Comfort piece… kind of. Inspired by Sick Ninjas are no Fun and Zenbon Zakura's question as to whether there would be a story with Storm Shadow being sick.

Thank you to WillWrite4Fics for giving me her blessings to do this. Thank you also to LinuxGirl for beta-ing.

One of the early lessons learned by all Arashikage trainees was that slowing down just because you're hurt is the same as asking to be put out of your misery. Tommy had always mentally extrapolated the lesson to include not slowing down just because you're under the weather, and was applying the principle now, on his evening run around the outside of the Pit.

The evening was his favourite time to run: it was quiet and the few lights from the base gave everything an air of peaceful isolation, the pools of light looking like islands in an ocean of darkness. It was also a time where there weren't many people around, which meant that Storm Shadow could just let his mind relax and slip into meditation even as he ran. He'd never been much for the brand of meditation that requires sitting still for a relatively long time; he found the repetitive movements involved in running much more relaxing.

Relaxation and peace of mind were precious commodities for him ever since he had broken free of Cobra's brainwashing nearly a month earlier and were all the more difficult to attain due to his firm intent to make the most of whatever time he had left in this life to make up for his crimes and reclaim what honour he could. Such a resolution was not conductive to enjoying a movie night or doing much anything that did not result in bettering himself or otherwise helping fight Cobra and other like-minded human garbage.

This week had been particularly unpleasant and unnerving: Snake Eyes and Stalker were both away on a mission and, as if the fact the two Joes who were friendly with him were absent wasn't bad enough, Psyche Out had gotten it into his head that he needed to keep him company and the psychiatrist had been practically impossible to shake off for the past two days. Just to add insult to injury, there was basically nothing to do lately. Saying the ninja was bored was a gross understatement; ready to go mad from frustration was a bit closer to the truth.

As a result, he'd been looking forward to this run all day, despite the fatigue resulting from a nasty head cold he'd picked up earlier in the week and that was refusing to go away, instead getting worse day by day. Now that the time was here, however, neither his head nor his body were cooperating: his mind ran around in circles, restless, while his muscles were aching, his legs – and for that matter the rest of him – felt like lead, he couldn't breathe, his throat felt like he'd swallowed dust and breathed some in as well, his sinuses seemed ready to burst and although the evening was not even particularly cool and he had been running for a few minutes already, he could not stop shivering.

He cursed under his breath: when had he become so weak as to be rendered incapable of a bit of exercise by a little head cold? He clenched his fists – he couldn't clench his jaw and breathe at the same time – and forced his legs to accelerate.

He noticed that the World was spinning a mere second before it went out of focus, sights and sounds mingling together, until everything was just a confused blur where, as still tended to happen on a regular basis, the past seemed just as real as the present.

He fell and lay sprawled on the track, memories taking over as the fever knocked out any coherent thoughts.

"I wish I had more men with your work ethic," the Commander said, reading something or other behind his desk while Storm Shadow stood by the door, righting himself again after a fit of coughing and doing his best to look completely nonchalant about it.

"You may want to stop hiring junkies and mercenaries, then," Storm Shadow said. The few words dried up his throat and triggered another coughing fit.

The Commander cackled at his comment, therefore making the only noise in the World that was even more annoying than his talking. Storm Shadow rolled his eyes, more at himself than at his employer: he really needed to stop being a smart ass with the Commander, the man only found it amusing and laughed.

The ninja sighed and drank from the water bottle he'd slipped in his uniform. He hated being sick, especially when, like now, some of his symptoms made it plain as day that he wasn't at full capacity, that he was vulnerable – as vulnerable as he ever got, anyway.

"I must admit, I never expected a ninja to get sick," the Commander remarked a few seconds later.

Storm Shadow glared at him and took another sip of water. "Half the base is sick," he said. "And your peons can't be bothered to cough and sneeze in their elbows, AND they've taken OFF their masks!" He said exasperatedly, the last word barely getting out as his throat closed up. He paid for the lengthy discourse with another bout of helpless coughing. He took a few gulps of water once he managed to stop. "This whole place has become germ central."

