"I'm just saying, Kimi, this would be so much easier with a better Snake Eyes," Storm Shadow explained. "It's hard to put aside twenty years of bad blood, and he certainly doesn't make it any easier."
Jinx glanced over at Snake Eyes, who was enraptured by the Burkean monotony of the open road. She frowned.
"That's a bit harsh, don't you think?" she asked.
"Not really. I'll get around to making up with him eventually, of course, I just think it would be easier if he weren't so awful. Have we all forgotten that he tried to kill me?" Storm Shadow asked.
"To be fair, you had just tried to destroy Paris," Jinx replied.
"Oh, of course, because Snake Eyes is basically Charles de Gaulle," Storm Shadow said. "That still doesn't explain why I didn't get a nice Snake Eyes, who might invite you to storm a gulag with him or something. Instead, I got some smug, improbably talented, fratricidal idiot."
"So you're saying you don't have much to work with."
"And you think it's all his fault? Not yours or anyone else's?" Jinx asked.
"You're really taking all the fun out of being bitter," Storm Shadow replied. "And if Snake Eyes could hear us, I would probably be slightly nicer about it. But he can't. And I've been sitting in this car for far too long to be charitable."
"He can't hear us?"
"Oh, he's way too busy moping to listen to us."
Jinx looked over at Snake Eyes again, who was still busy gazing out the car window. "Do you know what he's moping about?"
"Like I could keep track." Storm Shadow tapped Snake Eyes on the shoulder. "Hey. Snap out of it."
Snake Eyes started, then turned to Storm Shadow. Where are we?
"About fifteen minutes away from the last thing you remember," Storm Shadow replied.
Oh. Snake Eyes paused a moment. Have you ever thought how true it is that we are born astride the grave?
"What's your problem this time?"
Scarlett is dead. I am sad. There is nothing of beauty left in the world.
"Ugh. I hate it when you get like this." Storm Shadow turned to Jinx. "See? I told you he was moping."
We stumble forward, pulled incessantly on by relentless time, jolted from our comfortable insensibility only by random and unavoidable tragedy.
"The only way to get him to stop is to ignore it. Otherwise, you just encourage him to start whining about the fragility of human existence or something."
"You consider this whining?" Jinx asked.
"After you go a couple rounds with this stuff, yes, it gets old. Though Scarlett is the only thing that makes him do this, so I suppose I should consider myself lucky," Storm Shadow replied. "You don't think he would let me put him in the Arashikage Mindset, do you? At least then he would be too distracted to whine."
"Your reaction to grief is to put him in a trance?" Jinx asked. "Because you find it annoying?"
"If we were friends, my motivations might be purer," Storm Shadow admitted. "But like I said, in this universe he can get a bit stabby and I see no reason to put up with this."
Jinx sighed. "That, right there, is precisely the sort of emotional maturity I look to you for, Tommy."
"If you must use me as a role model, you could at least try to pick something I'm good at."
"Like archery or monologues or something." Storm Shadow paused a moment. "And frankly, it doesn't sound like you have a better plan than mine to make him stop."
How can I stop when everything reminds me of her absence?
"Literally everything?" Storm Shadow asked.
The quiet of night is a reflection of the void I feel, while the mocking beauty of the noonday sun stabs me in the heart like – Snake Eyes stopped. Like a shuriken. Made of Arashikage steel. Because it is a pain that does not break.
"Brother, it's all right if you're running out of material. You can just angst in silence."
I am not running out of material.
"Prove it," Storm Shadow said.
It was in that moment, of course, that his mind went completely blank. He looked around the car, but still nothing. Snake Eyes leaned forward, feeling around on the gray upholstery of the car floor for some sort of inspiration – or, at the very least, the last of the candy beans. He'd nearly given up when he felt it, spiky even through his gloves. Perfect.
This pine cone reminds me of Scarlett because – Oh God, what was that turn of phrase? It had all seemed so clever, if a tad unformed, in his head. Tommy's increasingly skeptical expression was not helping.
"That weird-looking pine cone you tracked in here – and somehow haven't noticed until now even though it's messy and annoying – reminds you of the woman you've loved from afar for years because…" Storm Shadow said, prompting him.
