This is set in the same AU as Arashikage, but contains very minimal spoilers (arguably none) and you certainly don't need to have read Arashikage to follow this one.
Just a few points of reference:
I kept Jinx as I see her in the comics, not an apprentice to either SE or SS, just below their levels (like most ninjas) and consequently still able to learn from them. Her rank within the clan would also be lower than theirs.
Billy's path in the comic books is pretty tangled and involves a lot of named Cobras becoming good at least temporarily, and a lot of plain disappearing whenever he didn't fit in the plots, accompanied by random reappearances. I say this with the utmost respect for the writers; I think this is simply the kind of thing you have to do to keep churning out stories and manage an insanely large cast of characters. Much like I did with Storm Shadow, and like I had already started doing in Arashikage, I re-invented a bit while trying to keep the character true to himself.
Kamakura… I will admit that I haven't had the pleasure of seeing a lot of him in the comics because I'm missing a lot of later issues. I've kept his personality as I see it from what I have seen and read, but as seen in many stories here, he's still an apprentice. His portrayal and status is heavily influenced by WillWrite4Fics' and CrystalofEllinon's stories.
Chapter 1: Homecoming
Storm Shadow stood by the door of Hawk's office, still in his muddy PT clothes, at a complete loss as to the reason he had been summoned with such urgency. He honestly couldn't think of any reason why he'd be in trouble at the moment, and if Billy was in danger, he wouldn't be the only one here: Hawk usually sent a few people along with him to fetch his apprentice whenever Cobra got close to figuring out the location of the Commander's estranged son.
He didn't have to wait long. Hawk called him in within less than a minute of his arrival.
"William has come out of hiding," the General said as soon as Storm Shadow was through the door. "He's on his way to New York."
Storm Shadow's eyes widened. He opened his mouth, closed it again, sat down and cradled his head with his hands.
"He decided he was tired of hiding," he guessed.
"Yes. He's 18, so we can't legally FORCE him to avail of a protection program," Hawk said.
"Has Cobra picked up his trail yet?"
"No, but I'm assuming it won't take very long. You know how it's been lately."
Storm Shadow nodded. The Commander went through phases when it came to his son and although he could spend months not sparing Billy a thought, it had been just the opposite for the past little while. Such periods of obsession were generally good for the rest of the world, as the Commander spent most of his energy trying to locate one individual rather than trying to take over or blow up a chunk of the planet. It did mean that they had to be careful to keep Billy well hidden, something that irritated the teenager to no end. Apparently, that irritation had finally boiled over.
Tommy sighed and his upper lip curled in a slight snarl. Of all the idiotic stunts to pull… he had half a mind to let Billy get captured before rescuing him, just to teach him a lesson. He wouldn't of course – there was no telling what kind of damage Mindbender could do in even a short time.
"He has expressed the desire to join the team," Hawk said, interrupting his thoughts. "I have thought about it, and he would be a good asset: he's smart and he's a ninja in training."
Storm Shadow groaned. All right, it wasn't an idiotic stunt after all: it was a scheme to get himself on to the team.
"I'm in no position to complain about your unorthodox recruitment standards in general or your passion for collecting ninjas in particular, but you DO realize you're rewarding reckless behaviour and manipulative tendencies? He didn't go out of hiding just for fun: he wanted to join the team and he's forcing your hand."
"Which is why we're not going to reveal the circumstances surrounding his hiring to the rest of the team. This little stunt would only create unnecessary tension due to how reminiscent it is of the Commander... there are some who are already wary of the boy, and those who aren't could become more guarded at the drop of a hat. You can tell Snake Eyes when he comes back from his mission, I would have called him here too if he were on base anyway. You are not allowed to discuss the details of William Kessler's arrival with anyone else."
"Understood, sir," Storm Shadow said, not quite suppressing a smirk. "I assume this secrecy has absolutely nothing to do with your not wanting to give the impression a child is forcing you to let him have his way?"
Hawk's eyes narrowed.
"That concern would be taken care of by simply refusing William's request and capturing him under a made-up pretense. I'm not that easy to control. This is my choice, even if it happens to match his objective. That being said, I do realize you wouldn't be the only one to reach this conclusion. He will be at the airport in about an hour. Dismissed."
Billy had known all along he'd be in for an earful the second his sensei got within earshot of him, and was quite prepared to face the music. Or at least, he thought he was until he left the luggage claim area and spotted Tommy.
If looks could kill, the glare that was directed his way could probably kill, resuscitate, kill again more painfully, turn into a Zombie and burn to ashes to finally finish the job.
It took a good bit of willpower and self control to keep walking as though he didn't realize these were the last few pain-free minutes he'd have for several months. He clenched his jaw, reminded himself that catching up on his training was exactly what he wanted, walked right up to his sensei, bowed and opened his mouth to give a proper greeting.
