Jinx stepped out of the shower, sighing deeply in relief. Weddings were stressful, even for those not getting married. Junko had been dragging her everywhere, shopping for everything from her dress to flowers to saké. And whatever her cousin couldn't be bothered with, such as seating arrangements, generally became hers to deal with.
She hummed contentedly as she slipped into a comfortable silk kimono. At the very least, she had a few hours before she was needed again, so she decided to take the opportunity to relax a bit and maybe talk with Shana and Junko, if they weren't busy.
Walking silently, she made her way to the kitchen, where the tea leaves were stored - well, most of them. It was no secret that some Arashikage ninjas jealously guarded personal stashes of exotic tea, and any left in the kitchen were usually brewed for a casual relaxing drink.
Jinx carefully measured out a small pile of tea leaves and poured some hot water into a teapot. Carrying the tray with a teacup and teapot, she made her way back to her room.
The sound of quiet talking emanated from the room to her left. Curious, she stopped and listened; she recognized Shana and Junko's voices, and - judging by their light tone and occasional giggle - sounded like they were having fun.
She nudged the door open with her foot. The giggling and talking immediately stopped as the redhead and bride-to-be stared at her, their expressions amused with a tinge of guilt. "What's this? A party and I'm not invited?" Jinx pretended to look insulted as she set the tray down.
"It... kinda just happened." Junko smiled sheepishly. "Sorry."
Scarlett looked at the teapot. "Ooh, tea! May we have some?"
"You may if you get your own teacups and let me join you." Jinx collapsed on the sofa with a grin.
"I'll get the cups." Scarlett immediately stood up and briskly walked out the door.
"Thanks, Red!" Junko called after her before turning to Jinx. "Okay - we found a boxful of videos from when Snake and Tommy were little, and so far, they've been pretty funny."
Jinx stuck out her tongue. "Did I appear yet?"
"Yep." Junko beamed. "You were one cute baby, and your mother was beautiful."
"Yeah, she was."
It took a second before Junko's jaw dropped in realization. "... Oh. Right. I'm sorry."
"Don't be. The past cannot be changed." Jinx took a sip of her tea.
Scarlett reentered the room, smiling and proudly holding out two teacups. "I'm back! What did I miss?"
"Nothing. I just told Kimi what we were watching." Junko took the teacup offered to her and filled it almost to the top with tea. "Ohh... this is nice," she mumbled as she drank the hot liquid.
Scarlett put her cup down and rummaged through the box. "Oh, hey, look at this." She held up a tape labeled, 'First kiss.' "This one looks really interesting." She smirked.
"Then what are you waiting for?" Junko curled up on the couch, her eyes fixed on the screen eagerly. "Put it in! Let's watch it."
"Hey." Tommy grinned as he waved at the camera lens. "It's me - Tomisaburo. Today..." He quickly glanced at calendar. "... is the twenty-fifth of March, and it's Snake-Eyes' first competition." He paused, considering. "Actually, it's my first competition too, but I'm already finished. I won, of course." The camera jiggled as he stood up, carrying it. "Let's go see how our favorite gaijin is handling the stress. Come on."
Snake-Eyes bounced lightly on his feet, barely managing to fight his panic. Ohgodohgodohgod. He couldn't blow this - his first competition! His first real chance to show everyone that he was as good as any Arashikage student. If he lost...
He didn't even want to think about it. Bad enough last night had been filled with nightmares of dishonoring the Arashikage and shaming himself in front of the entire Mizu clan. More bad thoughts were so not welcome.
"Hebi no Me!"
Snake looked. Tommy was walking towards him, waving, and holding...
Aw, hell no.
"Now is not a good time," he hissed as he stretched for what was probably the fourth time. "I'm a little busy. Wait until after the event!"
"Hello, Snake-Eyes!" Tommy announced cheerfully. "How are you today?"
Snake sighed. "... Alright, I suppose. A little nervous for the competition, but that's it."
"Sweet. Where are you from?"
