Edwin Astire, called 'Eddie' by his friends and 'sir' by the men of Crimson Guard squad #1228, had been doing his job very well for a very long time. He was well aware that he was viewed as a 'bad guy' by most governments worldwide, but he really didn't care. The Twins paid well, the respect he got on the street was nice, the uniforms were snazzy, and he'd always been more than ready to solve a disagreement with excessive violence anyways. Automatic weapons just made bullying more fun.

He was feeling particularly smug about the successful op earlier in the night, for which he had been promised both a substantial pay raise and a promotion. If he was lucky, he might even be able to parlay his success into a high-up command position in Cobra; he'd worked for the Commander before, seeing as the Twins worked for the terrorist organization on a not-infrequent basis. While the man was a little…strange was probably the best word, and he could be caustic to people who displeased him, the pay was phenomenal, and the position of power wasn't unattractive either.

Honestly, Eddie thought smugly as he lit a cigarette, apprehending the fabled ninja Storm Shadow hadn't been too difficult. He'd seen the man once or twice when the ninja had still been in the employ of the Commander, though he himself had always been in the background and he doubted the assassin had ever even noticed him. When he'd found the almost inspiringly efficiently dispatched bodies of a few of his men, he'd known that there was a ninja around. No bullets, though, which meant that it wasn't likely to be the devil in black…Snake Eyes, that was what they called him.

He blew a smoke ring, feeling quite pleased with himself. Honor. It was a stupid, pointless thing, really. If Eddie had been faced with the option of capture or sacrificing his teammates, he would have hightailed it the hell out of there and let the idiots slow and stupid enough to get caught fend for themselves. Hell, he'd done it before. He'd gambled on the ninja being too honorable to do the same, and he'd been right.

He scowled slightly. Should have searched the damned ninja himself, but to tell the truth he hadn't been crazy about getting within the man's reach, even sedated. Ninja were a tricky sort, and just in case he'd been faking…well, Eddie hadn't survived this long in a job with a low retirement rate by being overly bold. But they must have missed something, because the Joes were quite obviously loose again, and there was exactly one man who could have gotten them out of those cells.

Well, holding the other two at gunpoint had worked once, and as the saying went, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. He'd locked down the ground floor, and posted small detachments of guards at each of the staff entrances. His main force of twenty men, however, was in the main lobby. The ninja could probably get out without being seen, but the other two would slow him.

Still…Eddie dropped the butt of his cigarette on the tile floor and ground it out with one heel. He glanced around nervously for the eighth time in the last minute. When the ninja had looked him in the eye and promised him death, he had seemed very, very serious, and the look on what little face Eddie had been able to see with that creepy mask had been absolute murder.

He shook himself. The lobby was brightly lit, with high, solid ceilings, and he had twenty trained gunmen around him. A rat couldn't get in here without getting shot, let alone a grown man. Besides, the bosses were en route with a large detachment of reinforcements, so if they could hold out a few hours it would be over.

There was a sudden pop and a tinkle of broken glass. Eddie blinked up at the ceiling, his assault rifle raised. The room dimmed; one of the lights had just shattered. Nerves rose again; Eddie forcibly calmed himself. One light could be a simple blown fuse. Don't lose your head, man.

Then the one right over his head went, raining glass shards down on his head and dropping the total working lights in the room down to two. Something heavier than a sliver of glass bounced off the toe of his boot. Eddie glanced down.

It was a black metal spike, some four inches long, with very sharp points.

Oh, shit.

"IT'S HIM!" He bellowed. "Tranquilizer guns if feasible, but don't hesitate to kill!"
A third light went. "Sir, I don't see anything!" One of the younger Crimson Guards in his squad was looking around in confusion.

"It's a damned ninja, you idiot! Check anything that could provide cover! Cover each other, and DO NOT close to hand to hand with him! HURRY!" Fuck, if they had to fight in the dark, they'd be slaughtered…

"Where are those missiles coming from? I didn't hear anythi… nng…"

A man who'd been checking points of cover along the wall hit the floor, clutching at what had once been his left eye, and was now bleeding profusely around the barely-protruding tip of another of the ominous black throwing spikes. He wasn't breathing.

Eddie took stock of where the man had gone down. "He's somewhere by the west wall…I'm guessing behind the reception desk. Forget tranquilizers, shoot to kill."

It was about then that the last light went. Eddie felt cold fear closing icy-cold around his belly; the only light now was what little found its way in off the street through the big glass doors. He blinked furiously, willing his eyes to adapt to the dark, but all he could see for the first few moments was blackness.

There was a frenzied burst of gunfire somewhere to his left. The gunfire cut off, and there was a short, terrified screech of pain, then silence.

Eddie squinted; his eyes were starting to adapt, and he could make out vague shapes now. Disturbingly, there were at least eight man-sized shapes lying unmoving on the floor. He blinked again, backing into the wall, bringing his rifle up to his shoulder, searching frantically for any blur that might, possibly, be a ninja.

