Scarlett wisely stood still. "I wasn't aware I needed your permission to to come here, Sergeant Snake-Eyes, sir." Her voice was steady and quiet.

"Why are you following me?" he demanded as he flipped the light switch. Light flooded the room.

She tried hard not to gape. Oh, my... The dojo was huge! Punching bags and several stacks of what looked like bamboo were piled neatly in one corner, and the floor was covered with blue sparring mats. Two decorative Japanese paintings hung on opposing walls, with the third wall sporting an impressive sword rack. "Are those genuine Japanese katanas?" she gasped.

Snake snorted. "No, but they serve their purpose. You didn't answer my question."

"Hm?" Scarlett tore her eyes away from the swords. "I was looking for a sparring partner."

"And you thought I was a good candidate?" Snake narrowed his eyes. "What made you think that?"

"I want a challenge," she said casually. "And you look like you can provide just that."

He scowled. "You have no idea what you're talking about, greenie."

"It's Scarlett, not 'greenie'."

"Whatever, Scarlett. Can't it wait until tomorrow at hand-to-hand?" Snake could feel his irritation growing rapidly. He loathed cocky greenshirts. "Then you can show everybody your 'astonishing' fighting skills."

She raised both hands defensively. "Whoa, somebody woke up with a sunny attitude this morning. And if I wanted to show off, I would have waited until tomorrow." With relative ease, she slipped out of her boots and bowed before stepping onto a training mat. "So, you got several minutes to spare? Or is being a part of Team Alpha really that time-consuming?"

His frown deepened as he, too, joined her on the mat. "Why are you doing this?" Overconfident greenshirts were not unusual, but someone wanting to spar with him to help better themselves was unusual. "What do you plan to gain from this?"

"A better understanding of my skills, perhaps." A rubber band materialized on her hand, and she tied her hair up with it. "This is G.I. Joe, is it not? Only the best of the best are allowed to stay." She smiled a slow smile. "Therefore, it would make sense that I would want to spar with a Joe to see where I fit in, and how I can improve."

She was right, he realized. Tommy would have killed to have a student like her in the Arashikage, he mused. He almost chuckled. Almost. "Alright. Don't say I didn't warn you." He bowed.

She returned the bow. "I don't need a warning."

He simply nodded and dropped into what was, as far as she could tell, a flawless ready stance. She followed suit, shifting her weight lightly on the balls of her feet as she waited for him to begin. With hardly a moment's hesitation, he led with a lightning-fast pair of jabs that she recognized as a probe of her skill as she easily blocked them. Her answer was the roundhouse kick that had caught so many of her tournament opponents off-guard years ago. She had planned to pull it a bit in case he didn't react in time, but her foot traveled unimpeded through the space his head had occupied a moment before.

Surprise nearly made her lose her balance. He was suddenly two feet to the left, giving her only an instant to dodge his spinning kick and regain her footing. She allowed herself the slightest of smiles. One thing was for sure; he was able to match her skill. She pressed forward to maintain the offensive with a whirlwind of blows. None landed, and she found herself dodging and blocking rapidly again. His foot flew past, inches from her face and too quick to see. Despite his fairly muscular form, he was as quick an opponent as she'd ever faced. She caught his next punch and nearly hooked his arm to throw him, but he twisted free at the last moment. One more punch glanced off her shoulder as she deflected it and they separated, circling for a few steps to reassess the fight.

She saw it then, in the looseness of his stance, the quarter-smile turning his lips, and the amused glint in his eyes. He was toying with her. He wasn't showing what he was really capable of. She was barely scratching the surface of his abilities. Hell, the entire time, they might as well have been dancing. It was too easy for him. She was too easy.

And she hated being easy.

Snake Eyes remained still as he watched the realization reflect in her eyes. The green depths began to spark with anger, and her stance stiffened ever so slightly. His opinion of her instantly fell a few notches. There was the inexperience, the overconfidence he'd seen earlier. A decent fighter, eager to learn, wasted with pride. He sent a fairly slow combination of simple hand strikes in her direction, watching for the telltale stiffness as she deflected each one, then casually dodged another one of her roundhouse kicks. Those seemed to be a redeeming feature of her skills. It took some effort to continue to appear nonchalant as she sent her heels flying in his direction. A certain lesson of the Hard Master's came to mind, and he stilled his own attacks, focusing entirely on dodging. Predictably, her anger only increased.

"What is with you?!" she wanted to scream. "This isn't sparring! This is taunting! You're not being serious!"

