Author's Notes

As stated in the summary, this story deals with mature issues. It contains no explicit content, but the subject matter is rather dark. This is the result of my trying to deal with a rather unpleasant plot bunny that would not let go. I think I've managed to deal with it as well as I could have hoped. This is part of my usual 'verse.

I do hope you enjoy the story, even though it's not a particularly happy little piece.

My thanks to Lady Jaye for her feedback and her help brainstorming this.

Disclaimer: I don't own GI Joe, I'm just a Storm Shadow fangirl.

As the most elite military unit there was, GI Joe's job had often been described as doing the impossible and making it look easy. There were times, many in fact, where that description fit to a T. If something needed to be done that could not possibly be done, GI Joe was called in. This was a unit that offered challenges to even the best of the best. This was a team where you could be called upon to accomplish marvels.

And then there were the necessary but easy missions.

Stalker held back a sigh as he closed the door to the briefing room after the last of his team for the night – Breaker – walked in. He walked to the head of the room already picturing heads slamming on the table and honest groans of frustration.

"Easy one tonight, people," he started. "But it needs to be done so we're going to do it well."

No head slammed – a credit to the assembled soldiers' willingness not to assume the worst – but the expressions around the table did grow cautious and a few brows creased in apprehension. Nobody wanted to be called on a boring missions; assignments were supposed to be the fun stuff you did between periods of boredom.

Stalker took the remote control from its holder on the wall and pointed it at the holographic imager at the center of the table, clicking once to launch the presentation. The image of a man appeared and started rotating, allowing everyone a good view of all angles.

"This is Jonas Flynn," Stalker said. "He's a painter and his employer recently assigned him to repainting the offices of Extensive Enterprises."

The groans started. Stalker glared at the men and they quieted again.

"Our sources tell us that he usually spends his Friday nights here." Stalker summoned the next image and Jonas Flynn disappeared, replaced a by 2D picture of a small bar which multiplied itself to six copies, each facing a different direction so that all present may view it properly.

"Please tell me we're not going to go there and hope he happens to mention something he overheard on the job AND that this something, by some incredible stroke of luck, turns out to maybe possibly be of some kind of use?"

"That's exactly what we're going to do, Storm Shadow," Stalker replied in a stern voice. "I know this isn't a thrilling assignment. It still needs to be done and we're it, so we're going to do a damn good job and if necessary, we're going to help Mr. Flynn be interesting." He paused to look at his men, quelling any potential whining. "Now," he continued. "We're going undercover, so make-up and wardrobe for everyone, and we're all going to be doing some role playing."

"By the looks of it, we'll need to look a certain way to blend in anyway," Roadblock chuckled. "Check out that parking lot; it's full, but there aren't any cars."

Stalker nodded. "We've been watching the place for two days, and that's not a coincidence. There doesn't seem to be any criminal gangs in the regular clientele, but the place is frequented pretty much exclusively by bikers, and that's what we're going to be too when we go in there."

"Any specific traits you want us to display, or should we just improvise believable biker personas?" asked Psyche Out.

"We're trying to hide who we are, and Cobra has descriptions of us and knows our mannerisms, so the idea is to change that as well as we can. Roadblock, you're usually calm so I want you to pick a topic and rant about it good and loud all evening. Pick something you don't actually give a damn about."

"Can do," Roadblock said. "Just promise you won't be washing my mouth out with soap."

Stalker smirked. "I will if you don't curse enough. Psyche Out, you don't physically stand out so you're less of an issue, but I don't WANT you to stand out. No big words, no long run-on sentences and don't show any interest for psychology or psychiatry or anything else that starts with psy."

"You're asking me to act dumb to pass myself off as a biker? That's rather discriminatory of you."

"I'm asking you to act like you're not a shrink so you can pass yourself off as not being a shrink," Stalker replied with a scowl. "And I don't care if it's not PC, we ARE going to be using some stereotypes because being mostly typical will attract a lot less attention than being special. Breaker, you also don't stand out much physically, so it's the same idea for you: avoid talking about any tech, be a bit louder than usual, and absolutely no gum."

