Small Signs

Hello, it's me, inundating you again. I've got this weird feeling that I've created a mental monster--this is more fanfic than I've been driven to write in years.

Well... anyway, yet more silly slice-of-life thoughts placed in the pre-Marvel universe--after all, by the time #1 comes out, Snake Eyes is already signing. And the reason this story came out of my brain... was because of a rather ill-chosen (if you ask my opinion, anyway) font in the Marvel comics. Well, you'll see what I mean by the end of the story, I guess. This could probably come after "Small Favors," if you want to see it that way, but it doesn't have to.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy!

Sometimes, Scarlett thought that the only reason Snake Eyes finally agreed to take ASL classes was that she'd made him laugh about them. In a lot of ways, she considered that one of the things she was proud of having done in her life—not convincing him to learn sign language, per se, but making him believe, if even for a moment, that his situation could be at all droll.

Snakes had never said that he was actively opposed to taking the classes and picking up a new skill, per se, but she sort of understood the tacit reluctance. It was in small things, this rebellion—he liked to read, but he never went looking for an ASL book in the Pit library; he used his pen and paper to communicate rather than body language, or gestures, or hand signals. Other than his scarring, he was in as close to peak physical condition as he was ever likely to get. Him finally learning how to sign… it was the final admission that no matter how much he trained, no matter in what shape he was in, his voice was never going to come back.

But it wasn't. As horrible as it was, it wasn't.

Then during his third, or maybe it was the fourth, mission since he'd gotten out of the hospital, they'd almost all gotten killed for want of a piece of paper and a pen. Snake Eyes had seen the second recon party about to cross their lines in a Florida bog, but his pad of paper had been generously licked green by the swamp, the barrel of his pen clogged with algae and swamp scum. He'd tried. He really had. But despite his agitation, despite the fact that they shared a kind of rudimentary sign language in the form of their military hand signs, they'd all thought he meant that the first recon party—the one they knew about—was almost on top of them. Which they were.

Charades only worked with animated, eloquent, and slightly silly participants, and, well, Scarlett had to admit—even when he'd been verbal, Snake-Eyes had never exactly been any of the above.

By the time he'd finally gotten the message across, both recon parties had practically been sitting on their heads. Grunt had ended up needing to be airlifted to the nearest hospital; Stalker was going to be out of commission for at least two months and in physical therapy for even longer, after a compound fracture when an APDS went through his shin.

Still, they'd been luckier than they deserved—no-one had died, and the rest of them had gotten off with mostly nicks and bumps and bruises. Large bruises, but bruises healed. Reflexively, Scarlett rubbed what she was calling the map of Bolivia, spreading down her hip and thigh. She, at least, was intensely grateful for the fact that even visibly annoyed by the communication breakdown, Snake-Eyes could take down enough Cobra to account for a small recon party all on his own.

They'd made it through. All of them.

But she'd been able to see in Snake-Eyes' blank gaze, when he left debriefing, that he was thinking of the way pain had creased Stalker's face until he looked twenty years older than he was, and the way Grunt's blood had turned the muddy water into something that stained their BDUs almost black.

His expression was grim, even through his mask, when she knocked at his door later that day. No-one, not even Clutch, had mentioned anything about him being a liability at debriefing—because, frankly, even with his… disability… he wasn't a liability—but no-one was better at wielding the self-flagellating whip than Snakes himself, she'd found. He'd honed himself bright and edged, rasped away at himself with the hard bits of his life until he was as cool and shining and sharp as his swords.

But his throat wasn't a part of him that was going to get better with more PT or meditation… and Scarlett wondered, seeing the way his eyes were dull, chair tipped back, head leaning against wall, if he was going to rub himself raw on the whetstone of his lost voice until he'd worn himself away.

When she came in, his hand was on his neck—he tried to be quick, subtle, about the drift of it downwards, hiding it in the distraction of a nod, but she saw the flick of his wrist.

