This is sort of a strange one for me. I own none of the characters, as usual...but in this case two of them are owned not by Hasbro, but by Karama9. She most graciously let me muck about in her AU to produce this, because she is wonderful and generous and awesome.
This fic is based on the AU of her "Arashikage" fic, along with the extras and spinoff fics she wrote for the Arashikage AU, in particular "Ninja Spirits". If you want to know who the hell the Fearless Master or Ayame are, go read her fics. Even if you don't want to know who they are, go read her fics anyway, because you are missing out by not doing so.
I make no money from this. I'd LIKE to. Hasbro; call me and Karama. We've got some ideas.
That was the last thing he remembered. He knew, logically, that he was dead; not even a ninja survived a missile explosion. He knew he was dead. So, when he opened his eyes again, he didn't know exactly what he was going to see.
The man known as the Soft Master blinked. It…wasn't what he'd expected.
The battlefield was gone. Buildings, cars, helicopters, his nephew…gone. He was standing in soft, ankle-deep grass, in the middle of a broad plain. Gentle hills rolled away in all directions, rising to forested hills and a far off range of mountains to his left, rendered tiny and purple with distance. In front of him, perhaps half a mile off, a river caught the sun, gleaming like silver.
He realized abruptly that he was standing. Painlessly. Forty seconds ago his leg had been broken. Now though, it was healed and whole, and as he marvelled at that another small wonder caught his attention as the breeze ruffled his hair.
He'd been bald for years. He ran a hand over his head, and sure enough there was hair there, as thick as it had been when he'd been twenty.
Definitely dead. But Tommy wasn't here, which meant (he supposed) that his nephew had survived, as he'd ordered him to. The Soft Master almost smiled; Tomisaburo was just as stubbornly resistant to death as his father, the Soft Master's brother, had been.
"Well." He said aloud. "If this is death, it's not nearly as bad as I'd thought."
"No." A voice, behind him agreed. "It's not so bad at all."
Time froze. The Soft Master knew that voice; he'd not heard it in years, but he knew it as well as his own. He turned.
His little brother was standing there, arms crossed, examining him with an inscrutable expression on his face. He didn't look a day over twenty-five. The extensive self-inflicted scarring was still present; some things apparently weren't healed by death. He was wearing a white gi, just the sort he'd always favoured.
A million thoughts. A joyful little brother! An immediate urge to hug the baby brother he hadn't seen since his untimely death. An urge to tell his younger brother everything that had happened, to ask him how he'd been, to ask where are we? What is this place? Who else is here? Is our brother here? Our parents?
But there was also guilt there. Does he know? Tommy…
His train of thought was abruptly derailed by a flash of lighting-quick motion.
The man known formally as the Fearless Master of the Arashikage and more informally as the Insane Master had always been fast. He'd used to amuse himself as a young child by catching flies with his bare hands. After fifty mortal years of ninja training, once more in the body he'd had in his twenties, the speed of the strike was almost shocking.
The Soft Master blocked instinctively, but he'd always been just a hair slower with his hands than his younger brother, and there was the speed leant by sheer fury behind this particular strike. The Fearless Master's fist slammed into the bridge of his nose with stunning force. He went down like a sack of potatoes, stunned and blinking at the bright spots and dark blurring at the edges of his vision. Pain blossomed outwards, making his eyes water.
"You STUPID BASTARD!" His brother was standing over him, fists still clenched, snarling. "I swear to everything you hold holy, if you hadn't just died saving him, I would kill you again right now with my bare hands."
Ah. He knows. The Soft Master peeled himself out of the grass…at least it had been a soft landing…and got back to his feet. He could feel his (definitely broken) nose bleeding; apparently injuries in the afterlife hurt just as much and bled just as much as those in the mortal world.
He eyed his little brother again. Tomisaburo (who'd named his son after himself; everyone knew it) was glaring, teeth bared in a snarl, fists still clenched, every muscle tensed.
A thousand words ran though his mind, but what, really, could he say? He sighed. "I'm sorry. I made a mistake. A big one. I've tried to make amends, but I suppose I did deserve that."
"A mistake?" His brother was almost shaking; the Soft Master had never seen him this angry before. "A mistake?" His voice was rising. "You accused my son of murdering his own blood. My son." A deep breath. "You played with him as a baby. You watched him grow up. You taught him. You're his uncle. And then you host a strange master, and when our older brother is killed, and that master and my son both vanish, you blamed my son."
