Locating Junko's okiya was - as Tommy had predicted - easier than it sounded, especially at that hour. Kyoto had many okiya, despite the dwindling number of geisha, and it would have taken some time for him to find the correct one had he decided to search every room in each house.
Now, Tommy was observing the geisha house from outside, making sure to keep an eye on the nearby yakuza he had followed there. He could hear the nervous whispering of voices and the unsettled rustling of silk inside. It seems the geisha were on edge from Junko's recent disappearance, not that he could blame them.
"Oh, what horrible things could be happening to her right now," he heard one say, her voice slightly muffled by the walls and her hand, followed by murmurs of agreement.
Yes, he thought. Such as being left alone in a nice, warm safe-house with everything she could need at the moment. So horrible.
He made his move, slipping into the shadows of the okiya. There was no doubt Junko's name wasn't "Junko" within these walls. She had to have a geisha name. Now the issue was finding what that name is, so he could find information on where her bedroom was or wherever it was she kept her personal belongings.
With ease born of years of practice, he located the office of the okasan with no difficulty and searched for the any sort of identification record. He felt a prick of annoyance as he sorted through the files. Why was he doing this, anyway? He should have told Junko to get her own stuff; it would have been a nice test for her, to see how stealthy she could be.
But then he'd have to bail her out if she got caught. And that was horribly inconvenient.
Finally, he found her name, at the bottom of a list of resident geisha. He tilted his head. "Kojako," it read next to her name, but that was it. The list was promptly shoved back into the drawer.
A few more minutes of searching, and his suspicion that there was no record of assigned bedrooms was confirmed. Sighing, he carefully arranged everything to look untouched before slipping out the room and darting behind byōbu - folding screens.
If anything, this so-called mission was laughably easy compared to infiltrations he'd had to do in the past. The shadows and hiding spots were almost aligned, although he knew better than to let his guard down. As close together as the geisha were for comfort, they were still very aware of their surroundings.
As he snaked along hallways, he heard quiet sobbing. A little curious, he poked his head into one of the rooms, where a lone geisha was crying, her face buried in her sleeves. Out of all the geisha, she seemed most upset about Junko's disappearance. She might have been Junko's oneesan when she was a maiko, Storm thought somberly as he scanned the room. He didn't know Junko very well, but was able to piece together evidence that this was, in fact, her room.
Like the framed photo of her and her family on one of the tables. He nearly groaned. Seriously? Too easy.
Tommy swung back up into the rafters and crouched on one. He couldn't get Junko's belongings just yet; the older geisha would notice things disappearing and alert the others. Looks like he'd just have to be patient and wait a while.
He looked at the bamboo plant next to the picture frame. Its vase was filled with small pebbles and easily accessible from his position. Then he looked at the door.
Hanachiyo's eyes flew to the door when she heard something hit it. Sniffling, she rubbed at her eyes and called out in the steadiest voice she could manage, "Who's there?"
Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she stood up, arranged her attire, and opened the door. "Hello? Did someone want talk to me?" She slipped out the room, making sure to close the door behind her before disappearing down the hallway.
Back in the room, Tommy dropped to the floor and began searching.
The safe-house was actually the basement of another house, Junko had found after finally daring to venture out the door. Clutching the key tightly in her hand, she wandered around the house cautiously, wanting to call out to see if anybody was there but was too scared of being discovered.
Although completely furnished, the house showed no sign of occupancy. A bit of dust had collected on the furniture, and the only food in stock were non-perishables. But it was a nice house nonetheless. There was even a child's room, filled with stuffed toys. Absent-mindedly, Junko picked one up and studied it. It looked innocuous enough, with shiny dark eyes and soft fur. Smiling, she stroked its head and set it back down before continuing her exploration.
In hindsight, she'd realized fifteen minutes after Tommy had left that telling him to go get her things was not the best idea. If he'd been lying about being a... ninja, then most likely he'd get lost since she never told him her okiya's location. However, if he hadn't been lying, then there was no telling how much information he could find out about her. He knew her parents were dead, so he'd have no problem tracing her family records once he found out her last name. After all, there were only so many 'Junko Akita's in the world who were former geisha AND orphans.
She sat down on one of the couches and rubbed her face with her hands. She and her family didn't exactly have a dirty past, but her father's work with yakuza wasn't clean either. Although she couldn't recall anything incriminating off the top of her head, she was sure Tommy would find something. Groaning, she rolled her head back, staring at the ceiling. She dimly wondered if he would stoop as low as to use blackmail against her.
Nervously, she glanced at a wall-mounted clock. 8:14 PM. He could be back at any moment.
Right on cue, she heard a motorcycle stop in front of the house. Quickly, she ran back into the basement, closed the door behind her, and sat on the couch with a magazine, pretending to look busy. Her side protested the sudden movements, and she clenched her jaw. Although the pain wasn't nearly as sharp as it was hours ago, it was starting to become annoying.
Tommy couldn't help but feel amused when he saw Junko. Her breaths were coming out a tad bit faster than they should be, and she looked far too engrossed in a sports magazine. It was obvious she hadn't stayed in the safe-house the entire time he was gone.
"Evening, Kojako-san." He smirked as he shrugged his backpack off and placed it on the couch next to her.
