A/N: Big changes have happened in my life that sort of put a monkey wrench in my writing. The biggest is that I'm done with college! Well, sort of, but I just got my master's degree! Anyway, things have settled down and I'm back on the horse. P.S. Special kudos to whoever guesses on why I named the cat Wakana. (hint: It has something to do with the DOA games).

Disclaimer: Dead or Alive owned by Team Ninja and Tecmo. Tramps Like Us owned by Ogawa and Tokyopop

Kunoichis Like Us

Chapter 24

Kasumi looked over her shoulder and shifted her feet. She felt silly, trying so hard to keep a low profile like she was a spy. Well she was a spy…and assassin and saboteur and…well the point was that she felt silly acting like a stereotypical spy; someone wearing a dull blue thick coat, hunched shoulders, and always looking around her. But this time she had to become part of the crowd instead of the shadows.

She approached a pay phone by the bus stop. She pushed through the crowd of people trying to catch a bus home after the work day just as the phone rang. She picked up the receiver.

"Hello?" She carefully asked.

"Kasumi." A deep voice answered back, rigid with formality. "Were you followed?"

"No." She answered.

"Good." The voice said followed by a long pause. "How are you?"

"I'm doing well, father." Kasumi replied. She regaled her father with tales of Alex's mother and Hitomi before returning her attention to her parent. "How have you been?"

"As well as can be expected." Shinden relaxed. "Retirement is not something I looked forward to. It's been…bothersome not having responsibilities anymore."

"You are Hayate's chief advisor and were placed in charge of training the Mugen Tenshin elite. And mother said you are teaching the village children about calligraphy." Kasumi hoped to lighten her father's spirits.

"My position beside your brother is more of an honorary title. He already knows more than I do at this point. A sharp boy." Kasumi heard an amused huff. "Those in the elite rarely need my instruction. The way they learn is almost…daunting. It makes me feel like a tired old man."

Kasumi puckered her face a moment before she spoke again. "What about the children?"

"That…" Shinden sighed before he spoke. "It is pleasant to educate our young but…seeing them laugh and play tends to bring back memories. Memories that seem bitter sweet now."

Kasumi could not think of anything to say. A ball of ice had suddenly frozen in her stomach.

"But nostalgia aside, it's been tense here in the village. Our clan is divided on certain issues. Particularly you."

"And Alex?"

"Yes." Shinden grimly replied. "He's the proverbial thorn in the paw. Lord Hayate's order of Alex's, shall we say, protection is still in effect. But the council is…split on how to handle him."

The council, a group of village elders who often made decisions that was considered 'below' the attention of the clan leader. Usually small things like crop planting schedules, festival planning, and the like. But sometimes they offered opinions to the clan leader on certain topics they demeaned important. Kasumi bit her lip. She knew that half of the council was kind hearted individuals while the others were retired ninja who had a more…cold view of the world. "Split how?" She asked.

"It doesn't matter. They have no authority on the matter they just offer suggestions." Shinden sounded weary before he regained his commanding tone. "Don't worry, my daughter, I have made it perfectly clear to the council that the village's…issue with you and Alex is not their concern."

Kasumi gnawed on her lip a little more. Her father's words offered little relief since there were dangerous people close to the council who did not have as much faith in Hayate in dealing with his runaway sister, people who did not have such strong morals or honorable codes of conduct.

"I must be going now before the others become suspicious." Shinden suddenly said. "It might be sometime before we can speak again, but I'll send word about our next contact when I am able. Be safe, Kasumi."

"As well as you, father. I love you." She whispered before her father hung up. She kept the phone to he ear a while longer even as she heard the dull noise of disconnection. While she accepted that she and her father had to 'sneak around' in order to keep in contact, she always hated how their conversations ended with cheerlessness, like drinking your favorite tea that turned bitter with the last few sips.

Kasumi placed the phone back in the receiver, stuffed her hands into her pockets, and made her way back to Alex's apartment. She could have taken the rooftops, her usual way of conveyance. It was by far faster and kept her in shape, but today she wanted to take the scenic route, let her mind mull around some things.

