10/18/11: Added a Prologue and a pretty huge scene to the beginning of Chapter 4 to help with pacing. Let me know if it worked!

SE/S goodness… Yes, I know, what am I doing not writing X-men: Evo stuff? No worries, a couple WIPs for that.

I'm gleefully mixing and mashing from all available versions; Renegades (which a friend introduced me to—we're not finished watching all the episodes yet, though, boo) reminded me of how awesome GI JOE is (and Renegades is awesome itself, too!); that led me to watching some of the 80s cartoons online—and I actually still remembered watching some of them with my tribe of older brothers (I also remembered being vaguely confused about Scarlett being with Duke. Even as a wee kid, I was a Snake-Eyes girl all the way! And, yes, it is as cheesy as I remember). That same friend was horrified to hear I'd never read the original comics, and so is lending me those—have read up to issue 41, I think. And my random comic-book-reading over the years has skated me through some of the other GI JOE variations. I hope this will serve as an excuse if I get details wrong. :) Therefore, I am not going to go through the eight hundred timelines to pinpoint which one I am writing in, at least for this one, which was largely inspired by the uber cute illustration on S. L. Gallant's website (he's one of the pencillers for various comics, including JOE).

Notes:

Snake Eyes and Scarlett are still getting to be a couple, in the 'juust beginning to get serious' stage when this fic begins. SE's got issues; S has issues; it's all part of the story.

Sean, Brian, Frank, Sioban are Scarlett's siblings' names. Patrick is her father. Mother is deceased. Scarlett (Shana) is the youngest; then Sean, Brian, and Frank; Sioban is the oldest.

Hmm. What else? This is set after "Silent Interlude," GI JOE ARAH issue 21. Or one of the other series # 34, which is a redux of "Silent Interlude". I was always intrigued by some of the details provided:

-Scarlett has a band-aid on one cheek. Who the heck puts a band-aid on someone you're going to torture and/or chain up? I mean, it's sort of like deciding to commit arson, but going round and sweeping the floors and straightening the pictures first.

-Scarlett reacts extremely violently to Storm Shadow's touching her face—c'mon, trying to bite him is a bit extreme. She could've head butted him or tried to hit or kick him, after all—and that probably would have been more effective, given they were on a narrow platform. So what's up with that reaction?

-How did she end up tied up in a sack to begin with, anyway? IMO, that would've taken a couple of people, even if one of them was a ninja. Or some really extenuating circumstances.

Anyway those were things going through my head while I was writing this… enjoy!

Shades of Silence

by Alara

Prologue:

His eyes traced her black-and-blue features as Snake Eyes told himself, again, She's right here. She's right next to you. Maybe she's bruised and cut a bit, but she is out of that place.Unconsciously, he stroked a hand through her bright hair. She sighed a little and nudged closer, shivering. He tightened his arm around her. Shied away from recalling the utter dread he'd felt when an alarmed greenshirt had come running in to the Pit, babbling to Duke about how Sgt. O'Hara had been taken, right from town, right in front of him. He shook his head, swallowed the lump of remembered fear. She's right here. Instead, he turned his thoughts to the last time he'd actually seen Scarlett before her kidnapping.

They'd been out on one of their rare dates in town; she'd convinced him, somehow or other, to take her out to dinner and a movie. Who was he kidding? Not himself, and probably not her, either. He wanted to go. And at the same time, he didn't.

It was her, it was all her; she made that difference. If she wanted to go out, he couldn't help but want to go, too, to be with her, to draw in her lightness and quick humor.

To see who else noticed her.

To silently warn those men—and they were always men, men who gathered in their own admiring glances; men who matched her, in the eyes of society. He warned them all away from her. Even though they hadn't said anything officially yet. Even though nothing was set in stone.

He also couldn't help notice the stares, the people swiftly crossing the street to avoid him, the deliberate ignoring of his polite nods, the snubs she received, just because he was beside her. She never seemed to notice, her light undimmed, her smile becoming nearly incandescent on those rare occasions when he'd allow himself to place an arm around her, or lean his head against hers.

