Slight clarification... this is set in my usual slight AU, thus Storm Shadow having a fixed date for his 'payment' from the Cobra Commander: the identity of the man who framed him for the murder of his uncle. I don't think there is anything else in this one that contradicts any solid canon fact. Please enjoy!
Storm Shadow slammed the door behind him when he got to his quarters and snarled at the room – much like everything else in Cobra's fortress, he loathed it. In this particular case, it was because it looked more like a bunker or a cell than like a space to rest in: from the raw concrete walls to the concrete floor, to the metal frame bed, it was plain ugly and it didn't allow its occupant to forget where he was for even just one second.
And now, he'd have to be in this room - or in another one like it if Cobra ever left the island – for one more day before he was free again, before he earned the name of the Hard Master's murderer, avenged his uncle and resumed his life where he had left it.
He let out a roar of frustration as he kicked the wall, and barely managed to stay on his feet as he went into yet another fit of helpless coughing. He really hated being sick.
He lied down for a bit and earnestly tried to go to sleep, both for the rest he needed and simply to make the day go away faster, but between regular bouts of coughing and his anger, he just kept dozing on and off, which was more unnerving than restful.
He eventually gave up and started pacing around his room, coughing, sneezing and feeling all around miserable. He poured himself a glass of water from the sink in his bathroom, drained it, poured another one and drained it as well. The water barely helped, his throat still felt as though he'd swallowed a bucketful of sand.
He slammed the glass on the counter, just shy of hard enough to shatter it, and went back to pacing. Stupid Cobra troopers doing everything in their powers to spread their germs… he still couldn't get over that although they pretty much all wore masks all the time as part of their uniform when they were healthy, most of them had been taking them off while they were sick, more concerned with not having to cough into a mask than with not making everyone else around sick. These people weren't just evil, they were plain rude, too.
He quickly got thoroughly fed-up with being in his room, and since the Commander mostly wanted him to rest, he figured he was better off trying to calm down so that he'd have a chance to sleep. He loaded his gear back on out of habit and left his room, heading outside, hoping the ocean would help soothe both his mind and his lungs.
Troopers started following him as soon as he left his room – six of them. He ignored them, cursing internally at being seen in such a weakened state. After a few steps, however, they started chuckling under their breath and whispering about arrows, hundreds of dollars and easy money.
Storm Shadow stopped walking. He'd normally welcome a chance to beat up or better yet kill some troopers, but he was too tired at the moment to fully enjoy the opportunity and besides, it was beyond insulting that they thought he was defenceless just because he happened to be sick.
"My ears are working just fine," he said, not bothering to turn around. "I swear, anybody who tries to take anything from me di…."
The threat fell flat when he couldn't finish the word due to his throat closing up and to another fit of coughing taking over. Unsurprisingly, the troopers felt this confirmed that he was easy picking for once and rushed him.
Storm Shadow was still coughing when the first two heads fell. He finally managed to stop and took advantage of his recovered stability to throw a pair a shurikens through the throats of two more troopers. The last two tried to flee but crumbled to the floor as the arrows they had been seeking flew right through their hearts and embedded themselves in the concrete wall at the turn of the corridor just ahead of them.
Storm Shadow scowled; he really was weak today, concrete didn't usually stop his arrows at such short range. He recovered them and walked to the nearest intercom to report the fallen troopers and get someone to clean up the mess. He started coughing just as he was about to hit the speaker button and waited it out before activating the intercom.
"What is it?" came a bored voice.
"Six troopers attacked me in section 42A," Storm Shadow answered, keeping his voice level and low in an effort not to start coughing again. He carefully swallowed to get some moisture back into his throat before he continued. "Send someone to pick up their corpses and clean up."
He cut the communication without waiting for an answer, just in time to start coughing again.
Storm Shadow woke up with a start, shivering despite the sheet and blankets covering him and the fact that the only part of him not covered – his head – felt very hot. He listened out and looked around, trying to identify his surroundings, but drew a blank safe for the certainty that it was a place he needed to get out of – the fact that the room was rotating around him didn't alleviate this impression at all.
He sat up and the strange place reacted: everything suddenly started spinning much quicker, while the very bed he was in rocked and twisted, forcing the ninja to grip the edge of the mattress in an effort not to be thrown to the floor.