The blond raised an eyebrow. "Is this going to be one of those fake interviews? 'Cause if it is, then I'm from the land of Tommy-stop-fooling-around."
"Where are you from?" Tommy repeated, wearing a huge smile.
Rolling his eyes, Snake began jogging in place. "America."
"Can we expect you to be the champion of our proud clan tonight?" Tommy pretended to hold a microphone out at him.
Shoot. Snake felt moisture beading on his forehead. "I-I don't know. I'll definitely try, but I don't think I can do better than you did this morning. "
"How nervous are you, good sir?" His friend was obviously enjoying seeing him so on edge.
A shaky laugh. "Pretty nervous, as you can see."
"What will you do if you fail? Will you commit seppuku?"
Snake stopped jogging to glare at him. "Tommy! Seppuku? Really? Over a little competition?"
"Hey, that's how the samurai do it."
"Well, I'm not a samurai."
"Good. Their rules suck. I mean, seriously, why would you directly confront a man who wants to kill you? Slip into his room, sprinkle a little poison into his tea, and he won't bother you anymore. Saves time, energy, and a good blade."
Shaking his head slowly, Snake rolled his shoulders and wrists. "I'm not even going to comment on that." He leaned to his left and looked over his brother's shoulder. "You might wanna brace yourself."
"Yeah, I know." The camera in Tommy's hands shook violently as an energetic mass of little kids ran into the back of his legs. Jumbled, excited Japanese filled the air, but he could just make out the words, "sun," "blue," and "gaijin."
Carefully setting the camera down on a nearby table, he turned around cautiously and picked out a familiar face in the swarm. "Kimi Arashikage, why are you and your friends here? And where is Aunt Misao? She's supposed to be watching over you."
The little girl crossed her arms and frowned up at her cousin. "They wanted to see Snake-Eyes. It's not my fault. And mama is busy helping with food."
"Me?" Snake piped up.
"Yes, you - the Arashikage gaijin." Tommy sighed as he gently pried a small fist from his pants. "Most of the children you see behind me have never seen a foreigner, and you can't get more 'foreign' than blond hair and blue eyes." He felt a pinch. "Oh, for the love of... Let go of me, will you? He's not going to eat you, kill you, or turn into a dragon - although that would be pretty cool."
"Arashikage-san..." The small boy trembled as he peeked at Snake-Eyes from the safety of Tommy's leg. The foreigner looked so strange! His hair reminded him of hay, and his eyes held the sky in them. And his face just looked... different. "Where did he come from?"
At Tommy's expectant look, Snake cleared his throat and spoke in Japanese. "I'm from America."
He did not expect the group to explode into giggles and squeals. "He knows Japanese!" "Ooh, that's weird!" "He sounds funny!" "Say something else, gaijin!"
Snake licked his lips to moisturize them. "Actually, my name is Hebi no Me, not... gaijin."
More giggles. Snake internally groaned and glanced at the clock. His competition was going to start soon. "I have to go now. If you want, you can meet me afterwards. Alright? Alright. Bye." He spun on his heel and started walking away.
"Wait! Hebi!" a voice he recognized as Kimi's called out.
He looked over his shoulder. "Yes?"
With a little difficulty, she wriggled out of the group and ran towards him, her steps quick and fast. Out of habit, Snake turned around, squatted, and spread his arms. She crashed into him, almost knocking him over. "Don't get hurt," she mumbled into his shoulder as she clung to him with all her might.
Slowly, Snake eased himself down until he was sitting on the ground. "I'll try not to, Kimi. No promises, though."
A small sigh. "There's a significant difference between getting hurt and dying, you know."
Somehow, the girl managed to tighten her grip around his neck. "NO DYING!"
"Okay, okay, okay. Not gonna die." Snake sounded a little wheezy and strained. "Kimi, I can't breathe well. Let go, please?"
With a huff, she loosened her arms but didn't let go. Then, to Tommy's surprise and Snake's horror, she pulled herself up...
