This is a plot bunny demanding to be put down. One-shot.
This is NOT happening in my usual AU. Absolutely, positively, definitely not. Why? Because much like Lady Jaye and Doc in many stories here, Billy. Is. Not. Dead. Didn't happen. You know, just like the Matrix never had sequels and the Last Airbender was never made into a movie. Understood? Good.
Ok, now that we're clear on that, this is set in a Universe where Billy, after failing to convince his father to stop trying to kill everyone (or something like that), tries to kill him, only to be somehow fooled by a mannequin and for the Commander to stab him in the neck with a poison dart, claiming the fact he feels nothing at the death of the son he once loved as a great victory. He then hangs the body for all to see to prove that nobody is untouchable. Spirit finds the body once Cobra has been defeated and he is brought back to GI Joe headquarters. As I said, this is an alternate continuity (or disavowed if you prefer) from the one I usually use.
Mixed in with that, however, is some of my personal take on the characters (of course). This is going to be very dramatic. You have been warned.
General Clayton "Hawk" Abernathy waited by the entrance to the Pit for the last unit to arrive. Spirit had volunteered for the job, and Hawk had been sorely tempted to let him do it. It was the temptation, more than anything else, that had convinced him he could not allow himself to ask anyone else to do this.
The last few vehicles finally arrived and a couple of dozen of Joes and greenshirts came out of them, among which Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, engaged in a relaxed, mostly one-sided conversation in Japanese.
He walked to the shorter ninja and the conversation stopped, along with seemingly every other noise around.
"Storm Shadow, please come with me."
Storm Shadow frowned. The General's pulse and the very slightly accelerated breathing betrayed Hawk had something deadly serious to tell him. His imagination automatically went into overdrive to present him with the worst possible scenarios. His heart accelerated.
"Just tell me, Sir," he said, his own voice altered. "Please. I don't need privacy." He wanted to know immediately, he wanted to hear the news so he'd stop expecting the worst, and although he could not bring himself to admit it, he didn't want to be alone with the messenger when he heard whatever it was that had his Commanding Officer so nervous.
Hawk fixed his eyes on his and took a deep breath, relieved after all that Snake Eyes was here to contain his friend if it became necessary.
"I'm sorry," he said. "William did not make it."
Storm Shadow's heart started hammering, drowning most other noises.
"What do you mean?" he asked, his own voice sounding foreign and distant to his ears. "He's gone missing again? Do you think a sub-group took him prisoner?"
Hawk shook his head with a sigh and put his hands on his shoulders. "No. He was killed. S… Tommy, I'm sorry."
Storm Shadow irritably shrugged the General's hands off and scowled at him. He could barely hear the man, his blood was pulsing in his ears, drowning everything in a rhythmic hum.
"Billy is a ninja, General. Never count him dead unless you have his body. Stop being foolish and tell me what you know so I can go rescue him."
"His body is in the infirmary's morgue. Lifeline and Doc haven't done an autopsy yet, but estimate the time of death to about 2 days ago."
"He might be in a Sleeping Phoenix Trance," Storm Shadow said. He wasn't sure why he said it and why part of him believed it: ninjas in the middle of the trance did not appear to have been dead for two days, they looked recently deceased.
Hawk clenched his jaw: there was no point arguing further, Storm Shadow needed to see for himself. As if to confirm, Storm Shadow brushed past him, walking quickly and muttering something that may or may not have been an apology for shoving his Commanding Officer out of his way.
Snake Eyes made to follow, but Scarlett's hand on his arm stopped him. She didn't need to say anything for him to understand her point: Tommy would want privacy for this.
The infirmary's morgue was located beyond the office, a relatively small room without windows and a door painted to match the wall and easy to ignore for anyone who did not need to use it.
The office was empty when Tommy stormed in it. Lifeline poked his head in from the infirmary when he heard the door slam and saw a flash of white disappearing into the morgue. He sighed and returned his attention to one of the many patients he could still help.
