Author's Note: Since all the data for my chaptered 'fics is locked up in my laptop (currently being repaired), I've turned to one-shots. And this one-shot rather got out of control when I started it: like its protagonists, it tends to take over and wreak havoc on the unsuspecting.

I'm afraid I've been converted to the Beach Head/Cover Girl pairing. I realize that Cover Girl at least dates Shipwreck in canon, but to be honest, their personalities never really seemed to mesh for me. 'Wreck's a good character, but I get the impression that his personality would drive Cover Girl up the wall, and not in a good way. Call this an experiment.

The not terribly complimentary names that the two use for each other were inspired by TiamatV's stories, where they use similar language.

There is an Arabic phrase included in this story. Don't Google it, and for the love of God, don't actually say it to anyone who speaks Arabic. It is not a nice phrase.

Rating: T for language.

Disclaimer: G.I. Joe and all associated characters and concepts are property of Hasbro Inc, and I derive no profit from this. Please accept this in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from this intellectual property.


Life's a Beach

By Totenkinder Madchen


Corporal Courtney Krieger, alias Cover Girl, usually knew where she stood in life. Her philosophy of life was that with enough guts and elbow grease, anything was possible, and it had usually served her in good stead. After all, it had been hard work and chutzpah that turned a gawky girl from Peoria into Courtney Krieger, supermodel—and when that had gotten too easy and she'd begun to suspect that people weren't taking her seriously, she'd thrown it all over for a new challenge. Now she drove a tank in a top-secret antiterrorism unit, and she never had to worry about life getting simple or boring. Every day was a new challenge.

Maybe that was why she liked him. He was definitely a challenge.

His name was Wayne Sneeden, but she'd always think of him as Beach Head. His code-name was more him than his real name was, because he was a soldier through and through and she'd bet he had GI stamped on his DNA. She wouldn't call him Sneeden unless he was pissing her off . . . which, to be fair, had happened more than once. But then, his idea of communication was a roar of "KRIEGER! Stop slouchin' an' get yer ass on that course!" so she couldn't exactly call her own methods gauche.

The man worked until he dropped. Ten-mile runs before breakfast . . . Cover Girl didn't even want to think about it. She was in the best shape of her life, capable of benching far more than the muscular male models she used to do shoots with. Behind the controls of her beloved Wolverine, there was no stopping her. But to Beach Head, limitations were something for civilians and slackers. If anybody ever quoted him statistics about the capability of the human body, he'd snort and say that people just didn't try hard enough. It would have been easy to hate him for that, and plenty of the greenshirts did just that, but Cover Girl knew that his standards applied to himself as well: he worked as hard as he could to be the best, and wouldn't tolerate slacking on his own part either. For Beach Head, "vacation" was just another word for "not getting anything done."

Cobra made her life dangerous, but Beach made it interesting. No matter what she did, he was always pushing her harder—run faster, jump higher, shave another five seconds off her time on the obstacle course.

And his language! That was another interesting thing about him. Any grunt could swear, but it took Beach Head to make it . . . weirdly interesting, for lack of a better word. The Pit didn't exactly have family weekends like Pendleton or Paris Island, but once in a blue moon Beach would wind up off-base for some reason or other, and his normally incredible language would change.

It reminded Cover Girl of her high school's football coach. Mr. Placzek would curse and scream at his players until he was hoarse, never stopping the torrent of abuse until his team was first in the state, but all the parents knew him as the nice, quiet man with the bad stammer. When giving presentations to the players' families, he would speak slowly and carefully scan his words to make sure he didn't say "fuck" fifteen times a sentence—not easy for a man who lived by lung power alone. He was a good coach, but he didn't know how to not swear. Beach was like that: put him in a restaurant or on a golf course, and suddenly he didn't know what to say. His accent would thicken nervously until you could barely understand a word in three, and he would mumble, stop short, and do everything but slap a hand over his mouth to prevent himself cursing out his fellow team members in the middle of Civilianland.

And Cover Girl, well, she couldn't resist tormenting him just a little. After all, she'd been with the team before he had, and it amused her in the early days to see him struggling to reconcile "supermodel" with "tank jockey." She would be doing pushups until Doomsday if she ever pissed him off too much, but she knew how to toe the line and be infuriating without actively inviting wrath or accusations of insubordination. He pushed, she pushed back. It kept things challenging. It kept things fun.

