Author note: This takes place at the end of MASS, with lots of flashbacks, because I was too lazy to devote entire chapters to them, lol. Thanks Slayne22 for bait-a-ing:)

At last, Scarlett had been rescued from Cobra by her fearless leader, Duke, and the Joes successfully destroyed Cobra's MASS device. She would finally get to go home soon, back at headquarters with Duke, who was more to her than merely a fearless leader, but quite possibly the great love of her life. She had started to believe that this day would never come and the fact that it actually happened was a miracle indeed. The Counter-Intelligence agent feared that the possibility of resolving the issues between her and the C.O. might be asking for too many miracles. She longed for the days when their relationship had the ease of living-in-the-moment quality to it.

The days before that incident between Duke and Major Bludd.

Scarlett shuddered remembering the incident. Her relationship with Duke was fairly new, and so was his memory of what Major Bludd had recently done to her in Jeddah. During that mission to take back the Embassy from Cobra, Bludd had managed to capture Scarlett, beat her, then tied her up in a locked room with a bomb strapped to her chest, intending to kill her and blow up the Embassy. In the moments closing in on her intended demise Duke had managed to find her, break down the door, and dispose of the bomb. Still in the moment of having faced certain death, Scarlett had finally surrendered herself to her first kiss with her rescuer.

It was only after their relationship had grown deeper and more intimate that Duke had come face to face with Major Bludd again. Overwhelmed by his intense hatred and desire to exact revenge for Scarlett, Duke overpowered Bludd with unnecessary force, even after Bludd's right forearm had been shattered and couldn't fight back anymore Duke slammed a rifle butt into Bludd's face, collapsing his left eye socket and resulting in permanent blindness in that eye. The eye patch Bludd now wore over that eye was a constant reminder of how Duke lost control because of his personal feelings. No doubt it was a constant reminder to Bludd as well, to fuel his own hatred. To Scarlett, it was a reminder of her broken heart. Fearful that he was compromising himself as an effective leader, Duke had promptly ended their relationship right after the Bludd incident. Their relationship had gotten too intense for him to keep a handle on his emotions. She had understood, but didn't like it. Her understanding didn't stop her from shedding countless tears over the situation either…


Duke had seen her open hand coming towards his face, but chose not to block her slap. Scarlett had every right to be upset, and he knew he had it coming.

"You started this thing!" Scarlett screamed at him.

"I know," Duke solemnly replied.

"From day one!"

"I know."

"It could be that way all of the time!" She yelled, reminding him of his smooth-talking back in Munich. "It could be better!" Her voice was now starting to crack, fighting the urge to sob uncontrollably.

"I meant it at the time."

"Of course you did! At the time you were trying to get me into bed!"

"It wasn't like that and you know it."

"Do I? I'm not sure what I know anymore."

"I also told you that we could pull this off as long as we didn't let it interfere with our duties," Duke reminded her, "and I just broke that rule in a big way."

"So now you're going to break my heart instead, because you want to turn your feelings on and off like a light switch."

"It's not like that at all, Shana."

"Don't call me that. Don't ever call me that again. It's Scarlett or Sergeant O'Hara to you now."

"Scarlett…" Duke started to wrap his arms around her.

"No! You can't have it both ways!" Scarlett broke free of his embrace, when all she wanted to do was stay there the rest of her life. "Look at you, we've only been broken up for five minutes and you already can't keep your hands off of me!"

"That's why we have to take a break," Duke gravely replied. Scarlett said nothing. The tears were already streaming down her face and she couldn't argue his point even if she could speak through the inevitable sobbing that was about to occur. She turned and walked away, flashing the palm of her hand in his direction as a warning not to follow her.

Scarlett had been right. Despite their supposed break up Duke couldn't help flirting shamelessly with her just as he had done in the beginning, nor could he keep his hands to himself. At least now there was finally another female in the women's barracks to help complicate Duke's occasional attempts at a secret rendezvous "for old times sake" with Scarlett. "Come on, where's your spirit of adventure?" was a line he unsuccessfully used more than once to try to persuade her to sneak out to meet with him. She was actually relieved to have Cover Girl around. She wasn't so sure she would be able to resist him without Cover Girl's presence inadvertently helping her.

