Warning: Coarse language. Duh.

Writer's note: For those of you reading this as an update, you MUST to go back and read at least the last three chapters, because they have all been rewritten.

Dedication: To all the reviewers, fans and a few messages that kicked me in the ass for an update. This is for you.

And, of course, to Zeistrijder, without whom my chapters would never be half as good.

Chapter 9

Beyond My Reach


'...Now conscience wakes despair
That slumbered…'

~ Paradise Lost, Book IV, 23 - 24


New York City

Bellevue Hospital Centre

"What… do you mean -"

"You know what I meant."

"But…" Theagan stared at the bed before her, eyes wide with horror. The shock of what had been said sliced them all deep. "But… when you say 'don't come back', do you mean –"

"Ever. I mean ever."

"Fuck that noise." Ankle boots stormed across the floor and Mac grabbed the edge of the hospital bed, shaking it hard. "We're not fucking going anywhere, Jackie, damn it."

Jackie-Lynn didn't look away from the window on the opposite side of the room to her visitors. Her hands were folded demurely in her lap, and she looked so out of place in the pale pastels of the hospital's clothes. She didn't seem to care that her friends were ringed around her in varying stages of outrage and grief. She didn't care that they had threatened to burn down the hospital and kill everyone inside if they weren't allowed to see her.

They just cared that she had told them to get the fuck out of her room the moment they had come in.

And not come back.

"What happened to you?" asked Mac, for what had to be the fifth time in the last fifteen minutes. "And where is Corbin?"

"Go away, Mac." Jackie closed her eyes.

"No, damn it. No." Mac leant further over the bed, eyes wide. "Tell me-"

"Get. Out."

"Damn it Jackie! Just fucking talk to us!"

The scream rang out through the thin panelling of the door, which slid open instantly. The buzz-cut guard that was standing outside narrowed his eyes as he located the source of the noise.

"Ma'am, I allowed you into this room under the condition that you let her rest. If you continue to shout, I will remove you." Broad-shouldered and obviously taking his job seriously, he was quite intimidating with his low rumble.

"They need to leave, James."

The guard appeared surprised by this, but only for a moment. Then he nodded. "I'll remove them."

"Don't fucking touch me!" Mac whirled toward him, even though Corporal Hensleigh hadn't made a single move into the room. "Don't come near me. I want to know what happened to my friend, damn it! I want to know where…" Mac paused, and then she pointed at him. "You know, don't you? You know what happened? You know where she is! You know why Jackie's in the fucking hospital!"

"Mac," said Paige, reaching toward her.

Mac slapped at Paige's grip, and the woman recoiled, eyes wide.

"Tell me. Tell me where she is!"

"Mac!" shouted Theagan.

"I want to kn-"

"I don't know where she is."

Everyone stopped, and then tuned to Jackie. She had finally turned from the window, and her eyes were fixed on Mac's. Rather than being clouded by drugs or pain, they were steely bright and cold as ice.

"James. Give us fifteen minutes."

The soldier hesitated, and then closed the door.

"I don't know where she is," said Jackie again. "So what makes you think you deserve to know?"

An IV bung was in the back of her hand, but it was no longer connected to anything. Now the IV fed directly into the crook of her right arm, which was heavily bandaged and resting over her chest. Jackie's face was a mass of bruising and small marks, and though she was covered from the neck down in a soft black night gown, every movement was tender.

Theagan had caught a glimpse of the chart before the nurse had whisked it away.

Jackie might not be showing it, but she was recovering from major, life-saving surgery, and had only awakened from her medically induced coma six hours past. She had declined, apparently, to contact her friends, and it was only when Jackie's editor contacted Theagan to demand an explanation as to why his prize breadwinner was in the hospital that they found out what had happened to her.

Everyone had known something was off during the all-girl's lunch, but only then did Theagan begin to grasp the real threat Corbin had been in.

"Jackie. Patrick has contacts," Theagan said quietly. "We can help."

Jackie shook her head and held up her hand, wincing slightly at the movement. "I don't want to hear it. You want to help? Get out."

"How the FUCK does that help?" shouted Mac.

"Is she safe, at least?"

Everyone glanced at Paige, who had her hands clasped in front of her face, staring at Jackie. She was almost mousey, with blonde hair, a small nose and freckles. Completely out of place, with such a loud, demonstrative group, but somehow she fit in. Perhaps because she was the quiet voice of reason that would otherwise be drowned out in the minds of the others.

Jackie's lashes lowered as she glanced down, but didn't close her eyes. "She's as safe as she can be."

"This is fucking bull!" spat Mac, reaching out to grab Jackie's arm. Before she did, though, she seemed to remember how injured Jackie was, and stopped. "Why the fuck do you get to know stuff and we don't? We're Corbin's friends too, Jackie! Just because you've given up on her doesn't-"

Jackie's arm snapped up and her fingers coiled in Mac's shirt. Though her face went white with pain, Jackie dragged her closer, lifting herself enough so she could whisper, "You will not finish that sentence." Mac, wisely, didn't fight as Jackie's fist tightened, her entire arm shaking. "Don't you dare question my loyalty to Corbin again. Don't you ever even suggest that I don't love her. I am her best fucking friend. We've been through everything together. And if I know nothing, what the hell makes you think you deserve to?"

In an amazing display of strength for someone so injured, Jackie yanked Mac down so their noses were almost touching.

"So you get the fuck out of my room, or you'll be bunking in the one next door. Forever."

Jackie shoved Mac away, and the woman stumbled back a few steps, eyes wide.

"All of you." Jackie passed them a look filled with disgust, before finally turning back to the window. "Get. The. Fuck. Out."

Mac snapped her mouth closed, tears in her eyes. Then she turned and slammed from the room. Paige rose to her feet, staring at Jackie. Then, without a word, she rushed out after Mac, with a hurried explanation that she would drive Mac home.


"Is your pregnancy making you hard of hearing, Theagan? Get out. Just get out. Get the fuck out and don't come back, damn it!"