"This had better be good," Tommy growled.
"Sensei, I am delighted to see you again and I wish to resume my training," he said. "I trust you will not deny this request from your apprentice."
Tommy snorted. Billy automatically paled and tensed.
"How did that bond thing go again?" he asked, smiling nervously. "You swore to protect me, right? Doesn't that mean you can't maim me? I mean, come on, I only got one leg and eye left, I WOULD like to keep them."
"I also swore to teach you all I can, and it's really time we got cracking on that more seriously. Your request is granted."
Billy knew better than to be fooled by the calm tone.
"This is going to hurt, isn't it?"
Tommy just smiled – which was answer enough - and started towards the exit, motioning Billy to follow. Billy took the hint that the public part of their conversation was over and followed silently.
"Do you think I don't realize that Kamakura was caught on film by news reporters just last week?" Tommy said the second they were both inside the car. "I'm very familiar with jealousy, Billy, you're not going to convince me the timing of the increase in your resolve to get back to full time training had nothing to do with seeing how good your brother has become."
Billy clenched his teeth.
"He is a good example of how much can be accomplished with a proper training schedule and one of the best in the world for a sensei."
"So you come out of hiding, knowing very well that we won't let you be captured and that as long as you refuse any other safe place, we'll keep you at the Pit?"
"AND that I'll be a good bit more useful to Hawk working for him than rotting in one of his cells."
"You are a conniving little pest."
"You are breaking my heart, Sensei," Billy said in a melodramatic tone. "Do you feel no joy at all at the thought of being reunited with your apprentice?"
"I'm not that selfish," Tommy grumbled, starting the car. "You know I've been looking forward to really starting your training again, but you're in danger each time you're here. Right now, any joy I might feel is overshadowed by worry."
"All the more reason to make sure I learn how to take care of myself. I think it's obvious by now that spending just a few weeks with each teacher you find me, only scratching the surface of their respective specialties before I have to move again, hasn't yielded particularly impressive results. I've been training LONGER than Kamakura, but anyone watching us would think it's the other way around."
"Don't you worry about that. You want intensive training? You're getting it."
"Classic case of 'be careful what you wish for', isn't it?"
"Glad you realize it. Apparently, being 18 has not completely addled your brains."
Billy weathered the insult, but the tone was chilling. He decided to try and lighten the conversation and figured that since his sensei was going to torment him about being 18, he might as well play the part. "So, is Cover Girl still single?" he asked jokingly.
"Officially, yes. You go right ahead and flirt with her… at the very least, you'll get more strenuous PT out of it."
"You're kidding," he said. "Beach Head?"
Tommy smirked and his tone warmed up just a bit. "Of course I'm kidding. You know just as well as I do that nobody on base is currently violating fraternization regulations."
Billy snorted. "Beach Head…! Well, I suppose… she does like tanks, and he's kind of like a human tank… Man, I am WAY behind on gossip. What else should I know?"
"You're trying to change the subject," Tommy said, purely for the sport of making his apprentice squirm a bit longer.
"Oh, sorry. I thought you were done terrorizing me for now. Proceed."
Tommy's patented sadistic smile widened into a grin when Billy's heart rate jumped upon seeing it.
"So," he said calmly, satisfied by the reaction. "Gossip? Well, there IS a betting pool on the go about Clutch…"
By the time they were in view of the Pit, the conversation had veered to what Billy had been up to, including his departure from his and his mother's latest safe house.
"So yeah," Billy concluded after telling the story, "she's probably very angry with me right now. I'm going to have to write her every day for a while if I ever want her to forgive me for this."
"Serves you right, the poor woman is probably picturing you back in your father's clutches already," Tommy commented. "And speaking of consequences of your little stunt, you are not to reveal to anyone how you convinced Hawk to hire you. As far as anyone else than you, me and Snake Eyes know, you never went out of hiding to force his hand – he talked you into coming here. In fact, just to make sure the story that goes around is exactly how he wants it, we're both going to pretend you're only back temporarily again until he makes an official announcement. Clear?"
Billy barely resisted rolling his eyes. It had been several minutes since his sensei had looked or sounded like he was going to teach him new levels of pain within the next couple of days; he didn't want to end the truce.
"Very clear," he replied. "I expected as much."
"Of course you did. Good job on not rolling your eyes at my stating the obvious, by the way. I did have to make sure, considering your recent bout of insanity."
Billy snorted but didn't get a chance to give more of an answer than that: they were at the gate.
The motor pool was, as usual, a busy hub of activity, with various vehicles being tinkered with or repaired. Stepping out of the car and setting foot in the Pit, where, for once, he would stay for a good long while, Billy felt so relieved that he had to take a deep breath to stabilize himself and not get misty-eyed. This was it; he was done running away. He was home and he'd actually get to fight back.
