Author's Introduction:

I like to say that I don't write stories—I'm just transcribing them for the characters who tell them to me. Blame this one on Flint—he flatly refused to do any more work with me on Breathless until we set this down on paper.

But I found it quite a fun diversion. *smiles* Let's take a detour; they're all yours, Flint.


Third and Long

A G.I. Joe Renegades fic by Firestar9mm


I have squandered my resistance for a pocket full of mumbles
Such are promises, all lies and jests
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

(Simon and Garfunkel, The Boxer)


Lieutenant Dashiell Faireborn's world is black and white. He always writes with the same pens—razor-sharp fine-tipped black gel ink, removable cap, not retractable—and if the one he's using runs out of ink he keeps a mechanical pencil on hand as backup until he can get to the two boxes he constantly keeps stocked in his desk drawer. He always takes his coffee the same way—black, two sugars, something it took his aide-de-camp two solid weeks to learn. (Actually, he's still not sure Burnett wasn't doing that on purpose—when he asked her what was so hard about remembering not to put cream in his coffee, she responded with a completely droll expression that she was just trying to lighten him up.) The cook at the local diner only makes apple pie on Saturdays, so that's the day Faireborn goes there. When a spring broke on his recliner, a model that happened to be discontinued, he searched estate sales, want ads and the internet until he found the exact same one from the same year.

Everyone has their favorite things—favorite places, favorite articles of clothing, favorite pieces of furniture—but Faireborn's favorite thing is structure. He's not a stupid man—he sees the signs all around that the world is and has always been on a bullet train to hell—but he does what he can, and in his little corner of the universe, there is order; there is calm and right. And he will do anything to preserve that order, even if it means standing against the people he had once counted on to uphold it along with him. The way he sees it, it's their fault for upsetting the balance he works so hard to maintain. There is no gray area—there is friend and foe, and if you are not with Dash Faireborn, you're against him.

And trust him, that's the way he likes it—if he starts to think too hard about what he's doing, uncomfortable questions start popping up like mushrooms after a rain.

Especially these days.

"Stop your vehicle," he roars into his handset, and the bullhorn on the roll bar broadcasts it at triple the volume. Not that the fugitives he's pursuing are going to follow the order.

The truck answers his demand by picking up speed instead. It's only by luck he managed to figure out that it's being driven by the suspects he's been searching for—they've apparently been smart enough to swap the truck they stole from Cobra Industries for a rather unassuming class 4, complete with a logo for something called "Yo Joe Cola" on the side. He's never actually heard of such a beverage, but it can't possibly be the same truck—how on earth would they even find the means to make that stolen Cobra truck look like a completely different vehicle, anyway? At any rate, it's a pretty ballsy move to go for a commercial truck rather than a civilian car, and Faireborn makes a mental note to have Burnett check for local reports of stolen vehicles. It'll be one more crime to add to the growing list of charges that are being leveled against the fugitives the media has taken to calling "The Springfield Four".

Faireborn actually thinks the name is stupid, but it's still infinitely preferable to the name that whistleblower's blog has credited them with. The blogger, who is known only as "Breaker", maintains that the Springfield Four are not just innocent of the crimes they're being accused of, but that they're heroes, despite their claims that they're just "ordinary Joes". He's been cataloguing their exploits with such admiration and care that you can practically hear the heroic Alan Silvestri soundtrack in the background.

Faireborn smirks as his foot presses more heavily on the gas pedal. G.I. Joes—he can't imagine anything sillier. He'd have come up with something better, but then again, not everyone can be a Falcon.

At any rate, it was a happy accident that a tip had come in to the staties about a truck that was hanging around somewhere it had no business being. They're just outside of Pungo, VA, and there's nothing for twelve miles in any direction except forest. It's a small town, and not the kind people seek out, making any activity that's out of the ordinary suspect. Faireborn, on his way back from following another lead, heard the call on the police band and hit the jackpot, but his excitement at stumbling onto his prey tipped them off, and now he's in a high-speed chase on the two-lane highway, having had barely enough time to put in a call to Burnett at the mobile unit and tell her to get her ass in gear and back him up with a squad of MPs.

