Disclaimers: GI Joe and Cobra are the property of Hasbro, Marvel and Sunbow. This story takes place after the events of Grey Hairs and Growing Pains. Chalk it up to reading too much of Dr. Pride, Isis, and Reese with this pairing.

This has been sitting on my hard drive for awhile. I haven't forgotten about Serpents in the Sand or Balance. Chalk it up to life keeping me busy. Any way, this is different from my usual fare. Please read and review and thank you!

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Mainframe leaned back in his chair, lost in thought. "Why? Why did she do it?" He asked himself, reaching for a steaming cup of coffee that he'd brought over to his computer console. Coffee was an essential on these late night watches. The base was quiet, too quiet. If one paid close attention, they could hear the soft humming of the computers lining the walls of the Joes' control center.

"Hmmm." Mainframe shook the never ending questions and lifted the mug to his lips to blow across the hot liquid, sending a rippling effect across the surface of the black lifer juice. "Caffeine, " he mused, taking his first sip. "Ow.DAMN!" He cursed, spitting a small amount out. He winced, covering his hand over his mouth as the coffee scalded it. Setting the mug down hastily, he spilled some of its contents onto his table. "C'mon, get it together, man." Mainframe chastised himself as he scrambled to salvage his paperwork. "Grrr." He hurried to the coffee station and retrieved a thick stack of paper towels and turned back towards his console.

"Mainframe! Do you have your report ready?" He heard Flint ask and stopped in his tracks. A quick glance over his shoulder revealed the Joes' warrant officer standing in the doorway, scanning the contents of an open file in his hand.

"Not yet. I still have to finish the break down on their computer systems," Mainframe replied with a haphazard shrug of his shoulders. He watched Flint's face cloud over and rushed. "I'll have it by the end of my shift. It's nearly done."

"Hawk wants to know how you got the plans for Ageless Care to reverse us back to normal." Flint studied him for a moment and noticed an uneasy edge to the computer specialist. "Look, we're all embarrassed about them getting the upper hand." Flint's eyes fell to the floor attempting to conceal his own discomfort while running one hand over the back of his own neck.

Mainframe breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed as Flint raised his eyes.

"Tell me about it," Mainframe readily agreed, recalling his vulnerability at being reduced to a seven-year-old again. "They nearly had us. If it hadn't been for-" His voiced wavered, halting his continued response. Mainframe drew his lower lip in, pensively and painfully biting down. He had nearly slipped up and exposed Zarana's betrayal for him. This wasn't the time. He still held out hope that she'd see the light and change but that was another story in itself.

"You finding the plans?" Flint cautiously concluded what he supposed Mainframe was about to say. He studied Mainframe, noting the reservations in his voice and demeanor. What's going on with him? Flint wondered before dismissing a nagging feeling deep down inside. He knew something was wrong but couldn't place a finger on it. "Ah, its nothing. I'm just too damn tired," Flint thought, shaking free of his suspicions.

"I told you I was running from the vipers and slid around a corner," Mainframe snapped more out of fear of discovery than anything else. Flint was overly astute at times. "Sorry, I meant."

"Hey, no problem. Like I said, we're all taken this bad. It's not everyday Cobra gets," Flint lowered his voice to a near whisper, "the advantage over us. I still have Lady Jaye cracking dirty ol' man jokes." Mainframe held back the urge to laugh, recalling Lady Jaye and Flint both staring at each other and asking, 'What happened to you?"

"Regular cradle robber, huh?" Mainframe asked with a low chuckle. He couldn't resist the taunt. Flint scowled back in response, tightening his knuckles until they whitened over the files in his hand.

"I'm kidding!" Mainframe quickly raised his hands, palm sides out to Flint in a shielding defense.

Clearing his throat as a warning, Flint slackened his grip and stepped back. "Have the report in my office at the end of your watch," he ordered, his voice deadpanned. With that, Flint left, leaving Mainframe to his thoughts once more.

"No sense of humor," Mainframe mumbled, returning to his station. He stooped down to examine the spill and noticed it seeping down to the floor. "Wonderful," he dryly stated, ducking down to staunch the flow with a wad of towels. He felt a light tap on his shoulder. "Gimme a minute, will ya," Mainframe rumbled before noticing a pair of women's black patent pumps. "Ah, sorry." He gulped, quickly glancing down to the wad of towels in his hand.

"Sgt. Parker?" He heard his name, not his code name, and jerked his head up, banging it against the console's desktop. "Arghh." Mainframe yelped, wincing in pain. He immediately brought his hand up, rubbing the angry knot forming on the back of his head.

"Sgt. Blaine Parker?" The woman asked again, this time halfway kneeling down to the dazed computer specialist. "I didn't mean to startle you. I'm Captain MacPhearson. Doc said you were on duty."

"Yeah, I got the graveyard shift tonight," he groused as he backed out from the desk. He had noticed the pair of women's black patent dress shoes when she first called out to him. As his eyes traveled upwards, he took in a pair of shapely calves and averted his eyes as he stood. The last thing he needed was a misunderstanding with a female officer.

"Sorry, ma'am," he replied as he faced her, staring straight ahead in a rigid stance. He took in the medical corps insignia on her lab jacket and inwardly drew up his barriers. "Great! She's got to be the new shrink." He sarcastically thought to himself.

"At ease, Sergeant." She waited for him to relax before continuing. She couldn't resist the urge to smirk to herself as he stood at ease. Psyche Out had given her a head-ups on some of his experiences with the men and women on the team including some rather unique reasons to avoid a visit. One look at Mainframe told her that he was anything but "at ease" with her. His body language while relaxed betrayed him. "Nerves, possible," she noted. Looking at his face and neck, she noticed his involuntary reaction to her presence, a gulp, and a halted rolling of the eyes at the sight of her lab jacket. He was guarded. She should have left the jacket behind in her office.

"Sgt. Parker.Mainframe," Captain MacPhearson read his code name aloud off of his uniform. "You know, why, I'm here I take it?"

"Yes, ma'am."

She sighed heavily. "Then you know I'm doing follow-ups of any possible after effects from your recent mission."

He nodded an affirmative.

"I didn't realize you were solo, tonight." She scanned the computer center. No one else was on duty.

"Yes, ma'am."

"What time is your watch over?"

"0500, ma'am." Mainframe replied. His voice held a curt, professional business tone.

"And tomorrow?"

"I'm off until 1900, ma'am."

"Please stop by my office sometime tomorrow." She smiled and backup a few steps. "I'm here to help, Mainframe."

"Yes, ma'am." He replied all the while thinking, "That's what they all say." He watched her disappear out of the computer center and resumed his seat at his console. As he reached for the keyboard, he paused, resting his palms at an angle with his fingers hovering over the keys. "I wonder if.how Zarana goes through this." Mainframe closed his eyes for a moment, wondering what would she say. A grin lifted the corner of his mouth before he wistfully sighed a note of regret. "Why..why not?"