Author's Note: I thought it appropriate to end with what is, in some ways, a prologue.

This scene is obviously based off "Silent Interlude." I had to add dialogue, obviously, but the whole idea was inspired by the scene where Scarlett and Storm Shadow are interacting in the water pit. It was a good story, but going back and reading it again with knowledge of who Storm Shadow would turn out to be lends a whole new cast to the scene. If Snake-Eyes hadn't gone after Scarlett (apparently secretly and against orders, given the dialogue in the following issue) then the two brothers wouldn't have met again so quickly. This precipitates Storm Shadow's whole character arc, and got me thinking . . .

Thanks for hanging in with me, everybody. I loved writing this story, and I hope you enjoyed reading it!

Rating: M.

Disclaimer: G.I. 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.

Epilogue: Beginnings

Good grief, but the redhead could fight! When he had swooped out of the clouds on the Cobra glider, ready to nab up the Joe that their intel had told them would be making a routine certification jump at that point, Storm Shadow hadn't been prepared for an insane harridan that had fought like a demon and almost blacked his eye before succumbing to the nerve touch. Not so impressive until you remembered that she was surprised, alone, thousands of feet above the ground, tangled in parachute straps and facing the Young Master of the Arashikage. And her language had been something else, too. He had to admire the guts, even if he still beat her.

He did not, however, have to admire the attitude. She regained consciousness about halfway to Destro's castle; oh, she didn't start squirming or yelling this time, but Storm Shadow's ears detected the subtle change in her heartbeat and breathing even through the tarp she was wrapped in. And when he dumped her in front of Cobra Commander and sliced the tarp open, she flinched a little but fixed the entire assembly with a cold glare, like they were workers she'd caught drinking on the back porch instead of cleaning out her gutters. Was it the South that produced nutcutting bitches, or just G.I. Joe? He wasn't going to ask.

It was, of course, Storm Shadow's job to haul the prisoner down to the cells. Never mind that he had already captured her, or that this was grunt work; no, nobody but the Commander's pet ninja (it had been Destro who used that phrase, and Storm Shadow was almost praying that the Scotch bastard would turn out to be the Hard Master's murderer, so he could fillet him with extreme prejudice) could take a Joe prisoner anyway. Cobra Commander was laughing his ass off over this particular captive, anyway—something about her apparently being close to one of the other Joes.

Storm Shadow remembered what one of his old DIs would have had to say about that . . . or the Hard Master, even. That was the Joes' bad luck. Probably the redhead's bad luck, too; a great many government agencies had a no-negotiation-with-terrorists policy, and Storm Shadow would bet good money that the Joes wouldn't be bargaining for their crazy woman back any time soon.

Destro's taste in dungeons ran to Pit-and-the-Pendulum-style setups—simple, but mostly effective. It tended to have a subduing effect on the prisoners, too. The redhead seemed less sure by the time Storm Shadow had chained her to the post in the middle of the water tank: her head was lowered, and though her expression was determinedly stoic, the ninja's hearing could detect a momentary fluttering of her heartbeat. Just a little fear, but it was there. Given what she'd put him through earlier, Storm Shadow was hardly objecting.

He stared down at her lowered head, his arms crossed over his chest. "Get comfortable," he said shortly. He didn't gloat or monologue the way Cobra Commander did, but he wasn't too proud to enjoy a minor victory over an irritating enemy. "You're going to be here a long time."

The heartrate changed, and he saw her bound fists clench just a little. "I really hope you're valuable to Cobra, mister," she said, her voice deceptively calm. The Southern accent was coming through more strongly, though, and Storm Shadow recognized the symptoms of well-controlled nervousness. "Because you're going to be in a heap of trouble when I get out."

Storm Shadow had had a long, bad day. It had started with the Baroness shrieking him out of his bunk at 0400 hours and had only gone downhill from there. He didn't want to be there in the first place, and he was under no illusions about the fact that he was honor-bound to serve a group of lunatic snake-themed terrorists. Maybe he can be excused for feeling a little sadistic.

"Dream on," he said bluntly, just a bit of satisfaction in his voice. "You know your government doesn't negotiate with terrorists. And if your boyfriend turns up, I'll slit his throat and dump him off the wall." He grinned a little. "That's what happens when you get on the wrong side of ninja, friend."

At that, the redhead looked up. "'My boyfriend,'" she began, the phrase laden with scornful sarcasm, "has a motto. 'The more a ninja talks, the less a ninja acts.'" Her lips twisted a little at the words. "So either find your balls and attack me, or go back to polishing your nice shiny sword."

Her captor was well-schooled in the intimidation of annoying prisoners. His hands were already halfway to her throat when his thoughts grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and screamed at him. He felt his own eyes widen involuntarily (a tell, and a bad one—the Hard Master would put him on three days' fast for that) as he realized what she had said. The hand that reached for her throat instead settled on her chin, pulling her face upwards. The redhead gasped a little as Storm Shadow leaned down, two sets of blue eyes meeting each other.

There were a lot of things he could think of to say right then. None of them made sense. And in the split-second between grabbing the prisoner's jaw and her gasp of surprise, they all ran through his head.

He remembered that phrase. It was one of the Soft Master's sayings, usually uttered with a grin or a wink. The Hard Master used it too, but as a reproof. Silence was a key of the Arashikage teachings—one reason that he had recommended a certain old Army buddy of his for membership in the school . . . And one reason why that same buddy had gotten so good so quickly. The laconic blond Ranger, who never gave anything away and slipped through life without leaving a trace on anything. Only two people had ever dared to repeat that saying back to the Masters' faces, and one of them had been the Young Master of the clan.

It was less than a heartbeat to the redhead, but to Storm Shadow, it seemed like years. Pieces fell into place. The Joes were supposed to have some kind of commando; the reports had called him a ninja, and though Storm Shadow had doubted them, there had been some proof that the man was capable. The only Joe that Cobra had never heard speak.

And in unconscious imitation of the friend he'd lost a long time ago, Storm Shadow could find nothing to say. He ran a thumb over the redhead's lip, staring her in the face. Brash, impulsive, chock-full of attitude and skill . . . yes, this would be the kind of girl his old sword-brother would-

Then her teeth sank into his hand, and Storm Shadow's split second of contemplation was abruptly truncated. He whipped his hand away, the other automatically flying for to his sword. It would be the work of a second to have her head off.

Looking back on it later, trying to see it from her perspective, Thomas Arashikage could probably guess what the girl had thought. A lecherous enemy ninja taking a look at her, then restraining himself from killing her because the Commander wanted his prize alive. It fit the narrative, sure.

Tommy had sworn an oath, and oaths and blood trumped the kind of brotherhood that comes from just being friends. He was a minion of Cobra now, with all the responsibilities that entailed. And while his carefully-worded vow of loyalty to the Commander had left him enough of a loophole to search for the Hard Master's killer, there was no way he could avoid murdering enemies of Cobra wherever they should be found. If he faced Snake-Eyes now, he would have to kill him. And given that they had last spoken in the Arashikage compound, trading barbs over the Hard Master's favoritism, just before that man had been shot—well, it would take a far more naïve man than Tommy to believe his old Army buddy would want to talk to him again.

That didn't mean that he had to abuse his brother's girl, though. He could probably have gotten away with it, given his standing in Cobra, and he later rationalized his treatment of her by pulling the old "valuable prisoner" card. Sentimentality had no place in his business. But the crazy redhead was a reminder, both welcome and painful, of a world that Tommy had closed himself off from years before.

Much later, bandaging his wounds and rewinding the strips of cloth over his clan tattoo, he thought about Vietnam.