Breaker popped his gum in shock. "Everyone chews gum!" he protested.

"No gum," Stalker repeated sternly. "You can bring candies."

Breaker pouted. "Cruel. That's what you are. My jaws are going to lock. But fine; I'll sacrifice my health for the good of the mission."

"Very noble," Stalker said, rolling his eyes. "Now, Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, you're the most dangerous ones to our cover and I'm only bringing you both in case things get ugly, and to use those ears of yours, Tommy. I do NOT want to see you talking to each other. Storm, you're going to pretend you never have any clue what Snakes is saying."

"Pretend he's a giant ant," Breaker snickered.

"Nah," Storm Shadow replied with a smile. Surprisingly even to himself, he found he rather enjoyed people making fun of what he'd done while sick the previous month; it made for more interesting conversation than when they avoided him altogether, and the fact he hadn't yet throttled anyone over it seemed to have gone a long way towards making people generally more comfortable with being in the same time zone he was. "He looks more like a beetle."

"I also want you to refrain from saying much," Stalker continued, ignoring the interruption. "Be a man of a few words."

"Cruel," Tommy said with a pout. "That's what you are. My jaws are going to lock. But fine;" he added with a melodramatic tone, leaning back and resting the back of his hand on his forehead, "I'll sacrifice my…"

"You win," Stalker interrupted. "You're even more of a drama queen than he is," he added, pointing his chin at Breaker. "Orders stand: you're playing the strong silent type."

"I can manage for one evening," Storm Shadow said more seriously with a slight nod.

Stalker turned to the other ninja. "Snake Eyes, we can't give you a voice but we'll try to give you another reason not to talk. You're going to sip at a drink pretty much continuously. I know you can hold your liquor, and you'll only be sipping slowly, so I expect you can stay sober."

Snake Eyes nodded and made an a-ok sign with the thumb and pointer finger of his right hand.

"As for me, I'm arriving separately and I'm a businessman looking for his youth. Report to wardrobe and make-up, they already have their instructions and they will also provide you with your fake IDs. We meet in the motor pool in two hours. Dismissed."

Later that evening, Stalker parked his motorcycle in the closest available spot to the front door, made a show of getting off a bit stiffly, composed an air of nervous anticipation and entered the bar.

It was a small establishment in a small town. Predictably, all heads turned to the door when he came in and the regulars shamelessly examined him as the unknown entity he was. He made himself swallow, smiled around and walked to a free spot at the bar. The other patrons lost interest and returned to their drinks and conversations when he sat down. Flynn followed the exact same pattern as everyone else, obviously part of the gang.

Stalker ordered a beer and started to scan the crowd, pretending to be looking for someone to talk to, while actually checking for suspicious looking patrons. Nobody stood out. He eventually walked over to where Jonas Flynn was sitting with a few friends.

"Hey, did I ever see you before?" he asked the member of the group who happened to be facing more towards him than the other. "You look really familiar." He extended his hand. "Bill Mathews. I got a marketing business, so I meet a lot of folks. I don't think you're a client, though… it's eating at me now, I just can't place you."

The man shrugged with a smile and shook his hand. "Sorry bud, I don't remember you at all. What say we just say we know each other from here? Name's Andy Tykes."

Stalker grinned and agreed, and sat himself down with the group, careful not to give Jonas Flynn any more attention than to anyone else.

The rest of the team came in as a group about twenty minutes later. Roadblock made it an entrance, ranting non stop - with a generous amount of cursing - about a recent Hockey game. He was vastly ignored, as expected considering the sport was not popular in the area and the game he had picked had involved two western Canadian teams.

