Storm Shadow stared at the trembling man before him as he described to him a disturbing scene. His hands clenched into tight fists, and his heart-rate jumped. "Are you sure," he asked, his voice low and dangerous, "that you saw them kiss?"
"They did; I swear it!" he sputtered. "I-I saw them! She went to him and let him embrace her. Then they... then they-"
Tommy raised a hand, effectively silencing the man. "Thank you, Teiji, for notifying me. I... will discuss this with my wife later."
The man bowed then made a hasty retreat, leaving the Phoenix Master to his thoughts. Itami Nichira had never liked him, which was fine with him - the feeling was mutual. He had always suspected that Itami was jealous of what he had, but he didn't expect the Nichira master to be so bold as to try and make a move on his wife. It was correct that he did not need to look after Junko constantly, but it nagged him that he couldn't be next to her whenever she found herself in a sticky situation.
But then there was the issue of her kissing him back. Something must really be up if she'd chosen to-
A hushed silence fell over the crowd, and all eyes were on the figure standing at the edge of the room. "Esteemed guests," Itami announced, looking unusually pleased, "I believe it is time for our evening tea." He bowed and disappeared through a door.
Conversations resumed in quiet murmurs as everyone entered the light yellow room. Storm noticed that Junko was already in her seat, her hands folded neatly on her lap. She sought him out from the crowd and patted the cushion next to her.
He slid smoothly over and took his place beside her. "So you found out," she whispered as she leaned towards him, her lips barely moving.
"You can tell?" he whispered back.
She took his fist in both of her hands and, gently, tenderly, unfurled it. "Yeah, I can tell." She smiled as her fingers intertwined with his.
"You had better have one hell of a reason for letting him touch you," he muttered darkly, although he rubbed the back of her hand affectionately with his thumb.
"I caught him pouring a clear powder into your teacup. I suspect poison."
Storm peered at his teacup suspiciously.
Junko patted his arm. "Don't worry. While he was distracted, I switched his cup with yours."
"You let him kiss you," he added gloomily.
"Hey, what can I say?" She pressed her cheek against his shoulder and looked up at him. "All part of the distraction."
"Was that specific part necessary?"
"Uh, yeah. I deemed it necessary." She flicked at his hair. "Can I at least get a 'thank you?'"
"You'll get a 'thank you' when we get back home." Tommy briefly pressed his lips against her fingers. Junko blushed.
Itami watched the couple carefully as he sipped at his tea. Actual tea ceremonies were rare among ninja clans and generally reserved for very special occasions. The gathering was a special occasion, yes, but there were simply too many people, and a properly conducted tea ceremony would take too much time. Splitting everyone into smaller groups might spark accusations of favoritism, so Itami settled for a simple, relaxed tea session. He could hear a few masters complaining quietly, but chose to ignore them.
After what felt like eternity, Thomas finally reached for his cup. Itami forced himself to stare at the table, attempting to appear deep in thought, instead of at him. In his peripheral vision, he saw him drink the tea.
Any time now. Any time. He felt almost giddy with glee. I'll see you in Hell, Arashikage. Greet your uncles for me when you get there. Don't worry - I'll take great care of your wife.
Storm's head suddenly snapped up and he placed his cup down. "Someone's coming."
Immediately, the room fell dead silent. Ninjas, Junko thought, smiling. So alert.
Eyebrows raised, Tommy turned to Itami. "It's your brother, followed by... twenty-five people."
"Is it an ambush?" someone's wife asked.
"No," another ninja, not Storm, answered. Junko guessed he also possessed the Ear that Sees. "He's saying something. He sounds... terrified."
Thomas didn't take his eyes off of Itami. "He's screaming, 'Murder! Murder!'"
The room erupted into panicked whispers. Who was murdered? Who died? Who is dying? Most importantly, what is going on?
There was a very unpleasant cracking noise as the door to the room was actually ripped apart. "Murderer! Liar! Traitor!" a young man who looked very much like Itami but sounded quite different lunged at the man with a cry. "You have shamed us! You have SHAMED US!"
Itami looked at Minoru dispassionately as the rest of the men filed into the room and began pushing small cups containing some strange liquid into everybody's hands. "What the hell is this? What's happening?" one master demanded, pointing to the cup.
"It's an antidote. We suspect poisoning, sir," the man answered calmly as he gave a woman a cup. At his words, the woman visibly paled and promptly downed the liquid.
"Poisoning?" The master appeared unmoved. "By who?"
"Take a reasonable guess, sir." The man glanced at Minoru, who was sitting on his brother and punching him repeatedly, screaming insults. The master stared at the cup, disbelief written all over his face, before finally drinking its contents.
By then, pretty much everybody had been informed, and nobody was doing anything to help Itami; they were all staring coldly at him. Minoru continued beating his brother. "I don't believe this! I don't BELIEVE THIS! You! My own brother! You have disgraced our family name! You have brought shame to this clan! Our clan used to be great!" His next punch wrenched Itami's head to the side. Blood splattered on floor. "Our clan used to be respected!" Another punch. More blood flew. "Our clan used to be the kind everybody would look up to!" An uppercut drove Itami's skull into the ground. "I used to look up to you! You were my role model! I respected you! I gave you everything - I even let you watch over the clan alone to satisfy your power-hungry needs!" He growled, his gaze cold. "Guess I was wrong. Guess I was stupid." He raised another fist, about to strike again, when strong fingers stopped him.