Snake Eyes frowned, glad for the protection of the mask and visor. Suddenly, it seemed, there were no similarities at all between the pine cone and Scarlett. He had never found Scarlett wedged in the labyrinth of wires beneath the passenger seat of Jinx's car, while the pine cone had never been seduced away from him by the crude and blatant – and more frustratingly, explicitly reciprocated – interest of another very extroverted pine cone.
"Look, you can just admit defeat. For what it's worth, I think it might be unsportsmanlike to mock you too much for this," Storm Shadow offered.
Scarlett reminds me of this pine cone because they are both made of carbon.
"You just don't give up, do you?" Storm Shadow asked.
It sounded better in my head.
"And you didn't even go for the obvious 'reddish-brown and unexpectedly pointy' thing. For shame, brother."
'Reddish-brown.' Great choice, Tommy.
"'Reddish-brown' is perfectly accurate."
It does not create the correct mood.
"And what mood would that be? Faux-Gothic by way of Evanescence?" Jinx asked.
Tommy, please tell me that's somehow disrespectful and that now I can punish her.
"Even if she were your student and not the Blind Master's, I don't really see what purpose punishing her would serve. It's not like it would improve the quality of your sulking any," Storm Shadow replied. "Besides, I think it's bad form to discourage honesty."
I don't know why I stay here.
"I always assumed you were a glutton for punishment," Storm Shadow replied. "It just explains so much."
Flint wasn't often reminded of Shelley when he was on duty, but if he had to be, he supposed he would have chosen "A Dream of the Unknown," which at least had the benefit of a pleasant setting. Given that he could not choose, and was at the moment surrounded by his fallen comrades in the middle of a desert instead of perched on a shelving bank surrounded by violets and bluebells, he believed a more appropriate choice would've been "Adonais," which was at least elegiac. But somehow, watching Roadblock frantically gathering dogtags amidst the burned-out wreckage of vehicles, small beneath the vastness of the desert sky, all he could think of was "Ozymandias."
"Could you remind me again why he's doing that?" It was Lady Jaye, sitting beside him in the shade of a toppled Humvee.
"He says it's going to make a great scene later. You know, dump out all the dogtags in front of Colton, make a big deal about Duke's death, that sort of thing," Flint replied.
"He does know we use those for things, right? Like, identifying bodies that might be difficult to identify otherwise?" Jaye asked.
"If you want to be the one to tell him that, be my guest," Flint said. Jaye replied with a weary, conspiratorial look, and they fell silent again.
Eventually, Flint found himself watching her, surreptitiously. It was almost a privilege to see her unguarded like this. She was like some regal, elegant bird of prey –
"Flint, do I have something on my face?"
Flint started, surprised by Jaye's remark. "What was that?"
"I said, do I have something on my face? You keep looking at me funny," Jaye said.
"Not really, I guess."
Flint shrugged. "It's nothing, Jaye."
"What is it?"
He was stuck. Denial was useless, but there also wasn't a good way to tell her what he'd actually been doing – not here, not now, and it was too hot to think of something clever– so he settled for the first thing that popped into his head. "I can't believe you're wearing eyeliner."
"What?" As though he were watching from somewhere far away, Flint noted that it was an accomplishment that he'd managed to confuse her so much that she didn't even know if she should be angry at him. He'd have to update his resume, if he ever got out of here alive.
"I mean, you just jumped down a well. It seems like some of it should've washed off. Don't worry, it doesn't look weird or anything," Flint explained.
"It doesn't look weird. Oh, thank God. I almost just died in a hole in the desert, our commander is wasting his time collecting dog tags instead of trying to get us out of here alive, and my friends and colleagues have just been massacred, but at least my eye makeup still looks good. You really know how to make a girl feel better, Flint."
Flint was about to apologize when Roadblock stumbled over, jingling with every step. "Okay, now that I'm done with that, we're heading east."
"If you don't mind me asking, what are we heading for?" Lady Jaye asked.
"Heading for? Why would we need to head for anything?" Roadblock asked.
"Because we're in the middle of the desert and have no food, water, or shelter?" Flint suggested. "Maybe it would be better to go south, since that's the direction the ocean is in."
