Kamakura was feeling much better about life when he returned to the Arashikage compound. It was, he realized, starting to feel more like home than his childhood dwelling ever had. He still remembered the Pit with the sort of fondness usually associated with your first real home. He supposed that this said something about just how truly bizarre his life was.

Several trainees were sweeping the hallways; they hastily slid aside and bowed as he strode past.

Then he rounded a corner and came face to face with Jinx. Her eyes lit up with a truly wicked gleam that resembled the Phoenix Master closely enough to leave no doubt that the two were cousins.

Kamakura sighed.

"So, did you break her heart, or shall I start shopping for wedding gifts?" Jinx was shaking with barely suppressed laughter. "Junko told me the whole story…Sensei couldn't have been happy with you."

Kamakura scowled. "He sent her away...and no, he wasn't. I'm on basic hand to hand duty for two months."

Jinx blinked. "That's not bad. I thought he'd at least have you scrubbing floors with the trainees for a week."

"I know. I got off easy." Kamakura rolled his shoulder; it still ached from the fall he'd taken on it. "Well, mostly."

Jinx winced. "Joint lock?"

"I wish. He tackled me out of a tree I was sleeping in, and used me to break his fall."

"That is why I don't even try to be stealthy anymore when I have to go and find him." Jinx looked sympathetic. "You're going to lose a limb yet, you know." She paused. "He sent her away, you said?" The gleam was back in her eyes. "If you need me to slip your love letters to her, I'll volunteer my services as courier for the star-crossed lovers."

"Shut up." Kamakura glared.

Jinx just giggled. There really should be a law against that kind of gleeful, amused, totally at his expense snicker, Kamakura reflected. He sighed. "Is there anyone who hasn't heard the story yet, or am I going to spend the next week getting laughed at?"

"Oh, it's going to be longer than a week." Jinx was grinning.

"Great." Kamakura sighed again. He should have committed ritual suicide; it was just about the only thing that would ease his humiliation. "I should go and take over hand-to-hand from…"

"Billy." Jinx grinned again. "I'd give them a little while, actually. I think the trainees are working shin blocks right now, and Billy really enjoys those."

Kamakura, who had sparred Billy and had been on the receiving end of the man's shin blocks more than a few times, winced. Billy had long ago discovered that his sophisticated robotic leg could be used to block low kicks with absolutely devastating results. It was also more or less the nuclear weapon of leg sweeps; any trainee who doubted the ninja abilities of a man who'd lost a leg learned better very quickly. Usually after Billy invited them to go a few sparring rounds with him.

The Phoenix Master was actually rather fond of watching said matches; the man enjoyed watching his old apprentice pound disrespectful or snarky trainees through the ground. Of course, Thomas Arashikage was rather fond of pounding snarky apprentices through the ground himself. Snake Eyes, who had spent years in G.I. Joe dealing with greenshirts who at first doubted the abilities of a mute as an instructor, also was not at all adverse to personally teaching a disrespectful student better manners.

Or, on one memorable occasion involving a really poorly considered comment regarding Snake Eyes' muteness, both of the Arashikage masters had spent some quality time with the poor man. That particular incident had gone down in history as the first time an Arashikage trainee had had to be dragged off the sparring field and allowed to recover for a few hours before he was kicked out, purely because the man hadn't been able to stand under his own power.

But… "Sensei said two months, and I'm not going to give him any reason to make it more." Kamakura shrugged.

"Well, true." Jinx didn't even question how Snake Eyes would know if Kamakura hadn't obeyed his instructions to the letter if the man was still in California. Both of them had been his apprentice for years, and both of them were still firmly convinced that their Sensei knew everything that the pair of them did.

She suddenly looked vaguely disappointed. "I'm leaving on a mission tonight; I do hope the Phoenix Master doesn't get back before I do. I want to see it when he hears about your little romance."

Kamakura stalked off, her laughter following him down the hallway.

When he relieved Billy from hand-to-hand, three trainees were rubbing bruised heels and ankles and Billy had a tight little grin on his face. Kamakura started back in on kicking drills and counters.

