Author's Notes

This story focuses on an OC of sort: the Fearless Master is my version of Storm Shadow's father. He's also known informally as the Insane Master, very fittingly so. One example would be this comment from Tommy about him (extracted from The Greenshirts and the Werewolf): "He got a sword slash across his face when I was a baby, and the scar shrunk the skin around his eye. Up to that point, he had considered himself to be very handsome. After that injury, he decided to go to the other extreme for his face to continue to be a distraction to his opponents, and purposely scarred himself on every available inch, using a combination of burns and cuts."

Thanks to CrystalofEllinon's inspiration, one subset of these scars has since been defined as the very symbol of the Arashikage clan, carved in FM's cheek.

Another fun fact: Tommy is called Tomisaburo (which means something along the lines of precious third son) by his relatives but is an only child. My explanation is that his father named him after himself, using the excuse that he was referring to two of Tommy's cousins. That of course means the Fearless Master's real name would be Tomisaburo as well.

Chapter 1: Life and Death

The trainee knocked to announce himself and then let himself right in, a letter in hand. The Hard Master scowled at him, and the young man's pulse accelerated a bit in a most satisfying fashion, although it did not nearly make up for his continued presence. There was nothing for it, however: the recipient of the letter, his brother the Fearless Master, had noticed the intrusion and had just thrown his opponent a few steps away to grab the letter from the student's hand, the usual dread showing in his face.

The Hard Master tried to sigh, but couldn't quite manage. It was foolishness, all this worry on Tomisaburo's part: Tommy was perfectly capable of looking after himself. This crazy feeling his brother could not shake - that he'd never see his son again - was nothing but imaginings. There were ninjas that claimed a true Master could feel his death coming, but even THAT silly belief did not extend to feeling someone else's impending doom.

And yet, the eldest of the Arashikage masters found himself holding his breath just like his brother was as said brother ripped opened the standard filtered correspondence envelope. Every letter from the soldiers went through processing and filtering, so they all arrived in official US Army envelopes; the same envelopes, or so the Fearless Master and his brothers imagined, as the Army would use to send notification of a soldier's death.

The youngest master of the Arashikage clan, one of the most feared men among ninjas and those who dealt with them, let out a most unthreatening and fatherly sigh of relief upon seeing the two pages filled with his son's handwriting – in English as per required by the army. He grinned and started to read, quite forgetting he had been in the middle of a scheduled spar with his long time friend, the Blue Master of the Mizu clan.

The fact recalled itself to his mind when said friend tried to kick him. He easily blocked the blow without ever taking his eyes off the letter.

His opponent groaned and stepped away. "Could you at least pay attention when you're besting me?"

"I do apologize, Blue Master," the Soft Master said, smiling. "My brother has instructed everyone in the clan to always bring him his son's letters right away, no matter what. I assure you, he'll be more attentive as soon as he's done."

"The Arashikage INVITED us here," the Green Master, one of two others from the Mizu clan who had accompanied the Blue Master to the Arashikage compound, grumbled. "And you make us wait?"

The White Master, the third envoy from the Mizu clan, nodded with a scowl that rivaled the Hard Master's. The Blue Master, however, chuckled.

"If it were anyone else but this idiot treating us in this fashion, I would indeed see it as an insult," he said. "but my sword brothers may as well blame our allies for the birds singing in the sky."

"You have our thanks for your patience, Blue Master," the Hard Master said with an apologetic bow to all three Mizu representatives. "And for not taking advantage of the Insane Master's current distraction to humiliate him by beating him senseless. The Mizu clan always was truly noble."

The Blue Master smiled at the appellation: the nickname was of course not normally used in formal circumstances, and this mark of friendship on the part of the Hard Master, even more than the formal agreement between their respective clans to share some techniques – agreement which had directly led to this scheduled sparring session – spoke volumes on the close relationship desired by both clans.

"He's doing great," the Fearless Master suddenly announced cheerfully, finally folding the letter away, grinning from ear to ear. "Got a new squad, and his one surviving friend from the first one is with him again."

