This is a grim story, forewarned art thou.

Focusing on Snake Eyes, cause he's my fav.

There will be death(non-character death). Severe Warning for Grimness(later in story). As always reviews make writer happy. This will be LONG, but I'm 2/3rd done, and will post chapters. Some Chapters may be short, some long. I do change POV at times, and all dialog contained by * text * is referencing Snake Eyes signing ASL. It got real old real fast to write "He signed.." over and over. Written notes should be contained as ^^ text ^^. I tried to keep the language 'not so bad'.

Any questions? Please ask. Comments? Please post.

Thank you for reading.

*Landing strip at the Pit*

The transport plane's engines droned to a low roar as it slowed and taxied to a stop. Once the cargo door was lowered, Snake Eyes lifted his bag to a shoulder and trotted down to head for the edge of the runway. The greenshirts were already swarming about, pushing boxes and driving forklifts, and he wasn't needed. They avoided the mysterious ninja, having heard, and repeated, too many tales of his deadliness to want to chance getting too close. He smiled beneath his mask slightly as a young grunt nearly walked into him looking at his clipboard, and dodged sideways away from him with wide eyes at the last second. His reputation on base served to keep most people out of his way. After this mission, he could look forward to some time at the base, perhaps catching up on his two wayward apprentices' training. General Hawk was always good about breaks between missions, even simple ones like his last foray to gather intel on a small operation. It had turned out to be a fairly unimportant Cobra affiliate. The photos and files Snake Eyes had snitched from the tiny headquarters already had caused it's dissolvement by local authorities. Minor group, no real danger, and little risk. Not the way most of his missions went, but the weird little group had been overestimated by the big bosses, giving Snake Eyes a virtual cake-walk to breeze through. He'd spent an extra day laid over on his trip back, just to avoid dealing with civilian airports, but since it was an open-ended mission, no one should have missed that one extra day. If it kept him from dealing with the public and their disgusted looks at his masked face, he'd take the chance of annoying Duke a bit by being one day late.

"Snake Eyes!" He turned his head to see Shipwreck leaning against a jeep. "Yo! I'm here to drag your sorry butt to the Pit. Jump in." Tossing his bag into the back seat, the ninja listened to his teammate natter on about nothing on the short ride. The latest gossip tidbits(half of which would always turn out to be untrue), comments about Roadblock's upcoming menu(always of interest, even when he rarely ate in the messhall), and the continual lusty thoughts about various Joe female members.. sans Scarlett(only due to the fear of painful dismembership by the present partner sitting next to him) rattled in one ear and out the other on the drive. The jeep bounced over rough patches of road, and Shipwreck threw in complaints about the state of the roads for good measure. Even if Snake Eyes hadn't been mute, there wouldn't have been much opportunity to slip in any words of his own.

"Alright... here you are. GET OUTA DA WAY!" Shipwreck's loud yelling scattered the few mechanics in the large garage bay. Their derisive shouts turned to welcomes when they spotted the resident ninja getting out. "Yeah! Snakes is back, going downstairs boys... save me some dirty greasy work for later!" The sailor's raucous laughter sounded loud as the hydraulic lift began to sink into the floor. A empty oil can got chucked down at the pair, which Snake deftly caught and pitched back upwards just before the upper doors closed. "HA!! Take THAT you losers!!" Snake Eyes looked at the man quietly through his visor until he sobered. "Sorry.. but hey, they threw it!" He looked away, his silent chastisement enough to make for a fairly quiet ride down.

Four levels down was long enough for Shipwreck to begin chattering again. "So tell me Snakes.. how'd your latest ultra-super-duper-so-secret-it-must-be-awesome mission go?" He rocked a hand side to side in answer. "Just so-so?" He nodded, then shrugged slightly and tipped his head forward miming sleep. "Boring one huh?" Another nod. "Well, you know how that chinese saying goes about cursed with excitement. Excitement usually means someone is trying to shoot you in the butt, I think I'd rather be bored."

*Me too. Sleeping is easier than dodging* His signs brought more laughter.

"You got that right. Here ya go, offices, officers, and lingerie. Have fun reporting. I'll tell Roadblock to save you supper." Snake Eyes gave him a wave of thanks and strode down to the main offices, passing by various teammates who greeted him. His nods in return told them he was busy, so no one stopped him. Most of the Joes would be in the messhall at this time of day, and if Roadblock was the cook tonight, everyone who could eat there, would make the effort. He hoped Shipwreck remembered his promise. Eating MREs and beef jerky got him by, but a good hot meal would really be a treat right now.

"Snake Eyes, I thought you'd be back earlier." Cover Girl gave him a brilliant smile. Her perfect face and body shifted behind the desk as she got up to poke her head into the office door behind her. She returned to her seat with her usual grace and poise and tilted a hand over her should towards the door. "Go right in, General Hawk is waiting... impatiently..." He lifted a shoulder and walked in, handing over the file he'd carried with him and standing at attention.

