"Damn...not again"

Alison slowed her car down to a halt. Traffic was terrible in Manhattan at this time of day. What was she talking about? Traffic was ALWAYS terrible in this city. She had been warned to leave her car at home and book a flight when she decided to make the trip, but she just couldn't resist taking the new convertible out for a spin.

"Spin...right...eight hours on the highway...and now this!"

The appeal of her lovely silver Mercedes was beginning to loose its luster. Even the soft black leather seats were beginning to feel less comfortable.

The jarring noise of the city was beginning to get to her after the long quiet hours on the rural highways, and a chill was creeping into the air. It was late September after all. She pressed a button to bring up the ragtop and close the windows.

"Ah...German engineering..."

She popped a CD into the console and turned up the volume. Bach's cello concertos always calmed her nerves. Well, that or a cigarette but she had promised Jordan she wouldn't start up again.

"That's what you get for living with a medical resident."

She could certainly use a smoke right now.

It had been almost three years since she had left GIJOE. Two since the operation folded. She had gone on with her life and done quite well for herself. She had never had to struggle to make ends meet, her parents had left her quite a fortune in trust, but that never stopped her from working hard, from pursuing her dreams.

She had bought a lovely home in a well to-do area of Montreal, gone back to school and was about to wrap up her doctorate. She was also having fun with her new hobby. Painting of all things...she who couldn't draw a stick figure to save her life had suddenly discovered her artistic side. She also kept in good shape...jogging, Tae-Bo, tennis...you name it. In fact, she had joined the woman's Rugby team at McGill this year and was doing quite well until she blew out her knee.

Her life, her friends, her thesis, it all kept her busy. It became easy to forget those years in the army, those years with the Joes. With him.

"Yeah...that's why it still hurts like bitch."

The car behind her blared its horn, knocking her out of her reverie.

"All right, all right...keep your shirt on."

She had nearly collapsed when she picked up her phone messages three days ago. General Hawk's authoritative voice boomed through the receiver, launching her back to her past...leaving her reeling.

"Lady Jaye. Your skills are needed once again. Meet me on the Intrepid in Manhattan. Friday. Noon."

Lady Jaye.

No one had called her that since the night she drove off the base one final time. It brought memories flooding back, some that she would rather forget.

She wasn't obliged to answer the summons. She was no longer in the military. She wasn't even living in the US anymore. She could have just erased the message and continued on her merry way.

She could have done just that, she reflected as the old aircraft carrier came into view. She could have but she didn't. She had been a Joe for too long. It wasn't something that ever left you. When Hawk called you came, come hell or high water. You owed it to him.

Finally, an opening in the oncoming traffic appeared and she was able to turn into the lot next to the ship. It was empty save for a few cars. The naval museum, as the carrier now served, was closed for the season.

She saw Hawk standing near a black Ford Explorer with Military plates. He looked older, somehow...but still the imposing figure he always was. There were others with him...all of whom she recognized immediately. Scarlet, Duke, Roadblock, Shipwreck, and Snake Eyes, all in civilian clothes, all milling about talking and greeting each other...old friends united after a long absence. She pulled up close to the group and tensed as she recognized the car parked next to hers. The classic red Porsche convertible, lovingly kept in pristine condition, could mean only one thing.

She shut off the engine and looked up. Sure enough, there he was. She thanked the powers that be for giving her the foresight to opt for tinted glass, as no one could see the look that crossed her face. Did she actually expect him NOT to be here?

He was dressed casually, but impeccable as always. Nice pair of jeans, black v-neck sweater over a white t-shirt. His hair was a bit longer, fuller...gone was the short army cut...and the beret as well is seemed. His body was still in perfect shape, his skin tanned...he looked as handsome as she remembered him. He turned to look directly at her car, frowning in concentration as he attempted to discern who was inside.

He was wearing sunglasses so she couldn't see his eyes. Would they be as cold as they were when she last saw them the day she left the service?

A wave of sadness and pain swept through her.

"No. Stop it Allie! What's done is done. This is not the man you fell in love with so long ago. That man has not existed for a long time. Don't you dare fall into the same hole that took you so long to crawl out of."

Lady Jaye took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and opened the door.


************************************************************************

Dashiel Faireborn stood quietly, leaning against Hawk's truck. He was happy to see everyone again...all content and doing well. Roadblock had driven up from Mississippi, leaving his restaurant in the hands of one of his novices, Shipwreck had flown in from the Caribbean where he had been enjoying 'retirement', if you could call stalking 'pirates' retirement. Duke had come over from St Louis earlier to help Hawk.