"Do you know that you're even uglier when you're smiling?" the Blue Master commented with a smirk, getting in position again. "It really brings out all the smaller scars, and makes your eyes look even more uneven. It's really quite disgusting."

"Why thank you," the Fearless Master said, giving a mock bow before getting in a dueling stance as well, as though the fight had not already started and been interrupted. "I did work hard on this face. I don't think I've missed a single square inch."

"I always felt that your clan's symbol engraved on your right cheek was a nice touch. To cement the friendship between our clans, allow me to carve ours on the other side of your face!"

He launched at him then, and to most observers, what followed would have been nothing but a chaotic blur as both men moved too fast to follow for anyone but fellow ninja masters.

The other four ninja masters present, however, were following every move and counter move and making careful mental notes. Therefore, they knew for a fact that the Fearless Master had not received a hit when he suddenly stopped, his hands going up towards his head. He collapsed before his hands even reached.

The Blue Master's eyes widened. He made to bend down on his friend to check on him, feverishly hoping the Insane Master wasn't going to stupidly sucker punch him and risk causing a rift between their clans, but his outstretched hand never made contact with the other ninja; he heard someone scream the Fearless Master's birth name and was roughly shoved aside by the Hard Master.

"SOMEONE GET THE MEDIC!" the older ninja screamed even as he started CPR on the Fearless Master.

The Hard Master was fighting blind panic as he attempted to restart his baby brother's heart. He couldn't die, Tomisaburo couldn't die. He was the youngest, he was the baby, and as much as the Hard Master loathed himself for the thought even occurring to him at a time like this, right now the Fearless Master was the only reason the clan was not bankrupt. He. Could. Not. Die! Nobody could take the man down, the running gag each time someone came close or should have been able to based on comparative skills was that the Insane Master was too bloody stubborn to die.

"Don't you dare…" he muttered between two attempts to force some air into his brother's lungs. "Brother, don't you dare do this to us!"

He felt himself being pried away and tried to break free, but relented: the medic was here and had taken over. He felt the smallest bit of calm impose itself on his mind: that was the man's job, he'd get Tomisaburo right again. And then his brother would go on doing HIS job, and all would be right. People doing their duties, everything in order.

Except that even the blood pumping in his ears could not muffle the medic's voice enough to make his meaning unclear when he spoke.

"I'm sorry. He's gone."

The Fearless Master opened his eyes feeling so good that it took him a moment to remember he'd collapsed after a sharp pain in his head.

It was funny too; he hadn't even seen the hit. The Blue Master would definitely have to show him THAT move again. He got up and blinked at his surroundings: there were none, safe for a woman sitting by his side. He did a double take, blinked, looked around again, and locked eyes with his companion.

She smiled at him. The same smile as on their wedding day, the one only he was ever treated too. It radiated warmth and love, just as always. He had missed that smile; his mind's eye never got it quite right. He could remember exactly how it looked, he could remember exactly how her pulse and her breathing sounded, he could remember her smell, but his memory could never quite bring back the sheer happiness that washed over him each time her lips quirked up like this, the wonder at his incredible luck in having this woman's love, the safety and comfort of knowing he'd never lose that love.

Yet he thought he HAD lost her. She had died MUCH too soon, Tommy had only been two and hardly even knew her.

His eyes widened a bit more still. "Ayame?" he asked. "How…?"

She put a hand on his leg, looking sweeter than ever. "Honey,…" she started… and the truth dawned on him. He reached out to put a finger on her lips. She frowned slightly.

"I'm dead?" he asked.

"Yes…" she started. She was interrupted again by a loud whoop and her husband crushing her form against his and dragging her along for a happy dance.

"He's okay!" he exclaimed while lifting her up, tears of joy in his eyes. "It was ME! I'm the one that was going to die! Tommy's okay!"

He pulled her close in a hug that would have crushed her ribs had she possessed any, and then he was twirling her around again, laughing like a loon. The laughter suddenly stopped when he pulled her face close to him and kissed her.

