A/N: ... Sorry. :P This bunny tried to eat me. However, I have the entire story written down. I repeat - this story is basically DONE. I have all the chapters written, and the last one is being edited, so expect only a few days between updates. Why don't I just post all of this at once? Because... where's the fun in that? Besides, it's a little long to be squeezed in one chapter. It has over 6,000 words.

Sorry for any Japanese social faux pas.


Junko carefully pushed the last jeweled pin in place in her hair and leaned back, staring at her reflection. Sighing, she smoothed back a stray strand of hair with one hand and reached for her lipstick with the other. The small case opened with a slight click and she dipped a small brush in the red substance and began applying it to her lips.

The door slid open, and she almost colored her cheek rose-red. "Tommy!" She glared at his reflection in the mirror. "Knock first!"

Thomas Arashikage tugged at the cuff of his white tuxedo. "And why should I? There's no part of you I haven't seen."

Her cheeks heated up. "I was in the middle of something. Knocking would have alerted me that you were about to come in. I almost painted my cheek, and you know how expensive this lipstick is."

He was at her side in three long steps. "Ah. That lipstick." He frowned slightly. "That one... is worth quite a bit."

"Exactly." She set the lipstick container down and gently pushed at his arm. "Go away. I'm busy."

He flashed a smile. "You look beautiful."

Junko rolled her eyes and pushed him further away. "Give me five minutes and I'll be done."

With his hands up, surrendering, Tommy backed up to their bed, turned, and flopped onto it, arms spread. "Don't women usually take thirty minutes with their makeup even if they say they'll be done in five?"

"Those hypothetical women aren't former geisha. If I say 'five minutes,' I actually mean it." Junko snapped the container shut and picked up her pearl earrings. "And - Tommy, don't do that! You'll wrinkle that nice outfit."

"Don't care. I have five other suits," was his muffled reply.

"Well, you don't have time to change." After a last-second check to make sure she looked fine, she grabbed her husband's hand and pulled hard. "Come on. You're not taking this seriously."

Reluctantly, Storm Shadow straightened up. "Hey, if the Nichira clan masters want an alliance so badly, they can just come over here and we'll discuss it. I see no point in hosting a grand party for all to see."

Junko began straightening his suit, grumbling. "This party is to give ninja clan masters an opportunity to size each other up and see which clans they want alliances with. These Nichira guys are simply hosting it." She fussed over his ruffled hair. "Now look at what you've done. How are you supposed to represent the powerful Arashikage clan if your hair is like this?"

Tommy pulled away, smoothing his hair with a hand. "I'm fine, mom. Everybody's heard of the Arashikage anyways. All the clan masters already know we're powerful."

"Then ACT LIKE IT!" she hissed, producing a comb and brushing his hair.

"Alright, alright," he sighed. "You sure you're not a reincarnation of my mom?"

She gave him a glare. "Do you even hear yourself?"

"Hey - it's totally possible."

Junko frowned deeply. "Focus, Tomisaburo. This gathering is important." She slipped the comb away and adjusted the Arashikage lapel pin on his suit. "Let's get going." She grabbed his hand and pulled him out the door.


Itami Nichira stood near the entrance, politely bowing his head to each and every guest. He had on a smile that did not reach his eyes, and his posture was stiff and uptight. Damn these tuxedos, he thought darkly. He would have settled for Japanese formal wear, but - in order to not offend the few clans that have embraced foreign culture - decided to suggest Western wear. Not wanting to appear stubborn and unwilling to accept change, most guests showed up in tuxedos and dresses.

Almost everybody was here. Almost. His eyes scanned the crowd, picking out clan symbol pins, but none of them matched the bars and lines he was looking for.

"Master Nichira."

He turned to the man who had just addressed him, and recognized him as from his own clan. "What is it, Tadao?"

Tadao bowed respectfully. "Master Arashikage and his wife have arrived."

Wife? Itami seized the man by the front of his suit. "Since when was he married?" he demanded.

"Uh... uh..." Tadao struggled. "I-I don't know, master!"