Faireborn speeds up and changes lanes, coming up alongside the truck, even though he knows he hasn't got a chance of running it off the road—it is much heavier than his Jeep, and he has no idea what cargo they might be carrying. His orders are to bring them in alive, anyway, and while he is sure they have weapons, he is hoping to detain them long enough for his backup to arrive. The Springfield Four are reckless, but not stupid; when they realize that they are outnumbered and outgunned, they will surrender to save their own skins. Faireborn is sure of that.

He manages to almost get level with the truck's cab, and catches a glimpse of the driver—Duke Hauser, who is keeping one eye on the road and one on the threat. The rogue sergeant's arctic eyes narrow to slits, and he sets his jaw, turning his head back to the road in a clear dismissal. The truck speeds up, and Faireborn is enraged at being discounted; he snatches up his handset to issue another order to pull over, but before he can open his mouth, the truck hurtles forward, passing the Jeep as though it's gotten a nitrous boost.

What the hell—?

Before Faireborn can resolve the situation into something that makes sense—trucks should not be able to go that fast, not with four passengers and towing who knows what in its cargo bay—the doors on the back of the vehicle open, and he sees a bigger problem.

A petite redhead stands in the truck's cargo bay. She's hanging onto the door with one hand to keep herself stable as the truck swerves into his lane; the other hand holds a pulse crossbow, and she is sighting down on him.

For a moment he imagines he can feel the crosshairs burning on his brow, and the redhead lifts her eyes for a second. Faireborn has pressed the pedal all the way down, and he's just close enough to see her eyes frost over with a look he can't place. Then she drops her gaze—and her crossbow—to ground level. She fires, and Faireborn feels more than hears the front driver's side tire explode. The Jeep yaws towards the shoulder and despite a heroic effort on his part to keep the vehicle on the road, it ends up hurtling down the gentle incline into the woods. Faireborn jams on the brake, cuts the wheel as best he can, but it's not enough to stop the Jeep from overbalancing as the incline becomes steeper, like a runner tripping over their own feet. The crippled vehicle turns in a half-circle and finally slams into a tree with a crunch of metal. His safety belt locks, tearing at the sliver of exposed skin between his ear and the collar of his thermal, a line of burning pressure across his chest as his body whips back and forth with the impact.

He just sits for a few moments, counting aches and pains. He's alive, but the Jeep's entire passenger side is stoved in, and there is a heavy, burnt scent in the air; something is leaking. He's not even going to bother putting the spare tire on the rim; he's sure it's bent even from the short but turbulent journey off the road, and he'd be foolish to try and start it up without knowing what fluids he's losing. He reminds himself that he is lucky; if not for the tree the damn thing might have flipped, and he'd likely be in worse shape despite the roll bars. There's no choice now but to wait for Burnett, but his radio is smoking and refuses to give him anything but a few feeble squawks.

"Damn," he mutters, knowing that the fugitives will be long gone by now. It was one of the oldest tricks in the book, and he fell for it. He'd had them—he'd had them!—and now it's back to square one. In a display of pure frustration, he whacks both hands against the steering wheel, yelling it louder. "Damn!"

His voice booms through the still wood around him, leaving hissing echoes, but those sounds are not enough to mask another sound—the sound of a footfall swishing through fallen leaves and twigs. Someone else is here. And it's not Burnett or one of his Falcons—they'd have identified themselves by now. It's got to be them—one of the…Joes.

Snapping to attention, Faireborn releases his safety belt with some difficulty, then scrabbles for his sidearm, but the crash has jarred it loose from his rig and it's slipped down beneath the passenger seat, where he can't hope to reach it—the bowed-in metal of the passenger side is preventing that. He can see the gleam of the weapon's barrel in the light of the dying day; it seems to smile mockingly, just out of his reach.