Something in Jackie's voice made Theagan's expression of incredulity fade to grief. Was it the despair she heard? Or the desperation?

Or the raw, stark fear?

"You were caught in an explosion. Not close enough that you were turned into a pink mist, or had your hearing permanently damaged, but enough to catch you in the shrapnel blast."

Both women looked at Patrick. Until that moment, Theagan's husband had been standing, silent and forgotten, against the wall beside the door. Now he pushed off and walked to the end of the bed, bracing his hands on the railing. Normally Patrick looked the picture of nonchalance, a small, carefree smile on his face, a distant expression to his eyes, and enough bag to his clothes to hide his physique. A perfect mocha blend of Caucasian and Latino that made him look permanently tanned. His shoulders were broad, and his dark hair just below shoulder length and drawn back in a roguish ponytail, something he wore ever since his wife idly mentioned she liked men with longer hair. He had a few scars on his handsome face, but they could have come from anything.

Jackie and Theagan both knew, though, that beneath his motorcycle jacket was a small armoury of weaponry. Most of them completely concealed.

"Explosions like that aren't by accident, Jackie. And Corbin's gone. And you're not freaking out and demanding the police, the FBI and the National Guard be mobilized in finding her. Which means that you think she's with the 'good guys'. The military, given the soldier outside."

Patrick's handsome face also hid a mind keenly honed by years of hunting dangerous men who did not want to be found, and were willing to kill to protect themselves. Jackie stared at him, her face a mask of bruised, battered neutrality.

"Does this have to do with the hostage situation?"

Jackie nodded once. 'I think so.'

"But you can't tell us what's happening. Or what's involved. Because they'll come after us."


"Because Corbin loves us."

Jackie said nothing to that. What was there to say at that."

Theagan put her hand on her rounded belly, covering her child growing inside. "Corbin would never,
ever put us in danger." She looked up at her husband. "She wouldn't."

"If she thought giving herself up would keep us safe, she'd do it in a heartbeat." Patrick looked at his wife, but it was Jackie that spoke next.

"Why do you think she left in the first place?" Her words were filled with bitterness, and she was glaring at the wall beside her.

"There has to be something we can do…"

"We have to go."

"What?" Theagan spun to her husband, then to Jackie. "No. No. We are not leaving you alone, Jackie. I don't give a damn who's coming after you or what they want or-"

"Neither of you can speak to me again."

"Are you listening to me?"

"Goodbye, Theagan." To her credit, Jackie's voice didn't break or quiver.


"Corporal Hensleigh!"

The door was open an instant later.

"Please show the-"

With as much dignity as Theagan could muster, she shoved herself to her feet and stared at Jackie, eyes narrowed.

"I am not leaving you alone."

Jackie didn't look at her.

Patrick intervened. He wrapped his arms around his wife's shoulders and pulled her away. As Theagan swore up and down that they would be back tomorrow, Patrick and the soldier exchanged a glance over her head.

They would not be back.

Corporal Hensleigh stood to one side as they left.

"Will that be all, ma'am?"


The door closed. Jackie waited for a minute, and then slammed her head back into the pillow. Her stitches pulled, both external and internal, and agony speared through her body. Rolling onto her side, she drew back her fist and punched her pillow over and over, until she was gasping from pain and exertion. In truth, it hadn't been hard not to tell the others anything. Jackie was too consumed with rage at her own helplessness to even think of anything beyond it. Mac's outrage had just added fuel to the fire.

How the fuck dare she… Jackie clenched her fists in the bedding. She doesn't know anything.

Corbin had taken a lot of licks through her life, and no matter how badly beaten she was, she always got back up and kept right on swinging. However, this wasn't because she was strong. She was stubborn to the point of stupidity. To the point that Corbin hadn't even realised how much danger she put everyone in with her wilful pride.

Only now did Jackie realise that, in growing up for Corbin and trying to protect her, she had never allowed Corbin to actually grow up. She was still that hot-headed fourteen year old girl wiping blood from her nose. Whenever she got in over her head, Jackie had pulled her out. Whenever she needed help, a place to live, a lap to cry on, money, Jackie had provided it.

Now Corbin had none of that. Jackie might be alone, but Corbin was surrounded by strangers and people she didn't trust. People she had to depend on. People who had seen and perhaps done terrible things. People who lived their lives for others. Who saw the big picture. Every one's big picture. People who likely wouldn't put up with Corbin's moods, or her prickly nature, or her stubborn determination to keep everyone at arm's length so they didn't hurt her. People who didn't understand Corbin, and had no reason to.

Sighing, Jackie closed her eyes.

"You motherfuckers are doing my job, now." She opened her eyes. "Please do it better than I did."

Jackie stared out the window. It was time for Corbin to finally grow up and find out who she was without Jackie.

Jackie just hoped, deep down, that when it was all over, Corbin would still have room in her life for her.


The Pit

"She's awake?"

Duke nodded.

"Thank Christ…"

Corbin sagged back against the wall behind her, going weak at the knees. The two of them were standing in the hall, Duke having stopped Corbin as she wandered around apparently aimlessly.

'Whoa there.' Duke reached out to Corbin, but she waved him away. When he was sure she wasn't going to fall, he smiled and said, 'From the look of it, she's going to make a full recovery, too.'

Corbin put her hands to her face and fought back the urge to just throw up. Jackie was awake. She was going to be fine. Corbin lifted her head, looking up at Duke with wide eyes. "Can you get a message to her?"

Duke pursed his lips.

Instantly Corbin's relieved demeanour changed. Fuck! She was so close! And they were just going to naysay her like that? "Are you fucking serious? You think she's going to slip me secret instructions in code or some bullshit? Come on, Duke, I just want to talk to her!"

"We don't think that," said Duke. "But the more contact you have with her, the more danger she's in. Corbin. We don't think you're cooperating with any terrorists, thieves or bad guys. But the threat still exists. Please, trust us."

Trust. How casually that word is thrown around. Corbin scowled and looked off to one side. You don't have any idea how hard it actually is for me to do that.