"Yeah, yeah," Breaker cut him with a sigh when they got to the bar. "We still lost the bet, Jeff." He signalled the bartender. "Beer for me and my buddies, please," he ordered, gesturing to Roadblock, Psyche Out, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. "Half on me, half on him," he added, pointing at Roadblock.

"Make that a virgin Bloody for me," Storm Shadow said morosely. "Stupid meds." He wasn't on any medication, but it was a handy excuse not to drink.

Breaker chuckled and patted his shoulder sympathetically.

Snake Eyes eagerly grabbed his drink when it got there and started sipping at it, doing his best to look like the alcohol had his full attention. He made a point of sitting as far from Storm Shadow as he could and the two did not so much as glance at each other, striving to look to potential observers as though they weren't quite friendly despite being part of the same group.

The five soon settled into a slow paced conversation that eventually happened to veer on weird jobs. Psyche Out was just starting a story about having once worked at a ski resort that had decided to stay open for the summer when Stalker broke in from Jonas Flynn's table.

"Fireside Ski!" he exclaimed. "I remember them, I did the ad for that summer they stayed opened! Bunch of loons," he chuckled. "They figured they made most of their money from people spending most of the day in the chalet anyway. But hey. They wanted a nice ad so I did one."

"Everyone's had stupid clients," Breaker said. "It's the smart ones that are the weirdest… the centrally intelligent ones, if you get my drift."

The expected reply from Roadblock, who was supposed to roll his eyes and point out that Breaker had only been fixing a sink there, in a bid to encourage Jonas Flynn to talk about stuff he heard and saw even just painting, didn't come; instead, there was a sound of something smacking against wood.

Tommy took a sip of his glorified spiced tomato juice, ears peeled towards not only Jonas Flynn but anything else that might be worth hearing in the bar. It wasn't exactly dividing his attention at the moment, as Flynn had not said three words since they had arrived. This was turning out to be exactly the complete waste of time he had predicted it would be.

The others were following the loose script they had set; Roadblock was just finishing up a story on having worked in a haunted warehouse, cut with an impressive array of curse words and several references to the game he was to rant about all evening. Storm Shadow was rather relieved when Psyche Out took over with the ski resort story, both because he wasn't particularly fond of the heavy gunner's story and because Roadblock was purposely talking very loudly.

The other conversations in the bar didn't do much to help pass the time or give their presence here a small purpose. Nobody was talking about Extensive Enterprise or Cobra, or even Springfield or Arbco; the most sinister talks he had heard were about marijuana. He was currently fighting a natural tendency to focus on the nicest feminine voices to continue paying attention to everything at once. He was not successful enough not to focus on it when a voice which had been quite agreeable earlier suddenly giggled drunkenly and announced she had to go pee.

He heard the girl getting up and walking a bit clumsily towards the bathroom, and then one of the two men who had been sitting with her asked the other how much they had spent to date.

The other chuckled. "About forty bucks," he whispered. "Damn good deal for both of us, I tell you."

"Think she'll go for anything freaky yet?" the first one whispered back.

"We give her a couple more, she'll do any…"

He was cut off by way of the floor suddenly slamming into his face.

Tommy pointedly ignored the female trooper who had just entered the gym and continued with his routine, concentrating on the familiar movements much more than necessary to avoid showing his irritation and outright frustration at the feminine presence.

He was, to be perfectly honest, aching a little for female companionship. It had been over a year since he'd been freed from the Order by Cobra, a year since he'd waken up with no memories of his life safe for a dream-like recollection of his entire family being slaughtered by the Order's puppets, GI Joe.

He owed his freedom to the Commander and was also grateful for the man allowing him to join his organization in their fight against their common enemy. Despite all of his flaws, some of them rather serious, he admired the man's goals and his dedication to them. This respect for the Commander had long since resulted in a marked disgust for most everyone else in Cobra.

The Commander had once told him he could not afford to be picky on who he hired, and that most of his troops only helped his cause for personal gain. How true this was had gradually become obvious, and although he could not fault the reasoning that paid mercenaries doing good work was better than nobody doing that work, the level of corruption and greed within Cobra was shocking.

