In which Clutch's balls suffer some blunt impact trauma.


It wasn't often that Snake Eyes was glad for the difficulty he had blending in with regular people. Prosthetic masks worked, but they were hot and itchy and he didn't like using them unless he had to.

Fortunately, he was very, very good at staying unseen. This often meant that he got to play the role of the unseen and silent guardian on missions, and he didn't mind this at all. Actually, most times he rather enjoyed it; one of the reasons he was so good at what he did was because he liked doing what he did, and the opportunity to play the stealthy ninja dealing death to his enemies wasn't something he'd turn down.

But there were other times, when he was watching a group walk through a crowd without so much as a second thought, that he scowled to himself and envied them. This wasn't one of those times. Actually, Snake Eyes didn't think he'd ever been more thankful to have an excuse to not be there on street level with the others. Particularly as he watched Clutch's pointing out of the sights and habitual and perfectly innocuous scanning for threats gradually digging a hapless Flint a deeper and deeper hole.

Snake shook his head. Poor man. He was quietly hoping that everything went smoothly and he never had to show himself. Because as much as she knew he loved her, Shana did tend towards jealousy, and Snake still had eyes, which was all that was needed to commit innumerable sins in this particular neighborhood.

The prospect of an irritated girlfriend wasn't a good one. Snake was guessing that the question "Were you looking at the attractive, mostly naked woman who was propositioning you for sex?" was one of those where there wasn't any right answer.

The Lotus Bridge was easily found; it was one of the larger establishments on its block. As the rest of the team headed for the front doors, Snake rapidly assessed the structure.

There was a skylight open. Below was an empty office. He grinned; sometimes the universe aligned to make his job really, really easy.

In the office, he located an air conditioning duct. It was far too small to crawl through; he glanced around, and then slid over to the door.

The hall was empty. A few minutes of skulking around told him that the floor he was on was mostly unused, with a few accounting offices. The floor below was mostly rooms of the small and rentable by the hour variety. Below that was the main floor, where the main shows, dressing (or rather, undressing) rooms for the staff, and bar were located.

Hidden behind a large, ornamental vase, he spotted the team; they'd apparently located one of Patterson's aides, and Jaye was rapidly charming her way into an unscheduled meeting.

Flint was carefully looking at the ceiling. Shana's face was blank, but Snake could tell her "I'm not acknowledging anything around me because I don't want to think about it" blank face from her "Bored guard duty" blank face.

Clutch was, to his credit, valiantly trying to pay attention to the mission-related conversation…but his eyes kept going back to the stage, where there was a very naked, quite shapely, extremely flexible woman performing decidedly impressive acrobatic stunts on a stripper pole. Another woman sidled up to him, obviously deciding that a fairly attractive, very fit, and by all appearances moderately well-off foreigner was a good potential client. Clutch, looking mournful, sighed visibly as he turned her down.

Tommy, being Tommy, was simultaneously ignoring the women attempting to catch his attention, looking mildly bored, and scrutinizing the room warily. His eyes fixed on the six-foot ornamental vase near the stairwell door for a moment, and the corner of his lips might have twitched in a smile for a bare second.

It wasn't long before the aide was leading the team towards the stairwell; Snake waited for a moment for them to turn the corner and followed them up stealthily.

The team was shown into a large, posh office. It took all of his skill, but Snake managed to slip in unnoticed behind them. Silently thanking whoever had seen fit to put a large, padded bench by the door, he eeled his way under it and froze.

The man sitting behind the desk was tall, with black hair going slightly gray at the temples and the build of a weightlifter. There were four scantily clad women lounging on various plush chairs.

Snake Eyes narrowed his eyes. Except the women weren't wearing high heels, they were far more fit than jobs as professional doxies warranted, they were watching his teammates with looks that were far more wary than should be warranted, and that was the top of a well-loved knife hilt just barely poking out of the top of one of those far-too-sensible boots.

Bodyguards, then.

Flint shut the door after the aide. Patterson looked up from the paperwork he was frowning intently at. His eyebrows creased infinitesimally.

"You don't seem familiar…I thought Jones said I knew you."

"I just have a few questions for you." Jaye's voice was soft, but there was steel there. "Don't try to run, and don't bother pretending you don't know the answers."