But then Flint looked harder at Roadblock – sensible, reliable, reasonable Roadblock – and saw something strange in his eyes. Was he distracted by grief? Had he been struck by the idiot ball? Both were possible. Both were terrifying.
"We're going east," Roadblock said again. "Because I say so."
Flint and Jaye fell in behind him. The concern in her eyes was obvious, and still feeling bad about what had happened before, when he caught her eye he couldn't help mouthing a quick I'm sorry.
She frowned. "What?" she whispered back.
I'm sorry, he said again, deliberately overemphasizing the words. Confusion flitted momentarily across her face, but then her frown deepened.
"Flint, we're all sweaty. This isn't a time for your stupid jokes."
This was, quite simply, not his day.
"There are more of them than you were expecting, are there not?" Rain Shadow asked.
Kerlesshendra nodded, looking at the crowd of Sues milling about in the multipurpose gym-dojo-makeout area known as the Rec Room, and trying not to seem disappointed. She'd known that there were others like her, but she hadn't expected to feel quite this mediocre.
"It's all right, Storm Warning doesn't really care," Rain Shadow said.
"He doesn't care that everyone else had my idea?" Kerlesshendra asked.
"No. Not so long as you're willing to help him out," Rain Shadow replied.
"And what does that mean, exactly?" Kerlesshendra asked.
"Look, he likes to explain these things to new recruits himself. I'll take you to the throne room." Before Kerlesshendra could even begin to ponder the fact that she was about to be taken to a throne room, one of the Sues noticed Rain Shadow standing in the doorway.
"Oh, by the way, Rain Shadow, I wrote you in. I hope you don't mind."
"You wrote me in to your story?" he asked.
"You're my best friend who's in love with me when we're Storm Shadow's apprentices, but then I choose him instead."
"That is dishonorable," Rain Shadow said. "Ninja do not fall in love at the drop of a hat."
"Oh no, we got dishonor cooties on you," another girl said. She turned to the first Sue. "Anyway, I told you he would've said that, if you asked before you put him in."
"Whatever. It's not like he's going to read it anyway," the first Sue replied. "He doesn't read dumb girl things, remember? He was very specific about that."
"I did not say it that way," Rain Shadow protested.
"You don't even have any girls who talk in your story," the first Sue said.
"I told you guys, Jinx hasn't said anything for the last fourteen chapters because she's with Snake Eyes in the catacombs under the Arashikage dojo seeking the truth behind the Hard Master's death, and it echoes down there," Rain Shadow said.
"She didn't talk before that either," the Sue pointed out. "I assume she was too busy flying or something."
"They're just really good at jumping," Rain Shadow said. "Besides, at least my characters actually do things. Your characters do something vague for five minutes before everything devolves into flirting, and then you spend forever describing their outfits."
"Description is part of good writing," the Sue replied.
"But no one cares if your sports bra matches your shoes," Rain Shadow said.
"Just like no one cares about the exact details of how elemental ninja magic works?" the Sue asked.
"That's totally different-" Rain Shadow began.
"Hey, aren't we supposed to be going to the throne room?" Kerlesshendra asked.
Although most of his face was covered by his mask, Kerlesshendra thought she could see something like relief in his eyes. "Right. Let's go."
And so they set off into the labyrinth of hallways beyond, which Kerlesshendra would later admit did seem a great deal darker and more humid than she would have thought.
The mask smelled funny. Of all the things that were uncomfortable right now – the chains, the bulky body armor, the combat boots that were a size too large – the only thing Storm Shadow could seem to concentrate on was the fact that his copy of Snake Eyes's mask was made of factory-fresh plastic that was probably leaching organic compounds all over. Of course, it wasn't that there was much else to think about. The stupid mask made it hard to hear. And while a tinted visor might be a decent idea for daytime, at night in a dark prison transport, it just made everything hard to see. Next time, he was choosing a different disguise. One that didn't involve wearing sunglasses at night.
When they finally stopped, it was all Storm Shadow could do to stumble out of the car. Constrained by the bulkiness of the suit, disoriented by the sensory deprivation, he just hoped that Zartan had, in fact, understood the President's garbled confession correctly.
It was then that he heard, very faintly, the sound of a heart that was practically fluttering. Terror, probably. At least, he hoped it was terror.
