And, here we are, at the end of the Cabbages and Kings line... I hope you guys enjoy it!


Astringent


"Wha—HEY!"

"I need a word with you, Princess. Cover Girl, dammit, what have I told you about that perfume of yours? How many times do I gotta tell you that a smell out of place can get you killed?"

"Why, hello again, Beach Head. Hmmm, do I smell nice today? Why… it's amazing, I suspect I do! Now, let's see, can I say the same for you… hmmm…"

"Uh-huh. There'sthat mouth again. What, you forgot that little lesson I spent my own precious time teachin' you this morning? Already?"

"Uh… yeaaaah. If you think I could forget about a morning that I spent running through the obstacle course backwards, Beach, you're as crazy as you think I am."

"I don't just think you're nuts, I know you are. 'Cause, you know what, you're still wearin' the same perfume that you had on when you came to PT! I don't know what the fuck you were thinking—what, who're you tryin' to impress while you get yourself down and dirty in my obstacle course?"

"And for this, you're ambushing me in the hallway? That was an accident! Look, I told you, I knocked over a bottle of scented bath oil on my way out the door to PT. What, you think you'd have been any easier on me if I' d actually taken the time to clean up? I'd have ended up late!"

"Take it easy on you? Why should I? It's your own damned fault either way!"

"And can I tell you that I cannot believe you actually stood up from your desk and hauled me into your office to yell at me about this… again?"

"Yeah, well, blazes, I cannot believe you still smell like you've been skinny dippin' in a flower patch! How the Hell else d'you think I knew it was youwhen you walked past the door?"

"Let's see… because you've got crazy like Red's got attitude? This may come as a shock, Beach, but some of us do actually shower after PT. Like, say, yours truly. So no, I do not have any of that perfume on me anymore."

"Well, I'm tellin' you, Princess, I don't know what crap you use in your hair or whatnot, but I can still smell you from down the hall."

"That's not—hey! Hey. Oh. What're you—"

"Yeah. Mmph. That's definitely comin' from you, dollface."

"Wow. You do know you've got my wrist up to your face, right, Beach? I can't even figure out if it's funny or if it's going to shatter my mind in about ten seconds."

"What in the bosom of Hell are you babbling about?"

"Never mind. That went right over your head, didn't it. Look. Beach. Even if you can smell me, and it's not the activity of some weird Cobra brain spore, since I don't think anyone can conceive of you having an imagination—so what? I'm not on a mission. And there's no-one who's smelling me from inside an armored vehicle, anyway!"

"Yeah, 'cause it ain't like you've never had to climb your way out of a wreck and through hostile territory? They'd be able to follow you just by trackin' the migrating gardenia patch through the damned tropical rainforest!"

"Please. We're not in the tropical rainforest, I'm not due for a mission for another two days, and right now, it's a Hell of a lot better than Eau de Macho. And why am I even having this argument with… wait. Wait. Back up. Beach?"

"Gimme a second, busy figurin' out the logistics of making you run the obstacle course in full handstand."

"Oh, you're funny, Ranger Man, you're really funny. So… since I'm already on death row, you want to tell me how you knew it was gardenia?"

"What?"

"That oil I knocked onto myself. How'd you know it was gardenia?"

"…Lucky guess."

"Right, because how many guys even know what a gardenia is?"

"…"

"…Wayne…"

"…"

"Awww, is Mama Sneeden's tough little boy a florist at heart?"

"I delivered flowers in high school to make some extra cash, okay? You gonna make somethin' of it?"

"…"

"Goddamn it, stop your cackling, Krieger, or I'm going to make you eat that damned gardenia perfume or oil or whatever the fuck it is!"

"Ooooh… heh… oh… I can't breathe… geez. What, no death threats?"

"I don't need death threats, Princess. I can make you suffer without 'em."

"Oh, very nice, Beach Head, very nice. I don't think you realize that I know your secret."

"You are a damned broken record, you know that, girl? I ain't got secrets, how many times do I have to tell you that?"

"Oh? You had one the first time you said those infamous words."

"I… oh, that? Pfft."

