Summary: No matter how well you plan your life, life always has plans of its own. A bit of angst from Flint's POV, Flint/Lady Jaye. Marvel comic-verse.
A/N I: I always wondered why Flint wasn't upset after Lady Jaye decked him in issue #67. My background on why a simple 'you care' type comment will make him so happy. This takes place shortly after the events of "A Book By Its Cover", but it's not necessary to read that first.
A/N II: A very big thanks to VR Trakowski and Amykay for their beta services. My writing's been way off since I got out of the hospital, and they helped big time. Any mistakes are mine and mine alone.
Rating: PG-13 should cover a bit of language.
Disclaimer: I still own nothing but a pair of cats who will dispute that ownership claim.
Sitting in the back of an Army truck, cradling Lady Jaye's unconscious body in his arms, the same thought kept coming to Flint's mind - My life wasn't supposed to turn out like this.
In his last year at Oxford, he'd reached several conclusions that had shaped his future: There was nothing more pretentious than literary academics without an original thought; he didn't know enough about life to offer anything profound about it; even if he did, good writers weren't necessarily successful writers; and he wanted excitement in his life.
The Army had seemed like the perfect fit. The job would give him all the excitement he craved, while providing the exposure and experiences he lacked. And, after twenty years, he could retire and afford to be a writer.
Flint had tackled his military career with his trademark tenacity and dedication. Sharing Keats' opinion that it was better to fail trying for greatness than to succeed in mediocrity, he was also a firm believer that failure wasn't an option. With his intellect, mental discipline and athletic abilities, he didn't think he had any excuse not to be great at anything he tried, and his record reflected this attitude.
So, it was no surprise when the invitation came to join the world's elite anti-terrorism team, G.I. Joe. What had surprised him was learning that there were women on the team. The military wasn't big on putting females in combat situations, so he'd figured they must be tops in their respective fields. Duke had quickly confirmed that, using Scarlett and Snake Eyes' latest mission as an example.
It was learning that their CO overlooked fraternization that pleasantly surprised Flint; one downside of being in elite units was the way it cramped your sex life. A woman on the team could solve that problem easily, and he decided – sight unseen – that one of the women would be his lover.
Duke had seen his expression and started laughing at him. "What makes you think you'll have any luck when the other guys haven't?"
"The other guys aren't me," he had answered simply. Flint knew people thought he had an out-of-control ego, but he considered himself honest. He never bragged about anything that wasn't true – people always learned the truth anyway, so why lie? And the truth was that he was charming, witty, good looking and good in bed. If one of the women was halfway decent, he intended to have an active sex life.
Duke had dismissed him with a smirk. "Good luck. They're out of your league."
"No such creature," Flint had replied with his typical self-confidence.
Scarlett had obviously been out of the question – he'd never horn in on another guy's girl. The other martial arts chick wasn't around often, so that didn't help in the regular sex department. Duke had piqued his interest by saying that the covert ops specialist was probably as big a brainiac as he was, but it was the idea of hooking up with a model that had initially tickled his fancy.
As it turned out, he met Lady Jaye first, and she immediately caught his eye. He'd just demolished the captured HISS tanks she and Roadblock had been driving, and she was fuming mad. Covered in mud and oil, clothing disheveled, and she still looked, well, elegant. He found it intriguing and more than a little bit of a turn on. Then she'd shot off her mouth, and he knew anyone with that much passion had to be great in the sack.
Not that it had gone as smoothly as he'd planned. She'd been cool to his advances at first, and the novelty of the situation only fueled his efforts. He wasn't used to a woman who wasn't attracted to him, and he considered it a fun challenge at that point. She gradually dropped her indifference, and he found himself genuinely interested in her; Lady Jaye had a temper, but she had more than enough good qualities for him to overlook her tendency to call him an idiot. She stopped being something to conquer, and they had even moved into the early stages of friendship.
Then the word came that she had died on a mission. The knowledge had left him cold, feeling almost hollow on the inside. He'd lost friends before, but this was different. Not that he could figure out why, exactly, but he hadn't dwelled on the feelings. He'd been the one to break the news to Scarlett, since she and Jaye had been close. But she tore into him when he told her; she'd dropped the bombshell that Lady Jaye hadn't enjoyed his advances, and that she had actually considered him a pain in the ass.
