The challenge, as issued on twitter by WillWrite4Fics: to use a whacked out idea in a story that actually makes some kind of sense, in homage to the craziest storylines the cartoon gave us.
This is the first of two stories I will post in answer… I guess it doesn't take much provocation to make me write crazy things. :P
I don't own GI Joe (and considering this, it may be a good thing) and make no profit from any of these stories – I just do them for fun and out of a slight obsession over some of the characters. I do greatly enjoy reviews, however. :D
Many thanks to LinuxGirl for beta-ing this story!
Thanks to several years leading the craziest army unit in history, there wasn't much that could phase the man best known as General Hawk.
He had ninjas under his command, one of whom had spent years working for their enemy; his best desert trooper was also a refrigerator repairman; one of his men was a heavy machine gunner and a gourmet chef; he battled a man with a snake fetish who hissed when he talked but still managed to be a very real threat; that man was allied with a weapons dealer who had a metal mask for a face and with an Australian mercenary who had framed one his two ninjas while attempting to murder the other one, and who could alter his appearance at will, seemingly thanks to some pretty out there genetic engineering.
He could have gone on like this for quite a while.
Perhaps the best illustration that he had long since acquired nerves of steel and an uncanny ability to adapt to just about any circumstances was the fact that when Cobra had attacked them with a new field Commander slash Emperor wearing a snake disguise, who had turned out to be a mixed clone of several great historical conquerors and military leaders, he had taken it in stride as just another run-of-the-mill day for GI Joe.
Despite all that, the last couple of days had actually managed to be unnerving. Cobra had acquired a new weapon - something of a cross between a powerful laser and an antimatter bomb if the reports were correct - had demonstrated its power by flattening an undeveloped part of the Alps, and had threatened to use it to wipe out various states and countries unless they were given dominion over the World.
GI Joe had managed to track down the Commander's location – more through luck than anything else - and had engaged Cobra, but the operation had to be one of the most infuriating defeats Hawk had ever suffered: both the Commander and Destro had escaped and what was worse, it had turned out the weapon itself wasn't there. Where it actually was and how long it would take Cobra to re-establish remote control to it was anyone's guess.
The only silver lining to the whole disaster was that they did have one prisoner who might have the information they needed to stop Cobra from vaporizing bits of the Earth and killing millions in the process. It was a rather dull silver as far as lining went, however: that prisoner was the multi-clone himself, arguably the only creature in the World who was just as dangerously insane as the Commander: Serpentor.
In desperation to get some information out of him before the Commander made good on his threats, Hawk had handed the Cobra Emperor over to Psyche Out and instructed the mind twisting specialist to do and say whatever it took to make their guest talk. He'd then gotten on the phone to secure the various permissions needed for the use of what he assumed would eventually be worth labeling psychological torture. This had been three hours ago, and he'd just received the last blessing he needed in the form of a promise he'd personally get all the blame if things went badly, and neither Psyche Out nor the rest of GI Joe would suffer any consequences beyond the loss of their leader.
He sighed and got up from behind his desk, running a hand through his short hair, expecting a phone call telling him that some country or another no longer existed any minute. He glanced at his watch for the tenth time in two minutes and clenched his jaw. Three hours, and not a word from Psyche Out, or from the various individuals and teams trying to locate the Commander and Destro again… it was taking far too long.
He left his office at a fast walk and headed down towards the interrogation rooms.
He ran into Psyche Out at the elevator, and the psychiatrist's expression gave him a half-second advanced warning that his day was just about to get worse.
"General!" Psyche Out cried out, grabbing both his upper arms and obviously in a panic. "Where's Storm Shadow? I need him, I… Serpentor… I'm not exactly sure what triggered this, but…"
Hawk frowned, unable to guess why in the World Psyche Out would want Storm Shadow's help in dealing with Serpentor. The only thing the ninja ever wanted to do when the clone was in his vicinity was to cut him into small pieces.
"Triggered what? What good would Storm Shadow do you?"
"Where is he?" Psyche Out asked again, his voice rising to something close to a yell. "Sir, Serpentor is BAWLING. I'm not going to get anything…"
"Excuse me?" Hawk interrupted him. "He's crying, but he hasn't spilled?"
