Ahoy, Matey! (interj) friendly greeting, generally between equals
The inner halls of the Ninja Union were the last place he'd ever expected to visit again. Princess Tomoyo had seen to it twelve years ago that Yuuko didn't own him anymore, and once you were out, you were out. No one who wasn't hers saw the inside of that compound and lived. Card-carrying union ninja came to you if Yuuko was willing to deal, whispering through darkened windows and leaving notes on throwing stars. But this time, the note had said to present himself.
She was lazing on her throne, all smirks and legs, with the question of where she'd hidden her weapons the least of a man's worries. Twelve years, and she hadn't changed at all. He stood tall and straight-backed, nodding only his head in place of a bow and handing the Princess's wrapped offering to a lackey who appeared from the shadows. No one he knew. No one of consequence -- he could tell.
He waited for her to speak first. This visit was for information, and he would take whatever cooperation the Princess's gifts would afford without divulging or asking for more, and then he was off to complete his mission -- with or without help from the Union.
"Kurogane," she purred around the shaft of her long pipe. "What a pleasant... well, I can't really call it a surprise. But it's a pleasant reunion all the same. So my darling Tomoyo needs a favor, does she?" The ninja mistress extended a hand to the lackey to accept the package. "What have we got here?"
He'd known her long enough to know that she wasn't asking. Yuuko had always preferred to open the box and find out herself rather than to hear an announcement. There were so few things she didn't know. One corner of the purple velvet wrapping fell at a time to reveal a dark mahogany chest polished so bright you could almost see the curious light of her eyes reflecting off of it. She slowly pushed up the lid and the blood-ruby curve of her lips broke into a smile, then a laugh. Setting the box on a table by her throne, she took out two lop-eared, plush lumps with permanently sewn grins -- one black, one white -- and hugged them to her chest.
"Made by the Princess's own hands, I'd say by the craftsmanship. Generous indeed. I think I'll call them Mokona." Yuuko turned back to him, as serious as she ever seemed to be. "Tomoyo will have exactly the assistance she requires, Kurogane. To think dear little Sakura was kidnapped by pirates," she tsked. "And her bodyguard as well... What was his name again?"
"Syaoran," he told her. And it hadn't been just any pirate that took them. The boy was more than a match for your average salt-faring scalliwag.
"Syaoran, of course..." The Mistress of Ninja sat up straighter in her seat and set down her pipe at her side. "You trained him yourself, didn't you, Kurogane? This must be a terrible blow. And do you really think you'll avenge your honor as his master by stowing away on some ship and trying to bring down the Pirate King himself?"
"I'll bring them home safely. From what I heard of his fight, neither my honor nor his needs repair, but mine certainly would if I left them and did nothing."
She set the stuffed toys she'd dubbed 'Mokona' aside and favored him with half a smile. "Well, you're in luck. My men were able to locate the 'Dragon of Heaven', and they've even been able to confirm that the hostages are still alive. Your young protege looks like he's tangled badly with half the crew, at least, in what I understand to be escape attempts, but he's kept his feet and the Princess Sakura is completely unscathed. The ship will be putting into a secret harbor near Darsret tomorrow to take on supplies."
"Thank you." He nodded his head again and turned to leave. Why Yuuko had needed him in person just to relay that, he couldn't say, but it was all he needed to find a way onto that ship.
But instead of letting him go, she waved him closer, with the kind of smile he'd learned never to trust. "Oh, no, no, no. Kurogane, we're not through. Tomoyo offered such a fine gift. If I were to send you away with nothing but that, she'd have overpaid. And I will never have it said that I overcharge my customers. Now, as it so happens, I have a special resource that I think I'll lend you for an hour or two -- but it'll be our little secret, all right?"
"I have no secrets from my Princess," Kurogane replied.
"Done." Yuuko wouldn't argue that, of course. It had been part of the deal Princess Tomoyo had made for his service, and the Mistress never went back on a deal. With a hand cupped to her mouth, she called out, "Watanuki!" and a slim figure clothed in all black and a rather cliché amount of fishnet appeared at her side as if out of thin air.