That news had bothered him in ways he hadn't imagined possible. He wasn't a creep, and he didn't objectify women. It had been a game to him, and he thought Lady Jaye had enjoyed it, too. He hadn't tried to defend himself – what could he say? – instead letting Scarlett rant at him, knowing she was grieving as much as he was.
"I'm going to bring her body back," he finally shot out. "Do you want in?"
She and Snake Eyes immediately volunteered to join the team, and that flight to Europe had been the most poignant silence he'd ever experienced. He forced himself to review the intel reports, but he couldn't shake his own self-disgust and sadness. It was a novel situation for him, and it left him feeling unnerved.
Then they found Lady Jaye alive. Their happiness quickly turned to fear when they realized how bad off she was, and they didn't have the medical supplies to treat her. He didn't sleep at all on that mad escape out of Estonia, and he'd found himself unable to sleep once they got her to a hospital.
Whatever confusion he was feeling at that point was nothing to what was to come. Lady Jaye was the one to seduce him once they got back to the States, and they'd been together for the last few months. It had been great, even if they didn't have as much quality alone time as he wanted.
In those months, as he memorized every inch of her body, he had also learned one very important lesson: There was always more to Lady Jaye than he realized. When he felt especially mystified – and she got him in that state far too easily – he wondered if it was her acting background or covert ops training that made it so hard to know someone who was so forthright.
Her aim was better than his, and it seemed like she could turn anything into a weapon – even his own words. Duke had been right about her being smart. She probably surpassed his own intellect, and that wasn't an easy admission for him to make. It didn't bother him, and he enjoyed the mental gymnastics whenever they got into a disagreement on some subject.
While he was physically stronger and had more stamina, she made up for it with a mental toughness that let her push herself to the limit. The intensity of her dedication was as amazing as it was fearsome. Flint had no doubt she'd sacrifice herself for a mission if necessary, and he respected her too much to ever let his fear keep her off dangerous missions.
When Lady Jaye started whimpering in her sleep, he shushed her quietly, mimicking her movements so she wouldn't wake up. Looking at her battered body, he had to admit that somewhere along the line, it stopped being primarily about the sex. His ass was frozen from sitting on bare metal, his back ached and his bladder was painfully full, but it would take a hell of a lot more than that for him to let go of her, and that was making him nervous.
Even with all his talents, Flint had worked hard to get where he was, always doing his best and never settling for good enough. His professionalism was one of his proudest accomplishments, and he hadn't intended to give it up for a sex life. In fact, he'd been fully prepared to end the affair if it ever got in the way of his job.
But here he was, sitting in the back of a truck in a completely unprofessional manner, knowing full well that his career was in trouble if one of the higher ups walking around out there found them.
And he didn't give a damn.
How the hell had things gotten to this point?
One of the first things he'd done after they hooked up was to assert the ground rules. He wanted to make sure their relationship didn't create problems with the rest of the team, especially for Hawk – their CO was going out on a limb by ignoring their rule breaking.
"So you finally thought about all of that," had been Jaye's amused response when he broached the subject. She shared his concerns, so they were on the same page in that regard. In fact, they were so good at not acting like lovers while on duty that more than one team member thought they'd broken up immediately. She didn't ask for special treatment, and he made sure not to show her any favoritism.
And that led to their current situation.
The Joes were working under the cover of a United Nations peacekeeping force in the Kashmir region. A group of terrorists operating in the area kept slipping over the Chinese border, raising the question of whether Beijing was sponsoring the terrorists, or if they were planning a very bloody retaliation that would strain international relations.
This group was also ruthless, having no qualms about butchering innocent civilians. The latest reports had them moving into a region where a UN medical aid group was working, and their job was to get the civilians out before the fighting started.
Flint never considered keeping Lady Jaye off the team. Not only would she ream him a new one if he'd tried, the situation called for an intel expert, and it wasn't like they had an abundance of members who spoke Urdu. He knew she could take care of herself, so he hadn't hesitated to assign her to the rescue group.
He'd been stuck in their temporary headquarters, having to deal with the various other nationalities and trying to coordinate the different units. It wasn't long into the mission before they realized something was horribly wrong: The Indian troops who were supposed to be covering the Joes didn't show up on time, and the team had been caught between two units of the terrorists.