He waited it out, holding on for dear life. The room eventually settled a bit, although it was still rotating much too fast for comfort. Tommy glanced to his left to the other human he could hear in the room, to find him sleeping peacefully. Since no one could possibly sleep through what had just happened, the ninja concluded that his unknown companion had been drugged.
He listened out, trying to hear a clue as to where he was and how best to escape. Voices drifted in from the next room.
"… fell on the sixth step. I swear, Doc, he had me worried. I think he might have made it if he hadn't sneezed. And now his temperature just won't go down. He's been at 104.5 for ten minutes; the Ibuprofen doesn't seem to be helping, so I was about to…"
"Did I not tell you several times that you never, EVER assume that Snake Eyes can't and won't do something? I thought you'd figure out by yourself that you needed to extend that to Storm Shadow too, now. It's a ninja thing," the other voice interrupted. "When did you give him the Ibuprofen, and how much?"
Tommy shuddered and tuned the rest out: he'd heard enough. The men talking knew about ninjas, were drugging prisoners and forcing them to walk until they dropped… that could only mean he was in an experimental ninja farm. He had to get out of here, and fast. He glanced at the other sleeping man, wondering whether he was the Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow the two guards had mentioned, and whispered a promise to come back and free him once he found the exit and maybe some weapons.
He swung his legs out of the bed and the room's sickening spinning motion became ten times worse again. He tried to stand and promptly fell sitting on the bed again. He heard the two men in the next room get up and felt panic grip him: he needed cover, they couldn't see him escape.
He slipped to the floor, dragging the blanket on his bed along. He put it over himself and, satisfied he could not see anything anymore and therefore could not be seen himself, started crawling along the madly buckling floor. He heard the door to the next room open, ignored it and continued to crawl, hoping it was towards the second door he had seen but unable to tell for sure due to the room moving around so much. He changed direction when he hit a wall, thankful that since he was so well hidden, time was not an issue. For some strange reason, the two guards chuckled and one of them somehow managed to materialize right next to him. At the same time, his eyes finally adjusted to the blanket and he found he could see his surroundings clearly again – not that it helped, the room was still spinning madly.
"And where do you think you're going?" the red guard said, bending towards him.
"You can't see me," Storm Shadow replied in an annoyed tone, hiding his surprise at being guarded by insect-like creatures. "I'm a ninja and I'm hiding. Stupid giant fire ant," he finished in a mutter, trying to crawl past the man-sized insect.
"Right," Lifeline said, making sure to stay between Storm Shadow and the wall the delirious ninja had already bumped into and was headed for again. "Sorry, I don't know what I was thinking. So... you're escaping?" He was just making conversation, keeping the delusional ninja's attention on him and off Doc, who was about to inject him with a tranquilizer.
"I'm not talking to you," Storm Shadow replied irritably, trying to go around the ant who, like the room, would not stay still. He didn't pay any attention to the second guard – that one was behind him and not in his way, and of course he could no more see him than that red one could.
He felt a prick in his back and ignored it, assuming something had fallen from the ceiling or the walls because of all the spinning. He briefly wondered whether roofs collapsed or rained before he slumped to the floor, asleep.
Another group had attacked Storm Shadow once he was outside and their conversation had been a bit clearer, revealing that there was a dare on the go to steal arrows from him and that the payout to whoever got the most would be a hundred bucks per arrow. This second group, much like the first one, would never again collect anything else than worms.
At last, the ninja had made it to the coast and was sitting on a rock near the waterline, breathing in the sea air and listening to the waves. He was actually starting to relax and to feel a bit better when he heard a few more troopers coming his way. He turned to them warily and drew his short sword in warning.
Proving themselves just as stupid as their dead companions, they pressed on. There were ten of them this time, and they started fanning out, apparently trying to circle the ninja. Storm Shadow sighed and stood up on his rock, readied his bow and shot one of them through the neck as a warning to the others. He didn't think they would get the hint, but at least he could now say that he had tried his best to warn them off.
They pressed on. What followed was the work of a very cranky ninja who had just been starting to feel better when he'd been interrupted by some of many people he often daydreamed of slicing to pieces.
