New Dog, New Tricks

Storm Shadow crept through the encampment in silence. He had already neutralized two guards, and had orders to do whatever was necessary to complete the mission. He loved that word…"neutralize". It was vaguer than 'dispose of', and a hell of a lot more subtle than 'kill the mother fuckers'. That part of his new job got on his nerves. Working with GI Joe meant cooperating with the American Government and all of their bureaucratic niceties. At least with Cobra there was no question as to what the Commander wanted. If he meant kill, he said kill. He didn't bother to 'neutralize' his enemies.

He silently climbed onto the roof of a metal storage shed and crouched low to avoid a passing guard. The guard was too visible to be neutralized (ha) right now, so concealment was the best option. When the guard passed, Storm Shadow ran and jumped from the shed to grab the eave of the roof on the adjacent building. He effortlessly pulled himself up and quickly hid behind the brick chimney. He waited until the man on the roof walked past him before reaching up and expertly snapping his neck. He gently eased the man down and hid the dead body behind the chimney. He moved over to the glass skylights in the middle of the roof and circled them, scanning the room below from all possible angles. He inspected the panes around the skylights and found that they were wired with an alarm. "So much for sneaking in this way", he thought. He crawled to the ledge of the roof and peered out at the compound to survey his options. From the distance came the rumbling of a truck engine, and shortly thereafter Storm Shadow saw headlights cutting through the foliage. An old Vietnam era 'deuce and a half' drove into the compound and stopped in the center of the courtyard. The driver got out and went to the back where the canvas tarp opened, and assisted his men in unloading the cargo. Storm Shadow's eyes widened when he saw Recondo, Stalker, and Ripcord being roughly pushed from the truck at gunpoint, and led into one of the concrete buildings. "I guess this is now a rescue mission too," he thought to himself.

Mission Briefing – Joe Headquarters – 0800 previous day:

The Joe's briefing room was set up in standard fashion. Six rows of folding chairs with an aisle down the center, five chairs to a side, were set in perfect alignment. A six inch riser was five feet ahead of the first row of chairs with a wooden podium set to the right side. A large projection screen hung dead center from the front wall. Eight Joes presently occupied the room. Beach Head was in his customary front row, aisle seat; Lady Jaye was in the second row farthest from the door next to Lifeline, with Recondo sitting two seats over chatting with her. Wild Bill sat in the back with Ripcord arguing about the Astros and Reds. Stalker sat in the third row next to the team's newest member, Storm Shadow.

Storm Shadow had joined GI Joe about a month ago and was slowly being assimilated into the team's day to day activities. It had been a surprisingly easy transition for him as far as training and learning of the rules went. For three days he was treated as a fresh off the bus newbie going through basic. Only the high brass at the pentagon were aware of his highly decorated record as a combat soldier during the Vietnam War, and in many ways he too had forgotten that part of his past, so it didn't bother him. When he quickly breezed through every obstacle course and training exercise that Beach Head could imagine, his stature amongst the troops rose. When Duke asked him to teach a hand to hand combat class to some of the 'lesser qualified' Joes, the attendees were impressed with how supportive and reassuring a teacher he was; never belittling them or trying to show off his obviously exceptional skill.

He expected a transitional period. Some time would have to pass before his former enemies would learn to accept the ex-Cobra assassin as someone they could trust. Snake Eyes had given him continuous support from the beginning and acted as a tour guide around the base. He began to go without his customary mask during everyday events to give an air of openness to his new comrades, and was learning to become 'one of the guys' again. It surprised him how all the years of solitude since his sensei's death had deteriorated his social skills. When the guys from his martial arts class asked him to attend movie night, he did, even though he had no idea what a 'Star Wars' meant. If a crew was needed for a menial job on the base, he volunteered.

Still there were some on the team that were always watching his actions and questioning his motives. But he knew that given time, even the most hostile would learn to trust him, the same as he was learning to trust them. He figured that was the reason he hadn't been sent on any missions. He was on the emergency backup team for the last two, but had yet to be sent into the field. But, once again, he was prepared for this. It was difficult for him to live by a structure that wasn't on his own terms, but his lifetime of training and daily meditation kept his mind balanced.