She couldn't help wondering, once or twice, what color his hair was.

* * *

Beach Head was a by-the-book man, but it was only because the book was heavy enough for him to throw at people when they were slacking off. As lane instructor at Fort Benning, he'd taken the time to develop his particular brand of tough love on what were then some of the strongest soldiers in his experience. When Army Rangers were quaking in their boots at the name Sneeden, he knew he'd done his job. And if they could handle what he had to teach them, then they were less likely to come home in body bags.

Being transferred to General Hawk's special task force had been a bizarre experience for him. His new teammates were the toughest he'd ever met, but there wasn't much of the discipline he was accustomed to: sure, General Hawk didn't seem to mind people making smart remarks to higher ranks, but it offended Beach Head's belief in the importance of the chain of command. Sure, there would always be some bad apples that managed to get to Hawk's level (if he ever got his hands on those Jugglers . . . ) and they deserved every bit of insubordination they got, but for the most part, rank existed for a reason. Men like Hawk were where they were because they were good at keeping their soldiers alive in dangerous situations. Compromising that was unacceptable to Beach Head.

And they were strange, too. As weird a bunch of pogues as he'd ever served with. A spooky ninja type who hung around with a redheaded Georgia gal, a First Shirt who was too all-American to be true and probably had "Made in the USA" stamped on his ass, a cocky warrant officer that could reel off whole sentences in some kind of French or something and was such a frat-reg-breaking, spit-shine smarmy bastard that Beach Head wanted to rearrange his face purely on principle . . . oh, and the model. The model who hung out in the motor pool.

Courtney Krieger. Also known as Cover Girl, "KRIEGER!", Princess, Yer Highness, Cosmo Girl, and whatever else Beach Head could think up on the spur of the moment. She didn't seem to get how serious this whole situation was, and that could infuriate him sometimes. And when he became head PT instructor for the whole team, it only got worse—she'd turn up in the morning with her face done all pretty, or leave one of them pine-tree-shaped deodorant thingies hanging on the door of his locker. It might have been easier to deal with her cockiness if she'd been one of those types who tried to use her looks to get what she wanted, but she wasn't. Sure, she was a good-looking woman (not that Beach Head would ever be caught dead admitting it) but she didn't seem to try much at it; she just was. And she had a line in backchat that almost nobody in the Pit could top.

Sometimes, that could be a good thing. He'd seen her drive her damn Wolverine straight through a line of HISS tanks, taking damage hard and never losing her nerve (though she could curse a fair streak herself when she thought her radio was turned off). If something went wrong and she had to be pulled out of the shattered remains of her tank, she wouldn't give the medics trouble like some Joes did, but you could bet she'd be running her mouth the whole time. And if he had the misfortune to be around her, or if he committed the unforgivable sin of actually telling her what she did wrong—'cause Gawd forbid he try to make sure she didn't die next time, right?—she'd make sure to wrap up a special bundle of sass just for him. He always got a headache on those occasions, and he'd make sure to take it out on the greenies the next morning.

Cover Girl was good, that was for sure. But sometimes, she didn't seem to get that war wasn't a game, and Beach Head couldn't see any way out but to push her harder than ever. As annoying as her little barbs could be, he'd take that over her—or any of the Joes, of course—winding with a posthumous citation.

* * *

It was brown. About the same color as his eyes, a little longer than the regulation cut . . . but then, "regulation cut" was like "regulation uniform" and "fraternization regulations" in this irregular unit. She liked it, and had the odd urge to ruffle it. And his lips weren't half-bad, either.

Not that she'd ever tell him that. Beach had removed his balaclava only under direct order; he had some kind of respiratory infection, and Doc had flat-out forced him to leave his facemask off for at least a week. "You're not infectious any more, but you won't be getting better any time soon with that bacteria-trap over your face," as he'd succinctly put it. Which meant that not only was Beach grumpy because he could barely breathe and couldn't speak above a whisper, he was also grumpy because everybody in the Pit was taking time to tell him about his terrible case of hat-hair. In consequence, PT had become a sort of violent farce, with Sgt. Slaughter deputized as Beach Head's substitute voice and Beach's face turning bright red whenever he tried to shout and wound up nearly coughing his lungs out.