They'd eaten at an Italian restaurant in town, not either of their favorite type of food, but it was a restaurant who tolerated the oddities that the Joes seemed to bring with them. In fact, upon seeing the couple now, they simply ushered them to a dim, candlelit anteroom away from the other diners, so Snake Eyes could at least partially remove his mask to eat. They never asked questions, they didn't stint the service, and aside from the unusual location of their table, treated them like any other regulars.

It was for this level of professionalism and consideration that brought them back here—in a tiny little town that probably wouldn't have cared if the restaurateurs treated a freak like a freak. Besides, the breadsticks were homemade, and the desserts were to kill for.

They'd left a generous tip, as always, and slowly walked to the theater, arm in arm. Scarlett was smiling up at him, talking about something CoverGirl had said the other day; he simply drank in her presence.

In the theater, they got their tickets and popcorn and soda, and ensconced themselves in the soft chairs the theater offered. *You know, it's hilariously incongruous that a ninja loves movie-theater butter popcorn.*

She always said that; it was part of their movie-going ritual. He responded, *Is not. Popcorn is hardly limited to the United States, you know.*

*Yeah, but other places probably don't slather it in saturated fat like we do,* she pointed out.

He shrugged. *Everyone has to have a vice.*

She reached for a piece, and he moved the carton out of reach. One-handed, he signed, *No, you were making fun of me for liking popcorn; I'm not sharing.*

She batted her eyes at him, ingénue-like; he silently laughed. *Not even if I share the Thin Mints I smuggled in?*

This was a departure from their usual back-and-forth. *Thin Mints?* He asked alertly, popcorn forgotten. *You brought in Thin Mints? I love Thin Mints.*

She snorted. *Who doesn't?*

*Oh, so ninja are allowed to like Thin Mints, but not popcorn?* He shook his head. *You're strange sometimes.*

*Hey, careful, or I won't share.* She was laughing.

He offered popcorn. *Truce?*

She smiled and offered him the crackling cellophane package. *Sure.*

As usual, they chatted throughout the movie (kung fu, which were always fun to watch. Sometimes even for the reasons the filmmakers intended). Of course, they chatted in sign, or finger-spelled into one another's hands, which might have been why they never got thrown out.

On their way back to the Pit, he asked, *How did you manage to get Thin Mints in, anyway? That purse is way too small to fit a sleeve of Thin Mints.*

She gave him an arch look. "What, you think ninja are the only ones with skills? I'm not telling."

*Shaaaaanaaaaa…* He was the only person she knew who could whine in ASL.

"Nope, not telling. Are you coming back for some tea?" Meaning, come back to her room.

*I've got a new stash of Dragon Mountain,* he counteroffered. *My room?*

"Oh, you're so on. Let me just go get out of this dress."

He didn't think before he signed, *I like you in it.*

She paused. "You do?" He'd never said anything quite like that before.

He hesitated, then nodded.

"I guess I'll leave it on, then," and now her smile was softer… meant for him and him alone.

Unseen, beneath his mask, his own smile matched.

He wasn't smiling now, as he considered the injured woman beside him. She had been gone for a couple of days, and during that time he knew she'd been struck—her injured face told that clearly enough. She had odd raw patches on her arms and ankles, as well, which he couldn't place. From the look of her, she had been permitted neither to sleep nor eat; he reminded himself that going back to that castle would not only be reckless, it would leave her alone. Actually, it would simply mean leaving her, being apart from her, and that was something he couldn't bear. Not anymore.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Chapter One

"Scarlett, you will take leave, and you will go home and see your family. Is that clear?"

"Sir, I don't—" the redhead's protest was cut off.

"Sergeant Major, you do." Duke cut her off with a glare. "Or do I need to get Hawk involved?"

She exhaled sharply. "Sir, with all respect—"

"Scarlett, don't give me that crap. You've just come off an extremely trying mission; Psyche-Out has been demanding that you get exposure to life outside Joe and the Pit. Civilian life. Family life," he added pointedly. "I happen to know you have one, a decent-sized one, no less.

"And," he added, before she could speak, "I know your father has been trying to get hold of you for nearly a month."

Her glare turned to confusion. "How did you—"

"All communication gets routed around the military to disguise its endpoint for security of the Joe team; you know that. What you don't know is that its last stop before it gets to you, is me. Obviously we couldn't tell your father that you were missing, presumed captured. But when he kept calling, demanding to speak to you, I had to assure him you would be taking leave immediately after you got back."

"What did you tell him about where I was?" She asked warily. Her father had raised her to be independent, yes, but an odd protective streak came out in him and her brothers at the oddest times. Like, any time they got a hint that her extremely secret, sensitive, national-security-I-can't-talk-about-it job was also extremely dangerous and didn't come with a nice, safe, desk.

"We told him you were training some overseas allied troops in hand-to-hand, and that the location of the training camp was very remote." At her doubtful look, he made an exasperated sound. "Look, it was the best I could come up with to cover whatever injuries you came back with. And I'm glad I did—cracked ribs, bruises all over, an eye so blacked it's still swollen shut… Your father and brothers will buy that you ended up with a promising but largely untrained soldier in the training group; anyone better trained would have been able to pull their punches."

"And an untrained solider under my tutelage would explain why I let him hit me," she returned wearily. "Okay, fine, uncle, I give. I'll go." She saluted and turned to leave, when his voice stopped her.

"Scarlett? Please talk to… someone… about whatever it was that happened to you in there." She froze. "I know you haven't been sleeping well—we get reports on any sleeping aids or narcotics that are dispensed from the infirmary. I won't press you, but if you come back from leave still unable to sleep—I will take you off of active duty until Psyche-Out sees fit to clear you. Understood?"

"Sir." She saluted again, only slightly sarcastically, and left.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

"…And he practically ordered me—no, he did order me—to go see my family!" She snarled, as she shoved some of her few civilian pieces of clothing into a rucksack. Strong hands tapped at hers, and shooed her away.

*You're making a mess of these clothes,* Snake Eyes chided her, as he re-folded and re-packed the rucksack. *Taking your frustration out on your clothes will only serve to make you look out of control.*

She sighed. "I wish you would come with me. Or that I could go with you."

Snake Eyes had also been given leave after they'd arrived back at the Pit; he had amiably acquiesced, and was going to his cabin. He'd asked her to go, too, an odd intensity in the request, but Duke had just scuttled those plans.

Damn. She hoped that odd intensity meant he was finally willing to move forward in their clandestine relationship; so far, he'd hardly even hold her hand in public, though she knew he was interested in her. And she'd been looking forward to just… processing… everything that had happened at the castle. Some of it, Snake Eyes didn't even know about yet. But he was good that way; if she just needed space to vent or forget things for a while or brood, he'd let her be until she was ready to talk.

Her family, on the other hand… Well. They didn't know the meaning of the phrase "private business" when it came to a family member; they'd just pester her until she either talked, or knocked one of her brothers through the wall. They meant well; her brothers were only looking out for their younger sister, after all. If they didn't care, they wouldn't bug her so much.

Another reason why she disliked going home sometimes. Even if she wanted to talk, she couldn't, not without violating a couple dozen of the security and confidentiality protocols that surrounded the members of Joe.

She could lie when her family pressed her for details about whatever was bothering her, but didn't want to take that option. Too many things could backfire. The misdirection she lived under was bad enough.

The option she usually chose—taking whichever brother was currently annoying her out to the dojo, and putting him into the floor a few times—was an awkward solution. She didn't have to lie, and usually distracted the brother from whatever he'd been pestering her about, but… Later that same family member would realize that apparently she would rather beat someone down than simply talk to them. It made her seem paranoid and secretive and untrusting, hurt her family's feelings, and only give them something else to worry about.

Telling them the truth wasn't a realistic option, unfortunately. It would probably get her court-martialed, to begin with; it would put her family in danger; finally, it would seriously add to their worries. Better that they think she was a little crazy, than to have them know the extremely dangerous life she led. They'd panic every time they couldn't get in touch with her.

Fingers waving in her face shook her out of her musings. "Sorry—?"

*I said, you know why I can't go to your home with you.* His hands paused, uncharacteristic unsurety in his body language. *Where did you go there?*

"Sorry." She sighed. "I was just contemplating how much simpler my life would be if Duke weren't so keen on getting me to visit my family. Speaking of whom… I know I complain about them sometimes, but Snakes…" She took one of his hands in her own. "I'd love for them to meet you. It's not that you can't come home with me; it's that you won't. They wouldn't care about what you look like, or that you can't speak. Really. They're great people."

He smiled and touched her face gently with the hand she wasn't holding, then took them both back to sign. *I'm sure they are. And… I think I'd like to meet them someday, too,* he added, to her surprise—he'd never shown an interest in meeting them before! *But,* he continued, *It is 'can't'. Not 'won't'. Do you really think anyone would look at me and go, oh, sure, the military is keeping this guy behind a desk? In the chaplains' corps, no less?*

She had to snort at that. It was absurd.

*That would be the first brick coming down. And it would lead to questions about how we met, when our apparent duties should never have us meet. And those questions would lead to more questions, and soon you have the whole wall coming down, and your family knows all about you, me, and GI Joe. We can't risk it.* He did look genuinely regretful.

"Damn it. Why do you have to be right?"

He shrugged. *Ninja?* He offered.

Laughter. "How does that logic work?"

*Ninja are always right.*

She snorted. "Sure, you are."

*Evidence suggests we always are right. After all, when was the last time you saw someone tell a ninja he was wrong?*

She had to grin at that. "Touche. I assume you mean besides BeachHead."

*Well, he doesn't count. He's crazy.*

"Ha! Hello pot, kettle here!"

He mock-pouted at her. *Are you calling me crazy?*

She sighed once more. "No more than the rest of us, I guess." There was a pause as they contemplated the truth of that statement. "Well, for what it's worth, I'm going to miss you."

He smiled and brushed her face again.

She didn't even need his signs to tell her that he would miss her, too.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

*Sir, I don't think you should have made Scarlett go see her family.*

Duke mused on how incongruous it was that a mute man could shout with a few silent gestures. He closed the office door behind him, ignoring the question of how Snake Eyes had gotten into his locked, secured office without alerting the guards or desk sergeant. He ignored a lot of questions when it came to Snake Eyes, it seemed. He settled himself behind the desk, offered Snakes a seat—it was refused—and regarded the commando calmly. "May I ask why you object to her seeing her family?"

To his surprise, Snake Eyes seemed hesitant, even unsure. *I… she… There's something wrong,* he finally signed.

That brought Duke on alert: Snake Eyes wasn't one to cry wolf. "Wrong? Wrong how?"

*The sleeplessness, the lack of appetite, lack of interest in her usual activities—*

Duke waved these off. "I know about those. She just came back from an extremely stressful situation. That's why I sent her off. A few days away from here always helps her bounce back whenever she's been on a long or demanding mission."

*She really didn't want to go see her family. Specifically.*

"So? She never wants to take leave."

Snake Eyes looked down for a moment, as though pondering what to say. *She's… she's been crying in her sleep.* He finally signed, without looking at Duke.

Duke resisted the urge to ask him just how he knew that, and instead focused on the information. "Anything else?"

*She's been… paranoid. Not cautious, paranoid.*

"About what?"

*Walking down darkened hallways, being alone in a room with only one exit, she's been jumping at sudden movements or noises…* He paused and added, *She's been going armed even inside the Pit, except when behind a few sets of locked doors. And even then, her sidearm isn't far away.*

Duke tugged at his lip. "And you're telling me all this only now, three days after you two got back, because…?"

*I wasn't expecting you to order her specifically home. I was expecting you to simply order her to take leave somewhere. We were going to go to my dojo in the mountains—away from everything Joe, or stressful, or…* He shrugged. *The dojo holds only good memories, calm memories, for her. I was hoping that setting would let her relax enough to tell me what happened to her. Because something did; she had very… unusual… wounds.*

Duke's frown deepened. "What sort of 'unusual' wounds?"

Snake Eyes made a frustrated gesture. *I don't know! They didn't look like rope marks or cane marks or burns or—* The ninja froze, as realization struck him.

"What? What is it, man?"

*Shackles. Four-inch-wide shackles. Those were the marks on her wrists and ankles. And—* Duke could see him swallow heavily, even through the full face mask. *Handprints. Like someone grabbed her, hard. Gripped her. Held her… hard enough to leave bruises of fingerprints.*

"Damn it." Duke said with feeling. "I should've insisted she talk to Psyche-Out before she left. And no wonder she didn't want to see her family; her brothers and father have a protective streak a mile wide. They sure make up for the sister," he added in an aside. "If she wasn't just put in a cell… if she was chained… tortured…" he shook his head. "And she can't tell any of them about what happened without violating the security protocols. And that damn woman was too stubborn to tell any of us. Damn it. Damn me!"

*Give me leave so I can go check on her.*

Duke snorted. "Hell with that; I'll go collect her myself."

*Not without violating those security protocols, you won't. I can check out the situation quietly, extract her if need be.*

Duke eyed the ninja. "You do realize she's just visiting her family, not locked up in another castle somewhere, right?" He was treated to a withering look. "Fine, fine, consider yourself on leave. Report back if… well, just report back, all right?"

Snake Eyes nodded once, and was gone.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Scarlett cursed Duke under her breath again as she pulled into her father's driveway. It was a six and a half-hour drive from Memphis, where she'd flown in to; not quite long enough an overall trip to really justify staying the night any place, but long enough for her back and knees to ache while driving, even with breaks to stretch. The cracked ribs weren't helping, either. Plus the flight, then the drive, meant getting up 0600 hours; if Duke had just given her leave and allowed her to stay at the Pit, or allowed her to go with Snake Eyes, she'd have been sleeping in. She loved sleeping in.

She pulled down the mirror and grimaced at her reflection. And she could've used the beauty rest. A gouge still marred her right cheek, her left eye was still swollen shut, and makeup only went so far in disguising them. "Oh, well, Shana," she said to herself softly. "Buckle up—you're gonna need a whole lot of self-control this week."

"Shana! Hey, Shana's home!" She heard her brother Sean shout from the porch, and winced as she swung herself out of the car, waved, and popped the trunk to grab her bag. He was going to freak when he saw her face. Brian would joke about it, Frank would keep his opinions to himself, but Sean took his role of big brother very seriously at times. Like, any time she got so much as a paper cut, he threatened to go burn down a forest in revenge. Subtlety wasn't really one of his strong points. Useful at times, yes, but…

"Hey, Sis, lemme help you with that!" She heard Sean's cheerful voice behind her, and braced herself as she closed the trunk lid and slowly turned. "We didn't know you were—holy shit, Shana! What the—what—who—Good Lord, no wonder you're on leave!" He gaped at her.

She smiled wanly. "Hi, Sean. Let's go up to the house so I can get the reactions—and explanation—over with all at once, huh?"

"Yeah…" He hadn't taken his eyes from her swollen one, and without looking away, reached out and grabbed her bag, slinging it over one well-muscled shoulder. "Geeze…"

"Sean, look where you're going, you'll trip," she reminded him, and he shook himself.

"What? Oh, right."

He kept sneaking peeks at her as they walked up the winding driveway.

She smiled at him. "Don't worry. It doesn't really hurt anymore. Really."

They walked up the porch, and he pulled the door open for her. "Yeah, just be careful how you break it to—"

"Shana, my darling girl! I thought I heard Sean yell your name!" Her father Patrick was in his wheelchair just inside the door, arms outstretched.

She broke into a completely spontaneous grin. "Da!" She bent to kiss him hello.

He accepted it, hugged her around the neck, then gripped her chin in a strong hand and tilted her head this way and that, frowning at the damage to her face. "What have you been up to, darlin' girl?" He murmured, eyes concerned.

She waved him off. "Where are Brian and Frank? I'd rather get all the embarrassing explanations out of the way at once."

"They're out in the dojo, cleaning up after the evening class. Should be in in a minute. Come into the kitchen, sit down. I know it's a long drive for you."

She accepted the offer gratefully; Sean ran her bag up to her room and joined them in the kitchen where they sat drinking sweet tea. She sighed happily. "Da, no one makes tea like you do."

He smiled at her. "Ah, g'wan with you."

"No, really. I have this one… friend… from work who is really serious about tea." She said, thinking of Snake Eyes. "I mean, he will defend his tea stash to the death," literally, she thought, but that was a detail they really didn't need to know, "and his tea is good, but it's just not… your tea."

"See how easy it is to pay your dad a compliment?" Patrick chortled and smacked Sean's arm. "Shana, dear, my ego needs you home more often!"

"Sooo. This 'friend' of yours, who is so serious about his tea," Sean began coyly. "Does he have a name?"

She eyed her brother suspiciously. "Yesss… why?"

"Because if he's sharing that tea with you, you must be something pretty special to him, too, huh?"

She felt her face flame. "No, it's not like that."

He chortled. "Didja see her expression when she talked about him, Dad? Look at that blush!"

"No, seriously, he and I are—"

"Does he share this oh-so-special tea with anyone else?"

"Um…" Actually, she was pretty sure he didn't. The thought had never occurred to her before, though.

Sean smirked. "I rest my case."

Just then, the screen door banged open, and Frank and Sean came trundling in, talking to one another. The conversation was dropped in favor of running at Scarlett, arms outstretched, when they recognized the back of her head, with its long tail of bright hair, sitting at the table. She laughingly found herself being hugged from either side as her brothers cornered her and offered greetings.

They backed off a bit, and Frank squinted at her and let out a low whistle; Brian swore under his breath. "Jesus God, Shana, whose bad side did you get on?"

She snorted dismissively. "Apparently, I got on the bad side of whatever idiot was reviewing a bunch of newbies for advanced hand-to-hand. Got a raw, untrained newbie in the group."

The men all winced; as martial arts instructors, they knew what havoc an utterly untrained person could cause; the untrained ones didn't know what moves were allowed, didn't have a lot of control over their movements, and they didn't know how to pull punches.

"Eesh." Brian sucked air in between his teeth and leaned in for a closer look. "What opened up your cheek, though? No one was stupid enough to bring an edged weapon to a hand-to-hand class, were they?"

She laughed ruefully and touched the slice gingerly. "No, that part was sheer dumb luck. When this landed," she pointed at her swollen eye, "the guy knocked me into a piece of equipment which was apparently sharper than it looked." She shrugged sheepishly, holding out her hands as if to say, What could I do?

"Huh," her father said reflectively. "Well, staring at it won't make it better, boys. Let's get started on dinner, eh?"

The mood broke, and she smiled at him gratefully. When she moved to get up and help with dinner, he waved her back to her seat. "They boys have dinner under control. Sit with me a while. Tell me about work."

"I, uh—" she floundered, unsure what to say, hating to have to come up with a lie—especially with no time to prepare one.

"Oh, fine, fine, I know, you army people all have these things you can't talk about. Tell me about these boys you were training. How were they? How did the classes go?"

Well, she'd actually gone on a hand-to-hand training mission a couple of months ago, so she drew on that experience to spin out a story for her father until dinner was ready. Then, during dinner, she kept them entertained with stories about the antics of some of her coworkers—she just had to adjust certain details, like not mentioning she typically worked in a super secure area five stories underground, for instance.

She put off going to bed as long as possible, knowing what her night was likely to be like. She hadn't slept the night through since getting back, and she had little hope that tonight would be different. She was jumpy, twitching at every little sound, but eventually drifted off… and right into memory.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-