Patterson shot to his feet; his hand went to his desk drawer that presumably held a gun. He froze, however, when Jaye, Clutch and Scarlett both leveled their sidearms at him in about a tenth of a second.

The four woman shot to their feet and launched themselves at the threat to their employer with the smooth grace that advertised some expertise in…Snake caught a glimpse the knee strike that one slammed into Clutch's groin as he shot out of hiding to intercept the second…Muay Thai.

Clutch yelped, went to his knees, but managed to topple into his assailant and take her down with him. Snake Eyes didn't see what happened after that; he was twisting a knife out of a well-manicured hand. An elbow flashed up, aimed for his temple; he leaned back, and the strike missed.

One hip-throw later, and she was on the ground, but still fighting. She drew another knife from a thigh-sheath; Snake caught the strike and with a sharp twist broke her wrist. She yelped in pain, but still managed to knee him hard in the ribs. Snake had one hand around her neck and was applying a sleeper hold in the blink of an eye.

"Kill them! For the love of God, kill them! They're spies! Kill…" Patterson grunted suddenly, and went silent.

The female bodyguard went limp; Snake stood.

The other bodyguards were down too. The one who'd kneed Clutch was unconscious, having apparently hit her head hard when she'd been knocked sprawling by a toppling, pained, angry man. Clutch himself was back on his feet, walking in small circles, wincing with every step and cursing under his breath. One had made the mistake of going after Shana, and was now whimpering softly and nursing what looked like a broken knee. The last…Snake eyed the scene…the last had apparently gone after Tommy with one of the sharp metal hairsticks that had been holding her bun up, and then drawn a gun on him when he disarmed her.

She was fairly certainly dead. The sharp metal stick was deeply embedded between the ribs just to the left of the breastbone.

Jaye had Patterson back against the wall. Her sidearm was aimed squarely at his balls.

"Any other flunkies for us to go through?" Jaye's voice was hard. "Love how you like your muscle to be on call if you get horny, too. Classy."

Patterson swallowed. "They're not actually women, to tell the truth. Men…watch it with that thing, would you? I've always believed that men are more willing to kill if necessary. However, women are less threatening for when you don't want to frighten a client...and, well…..dammit, watch where you're shoving that piece…Thailand is famous for its transvestites."

"Really?" Shana leveled her sidearm at his skull. "Strange. We've killed lots of men, and never had much of a problem with it."

"I'm considering reevaluating my position." Patterson was starting to sweat; looking directly down the barrel of a nine millimeter Glock generally had that effect on people.

"We've got a few questions for you." Flint seemed much more comfortable on 'intimidate information out of the Cobra agent' turf.

"And if I don't answer, what are you going to do? Shoot me?"

"No." Jaye smiled. "Well, yes. Not fatally, though I'm sure you'd rather I kill you than put a bullet through your testicles."

Patterson went a few shades paler.

"That's what I thought. Now, you recently handled a large shipment of stone, shipped by sea from Hong Kong. Where did it go?"

"Cambodia. You wouldn't really…"

"I've been in a very bad mood since starting my stroll through this neighborhood. I've been mistaken for a working girl three times. Castrating you might make me feel better. Where in Cambodia?"

"Mekong river basin, near Lumphât."

Snake firmly kept himself from twitching. He'd been to the Mekong river basin before…sure, it had been further downstream, in the delta, and Cambodia wasn't Vietnam, but it had been within spitting distance of the Mekong river that he and Tommy had barely managed to limp to safety after their first squad had been utterly slaughtered. There were some associations that just never went away, and the images that flashed through his head when he heard the phrase 'Mekong River' were of the decidedly unpleasant sort.

"How long ago did it go out?"

"Three days."

"How long before it gets there?"

Patterson shrugged. "Depends…if everything went right and they made great time, could be tomorrow. Could be another week."

"I want all your records on the shipment."

Patterson pointed. "Disc case, top drawer. Silver one with the blue logo. Could you please point that gun somewhere else? Anywhere else? My heart, maybe?"

"Do you know anything other than where the shipment went?"

"Just that the Twins said it was for Destro. I think he's got some sort of lab hidden in the jungle or something."


"He's telling the truth." Tommy was apparently calm, but his eyes had gone sharp too, and Snake knew that his sword brother was remembering the same things as him.