"Uh-huh. You say what you want, Beach Head. And you know what, that's fine—'cause I know something none of the other Joes has figured out."

"Oh, yeah? Hah! That'll be the day."

"You make all this big deal about deodorant and perfume and cologne and oil… but shouldn't you do something about that peppermint habit of yours before you start throwing any stones, Ranger Man?"

"What the blazes?"

"You know. Those peppermints you're always sucking on. You've always got sweet breath—even during first-thing-in-the-morning in PT. You think I wouldn't notice that, considering how much time you spend yelling in my face?"

"If you're shocked about me owning a toothbrush, girl, you are gonna be in so much fuckin' trouble—"

"Don't you even start, you big faker."

"What did you just say to me?"

"You're forgetting something very important. Remember, you've had your tongue in my mouth."

"What the—what's that got to do with anything?"

"I can taste the candy when you kiss me, Beach. Once would've been a fluke, but it hasn't just been once. So yeah, I know it's not toothpaste, and I know you're probably near-to addicted to the things."

"…"

"Nothing nasty to say to that, huh?"

"…damn. Well, fuck."

"Wayne?"

"I swear to God, Courtney…"

"Are you… laughing? Whoa."

"Well, you are a serious piece of work, darlin'. Fine. Yeah."

"Fine… yeah… what?"

"Yeah. Sure, I like peppermints, Cinderella. Bad habit, but I ain't ashamed of it."

"You're… actually admitting something? To me? Seriously?"

"Sure. And you like my mint habit, don't you."

"Like…? Hey! Wait, hey, I didn't say anything about—"

"Oh, yeah? 'Cause you're blushin' red hot, darlin', and starin' at my mouth. Remember—I know your little secret. Still the best kiss you've ever had, Princess?"

"Bastard. Bastard. It would serve you right if I did go out and tell the rest of the team that the Master Sergeant's been kissing me!"

"You call that a threat, dollface? I let you blackmail me the last time."

"…uh…"

"You know what? Go ahead! Tell 'em. Tell 'em, an' then you get to explain why you let me do it… 'cause, like you said, it wasn't just the once. What's the matter, sweetheart—you been out testing the other guys' lips, too?"

"Hah! What do you care?"

"I don't. 'Cause… you're still right here in my office… and givin' me googly eyes."

"…I hate you, Beach. I—"

"Uh-huh. Either you're gonna have to shut up, Cover Girl, or you're gonna have to stop looking at me like that. You've got two seconds. One…"

"I… what… Beach, what're you…"

"Shhh."

"Oh. Wayne… Oh."

"Mmmm."

"…"

"…"

"…mmmh… hey. Breathe, darlin'."

"Oh. Oh, yeah… that. Heh."

"Barbiedoll, I swear… no wonder you're a tank driver, you've got the survival instinct of a goddamned parsnip."

"Can't help it. You… I'm only going to say this once, but you really are a Hell of a kisser, Wayne. And… okay, I'll give you that, the peppermints aren't hurting that skill of yours any. Mmm."

"Yeah? You're not too bad, yourself."

"Smug bastard."

"An'… you… damn…"

"What…? Oh… oh… what're you… what're you doing?"

"You've had my mouth on your neck before, darlin', don't you act so shocked."

"Mmmh…"

"Damn… Cinderella, this perfume stuff's gotta come off you."

"Ooooh… oh, God… why?"

"Are you dense or something? Because you smell fucking fantastic, Courtney!"

"…wait, wait, wait. You mean… I've been distracting you?"

"Wha—Hell, no! I wouldn't put it that way!"

"Uh-huh. Ranger Man… my brain's not half-dead with hypothermia. So yeah, I can tell that you're plenty… distracted."

"Well, Hell. That? So? Again: I ain't dead."

"Hm. Yeah… I can… definitely… tell."

"Fuck!"

"Mmmmh."

"…Either that leg comes down from around my waist… or I ain't responsible for what happens next, dollface."

"Oh… yeah? But you're the one who's still got me plastered up against the wall of your office with your fingers printing on my ass, you do know that, right? So why aren't you moving away, huh, Master Sergeant Sneeden?"