Psyche Out shook his head irritably. "He's not crying; I could deal with crying! He's screeching and bawling! I had no idea he'd react like this, his mind is not exactly normal! Where's…"
"Kenneth, calm DOWN. You're not making any sense. I don't KNOW where Storm Shadow is. Why do you need him so badly? What good will he do? He's not going to smooth talk Serpentor if you couldn't do it."
The psychiatrist's eyes widened at the news Hawk didn't know where the ninja was. "We need to find him," he announced.
Since he hadn't been hiding in the first place, Storm Shadow was quickly located; in the dojo, helping Jinx with a new technique. Psyche Out had finished explaining the situation to Hawk along the way, and the General had surprised himself rubbing his temples to fight the beginning of a headache. He didn't usually get headaches, he prided himself on that fact whenever Flint or Duke – or both – were reduced to tearing their hair out and living on painkillers. Part of the headache was the situation itself, but a bigger part was the fact that now that they knew where Storm Shadow was, Psyche Out's mood had done a 180 degrees turn from the near panic he had been in to poorly disguised glee over the chance of observing Storm Shadow and Serpentor deal with each other over the next little while.
Hawk entered the dojo and signaled to Storm Shadow, who finished throwing his smaller cousin on the mats and turned to his commanding officer, one eyebrow raised questioningly.
"I need you to come with us and help interrogate Serpentor," Hawk said. "Right away."
Storm Shadow blinked at him. "What?" he asked. "Sir, with all due respect, I doubt I can resist killing him for more than five minutes or so if you put me in a room with him."
"You are not to harm him in any way. You're our last chance of getting him to disclose the location of the weapon or of Destro and the Commander. Come along, I'll explain along the way."
Storm Shadow bit back the rising feeling that he was not going to like whatever Hawk had in mind one little bit and followed as ordered – oaths didn't mean much if one only followed through on them when one felt like it.
They had just climbed in the elevator when Hawk started explaining, having waited until they were somewhere that moved them along automatically to avoid the ninja slowing them down by coming to a dead stop and digging in his heels. As an extra insurance, the General was leaning against the inside control panel, hopefully preventing the ninja from stopping the elevator – not that Storm Shadow wouldn't be able to lift him out of the way if he really wanted to, but there was a reasonable chance he wouldn't go that far.
For a good three seconds, Storm Shadow just stared at him, his face quickly turning purple.
"Millions of lives are at stake, Storm Shadow. You can't refuse to do this just because it's unpleasant," Hawk said. "Besides, I'm giving you a direct order to do everything you can to make Serpentor talk, and we both know physical torture won't work, he's much too willful."
Storm Shadow took a few deep hissing breaths through his nose. He finally turned to Psyche Out.
"You did this on purpose," he accused. "You're practically bouncing up and down in anticipation, here. You can't WAIT to get me in there with that thing crawling all over me."
"I did not," Psyche Out protested, "but you need to realize this may be the key to saving the World from the Commander and his death ray. Of COURSE I'm happy. If Serpentor needs some fatherly…"
"I am NOT HIS FATHER!" Storm Shadow said grabbing the psychiatrist by his collar and staring him down from point blank range. "And you're not fooling anyone as to the reason you're so giddy right now! And please, for the love of all that his holy, don't call it a death ray, you'll make the Commander wet his pants in glee."
"Tommy, let him go," Hawk cut in. "Look, it doesn't matter whether you're his father or not, what matters is that he feels you are and he's in great emotional distress right now, and he's crying out for you," Hawk cut in.
"Great emotional distress?" Tommy let go of Psyche-Out and let out a string of curses in Japanese. "That thing's only emotions are anger and desire to kill and conquer! And why would he suddenly think I'm his father? Why would he want ANY father? And why not Mindbender?"
"I don't know," Psyche Out said with a sigh. "I was trying to convince him that even the most violent conquerors that make up his genetic background would not have killed millions of potential subjects, and he got into a rant on how he intended to outdo them all. We argued back and forth on what they would be proud of, and next thing I know, he just breaks down and I can't get anything more out of him for nearly half an hour. He finally started croaking out some words and I was able to make out that he wanted his father to love him, but that father just hated him for existing and loved…" Psyche-Out stopped himself before he used the same terms Serpentor had selected to describe Storm Shadow's apprentice, "and loved Billy instead, and had even tried to kill him several times. He started bawling again then, and started begging his Dad to forgive him and to give him a chance and to help him live up to his heritage."