The Commander shrugged and the discussion stayed there. The minutes dragged by for Storm Shadow, who kept taking sips from his rapidly vanishing water, as much for something to do as for keeping the coughing down. His legs were getting tired from standing, and it was getting difficult to keep his eyes opened. At least, his sinuses were so blocked that his nose wasn't even runny anymore.

The alarm startled him out of a daze that was threatening to turn into a doze. He jumped to the Commander's side while the Commander screamed in the intercom for someone to tell him what was going on.

"US Army," came Destro's voice. "They've breached. We could use your ninja to reduce casualties on our side."

Said ninja kept himself from sagging through sheer force of will.

"You've heard him, Mr Invincible Ninja," the Commander snickered. "Let's go. I'm very curious to see how well you'll do in your current condition."

Ace kicked the dust grumpily as he walked the perimeter on his punishment guard duty. Walking around the Pit at night, especially when it was warm, like tonight, was certainly not the worst punishment he could have gotten, but the timing had been carefully chosen by Flint: at this time of the year, Ace always made a nice bit of money on Monday nights from coordinating bets on the Football game, so this little tour of extra duty was costing him about one hundred dollars.

It was also very, very boring. Ace wasn't exactly a walk lover, he had become a pilot for a reason: he liked speed, he liked action. A leisurely stroll really didn't cut it. He turned on his flashlight, purely for entertainment, and started making the light zoom from one end of his line of sight to the other, barely resisting making airplane noises.

It took him a second to realize it when the light caught a lump on the ground that shouldn't have been there, on the running track. He took out his gun and searched for it again, almost thankful for the extremely unlikely excitement of finding something out of place that just might be someone who didn't belong on the grounds of the base.

"Who goes there?" he called out.

There was no reply, and the lump didn't move.

"Ace here," he spoke in his radio. "There's a lump on the running track, probably a piece of garbage. I'm checking it out."

He turned off the radio again without waiting for an answer and scanned the area with his flashlight; there didn't seem to be anything else around. He walked over to the lump carefully, constantly scanning the area until he reached his target and was able to identify it: someone had, for some reason, dressed a dummy or something in one of Storm Shadow's uniforms and tossed the thing there.

"Bored soldiers," he muttered philosophically, rolling his eyes, blissfully disregarding the fact that he was just as guilty of finding stupid ways to entertain himself as any of the other Joes, with the possible exception of Clutch and Shipwreck. He turned the thing over with his foot to get a better look at it.

It groaned. Ace yelped and jumped back a few feet. The ingrained training of not shooting at something that may be friendly unless there was a reason to believe it was an immediate threat was the only reason he didn't turn whatever the groaning lump was into a human-shaped pasta strainer.

He flashed his light again on what he had believed to be a dummy, while pointing his gun at it, ready to turn it into a real inanimate object if need be. Now that it was facing up, he could recognize the face as that of the actual owner of the uniform and spent the next couple of minutes thanking every deity he could think of that the ninja had not woken up with a start, sword swiping at everything around.

Once he was done and a bit calmer about the fact he had almost committed suicide, he scratched his head. The ex-Cobra was obviously passed out rather than asleep, but he couldn't tell from what. He had a fleeting thought Storm Shadow may have gotten drunk and chuckled at the thought of the antics drunk ninjas may get into.

As if in response, Storm Shadow shuddered. Ace's heart jumped in his throat and he took a few more steps back.

"Ace here," he radioed in again. "That lump was Storm Shadow, he's passed out. Can you send Doc out here?"

"Storm Shadow? Passed out? What's wrong with him?"

"I don't know! And I'm NOT going to start poking him to try and find out!"

Breaker chuckled. "Don't blame you. Passed out… why did that never happen when we were fighting him?" he asked grumpily, all traces of amusement gone. "Yeah, sure, I'll let the medics know."