"Halt and identify yourself, or get hurt," he threatens, hoping whoever it is isn't close enough to see that he can't reach his weapon.

But they can see him, even if he can't see them—her; it's a woman's voice that answers, mockingly, from somewhere in the trees.

"I," she declares, "am shaking."

With that witty barb, she glides into view, movements graceful and predatory—the woman, the redhead. Her greensheet flashes to the front of Faireborn's memory—Lieutenant Shana O'Hara. While he's briefly disappointed that he won't get to exult in victory over Duke, he decides he's even luckier to have snared O'Hara instead—by all accounts, she is the ringleader of the ragtag group of fugitives, and if he cuts off the head, the body is sure to fall. Hauling her into custody would be a good day's work as it stood; using her as a hostage to collect the other three would be even better. He hates to resort to such gangster tactics, but the goal is to bring them in, and the shortest distance between the two points is standing in front of him, regarding his ruined vehicle with an even green gaze.

O'Hara's BDUs are in sad shape, her thermals ragged, her pants torn at one knee. She does not appear to have the crossbow on her, and there are a few dents in her breastplate that speak to its sturdiness. She's smudged with dirt and grease, her bright red hair dingy. But her stride is confident, and the expression on her face is as patient as a sniper's as she approaches him.

"Missed your chance," he grates out, the phantom pain of the tight seat belt still constricting his chest. "How...stupid...are you?"

"I came to check," O'Hara informs him calmly, seemingly uncaring of the fact that she's walked right into his hands.

Faireborn realizes that she has purposely not told him exactly what she came to check. If he is lucky, she's here to confirm that he is all right.

Unlucky, to ensure that he is dead.

"Thanks," he grunts, hoisting himself out of the damaged Jeep and brushing bits of safety glass off his pants. "Although it would have been even nicer of you not to have put a bullet in my tire in the first place."

"I could have put it in your brain," she says conversationally, the green eyes darkening as they follow his movements.

Faireborn considers her for a moment. This statement isn't so outlandish—O'Hara, along with the rest of the Springfield Four, is wanted for a whole host of crimes, and murder made the short list—but somehow he knows she's bluffing. She had certainly had an opportunity to make a kill shot as he pursued them—he remembers her unreadable expression as she sighted down on him before locking on to her target—but she'd chosen to cripple his vehicle instead. That had not been an accident.

After a beat, she answers the question he doesn't have to ask. "We're not killers, Lieutenant."

Faireborn sets his jaw, his mouth a grim line. "What you are is under arrest. Game over, O'Hara. I've got you now, and if I've got you, I've got the rest of your...Joes." He keeps his gaze steady on her but says the last word as though it's usually accompanied by a lot of eye-rolling.

She treats him to a look of freezing scorn, her spine as straight as a steel rod, and pride unfurls like a flag in her voice. "My Joes aren't that stupid."

Faireborn allows himself a smirk. "You don't know Duke like I do. All I've got to do is lock you up, and he'll come riding to the rescue. It's what he does." He punctuates this declaration with an amused snort. "Guy thinks he's a real American hero."

O'Hara's gaze softens for just a moment, which is as good as admitting she knows he is right, but she recovers quickly and scowls at him. "You're wrong to mock him. You're the one who doesn't know."

Her expression is one of protective defiance; all at once, Faireborn realizes where he's seen it before—on the pertly pretty face of his aide-de-camp, Allison Hart-Burnett. Burnett has voiced her disapproval of their mission multiple times, leaping in to defend Duke whenever Faireborn makes a snide remark about his former friend. This annoys the lieutenant; he knows Duke saved Burnett's life once upon a time, but it's a reason, not an excuse. Nothing changes the fact that Duke and the rest of the Springfield Four are criminals, wanted men.

And woman. Faireborn knows why Burnett defends Duke, but he can't help but wonder what lit the sleeping fire in O'Hara's green eyes. What have they been through all this time, while he and Burnett have been chasing their tails? What have they charged into, pulled each other out of?