"Good morning, gentlemen," Duke announced as he entered the briefing room. "And lady," he quickly corrected. The group quieted as he strode up to the podium and opened a thick file. He flicked a switch on the podium, dimming the lights and sending a projected image onto the screen. "This is Hector Feliz, a Columbian businessman specializing in the export of sugar cane and coffee. He is also a suspected narcotics trafficker and arms dealer." Duke pressed a button on the podium and the image on the screen changed. "This is Feliz's home in the jungles outside of Cali. It's more of a compound actually, with his estate being guarded by a well armed security force." Duke flipped through a few more images showing the many security patrols around the estate. "The security is believed to be an army of guerillas that Feliz has personally outfitted and financed to protect his drug shipments out of Columbia. Jaye, do you have anything to add?"

The lights came back on as Lady Jaye stood to address the room, "the Colombian government would be very happy if Senor Feliz would agree to stop making cocaine and disband his army, but that doesn't seem very likely. So we're going to do Colombia a favor and stop any potential uprising before it can start."

"Excuse me, Sir," Beach Head piped up, "but what business is it of ours to meddle in another country's potential problems?"

"We have Intel that suggests Cobra is in negotiations with Feliz to send troops to reinforce the guerillas," Duke answered. "We can assume that in exchange for soldiers, Cobra agents will be installed in high level government positions after the revolt."

"Our satellite shows that roughly forty Cobra soldiers joined the guerillas yesterday," Jaye added. "They appear to be training the army in the weapons and tactics that Cobra is presently using."

"That is how this became our concern," Duke finished addressing Beach Head. "All of you will be boarding a plane to Bogotá. From there, Stalker will lead Ripcord, Recondo, and Storm Shadow into the jungle to infiltrate Feliz's compound. Beach Head, Lady Jaye, Lifeline and Wild Bill are the extraction team. You will receive detailed orders on the plane. The flight leaves from the airfield in forty-five minutes so get a move on. Dismissed."

The Joes stood and began to exit the room when Stalker laid a hand on Storm Shadow's shoulder. "You're ready for this," he assured him. "Whatever happens, I got your back." Storm Shadow nodded. "Remember, 45 minutes until we leave. Be a little early."

Army Transport Plane en route to Colombia – 1100:

Beach Head had opened the sealed envelope containing the team's orders as soon as they were in the air. He had briefed everyone and they had gone off to prepare as they deemed necessary. He cast a watchful eye on Storm Shadow, watching him as he sat in the aisle, his legs crossed and his eyes half open in a meditative state. He couldn't believe that this entire mission revolved around the performance of the Cobra ninja. He still didn't trust Storm Shadow, and he believed he had very good reason. He cursed to himself as Stalker walked over and took the seat next to him.

"You can relax," Stalker chuckled, "I don't think he'll try to steal the plane out from under you."

"Very funny," Beach Head scoffed.

"Look," Stalker started, "I know you have issues with Storm Shadow. All of us did at first. You might not think he's much of a soldier, but he's one hell of a fighter. He, Snake Eyes and I were in the same unit in 'Nam and some of the things he did," he paused searching for a description, "unbelievable. I think he saved more men than he harmed."

"That was a long time ago," Beach Head replied. "A lot of things have changed since then."

"Yes it was. But even when he was with Cobra, his sense of honor and responsibility never wavered," Stalker countered.

Beach Head considered this for a moment, "maybe so, but he's got a lot to prove before I let him cover me in a fire fight."

"You know something, Beach, he already understands and accepts that," Stalker said as he rose from his seat. "It's difficult for him to trust us too." With that Stalker returned to his spot on the plane and began to study his Intel. Beach Head glared at Storm Shadow for a few more seconds before returning to his mission preparation.