Hitomi had gone back to her mother and Miss Kane had left for an interview at the Vatican. Being alone with Alex again had shown her some interesting insights. Despite his complaints and sarcasm, she noticed that when he was around his mother and Hitomi his mood had improved somewhat. But with them gone he had become dourer and less energetic. She knew her presence had a positive effect, but Nanako…whenever Alex dealt with Nanako he always came back home drained and somewhat distance, like his mind had detached itself from his body.

As she past an alleyway, a grey colored kitten, no more than a few months old, caught her eye. A stray, mewing and looking about a trash pile, lost. A pang in her heart told her to rescue the little thing, but Alex's apartment had a strict no-pet policy and she did not want to get him into trouble when his mother was so gracious to allow her sanctuary in her home.

Like a viper, a hand shot out from the trash, snagged the kitten, and took it into the pile. "Uh-huh, you're going nowhere. We're in this together, girl." Said a voice that Kasumi knew like it was wired into her DNA.

"Ayane?" She carefully called.

A torn cardboard box shifted and was tossed aside revealing a bundled up Ayane. Her face looked dirty and cheeks were red from the cold. The kitten was cradled in the nook of her arm, huddled up for warmth.

"Oh." Ayane said like she had been caught in her underwear. "Hey."

"No." Alex said sternly.

His kunoichi had to be joking. Allow the purple haired she-devil to stay in his home? And she brought in that…animal with her. He could already feel the tickle in his nose.

"Alex, please." Kasumi had placed her hands on the other girl's shoulders. Ayane's face was hidden behind a wool cap and scarf, except her eyes, those damn eyes that were a shade lighter than her elder sister's, staring at him like a wolf eyeing a rabbit. She was clad in a bulky winter coat obviously two sizes too big and thick boots that nearly went up to her knee, clothes that probably did not belong to her.

"Are you insane? This is the same woman who threatened my life and yours and kidnapped me on two nonconsecutive occasions." Alex tightened his fists until they were white. "You want her to stay here?"

"I'm in the room." Ayane said dryly, the kitten bundled up in her arms.

"I know. That's the problem." Alex turned a spiteful look to Ayane. Again her eyes looked back with a sharpness that made his heart skip. His nostrils started to burn.

"Alex, she doesn't want to hurt us." Kasumi pleaded. "She's family. I can't turn her away."

"But I can." Alex practically spat. His eyes watered. "Put them back where you found them. Especially the cat."

"Why?" Kasumi furrowed her brow, noticing her master's worsening appearance. "What's wrong?"

Alex covered his mouth just as the first sneeze came. "I'm allergic…*sniffle*…to cats." Another sneeze followed. A handkerchief was gently pushed into his face, specifically around the mouth and nose. Kasumi's eyes pleaded with Alex as her hand kept the handkerchief in place.

I am such a push over. Alex thought.

Ayane, still clad in her thick clothes, practically inhaled the leftovers Alex reheated in the microwave. She had already gone through the four slices of French-styled pizza his mother made and what was left of the chicken casserole from two nights ago. Now she was drinking chicken noodle soup straight from the bowl while the kitten ate diced chicken bits from the can.

Alex stood from across the room with a surgical mask on, arms crossed and watching the two and conversing with Kasumi.

"From what she told me, she's been homeless for a few days now." Kasumi explained quietly even when both knew that Ayane could hear them. "She picked up the kitten the same day. She won't tell me why she abandoned her apartment, but I feel that it's something serious."

"Maybe. I still don't trust her and she's not staying here forever, just a few nights. We'll put her in my sisters' room."

"I understand." Kasumi bowed at the waist. "I thank you for your kindness and generosity. My sister and I are indebted to you."

"She's your responsibility." Alex said after Kasumi straightened up. "And make sure they take showers or baths or whatever. They stink. And it'll clear out any lose cat dander and hair." Alex felt his throat getting scratchy.

"Um…well, that's going to be a problem." Kasumi looked away for a moment. "Bathing a cat can be…difficult. She's just a kitten, but she'll be a hand full so she should be washed in one of the sinks."

"Alright." Alex said like he was barely interested.

"Also, Ayane's got a wound on her side. It's not bad, but I think it'd be a good idea to…keep an eye on her while she bathes." Alex nodded slowly like he did not understand what she was getting at. Kasumi licked her lips before continuing. "And since you're allergic to cats..." She faded.

