Ninja's Passing

-

Based on the song "Ninja's Passing,"written by iamzuul and Kilerkki, which is in turn an adaptation of Vienna Teng's song "Passage" from the album Warm Strangers.

This song originated during the early years of the Third Great Ninja War and became a favorite among the shinobi of the war generation. It is known under various names as "I Died On A Mission," "The Shinobi's Lament," and "The Heroes' Stone," and it is still sung as both a dirge and a lullaby.

The young shinobi is always nameless. He is, in a way, the ninja Everyman.

-

I died on a mission two days ago

Was unrecognizable when they brought me off the field

A tattered scrap of flesh and bone

A name inscribed upon a stone

The wounds of war that never can be healed

My killer walked away alive

Arms wrapped now around his wife

-

He was already dead when they found his body, and if it hadn't been for the battered identification tags around his neck and the blurred photograph tucked behind his hitai'ate, they never would have known him. His body had been a red ruin even before the crows got to him, and when the medic-nin scattered the crows with shouts and shuriken, bone grinned back at her from what was left of the ninja's face.

The medic turned the tags over with a trembling hand and read the name aloud. "Oh gods," she whispered.

One of her teammates crouched beside her, gloved fingers reaching out to gently turn the broken skull from side to side. "He was always smiling," he said quietly. "Even excited about this mission. I saw him in the street right before he left, he was telling his little sister good-bye…"

The medic's hawk-faced mask turned blindly up towards her teammate's. "Who's going to tell them?"

His broad shoulders lifted in a tired shrug. "His team knew he didn't make it out. I imagine they've told his mother already."

The medic glanced back down at what was left of the body. "Poor boy," she said softly, and traced her fingertips along what had once been the curve of a living smile.

-

My lover sits the silent eye

In a hurricane of warmth and word

My mother trembles with the sobs

Whose absence seems absurd

My sister cries to let her see

Through the cloud of crowd surrounding me

My comrades call for silence in my name

-

She couldn't believe it, when they told her. Heard the words but couldn't understand them, couldn't accept them. He's never coming back. Never coming back…

The tiny kitchen seemed too full of life to let it be real. His mother stood in front of the window, arms folded around herself as if she held the son she'd just barely lost, shoulders heaving as she wept silently into the sympathetic arms of a neighbor. More neighbors, friends, old teachers and former girlfriends filled the rest of the kitchen, their low voices rumbling through the air like the echoes of the words his lover refused to accept.

He's never coming back…

"It's not true!" a shrill voice broke over the gentle buzz. Heads turned, mouths twisted, eyes welled with tears, as a skinny girl burst into the kitchen, her hands clenched so hard that her knuckles turned white and her fingernails bit into her palms. "He's not dead, he can't be, he promised he'd come back!" She spun in a circle, ponytail flapping. "You'll see, he'll come back—"

"Little one," a man began in a gentle voice, reaching out to touch her shoulder, but the dead man's sister broke away from him and wheeled to face the only still figure in the kitchen, the white-faced young woman seated silently at the table.

"He's coming back, isn't he?" the girl pled. "He promised you—"

His lover couldn't answer. Words clawed their way up her throat and froze, locked behind the prison of her teeth. She bent her head and stared at the hands clenched in her lap, and she heard the girl choke down a sob.

The door opened. Voices murmured and clothing rustled behind them. A hand fell gently on the young woman's shoulder, and the sister lifted wide eyes to the scarred faces of the three young men who stood there.

"I'm sorry," one of them whispered. "We've just come from—from seeing him. There's no doubt."

A woman in the corner screamed and broke down into the shoulder of the man standing behind her, but the three women who had loved him most were silent, frozen, in the face of their son's, lover's, brother's death.

