The Cobra Commander was a little surprised that the capture of Storm Shadow was executed without a single hitch or even delay. So the day of the disgraced ninja's arrival, supposed to be a triumphant event for Cobra, was instead one of unease.

He was contacted about an hour after he'd finally fallen asleep after several days of jumping from one secret location to another, until he was finally safe and Cobra could begin to regroup. He had been running on no sleep for nearly sixteen hours by then and had been happy to finally stop and recharge. Even his rage was gone, he was so exhausted. But when the call came it all rushed back.

At first he was going to snap at the voice over the comm that whatever it was could wait till morning, but then he'd heard the words: "We have Storm Shadow in custody. He's en route to your location now."

ETA: approximately five hours. Stunned, the Commander rolled out of bed, stared at the floor for a few minutes, then slowly got dressed. The order to have Storm Shadow apprehended and brought to Site Six was only 48 hours old; and in that time Storm Shadow had been located, ambushed, captured and was now on delivery to Cobra's pristine new base, which hadn't even gotten the heating working right yet. The Commander had set his expectation of a capture at several weeks to months at best; realistically he had come to terms with the more likely outcome that Storm Shadow would probably take his own life after a long, drawn-out stand off, or be sniped and his body dragged back to Cobra without ceremony.

Cobra Commander believed in his men, if only because he didn't want any dregs stinking up his organization. But though he wanted to look forward to the dispensation of a little justice, he knew that there was no way his best team had done what they said they had done.

There was only one logical conclusion to what had happened. Storm Shadow meant to get captured. He wanted to see the Commander again. And the reason there was logical, too.

Storm Shadow was planning kill him.

He probably could do it, too, the Commander thought as he finished securing his jacket. While he had a literal army to protect him, not to mention plenty of his own personal firepower, he also knew that Storm Shadow was the best.

Either way, this was going to be one good show.

Storm Shadow arrived on schedule, so there was no waiting beyond a few stray minutes after the Red Ninjas had been lined up behind him to scowl their disapproval of Storm Shadow's unprecedented betrayal. The Cobra Vipers stood on either side in a neat rows. The Commander stood at the center of it all, assuming the firm stance of a judge. Inwardly, he wondered how many of them were going to be alive at the end of this. Cobra couldn't take another hit so soon, or they might be set back indefinitely, especially if he was wounded again, certainly if he was killed (he wouldn't be, of course). But-appearances, and all that.

Storm Shadow was led in, shackled and barely able to walk. Aside from a few rather obvious, minor abrasions on his face, and a few dark stains on his white coat, the Commander saw nothing that hinted at a great battle. The Red Ninja team he'd sent out to retrieve Storm Shadow were a few men less-six out of ten-but he was still suspicious at the cleanliness of it all. The Red Ninjas deserve these doubts, but the way Storm Shadow glared at him over his mask when their gazes met confirmed all of the Commander's suspicions. He wanted this meeting.

There was bitter hatred in those eyes. Cobra Commander felt his flesh go numb, as if he were drowned again in cold water. Had this anger always lurked at the center of Storm Shadow's heart? If it had, maybe Cobra Commander deserved to die. It was so raw and obvious he didn't think Storm Shadow could have contained it for so long without a capable commander noticing.

The retrieval team dropped Storm Shadow in front of the Cobra Commander, in front of the Red Ninja detail, and in front of Cobra's more rank-and-file troops, all of whom didn't truly understand what was at play, but did remember who had ruined everything for them and their leader. Storm Shadow had never had any friends in the organization, but now he was the Quisling. They all wanted blood. Cobra Commander would give it to them. But first, he wanted-needed-to know why this had happened.

In fact, no preambles. No games or phony trial. Just go for the million dollar question.

"Why?" he said as Storm Shadow hit the floor. "Why did you do this to us?" Why did you do this to me? To your brothers? We nurtured you. You saved me. I healed you. Why did you do this?

Storm Shadow looked up at him, and his blood-dried mouth twisted in a sick smile. "You know why."

"I do not," Cobra Commander said. "I do not know why, Storm Shadow."

Storm Shadow just continued to smirk. He looked away, apparently content with some small victory.

One of the men handed the Commander the twin white swords Storm Shadow loved. Cobra Commander had never touched them before. He took the swords as one in his hands and couldn't help but let his gaze linger over them, and let his men watch. The swords were lighter than he expected, but he imagined he could feel the weight of hundreds of lives on them.

Maybe more, he thought.

"Did he have any other weapons?" he asked.

"No, sir," the leader said.

"And you...took the swords from him, did you?"

The man nodded.

"No," he said. "No..I don't think so."