An uncomfortable pause came before his reply. "You're joking, right?"

Kasumi cast her eyes down.

Alex squeezed his eyes shut and pinched his nose like he had been hit with a migraine. "Of course."

Ayane slipped into the steaming bath. All the tension, the aches, the pains, flowed through her body, massaged by the welcoming waters out of her mouth with a bone rattling sigh. She let her form go limp and her eyes fluttered shut. The sound of the waters gently sloshing was the most soothing thing she heard in days. The bandage on her side held against the water, though it did sting somewhat from her moving around.

"Oh, yeah, that's what mama likes." Ayane said from deep in her stomach. "I haven't had a bath in days. I felt so…nasty."

"I'll bet." Alex groaned like a bored child. He sat on the seat of toilet next to the bathtub, mask-less, eyes ahead, legs crossed, and a steak knife concealed in his left hand. He tried to hide it but she could see it in his body language as plain as day.

Ayane kept her eyes closed and her smile relaxed. She rolled her head on the porcelain and turned to Alex, slowly opening her eyes. She knew her eyes made Alex squeamish and she revealed in it. "Oh, c'mon Alex, what's wrong? Don't tell me I make you…uncomfortable?" She lifted her leg and ran a washcloth over it. "Don't you like girls?"

"I do. I just don't like you." Alex bluntly replied. "Or that stray you brought in. God only knows what's crawling around on-"

"Wakana." Ayane interrupted. "Her name is Wakana. And don't be so pissy, Kasumi said that after she'd given her a bath, she'd also vacuum and disinfect the place. I must say you're turning my sister into quite the housewife."

"She's the one who insisted on doing her fair share." Alex said calmly. "I wouldn't mind being the only one taking care of the place. I'm used to it."

Ayane made an amused noise and began running the cloth on her arms. "I wonder who wears the pants in this relationship."

Alex didn't take the bait; instead he continued to look forward. She was perplexed on why Alex hadn't tried to sneak a peek, he kept his eyes forward. It was cute how he tried to act like a gentleman and yet have such venom against her. Not to mention that having a knife was useless if you don't keep an eye on your enemy.

"What happened?" Alex said, breaking her from her thoughts. "Someone like you doesn't get hurt so easily and I doubt you'd live on the streets unless your life depended on it."

Ayane was rarely impressed with people, but Alex's deduction was quite…astute. She supposed it warranted an answer, however painful it might be. "I fucked up. Bad."

"How bad?" Alex finally turned his head, but his eyes locked with hers. She almost gasped at his forwardness…almost.

"Real bad." She replied and sank into the waters a bit more. "I was on a recon mission, staking out a front being used by a rival clan. They were using some shitty convenient store as a safe house, for agents to refit, rearm, that sort of thing. I got cocky. Tried to infiltrate, grab some intel. It was a trap. They must have been watching me while I watched them."


"I got sloppy. Those tournaments fine my fighting styles to a razor's edge, but I got too used to the 'up front' approach to things. My…I suppose you could say 'sneaky skills' got a bit rusty." She winced when she reached for the soap and the blaring pain from her wound surged through her body. "A few peons in street clothes tried to trap me in the basement but I took them down easy enough. But then I got blindsided by some kishu, a specialist in ambush tactics." She gently touched her side, causing another shot of pain. "Caught the end of his blade. Just a flesh wound, but I managed to…" She pressed her lips tight. No need to go into the gory details with him. "I took him down. But the damage was done." She grabbed the nearest shampoo bottle without looking at the label and squirted some of it into her hand. "When I got home, they were already there, ransacking the place, looking for anything useful they could use against my clan."

"Sounds like they did to you what you were trying to do to them." The boy's smirk vanished when she glared at him.

"They smashed my Playstation." Ayane growled. "Do you know how many trophies I collected? How many hours I put into it? They think this is business. It's personal to me."

"Oh…" Alex averted his gaze, humbled by her outburst. She noticed that he looked off to the side, again avoiding looking at her body. And it bugged her.