Storm Shadow stopped walking at the sight: Billy was on the table, a sheet covering the lower half of his body, his eye-patch missing and the shape revealing his prosthetic limb had been removed as well.
The part of the ninja who knew his apprentice was indeed dead could not have found it more obvious. The body did not look in the slightest as though it was merely sleeping: not only was it far too still, but the young man's skin was pale and had a slight blue-ish tint, particularly marked on his lips and eyelids.
The part of him that refused to acknowledge the obvious truth walked up the body and took its hand. He almost dropped it immediately, surprised by how cold it felt.
The Phoenix Trance, at its best, could slow the heart to no more than one beat per minute, but the pulse was usually weak enough that it could easily be missed. Storm Shadow, keeping the cold hand in his own, stood next to the table, eyes closed and listening intently, for an hour.
He opened his eyes again then, put the hand back down and screamed.
Storm Shadow left the morgue with a single thought in mind: nobody in Cobra would have dared kill his son without the Commander's consent, and chances were they wouldn't have even with it. The Commander had either directly ordered the murder or done the deed himself, and either way, he was going to die. The ninja had somehow managed to let go of vengeance before, following the murder of his uncle, but not avenging Billy was simply unthinkable.
He clenched his jaw against the urge to curl up in a ball and cry and made his legs continue to move, ignoring the pain in his chest and the numbing sensation that was quickly taking over in his head and unaware that his palms were bleeding from his nails digging into them.
They had won! Cobra was defeated, it was OVER! The time for peace was finally here and he'd just been discussing reopening the compound with Snake Eyes, thinking Billy would be able to teach as well, thinking the boy was finally safe from his father's reach and free from the conflicting pulls of wanting to stop Cobra while helping his father find his way back to humanity.
But now, just as Billy should have been able to finally enjoy a bit of peace and normalcy, someone had snatched his life away from him. He was hardly older than Storm Shadow had been when he'd first joined Cobra, and what little life he'd had had been spent in violence, in flight and in training until he dropped so he'd be able to defend himself, so THIS wouldn't happen.
Tommy forgot to walk for a moment, breathing hard, and fighting back another primal scream. He had been raised a ninja, he was accustomed to death, he knew everyone died eventually, and he knew that for some, it happened sooner than later. By all accounts, he should be able to face this loss and to move on; it shouldn't hurt this much.
Yet it did. It was no good denying it, but he could ignore it. He could do what needed to be done through the pain.
He heard the group of soldiers before he saw them, but their presence did not register as consequential until he turned the corner and found the hallway all but blocked by several Joes, including Snake Eyes and Scarlett, both trying to look like they just happened to be hanging out right behind Duke. GI Joe's second in command, on the other hand, was looking straight at him with an expression that was anything but casual.
It was painfully obvious that they all meant to prevent him from getting to the Commander; Storm Shadow's swords were out and he was in a fighting stance instantly.
"Move," he growled at them.
Snake Eyes walked past Duke and extended his palms in a gesture of peace, obviously trying to defuse him. Tommy snarled at him and tightened his grip on his swords.
"Move," he repeated. "I will have justice."
"Storm Shadow," Duke said, his voice both firm and gentle, "you're obviously in shock and not thinking straight. There's no way we can let you anywhere near the Commander right now. You're going back to your quarters."
Tommy narrowed his eyes at him, thinking. If not for Snake Eyes, he could have engaged: he'd won fights with worse odds than this. His brother's presence, however, complicated things: he would almost certainly be able to stop him.
He dropped his swords and, strictly to add believability to his surrender, allowed the frustration, anger and pain to explode. He screamed again and sank to his knees, and when Snake Eyes materialized in front of him, he allowed his brother to hold him and let himself sob like a baby. It took a bit of willpower to actually do it, but at this point, Duke and the rest would not believe any other emotional state from him than murderous rage or complete meltdown, and since they would not let him near the cell block as long as they thought he was in a murderous rage, he needed to give them a meltdown.
