his crossword puzzle onto the table but quickly snatched it away from Lady Jaye when she reached for it. She chuckled under her breath and leaned in close to Flint. "Yeah, what sonnet was it?"
"Stop it," he whispered softly.
"Who wants ice cream?" Roadblock boomed from a neighboring table, turning attention away from their little scene.
Now Scarlett's curiosity was piqued. Lady Jaye was goading Flint into chatting about poetry – talk about something that was against the laws of man and God! – and Roadblock was trying to distract everyone from what promised to be an embarrassing situation for Flint.
Well, she couldn't let that happen. Besides, it would ruin the story if she did.
"Yeah, Flint. What sonnet is it?" Scarlett asked. "Since you seem to think you're our resident expert."
He slowly turned to face her, chewing his lip slightly. Lady Jaye's elbow to his ribcage rattled his chair and he let out a long breath. "It's not a sonnet. Shakespeare didn't even write it."
"Sure he did," Shipwreck insisted.
"No, he didn't," Flint continued.
"Oh, come one! 'Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved before.' It's a classic."
Flint rolled his head slowly to the sailor. "Then why are you butchering the quote?"
"It's 'loved at all', not 'loved before'," Lady Jaye said.
"Really? You sure?" Shipwreck waved his hands. "Of course you'd be sure about Shakespeare."
"It's not Shakespeare!" Flint barked out again. "It was written by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It's from A.H.H. Memorium."
The sailor blinked under the vehemence of his response, doubt finally beginning to form. "Uh, Jaye?"
"Why are you asking me, Shipwreck?"
"'Cause you're into that pretentious stuff."
She tried again for the crossword puzzle, her smile deepening as Flint kept it out of her reach. "I'd listen to Flint on this one."
"Why?" It was Scarlett who asked. She had also been one of the few who had noticed the tension building in Flint's posture, and she doubted it had to do with the crossword puzzle.
"Because he's right."
"Wha? No way," the sailor said dismissively. "'Tis better to have loved and lost' is classic Shakespeare."
"Oh, come on. That quote isn't even in iambic pentameter," Lowlight called from the remote corner of the canteen. Everyone turned briefly to stare at him as he went back to drinking his coffee. (This explains why no one is surprised when Lowlight talks about iambic pentameter is in IDW ARAH issue #190.) When it became clear he wasn't going to say anything else, they stared at Shipwreck.
"Oh." He rubbed his neck in defeat; if Lowlight voluntarily joined a conversation, you knew you had lost. "I'm a big pentagram?"
"Iambic pentameter. It's the rhythm to the poem," Lady Jaye explained.
"Rhythm? Wait, am I supposed to sing this?" Clutch's voice had a strangled note to it. "This is too much for a date."
Flint closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. "You don't sing it."
"You sure? 'Cause I know he wrote that Cats thing, and they sing that."
"Wrong again," the warrant officer said.
"No, seriously, dude, the actors dress up like cats and sing stuff. My second cousin worked on the sets."
"I know about the musical," Flint grumbled. "T.S. Eliot."
"Who?" Shipwreck and Clutch asked together.
"Who?" Lady Jaye prompted when Flint silently but brutally filled in another row of letters on his puzzle.
Finally, he tossed the crossword down again. "Cats is based on the works of T.S. Eliot, not Tennyson. And if you don't believe me that Tennyson wrote the love and lost quote, go look it up. I'll bet you a month of latrine duty."
Scarlett glanced at Lady Jaye in confusion. While the linguist wasn't averse to teasing her lover, it never resulted in him getting angry. (Which, honestly, wasn't a pretty sight and any sane person avoided doing it.) Just what was she up to?
Shipwreck, for his part seemed totally oblivious to the growing storm. "Well, it doesn't really matter who wrote it, it's still the ultimate love quote, right? You tell a chick that quote, work up some story to go with it, and you're gold. Am I right, or am I right?"
Deciding Lady Jaye wouldn't take things so far as to result in grievous bodily harm – not that she was worried for herself – Scarlett pressed him for an answer. "Is he right, Flint?"
"Of course, I am. Ignore him, Clutch."
"No, you ain't been too accurate so far," the mechanic said. "Why is he wrong?"
"You heard the man," Lady Jaye practically cooed. "Why is he wrong?"
"Who wants sprinkles?" Roadblock asked loudly, once again turning attention back to him. Unlike the last time, it only partially worked in distracting the rest of the team.