"Well, if it isn't Snake Eyes. I have to say, I'm such a fan I just don't know what to do with myself. Anyway, I'll be your glib, sadistic bureaucrat for your stay here in this horrifying secret detention facility that functions outside the law, which in no way mirrors any actual places you might be able to think of. Although I was asked to clarify that this isn't Cuba. Or that bizarrely imperialist prison pit from the last Batman movie. Just in case you were wondering." Though he couldn't see the warden through the visor, Storm Shadow couldn't help but imagine he was smiling carnivorously.
"Now, if you'll kindly come with me, in just a moment you'll discover how we can violate your civil liberties simply by going underground, where there is no international law," said the warden. Storm Shadow saw the shadowy figure turn, and begin heading for what he assumed was the entrance.
"Wait, sir?" It was one of the guards. The warden turned.
"That's not how international law works."
The warden frowned. "That is exactly how international law works. If you're in a place not claimed by any country, then there are no laws and you can torture people."
"No. Once you pass out of national jurisdiction – because you're in international waters, or an airport, or miles underground – then you pass into the realm of international law. Of course, that's never actually stopped anyone from torturing someone when they really wanted to, so why you care is kind of beyond me," the guard said.
The warden rolled his eyes. "Yeah, whatever. So we're not exactly experts on this stuff. The point is that I'm a sadist, and since that comes across, I could really care less if we're actually right."
The guard frowned. "You know, I'd probably forgive you for not bothering to check Wikipedia first if you didn't seem so nonchalant about it."
The warden cast the guard one last derisive look, and turned away. "Anyway, Snake Eyes, I hope you realize just what you've gotten yourself into. Welcome to Isengard."
Einsargen. E-I-N-S-A-R-G-E-N, Tommy. Not Isengard.
"You know, I can't decide what I like more: the fact that the above sentence implies that you have signs for both 'Einsargen' and 'Isengard' that I understand, the fact that no one has ever asked how I understand you in the first place, or the fact that you just happen to know how to spell Einsargen," Storm Shadow said.
ASL would also hypothetically require me to remove my mask to ask questions. It's not like we're exactly committed to realism.
"Fine. But how do you know how to spell 'Einsargen'?" Storm Shadow asked.
It's not important.
"That's awfully evasive for something that isn't important."
I had to look it up when I wrote that report on how Ripcord died.
"Snake Eyes, that is absolutely important. Mostly because I want to know how he bit it," Storm Shadow said.
He came with me to Germany. Cobra knew we were there, and sent someone to sabotage the mission. I figured it out before he did, when I caught the guy messing with our parachutes.
"You parachuted into Germany?"
Ripcord insisted. So I had time to check my gear, but I didn't have time to get to his, so I just left him a note. I guess he didn't read it or something.
"Just out of curiosity, what did the note say?" Storm Shadow asked.
Ripcord – watch your back. Snake Eyes.
Snake Eyes nodded.
"Brother, that's just a threat," Storm Shadow said. "I'm not sure he didn't jump out of that plane to get away from you."
That's pretty cynical.
"Not when you're dealing with a ninja who's in love with your girlfriend," Storm Shadow replied. "Actually, in that case, I would argue you could never be too careful."
And you know how?
"I don't," he replied, with a smile that Snake Eyes would have called coy on anyone else. "I would think you'd know by now that for me, this sort of predicament is completely hypothetical."
A/N: An administrative note: though all of you are awesome reviewers, I have a couple anonymous reviews I wanted to answer here:
-I'd like Scarlett back in the story too – she's awesome, and I would like to not be a total hypocrite on the whole Bechdel Test thing – but at the moment I don't think a big part is in the cards. But keep your eyes open.
-To the Guest who talked about the crocodile: your review led me to one of the more amusing BBC News videos I've watched in my life, so thanks! Though I will say that I don't think the slash fangirls are always wrong – sometimes they are totally right – it's just that I don't see it for those two. Besides, Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow totally ruins my OTP, Storm Shadow/Side of the Mountain. I mean, he was hanging all over it for most of that sequence with the Red Ninja, and there were a couple times when Snake Eyes basically pushed them together. It's practically canon.