Note: 10/18/11: I added a pretty huge scene to the beginning of this chapter, and a prologue, to help with the pacing. Please let me know if it worked!

Shades of Silence by Alara

Chapter Four

As threatened, Liz dropped by the house the next day around 10am for a round of her famous marathon shopping. Scarlett told herself that being sociable wasn't a bad thing. Maybe if she repeated it enough, she'd believe it.

The idea of going to the mall, though, with its echoing ceilings, numerous corners, hundreds of alcoves… She felt ill just thinking about it. And then there were the crowds to deal with…

Oh god oh god oh god, she thought to herself, squeezing her eyes shut and willing herself to calm down. It's just a mall, you can get through this. It in no way resembles a castle, or cells, or Cobra anything. You can goddamn well get out of the car and go shopping with your friend.

She swung out of the driver's seat and gave Liz a bright smile. Liz was giving her a troubled look. *Shana… is everything OK?*

*Sure, just got lightheaded for a moment,* she replied, hoping Liz would drop it. After another penetrating glance, fortunately, she did.

*So I was thinking, you don't have many non-uniform clothes.* She began.

*I do too!*

Liz simply raised an eyebrow and gave her a look. Scarlett glanced down at herself, and laughed. She was wearing olive-green pants with a soft, brown, fairly utilitarian-looking sweater over it, and her boots because she'd forgotten to pack any other footwear.

*OK, you don't have many non-uniform clothes that don't look like non-uniform clothes,* Liz amended. *I was thinking—you should get a dress for the next time you go out with your man.*

*I don't have a—*

*Oh, come on, Shana, the look on your face when you mention him says it all!* It was Liz's turn to laugh.

Scarlett blinked. *It does?* Well, her father had said something similar. Maybe they were right…

Liz nodded firmly. *It does. So, let's go find you a dress!*

Several hours later, they'd hit about fifteen stores, and hadn't found much. Liz had picked up a jacket, and Scarlett a pair of well-fitting jeans, but the dress was proving elusive. They hadn't even found one to try on, much less purchase.

They wandered into another store. Liz uttered a gasp, and pointed. *You have GOT to try that on.*

Scarlett eyed the dark teal dress with trepidation. *Are you sure?*

*Positive. Go, see if they have your size.*

The dress was beautiful; a cowl neck draped gracefully front and back, and the skirt flowed serenely to the knee. The problem Scarlett had with it was that the drapes in front and back would come down to somewhere in the vicinity of her waist. That's not a plunging neckline, that's a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen, she thought, but Liz was ushering her into the dressing room.

*You don't have to buy it, after all,* she pointed out. *But at least try it on.*

Reluctantly, she took it in, shimmied out of her own clothes, and held the dress up. It was obvious that unless she got some extremely well-constructed underclothing, nothing was going under this dress. What kind of look do I get on my face when I think of Snake Eyes, anyway? She wondered briefly, bewildered, before slipping the dress over her head.

Well… it was beautiful, if a good deal more risqué than anything she normally wore. Though the feeling of air moving over so much skin unsettled her, dutifully she stepped out of the dressing room so Liz could get a look.

The other woman gasped and clapped her hands. *That looks fantastic on you!* Then she frowned, and moved closer. *Good God, Shana… are those bruises?*

"I—uh—" the question unseated her to the point where she forgot to sign. She fled back to the dressing room where she fairly leapt out of the dress and into her own clothes—when she collapsed in a shivering heap in the corner, breathing into her knees, wishing Snake Eyes were there, with his concern and his soothing gestures.

The thought of him steadied her, and she gathered her composure. She placed the slightly crumpled dress back on the hanger, and exited the dressing room where an apologetic Liz was signing at her.

*I'm sorry, I didn't realize it was an upsetting question. I mean, I noticed your face, hard not to, but I figured that was something from the martial arts thing.*

*It was,* Scarlett swiftly replied, glad for the opening to get her cover repeated. *I was training recruits in hand-to-hand, and one of them was less coordinated than he thought, and more zealous than he should have been. Sorry, it just made me aware of how awful I must look right now; that dress is a no-go.*

This served to distract Liz well. *Oh, Shana, I didn't mean you look awful! Just, you know, bruised. Anyway, if you're sure you don't want that dress…?* Scarlett firmly shook her head 'no.' *…Then we should try…*

The rest of the day, Scarlett had to watch herself keenly for signs of incipient panic attacks, and avoided a couple only by studious deep breathing and chanting in her mind, You're in a mall, not the castle, you're in a mall, not the castle…* She wished again that Snake Eyes were there. Or that Duke had let her go to Snake Eyes' cabin, where they could be talking right now. Or that Snake Eyes were here so she could talk to him.

