A/N: A shout out for another fic I read by WillWrite4fics that just tickled me and started this plot bunny to begin with. "Sick Ninjas Are No Fun" is a great fic. Read it! I'm incredibly musically oriented. I can't write without it. If you have the listed song, listen to it while reading. Or, check it out on iTunes or Amazon so you can get the feel. If I did my job as an author, however, you shouldn't need the music. It would just add.
Motorycle "As the Rush Comes" (Gabriel and Dresden Chillout Mix)
Disclaimer: I don't own the Joes and I'm not making any money off of this.
Rated M! Young eyes beware! M!
The air in the Pit smelled of old sweat and anguish. It hung there, a foul miasma that stuck in the back of her throat every time she inhaled. She stood in the motor pool, leaning against the wall, arms crossed and eyes distant, waiting for the lift to come down. The synthetic fabric of her crash jacket scratched against the cinder-block wall every time she shifted her weight to ease the dull throb in the balls of her feet. A tennis ball could only do so much for feet that had been active for 26 hours. Fortunately, she knew of something better.
She raised a hand and picked idly at her hair, scratching at her scalp in some places, untangling in others. She hadn't had a shower recently and it was evident in the greasy feel of the strands. Playing with her hair was a self-soothing habit that had followed her out of childhood, and a habit she still indulged in before she fell asleep. Of course, these days, she didn't have to stick to her own hair. Snake Eyes teased that he was the most well groomed sleeping ninja on the planet. She sighed and shifted her weight again, then began to braid her hair. It would be difficult to get the knots out later if she didn't braid it now.
As she pulled the long tail over her shoulder to finish braiding the last half, Hawk stepped next to her. She stiffened and almost let go of the braid to salute, but Hawk waved it off negligently.
"I'd hate for you to have to start over. Looks like that could take a while."
She smiled. "Not really. It's something a girl with long hair picks up very fast out of sheer desperation." She studied his profile. The past day had been more rigorous for him than for the rest of the Joes, and it showed. She often thought of the General as fairly stone-faced, but today his face was care-worn and his shoulders slumped just a bit. His uniform jacket was rumpled in the back, evidence of the number of hours he had spent working contacts to get support for the returning Joes. The fatigue bruises under his eyes and the new wrinkles might go away with some sleep, but she doubted it. After all, no one promised them a stress-free job when joining the Joes.
Turning her head, Scarlett gave in to the tickle in her throat and coughed, hacking to clear the drainage sliding down the back of her throat. The fit caused her to convulsively bend forward, one arm wrapped around her rib cage until it passed. She stood back up and inhaled deeply, recovering her breath and wincing as sore abdominal muscles protested.
"Still getting over that?" Hawk patted her shoulder sympathetically.
"Doc says another couple days on the antibiotics will knock it out. Not soon enough, though."
"I think there are many Joes who were left behind who feel that way."
Scarlett eyeballed the lift again, but it didn't move. She should have been on this mission, but a sinus infection had grounded her. While they were all game to go out, no matter how sick any of them were, the simple reality was that convulsive coughing prevented any level of sneakiness from being effective. Not to mention the snot factor. She had nursed Snake Eyes through a cold two weeks before, only to catch it herself. Of course, she just had to add the sinus infection to the mix. That just might teach her to not kiss a sick person. She checked her thought process. Who was she kidding? Snake Eyes, like most men, turned into a complete and utter baby when he was sick. Unlike most, he was a cute and impish baby, ruthlessly garnering the attention of all of the women in the Pitt and somehow doing it in a way that made the women only too happy to do so. Scarlett was half-smiling at the memory before she managed to stop it and wipe it off her face.
Hawk quirked an eyebrow in her direction.
"Sorry, Sir. I was just remembering how I got this sinus infection." His face instantly smoothed, going blank in a professional "don't want to know about it" look that spoke of many years of practice ignoring certain…irregularities. Scarlett felt her face grow hot and waved her hands frantically. "Not like that, Sir! Just remember how Snakes can…convince all of the women in the Pitt to take care of his poor suffering self."
Hawk snorted in amusement. "That explains why all the women always get sick shortly after he does."
He spoke the truth. In fact, there were no women among the returning group because she, Lady Jaye, Cover Girl and Jinx had all been laid low by this bug. For the past few days, the Rec room had been taken over by sniffling women bundled up on the couches with blankets, boxes of tissues at hand, used tissues strewn about, and about enough chocolate to give the Easter Bunny apoplexy. Romantic comedies and dramas were all there was allowed on the TV, and the men had abandoned the effort to get some equal opportunity screen time.
