Shana O'Hara was just tired, it seemed like the more she tried to sleep, the more she was up pacing at night. It was like her whole world was in pieces and there was no one left to talk with. Until Allie, she'd never really had a girl friend, someone to talk with over a bottle of wine and complain about the men in their lives. And now, after Allie, she had no one left to talk too. It was 2am and she was up for good –again. Throwing on some clothes, she heading out the door hoping that a run would clear her head.
The mindless activity allowed her to, well, brood. For some reason brooding always brought to mind the men in her life. Deep down she knew there was a problem, she had just slipped out away from her fiancé to think about the fact that she had no one to talk to. Then there was Dash, she was worried sick about him, she'd promised Allie once that if anything happened to her she'd watch over Dash, and he seemed intent on doing himself bodily harm. Almost without thinking she ended up outside her other best friend's window, he'd been avoiding her……
Well, the lights were out- apparently some people still slept at night. Her partner would be one of those people. He could sleep anywhere on anything, through anything. She missed the times they'd work late together and then spend the evening goofing off while they finished up the massive quantities of paperwork the military required. He'd even let her order pineapple on the pizza and always kept iced sweet tea in the fridge. There were days she was willing to bet good money that he knew more about her then her fiancé. Okay, that was something else she didn't want to think about right now.
God she was a mess.
A little further and it would be ok. If she could just keep going she could tune her life out for awhile, allow her tired mind some time to rest. Running was hypnotic to her, it always had been. Just one foot in front of another. Eventually all you had to do was breathe and focus on running. No runners high or anything like that, just a chance for a few moments of peace. Maybe tonight she would be able to sleep and maybe after some sleep she could begin to sort out her life.
It was almost 3am when her cell phone rang; nothing good is ever involved in a 3am-phone call. True to form, it was not good and one she had been expecting for awhile. Deep down, she'd hoped it was Snakes, worried about her, missing her. It wouldn't be him, she knew that, he would still be back on base sleeping. Lucky dog. Even if he was awake, he wouldn't worry. She was an independent person, but it still felt good to have people worry about you.
Well, apparently she now had a mission, bail Flint's sorry ass out of jail and make him regret the day he ever decided that Jack Daniel's would solve his problems. She was too damn tired of playing the pity game with him, tip toeing around what seemed to be an open crater of hurt. She couldn't save Allie, but by God she was going to drag Allie's husband back to the world of the living.
Damn, it almost sounded like Allie in his head, the Gaelic cursing echoing through his sodden head just as the sunlight pierced through the haze in his brain. Damn again, he'd been hoping for Conrad not an irate red head who was already chewing his ass out- at least she was now switching to English. God his head hurt. At least Conrad would have been quiet.
He'd been avoiding Shana more then any of his other team mates, not only was she so much a part of his life with Allie, she was getting married. Beginning the 'happily ever after' that he had so desperately wanted with his wife, and while he wished her and Snakes the best, he just couldn't watch.
As the fuzz cleared out of his mouth and the gray matter in his brain began to re-coagulate he started to yell back 'you don't understand…' but she simply steam-rolled him and kept going as she dragged him to her car and then into his house. She forced him into the shower and then cajoled him in to taking a nap. When he woke some hours later, he felt drained but more human then he had in days. As he stumbled downstairs he smelled food; not the stuff in cartons he'd been living on, real food, and right on cue his stomach began to growl. A bowl of chili later, he was ready to meet his friend's eyes again.
It was while out running with Dash one night that Shana made a life altering decision. They had started a few days after 'the incident'. When he felt like drinking, he would call and they would go running. It seemed neither of them really slept well anymore, and at 0300, your choice of running partners is pretty limited. It was nice to spend time talking with a friend about normal every day stuff. Life went on at the Dojo with the ninja's, but she really wasn't a part of that so much and it seemed her other best friend, Conrad, was avoiding her like the plague. It had been a couple months since Allie's death and suddenly Shana was struck, Snakes would never grieve for her like Dash grieved for Allie- he just didn't love her that much and, frankly, she didn't love him that much either. She loved him, but not in a marriage kinda way.