They had lost radio contact with Lady Jaye's team for fourteen hours. He'd spent the entire time in the control area, trying to piece together where they were and what was going on from other reports. When Scarlett brushed her hand across his shoulder in support, he'd shrugged her off. He always waited around when a team was in trouble, but he'd caught her knowing look. It wasn't until Snake Eyes grabbed his mug that he realized he'd downed almost of an entire pot of coffee by himself, and he'd let out a growl of frustration.
Lady Jaye was a professional; he knew it better than anyone on the team. He'd never insult her by implying she couldn't do her job. She was with some of the toughest members of the squad. Radios broke. He had no reason to be fretting over her, and his weakness was annoying. Luckily, none of the brass had noticed him acting like a mother hen.
When the team finally made it back to base, they were barely standing. They'd been forced into a fighting retreat all the way back. Although it was early summer, they were high enough in the mountains for it to still be cold, and that had added to the toll on her team. Even Beach Head was on the verge of collapse. He and Lady Jaye gave a brief summary of what had happened while the rest of the team dropped into a quiet corner of the tent and fell asleep immediately.
Beach Head went to join them, but Lady Jaye stood on the edge of the group for a moment. Flint recognized the problem – she was physically exhausted, but still too wired from adrenaline to rest. It wasn't uncommon, but it was very unpleasant. People in that condition weren't really in control of their bodies or minds. He'd seen hardened veterans break into giddy laughter or uncontrollable tears over nothing while in that state.
He also knew that as soon as the adrenaline wore off, she'd totally and completely crash. If he was lucky, he'd be able to get some water and hot grub into her before that happened, and he'd started towards her, intending to lead Lady Jaye to the mess tent.
Instead, she'd turned away from him, heading towards the general technically in charge of the entire exercise.
"The UN team is dead," she'd reported. While her voice sounded level, there was a catch there that had sent a chill down Flint's spine. He'd moved to her side as the general questioned her.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, sir. Dr. Marla Westfield was part of the team. I recognized her body."
It was Scarlett who asked the question they were all thinking. "Had you worked with her before?"
"We were best friends growing up. It was her," she'd answered.
The exclamation from Lowlight summed up Flint's feeling as well. It was harrowing enough to find the victims of a group like this, but to discover a childhood friend chopped to pieces? No one should have to live through that.
Lady Jaye had excused herself before he could say anything, and he had followed her outside, waving away Scarlett as she started to join him.
"Why didn't you tell me your friend was out there?" he'd asked when he caught up to her, and he immediately wished he'd phrased it better. As she forced herself to attention, he realized she thought it had been a reprimand.
"I didn't know, sir," she said with a formality that he hoped was due to the other officers around them. "I knew she was working with the UN, but I didn't know she'd been assigned here."
"You're not in trouble," he said, grabbing her arm and leading her away from the tents. When she tried to pull away after they reached a quiet area, he kept a hold of her until she spoke again.
"Please let me go."
At that point, it dawned on him that she was about to break down. She'd never want that to happen in public, but she was too worn out to control her reaction. No one else had been in the immediate area, but Flint knew that wouldn't last. Swearing under his breath, he lugged her into the back of a truck – the only place that offered any semblance of privacy in their camp.
She'd tried to push him away when he drew her into his arms, but it didn't take long for her resolve to break, and she started crying into his chest. He held her tight, muttering anything he could think of to ease her heartbreak. The crash wasn't long in coming, and she'd been asleep in his arms for hours now.
Flint's eyes widened as she moved again, adding extra pressure on his bladder, but he didn't loosen his grip. After what she'd been through today, she needed all the rest she could get. She'd probably sleep better back in her tent, but he'd have to carry her through the camp to get there. He wouldn't embarrass her that way.
Their camp was also swamped with higher ups that wouldn't share Hawk's blind eye to fraternization, but Flint didn't care what anyone thought right now. She was in pain, and even the thought of damaging his career wouldn't get him to leave her alone.
There was no doubt in his mind now: He was in it deep.
An old cliché came to his mind: You never recognized the moment when you fell in love, but you always knew when it was over. Flint had no idea at what point he'd fallen for her, but he suspected it had been while he was still chasing her.
