Author's Note: Aaaaand another one-shot, this time back to SE/S territory and a companion piece to "Topography." It's weirdly ironic that, at the time when my laptop is in the shop, my writer's block suddenly disappears. (I'm planning to add another section to "Life's a Beach," a section which may very well bump it into M rating, but it'll have to wait because there is no way in Hell I'm typing out that kind of scene on a public computer.)
This one came about while I was pondering the origin of Scarlett's code-name. There's the obvious—redhead, O'Hara, Atlanta—but the opening line of Gone with the Wind kept coming back to me. Then the Suellen-Siobhan parallel popped up, and before you know it, this was born. I hope you guys like it.
My characterization of Snake-Eyes, regarding the issue of literature, is something I've expounded. It doesn't have a definite basis in the comics, but considering Snake-Eyes' personality and his contemplative manner in his rare moments of downtime, I can see him thinking this way.
Also . . . Snake-Eyes is human, and therefore, fallible. There is no way he couldn't have blamed Scarlett for his accident at some point; people are just wired like that. I think letting him have those moments of weakness, and allowing him to overcome them, make him a stronger character than if he never blamed her at all. Plus, I'm a sucker for drama-with-added-happy-ending.
The title? Read on. It should be pretty obvious soon enough.
Rating: T for one bad word
Disclaimer: GI Joe and all associated characters and concepts are property of Hasbro Inc, and I derive no profit from this. Please accept this in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from this intellectual property.
By Totenkinder Madchen
Snake-Eyes was not, as a rule, a fan of classic literature. He was a fast reader and could whip through a novel in an afternoon, provided nobody was bothering him or the prose wasn't too dense, but he knew himself to be visual rather than literary. Nothing could compare to a single image: the high sharp peaks of the Sierras, with the gold and red and orange sunset flaming behind them and tinting their remaining snowcaps the color of blood, were more beautiful to him than the most heartwrenching piece of prose.
He had always been that way. As a child, he'd mainly read comic books, a fact his sister had teased him unmercifully over. And looking back, he could admit that those comics weren't exactly well-written; the Silver Age, as it was now known, had produced some great stories and many more mediocre ones. It had been the pictures that drew him, pictures that were worth far more than the thousand words that popular saying attributed to them. He didn't read comics any more, but the urge remained the same.
But even he was familiar with Scarlett O'Hara. Gone with the Wind was like Shakespeare or A Tale of Two Cities—something that the world had labeled great literature and therefore proceeded to inflict on year after year of bored students. He had passed the Gone with the Wind test in sixth grade, mainly due to the fact that the old film still showed at the library, but hadn't given much of a thought to it since. He had been dubbed Snake-Eyes in the jungles of Vietnam, lost his family, traveled to Japan in search of new beginnings . . . He had more important things on his mind. If there was any space in his brain devoted to Scarlett O'Hara, it consisted of a vague memory of Clark Gable acting like the kind of person that the Arashikage clan was paid a lot of money to kill.
Yet when another O'Hara had entered his life, that old book was suddenly back on his mind.
He met her that first day on the mats—a slender redhead, who cocked her shoulder and hurled Steeler over it with the ease of someone dropping a sack of laundry. She was no match for Snake-Eyes' skills then, but something about the tilt of her head and the confident grin reminded him of Terri, and he hadn't pushed her away when she started asking questions about his training. Over dinner that night, she'd mentioned that she was from Atlanta, and Snake-Eyes had assumed that some paper-pusher in Washington had seen her file, noted her name, and decided to be about as clever as his brain could manage. Scarlett O'Hara. So funny, he forgot to laugh.
But Snake-Eyes' curiosity hadn't been aroused in earnest until after the helicopter crash. Despite his reputation—even then, he was considered the strangest and most distant of the team—he was all too human, and part of him blamed Scarlett (he couldn't quite think of her as Shana, during those days) for what had happened to him. His logical mind told him that she had shouted for him to leave, and that it was his own damn choice to stay and risk the danger, but in the long bleak days in the burn unit that was hardly a comfort. Everybody needed someone to hold at fault.
She took it, though. She visited, stayed by him, didn't seem fazed when he refused to speak to her or ignored her attempts to reach him. He barely wrote more than a sentence to her in the first month—and never on the days following yet another surgery that had failed to fix his mangled face. Snake-Eyes didn't need to be a genius to know that while he was blaming her, she was blaming herself too.
