Disclaimer: I don't own GI Joe or Marvel.
This story follows Storm Shadow and Wolverine's journey in Canada, which began in my other story 'Silence.' These two will temporarily disappear from that story until the conclusion of this one.
Chapter 1: First lessons
Pain. Unimaginable pain. It was as if thousands of katana were cutting into his brain, severing slice upon slice of gray matter. Some pieces were reconstructed or rearranged, others were seemingly discarded. His body writhed in agony and somewhere in the corner of his mind still capable of free thought, he pleaded for death.
Then, after what felt like a thousand years, it stopped. The blades were sheathed. The wounds and the ache in his body, however, still remained.
"How is my pet ninja?" a voice asked. Too much pain, too tired…he couldn't even force his eyes open to look at the man. The voice seemed familiar, however. He'd be able to put a name to it in a few minutes.
"Excellent, my dear Cobra Commander. The upgrades to Dr. Venom's brainscanner are working perfectly."
"Good," the first voice answered. "Have my son brought here. He is in need of further reprogramming as well."
Billy. Somehow he was able to put a name to that person. He struggled to open his eyes, but they refused to open. It was as if they no longer obeyed the will of their owner. Finally, after much exertion, they opened to reveal two men. He peered blurrily at a bald man and a man in a blue mask.
"How are you feeling Storm Shadow?" one of them asked. Terrible, he felt terrible. His mind felt like…it felt like…so hard to think…
"Well enough to serve you, my master," the ninja said. Both men seemed pleased by that answer.
"Splendid…I have a mission for you tomorrow," the man in the blue mask responded. "Rest up. Tomorrow I want you to assassinate the US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia."
The next day, the ninja walked silently away from a new corpse. The only evidence of his deed was a single drop of fresh blood, staining one of his gloves…
Storm Shadow's eyes flew open and he sat up. His hair was slick with sweat and his heart was beating at an accelerated rate. He took several breaths to calm himself and slipped into a temporary meditative state. After a couple of minutes, he opened his eyes again.
"Another one?" his companion asked. The ninja looked up to see a short, grizzled man sitting on an overhead tree branch. The X-Man known as Wolverine studied him with a pair of expressionless eyes. No…not completely expressionless, the ninja amended. There was a hint of sympathy hidden deep in those blue eyes. They were old, ancient looking eyes. Eyes that had known much pain.
Logan understood what he was going through.
"Yes," Thomas Arashikage answered. The ninja stood up and stretched his legs. This hadn't been his first nightmare since he and Logan had begun their journey. He also knew it wouldn't be his last. If the former soldier had any consolation, it was the fact that Wolverine experienced similar dreams.
"I don't think I can go back to sleep," Tommy told him. "You want to take your turn?" The two men slept in shifts during the night.
"Nah…too busy enjoying the breeze," the Canadian answered. Storm Shadow climbed up the tree to join his…new friend? Mentor? Thomas Arashikage wasn't really sure what to call the man, considering that he had only known him for a few weeks. The man known as Wolverine was somewhat of an enigma. The Cobra hierarchy had passed him off as a mere animal.
That was a lie and a disservice to the man. Logan was grumpy and ornery as hell, but he was also one of the kindest and most honorable men that Thomas Arashikage had ever met. Scarred though Wolverine was from his past, much of which he didn't even remember, he was also extremely knowledgeable and intelligent.
Thomas had lost every chess game they had played so far. He was determined to change that.
"Another game?" he asked. His companion snorted.
"You feel like losing again?"
"Only the loser truly learns how to win," Storm Shadow quoted. "But if you have the option of winning, losing is pretty damn stupid."
"Who said that?" Logan asked. "Is that another Soft Master quote?"
"Actually, the Hard Master said it, though I may have slightly paraphrased it," the ninja replied. Wolverine chuckled under his breath. Neither man spoke for a while. Tommy listened as a couple of wolves howled in the distance. The night breeze chilled him, though it was still the beginning of August. He and Logan had been making their way to the northern part of Canada, though they were in no particular hurry to get anywhere. As the mutant had explained, the journey was more important than the physical destination.
"Pawn to B-3," Logan finally said.
"Knight to C-6," Tommy replied.
The two men played for a while. Tommy had long considered himself an excellent chess player. He'd always been able to outplay Snake Eyes, as well as most of his clan. Chess had also been an important teaching tool that he'd used with Billy. He and his young protégé had often played a mental game of chess, just as he and Wolverine were doing now.
The only different was that Tommy had so far consistently lost every game.
"Let's call it a night," Logan finally said, stopping the game. "We can pick it back up tomorrow."