Storm Shadow sagged a bit. "This is insane," he said. "He hates me just as much as I hate him! He's stated before that if he could rip my DNA from his own, he would! He sees me as the weak link in his composition!"
"My guess is that he simply latched onto the closest thing to a father he has. Of all the people whose genetic material went into him, you are the only one who is still alive."
"We're here," Hawk announced as the elevator stopped. He turned to Storm Shadow. "We don't know how he'll react to you, but it looks like he'll be wanting your affection or at least your approval. Your job is to make it clear he might have it if he discloses where the weapon is or where the Commander and Destro are."
"Please tell me I can kill him right after?" Storm Shadow said.
"No killing the prisoner," Hawk answered, "and absolutely no allowing him to escape just so you can kill him because he's not a prisoner anymore."
Storm Shadow cursed under his breath and followed Hawk and Psyche Out out of the elevator and towards the interrogation rooms.
Tommy was marginally calmer by the time they reached the interrogation room, partly thanks to willing himself so – it was after all quite clear that cooperating was the only honorable course of action – and partly because Serpentor's wails could be heard from a good distance and the creature being miserable and humiliating itself was doing a lot to improve the ninja's mood.
That new found calm evaporated as soon as he walked into the interrogation room and Serpentor treated him to a look filled with equal parts adoration, fear and relief. To make matters worse, he heard not one but two cameras hum and, from the other room, a pen scratching paper as Psyche Out frantically took notes. As Storm Shadow had known would be the case, the psychiatrist's pulse betrayed his excitement over the chance to observe them.
"Shut up and listen," Storm Shadow instructed Serpentor right away. "You…"
"Father…" Serpentor whispered. His expression suddenly changed to one the World was more familiar with: anger. "No. YOU listen. You abandoned me! How could you dare…"
The Cobra Emperor had gotten up and was marching around the table he'd been sitting behind as he talked, only to find himself pinned to said table after a blur of motion he would have been hard pressed to describe.
"I abandoned you because I despise you," Storm Shadow snarled into the creature's ear. It was, technically speaking, a lie: the ninja had not abandoned him so much as hated him dearly from the start – a feeling that had, up to today, been cheerfully returned by the monstrosity.
"You can't hate me," Serpentor growled. "I am YOUR SON!"
Storm Shadow twitched and had to remind himself that the Commander could start wiping out entire countries any second and that their best chance of stopping him was inside Serpentor's head.
"I was not a willing parent and you know it. You want my love, you will have to earn it."
Serpentor's face relaxed somewhat as he processed that. Storm Shadow let him go and stood up, arms crossed and adopting a stern but neutral expression. He somehow managed to keep cool when the clone's eyes filled with hopeful tears, but Serpentor then spread his arms and threw himself at him for a hug. At the very same time, from the other room and doubtless inaudible to the Cobra Emperor, Psyche-Out urgently – and uselessly - reminded Storm Shadow to use Serpentor's desire for his acceptance and love to get the information they wanted.
Swallowing back the bile that shot up in his mouth and fighting back the ever-growing urge to kill Serpentor and use his corpse to bludgeon Psyche Out, Tommy stood still and let the thing hug him for a second before pushing him away, frowning.
"Smothering me is not helping your case right now," he growled. "Your lackeys are about to kill a lot of people and I want to stop them. Help me do that and I might rethink my opinion of you." Another lie, he had no intention of rethinking anything. Thankfully, he was very good at lying. "If you don't," he continued, "it will cement my hatred." That much, at least, was the truth.
Serpentor's face hardened again, this time making him look like a child about to throw a tamper tantrum.
"I AM THE COBRA EMPEROR!" he roared. "IF I CHOOSE TO HONOUR YOU BY SEEKING YOUR FATHERLY LOVE, YOU! WILL! LOVE ME! THIS, I…"
Storm Shadow slapped him.