The fact that it bugged her…well bugged her. She would have been pissed if he gawked…wouldn't she? Why was he so adamant on not looking at her? She could see the conflicting emotions in his eyes and face, but…C'mon, where was the curiosity? The male urge to at least take a gander? Was he gay? Doubtful. He had a girlfriend, but that did not rule it out. Could it be that…he did not find her attractive? No, that was impossible. Then why…wait why did she even care? It wasn't like he…

He returned to his posture of staring at the bathroom wall, the stern look back on his face. The irritation came back. She had to know. Let's see what happens when he can't turn away.

"Hey Alex." She called. When his eyes met hers, she jumped up from the tub. "Boobies!"

That was stupid. Really stupid. She tore open her wound and the pain made her legs crumple. Then something happened, she didn't hit the porcelain. Someone caught her. Alex caught her.

"Damn it!" Alex cursed as he set her back into the water. "Are you ok? Did you tear it?"

"Yeah." Ayane wheezed. Dazed by both pain and Alex's rather surprising reflexes, she felt her bandage to see if it broke. "Fuck. Get…get Kasumi. I may need stitches."

"Ok." Alex had genuine fear in his eyes as he dashed out of the bathroom. Through the pain Ayane smiled. He totally looked.

"That woman is going to be the death of me." Alex padded at the wet spot on his shirt. "She's been here less than a day and I'm already at wit's end."

Kasumi's guilt kept her from saying anything. She couldn't abandon her sister, despite their past. But her master's displeasure over her was something a hot cup of tea could not solve. It did not stop her from trying. She prepared a variant of the Tamaryokucha green tea with a splash of some Mugen Tenshin secrets. It always made her feel better during her blue days. Hopefully it would lift Alex's spirits a little.

"How is she?" Alex asked after taking a nice long gulp. "Did her little stunt break anything she need?"

"No." Kasumi said quietly. "It did make her wound worse, but it's nothing my medical training couldn't handle." Kasumi held her own cup with both hands, letting the heat blanked her fingers. "She told me about what happened to her." Kasumi's heart suddenly raced when she realized what she said. "I…I mean how she got hurt in the first place, not…" She let the statement fall and tried again, ignoring the heat from her cheeks. "Anyway, Ayane wishes to leave once her injuries have healed and return to the village when she can. In the meantime, she should stay indoors and get plenty of rest."

"I say we lock her in that room, wall it off, and forget about her." Alex grumbled.

Kasumi remained silent for a moment before she continued. "Tomorrow I will go to the store and buy some medical supplies and things for the cat. If you could watch over them while I'm out…"

"Nooo! No!" Alex snapped out of his depression. "You are not leaving me alone with her again."

"Alex." Kasumi let the statement hang and let her eyes do the rest.

"Oh, for the love of Christ." Alex let his head fall onto the table. "Fine. I'll look after your mentally unbalanced, murdering sister." Alex raised his head, propped an elbow on the table and rubbed his face in weariness. Kasumi knew when to let Alex vent, because in the end, he would do the right thing. "So is there anything I should know or do? How to change her bandage? Give her medication?"

She smiled blissfully. Good boy. "Ayane can take care of herself somewhat, but if you could make sure she stays in bed and rests and-oh, I almost forgot, I made a make-shift cat box for tonight so-"

"Kasumi!" Ayane yelled from Alex's sisters' room. "A little help?"

Kasumi smiled, stood, and bowed. "Please excuse me." Alex nodded solemnly and continued drinking his tea. She hurried into Ayane's temporary room, ready to scold her younger sister on yelling inside the Kane home. "Ayane." She sternly said as she opened the door. "Please do not yell while-"

"Not now." Ayane said through gritted teeth as she tried to sit up in bed. "Deal with that first."

Kasumi followed Ayane's pointed finger to Wakana on the floor, crouched, and making strange noises. The kitten was about to puke on the carpet. Knowing that moving the kitten would just make things messy, she moved in, grabbed a newspaper from the make-shift cat box, put her hand underneath the kitten, raised her off the ground a few inches, slid the paper underneath her, and gentle put Wakana down just as she released the contents of her stomach.

"Still got it, I see." Ayane smirked painfully as she propped her back against the bed frame. "Almost a full second."

"She must have eaten too fast." Kasumi stroked the kittens back. "Poor girl."

