A/N: Previous chapters have been altered to include Storm Shadow's father, who I've decided lives until later on...
[Sherry, you should stop.]
Sherry glanced at Snake-Eyes in between stuffing her mouth. "Why?"
[You're here to attend a wedding, not gorge yourself sick.] Snake reached over and plucked the cherry cordial from her fingers.
"I'm here to attend a wedding AND gorge myself sick. It's part of weddings." Sherry snatched the treat back and popped it into her mouth. "Mmm... I'm still surprised Junko managed to convince Tommy to allow sweets for a few days."
Snake-Eyes helped himself to a piece of candy. [She didn't - I did.]
She stopped chewing. "You did?"
The ninja gave her a crooked smile. [I told Tommy that Junko wouldn't be happy if he served just healthy food.]
Sherry laughed and almost choked. She covered her mouth and swallowed before speaking. "The bride always gets her way, even if she doesn't say a word."
[It's called 'survival instincts'. I believe they are healthy to have.]
"Nuh uh. You and Tommy lack them."
[Not when it comes to women.]
The pilot studied a cherry cordial intently. "True. Very true. But they're still below par. Remember that one day when Scarlett didn't get her morning coffee?"
He rolled his eyes. [How could I forget.]
"We all steered clear of her. Hell - even Tommy stayed away from her. But you, you kept around her even when she tried to skin you alive."
[She wasn't going to kill me. My life wasn't in danger.]
She rolled her eyes. "Love makes you do very strange things."
[You don't need to tell me.]
"Of course. You know firsthand." Sherry chuckled as she took a small cake and began eating it.
All Snake could do was shake his head. [Tommy is going to be mad at you for eating so much.]
"Let him get pissed. I'm hungry. Besides, I'm short; how much food can I possibly eat? Not much."
[Liar. I saw how much taco pizza you can hold, and it's nowhere near 'not much'.]
"But it's taco pizza. I actually enjoy eating those things!"
[You like cherry cordials just as much.]
"Yes, but it's not exactly something that will leave me feeling satisfied after I've filled my stomach with it!" Sherry scowled as she flicked a strand of Snake's hair. "I won't eat much - I promise."
Snake-Eyes glanced at the stack behind her. [Sure. You just plowed through three boxes of that candy.]
Sherry spun around, blinking in surprise. "... Oh, shit..."
"Tomisaburo, Hebi no Me, come with me."
A rough hand wrapped around Snake-Eyes' wrist, forcing him to drop his training sword. Tommy barely had enough time to put the video recorder away before he too was dragged along. "Fearless Master?" He looked up at the man Tommy called 'Father'. "Master, what is going on?"
"Hush!" he hissed as he broke into a run. Snake stumbled to keep up. He could see Tommy with his bag on Fearless Master's other side, also trying not to trip. Neither of them noticed the red light shining.
"Where are we going? Where is he taking us?" Snake whisper-shouted.
"I don't know!" Tommy mouthed back.
Fearless Master went into one of the buildings, nudged aside a tatami mat, and opened the trapdoor underneath. "Get in, but do not touch anything."
Obediently, both boys dropped down. Snake's back prickled and he shivered. The air was significantly cooler than it was outside.
As soon as Tommy had landed, Fearless Master quietly eased his way in. Looking around carefully, he pulled on a small, specific root sticking out from the dirt and leaned against the wall. Slowly, it spun, revealing a concrete room behind it.
"A safe room," Snake heard himself murmur. From within the room, he could hear what sounded like... soft squirming.
A hand on his shoulder turned him around. "Listen closely, boys." The Fearless Master bent over, his eyes locked on theirs. "We are under attack. As apprentices, you two cannot fight. However, you know enough to guard those who cannot do so themselves."
Tommy reached the conclusion first. "We're babysitting?! Father! Why would you make me-"
"Be quiet! This is not babysitting! This is protecting. The enemy shouldn't be able to find this room. It is soundproof, bulletproof, and - as you saw - well camouflaged." He wet his lips, then produced two bundles. "Here are your weapons. Use them wisely if you need to."
Snake took the package with numb and shaking hands. "M-master..."
"Hebi no Me." Fearless Master's voice was a lot more calming as he placed both hands on the boy's shoulder. "Do not be afraid. This place will not be detected, but if it is, do everything you can to defend it."
"Why us?" he tried. "We're just kids! Why can't you get someone more... trained?"
The man paused, and Snake guessed that he heard swords clanging. "All those who have adequately trained are out there, where they are most useful. You are not yet ready to be on the battlefield, but you know how to use some weapons. Hear me?"
Snake-Eyes nodded, his body frozen.
"Remember: this place is not supposed to be discovered. You two are here as back-up." The man turned to Tommy and gave him a quick hug. "Keep each other strong. I'll come back when the fighting is over."
And with that, he gently nudged the two boys in and pushed the door shut.
Slowly, Snake looked around. The room was lit by candles, the warm light strongly contrasting with the atmosphere. He could see a few people shifting around. At the moment, Snake could make out a few children, several of his fellow students, a handful of wriggling infants, and two heavily pregnant women.
"Tommy?" he whispered after a while.
"Hm?" The boy dug into the bundle provided and began strapping various knives and weapons onto himself.
