Gerrof! Leggo my leg, plot bunny! I fed you! I FED YOU NOW! Leave me alone!

"Snake." Clutch glared across the table. "I really don't see how this is a's obvious."

Footloose frowned. "C'mon, man...Snake's good and all, but Storm Shadow was, like, raised a freakin' ninja. He's gotta have some ancient Confucian secret mastered for this. And I'm raising ten."

Clutch checked. "Ace, tell this dumbass he's wrong."

Ace just lifted a shoulder. "Ask Stalker...he's the one who served with them in 'nam. And I'm in for another five. And Confucius is Chinese, Footloose. I think those hippy books have fried what little brains you had."

"What's the difference?"

All three of the other players winced. "China had Confucius and kung fu...Japan has ninja." Stalker said at last. "Two different cultures, man...whole different deal. Go say that kind of thing around Tommy and you'll get straightened out pretty quick."

Footloose shook his head hastily. "Nah...thanks, but I like my head attached to my neck. Who do you say, anyway? You're their best buddy."

Stalker examined his cards and scowled briefly and almost invisibly, causing Ace's eyebrows to shoot up. "Honestly? I don't know if I could bet against either one of them. I know Tommy used to carry at least six knives at all times, but then Snake used to consider less than three sidearms, an assault rifle, and knives in both boots underdressed. And that was when Storm was trying not to completely give himself away, and Snake wasn't a ninja yet."

Ace tilted his head as Stalker checked. "You know, that's just a weird thought...Snake Eyes not a ninja."

"Man, what was weird was when he vanished for five years and turned back up with a new affection for swords, throwing stars, vanishing randomly, and meditating on rooftops." Stalker shook his head. "I didn't even believe in ninja...I thought he'd just straight-up lost it."

Clutch glanced curiously at the ranger. "I can see that, actually...what convinced you?"

"What convinces anyone?" Stalker shrugged elaborately. "I saw him in action. He was good...beyond good...before. But...well, first time I saw him fight for real once he'd gotten back..." the ranger shook his head. "Christ. I thought I was dreaming, or maybe the MRE's went funny and I was hallucinating."

Footloose scowled. "You guys are both whacked out of your heads and avoiding the subject. Storm would win. Period. He probably started learning to hide sharp things when he was still figuring out the 'walking' thing."

Ace looked over the top of his cards. "Footloose, you going to play, or just talk?"

"Jeez..." the infantry trooper checked. "You take gambling way too seriously, man. Not good for your energy. Karma. Something like that."

"I consider taking your money a serious business." Ace slapped his cards down. "Four of a kind, kings. Lay 'em and weep."

The pilot raked the pot his way, to a great deal of rather inventive swearing. Ace smirked. "This should pretty much cover my car payment for the next two months...want to buy me a new TV too while we're all here?"

"Fuck you, man." Clutch scowled. "Most of that was what I shook you down for over Texas hold 'em last week, so I wouldn't get too cocky."

"Man, I'm out." Footloose pushed his chair back. "I've lost enough...but you know what I would put fifty on? Storm carries more hidden crap than Snake."

Ace's eyes lit up. "Actually, I'd take you up on that...quite frankly, my scratch is on Snake Eyes. He's bigger, you know? Three inches taller than Storm, outweighs him by what, fifteen, maybe twenty pounds? Extra room to hide stuff."

Footloose smiled. "You're on. I'm in for fifty on Storm."

Ace's notepad appeared, and the pilot started scratching away. "Gocha...I'll put myself down for the same on Snake Eyes."

Stalker sighed. "What do you plan on doing? Walking up to Tommy and saying 'excuse me, could you please disarm to settle a bet?' Do you have any idea how hard he'll laugh at you?"

"No." Ace said calmly. "I plan on getting more people in on this, and then asking them both to unload so we can count it up. Clutch, you want in?"

"Yeah. Fifty on're right. Bigger equals more hidden stuff."

Ace's pencil stub started scratching again. "Stalker?"

"They won't do it."

"Then no one wins and we all keep our money." Ace shrugged. "Worst case scenario, I get laughed at and mocked. Worth a shot."

Stalker sighed. "Twenty on Tommy. He trained longer."

"Excellent." Ace said happily.

Three days later, Ace's notepad had a rather extensive list of names and the pot was up to sixteen hundred dollars. Both ninja, to date, had refused to comment, though everyone knew damn well that both Snake and Storm knew exactly what was going on.

Ace ended up in the lunch line behind Snake on the third day. He grinned in a friendly sort of manner. "Hi...hey, Snake..."

*I'm not doing it.* Snake Eyes signed calmly.

Ace thought fast. "But Storm already agreed to..."

*No, he didn't.* Lying to either ninja could be a dicey proposition, best only undertaken by skilled professionals of the art. Ace was pretty good, but Snake Eyes could read physical tells when someone was lying the way Ace could read tells when someone was bluffing at cards.