"Snake-Eyes," she sighed. "I know you're all for meditation, but I'm pretty sure even the best martial artists can't survive on air alone." He'd skipped out on dinner. It just wasn't something a Joe did—for one, Joe cuisine was definitely worth having, much to all their surprise… and for another, they never knew when their next good meal would be.

He simply shrugged, once, and her mouth tightened.

"It wasn't your fault," she reached over to squeeze his shoulder; he barely looked up at her. A bad sign: the last time he hadn't met her eyes was when he'd first woken up in the hospital after the accident. "Hey. Look, these things happen. Messages go awry. We all made it out okay."

His chin jerked upwards, and he gave her a narrow-eyed glance that made it patently clear that he didn't think that was a good parallel to his situation at all. Okay, so it was a little bit of a stretch.

"Well, we made it out," she amended, but it sounded weak even to her. "Snake-Eyes, you can't blame yourself for this."

His chair thumped back down onto the floor, and she barely kept herself from flinching—it sounded so loud against the bare room, like an accusation. Finally, Snake-Eyes reached out for one of the pads of paper stacked around the room, tapping the back of his pencil against it for a long, painfully silent moment, before writing and handing it to her.

[I need to get a waterproof notepad, like the divers have.]

Well… it was a good sign, that Snake-Eyes was thinking of possible solutions for future missions. Wasn't it? He could get a diver's board, that was true—for him, she was pretty sure Hawk could requisition something even better. A small thing, to keep their best quiet commando. But as she studied the loops and curls and lines of his utterly meticulous cursive, thinking of something to say, something that could help… Scarlett had to smile. And before she could keep it down, she'd started laughing.

By the time she finally managed to stop giggling, he was staring at her, something plaintative and inquiring in his gaze. It was better than the flat, uncurious look that was worse than despair. And at least he knew her well enough to know that something had set her off, and that she wasn't just going off her rocker.

"Snake-Eyes, my friend," she offered, seriously, "I really think we need to get you to learn sign language."

If it had been anyone else, she thought his jaw would have dropped. His pencil almost did, roll-roll-rolling right off the notepad—

Scarlett blinked when he reached out and caught it between two fingers in mid-air, without even looking down. Then set the point to paper, staring down at it, starting a line, a letter—crossing it out. The voiceless equivalent to being speechless. And finally, he looked back up at her, and there was almost something angry, betrayed, about his expression.

Finally, she grinned, and his eyes noticeably widened with surprise. "Come on, Snakes. I mean, you're an amazing soldier. An incredible commando. If I believed in ninja, you'd probably be it." He blinked at her, once, very, very slowly. "But you've also got the prettiest handwriting I've ever seen out of a man, and no-one's going to take you seriously if you keep communicating that way!"

This time, the pencil did hit the floor from fingers gone slack—and after him staring at her for forever with those blue, opaque eyes, after a moment that stretched out as long as friendship… his head tipped backwards and he started to laugh that wonderful, shoulder-shaking, silent laugh.

By the time his laughter had trailed off, she was grinning back at him—relieved, warmed, watching the way the tension had left his hands and his shoulders. And when he put pencil to paper again, and started to write, what he wrote was her name—"Scarlett," in that bold, curvy cursive.

But that was all he wrote before looking up at her, and shaking his head, putting down the pencil. She could see him smiling right through his mask.

Pleased, but now a little baffled, she smiled back. This time, when she offered, "C'mon, tough guy. I had the chefs hold a plate for you," he rolled his eyes—but he stood up to follow her into the mess hall.


Start: April 30, 2009
End: May 04, 2009

Thank you for reading! ^_^ As you might be able to guess, well, the script they used for Snake-Eyes' written missives in the original comics was exactly that: a very pretty, slanted cursive, with loopy Ls and Ys and Gs.

What do y'all think? Terrible font choice on Marvel's part aside, I'm contemplating actually continuing this particular thought-bubble of a story. There's not much of anywhere to go with Chapstick, whereas I know a fair bit about language learning and a little basic ASL... hmmm... a thought.

Obviously, there's no assurance that Snakes actually does use ASL rather than simply making do, but it'd be fun to explore all the same. Let me know if you'd be interested in reading something like that!