"Where were you going, anyway? Your room is that way." When Corbin cut him a glare, Duke lifted his hands. "Would you relax? I was just wondering if you were headed to the rec room and got lost."

"I'm going to the lower floor."

"… Why?"

Corbin rounded on Duke, prepared to tell him to get stuffed. But then she snapped her mouth closed and sighed. "I'm looking for Snake Eyes."

She watched his reaction, but rather than a wink-wink nudge-nudge that she expected, the playful ribbing that she thought might come with it, Duke's brows drew together and his face grew sombre.


"I intend to rip his clothes off and ravish him out of his ninja master senses," purred Corbin. Then she scoffed. "Seriously. What do you think? I want to talk to him."

"He doesn't talk, Corbin. He doesn't do anything except fight and train."

"Please don't tell me that's all you think he does. Even ninjas go to the damn bathroom."

"I don't mean that, and you know it," retorted Duke, scowling. "He's got a wicked sense of humour, and he can bounce back from anything. He loves a challenge. I like the guy. He's my friend. But that means I know the mood he's in, and it's not a socialising one. I just came from the gym. He's been hitting the bags all night from the look of it."

"All night?" asked Corbin, eyes wide.

Duke shrugged. "We have two bags in there for him. One's attached to the wall and the other's chained to the floor and ceiling. I wouldn't be surprised if he was at it all night. He's done it before." Duke murmured into his collar, "He was kinda pissed after yesterday, though."

Corbin felt her stomach drop. Pissed at me? "Where is he?"

"You still want to talk to him? I just said he's pissed."

"So?" Corbin seemed genuinely confused, and Duke just stared at her. Did she not comprehend that she wanted to hunt down an antisocial ninja when he was feeling particularly inclined toward the 'I don't want company' mood? And pissed off, to boot?

Without letting any of his thoughts stray onto his face, Duke said, "He has a private dojo on the floor below us, but people don't really go there. It's a training room he sort of took for himself. His room's through it. He's probably there."

"Where is it? I don't want to walk through any of the wrong doors."

Duke just stared at Corbin, and she stared back, fighting the urge to stomp her boot in frustration. Corbin's jet lag meant she was wide awake at the Pit's equivalent of six am. Already, though, there was a decent amount of bustle, and every now and again a Joes personnel walked past them. Some of them were wearing the cold colour camouflage that seemed to be the uniform, a flag on their shoulder denoting their country of allegiance.

"Why do you want to see him?" Now she recognized the hesitance. Now she understood Duke's reluctance. But why the hell would Duke be protective of Snake Eyes?

Corbin folded her arms over her chest. "Because he may not speak, but he can still talk, and he's the only one I want to talk to."

"You are exceedingly stubborn," said Duke quietly. Then he jerked his thumb down the hall. "Go to the stairwell I found you at yesterday. Go down one floor. Hang an immediate left, then take the second right. His door is the sliding paper screen at the end of the hall."

Corbin gave Duke a small smile. "Thanks."

Duke watched her walk away, rubbing his five o'clock shadow with a quiet hum of contemplation. He was not the only one that noticed how fond of Snake Eyes that Corbin was. Then again, most new females to the Pit found the enigmatic ninja master attractive. He was mysterious and apparently unattainable, a deadly combination, especially when his silence was added to the mix.

But Duke couldn't remember when one of those women stared up at him with such determination, or fire, or sheer stubbornness when she declared that she was going to hold a conversation with a man who did not speak.

Oh, boy, Snake Eyes. Do you even know what you're in for?

'What are you smirking about?'

Duke glanced over his shoulder as Scarlett and Ripcord approached. Though their brief interlude had soured, the two were able to maintain a cool professional camaraderie that was warming with each day. By half a degree, but still warming.

"Oh, nothing," said Duke, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Just wondering if our ninja master will finally find out what it feels like to be completely and utterly beat."

As the other two shared a confused look, Duke wandered away between them, whistling .


Snake Eyes stopped halfway through his kata, frozen in place.

He was off centre by almost an entire foot, misaligned with the room's dimensions. Expelling a harsh breath, he dropped his stance and stood straight, staring at the tokonoma1 at the other end of the room. He didn't want to admit it, but his muscles were twitching, his brain was becoming hazy, and he could no longer control his breathing. That, combined with the fact that the familiar kata he had done almost every single day of his life was off by an entire foot to the left meant that he could no longer deny that he was utterly exhausted.

Snake Eyes reached up and grabbed the back of the cloth that shielded his face, ripping it from his head. His visor bounced away as he wiped the back of his arm across his brow and walked to the clan symbol, wondering what his Master would say now. What was there to say, when everything Snake Eyes was, everything he strived to be, would always be outdone by a creature that was simply designed to be better than him.

Snake closed his eyes and sank to his knees before the tokonoma, his head down. He braced his fists on his thighs and drew in a deep breath of the incense that was fading from the air.

Unlike his room, which was removed from the dojo via two black fusuma2 doors to his left, the alcove was a part of the dojo, a part of his martial art, a part of his life. It was the first thing he saw when he opened the fusuma directly beyond the paper screen that served as the door to his dojo. It was the last thing he saw when he closed them behind him to go on a mission.

As was the Arashikage hexagram that hung in it.

The storeroom that Snake Eyes had repurposed for his own ends was, in fact, three rooms. The main had become his dojo, a massive square room with a high, well ventilated ceiling. The three walls that did not hold the tokonoma had fusuma, one set for his bedroom to his left, another for the antechamber leading into his dojo directly behind him. To his right were the fusuma that lead directly to his personal armoury.

When Snake Eyes had created the tokonoma, he had debated making it a tamaya3 to the Hard Master, but had rationalised that it was not right for him to mourn a single master in lieu of honouring the entire clan. But now he needed his Master more than ever.

Snake Eyes closed his eyes as he bowed his head, placing his palms and forearms on the mats before him.