Rolling his shoulders, Shipwreck waved off the comments jokingly. "I'm right. Flint's just busting my balls. He doesn't know what he's talking about. He just likes to hear himself talk."
Scarlett smiled as Flint set his chair back on all four legs. Her mood was definitely improving as the conversation went on. Annoying Flint was a surprisingly refreshing pastime. "Yeah, Shipwreck's probably right. Flint's letting his ego get out of control again."
To her surprise, Lady Jaye seemed happy with her comment. Flint, on the other hand, gave her a gesture the ever-so-slightly prudish Snake Eyes never used. He then answered the two men. "You're wrong, because the quote isn't about a woman."
"Oh, he was one of those types …" Clutch began.
"No, he's talking about his best friend who died suddenly from a brain hemorrhage."
Shipwreck screwed up his face. "But he said that he loved…"
"As a friend. The guy was engaged to Tennyson's sister. They knew each other for years. They were friends. Just friends."
"Man, your advice sucks," Clutch said as he punched Shipwreck's shoulder. "You want me to sing about some guy who loved some other guy …"
"As a friend," Lady Jaye added, giving Flint a wicked smile.
"Yeah, anyway, Shakespeare had it right about you," Clutch continued. "That whole bit about a wicked web."
"Tangled," Lady Jaye said. "'Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.'"
"Everyone here seems to be a Shakespeare expert," she said calmly, directing a goading smile at her lover.
"You know that wasn't Shakespeare," he said, eventually sighing in defeat when he noticed a multitude of questioning looks. "That's from Sir Walter Scott."
"Flint…" Scarlett drew out his name slowly, exaggerating the Southern lilt to her voice. "How do you know so much about poetry?"
He just gave her a wilting stare (that left her surprisingly unwilted.) "I paid attention in school."
"Well, I got laid in school," Shipwreck quipped, immediately realizing this was not a wise response, as it implied the temperamental – and dangerously in arms' reach – warrant officer hadn't. A hastily added, "Tee, hee," did little to defuse the tension.
"I got brownies to go with that ice cream!" Roadblock bellowed from behind the serving line.
"Okay, but it was Shakespeare who said, "To err is human, to forgive divine,'" Clutch said in a quick attempt to help his hapless tutor. The glare he received in return prompted him to nervously say, "Or, 'Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.'"
When Lady Jaye rubbed his arm, Flint let out a long growl and said, "Pope."
"Shit? What did I say that was shitty?" Clutch asked in confusion.
"Not poop, Pope!"
"Look, you know I'm Jewish. What does the Pope have to do …"
"Not the Pope, Alexander Pope," Flint said. "Both of those quotes originated with Alexander Pope. He was an eighteenth century poet and translator. Born in London. He's one of the greatest writers in English history. Very prolific and famous in his time. He made up a lot of famous sayings."
"Like, 'Brevity is the soul of wit,'" suggested Scarlett in a sugary voice, earning her an eye roll.
"Nah, I'm sure those are Shakespeare," Clutch insisted. "We covered him in freshman English."
Lady Jaye leaned in close to Flint, whispering, "'A little learning is a dangerous thing.'"
"Don't you start, too," he said with a growl that mellowed as she smiled sweetly at him. Her encouraging nod seemed to settle things as he said louder, "Look, if it's some pithy saying, just assume Pope said it. The odds are in your favor."
Resting her elbows on the table, Lady Jaye gave him an innocent look that fooled no one. "'A thing of beauty is a joy forever.'?"
"You know that's Keats," he said in a low voice.
"'No shoes, no shirt, no service'?" Scarlett added.
"Remind me to get you a copy of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations for Christmas."
Chuckling, Scarlett looked around him to address Lady Jaye. "I have to admit, I never imagined Flint knowing any poetry beyond dirty limericks."
"Don't get him started!"
"You're one to talk," he muttered.
"You know, I paid attention in school, too, and I didn't learn half of that," Scarlett pointed out. "Just what did you study?"
With only a brief pause, he answered her levelly. "English Literature."
For a long moment, all sound in the immediate vicinity quieted down as the team tried to reconcile the fact that Flint had studied literature.
"Well, it seems like Lower Hayseed University had a good program, Flint," Scarlett teased as she collected herself.
"But Oxford University had an even better one," Lady Jaye said with a triumphant grin.
"Oxford? As in England?" Scarlett asked, unable to control the shock in her voice.