A flurry of sudden motion to his right. He snapped his rifle around just in time to see the dim light flicker off what looked like a sword blade, and another man dropped. Eddie squeezed the trigger, but the shape with the sword was gone, and his fire instead hit one of his own men.

A few more bursts of gunfire, but none seemed to be even close to the elusive Storm Shadow. There were at least fifteen of his men down now, and it had been all of about twenty seconds since the lights had gone down.

Eddie started edging sideways, towards the doors. If he could get outside…well, the parking lot out front was well lit, and he'd at least have a better chance.

Then something detached itself from the shadow of a potted ficus tree a few feet to his left, and before he could bring a weapon to bear on it his rifle was wrenched aside and up, and twisted neatly out of his hands before his brain could even process the fact that the shadow had moved. His finger, trapped by the trigger guard, broke with a wet snap. The pain was immediate.

He went automatically for his sidearm, and this time he discovered that a broken finger really was fairly insignificant pain when the ninja calmly slid behind him, seized the offending wrist, and almost casually broke his elbow. He yelped, tried to move his fingers, and whimpered.

A blow to the back of his knees sent him to the floor. A very sharp blade lifted under his chin. He tried not to swallow.

A very soft voice spoke right in his ear. "If you ever have an enemy ninja at your mercy, kill him. You won't get a second chance."

Eddie was shaking. "I've got a wife…kids…"

A soft laugh. "No, you don't."

Shit. Eddie couldn't even begin to understand how the ninja knew he was lying, but he made one last final effort to save his skin. "I've got money saved up…"

The sword across his neck lifted. Eddie sucked a breath, tried to spin, tried to take out the ninja's legs, tried to do something.

The sword found his neck again, this time moving very quickly. Storm Shadow kept his weapons extremely sharp; his swords could cut human skin and muscle like butter. Bone also provided very little resistance. Death was instantaneous; Eddie, had he known just how slow and painful a ninja could make a death, would have appreciated the mercy.

Leaving the headless body where it fell, Storm flicked the blood from his swords, sheathed them, and slid silently and invisibly off, leaving the surviving five Crimson Guards to sweat nervously until it became apparent that they'd gotten extremely lucky.

Jaye listened with half an ear as Breaker talked into one of the spare communicators they'd had in the back of their battered old van. They'd been sitting here for half an hour now. Breaker had gotten a line to the Pit after some effort, and Flint had sounded very, very relieved to hear the tech and Jaye. Jaye had to admit that it was good to hear Dash's voice, too.

"So, where are you now?" Flint hadn't sounded too surprised to hear about Storm's insistence on staying behind long enough to "take care of business". "I've got Wild Bill flying in Snake and Scarlett. I sent them out a few hours ago; they're probably just about there. You can meet up with them and Wild Bill can bring all of you back."

"Right now we're sitting in a parking garage six blocks from the Twin's building." Breaker rattled off exact coordinates. "We're still waiting on Storm Shadow."

"No, you're not."

Both Jaye and Breaker yelped. Storm Shadow, slightly blood-spattered, was leaning casually against the driver's side door.

"What?" Flint sounded anxious. "Are you under attack?"

"No." Breaker scowled at the ninja, who ambled around and hopped in the back of the van. "Storm is just trying to give me some more gray hairs."

"You don't need my help."

"Shut up, Tommy." Jaye said absently. She took the communicator. "We're all here now. If you want to give us rendezvous coordinates, we can meet up with Wild Bill and the others. There isn't anything important in the van, so we can just abandon it."

"Good…I'll give you the frequency they're using, so you can talk to Bill directly. You can work out the details of meeting location with him; he'll know the good landing sites."

Ten minutes later, Jaye was driving and Breaker was getting instructions from Wild Bill, who had apparently just landed his Tomahawk. Storm Shadow had settled himself in the back of the van and immediately dozed off; how the man could sleep fully kitted out with swords, knives, throwing stars, and whatever else he carried was beyond Jaye. And she was Army, and was highly familiar with and approving of the old military saying 'Don't stand when you can sit, don't sit when you can lie down, and sleeping is always better than being awake.'

Seriously. Roll wrong or hit one good bump and you'd think he'd stab himself accidentally. But he seemed perfectly comfortable, wedged in between two duffel bags of gear and using a third as a pillow. Jaye shook her head, impressed.

Wild Bill had chosen a hayfield near a scrubby patch of woods twenty miles outside city limits as his landing site. Jaye pulled off the gravel road and into the field, and bumped around the patch of woods to the chopper sitting behind the trees. She cut the engine but left the keys in the ignition. The van was disposable, and whatever damage they may have done to the hapless farmer's field he could recoup by selling the vehicle.