So much so that despite his physical yearnings, he could not summon any desire for any of the female troops; they simply disgusted him too much. He had tried to convince himself he was being hypocritical, that his own reasons for being here were no more noble than anyone else's, but lying to himself did not work; he was all too aware that where he wanted revenge and justice for his family, most of the rest of the troops only desired money.

The girl took a single step towards him and cleared her throat. "They say you're not here for the money," she said, "that you actually care about taking down the Order."

He glanced at her, his curiosity piqued; she sounded nervous instead of mocking. He stopped his routine. "Not quite," he answered honestly. "I just want to do to GI Joe what they did to my family. I'm not here to fight for global freedom."

She seemed to consider that for a moment. "I have personal reasons to wish them undone as well," she said with a smile. "It's a treat to find someone else who's after a bit more than a big pay check."

He couldn't have agreed more, and she proved to be highly enjoyable company over the rest of the day and the night. He was actually disappointed when she left the following morning for a long term assignment outside of town.

In the second it took Psyche Out to turn around upon hearing what turned out to be a man's head being driven into the floor by Storm Shadow, the action was already over: the first man Storm Shadow had attacked was sprawled on the floor, out cold and quite possibly dead, and the second one was curled into a ball a few feet further, sobbing and clutching his midsection. Storm Shadow, for his part, was snarling and screaming, all the while straining to free himself from Snake Eyes, who had him in a standing lock.

He heard Stalker yell for someone to call a doctor and noticed several people, including Jonas Flynn, choosing to leave rather than stick around to witness to the police. Psyche Out turned his attention back to the ninjas; Storm Shadow was still struggling just as hard, and did not seem to even realize who it was that was holding him. Snake Eyes' hands moved a bit and suddenly, the smaller man slumped unconscious.

By then, Breaker was next to the man whose head had been slammed against the very solid floor. "He's out cold," he called out, making it sound for the benefit of the remaining civilians as though he had not thought for a second that this was the best case scenario.

Psyche Out let the others handle things and stepped aside, thinking. He needed to concentrate on how he was going to explain this to Hawk and on how he was going to deal with Storm Shadow.

Hawk looked up and frowned at his psychological warfare specialist.

"I called Storm Shadow," he said. "You'll have your turn after."

Psyche Out closed the office door behind him and sat down. "I know. I pretended I needed to see you urgently to get past him."

"I take it you can explain this?" the General asked. "You can explain why a man you assured me was fit for light duty and who Snake Eyes swore was reliable completely lost it and in so doing ruined what should have been an easy mission?"

"Did soemone tell you what Storm Shadow was screaming about while Snake Eyes was restraining him?"

"He was accusing his victims of having tried to get their date drunk in order to then take advantage of her. Whether he was right or not is beside the point, Psyche Out. He had his orders and he chose to disregard them to go vigilante."

Psyche Out shook his head. "There was no conscious choice involved. Didn't anyone report that he seemed unaware of the rest of us? His reaction to these men had everything to do with traumatic memory and absolutely nothing with reason or deliberation."

"Are you saying that he was having a flashback?"

Psyche Out waved his hand in a 'more or less' gesture. "I don't think he was reliving past events, but they were at the forefront of his mind. Sir, don't you see? He was brainwashed for nearly four years and surrounded by individuals with very low moral standards. An athletic man in his prime, without his memories and eventually, without much intellectual capacity at all, an attractive young woman under the influence of alcohol…" he trailed off.

Hawk's eyes widened briefly in understanding before narrowing again. "Do you feel you need to be present for his debriefing?"

Psyche Out considered it a moment, then shook his head. "I WOULD like to talk to him before tomorrow, however."

"Noted. Send him in on your way out."

Storm Shadow glared at the door to Psyche Out's office for a good minute before he could bring himself to knock. The debriefing with Hawk had been unpleasant enough; he could have done without the order to immediately report to Psyche Out.