"Parsnip. Survival instinct of a freaking parsnip. In fact, I might have to start calling you—ah—don't do that!"

"Hee. Or what? You'll kiss me into submission again?"

"Jesus. Back off. I mean it, Courtney, stand down."

"Yeah? You first, Beach Head!"

"…fine. Stay there. Do not move."

"…"

"You okay?"

"…yeah. Yeah, I'm fine—obviously I'm fine, but… you didn't have to shove me like that, you know."

"Cover Girl… look. This has got to stop. For real. Yeah, I know you think it's funny to tease ol' Beach Head, but I am a serious fuckin' heartbeat from takin' you right here, up against the wall."

"Ah… what do you mean…?"

"The Hell? You need a translation for that?"

"I know you think I'm stupid, but I'm not that stupid, Beach. Frat regs… your words. Remember? I know you won't actually touch me, so don't you even start with the threats. It'd hurt my pride if I weren't so glad for it."

"Your… pride? Fuckin' A. Fuckin' goddamned—so that's why you've been cock-teasing me for all these months, huh, Cover Girl? Well, fuck, that explains a whole lot—I'm so goddamned glad you think this is fun, 'cause—"

"What—huh? No!"

"Then what?"

"You kissed me first, remember? And… I couldn't…"

"Couldn't let me get away with having one over you? That the way it went? It was a goddamned accident, okay, Cinderella? You want me to admit I'm in the wrong? That it? Fine. It was a big fuckin' mistake anyhow—I knew that the moment I touched you!"

"Stop putting words in my mouth! It's not like that, Beach."

"Well, you ain't exactly telling me what it is like, are you?"

"I… I just… Wayne?"

"What?"

"What's… going on here?"

"Let's see, you started off talkin' 'bout my mint habit, then next thing I knew you were rubbing up against me…"

"Aren't you forgetting that little something called you telling me to either stop talking or stop looking at you, and kissing me before I even had time to figure out what you were doing? And I'm not even going to start on the threat to… what was it you said? 'Take me right against the wall?' What, are you going to fake being drunk again?"

"…"

"Don't be dense. I know you're not stupid, either. I like hanging out with you, Wayne, okay? And not just because your breath always smell like peppermint starlights."

"…What the Hell d'you expect me to say to that?"

"Nothing. No-thing. You outrank me—yeah, sure, I get that. You're my friend. You want to be an jerk about everything else, fine, but you know, I figured something out? Your sheer and utter assholeness doesn't make me stop enjoying your damned company…"

"Oh, aren't you just the sweet-talker, Princess."

"…even if I want to feed you my knuckles sometimes. If we're talking blackmail material, I have pictures of you in a hospital gown, Beach Head Asleep. With your mouth open. And a tube sticking out of your nose. So let me talk, okay?"

"What the fuck? Goddamn it, Cinderella, I knew there was a reason you stuck around my hospital room!"

"Uh-huh. It wasn't for your company, let me tell you."

"…heh."

"And it is just twisted that you find that even the least bit funny, Beach Head."

"I was laughing 'cause you got the nurses just as riled at you as they were at me. Ain't good form to throw your shoe at the guy in the hospital bed, darlin'."

"Hey! You called me 'Bed-Head Barbie!' And besides, it was your stomach that had staples all over it—that head of yours is hard enough that you probably wouldn't have even noticed if my boot had hit!"

"You can say what you like 'bout me, but it was still damned dumb to do it in front of Nurse Ratchett."

"Well, she was ready to strangle you herself! And like I told her, if you were feeling well enough to snark and be insulting, you were damned well feeling well enough to take a shoe! What does she know about you, anyway?"

"Yeah, well, we're just all kinds of twisted, aren't we, darlin'?"

"Yeah. Yeah… we are, huh?"

"…what's goin' through that brain, Cover Girl?"

"Can I ask you something? A personal question?"

"The Hell?"

"I'm serious. I really am. Um. Please?"

"…what's with that look? Okay. One question."