As contrary as it was to his training to show this kind of weakness, and despite the embarrassment factor, it at least seemed to release a bit of the weight on his chest and to clear his head somewhat. He knew how to proceed from then on: he'd continue to act broken until their guard went down enough for him to strike.
Now that he could think clearly again, Snake Eyes coming with him to his quarters was not a surprise; neither was Psyche Out spending several hours there or the fact every weapon he had was removed from his person and his room. Storm Shadow went through the motions, saying as much of the right things at the right time as he thought was believable, and waited. His brother was assigned to watch him overnight, but even Snake Eyes would sleep eventually. Tommy slept on one ear himself, conditioning himself to wake up if Snake Eyes' breathing and pulse slowed to his sleeping pattern. They didn't.
The following day was more of the same, although not all of it was spent in his quarters. He was allowed to roam the Pit, Snake Eyes as his shadow. He made himself break down again when he heard someone mention Lifeline would be doing the autopsy to close the file while Psyche Out just happened to be nearby. Judging from the shrink's reaction, the move had been the right one.
Snake Eyes spent the night in his quarters again but this time, he fell asleep a couple of hours before dawn. Storm Shadow wasn't sure whether it was intentional and reflected it didn't matter. He crept out of bed and pinched one of his brother's sleeping points to make sure he didn't wake up. He then stole a few of Snake Eyes' throwing knives and tucked them in the waistband of his pyjamas, a smoke bomb - he deposited that in his chest pocket - and his brother's two long swords. Taking his brother's weapons without permission would normally have been shameful, but tonight, it was a necessity and Storm Shadow did not so much as pause before he slipped out of the room.
Snake Eyes dropped from the ceiling in front of Storm Shadow, just before the cell block where the Commander and the other prisoners were awaiting transfer to the more specialized facilities where they were due to remain until their trial.
Storm Shadow, having heard him approach, was already in position. Beyond being annoyed at the inconvenience of having to deal with his brother, he was impressed in spite of himself: ninjas routinely trained to wake themselves up as quickly as possible from assisted sleep, but he had expected his brother to be out for a while longer. He clenched his jaws and brought his focus back on what he needed to be doing. Whether Snake Eyes' arrival was annoying or impressive didn't matter, what did was getting past him.
"Don't make me fight you," Storm Shadow said. "I should have killed him years ago. Nobody will talk me out of it this time."
Snake Eyes signed that the Commander was guarded by twelve of their team mates.
"If they're smart, they will get out of the way."
He knew Snake Eyes would not be swayed even before his brother moved into a fighting stance – his pulse quickening before slowing down in concentration gave it away as surely as a long lecture would have: Snake Eyes intended to stop him. The good soldier was putting his orders and the safety of a bunch of acquaintances above the need to avenge one of their own.
Although he had hoped he'd be proven wrong, Storm Shadow had expected as much. He threw his smoke bomb and, taking full advantage of the fact he could fight blind much better than his brother could, tackled Snake Eyes. The fight was brief, and although Snake Eyes managed to drive a knife in one of his thighs and to break one of his ribs, Storm Shadow got him in a sleeping hold fairly quickly and compounded the effect using the same sleeping point he had earlier.
He yanked the knife out of his thigh and put it next to Snake Eyes, oblivious to the blood staining his pyjamas and barely aware of his broken rib. He searched him then, looking for sleeping gas to use on the guards, or throwing spikes dipped in sleeping drugs. He found a 12 units box of the latter and took it; he had no intention of letting the guards stop him, but he had no reason to kill them if he could avoid it, either.
He listened out, trying to make out whether or not there was a commotion upstairs from Snake Eyes possibly raising the alarm before coming here. He cursed under his breath when he heard the sound of several groups running in his direction: he'd have to hurry.