When his restlessness and outrage at the Hard Master's death had become too much, Snake Eyes had left the Arashikage, before he had even been twenty years old. He had gone to seek his own destiny in the world, but it wasn't until he met the Joes that he felt he might have discovered it. Even though it still felt like something was missing, even though it wasn't the belonging he thought he wanted, it was the closest to the Arashikage dojo that he could imagine without actually returning to it.

He lifted his head and stared at the symbol. He drew on his strength, his spirit. Snake Eyes might have been a member of the Joes, but at his heart he was Hebi no Me, child of the Arashikage.

Master. I cannot turn to you as I once did. I cannot seek you for answers. And so I have always sought my own. But I need guidance now. I have encountered an enemy that is… made to be better than I. That is designed to be more than I can be. I have failed every time to defeat these creatures.

Lifting his head, but not looking up, Snake Eyes opened his eyes slowly, staring at his gloved hands, knowing each of the scars that the black fabric hid.

What can I do? How do I protect… Corbin's face swam into his mind's eye and he slammed his lids closed again. What do I do?

Silence greeted him. There were no stern words from the Hard Master. No advice from the Soft Master. Nor any of the other Masters.

Was he truly alone this time?

Lifting his head to the hexagram, his eyes picking out the familiar symbols of fire and water of the I Ching, Snake Eyes's brows drew together as he thought, What am I to do?

There was silence again. This time with a single difference.

Snake Eyes rose to his knees, and then to his feet.

Someone was at his door.


Corbin was spared the dilemma of how she could possibly knock on a sliding paper screen door (Jackie was going to be infuriated that she didn't recall the name) when they parted neatly, showing Snake Eyes standing on the other side. He was out of his combat gear, wearing that black, long-sleeved shirt again, black gloves on his hands, a black mask over his face. This time, though, he wore the visor instead of his sunglasses.

Corbin's mouth opened, and then snapped closed.

What am I supposed to say now? Hey Snake! Can I come in? Have a nice tea ceremony with you? Sorry if I'm barging in with my stupid Western arrogance. Oh, look. A katana!

Corbin's face closed down and she backed away.

"You know what? Never mind. It was stupid."

When she turned, something brushed her arm and she looked over her shoulder to see Snake Eyes had reached toward her. He tilted his head slightly, a wordless question.

"It was stupid," she said again, turning to face him. "You're probably busy."

He shook his head.

"Or, you know. Training someone."

He shook his head again.

"Or not want company."

He didn't shake his head this time. Instead, he lowered his chin slightly.

Aha! Corbin thought. Escape! But why did her victory feel so… hollow?

And then Snake Eyes stepped to the side and gestured for her to come in. Corbin stared beyond him, at the closed sliding doors that rested a single step above the matted floor. Her eyes tracked to Snake Eyes, who had lowered his arm, but hadn't moved. Then, with a sigh like he was asking her to do something terribly difficult, she stepped inside.

Snake Eyes shook his head as he closed the shōji4 behind her, a small smile on his lips at her reaction to his invitation. Should he be irritated that she had made it sound like it was such a task to do something she obviously wanted to do?

More importantly, where had his rage and frustration gone the moment he opened the door and saw who it was? He thought it might be Duke, checking on him, or Beach Head, since the two of them had stumbled on him trying to kill the canvas bags in the gym. Or perhaps Psych-Out, the Pit's one and only psychiatric professional, trying to coerce him into talking. As much as Snake Eyes talked.

Or Doc.

Or Hawk.

Or Scarlett…

Snake Eyes glanced at the door, wondering if he would have invited Scarlett in. Yes, he surmised. He would have invited her in.

But he probably wouldn't have wanted to talk to her, or ask how she was doing, or make sure she was alright.

In a way, Corbin coming to call was also a means for Snake Eyes to check on her in turn. He watched Corbin step toward the fusuma that would lead to his dojo. Then she turned and planted her backside on it, hiked up her cargo pants and started tugging the laces of her Converse All Stars until she could get them off. He noticed that she hadn't tied them up. She'd just stuffed the laces into her ankle.

Snake Eyes stepped toward her and pointed at the shoes.

Corbin glanced up. "Japanese households don't wear shoes inside, right?" She jerked her chin at his feet, which were bare under his gi pants. She did a small double-take when she really saw them, though, but she hid it well and had Snake Eyes not been watching her face, he might have missed it. She then inclined her head at the shelf where he had his shoes stored, recovering. "Gotta say, much neater than my closet." She pulled off first one Converse, than the other, setting them on the floor.

They were the same ones that she had been wearing at the stairwell, and Snake Eyes crouched down and tapped the symbol on the toe.

"Deadpool Converses," she said with a proud grin. "Limited edition. Two hundred dollars a shoe."

Four hundred dollars for a pair of Converses? Snake looked at her, hoping his skepticism was translated through his body movements. It was.

She picked one up and showed him the writing on the side. "They came out after the Marvel movie adaptation fad. Deadpool has some awesome quotes, and each shoe has a unique set of quotes in his little yellow boxes. No two pairs are the same." She gave him a child-like grin of glee. "I have three pairs. One of them has my favorite quote on it, so they're still in their box. Never to be worn."

To see someone take such joy in something so simple – and yet ridiculously expensive – as collecting shoes was beyond his comprehension, but considering it gave her such joy, he decided it was perfectly acceptable. Snake Eyes rose to his feet fluidly and tilted his head down at her, seeing that she was wearing odd socks.

"Do I have to take these off?"

He shook his head.

"Alright." She stood and looked at the door. "Do I go first, or do you?"

Snake Eyes stepped up to his dojo and opened the fusuma doors, permitting her inside. Rather than step forward, though, Corbin froze and stared.

"I feel… like I just stepped back in time."

Snake Eyes glanced at the dojo, then at Corbin. It was well lit by artificial lighting from above, muted to simulate sunlight. The room was warm, and scented pleasantly of sandalwood and tea. It wasn't as open as he would have liked it, but being underground in Egypt had its limitations.

As it was, he was glad that he had such a spacious location to himself.

"This is, like, a true blue dojo. From Japan." She tentatively stepped into the area and looked around. Then she looked at him, eyes wide. "Are you Japanese?"