The Red Ninja frowned at him. "Sir?"

"He gave them to you. Don't be ashamed. He's a wily one." Cobra Commander looked back at Storm Shadow. "You betrayed us, but your betrayal wasn't over yet. What was your next move going to be, Storm Shadow?" What is your next move?

Storm Shadow still avoided his gaze. "You have the nerve to call this betrayal," he said. Loathing was in every word. "You betrayed me. You drove me to...to this. This isn't revenge. This is justice, Commander."

"I don't think we're on the same page, Storm Shadow. Last time I checked, you decided to give G.I. Joe the victory." Cobra Commander handed the swords to one of the Red Ninjas. Better a fellow ninja master have them when things went South. "You believe this was justified?"

"You ruined my life," Storm Shadow said. "You killed me before I was even an adult. Everything has been death. Now, I'm free."

"Last time I checked, I saved you," Cobra Commander said. "I gave you a real place in Cobra, and I made you my most trusted man. I've never doubted you. I've always rewarded you. What crime did I commit that equals what you've done to me?"

Now Storm Shadow did look into his eyes. "You really need to hear it? Very well, Commander. I know Zartan framed me for the murder of the Hard Master. He ruined my life and you stepped in to do it with him. You used my anger against Snake-Eyes to make me into a killer."

Cobra Commander tried to process that, but in the time it took to do so, Storm Shadow was standing. All guns in the room were all pointed at him but the Commander suspected it was already too late.

"Hold!" he yelled.

"You didn't save me!" Storm Shadow yelled. Then the handcuffs fell off. Cobra Commander wondered how. The Red Ninja were all primed to strike by the time the chains were on the floor. "You did this to me! I didn't sign my death warrant. You signed yours!"

Then someone's nerves got the better of them and a gun went off. Bullets struck the floor where Storm Shadow stood only a moment before.

"Stop!" Cobra Commander shouted. "I'll personally kill whoever shoots next!"

Then the two swords were back in Storm Shadow's hands. The Red Ninja leader slumped to the ground. Everyone looked pleadingly at him.

"Storm Shadow," he said slowly. "I've never made any pretense about using you for Cobra. You were an important asset. But I thought you were happy with the arrangement."

"So you admit it."

"I admit what was always obvious." Cobra Commander chose his next words a little more carefully. "As for this Hard Master business...what Zartan did before you and I even met is not something you can hold me responsible for."

"You expect me to believe your good friend Zartan never told you? You expect me to believe Cobra took me in out of the goodness of its heart?"

"I expect you to use some common sense. You are good for Cobra, and Cobra is good for you. As for Zartan...he's dead now. If you needed a little revenge...fine. You got it. Zartan was an annoying opportunist who probably had outlived his welcome here anyway. The power was going to his head."

"You're a liar." Storm Shadow unsheathed the blade. Cobra Commander watched it angle towards him. "You're going to kill me as soon as I back down."

"If you can prove your case...maybe no one has to die."

Storm Shadow's breath hitched. The look in his eyes only hardened. "No. We both know one of us has to die."

"Too bad," Cobra Commander said. "I tried. Give me your best shot, Tommy. But I'm not going to kill you. My men will do that. You're going to spill the blood first."

"You're a liar," Storm Shadow said again. "There's no reason to believe anything you say."

"No one's stopping you," Cobra Commander said. "If you really think I'm guilty then kill me."

Storm Shadow glared. Cobra Commander glared back, even if no one could see it.

"Or," Cobra Commander said, "do the smart thing and take the small chance I'm giving you. Like I said, Cobra needs you."

Storm Shadow put the blade to his neck. Cobra Commander didn't feel it cut through his collar or the flesh of his neck until several seconds too late.

At least it wouldn't hurt.

Then the blade was flipped, and Cobra Commander barely registered as it was placed in his hands. Storm Shadow turned down the other one and pointed it against the floor. Cobra Commander looked down on the sword in his hands again and saw a faint red smear along the slight edge of the blade. Storm Shadow had had to make a point, of course. But no one else could see it. Cobra Commander pretended to run his finger over the blade, as if testing it. The blood was wiped clean.

"I won't apologize for knowing Zartan," he said, "but I didn't trick you, or keep you in the dark about anything. What I want to hear is an apology from you."

Storm Shadow didn't speak for several moments. Then he nodded, once. That was all.

Cobra Commander would take it.

"Commander," one of the Red Ninja said. "He's a traitor-"

"He's whatever I say he is."

"But he must be dealt with!"

"He has."

Cobra Commander placed the blade on Storm Shadow's shoulder. "I forgive him."