Chapter 1: Silent Night

Shana surveyed herself anxiously in the mirror.

Maybe this is too sexy. I don't want to embarrass Snake Eyes when we go out. He hardly ever gets to and I don't want to make him uncomfortable. She pulled off the red sequined halter top she'd put on and reached for her second choice, draped over the bed. Dark red, the same color as the polish Courtney had insisted on putting on her nails that afternoon and that, while she'd protested as Courtney painted the polish on and fumed in impatience while it dried, she had to admit it did look nice against the fair skin of her hands.

The tunic settled over her shoulders, falling in a handkerchief hem to mid-thigh over the black leather pants she wore. Nicer, but now she looked too plain. Not like someone going out to a club, more like someone heading for a restaurant. Although it did hug her curves nicely, emphasizing her narrow waist and full bust. Maybe too full? Courtney had talked her into putting on a padded push-up, and now Shana felt slightly uncomfortable with how much her chest stood out.

She heard a tap at the door to her quarters behind her and knew who it was without turning around. "Snake Eyes, do you think this bra Courtney gave me makes my chest look too big?" she asked absentmindedly as she reached down, trying to wiggle the bra straps into a more comfortable position on her shoulders.

A delicate throat-clearing sound behind her yanked her eyes up to the mirror, and she flushed as bright as her hair. Yes, her visitor was Snake Eyes, as she'd known it would be, but in the hall behind him was General Hawk and Gung Ho. No, Clayton and Ettienne—they weren't dressed in fatigues, they were in regular clothes so that made them off-duty. "Um…." She floundered for a moment.

Clayton's lips were compressed in a firm, thin, tight line, but the corners of his mouth twitched as if he were trying very hard indeed not to smile. Beside him, Ettienne seemed to be trying to control himself, but he wasn't having as much success as Clayton was—he was a bare step away from laughing.

Shana put her hands on her hips and glared at Ettienne in the mirror. "One word, one snicker out of you, Gunnery Sergeant, and you'll be doing extra laps during drills," she threatened.

Snake Eyes turned to the other two men, firmly pushed them out of the doorway, then stepped into Shana's quarters and closed the door. You look lovely, Shana, he signed. You always look lovely.

"Courtney talked me into putting on this push-up bra thing and I think it makes my chest stick out too much," she pulled the tunic off and stared at the push-up bra.

Is it comfortable?

"Not really."

Then why wear it?

"Court gave it to me and told me that if I wore it you'd never be able to take your eyes off me. And I want to look nice for you—we hardly ever get to go out anywhere, and this time we're going with Clayton and Liv, Ettienne and Alex." As Alex's guests, to a bar in midtown called the Europa, where Alex had said that they had 'silent nights', where those who used AMESLAN took over the club for the night. Alex had told them about it earlier this summer during the Colombian fiasco, but things had been so busy they hadn't been able to take advantage of the offer till now.

Snake Eyes stepped close to her, reached behind her and unhooked the bra, tossing it aside on the bed. If you aren't comfortable, then you're not going to enjoy yourself. Forget what you might look like to others and what Courtney's talked you into and wear what you want. You will always look beautiful to me no matter what you wear.

Shana grinned. So simple. Snake Eyes had a way of making everything seem simple and straightforward. She stepped over to her chest of drawers, extracted one of her regular bras, and put that on, then turned toward the bed. "I still have to decide which top to wear."

Snake Eyes rolled his eyes, the universal sign of a man's frustration with a woman's obsession over what to wear. He stepped over to the bed, looked at the choices laid out there, then reached for the red sequined top Shana took off a moment before he'd walked in. This one.

She stared at him. "Are you sure? I mean…it shows a lot more skin than I thought you might be comfortable with." It was a dark cherry color with strings that tied behind the neck in a halter style, then hooked to the high back of the shirt so one could wear a racerback bra without straps showing. The front was embroidered with bright scarlet flowers dotted with bright red sequins and black crystal beads, and matched her black leather pants and high-heeled black leather boots perfectly.

He didn't say anything, simply stood there holding the piece of clothing out resolutely. So she sighed, took it from him, and sorted out the arm and head holes before slipping it over her head. "You're not going to like it." Although she did. She'd gone shopping with Allie and Courtney almost a year ago and found this top in a Manhattan thrift store; it still had tags on it, had never been worn, and she'd fallen in love with it instantly, then bought it at Court's urging even though she'd known she would probably never wear it. "There. See, I told you you wouldn't like it."

For answer, he stepped close, laying gentle hands on either side of her hips, then leaned in and closed his mouth delicately on the junction of her neck and shoulder just under the thin strings of the halter top. The feel of his warm breath against her skin, his hot mouth leaving a trail of wet kisses from her neck to shoulder and on toward the curve of her arm…

She pulled back, slightly breathless. "Snake Eyes…Clayton and Ettienne are waiting…they'll never forgive us if they miss this date with Olivia and Alex…"

Do you want to stay instead of going out? He pulled back to look in her eyes.