She'd hoped to make it through one week without losing it, but had a sinking feeling that she was going to lose it a lot sooner than that. And there was no one around in whom she could confide the truth.

That tension, combined with the sheer exhaustion of shopping with Liz, combined with the stress of hiding her tension from Liz, conspired to utterly exhaust her. She dropped Liz off at her house around 9pm, and upon arrival back at her father's house, headed straight for her room.

She simply fell into her bed. A moment later, she kicked her shoes off. Thunk. Thunk.

Silence. Alone-ness. She lay in stillness for a while, before the silence started to bother her. It was too silent in the room; it wasn't the silence she could sit in for hours when she was with Snake Eyes. It wasn't alone-with-Snake-Eyes, it was just alone, and she started to cry, wishing he were there so she could unburden herself to him, invite him to share the weight of the memories that threatened to crush her. Telling Lifeline had been more of a following-orders type of reflex; it offered only marginal relief, and she'd told him mostly because it was stupid not to let her medical professional know what had happened.

And it had been relatively easy to tell him, she reflected, after she'd secured his promise of secrecy.

But… didn't she trust Snake Eyes to keep the same promise, if she asked it of him? Of course; just because he hadn't sworn any oath to keep secrets didn't mean he couldn't.

She wished he were there.

She fell into a light doze, woke a long while later when Brian poked his head in, curious.

"Shana? You feeling OK? You missed dinner, and you didn't even swing by the kitchen when you got back."

His sister shook her head without even bothering to sit up. "No, I'm just… really really tired for some reason. I guess shopping with Liz is more exhausting than I remembered. Think I'm gonna just go to sleep. Liz and I had a late lunch."

"Well, okay… holler if you need anything, all right?"

"Mmph." She said into her pillow.

He made his way down to the kitchen, where his father and brothers were sipping tea.

"Hey. Shana all right?" Sean asked, pouring out a cup for him and sliding it over.

Brian frowned. "Have any of you noticed anything… odd… about Shana this time around?"

They exchanged looks. "You mean, besides her sleeping maybe two hours a night? And waking up from 'bad dreams'?" Frank asked.

"And not eating much?" This from Patrick.

"And the physical state she came home in?" Sean put in. "Why, no, aside from those things, we think she's just peachy-keen."

Brian frowned at him. "I'm serious."

"So'm I." Sean returned. "I don't know if either of you noticed the other day in the dojo, but she's got more bruises than just to her face."

"She was training greenies most recently," Patrick pointed out.

"These weren't hand-to-hand marks. They weren't in the right places for any legitimate fighting style to leave marks. It looked like someone tried to kick her ribs in. While she was down."

Another round of looks was exchanged. Brian cleared his throat. "Well, I'm not just talking about the physical problems she's showing."

Patrick leaned forward. "Out with it, son. What is it?"

"She's… wary, have you noticed?" He ticked off the points on his fingers. "She tries to sit with her back in a corner. She doesn't just walk around outside corners, she sights around them. Every time she's in an open area with no cover, she tenses up. She nearly maimed Sean the other day in the dojo—pure fight-or-flight instinct kicking in when he got that hold on her." He hesitated. He was an EMT when he wasn't teaching classes, and didn't like the similarities he saw between his sister and some particular of his cases.

"Obviously there's more. What?" Frank asked flatly.

"I think she was attacked. Deliberately." He added firmly. "And vey recently. She's acting like—just like—the women I see who've been… abused, or attacked."

Sean shot to his feet, outraged. "Do you think it was someone at her work? Tea Guy, maybe? I swear, Army guy or no, I'll—"

"Sssh! Keep it down!" Brian shushed him. "She finally collapsed; do you want to wake her?"

Grumbling, Sean subsided. Patrick offered his opinion. "I don't think it was anyone at her work—she talks about them freely, with no hesitations. It's obvious she likes and trusts all of them, and that trust has not been violated. And after our conversation last night, believe me," he shot a look at Sean, "this Tea Guy is very well liked by our Shana. And from what I can infer, the man would walk through fire for her. In fact, I wish we had some way to get him here; it's obvious they share a close bond. He could probably get her to open up."

"So, what are we thinking?" Frank asked. "A visitor to the base took her by surprise, or…?"