"Dash" she looked rather sheepish at the moment "I think I need to not get married, actually I think I need to be on another continent right about now"
"Yeah, right, very funny lady. You've had this wedding planned for how long. And this other continent thing- very funny"
"Actually, I may have already made the arrangements, I leave in a week for Asia"
Flint just stopped mid stride to look at her. "Holy Shit Shana, were you planning to just skip town or something- maybe tell us before we all showed up for you wedding- wait, does Snake Eyes know yet? Does Duke?"
Okay, so she managed to stun her running mate, apparently guys don't blurt out things like "I'm going to cancel my wedding" at 4 am running down main street. The more they talked about it though, the more right it felt. Deep down, the more she said it, the more right it felt. She just knew, no matter what, she would never occupy the same place in his heart that Jinx and Storm Shadow did, she would never be part of that threesome. Instead of feeling like she was getting ready to join her life with someone, she had been feeling alone and isolated.
Eventually Flint understood, he knew what he had with his wife. He could only wish his friends could have the same thing. The only thought running through his head however was "Duke's going to have a cow". It had been the reigning love triangle on the team and his running partner was the only one who never caught on. He was never really sure how much snakes cared, he would have never let Allie spend as much time with another man—especially one who had a well known crush on her as Scarlett spent with Duke. Hell, he was amazed Shana had never caught on.
Conrad Hauser was having a pretty bad year, all things considered. He'd lost soldiers in the past and it always bothered him, but losing Allie had been a real blow to him. On top of that, he had one best friend going off his rocker and doing his best to get himself killed and his other best friend, the one he fell in love with years ago was getting married- to someone else. What the hell do you buy the woman you're in love with for a wedding present when she marries someone else? Apparently there was no etiquette guide for this situation. 'Why yes, that's my heart on that platter, I even had it engraved for you….' And now, the girl of his dreams was out running with his recently widowed best friend- if they ran off together he was going to hurt something. Hard. Repeatedly.
It was his own fault, he'd never bothered to mention his feelings to her, even when she was single. It was funny, Conrad knew as soon as he met her that she was the one. When he'd found out about Snake Eyes, first he'd hoped for a break up, but later he'd settled for being her best friend. Now he just couldn't deal with it any more, he just couldn't be happy for them, and now he was losing her. She never tried to talk to him like they used to, never stayed late to eat or to watch movies until he fell asleep on the couch. It was an odd relationship to say the least, one he was loathe to give up.
Shana had tried to talk to him the other day; she had seemed so excited- the frenetic energy she had when it was something really big. He could never understand how someone who could be completely calm and collected one minute could bounce around like a hyper five year-old the next. He had assumed it was wedding news and blew her off- urgent meeting or something like that. As he stared at her transfer orders his heart dropped a little- what the hell had he missed.
Shana was pacing, berating herself for being a chicken. She had been offered and accepted an overseas assignment, waiting for the last moment to tell Snakes her revelations and to call off the wedding. And as she sat staring blindly out of the military transport, she reflected on the lack of upset by her now former fiancé. He understood everything. It made things so much worse, she had wanted him to rage, cry, beg her to stay, anything to show she meant something to him and instead he seemed relieved to let her go. There was a sense of sadness in letting go, admitting that despite all the fighting to stay together, it was over. There was also a sense of anger. How many years of her life had she wasted wanting their relationship to work out. She wanted to cry, but instead watched the world go by through dry eyes.
Then there was Conrad, who looked like he wanted to beg her to stay and looking like his heart was breaking. She knew Allie's death had hit him hard, but it seemed to be more then losing another friend. Their relationship was so—creative, anyway. Deep down she knew that if she had met him before Snakes, they probably would have been dating for years by now. She really couldn't think about him right now. It was time to move on with her life.
Within hours of touching down, she was back in the air again gathering intelligence. She loved working in intelligence and this was jumping back into the water, real fieldwork again, not compiling other peoples work. She'd been in Asia before and loved every minute of it, the chaos of the marketplaces, the smells of coconuts, bananas and seafood. When she'd first joined the Joe team, some of her skills and training were kept classified, not even Snake Eyes knew how much time she had spent in this area of the world.