Breaker turned and tossed an empty foam coffee cup at Storm Shadow. It bounced off his chest; the ninja cracked an eye open and glared at the tech.

"Wakey wakey!" Breaker seemed to be enjoying getting in some mild revenge for the ninja's regular habit of appearing right behind the tech just to watch him jump. The ninja just shook his head and hopped out of the van.

Breaker and Jaye followed, pausing long enough to shoulder their bags of equipment, and followed Storm Shadow to the waiting Tomahawk. Wild Bill leaned out of the chopper and waved enthusiastically.

"I've got me a disappointed ninja and redhead in the back, I'll have you know." The Texan grinned. "Snake was all kinds of looking forwards to having to save your butt, Storm. Scarlett's been hoping that she'd be able to get her hands on the Twins again; she says she's been wanting to experiment with that whole 'feel each other's pain' thing in a little greater detail. Apparently involving her boot to their balls, one after the other."

Storm smirked. "My sword brother is going to be waiting a long time if he thinks he's going to get to break me out of prison."

The side hatch of the chopper slid open. Scarlett waved. Snake leaned past her and held out a hand to help Breaker up; Storm hopped up into the helicopter without a problem. Scarlett reached out; Jaye let her friend help her into the chopper.

Doors secured, gear stowed, and strapped into their seats, Wild Bill took them up. Storm Shadow winced as soon as the ungodly racket of the chopper engine started up; the ninja's extraordinarily sensitive ears were not a blessing when riding in transports as noisy as a helicopter, which could be painful for someone half deaf.

Snake Eyes fished a pair of earplugs out of one of his pockets and tossed them to his sword brother. Looking grateful, Tommy tugged off his mask and popped them in.

*I was rather hoping to have to pull you out of the fire for once, you know.* Snake Eyes signed.

"Dream on." Storm Shadow snorted. "I've escaped from Alcatraz. The Twins' detention block is a cakewalk."

*But you were captured.* Snake pointed out. *Really? Captured by Crimson Guards? You're slipping, brother.*

"Bite me. Thirty men had firearms leveled at Breaker and Jaye; when you figure out how to kill that many men in the half a second it takes one to pull a trigger and drop your teammates, let me know."

"What happened to your face?" Scarlett said frankly.

Most people, wearing earplugs on a chopper, wouldn't have had a clue what anyone else was saying. As far as anyone on the Joe team could figure, though, earplugs simply reduced Storm Shadow's hearing to the level of a normal person. The ninja regularly hinted that he had no idea how the lot of them could stand walking around half-deaf all the time.

Storm touched his bruised cheek. "To tell the truth, I've no idea. They sedated me. By the feel of it, they kicked me in the ribs a few times for good measure after I went down, too."

"I think that was where you hit the pavement after you got hit with the trank dart, actually." Breaker supplied helpfully. "You hit the ground pretty hard."

Scarlett raised her eyebrows. "Ouch."

"I'll live." Storm Shadow shrugged. "Considering what just the people in this helicopter have done to me, a few bruises and some skin off my knuckles is nothing."

Snake Eyes tilted his head. *Skin off your knuckles...you had to slip restraints, didn't you?*

Tommy nodded. "Cuffs. Hand and foot..." The ninja abruptly switched to Japanese. Snake Eyes listened with evident interest, interjecting occasionally with cryptic signs that apparently only Tommy understood. Jaye knew a little Japanese; just enough to realize that the two ninja were 'talking shop', but too little to get anything but that vague impression.

"Well, they won't listen to a word we say for awhile." Scarlett yawned. "I'm glad you two are safe. Storm, for all of his irritating tendencies, is a good guy to have on your side in a situation like that."

Jaye smiled. "He really is."

"Yeah. Scary, but saved my ass, so I'm not going to complain. Sure as hell beats having him on the other side." Breaker searched through his pockets and suddenly looked morose. "Dammit...

Scarlett smirked, reached into one of the pockets in her BDUs, and extracted a handful of small, brightly wrapped objects. Breaker's face lit up. "Scarlett, you're an angel."

"I only brought it because we were afraid you'd be wounded and if you had a last request, it would be a fresh chunk of bubble gum." Scarlett tossed the gum to the tech. "Well, that or simply downloading your brain onto a hard drive somewhere."

"Nah. Technology to do that doesn't exist yet." Breaker popped a piece of gum into his mouth and chomped happily. "Maybe in ten years."

"Start cracking that, and your teeth come out." Storm Shadow said absently. "No, they were thorough. They actually got all my picks..." the ninja fell back into rapid Japanese.

Jaye closed her eyes and dozed off, smiling. She really did much prefer having Storm on their side; she wouldn't have slept quite so soundly at night if he'd still been with Cobra. Especially now, after she'd worked with him for a few years and had seen firsthand, many times, exactly what the ninja was capable of.