He made the third clean-up call of the evening as he was heading back inside for a shower and some dinner. The heart rate of the guard on duty at the intercom tripled when he heard the ninja's voice and as soon as he received confirmation that there were more corpses to pick up and the location where they may be found, he shakily apologized for anything he may ever have done to irritate the great Storm Shadow.
Tommy rolled his eyes at the intercom and declined to answer, annoyed at the attacks and furious at the fact the troops were giving him an excuse to kill them at a time where he was in no condition to enjoy it.
He went straight to his quarters, started the shower so the water would warm up, stripped off his bloodied uniform and quickly stepped into the stall, shivering. He cursed loudly and almost stepped right back out: the water was barely warm and was getting colder - something or someone had drained the hot water. He soaped up, rinsed and dried himself off as fast as he could, which, due to his coughing and general sluggishness, was infuriatingly slow by his standards. He threw on some warm clothes and some of his weapons, and headed down to the cafeteria.
It seemed that the news of his dispatching three groups of troopers had circulated around the base by now: every trooper, viper and guardsman he encountered gave him a wide berth.
Storm Shadow woke up to the sound of Lifeline arguing with the other patient in the room.
"…can TOO move!" the greenshirt was saying. "He was crawling around perfectly fine! What if he decides I'm a hostile giant dragonfly or something?"
Tommy groaned; it appeared that the vague memory he had of trying to hide under a blanket and crawl away to escape, and of thinking Lifeline was a giant fire ant, had not been just a particularly strange nightmare.
The greenshirt yelped upon hearing the groan and scooted to the far side of his bed. Tommy turned towards him and pointedly rolled his eyes.
It turned out to be a bad move: the visual motion brought on another ferocious dizzy spell. He gripped the sides of his bed, closed his eyes and focused on Lifeline's pulse, trying to help the rest of his brains convince his equilibrium center that the room was not in fact moving.
"Stevens, calm down," Lifeline sighed. "He's not going to go delirious again, his fever is under control now. And even if he was, he's in no condition to…"
"I'll never be able to go back to sleep!" Stevens insisted. "Not when HE's around and even less trustworthy than usual!"
Lifeline glared at him. "We can sedate you if that's what it takes for you to sleep. Or maybe I can ask Tommy to pinch your sleeping point…" he mused out loud, rubbing his chin. "I'm guessing his aim is not that good right now, so he might have to try a few times before he finds the right spot."
"I could just leave," Storm Shadow offered, putting extra emphasis on the 'I'.
"I told you, I'm not letting you try that again," Lifeline replied. "You can't leave yet, don't be foolish. You're still too dizzy AND too weak to even sit. You're staying in that bed for at least twenty-four hours, and then we'll see if you can be trusted on your feet at all."
"Then let ME go!" the greenshirt demanded, cutting off Storm Shadow's indignant response. "Look, I'm sorry, but he's out of his mind and up to a month ago, he would have killed me on sight. I don't want to wake up dead just because he got confused!"
Storm Shadow swallowed – he had to admit, it was sheer luck that he had decided the sleeping soldier was a fellow prisoner rather than say, some kind of monster about to eat him. He didn't like to think he could have easily found himself killing yet another soldier.
"He's got a point," he said.
"Fine," Lifeline sighed. "If it'll shut you both up, Stevens, you can stay in the main room."
Stevens scowled and started to protest, but Lifeline's glare shut him up.
"I still need you under observation," he said. "So you're either staying here or in the bigger room. You did get some rest by now, so you don't really need the extra quiet anymore. Besides, like you just said, you won't be able to rest in here if our bedridden ninja worries you so much. Up you get."
Scowling, Stevens scrambled out of bed and followed Lifeline to the main sleeping room of the infirmary, which counted ten beds and was a lot busier than the semi-private room he had been sharing with Storm Shadow. Lifeline came back a minute later to the now fully private room.
"There," he said in a patronizing tone. "Now you won't wake up to find you've accidentally killed anyone. Better?"
"Quieter, at least," Storm Shadow muttered. "Look, anyone you put here is going to react the exact same way, unless they're brave enough to start annoying me instead. I'm already never going to hear the end of this; I'm leaving."
He tried to sit up despite still being extremely dizzy and promptly fell back as the movement instantly made the motion sickness much, much worse. He just managed to turn his head to the side before he threw up, the wave of nausea too strong and too sudden to fight.
He cursed and glared at Lifeline, as if daring him to comment.