"Yeah, it's been a while since she and I had a good meal." Ayane rested her head against the frame.

"I'll feed her again in a while." Kasumi brought the kitten to Ayane's bed and placed her on the blanket. The kitten meowed and began sniffing around the bed. "Have you told Hayate yet?"

Ayane shook her head. "No. I'm on a ghost assignment. No contact till the job's done. And I'm not done." Ayane replied bitterly.

"I thought you were going back home." Kasumi sat at the foot of the bed and scratched Wakana's head. The kitten purred and rubbed her body against Kasumi.

"I will, once I acquire some good info from that store and beat the living hell out of those assholes that tore up my apartment."


"Don't." The violet-haired teen said almost…mournfully. "Just…don't. This…this doesn't involve you, understand?"

Kasumi looked at Wakana for a moment before she nodded. An uncomfortable pause followed that was filled with Wakana's purring.

The local grocery store was part of a national franchise and sported many features including a large tank of fresh fish, a bakery section that lined the entire east wall with cases filled with cakes and sweets and aisles of food and lifestyle accessories that stretched the entire store. Its size was a bit daunting for those who often frequented smaller places, like Kasumi was used too, but she had to admit that the better quality of food made up for some of the steep prices. Yet Alex's mother had tasked her to make sure their apartment was filled with 'the best money could buy' and gave her access to the family credit card, a gesture that Kasumi found both humbling and honor-bound. She was worried on how Elsa was so trusting of her since they had only interacted with each other for a few days, but she would make sure that Elsa's trust was well placed.

Kasumi carried a small, orange, store-owned basket that hung off her arm as she perused the pet supplies, trying to find some animal shampoo that could help with Alex's allergies. She already found some more masks and some anti-histamine pills. The drugs would only treat the symptoms but so far, Alex's allergy was mild and only made him uncomfortable than endangered his well being.

She placed a fur brush into her basket when something cold fell down her entire body. She whipped around just as a deep voice spoke to her. "Excuse me, miss?"

The man had a two week beard and closed-cropped hair. His slim figure was wrapped in a faded black leather jacket, jeans, and grey shirt. She could already tell that he was trained in ninjitsu, but which kind? There were literally thousands of different versions of ninjitsu. Ninjitsu was like a person's name, distinct and unique to the individual. Even the Mugen Tenshin's brand of ninjitsu had many different and subtle forms.

The point was that this man was not from her village and she did not what clan he was from.

"Can I help you, sir?" She asked cautiously.

"I was wondering if we could have a quick chat, Kasumi." He said like they were long time friends.

She couldn't keep herself from bristling. "I'm sorry, sir, but I'm afraid you are mistaken-"

"We know your sister is staying with you and Alex Kane." The man dropped the friendly tone.

No. No. This can't be happening. How could they know? "Who are you?" She demanded.

"My name is not important. But your sister tried to steal from us and killed quite a few of our clansmen in the process. That is something the Tetsu Kurou clan will not tolerate." The man's voice softened. "Look, we know the situation around you and him. You're not connected to the Mugen Tenshin and neither is he. Just let us do our duty and we won't bother you again."

"No. I will not give my sister to you."

"You're sister? You're expelled from the Mugen Tenshin. Your sister has been sent to kill you. Your entire clan has orders to terminate you on sight. You owe them nothing."

"That does not matter. I will never betray my family to anyone." Kasumi had to tilt her head up to meet the man's eyes, but she would not show him intimidation or fear. "Especially to you."

The man sighed like he was just told off by a toddler. "A pity. I had hoped to end this cleanly, but you leave us no choice." He took a cellphone out of his jacket's pocket, pressed a key, and dropped the phone back into the pocket.

"What did you just do?" Kasumi tensed every muscle, readying herself for anything.

"I warned you. I gave you a chance to walk away." The man went back to his threatening tone. "But you didn't listen. And now you and I are going to stay right here while my team grabs that little bitch."

"Do you think I will-?"

"Stay right here?" The man casually interrupted. "Yes I do. For two reasons. One, my team has orders to take Ayane only. As long as the Kane boy stays out of the way, and you behave, he'll be safe. And two…" He looked to the side and waved. A man in a business suit waved back with a friendly smile. "I'm not the only one here to keep an eye on you."

