Disclaimer: G.I. Joe and all associated characters and concepts are property of Hasbro Inc. I'm just one of a large family of fans who likes telling family stories – no profit needed, no profit earned.

Author's Note: The events in this story are written to take place between G.I. Joe: Origins #5 and #6. In this continuity of the Joeverse, Snake Eyes was already disfigured and mute when recruited into the team by Duke and Scarlett, but any chance that his face could be rebuilt at a later point were scratched during a battle with Chimera, when Scarlett flung a bottle of acetate at the villain, not realizing that he would duck and Snake Eyes would take the liquid full in the face. Chimera's subsequent attempt to shoot Snake Eyes ignited the fluid, burning his face past any hope of repair.

The detailed information on meditation techniques was given to me by my husband Tom, a skilled metitator himself, and some of the plot is based on anecdotes he has shared with me– though embellished and shaped into narrative. (Love you, sweetie.) Information on meditation practiced by ninjas was found on the websites "Project Meditation: Ninja Meditation" and "Reconnecting with the Earth: Ninja Meditation" and "Change the Paradigm" – seach for the section "Kuji-In." You may find the details of the sha meditation in terms of new age chakras interesting in relationship to our two protagonists… I certainly did, though it's not why I chose this particular meditation. Ninjas did utilize meditation for any of a number of things, from focus and strength-building to – according to some – invisibility and telepathy.


Gates of Sleep by Catwings1026

There are twin Gates of Sleep.
One, they say, is called the Gate of Horn and it offers easy passage to all true shades.
The other glistens with ivory, radiant, flawless,
but through it the dead send false dreams up toward the sky.
- Virgil

Through the weightlessness of freefall, there had been pain.

The pain in his face, the burning; the wrenching of tendons and joints as he'd caught the ledge of a lower floor with one hand, forcing fingertips to bear his full weight and all the momentum of his plummet down the elevator shaft behind it. The singing agony of muscles pushed beyond exertion as he'd found a second handhold, then a toe hold, forced his way upward, length by length. The world shrank to the bare rectangle of life and light above him, and the instinctive fight against gravity and pain.

Snake Eyes remembered the hands. He'd felt the ninety degree angle, the smooth emptiness of the top of the shaft, no more to climb, and reached above, his body numbing now as shock set in, the heat of flames diminished to a hot smolder as the last of the silk scarf burned away, crumbling from the ruins of his face. Fighting to push himself those few meters more, feeling the hard edge of the shaft under his forearms, then his elbows… and the hands coming down on his wrists, a second strength lending itself to his own, hauling him onto solid floor as his own strength finally gave out.

Then the arms, encircling him, half-lifting him from collapse – strong arms, but gentle as well, cradling him as the convulsive shaking began, his entire body feeling doused in ice water. His eyes, miraculously protected by the flight goggles, struggled to focus through the pain-haze. It was Scarlett, that had been the name. His teammate, Scarlett. Her eyes were fixed on him, rimmed with tears, and as the darkness crept in around the edges of his vision and the ringing in his ears grew to a roar, she spoke, a choking whisper…

"Snake Eyes… I am so sorry..."

Then there were footsteps and other voices, seemingly miles away, and a light above him – and as the voices drifted into silence, Snake Eyes allowed the healing darkness to swallow him.


Scarlett felt her head drop, caught it, rubbed her eyes. She rose, stretched, paced the dimly lit hospital room to bring feeling back into her locked knees and lower back, then returned to the chair she was beginning to hate with a passion she never alotted to inanimate objects. The near- silence was thick cotton wool throughout the room, the dimness of the corridor beyond blending with the dimness within. The wall clock reported 0300… and it felt like days since she'd begun her silent vigil.

In the bed, the still form of Snake Eyes slept, bandages swathing his face – just as he'd been when she first met him. The steady rise and fall of his chest reassured her that he lived – the heart monitor confirming the fact for eyes that could play tricks at this point. Scarlett dropped elbows to her knees, rested her head in her hands.