"Tommy, how long do you think the attack will last?" Snake watched his friend's fingers fly.
"I do not know." Tommy's last throwing knife disappeared into place and he began equipping Snake. "Minutes, hours, maybe days."
"Probably not days."
Snake couldn't repress a shiver when Tommy slipped a knife into a hidden sheath on the inside of his gi. He didn't want to think about what might happen should the knife fall out or the sheath break.
"Here you go." Tommy pulled two large daggers from the bag and handed one to Snake. "We're too young to handle actual swords, so these will have to do."
Snake-Eyes stayed quiet as he carefully studied the weapon. It weighed about the same as his training sword, but wouldn't leave just a bruise should it strike flesh. His head swam nauseatingly, and bile ran up his throat. He could kill someone. And somewhere, beyond the protective walls of the safe room, was someone who probably wielded the same weapon; someone who wouldn't hesitate to kill him should they meet. The thought sickened him, and he pushed it to the back of his mind.
"What if they find us?" he heard himself asking.
"But what if-"
"Idiot!" Tommy hissed. "They will not find us! And if they do, we'll kill them. Do not jinx the situation!"
He watched his brother's blue eyes grew wide. Snake's heart pounded in his ears, and he felt too hot for comfort. "Kill?" he whispered, his voice hoarse. "Us? Kill?"
"We're going to have to eventually. It's part of being in a ninja clan. Clan wars and vendettas do happen, and when they do, you have to be willing to take a life to save your own or a clan member's."
Killing. Voluntary taking of another human being's life. To take something so precious and rip it away from someone all in the name of honor and surviving. He couldn't help but imagine what it would feel like to be the holder of a blade as it went through blood, muscles, and organs. What would it sound like? A horrible squelching noise as red liquid ran down his weapon? What about the person? Chances are, he wouldn't be able to see their last expression, since ninjas wore masks, but what about their eyes? Would they be filled with terror? Disbelief? Hatred?
He didn't want it. He didn't want to stand over a corpse knowing that he had taken the person's life.
One of the women flinched hard and two babies began quietly crying when a loud clang! resounded around the room. Snake didn't move to pick up his dagger.
"Brother?" Tommy crawled over and touched Snake's hand. It felt colder than normal, and it trembled violently. "Brother, are you alright?"
"Why couldn't they assign someone more qualified for this?" he blurted out, gasping as he fought panic.
"Have you not been listening to my father?" Tommy demanded, leveling a glare at him. "The well-trained ones are outside defending the compound. We'll be more useful here."
"That doesn't make any sense!"
"What are you talking about? It makes perfect sense! Why put trained ninja to guard just ONE hidden safe room when they can be fighting to protect everybody?"
Snake shook his head, his eyes wide and fearful. "No, no, no... I can't... Tommy... I can't. I can't do this. Ican'tdothis. I just can't!"
"Snake-Eyes..." Tommy began.
He wasn't listening. "I can't take a life. No, no! I'm only nine years old! I can't kill someone. I cannot!"
"Brother, look at me."
Snake gripped Tommy's shoulders, his hands balling up into fists. His entire body shook as his voice rose in pitch and speed. "I can't, Tommy. I'm scared. I'mscared. Nonono. Tommy, don't let me die! I can't die! I'm only nine! Don't let me die. Don't let me die. I cannot. I canno-"
His head was suddenly wrenched to the side, and his left cheek stung. Snake blinked, his mind a muddled haze. Before he could process what had just happened, Tommy grabbed him roughly and straightened him up. Two hands pressed against each side of his head, with the thumbs at his temples. Snake tried to pull away, but found that he could not.
Tommy's dark eyes stared into his. "Listen, and listen closely, you stupid gaijin." His voice was firm and even. "I'm insulted that you believe that I'll let you die. You, Hebi no Me, are NOT going to die. Not if I'm alive. If anybody wants to kill you, they'll have to kill me first. And I'm impossible to kill."
Snake heard a broken-sounded laugh, then suddenly recognized it as his own. "You're impossible to kill?"
"Yes! I am my father's son, and nobody can kill my father. If I don't die, then you won't die." He tilted his head. "Have courage and faith, Snake-Eyes," he whispered. "I am your brother. I won't let you die."
Tommy grinned his goofy grin. "I expected as much." Exhaling, he removed his hands. "Feeling better?"
"Much, yes." Snake gingerly touched his temples. "I need to work on keeping calm." He smiled.
Suddenly, Tommy sprang to his feet, dagger brandished. Snake copied him, although his body was still unsteady from the panic attack. "What is it?" he whispered.
His friend answered just as quietly. "See that red light?"
"I don't remember us having a red light in here..."
Both boys stayed very still, daring the red light to move or blink. "Is it a bomb?" Snake finally asked.
"I don't think so. Bombs wouldn't have lights attached to them. It'll attract unwanted attention."
Slowly, the two approached, weapons out and ready to strike should anything happen. Then, suddenly, Tommy gave a loud, long groan.
Snake lowered his guard a bit. "What is it?"
Tommy got on his knees, fumbled through the bag, and grabbed the source of the light. "Stupid video camera," he grumbled. "I forgot to turn it off."
He pressed the 'stop' button.