"Can we trust him?" Hawk's eyebrows were furrowed, and he was leaning forwards over his desk. "You have to understand how this looks to me…a known enemy of the United States suddenly turns up on my doorstep, claiming he's left Cobra and wants to aid me instead, giving me a story that sounds completely unbelievable. Except that you seem to believe it." The general frowned. "I trust you, Snake. You know that. But I've got a man in my brig who has been responsible for the deaths of more than a few men under my command, and who has consistently worked to undermine the United States Government for years. I'm more than a little tempted to send Scarlett down to the brig with a firearm and let her finish what she tried to do with that knife."
*Tommy did what he had to.* Snake Eyes signed. *It was his right, as heir to the clan, to seek revenge for the murder of his clan master and blood relative. He entered the employ of the only man who seemed to know anything about the murder, despite great personal misgivings.* The ninja paused. *I've spoken with him. He is not lying; he didn't murder our master, and he has left Cobra. He's a good man, sir. A good man who has done bad things, but still a good man, and even during his years with the Commander he didn't break his code of honor. He could have killed me more than once over the years. He didn't. He's also refrained from killing other Joes, even when he could have and doing so would have been less personally risky for him.*
Hawk rubbed a hand over his eyes. "He's still killed an awful lot of people for Cobra, Snake."
*I know, sir. Like I said; he's done bad things. But he is telling the truth.*
"Well, you know him better than anyone else alive, and my bosses are foaming at the mouth at the prospect of getting a defector from Cobra-if he's trustworthy-to work with my intelligence team. They practically wet themselves when I said the word 'ninja'. Your exploits have made quite an impression at the Pentagon, you know." The general sighed. "I don't claim to understand ninja…but he said something about an oath of service, and he flashed that tattoo when he said it. I know you well enough to know that that must mean something."
Snake Eyes smiled. *If he swore an oath of service to you on the honor and mark of our clan, you can trust him to the death. He's never broken that oath.*
Hawk looked skeptical. "He served the Commander for years, and now he's here."
*He didn't break his oath. He swore to serve Cobra until he learned who killed the Hard Master.* Snake Eyes signs were slightly faster than usual, which Hawk recognized as a sign that something had managed to upset the famously even-tempered ninja. Snake Eyes' old friend had always been a touchy subject around the commando, of course, and even when he'd been trying to kill Storm Shadow the ninja hadn't well tolerated verbal attacks on his one-time sword brother.
Snake continued. *When he found out who it was, his oath no longer applied. Apparently two dozen vipers, nine Dreadnoks, eleven Crimson Guards, two Iron Grenadiers, and three Red Hand ninja died protecting the Commander and Zartan when Tommy found out that Zartan was the shooter. They got away in a chopper… barely.* The ninja scowled under his mask. *Sir, you know I respect you. I'd follow almost any order you gave me to the death. But if I get my hands on Zartan, you will not be getting a prisoner.*
"Fair enough." Hawk leaned back in his chair. "Well, he hasn't escaped from the brig. I'd like to think that is because of my crack security, but I know better. Still, the fact he hasn't simply left is a good indication that he intends to cooperate." The general sighed again. "I know how good he is…and I would very much like that skill on my team. I'm placing a great deal of trust on your word here, Snake."
*I know, sir.*
"I'd better not regret this... I'll give him a chance. I've already had about twenty people talk to Duke, worrying that if I give him a shot he'll be assigned to their bunkrooms. The quartermasters tell me that there's an empty room across the hall from you. I want an eye kept on him. If he does anything –anything- even remotely suspicious, you will tell me immediately. No, on second thought you will apprehend him, and only after he is secured you will report to me. Do I make myself clear?"
*Yes, sir.* But Snake Eyes was smiling.
"I'll speak to the team. I'd rather no one decided to take a swing at him, but I've a nasty feeling someone will end up getting treated by Lifeline and Doc anyway."
*I doubt he'll start anything. And he can take care of himself.*
"I know he can. I also know that he's a ninja, and if someone tries to land a punch he's not going to let them, and will probably painfully discourage the perpetrator from trying anything ever again."
*Non-lethally.* Snake Eyes pointed out. *Tommy has more than enough control to put someone down without hurting them.*
"Duke is going to start eating Tylenol for breakfast."
It was a few hours before Hawk finished plowing through the mountain of paperwork on his desk. He had more than he liked on a regular day; when he was dealing with a defector from a known terrorist organization, there was even more. And then there were calls to be made, faxes to send, and the Jugglers to smooth-talk.
He had a private fantasy about personally introducing some of the Jugglers to the ninja under his command. Or, even better, just landing one really, really good left hook across the jaw of each of the bastards.