Jealousy pricked at the back of Itami's neck. How the hell did the man manage that? Long ago, Thomas had been deemed a traitor and had disappeared until a few years ago. There was no way a former exile and his gaijin sword brother could repair a broken clan in such a short time, but he'd done just that. Their business was booming, and demand for Arashikage contracts was already impacting the other clans' revenue. Everybody was a little ticked, but mostly curious and eager to know how Tomisaburo Arashikage had done it.

And now he had a wife. Itami was a few years younger than Thomas, and had spent more time in Japan. But somehow the older man had managed to get a wife before he did.

Fate sure played favorites.

Murmurs of, "Arashikage-san," and, "Phoenix Master," reached his ears, and the crowd surged backwards. Itami dropped the man, glared at him until he ran away, and turned around.

His breath caught in his throat.

The man in the white tuxedo was definitely Thomas, a fact confirmed by his clan pin and the all-knowing smirk on his face. But the woman at his arm...

Itami couldn't take his eyes off of her. She certainly was very lovely, lovelier than any of the women he had seen so far. Her black hair was swept back in an elegant hairstyle held in place by jewels and pins. Her face had the slightest touch of makeup on it, giving her skin a mesmerizing glow. When she finally looked at him, her dark eyes twinkled, and her red lips parted invitingly. The crowd around them disappeared for a moment, leaving only her, him, and the pounding in his chest.

Slowly, he made his way over to her, muttering half-hearted apologies to those he nudged aside. "Arashikage-san," he acknowledged, nodding once at Thomas, before turning to the young woman. "Who is this... beautiful lady?" He sounded slightly breathless.

Thomas opened his mouth to answer, but the woman beat him to it. "I'm Junko Arashikage." She smiled, and his breath hitched again. Her voice was soft and comfortingly cool, like silk.

"Ah." He smiled back, lost in her eyes.

"Itami?" Thomas' voice snapped him from his pleasant reverie.

Tearing his gaze away from Junko, Itami faced the Arashikage master. "Yes? Is there something you require?"

Thomas gave him a tight smile. "I... was not aware you were the master of your clan."

"I'm a Nichira, aren't I?" he answered lightly.

"And what of your brother, Minoru?"

Itami kept his face impassive, although his blood began to boil. "That should not concern you."

"Does he not look over the clan beside you?" Thomas pressed on, completely ignoring his response.

Subconsciously, Itami tried to stand a little taller. "That is none of your concern," he repeated, his words frosting at the edges.

Junko chose that time to speak. "Thomas, love, I believe I hear someone calling us. It's been a pleasure meeting you, Nichira-san." After a small bow, she gently tugged her husband away.

"Do you have any idea how false your statement was?" Storm whispered to her as they made their way to the refreshments.

"I know that the day will never come when I hear something you don't, but I couldn't think up a better excuse at the time." Junko helped herself to a small fruit tart as she continued whispering. "Bad blood between you two?"

"A... little. It goes back a bit," Tommy admitted as he watched her eat. "Our clans arranged a friendly competition, and I went against him in a sparring session."

"And he lost," she guessed.

"He lost," Tommy confirmed, his voice smug.

"I'm not surprised." Junko chuckled as she popped the last bite into her mouth. "And he's pissed about that?"

"Yeah. He jumped me after the competition."

She swallowed and frowned. "Wow. Jerk."

"Perhaps he felt that he had been shamed, even though the competition was friendly, and thought that defeating me would help him regain his honor." Tommy played with her necklace. "Snake heard us and tried stop him." He scowled. "Then Itami started yelling... racial insults at him."

"And you didn't take that too well, I presume?"

Storm Shadow tilted his head and gave her a small, goofy smile. "Of course not. The Arashikage invited his clan, and he dared to attack one member and insult another. My uncles sent him and his clan away, but the damage had been done."

Junko rolled her eyes. "Idiot. He could've caused a vendetta if he shed your blood outside of competition."

"That's why I favor his brother. Minoru had the humility and dignity to apologize for his brother." Tommy shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "I do not think he has forgotten his shameful actions. Watch him closely today."

"I will do just that." Junko grinned.


Thanks to Greentigerr for her usual editing, Lady Jaye1 for her help on Japanese honorifics, and Wikipedia for just being Wikipedia.