The irony wasn't lost on him. He'd pursued Lady Jaye with the premise that having a teammate for a lover was a logical choice. Their schedules were too unreliable to have a regular relationship, so the 'friends with benefits' approach offered a convenient way around that problem. No ties, no responsibilities, just friendly sex.
And she accepted him under those terms.
No commitment, no emotional ties, no future.
It was his own fault, of course. He'd never once considered that he'd fall in love with her. If he had, he'd have never framed the relationship in purely physical terms. But he had, and now he had to live with the consequences – that eventually she was going to walk out of his life.
A small part of him wanted to tell her the truth, but he couldn't make himself do that. It would be bad enough when she decided to move on. That would hurt, he had no doubt about that, but it would be bearable. He could even handle it if the others found out that he'd been a fool. But if he told her and she laughed him off – no, that would be too much.
And laugh she would if she had any idea what was going through his mind; she considered him way too confident and egotistical. But not now; he was uncertain, and, if he was honest with himself, more than a little scared.
The smart thing to do would be to end it now. It was obvious to Flint that he wasn't going to be able to maintain his strict professionalism with her. Call it off now, stay friends, and pretend that he didn't care…
When she hooked up with someone else?
Flint felt his muscles tense. Even the thought of another man touching her was enough to drive him crazy. He was jealous – only unconfident morons ruined a relationship with jealousy! But he couldn't control the beast within himself anymore than he'd be able to walk away and watch her find happiness with someone else.
So, now what?
For the first time in his adult life, he found himself having no clue what to do. For a man who never lacked direction, who always knew what he wanted from life, it was an excruciating feeling.
A teacher had told him that poetry wasn't read once; you had to keep re-reading it as you grew older, since your perspective would change with age. Right now, he had an urge to re-read all the Shakespearean sonnets, as well as the complete works of both Brownings. Hell, at this point, he'd read the entire Harlequin Romance line if he thought it would give him any insight on what to do. Somehow, he doubted he was going to find the answers he needed in a book.
The smell of tobacco was his first clue that someone was outside the truck. He should set Lady Jaye down; he should put a respectable distance between them. That would put them in a position he could defend. But looking at her, even in the dim light from the stars and moon, he couldn't.
She had a gentle side, even though she went to lengths to hide it from the team. Flint suspected it had to do with her background – people assumed she was soft from her upbringing, and Jaye wanted to show people she could handle the job. And she could; she was damn good at it. But finding her friend in that condition … he could only imagine what that had done to her.
No one who was human could deal with what they did and not be affected in some way. She wasn't any exception to the rule, and today's mission had been rough by their standards. A nightmare was hardly shocking, and he'd do anything to help ease her pain.
If whoever was out there wanted to make an issue of it, well, the bastard would have to deal with Flint.
He made no move to let her go, not even when she started jerking in her sleep. He silently cursed Snake Eyes for not stopping him three or four cups of coffee sooner than he had, but to his lover he only said, "You're safe," in a soft whisper.
It was lame. Her nightmares wouldn't be about her being in trouble. It would be about her not being able to help someone else. It didn't change the fact he wanted to protect her. Protect her! Lady Jaye wasn't the type who needed protecting; she was the type other people needed protection from. But the emotion was there, and it was hopeless to try to deny it.
Lady Jaye's cries became stronger as the nightmare worsened, and he kept comforting her the best he could. The flap at the end of the truck flipped back, and Lowlight only glanced in for a moment before walking away.
Flint let out a small grunt. Lowlight's swearing earlier had been the only time the man had ever initiated any form of communication. If the rumor mill was right, he also had his own problems with nightmares. He was a good guy, if hard to know, and Flint was certain he'd never make an issue of what he'd seen.
A few minutes later the smell of tobacco returned, and the flap was pulled back briefly as a pair of blankets landed by Flint's feet. Scooting forward slowly, he grabbed the first blanket and gently lifted himself up so he could sit on it. He then took the second one and started wrapping it around Lady Jaye and himself.
"Both of us catching pneumonia isn't going to solve anything," she said dully into his chest.
"Go back to sleep."
"No," she said, pushing away from him, although he kept her on his lap.