Snake Eyes hesitated, not sure how to explain it to her. Opting for the simplest answer, he simply nodded.

"It must suck to be here, then," she said. "You can't even sign in your own language." She turned her attention to the tokonoma, and Snake Eyes found himself waiting as she gazed at the Arashikage hexagram. Obviously she discerned it was important to him, but from the slight curl of her brow, he knew that she wasn't sure what the tokonoma was. Traditionally, it was simply an alcove for art and decoration, since the Japanese did not hang portraits like the Western societies did. In this area an art scroll would hang from the wall, perhaps with a flower arrangement and item of decoration. The rest of the room would be kept in order, neat and clean, with perhaps a screen to one side and a kotatsu5 or tea section.

"What…" Corbin trailed off, obviously debating whether or not she should ask.

Snake Eyes waited behind her. She had only taken two steps into the dojo, not even clearing the wooden floorboards and hitting the vinyl mats. Blinking, once, she looked over her shoulder at Snake Eyes.

"What are you doing here, Snake? Who are you?"

Snake Eyes lowered his chin slightly, saying nothing. Something in her eyes flickered and she looked at the hexagram, then back at him. Snake Eyes moved past her and toward the Arashikage symbol, examining the familiar lines. Without realizing, he was tracing the same lines on his arm, and he dropped his hand away. Perhaps her arrival simply was coincidence, and not a message after all. Or perhaps, even from the grave, the Hard Master had a twisted sense of humor.

"I don't want to bother you," she said quietly. "And I don't… know how to communicate with you. So I guess I'm just going to go."

Snake Eyes turned and raised his hand, then he headed through the fusuma into his private room. When he returned, Corbin was exactly where he had left her, looking awkward and out of place.

He held up a pen and notepad.

"You're kidding," she said, expression going flat. 'You have that handy?"

Snake Eyes wrote, and she approached him to read over his shoulder. It's necessary, sometimes.

"Goddamn you have absurdly neat writing," she said. "But I guess charades is only so much fun, right?" She amended, wobbling one hand, "A little bit more when inebriated, but not much. Kinda like Pictionary; you eventually get fed up with playing by the rules and spend the evening humiliating yourself in every way possible."

When his head didn't move from staring at her, she arched a brow.

"I take it you've never played Pictionary?"

He shook his head.




Another shake.

"Please tell me you've played Twister."

Slow shake.

Corbin mouthed, 'Wow', and said, "Here's a deal, Snake Eyes. You teach me sign language, and I teach you the finer points of inebriated family games. Uh. Except for Twister. Somehow I envision playing that game with a ninja is a recipe for getting your ass kicked. Unless!" She lifted a finger, brows arching, and Snake Eyes' head went back a little. "It's naked Twister. Which is better with only two people. Though it does make spinning the board a tad hard. Dear God please stop me…"

Snake Eyes gave a brief, silent chuckle.

"Holy shit," she said, pointing at him. "Did you just laugh? Are you allowed to laugh?"

Snake Eyes tilted his head toward her sarcastically, and she smiled back at him, although inside Corbin didn't know if she was impressed or saddened that even his laughter was silent. She wondered what his voice sounded like. She wondered what his laugh sounded like.

She wondered if he was silent by choice.

Snake Eyes slowly sat down on the mats. Corbin knelt down beside him, a surprisingly smooth movement that simply had her folding her legs beneath her and resting comfortably on her knees.

"Well how about that," she said, tilting her head. "You are human under all that."

Snake Eyes cocked his head.

Corbin raised her hands and looked away. "Sorry, Ninjaman, but your amazing feats, to us mere mortals, are somewhat superhuman android-ish. It's hard to believe you're flesh and blood under all that."

Snake Eyes was definitely flesh and blood. He was still aching and exhausted from his training. His knuckles burned from where he had broken the calluses open against the canvas, and that was not easy to do. He was a scarred man.

Both inside and out.

What happened yesterday?

Instantly Corbin's face closed down and she looked away. Snake Eyes reached out and placed his hand on his shoulder, shaking his head. Then he wrote, You don't have to tell me.

Corbin stared at the page for a while. "I just… got angry."


"What's the sign language thing for why?" she asked him.

He made it, and she mimicked it with her hands. When she got something wrong, he changed the shape of her fingers. When she finally got it, Corbin sat back, stretching one leg out in front of her, bending the other over it, and sighed.

"I'm bad at talking about… shit I feel." She looked away. "Jackie just seemed to know, you know? She just knew me, and could… do it for me but now she's gone, and I don't know how to do it myself." She sighed and looked at him. 'Look. I'm sorry for what I said and did in the stairs, alright? You didn't deserve that." Mulishly, she buried her fists in her knees and said into her chest. "And I don't apologise a lot. So just… appreciate that."

Snake Eyes slid he page into her sight. You've apologised a lot in the last two weeks.

Corbin made a sound of derision and turned away. "I've made more mistakes in the last two weeks than I have in the last five fucking years. I mean, how often does a normal person encounter secret military organisations? And terrorists?"

Snake Eyes tilted his head and tapped her with the notepad. I didn't mean to be cruel.

"I…" She cut off the shout, expelled a breath and closed her eyes. "I know. You were just being honest. I do like it when people are honest."

Which would explain why she hated not being told everything.

Snake Eyes showed her the page again. You are often dishonest, Corbin.

She narrowed her eyes at the page, and then just glared up at him.

He made the sign for 'why'.

Corbin sighed and closed her eyes. For a long time she just sat there in silence, and Snake Eyes patiently waited for her to speak, as he knew she would. "When I was a kid… admitting when I was hurt, or upset, or something was admitting that I was weak, or vulnerable. With the people I ran with, that wasn't a good thing. People would take advantage of that. So I just lied." She opened her eyes. "After a while, I just got really good at it."

Snake Eyes just sat there, staring at her in his customary silence, though now he couldn't have spoken even if he wanted to. He was left wondering what kind of a life Corbin had lead that she couldn't show weakness. She wasn't a ninja, she hadn't been trained. She'd grown up in suburban Australia. Hardly a hostile environment.