As promised by Snake Eyes, the Commander did indeed have twelve guards. All of them were currently on full alert, having obviously been warned Storm Shadow was on his way. From within the air duct, the ninja silently slid the ventilation grid aside and targeted the guards facing towards him first, throwing a poisoned spike at each of them, aiming for their shoulders so as not to kill them while getting the drug fairly close to the brains.
They collapsed almost instantly when hit with the powerful drug. The rest of the men automatically turned upon hearing them fall, staring at their sleeping companions for almost a full second before being hit by the sleep-inducing spikes themselves.
Storm Shadow dropped from the ceiling in front of the Commander, who'd gotten up when the first few guards had fallen. Tommy had hoped his arrival - as opposed to that of an ally come to set him free - would startle the hated terrorist, but the former Cobra leader smirked at him.
"My, my. Aren't we looking insane today," he chuckled, looking at him through the cell's unbreakable view window.
The edge of Storm Shadow's vision tinted with red.
"You ordered it," he said in a low growl. "You must have. Who did it? Tell me and I might kill you faster."
The Commander widened his eyes in feigned surprise.
"Ordered what?" he asked.
"Don't play games with me, Commander. Who killed Billy?"
"Ah…" the Commander trailed off, pretending to be thinking hard. "Well, I would say, ultimately, his mother. She took him away from me when he was a baby and prevented me from raising him as the heir of Cobra."
Storm Shadow punched the cells' wall, denting it and bruising his fingers between the hard wall and the hilt of the sword he was still holding.
"You ordered your son's murder!" he snarled. "And now you're making light of it?"
"MY son? Don't be silly," the Commander said with a mean smile. "MY son died years ago."
"Who did it?" Storm Shadow demanded, putting as much threat as he could in his voice.
"Well, if his mother is too remote a culprit, how about you? Seems to me that a ninja who allows himself to be stabbed in the neck by a poisoned dart was not trained very well."
Storm Shadow's eyes widened and he paled. The Commander cackled and, since he had found a sore spot, elected to continue poking at it. At this point, his only chance of survival was to keep Storm Shadow talking until more guards showed up, and the easiest way to make the ninja talk had always been to make him angry. Truth be told, he was far from certain that new guards arriving would save him, but if it didn't, he would at least cut his losses by forcing the ninja to kill him quickly rather than dragging things out.
"That's the part that hurts the most, isn't it?" he hissed. "You never taught him properly and he threw himself in the Lion's den; and once there, he got himself killed. He's dead before his time, just when things should be looking up for him, and it is YOUR fault. You weren't there for him, you were off playing somewhere else with that 'brother' of yours. More importantly, he wasn't ready. He wasn't good enough to survive and of course, even you are smart enough to realize there is no one else to blame for that than his teacher."
Storm Shadow roared and pounded the wall again with both fists, leaning in so his face was as close to the Commander's as it could be. He hadn't thought it was important when he'd set out to kill the Commander, but now, being denied the name of the actual murderer felt like the last straw and was intolerable. He had to know, he had to kill him too. The thought that Psyche Out would say he was projecting his own guilt on as many people as he could was dismissed as irrelevant before it even fully formed.
"TELL ME WHO DID IT!" he screamed.
"Of course… you need to avenge him, don't you? It's the only thing you can still do for him, the only way you can make up for your complete and utter failure. And what happened to your swearing off revenge?"
Storm Shadow bared his teeth.
"That was for my uncle, who never wanted it in the first place, and for myself, who did not deserve it," he snarled. "Now, TELL ME! NOW, COMMANDER, OR I SWEAR I'LL…"
"I killed the traitorous brat myself," the Commander interrupted him, sounding as though he was showing off a DIY home renovation project, "to demonstrate that nobody could cross me and live."
Storm Shadow's eyes widened before narrowing again.
"Monster," he breathed. "How can you stand having the blood of your child on your hands?"