Kasumi knew there were more than the two men. The only rational reason he would give away one of his men was that more were in place. Her eyes leapt from person to person, man and woman. She could still see the man in the suit, but who knew how many others had mixed themselves with the crowd. She had to get out swiftly.

"Now, let's go have a coffee at the café." The man said with a stinging friendliness.

He touched her shoulder.

"Stop touching me!" She shrieked with, what she hoped sounded like, fright and swung the basket at him. He brought up his arm to protect his head. It didn't matter. She just wanted to create the drama. "Help! Please someone, help me!"

At first everyone around them stopped and gawked, frozen by the sheer spectacle, but thankfully a stock boy, a timid young man with thick glasses stepped forward and asked the man to step away from her. His brave gesture snapped everyone else out of their stupor and slowly swarmed the man. An old woman clocked him upside the head with her cane. The man in the black coat was clearly upset, but helpless to take action least he blow his cover. A ninja fight in a crowded supermarket tends to cause unwanted attention.

Kasumi slipped out, giving the stock boy a whispered thank you and a peck on the check for his courage. She raced to the exit. The man in the suit reached out to grab her arm. She struck with a quick hand. The man collapsed, clutching his stomach. A young woman in shorts and permed hair swept in with a curved dagger. Kasumi ducked and swooped under the woman as she cut the air. The runaway kunoichi snatched the woman's wrist and snapped it. The dagger clattered to the ground and the woman backed off with a hiss and an oddly bent hand.

Once outside she took to the rooftops, letting an explosion of cherry blossom petals cover her escape. She could sense that others were trying to take chase, but she was too fast for them. She bounded effortlessly, but in her mind it was not fast enough. Her teeth clenched and her eyes watered. Anxiety kicked her adrenaline into overdrive. The scenery blurred, her heart pounded in her ears.

She landed on the Kane's patio, took a quick look about to see if she was followed, then slipped in, ready to fight.

"Ow…ow…ow….OW!" Alex hissed. "Jesus, lady, are you trying to paralyze me?"

Alex sat on the floor in shorts with Ayane in a tank top and yoga pants pushing on his back.

"Oh, take out the tampon and man up." Ayane blew away a stray bang from her eyes and pushed more. "And relax so it won't hurt as much."

"Ayane?" Kasumi asked with a mixture surprise and fright. "Wh…what are you doing?"

"Your boss's body looked a little stiff so I'm just limbering him up." She massaged one of Alex's shoulders and stretched out an arm. "I could hear his back cracking from the other room. I mean, with the amount of tension he has, I'm surprised he can relax enough to piss."

"I'm in the room." Alex said through teeth clenched

"I know." Ayane mockingly sang and stuck her tongue out. "That's the problem."

Kasumi shook off the amazement, remembering the urgency. "We need to leave. Right now."

"Why? Because the Tetsu Kurou clan is after us?" Ayane said with a sassy smile. "Don't worry. Something tells me that they're going to a bit busy."

"What…what do you mean?" Kasumi was still buzzed from the adrenaline. "What aren't you telling me?"

Alex tensed at Kasumi's tone, which only made Ayane's help all the more strenuous.

"I may have not told you the whole story." Ayane said calmly with just a dash of smugness. "I was ordered to spy on the Tetsu Kurou clan, but my mission was, well, a show." She slowly brought Alex's arm up, her hands on his shoulder and wrist. "Basically my mission was to stir up the hornet's nest and get them looking for me. While they were preoccupies with one little troublemaker…well, you know our clan, we take rivals very seriously."

"You were bait?" Kasumi asked coldly.

"Yep." Ayane sounded proud. "I volunteered of course. I make it seem like I'm doing classic recon stuff, poke them a little, soon they focus all their attention on me, and when they make a move, so do we. As we speak, Lord Hayate and the others are striking against multiple Tetsu Kurou clan outposts throughout Minato, Chiyoda, and Chōū wards."

"Striking?" Alex almost gasped. "You mean like a military thing? With guns and –AGHH!" Alex yelped.