Of course there had been the time, very recently, that she had not only given in, but had initiated it herself…

Scarlett lay awake in her tent, unable to relax let alone sleep. It was far too damn cold for her, shivering despite her thermals underneath her BDU's. Camping out in the Alaskan snow tended to have that effect. She could think of a few interesting ways to warm herself up. Duke always knew how to do that for her, damn him. She missed Duke and how he felt, and how he made her feel. The idea of sneaking into his tent flashed through her mind. Just for old time's sake – not that it had actually been very long. But it would be a pleasant escape from the freezing reality around her. Why did it have to look desperate on her part to do so? Hadn't their relationship been just a convenience for him anyway? Well now it would be convenient for her to take her mind off of the cold weather and being out in nowhere. It would be convenient to feel him one more time. Very convenient. He wouldn't say no to her, after all the man couldn't keep his hands off of her. And she knew how to push his buttons.

When the soldier on guard duty wasn't looking her way, she snuck out of her tent and crept over to Duke's tent, covering her snow tracks along the way, and let herself in. She watched him sleep as she quietly peeled off her coat and pulled her boots off then carefully unzipped his sleeping bag. He didn't jar awake until she was sliding into his sleeping bag. Before he had a chance to speak, she covered her hand over his mouth and stared intently into his piercing blues.

"Wanna get warm, soldier?" She asked in a husky tone. His eyes widened in response then she brought her lips next to his ear.

"I missed you, Duke," she seductively whispered into his ear as she climbed on top of him, pressing her breasts against his chest and slowly grinding her hips intimately against his. She got the physical reaction she wanted and expected from him. It gave her a sense of power to watch him at her mercy, closing his eyes and groaning into her hand, his hands clutching her thighs as he hardened beneath her. That fact that she could make the big bad C.O. so weak and desperate for her thrilled her and gave her a sense of satisfaction.

"Fuck me, Conrad," she softly pleaded into his ear. "You want it too. Now bring it home big boy." She pulled her hand away from his mouth.

"Come here gorgeous," he groaned as he grabbed a handful of her thick red mane and pulled her mouth over his, kissing her with fervor. She yanked his shirt out from his pants waist and slid her hands underneath, grazing her fingertips across his large pecs. She loved how they felt, so massive and powerful underneath her delicate hands. His free hand slid underneath the backside of her thermal top, firmly running his hand along her back then moving over to the front, sliding underneath her bra.

"That's not nice," she gasped in pleasure.

"You want nice?" He groaned into her ear.


He pressed her even closer to him and kissed her furiously while the ecstasy of it all overwhelmed her quickly. She moaned and dug her nails into him as she lost herself in the raw passion. It had all been so primal and urgent…

And when they got back to headquarters, the new SkyStrikers were waiting for them!

Scarlett was still mad that her customized SkyStriker was destroyed in that Cobra sneak attack. She only got to fly it once. But what a test flight that was! She had nearly scared the tar out of Duke – and poor Stalker and Snakes – with her daring maneuver skimming right over their heads on the runway. Outdoing each other's piloting skills had been an ongoing game with them, and someday she would get Duke to concede that her piloting skills exceeded his. Seeing him nearly blow a gasket over that incident still made her chuckle. Taunting him about it was just too irresistible.

"Oh come on, Duke! Where's your spirit of adventure?"

Scarlett swore her heart stopped when Duke had been captured by Cobra. The reality that she may never see him again shook her to the core. She'd wondered if it was a wake-up call for him too. If not when he was held captive, then what about during her own capture? How could he not feel that same helplessness and vulnerability that she had felt

during his captivity? He knew that realistically he may never see her alive again. Did this change his perspective of their relationship situation as it had done her, or did he survive unaffected? She felt a stronger resolve to rebuild their relationship. Life was too short not to try.

Did he feel the same? She wondered countless times.

Was it really necessary for that pesky slave girl to hang around, Scarlett wondered as she watched in disbelief and quietly seethed as the young slave girl continued to hang on Duke's arm. Didn't she get the hint when she pulled the girl off of him after planting that kiss on him? Apparently not, since Duke did nothing to discourage the girl. In this case inaction was speaking louder than words. Why was he putting her through this? Wasn't she enough for him? Scarlett pulled him aside to talk to him privately.

"You're just going to let her throw herself at you and make me watch?" Scarlett asked him in disbelief. "And that kiss!"