"There you are!" Clutch exclaimed, running towards them with a frown. "Storm Shadow, what did I tell you about this car?"
Tommy cocked his head.
"You said I wasn't allowed to take it. You expected me to listen?" he asked, feigning surprise. "I'm sorry, I assumed you knew I wouldn't, otherwise I'd have made it clear."
"I just FIXED this one! It's in perfect condition, it's better than when it came out of the factory!" he roared.
"I agree, it handled like a dream. You really are talented."
"That's not the point! You ALWAYS break them!"
"That is a gross exaggeration. I only damage the vehicles I take two times out of three. Nowhere near 'always'. As it happens, I didn't do any damage at all on this one."
"It's true," Billy piped in. "Not a single crash, and nobody even shot any kind of weapon in our direction."
Clutch turned towards him and his eyes widened briefly, as though he'd only just noticed his presence.
"Oh. Hi Billy. Didn't see you there. No accident, nobody shooting at you? You're sure?"
"He even went the speed limit," he said, shaking his head in an indulgently irritated way.
Clutch seemed to calm down a bit, but he turned back to Storm Shadow.
"Well, next time, you ask ME for a car, you hear?"
"Loud and clear," Storm Shadow said with a smirk.
"And will you?"
"Absolutely not. You always give me the crappiest rust bucket you can find."
Clutch turned purple and opened his mouth to shout something.
"I'm sorry, I really can't stay," Storm Shadow said with an apologetic smile, cutting him off and edging past him. "I need to start working on his schedule," he added, pointing at Billy.
He caught the wrench that was thrown towards the back of his head and threw it back in a toolbox sitting a few steps away. Then, the two of them were in the elevator to the lower levels, listening as Clutch screamed insults at the ninja.
"He needs to work on his vocabulary," Tommy commented. "Did you notice how much he repeats himself when he's calling me names? It gets dull pretty quick. At least Flint is entertaining when he's screaming at me."
"I thought calling you a pixilated ninja was cute."
Tommy shrugged, visibly unimpressed. "One, he didn't come up with it and it's used a lot. Two, it's much funnier when I'm actually in uniform. Three, I'm personally more partial to 'tetris-camo ninja': it makes me picture a fight in a life-sized tetris game."
Billy whistled appreciatively. "That does sound like fun. Speaking of fighting, what can I expect schedule-wise?"
"I'm thinking we'll aim for fifteen hours for the first while to get you back in shape. I'll be generous and count PT towards that, but I will ask Beach Head to push you."
Billy managed to keep his face neutral, but his pulse betrayed his feelings to his sensei just as well as a nervous gulp would have. Tommy smirked.
"Won't I also have some work to do?" Billy asked in a would-be disinterested tone.
"That's why we'll AIM for fifteen hours. I can't have you too sleep deprived if you're supposed to be usable to Hawk, so we'll have to cut into that a bit on days where you're taken with your other duties for any length of time."
"You know, I think the scary part in this is that you think you're being very reasonable."
"Now, come on," Tommy said in a hurt voice. "I'm doing what I can, here. I know I just promised you intensive training, but I promise we'll trade quantity for quality. We'll make those hours really count, and you'll make good progress even with the restricted training time."
Billy's eyes widened briefly.
"Is there anything I can say that will not result in your promising more pain and less sleep, at this point?"
"You wanted intensive training, you're getting it," Tommy repeated, flashing a sadistic smile again.
Billy wisely decided there was no good answer to that and kept quiet. The elevator soon arrived at the level Tommy had requested and they got off.
"I trust you remember where the dojo is?" Storm Shadow asked.
"Good. Go practice your katas while you wait for me – there should be a gi you can borrow in there. I'll see you in about an hour and a half. Kamakura and Jinx should be in there; very nicely ask Jinx to correct you if you make a mistake, and if Kamakura does it too, you listen to him as well, he IS at a superior level than you are. For now, anyway."
Billy recognized the tone – Storm Shadow was done tormenting him and was in full teaching mode. He bowed with a smile, eager to start in spite of himself and happy, all in all, to finally have his real sensei back – even if it meant having to put up with Kamakura.
He took off at a trot.
Just a note on plurals for Japanese words: technically, there is no plural form in Japanese so you would have one ninja, two ninja, one kata, three thousand kata, etc. I personally prefer to anglicize them and use a plural form as needed, for clarity.
Thanks for reading, and please review! I live on feedback (and caffeine, but mostly feedback). Snake Eyes and Kamakura will be in the next chapter, ninja fans. :)
A big thank you to Asterisk78 for beta-ing this story.