Lifeline sighed, massaging his temples with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. "What is it with ninjas and refusing to stay in the infirmary?" he asked of nobody in particular.
"Overbearing medics," Storm Shadow answered anyway.
Lifeline, pointedly ignoring him, grabbed the call button on Storm Shadow's headboard and activated it.
"I need Storm Shadow's sheets changed," he said, "Bring him an apple juice, too."
"Yes, Medic Lifeline," a voice answered through the tiny speaker.
Lifeline put the call button back down and turned to face his patient again.
"If you keep the apple juice down AND don't scare the nurse too badly, you can have some chicken broth in an hour."
"Oh, goodie," Storm Shadow groaned. "Yellow salty water with a vague chicken-like flavour. Yum."
"Picky, picky," Lifeline chuckled, walking away already. "It's good for what ails you."
Storm Shadow didn't dignify the comment with an answer.
With all other members of personnel being careful not to get anywhere near him, Storm Shadow arrived at the Cobra cafeteria without incident. The smell hit him right through his clogged nasal passages as soon as he opened the door and any shred of good mood caused by the troops leaving him alone vanished. He gagged a bit and marched to the counter with a murderous expression.
He levelled a glare at the steam trays, all filled with soggy meat lovers pizza, before turning his attention to the trooper dishing it out.
"S…Storm… Storm Shadow Sir," the trooper stammered, turning white at the sight of him. "Er… one slice or two?"
"My sinuses are completely full and the smell alone still made me gag," Storm Shadow replied. He swallowed before he continued, trying hard to avoid a fit of coughing. "I don't want any of your cheese-covered, grease and sodium laden, so-called meat. What else do you have?"
The trooper's heart provided the answer by going into a panicked frenzy: there was nothing else. "I… I'll go check," he said in a pitiful, whiny voice.
"You do that."
The trooper came back a few minutes later, begging for his life before he even appeared in the doorway from the kitchen. He was empty handed.
"Can't you just make some rice?" Storm Shadow growled. "I'm not looking for a gourmet meal, here."
"We're out of rice," the trooper pleaded, "and there's no bread, either. We… we're kind of out of a lot of stuff, our supplies are late. Those were frozen," he added, pointing at the pizzas. "I'm really sorry!"
Storm Shadow snarled at him. He had no intention of killing the kitchen hand just for being the bearer of bad news – he figured doing so without a better excuse than that would yield more trouble than it was worth, especially since he didn't really feel like having to find someone else to serve him. That didn't mean the trooper had to know his life was not in fact in danger though; terrifying him was not only slightly amusing, it also increased the odds he'd do his best to please his irate customer.
The trooper whimpered and backed away, shielding his face with his hands.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Let me think... corn dogs! I think we have some corn dogs left!"
Storm Shadow rolled his eyes before fixing them on the trooper in a glare again.
"Right," the trooper muttered, "no junk food. Er…wait, you got that cold that's going around, don't you? We're out of soup, but we have some chicken Top Ramen!"
Storm Shadow sagged a bit – he liked proper ramen just fine, considered it a nice occasional treat in fact, but the instant stuff sold overseas was junk. He briefly debated whether the odds of getting something better were worth the hassle and decided they weren't.
"It'll do," he sighed.
"Coming right up!"
The trooper disappeared almost as fast as a ninja would have.
Storm Shadow closed his eyes, put down the book he'd been trying to read and leaned back against his propped up bed, trying once again to relax and concentrate on a fixed sound to make the dizziness go away. He didn't have any luck relaxing, being far too irritated at the fact he couldn't even move his eyes across a page without getting motion-sick.
Concentrating on a fixed sound didn't work either, because of the other irritant he was having to deal with at the moment: there were loud conversations in the other room of the infirmary, across from the office, and many of the people talking over there were walking around, making their voices move and making his motion sickness worse. This in itself would have been annoying enough at the moment; the fact that those loud conversations centered around having a laugh at his expense just added insult to injury.
It had taken all of five minutes in the main room for Stevens to start relating the blanket stealth and giant fire ant incident to everyone, in minute details – some of which Storm Shadow was reasonably certain were wrong. Ever since, the other patients and every visitor they'd gotten had talked of little else than the big bad ninja having been found passed out with his face in the dirt, being unable to even stand up at the moment, and said ninja's antics during his bout of delirium.