"Make me," he snarled. "Go ahead, make me. Save the World, force me to see value in you. Force me to recognize your greatness."
"I bet you never hit HIM," Serpentor whined, rubbing his cheek. "The Commander's brat… shame on you, Storm Shadow! Try and be a father to a boy who has one and reject your own flesh and blood!"
Storm Shadow sighed and sagged.
"So, that's it?" he asked. "You'd rather complain than grant my one request? Fine. As soon as you're no longer our prisoner, I will personally hunt you down and make you pay for the millions of lives the Commander is sure to end before the end of the day. You are nothing but bio-engineered filth, living and breathing bio-waste. You are most certainly not my son."
He turned around and made to leave, knowing Serpentor would not give up. He was not disappointed.
"STOP!" the Cobra Emperor screeched, panic obvious in his voice. "You will not abandon your son again, ninja! YOU WILL STAY!"
Storm Shadow turned around and carefully kept his expression neutral. He was about ready to explode by now, his hands ached to wrap around the clone's throat each time he dared imply that they were father and son.
"You have no control over me, Serpentor," he said. "None. I hate you and there is nothing you can do about it."
Serpentor's face twisted in fury, but the angry mask broke down quickly into an expression of pure misery and despair.
"Why? What did I do to you?" he asked with a shaky voice, putting extra emphasis on the 'I'. He didn't give the ninja any time to answer. "I'm just trying to fulfill my destiny!" he cried, tears suddenly spilling out of his eyes. "But you don't CARE! You just want someone who's the exact same as you and who'll do everything you tell him to! You just can't handle that I'm my OWN person!"
Storm Shadow twitched again and closed his eyes, counting to ten. He once again felt the urge to kill Psyche Out as well as Serpentor – after all, this WAS the psychological warfare specialist's fault.
"You're your own person all right," he said after recomposing himself. "But that has nothing to do with why I despise you."
"Yes, it does!" Serpentor roared. "You unfit father, you…"
"Stop acting like a pubescent child and listen," Storm Shadow said, interrupting him. "What good is it to call me an unfit father when I've already told you I did not consider you my son?"
Serpentor's lips curled up in a vicious snarl. "And you are wrong," he hissed.
Storm Shadow closed the distance between them and grabbed Serpentor's collar, drawing the abomination's face to his own.
"You want me to accept you as you are, do you?" he said in a low growl. "You're not even what you claim to be! You're supposed to be the World's Ruler, the Greatest Leader in history, and look at you! You allow another man, a man you KNOW to be unfit for power, to destroy YOUR rightful empire and kill YOUR subjects! What is it I'm supposed to accept and love? A failure of a leader? A pushover who doesn't have the balls to truly stand up to the Cobra Commander?"
Psyche Out was talking in whispers from the other room again, frantically reminding him he had to allow Serpentor to believe the information would earn him his father's acceptance. Storm Shadow twitched again, barely resisted turning towards Psyche Out and screaming that he was NOT Serpentor's father, and focused on the Cobra Emperor again, who had resumed telling him off for not adoring his perfection. He needed to get that information, he was most certainly not going to have gone through this for nothing.
"Some perfect conqueror," he sneered at Serpentor, cutting him off mid-rant. "Upstaged by a lunatic with a snake fetish! Once the Commander starts using that new toy of his, do you think anyone will even remember you exist?"
Storm Shadow picked up on Psyche Out's pulse settling as the psychiatrist finally figured out he knew what he was doing. The pen scratching, which had momentarily stopped, resumed faster than ever. At the same time, Serpentor's breath caught and his heart accelerated as a bit of horrified embarrassment mixed in with his perpetual anger.
"And you wonder WHY I prefer his son to you?" Storm Shadow continued. "Billy has more potential for greatness than you ever will, if I can only keep him saner than his father."
"He does NOT!" Serpentor roared, grabbing Storm Shadow by his collar as well. "The Commander has never succeeded at anything without me and he never will! I am worth hundreds of him OR of his spawn!"
Storm Shadow rolled his eyes and snorted dismissively, not even bothering to remove the creature's hands. Serpentor's eyes narrowed but the snarl left his mouth and his pulse slowed. Storm Shadow kept his expression carefully neutral.