The door opened on the de-facto team psychiatrist and Tommy was invited in. He settled in a chair grumpily, fully intent on making it clear that he did not want to be here.

As per his usual, Psyche Out completely ignored his attitude and sat down next to him. "How did your debriefing go?" he asked.

Storm Shadow shrugged. "I expected worse," he said honestly. "Except for the order to see you."

"Were you able to explain your behaviour?"

Psyche Out was treated to a glare that made his heart skip a beat. He weathered it and waited for an answer.

"Easily," Storm Shadow said after a moment. "I simply could not condone their actions."

Psyche Out raised an eyebrow. "That would explain approaching the girl and preventing her from going back to their table, or a number of other non violent actions that could have ruined their plans. It does not explain going berserk on them, giving one a serious concussion and possibly neutering the other one. Especially since doing so made us fail our mission."

Storm Shadow clenched his jaw, feeling his own blood boil at the nosiness of the psychiatrist. "I lost control," he said through gritted teeth. "I'm sorry about the mission, and I'm being disciplined for it. What else do you want?"

"I want you to answer my question. Were you able to explain your actions to Hawk? Why you lost control?"

"I'm a ninja," Storm Shadow growled. "We're not pacifists."

"You usually have good self control. Why didn't you tonight?"

Storm Shadow resisted the urge to yell; it'd only make Psyche Out dig more. "I don't know," he lied.

"Yes, you do. And I do too; it wasn't that hard to guess."

The ninja hissed in his next breath and turned brick red. He knew better than to think Psyche Out may have guessed wrong. "It's none of your business," he snarled.

"If it affects your ability to perform your duties, it is." The blond man sighed again, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I'm sorry. I can imagine it's not a pleasant subject, but we need to work on it and to help you put it behind you. I can't put you back on even light duty until I'm satisfied this won't happen again. I'm trying to help, Tommy. You know that."

Storm Shadow frowned and did not answer.

"When was it?" Psyche Out continued. "Which phase? When only your memories were manipulated, or when you were stripped of any reasoning capability?"

Storm Shadow smirked. There was no trace of humour in the expression and it quickly turned into a snarl as he spoke. "You honestly think it was just once, do you? And here you say you guessed easily? It happened in both phases; twice while I believed in the Order and several times afterwards. I didn't bother to count and I'm not sure I remember every instance. These were not among the things I was trying to recall between treatments in the brainwave scanner."

Psyche Out nodded. "Did you ever come to your senses while it was happening?" he asked. He wasn't exactly interested in details, but Storm Shadow was a consistent patient, if not an easy one: give him an excuse to talk and he would just keep talking. Asking about details usually worked.

He was not disappointed. Storm Shadow informed him that he had once, the only time he could recall a male Cobra had been trying to use him, and went on to gleefully describe the aftermath. The unfortunate trooper had not even had the chance to fully undress the ninja before he'd been castrated, eviscerated, dismembered and finally decapitated.

Minimal probing was necessary to keep the ex Cobra talking from then on, and at the very least, Psyche Out was satisfied that he'd made Tommy confront the issue. He let him go an hour later with orders to come back the following afternoon.

Storm Shadow left Psyche Out's office cursing under his breath at the shrink and his ability to make him rehash things that were better left alone. He glanced at his watch and sighed: it was near midnight, but he didn't think he'd be able to sleep even if he'd been of a mind to try. As it was, he was pretty sure that sleeping would only allow his freshly dug up memories to torment him in his dreams and he had every intention of staying up all night to clean his head.

He headed for the gym and although he felt silly for it, went straight to the showers. He set the water as hot as he could stand it and, reflecting that if he was going to be an emotional idiot, he might as well go all out and get it out of his system as quickly as possible, scrubbed every inch of himself meticulously before turning the hot water off and rinsing himself under an icy cold jet.