"We're not the bad guys, Lieutenant Faireborn," O'Hara insists firmly. "And you don't have to be one, either."

Faireborn frowns, confused. She is a criminal, a thief, a murderess, if the stories are to be believed. He has informed her that he intends to haul her in, that he intends to use her to bait the other three, and yet she stands before him calmly, pleading their case.

And as he watches, her expression softens once more, into something hopeful and troubled; the green eyes become as stars, shining steadily in her face, and there is a beseeching note in her voice. It occurs to him for the first time that she is pretty, but it's more that she has become a riot of color in the middle of the rapidly falling night. Suddenly he sees what might command a man to follow her, gleaming through the dirt and fatigue as though she were lit from within.

"Don't you get it?" she asks quietly. "It's your play, Flint." The starbright eyes narrow at him, and she shakes her head wistfully, as if she is as tired of the chase as he secretly is. "Make the right one this time."

Wait a minute.

What the hell is that supposed to mean?

For one moment, he is ready to ask—is willing to listen—but the emphasis on the word "right" has jarred him back to his senses, and the color drains from his world once more. There is black and white, right and wrong, officer and criminal, Falcon and Joe. He has a job to do, and he will complete his mission.

"Shana O'Hara, you are under arrest, by order of the United States Government," he declares, stepping forward, one arm extended to seize her.

O'Hara has a temper, and it fizzes to life like a Roman candle as she skillfully sidesteps his reaching hand. Curling both hands into fists, she brings her forearms against his outstretched arm in a double block that rattles his teeth down to the fillings.

"You don't listen," O'Hara hisses, seizing his wrist to continue her assault. "You—never—listen."

She twists his arm, ducks beneath it as though it's been choreographed. Faireborn doesn't even try to break her hold—she would expect him to retreat, try to get out of her reach, and he figures it's smarter to give her whatever reaction she won't be looking for. He's sure she's going to try to throw him over her shoulder—her greensheet flashes before his mind's eye once more, to the typewritten notes cataloguing her rather frightful achievements in martial arts—and he's counting on his weight to keep him on the ground where he can get a grip on her.

But she does not throw him; she doesn't even try. Instead, she angles her body to the side and drives a kick to his midsection, tugging viciously on the wrist she holds to bring him even harder into her foot. Faireborn's breath evacuates his lungs in a whoosh, and the world blinks red for a moment; he staggers but does not go down. He knows from past skirmishes that O'Hara can run like a deer, and he lifts his head expecting to see the bright red tail of hair streaming behind her like a banner as she disappears, but to his surprise she has only danced backward a couple of steps, waiting to see what he'll do.

Coughing, he straightens. "Cute," he grits out, ignoring the pain in his abdomen. "You're only making this harder on yourself, O'Hara. I'm bringing you in."

"Then come and get me," she challenges, and the desire to simply rush her is hammering in his brain, inspired by the memory of employing similar tactics on a football field years and miles away and fanned by the anger that's heating his blood. But a quick pivot of her feet does not escape his notice; if he tries a frontal assault she will stand her ground, and the stance telegraphs her intent. This time she will throw him. His original plan is a good one—he knows he outweighs her, and his reach is twice hers; if he can knock her off-balance long enough to close with her, he will outlast her in a grappling match.

Deciding to speak in the language she understands, he attempts to snap a high kick to her head. He's wearing a size twelve steel-toed boot, and to say it will knock her off-balance is being polite about it; should he connect, O'Hara will likely be in critical condition before she hits the ground. But she snaps one of those iron forearms up and surprises him again—she not only blocks his attack, but pushes his leg away from her, forcing him off-balance. Faireborn, shin shock crackling across his nerve endings, takes a stuttering step—Christ she is strong—and she takes the opportunity to bounce forward, smashing her fist into his face. He tastes blood.