On the Road from Bogotá to Cali – 2200:

Two black SUV's drove along a little used back road through the Columbian jungles. The team had arrived and set up shop with no interference from local authorities or suspicion from civilians. Lady Jaye was driving the second SUV with Lifeline, and Wild Bill was driving Beach Head, Stalker, Recondo, Ripcord, and Storm Shadow in the lead truck. The mission was very simple and straight forward. The team was to be dropped off 25 klicks outside of Feliz's estate, hike the distance, infiltrate, and eliminate Senor Feliz without arousing his guards. The logic being if you cut off the head, the body dies. In other words, without Feliz's money and supplies, his army will disperse. Unfortunately, everyone knew from experience that the easier it seemed, the more fucked up it was likely to become.

Lady Jaye lifted her radio to her mouth and made contact with the lead vehicle, "one klick to insertion point."

"They're ready," Wild Bill's voice called back. The first SUV slowed its speed and moved to the shoulder of the road.

Lady Jaye checked her mirrors and looked over her shoulder to see if they were being followed. "We're clear in the back," she called over the radio.

"No oncoming," Wild Bill responded. "They're out." The back, left door opened and one by one the Joes leapt out into the jungle. "Chickens flew the coop," he called after all of the team had exited.

"Rodger," Jaye called back, "chickens are clear." She watched Beach Head reach out of the back seat and pull the door closed as the SUV eased back onto the road and resumed its normal speed.

Jungles of Colombia – 2030:

The team had spent the rest of the night hacking their way through the jungle toward Feliz's compound. They went non stop until dawn, then slowed their pace, and took frequent rests as the daylight began to betray their position. Now as night fell, the four Joes sat in their encampment awaiting the next phase of the plan. Recondo was watching the perimeter from underneath the camouflaged netting that covered the fox hole they had dug earlier. Ripcord was curled in one of the corners taking a much needed nap, and Stalker and Storm Shadow were going over the mission details.

"We're here," Stalker said as he pointed to a spot on the map. "The compound is about a klick and a half north from here. At 2300 you'll leave the camp and make your way to Feliz. Get in, do your thing, get out, return here, and we all go home. Easy as pie."

"Did you ever try to bake a pie," Recondo questioned, "it's actually very difficult. Making sure the dough is the right thickness, getting the proper pan size…" He was quieted by a menacing glare from Stalker. Storm Shadow was studying an aerial photograph of the compound, memorizing the uses of each building and the locations of the gates and guard towers, but smirked at the joke.

"We'll be on the rock outcropping on the hill watching you," Stalker refocused his attention and pointed up to the roof indicating the large mass of boulders that were a short distance east of the camp. "We have to send you in without any sort of communication, but if something goes wrong, we'll see it and the Calvary will come-a-runnin'."

The ninja nodded his head and did a good job concealing his surprise that they would come after him. He had spent so long in an organization whose mindset was 'if you get caught, tough shit', that having back up still seemed a foreign concept. He put down the photograph and began to once again re-study the compound's security measures, and scheduled guard movements. "You have two hours and eighteen minutes before go-time," Stalker said after checking his watch. "Get some rest."

Storm Shadow nodded again and put down the briefing. Stalker stood and placed a friendly, reassuring hand on his shoulder before resuming his position with Recondo on guard duty. Storm Shadow was grateful for that last gesture. Truth be told, he was nervous about this mission. This was going to be his first and only chance to prove to the Joes that he was squarely on their side. Not to mention that his success would go a long way in winning the trust of the group. As he settled into his meditative trance he marveled at how important Stalker's friendship was beginning to mean to him. He had always done his job and then retreated back into his isolation, and he planned on living the same lifestyle with the Joes as he had with Cobra. But if he were to be honest with himself he had to acknowledge how much he wanted to be part of the team, not just a member of GI Joe.