Storm Shadow hated being sick. Really, really hated it. He avoided it as well as he possibly could, and thankfully, it paid off most of the time.

Being human, however, he couldn't resist EVERY virus. Having been bombarded all week by an assortment of sneezing and coughing troopers, vipers and guardsmen, most of which were rude enough to walk around without a mask, more preoccupied by their personal comfort than with not spreading their germs, he had predictably succumbed and fallen ill as well.

He was quite literally in a murderous mood, which would have suited the current situation – a battle against US forces invading Cobra Island – perfectly well if not for the fact that the people he was itching to kill were not the ones he needed to dispose of. As it was, every kill only made his mood worse.

Just the same, there was no way around what needed to be done: beyond honouring his deal with the Commander, right now, he needed to survive. He was in no condition to make it through a prolonged fight, he needed this one to end as quickly as possible, therefore he needed to eliminate the enemies as efficiently as he could.

In other words, mercy and giving quarter was not an option today: he tried as hard as the rest of the troops to kill as many invaders as he could in the shortest time possible, with considerably more success than most.

He was looking for a new target – the enemies were getting sparse – when the troops loudly screamed victory. His adrenalin was brutally cut off and he sank to his knees, panting. Within seconds, he found his hands had somehow made it to the floor as well.

"If you can't even stand, just go to your quarters for the rest of the day. I'll just add a day to your contract to make up for it."

Storm Shadow whipped his head around, glaring at the Commander. He got up, if shakily, and crossed his arms in a would-be strong-looking pose.

"No need," he said. "I don't…" he stopped to cough and drink the last drop of his water. "I don't want a day off," he finished.

The Commander snickered.

"You're useless to me like this; look at you, you're already exhausted and it's not even lunchtime yet! You're not going to change my mind, you may as well go rest."

Storm Shadow clenched his fists, barely resisting the urge to kill the Commander right there and then. He stalked off without another word: he didn't have the energy to get into an argument he'd just lose.

The only sound around when Storm Shadow came to was of various electric devices, a greenshirt he remembered being on sick leave sleeping a few feet to his left and Lifeline sitting and writing a bit further somewhere to the left of the direction his feet were pointing in.

He was in the infirmary, which he supposed was not surprising seeing he was waking up without any memory of going to sleep. He sighed, opened his eyes and tried to sit up. The infirmary started spinning and his heart decided to relocate into his throat. He grabbed the edge of the bed to steady himself as he sat up and concentrated on his breathing to fight the nausea.

He managed to keep his upper body upright – as much as he could tell through his dizziness, anyway – for about twenty seconds before he lost what little balance he had and fell back into his pillow. The sudden movement made the nausea worse and caused a bit of bile to shoot up in his mouth. On top of that, sitting up had dislodged his sheet and blanket from his arms and chest and now, he was cold. He tried to grab both with his hands, but his arms felt much heavier than they should and he was partly lying on the covers. He tried rolling off but couldn't quite free them.

He was still struggling with them when Lifeline came running in.

"Stop it!" the medic commanded, yanking the blanket from under him and tucking him in. "Your heartrate's through the roof!"

Storm Shadow's eyes widened as he noticed that the medic was in fact correct. Lifeline grabbed the call button and waved it in front of the ninja's face.

"You want something, you use this. Got it?" he said. "At least until we get your fever down and the infection under control."

"Fever and infection?" Storm Shadow groaned. "Lifeline, I have a COLD. I'm fine."

"You have a nasty string of influenza and it's given you an inner ear infection. You WILL be fine, but you need some rest, as opposed to a run!" Lifeline said, throwing his arms up in the air in exasperation. "Aren't you supposed to be in tune with your body? Didn't you notice you were overexerting yourself? Look at you now, you can't even tuck yourself in!"

Storm Shadow glared at him. Lifeline had to remind himself the ex-Cobra was barely capable of moving to keep himself from bolting away.

"I would have managed just fine," the ninja growled. "And I'm not staying."