But when she went away, the ward was even bleaker. Scarlett was a focus point, something to concentrate on. As the pain began to recede and the wounds turned into scars, he found that he was missing her more than he was faulting her. It was hard to think that. So with nothing else to do during those silent hours, and unable to be alone with his own thoughts, Snake-Eyes turned to the books he had previously ignored. The nurses, who knew that Sergeant O'Hara was his only constant visitor, thought it was funny when they brought Gone with the Wind from the base hospital's library.
It had taken him exactly three seconds—the time it took to read the first sentence—to realize that that maybe that anonymous Washington bureaucrat was a little cleverer than he'd given him credit for.
"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were."
Simple beginning. Snake-Eyes scanned his memory for the Tarleton twins—had they been in the movie? He couldn't remember. Sixth-grade English was a long time ago, its memories scabbed over and supplanted by Vietnam and secrecy. The words, though . . . they made an odd amount of sense.
To many everyday people, she wasn't very beautiful. There was too much rangy strength in her for a lot of people to appreciate—and even Snake-Eyes, who hadn't picked up a magazine since the last issue of Tae Kwon Do Monthly had dropped into his mailbox, knew from the people he saw on the street that the changing world of fashion had left her behind. Off-duty, she dressed plainly, favoring long skirts with enough give in the fabric to support a thrust-kick when needed. Muscular strength wasn't as well-received on women as it was on men.
But even before the accident, Snake-Eyes had considered those everyday people idiots. "Charm" was an antiquated kind of word for what Scarlett had; grace would be closer. He remembered seeing her on the mats that first day, her hair—red as that sunset over the Sierras—pulled into a messy ponytail to keep it out of her eyes, twisting as lithely as any dancer and flinging her opponent with the liquid strength that was all her own. That was beauty, and if people were too blind to see it, then Snake-Eyes wasn't going to waste his time on them.
He finished the book in four days—slower than usual, but he found Mitchell's prose hard going. Still, some parts of it struck a chord.
As God is my witness was the one he remembered most. He'd never thought to ask Shana O'Hara if she held any religious views, but the steely determination of Scarlett's final declaration definitely reminded him of the redheaded Intel agent. She had a way of setting her jaw, the blue eyes icy as she laid down the law to whoever had dared to get in the Joes' way.
The further he read, though, the more Snake-Eyes was certain that the Washington bureaucrat has misjudged Shana O'Hara. She had that fire and strength, and that strange charm too, but the woman in the book leavened her strength with selfishness and bitterness. Snake-Eyes had as much cause as anyone in the world to hate Shana, but no matter how much he'd blamed her, she never gave up on him. The bureaucrat had been dead wrong. He found himself getting angry at the man who had given Shana her code name, and as soon as he had finished the book, he threw it at the wall.
The next time she came to visit, he had greeted her with a folded note apologizing for his bad temper. I'm still getting used to all this, he'd carefully written. And I think we both have more than enough to face without me acting childish. I'm sorry, Shana.
They'd talked for hours: her curled up, catlike, in a chair beside his bed, him writing on his pad of paper. She had found Gone with the Wind lying where it had fallen behind the nightstand, and had teased him gently about his sudden interest in literature. "I don't think there were any ninjas in the Civil War," she said, studying the glossy cover with interest. "One of the presidents probably would have mentioned something about it. 'One Southern gentleman can lick twenty Yankees—unless it's one of them mask-wearing Yanks who're harder to catch than a greased jackass, and if it is then discretion is the better part of gentlemanly valor and please don't hurt me.'" She'd wrinkled her nose. "Doesn't quite roll off the tongue, does it?"
He hadn't mentioned that he'd been wondering about her code name. Their new peace was fragile, and Snake-Eyes didn't want to risk shattering it again. So he'd passed her a note complaining good-naturedly about how burns were nothing compared to being stuck with a bad book, and Shana had promised to bring him something worth reading next time. She'd been as good as her word, too: technical manuals, a half-dozen martial arts journals, and a book on ASL.
And for a time, she'd once again been the only Scarlett in his thoughts. He wondered about the code name sometimes, but somehow, it never seemed important enough to ask. It had probably just been that Washington paper-pusher thinking he was clever . . . and Snake-Eyes never been one for literary analysis anyway, not when there were more important things to take care of.