He'd tried to tune them out by reading a book, but it turned out even reading made him dizzy – all those lines of characters right on top of one another, it never quite felt like the next one was lower than the previous one and he kept going backwards or re-reading lines, but he did end up going from the top to the bottom of the page eventually, which only made things even more confusing… it was just too much for his equilibrium center to put up with at the moment.
He cried out in frustration and threw the book away. Too dizzy to so much as read, surrounded by people who were all too happy to mock him, stuck here in a BED, for a full day, unable to even seriously try to escape, and all because of a silly little infection.
From the office, Doc heard the scream and the impact of the book on the wall and frowned. There was an awful lot of agitated talking in the bigger room, and since nothing else was going on at the moment, he had suspected the conversation to be about Storm Shadow. The ninja's sudden outburst turned the suspicion into certainty and, scowling, he got up to open the door to the main infirmary.
"You people DO realize the infection is in his inner ear, right? His hearing is not affected at all."
He felt a bit low to be playing on everyone's nervousness around the ninja to scare them into behaving, but enough was enough: he would never condone making fun of people because they were ill and besides, Storm Shadow WAS angry and Doc figured he was doing everyone a favour by limiting the damage.
The conversations died instantly, and only resumed in whispers. Satisfied, Doc closed the door again and went back to his desk.
Storm Shadow's mood sank even further as the loud jokes gave way to worried, in some cases near panicked, whispers. Losing his dignity was one thing, but even though it was far from being a surprise – he knew he hadn't earned the Joes' trust yet - having his loyalty questioned so easily was plain depressing; he had been a killer, a mercenary, arguably a monster, but never a traitor.
He was still brooding when one of the Joes he hadn't actually met one-on-one yet came in the room. Storm was only able to identify him as Tunnel Rat from having seen the man's picture before. The visitor was holding an insulated container of something or other that didn't smell strongly enough for the ninja's blocked nose to identify.
"Stevens moved to the other room," Storm Shadow said in a bored voice.
"Who?" Tunnel Rat asked. "Oh, wait, Stevens… he's a greenshirt, right? Nah, I'm looking for Storm Shadow. That's you, isn't it?"
The explosive expert had walked right up to him as he was talking and had his head cocked, examining him. "Yeah, that's you," he finished with a satisfied smile. "Tunnel Rat."
He extended his hand. Befuddled, Tommy took it and shook, only to regret it instantly – the motion had triggered another spike of dizziness. He pulled his arm back, closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths until the room's spinning got back down to a semi-tolerable level.
"What do you want?" he asked.
Tunnel Rat shrugged. "Just took pity on you, I guess."
He handed him the spoon and the container, depositing the latter on his lap, and took the cover off. Storm Shadow's eyes widened: the container was full of Chinese-style rice porridge.
"I don't care how many doctors say there's something about chicken soup that actually helps, this is the stuff I grew up on. The other kids around never got it, but I know you guys eat it in Japan too, so I figured you might like some."
Storm Shadow blinked at him. He'd later see it as the ultimate proof of how sick he was that he couldn't think of anything to say other than 'thank you'.
"No problem," Tunnel Rat said, "it takes a while, but it pretty much cooks itself. I better get going." He suddenly smirked. "If you see any more giant ants, don't attack them, okay?"
He left at that, chuckling. Storm Shadow closed his eyes to roll them under his eyelids, therefore avoiding the increase in dizziness, and once Tunnel Rat was gone, sighed at the rice 'porridge'. Tunnel Rat had prepared it Chinese-style, which meant using a lot more water than for Japanese-style and cooking the rice longer to make it dissolve pretty much completely. As far as Storm Shadow was concerned, Chinese-style rice porridge was a watery abomination.
He took a spoonful; it was just as awful as he had expected, much closer to rice-flavoured water than to proper porridge. He smiled and continued to eat anyway.
Author's Notes (yes, more :P)
Rice porridge is the most usual and traditional 'sick food' in Japan and several other Asian countries, much like chicken soup is in North America. I'll admit I based the comparison between Japanese style and Chinese style on research and not personal experience… I'll honestly appreciate the education if you can tell me I got it wrong. :D
Thanks for reading! Reviews are, as always, insanely appreciated.