Tommy took the next watch as the mutant climbed into his sleeping bag. He was instantly asleep, though as the ninja had learned, the man was a light sleeper. Storm Shadow looked up at the night sky and watched the moon for a while. It was peeking out over a trio of mountains.
"Where are you Billy?" he asked quietly. The ninja had no recollection of what had happened to his protégé, other than that his young friend had somehow managed to escape. Cobra Commander had been in a fury for days.
An owl hooted again. Somewhere in the distance, a pack of coyotes howled and barked. The leaves rustled softly. The night was speaking to him.
Thomas Arashikage listened.
"Just how much can you talk?" Wolverine growled. The ninja grinned at him. As Logan was finding out, Tommy was a very sociable person and seemed to love talking. In fact, the man was quite capable of being a cheeky bastard and filling in for the other person's dialogue if they weren't willing to be in a conversation.
"That's okay Tommy, keep talking," the other man said, "I always enjoy having a nice conversation that…"
"You want breakfast?" Logan growled.
"Yes," the ninja replied. "Shall I commence with silence?" Logan glared, which only made the man grin even more. The mutant shook his head and turned his attention back to the small campfire. It was no wonder that Thomas Arashikage got along so well with Nightcrawler. Truthfully, Logan wasn't as agitated as he let on. He took the other man's talkativeness and good humor as a sign that he was starting to recover from his brainwashing. However, as Wolverine knew from personal experience, it would probably take years for the man to fully heal…if he ever did.
They had been on the road for over two weeks now. The two men had first wandered through one of British Columbia's many provincial parks. At the moment, they were camped out in a large wooded and mountainous area. Eventually, as they moved further north, the trees would thin out and disappear.
"I swear," Logan grumped. "God help me if you ever meet Pete Parker."
"Who's that?" the ninja asked. "Another merry mutant?"
"An ally," Logan answered. "And no, he's not a mutant." He considered telling the man that Parker was really Spiderman, but decided against it. It wasn't that he didn't trust Tommy…quite the opposite, but it was Parker's secret. He had no right to reveal it without the other man's permission.
"You'll probably meet him eventually," the mutant said instead. Tommy studied him a moment before shrugging. The ninja was keenly perceptive and had probably guessed that Logan was keeping something back. He had his Arashikage training to thank for that. Fortunately, the man was respectful enough not to prod for more information.
After they'd eaten, they walked for about two hours. Logan and Tommy then spent the next few hours sparring. The ninja was good…very, very good in fact. Now that his mind had been cleared of Cobra's brainwashing, his combat and mental skills had immediately sharpened.
Logan was still better though. To be fair, he had age and experience on his side. His companion was also fighting with a troubled heart, which displayed itself when he fought.
"Straighten your arm," Logan told him. "And put more energy into your torso when you twist it." The ninja repeated the strike, doing it correctly. Wolverine marveled at how quickly the younger man caught on. Tommy only needed to hear or see something once to repeat it. It was no wonder that he had once been called the Young Master.
It was a learning experience for both of them. Logan had previously encountered a few members of the Arashikage clan, so he'd had some knowledge of their fighting style. However, sparring with Tommy was teaching him a greater range of techniques.
Logan blocked a hand strike, turned his body to the left, and anticipated that the other man would use the Arashikage Tiger Claw attack. He was correct, but the ninja followed through with a finger thrust to his Golgi tendon. The muscles in Logan's arm relaxed and the ninja twisted the arm painfully, though not too hard to do damage.
Wolverine hooked an ankle around the other man's leg and knocked him slightly off balance. It wasn't much, but it was enough that the mutant twisted out of the ninja's grip and stepped away.
"Remember, I have healing factor," Logan pointed out. "Don't be afraid to fight rough."
"Skill requires restraint, restraint requires a keen mind and a patient heart," the ninja replied. "Fighting with no restraint is the same as not knowing how to fight at all."
Logan smiled. The Arashikage had taught him well. The ninja also had the makings of an excellent teacher. From what the mutant understood, Storm Shadow had previously taken Cobra Commander's estranged son under his tutelage. His previous experience as an instructor was obvious.
"Bishop to E-4," Wolverine said, striking the man between his third and fourth ribs. Storm Shadow winced slightly as he slid under an arm thrust.
"Rook to G-4," Storm Shadow answered.
Tommy sat quietly. A small, mountain stream made soothing, rippling noises. As the ninja watched, a female grizzly bear and her young cub waded into the water. The two bears slowly drank their fill. Ever the city boy, he couldn't help but marvel at the sheer beauty of nature.
