This is the last chapter. I have to say I'm terribly pleased with this story! I hope that you guys enjoyed it, and I hope you'll keep an eye out for the next story!
If you have comments or suggestions, please leave a review, or PM me. I've greatly enjoyed your reviews!
And finally, here's the end...
* * * *
Snake Eyes sat on a upturned bucket in the kitchen. Hunched over a garbage can, he was studiously peeling potatoes, which was the most clichéd punishment you could mention in the Army. And one of the mess cook's favorite things to do to the men assigned to KP duty as discipline issues.
He glanced over as one of the helpers picked up the full pot to his right. Sighing, he looked at his currant fifty pound bag of unpeeled to his left. Gloves off, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, wearing a stained cloth apron, he was the picture of misery. Just to add a little humiliation, he was fully visible from the mess line where his fellow Joe's were filing by for lunch. A few shouted jibs were largely ignored by the ninja. When he'd had enough, he pitched a large potato at the shouter, and knocked him cleanly off his feet. After that, the ninja was allowed to do his kitchen penance in peace.
Sam the head cook walked over and looked down at him. "You getting 'em done pretty slow, no?" He rolled his eyes and shrugged. "You take too long, maybe I have you do the ones for hash browns tomorrow morning too, hey?" Slumping just a little lower, he made an effort to peel faster. "Good boy. You like to mess with all them ninja blades, you should like working with the paring knife too, hey?" He turned away, and Snake Eyes glared up at the back of the man's head, pointing the tip of the paring knife at it and twisting it in his line of sight. When the cook turned around, he was back to peeling innocently however, and the man could only stare suspiciously at him. The laughter from front of kitchen made him turn to see Duke walking in.
Snake Eyes jumped to his feet to stand at attention quickly at the lieutenant's approach. Duke grinned at him in his apron and shook his head ruefully. "As you were. I think I need a camera." He was glared at, and Snake Eyes gracefully slid back down onto his bucket, seating himself facing deliberately away from him. Taking the hint, Duke turned to the cook instead. "Is he working alright for you? No trouble?"
Sam grinned hugely. "Yaa, Top. He's better than most of the grunts you send me. As long as I keep a spud in one of his hands and a peeler in the other, he can't back-talk me at all." Duke winced, but couldn't help the chuckle that escaped. The ninja glared over his shoulder and shifted his back even more to him, swiping the skin from the vegetable with short quick movements. Sam reached to give him a swat to his back in a friendly manner. "He's still grumpy, I let him know that we're having a bumper crop of taters brought in just for him." A loud snort sounded, and both men grinned.
Duke took a deep breath. "As long as it's going fine, I have to go check on more important things. Snake Eyes.." The commando looked around at him. "Stay out of trouble." He was given a mocking salute. Duke was still chuckling as he walked out. Snake Eyes watched him go and plotted what items the lieutenant would be missing from his office come morning, once he'd given his apprentices their evening assignments.
* * * *
BeachHead stood at the finish line of his latest obstacle course. Glancing at the stopwatch he held in his hand, he took a deep breath to yell. "WHERE'S THE NINJA AT?!?" Another few seconds went by, and finally a black-clad body came tumbling over the final upright wall and fell onto the dirt, rolled and came to it's feet. As Snake Eyes stumbled over the finish line, the sergeant major tcched at him, pressing the button to stop the timer. "That was PATHETIC!"
Chest heaving, and every inch of clothing soaked through and filthy, the commando wheezed for breath and bent over. After a moment he straightened and stood while BeachHead railed at him about the poor time, poor performance and poor discipline he was showing.
"... and here I thought that so-called ninja training was supposed to make you TOUGH! What a joke!" Snake Eyes' act of rolling his eyes set off another tirade. "You think this is no big deal?! I'll tell you what's no big deal! Washing you out of this program on account of you not being able to run a simple obstacle course in a decent time! That's no big deal!!"
Now the ninja signed back at him. *I ran it in under your required time the first fifteen times you made me do it.*
BeachHead stalked over to him to glare from two inches in front of his nose. "Do you think I'm making you do too much?" His dangerous tone made Snake Eyes nervous. He'd been busting his butt for two weeks already.