"You can't stop him on your own, can you?" Serpentor asked, his voice like silk. "You need me."
Psyche Out's pencil snapped and both his and Hawk's pulse doubled. Storm Shadow raised an eyebrow.
"I've already admitted that," he said. "I already told you how much it would mean to me."
Serpentor smirked, and Storm Shadow could have sworn he was hearing the wheels turning in the Cobra Emperor's head as the monstrosity realized he could prevent the Commander from outdoing him, prove his superiority and worth as a Supreme Ruler, and put the father whose love he was seeking in his debt - all at once. He only needed one more push to break through his built-in loyalty to Cobra.
Storm Shadow braced himself, took a deep breath and composed a pleading expression. He mentally promised himself to destroy the recordings from the cameras or at the very least make it clear to Psyche Out that nobody was to see them, ever.
"Help us stop them, Highness," he pleaded. "Please, son, I beg you."
It was supreme wonder to him that he managed to actually get the words out, and he honestly felt he deserved a few Oscars and a few dozen medals for it. He did throw up in his mouth a bit, but he swallowed it back and did his best to make it look like an emotional gulp.
Serpentor's eyes widened and his smirk turned into a triumphant grin.
"Warehouse 3 of the London Harbour Extensive Enterprise Depot, unless they did not follow the plan," he said. "You had better hurry, chances are they already have control re-established."
Over in the next room, a radio hummed on and Hawk asked whoever was on the other end whether they'd copied. Breaker's voice answered he had and that he was verifying. Storm Shadow hardly needed the verification; he'd heard Serpentor lie before, and as was the case for most people, the creature's pulse always betrayed it. There had been no lie this time, he was completely certain of it.
"Then we need to know where the device is, as well," he said.
"Easter Island," Serpentor said, still grinning. "The Commander was a fool to think I'd allow him to destroy OUR empire, wasn't he, Father?"
Breaker's voice came from the radio in the other room. "Confirmed London location! We got them! Blocking them out!" Then, a second later, "Easter Island confirmed! We got it! WOOOOO!"
Psyche Out leaned his elbows on the table he'd been writing on and cradled his head in his hands, breathing deeply and obviously trying to calm himself back down. Hawk let out a sign of relief.
"Good job, Breaker," he said.
He turned the radio off and looked up in the interrogation room again, intent on congratulating Storm Shadow as well. The words caught in his throat and he frowned: the ninja had just leaned away from Serpentor's ear and was grinning downright evilly. As he stepped away from the prisoner and walked to the door, Serpentor's expression first melted back into the pure misery it had shown when Storm Shadow had first come in, then twisted into sheer murderous rage.
He lunged at the ninja, but Storm Shadow sidestepped and let him crash in the wall before calmly letting himself out and closing the door again, locking it behind him. Serpentor started banging on it, screaming curses and invectives directed at the ninja, who ignored them completely and turned to Psyche Out, his grin gone and his own expression almost as furious as Serpentor's.
"What did you tell him?" Hawk asked.
"Just the truth," Storm Shadow answered, eyes locked on Psyche Out.
Psyche Out held the gaze and tried to look calm. The effect was somewhat ruined by beads of sweat rolling down his temples and the fact that even Hawk could hear the quick breathing and the audible gulp when Storm Shadow took a step towards the psychiatrist.
"I have NO idea how you did this to him, and I don't care," the ninja growled, glaring daggers at Psyche Out. "I consider you fully responsible for how sick I feel right now."
Psyche Out whimpered and glanced at Hawk.
"Storm Shadow…" Hawk said warningly.
Storm Shadow ignored him and took another two steps towards Psyche Out, who scrambled out of his chair and backed away until he hit the wall. He whimpered again as Storm Shadow covered the rest of the distance between them. The ninja then snarled and started unsheathing his sword.
Psyche Out screamed and curled up into a shaking ball against the wall.
"Storm Shadow, enough," Hawk ordered.
"Aye, sir," Storm Shadow said, re-sheathing his sword and turning to the General with a rather self-satisfied expression. "I just figured he'd be happy to make me feel better, and I must admit that he has: that scream of his was VERY therapeutic."