It was Valentine's night. The auditorium was decorated in red, white, and pink streamers and balloons. The caterers had set up a nice buffet table, and the band was warming up. This was the first Valentine's Day ball authorized and approved by General Hawk. GI Joe initially started as a top- secret organization to divert COBRA and other terrorist actions, but one of COBRA's grand schemes left GI Joe in the public eye. General Hawk had to go on national TV to alert the citizens of America that their tax dollars were being wisely spent harboring an anti-terrorist special operations force that battled COBRA to keep everyone living in freedom. Now that everyone knew that they existed, their location was no longer secret. Therefore, after several team members hounded Hawk for a social gathering, he finally consented.
Hawk and Duke were overseeing all of the security functions of the night, and Scarlett and Lady Jaye, when Jaye was not too busy talking about love and Flint, were responsible for investigating all invited guests. All guests outside of GI Joe were required to send in their reservations so that a pass could be issued allowing them access to the evening's events. Even though all of the guests were girlfriends or wives of the team members, every precaution was being taken to insure that no COBRA spies were able to penetrate the Joe base.
Heightened security meant that more Joes were on active duty tonight. Normally, one set of eyes occupied the monitors in the control room, but tonight three sets of eyes were glued to the screens. Duke, Dial Tone, and Breaker kept vigil over the incoming gate. As all authorized guests were admitted, their special passes were scanned into the main computer database. Scarlett, also occupying the control room, ran background checks again on the issued access cards and guests to be sure that no tampering had occurred and that no information had changed since they were allowed access the week prior.
Several other men were placed at the entrances of certain areas of the actual base building so that no one could sneak into the heart of the Joe base. Among the men who were strategically placed around base, Leatherneck was placed directly outside of the control room door, just in case anyone slipped past the main entrance guards, which was highly unlikely since Stalker and Snake Eyes occupied that area. If any guest got "bored" and decided to wonder around the base, Alpine and Bazooka were stationed in the Motor Pool, and Gung Ho and Lift Ticket guarded the jet and helicopter hangers. Numerous MPs also patrolled the grounds. All of these men were to stay out of sight but would be a very unwelcomed surprise if some guest got "lost" or separated from her party. Of course, the Joe, who's date wondered off, would be in hot water with Duke or Hawk for about the next year.
"Well, it seems intelligence did a wonderful job investigating all of our guests," Duke said with a smile as he complimented Scarlett on a job well done. The stream of incoming guests had quieted, and the party had begun.
"I guess Lady Jaye and I outdid ourselves. So how about granting your favorite intelligence heroine an extra long weekend next month?" Scarlett said with a sly grin. She really wanted to go see her family in Atlanta for the St. Patrick's holiday.
"No, Lady Jaye hasn't been here long enough for time off to have accumulated." He mischievously grinned at her bewildered expression and then dodged an incoming swat aimed at his shoulder. He laughed, "Oh, you mean, you want the time off! Nah. Don't think so. I like having you around for the holidays. Everything seems to be more calm and quiet when you are manning your battle station." He continued to taunt her as Breaker and Dial Tone joined in Duke's laughter.
"You're so mean," she teasingly retorted. She diverted her attention back to her computer as a new party guest was being scanned into the system.
A few minutes later, she broached the subject again. "Oh, come on. Honest answer. I'm serious. I would really love to have a 5-day leave next month. I haven't seen my family since before the Joes were formed. And after my recent birthday party from hell, I couldn't imagine you denying me my request." She raised a challenging eyebrow to him.
"Yeah, yeah, okay, but if anything happens around here with you gone, it's on your shoulders," he lightheartedly warned her. He owed her this much and knew exactly what she was talking about. Last month, she had turned 25. The team had created a huge birthday celebration for her and labeled it "Red's Quarter of a Century" party. She had spent the night of her birthday as the guest of honor and hated all of the attention. She had begged and pleaded with Duke to make the team stop the party plans, or to have her kidnapped or anything to get out of it. Although Duke would have loved to kidnap her for himself, he had refused, and actually, ended up being the one dragging her to her own party. She had cursed him for a week after the party, but eventually, the party aftereffects died down, and the joking stopped. She had forgiven Duke but warned him to never let it happen again.
"Thank you." She leapt up and hugged him. Duke could see the sparkle in her eyes.
"You realize though that by taking this holiday off, you will have to work Thanksgiving and Christmas again," Duke threatened her.
"You are no fun, Grinch," she pouted, "but if those are your terms, then I accept them."
The radio was playing softly in the background. The room had gotten quiet all of a sudden, and Duke could hear the song on the radio. Duke stared at Scarlett as she finished running the last of the guest passes through her computer. She had directed a question of something over to Dial Tone and Breaker, and Duke could not believe her beauty. Even in her uniform with her hair pulled into a ponytail, she was stunning. If she only knew how much he wanted her, she would look over at him and call him a liar for denying his feelings and emotions for her all of this time. The lyrics to the song playing on the radio, "I'd Love You to Want Me", were so fitting. He had wanted her since the first time he saw her, but the military did not look kindly upon fraternization. He had an obligation to the military, and he was the Commanding Officer of GI Joe.