Patrick shook his head bleakly. "Trainee—or a group of them—who didn't like getting his ass handed to him by a woman? A random mugging in town, perhaps? The only way to know for sure is to ask her." They all winced at that idea. Shana had a temper sometimes. "…or we could wait for her to tell us."

"And make sure she sleeps and eats in the meantime," Frank added grimly. "Since the last time she visited, she has to have lost at least ten pounds. Those are ten pounds she absolutely can't afford to lose."

Outside, on the roof, Snake Eyes nodded to himself bleakly as he listened to the worried conversation continuing. This fit all too well with his suspicions.

Of course, he had the advantage of actually knowing some of the circumstances that put her in this state. But he didn't know everything, and he had a nagging idea that those missing details were the most important.

He slipped silently along the roof, jimmied the window up, and stepped into her room. He noticed she was simply flopped across the bed, fully clothed; with care, he maneuvered the covers from beneath her and arranged them over her slack form. He sat down and watched her sleep, deceptively peaceful. From the past week since they'd arrived back, though, he knew it wouldn't last. Soon enough, perhaps an hour later, she was tossing in the throes of yet another nightmare, and abruptly woke, crying. He listened: there were words in the muffled sobs.

His name. His name again, the wavering words "need," "want," "miss." "Alone." "Snakes…" This on a drawn-out sob.

He scuffed the sole of his foot against the floor. She turned, startled, gasped in recognition, then threw herself at him weeping, dragging him to the bed.

He froze—this wasn't like the Scarlett he knew. The Scarlett he knew would be trying to hide her tears, or shrug them off, or something… not draw him into them. He didn't mind being drawn in to her troubles—it was why he'd come, after all. Only, what was he supposed to do in this situation? He thought back to the plane, then carefully put his arms around her. She clung more tightly. He figured holding her was the right thing to do.

Conveniently, it was what he wanted to do, anyway.


Gradually the storm of weeping ceased. She sat back from him, tangled in blankets, and shoved mussed hair out of her reddened eyes. She offered a tremulous but genuine smile. "What are you doing here? I don't mind—I mean, I love that you're here, but—"

*Hush. I thought you might need me, so I came to check on you. I'm glad I did. You're not well, Shana.* He peered at her, as though she might try to deny it. Fortunately, she didn't try.

She sniffed back more tears and looked away miserably. "I know."

He waved to get her attention and signed firmly. *I think you need to tell me—*

"Hey! Who the hell are you? Get away from my sister!"

"Sean!" Shana gasped. She hadn't heard him coming. "Don't—"

Too late. Her brother was already charging across the room like a maddened bull. Instead of taking out the menacing man in black who was holding his sister, sitting in her bed, he ran smack into the wall: the guy had friggin' disappeared. "Hey!"

"Sean. SEAN." Shana stood in front of Snake Eyes, arms outstretched. "Stop it. He's a friend."

He cast her a significant look and glared at Snake Eyes. "He must be—his hands were all over you!"

She scoffed. "Oh, hush. It's called a 'hug,' Sean, I gave you one a couple of days ago." She huffed in exasperation, her tears forgotten in the annoyance at her brother. "Oh, forget it. Come on, Snakes."

She grabbed the bewildered ninja by the hand—what the heck was going on?—and led him downstairs, through the kitchen ("Dad, Frank, Brian, this is Snake Eyes. He's a friend from work. Leave us alone, please."), and led him outside onto the porch.

In the kitchen, there was stunned silence for a moment. A mystified Brian and Frank looked at their father; Sean came stumbling down and gave Patrick a questioning look.

Their father smiled, unperturbed, sipped his tea, and shrugged. "That's Tea Guy."

"What?" This from Brian and Frank.

Sean added, "So… what is Tea Guy—he's not human. He moves faster than you can see!"

Patrick leaned forward. "For one, I think he's the answer to our concerns about Shana. Or the beginning of the answer." He cast a worried look toward the porch. "Here's what else I know…"


Once they were alone, Snake Eyes looked at Shana soberly. *You need to tell me what happened. All of it.*

When she didn't answer, but looked him helplessly—how could she tell him? He'd be at best, wary of touching her—and he already was wary. Or he'd be revolted at the fact of the assault, or its circumstances, or (her brave words to Lifeline about knowing it wasn't her fault notwithstanding) he even might blame her, a tiny bit. Wasn't she always falling into these crazy circumstances that put him at risk for her sake?

Anyway, knowing something was true wasn't the same, exactly, as believing it.