Being amused by his hair was a handy way for Cover Girl to distract herself from the fact that she was feeling sorry for Beach Head. She'd got one over on Beach quite a few times, but she'd never sought to actively humiliate him, and seeing the normally iron-lunged sergeant major unable to bellow his orders was strangely unsettling. In the motor pool, Clutch had started taking bets on how long it would take the frustrated Beach Head to try too hard and lose his voice completely, but Cover Girl couldn't quite get up the spirit to opt in. The only other people on base who seemed not to think it was funny were Snake-Eyes and Scarlett—but that was more from the sympathy side of things. Beach's dignity didn't seem to be an issue.

Maybe that was why she sought him out in the cafeteria.

It was meatloaf night, which was both a blessing and a curse. For some, it was a blessing, because people who didn't like meatloaf would leave rest for the others who did. Cover Girl was one of the people for whom it fell into the "curse" camp, and she bypassed the main line and headed straight for the salad bar. It was while she was piling lettuce onto her place that she spotted Beach Head across the chow hall, and for reasons she couldn't quite fathom, she picked up her tray and headed in his direction.

He looked a little more human with his mask off, but that didn't necessarily make him more friendly: his expression could have curdled milk, and he was staring at his meatloaf as if it had personally offended him. His mouth was set into a tight hard line.

"Mind if I sit here?" Cover Girl said casually, pulling out a chair and flopping into it. Beach Head jumped a little and glanced up, looking surprised. He opened his mouth, stopped, did his best to swallow a cough, and glowered as he reached for the notepad that Doc was now forcing him to use.

If you must, he wrote, dropping the pad on the table in between them.

Cover Girl considered the pad for a moment. Then she reached across the table, nicked his pen from where it lay beside his tray, and began to write.

Maybe you should get one of those dry-erase boards.

Beach Head growled hoarsely, coughed again, and snatched the pad and pen back. What do you think you're doing? he wrote, dotting the question mark so hard that his pen went through at least two sheets of paper. Cover Girl neatly pulled both out of his hands, eliciting another growl from the irritated sergeant major, and began to write again. She noted with amusement that her handwriting—large and sprawling, with not too much attention to where the lines lay—was much different from the neat, well-lettered hand of Beach Head. If she didn't know better, she would have thought it was the writing of some academic. She scribbled quickly, dodging his repeated grabs at the pen.

I used to do this all the time in high school. It's a lot easier to talk to someone if your both writing and anyway this way nobody can eavesdrop. And I know you don't like eavesdropping because you yell at people when they do.

She tossed the pad and pen back to Beach Head, who caught them and read her message with a sour expression. His eyebrows raised a little as he considered what she'd written. Then, swiftly and deliberately, he added an apostrophe and an e to her "your," and commas after "writing" and "anyway." Cover Girl's jaw dropped, and he grinned a little and began to write himself.

"Your" is the possessive form.

This time, he let her have the pad without any trouble. Cover Girl aimed a glare at him as she scrawled a reply.

You're criticizing my grammar now? That's low Ranger Man.

So an Alabama boy can't correct some high-and-mighty sophisticated Illinois supermodel? I spent my schooldays studying, not hanging around in front of cameras. You're never going to get higher up the ranks if you don't learn your damn possessives.

Cover Girl settled for giving him the finger, which made him laugh hoarsely. She waited until he had managed to breathe again before replying.

And who says I want to get higher up? If you're too high they don't let you drive your own tank, and that's why I'm here. I wouldn't be any good at paperwork anyway. She slid the pad and pen across the table at him, and once again his expression changed. He read her note, and his eyes flicked up to scan her face quickly, as if he was seeing something he hadn't quite anticipated. Then he nodded, and the expression vanished into a sardonic grin.

Do much tank-driving on those Vogue shoots?

I was never in Vogue so don't even start. I did a lot of lingerie modeling though.

His eyebrows shot up, and Cover Girl couldn't help laughing at his expression. "Gotcha," she said softly, making Beach scowl.