He shook his head but signed. *No one can do the course twenty times in a row and get better times each run. I'm trying here.* BeachHead opened his mouth to yell and Snake Eyes signed quickly. *I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I said it fifty times. How many times do I have to say it before you forgive me?*
BeachHead glared at him hard. "This ain't about you being sorry! This is about getting you back in prime condition!" He paced back and forth for a minute. "You lost almost all of your conditioning between being gone, and being on medical status. Right now, you go haring off on a typical mission, and you'll fall on your butt! Psyche-Out told me you're getting cleared for full duty, and you AIN'T at peak conditioning yet!" The commando shifted uneasily. Suddenly the sergeant turned and gestured him to follow. They walked along the course towards the open desert surroundings. Once they passed the obstacles, BeachHead broke into a jog, and after a few minutes of running, he started to talk again.
"I'm not being Sergeant Hardass cause I'm mad that you kicked my butt all over the Pit. I know that's what you think, and I know that you been bustin' your butt to show me I can't break you." Snake Eyes was a little startled. "I'm not an idiot. I know what's going on around me, I been doing this a while you know." The stocky soldier ran a few minutes before he continued. "You came back from that bunch of garbage in lousy shape, not only mentally.. but physically. I don't know why you were so far out of condition, but it doesn't matter. Then you were also wounded and that took a long time to get healed, so you could start getting your condition back, and you're too danged stubborn to eat when you should, and too danged hard-headed to listen when you done got your dander up. So I figured I'd ride you hard until you got so mad, you'd work twice as hard to get back in shape just to show me up."
They both ran on, little puffs of dust raising up with each step, pacing each other. Snake Eyes finally gestured to him.
*Sorry, I have been working hard, but it's been difficult to train when the doctors wouldn't clear me to do anything. I want to be back in the best shape, but it's been slow.* He reached up to twitch his mask over slightly, feeling sweat running down his neck. His normal black commando attire wasn't the best to wear out in the full sun in the desert midday. But they ran the courses in full battle gear, there being no real benefit in learning to run obstacles in jogging shorts and tennis shoes. Half the time they had to run it wearing full gear packs and carrying loaded rifles.
BeachHead heaved a sigh and came to a stop. Standing with his hands on his hips, he finally turned to the ninja. "Look. I'm not mad about all that stuff. But I'm not gonna take it easy on you, especially not if you're gonna sulk around and not put out the best effort. You get off your duff and work as hard as you can, and I'll stop riding you about being a lazy bastard. Got it?" He glared at Snake Eyes now, waiting for an answer.
BeachHead gave a satisfied nod, and turned to head off at a run again. Snake Eyes sagged briefly before running to catch up again.
He signed at him. *How far are we going to run?*
BeachHead grinned evilly at him. "Until you fall down and puke. I figure that'll be far enough for today.. then we'll run back."
Snake Eyes sighed and picked up the pace. *What doesn't kill me...*
BeachHead caught the signing and grinned wider under his balaclava. "What doesn't kill you means I ain't trying hard enough yet. Double time it!! Move it ninja-boy!"
* * * *
Scarlett smiled at him laying on his bed. She was rubbing his back and shoulders, trying to loosen up the many knots and strains for him. "Lover, you're one giant ball of knots. What happened today?"
He puffed out a breath and turned his head to the side to look up at her out of one reddened eye. He had to pull his hands free of the sheets to make the signs at her.
*KP duty for half the day, then BeachHead dragged me all over the obstacle course twenty times.. then he dragged me two million miles out into the desert until I puked up lunch. Then he made me run all the way back.. at double time. By the time we got back I thought I would die. Then he made me do the course again.*
Scarlett made sympathetic noises at him, digging her knuckles into a tight knot. He winced and she felt the muscles shift. "Poor baby."
