Thomas Arashikage was a mess.
Billy exchanged a resigned glance with Snake-Eyes as they walked back to the compound, both of them supporting a very exhausted Young Master. Storm stared at the ground unblinkingly, as if trying to set it on fire, before growling softly. "I can walk, you fools. Let me go."
In response, both his sword brother and his apprentice tightened their holds on his arms. "Tommy, you've been searching for a whole week," Billy reminded him gently. "And during that entire time, you've only gotten a few hours of sleep. You need to rest."
"I will rest when I find Junko." Tommy dug his heels into the ground. As if proving Billy's point, Snake-Eyes easily continued pulling him forward. "Bastard," he hissed, glaring at the black-clad man. "You're my brother. You're supposed to stand by my side, not oppose me!"
"He is at your side," Billy couldn't help pointing out. "And he is not opposing you - he's trying to help you."
"By preventing me from finding my apprentice?" Storm snapped.
"Preventing? With all due respect, Young Master, I don't think he is what is hindering you."
Annoyed, Tommy chose to resume staring at his feet. His former apprentice's words were irritatingly true; seven days with scattered naps as his only moments of rest had taken its toll on him. Not even ninja masters could stay awake for weeks on end. "I still need to find her..." he heard himself say, his voice tired and weak.
Heat crawled across his skin. Tired and weak. That was all he had felt recently. If he had the strength, he would have screamed in frustration.
A hand rested gently on his back. Snake-Eyes' hearing may not be as good as Tommy's, but he could hear heartbeats at a close range. He had heard his sword brother's heart-rate jump. Storm almost shrugged his hand off - he didn't want nor need Snake's sympathy, but he chose to grudgingly accept it.
Most of the clan members in the compound stared in a worried manner from a good distance as its two masters carefully made their way across the courtyard. Halfway, Storm tried to free himself from the two men, to no avail. "Young Master is tired," Billy said, just loud enough to notify those watching. "He is not to be disturbed unless there is an emergency."
Understanding and sympathetic gazes were shot in their direction, and the clan members returned to their activities as Snake helped the white ninja into the house.
"I'll go notify Kamakura that we are back." Billy patted Tommy on the shoulder. "Get some rest. We'll resolve things tomorrow." He melted into the shadows.
Storm Shadow remained unsettlingly silent as he prepared for bed - not surprising considering his loss, but it took the sight of Snake-Eyes dragging a mattress into the room to get him speaking. "What are you doing?"
[Getting ready for the night,] Snake casually signed.
Unexpectedly, Snake chose to completely ignore the question and walk out the room. Scowling, Tommy glared after his brother. He did not need to be in the same room as him to fall asleep; he wasn't a little kid. However, despite wanting to be alone, Storm couldn't bring himself to send him away - it would take more energy than he felt like spending at the time, and Snake would simply insist on staying.
With a resigned sigh, he pulled the covers up to his chin and closed his eyes. When Snake-Eyes returned, Tommy was in deep sleep, exhaustion finally getting the better of him.
The Silent Master gave the room a final check before crawling onto his mattress. He was asleep in minutes.
Junko walked slowly down the street, tugging irritably at her shirt. Although she appreciated the hospital providing her with clothes, the t-shirt was a little too small for her liking. She didn't argue; beggars can't be choosers.
She felt eyes on her, and looked up. A nicely-suited man was coming out of a well-known restaurant, accompanied by two bodyguards. All three's eyes were on her, but she ducked her head and continued walking.
As expected, the bodyguards didn't take their eyes off of her as she approached, despite her relatively normal appearance. She bit her lower lip thoughtfully before putting on her biggest smile and waving at someone across the street. "I'm over here! Sorry I'm late!"
The bodyguards turned their heads only for a second, but it was long enough. Her fingers slipped into one of the man's pockets and pulled several bills out. Grinning slightly to herself as she crossed the street, Junko folded the bills over until they were small enough to fit in her hand. Sure, beggars can't be choosers, but for beggars with ninja training, it was a whole different story.
She entered the first small shop she saw, greeted the owner, and began scanning the store. She soon picked out a shirt, pants, and a pair of comfortable shoes. All the items were cheap, and not made of the best material, but they were better than what she had on.
Feeling significantly better, she continued down the street and tossed her previous outfit into a donation bin. Truth be told, she wasn't sure where she was going. She supposed she could go back to her aunt and uncle, but didn't feel like explaining what she had been doing for the last couple years or why she was suddenly at their doorstep. She briefly considered going back to the compound, then scolded herself mentally for it.
She couldn't go back. There was no way she could look Tommy in the eyes again without seeing herself with that horrible mask, holding a blade splattered with his blood.
Groaning, she shook her head and stared at a shop sign. Tommy had described some of his flashbacks before, and even slipped into one once. It had been very unsettling, seeing her sensei curled up in a corner, muttering to himself about snakes and dead soldiers. According to Billy, she had been able to snap him out of it only because he had no nightmares - no demons - of her, so she was a solid anchor to the present.