"Was it… really an accident? The first time you kissed me?"

"…yeah. Yeah, kinda."

"…kinda?"

"That ain't one question, darlin'. Can't you count?"

"The next time your minty-fresh lips come anywhere near mine, I'm going to bite you, Beach Head, I swear…"

"Oh, the next time? Is that what you call a threat, Courtney?"

"Oh… oh, shut up. What is it with you and the mints, anyway?"

"What is your problem with my mints?"

"I haven't got a problem with them, sheesh. Defensive much? I'm just curious, that's all."

"Well, get uncurious. I like 'em. An' they keep me from wanting a cig after I've been dealing with the whole damned lot of maggots that HQ keeps throwing in front of me."

"Holy crap! Beach Head, you smoke?"

"No. Used to."

"You quit?"

"Yeah. I swear, there are days when I've been dealing with you, though…"

"Oh? Was this before or after you started using my mouth to get out your oral fixation?"

"What the fu—I do not have a—what d'you mean, 'before or after,' I haven't been doin' any damned thing to your mouth—"

"Hmmm. Did I just make Beach Head spazz? Huh. I think I actually did."

"You've got a death wish, Parsnip."

"Careful with that, Beach, people are going to think it's a pet name. So… um. The… kissing thing. Is… is that really going to continue?"

"You tell me, you're the one using it as a threat, darlin'."

"Will you stop that? Look… do you feel anything when you kiss me? When I kiss you? Anything at all?"

"Huh?"

"Lemme rephrase. Why, Beach? I guess… that's it. Why?"

"Why what?"

"If I really have to answer that, then you really are as stupid as those idiot greenshirts think you are. And you know what I mean, you don't get to growl."

"Fuck… I don't know. Why's it even matter?"

"…don't you look at me like that, Beach. Don't you dare. You're as deep in this as I am."

"…"

"Beach…"

"Why do you care, anyway, Cover Girl? Fuck, it's just a game to you anyhow."

"…"

"…what?"

"…I guess that's my answer, then."

"…huh?"

"Yeah. Huh. I… don't even know why I'm surprised. Yeah. That's… that, I guess. Look, I've… gotta go. Going to be late for briefing and accounting. Whoopee."

"…"

"And… you know, I really did wash off all the oil off that I could, but… it's oil. It sticks around, I guess. Maybe you're… just going to have to stand upwind for a few days. I dunno. Sorry. Not that it matters, you're going to send me out onto the obstacle course, anyway, right?"

"…damn it. Damn it, Cover Girl, turn around, and get your ass back here!"

"No."

"That's an order, Krieger!"

"Write me up, then. I'd just love to see Hawk looking at that particular bit of paperwork."

"I… fuck, Courtney! I don't even know what you want me to say!"

"Nothing! You know what… don't… nothing. It doesn't matter."

"What do you mean it doesn't matter? Obviously something fucking matters."

"Let. Go. Of. Me."

"To paraphrase you, Princess—no."

"To paraphrase you, you've got two seconds before I scream, and five before I really do feed you my knuckles… and if you think I won't—wha—mmph!"

"…"

"…"

"…oh!"

"Yeah… mmm, just like… damn…"

"Mmmh… ah. Oh. Jesus. Oh, God… Wayne… yes… that's… oh, do that again…"

"…ah… fuck, Courtney… don't… say things like that."

"Mmmh? Why—ah, yes, right there—not?"

"'Cause I… ah… fuck. Okay. Okay, Cinderella… stop… stop."

"…"

"Jesus H. Christ."

"…you can say that again. Whoo…"

"…That answer whatever goddamned question it is you think you're asking?"

"What?"

"And no, Princess, there was nothing accidental about that."

"That was… different. I didn't know you could kiss like… that was… really… wow."

"Heh."

"Wayne? You do know you're… still holding me, right?"

"Anyone ever tell you you talk way too much?"

"Anyone ever tell you that you're possibly worse at communicating than Snake-Eyes?"