"I'm perfectly happy staying here with you, you know that," she said, caressing the side of his face with her palm. And he knew it was the truth, but he also knew that she didn't get out too often because she knew public places made him self-conscious.

And the last time they'd gone to a club it hadn't gone too well…

It had been almost a year and a half ago; they had gone to a Brooklyn hot spot that Courtney and Wayne recommended, and Shana had enjoyed herself thoroughly. She'd taken the dance floor with Courtney as Wayne and Snake Eyes sat at their table in the corner. A lifetime of martial arts training had given her the ability to move as few others could, and she'd been enjoying the sensual pleasure of the dance as well as the wicked merriment at seeing her lover's reaction to her movement. Knowing he was watching put a little more wiggle to her hips, a little more grace to her turns, more heat in her gaze…and he'd signed across the dance floor to her, if you keep that up we'll end up having to leave early and you'll know exactly why…

She'd laughed…and all hell broke loose.

Three guys from the opposite corner jumped him at once; taken by surprise, engrossed in her 'show', one punch actually almost landed by the time Snake Eyes recovered the presence of mind to block it. Moments later the guy who'd tried to punch him was on the floor groaning from a sprained wrist and four other guys had joined the two remaining thugs. Wayne joined the fight, plowing in to defend Snake Eyes (not that Snake Eyes really needed defending) and Court and Shana had piled gleefully into the fight as well. Shana remembered laughing as she blocked punches, got a few good licks of her own in, and was a little sorry when the club's bouncers had stepped in to break up the fight. As the combatants separated Shana got, from the disjointed rambling of the three guys who'd started the fight, that they thought Snake Eyes had been flashing a rival gang's hand signs across the floor and had stepped in to defend 'their territory'. The club had tossed the combatants out on their rears.

All the combatants. Including Shana, Snake Eyes, Wayne, and Courtney.

Shana had lost her temper and blown up at the bouncers. It wasn't fair, they hadn't done anything wrong, they were minding their own business when those hood rats had gotten involved and why should they be penalized? She was so upset she nearly took a swing at one of the bouncers, which would definitely have landed them in hot water not only with the club, the bouncers, the Brooklyn cops, but also with Hawk as well, but Snake Eyes had restrained her, hustled her off. They'd finished what had started out as a fun evening with a magnificent (if silent) argument in sign language in the back of the base's Hummer while Courtney and Wayne sat in the front seat and tried very, very hard not to laugh; but nothing she said could budge him from his determination to never go clubbing again.

It wasn't that she missed it, not really; evenings with Snake Eyes were quieter and always fun, whatever they ended up doing, whether it was staying on base or, rarely, going out to dinner with a few of the other Joes to a 'safe' hangout like Knickerbocker's with Allie and Dash and Clayton. But the adrenaline and, yes, fun of a good brawl was always in the back of her mind when she saw Court and Wayne head for one of their lower Eastside dives, a trip that usually ended up with at least one broken glass. And she knew that Snake Eyes knew, but his purpose for staying away was twofold; one, to keep from the kind of trouble they'd experienced that night and two, to keep Shana from getting into trouble as bad, and as often, as Courtney and Wayne did.

But Alex had insisted nothing was going to happen here, and they were, after all, going with a cop (Olivia), a two star General (Clayton), and a New York Assistant District Attorney (Alex). So he'd agreed to give this a try, though he was prepared to haul Shana out of there if anyone so much as looked at them the wrong way. He did feel bad that she didn't get out as often as the other girls; he saw the wistful looks she passed Courtney's way whenever the blond tank jockey left, although she hid it well and never once said a word of complaint.

Hopefully, if this worked out…

He could feel her restrained excitement as Clayton drove the Hummer across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge that led from Staten Island and Joe base, hidden under the old Fort Wadsworth Historic Site, into Lower Manhattan. By the time they pulled to a stop outside Olivia and Alex's apartment building both women were already there, dressed in light jackets; a week into December and the weather had remained unseasonably warm, for New York anyway, although they'd heard that western New York, where Cam and Charlie were on leave, had already seen the first snows of winter. Alex directed them through the maze of New York streets until they got to a quaint, cozy-looking establishment with a sign that read 'Europa'.

The bar was separated into two distinctly separate sections; one tastefully lit with subdued lighting that was still bright enough to illuminate the neatly-set tables for anyone looking for a good meal and quiet conversation; the other half, toward the rear of the building, housed a dance floor just large enough for about ten couples to dance without bumping into each other and the sound system was loud but not deafening. As they walked in Snake Eyes did see two bouncers sitting discreetly in the shadows by the front door, but they sat in non-threatening postures, and when one tipped his head slightly in acknowledgement of Snake Eyes' scrutiny, Snake Eyes saw the dog tags hanging around the man's neck. Former serviceman, hmm. His liking for the place rose a notch.

The hostess who seated them and handed them menus smiled brightly and didn't say a word about Snake Eyes' scarred face, something that impressed him. Usually people who saw him for the first time would look at him, do a double take, look at him again, and then would either come the 'pity smile' or would hastily look away, or down. This woman did neither.