He was yelling now, inches from the Soft Master's face.
"And why? Because it was his arrow? Because he disappeared after? He had dozens of arrows; anyone could have stolen one. Didn't you think for a moment that maybe he'd simply gone after the real killer? For circumstantial evidence, you order my son killed on sight?"
A moment of silence. The Fearless Master was clenching his teeth, clearly barely restraining himself from throttling his older brother on the spot. He was flushed with anger; the scarred clan symbol on his cheek stood out pale.
"What can I say?" The Soft Master felt his shoulders slumping. "What can I possibly say to you, little brother? I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry?" The Fearless Master echoed the words. "You're sorry. Do you know, brother, what has happened to Tommy in the years you've been hunting him as a traitor?"
"Some." The Soft Master said quietly. "And trust me, I've had many sleepless nights because of it."
The Fearless Master's glare should have, by all rights, burned him to a cinder where he stood. "We were there. When that mad scientist had him. Ayame and I both stood there and watched him scream, and couldn't do anything to help him. He begged for death, you know. Do you have any idea what it is like to hear your son scream like that, and not be able to help him? To hear your child beg to be put out of his misery?"
The Soft Master's throat was feeling thick. "I can't begin to imagine."
"Not nearly as bad as it is to watch him forget your name, your existence, and have it all replaced with lies and non-existent world orders. You nearly destroyed him, brother. You might yet; he's in the hands of that doctor again now, you know. They'll brainwash him again, which means I'm going to stand there again and give him whatever comfort I can. And you are going to watch too, brother." Those eyes…gods, Tommy's eyes were exactly the same shade and shape…were practically burning a hole through his. "You're going to watch every second of it."
The Soft Master closed his eyes for a moment and nodded. He sighed and looked his livid brother in the eyes. "Don't give up, Tomisaburo…your son is just as stubbornly impossible to kill as you ever were, and Snake Eyes is searching for ways to save him."
"His best friend? The one you ordered to track down and kill him? He nearly succeeded a few times, you know. Tommy's shed a lot of blood after tangling with that man."
The Soft Master sighed again, feeling progressively worse about himself. "I'm sorry, little brother. What else can I say? I gave my life to save him; it was the only way I could begin to make up for things."
"Like I said…that is the only reason I didn't kill you as soon as I saw you. And if he dies serving that sociopathic madman, I am going to kill you." A disgusted snort. "You know, elder brother…I would never have ordered a child of yours killed on sight. Find him, get his side of the story…yes. Kill him? Never."
The Fearless Master turned his back on the Soft Master abruptly. "I'll be back for you when Tommy wakes up in that mad scientist's machine. Don't follow me." He…faded, going transparent, and then vanished. The Soft Master blinked.
"I'm sorry." He said again to the empty air. "I'm sorry, Tomisaburo." He sighed, feeling quite miserable.
"No amount of apologizing is going to cool him off." A dry voice, again directly behind him. Again, a very familiar voice. "I wouldn't go after him. He's probably gone to track down some old enemies to kill again, and I'm not so sure he wouldn't just kill you a few times too were you to show up right now. And I do have to agree that you made a royal mess of this one, little brother. I did tell you not to be too hard on our nephew."
"You had an arrow through you." The Soft Master turned to find the Hard Master, looking almost shockingly young…he really had to find a mirror and look at himself. "And you were being cryptic. I thought you were just rambling. I made a mistake. A bad mistake. But I tried to make up for it."
"I know." The Hard Master narrowed his eyes. "I'm personally going to be very surprised if Tommy doesn't manage to escape sooner or later, and no power of heaven or earth is going to be able to help Cobra Commander or Mindbender when that happens. But Tomisaburo…well, Tommy is his son. It is going to take him a long time to even begin to forgive you."
"He mentioned Ayame. She's here?"
"It's the afterlife. Everyone who has ever died is around here somewhere."
"Is she going to break my nose too?"
"If you see her. She does not seem in any hurry to speak with you."
"Ah." The Soft Master sighed again. "Is there anything I can do for them? Anything they might accept as an apology? I've felt terrible about what's happened to Tommy since I found out what really happened the night you died. Surely they know that."
"They're his parents." A shrug. "And their son's been badly hurt. They're not going to forgive anyone for that quickly. Give them time, brother. That's about all you can do."