"At ease." He relaxed to parade ground stance, looking over his commanding officer. He was looking a bit more harried than normal, frustrated over some political machinations, or office squabbles no doubt. As head of the Joe team, he had all the normal commanding officer issues, in addition to the bureaucratic idiocy, plus he had to deal with some of the highest authorities there were in the United States, while running a secret branch of the military formed of the most elite and therefor the most odd-ball bunch of grunts anyone could gather. Snake Eyes didn't envy him the task. "I was expecting you at the very latest yesterday." The file was lifted and flipped through briefly. "The organization, if one wanted to grace it with such a title, is pretty much defunct. A few tips to the local authorities closed them down, with the pictures you got. All the more sensitive files came by our courier system day before yesterday. Did you have trouble getting out?" Snake eyes shook his head, then signed slowly.

*I took an extra day to use military transport, Sir.* Hawk's eyes narrowed slightly. He was indeed in a bad mood.

"I see. Next time, you should remember that a... timely.... return to base is also a important part of a correctly run mission."

A stiff nod served to answer. The ninja held himself at a proper stiff parade rest, his only deviation was his movements to sign his words to the general. Several more questions relating to the organization he'd spied on followed. Eventually Hawk ran out of things he wanted to ask.

"You get off easy this time. No shooting or fighting, according to the short report I got." Another nod. "I want you to write up the detailed report.. yourself. Make sure I get a copy by Oh-five-hundred tomorrow." He stared at Snake Eyes for a moment. "Glad to have you back, dismissed." A sharp salute and he turned and left, mentally cursing that he would have to spend the next morning typing up a report, rather than any of the more relaxing or stimulating things he 'could' havebeen doing. Running the advanced hand-to-hand training or just running through a few practices would be top of the list. He sighed to himself. He respected General Hawk more than anyone else he'd served under. But even good men get grumpy, and typing up a report wasn't exactly horrible punishment. He stepped into the elevator and rode it up to the quarters. His tiny room seemed a oasis of comfort, despite the size and the sparse furnishings. He dropped his bag next to his bed, and scooped up a note lying on the pillow.

*Hey Snakes! Missed you tons, had to zip out on a training exercise, see you when I get back! S.* He flipped it over to see if there was more, disappointed when there wasn't. Scarlett wasn't much for long letters, especially not when it was just to inform him why she wasn't around. He'd have preferred to see her right away, but then, there were many things he'd prefer. Another puffed out sigh and he grabbed a fresh set of clothing and headed for the showers. With most of his teammates in the messhall, he could snatch a hot shower and get cleaned up in relative privacy. While many of them had seen his damaged face, no one would ever want to if they didn't have to. He preferred to keep it hidden from view, and most of the Joes would agree it was more comfortable all around. They weren't cruel, but it was a fact of his life.

Hot water and soap made his attitude improve. Other than Spirit who was leaving when he arrived, he had the baths to himself. He barely glanced at the mirror, only looking to note that he needed to clipper his hair soon. Easier to keep it short under his hood and mask.

By the time he made it to the dining hall, it was only a third full. As soon as he was spotted walking in, there was a spate of loud greetings. He signed his replies, and got in line for food. There wasn't a lot left, but when Roadblock spotted him, he grinned widely and came up with a couple of his favorites.

"Shipwreck told me you just got in! Gotcha some good ole' meatloaf and roasted potaaatos, saved it for our best ninja. Gotta keep you fed so you don't go a chewin' up too many of the recruits, right?" He rolled his eyes but eagerly took the tray, signed quickly.

*Thanks, I will thank Shipwreck, I thought he would forget to tell you* Roadblock grinned and then smacked the counter when Clutch whined at him from further back in line.

"Because Snakes just got in from a mission! That's why he gets something special saved fer him. You just been workin' in the danged motorpool!" Clutch leaned in to mock argue, while Snake Eyes moved to a corner of the room to eat. Lifting his mask upwards enough to eat didn't expose much of his face. It didn't make him want to sit with others even so. The food was delicious and he was much hungrier than he thought. By the time he finished and slid the mask back into place, keeping a soda with a straw to sip at, he was joined by Stalker, Duke and LadyJaye.

"You're back, how'd it go?" Stalker settled into a chair with his customary glass of milk for the evening. Snake Eyes signed, using the quick shorthand with his oldest friend in the Joes.

*Quick, in-out, pictures, no meeting* That filled Stalker in, although LadyJaye and Duke tilted their heads questioningly at each other. Snake Eyes elaborated a little. *Fact finding, no fighting* Duke nodded.

"Good, easy peasy missions are the best kind. We just came in from a light-weight firefight.. took down a few BATS and captured a handful of Cobra grunts." LadyJaye leaned back in her chair.

"Scarlett is running a training mission for some of the newer guys. She should be back tomorrow. I heard Hawk is on a rampage, he's been cranky as hell."