*I'm so tired. I'm never going to get back into shape.* She hummed softly. *Beach wants me to do the morning runs, and now he's adding an hour of working out, plus the afternoon stuff. I think I'm going to die, and then he's going to make my dead body run the obstacle course one last time before he's satisfied.*
She gave a soft laugh. "You're being overdramatic. Beach would never be satisfied, even if your dead body did the course at record speed." He glared up at her through one eye. "Poor baby. Suck it up. No pain, no gain. Speaking of which, you're taking back over the mid-day classes starting tomorrow. Kamakura is out on a mission with Torpedo and Shipwreck, and I have the beginners and intermediate classes stacked up."
He sighed and twisted over onto his side. *Jinx?* She tilted her head at him. *Okay, I'll take them. I'll reschedule Psyche-Out to some other time.*
She flopped down onto the bed next to him and he smiled at her and reached to stroke her hair, running it over his fingers. She smiled back. "You seem much more relaxed. Are you starting to feel a little better?" He nodded. "I'm glad. I was pretty worried about my main man for a while."
He looked confused at her. *Why? Is there something wrong with your main man Ripcord?* She narrowed her eyes and mock glared at him. *Joking, don't punch me*
She rolled her eyes. "You're a big baby."
He rolled onto his back then and she scooted over to snuggle up to him, putting one arm across his bare chest. *I'm medically cleared finally. Took them long enough. Hawk told me today, but said I'm not being sent out until BeachHead passes me, and after the hearing on Forsyth's indictment. He thinks they'll want me to be available, in case the other generals want to question me.*
She stroked her hand across his pectoral muscles, unconsciously following the lines of some of his scars. "Do you want me to come?" He took a deep breath then, thinking it over slowly. Finally he shook his head. "Are you sure?" He picked his head up and kissed her temple.
*I don't want you there. You don't need to be around those men.*
She cuddled him and smiled. "Awww.. you're all protective, it's so sweet. They won't bother me."
He snorted. *I don't want you to see they are better looking, you might leave me for one of them.* He twisted as she thumped his ribs a few times.
Scarlett jabbed him again, her voice sharp. "You!! You utter brat!!" He caught her hands and held her as she struggled to hit him again. "Let me go! I'm gonna kick your butt you sneaky ninja! You think you're so funny!" He pant-laughed at her silently. She dragged one wrist down and bit his hand and he snatched away, shaking a finger at her in reproof.
*No biting!* She pounced on top of him, and he struggled to push her hands away as she dug fingers into his sides. He made the sign *NO* over and over at her, twisting as she wrestled him around. His odd silent laughter sounded like soft coughs as he was tickled unmercifully.
"Do you give up? Do you?" He nodded frantically and she grabbed the pillow to put over his face. "You're so horrible." She pulled it away again and bent to kiss him suddenly.
He sighed in contentment. *Thank you for putting up with all of this.* She smiled down at him. *I know that it's been hard for you.*
She leaned over him. "It's okay. You're worth all the trouble. I love you."
He reached up to twine his fingers into her hair gently, pulling her head down to his in a deep kiss. Her eyes softened and she smiled gently at him. Tucking his hand between them, he formed the sign on his chest, then pressed it to hers.
*I love you.*
* * * *
Snake Eyes sat nervously in a back office waiting to be called in to the hearing. The chair wasn't very comfortable, and he shifted around a little, then reached to fiddle with the edge of his rubber mask. His dress uniform felt snug across his chest, where he'd put on a few extra pounds of muscle in the last month. BeachHead's 'special' regimen was paying off finally. He no longer felt like he'd die at the end of every day, although going to sleep wasn't an issue at all.
Lady Jaye sat next to him and sighed suddenly. "Stop messing with your mask." She patted his hand away, and tugged his collar straight, tucking the edge of the mask back into place. "Don't be so nervous. They probably won't even call you in." She reached up to tuck a stray bit of hair into place for him.
He nodded and tried to stop fidgeting. The Cabal of the highest ranking officers in the military were gathered only a few doors away, deciding on what would result from all the actions of Forsyth and his men. They could decide anything they wanted, with the level of authority they held. If they decided, they could put the general and his accomplices into prison for the rest of their lives, or set them free. They could decide to blame him, and put him into prison, or give him a dishonorable discharge. He only had Hawk in his corner, and the waiting was driving him up the wall. Standing up, he began to pace in the small office and Lady Jaye pointed at the chair again. Chagrined, he sat back down.