"Minoru. Stop. You don't want him unconscious. He needs to be awake to feel pain."
Minoru whipped around, fury and anger in his expression at both his brother and the woman who held him back. Junko met his gaze evenly, although rage also flickered in her eyes. "How did you find out?" she asked.
Sight unexpectedly blurred by tears, Minoru swallowed hard. "A servant told me that my brother decided to serve the tea today, something he has never done in the past. I found a ripped empty package of Nichira poison on the table near the location where he took the tray from the servant. I-I feared the worst and told the healer to prepare the antidote while a dog team tracked the poison to this room." He hung his head as tears spilled over his cheeks. "Forgive me, Arashikage-san," he choked.
"You are not responsible for your brother's actions." She lightly touched his shoulder. "Your fears are correct - Itami was trying to poison my husband. I saw him pour the poison into his tea."
Minoru's light gasp and Itami's labored breathing were all that was heard in the room. All eyes suddenly flew to Tommy, who appeared much calmer than he felt.
"You switched his cup with my brother's," he said slowly, realization dawning on his face.
"A simple, reasonable move," Junko answered. "My husband would live, and your brother's immunity to the poison would help him suffer nothing worse than a headache. That is," her voice dropped, "if he is immune to the poison..."
"He is." He sighed. "I'm just glad nobody has actually been poisoned." Minoru looked at Itami, who had already passed out, before quickly noticing everybody in the room. Gulping, he stood up, wringing his bloodstained hands nervously. "I apologize deeply for today's events. Itami will be exiled as soon as he is healed, and a suitable replacement will be found. I welcome you all to stay longer, but I assume you would want to leave after... recent happenings. I will take no offense at either option." He bowed deeply and helped lift Itami out of the room. A cleaning crew soon appeared to clean up the blood.
Eventually, people began trickling out, no longer wanting to stay at the scene of a would-be murder, until the only two people left were Junko and Tommy.
"I really must apologize again for my brother." Minoru stared at his feet, unable to look directly at Storm Shadow. "He tried to kill you."
"He's not the first to try, and he certainly won't be the last. Apology accepted, but only if you promise to stop taking the blame for your brother's actions."
A hint of a smile. "Oh, I promise. I'll make sure the next master isn't so proud or greedy."
"Maybe," Junko appeared at her husband's side, "you should be the next Master Nichira."
Minoru's cheeks flushed red. "M-me? No, no... I'm too young, and I don't have enough experience."
"You're in your late twenties. My father became master of his clan at an earlier age, so you can't say you're too young. As for experience..." Tommy gave him his signature smirk. "You can appoint advisors, and do what is right, not what's easiest. You'll become a wise master in no time." Junko passed him a scroll, which he handed to Minoru. "You can start by meeting with me in a week's time to discuss the terms of our alliance."
The look of pure disbelief on Minoru's face made Junko laugh. "No way, really? You actually want to be allies with us even after..."
"Yes, because I can tell that you will lead this clan well and change it for the better."
Minoru stared at the scroll. "Oh... gosh, thank you, Arashikage-san! I promise I'll do my best." He beamed happily.
Thomas nodded. "I wish you the best of luck. We will see you in a week." He got into the car and closed the door. "Satoya, take us home."
The driver nodded and started the engine. Rain began pelting the windows as the car pulled out of the driveway. Junko waved back at the rapidly shrinking Minoru from the backseat of the car. "Bye!" she called out quietly.
"He can't hear you."
"I know, but it's still fun to say it." Junko sank back down in her seat as they turned around a corner.
They were silent most of the drive home. The quiet sound of rain and the comforting warmth of Tommy's shoulder were slowly lulling her to sleep, until an unexpected jolt made her jump awake and almost hit her head on the car roof. "My apologies, Arashikage-san," Satoya said as he slowed down. "I'll take a different road."
"How long until we get home?" Thomas asked.
Satoya glanced at the clock. 9:24 PM. "In about two hours."
"Alright." Storm turned to his wife and patted his lap. "Lie down."
Gratefully, Junko obliged. "Oh, god. Thank you," she breathed when he removed the pin from her hair and massaged her scalp.
Her husband merely smiled lovingly at her. "How long will he live?" he asked.
Eyelids drooping and drowsy, she managed to answer, "He won't live to see the sunrise," before closing her eyes, soothed by Tommy's fingers.
Bending over, he delicately kissed her. "Thank you, my love."
She didn't answer. She had fallen asleep.
The next morning, Itami was found dead. The cause of his death was discovered to be poison, although nobody was sure what kind of poison. Some said that he wasn't as immune to his own poison as he thought he was, while others said that one of his own clan members, dishonored and ashamed of his former master's actions, had poisoned him in his sleep. Neither of these explanations were correct.
At the same time at an unmarked location in the mountains, far away from the Nichira compound, a young woman woke up to the sight of her husband still asleep, his hair messed up again. Trailing her fingers down his cheek, she looked past him at the rising sun low in the sky.
"You forfeited your life the moment you decided to try and take my husband's," she whispered, grinning victoriously. "Don't forget to say hello to Ryugi Hyata for me."
How did Itami die? Please leave your answer in a review!
For those of you who do find it out, just know that no impersonation or copying of any other fictional character was intended, 'cause... I don't know about any fictional character using that poison. I just happened to stumble across the idea upon researching the chemical components of early geisha makeup. ^-^