Don't go giving me a heart attack like that, princess. If word got out you were in one of those magazines, we'd have motor pool meatheads going through every press-cutting agency in the country to get those back issues. That wouldn't be good for team morale.

Not good for team morale? She made sure to underline those words twice before continuing. I happened to be a very good model. And anyway they act like they already know. Clutch tried to manage me and Scarlett as a mudwrestling team when the Pit was reopening.

For a moment, Beach Head looked like he couldn't quite believe what she'd written. Then his face turned red, his eyes narrowed, and he turned to aim a death glare at Clutch, who was sitting on the other side of the cafeteria with Slipstream and Lift-Ticket. The driver probably didn't even see Beach Head, but he shifted uncomfortably anyway.

That idiot is going to get himself in a heap of trouble one of these days, and I might just be the one to drop it on him. You should have reported him. That is NOT professional conduct, Krieger.

Oh relax. I turned him down.

You think that's what I'm worried about? He shouldn't be harassing his team members.

It's just Clutch. He does that to all the girls around here. Between Scarlett "accidentally" roundhousing him in PT and Lady Jaye telling him that "Elif air ab dinikh" was Arabic for "Wheres the bathroom" I think we've got the revenge covered.

Beach Head scowled again, and his writing was growing a little less academic and professional. I still ought to assign him some extra pushups. Five hundred should be a good start.

Look at you being protective Beach. It's cute.

He definitely turned red this time. Seeing him without the mask was turning out to be quite a treat for Cover Girl. You want to be doing those pushups with him, princess?

You know Beach, you should watch Star Wars. You would never again call me princess if you did.

That's not a very good reason for me to do it, then, is it?

But it would be funny. You could shout at the stormtroopers for waving their guns around and the evil guy for looking like Cobra Commander's dress inspiration.

Storm troopers? This isn't a World War II film, is it?

By the time lunch was over, the rest of Beach Head's notepad was filled with scribbled conversation. Cover Girl never did get to eat her salad, but she couldn't say it hadn't been worth it. He was sort of cute when he smiled.

* * *

Frat regs were on his mind again, and that was a bad thing.

Technically speaking, it wasn't a violation if it only happened in your thoughts. But his thoughts had turned increasingly in that direction—perhaps once or twice a day if he was in her company, a staggering number for a man as mission-focused as Beach Head. She was still sassing him, and everybody else to boot, but she seemed to reserve that teasing tone of voice and little quirk of the lips for him alone. And that was driving him up the wall.

Beach Head had served with women before, and he knew how disastrous it could be to be attracted to a teammate. There had been one girl, a combat engineer doing a training course at Benning, who'd been uncommonly distracting. But Beach Head had kept a hold on his professionalism, and he doubted the girl ever knew how pretty he thought she was. Yet in both distraction and prettiness, that engineer couldn't hold a candle to Courtney. Worse, he was actively thinking that she couldn't hold a candle to Courtney, and if he was even considering it then things were going south fast.

Granted, G.I. Joe wasn't a unit that would throw you out for frat reg violations. Pretty much the entire base knew that Flint and Jaye were as good as married—they sure fought like it, that was for sure—and Snake and Scarlett . . . well, the less said on that front, the better. If they were ever permanently stood down, Beach Head was fairly sure that there would be red-headed ninjlets making the world a much less safe place for people who liked their ankles unstabbed. But Jaye was high Intel, which put her on a pretty equal footing with Flint most of the time, and Snake and Scarlett were both sergeants. Beach Head was a sergeant major, but Courtney was only a corporal. Even entertaining thoughts about her was trouble waiting to happen.

He pulled back a little. Didn't respond so much when she backchatted, tried to ignore the sarcastic little notes she'd leave in his locker. When she turned up in mascara for PT, a classic Beach Head-baiting move, he'd just ordered her into the mud pit and that was that. Work had to be got done.

After all, Scarlett and Lady Jaye were suddenly being all cold to him too. Like he'd somehow crossed some line or something. Trying to sort that out would be a nice way to keep his mind off the Courtney problem. And when had he mentally started calling her Courtney, anyway?