*Sorry.* She nodded at him and they waited and waited. When the door finally opened, he jumped to his feet. Duke stepped in and motioned for him to follow. Striding down the hallway in utter silence, they entered a large room full of high ranking officers and Snake Eyes felt his stomach turn over. He'd rather face an enemy ninja clan single-handed than be involved in top level military politics.
A unfamiliar captain nodded at him. Duke moved over to stand behind Hawk who sat off to one side with a neutral expression. Snake Eyes walked over to stand at the small table, feeling as if he were about to be tried and convicted all unknowing. Reaching the edge of the table, he came to attention sharply, saluting the group of generals seated with their aides. One of them gave him a very small smile and nodded. "At ease, Sergeant Snake Eyes."
The dark-haired captain handed him a sheaf of papers. "Please look these over, and confirm that this testimony is accurate to the best of your recollection." The commando carefully looked over each page to check that nothing had been altered since he'd typed up the report.
A low comment from someone in the back sounded in the quiet. "Could we confirm Sergeant Snake Eyes identity before we continue?" The captain nodded and walked over. So nervous he couldn't figure out what to do, Snake Eyes looked at Hawk in confusion, and Hawk reached up to tap his own chest. He blinked at him, so Hawk hooked a finger under the chain barely visible at the edge of his dress shirt's collar. Suddenly he understood and fished out his dog tags. The captain held up a electronic reader that blinked a few times and chimed. Then he turned it around and held it out to him.
"Right index finger please." Snake Eyes pressed his fingerprint into the machine until it beeped. The young officer waited patiently and then announced in a loud clear voice. "Identity confirms, Snake Eyes, Sergeant, U.S. Army, further information classified." He turned away to put the machine aside. The ninja nervously went back to checking the pages.
He was listening to muttered comments while he went through each paper. "...thought he was scarred.." "...doesn't look so special.." "...see the number of medals? How'd someone pick up that many?" "I heard that Hawk hand-picked.." "...supposed to trust someone wearing a mask?" He tried to tune them out, and control his breathing before he paniced. Glancing over at Hawk, he saw a almost imperceptible nod and tried to relax.
Finally he flipped the last page over, and straightened the stack. He handed them back to the captain and nodded. The same general in front of him cleared his throat. "Do you swear that these pages are your testimony and is the truth to the best of your knowledge?"
He gave a nod. Someone in the audience spoke up. "Could we have a verbal answer please?"
Hawk spoke up for the first time since he'd entered the room. "Sergeant Snake Eyes is mute due to injuries received in service. He will answer in sign language."
Snake Eyes turned slightly, ignoring the murmur at Hawk's revelation and then took a deep breath before he signed carefully. *This report is my account of the events to the best of my knowledge.* The captain translated for him, speaking clearly and loudly, and the ninja gave him a grateful look.
He stood waiting, and the general in front of him looked him over carefully. "Thank you for your testimony. You're dismissed."
The commando saluted smartly, and turned to walk out. He wasn't sure how he made his way all the way back to the office he'd been waiting in, but he didn't begin to shake until he sat down in the uncomfortable chair in the corner. Lady Jaye got up to hand him a glass of water.
She gave to him, putting it into his hand. "How'd it go? That was pretty fast." He signed to her, telling her he'd merely confirmed his report was accurate and she nodded. "I figured they wouldn't want much more from you. Your report was thorough. You can relax now."
