I wrote this rather quickly and with a very distinct kind of voice in mind. Hopefully I pulled it off.

Written for C/P forum's claw machine challenge, prompts: timpani, jasper, kite (you just had to give me timpani, didn't you zero?)

Also written for C/P forum's monthly oneshot contest, prompt: "You make me want to live. Not survive; not exist. Live." This fulfills the prompt in a roundabout way but...I think it works? Maybe? lol

GI Joe Renegades verse, set pre-show. Pure and unabashed fluff. Also unbetad because...yeah...I don't know anyone in this fandom, lol.

Signs of Life

If Shana O'Hara had been a more introspective person, she might have asked herself a little sooner when it all started to change.

She might have saved herself from this moment. She might have been spared the embarrassment of watching Snake Eyes pull away from her lips, a look of frozen shock on his face (the fraction, at least, that wasn't still covered in that dehumanizing mask).

"Snake Eyes….I didn't mean…."

In her defense, for a long time the rules had been clear and simple: she was the apprentice, and he the almighty sensei.

But if Shana O'Hara had been honest with herself, she might have owned that from the earliest he had transcended the prosaic role of teacher. The man eclipsed such mortal terms. After all, he was a ninja. A ninja with no face and no voice. He was the consummate "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" – except that enigma also had dual katanas strapped to his back and occasionally defied the laws of physics.

His attitude didn't help matters. He was merciless in his lessons, which Shana endearingly referred to as "beat downs." Especially during her college years, when he never gave her an inch. "Are you sure there's a person under there, and not just some cyborg with a sadistic streak?" was a favorite refrain, to which he would give her the stare, the one that could mean a thousand different things but when she was mouthing off usually meant shut up and finish your kata.

He moved like liquid, with pure, soundless victory – untouchable – someone who did everything so precisely and with such mechanical ease that couldn't she be forgiven for thinking of him as something beyond mere humanity?

The first real misstep, and one for which really no excuses can be made, came several years later, after graduation, when she splashed big and bold into the Intelligence scene, bent on making some serious waves. She'd grown up. She'd come into her own. All of sudden she was the one handing him the orders, and if Shana O'Hara had not been so blinded by her thirst for justice (or thinly disguised revenge if you were to ask certain, local, ninjas), she might have noticed the subtle way their roles had reversed.

"Snake Eyes, I've got intel on an underground Cobra laboratory that makes way more outgoing deliveries than ever show up on the drug store shelves." Turning heads at Langley with no one the wiser that she had a ninja in her pocket who did a whole lot of the dirty work, she might have noticed how he never once complained, or even questioned, her commands. Go here, go there, retrieve such and such from so and so, she'd bark, perhaps once in a great while, when she was in a good mood, tacking on a perfunctory, "please and thank you."

Taking down Cobra was her breath of life. She wasn't interested in examining anything irrelevant to her goals, and if she had been, she might not have so easily overlooked the small warning signs as their hierarchy evolved from student-master to partners-in-crime.

Take, for example, the first time she ever saw his mouth. It was only a brief few seconds, a small sip of water that she'd clumsily offered after he'd spent the better part of the night chasing down an empty lead on her behalf, the thermometer topped at ninety-five degrees in addition to DC's cheery summer humidity.

But her chest had quietly tightened at this visible proof of life, blood thrumming in her ears like a rolling timpani. When he'd shied away from her scrutiny, turning slowly to face the wall as he raised the glass to his lips, she was surprised that there could be anything like insecurity about him.

If Shana O'Hara had been the kind of girl who relished in milestones, she might have marked a few other dates on her calendar. Like the time they were making a not-so-clean getaway on his motorbike and he'd flown them up a flight of terraced steps to make a jump that, quite frankly, only made them easier to catch. "You're enjoying this, aren't you," she'd shouted, her stomach in her throat as it dawned on her that maybe ninjas were just a deadlier version of daredevils and indeed liked to have fun while doing their jobs.

Or the time when she first cottoned on to the fact that her stockpile of expensive chocolates seemed to miraculously decrease whenever he turned up, tap-tapping at her window. He'd been taken aback when she'd led him to her pantry and brandished its contents – "You like the minty kind best, right?" – a full supply of his favorite and a smug grin on her face. "Did you really think I wouldn't notice, Snake Eyes? No one's that good of a thief – not even you." Maybe hating him just a little for all his talk about, [How can you eat that junk? Your food is like poison.] Maybe loving the awkward way he confessed that, [even the most disciplined need a secret indulgence.]

But even after all that – even after their relationship equilibrated to something resembling friendship – didn't he always come back from her off-the-books side projects unscathed? No matter the odds or the danger, he returned to her safe and whole, mission accomplished, success rate one hundred percent. Could she really be blamed for thinking he was indestructible? For dismissing him as more of a concept than a man? A chest of metal, a heart of jasper, powered by jet fuel instead of blood.

Until, of course, the night when she first saw him bleed.

And it wasn't a little blood. On the night he crawled through the window of her town home, the one on the top floor she always kept open for him, he trailed a thick, red band through her carpet that to this day she has not been able to completely wipe out. She found him sprawled on her bathroom tiles, weakly attempting to triage his two bullet wounds, one in the shoulder and one in the leg, and if Shana O'Hara hadn't been more concerned with chasing down impossible leads than fearing the worst, she might have remembered that there was a breathing human behind that wall of black.

"Snake Eyes….this is really bad." She might have remembered how her tears mixed with his blood. Or her fear as she felt the dying drumbeat of his pulse. "You need to go to the hospital." She might have remembered her only coherent thought – Anyone but him.

In the end, he pulled through. After stabilizing he vanished into one of his secret hideaways, signing that he'd, [be back once I'm better] and [please don't blame yourself], and if Shana O'Hara had been living for the future rather than dwelling in the past she might have prepared for the reckoning. She might have reconciled the different versions of Snake Eyes warring in her mind – the sensei, the partner, the friend – the something else that banished any trace of the faceless, voiceless vision in black who existed, but who she could not describe as being truly alive.

She might have admitted that he was a man who could bleed and die. One who not only possessed life, but in many ways was the heartbeat of her own.

But Shana O'Hara was none of those things. Which was why two months later, when he finally returned to her after his close call, the fact of him standing and breathing and living – right there in her narrow galley kitchen – hit her like runaway train.

Prone to do everything in extremes and most things on impulse, she'd let go of her emotions like the string of a kite, tugged up the bottom of his mask in the way she'd seen him do, leaned ever so closer and did the unthinkable.

"Snake Eyes...I didn't mean…"

If Shana O'Hara had been a more introspective person, she might have asked herself a little sooner when it all started to change.

She also might have asked him the same question. And he might have told her that the reason he seemed to come to life before her eyes was really very simple.

Because you make me want to live.

She might have been saved from this moment. She might have been spared the shock of watching him take one step forward, pull her gently towards him and kiss her back, long and slow, a small breath between and just enough space to sign:

[Me too.]