Hell, everybody was acting funny. Snake and Flint kept giving him these looks, like they couldn't decide if he was sick or not. That damn infection had been gone for weeks, and he was back at full strength, so why were they looking like that? Maybe they were the ones that Doc had supposedly deputized to keep him from wearing his mask too often. (Damn interfering medic . . . plenty of the team members wore masks, and even if he didn't have a legitimate reason like Snake-Eyes did, he refused to believe that his mask was somehow unhealthy. Whatever didn't kill you made you stronger.) And 'Wreck had come up to him in the chow hall one day, elbowed him in the ribs, and said "Join the club, man. Join the club." Crazy Squids.

But no matter how hard he tried, Courtn—Cover Girl—kept creeping back into his thoughts. There was a notepad, buried at the bottom of his trunk, filled with sardonic banter in a loose scrawling hand that had somehow never quite figured out where to put its commas. He hadn't needed it after the infection had passed, but he'd kept it anyway. She'd done him a kindness by taking their talk onto paper. It meant that she wouldn't have attracted peoples' attention by carrying on a one-sided conversation with a temporarily mute man . . . and, hell, she was funny, and it was nice to have a copy of the kind of things she said.

Beach Head scowled at the thought, and promised himself that he would ignore his thoughts. Like muscle fatigue and any gunshot wound that wasn't actively leaking, it was just another barrier to overcome.

* * *

Cover Girl didn't get it. She just didn't.

It was one of her life's greatest ironies that the pool of available, desirable men was greater for Cover Girl than it had been for Courtney Krieger. She'd been surrounded by the most handsome men that the beauty industry could find, doing swimsuit shoots (closer than she'd like to admit to the lingerie she'd taunted Beach Head about) and perfume shoots and all kinds of photographs where she'd find herself wrapped around a chiseled, muscular Adonis . . . and they'd bored her. Those men never seemed to understand challenge, or adventure, or the thrill of flying high on adrenaline. When she had become Cover Girl, she had found herself among people who were much closer to her heart: commandos, snipers, pilots, Mauler drivers—

And hard-assed nail-spitting curse-you-a-blue-streak-and-make-you-do-pushups-until-your-arms-fell-off Rangers. Yet that particular category shouldn't have even been on the list: G.I. Joe, the one unit where you could conceivably date a team member without risking getting discharged, was abounding with available men. So why did she even care when that one damn stubborn Ranger stopped paying attention?

Thank God for female solidarity, that was all she would say. Scarlett and Lady Jaye seemed to figure it out almost at the same time she did, and both of them had willingly taken time to let her vent. Jaye especially was good at being a sympathetic listener—all that Intel training must come in handy, Cover Girl supposed—but Scarlett had more experience in the line of stubborn men with personality disorders. Neither of them seemed to understand Cover Girl's choice, but they both knew well that attraction could be utterly irrational.

Almost as irrational as Cover Girl felt when Beach Head seemed to forget she existed.

It was so, so tempting to step up her campaign. Turn up to PT in a bikini, maybe, or leave a romance novel "accidentally" peeking out of his locker door. But she understood on some basic level that it wouldn't do anything—just make him pull back even further. It was that "dignity" thing again: the same instinct that had made Cover Girl pity him the loss of his voice told her that trying to humiliate him wouldn't do anything to soothe her own hurt feelings, and it certainly wouldn't resolve her difficulty.

So she, too, pulled back. She stopped teasing him in PT, stopped leaving insulting notes in his locker, stopped trying to get him to share her table at lunch. She worked on her Wolverine, ran training simulations against the new HISS 2.5 models they had just captured, and tried to put the whole thing out of her mind. And if her dreams at night went in directions that left her more frustrated than ever . . . she couldn't help it.

Beach was always telling her to suck it up and work through the pain. Good advice.

* * *

He was the one who cracked first. Looking back on it, he'd feel inclined to curse himself for his lack of fortitude. But to be fair . . . well, this wasn't an area he was very experienced in. He could tell himself that, and pretend that it explained why he went looking for her that day on the course.

Morning PT was over. He'd shouted until he was almost hoarse again, and his legs were aching after running up and down the course dozens of times. People forgot that PT was as much a workout for him as it was for the Joes and greenies—and if he had to put the fear of Beach Head into that slacker Tunnel Rat by climbing up that fifteen-foot wall after him, well, it had to be done. His team would be the better for it.