He took a deep shaky breath. *I wish I was back at the Pit. I think I'd rather run through a Cobra firefight naked than go back in that room.* She gave a soft chuckle. *You didn't see, I've never seen so many high ranking officers in one spot, and they were all staring at me.*
She rubbed his arm for him. "Don't worry, they might be higher ranking, but the ones that matter will have noticed your chest full of medals too." He looked down at his ribbon rows pinned to the front of his dress uniform. "They'll also know that Hawk wouldn't be going to bat like this for just some random NCO. He told them pretty plainly that you were a trusted member of his team, and just exactly how important you were to him, and there wasn't any doubt as to what would happen should any of them attempt to poach you for any of their personal projects." He felt his face get hot under the rubber lifelike mask. "Just relax, Hawk will take care of everything. General Forsyth and his cronies won't be getting away with anything. You'll be fine."
He nodded but fidgeted. Hawk might try his best, but the rest of the cabal might just decide that if Forsyth was going down, then the lowly sergeant should go down with him too. It was a few hours before the door opened again. Their own lieutenant stepped in.
Duke gave a grim smile. "Get your stuff, both of you. We're leaving, it's all over." Snake Eyes scooped up his satchel and Lady Jaye's box of files. As they walked out behind Duke, they passed several officers in the outer rooms. He unexpectedly came face to face with Forsyth and stopped dead in his tracks, Duke and LadyJaye moving off without him.
"Snake Eyes." The General had a hard look in his eye. "This isn't finished.. not by a long sight." He was led away by two MPs, followed by Gance in handcuffs. Snake Eyes swallowed, and Duke had to come back to find him.
"Snakes? Come on.. Hawk wants to leave." He ducked his head and followed him again. "You're holding us up, I thought you were right behind me." With his hands full of cases, he couldn't answer so he simply walked faster, following on Duke's heels to the roof heli-pad. Wild Bill was waiting there, with Hawk already in the chopper co-pilot seat. They got in, and stowed the boxes away in the cargo netting before slamming the door shut and strapping in. The helicopter was already lifting off, turning to head out of the city. Once they were airborne, Hawk moved back to look at him.
The commander seated himself across from them. "Forsyth and Gance are both headed to Leavenworth for ten years. Markus turned on them, and testified to the whole deal. Josh collaborated his story, so we really didn't need to bring you in. I'm just as happy we didn't, as I don't want to have the other generals looking you over. The last thing I need is for some of them to decide they'd like to poach you from GI Joe. We can't prove Forsyth or Gance are working with Cobra, even though the two operatives were Crimson Guardsmen. They are all swearing they didn't know about that part. You're cleared of any wrong-doing. That got them ten years instead of fifteen. I'd prefer for them to get life.. but we have to work with what we have. Some of the generals wanted to give you a short sentence, but I wasn't going to let them lock you in prison for even one day. So I had to settle for those two getting off with a ten year sentence."
Snake Eyes nodded at him. *Thank you.*
Hawk leveled a finger at him. "Your welcome. Now try to stay out of trouble for at least a little while." He nodded at that, and they rode back to the Pit and home in mostly silence.
* * * *
Back at the Pit, he'd disembarked and changed, moving down to the dojo quickly, wanting to get himself back into a familiar environment. He was so distracted and wound up, that he'd walked right into someone in the gym. Jumping backwards, he suddenly realized it was Ripcord at nearly the same time that he realized it was him.
The room quieted instantly as they stared at each other. Ripcord cleared his throat and stepped up closer to him. "Hey man. We good?"
Snake Eyes lifted a fist up towards him, and Rip grinned and bumped fists with him. "Cool. You still owe me a bike."
The ninja nodded and signed to him. *I know. I thought I'd get you a Kawasaki Ninja bike...*
Ripcord made a face at him. "Very funny, ha ha ha. See me laughing?"
Snake Eyes gave him an innocent shrug. *I thought that this way the bike could kick your butt in case I was gone on a mission.*
Ripcord stopped dead in his steps, staring after the cocky ninja as he sauntered away. He turned and headed towards one of the laughing onlookers. "Stalker, you need to be telling your man over there that his jokes ain't all that funny."
Stalker grinned at him from the weight lifting bench. "Sorry bud. Ninjas just got weird senses of humor. You're on your own."
Rip snorted loudly. "Great. Wonderful. Just my danged luck."
* * * *
An anonymous country in the middle east: a deserted military airstrip.