Storm...well, when Ace figured out how to control such vital functions as heart rate when he was lying, he'd give it another shot. Damn that man's ears...

"Okay, no he didn't. But if you agree to, he probably will, too." Ace gave the ninja a plaintive look. "C'mon...I'm set to double my money if you manage to hide one more weapon than your buddy."

Snake Eyes just shook his head.

Ace sighed in exasperation. "Why?"

The ninja lifted a shoulder.

"Ten percent."

That voice came just from his right. Ace spun, to find himself face-to-face with the Pit's other resident ninja. He jumped, but manfully bit back the yelp...he was getting better at doing that. "What?"

"Ten percent." Storm Shadow repeated calmly. "I'll do it, but if I turn out the victor, I get ten percent of the winnings. And vice versa; if my sword brother wins in the event that you coax him into it, which I have some doubts about, he gets ten percent of the pot."

Ace frowned. "Why not just kick me in a nads a few times? Jesus...five percent, maybe."

"I could, if you want me to." Storm raised an eyebrow. "On the whole, I think going along with my plan would be less painful. I wasn't offering to bargain. Ten, or even the mild amusement of beating my brother at something won't sucker me in."

Snake Eyes sighed. *Tommy, you know perfectly well how good I am at efficiently packing for a mission...*

"Not arguing that you aren't. But I'm better."

"Ten percent?" Ace sighed. "Man, that'll cut into my winnings a bit...Extortion, that's what this is."

Snake Eyes grinned suddenly. *Ninja don't like disarming, Ace...we'd better be getting compensation if we're going to. Are we trying to just jam on as much gear as possible, or are we just gearing like we would for an average mission?*

"I'd say average infiltration-assassination." Storm casually cut into line; no one argued with him over this. "In and out, assuming armed guards, say, standard mildly-paranoid organized crime level security, but unknown exact measures."

Snake Eyes nodded.

Ace sighed again. "Ten percent? Just take my wallet, why don't you? Fine. I can probably sign on another dozen or so people by tomorrow, which will mean a little more for me when Snake wins...tomorrow night, about...ah...seventeen hundred hours, rec room?"

A loud snort. "You bet on Snake? You won't be getting anything."

The news that the two ninja had, in fact, agreed (or bribed him...hadn't they? Was it bribery if they were offering his money to themselves? What would you count it as when you were the ones who got paid? Ace wasn't sure...) to cooperate seemed to spread rapidly and actually picked betting up quite a bit. Ace was rather mollified by this fact, and the fact that Storm Shadow seemed to be slightly the favorite.

Even Scarlett, who had just shrugged him off the first time he'd asked her to ante in, was convinced to put some cash down. She opted in for Snake, predictably enough...she always took his side.

By the time the following evening rolled around, anticipation was high. Ninja in general were considered highly entertaining by the Joe team as a whole...the possibility of monetary gain and the thrill of illicit gambling coupled with ninja showing off was irresistible.

(Though, to be fair, the gambling was only 'illicit' in the technical sense. Hawk, Duke, and Flint had long ago given up on the men and women under their command not gambling, especially with Ace instigating. Actually, Flint had opted in for a hundred on Snake Eyes.)

When Ace made it to the rec room at quarter to seven, it was already packed. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow were both there, eyeing each other across the poker table. Storm was smirking; Snake Eyes was just standing with his arms folded. Both ninja were in full battle gear, including visor, masks, firearms, arrows, swords, and Storm Shadow's favorite bow.

"Right." Ace elbowed his way over to the table. "Rules are simple; whoever has more on them is the winner. Start unloading them, guys."

The swords hit the table first. Snake Eyes' twin Uzis and Storm Shadow's bow and arrows followed. Snake Eyes added the knives strapped to each thigh and both biceps, completing his assortment of visible weaponry. Storm Shadow set down the knife from his belt, a length of chain with a sharp, curved blade on one end...what was that called? Ace had to think for a second...

Kasuri-something? Kama? Karma? Something like that. was still a wicked-looking piece of weaponry, and was the last of Storm's visible weapons. Which, of course, meant nothing.

Storm Shadow casually flicked his wrists, sliding a handful of slim, very sharp looking throwing knives out into his hands and setting them down. Two lockpicks and a coil of braided wire followed, and that was just from his sleeves.

Snake Eyes was pulling knives from both boots, and several very wicked looking black metal spikes, pointed at both ends. He also produced a garrote, and...that was a spare magazine for a nine millimeter sidearm. The sidearm itself was produced from the small of his back, hidden under his utility belt.

Then the ninja started going through his utility belt, and Ace started doing double takes.

Fourteen shuriken, three more spare clips, a set of really nasty looking claw thingies that Scarlett whispered were for climbing, but also worked really well for gouging eyes and ripping out throats, and how she knew this Ace did not want to know. Two lockpick kits, several throwing knives, a tiny box that Snake popped open to reveal a dozen small, gleaming darts, four sections of black metal tubing that the ninja screwed together into what was clearly the blowgun for the probably poisoned darts, and three grenades.