"There we go." Ayane whistled as Alex's arm popped. "There's the sweet spot." She gently ran her index finger along his arm, channeling the boy's inner chi to help with the pain. His face relaxed, though his body still looked tense. "And no Alex, it ain't like one of those stupid action movies. We're going after facts, not lives. Bank accounts, business fronts, dossiers, and things like that are the lifeblood of ninja clans now, not fortresses and weapons. Cut off the cash and resources and let the enemy starve to death. Figuratively speaking." Ayane's fingers kneaded the flesh on Alex's forearm, causing a grunt from Alex.

Kasumi recognized the stretching techniques as part of Ayane's own blend of the Hajin Mon style with yoga, very effective for creating harmonious body energies and a healthy mind, and so many other things. She had hoped to persuade Alex into trying some martial practices to better his quality of life, but…no, not now, answers had to be given.

"What about your wounds?" Kasumi pressed, still angry. "Was that also part of the show?"

Ayane's look turned sour. "No. I did screw up." She touched her side gently. "I'm not used to pulling punches or knowingly leaving a trail for them to follow. It wasn't until I found them tearing apart my apartment did I realize how close they were."

Kasumi kept her fist clenched. "You lied to me."

She anticipated a backhanded comment, a snappy comeback, or a gruff retort. Instead Ayane answered with melancholy. "I know. Sorry."

Everyone slipped into a dumb silence. To hear her sister apologize, genuinely apologize. It was…

No, not now. So many questions filtered through Kasumi's head, so many things she wanted to say and accuse. Bringing her clan's fights to her master's doorstep. Not telling her of the dangers her half-sister brought with her. Unacceptable.

She glanced at Alex who was looking back at her, waiting for her answer. Then she went to her sister, who stared into Alex's back, lost somewhere in her head. The violet-haired teen finally returned her gaze.

"Apology accepted." Kasumi said formally. Her eyes on the other hand told Ayane to never again deceive her when it came to her new home. Ayane's quick downward glance meant message received.

She needed answers, but for now she let peace come back to the Kane household.

"Everything went as planned." Hayate informed. "We met little resistance and the intelligence we obtained was priceless. The Tetsu Kurou is scrambling to get itself reorganized. You did your part perfectly. Well done."

The two Mugen Tenshin clan ninjas conversed in the guise of two random individuals standing around and having a chat at the local park. People passed by without as much as a glance. Hayate wore a dark winter coat with a stocking cap while Ayane bundled herself in a navy blue jacket on loan from her older sister.

"Thank you for your kind words, Lord Hayate." Ayane bowed deeply, her hands clasped in front of her.

"We're already disrupting their bank flow with the information. Hopefully we'll push the Tetsu Kurou clan out of Tokyo before the end of the month." Hayate continued. "I hope your recovery goes well and I am sorry for what happened to your apartment. We'll find you a new one and I'll make sure you are compensated for your lost possessions. You can stay in the village in the meantime."

"Thank you again, but I did not lose anything of particular value." Ayane politely lied. She was aching to get her old Playstation and her manga collection back, but they were gone for good and she was too embarrassed to say it. "And if it's all the same to you, Lord Hayate, I'll…stay here. For a while longer."

In the distance, Kasumi and Alex were waiting for Ayane to wrap up her debriefing with the Mugen Tenshin clan leader. The two were wondering around a small book store, browsing the magazine selection. The three of them had planned to see a movie together, a peace offering as it were.

Hayate's gaze lingered on their sister and the young man. She caught something in his eyes, something she had not seen in a long time.

"Officially I cannot condone your choice of interacting with a shinobi in exile. Her death sentence is still in effect."

"And unofficially?" Ayane asked carefully.

Only a select few people could notice Hayate's face relaxing ever so slightly. "I'm glad to see my little sisters getting along again."

"Yeah." Ayane's eyes drooped to the ground for a moment. "Getting along." She whispered passionless.

"Please. Let it go." Hayate's monotone voice was absent. "I don't want to see you two fighting anymore." He placed a hand on her head. She closed her eyes at the touch. "Go to them." He said as he withdrew his hand. When she opened her eyes, he had vanished. Looking for him was pointless.

Alex and Kasumi seemed bored. Sucking in a breath, Ayane started toward the store.