"Yes, Mistress," he said, dropping a surly sigh. "Your sake and shark-fin soup will be done any moment, but some patience--"
"Maru and Moro can bring me the soup. I have more important work for you."
The young ninja, whom he was certain he'd seen somewhere before, exploded into a cloud of red fury, arms and legs moving so fast that he looked like he had a dozen of each. "Maru and Moro? They'll ruin it!! Have you ever seen the way they pour soy sauce? I cannot and will not allow--" Just as suddenly as he'd begun the flurried motion, he screeched to a standstill and gave her a well-deserved suspicious eye. "You think something's more important than cooking for you?"
"We have a guest, Watanuki. Surely you remember Kurogane."
He struck a pose of bent limbs as if he couldn't decide whether he wanted to jump ten feet in the air or duck behind Mistress Yuuko's throne. "Sempai?!" he squealed -- and Kurogane cringed deep in his heart at hearing a ninja make a sound like that, but at least now he remembered the boy. He'd been an apprentice starting two years before Kurogane had left the Union, and a skilled one, but not someone he would have expected to survive training. It would seem Mistress Yuuko had decided she could keep him without needing him to be any less high-strung. Once he'd finished exlaiming nonsense, he moved onto, "But, but, but you--" He whipped his head toward Yuuko. "Princess Tomoyo--" And once more he gawked at Kurogane. "What?!"
"The Princess Tomoyo has requested our aid in outfitting Kurogane for a particularly difficult infiltration, and I'm afraid you're the only one with the specialized knowledge required. Just a few tips. I'm sure he'll be a quick study."
Watanuki puffed up enough that one might have thought his upturned nose would poke a hole in the roof. "Well, it's about time my expertise and top-notch work around here were recognized. There's no one like me for teaching a man to infiltrate..." He paused, and Kurogane could see the cogs in his brain jamming up against an impasse. He had to admit some fear that the young ninja's head would explode in a puff of steam. "What, exactly, are you infiltrating?"
"A pirate ship," Kurogane answered and -- rather to his surprise -- Watanuki's head actually did appear to explode in a puff of steam. He also stopped moving completely, without even a blink to show he was still alive, and the only reason Kurogane had to believe that he wasn't an automaton whose inner workings had fused was the reddening tone of his face.
A tomato blush traveled fast down from his brow to his chin and deepened to a sickly purple as he turned his head in short, shaky jerks to face Yuuko. "A... pirate... ship...?"
"He plans to retrieve the Princess Sakura and her personal guard from the 'Dragon of Heaven' herself, right from under the nose of the Pirate King. Now, Watanuki, don't you think that such a delicate operation deserves the fruits of your close, personal... dare I say... intimate knowledge of pirates?"
"Pi-rate! A pi-rate! Not pi-rates! Singular! One! Un! Uno! Yon sel! Bir! Egy! Ein! Jedan! Satu! Uks! Viena! Isa! Wiehed! Mmoja! Less than two, and certainly not three! And don't say 'intimate' like the sex means I like him! I hate that smarmy bastard! Gyah..." He shook his fists with a truly impressive level of violence at the heavens, and yelled with a kind of volume that managed to make Kurogane wince. "God damn you, Doumeki! I hope you choke on a popcorn kernel and fall to an embarrassing death from your own mizzen-mast, whatever the hell that is! I am going to kill you the next time I see you, do you hear me?!"
"I'm sure he does," Yuuko laughed. "Now, run along to the training hall and teach Kurogane what he needs to know -- and please don't let him leave until you're certain he can pass for a high-seas brigand."
Kurogane couldn't help wondering about the circumstances as he followed the muttering, stomping figure away to the training hall, but decided it was best not to ask.
An affair with a pirate? Really? And 'Doumeki', he'd said... Had someone trusted enough to be cooking Yuuko's meals gotten himself in bed with the infamous Captain Doumeki Shizuka of the Queen Cassandra? There were some who said he wasn't too many deaths away from a place on the Pirate King's council. No wonder Yuuko wanted to keep that 'resource' a secret. Not that she could be having much luck with the way Watanuki seemed to scream.