Then again, what was normal for a teenager these days? Snake Eyes had grown up fighting rats for food scraps in Japan. He was hardly a good example.

"Jackie's awake."

Snake Eyes blinked at Corbin's mumbled words. She lifted her head and looked away, scowling.

"She's awake and apparently going to make a full recovery, so I thought you'd want to know. I mean, I was the one that…" Corbin trailed off, swallowing. "I was the one that put her in danger, but I thought you might like to know that she's going to be… well not okay, since she's never been okay. I mean… she's been through a fuckton."

Corbin's eyes glittered for a second. Then she sucked in a breath.

"They won't let me get a message to her. Just a simple message. Telling her that I love her, and miss her." She tilted her head back. "How is that fucking fair, Snake Eyes?"

He noticed that whenever she was talking to him about the Joes, it became a 'you' and 'they' situation. But whenever she was yelling at him, the 'they' simply became 'you'. He wondered if she realised that.

Snake Eyes applied the pen to the page.

Don't you think she'll know you want to talk to her as badly as she wants to talk to you? Don't you think she already knows how you feel?

Corbin scowled. 'It's not… the same.'

Of course it is. You're just afraid that she doesn't know, because you haven't told her yourself. Can't you just trust her to know on her own?

Corbin's expression, eyes downcast, brows drawn, spoke whole worlds, and Snake Eyes just stared at her behind his visor. He tapped her leg to get her attention, and when her gaze directed toward the page, he wrote, clearly and slowly.

Do you trust anyone -

"I trust Jackie!" she snarled at him, getting to her feet. "Fuck you, Snake! How fucking da-"

Snake Eyes followed her up, grabbing her arm and pulling her around. He lifted the notebook and turned it around so she could see what he had written.

Do you trust anyone completely?

"I trust Jackie," she said sharply, eyes narrowed. "I trust her with everything. Every secret. Every part of myself. She's my best friend, my sister, my confidante. She's everything to me. And now she's gone. Can you blame me for wanting to make sure she knows how I feel?" She stepped toward him, jabbing him in the chest with a finger. "And don't you talk to me about trust." Her eyes were narrowed. The words were hissed, like a cat. "Not when you can't even show me your fucking face. Not when you can't let me look you in fucking eye."

Snake released Corbin's arm, and instead walked forward. Rather than backing down, though, she lifted her chin and glared up at him. He stopped when their chests almost touched – and would have had they both taken a deep breath at the same time. He didn't know why he had crowded her, but now standing so close, feeling her breath on his masked cheek, he couldn't move away.

"What the hell are you hiding under your mask, Snake Eyes?" She got closer, rising up on her toes, and her next words were felt against the cloth that separated their mouths, the scant millimetres of air between his face and hers seeming to cease to exist. "What is it that you don't want me to see? Take the mask off, and we'll talk about trust."

Snake Eyes felt his arms trembling slightly, his exhaustion returning and taking a toll on his physical control as his anger mounted. How was Snake Eyes to tell her that she always found his eyes behind his visor? How was he to tell her that she always seemed to know where to look to meet them with unnerving accuracy? How was he to tell her that his mask had nothing to do with trust, or a lack of it? How was he supposed to get her to understand his vow of silence? His love for the Hard Master? His grief at his death and at the slow disintegration of the Arashikage afterwards?

How did he know she would understand?

"I didn't think so." She turned to the side, moving around him.

Snake Eyes slammed his palm into the wall in front of her, blocking her path. Apparently the move startled her and she looked up at him with wide eyes, but she did not attempt to move away again. Rather, her lashes lowered and she smiled, and it was a smile that tightened something low in Snake Eyes' stomach. A smile that made his breath slam out of his lungs and his heartbeat quicken.

"I like that you don't take shit from me," she said quietly. "And I like it when you get mad." She leaned close again, and this time the flames that filled Snake Eyes' blood had nothing to do with anger.

+Joes. Grab your gear and get to the hanger bay. Immediately.+

The two of them went absolutely motionless. Hawk's voice was like a splash of cold water on Snake Eyes and he stepped back sharply, flexing his hands. He glanced at his palm, and then the wall beside Corbin's head, as if he had only just realised what he had done.

"You're going to have to do a lot more than that to scare me, Snake."

He looked up at her. Her face was a mask of determination, but to what end, he didn't know.

"I'll see you when you get back." She turned and walked away, but cast over her shoulder as she did. "And you'd better come back."

The fusuma doors closed behind her and Snake Eyes let out the breath he had no idea he was holding.

Apparently, he'd inadvertently started a game of cat and mouse, and Corbin was determined to play.

For some reason, the idea of going head to head with someone as stubborn, and wilful, and prideful as Corbin… was thrilling.

Very well. If she insisted on playing, they'd play, but she'd soon find out why Snake Eyes always won cat and mouse games.

Because he was always the snake.


Thank you for reading this latest chapter! For those of you returning to the fiction, please tell me what you think of the changes to the previous chapters. I've rearranged a few events, shortened most of them and cut back on exposition. These last few months at uni have really taught me a lot in regards to my own writing, but I always believe I can get better!

For those of you newly arrived to my fiction, please leave a review, because your input is just as valuable to me! They keep me going!

Love you all



1 – tokonoma: a built-in recess in the wall of a Japanese home for artistic displays such as wall hangings.

2 – fusuma: opaque sliding doors used as dividers in large rooms.

3 – tamaya: a 'spirit house' used as a shrine to the deceased.

4 – shoji: sliding paper screen doors.

5 – kotatsu: low wooden tables in Japanese homes.

Tl;dnr is at the bottom in bold. For convenience, I have split this into several sections.

My dearest readers and reviewers,

Never let it said that I don't cherish each and every one of you (yes, even you flamers. Here. Have a cookie). However, there has something that has been brought to my attention that I feel I can't ignore. And, yes, I am blatantly exploiting you, right now, but don't worry. This will be put on every single one of my fanfictions, so you're not the only ones.