Lookout point – 2315:

"He's in," Ripcord whispered as he looked through the high powered night vision scope. Stalker tapped Ripcord's shoulder and was handed the scope. He looked through and focused on Storm Shadow as he ducked behind one of the buildings to avoid a passing guard. Both he and Ripcord looked up quickly as they each heard the faint sound of movement around them. Stalker put down the scope and moved his rifle into firing position. They scanned the darkened area using only the light from the crescent moon.

"Drop your weapons or your friend dies," a voice arose from their left. They turned quickly to see three men with AK-47s on a boulder slightly below their present position. A fourth man held a pistol to Recondo's head. Stalker took a glance over his shoulder and noticed three more assault rifles pointed at them. He gave a nod to Ripcord and the two Joes lowered their weapons. "Throw them off the cliff," the voice ordered and they did as they were told, listening to the clatter they made as the rifles fell seventy feet through the trees and crashed to the jungle floor below.

"How am I going to do this?" Storm Shadow perched on the roof of the main house and watched his three teammates being led into a heavily guarded building. The mission details clearly stated that Feliz was to be 'neutralized' at all costs, including the loss of team members. Even with the heightened alert of the security force, he could still easily eliminate the target, return to the pickup point and enlist the help of the back up team, but who knows if they would return to the compound in time, especially after the guerillas found their financier dead. He knew that he had to get them out now, and searched his mind for a way to accomplish this new mission without compromising the old one.

The ninja watched Hector Feliz exit the main house with a three man entourage of armed guards and head toward the building where the Joes were being held. He had no doubts that he could start tearing through the guerilla army, kill Feliz, and get to his friends before anyone could lay a hand on him, but that would be a bit too obvious. After all, this was supposed to be a covert operation. He would have to be quiet about this. He silently exited the roof of the mansion and sneaked to the outbuilding to look through a window and survey his options.

The seven man roving patrol that had taken the captives was led by a Cobra Officer, and a Viper. The other five men were members of the drug lord's army. They were now in charge of incapacitating the prisoners while Feliz's personal security interrogated them. Feliz himself stood back and waited for the answers he wanted. The man asking the questions suddenly slapped Recondo with the back of his hand. Stalker struggled to break free and received a shot to the guts with the butt of the Viper's rifle. Ripcord was given a similar blow from one of the guerillas and he remained upright only by the men holding him.

Feliz quickly regained control of the situation by firing a small pistol into the air. Two more guards rushed through the door at the sound of gun shots. "Resume your post," the cartel leader spoke. As they left he pointed to Stalker and said, "take him into the other room and make him talk. If he doesn't, shoot him. Then work on his friends." He snapped his fingers and his personal security accompanied him out of the building.

Storm Shadow watched as the Cobra Officer ordered Recondo and Ripcord to be tied up before following the two soldiers in charge of Stalker through a doorway and into another room of the building. He lingered long enough to note the location of his friends in the room before hurrying to the next window. Stalker's hands had been bound to the arms of a metal chair and the Cobra was forcefully asking questions. Stalker's head was bowed and he refused to say anything. The Officer hit him repeatedly, the last time knocking loose a tooth. Stalker lifted his head and spit a bloody wad in the Cobra's face. The soldier's features tightened as he wiped his face with the back of his hand. He then drew his sidearm and pushed the barrel against Stalker's forehead. Storm Shadow readied himself to attack as the soldier offered up another question. The ninja's world went into slow motion as his mind went into its zone. He took a few steps back from the window as the Cobra Officer lowered his gun to Stalker's leg. He began to run forward and leapt through the air, crashing through the window just as the shot burst from the muzzle of the gun, the bullet entering Stalker's thigh. Storm Shadow immediately tossed two throwing stars at the Colombian soldiers, striking them both in the windpipe, before drawing his sword, and plunging it into the Cobra's heart. He then made quick work of finishing off the other men. After he waited a short while to see if the shot brought additional guards, he deftly removed the ropes from around Stalker's arms and used them to cut the circulation to his leg.

Stalker was in incredible pain, but managed to speak. "Complete the mission," he grunted as Storm Shadow pulled the tourniquet tight, "Feliz must be eliminated no matter what. We'll take care of ourselves."