Carrying his Uzi tucked under one arm, Snake Eyes trotted across the runway from the big cargo plane that had just landed to a chopper waiting for his team. He was followed by Scarlett and Kamakura.
Stalker stood by the open door on the helicopter, and waved him on board. "Good to have you back, man. We'll need some serious ninja skills on this mission, gonna be hairy to get in, get the stuff and get out."
BeachHead was already inside, and handed him the map packet, reaching around him to give similar packets to the others. Lifeline was stowing a medical pack under the seat, and the drill sergeant had to step over his crouched form. "Don't bother getting outa my way or nuthin', Lifeline." The medic looked over his shoulder. "Don't let me interrupt you putting away the bandaids."
Stalker grinned. "Leave Lifeline alone, you might need him later. You're the extraction team for the commandos, I'm staying on the chopper to coordinate, unless someone screws up and I gotta come rescue their butt."
Scarlett shook her hair out of her face, while Kamakura flipped through the maps, comparing various routes in and out of the building they needed to infiltrate. Snake Eyes looked his over and crouched at BeachHead's feet when he strapped into one of the seats. Pointing at the area he wanted to come from towards the building, he signed his plan quickly.
BeachHead looked at where he pointed, then at his own schematic. "No, I think you need to head in from the north." He pointed at a set of streets. "This is too blocked up, good place to bottleneck you up, and it'd be a bear to get around if things go bad and you gotta make a run back to the chopper. Better to have to circle in from the north side, it's all open over here."
Snake Eyes nodded, pointing at another location and then at BeachHead. The sergeant agreed and patted a large pack strapped into the cargo webbing. "I got some backup, just in case. You ninjas and Scarlett get in something too hairy for you to take care, you beat it back here to my position." He pointed at the map. "I can set up a few nasty things to take care of pursuit here... and here. Slow them down while we move through up here, then circle back to the landing zone."
Stalker had watched this, and nodded. "You guys get dug in somewhere that you can't get out of, and Wild Bill and I will come in to do a hot pick up." Snake Eyes nodded and moved to a seat when the pilot took the helicopter up. They could feel it speed up as Wild Bill took them towards their target. He patted himself, checking his various knives and shuriken in their sheaths and pockets. Reaching up over his shoulder, he lifted the katana loose from the sheath, then let it drop back into place.
BeachHead shook his head at him. "Stop yer danged fidgeting. You're fine, this'll be a piece of cake." Snake Eyes nodded at him.
After a few minutes, he looked at Lifeline who was sitting calmly. The ninja gestured to get his attention. *I'm glad you're going. You stay with the helicopter, don't get out.*
Lifeline gave him a grin. "I won't get out.. unless I need to." Snake Eyes threw his hands up. "How about I'll try to keep my head down, and you do your best not to need to bleed all over me on the chopper ride home this time?"
Laughing silently, Snake Eyes nodded. *Agreed.*
Stalker broke in suddenly. "L.Z. coming up! Get yer hats and bats boys and girls.." Kamakura slung his rifle strap over his chest, checking that it wouldn't interfere with his sword. Scarlett cocked her crossbow and slipped a bolt into place, while BeachHead pulled the backpack on and clipped the chest strap. Picking up his rifle, he cradled it in his arm, and nodded to Snake Eyes to move to the door. Stalker gave them a once-over look. "Alright, Snakes.. you're point man.. Wild Bill, take us down!" He wrenched the door open, snapped the hook onto it to lock it into place and stepping back, rifle held at the ready to cover the team from the chopper if need be.
Snake Eyes crouched in the doorway, swinging the Uzi across the area quickly, checking for hostiles or suspicious movement as they descended in a dimly lit market square. It looked mostly deserted, the few people who had been nearby making themselves scarce as the chopper arrived. The skids got to within ten feet of the ground, and he launched himself out, landing on bent legs and taking off at a run, moving into the first position of cover, knowing his teammates would be at his back... just as they all were trained to do...
Because they were GI Joe.. and this was their job.
* * * *
It's been a fun ride, hope you've enjoyed! Let me know if you did!