'Green' trainees wasn't perhaps an entirely proper term. Three of the Arashikage apprentices had come from the New York school, where Tiger Claw had taught them very solid basics. Another two were ex-military, who'd found their way to the Arashikage through rumor and some luck. A few had been surreptitiously recruited from more mainstream martial arts schools. Ninjutsu, however, focused very much on totally disabling or killing an opponent rather than discouraging them, and military hand-to-hand was a far cry from what a ninja considered to be acceptable combat skills. Tiger Claw's students were by far the best off, but then Kamakura would expect nothing less from a fellow apprentice of Snake Eyes.

It was still frustrating. Kamakura took a few deep breaths and reminded himself that once he hadn't instinctively known the proper counter to every conceivable kick from any angle either.

It was two days before Snake Eyes turned back up. The ninja master just eyed Kamakura and asked how the trainees were coming; Kamakura couldn't remember being more grateful to anyone in his life.

Scarlett, on the other hand…Kamakura could hear her and Junko laughing clear out on the training field.

A day later, and the Phoenix Master's plane landed. Storm Shadow was grinning like a Cheshire cat when he sauntered back into the long, spotless hallways of his family's ancestral home, and vanished into his private rooms. Junko followed him.

Kamakura waited with a certain amount of resignation. Sure enough, two hours later he was being called into the Phoenix Master's study.

He bit back a groan when he bowed himself in. The Phoenix Master was grinning even more widely than his usual 'successful mission' smirk, and Snake Eyes and Junko were both present, and in Junko's case sniggering loudly. Snake Eyes was laughing just as hard, but much more quietly.

Kamakura eyed the three of them and sighed. "Permission to kill myself now, Phoenix Master?"

"Oh, I don't think so." Storm Shadow tilted his head. "This sort of thing doesn't happen every day; I'd like a chance to properly appreciate the irony of the situation." A happy sigh. "I must have made some deity happy…I just banked half a million, got to drop a severed head on the desk of a general with a surprisingly weak stomach-working with Hawk, you'd think they'd learn- and now this."

He leaned back in his chair. "You know, generally I advise getting to know a woman before proposing." He started shaking. "I hadn't put you down as the type to love and leave, either. Engaged. Really? Good god, Snake...impeccable manners while killing people really isn't in the job description. Did you teach him that, or is that just him?"

*I just taught him to show proper respect. The ability to get into a mess of that caliber is all his own.* Snake Eyes shook his head. *And I'm going to kill him sooner or later if he keeps trying to sneak up on me; I went easy on him because I'm pretty sure I just about dislocated his shoulder when I dropped him.*

"You're going soft, brother."

Snake Eyes snorted. *He'll be pulling out hair by the time the two months are up. I know my apprentice. And we can go on the sparring field anytime, brother.*

"I may take you up on that." Storm Shadow eyed Kamakura again, and started laughing. "Was she good looking?"

Junko jabbed an elbow into his ribs. "Thin ice, Tommy."

"Could she even begin to compare to Junko, however unlikely that might be?"


Kamakura knew he was going red.

"Oh, she was." Storm Shadow started laughing hard enough to make talking more or less impossible. "Should…have…made…" He took a breath. "Should have made you go through with it…we could use a good weaponsmith."

*You are not throwing my apprentice to the mercy of an ambitious woman.*

"You know, most men would kill for a shot with a beautiful young woman with the ability to break a man's neck with her thighs…do not hit me, Junko, I'm just giving him a hard time. It's one of the privileges of being a clan master."

Junko smiled and ruffled Storm Shadow's hair. "You are a cruel man."

"Thank you. That is in the job description." He started laughing again. "I haven't even heard of that particular engagement custom being used in about the last twenty years. It would be Kamakura."

Kamakura considered the possibility of the floor opening up and dropping him into oblivion. It was disappointingly slim.

"You can go." Storm waved in the general direction of the door. "Try not to pick up any women on your way out. Especially since the only woman in the room at the moment is my wife. By the way, Junko, I've got a mission for you…"

Kamakura sighed, bowed himself out, and trudged down the hall. He still heard the occasional fading snickers trailing along behind him.

He really hoped that everyone got over this soon. He was more than ready to forget about the whole mess.