Originally written in 1998. I am the one who wrote that story on the Ultimate Cartoon Website, where all the Joes get killed and Duke and Scarlett hook up. I decided to re-write it. Some ideas from this fic eventually made their way into "The Place Where Worlds End." If this story offends you in any way, if you got a problem with it, then fuck you. That's all I have to say. Now on with the story.

"He's gone into a coma."

With these words, tears fell down Scarlett's face and landed on Duke's as Scarlett cradled his head. Nearby, Lieutenant Falcon stared in shock as Duke's hand slipped out of his.

"Duke," Scarlett whispered sadly. An emptiness opened up inside her heart, and she felt herself falling into a void. She had never felt so frightened before. For the first time in her life, she faced the idea of losing someone she cared deeply for. She looked up at Falcon and their eyes met briefly. General Hawk touched Falcon's shoulder.

"Don't worry, Falcon," he said, "We'll do everything we can... for Duke."

Scarlett watched as Doc and Barbeque carried Duke back to headquarters. A surge of emotions welled up within her, and they all pointed to one undeniable truth. Something she had avoided facing for all the years she had known Duke. They had always been close friends, but suddenly it all meant so much more.

"Duke," Scarlett said in an eager whisper. Dressed in her familiar JOE uniform, Scarlett touched Duke's forehead with one gloved hand and clasped his hand with the other.

"You okay?" she asked.

Duke blinked several times, as if in a daze. Then he recognized Scarlett, and smiled. He was in the G.I. JOE hospital recovering from the snake- spear wound that had nearly killed him several days before. His chest was heavily bandaged.

"Doc tells me we won."

"We did win, Duke. Falcon saved us all."

Scarlett paused. Her eyes were downcast.

"I'm so glad you're all right. I -"

Duke looked at her, waiting for her to finish what she had to say. Scarlett meant to tell him how she felt about him, that she loved him. But she could not bring herself to say the words.

"-we were all worried for you." Scarlett said instead. Duke squeezed her hand and Scarlett got up to leave.

Dear Scarlett,

If you only knew how I tremble inside when you walk in the room! The way you carry yourself, your confidence, your warmth and friendliness, touch something within me. I see you worry for Duke. You walk into this room down and a little unhappy, and I know where you've been. You've been to see him at the hospital.

Today I saw you at dinner. You sat with Flint and Lady Jaye. I wish you would sit with me more often! I saw you today, and from the look on your face, I knew that something was different. Something was wrong.

They say Duke is leaving G.I. JOE.

I imagine you are hurting. What will become of you and him?

Scarlett, I wish I could heal the pain in your heart. More than that, I wish I knew how I could touch your heart in the way that Duke did. I wish I knew how to find the wellspring of love that lies within. I see glimpses of your love everyday. You are always patient and kind. You always trust, you always persevere in the face of all discouragement. There is so much beauty in you. You are so amazingly beautiful, sweet, generous, caring, and kindhearted. I want to find out what inspires you, and fill up that part of myself with it.

I can't help the way I feel about you. The way I have always felt about you since the day we first met.

Scarlett, I love you.

-Snake Eyes

Scarlett and Duke walked silently to the bus terminal together. In ten minutes, a bus would come that would take Duke home to his family in Iowa.

"Tell me again why you're leaving."

"So I can be with my family. So I can have time to myself and figure out what I am going to do next. I nearly died out there last month."

"I know," Scarlett said.

"I can't be an active combat soldier any longer. The injuries were permanent and disabling."

"But you could still remain with the team," Scarlett said, knowing that Duke's mind was made up.

"We could use good officers like you."

"I know," Duke said, "it's just that… well, sometimes something happens that makes you reevaluate what you want to do in life. There's more to life than sitting behind a desk and giving orders, right?"

"I'll miss you," Scarlett said, looking into Duke's eyes. She thought about all their missions together, all the things that they had done for each other. What did it mean? Did it count for anything at all? After all this time, didn't it mean that they were always meant to be together?

"Scarlett, I…" Duke paused in mid-sentence. He appeared conflicted, confused, and ambivalent.

"Maybe we'll meet again some day. I'll come and visit you."

"Sure," Scarlett said. She wanted to throw her arms around him and tell him, stop it, don't you know that you love me, and that I love you too? How could you leave us? How could you leave me, your best friend, your companion through thick and thin, the one woman who cares for you like no other? Scarlett wanted to throw her arms around him and kiss him. She would tell him in doing so just how much he would lose, how much happiness he would throw away in leaving.

It can't end like this, she thought.

But in life, this is the way things are. Sometimes things do end this way. What if I never see him again? Can I even imagine such a thing happening?

The bus pulled into the stop. A few men waiting nearby grabbed their duffel bags and stepped aboard. Duke looked to the bus.

"It's time to say good-bye. Good-bye," he said.

Scarlett hugged him, and he put his arms around her.

As she kissed him on the cheek good-bye, Scarlett felt a piece of herself being torn from her. She knew instinctively that nothing would be the same again.

"Wonder what he writes in that little notebook of his," Flint said as he looked at Snake Eyes from the other end of the mess hall.

The Joes were waiting for their dinner, and during the waiting time, Snake Eyes had decided to pull out his notebook and begin writing.

"He always does that?" Lady Jaye asked Flint as they sat together at a table with Stalker and Ace.

"It's probably something personal," Stalker said.

"You know Snake Eyes better than a lot of us. Is something bothering him?"

"I didn't say I know everything about him," Stalker said, grinning. "He still keeps to himself."

However, noticing the way Snake Eyes occasionally glanced in Scarlett's direction, Stalker could guess what or who was on his mind.

He loves her, Stalker thought to himself…

…I always have loved you, Scarlett. When you look at me and smile, when you speak to me, when you touch me at all, my heart feels such enormous rapture. I could grow wings and take flight. But you do not love me, I think. There must be some way I can show proof of the strength and truth of my feelings for you. There must be some way I can demonstrate my feelings for you, and you would know the depth of my feeling for you. Somehow, I would touch your heart.

Snake Eyes signed the letter and placed it within his notebook with the other letters he had written to Scarlett, but which she had never read.