The cold shower did nothing to cool down Tommy's anger. He dried off, dressed and headed straight for the punching bags.

Beating the inanimate objects didn't help much either.

He picked up the pace, scowling at himself. He was being ridiculous, getting so worked up over this. It was all in the past, for one thing. And besides, compared to everything else Cobra had done to him, it was just so insignificant… when you came right down to it, what had happened? A few girls had had their way with him. It wasn't as though it had hurt him in any way; in fact, the encounters he remembered had been enjoyed at the time.

Storm Shadow clenched his jaw and started punching harder, fighting the absurd urge to run back to the shower. Right now, he wished they'd tortured him instead.

The thought made his upper lip curl up in a snarl. This was ridiculous. It was over and it wasn't a big deal. They hadn't hurt him, they'd just influenced him in having a bit of fun with them. He shivered and cursed out loud.

He should have known better. His judgment had not been impaired when the first two had pretended to be noble freedom fighters to seduce him; he shouldn't have fallen for it. These two times were his own fault. And the rest… he'd broken free of the brainwash when a man had tried to take him, so why not the other times? He was not in the least attracted to males, granted, but he was even less attracted to Cobras. Shouldn't that have allowed him to react just as strongly with the women and to break through his conditioning at those times too? The only reason he could think it hadn't was that somewhere deep down, he had simply chosen to let it all happen and to keep his brains shut down.

Tommy shook his head. It didn't matter. Nobody had gotten hurt, only his pride. This had to be the most unimportant thing that had been going on while he was with Cobra, before or after they had started brainwashing him.

"It. Didn't. Matter," he informed the punching bag, accentuating each word with a kick or a punch.

Which raised the question, why had he lost his head? Why had he ruined the mission? He sighed. He was better than this; he had managed to serve Cobra well even though he hated to; he refused to be any less useful to GI Joe now than he had been to Cobra even with most of his brains turned to jelly.

Tommy stopped and frowned at the woman who had just stepped in front of him. She was in a blue uniform with his Master's logo on it, and the Commander had told him very clearly just after lunch that he was not to hurt anyone wearing one of those. He dimly remembered the same order being given before, too. Possibly that morning; he really wasn't sure.

She smiled at him. "The Commander is very happy with you," she announced.

His heart leaped. He couldn't remember his Master being happy with him; the Commander was always rightfully angry, because despite his best efforts, Tommy kept failing him miserably. The idea that he had finally done something right, even though he had no idea what that may be, felt wonderful. He cocked his head at the woman. Why was she still there?

"So much so, in fact, that he's sent me as a reward," she said.

Storm Shadow blinked at her. "A reward? But… he never… why? I just want to…"

"He knows you just want him to be happy," she quickly explained, "but you've served him so well that he wanted to do something special for you. He knows you wouldn't ask. This is a gift."

He took a moment to try and process that, with no success. "He wants to give me something?" he asked.

The girl nodded patiently. "He asked for someone to be nice to you tonight. VERY nice. I like you, so I said I would. Do you understand?"

He shook his head; he honestly didn't. She smiled again and held out her hand. "Let's go to your room. I'll start by giving you a back massage. It'll feel nice, you'll see. And then we'll do something else, and it'll feel so nice you'll hardly believe it. You have to let me keep my word to the Commander. He'd be upset with both of us if you didn't. You don't want him to be upset, do you?"

His eyes widened. "Of course not," he said, taking her hand and following her meekly to his room.

Storm Shadow groaned and shook his head, then drove his fists into the punching bag as hard as he could. The physical sensation did the trick in helping him anchor his mind back on the present.

He then unleashed a fury of hits on the punching bag, yelling on each strike, until he collapsed against it a good while later, finally exhausted.

It shouldn't matter. It was all over and nobody had been hurt, so all in all, it was inconsequential – especially when compared with the other things Cobra had induced him to do during his time with them.