He doesn't get it. She is the criminal here, and it is simply his assignment to apprehend her. It is just a job, and while he can understand her fighting like the trapped animal she's become, the crack of her fist against his jaw is like a gunshot, the drill of her foot in his gut a battering ram. She's hitting him with far more power than a hundred-and-twenty-pound woman should have, no matter how hard she's trained or how many black belts she has.

And she's not retreating, either—he'd have thought that the minute she'd knocked him off-balance enough to have an opening, she'd flee, but she isn't. She's pressing her advantage, hammering him. It could just be that she's determined to put him down hard enough that his pursuit of them will be delayed, but...

...but if he didn't know better, he would swear this was personal.

It has to hurt her, he thinks dizzily, trying to clear the pain and confusion out of his head. He already knows he's bruising, feeling the patches of tenderness she's pounding into his skin, and he's nearly a hundred pounds heavier than she is, all of it solid muscle. But she gives no sign that she feels the shock of the blows. The maddeningly calm, steely expression on her face, coupled with the fact that her last punch had been a dismissive jab, as if she couldn't be bothered to really try, suddenly enrages him. He winds up and strikes out at her as hard as he can, managing against the odds to land a blow, not because of the skill or strategy he's previously employed but because anger has finally made him fast enough to counter her. O'Hara goes down, one pale cheek flaming bright red with the force of the hit.

Faireborn's mistake, he will realize later, is treating O'Hara like a girl—his attack had been a reflex, an open-handed slap. Had he closed his fist, she might be unconscious right now, giving him time to collect himself as well as time to restrain her, ensuring she will not be a threat while he removes her into custody, but his anger has overridden his judgment, a fact he will regret when all is said and done.

But for now, O'Hara is where he wants her—on the ground, at his feet. She curls up slightly, drawing her knees up as though she's trying to huddle away from the pain. He approaches as hesitantly as speed will allow—he is unsure if she has a weapon on her person; she was so quick to attack with her bare hands that it did not occur to him to frisk her, not that she would have let him get close enough to. He imagines that if she had a weapon she'd have drawn it by now, but assumptions like those result in dead soldiers more often than not.

It's only when he gets into striking distance that he gets a bad feeling. In single combat, O'Hara doesn't need a weapon—she is the weapon, and he realizes too late that she has stayed down on purpose to lure him closer. Her eyes are sweeping him like radar, and he has a disquieting vision of a computer screen behind her eyes, scanning him, isolating his weak points. He makes the decision to simply haul her to her feet, stepping just close enough that he can reach down and grab her by her scruff.

And with a maniacal gleam of victory flashing in her eyes, O'Hara kicks out. He's not fast enough to avoid the strike, and both her feet slam into his right leg, just above his kneecap. He feels something slide, and dimly realizes he's roaring in pain, the world tilting on its axis as he goes down. Out of the corner of his eye he sees O'Hara regain her feet, a liquid twist of her spine vaulting her from the floor to a standing position like magic. Now their places are reversed—he's flat on his back, watching her tower over him.

Just like that Faireborn knows he's fucked. He's on the ground, and every time he tries to breathe it feels like his lungs are on fire. He has no oxygen to get to his feet, to call for help. To plead for his life.

"I hope that hurts you." O'Hara's voice is flat, sociopathically businesslike.

Oh and it does hurt—his knee is hot in places, cold in others and there's the phantom feeling of something oozing out of it, although he knows that isn't possible.

"What's the matter, Flint?" she says, in the same tone of voice one might use to ask, What time is it? "I thought you were bringing me in, tough guy?"

She's orbiting him now, drifting in a half-circle like a shark. She's toying with him, and that enrages him, but he hasn't got the strength to roll to his side and he doesn't trust his leg to hold him up. He's as good as dead. His teeth taste like blood, and he spits it at her. It spatters on the ground, and she never moves to avoid it; her bottle-green eyes remain on him as though she is savoring every second of his defeat, like she'll keep it in a box in her mind to take out and caress later.

