Author's Note: Un. Abashed. Fluff. If you're diabetic, I strongly suggest you leave now.

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.


Ritual

by Totenkinder Madchen


Getting Shana O'Hara to marry him had been the least of Snake-Eyes' troubles. Even wrangling the agreement of her family, whose collective opinion of him after the first failed wedding had been somewhere below "the mud you scrape off your shoe" and just above black belt mills, had been managed in the end. (Saving your would-be father-in-law's life tends to do wonders for your credentials.) The issue of whose name she would take hadn't even been raised; after all, his own legal surname was classified, and though it still appeared in the depths of the now-closed G.I. Joe files, he hadn't thought of himself as that person in a very long time. If there were children, they would be O'Hara children.

But when a ninja marries a non-ninja, there arises an issue much more troublesome than any other. Family? Pfeh. Family isn't important. Clans, on the other hand . . .

"Snake, we're not having this argument again," Shana sighed. She leaned back on the porch swing and stretched, pointedly ignoring the blond man sitting next to her. "Please. I don't care what your insane adopted brother thinks."

[I know you don't want to talk about it,] Snake-Eyes signed. The warm evening breeze flicked at his hair, and he automatically raised a hand to check his mask before remembering. That, thankfully, got a smile from Shana: it had been years since his face had been presentable to the public, and he still reached for his mask. He took advantage of that to press the point. [But Tommy's been talking my ear off about it. The size of the clan, the necessity for a unified front. You're good enough to be a ninja in some ways.]

If anyone else had told Shana she didn't completely measure up to their standards, she would have punched them. Snake-Eyes considered it a testament to her feelings for him that she just smiled wryly and shook her head. "Not now, Snake. Please?"

[I'm sorry,] he signed. He meant it, too. [Like I said—Tommy.]

"Tommy." She closed her eyes for a moment. "I get it, Snake. I know what the clan means to you and Storm. And I don't want your or him to think that . . . that I'm not proud of marrying into the Arashikage clan." She turned a little, making the swing sway as her weight shifted. The sunset was at her back now, and it made her hair gleam brilliant red and orange. "But I'm marrying you, not the clan."

For a moment, there was silence between the two of them. Then Shana cocked her head. Her blue eyes fixed on his, and there was a small smile on her lips. "Storm can't be bothering you that much. Why do you think I should join the clan, Snake?"

Hell. Caught. She might not have the Ear that Sees, but Shana O'Hara possessed what Lady Jaye had once called "a degree in ocular herpetology." The ninja flicked uneasily at one of his overgrown bangs, frowning as he tried to put his thoughts into words . . . or into signs, at any rate.

[Respect.] Her eyebrows shot up, and Snake-Eyes held up a hand to silence her comments. [Hear me out. You know that there are more clans than just the Arashikage, don't you?]

She frowned. "Of course. Back when Hawk first told me our new commando was actually a ninja, I started reading up everything I could about them. It's hard to find data, though."

[You wouldn't find it if they didn't want you to find it.] That got a smile out of her, anyway, and a murmur of "ninjas." [But the Arashikage clan is one of the more—modern ones, I suppose. They accepted a gaijin, for example. Not just as a student, but as a master of the clan.]

"That's right. The Silent Master." Shana let out a soft chuckle when Snake-Eyes looked disgruntled.

[They couldn't have named me The Uzi Master? I would have accepted the Blond Master, even.]

"Oh, but silence is much more . . . mythic." She shifted again, setting her elbow on the back of the porch swing and resting her chin against her arm. Her eyes were bright; she always enjoyed learning new information, especially about the still-mysterious world of the ninja.

Snake-Eyes paused a moment before continuing, trying to figure out how to phrase the next part. [Many of the clans are more traditional. They have very . . . strait-laced ways of doing things. Ritual and ceremony are very important to them.]

She let out a breath as she caught his drift. "And my not being a member of the clan—that violates some sort of ritual?" For a moment, she frowned as well. "Is that what this is about? The clan's reputation?"

[No. But among some of the clans, non-ninjas are considered—less consequential.] Snake-Eyes' lip curled in distaste. [Fair game. To have the wife of a clan master . . . Especially of the Arashikage, who are still trying to get back on their feet after Tommy was absent for so long . . . It puts a target on your back. Someone might decide that the best way to influence us would be to go after you.]

He took her hand in his. A dozen scars, fresh and old alike, ran across the calloused hand and over his arm: only the clan tattoo, ceremoniously re-inked after every wound that might have altered its shape, remained clean. [If marrying me meant you would have people trying to assassinate you-]

"Snake," she said softly. He stopped, and she squeezed his hand. "That is exactly the reason I don't want to join."

That wasn't exactly the response he had been expecting. Anger, humor, even sadness—that was more likely than what sounded like a blatantly suicidal declaration from Shana O'Hara. His feelings must have told on his face, because Shana smiled and shook her head.

"All right, you've explained," she added. "It's my turn."

She pulled her hand away from his and stood up, making the seat sway again. The sun had just sunk behind the horizon, and high above, the Georgia sky had turned the velvety purple of a country night while stripes of orange and yellow and coral-red still lined the edges of the sky. Shana took a breath, and for a moment, the world was silent except for the sound of the wind and the creak of the swing's chains.

"A ninja," she said, "is bound by ritual."

Quick as a wink, she whirled and aimed a punch at his face. Snake-Eyes was faster; his right arm shot up and blocked it, catching her hand in a grip like steel. The orange light of the fading sky lit up the beautiful clean tattoo, and she nodded to it as she deftly twisted out of the grip.

"I've heard Storm giving you the Clan Master 101. A master must never show emotion. A master must not flinch. When receiving a friendly clan, a master must not drink the same type of tea drunk by that clan's enemies." Shana crossed her arms. "Snake, if I became a ninja—I would have to follow those same rules.

"And you know me. I never had a problem with rules, if they made sense." She settled onto the swing again, brushing one flaming red lock of hair away from her face. "But what was the whole point of G.I. Joe? Why did we have so many specialists from so many different branches? So that we could be prepared for anything."

Snake-Eyes let out a soft breath. He understood now, but that didn't mean he would stop her talking. She looked heart-stoppingly beautiful, perched there next to him in the dying light.

"Someday, there's going to be a situation where ritual has your hands tied. Maybe you've made one of those unbreakable ninja vows to protect someone, and that someone is doing things that you would never allow. You need a free agent. Someone who isn't bound by those rules to do what needs doing." A sad smile edged across her face. "And I'll bet ninja ritual would keep you from letting me do it, too. So you'd never know it. If it's between shaming you or saving your life and your sanity? You know what I'd pick."

Her hand was on the back of the swing again. Snake-Eyes lifted it in his and, lacking the necessary words, brushed a kiss across the pulse point there.

[You mean,] he signed after a long moment, [you plan to be the ninjas' ninja?]

Her soft smile turned into a sly grin. "Snake, did you really expect less from me?"

No.

No, he really hadn't.