"What kiss? She caught me by surprise. You saw, I had my eyes open; I didn't even want it," Duke smoothly explained. Scarlett said nothing. "Aw, don't tell me you're actually threatened by her?" Duke taunted her. Damn he's good, the bastard, Scarlett huffed to herself. He knew exactly how to push her buttons. Threatened by some skanky little slave girl? What a joke! Didn't he know that the threat wasn't with the girl, but in his power over her heart?

"Don't be jealous, sweetheart," Duke whispered into her ear, rubbing his thumb along her cheek. "She has nothing on you." He's got that right, she thought.

"I'm not jealous," Scarlett protested.

"That's my girl."

With Selena still on Duke's arm and not going anywhere, Scarlett hung on his other arm or at least remained planted right by his side as if she were staking her claim, then as this continued back at Joe headquarters it occurred to her that she was making a fool of herself – in front of everybody. The anger and resentment welled up inside her as she looked at the situation before her and how desperate and pathetic she must look to everyone watching. She would never allow anybody to humiliate her so. So why did she make an exception for him? Who did he think he was anyway? How did he have such power over her that she would allow herself to be degraded so? She'd almost rather still be held captive at Cobra! Perhaps his capture didn't have the same effect on him as it did on her. Finally she decided that enough was enough. While everybody, namely Duke, was celebrating victory over Cobra and the destruction of their MASS device, Scarlett used the distraction to slip out of the control room. Cover Girl followed her.

"It's that slave girl, isn't it?" Cover Girl asked her in the privacy of the deserted hallway.

"What makes you say that?" Scarlett asked defensively.

"I'm blonde, not blind," Cover Girl retorted. Scarlett looked away. She felt a little ashamed for underestimating Cover Girl's perceptiveness.

"Look, it's all very complicated - ," Scarlett tried to explain.

"Well I know of one complication around here I'd like to eliminate!" Cover Girl huffed, motioning towards the slave girl.

"Why?" Scarlett asked suspiciously.

"Because I like you, and I don't want to see you like this. I do have to live with you, you know. And don't get me started about how grumpy our C.O. is when you're not breaking him off - ."

"Corporal Krieger!" Scarlett started to reprimand while her face turned eight shades of red.

"Psshh, you can give me that 'Corporal' business all day long, but at the end of the day we're both still two women. And for now, two is all we need around here. I mean she's not even a Joe! What is she even doing here in the first place!" Cover Girl was getting huffed again.

"Probably for my benefit," Scarlett answered sarcastically.

"Well then sister, you're about to lose your benefit!" Cover Girl turned and started walking away.

"No! Wait! Cover Girl!"


Cover Girl didn't even look back at her as she walked away…

"Where are you taking me?" the young slave girl timidly asked Cover Girl. The corporal had retrieved the slave girl under the pretense of paperwork processing.

"Home, where you belong." Cover Girl coldly answered as she continued to whisk her down the hall.

"I do not even get to say goodbye to Duke?"

"Over my dead body," Cover Girl coldly declared without breaking pace and as they continued walking callously lectured to her, "What did you think would happen? That you were going to have a – relationship – with him just because you threw yourself at him? Well think again kid, you have a lot to learn. And frankly, I've grown bored with watching some lovesick slave girl behave so shamelessly. You've overstayed your welcome. Consider yourself dismissed." She then passed the ex-slave off on a Greenie to take her off base with the rest of her people. Scarlett witnessed Cover Girl's entire scheme.

As soon as Selena and her escort were out of sight Scarlett leaned back against the wall then sank to the floor, holding her head in her hands as she took in what just happened. Truth be told, the slave girl wasn't the only one acting "lovesick," she admitted to herself. She was acting jealous and insecure and seeing this side of herself sickened her, then she cursed herself for allowing Duke to bring it out in her. He would probably be angry at her for the stunt that was just pulled but she didn't care. She had to salvage her dignity. She would deal with him next, and she promised herself she wouldn't cry.

Scarlett snuck back into the control room, blending in with a group of Joes in conversation. As she talked to Stalker she took notice of Duke's baffled expression just a few yards away. He was glancing around the room as if he had lost something. His women perhaps? She excused herself from Stalker to approach Duke. Show time.

"Problem?" she asked him spitefully.

"I can't seem to find Selena," Duke answered, scratching his chin. "Have you seen her?"

"No," Scarlett coldly replied. "What's the matter, do you need help keeping tabs on your harem?" She turned to leave but was cut short by Duke's grasp on her arm.

"I thought you weren't jealous," Duke challenged her.