As some of you may be aware, there have been a mass deletion of fanfictions and account suspensions and even bannings on this site. People are losing their stories and their accounts. Talented writers. Beginner writers. Hobbyists. This is due to their fictions being reported for infractions on this site's rules, all because of an elitist stranglehold and monopoly of membership and participation on this site.

'Critics United'/ 'Literate Union'

Aka, an attempt to validate vicious cyberbullying

Now, let it never be said that I think that the rules should be violated, or that violations should be allowed. They are there for many reasons, most primarily legal. has been careful to ensure that we are all able to post fanfictions on this site, an act in and of itself that can be considered legally questionable. After all, we are appropriating intellectual property that belongs to those that are not ourselves, aren't we (although let me remark on the hilarity of having potentially plagiarised images on our plagiarised stories). Those who run have done incredible work, voluntarily, and are amazing people for doing so. However, whether or not these fictions violate the rules, or the validation of the removal of their works is not what I am bringing to light here. You are able to formulate your own opinion on the matter, and you are responsible for your own works.

As well as your own behaviour.

And it is behaviour that I wish to address here. The horrendous and reprehensible behaviour of members of this site who have joined together in a hateful mission of cyber bullying. Because that is exactly what this is; the most deplorable example of victimisation and antagonism I have ever seen on this site. These people specifically target stories that violate this site, and persistently hover over it like vultures, pecking away at the victim until they get what they want; which is ultimately a deletion of all stories that violate the rules of this site.

These are not people who report stories and move on. They have made it their mission to see deleted each and every single fiction that exhibits an infraction of the rules, however major or minor, and in the process humiliate and persecute the authors who – as I have seen many of them state – are apparently deserving of the ridicule that this group inflicts upon them.

And they have a forum dedicated to this end. On this site. There, they collate fictions that they have seen deleted, either directly or indirectly, in a hall of shame. They also bring forth fictions for judgement by their fellows for the sole purpose of deciding whether or not it violates the rules and, if it can be proven that it does violate the rules, they proceed to head to the fiction en-mass to spam the story's review feed and report the fiction if they don't comply to the site's rules.

They collate deleted fictions in a 'hall of shame' topic that allows them to display all the fictions that have been deleted because of their actions. They congratulate each other on a job well done. They laugh at poor writing, drag people through the dirt, and for what? So that they can feel good about their 'hard work'? So that they can feel as though they have some great power holding life or death over these fictions, passing judgement on these authors?

Now, for their credit, they seem to think they are doing the right thing. They ensure to discuss questionable fics, ensure that they are breaking rules, and then go and report. And some of them are courteous and polite about their warnings. On the forum, one person this:

"1. None of the people on this site are god, but the admins on this sitedodecide what stories get to be on here based on the guidelinesyouagreed to.

2. The people here don't report stories because they're bad, we report stories because they break guidelines. (This includes horrific spelling, grammar, and chat-speak.) Given, if it is a bad story, we might tear it to pieces with our criticism, but we don't report it."

This statement is of merit, and would be acceptable, if it were not for the fact that, four posts down, the same person posted this:

"Reviewed and reported. Really, do all stupid fangirls really think they're going to get away with absolute crap like this? Just as well, why must all of them put it in eye-blinding bold and italics?"

The hypocrisy of them trying to claim some noble cause while passing these personal judgements sickens me. After all, I don't know about you, but I am a fangirl of many things, and saying such disparagingly judgemental terms makes me feel like this person puts themselves at a level far above my own. I don't want to seem arrogant or egotistical when I say this, but I would dearly love to see this person use the term 'fangirl' as an insult to my face.

One group of people call themselves 'Critics United', but I can safely say that their self-titling is pathetic. These people are not critics. They are bullies hiding under a guise of justification because they are only targeting those that break the rules of this site. A cause like that does not explain or validate their actions in any way. It is not less bullying, it is not less a ridiculous display of egotism, and it is no less an act of victimisation. This is not critiquing, this isn't even constructive criticism, as they like to claim it. I am a critic. I am a literature student. And I would never, ever equate these people with holding the role of critique, unless they are referring to the meaning of being negative naysayers.

Moreover, you do not justify your actions as constructive criticism when you force it down someone's throat. Not everyone can handle constructive criticism, and you don't get to stamp your words and self-stylise in order to validate such criticism when someone doesn't want it. That is still bullying.

The fact that these people try to veil their victimisation behind courteous and polite words doesn't make it any less bullying. Doesn't make it any less than a vindictive desire to hold some elitist hold over writing over this site, and proclaim themselves judge, jury and executioner of people's fictions. They have been screenshotted in reviews saying things like 'piece of **' 'toxic crap' and directly insulting people's writing skill. I don't know about you, but this kind of juvenile behaviour cannot be considered 'critiquing'. That behaviour is disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. How dare they hold some holier-than-thou attitude over other writers and maintain some sort of integrity because they are 'enforcing the rules'.

As I have said, I do not condone rule breaking in any way, shape or form on this site, and I have been careful to ensure that my own fics do not break the rules. But that does not mean that I feel I have a right to hunt down all the fics that do break the rules. It is the responsibility of each and every member to ensure their works don't break the rules, and to report those that flaunt the rules.

And then move on.

Making a group for the sole purpose of some self-imposed duty of policing disgusts me. The idea that someone has read my fictions, nodded their head and said 'You pass', decreeing that I would be allowed to post not merely because I have followed the rules, but because they gave me permission to disgusts me. These people have taken a power that belongs to everyone, and decided to turn it toward their own means, believing that they are safe and okay because they are merely upholding the rules of the site. When, in actuality, that is not at all merely what they are doing.

And what is worse, is condoning their behaviour. I do not believe that the administrators of this site are reading the stories they have deleted, validating that they violate the rules, and then deleted them based on their own judgement. Instead, they are going after people based on the report count listed by their name, a count that this group, Critics United, is largely responsible for.