Lifeline crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. "Oh, really? Tell you what: if you can get up and get out, staying on your feet the whole time without your hands or any other part of you touching the floor, you're free to go. I'll give you your antibiotics and won't bother you again for oh… let's say three days."

Storm Shadow's eyebrows shot up. "What's the catch? You're not going to try and trip me?" he asked. "Or get someone else to? Not that it would work, mind you."

"I don't need a catch," Lifeline replied, smirking. "You're not going to make it. The infection's right in your labyrinth, I don't think you'll even make three steps."

Storm Shadow scowled: that was a challenge if he'd ever heard one. He gripped the edge of the bed again and hoisted himself again to a sitting position. The infirmary spun so madly that he closed his eyes in reflex, but the sounds were spinning too and what was worse, it felt as though it was his own body that was spinning as opposed to the room. He swung his legs off the bed, planning on letting the feeling of the floor under his feet be his guide.

It would have worked if the floor had been cooperative enough not to shift and make waves under him. Tommy snarled and, rolling to his stomach, pushed himself mostly up from the bed, leaning on it with his hands only and glaring at it to make it stand still. The bed remained oblivious to the threatening scowl and kept right on rocking in a circular motion.

Tommy clenched his jaw briefly - between two breaths - and straightened himself up as best he could without knowing which way was up. Giving himself over to his muscle memory to reproduce familiar movements, he sidled sideways towards the foot of the bed, ready to throw himself forward to land on the bed should he start falling.

"That was three steps," he said when he reached the end of the bed, with what may have been a smug smile if he hadn't been trying hard not to throw up or pass out.

Lifeline nodded, arms still crossed. "Yes it was. I'm impressed. About twenty more to go and you're free as a bird."

Storm Shadow's eyes widened a bit: the three side steps he'd just taken had pretty much turned his legs into very heavy jelly and as much as he hated himself for it, he suddenly doubted that he could make it to the door. He frowned at himself and took a small step forward, then another. His legs started shaking and he could feel sweat dripping from everywhere despite the fact he still felt cold. He took a deep breath and went for a sixth step.

He moved his foot in the direction that should be up even though it currently felt like it was to the left, and he was moving it back down, but the foot never reached the floor because Storm Shadow's immune system chose that precise moment to trigger a sudden sneeze without any warning whatsoever.

The slight resulting head movement was too much for the ninja's non-existent sense of balance to compensate, especially with one foot in the air. He pitched forward, did not come anywhere near recovering, and fell sprawled on the floor.

"Five and a half," Lifeline commented. "You are GOOD."

The medic helped him up and guided him back to the bed. Things were spinning so much following his sudden shift in position from vertical to horizontal that Storm Shadow didn't even know which way to go to get away from the unwelcomed helping hands and so, found himself being tucked in again. He scowled at Lifeline for his trouble, making the medic roll his eyes at him as he handed him a box of tissues.

"Do you see now that it wouldn't be a good idea to try and leave until you feel just a bit better? The beds here are pretty comfortable, the floor isn't and if you hit something on the way down, you'll only end up in worse shape than you already are and possibly for longer."

"I would have made it if I hadn't sneezed," Tommy grumbled.

"Maybe," Lifeline conceded, "but I would have found you passed out in the hallway somewhere between here and your quarters, and Doc would have rightfully killed me. You were supposed to fall right away, you know? Not to make a good go at it. I'm not making you an offer like this ever again."

"I'm not staying…" Storm Shadow mumbled, right before nodding off.

Author's Notes

Well, this bunny got out of hand… this was supposed to be a one-shot, but it was growing a bit too big. Second half should be up in about a week.

You can rest assured that Storm Shadow will indeed try to escape again. Should be fun considering the whole 'can't stand' thing. :D

Small explanation: you may have noticed if you've watched any anime that it's not unusual for Japanese people to wear little face masks when they're sick to help not spread their germs… this is why Storm Shadow couldn't get over the troopers taking their masks off just because they didn't want to wear them when coughing and sneezing.

Thank you all for reading and please let me know what you think!