She tried to swallow a lump in her throat. That was why she couldn't go back; she was now one of the demons that haunted Tommy's mind. At the very least, she hoped that that demon would fade with time, seeing how she was dead to him.
Junko shook her head at herself. No, that was impossible. No amount of time would make her forget Tommy, so it was idiotic thinking to assume that she would disappear from his memories anytime soon.
Her heart sank, and she idly kicked at a small pebble. She needed to get back in control of her head, and one way to do that was isolating herself so that she could have time to think.
Yes. Isolation sounded like a pretty good idea. It worked - well, sort of - for the Silent Master, but she didn't feel like building a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. She supposed she could go back to being a geisha, but highly resented the idea. Geisha were scarce, but she wasn't about to tarnish the name anymore than she already had.
There was the sound of snickering behind her, and she finally picked up on the three men following her. I really need to stop thinking so hard when I'm out in the open, Junko thought, a little embarrassed that she hadn't detected them earlier. She scanned her surroundings, and was surprised to see abandoned, crumbling buildings and very few people around. Where had she walked to?
Attention turned back to her followers, she assessed the danger. They were certainly not ninjas - thank god - but that didn't mean they were harmless. A quiet click and a metallic whisper, and she bit her bottom lip. One of them has a gun and the other has a knife. And the third one...
She caught the sound of liquid and the soft rustle of cloth. Not good.
Taking a deep breath to calm her racing heart, she glanced around. She couldn't risk a full-out fight, not in her condition. Instead, she jumped through the broken window of a dilapidated building and disappeared into the shadows. The men hesitated before following, much to her displeasure.
Damn. Okay, then. Plan B, which was... uh...
Junko moved as quickly and silently as she could, but occasionally the floor beneath her feet would squeak in protest. Muttering curses, she frantically looked around. She didn't have a Plan B!
Her eyes fell on a gaping hole in the floor. Okay... not the best of Plan B's, but it'll have to do. And if that fails, she was going to have to come up with a Plan C, which most likely included death for the men and a lot of pain for her.
She found a bag of... something nearby. Probably old clothes, considering how squishy it was, but it was a bit heavy to be just clothes. She tossed the bag into the dark hole while yelping in mock pain. It fell against what she assumed was wooden boards at the bottom with a convincing thump. Praying that the men would fall for the trick, she dashed to crouch in the shadows in the corner of the room.
Sure enough, all three men appeared. "She fell," one of them said as he looked into the hole.
The man with the knives sneered. "Obviously. What are our orders now, boss?" He looked at the man with the pistol.
The boss, a man with his eyes concealed by a hat, snorted. "She's dead. If she isn't dead, she will die of her injuries. Leave her."
Knife man sighed. "There goes our pay."
"Shut up," the boss snapped. "We'll just find another girl. It's not like anybody is missed in this neighborhood."
Junko exhaled silently and inhaled slowly. She desperately willed the men away. If she were fully healed, she wouldn't have hesitated to teach the men a lesson or two. However, as circumstances were, she couldn't do that. At least not now. Hurry up! she wanted to scream. Her tired body was starting to protest at being held tense and still after her long walk.
Finally, after what seemed like eternity, they left the building. Breathing out in relief, Junko relaxed her body and straightened up, stretching gingerly. Much to her surprise, she heard the footsteps split up, each man heading in a different direction than the other two. Her fear quickly changed to what could almost be satisfaction. This was... unexpected. Well, maybe not unexpected - after all, they could look for more victims if they split up - but it was a nice turn of events.
It just wouldn't do to let this opportunity pass.
Cautiously, she crawled out of the window she'd used to enter, and headed in the general direction of one of the men. She was a little disappointed when he turned out to be the knife guy instead of the boss, but continued trailing him. A shortcut presented itself in the form of a very narrow passageway between two houses. Junko eeled in with little difficulty and waited.
Knife man was clearly bored. His walking was heavy and he was slouching a little. It was laughingly easy for her to dart out, muffle him with her arm, and pinch a sleeping point. He went limp, and she dragged him into an alley.
"Let's see here... What goodies do you have on you?" she muttered as she patted him down, checking every pocket. She found three foldable knives, a small pistol, and a vial of what appeared to be poison. In ninja standards, he would be considered poorly geared for anything but a stroll in the park.
Shrugging to herself, Junko pocketed the knives and the vial. Who knows? If the liquid was truly poison, then it may come in handy. And knives were always good to have.
She positioned the man to look like he had decided to take a nap on the ground. For good measure, she placed a broken wine bottle near his hands. "Thank you for the gifts," she grinned. Feeling better now that she had weapons, she jogged away.
A/N: Sorry I haven't updated this story in while. My plot bunnies just didn't want to be sad enough to get much writing done. Remember to leave a review if you liked this chapter! :D