Cour—Cover Girl had been off her time that day. She'd been in a wreck a few weeks back and cracked her ankle, and while the bone was healed and the medics had cleared her for light duty (that girl didn't argue with them half enough, in his opinion) the muscles weren't yet in top shape and she still had a limp when she ran. Beach Head had gone through the same thing plenty of times, and he knew that he could never wait as long as the docs said he ought to. He ran it off. She could do the same.

So he'd chased her down the course with the rest of them, bellowing whenever one of them fell behind. And if the one that fell behind happened to be a brunette tank jockey . . . well, that was how it worked. She needed to get her time up and her leg back in condition, or she'd be in danger for sure. That was what PT was all about.

But her leg wasn't cooperating, or her heart wasn't in it, or something. She kept falling behind. So Beach Head, not liking what he was seeing, had ordered her and the other two Joes with bad times down onto the ground, doing pushups on the sandy soil of the track. Tunnel Rat and Hit 'n' Run had taken their punishment with the usual amount of muttered insults about his hygiene and personal tastes, but Cover Girl had just gone down on her knuckles like she wasn't even listening, and started pumping out the pushups like a robot.

That worried Beach Head. The girl acted like she was in shell-shock or something, and that never was a good sign. So he'd planted his leg on her back, leaned his weight on her, and shouted for her to straighten her spine and put some effort into it. Her arms had begun to tremble when she passed the fortieth pushup. By seventy, with his weight on her, sweat was pouring down her face. That gorgeous brown hair was sticking to her face, and she panted like Snow Job in the desert as she struggled against the pressure of his foot.

Then she'd fallen. Just collapsed into the dirt. Courtney was usually good for a hundred, even with his weight on her, and Beach Head figured she must have been seriously off her game: that backchatting look-at-me-blowing-up-Cobras girl wouldn't go down so easily otherwise. He'd taken his foot off her back and, perhaps unwisely, said "If yer gonna been nappin' down there, Krieger, don't expect me to hand you a pillow. Try that again, and this time, put some effort into it."

Her shoulders had tensed, and she leapt to her feet like the hounds of Hell were after her. Her eyes had met his, blazing, and Beach Head had felt the urge to take a step back: that girl looked like she wanted to bite his head off. But still, she hadn't said a thing. She'd taken a deep breath, closed her eyes . . . and gone back down on her knuckles in the sand. No sass, no backchat.

It was worse than eerie. It was unnatural. Courtney ought to be shouting, making rude remarks, fighting back and giving no quarter. This was just . . . wrong.

So when they'd done their final run through the obstacle course and the group was breaking apart, heading for the chow hall and some well-deserved breakfast, he'd swallowed his pride and his common sense and shouted "Krieger!"

She stopped. Scarlett and Jaye, who had been walking with her, stopped as well. Jaye put a hand on her arm, and Scarlett threw Beach Head a look that promised pain of a very specific variety when time next came for a hand-to-hand session. Not that that bothered Beach too much: pain he could take, and Scarlett was prohibited from actively crippling him. His eyes were still focused on Courtney, who squeezed Jaye's hand and turned back to walk towards him.

He waited until everyone was out of earshot before crossing his arms. "What's yer problem, princess?" he demanded. Courtney always had something to say when he called her that. "You were a damn limp noodle out there today!"

Courtney's eyes met his again, and once again he got the feeling that she wanted to lash out—but she restrained it again. "Still healing, sergeant," she said sharply.

"I know yer still healin'. So's the spook, and he's climbin' like a goddamn squirrel. What's eatin' you?"

"I'm not a ninja, sergeant."

"I asked you a question, Krieger. Either you've gone deaf or you ain't, and if you had then you'd be off botherin' Doc instead of standin' here in front of me. And on account of how you are standin' in front of me, you ain't deaf—ergo, you can answer my damn question!"

That did it. Her fists clenched. "My problem?" she snapped. "My problem is the same as everyone else's—you. You want to make something of it?"

