Chapter 4...Sergeant Conrad Houser

Duke was...slow.

When it came to the people around him - gossip, or local events...anything that didn't involve him directly, he had always been slow at figuring out what was going on. And even sometimes when it did involve him! Back in High School, apparently lots of girls were interested in him. Conrad was totally clueless about it.

According to his friends, the girls thought he was 'too hot to approach'. Well, how was he supposed to know they were interested if they didn't talk to him? So he'd only had one girlfriend in high school. And it didn't last very long. But he was just fine with that, since he had his family and his future to worry about instead.

But back to the point: Duke didn't notice personal things quickly. Especially not relationship-y things. If anyone had ever told him that, in less than five years, Flint and Lady Jaye would be married - he would've laughed. If anyone had ever told him that Baroness and Destro, the COBRA executives, were in some sort of relationship, he would've been confused. And if anyone had ever told him that there was something going on between Snake Eyes and Scarlett...he wouldn't have known what to say.

Duke was used to being good friends with ladies without anything romantic going on. So he never made boyfriend/girlfriend jokes like Tunnel Rat, or talk about how close they are like Roadblock did. After all, he and Lady Jaye had been close for years after he rescued her. And to be perfectly honest, Alison was one of Duke's best friends.

As of recent, Duke felt that Scarlett was suddenly becoming one of his best friends as well. He enjoyed her company, loved to make fun of her, respected her much more than when they first met, and...in general, he was glad she was along for the ride. Not to mention that this was all entirely her fault to begin with, so she had to stay with them.

So basically, Scarlett and Snake Eyes' closeless never meant much to Duke. To the point where he didn't really notice any possibility of something more than a deep partnership. But even for someone whose slow on the update, there are small things that make a man wonder...

It really was the little things that made Duke raise an eyebrow.

The whole "sensei" business, plus everything Jinx yelled at Scarlett about. Sure - it was just Jinx being angry and paranoid, but...you never know for sure.

The fact that, on occasion, they had their own secret side missions that Scarlett wouldn't tell anyone about 'til they'd already left. Nothing inherantly suspicious about that, just...it'd be nice if they'd tell everyone what they were up to. Duke was confident it was always COBRA-related though - what was Scarlett interested in that wasn't COBRA?

He still remembered how Snake Eyes grabbed her after they saved Elena's adoptive father. He'd noticed how torn Scarlett was earlier that day, and she seemed so comforted by Snake Eyes. Duke's mind had wandered to the thought of how long these two had been friends. Was it years? Over a decade, even?

Most recently, Snake Eyes and Scarlett went on their own for more than just a side mission while the rest of the guys headed to Brooklyn. Sure, they had a guys adventure of their own, but Duke hadn't heard even a single peep from Scarlett or even a quiet radio signal from Snake Eyes since they'd left. He wasn't worried - Snake Eyes wouldn't let anything happen to Scarlett. Not that she needed help, either! She just...had a knack for getting into bad situations.

It was, not at a certain point necessarily, but with all these things combined together, that Duke was slowly starting to realize that Snake Eyes and Scarlett might not...just be friends. It wasn't his business, so he wasn't going to ask, but he couldn't help a bit of curiosity.

Unfortunately, Duke's suspicions were confirmed in the worst way possible.

Saving Scarlett's life was not an effort to get a "thank you" out of her, or to be just nice, or to get her attention. Duke saved people. That's what he did all the time. It was his reason for staying in the military. Even one innocent life taken was a scratch on his heart he'd never forget. And her life had really been in danger. Once she was out of harm's reach, they found out she did have a minor concussion. Fortunately, Tunnel Rat had had multiple concussions as a teenager and he knew just what to do.

But the way Snake Eyes had rushed down to them and immediately shoved that rock off of her leg - then hesitantly picked her up to take her to the Coyote...Duke knew something was going on. The man may have been silent, but he couldn't hide everything. And his concern was sticking out like a neon sign. Not just concern for Scarlett's health, but...the way he was glaring at them. Well, it seemed like he was glaring.

When they were underground Duke became suspicious. But it wasn't until Snake Eyes saw Scarlett hug him in the truck - that he just left. He stormed off in what was obviously a jealous huff. And Scarlett just stared and sighed. Did she know? She had to know. He'd made it very clear that he was jealous. She couldn't be that blind.

But, well...Duke had just heard Scarlett admit that she'd never really had any friends. And she wasn't close to anyone in her family. So maybe it was possible that she was that blind.

Sighing, Duke mumbled a hopefully reassuring "He'll be back," to Scarlett before walking around to sit in the driver's seat again. He and Snake Eyes had gotten along pretty well after the whole Jinx and Storm Shadow situation a few months earlier. This would hopefully not cause any rift between them, especially since Duke didn't have any romantic feelings for Scarlett. He liked her a lot, but not like that.

Duke bit the inside of his cheek as he considered their situation. Snake Eyes was mute. He never wrote anything down. He rarely spoke in sign language. Scarlett seemed to understand him most of the time anyways. They had to have some sort of long history. The Joes had been together for over a year at this point, so Snake Eyes and Scarlett must've known each other at least that long.

He was very tempted to ask, even going so far as to look over at Scarlett, but she had fallen back asleep already. She looked very...uneasy; her hair was sticking to her skin like it was covered in sweat and she had an upset expression on her face. Duke stared at her and considered waking her up from an obvious nightmare, but turned around and left her alone instead. Maybe she wasn't as clueless as he thought.

((Sorry this chapter was so short! Next one will be extra long.))