Ace let out a slow breath. Okay. Wow.

And Storm was keeping pace...eighteen throwing stars, a blowgun and set of darts that looked remarkably similar to Snake Eye's, another set of those nasty looking metal claws, lockpicks, three fighting knives and half a dozen more throwing knives. Most of these were casually pulled from inside the ninja's shirt, which kind of made Ace wonder if, in the occasion the ninja ever got shot, the bullet could even make it through the armor plating of pointy metallic objects hidden inside the gi top.

In addition to this, a dozen small round objects that Ace immediately recognized as smoke bombs, and a half dozen more of a slightly different color that he recognized as miniature flash bombs.

Not that he'd ever set off any sort of fireworks. On government property. Never. No one had any proof, and he'd deny the accusations until his dying day, mostly because if he fessed up BeachHead still had the Barbie doll and the bottle of industrial degreaser still sitting on top of the filing cabinet in his office.

He blinked again as a second and third handgun hit the table on Snake Eye's side. Where had he been keeping those, anyway?

Well, those or the second garrote, the roll of...duct tape? Well, hell, Ace didn't blame him...stuff was damned useful....or the three more knives, handful of throwing spikes, collapsible grappling hook and length of nylon rope, or the four extra clips for the Uzis.

On Storm Shadow's side of the table, the ninja was pulling another garrote and about a dozen throwing spikes out of the tops of his tabi. A long length of curiously jointed chain was also produced from where it had apparently been coiled around the ninja's waist. A small hook with a clip clearly intended to attach to the length of chain also hit the table.

Snake Eyes tilted his head at this. *I didn't know you carried a whip chain and an attachable grapple instead of a grappling hook.*

"More versatile." Storm causally dropped yet another few loose lockpicks on the table. "I like flexible weapons anyway."

Snake Eyes raised a hand and tilted it side to side in a 'so-so' sort of gesture.

"I never enjoyed using them as much as I do."

*Fixed blade weapons are more practical, and can be used in more situations.*

Storm Shadow shrugged. "And with flexible weapons you don't have to carry extra rope and climbing aids, so you can pack other tools."

"Are you both done?" Ace cut off what seemed to be another round of a long-standing argument.

A few more throwing knives and one more Uzi clip hit the table.

*That's it.* Snake Eyes eyed the really impressive pile in front of him.

"Me too...I feel odd." Storm Shadow grimaced.

*It does, doesn't it?*

Ace reached over to start counting Storm Shadow's weapons. He hastily snatched his hand back when the ninja leveled a look at him that promised a great deal of violence should the pilot get fingerprints on his swords.

", why don't you count?" Ace backed away a step. "I'll just watch, then."

A few minutes later, and they were arguing technicalities. Ace frowned. "I just don't think that each lockpick counts...a whole set counts as an item, sure, but each? Don't you need two to pick a lock?"

Both ninja snorted. *Not simple ones.* Snake Eyes signed. *If you're any good, anyway.*

"And besides, you counted each throwing spike, and I know for a fact that you can kill a man with a lockpick." Storm pointed out.

Ace wasn't sure what scared him more about that statement...the casual tone that it was made in, the implication that Storm had done this, or the fact that Snake Eyes just nodded as if Storm had made a good point. Whatever the case, he quickly decided that he wasn't going to argue this one.

Ten minutes later, and he was tallying up the score. "Okay...add twenty...carry the one..." He grinned and glanced up. "And the winner is Snake Eyes, by five."

Score...three hundred bucks, after the ninja commission. Awesome.

Storm Shadow, tucking the last of his knives away, scowled. "What? You know, half of his knives , his sword, and his firearms and explosives weren't even hidden."

*Neither were your swords, your arrows, your bow, or your kasuri-kama.* Snake Eyes finger-spelled the last two words rapidly.

"Still not've got a utility belt with about a dozen pouches on it."

*How many pockets do you have sewn into the inside of your clothes?*

Storm Shadow sighed. "Point."

Scarlett was beaming. She was, Ace reflected, probably the only woman in the world who could be proud of the fact that her boyfriend habitually carried enough pointy death to single-handily occupy most third world countries.

He heard Shipwreck's low whistle behind him. The navy man was apparently talking to Short Fuze. "Jesus motherloving Christ..."

"You got that right." The ordinance man sounded both impressed and horrified.

Ace, figuring out exactly who got how much out of the pool (and making a mental note to get a new calculator; his current one was almost dead) nodded to himself in agreement. No shit...fucking crazy-ass commando lunatics... He shook his head. Good thing I like them, or I'd never sleep again...wonder how well the Commander sleeps at night? He grinned suddenly. And Storm still turns green at about nine gees and the eighth corkscrew spin...ha.