Or he might blame himself, for not getting there soon enough.

Or he could still go back and slaughter everyone there.

How could she tell him? Yet she wanted to; she didn't want this between them, marring their closeness.

*All right, let me get you started.* He said, when it was apparent she wasn't going to be able to speak just then. *You were shackled at wrist and ankle. Yes?* she nodded. *You were kicked and punched and beaten.* Another nod. *Your undershirt was cut and stained, but your jacket and pants weren't.* She cringed. She'd forgotten he'd notice those details. *Were you naked?*

"Not… exactly." He cocked his head questioningly. "They left my underclothes on."

*They took your bra off,* he replied, anger in his movements. She cast him a startled look: how had he known that? *I had my arms around you on the C.L.A.W. and I bandaged your ribs in the C-140.* Somehow he managed a dry tone while signing, *Believe me, I noticed. *Tell me the truth.*

She shook her head, opened her mouth to say something, but sound wouldn't come out. She tried; a croaking sound emerged from her fear and tear-swollen throat. She shook her head again, helplessly.

*They captured you, they beat you, they shackled you so you couldn't move.* He signed, relentlessly. *They stripped—* His hands shot forward to catch her as the blood rushed out of her head and she collapsed, boneless, against him, retching helplessly as memories washed over her. Couldn't move. Stripped you.

His hands soothed her, helped her get her breathing back into some semblance of control. When she'd finally taken several gulping but deep breaths—the tightness of her throat washed away by the freshet of tears—he curved his arm around her shoulders to sign in front of her. She clung to him like a limpet, so this was the only way he was going to get to communicate. He sighed as he signed, *Those weren't adrenaline rushes in the plane; they were panic attacks. Weren't they.* She nodded wearily against his chest. Tried to speak, and winced when only another creaky squeak emerged. *Try signing.*

Reluctantly she pulled away from him enough that he could see her hands. *Yes. They undressed me.* Had to stop and gasp for air as her throat tried to close again. Deliberately, she repeated it. *They undressed me and chained me down. I figured it was so I wouldn't try to escape, or to humiliate me, maybe.* He heard her swallow. *But then—those guards—*

Another attack hit, and she huddled against his chest, cursing her own weakness. Shakily she shoved herself away, determined to get through this at least once. *One of the guards came into the cell. Made some comments. I figured, new scare tactic for female prisoners. Until the other guard—*

He stiffened in outrage. *There were two?*

She managed an amused snort. *Yeah. I'm a very dangerous prisoner, you know. I thought the other guard would yell at him for interfering with the prisoner or something. Instead he said—* She swallowed back a sob. *He said the first guy was starting without him.* She bit her lips, the slight amount of paint helping her keep control, not spiral into hysteria again. *They pulled my shirt up so it covered my face so I couldn't see… cut a hole in it for my mouth…* She was beginning to shake. *Then I heard a zipper go.* She lost the battle and began sobbing into Snake Eyes' neck again. Tried to rein it in.

She felt movement on her back, and realized Snake Eyes was holding her against him, signing into her back, *Cry. Let yourself cry. Cry.* As though permission was what she needed, she did.

A long while later, when both eyes were swollen almost shut from tears and her head was throbbing, she tried to resume her story.

*So the one guy was in front of me, and—*

He interrupted. *I know… what he was doing. You don't need to say it now.*

She nodded wearily, gratefully to not have to articulate that particular violation, that humiliation.

*What was the other one doing,* he asked reluctantly. *Watching?* He could hope.

She shook her head. *He was behind me, touching me. Keeping me distracted for the other guy. Grabbing my chest. He—* She gagged, remembering. *He put his hand up—* And lost it again.

An odd thing, though: every bit of the story she told to Snake Eyes, every time she took comfort from his solidity and strength, she found she felt a little bit better. Oh, not perfect, for sure—that would be a long time coming, if at all, and only after some very long discussions with Psyche-Out, she was sure. But… better than she felt holding it in.

Eventually she lay quietly against him, exhausted. He signed against her back again. *Why didn't you tell me?* Not for the first time, he cursed his inability to add tone. He hoped she didn't 'hear' that as accusatory.