"Hey Flint, don't look so serious man. The CIA turning you into a bad-ass super spy or what?"

He hesitated briefly before turning, unused to hearing his old code name. Roadblock stood in front of him, grinning. He smiled back.

"When was I not a bad-ass?"

Roadblock laughed. Scarlet looked up at him and frowned, overhearing his remark. He ignored her.

"So, what's the deal? Man...what have you been up to? Obviously not tied down with family or you wouldn't be here."

He nodded. Hawk had selected only those Joes that were 'unattached', no wife and kids. He had told Flint on the phone that he wasn't about to break up any families in order to complete this mission. The exception, it seemed, were Scarlet and Snakes, who had come in from their mountain retreat, not even hesitating to answer the call of duty.

Only six of them...seven if you include Hawk. He wondered what the others were up too. Hawk had not told him who he had called, and if any had declined. Privacy issues, although with his security clearance any information he needed on his old teammates was merely a phone call away.

"Nope...work keeps me too busy for any kind of personal life, although there is this blonde..." Flint cut off before finishing his sentence, as a sleek Mercedes coupe rolled into the parking lot, coming to a halt next to his car.

Shipwreck whistled, "Looks like one of us has done well for themselves."

Flint stared at the car, trying to make out the occupant through the dark glass. The door swung open and out came someone who he thought...hoped...he would never see again. He kept his face expressionless as Scarlet ran and embraced her old friend and roommate. His emotions, however, were running the gamut inside his head.

She looked fabulous. The short hair, the athletic build...and man...that smile. He felt an odd sensation and turned to see Hawk and Duke both watching him intently, gauging his reaction. He stared back, his face impassive, until they looked away. It irked him that they still remembered what had gone down, that they still did not entirely trust him to keep his head on straight, despite his hard won position with the CIA...

He turned his attention back to the scene ahead of him.

She was dressed in jeans and those LL Bean-type hiking shoes that were so popular these days. On top was a beige ribbed turtleneck with a nice black polarite fleece vest over top. It suited her.

He was surprised at the little surge of jealousy that crept up on him as he watched Shipwreck wrap her in a huge embrace. He fought it down just in time, as the next thing he new she was standing in front of him, looking at him with her soft green eyes.

The last time he had seen those eyes they had been filled with tears. It had been the only time he had ever seen her cry...and he had been the cause.

"Flint..."

"Jaye..." He nodded, not trusting his voice at the moment to say anything more. She looked away, smiling shyly. Uncomfortable.

"What did you expect, Moron", he thought to himself, "You pulled quite a number on this one. Did you think she would just fall into your arms after all this time?"

He opened his mouth to say something, anything, but was interrupted by Hawk...who was signaling them to follow him inside. He turned back to see that LJ had already left him and was making her way up to the ship with Roadblock at her side.

He sighed and went to follow, turning to find Scarlet standing next to him.

"You ok?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" He replied. "It's been a long time, Red...We've all grown."

He was getting angry. Maybe it had been a mistake to come. He hadn't talked to any of these people in a long time. All they remembered of him was that last year with the Joe team.

Dash sighed. He was tired...tired of having to prove himself all the time. He deserved it, he knew...it was his own fault. It was the cross he had to bear.

He just wished that he could see an end in sight.

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"It is difficult..."

Scarlet turned to her husband, wondering at what he was signing about.

"Hmm?"

"Finding you way back. He lost himself that day...that battle...he is coming back, but it is difficult."

Scarlet indicated her understanding by taking her silent lover's hand in hers. Of all the people who would understand what Flint went through...was still going through...it was Snake Eyes.

Neither of them had seen hide nor hair of the Warrant Officer since the team disbanded. She heard only tidbits here and there from Shipwreck, who saw him on occasion. "Its too bad he chose to do this on his own. He has so many friends..."

"No, this was something he has to face on his own...he would have trampled anyone in his path before now."

And he had. The one person who would have stood by him through it all...he had torn her apart.

"It's been a long time...He seems much better. "

"Yes. But the journey has not yet ended...there is still one more step he needs to take. It will be the hardest one yet..."

"What is that?"

He did not answer, just indicated that they should join the others. She followed, understanding the deep and personal nature of what Snake Eyes was trying to convey. He had made this journey himself...she had been there through the tail end of it.

Jaye was unfortunate enough to be there in the beginning. She was glad that she left when she did...that she never knew to what depths the man she had loved had fallen.

*********************************************************************