Her first month flew by, they were investigating several smaller countries that were rumored to be storing and selling weapons to unfriendly nations and groups around the world. Frequent sorties confirmed other intelligence and rebels were coming forward every day with new stories about their government's buyers and stories of the newest atrocities committed by their corrupt leaders. It was almost business as usual when she was shot down.
Scarlett was panicking, she was in enemy airspace and was going down quickly and thanks to faulty equipment, it looked like she would be joining her plane in a fiery crash instead of taking her chances by ejecting. In a last ditch effort, she shot through the canopy and climbed free. Parachuting right into the hands of the enemy.
The adrenaline of free fall turned into absolute fear when she pulled her chute off to realize an entire squadron of armed men had guns pointed at her and as she stood slowly, sizing up her opponents, Shana just began to pray.
She knew she didn't stand a chance, but there was no way she was just giving up and so she fought harder then she ever had before. And when her badly beaten body finally collapsed into the realm of the unconscious, even worse things happened to her. The torture went on for hours and then for days. And when the finally were convinced that she was not going to give them any information, they kept going just for fun. When they finally threw her into a pile in a cell, all she was able to do was pull her beaten and bruised body into the fetal position and pass out.
Scarlett woke to someone trying to force water down her parched throat, her glazed eyes focused on the man's uniform, military. Another prisoner. She slipped back into unconsciousness. It was as she was laying there on the floor, barely alive, that she saw Allie, reminding her that she needed to keep fighting, to be strong and it would be OK, made her promise to fight, promise to survive. When she woke up again, she was able to stay awake.
They cut her hair. She was going to survive and then she was going after all those bloody gits who cut her hair. It was a reason to keep going, a reason to survive. They all had them, a girl at home, a new car, a chance. Why did they need to cut her hair? Stupid men, they were going to die when she got a chance- and she would get a chance.
It was six months later, six months in hell, six months drinking stale water and cold rice and being thankful for it. As long as she was quiet, the guards left her alone; she learned that from her two roommates. Her broken bones healed, her bruises faded, she survived, but that was all. Surviving was enough for now.
They were a mismatched bunch of foreign pilots and soldiers who had been caught and imprisoned. She was the only American and the only woman. They had all started looking out for each other, helping each other, surviving together and praying for rescue together. Hoping for a chance to escape, revenge wasn't important anymore. They all just wanted to get home.
Now they spent most of their time either reminiscing or planning things to do when they finally got home- if they got home. They talked about how they would never touch rice again, what they'd eat if they could eat anything. Who they'd apologize to and what they'd do differently. They talked about the people they loved and missed and about how they were finally going to get out. It is amazing what you miss when everything is taken away from you. Every day the plans became more and more surreal, maybe they would be kidnapped by aliens, develop magic powers…. Every once in awhile she'd dream about being rescued, her tall knight would come swooping in, flying a tomahawk and save her. Every once in awhile when he pulled his helmet off she saw Duke.
One day was just like another, time passed so slowly. She was sure it was getting close to Christmas, they had a rough tally on the wall, but it was just a general idea. When the yelling started they just tuned it out. Whatever you did, you did not want to draw attention to yourself. It was the roar that made them all stop and pay attention. When the wall of water hit, the chaos was enough to allow many of the prisoners to escape and those that could did. Somehow they escaped unharmed and unseen.
Scarlett and her fellow prisoners ran until they could no longer breathe and then ran some more. They could see the devastation behind them and hear people screaming. No one stopped running until they were deep in the protective cover of the jungle, then they kept going towards safety.
Duke ran his fingers through his short hair, the team had been assigned to help in Thailand after the tsunami and while most of the team was doing just that, he had begged for permission to conduct a different sort of aid mission. He was going to find his friend; he was going to bring her home. He knew Shana was still alive. No one believed him anymore, Flint understood at least. It was easy enough to get permission, body recovery was a noble goal and reconnaissance was always welcome so Duke grabbed a select few and headed deep into the jungle.
He could still remember that horrible feeling when he learned she had been shot down. Overnight he went from trying to avoid her to wishing he could hear one more thing about her wedding. He could talk to Dash, but no one else understood. He had to watch Snake-eyes receive the sympathy hugs, the condolences.