There were no words to say… none left that hadn't already fallen on literally deaf ears. The ache inside her had softened to a dull, guilty throb rather than the raw misery it had been, and her own pulse seemed to beat out her penance… I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

The doctor had said he would live… but would he want to? The only chance that his battered face could be reconstructed had been snatched, literally burned away. And if he did want to, how could she face him? They were dead to the world now, both of them, committed to a duty that had burned every bridge they'd had. They were Joes, teammates, and – for lack of any other – family, now. Their unit was all any of them had in the world. They would live together, eat together, possibly die together, if a mission went wrong. Could she bear to see him every day, knowing that every scar on his face was her fault?

Stop making this about you, girl.

It's not about me.

Really? 'How can I face him? What will he think of me?'

Not good, she told herself. Not good, if you're arguing with yourself and losing the argument. She reached out, took the nearest still hand in both of hers. She regarded it, the layers of scars – a geography of pain, warm in her cold hands. Bending her head, she squeezed her eyes shut, blocking the tears of fatigue and pain that threatened, as a shuddering sigh escaped into the stillness.


Somewhere within his mind, Snake Eyes stirred. The mental darkness of complete unconsciousness faded, and he became foggily aware of the waking world. Pain. Yes, there was pain, but it was muted behind the fog of painkillers… and he'd been in pain before. Pain was good, in its own way. Pain meant you were still alive. He could not open his eyes… the lids were leaden, crusted, and he didn't particularly feel like opening them anyhow. His mind was awake, his body unresponsive.

Not a problem. He knew his body would come around in time… it always did. For now, he concentrated on his breathing. In, out… in, out. He allowed his senses to feed him information, willed his mind to absorb and process it.

The quiet sounds of the hospital room were expected, even familiar. Hell, he'd spent enough time in one to know. A low, breathy sigh, close by – he wasn't alone. He became aware that someone was holding his hand – two hands, smaller than his own, cool and smooth, feminine. If he could have smiled, he would have… it had been a long, long time since anyone had held his hand.

Footsteps further off, where he estimated a door would be. They paused, and the soft pressure of the hands vanished. Snake Eyes heard his companion shift, straightening and turning to face the newcomer.

"I brought you a tray from the mess." He knew the man's voice – Duke. "The doc says you've got to eat… and rest."

"Thanks… but I'm not hungry." The female voice was weary, so achingly tired it cracked, but it gave him the identification he needed – Scarlett. She was the last thing he remembered before going under… and here she was again.

"He says that he'll make it a medical order if you don't take a break." The footsteps neared, the voice closer now. "Scarlett… you can't do anything for him. He would understand."

"How the hell do you know whether he'd understand or not?" Scarlett's voice, biting and sharp, hushed as she caught herself. "Duke, you barely know him. I barely know him. And now, this…"

"Don't do this to yourself, Red." Though the words were kind, the tension between his companions was tangible… Snake Eyes could almost feel Scarlett bristle. Duke's voice lowered, gentle, and the rustle of uniform fabric indicated that he'd dropped to a crouch, perhaps to be on eye level with her. There was something there, behind the words, a deep well of emotion. There was a history in that voice. "Don't fight a battle you don't have to. You're not alone in this. He isn't alone. I'll sit for you while you sleep."

"No." She cut off the protest before it could start. "This is my watch. Snake Eyes… he's here because of me."

"He's here because of an accident. You couldn't have…"

"It doesn't matter." A deep, shuddering intake of breath. "He had my back. He shouldn't have been there, god knows how he was there, but he was, and he had my back. And now… I've got his. At least until he wakes up and sends me packing himself." A long pause, filled with words unspoken. "Duke… please."

A sigh, then… "Fine. Just… I'll be outside if you need someone to spell you. Okay?" There was no audible reply. Boots on tile floor receded, and the silence of the room returned.

Snake Eyes turned the conversation over silently. It made him uncomfortable to hear the pain in Scarlett's voice, the self-blame. He knew she'd thrown the solvent, had seen the liquid arc past their adversary's shoulder. She hadn't known he was there; it shouldn't have mattered, even if she did. She'd done what any good soldier would do – used the weapon closest at hand. And she'd no idea, no idea at all how quick the reflexes of the Chimera were…

Of course, things might feel differently once the drugs wear off.