So why couldn't he stop thinking about it? Why was he so angry? He had very nearly completely lost control; he had been worryingly close to killing the two civilians. They may have been scumbags, but he had no right to make himself their judge and executioner, not when his own crimes were so much worse than theirs. He had also ruined an easy mission and cost his team the chance to gather information on the Crimson Twins' company.

He wanted to blame Psyche Out for dredging up these memories, but found that he couldn't. He had messed up, badly, well before his appointed shrink had gotten involved. He couldn't let it happen again. He shouldn't have let it happen in the first place.

Which meant that this was, exactly as Psyche Out had told him, something they'd have to work through. Another issue on the list, another thing wrong with his head. It felt as though that list was ever growing, like he'd never have any chance to redeem himself because he'd be spending the rest of his life trying to regain some semblance of sanity and control.

He pushed himself back from the punching bag with a sigh and simultaneously, mentally pushed the pessimistic thought away. At least he now felt tired enough to sleep. He went back to the showers, reasoning that at least this time, he really did need to clean himself.

He was woken up the following morning, no more than three hours after going to sleep, by the usual morning hustle and bustle in the hallway. He briefly debated rolling over and sleeping in, but suddenly found himself remembering waking up naked next to a girl and being unable to even remember why she was there. He suppressed a gag and got up; if his mind was going to seize the first opportunity to start dwelling on this again, he was going to make it focus on something else; anything else. Breakfast and PT would do for now.

He was just about dressed when he heard Snake Eyes and Stalker stop outside his door. He finished pulling on his shirt and opened the door, figuring he was merely saving Snake Eyes the trouble of picking the lock and letting himself in.

"Man, you look like crap," Stalker commented.

Snake Eyes made a dismissive motion with his hand, expressing the expected reply that the other guys looked worse.

"Oh stop it, Brother," Tommy said with a smirk, intentionally misinterpreting. "I told you before that you don't look that bad at all, so stop implying you look worse than me right now. Goodness, you're so vain and insecure."

Snake Eyes rolled his eyes, accentuating the motion with a tilt of his head to make it visible despite his eyes being hidden by his visor.

"Come on, you two ugly ducklings," Stalker chuckled. "I don't want you to skip breakfast and get cranky, too, that'd just be plain scary. And er…"

Storm Shadow pointedly looked away. Stalker cleared his throat and gamely went on. "Look, Tommy. I don't know what happened last night, but if you want to talk about it, we're both listening."

The ninja clenched his jaw briefly before relaxing. He was more keen on not thinking about it until he had to bring it all up again with Psyche Out, but Stalker meant well and considering his former sergeant had only very gradually been warming back up to him, the concern was touchingly unexpected.

"Thanks," he said quietly. "Pancake day today, right?" he added in a more normal voice. "Think there'll be any actual food, too?"

Snake Eyes signed the words for plain and oatmeal and rubbed his belly, somehow managing to convey sarcasm with the gestures.

"Your taste buds died years ago," Tommy said. "Drowned in corn syrup and frying oil. It's no wonder you're getting pudgy."

Snake Eyes, who was by no stretch of the imagination getting anywhere close to pudgy, ignored that last bit and signed that his dead taste buds were very much enjoying the tasty after life.

Stalker soon joined the argument, siding with Snake Eyes in tormenting the team's newest ninja. After all, what else were friends for?


Author's Notes

You will probably eventually see a story by CrystalofEllinon stemming from the same idea that Cobra operatives might very well have taken advantage of Tommy in this way while he was brainwashed. I was unkind enough to share this idea with her and now it's gnawing at her just as insistently as it has been gnawing at me.

We've agreed to both write it out of our systems. She's heading in an entirely different direction with her story, however, so no worries; you won't get much déjà vu from it and in any case, since it'll be from her, it'll be well worth checking out.

Thanks for reading!

Update: CrystalofEllinon has posted her story! Title is Kyuushuu Shuraba... you really should go read it.