It was a long kiss. Neither needed to breathe, and they had been apart for a while, and it WAS the first time they were kissing each other as spirits – things felt a bit different. They took their time trying out different angles and exploring each other, and only pulled apart when they felt the need to talk again.

"Tommy's still in a dangerous war, dear," Ayame said. "What were you three even thinking, sending him there?"

"Final trial," Tomisaburo said, in a tone that made it clear he felt he was spelling out the obvious. "I wouldn't worry anymore, he can handle himself." He grinned and sighed happily. "Isn't it great? He's going to be okay! Plus, I can keep an eye on him now! Or can I? Oh! Can we haunt? Can we touch things? I can touch YOU… how does that work? And you don't mind the scars?"

"I'm choosing to see you without them," Ayame said with a giggle that made Tomisaburo's heart flutter in a way that certainly felt physical. "We can't really haunt, no. Some people can feel our presence, especially when we try hard, but we're spirits, not ghosts. We feel solid to each other because we choose to, but the living are not able to fully perceive us."

Tomisaburo was only half listening. Technical details on what they could or could not do were suddenly not all that interesting. He already knew they could be solid to each other, he already knew the kiss had felt very nice...

"You look distracted, love," Ayame said with a knowing smirk. If anything, she was rather surprised he hadn't started to undress her while they were kissing.

Her husband swallowed. "Tommy," he said with something of an effort. No longer having blood was apparently not an obstacle to all of it going south. The only reason he still wanted to check on their son was that he didn't want to be distracted by worries for the next little while. "Can we check on him? Real quick?"

She giggled again and in what he felt was a supreme bout of sadism, pouted. He discovered that ethereal pants could feel just as uncomfortably tight and restricting as material ones. He gulped again.

Ayame took pity on him. All of eternity in front of them, and he still had such a sense of urgency… the man always had been one to know what his priorities were. Not that she wasn't feeling a bit impatient herself. She could understand his worries, however – she had been 'checking' on their son nearly constantly since the last close call that had killed nearly everyone else in his unit. She stopped pouting and cleared her throat.

"First, be warned that he may not notice us at all, and if he does, he won't be quite sure he's not imagining things. Especially for you… he doesn't know you're dead, after all."

"That's fine," he said, some of his wits clicking back into place.

She nodded. "Just concentrate on wanting to be by his side," she instructed. "Closing your eyes might help, I seem to be a distraction for you right now," she added with a wink.

He rolled his eyes before shutting them, and focused as instructed on wanting to see his only son.

His eyes widened when he opened them again. He was floating alongside a half dozen young men, each one crusted over with dirt and each face showing the same mix of concentration, fear and boredom. It was only when the middle one suddenly turned to stare right through him that he recognized his son's pulse and his face, hidden under a thick coating of grime that at least had the merit of letting him blend in with his surroundings that much more.

"See something?" the soldier behind Tommy asked, looking roughly in the same direction as his companion.

Tommy shook his head, frowning in puzzlement, and looked straight ahead again.

"See?" Ayame asked. "He's fine." He could hear the smile in her voice and sure enough, when he turned to her, he found her smiling fondly at their boy. No doubt she felt he was trudging, bored and yet on his guard, better than any of the other guys. He couldn't pretend to disagree.

He nodded and grabbed her hand before willing the both of them back to the empty place he had first found himself in upon dying. The jungle dissolved around him, replaced by the nothingness.

Ayame snorted and shook her head at him. "Honey… we can go anywhere and nobody can see us," she said.

He blinked at her, already trying to undo the kimono she was wearing, but then her meaning dawned on him.

"The top platform of Tokyo Tower?" he suggested with a grin. He had very fond memory of their last time there.

She grinned too, pressed herself against him, and they were off.

Thanks for reading so far. Please review! I honestly don't know whether this is only an indulgence for me or whether it's a good read for several people, so please let me know one way or the other. :D