"Don't worry, it's under control," he promised as he helped his friend from the chair, handed him a Beretta 9mm that he had confiscated from the dead Cobra, and stood him in the corner of the room. He approached the door and stood with his sword at the ready.

"Sir, are you ready for the next one," a voice called from the other side of the door. "Sir? Is everything ok?" The Viper's hand grasped the doorknob and turned, as he cautiously peeked his head inside. Storm Shadow took the opportunity to plunge his sword into the man's neck before exploding into the room and attacking the other soldiers.

Ripcord remembered hearing the door crash open, then he saw the overhead lights glint off of highly polished, tempered steel. Next thing he knew he was on the floor and the two men who were guarding him were lying there with him. One big difference, he was still alive. He turned his attention the other way as two deafening shots filled the room followed immediately by a scream that was cut off before it could really start. Ripcord thought of Stalker, jumped to his feet and hurried into the other room, ready to defend himself, all the while wondering where the ropes that had bound his hands and ankles had gone. He saw Stalker slumped in a corner holding a pistol in one hand, his face contorted in a grimace of pain. He rushed over to him, checking the knot in the rope around his leg. "Take it easy, buddy. It's a clean shot. Bullet went all the way through." He reassured his fellow Joe after he checked the wound, "looks like it missed the bone too."

Recondo joined them and announced, "Storm Shadow said to get him out of here, and get back to the fox hole. He'll take care of Feliz." He handed Ripcord one of the AK-47's he had taken from the dead guards.

"I don't think they found where we were hiding," Ripcord added. "Hopefully we can radio Wild Bill to pick us up." He waited a few seconds, "seems quiet. If we can sneak out of here quickly we should make it."

"Can't leave Tommy," Stalker whispered through clenched teeth.

Recondo regarded him with a confused expression as he wondered who Tommy was. He chalked it up to the pain, but played along. "We won't buddy," he answered, "but we gotta get you out of here now." Ripcord looked out of the broken window and when the coast was clear he climbed out. Recondo then passed Stalker through the empty pane, and hastily joined them. "Storm Shadow said that the easiest way to get over the wall is the way he came in, so let's head that way."

"Yo Joe," Ripcord whispered as they each hooked an arm around an unconscious Stalker and made their way to the edge of the compound.

Storm Shadow watched from the roof of the mansion as Ripcord and Recondo lifted Stalker over the wall and out of the compound. Once he was sure they were clear he refocused on the mission objective. He still wanted to remove Feliz quietly, but he knew it was only a matter of time before the compound was alerted that the prisoners had escaped, and then it would be nearly impossible to get to Feliz. He heard a faint sound of a door opening from below him and crept to look over the eave of the roof. "Dumb fucking luck," he muttered to himself.

Below him, Feliz and an armed escort had gone onto the balcony that faced the jungle. He was smoking a cigar and scanning the landscape through a pair of night vision binoculars. Storm Shadow eased himself over the edge and dropped soundlessly to the balcony below, directly behind the guard that was standing off to the side. In one fast, fluid motion he twisted the man's head, snapping his neck and killing him instantly. He was on Feliz before the dead guard hit the ground and slid the full length of his sharp sword across the drug lord's throat, nearly decapitating him. Storm Shadow knelt down by the fallen man and confirmed that he was dead. He looked up as another guard turned to walk through the doors and threw himself off of the balcony before he could be seen. He heard the guard sound the alarm as he was climbing over the wall. They weren't out of this by a long shot.

Base camp – 0030:

"Chicken Little to Mother Hen, come in Mother Hen," Recondo spoke into the radio. It had been a difficult trip avoiding the roving patrols through the jungle, but they had made it back to the fox hole without being seen.

"This is Mother Hen," Beach Head's voice crackled through the receiver, "what's the status"

"The sky has fallen, repeat, the sky has fallen," Recondo answered with the code that meant that the mission had gone to shit.

Beach Head signaled the rest of the Joes to pay attention. "What's your position, Chicken Little?"