She laughed shakily. *Honestly? Stupid reasons. I thought you might, oh, go kill everyone there. Or think I was even more untouchable than you do already. Or something.*

He exhaled consideringly: his version of humming. *Those aren't stupid reasons. Well, the first one isn't.*

"What? But you—"

*If I had known what they'd done to you, I would have gone back and killed every living creature there, to be sure I got those who did this. And those who condoned it.* He paused. *I still would, but you're sitting on me.*

"Well, I wasn't even at the same place that those guards were, when you came for me," she pointed out. Her eyes narrowed. "Hey, whaddaya mean, I'm sitting on you? You can bench over 250. I'm not that heavy!"

She felt his silent laugh. *That's not what I meant. I meant, I'm comfortable, and don't want to move.*

"Oh." They sat for a few moments.

*So how did you get away from them?*

"The one who was—in front of me," she euphemized. "He… stopped concentrating on keeping me still. So I bit him."

He jerked in surprise.

"And held on."

He snickered; there was no other sound for it. *That's my girl.*

"And he was yelling and screaming—"

*I bet he was.*

"—and another guard, a third man, came to see what was going on. He came in while the one I bit was trying to kick me to death and the other one was trying to stop him." She paused. "The third man was the ninja you were facing off against, at the end. He yelled at them, told them they were 'dishonorable'—"

*I'd have said worse,* he grumbled.

"—and took me to that castle where we escaped from. Thanks, by the way."

*For what?*

"Coming for me. Again. You're always doing that.* She sighed.

*May I remind you, Shana, that you already had your escape well underway when I arrived? And I don't…* He cast around for a word. *I don't mind coming for you.*

"B-but I'm always putting you in danger," and she felt the stupid tears starting again. Wasn't she nearly out of them by now? And then she was more honest than she intended to be. "But you come for me anyway, and I think you really l-like me. But then whenever we're alone, you won't let me touch you. Do you think I care about what you look like?

"No," she forestalled his protest, "I know you don't think that of me. But now I understand how the memory of something can make you feel… undeserving of closeness. Unlovable. I don't blame you for not wanting to touch me; I feel very unlovable, especially right now, but at the same time I want so very much to feel loved. Does that make sense? It's stupid." She sighed against his chest.

Then he put her from him, and her heart crumpled a little, 'til she realized he was making sure she could read his hands clearly, read the intensity of his body language. *I don't care that I have to help you out of dangerous situations sometimes; I will go anywhere you go. The distance I keep between us—it's not that I think you'll be repulsed by me; I know you better than that. And, by the way, you're sort of the opposite of untouchable. You're—you're radiant, you're alluring. Men notice you where ever you go.*

His shoulders slumped, just a little, an oddly helpless gesture, but she noticed. *But how can you tie yourself to a man who you can't walk around on the streets with? A man who has to wear a mask? Who is pointed out as a freak where ever he goes? Who can't whisper into your ear, who can't tell you he loves you? Because I do, Shana O'Hara.* He took a quick, gasping breath. *And if I ever let myself fall into that—loving you—I won't know how to let you go.

*Because eventually, you'll want to. You'll get frustrated by—everything that tying yourself to a man such as I will entail. And you'll leave. And if I've let myself—well. I wouldn't know how to let you go. I already can't let you go. When we heard you'd been taken, I technically went AWOL. I only got official orders to go for you after I'd already left.*

Her jaw dropped. Unable to speak, she fell back on signing. *You think I care about what other people think? Do you think I haven't noticed the looks we both get when we're out? I'm not stupid, and I don't care what other people think. It's my choice who I'm with, and I like being with you. You make me happy, Snake Eyes; I'm just plain happy when you're with me, whether we're scaling a wall or avoiding guards or dodging bullets or just training at the Pit. You make me happy, and—* She stopped suddenly, and found she could speak after all. "Did—did you just say you love me?"

Hesitantly, he nodded.

She put a hand along his cheek, and whispered. "Oh—then, please. Let yourself fall. I'm not going anywhere. I don't want anyone else. I haven't looked at anyone else since I met you. I love you and I promise, I'm not going anywhere."

A half-sob issued from his mask, and then, with swiftness only a ninja could manage, he jerked the bottom edge of his mask up, and those scarred lips were easing over her full ones, asking, thanking.

She twined her arms around his neck, pulling herself more fully against him, reveling in the sensation, the texture of his scarred mouth against hers, its path as it dropped kisses on her cheeks and nose, and back to her mouth. His hands caressed her waist gently, mindful of her injuries, yet unable to keep from touching her: Mine. A gift from her, but mine.

Eventually they parted. A discreet cough came from the kitchen where her father and brothers were still sitting. They turned; the O'Hara men were studiously not looking out the door or windows.

Her face flamed.