It had been a week, a week of searching the jungle for any sign of Scarlett, they had found her plane right where the satellite photos said it was, but the cockpit was still sealed, the glass shattered, but it was empty. The found an USAF parachute a few miles further, nearby they found some torn and bloody scraps of her uniform and a broken crossbow as well as some shell casings. Duke knew his worst fears might be realized, that he would be to late. She survived the crash, but maybe not what came after. That while he was trying to officially look into the 'incident' and follow procedure at his desk, she was brutally dying. He had promised her dad that he would bring her home no matter what, he would find her.
They had been free over a week, a week of freedom. They weren't safe yet, but they were free. Time to wash some of the filth off, and just to breathe fresh air and drink fresh water. Finding a river was a stroke of luck; it meant water and food. Just being able eat fresh fruit was a godsend. And when they caught some unsuspecting small animal, a few bites of protein roasted over a spit were heavenly. After six months in a tiny cold cell, just the warmth given off by a small fire was divine. Shana was amazed how good a small fish roasted on a stick over a smoky fire could taste- and she didn't even like fish normally.
Shana knew she was sick, hell, they all knew they were sick. She just wanted to make it home, take a hot bath, see her family and make her peace. She knew she wasn't ready to die yet. A quiet house in the suburbs, a couple of kids, it wasn't unreasonable, she just wanted to survive long enough to get there. She was tired of the fighting, of the death. She just felt so old, and so tired of it all. 'Please God help me get home' was the refrain in her head. She was stumbling more and more and this morning one of the other men didn't wake up. He was a nice guy, barely into his 20's. Cocky, arrogant and just too young to be buried out here. He was now under a makeshift memorial in the middle of no where. They were slowly making their way back to civilization when they were found.
There was something to be said for a gut instinct, Duke's gut was saying they needed to follow the river and keep going. So despite the fact that every rational instinct said to turn around and head for the safety of a friendly border, he kept going.
They found the two escapees where they had collapsed, barely alive, sheer exhaustion, illness and injury finally taking their toll.
For two days Shana remained unconscious, she didn't even flinch when they airlifted them out, or when the poked and prodded her, hooking up IV's, taking blood, cleaning her up. Duke never left the room. On the second day Jinx came in with Falcon in her wake. While Falcon dragged his big brother out to get some food, Jinx carefully cleaned up her friend, washing and brushing her hair, using her favorite soap and shampoo and talking to her all the while.
It was another day before the red head finally opened her eyes again; her beautiful blue eyes were still so glazed over, so filled with pain and fever. When she looked around the room taking in the friends who had come to find her.
"I'm dreaming right, when I wake up y'all will be gone again right" And then looking right at Duke, she smiled faintly and said "I knew you'd find me" before falling back to sleep.
The screaming woke Duke up. He'd been sleeping soundly in a chair near the bed Scarlett had been given. The peace of knowing she was safe had allowed him to fall into a deep sleep. Her nightmares woke him up again. Conrad rushed over to her bedside trying to comfort her, to wake her up. When she woke up crying, it was all she could ask.
"Please hold me, stay with me, I know you'll keep me safe." When he pulled her close, she snuggled into him.
This felt so right, so safe. And when he started murmuring into her hair, she instantly relaxed. She was almost asleep when she heard him say "I'm never going to let you go again" and instead of feeling worried she snuggled deeper into his embrace.
Three AM jogging with Dash again, time to talk about their lives and the changes in their lives. He still wasn't done grieving, but at least he was living again. It had taken awhile for her to get back into, well, health. She'd spent a month battling pneumonia and malnutrition and still felt the after affects. Through the worst of it, she always had someone with her. Even before they could get her Dad over, someone she knew was always at her bedside. Duke and Jinx took the worst of it.
When Shana thought of all the tiny ways he showed how much he cared every day. She was amazed she'd never realized it before. When she needed someone to talk to, he was there. Shana knew that morning in the hospital that she'd fallen in love with her best friend.
It had been another 6 months since her escape, almost a year since her last wedding was cancelled, a year since she'd walked away from a good man allowing them both to get on with their lives. When she walked through the door in a few minutes, she knew that another good man would be waiting up for her. He'd pretend to be sleeping, but he didn't like her out at this time in the morning- even with Dash.