... and gave Snake a nice big kiss right on the lips.
Tommy exploded into laughter as Snake actually fell over, stunned into silence. "Kimi! Bad girl! He's.. he's your cousin!" he gasped as he clutched his stomach with one hand and the table with the other to keep from falling. "Oh, god! Snake, was that your first kiss?" When Snake didn't respond, he only laughed more. "Did I get that? Please, let me get that..." he scrambled over to the camera and looked at it. The red light was still shining. "HELL, YES! SNAKE! I'll haunt you FOREVER with this footage!"
"You son-of-a..." Snake mumbled, still in shock and staring up at the ceiling. With all the calmness of a cat waking up from a nap, Kimi got up off of him, casually dusted herself off, and strolled back to the group of shrieking children as if nothing happened.
His words and Kimi's actions only threw Tommy into another fit of gasps and coughs. "Kimi! Why did you do that?"
"He needs a good-luck kiss," she responded as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"One on the cheek would have sufficed..." That was Snake, who was just starting to get up, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.
"Awww... then how come I didn't get one?" Tommy pretended to look hurt, but ultimately failed when he couldn't stop chuckling.
Snake gagged. "You actually want a kiss from her?!"
Innocently, Kimi looked at her cousin. "I was still asleep," she replied honestly. "When I woke up, mama told me you won."
"... Oh. Well, can I get a victory kiss, then?"
"Okay." Kimi waited until Tommy got down to her height then placed a small hand on his shoulders. Standing on tiptoes, she brought herself up and planted a tiny kiss on his cheek.
"How come he got a small one on the cheek and I got a big one on the mouth?" Snake groaned, straightening his uniform. His face was flushed red.
"I'll give you a victory kiss if you win!" the little girl chirped.
For the briefest moment, Snake was sorely tempted to lose on purpose. His thoughts must have reflected on his face, because Tommy roared in another bout of laughter. "I... I should go. The competition starts in a few minutes." He ducked his head and backed away until he reached the door and disappeared behind it.
"Ha... have fun, Romero!" Tommy called out, snickering, as he leaned against a beam for support. "Don't disappoint Juliet! You know she'll be watching!"
Before he could stop himself, Snake reopened the door and glared at his brother. "It's Romeo, not Romero!"
Tommy couldn't reply. He was too busy gasping for breath, his stomach aching from laughter.
Jinx barely heard the cackles and snorts beside her - she was too busy staring at the screen in utter horror. "I don't recall any of this..." she muttered.
"But I'm sure Snake does!" Junko put her head down on the couch armrest in an effort to control her laughter.
Eyes widening, Jinx's red face turned several shades darker. "... Shit, you're right. At the time he was... twelve?"
"And you were four!" Scarlett rested her forehead in her hand as she chortled uncontrollably. "Of course you don't remember!"
Shrinking into the couch, Jinx took a pillow and hugged it to herself, still blushing as Scarlett went on. "I've always wondered who gave Snake his first kiss, and now I know! It was little cute YOU!" She tugged on the Asian woman's cheek.
"Not my fault! We all did stupid things when we were kids!"
Junko suddenly shot up, a wide grin on her face. "Hey! We should show Snake this video!"
Her jaw dropped in shock. "Don't you dare, Junko Akita!"
"One, you got my last name wrong. Two, you're no longer Snake's apprentice, so what do you have to lose?"
Jinx groaned. "Your last name isn't Arashikage yet, and I don't want to be embarrassed in front of my former teacher!"
"Actually, I think Snake-Eyes would be more embarrassed," Scarlett joined in. "After all, he was the one with the hilarious reactions."
"Not you too!" Jinx shot the older woman a pleading look. "Please, Shana? Have a little mercy."
"Mercy? Since when did ninjas have mercy?," Scarlett teased, smiling good-naturedly. "Alright, fine. I won't show him."
Junko took a sip from her teacup to hide her smile. From her point of view, she could see Shana crossing her fingers behind her back.