Voices can be heard in the distance, and Faireborn takes a chance. He can't fight her anymore, but it's possible he can scare her off. Even if she doesn't jump for the bait, he'll be no worse off, but she's a survivor—she likes staying alive, and he bets against her risking her freedom simply for the satisfaction of killing him.

"Backup's on its way, and I'll bet it's not yours," he grates out. "Even if you kill me, you'll never see the light of day again, O'Hara. That's a promise."

But he has underestimated her; she is far from finished with him.

Instead of running, O'Hara advances efficiently, her eyes hooded and steely. She knows she has him, and has apparently decided his life is worth her freedom. Or maybe she thinks she can dispatch him fast enough to escape—and after seeing her in action, it's not an unreasonable assumption—but either way, she's kneeling at his side before he can even raise his arms to block an attack. She seizes his collar and yanks him up, so that he is dangling from her fist at a painful angle, the collar of his shirt digging into his neck. He doesn't bother to scratch weakly at her arms—it's a better idea to let gravity do the work and use his own weight against her, and her grip is like iron, her assault fueled by the anger that's heating her blood; he can see the burning rage in her glass-green eyes as she narrows them on him.

It's over. He's finished, and they both know it. It's up to Burnett now, and he hopes they lock this redheaded demon so far underground no one will ever see her again, hopes Burnett "accidentally" gives O'Hara a few bruises on the way into custody.

He sees his own death in her basilisk eyes and vows to go out like a man, to lock gazes with her in this last moment so that the determined look on his face haunts her for the rest of her life.

But it isn't to be. O'Hara leans close, and the last thing he hears is her venomous voice hissing the reason at him—the fuel for the fire inside that has put paid to him this night. Unbidden, Dashiell Faireborn's eyes go wide with surprise and confusion, and that is the look he has on his face when she curls her fingers into a fist one more time. The very last thing he sees is her flushed, warring face, green eyes brimming with a suspicious shine, then her bloodied knuckles.

Right before they put his lights out.


Faireborn dreams of lying on the platform in a crowded train station, with noise and tumult ringing all around him and a train screaming into the station as his eyes open again. He sits up too fast, and it feels like an anti-tank mine has gone off in his head.

A hand on his arm steadies him, and he can feel the steel beneath the softness of the grip, feel the warmth at his side, the faintest scent of jasmine cutting through the air horns in his head. Corporal Burnett has a cute smile; it starts on one side of her face and slowly creeps up the other till it reaches her eyes. "Told you, sir," she says conversationally, her dark eyes twinkling almost merrily. "That redhead has a mean right cross."

Burnett is right, and he should have listened to her. He swallows hard and tries to get the room to focus. The scratchy cushion beneath him is a medical cot, and he's unsure if the few stray eyelashes on the pillow are his own or a previous inmate's; he finds himself revolted regardless. The fluorescent lights are painfully bright around him, bouncing off the tiled floor and the bare vanilla walls. It's an emergency room, he realizes, wanting suddenly to laugh because the emergency is now hours old. "Sit rep."

"O'Hara's in the wind. We just missed her," Burnett explains, although she doesn't sound too sorry about it. "One of our guys singed her hip on the way out with a pulse round, but it didn't even slow her down—she took a flying leap onto that stolen truck and they put the pedal to the metal, sir. Sorry. We tried."

Faireborn would like to question exactly how hard Burnett tried—she has a ridiculous, unshakable loyalty to Duke Hauser, despite her L.T.'s repeated insistence that the man who saved her life is now wanted for murder, and her voice is warm with poorly concealed admiration for O'Hara. Faireborn grits his teeth, and the pressure causes a bottle rocket to scream through his aching head.

Carefully, Faireborn swings his legs over the side of the cot, scrubbing at his face with his hands. Every bruise is reminding him of its presence, the sensory memory of the thrashing flickering across his nerve endings like heat lightning. "They can't have gotten far. We can—"

"Whoa, sir," Burnett says, tightening her grip on his arm, her voice much kinder than her usual insolent tone. Her unaccustomed solicitation tells Faireborn he must look as bad as he feels, and he feels like he's been dismembered and sewn back together again. "You can't get up yet, Lieutenant. You really took a beating tonight. Take it easy."