The young cub splashed around in the water and played to its heart's content. Its mother shook herself off and sat down on the bank. She kept a careful eye out for any possible dangers. The cub, however, refused to leave its mother out of the game. It ran out of the water, soaked and extremely muddy. It jumped onto its mother and began to bite her playfully. She swatted gently at the cub, who happily turned around and splashed back into the water. Storm Shadow found himself smiling at the scene.
To be young again. What a wonderful feeling that would be. Tommy was reminded of an earlier conversation that he'd had with Kurt Wagner.
"I've just forgotten what it's like to be that young," the ninja had said. "Everything's an adventure."
"Everything still is an adventure," Nightcrawler had replied, ever the swashbuckler. "If you don't think so, then you've gotten old."
Thomas Arashikage contemplated that for a long time. Cobra had stolen a great deal from him. As both Hank McCoy and Kurt Wagner had repeatedly reminded him, however, he had his life back now. He could choose to seek the path of revenge…which had landed him in Cobra in the first place…or seek the path of peace.
Storm Shadow could let Cobra keeping winning, or he could do something with the freedom that he'd been given.
The two bears finally left. Storm Shadow continued to sit in silence, enjoying the simple pleasures of life. He and Logan had separated a couple of hours ago. Both men needed their private space, so both were apt to find a quiet place and sit for a while. When that happened, neither Logan nor Tommy interrupted the other.
However, he knew that Wolverine was nearby. He was far enough away to give the ninja privacy, but close enough in case he was needed for anything. Thanks to training from the Blind Master, Storm Shadow's hearing was probably almost as acute as Wolverine's, as he could occasionally hear the man breathing.
Tommy finally decided to wander down to the stream. He walked around where the two bears had been before plopping himself down on the ground. On a whim, the ninja decided to remove his boots and stepped barefoot into the stream. Mud squished underneath his feet as he waded out into the cold water.
How was he supposed to be young at heart? His time with Cobra had left him feeling like an old man.
Storm Shadow stared down at the muddy creek. He visualized the young bear cub splashing around in the water. Who better to teach him than a child?
With a sudden grin, the ninja kicked up one of his feet and sent a spray of water into the air. He jumped up into an aerial somersault and landed back into the water. Mud and water splashed up his legs. Normally Thomas Arashikage was a bit of a neat freak and hated being dirty, but for the moment, he conveniently forgot that.
Besides, he'd never known that playing around in the mud could actually be fun.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Tommy looked over to see an amused Wolverine watching him. The man didn't seem to know whether or not he should laugh or walk away. Storm Shadow considered what kind of answer he should give, as he himself wasn't exactly sure what he was doing.
"Having fun?" he finally answered. Logan raised an eyebrow.
"Fun," the mutant said dryly. Storm Shadow picked up a glob of mud and threw it back into the stream.
"Fun," the ninja repeated. Logan's lips twitched as he stepped down to the stream. The mutant looked down at the water and back up at the ninja.
"Well then…don't let me stop you," Wolverine drawled. A smirk crossed his face and with lightning quick speed, he pushed the ninja down into the water. Tommy rolled back to his feet, but the mutant was instantly on him. The ninja kicked the man and slipped away from him, but not before Logan managed to rub a handful of mud into his hair.
"Dammit!" the ninja swore. Storm Shadow reached out and grabbed the other man's ankle. Logan lost his balance and fell down into the water as well. Before the mutant could react, Tommy sent a large splash of water in his direction.
Another glob of mud hit the ninja in the chest.
Tommy jumped out of the stream and landed in the grass. He was now soaked head to foot in water and mud.
"What's the matter?" Logan smirked. "I thought you wanted to have fun?" Storm Shadow gaped a moment at him, pulling unwanted mud from his hair as he did so. Once he got over his surprise, the ninja couldn't help grinning.
"A ninja never gives up," he retorted. Storm Shadow sprang at the man and knocked him back down into the water. Unfortunately, the impromptu fight turned into close quarters wrestling. In such a situation, Wolverine had the clear advantage of strength.
However, that didn't stop Storm Shadow from hitting the man's face with a glob of mud.
Later that night, a now clean Thomas Arashikage pondered the day's lessons. He opened a small notebook, which had been a gift from Jubilee. The ninja took out a pen and stared at the page a few minutes before he began to write.
"The first step to regaining peace is to rediscover the simplicity of life. Anything and anyone may be a source of important lessons. Blinding ourselves of even the smallest things is to invite disaster, as well as miss what the world is trying to tell us."
Thomas Arashikage thought a moment before adding:
"Also, when being attacked by a muddy wolverine, don't respond with Errol Flynn quotes. It doesn't help."
Well, that's the end of the first chapter. Our boys are having a relatively peaceful journey so far. Any bets on how long it'll last?