"Good." Jaye raised her gun to point at Patterson's temple instead. "Flint, grab that flash drive, would you? And what are we going to do with him?"

"Police?" Clutch suggested. He seemed to be over the worst of the agony.

"No…he hasn't technically done anything illegal." Scarlett frowned. "He does have solid ties to Cobra. We could take him back with us and give him to Hawk as a present. He'd get off, but it'd keep him quiet for long enough for us to sort out this whole mess."

"You have no right…" Patterson puffed up angrily.

"You could give him to me, and then we won't have to ever worry about him talking again." Tommy leveled a long, narrow-eyed glare at the taller man. "I never did like the Twins…killing you would make their life more difficult, wouldn't it?"

"…or, I could go with you quietly." Patterson finished.

Jaye smiled. "Good! We're all in agreement then."


"…So we've got a captive Cobra agent, a location for a possible hidden Cobra lab, four gigabytes worth of shipping records that give us the exact locations of the lab in question and what looks like five other sites of interest, and we didn't lose Clutch in a whorehouse." Scarlett rolled her neck; Snake Eyes heard her spine crack. "Advise returning to Pit, remanding prisoner into custody, and letting Breaker go nuts with those surveillance satellites he's so fond of."

"Agreed. If we've got a Cobra weapons lab on our hands, we need more intel before moving." Hawk sounded pleased. "Come on back. I'll arrange accommodations for our guest and get Breaker on the case. Good job, soldiers."

"Thank you, sir. Yes, sir."

Hawk cut the connection. Shana pushed her chair back, stood, and turned to face Snake Eyes.

They'd been back for about an hour. They'd rented another room, where Tommy and Clutch were currently pulling guard duty on their captive. Jaye and Flint had had a swift whispered but tense argument, had refused to talk to each other for about twenty minutes, and then had another swift whispered discussion which to Snake had sounded a lot like frantic apologizing. The pair had disappeared to "Get some sleep" ten minutes ago. Snake doubted sleeping was actually the pastime at the forefront of their minds, but really didn't want to pursue the thought any further than that.

*Thank God that's over.* Snake signed to his girlfriend.


The tone of her voice made Snake Eyes swallow convulsively. Shit…he hadn't done anything, why the hell would she be mad…

*Shana?* He signed carefully.

"You're sure you didn't enjoy the part where you got to wrestle an attractive woman to the floor?" Shana narrowed her eyes. "Because you looked like you were enjoying that quite a bit, mister."

Shitshitshit…*Shana, that wasn't a woman. And I did not…*

Her glare suddenly broke, and Snake abruptly realized that he'd been had. He glared as she started laughing.

"Oh, god…I'm sorry, Snake. Really. But I had to."

*That wasn't nice.* Snake Eyes was still glaring. *That really, really wasn't nice. You have a warped sense of humor.* He folded his arms.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry." She was still laughing. "Oh, your face…you can look like a kicked puppy right through that mask, you know."

Snake Eyes, realizing that he wasn't going to end up apologizing for an accidental slight on his knees, was relaxing again. Shana stood, leaned against him, and rested her head on his shoulder.

"Sorry." She murmured. "You've got one free screw-up on the house now. You're allowed to forget my birthday so long as you remember within a week, tease me for being bossy, use my favorite beat-up flannel shirt to oil your swords, or use the last of my shampoo and not get me more."

Snake smiled despite himself. He uncrossed his arms. *I don't use your shampoo. It smells like peaches. Ninja do not smell like peaches.*

"I know for a fact that you once used it to give Timber a bath."

Snake paused. *Okay. Yes, I might have done that.*

"You did do that, lover. But it was an improvement on whatever he'd rolled in, so I wasn't complaining." Shana tilted her head up and kissed the underside of his jaw; Snake swallowed. Shana smiled. "And when we go off duty, I'm going to have my way with you until you can't remember any woman but me."

Snake Eyes glanced at the clock. They had exactly way too long left on their shift. Shana kissed him on the jaw again, sat down by the radio once more, and went back to looking through the information on their captured disc.

Snake Eyes located his whetstone and honing oil and started touching up the already-immaculate edge of his trench knife. With any luck, he'd be able to keep himself busy enough that the shift went quickly…