The edge of his mouth twitched in what was unmistakably a smirk, and she briefly wondered how many expressions his mask allowed him to hide in a day. *Will you introduce me to your family?*

Still blushing, she grinned, and led him back inside. "Hi, guys. This is Snake Eyes… Yes, that's his real name…"


A few days later, they arrived back at the Pit. Lifeline not-so-casually bumped into them while Shana was headed to her room. "Oh, Scarlett, hope you had a good vacation? I've got some things to go over with you later. Whenever you get—"

"He knows," she interrupted him. "So come back to my room and tell me."

"Uh. Okay…" Lifeline eyed the other man pacing silently down the hall, hoping he wouldn't suddenly burst out in a fit of rage and nunchuck him to death, or whatever ninjas did.

They arrived at Scarlett's tiny room; she typed in the entry code to the door, flicked on the lights, and put a kettle on the hot plate. She waved Lifeline into a chair, and plopped down into a comfortable chair.

To Lifeline's surprise, Snake Eyes perched beside her, and curved an arm across her shoulders. He knew they were sort-of-unofficially dating, but he didn't usually touch her in public. And as far as Lifeline could tell, the ninja considered everywhere to be 'public.'

He noted their tenseness, and recollected himself. "Don't worry, it's all good news; I figured you'd want to know as soon as possible. All the tests that we hoped would come back negative, did; those that should have come back positive, did." They both heaved sighs of relief. "Now, there will be follow-up blood tests, since sometimes things can incubate for a while," he warned. "But it's looking good. And Doc wants to see you sometime." He nodded, and stood. "Well, that's all. Welcome back."

Lazily, she waved as he left; a moment later, the kettle whistled and she let Snake Eyes take care of making the tea. He handed her a steaming cup and she allowed the tension to drain from her shoulders as she flopped against the chair's back. "Well, that's a relief."

*It is.* They sat in companionable silence for a few moment, sipping the hot liquid. He looked at her, then signed, pleadingly, *You will still make an appointment to see Psyche-Out, won't you?*

"Of course. If—if he lets me—will you come with me? At least the first time?"

He nodded.


*How did your family seem to know more than they ought about what you do?* He wondered.

She laughed. "Honestly, I didn't tell them anything. My father's smart—he figured it out. Then again, he also figured out we loved each other just from what I did and didn't tell him."

*I'm impressed. He is smart. I guess that's where you get it.*

Another laugh; he loved hearing her laugh. "I guess it is. Thanks for the tea, but I've got to go see Duke."

*Duke? Why?*

She lifted her chin and firmed her shoulders. "I'm going to tell him what happened." She said sturdily. "He'll have to take me off the active duty roster, at least until I've got these panic attacks under control. I can't afford to take the risk of being on a mission and being blindsided by one of those; I'm helpless, and worse—it'll put the rest of the team at risk."

He regarded her a moment. *That's a bold move; I'm proud of you. You're also probably going to have to make some sort of general announcement to the Joes, or have Duke do it.*

"Why?" He might think her bold, but…

*What if you're in a training session and you go into one of these attacks?* he pointed out reasonably. *They'll need to know what to do—and what not to do.*

"Yeah," she realized. "You're right. Otherwise I could break someone's neck and not even realize it." She sighed. "This is going to be hard."

*You're not alone in it; I'm not going anywhere, either.*

She smiled. "Thanks. That helps. Now, do you want to come help me make sure Duke doesn't have an aneurysm?"

*Do we have to make sure he doesn't have one? That could be fun to watch,* he objected, as they finished their tea and walked toward the CO's office.

"Hah. And people say ninja have no sense of humor."

*We do. We're just very, very sneaky about it.*

She gave him a look, then laughed and bumped her side against his. "You certainly are."

He shrugged. *Ninja. It's sort of what we do.*

She laughed, unable to disagree, happy with him in that moment, and silence wrapped around them again as they walked.

Tomorrow would wait, with all of its trials and tribulations; for now, she was happy, and reveled in the moment. It was enough, for now. It was enough.



Hope you liked it!

The particular pic which inspired this is at slgallant [dot] wordpress [dot] com [slash] 2010 [slash] 10 [slash] 29 [slash] rolling-snake-eyes [slash] . You might have seen it before, but it's super-cute and sort of took over my brain. Let me know what you think!

Reviews, constructive criticism welcome. Don't tell me Scarlett belongs with Duke though; if you read this whole thing after reading the intro note, you deserve what you got. Nyaah.