-

I died on a mission two days ago

They burned me till I glowed and crumbled to a fine grey sand

Now I am nothing, everywhere

Several breaths of strangers' air

A file of reports written in my hand

My teammates visit me alone

They stand in silence by the stone

-

The dead ninja's teammates fled soon after, unable to bear the silent accusation in the women's faces. The young man who had led the team on its disastrous mission wasn't sure which set of despairing eyes had been worse: the mother's, barren of joy; the lover's, desolate of hope; the sister's, broken of spirit. He knelt on the wet grass and ran his fingertips over the name rawly carved into the Heroes' Stone, and he tried to swallow down the lump in his throat.

I'm sorry, he wanted to whisper, but after the words he'd spoken to break those women's hearts, he couldn't find any others. He pressed his fingers into the shallow grooves of the engraved name and tried to imagine that it was his name there instead. He was an orphan; his older brother had died the year before. Surely his death could not have hurt so many as the death of this boy with the bright smile and the laughing eyes.

His mind thrust the pictures before his eyes: the bowed shoulders and hair-shrouded face of a young woman reeling from a shock too great to understand; the new lines engraved in the features of a woman grown old overnight; the defiant grief in the eyes of a girl whose thin face was far, far too like the man they'd all loved.

At least they could remember him as he'd been, laughing, teasing, loving. His captain had only two images left of the boy he'd failed. His last sight of his teammate's living face, streaked with blood and set with determination, as he urged his comrades on; and his recent view of the shattered corpse that could not even resemble the young man he'd known.

The captain squeezed his eyes shut and leaned forward to rest his forehead against the stone, and he wondered wearily how long that image would haunt his waking nightmares.

-

My lover puts a knife to wrist

Says tomorrow comes, hold on a while

My mother wakes to pace the house

And make the bed of her lost child

My sister sharpens my kunai

Swears she'll make my killers die

The Heroes' Stone soon bears another name

-

They could not bear it. Too much loss, too much pain, fragile nerves stretched to the breaking point. The long-haired young woman sat with her back to the window and stared at the moonlight spilling over the pale smooth skin of her wrist and the sharp edge of the kunai kissing the place where he had pressed his lips. She closed her eyes and thought of his mouth on hers, his hands running down her body, his voice murmuring in her ear, his smile as he kissed away her tears. She thought of his anxious horror when he'd seen the blood on the sheets their first time (despite all the men he'd killed and all the friends he'd lost, he never could bear the sight of blood), and how she had laughingly calmed his fears, and how he had run his hand down the curve of her cheek and whispered, I never want to hurt you. I promise, I'll never hurt you.

"Nothing you ever did or could do," she whispered to the empty air, "could possibly hurt me as much as this."

She pressed the knife against her wrist and watched the first jewel-rich tear-drop of blood spring out.

He never wanted to hurt me.

"Oh gods," she wept, and the kunai dropped to the floor as she called his name again and again to an empty room.

She had taken the kunai from the pouch of spares he kept in the closet with the rest of his gear. His sister did not notice the loss. She could barely let herself think, let alone count how many there were and how many there used to be, as she sat cross-legged on the floor of her bedroom and sharpened the kunai that had been her brother's with hands she would not allow to shake. She had set his picture on the floor facing her, and she kept her eyes fixed on it as she stropped the blades to an edge finer than even the edge he had kept.

"You said you'd come back," she accused the picture. "You promised. You were going to be married in the spring, remember? And I was going to dance with you at your wedding and be the first one to hold your babies, and I'd look after them the way you looked after me…"

The picture's dark eyes were blank, and the lips were serious, and he would never, ever smile again.

Neither would his sister. She crept out of the house under cover of darkness, and although she was only a rookie genin with a few dozen D-rank missions to her name, by the next morning she'd made it nearly to the broken meadow where her brother had died.

She never made it home.

-

I died on a mission two days ago

Was unrecognizable when they brought me off the field

A tattered scrap of flesh and bone

A name inscribed upon a stone

The wounds of war that never can be healed

My killer walked away alive

Arms wrapped now around his wife

-

In a Hidden Village a hundred miles away, another man had already forgotten the face of the boy he killed.