For those members of this group who feel that they have some form of duty to patrol this site for this purpose, but are careful and courteous in their reviews and warnings, I'm sorry. But you willingly associate with this ego-trip and I am afraid you are not completely free of blame.

For those of you that use this as an excuse to flaunt your superiority over others, and then claim no responsibility for your actions because you are 'upholding the rules'… There is no excuse, justification, or validation for your behaviour. None.

Nor is there an excuse, justification, or validation for 's condoning of it.

A worse group, however, is the Literate Union, which is almost identical to Critics United except for the fact that they are fully aware of the fact that all they do is flame, degrade and viciously bully those who they believe is worthy. They are everything I have stated above, without an attempt to justify their cruel behaviour. These people are slightly more self-aware, but even less mature in their actions. They have a forum dedicated to asking one another to specifically go and flame people and their stories, and I am at a loss as to the reason why.

Critics United have embarked on a witch hunt because they want to destroy the witches and purge their town.

Literate Union just wants to watch people squeal and burn in the flames.

This is cyber bullying, without any explanation or excuse. 'Upholding the rules' is not something I will accept. It does not require this level of hunt-and-kill execution that these people are exhibiting. It isn't their right to take it upon themselves to tear apart each author, post it on their hateful forum and giggle behind their hands with one another.

I do not want to be associated with a site that condones this blatant display of bullying.

The rating system/the bannings and deletions

AKA I think you missed one

As many readers may be aware, this time of year slows down for me because of my university. I have also been unable to post new chapters on my fanfiction because I am writing a thesis, and it is draining most of my energy. I have to work toward a Ph.D scholarship, which can range anywhere from thirty-five to sixty-five thousand taxpayer dollars, which makes me want to make sure I am deserving of it. However, I was in the process of re-writing several of my fics, and prepared to post them en-mass when I next had time.

However, I would like to draw attention to this section of the front page;

June 4th 2012 - Notices:

Please note we would like to clarify the content policy we have in place since 2002. follows the Fiction Rating system ranging from Fiction K to Fiction M. Although Fiction Ratings goes up to Fiction MA, since 2002 has not allowed Fiction MA rated content which can contain adult/explicit content on the site. only accepts content in the Fiction K through Fiction M range. Fiction M can contain adult language, themes and suggestions. Detailed descriptions of physical interaction of sexual or violent nature is considered Fiction MA and has not been allowed on the site since 2002.

I would state here, briefly, that the idea of not having a mature rating for mature readers has always perplexed me. I feel making them unavailable to unregistered readers, and having a function in a profile that allows for a 'I am over the age of 18' box to be checked would cover the ethical issues in regards to this. Ethical considerations on the internet require only a disclosure of age and consent of content that is about to be read. Once a person checks a 'I am over the age of 18' box, the people who are exposing them to the information are no longer liable for any legal action. They have fulfilled their requirement of responsibility. As such, not having a mature section for this site has never really made sense for me. However, that is not what I wish to address here.

As such, I regret to inform my readers that, though the content of my stories are not exclusively of this nature, many of my fictions feature such violence in their content, from detailed description of sexual interaction (Gestalt, and the intent in Paradise Lost), and violence (pretty much every single one of my fictions). What you would consider 'detailed' and rule violating, however, is subject to opinion, but from what I have addressed, opinion is enough to get your story deleted, or your account suspended or banned. I had thought that if the story had the content, but did not feature it as the main issue – for example a romance that went into sex, but did not have sex in every chapter – would be allowed as a mature example of professional writing.

I was, apparently, wrong.

I am fortunate that all of my stories exist on my laptop and not exclusively on , but it would devastate me to lose the wonderful reviews I have gotten from you, the painstaking time that you have all put in to telling me your thoughts and feelings on my work, helping me improve, giving me invaluable feedback and encouragement. I have been dragged from the depths of writer's block and depression because of the things you have said, and I cannot even imagine how some people feel with their stories deleted, not only losing their work, but the amazing reviews that people have left for them, to show them that their work is appreciated.

And let me say that the idea that is deleting fanfictions that depict graphic sex or violence, but are allowing people like Critics United and

I also do not feel like waiting for the Critics United group to turn their attention to the Mass Effect category and rifle through it, finding my fictions and passing their judgements on my work. It isn't their right.

The result

As such – and I know many of you are going to hate me for this, and I'm sorry –henceforth, in protest of the actions being taken on this site;

I will no longer be updating any of my fanfictions.

I will not be posting the rewrites of Paradise Lost, In the Shadow of Gods and A Cage of Butterflies that I have been working on.

I will not be posting new stories or one-shots on this site, nor any planned sequels.

Whether or not I repost my fictions elsewhere, and whether or not I post new fictions elsewhere has yet to be decided.

This is me being responsible for my own actions, my own opinions, and my own image, in that I will not be associated in any way with these people, nor will I allow their actions to go unaddressed.

This is not a message to . This is a message to you, my readers, my reviewers. Critics United are a group of vicious cyberbullies who defend their actions with the guise of 'upholding the rules'. Literate Union are simply cyberbullies who do not even try to defend their actions, and their actions are blatantly antagonistic and cruel. This does not make it any less bullying. It does not make their actions any less cruel. While I advocate that the rules be upheld, and I know that some fictions are in blatant violation of them, this group should not be allowed to continue conducting themselves as they have. These people purposefully seek out and victimising members of this site, and this is not behaviour I want to endorse, condone, forgive, be associated with, or turn a blind eye to.

I am not sure if I will post my works elsewhere for people to read. If I do, I will let you know.

I have created a tumblr for mass communication in case my account on is deleted. annewhynnfanfiction(youknoetherest) Please add me. I will keep everyone updated.

This needs to stop.

I love you all sincerely and dearly. You are my valued readers and reviewers, and you make me so happy whenever I hear anything from any of you. But this is unacceptable.

I am sorry.

For the forseable future, this is me signing out.



P.S – Feel free to send me reviews filled with rage and hate, condemnations for my actions and… well. Anger. I have marshmellows ready.