"We are at base camp. We need immediate Medevac. We have wounded." The Joes immediately sprang into action gathering all the supplies in camp. Wild Bill ran outside to warm up the Tomahawk. "Our best evac point would be LZ Echo," Recondo continued. "It's not the closest, but the terrain is easiest to cross."

Beach Head consulted the map in front of him and agreed with the assessment. He nodded to Lady Jaye who went to inform Wild Bill of the coordinates. "Confirmed, Chicken Little. Mother Hen is en route and will be there in thirty minutes."

"We'll be there," Recondo replied, "Chicken Little out." Recondo started to pack up the radio and glanced at Ripcord who had been dealing with Stalker. He was conscious again, and the bleeding had slowed, but if they didn't get out of here soon, he might not pull through. Ripcord finished applying a large bandage over the wound and nodded to Recondo who used his night vision goggles to scan the area. "Someone's coming…and fast," he whispered as Ripcord joined him at the edge of the hole. They both tensed and leveled their weapons in anticipation of an attack. "Wait, its Storm Shadow," the two Joes relaxed and let out their breath. "Let's get moving."

Storm Shadow arrived at the fox hole in time to help lift out Stalker. Recondo relayed the evacuation plan and asked for a mission status. "Feliz is dead, but his personal security found him just as I was leaving. The whole army will be after us." The Joes exchanged worried glances. "The two of you go as fast as you can to the LZ. I will get the rest of our gear, hold off the guerrillas for as long as I can, and meet you there."

"Forget it," Ripcord said, "we have the radio, the first aid kit, and our mission papers. We're all getting out together," he locked eyes with the ninja and watched as understanding came to him. "Let's go, we have to get Stalker out of here."

Storm Shadow jumped down into the fox hole, grabbed his back pack and threw it out of the hole. "Give me two bullets," he ordered, and Recondo ejected two from his rifle. The ninja broke the casings and scattered the gun powder around the hole. He jumped out of the hole and produced a match from his pack. "Go quickly" he commanded, and they began to drag Stalker into the jungle. Storm Shadow struck the match with his thumbnail and tossed it into the fox hole, igniting the powder and shortly thereafter the remaining contents of the hole. The resulting flame would be seen for quite a distance, and hopefully draw the guerillas away from their pursuit. He easily caught up to his teammates and handed Ripcord his pack as he took Stalker and hoisted him over his shoulders in a fireman's carry. "Lead the way," he gestured to Recondo and he began jogging ahead of him. Ripcord followed Storm Shadow and covered their backs as they hurried toward the rescue chopper.

Aboard the Tomahawk – 0100:

"How far out are we," Beach Head asked Wild Bill from the passenger compartment.

"Less than two minutes," the pilot replied. "I can see the LZ from here." Beach Head returned to his position and instructed Jaye to take her spot opposite him by the door. A voice suddenly sounded through his head set, "that's our boys," Bill said, "and they've got a mess of trouble crawling after them! Get ready, Joes, we're going in hot!"

"I see the chopper," Recondo yelled as he pushed his way through the brush. "Keep laying down fire!" Ripcord let go with another short burst behind him causing the pursuing cartel to search for cover. They waited at the edge of the clearing as the Tomahawk hovered before setting down, "Get Stalker to the chopper," he hollered to Storm Shadow who nodded and ran swiftly across the field.

He reached the helicopter just after it touched down as Lady Jaye and Beach Head hopped off to give fire support to the other Joes who were retreating out of the jungle. He loaded Stalker onto the Tomahawk and quickly informed Lifeline of the nature of the wound. "He was shot at point blank range. Bullet exited cleanly." Lifeline nodded as Storm Shadow turned to help out his team. Ripcord had run out of ammo and was now running with Recondo back to the chopper as Jaye and Beach Head moved toward them laying down cover fire.