The ninja's snarl relaxed into a calm scowl as he focused entirely on his prey. The Commander forced himself to cackle, getting rather anxious for more guards to finally arrive.
"First, there's no blood on my hands: he didn't bleed. Second, let's drop this pretence, shall we? Shared DNA notwithstanding, you and I both know it's not MY son I killed. Do you need me to make it official? He was all yours. Congratulations, you're a Daddy… to a corpse."
He burst out laughing.
Storm Shadow's heart climbed into his ears again, drowning most everything under the rapid drum. He punched the Universal Emergency Code on the door panel, the one meant to be useable by all personnel to get prisoners out in case of emergencies, and turning around, grabbed the hand of the nearest guard. He dragged the unconscious man to the door and pressed his palm on the control reader, satisfying the safety's requirement that the code be entered by authorized personnel and causing the cell door to obediently open. The alarm cut through the sound of his own heartbeat slightly, but he dismissed it: he could expedite things if need be.
The Cobra Commander had retreated to the far wall of his cell and was plastered against it, his face finally showing fear despite the still present smirk. Storm Shadow made to step into the cell but stopped when he heard a gunshot.
He cursed under his breath: he'd forgotten that there were already guards on their way before he'd even started to talk to the Commander. He could really have done without the interruption and the fact he'd now have to rush the job of killing the Commander was plain infuriating.
He turned, raising his hands and arranging his face into a resigned, disgusted expression.
"Drop the swords!" one of the soldiers ordered. Storm Shadow recognized him as Weston, one of the greenshirts in the advanced hand-to-hand class, who most of the team expected would be a full Joe before the year was out.
Storm Shadow bent to put the swords on the floor and rose up again, hands held high above his head. If he played this right, he wouldn't have to kill any of the guards: he would really have preferred to be able to take his time with the Commander, but a couple of deep slashes - one across the man's chest and the other in his gut - should still be painful, even if he'd die in seconds. It was an acceptable compromise.
"Come out of the cell!" Weston barked.
"I believe that right now, the fact you could hit him if you missed me is the only reason you're not already shooting. Lower your weapons, and I will step out," he lied.
"Look, we don't WANT to shoot you. Just step out."
Storm Shadow clenched his jaw: they'd lock the door again if he stepped out. Hopefully, they'd lower their gun once he was on their side of the doorway, before he stepped away from it: if they didn't, he'd have to attack. He'd give them fair warning at that point, that was the most he could do. Letting the Commander live was not an option, not when Billy had already been through the particular breed of dissection the medical corps thought of as an autopsy, like just another piece of meat for the medics to analyse.
He stepped just through the door, and most of the soldiers lowered their weapons. Weston didn't and Storm Shadow suspected that if he'd been more experienced leading, he would have known to remind the others not to either. At any rate, there were now only three guns pointed at him.
Storm Shadow back-flipped back in the cell, grabbing his swords; jumped sideways to avoid potential bullets – which turned out to be a good move, he heard six bullets whiz by – and rolled back to the Commander, springing back up in front of him, swords crossed for a second before he slashed them outward, through Billy's murderer's chest and abdomen.
The blood sprayed him even as he dove sideways, avoiding more bullets that hit the Commander instead, irritatingly precipitating things even further and cutting the Commander's cries of agony even shorter than they should have been. Storm Shadow cursed at his own reflex: the Commander would have suffered longer if he'd just stayed where he was and let the bullets hit him. He brushed the regrets aside: it was too late now. The fact that the Commander was dead and had at least suffered a little would just have to do, unless he ever got a chance to desecrate the murdering snake's body.
Storm Shadow dropped the swords and put his hands back up, but had to flatten to the floor to avoid more bullets. He crossed his arms on his head and the soldiers finally stopped shooting following a barked order from Weston.
Tommy wasn't sure what would happen next, and at the moment, he didn't care much: he had done what he had to, and since fleeing was not an option – his oath to Hawk was still valid – he'd just have to face whatever the consequences may be.