Surprisingly, Snake chose that moment to glance at the door and visibly relax. Seizing the opportunity, Scarlett shoved him to the ground with a well-placed kick on his back. He didn't move even when she twisted his arms behind his back, but he grunted a little when she kneed his back to keep him down. Only after she had him pinned did Scarlett pause, confused.

"The hell was that?" she hissed. "Do you do that on the battlefield too? Drop down and play dead whenever you feel like it?"

Just then, the door of the dojo slid open, and a head poked in. "Hey, Snake. Stalker told me to tell you that-" Clutch's jaw dropped at the sight before him. He didn't speak for a few seconds, only stammering and muttering incomprehensibly, until he finally found his voice. "Holy SHIT! What the hell happened? What the-" He shook his head rapidly as he backed out of the dojo. "No, no, no. That can't happen..."

"What is it?" Snake asked coolly for someone immobilized on the ground.

Clutch gesticulated wildly at them. "Did... did that greenie just trounce you?"

"Yes. Now, is the Pit on fire?"

The man blinked. "No."

"Is somebody dying?"

"... No."

"Is Hawk calling for me?"


"Then why are you bothering me?" he snapped.

Clutch straightened instantly. "Nothing, nothing. You know what? I'll tell you later. Later, like... at dinner. Um... bye. Have... fun? I guess? Don't get hurt." The door slammed as a loud voice called through the hallway. "Stalker? STALKER! You will not believe what I just fucking saw! A greenie completely kicked Snake's ass! You wouldn't believe it! I didn't even know it was possible to..." his voice faded as he walked further and further away.

Snake let out a long sigh and propped his chin up on the training mat. "Get off."

The knee drove just a little deeper into his back. He winced. "I should make you suffer for letting me win," Scarlett snarled. "Why did you do that? It doesn't benefit you, and it doesn't benefit me. Where's the logic?"

Snake shifted his hand slightly. His fingertips hovered directly above a pressure point on her hand. "Get off," he repeated.

Wisely, she released him. He got up on his feet in one graceful motion. "Once you find out how he acts around women," he slipped back into his boots, "you'll thank me."

"I don't need anybody's protection." Scarlett's lips thinned.

"I didn't say that." Snake strapped his sword in place. "Think of it as me swatting a mosquito for you."

"I don't need someone swatting mosquitoes for me." She scowled.

He returned the frown, and held up his index finger. "One. I only swatted one. It's one stupid mosquito. Big deal." And with that, he was gone, so quietly that he might as well have vaporized into thin air.

"What? No bruises? No cuts?" Lady Jaye laughed as Scarlett sat down next to her and Cover Girl at their chosen table in the mess hall. "I'm impressed."

Cover Girl looked the redhead over. "You're covered in sweat. I'm guessing the workout went well? Do I owe you fifty dollars?"

"I... I'm not sure." Scarlett glowered as she tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "He's good. Really good. We weren't even sparring. It was more like a... an elaborate dance." She glanced at Cover Girl. "I lasted longer than five minutes, but he was going easy on me, so I don't think we owe each other anything."

"And I'm guessing you didn't like the, uh, dancing?" Lady Jaye shoved a forkful of meatloaf into her mouth. She grimaced a little.

"Nope." Scarlett directed her glare to the tray in front of her. "Where did he learn how to fight, anyways? What did you guys hear?"

The former model leaned a little closer to Scarlett before whispering. "I've heard rumors. Some of them cool, some of them not. Apparently, Snake-Eyes is a 'ninja'. He trained with a ninja clan or something like that."

"I wouldn't be surprised if he is." Scarlett grumbled. "And why are we whispering if everyone here knows this?"

"It's more fun this way." Lady Jaye added with a smile. "The rumors don't stop there. They say he has killed hundreds of people with a sword alone."

Cover Girl nodded, grinning. "He's supposedly the most dangerous man on the planet."

"And you like dangerous men, Courtney?" Scarlett's eyebrows rose in amusement.

The blonde tapped her chin, deep in thought. "I don't know. I might. More like dangerous men with hearts of gold."

"There's plenty of dangerous men here - you're literally surrounded by them." Jaye narrowed her eyes. "Ever heard of fraternization regulations? Be careful. It's hard enough getting in here. Don't get thrown out just because you have the hots for some soldier boy."

"They're hardly boys," Cover Girl pointed out cheekily.

"Well, obviously."

Scarlett laughed.

Special Thanks to Greentigerr for help on the action scenes.