Once her teammates had gone past her, Lady Jaye sprayed the surrounding jungle with another burst from her M16, then turned and ran towards the hovering helicopter. She was almost back when an explosion rocked the night. She hit the deck, was quickly pulled to her feet by Storm Shadow, and retreated to the safety of the Tomahawk. By the light of the flames, they could clearly see their pursuers enclosing them on two sides. Also, they saw the prone form of a downed Beach Head fifty yards from the helicopter. Storm Shadow immediately ran into the hail of gunfire, and Ripcord started to go after him. A strong hand clamped down on his shoulder and he turned to see the painful expression of Stalker. "Stay here, he'll get him." Lifeline tried to get Stalker to lie down, but he wouldn't relax until he was sure no one would chase after Storm Shadow. They all turned to see the ninja crouch over Beach Head and release a handful of throwing stars in rapid fire succession, buying him enough time to scoop up his fallen comrade and sprint back to the helicopter. They loaded into the chopper and watched in awe as Storm Shadow managed to avoid the bullets that were flying around him. In one fluid leap he left the ground and landed deftly on the deck of the Tomahawk as it was lifting off.

Ripcord began to assess the situation as soon as Beach Head was set down. "He seems fine, just unconscious." Beach Head let out a groan and started to stir. Ripcord put a hand on his chest to steady him, "easy, buddy, you're ok. Just relax."

Beach Head suddenly sat up, his head clearing, "what happened? Is everyone ok?"

"We're off the ground and headed back to base," Ripcord assured him. "A grenade blew up near you and knocked you flat. You don't seem to have any injuries, but you hit your head when you landed and were unconscious when Storm Shadow got you."

Beach Head quickly looked at the ex-Cobra who was staring out of the Tomahawk, observing the guerilla's attempt at pursuit. He wasn't sure what to say, or how to say it. The ninja made eye contact with him and he held his gaze. "He's hit," were all the words Beach Head could think to say. The rest of the team looked at Storm Shadow and noticed the blood stain on his side.

Lifeline looked up from the work he was doing on Stalker as Lady Jaye rushed over to him to inspect the wound. He flinched away from her, not in pain, but because he wasn't sure he wanted her touching him. He quickly relaxed and allowed her to lift his tunic. "It's just a nick, but it could benefit from a thorough cleaning and maybe a butterfly bandage. Hand me the alcohol." Ripcord pulled a bottle out of the first aid kit and handed it to her. "This will hurt," she addressed Storm Shadow. He nodded to her and lifted his arm behind his head, stretching his oblique muscles as she began to pour the liquid into the bullet wound. She was surprised that he didn't flinch, his breath didn't catch, or that he didn't pull away. The team sat in silence as the injured were treated and the helicopter headed for home.

Joe Headquarters – 0900 day following mission:

A full report was given to Duke, and the mission was a success. Stalker would be out of action for nearly a year while he healed and rehabbed, but was expected to make a full recovery and rejoin the Joes. As Storm Shadow left the briefing room after a bevy of 'congratulations', 'nice jobs', and 'at-a-boys', Beach Head stopped him. The two adversaries locked eyes and stood in silence for a few moments.

"How's the injury." Beach Head questioned, obviously making small talk to avoid his true intentions.

"Fine," Storm Shadow replied, "it's almost completely healed. How's your head?"

"Fine." Another silence fell between them. Storm Shadow turned to walk away but Beach Head spoke, "look...I know…" He stopped and searched for the words. "Thanks," he stuck out his hand and Storm Shadow firmly gripped it. "If you have any questions about the way things work around here just ask, ok?" The ninja nodded his understanding and broke the hand shake. "See you at PT," the drill sergeant hollered as he walked away.

Storm Shadow continued on his way to the gym to meet his martial arts class, trying to contain his smile. He had accomplished something that very few people could claim. He rendered the unshakable Beach Head practically speechless. As he walked into the gym he was enthusiastically greeted by his class. "So, Stormie," Shipwreck called to him, "are you ready to get your butt whipped again today?" The rest of the group erupted into groans and laughter, and at that moment Storm Shadow felt like he was finally part of a team.