Author's Note: Another serious piece? Cripes!

This began with an idle thought about how different types of scars feel different to an external touch. Snake-Eyes, of course, could be the poster boy for pretty much every type of scar possible . . . and before you know it, the plot bunny had latched onto my leg. The focus wound up being more on body language than the actual scars themselves, but the idea of the different small details telling a story remains in the center of it.

Rating: T for minor bad language and adult implications.

Disclaimer: GI Joe and all associated characters and concepts are property of Hasbro Inc, and I derive no profit from this. Please accept this in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from this intellectual property.


Topography

by Totenkinder Madchen


For better or for worse, she knew every inch of him.

Whenever they stepped into the dojo together, prepared to face their friends and teammates in another round of hand-to-hand training, she would see his expression not in his face, but in his body. There would be all the signs—the chin raised a bit higher, the strides a little longer, the relaxed and confident set of his shoulders that told her he was ready and eager to begin. Afterwards, he would carry himself with calm reserve, shrugging off any bruises or injuries he might have sustained in his tussles with the other Joes.

The only exception was if he wanted to congratulate a teammate on a clever attack or an adept move. Then, she would see him exaggerate a little, deliberately leaning his weight on one foot (the merest fraction only, but noticeable enough to those that knew him) or not hiding a wince when someone clapped him on the shoulder. To make that kind of impression on Snake-Eyes was as good as a commendation, and the lucky Joe would get a hearty round of congratulations from the rest of the team.

Snake-Eyes' real reaction would lie somewhere between those two points, and only she would be privileged to see what marks he had actually been given during those bouts. Joes left bruises, even on an impassive and unstoppable master ninja.

Greenshirt training was something else entirely. On greenie days, Snake-Eyes would be—well—wary was the only word to describe it. Not hostile, but cautious, and every inch the unstoppable commando of barracks rumor. His normally quiet footfalls would soften into silence, and when he stood on the edge of the mats and glanced over the newbies for the first time, he would cross his arms and square his stance until he made her think of a gargoyle statue lurking at the gates of a cemetery. When running hand-to-hand practice with the core Joe team, arguably the closest people to him in the world, he might turn up in cammies and a light mask; the greenshirts got the full combat gear, complete with visor. Scarlett didn't need to ask why he did it that way. Preventative measures: the more fearsome he was to them, the less likely they would be to question the presence of a mute man among the instructors, and the less time Scarlett or Storm Shadow would have to waste on uncomfortable explanations.

But whatever Snake-Eyes did on those days, there was usually one who had to run his mouth. After watching many batches of greenshirts come and go, Scarlett had developed a theory: the one most likely to disparage Snake-Eyes would also be the first one to wash out. Granted, that might have had something to do with his habit of challenging the loudmouth to a bout on the mats, but Scarlett was willing to lay odds that anybody who could look a six-foot master ninja in the faceless mask and accept his challenge without a flinch probably didn't have the sort of survival instinct that the Joe team was looking for.

On a few rare occasions, she had issued the challenge herself. She might watch the latest dead-man-walking run his mouth with mild interest, but once or twice she had seen something else too. A certain tilt to Snake-Eyes' head, the way his shoulders bowed inwards just a fraction of an inch, a particular stiffness to his stance—these were all warning signs, and ones that she had learned to recognize instantly over the years. On those days, she would step between the ninja and the greenshirt. If the greenie was wearing an arrogant expression, it would only grow wider. And then Scarlett, to her immense satisfaction, would mop the floor with him.

Snake-Eyes' calm was the stuff of legend, but when all was said and done, he was still human. Certain dates on the calendar might mean nothing else to the rest of the world, but to Snake-Eyes, they were the days that strained his self-control to its very limits. Ten years after a car crash, five years after a Huey went down in flames . . . on those days, an offensive greenshirt would risk more than just humiliation if he fought Snake-Eyes.

After those incidents, they might not speak for a day or two. Scarlett's instinctive urge to protect her teammate's reputation, and the greenshirt's health, would come up against Snake-Eyes' pride—irresistible force, immovable object. [I don't want you to have to fight for me,] he had signed once, slowly and carefully but with the smallest trembling in the fingers of the left hand.

Sometimes, when they'd been cooped up too long in the Pit or one was forcibly sidelined by some injury, they'd fight: not on the mats like always, but with signs. Both of them were proud in their own right, and when two such people are each firmly intent on protecting the other, there was no way to avoid such incidents. There would be an exchange of silent gestures, harsh words in their own right, and they would separate with nobody satisfied.

Yet these disagreements were never permanent. Both Scarlett and Snake-Eyes were too professional to let their private fights jeopardize the team, and they would continue working together and teaching hand-to-hand. To do otherwise would be to let down the rest of the Joes. Over a few days, their tempers would cool. Their unspoken pact to never make their fights public would enforce politeness between them, and seeing each others' best aspects on display during classes, they would find themselves quietly forgiving each other for their misdeeds.

Scarlett would see it in the set of his shoulders, the turn of his head: a certain relaxation, the absence of tension. His hand might linger a split-second longer than necessary during a demonstration. She herself, initially too angry to pay attention to the subtle signs, would know she had forgiven him when she began to spot them again. Perhaps she, too, was displaying her thoughts in her movements. If she was, though, she doubted anyone but he could read them.

With forgiveness would come renewed enthusiasm, a need to forget their disagreement and replace it with a happier memory. She would kiss him, feeling the ridges and lines of scars under her fingertips as she stroked his face, and he would respond with the long-hidden enthusiasm and passion that was more him than any aspect of the silent ninja. Familiarity implied routine, but there was nothing dull or rote about those moments: skilled hands, the rough-and-smooth slide of his skin against hers, the heat that would grow between them and threaten to engulf her. Then, the touch of a hand on her back or breast, signing I love you into the flesh itself.

Afterwards, as they lay curled together on the bunk, she would see the scars again with fresh eyes. His body was a map, and the landscape showed the marks of a violent history. Here a small hollow, where a bullet had long since been removed but left the skin a little crumpled in its wake. There a raised line, where burning fuel had left its devastating mark and the surgeons had fought to patch him as best they could, leaving ridges between grafts and transplants like the mountains left when continents strained against each other. Most of them she knew: some, like his face, were consequences of her presence in his life. She would never really be able to forgive herself for them, but the knowledge that he had already done so for her would bring her some measure of peace.

And in the morning, his good mood would show even through the fresh mask and bodysuit. He would hold his head high, and his movements would be quick as lightning as he teased her with a wry joke or deliberately distracted her by stealing kisses while she was trying to lace up her boots. On the obstacle course he would move like a darting bird, less graceful than usual but abounding with cheerful energy. Beach Head didn't take kindly to those mornings, since a cheerful Snake-Eyes could be a mischievous Snake-Eyes. The PT sergeant would grunt and stamp and shout, and Snake-Eyes would find himself doing pushups "until you wipe that smirk offa your face, ya goddamn spook, and don't tell me it ain't there 'cause I know it is, and what the hell are the rest of you lookin' at? You wanna be keepin' him company down there on the grass? Don't you answer that, Scarlett, I don't wanna know!"

Of course, everyone knew what was going on with them. Just like everyone knew that Flint and Lady Jaye were as good as married, and that yes, even the terse Beach Head would have difficulties keeping his cool when he was being distracted by a certain insouciant tank jockey. People lived close in the Pit, and it was impossible to hide anything for long. But watching the black-clad ninja leap to his feet, head up and body language positively cocky despite the two hundred pushups he had just reeled off, Scarlett was content with that. She had a whole world of him that nobody else could ever touch.