He turned his focus inward, away from the information he'd just absorbed. Time would come for debriefing, for dealing with the events of the recent past; he had never been one to dwell on what he could not change. Only the present mattered right now.

His head was beginning to ache softly, his nose to itch – perversely, the irritation was a good sign; tissue damaged past healing would be dead to feeling. He could feel bandages in half a dozen spots around his body, but his face was the most firmly bound. Nothing new there. Another mission, another collection of scars. His body would heal in time – but there were ways of speeding the process, helping it along, channeling his resources to where they were needed most. He had the time he needed to slip into that meditative healing state now. Scarlett would see to it that he was undisturbed.

He settled his mind, meticulously relaxed each and every muscle. The trick to meditation, he'd once tried to explain to a friend, was not to ignore the world around you, but to become one with it. He'd had a lifetime of practice. He felt the warmth of the bed, the mattress cupping his body. He moved past the stiffness of bandages, drew in the soft night-hospital sounds around him, making all that part of his inner stillness, until his ears no longer registered the presence of sound and his tactile senses were just a whisper to his conscious mind.

Deep, slow, regular breaths spoke to his heartbeat, which in turn deepened and slowed. As he'd been taught so long ago, he opened his mind and spirit to the power of the earth around him, grounding himself in its vastness, setting his spirit's roots into its solidity. He pushed downward, past concrete and steel, into the earth soil itself – past clay and rock, root and water. He stretched his spirit-roots deep, opened himself to the Earth's own supporting power, visualized the molten core of the earth itself, like a second sun, pulsing with a life-force all its own.

He was in and of the power, one with the earth, floating between two suns – the star-sun in the heavens, the core-sun below, warming and healing his body, his spirit. There was no need to do in this state, no need to think – the healing power would flow through him like a stream through a dry runnel, filling him and reinforcing what had been begun by his teammates.

From childhood, training with the other boys of the clan, he had internalized the words of his masters – It is not the way of the meditator to seek to heal oneself. Open yourself to send the power where it will be needed most. Be the stream that flows, leading water to the parched field.

Freed from the tethers of physical reality, his spirit stretched itself and reached outward.

In his mind, Snake Eyes found himself in the garden courtyard of his clan. A warm breeze stirred the cherry blossoms, birdsong drifted down the wind, and the stream running through the bottom of the garden chattered softly to itself, sparkling in the sunlight. It was his calm center of the universe – that one safe place, that haven of memory. The hours he had spent under and up in the trees, the games and training with the other boys, the cricket-song evenings watching fireflies blink on and off above the grass hummocks, or tracing the pictures among the stars – even the image, so readily brought to mind, carried with it comfort and security. He settled himself beneath his favorite tree, formed his hands into the mudra, the hand position, of sha - naijishi-in, "seal of the inner lion," the posture of healing meditation, and allowed the Soft Master's voice to guide him in the mantra…

On ha ya baï shi ra man ta ya sowaka… The Soft Master's memory wrapped around him, a warmth of the spirit. On ha ya baï shi ra man ta ya sowaka… Peace and calm, centered and grounded. The healing energies were a soft ember within him. Allow the healing to flow through you… be the stream… as you are healed, so bring healing to others…

Yes, Master, he affirmed. He could almost feel the Soft Master's qi about him, feel the warmth of his life-energy vibrating from the master to his students. How they had loved the old man! To a boy, they had venerated him – not because he was kinder than the Hard Master, but because his very being seemed to make loving him a natural act, unconscious. He'd an uncanny knack, even for a ninja master, of knowing precisely the emotional and mental state of each boy in his care – who most needed his gentle touch, his nurturing guidance. He was healing, and nurturance, and love to the boy who would be Snake Eyes.

Unbidden, Scarlett's face came to him – the pain in her eyes as she'd looked down at him in her arms, blaming herself…

Ah, now you begin to see as a master of healing sees.

Master?

There is need. Center yourself, my son. Be the stream that flows to parched land. As you are healed, so bring healing to one who needs it as much as you do.

Yes, Master.


To be continued -