"As far as I know, there's no university in Oxford, Pennsylvania." (Lady Jaye is right. There's no university there, but the Oxford Walmart parking lot has a special area set aside for Amish buggies.)
"Oxford?" the redhead repeated in stunned disbelief.
"Damn, I'm outta steaks," Roadblock grumbled distantly. "Still got lots of sprinkles!"
Lady Jaye was looking annoyingly smug. "Graduate school."
"Flint, were you a Rhodes Scholar?" Lowlight called out.
"Yes." His chest puffed out, he gave Scarlett a broad smile and waggled his eyebrows.
"Flint?" Scarlett asked in disbelief.
"Yes," Lady Jaye laughed.
"Flint was a Rhodes Scholar?"
"Flint is sitting right here and his hearing works," Flint noted.
"Dude, that's like totally awesome," Footloose said between bites of ice cream. "Man, we got us a Rhodes Scholar. Do we rock or what?"
"Flint was a Rhodes Scholar," Scarlett repeated again, her previously improved mood deflating steadily.
"And that doesn't mean he studied maps," Lady Jaye said to Clutch.
"I know that!"
"And he didn't get a scholarship to Rhode Island, either."
"Hey!" the mechanic complained. "I'm not dumb. I read."
"Looking at Cover Girl's old lingerie spreads doesn't count as reading," Flint said. "Fun, but not reading. Ow!"
Scarlett nodded again at the timely smack.
"Yeah, those are good," Clutch said dreamily. "But I read books. Real books, serious stuff."
"Like what?" Flint asked.
"There's one from, from the Tiny Tim guy. What's his name?"
The warrant officer half-laughed. "Dickens?"
"Yeah, that's it. It was …," he said, pausing as he searched his memory. "Bleak House, that's it. Man, was it ever depressing."
Flint grinned as he went back to his crossword puzzle. "Didn't the title give you a clue?"
"I didn't know it was, like, literal, you know."
"What did you think of it?"
"Honestly, man, all that legal stuff made no sense to me."
"Well, if you want, we can set up a book club and go over it," Flint said as he gave the puzzle one last look over before tossing it to Lady Jaye.
"A book club's not a bad idea. Breaker would definitely be interested," she said as she scanned the paper.
"Only if we read Jules Verne."
"Nothing wrong with including Verne in the mix. If we did, Dial-Tone would join, too," she pointed out.
"Not in this story, he won't," Scarlett said.
"Okay," he said with a confused shrug. "Right now, though, Lady Jaye and I are going to have a little chat. In private."
"Damn, escargot ain't gonna cut it with this crowd," came Roadblock's voice from deep within the walk-in cooler.
Clutch leaned over to Shipwreck. "Should we tell him he can stop looking for food?"
"Are you kidding? It's liver and onions tonight for dinner. Leave him in there until he finds something better."
Lady Jaye laughed at them before giving Flint a tender look. "Are you sure you want to spend the time chatting?"
"'There once was a girl from Nantucket…'"
Her smile disappeared instantly. "Flint, I'm not listening to your limericks!"
"I think you deserve it," he said with a wicked grin.
"I have a better use for those limericks," she suggested.
Flint beamed happily. "Instruction manuals?"
"Oh, I think so," he said, leaning over to whisper something in her ear before standing up.
Lady Jaye smiled as she got out of her chair, making sure to toss the crossword puzzle to Scarlett.
Watching the happy couple strolling away, she shook her head in puzzlement. "Flint's a Rhodes Scholar. He studied literature. Flint."
A quick review of the crossword puzzle made her scowl. It wasn't a kiddy puzzle; it was completed; there were no crossed-out words; and as far as she could tell, all the answers were right.
"Well, dammit all to hell!" she swore. Flint was as smart as he claimed to be. Her mood was dark again as she got up to leave. She wondered what the odds were she could find Snake Eyes' supposedly non-existent porn stash and send it to a warehouse in a Mumbai slum. Deciding that if it did exist, a nuclear explosion wouldn't uncover it, she stalked out of the canteen.
Seeing her, Roadblock quickly tossed her the canister of whipped cream which she caught with no apparent effort.
"Hey, Scarlett!" Clutch called out. "I know what we can do with that whipped cream…"
A/N II: Yes, Lady Jaye's "'A little learning is a dangerous thing,'" is also from Pope. Alexander, not Francis.