Faireborn doesn't have to be told that he's had his ass handed to him—the orchestra is on a ten-city tour of his central nervous system and he's in the percussion section. But he's alive, and that doesn't make sense, either. The Springfield Four are wanted for murder, and he is hunting them; in their warped minds, he is certainly Public Enemy Number Two, right behind Cobra Industries, the focal point of their wild conspiracy theories.

But O'Hara did not kill him.

She could have—he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that she could have. Even before she'd knocked him unconscious, she'd had him on the ground, at her feet. Even though there had been backup coming, she'd have been able to take him out and get clear before they were able to apprehend her; he knows that now. They are enemies—he is hunting her, hunting her comrades, and she'd won the chance to put a stop to it once and for all. But she hadn't—she'd given him back his life.

After beating him within an inch of it to boot.

Why?

Despite Burnett's warnings, Faireborn tries to push off the medical cot and almost ends up on the floor. His right leg is as weak as a newborn calf's, and will not support his weight. Burnett scrambles to catch him, and ends up tucked under his arm, her own arm wrapped around his waist. The two of them stumble in a graceless dance as he nearly takes her down with him. She grunts, surging up with redoubled strength to hold him, giving him the illusion that he is standing on his own.

"I tried to tell you, sir," she pants, breathless with the effort. "Your knee was dislocated. They hadda pop it back in, but you oughtta keep off it for a while."

The knee feels gooey inside, as though it hasn't any bones, and he remembers the look of intense satisfaction on O'Hara's face as she kicked it out from under him. Was it because she'd known she had him then, or had she been intentionally trying to hobble him?

Every memory prompts the same question, pounding like his heartbeat in his ears. Why? Why? Why?

Burnett urges him almost tenderly back onto the cot, and he finds himself rather enjoying having her fuss over him. She warns him to stay off his leg, and informs him that she's going to run for the medic now that he's awake. She backs away warily, as though she doesn't trust him not to get up and limp for the door the instant she's out of his sight, then with another, adorable command to keep still, she whirls and lopes out of the room.

Faireborn has no intention of moving. He aches all over, there are raptors crying and broken tank treads running in his head, and he's figuring it might not be the worst thing in the world to take it easy for a few minutes. He lays back and closes his burning eyes, figuring he'll hear Burnett coming back with the medic in time to look alert again. The dark behind his eyelids is soothing, and for a moment he can almost forget the fight, the feeling of finality as his back hit the ground, the terrible green fire in O'Hara's eyes as she stood over him...

Just before sleep claims him once more, the last piece of the puzzle clicks into place, and he remembers Shana O'Hara's lips twisting in hatred, remembers her last words to him as she surveyed her handiwork, his hobbled leg, his prostrate form. Remembers the glitter of tears in her eyes, the rage and sorrow in her voice as she told him why, just before she punished him one last time with a knockout punch.

"He wanted to be an engineer, you son of a bitch."


Author's Notes:

Yo Joe Cola, while definitely sounding ridiculous enough to be something I made up, is actually mentioned in G.I. Joe Special Missions #4 (and possibly elsewhere; I've only seen it in the issue "Mexican Holiday").

Alan Silvestri is a Hollywood composer who's scored countless movies, but his more recent works include two of my favorites, The Avengers and Captain America, the latter of which especially puts me in mind of my Joes, who serve their country even without the aid of super powers.

The Joes are all about teamwork, and they're right, which is why I'm glad I've got a great one—big thanks to both Cloudwalker and Bronwynn for going over this with me while it was still in its think-tank stage; it wouldn't have made it out otherwise!

What makes this redhead sad: I'm so sad there was no way to shoehorn Timber into this story. Next time, big wolf!