"Goddamn it, what've I told you? Believe what I mean—"

"…'not what I say.' Yeah, well, sorry, I'm no more a mindreader now than I was the last time you said it! How am I supposed to know what you mean when your signals are all over the chart? What with you making all those excuses about frat regs—"

"Excuses? They ain't excuses, Princess. Frat regs are there for a damned good reason, and you've seen what happens to Snake and Red when one of them loses their head over the other. Or Flint and Jaye—they're even worse, damn it. Letting that Viper run right past 'em… an' even if they weren't, Hell, they pay us to follow orders, not to run a fucking dating service, damn it!"

"Okaaay… officially confused now, Ranger Man, thank you very much."

"…"

"Hmmm… wonder how long it'd take to get these boots off and in the air and aiming at your head… I can't even take a stab at trying to read your mind when you're not even saying anything, Beach Head."

"Look. I'm… just… thinkin'. Something the ninja said."

"The ninja? Really? Since when do you and Snake-Eyes converse?"

"We don't. It was just the once."

"Oh. You mean the time you tried to commit suicide-by-redhead?"

"Blazes. It was… look, okay? I told him what was going on, that everyone could see him and Red macking on each other. I told him how I saw it. The man's crazy, but he's a fine soldier, and she does a decent job even if she is Intel—damned waste to see that going down the tubes just because they need a little nookie time, you know? And you know what he said?"

"'Fuck off?' You're lucky he didn't give you a knee to the groin, considering I'm pretty sure you did not say it that way."

"Yeah, well. He just twitched his one shoulder that way he does, and said, 'the rules mean something to me. But then she looks at me, and they don't mean as much as I know they should. And it's not because they don't matter, but because she matters more.' Or… something like that."

"Oh. Oh! I hope he's told Scarlett that. That's… just shockingly romantic, for him."

"Figures you'd think so."

"It seems pretty clear to me."

"…"

"You… really don't get what he meant?"

"No, darlin'. Trust me. I get what he meant. I get it very fucking well, thank you very much. Hell."

"…oh."

"Yeah."

"Wayne…"

"No. Don't even, Cinderella. I don't want to talk about it."

"I know that. Just thought I'd let you know… I'm still pissed at you."

"Hmph. Heh. Yeah. I know. You're always pissed at me. And this is going to bother me… why? You're getting extra laps tomorrow for my blood pressure alone, you know that, right?"

"Mm-hmm. Sure thing."

"…that was too damned easy. Why's your face up against my neck again?"

"Well, how about you and me and your blood pressure have dinner out Friday night? You know… off-base?"

"What—Courtney…"

"I'm not asking you to screw the damned frat regs, Beach Head. It's just dinner."

"…"

"…hospital pictures, remember?"

"Goddamn it, Princess! What is it with you and tryin' to blackmail me?"

"Hee. You realize that if you weren't always flipping out over small things, it wouldn't be nearly as much fun? You cannot even imagine how amusing it is to have something to dangle over your head."

"One day, I really am gonna turn you over my knee and spank you, brat, see if I don't."

"Huh! You know, I always thought you were kinky. All that control-freak attitude…"

"What the—oh, I'll give you kinky—"

"Promises, promises."

"Uh-huh. You think that sassy little mouth's gonna get you out of it this time? Just you wait an' see, darlin'. Just you wait and see."

"Hah! Oh… damn. What time is it? I… sorry, Beach. I really… do have to get to briefing and accounting…"

"Oh. Yeah. You better get goin', then. You know those accountants. They might, I dunno, tax you or something."

"Heh. Huh. Wayne?"

"Yeah?"

"Since we're playing 'true confessions…'"

"We are?"

"Shush, Ranger Man. I'm only saying this once, okay? It… wasn't a game. And… it was never an accident. Not for me."

"…yeah, sweetheart. Yeah. I… know."

"Oh."

"Hey, uh… Cinderella? Just…"

"Yes?"

"…you… gonna wear that perfume, Friday?"

"…heh."

"Okay. What are you snickerin' about?"

"Nothing. Just…"

"What?"

"…sure I will… if you bring the mints?"

~the end, and the beginning~

Start: July 9, 2009
End: July 29, 2009