"Fuck you, I'm not jealous. I think your command position has gone to your head, Sergeant," she hissed at him then walked away while their spat could still avoid an audience. Without looking back, she walked hurriedly back to her quarters.

The first order of business was to draw a hot bubble bath. She had longed for one since her capture – well, that among other yearnings as well. This wasn't exactly the happy homecoming she had imagined. Why did they have to fight today of all days? Why did he have to be such a jerk? She lamented to herself as she attempted to soak her troubles away. The water was almost too hot to bear. Good. Maybe it would burn off any last remnants of Cobra on her skin. She swore that she could still smell the slave pens on her even after they had returned to base. She slid down further into the tub to dip her head under the water then came back up, her hair now soaked and laying flat against her. The hot water helped the tension in her muscles and she started to relax. She could fall asleep right there, and almost did. She couldn't believe how exhausted she was from her ordeal. She laid her head back and closed her eyes.

"If you fall asleep and drown who's going to love me like you do?"

Scarlett let out a shriek as her eyes flew open and she sat up straight at the sound of the intruder's voice. So much for relaxed muscles. Her heart was racing and her adrenaline was already coursing through her. "Duke!" she yelled at him, "What are you doing here! You scared the holy hell out of me!"

"Sorry. I was worried because you didn't answer the door so I used my passkey to make sure you were okay," Duke explained. "And you didn't answer my question."

"Liar," Scarlett scoffed, "and who says I love you anyway?" She tried unsuccessfully to throw a handful of bubbles at him. Duke chuckled at her in amusement. "Shut up," she muttered.

"Care to come out of that tub and make me?" He asked, raising a blond eyebrow at her.

"I may as well. I got in here to relax but now that's shot to hell," she grumbled as she started to stand up. Duke wrapped a towel around her as she stepped out of the tub, slipping her into an embrace as he helped her. She shrugged away, though what she really wanted to do was stay and take it further, to the homecoming she had been looking forward to. She loved the feeling of his big strong arms around her. It made her feel safe. She reminded herself that she was mad at him.

"I have to get my robe," she said as she slid out from his embrace. Duke gazed at her as she put her bathrobe on and tied the sash around her waist then proceeded to use her towel to blot dry her hair. He walked up to her from behind and slid his arms around her waist, pulling her close to him.

"Isn't it a little late to be playing hard-to-get?" he asked sultrily into her ear. "I want to do bad things to you." The way he said "bad" in that naughty tone of his always gave her goose bumps and he knew it. Dammit. He spun her around to face him. His deep blues were staring into hers now. She wanted to melt. How does he do that, she wondered as she tried to resist his charm.

"Who needs to play hard-to-get when you have girls perfectly willing to throw it at you?" Scarlett sternly replied. A slow smile crept on his lips.

"Because I throw it right back," he answered.

"Yeah you did a great job of that while you were NOT fighting that girl off nor doing anything to discourage her," said Scarlett sarcastically. "And I hate you for rubbing my nose in it the entire time."

"You don't hate me," he told her as he ran his hand along her damp hair. "You love me."

"I do not!" She protested, as she wondered why he was taunting her like that, "Especially not after what you pulled!"

"Well I love you, despite the stunt YOU pulled," he told her. Scarlett froze. Did he just say the "L" word? It had rolled off his tongue so smoothly she was sure she didn't hear right.

"What?" she asked hesitantly.

"I said I know about you getting rid of the slave girl when I wasn't looking," he taunted her then leaned down to speak into her ear. "I said, I love you."

"Is this your ace up your sleeve to get you out of the dog house?" she asked softly, desperately hoping that her accusation was wrong. He tilted her chin up to look into her eyes.

"Only if you want it to be," he said then ran his hand through her damp hair and leaned down to kiss her, and she could feel herself starting to cave in. She instinctively snaked her arms around his neck to pull him even closer to her as their kiss grew more passionate. He moved his other hand that had been resting behind her to her front side as he untied her sash and parted her robe open. He slid his hand over her bare skin, caressing her and pressing her closer to him. She let out a soft sigh as she basked in the pleasure of his touch. His caress. His everything. He then wrapped his arms around her waist tightly and lifted her up a foot off the ground. She wrapped her legs around his waist as he carried her from the bathroom to her bed.

"Say it," he said huskily as his lips teased hers.

"I love you too," she tenderly replied.

She had it all. She was home, and he loved her.