Now Hawk gestured at her crash jacket and the two black helmets on the ground next to her feet. "Going for a ride?"
"Yes, Sir. I thought Snakes could use some time to decompress. Assuming the General will allow?"
"The General will allow."
"Thank you, Sir."
As she spoke, the mechanical whine of hydraulics began overpowering the ambient noise of the motor pool as the lift slowly began to lower. She could see three Humvees rode the lift, and moving feet became visible as the people exited the Humvees and began unloading while the lift was still lowering.
"Where is Jaye?"
"She's waiting in the Infirmary." Hawk replied. "I convinced her to wait there, rather than getting under foot here."
Scarlett nodded. A team from the Infirmary had just entered the motor pool, rolling a gurney. The visible feet had turned into recognizable Joes, most of whom were grouped around one Humvee. She fought a sigh of relief as she saw Snake Eyes, but she knew Hawk had heard the mental sigh that she couldn't fight. Was it her imagination, or did one of his lower eye-lids twitch? The thought almost brought on a smile. The lift completed its descent, and the medical team rushed forward. Roadblock and Snake Eyes transferred a stretcher that had been in the back of the Humvee to the gurney, handing over an IV bag and oxygen tank. Flint rode the stretcher, completely still and pale. Scarlett tensed when she caught sight of bloody bandages, and reflexively chewed a nail as the medical team rushed back out again, medical jargon lingering in the air as they jogged down the hallway. It was going to be a close call for Flint, but he would make it.
A snapping sound drew her attention back to the lift, and she saw Snake Eyes lift a hand in a small wave. She gave a small smile and waved back, then bent and hefted a helmet. She lifted it so he could see it, then gave him a questioning look. He gave her a "thumbs up" gesture as he gathered his duffel from another Humvee, then handed it off to Storm Shadow. He signed a quick message, and Storm Shadow nodded, accepting several more of Snake Eyes's more obvious weapons. Snake Eyes easily dodged the bustle of off-loading the Joes from the Humvees, then Humvees from the lift as he jogged towards her. She studied his stride and noticed he held his upper body just a bit stiffly. There were some tears in the tough fabric of his uniform, but he appeared more or less intact.
He stopped just short of her and braced to attention, saluting Hawk. Hawk returned the salute, then nodded in Scarlett's direction. "She's been waiting. Debrief at 0800 tomorrow. Good job, soldier." With that, Hawk elected to keep his plausible deniability intact and left the motor pool, heading in the same direction the medical team had gone. Snake Eyes didn't take time to greet her properly. There would be time later for that. Instead, he knelt and exchanged his foot gear for the heavy boots that would be more appropriate for a motorcycle ride, then zipped into the crash jacket Scarlett handed him. Last, he pulled on the helmet, fastening the chin strap. He accepted a small key from her, then slung his arm around her shoulders as she pulled on her own helmet and fastened the strap. She slipped her arm around his waist, wishing she could feel more through the padding and armor of the crash jacket. Still, she squeezed just a little, giving him a hint of how relieved she was to have him home.
The motorcycle was parked close to the lift, but far enough away to not interfere with unloading operations. The only word she could use to describe the motorcycle was "sensuous". It was a custom, one-of-a-kind masterpiece worth several months' of Snake's paychecks. Gleaming dully in the fluorescent lighting of the motor pool, the gun-metal gray paint job drew attention to the smooth long lines. The extended frame and exaggerated curves brought to mind a female body, one with generous breasts, a tucked-in waist and flared hips. The chrome had been powder coated with a matte black finish with only the engine providing a spark of brightness.
They had reached the motorcycle while Cover Girl was dealing with the last Humvee, and now Snake Eyes slung a long leg over the motorcycle, settling in the saddle and leaning to the side to insert the key into the ignition. Scarlett mounted the motorcycle behind him, wiggling a little to get herself settled comfortably, her feet finding the pegs. Snakes pushed off with his left leg, straightening the motorcycle, then pushed the kickstand back with his foot. A flick of his thumb brought the bike to life and another lean adjusted the choke until it sounded just right. It growled and rumbled beneath her, and a pleasant vibration crawled up her spine. She loved it when he started the bike, especially when they were in the motor pool. Beyond the relaxation it heralded, the menacing snarl of the engine echoed in the vast space and interacted with a very primal part of her.