She was embarrassed; he didn't have to see her expression to know that. As far as he was concerned, she had no reason to be.
"I'm sorry," he told her, running a hand down her back. "No one should ever find a friend in that condition."
"You won't get any argument from me." She sat up straighter but still wouldn't look at him. "I want on the team that goes after them."
Flint braced himself for her reaction. "No."
"I can do this. I'm sorry I fell apart …"
"It has nothing to do with that," he said, kindly but firmly. "If I send you out, the rest of your team will want to go with you. Do you think any of them are up to it? No special treatment, remember?"
Her shoulders dropped even farther, and her voice was full of defeat. "I didn't mean to put you on the spot."
The fact that she didn't argue with him was all the proof he needed that she was still wiped out, both physically and emotionally. A few hours sleep wasn't enough to recharge after what she'd been through.
"Asking's fine. I know you want to go after those bastards. I want to go after them. I'll try to get you some time off so you can go to the funeral if you want."
"You can't," she said, finally leaning back into him. "You need an intel agent here, and I speak the language."
"I can try," he said, although she was right. The odds of them wrapping this up in time for her to get back to the States for the funeral were slim at best.
"I'm still on this mission."
Her voice was so flat Flint couldn't tell if it had been a statement or a question. It was such a contrast to her normally expressive tones that he felt himself frowning.
"I'm keeping your entire team on reserve for the next few days," he stated. As long as there were fresh troops around, he was going to give them all a chance to rest and regroup. "And I do need an intel expert around here. There's no shame in working behind the lines."
"Is that your version of 'There's no small roles, only small actors'?"
"Sure, why not?" he answered, finding the stage reference fitting for her.
"I always thought that sentiment was bullshit."
He resisted the urge to sigh. All in all, she was taking this far better than he'd expected. For now; tomorrow, after she was rested … that was another story. "We haven't figured out where their base is yet. That's something you can do better than anyone else here."
To his surprise, she hugged him, and he tightened his grip on her. "I'll do what I can, Flint. But I won't pretend this isn't personal."
"No one expects you to." He wanted her to go back to sleep, but he suspected she still needed time to regain her composure after the nightmare. "Had you seen your friend recently?"
"No," she said, shrugging when he noticed the depth of emotion in her voice. "Her family are Quakers, very dedicated pacifists. She never understood why I would join the Army. I never had the chance to explain what we do, why I do this."
Flint pretended he didn't notice the way she swallowed back her sob. It was easy to follow the train of thought – Dr. Westfield learned the hard way why someone had to fight against terrorists.
He tried to wrap the blanket tighter around her, but she suddenly seemed aware of where they were.
"How long have we been out here?"
"I don't know. Four, maybe five hours."
"Flint! If one of the other officers found us here, they'd crucify you."
"No, it's not," she said, a hint of fire in her voice. The last thing she needed was to get worked up, so he made an effort to keep his own responses calm.
"You need to rest. You shouldn't be alone tonight."
"You have no idea how much I want to take you up on that," she sighed as she hugged him again, giving his cheek a quick kiss before she got off his lap. "But this isn't the time or place."
"You sure? I don't mind," he said, ignoring his various aches.
At that moment, he'd have given anything to have a clear light source. He wasn't sure, but he thought her look had been – well, he couldn't describe it exactly, but it gave his heart an optimistic boost. Lost in his thoughts, he scurried to follow her out of the truck.
"Get a shower. I'll see if I can find you something hot to eat," he ordered, falling in beside her as she staggered toward the makeshift bathroom facilities.
"You don't have to."
"I want to."
She was silent for a moment, and she looked at him with unmistakable astonishment.
At least I'm not the only one confused by my behavior, he thought to himself. Flint would be the first to admit that he wasn't exactly a touchy-feely Mr. Sensitive type, but her surprise at his consideration still made him sad.
"I owe you," she said as she slipped into the shower.
"No, you don't," he said to himself.
Making a beeline to the latrines, he felt his own fatigue start to overcome him. He'd make sure she got to bed first, though. Her well-being took all priority over his own, over his duties, over his career.
No, his life hadn't turned out how he planned. However, he wouldn't change the path it was on for anything – no matter what the cost turned out to be.