The specter of the Southern belle hadn't intruded again for years. His injuries had healed as well as they could, and his abilities were as formidable as ever—with the odd bonus that his mask and voicelessness only added to his reputation. He could never grow accustomed to seeing his mangled face in the mirror, but a man who had earned a name like Snake-Eyes before he had ever picked up a sword was used to being a figure of terror. Mute and masked, he haunted Cobra like an avenging ghost. And at the end of the day—there was Scarlett, or sometimes just Shana, and the friendship that had grown into something he couldn't live without.
Then there was another hospital. One single shot: much less dramatic than the torrent of burning fuel that had ruined his face, and yet so much more destructive. Scarlett lay comatose. Head bandaged. Eyes closed. Voice silent. Even when she would temporarily lose her voice, to infection or a bad throat strike, she would return to sign language and they would chat away as easily as ever. Silent Shana was like a bad dream, and Snake-Eyes wandered like a man unable to escape that dream.
The mind turns to strange things to escape its pain. And when Siobhan barged in—so like Shana in many ways, but so unlike her in others—Snake-Eyes couldn't help being bitterly amused by the comparison that tugged at his mind once more.
Scarlett O'Hara had a sister, too. But while Scarlett mixed strength and weakness, her sister Suellen was pure spite: stamping her feet, screwing up her face, demanding petty satisfaction without understanding how other peoples' lives could be affected. Suellen couldn't have said "As God is my witness." Siobhan couldn't say "Where there's life, there's hope."
But that strange likeness, and the thought of the code name question, was hardly at the forefront of his mind. Threats? Court orders? Shana was comatose, and this self-absorbed bitch wanted to finish the job that Cobra couldn't! Snake-Eyes was sure that murder would have been done if his sword-brother, taking what he doubtless considered the most merciful approach, hadn't placed him under the Arashikage mindset and arranged to have him dropped into riot-torn Borovia. Some part of him hadn't dared hope to find her still alive when he emerged, dazed, from the ninja trance. And when he learned that she was awake, his gratefulness for her survival couldn't keep him from wanting to tear Siobhan limb from limb.
It was during her recovery—a strange reversal of the old scene, him seated by her bed this time—that he had finally asked her about her code name. She had twisted her head, rubbing a little at the bandaging still wrapped around her temples, and smiled a little.
"The name? I picked it."
Snake-Eyes raised an eyebrow at that. [Why would you name yourself after that? Was the O'Hara thing too good to pass up?]
Shana shrugged a little and leaned back against her pillows. For a moment her eyes drifted close, and Snake-Eyes felt his heart clench in instinctive panic before they flicked open again to regard him with affectionate bemusement. "You've read the book," she reminded him. "And yes, O'Hara was part of it. Dad swears it was his father who inspired Margaret Mitchell to use the name . . . Really, though, I thought it was appropriate."
She smiled again, a little more wryly this time. "When I first started training, I had no concentration, no focus. I used to throw tantrums when things didn't go my way. Dad finally took me aside and told me that if I really wanted to learn, I had to understand that even tournament fighting wasn't just a game—people were going to get hurt, and if I couldn't learn to control myself, I would be the one responsible for that. And if I wasn't going to buckle down, well, I should just stop right then." She shifted a little, leaning back a little further. She looked . . . embarrassed? Snake-Eyes couldn't quite believe it.
"I didn't take it well. For a long time, I thought about quitting altogether." Now she definitely couldn't meet his eyes. "I finally got my act together, and, well, you know I work as hard as I can. But I think it helps to remember how bad I was at the beginning. Scarlett keeps me in mind of that."
She must have been surprised as anything when Snake-Eyes bent his head and tried in vain to stifle his silent laughter. His shoulders shook, and he couldn't stop himself, even when Shana scowled and aimed a thrown pillow at him.
"It's not that funny. Not all of us are spooky ninja masters, you know!"
[I wasn't laughing at that,] Snake-Eyes managed to sign weakly. [Shana, did you know that I've been wondering for years why you were assigned that name? For a while, I was planning on storming into Hawk's office and demanding to know what bureaucrat had underestimated you that badly. I've been robbed of my revenge.]
"Sorry to disappoint," she'd said, but the anger was gone from her tone as quickly as it had appeared. She smiled a little, cocking her head, and the rumpled hair was fiery-red against the snow-white of her bandages. Sunset over the mountains.
Shana O'Hara was beautiful, but the one man who got close to her could see so much more than that.