When he finally made his way down to the brig, it was almost evening. A dozen greenshirts were on guard duty, along with Grunt and Short Fuze. All fourteen men were eying one cell nervously, as if afraid to take their eyes off of it for a single moment. Hawk was sure that one of the greenshirts was only blinking one eye at a time.
He shook his head. This was so not what he had expected when he'd first showed up for Basic, years ago. Survive his first combat experience, check. Work his way up in the ranks, check. Get assigned command of a select team of highly trained professionals who turned out to be a bunch of psyche ward escapees, check. Accept an oath of service from a ninja who'd spent a good chunk of the last few years trying to stab his squad of lunatics…hadn't seen that one coming.
Storm Shadow was lounging on the cot in his cell, apparently completely at ease despite the thick bandages on one shoulder. Hawk sighed. Snake Eyes also seemed to be able to make himself comfortable no matter the situation or surroundings; this skill must be a ninja trait. However, projecting an aura of absolute self-confidence and looking like he owned the cellblock and just chose to stay behind bars was, Hawk thought, probably something that only Thomas Arashikage could successfully pull off.
Of course, he probably had just chosen to stay put. The man had escaped Alcatraz; if he really wanted to, Hawk was sure the ninja would have relatively little trouble getting out of a military brig. They'd disarmed him, of course (and good god they'd pulled enough weapons off of the ninja to outfit a small platoon, if of course that platoon was partial to bladed weapons) but Hawk knew his own commando well enough to know that ninja could be very, very inventive.
The ninja rolled to his feet and came to attention when Hawk walked in. There was a shuffle as the men on guard duty snapped to attention as well.
"At ease." Hawk said automatically.
Storm Shadow leaned against the bars of his cell. "So. You've decided to accept my offer."
Creepy. Just creepy. "How…"
"You don't have my sword brother shadowing you. If you'd chosen to try and send me to trial or just put a bullet into me, you would have had him watching your back."
Oh. Well, that was logical enough. "You'll be placed on probationary status. I will have you watched, and if you make one move that even makes me suspect that you're playing me for a fool, you will go to trial as a criminal. If I let you live that long."
A slight smile. "You've nothing to fear. I swore to serve you if you were to accept me onto the team; I will not break that oath. But you should know; I'd no intention of going to trial. If you'd refused my offer, I would have left and gone after Zartan and the Commander on my own."
Hawk narrowed his eyes. "I'm still leery. Snake Eyes has vouched for you, and I trust him. But the reason I'm giving you a chance is because I know a little about ninja. I suspected that an oath like the one you offered wasn't a laughing matter, and Snake Eyes confirmed that. So, I've this question; having sworn to serve me, if I was to order you to take the gun from me and shoot yourself, what would you do?"
Storm Shadow looked him in the eye. "I would ask you where you wanted me to put the bullet. And then I would hope that that medic who patched up my shoulder was as good with bullet wounds."
Hawk inspected the ninja carefully. He was a good judge of character, and he generally knew when someone was telling a bold-faced lie. Ninja were good at lying, but…well, there was something there that seemed sincere.
"Yes, I believe you would." He nodded slowly.
"I am sorry."
Hawk blinked at the words; they weren't something he'd ever expected to hear from the famously lethal Cobra agent. "What?"
"I've done things I'm not proud of." Storm actually sighed. "I did what I had to; my allegiance has always been to my clan first, and I did what I did for the Arashikage. I always tried to avoid killing soldiers if possible, but…well, I know I've sent good men to early graves. And for that, I am sorry."
Hawk eyed the other man for a long moment. "I'm not quite ready to forgive you for the men under my command who died, but thank you."
Hawk stepped over to the wall and hit the locking mechanism for the ninja's cell. "I'll speak to the team, but I can't promise you that no one will try to take a little revenge behind my back."
Storm Shadow stepped out of the confines of his cell. The greenshirts and two Joes backed up a step. Hawk scowled at them. "He's in my service. You don't have to like him, but you will at least treat him with respect. Am I clear?"
"Sir." They didn't relax much, though.
"Don't worry about me." Storm Shadow shrugged. "I can take care of myself."
"I know you can. I'm worried about them."
"I promise you, sir. I won't start anything, and I won't be goaded into a fight." Storm paused. "If someone tries to take a shot at me, I'll neutralize the situation with minimal force."
"Minimal force meaning…"
"I won't break anything too major." The ninja grinned.
Hawk sighed, feeling distinctly that he'd probably come to associate that look with an increase in incident forms…but, then, well, ninja. "Good enough."