And now came the interesting part; conversation had to be silent. Snake Eyes found himself in the novel position of being the one who had to order for them; Shana could have, but she sat demurely with that merrily wicked look in her eyes as he was forced to place the orders for their group; drinks first, then the meal. Clayton, Ettienne and Snake Eyes all ordered one of Europa's 'specialty burgers'; Shana, Alex and Olivia all requested chicken over linguine alfredo; Clayton overruled Olivia and pointed to the burger list. Olivia glared daggers at him, which he responded to by giving her a wide, innocent smile and pointing to her by-now-very-obvious baby bump. She rolled her eyes but made no further comment. Clayton and Ettienne ordered beers; after some thought Snake Eyes did too. Olivia ordered a soda, and Alex ordered some sort of fruit-flavored mixed drink which she asked Snake Eyes to stress to the waitress that should be easy on the alcohol and heavier on the fruit juice.

The waitress who brought their drinks didn't have as much control as the hostess who had seated them. She stared openly at Snake Eyes as she handed him his beer. Shana distracted the waitress quickly with a signed request for a beer of her own, which the woman acknowledged and then stepped away from their table to get, nearly bumping into another waitress in the process.

"I need to use the ladies' room," Olivia heaved herself up from her seat. "Alex, could you show me where it is? It's been a while since I was here." The two women headed off, but Shana and Clayton both saw them head not for the restrooms, clearly marked at the other side of the bar, but for the bar itself. He had an idea where they were going.

Apparently so did Shana, because she slid over in her seat, deliberately sitting up a bit so she could block Snake Eyes' view of the bar as Alex and Olivia spoke in low tones to the bartender. Ettienne figured it out a moment later and started asking Shana questions about how to say the names of some of the menu's entrées in sign language; Snake Eyes stepped in to correct a few that she got wrong…deliberately, Clayton was sure, as he kept one ear on the conversation and one eye on the conversation at the bar. The bartender had gone to the kitchen door, and moments later another person, this one dressed in a suit, came out. Alex and Olivia spoke quickly with him, at one point both taking out their wallets and displaying their badges; Olivia's NYPD badge, Alex's DA's office. At the sight of the DA's badge the man nodded quickly, and the two women headed back to the booth with a decidedly cheerful look on their faces.

Shana took Snake Eyes onto the dance floor with her, leaving Clayton and Ettienne to satisfy their curiosity. "What did you say to him?" Clayton leaned in and whispered to Olivia.

"We informed him that you're an Army General, Ettienne's a Gunnery Sergeant, and Snake Eyes is a decorated active-duty Army veteran who had an unfortunate accident. We also pointed out that if the wait staff continued to make such a point of staring, we could bring a discrimination suit against them. Alex flashed her DA's badge to make her point, and the manager was pretty quick to jump in and say that wouldn't be necessary. I don't foresee any problems. I also don't foresee that particular waitress coming back to our table."

True to Liv's prediction, when their order was brought to their table, it was the same girl who had greeted them courteously at the door. Despite their unspoken agreement to keep this little hiccup a secret from Snake Eyes, Olivia's grin as the woman left with an empty tray was truly insufferable, and Clayton leaned over to whisper in her ear, "If you keep grinning like that Snake Eyes is going to guess something's up." They did, however, bring Shana into the loop when Snake Eyes excused himself to use the men's room about halfway through the meal. Shana had to stifle a laugh and tried to compose herself as Snake Eyes returned to the table. He gave her a questioning look, but she shook her head and busied herself with her meal.

He didn't bring up the subject until that evening when they were back at base. He followed Shana to her quarters quietly; Allie and Courtney were probably both asleep and he didn't want to wake them, so he waited until Shana's door was closed before he signed, So are you going to tell me what all that whispering and giggling was about?

"Alex and Olivia straightened out that one waitress who kept staring at you. They had a quiet word with the manager over at the bar."

They didn't have to. I'll admit…I was kind of enjoying the shock value. As long as no one was causing trouble like last time, they can stare all they want.

She turned to him after she kicked her boots off into her closet. "Sweetheart, I didn't want to ruin our first night out in a while. You were enjoying yourself, so was I, and I didn't want anything to spoil that."

He wrapped his arms around her, dipping his head to bury his face in her hair, and she didn't need to see his hands to know what he was saying; he appreciated her thoughtfulness, and he had wanted the evening to be perfect, too. You don't get out much, and I feel guilty because I know it's because of me. I did like the place, the food was good, and it has been a long time since I got to dance with you. If you want to go back there we certainly can.

She squealed and threw her arms around him, mashing her lips to his, confirming to him that she had indeed missed out on a social life. As he reached out to hug her, heart aching, he felt the strings to her halter top brush his hand, and a different sort of ache awakened. He tugged at one of the strings, and she giggled into his mouth as the knots holding that skimpy bit of cloth around her torso fell apart. The bra followed soon after, then the leather pants that fit her like a second skin and that Snake Eyes had spent half the evening imagining stripping off her.

And then there was no more imagining.