She slid her hands around his narrow waist, inhaling deeply, nose pressed as close to his shoulder as her helmet would allow, breathing in the scent of a hard fight and his underlying spice. He leaned back into her, turning his head to the side so their helmets gently bumped. That's right, ladies, she thought. This one is mine. She bit back a smile at the absurdity, but it was truth. He straightened again as Cover Girl signaled him forward, and Scarlett tightened her hold of him, snuggling tight as Snakes nudged the throttle and rolled them up the sloped side of the lift. He braked to a halt when they reached the center, then raised a finger. He circled it, signaling Cover Girl to send them up. She gave a thumb up and punched the button. Snakes revved the engine a time or two as they rode the lift up, and barely allowed the time for the lift to clear the pavement above the Pit before he took off.
They cleared the base in just a few minutes and when they hit the straight desert highway, he opened the motorcycle up. The acceleration was sharp and the bike snarled, clawing at the pavement as he shifted smoothly through the gears, barely causing her body to rock through the transitions. The air felt rough against the skin of her cheeks, and held just a bit of a bite, bringing tears to her eyes. She lowered her visor, then re-established her tight grip of Snakes as he continued to push the motorcycle. She knew when they passed 80 MPH not because of the needle on the speedometer, which she couldn't see past his broad shoulders, but because her helmet began to lift off her head. She tucked deeper behind him, using him as a windbreak. The road passing beneath them was a gray blur and she felt her blood begin to pulse through her body on a surge of adrenaline.
She felt more acceleration piling on, and smiled as she felt his muscles loosen under her fingers. She knew when they cleared 100mph because she felt weightless. Nothing connected her to the Earth but the man in front of her and the bike under her. The snarl of the motorcycle drowned out any other noise, but her shriek of exuberance was still audible and she felt his shoulders twitch in a laugh. She squeezed him tighter, snuggling down for an extended ride as he slowed the bike down to more law enforcement-acceptable speeds.
They rode for a while, the sun setting behind them, and did not see another single human being. The ache that had been setting up shop in her lower back had long since been soothed away by the vibrations of the motorcycle, and the bite in the air had settled in to cause her to be just a bit chilled. The sun was touching the horizon when Snake Eyes pulled off the highway onto a dirt road, taking it a bit more slowly, as the bike was not made for off-roading. They road for another fifteen minutes, until they reached a barely visible trail. Snake Eyes brought the bike to a stop, nudged the kickstand forward, and turned off the engine. He leaned the bike to the side, and Scarlett used the momentum to slide off the seat and onto her feet. She arched backwards, hands in the small of her back, and moaned softly as her spine popped. She could tell he was smiling. She rolled her eyes, then undid the strap from her helmet and placed it where she had been sitting. He followed suit, then the tugged the key out of the ignition and pulled a blanket from a saddlebag. He held his gloved hand out for her, and she accepted it, folding her smaller hand around it. She wished she had worn gloves. The skin on the back of her hands was tingling from the overstimulation of the wind blowing across them.
They hiked up the trail a short ways, until they were out of sight and sound of the road and on top of a worn rock outcrop. He spread the blanket on the rock while she ran her fingertips over the smooth red stone, feeling the day's captured warmth slowly leaking out. As she straightened from her crouch, she felt his hands steal around her waist, rubbing through her crash jacket. She leaned back into him as she stood, and, reaching up and back, hooked her hands behind his neck. His hands slid under the raised hem of her jacket, then under her soft cotton shirt, finding bare skin. He had taken his gloves off, and his hands felt warm against the skin of her belly, his callouses providing just a bit of roughness against the tenderness. When he nipped at her earlobe, she realized he had also removed his mask. The rough skin of his face felt chilled from the wind as he buried it in the crook of her neck, and she let one of her hands play with his blonde hair. It felt gritty to her touch, making her remember where he had been for the past 24 hours.
Bloody bandages flashed in her mind's eye, and she felt a sharp pinch in her heart of both guilt and relief that it wasn't Snake Eyes on that stretcher, and her waiting in the Infirmary. His arms tightened around her, as if he had followed her train of thought. Turning her face to his, she met those lovely blue eyes and knew he was feeling the same thing.
It was well past midnight when they rode back onto the lift to go down to the Pit. Scarlett pulled off her helmet as they sat, engine idling smoothly and lift descending, waiting as Snakes did the same. He leaned back into her for one last kiss. It was always hard to come back after one of their excursions, and this time was no different. He lingered on her lips, and she pushed herself against his back, nipping a little at his lips. He smiled faintly as he broke the kiss, then pulled away to pull on his mask. The whine of the hydraulics ended, and Scarlett grabbed on one last time as he pulled the motorcycle off the lift.