As that last verse played out, Scarlett looked over at Duke. Her blue eyes had a mysterious twinkle in them, which Duke had never seen before. Caught off guard by her glance, he nodded and smile at her. She returned the smile and continued with her work. It was just a look but...
Scarlett heard the song playing on the radio. She imagined her and Duke dancing to the song, swaying so closely to one another. Valentine's Day was for lovers and those in love, and just because she could not or had not acted on her love for him didn't stop her from dreaming about the two of them. She smiled to herself and listened to the words of the song. She remembered some of those close encounters that neither one of them would openly admit happened. She knew he cared for her as she cared for him, but there was so much on the line. She lost herself in a daydream, but then she had a feeling that someone was looking at her. She looked over to see Duke staring dreamily back at her. Yes, she was sure that there was something more between them then friendship, and she was not the only one dreaming of what the two of them could be doing.
The party was over, and all of the guests and team members had left the base, came on duty, or retired to their quarters. Dial Tone, Duke, and Scarlett were going over the last of the computer information and reports when Mainframe came to relieve them. Scarlett was tired so she told the guys goodnight and headed for her quarters. She was only in her bedroom a short time when she heard Flint and Lady Jaye come in. They were very loud, apparently not knowing that Scarlett was in her room or not caring. After they went into Jaye's room, the noise continued. Scarlett grabbed her sweats and left her quarters. She couldn't stay there and listen to them. Not that she would even want to listen to them, but she was tired. She had been working since this morning, and it was now almost midnight.
She wondered around base trying to decide where she was going to sleep. She came to Duke's door. This was going to be embarrassing, but she didn't know what else to do. On past occasions, she had gone to seek refuge at Ace and Wild Bill's place. The two flyboys were like brothers to her, but tonight, Ace had won a bet that allowed him full and uninterrupted access to their shared quarters with his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Wild Bill had no choice but to leave the base with his girlfriend and head to town, not that a romantic night in a hotel room was a bad thing.
She knocked on Duke's door. The door opened and there he stood. He looked so handsome and muscular in that Army t-shirt and sweats. Stop it, she told herself. "Um...hi, sorry to bother you."
"Is everything okay?" Duke asked alarmed. He hadn't expected to see her standing there. She was biting her lower lip, meaning a sign of indecisiveness and uncertainty. She nodded, and he told her to come in.
"I'm sorry to bother you this late at night, but can I sleep on your couch? Lady Jaye and Flint are, um...well...um...and..." She looked so cute standing there trying not to look embarrassed, but her complexion was flushed and as red as her hair.
Duke was elated but tried to hide a smile. "I understand. Sure you can stay, but as you can see, my couch is under repairs. But you can sleep in my bed." Damn, that didn't come out right, he thought.
"No. I couldn't. I'll go sleep in my office. It's no problem." She quickly tried to hide her unease.
As she turned to go, Duke grabbed her arm and said, "You certainly will not sleep in your office. That's an order. I'll sleep on the floor. What kind of friend would I be to let you sleep in your office?"
"I can't let you sleep on your floor. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have come." She tried to back away again, but Duke still held her arm. His touch was intoxicating, and...no, nothing was going to happen. She berated herself for putting both of them in this position.
Duke had never seen her so unsure of herself. She always radiated a calm demure and confidence.
"Nonsense. Come on. I don't bite; I don't have fleas."
"Well, I won't let you sleep on your floor."
"Listen, my bed is big enough for both of us. You can take one side, and I'll take the other side. I promise, I won't touch you. I'll behave myself." Although he wasn't exactly sure how he was going to manage to behave himself with this beautiful woman lying next to him.
She hesitated, apparently thinking of how they were going to pull this off. She was digging a hole for herself but realizing that there was no graceful way to bow out of this situation now, she said, "Hmm, okay, thank you."
Duke grabbed a few more pillows from the closet and tossed them on the bed. She took off her sweatshirt, revealing a dark blue tank top. Her long, fire-red hair cascaded down her back and shoulders. As she lay down on her side of the bed, Duke got in on the other side. He could do this; it just took a lot of self-control. No problem.
"Duke, thank you for this. I know it's a lot to ask of you. Umm..."
"Your very welcome. Don't say another word. I understand completely." He paused for a moment and then added, "If you want, I'll say something to Flint."
Horrified, she braced herself up on one arm, looked at him, and said, "Noooo, you can't do that."
Duke started to laugh uncontrollably. "I'm just kidding."
Scarlett swatted him with a pillow and then lay back down on the bed. "Goodnight, Conrad."
"Goodnight, sweet Shana. Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite."