And so, finally a confrontation...

Updating a day early, thanks to TinySprite.

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Chapter 5

Back at the apartment, Dusty was enduring a good raking over the coals for his foolish risk. " I thought it would work!" He stood as Jinx told him over again how his mistake had nearly ended in the entire mission being scrubbed and everyone being killed outright.

SnakeEyes stood and watched this with some amusement. Finally he snapped his fingers to attract her attention. *Everyone would not have been killed. No one knew about me*

She narrowed her eyes dangerously. "Oh yes, I forgot. Most important Silent Master would have gotten away to carry the tiding of our abject failure back to the base." Her angry gaze fastened on Dusty again. "Failure because you didn't stick to your orders!"

He raised his hands towards the ceiling. "Oh good LORD! Forgive me for trying to do my job, to make a security hole for our commando here to enter the building unnoticed. That IS the objective, isn't it? Or is the new objective actually, 'everyone kowtow to Kimi so she can be the big star'? Because if the mission parameters changed, no one informed ME!"

She sucked in a breath. "Kowtow? Oh yess, I'm just concerned with being the center of attention. Of COURSE!" She flung her arms up at him. "It can't be that I happen to be the main operative... that I'm the one who is supposed to write a program and get it into the computer's security systems to open that window of opportunity... that I'm the one undercover right under Cobra's noses. NOooooo! It's that I'm a spoiled starlet who wants to be the big star!"

Dusty's eyes rolled dramatically. "Oh great... yes Jinx. You're the big shot on the mission. You're the one who's doing all the work. Never mind that I have to be maintenance, that I've got to pass daily security checks because they EXPECT a blue-collar worker to be a spy.. nooo, it's all about you, because you're the only person doing anything dangerous. You're exactly right. Poor Jinx, soooo in danger." He walked into the living room to turn a circle. "It's such a pity that you have to sit behind a desk while I have to do all the heavy work all day just to keep from being under suspicion. Then when I see an opportunity and try for it, I'm the bad guy. Sometimes things don't go as planned, okay? This is what happens when you work with the big boys!"

She stalked up to him to put a finger under his nose. "Don't you dare start in about me not being one of the guys. If you even start in about a girl being on the team instead of someone like Breaker or Mainframe, I swear I will feed you your own nutsack!"

Dusty stepped back carefully. "HEY! I never said nothing about you being a girl! Hell, Scarlett's a girl and I never said she was incompetent!"

"OH NOW I'M INCOMPETENT!"

SnakeEyes stepped between them finally and glared down at Jinx. She twitched with anger as she glared back. "But Sensei, he..."

A sharp snap of his fingers and SnakeEyes pointed at her room. She clenched her jaw and started to retort and he pointed again. She practically stomped into the bedroom to slam the door shut.

Dusty couldn't hold back a snicker as he watched the door slam. "Hey... you just sent her to her room... does she have to stand in a corner too?" He glanced back at the commando and jumped backwards at the glare. "Uhh... sorry... just.. there's no reason for her to get all mad, it wasn't my fault!"

SnakeEyes' signs were slightly jerky and abrupt, telling Dusty the ninja was actually angry. *You set off a security sweep without running it by either of your teammates.*

Dusty protested weakly. "Well, yeah but I thought it would work..."

A sharp finger snap. *What if I had already been inside? What if Jinx had been gaining access to sensitive files?*

Dusty looked away and tugged at his shirt collar. "Well, I didn't think that it..." He sagged. "Okay okay, I was wrong. I shouldn't have. But it looked like the perfect way. I didn't think it would set off a alert, I thought at worst the system wouldn't boot up. Then I'd just fix it and no one would know. I've never seen one do that. It's like the security system backups have backups that have backups. It's redundant!"

SnakeEyes snorted. *Unless they want to keep out trained commandos and infiltrators*

Dusty grinned sheepishly. "Well, yeah, you know.. or that." He looked at the door. "Well, if I'm the wrong one, why'd you send her to her room?"

Turning to head towards her door, SnakeEyes shook a finger at him. *To keep her from neutering you in a fit of temper, or did you forget she can do that in under two seconds?*

Dusty went a bit green and shuddered. SnakeEyes stepped into Jinx's room and caught a shurikin between his thumb and forefinger as Jinx flung it towards the door. She jumped up to stand beside the bed. "Sorry Sensei!"

He glanced at the door to see eleven similar stars embedded in a neat row and sighed. Handing the weapon back to her, he motioned for her to sit. *Kimi you cannot berate your teammate like that*

She crossed her arms defiantly. "He was wrong!" SnakeEyes simply waited and she finally puffed at him. "He WAS! Even if I shouldn't have.. yelled at him..." Jinx slumped slightly. "I'm sorry I yelled at him. But he endangered the mission with that stunt and he could have gotten caught."

SnakeEyes nodded. *Yes but he was taking a risk in hopes of completing the mission. You must work with your teammates better* He turned to leave. *Apologize to Dusty for yelling* His sleek form stepped out of the door only to pause. The way his back had stiffened made Jinx leap up, holding weapons ready for battle.

She ducked her head enough to see past her sensei's arm into the living room to see a white clad form sprawled casually on the couch with a completely unconscious Dusty taking up the far end. "Tommy?"

SnakeEyes blocked her path to her cousin with one arm and signed furiously at the uninvited guest. StormShadow looked over at the unconscious trooper and shrugged. "He was about to start screaming. You know that hurts my ears. I just put him to sleep, he'll wake up fine."

Putting a hand to his forehead, SnakeEyes stepped aside for Jinx to run out and stop short of the slender man in the living room. "Tommy?"

He stood and spread his arms with a grin. "Little Kimi! All grown up! No greeting for your beloved older cousin?"

She looked uncomfortable. "I don't know... my cousin never tried to murder my teammates or behaved with great dishonor to his clan brother... are you my cousin or are you a Cobra ninja?"

Looking just a little hurt, Storm lowered his arms. "I'm sorry Kimi. I... I have made many mistakes in my life. I cannot hope to regain my honor but I intend to try for the rest of my days."

Kimi still looked hesitant. "I thought you were being controlled with Mindbender's crazy machine."

He looked aside, tensing up at the mere mention of the cruel device that had stolen his mind and will for so long. "I... I was, later. But I did take employment with Cobra to begin with to find the Hard Master's killer. I was wrong to have done so at the time, and regret that decision." He gave a deep bow to her. "I apologize Kimi, I should not have come, I did not mean to cause distress."

She suddenly flung herself on him, hugging him tightly. "Tommy! I missed you!" He embraced her back, his face so full of emotion that SnakeEyes busied himself checking his teammate propped up in the corner of the couch. Dusty seemed fine, if deeply unconscious. Snakes tilted his head over in a more comfortable position and sighed. He hoped when Dusty woke up this time he wouldn't have a headache.

All three ninja sat comfortably on the floor sipping tea and talking quietly of nothing in particular. Finally Jinx looked at SnakeEyes, ignored his slight headshake to turn to Storm and blurt out. "What are you going to do now? Will you come join GI Joe? You should."

Tommy looked uncomfortable and glanced at his sword brother before he replied. "I don't know yet. It's not so simple."

Jinx pressed on. "But it IS simple! If you say yes, Hawk will just make it happen! He can make anything happen in the military and politics. Besides, who is going to tell a guy no when he's got three ninja on his side already?" She smiled slyly at SnakeEyes. "Well, two and a half ninja, I don't think Kamakura counts as a full ninja yet."

SnakeEyes rolled his eyes at her. *Do not snipe at your apprentice brother when he's not here to defend himself*

"Yes Sensei, I shall only snipe at him when he is present." Her cheeky smile made him close one eye to glare at her, so she turned to StormShadow again. "He's coming along but he's not nearly as advanced as a typical Arashikage student."

Now StormShadow chastised her. "Of course he is not. He is in a military unit, subject to being sent on missions and with daily duties to perform other than merely training as a proper apprentice would be in the Arashikage compound. It most likely does not help him that his apprentice sister mocks him and detracts from his training rather than supporting him and assisting in his lessons as she should."

Jinx sipped at her tea meekly. "Yes Cousin. You are correct."

Tipping his head over to SnakeEyes, Storm continued in a slightly amused voice. "Of course, a bit of competition doesn't hurt training at all... so it's not all bad to have someone so much better than him. Only having you as a Master instead of several Arashikage Masters might also slow his rate of learning as well."

SnakeEyes ignored that and instead signed to ask if Storm had made any decisions.

Tommy leaned back slightly and contemplated the delicate teacup. "I have." He paused, looking off blankly for a moment.

A quick snap of fingers brought his attention back. *Stop drama, tell decision*

"Oh so impatient Brother. Have you lost all your discipline? Okay..." Storm blocked a quick snap towards his head and held up a hand to fend off any further attempts. "I will give Hawk a meeting. But I'm not promising to join your team! And if he tries to arrest or capture me during the meeting, I will escape and disappear!" His mouth had firmed into a hard line and SnakeEyes saw him reaching to tug at the cowl that lay loosely on his neck. He knew the urge to cover your face when uncomfortable himself.

*No one will try to harm you* His motions were smooth and soothing. *Hawk is a man of great honor and also great intelligence. He sees the potential in having another ninja ally even if you refuse to become a full member of the team*

Relaxing, Storm shrugged in a false gesture of nonchalance. "I am unworried."

They all turned to look as Dusty emitted a deep snort. Jinx sighed at him. "He's going to be sooo upset when he wakes up. I don't suppose we could claim he tripped and hit his head and StormShadow was never here, could we?"

SnakeEyes frowned at her. *He would know he hasn't hit his head, there's no knot*

She smiled in a way that made him sigh. *No, you may not whack your teammate on the head so he won't ask difficult questions* That earned him another sigh.

Storm flowed up to his feet smoothly. "I should go before he wakes up."

SnakeEyes held out a hand to stop him on his way to the half open window. *Wait* He looked at Dusty then seemed to make a decision. *Stay and meet Dusty*

"Are you MAD Brother? I knocked him out! He's hardly going to want to meet and greet a insane former enemy ninja who just assaulted him!" Storm seemed to be wondering if his sword brother had taken leave of his senses.

*Dusty is a good man. If you cannot charm him you'd have no chance with any of the other Joes* SnakeEyes gave a pose of sudden indifference. *If you don't believe you can talk a mere trooper around to accepting you, that's fine. Perhaps you've lost your glib tongue in the years you've been gone*

StormShadow bristled slightly then rolled his eyes and relaxed. "Oh... that was so subtle. 'Oh no! I'll show you! I'll charm the pants off this guy just to show you I can!' Is that the response you wanted? Smooooth Brother. As if I'd fall for that. Did you seriously think that I'd just fall for reverse psychology?" He crossed his arms and looked smug.

SnakeEyes smiled and reached to pull his mask back on, shaking his head. *I wanted to delay you until Dusty finished waking up. Now you have to say something to him*

Storm gaped for a second then turned as Dusty groaned and sat up holding his neck with a shaky hand. "Uhhhh..."

Dusty blinked at him for a full four seconds. "AUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGHHHHH! DON'T KILL ME!" He fell over the back of the couch and scrambled to the far corner of the room, which happened to also hold the potted fern. Despite the distinct lack of coverage, he chose to hide behind the lightweight wicker stand. "Oh god oh god oh god.. I knew it, never volunteer to go on missions where you're the only non-ninja Dusty, it's stupid Dusty, oh no, I'm sure it'll be fine, after all, what's the worst that could happen, oh I dunno, you could DIE TO DEATH FROM STABBINGS! OH GOD!"

Looking rather appalled, the white-clad ninja turned to smirk at SnakeEyes. "Well this is a great beginning! I'm sure we'll be best friends in no time!" When he received no response other than a pointing finger, Storm stepped closer and leaned down to peer at the legs sticking out from the side of the planter. "I'm not going to stab you..." He reached to pull aside some of the draping fronds so he could see Dusty's face.

Dusty shrieked again. "OH GOD! He's gonna kill me with a fern! Please don't kill me with a fern! It's gonna look stupid on my tombstone! You can't make a guy live with 'killed by fern' on his headstone!"

Chuckling now, Storm straightened up and looked thoughtful. "Well, technically speaking, you wouldn't be 'living' with the headstone... I mean.. you would be dead if you had a headstone..."

There was a terrified moan from behind the plant. "I'm gonna dieeee... I shoulda listened to Footloose... he said 'don't go on a ninja mission', I said, hey it's Jinx, she's cute, it'll be great, should have listened to the hippy, Dusty... the hippy knew... the hippy was wise... now... dead... by FERN..."

"I'm NOT going to kill you with the fern..." StormShadow turned and raised his hands at SnakeEyes who made a shooing motion for him to talk to Dusty more. "I'm.. uh... I just wanted to meet you and say hi."

"Suuure.. you just want to lull me into relaxing so you can kill me easier! You're not fooling me! I'm not coming out!" Dusty scrunched his legs further behind the plant. "No way! You wanna kill me, you're gonna have to come in here and GET ME!"

Storm sighed and looked at the two Joe ninjas. "Is he serious? It's a decorative fern, not a patch of jungle."

Dusty poked his head out to shout at them. "HEY! Why aren't you guys saving me? Huh? You should be stabbing him or throwing stars and shit at him! Do something ninja-y to him so he won't kill me!"

SnakeEyes began to sign reassurance to his teammate but Dusty had hidden behind the fern again so he motioned to Jinx who sighed theatrically. "StormShadow is not trying to kill you, Dusty. He really just wanted to say hello."

A plaintive reply came from behind the plant finally. "Why would he wanna say hello to me?"

She raised an eyebrow at Storm who bent to speak in a polite coaxing tone. "Because it's easier to eviscerate people when you're shaking their hands.. that's why!"

A low moan emerged and the fern started to shake. Storm smirked until SnakeEyes landed a swift punch to the back of his head. "OW!" He turned and rubbed his head. "That was entirely uncalled for, I was OBVIOUSLY joking." SnakeEyes pointed at the shivering fern. "Oh fine!" Storm turned back. "Look, I was just trying to be friendly and make a joke, okay? If I was going to kill you, I would have done it before instead of just put you to sleep in a completely benign and harmless manner. Right?" He smiled in a winsome manner and held out a hand. "Come on, I'd really like a chance to say I'm sorry for knocking you out, okay? At least let me do that? Then if you want to hide again, I'll let you. That's fair, right?"

Dusty's face poked out again. "How do I know I can trust you?" His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Maybe it's a trick."

Storm kept the pleasant smile plastered on his face gamely. "No trick, I promise." He sighed when the face disappeared. "Oh come on, don't make me drag you out.. it'll be undignified for both of us."

"Don't! I'll come out! Just don't... kill me in any horrible ninja-y way.. okay?" Dusty scooted sideways just a little. "You promise I can go hide in the bathtub? Right? You said!"

"Yes, if you let me say hello and apologize, you can go hide in the bathtub." Storm turned and gave SnakeEyes a querying glance, mouthing 'bathtub?' at him. SnakeEyes shrugged in reply. "Hey.. yes, come on out.. we can go sit in the living room like civilized people."

Dusty brushed his hands on his pants legs nervously, eying the ninja cautiously. "Yeeeeah... living room... " He sidestepped carefully along the wall until he reached the couch and stood with it between him and the dangerous assassin. "Soooo... now can I go hide?" He glared at SnakeEyes. "You know, if I die I'm going to make it a point to haunt you.. not just like, stare at you, but rattle chains and make all your trench knives fall off the walls and hide your toothpaste and really mean stuff."

*You won't die* SnakeEyes settled on the couch and tried to look casual. *Dusty this is StormShadow, StormShadow, this is Dusty. Dusty is a desert trooper who repairs air conditioners and refrigerators* He turned to Dusty. *StormShadow is...* He paused as he tried to think of a polite term to use.

Dusty smirked and tilted his head. "A murderous killer who lops off people's heads with an eyelash. I've seen him before, thanks."

Storm crossed his arms. "I've never removed a head with an eyelash."

Dusty snorted. "You've lopped off plenty with a sword! AND stabbed people through their eyes and stuck those damned star things in them and strangled them with strings..."

Storm broke in to correct him absently. "Actually, I normally use wire for my garrotes. It doesn't leave fibers in the..." He watched SnakeEyes making a cutting motion. "Uuuh, I mean... I have...done these things... in the passsst... but.." He worked his mouth a second thinking. "But then, you've killed people as well, as a soldier does these things." He took a breath. "I do regret working for Cobra now. I spent a long time attempting to get away from them in fact once I decided they were too evil to work for no matter what information the Commander held over my head."

Dusty looked suspicious but his curiosity was peaked. "What information?"

StormShadow looked at the floor and paced for a second, then sat on a cushion on the floor near the couch. "It's a long story... but someone murdered my uncle and framed me for it. Cobra Commander promised me he would give me the killer's name in return for my service to him." He sighed and fiddled with the end of his gi belt. "I was foolish enough to believe him..."

Dusty sat himself down on the couch, on the far end away but much closer than the far corner of the room behind a fern. "Well, sounds more like you were desperate... more than foolish. I mean..." He thought a moment. "I mean if someone killed MY uncle, I sure would want to know who did it."

Storm sighed. "Yes, but I should never have agreed to such a dishonorable deal. Then when I wanted to leave, they used mind control. I'm only glad that I did not manage to kill my clan brother SnakeEyes." He gave the other ninja a fond glance to which SnakeEyes waved nonchalantly. "I would never have forgiven myself."

Dusty looked from SnakeEyes to StormShadow and back. "Whhhy would you say he's your brother?"

"Because we are both Arashikage clan masters and we were students together. That makes us clan brothers." Storm tried smiling easily at the young man again. "It is a bond more deeply held than mere accident of birth."

SnakeEyes gave a sharp look at him over the use of the phrase but StormShadow didn't even blink. *Truth* He didn't reply more than that and Dusty looked StormShadow over again.

After a moment Dusty blinked at him. "You know, you looked a lot bigger when you were... you know, lopping heads off people and all."

The slightly built man straightened up and frowned. "Well... I'm not tiny."

"Oh no.. no no no.. I insulted you didn't I? You're gonna kill me! Don't kill me, you're not little, I didn't mean it!" Dusty took a tumble over the back of the couch and cowered behind it. "I swear! I didn't mean it! It's just I sort of say stuff sometimes that comes out all insulting and stuff but I mean it in a good way like.. umm... good things come in small packages... stuff like that." He stayed behind the couch.

Storm rolled his eyes at SnakeEyes. "I told you this was a terrible idea. He obviously hates me and doesn't trust me and he never will. There's no use whatsoever in doing this." He stood and Dusty's face peered out from under a pillow near the armrest of the couch. "Don't worry... I'm not going to hurt you. I'll just leave..."

Dusty looked at the resigned pose of SnakeEyes then over at the visibly disappointed Jinx, his pillow hat turning as his head did. "Well, I didn't say I hate you... "

Storm shook his head. "It's okay... I don't even care if you hate me, everyone hates me anyway. It's just what I'll have to deal with the rest of my days." He turned away and let out a heavy sigh, his breath catching at the end. He raised his eyebrows at SnakeEyes, mouthing 'is it working?' and getting no response other than an eyeroll. "I'll never be able to... to.. to regain my honor... I've failed my ancestors..." He took another deep sigh and let it out, going as far as shaking his head at himself.

Dusty emerged from the side of the couch and carefully reseated himself. "Well no no.. don't just... " He cast about for a response. "Don't assume that I hate you and stuff... I mean..." Dusty swallowed and stared at SnakeEyes, calmly seated and watching the conversation. He trusted SnakeEyes with his life, and had several times in fact. If SnakeEyes trusted StormShadow not to murder him, then Dusty should be able to trust him... maybe a little bit. "You aren't... all bad. You didn't actually stab me when you came in... that's uhh.. that's kind of a good thing." He tugged at his lip a little. "I mean that's a pretty good thing in fact, because honestly, if you hadn't knocked me out I probably would have tried to shoot you... and then I would have felt bad for shooting SnakeEyes stabbing brother."

"Sword brother." Storm corrected quietly. He turned to gaze thoughtfully at Dusty and came to sit on the cushion again. "So... you really don't hate me?" Far from play-acting now, he seemed rather astounded at the idea. "Even though I've killed some of your cannon fodder? I mean.. what do you call them... greenhorns?"

"Greenshirts." Dusty cleared his throat. "Well, I guess. I mean, I'm not happy about that. They were good people you know. I knew some of those guys and I'm not really... well, I guess I'd have to kind of be a little forgiving, because it wouldn't be very right of me to blame you if most of what you did wasn't your fault... but I'm still kind of angry that they were killed and it was you that killed them." He looked away and finally looked at him again. "But I guess if Snakes vouches for you and Jinx seems to like you too, so you can't really be a real bad guy deep inside."

Storm looked over at the smiling Jinx. "Well, Kimi does kind of have to like me, she is my cousin."

Dusty went pale. "I... I was hitting on your cousin? Oh sweet Mary Mother of God... you really are gonna kill me... please man, I didn't know she was your cousin, I just thought she was super pretty and.. well not just pretty, she's smart and stuff too, but I would never try to date your cousin.. please don't throw sharp things in my eyeballs! I won't look at her ever again!"

Storm sighed and looked at SnakeEyes. "Well, at least he's not back in the fern..."


End Chapter

Well, it was a very long chapter... I hope it was entertaining!