She gave him a sour look - which just made him laugh - and contemplated smacking him with the rolled-up magazine. Deciding that he would either dodge or not be affected by it, she unzipped the bulging backpack and began pulling items out.
"You found my belongings," she said simply as she pulled out a case of hairpins she'd bought for herself. A quick glance confirmed they were all there and she set it aside.
"Of course I did." Crossing his arms, Tommy leaned against the wall as he watched Junko shift through the pack. "Were you expecting me not to?"
"I was expecting you to take a bit longer than you actually did." She took out a few articles of clothing and piled them neatly. "How did you find the correct geisha house?"
Tommy walked over to the armrest and sat on it, one foot resting on the couch cushions and one swinging idly above the ground. "There's a yakuza headquarters near where I found you. I simply followed a henchman to the okiya."
Junko frowned at him. Yes, the news that the yakuza were keeping a close eye on the okiya was unsettling, but the fact that he'd found its location so easily was also disturbing. "That almost sounds like cheating."
"If you were expecting me to go through all the okiya in Kyoto in search of yours, then yes, I cheated." He grinned. "But you weren't, were you?"
She didn't know how to answer that, so she bowed her head and continued unpacking. "You only brought one backpack-full of my stuff?"
"Sorry. I took what I thought you'd might want. If you want anything else, I guess I could go back and get it, but I won't be happy about it."
Sighing, Junko looked through all of the backpack's pockets one last time. "You brought everything I need, I guess. Thank you." She held the empty backpack out to him.
He simply looked at it as if he didn't know what to do with it. "Did you check the inner pocket in the main one?"
"I think so." She peeked back in and searched the mentioned pocket. "I checked all of-"
Her hand froze when she touched cool metal and she fell silent. Slowly, she pulled the object out and stared at it, speechless that she'd forgotten about it and that it was now in her hands. With great care, she traced its edges with her fingers and studied its every detail.
"Thought you'd might like to have that back," Tommy said, breaking the silence as he watched Junko carefully handle the framed picture of her family.
Taking a deep breath, she placed the picture on the table, face down, before looking at him. "I didn't know you could be empathetic, Tommy," she said, smiling a bit. "But thank you. Yes, I'm glad to have it back. It's pretty important to me."
He just shrugged. "Everybody has something important to them."
"Yeah." She idly played with her hair as silence settled in the room again. If her side had allowed her, she would have hugged her knees to herself. Silence - especially with a near-stranger - made her a little anxious; years of entertaining had taught her that silence in a room with clients was never good, and she wished for a discussion topic that he wouldn't just end in a few sentences.
Tommy slid down the armrest and onto the couch. He stretched out, feeling his muscles loosen, and crossed his legs at the ankle. He folded his arms comfortably in front of him and settled down, closing his eyes.
Unsure what to do, Junko slowly began to stand up until he spoke. "You don't have to leave just because I'm here, you know."
She sat back down. "Sorry." Her voice was quieter than she would have liked it to be.
He opened an eye at her and the corner of his mouth lifted slightly. "Don't be." He closed his eyes again. "So, have you made your decision?"
Junko tilted her head contemplatively. "I don't have much of a choice, do I? It's either this or homelessness."
"It's a pretty good deal, if you ask me."
"Good deals always have catches."
He chuckled. "That's true. Training won't be easy for you. Most martial art classes teach you basic self-defense. Ninja training teaches you how to survive. The chance that you'll get injured multiple times during training is very high." He looked at her. "And if you don't get hurt, you are either very lucky or very cowardly."
She swallowed. "What are the chances of me dying during training?"
"Relatively low, if you don't do something stupid. And if you end up doing it anyways, we have good doctors on the compound. Can't say they're as nice as regular doctors though, so don't waste their time by coming to the infirmary with the story that you were goofing off on the roof and fell and broke your arm."
Junko shrugged. "That doesn't sound too bad."
"It's easier said than done. Trust me. The first few weeks of training aren't going to make you a very happy person." He grinned. "But, all in all, it's still a good offer."
She slumped a little, not pleased with the prospect of brutal training but preferred it to living on the streets. "Will I be able to make my own money?"
"Yes, although it'll mostly be at the compound until you're trained enough to take on missions."
She bit her bottom lip, thinking. She couldn't shake the nagging feeling that she was somehow selling her soul with this... this deal. It reminded her of how young men are recruited for the army; most of them go in expecting to turn into national heroes and almost all of them return hardened and serious, if they return at all. Were ninja clans like that? With eager, gullible newcomers and battle-hardened experts? What were the experts like? Was Tommy an expert? He was a good fighter, but she wasn't sure what his status was in the clan.
The thought of joining and training in a ninja clan made her apprehensive, but in her current situation, she didn't see a better option.
"Fine," she said, staring at the floor.
"Fine, I agree. I'll go with you. I'll train." She clasped her hands together.
He nodded. "Alright." He stood up and walked towards the door. "I'll make a call in the morning. You wash up and get some sleep."
When no answer or sign of acknowledgement came, he turned back around. "... Hey." He walked back and rested a hand on her shoulder; she looked up at him. "Stop shaking. It'll be okay. You can change your mind later."
Junko turned her head slightly to watch him go up the stairs and out the door. Unconsciously, she rubbed her shoulder.