A month ago, Beach Head would have had her running laps until her legs gave out. Now, though, he was oddly glad to see some of that insubordination back in her attitude. "I been pushin' you so you don't die next time some snake decides to bomb yer tank out from under ya, princess! What's yer excuse?"

"My excuse?" She used the word like Storm Shadow used a ninjato, and Beach Head almost jumped. "What color is the sky on your planet, you lunatic? People get tired. People get injured. People have. Bad. Days! Not all of us are Terminators sent back to torture the human military into exhaustion!"

"Secure that mouth of yours, Krieger! I ain't doing this for fun! If I let any one of you slack off, someone's gonna die, and that ain't gonna happen under mah command!" As glad as he was to see Courtney with some fire back in her, all that dammed-up temper seemed to be letting out in a rush, and Beach Head was beginning to get angry himself. He knew his accent was getting thicker, but he damn well didn't care.

"Not doing this for fun? Could've fooled me! What, you couldn't get enough jollies chasing Tunnel Rat? Had to get off by jamming your foot into my back?"

"Because ya needed it!"

"Because you needed it, Hardass. You've got this thing where you think that if you can bully everyone enough, you can scare off the Reaper!" Cover Girl scowled, crossing her arms and glaring up at him. "It's not going to happen. People die. You know that. When my Wolverine last got wrecked, Doc said I had a one in five chance of getting out with only a broken ankle. You can't control the world just because you scream at us like . . . like . . . General Patton on cocaine!"

"If ah can keep you from dyin', princess, ah'm gonna do it!" Beach Head growled. His teeth were bared. He wanted to grab Courtney and shake her until she understood what he was saying. Didn't she get it? Didn't she understand that quoting those odds to him was only going to make him push her harder? "And if shoutin' at yer gawddamn Wolverine could make it wreck less, ah would! There's only so much gawddamn shit ah can do t'keep you alive, an' good luck tryin' to stop me doin' it!"

A strange look fled across Courtney's face. Her eyes widened, and for a moment, she opened her mouth as if she was going to say something—say what? Beach Head didn't know. But then the moment passed, and her look hardened again.

"And we're all just so very, very grateful that the Almighty Lord and Master of PT is saving our worthless skins." She turned on her heel and began to move, and Beach Head reacted instinctively.

He reached out and grabbed her arm, hard. She yelped and aimed a punch at him, but though the hit landed solidly he was wearing body armor and she was worn out from PT. Beach Head gave a heave, and Cover Girl was pulled back, hauled around until she was facing him again.

"Don't you walk away, Krieger!" he snapped.

She stiffened. Her tone was icily casual as she spoke. "How dead do you want to be, Ranger Man?"

"Gawddammit, Krieger, ah just wanted to talk!" Beach Head didn't realize how hard he was gripping her arm, but he saw her wince and abruptly remembered that his hand was still locked around her wrist. He let go as if she had burned him, and Courtney gave him another one of those odd looks that he couldn't place. "Ah didn't . . . fuck . . ."

He took a breath and tried to keep control of his words. "I'm sorry, Krieger," he managed to say. His voice was low and hoarse, and he couldn't quite believe what he was saying. He had wanted to talk, though—to find out what the hell was making her so un-Courtney, and help get it out of her if he could. He just wasn't any good at this talking thing. Maybe he should've sent her to Psyche-Out . . . ahh, woulda coulda shoulda. "I wanted to make sure you were feelin' okay. You looked outta sorts. I was worried about ya, Courtney."

Courtney was silent. Her eyes were fixed on his, and Beach Head swallowed, feeling unaccountably nervous. He'd been too angry for a little while to remember just why he'd been pulling back from her in the first place . . . but she was right there, and she was looking at him in a way he still couldn't place, and that hair was still clinging to her sweaty face and she looked like she'd been through Hell even though it was just his PT course . . . damn it.

Then she smiled—just a little, wry quirk of the lips. "Thanks," she said softly. "Wayne."

And she'd stood on her toes, just enough to make them level, and planted a kiss on his cheek.

* * *

Corporal Courtney Krieger, alias Cover Girl, usually knew where she stood. But when Wayne Sneeden had barged into her life, tearing up the place and turning all her certainties head-over-heels, she was never quite sure what was going to happen next.

Not that she minded.