*She left a note, Hawk is pissy, I have to write my own full report because I was a day late* Duke and Stalker made faces. Duke fiddled with the salt and pepper shakers.

"I hate paperwork. Every time I turn around there's more of it. For a top-secret group, we sure have to report to a lot of folks by the numbers of papers I have to fill out every day." LadyJaye rolled her eyes at him.

"Oh puuuulease! I happen to know that you have half the secretarial pool mooning over you and they do almost all your filing and typing." Snake Eyes snorted.

*They have to, he types with two fingers, they would wait for weeks to get anything finished* Duke smirked.

"Har-de-har-har. Well just for that, you'll have to do your own paperwork Mr Ninja with mad typing skills." Stalker laughed.

"He does have some typing skills, and of course, the prettiest handwriting ever. We should get him pink paper to use, and he could write all our valentine notes for us to our sweeties!" Snake Eyes gave him the finger while the other two laughed.

*You wish I would. You are jealous.* Stalker laughed and stood up.

"Yeah yeah. My fingers are better are shooting than typing. Too many punching of recruits and Cobras to be nimble enough for pretty cursive writing. See you tomorrow.. late after you spend half the day typing..." He walked away, still chuckling. LadyJaye excused herself to go chat with Covergirl. Breaker stopped long enough to ask twenty questions in rapid succession. Gung-ho broke it up when he reminded Breaker and Duke that the betting pool was over if Snake Eyes had finally made it back to the Pit. Ace was handling the argument over the exact time they should count him back when Snake Eyes slipped out. He debated carrying his weapons down to the armory and cleaning them that night, but decided that rest was in order. Besides, Grunt would be manning the armory this late, and he preferred to strip and clean his gear himself properly, rather than let someone do an 'okay' job.

Walking down the hallways, he whirled suddenly and caught his apprentices as they leapt at him. Dangling one from each hand, he drew them forward and shook his head. Kamakura kicked his feet rather ineffectively, while Jinx tugged at his hand.

"Greetings Sensei!" "Aww poops." He dropped Kamakura to the floor and held Jinx a second longer until she stopped struggling. "Greetings Sensei." He let go of her and watched as she landed lightly on the balls of her feet. He wagged a finger at them.

*Did you truly think to take me unaware? Rash younglings.* Kamakura scrambled to his feet and gave a short bow.

"Merely training and practicing as you instruct us, Sensei." Jinx snorted.

"We followed you from the messhall, that should count for something." Snake Eyes felt his lips twitch as he tried to suppress the smile at their dueling personalities.

*You followed me from Duke's office* Jinx looked away.

"That's nearly at the messhall... " She looked slyly at him from the corner of her eye. "We have been practicing, and waiting for you to come back, Kamakura can almost do all the katas without coaching now." The larger young man shifted and tried not to look irritated.

"I CAN do all the katas, I don't need any 'coaching' from you. I think I would term it 'unwanted commentary' myself." She smirked back at him, having gotten him to rise to her baiting. Snake Eyes clicked his tongue at them and both straightened to stand attentively.

*You both will run through all the katas five times tomorrow.* He rather enjoyed the looks of dismay. *Perhaps you can learn to work together instead of being at each other's throats* Jinx started to protest but thought better of it. Kamakura let out a huge sigh.

"All of them? But that will take hours!" Snake Eyes crossed his arms and he rushed to add, "It will be hours of good practice... " Now he gave a sly look at the slender woman next to him. "... for both of us." Her eyes narrowed and the ninja master held his hands up in despair.

*Hopeless. You'll both give me gray hairs. Why did I agree to take on apprentices?* Both of them protested immediately.

"We'll stop argueing!" "I'm sorry!" He gave them a severe look. He was very proud of them both, and had high hopes for Jinx in particular to reach master status one day in the future, if he could curb her fiery temper. Pairing her with the placid Kamakura had seemed a good idea.. before the squabbling. He turned to continue to his room and they fell in behind him, Jinx needing to almost trot to keep up with the two men's longer legs. He knew that irked her. True to form, she had to speak up.

"Will Sensei require anything tonight?" He shook his head.

*I'm going to bed. Stay out of trouble.* They chorused agreement. *Remember katas tomorrow.. five times* He heard a more chastened chorus to that. Well, perhaps they would learn to stop bickering like children. And it would give him breathing room to do his paperwork. At times, he despaired of keeping up with two young apprentices, Scarlett, and his training duties, balanced with the missions. Of course, he'd been convinced to take on Kamakura by the argument that a second apprentice really wasn't twice the work.. of course, they hadn't mentioned that it would be quadruple the work, instead of less.

His door clicked shut behind him and he stripped off mask and clothing to collapse into bed. The odd bits of noise he could hear in the rest of the quarters filtered in, but instead of keeping him awake, the familiar sounds soothed him. After all, the Pit was as close to a home as he would have.

*Author's note

So it begins...