A/N A definite AU fic. Heavy Symbolism.
Disclaimer: I own nothing, regret nothing, I let them forget nothing.
I always walked down this street because it was the street I knew she would be at. Fifth avenue was the busiest street in the downtown area, and I think that was why she liked it, because she could blend in easier. Even then, though, she wasn't great at it for reasons one would find obvious at first sight.
I walked past Main, because that's where she usually was. Always by the busiest intersection in the city. I counted down the moments until she acknowledged her presence, but, alas, I was still at twelve on my internal countdown when she tapped my shoulder.
I swiveled around smoothly and acknowledged her. "Hello, Sheik."
She smiled back at me. "Hello yourself, Luigi."
I gave her a look-over and noticed that she was again wearing her ninja suit even though it hung looser than ever on her. She always wore that suit because she was technically a ninja. It wasn't typical black, which blended into a grand total of nothing in the daylight hours I often saw her at. Instead, it consisted of more practical colors- blue, some brown, a bit of gray. More grace than cartoon.
I was a bit nervous about saying anything given the circumstances, but she was happy to speak. "You're early," she noted simply.
"Mmhmm, Sheik, I am. I just... didn't want to miss a moment," I admitted.
She smiled, her pale eyes warm as ever. "Well, for that I thank you. Shall we?"
I nodded, and without further ceremony, we took our stance against the wall of the Congress Building. It always seemed to go this way. We'd meet at this intersection every once in awhile. She'd wear her ninja suit, and I'd be wearing nothing important. We'd take our stance against the wall and talk about life. But no two meetings were alike, because we were changing. I struggled with my problems in real life but they all disappeared when I was here, and I became increasingly comfortable with someone to just shoot the breeze with. And while she became frailer every time we saw each other, she grew in spirit and wisdom without knowing it.
Sheik browsed the passerby, seeming to be entranced by the different people. There were business people, homeless people, hipsters, tourists, people of all races, ages and backgrounds. And she knew this. Still smiling, she mused on it. "Look at all these incredible people."
I looked over at her, and then at one of the poor beggars at the corner. Less than polite, I asked "Incredible?"
She didn't mind my foolishness or mention it. "Of course. I mean, think about it. We're some of the most complex creatures on this planet. We think cognitively, we create amazing things, we love, we learn, we control our fates and help the fates of those around us. We're incredibly lucky and, luckily, incredible."
I nodded with a smile. "You truly are wise beyond your years," I said with glowing admiration. And she was. Sheik was one of the most intelligent people I've ever met, and so subtle about it. I'm not sure she even knew.
"Aw, Lu, I try," she mumbled, blushing.
It was silent for a few moments before she suddenly said "I wonder what it'll be like next." It was jarring to hear, because it was just another bitter reminder.
Sheik noticed the surprise and then sadness crossing my face and she wrapped an arm around me in support. Goddamn it, it killed me that she was the one that had to comfort me while I wasn't strong enough to comfort her. And I do it so well with everyone else. I was always listening to everyone tell me their troubles with little time to tell of my own. I'd offer advice and a million hugs every moment of our time together to some of my friends but I couldn't even offer a word of encouragement to her, and it made me feel so weak.
And she thought nothing of it. Sheik never seemed to think much of it. She never knew how much she had done for me back then. And I never had the brevity to tell her before. And now, it felt like a struggle to say anything at all, but I didn't want to lose a single moment. I couldn't afford to.
While I was knee deep in my struggle, she tapped me on the shoulder and said "I have an idea."
I couldn't argue with it no matter what it was. I saw a familiar light in her dimming eyes, and she was smiling so widely I couldn't resist. "What's your idea?" I asked her, amused.
"Just come with me," she insisted, and I did, letting her lead me by the hand as she made her way to the street corner. I knew she was making her way to the beggar from before. This just piqued my interest further, and I watched as she approached him. "Hi, Frank!" she greeted with eagerness and cheer.
I had no idea she knew this man, and I felt even worse than before for lumping him in with the unfortunate souls of the earth I always seemed to gravitate to, for better or worse. I stood nervously as she took a seat across from Frank, smiling as she always was. She motioned towards me. "Well don't be shy!" she giggled. "Take a seat!"
I did, admiring how she always took a seat on the brick sidewalk as opposed to towering above them, lording over them and showing how she was in control. No, she was equal to others. She didn't look up or down, she looked forward.
Frank had a gruff grin as well, and it showed through his unkempt facial hair. "Hello, Sheik,you youngin!" he said. "What brings you here?"
"Well," she started slyly, "I have a gift."
"How sweet of you!" Frank replied, reaching out to envelop her in a hug. I wanted to say something about him being careful with her, but I held my tongue.
She giggled as he let her go. "Yes, I have a gift, but I also have a favor to ask of you."
"Well, then, consider it done!"
She nodded as she reached into her suit and pulled out something I couldn't quite identify. She set it on the ground between the three of us, and I was able to see it at last. I was surprised, cause that was a lot of money. Probably every penny she had.
Frank was surprised, more than I was. "Holy shit," he murmured.
She giggled. "Crazy, right? I won this money in a neat little radio contest, but for God's sake I don't know what I'm going to do with it." That was a lie, but it was a necessary one.
"How much?" Frank wasn't abashed to ask.
"About... $1,275?" She estimated.
Frank laughed wildly. "Oh my god, that's incredible!"
She nodded. "Now hold up Frank, we haven't gotten to that task I mentioned."
Frank stopped and cracked his knuckles. "Okay then, tell me about this 'task.' "
"Well, as it stands, I can't get to every homeless person in the nearby area. Soooo... I need you to get to 'em for me."
Frank seemed disappointed as he realized he wasn't the recipient of all the money, but continued with "I'm listening."
Not missing a beat, she stated "Okay, Frank, I'm trusting you on this one. What I need you to do is, first, keep as much as you need. Second, I need you to go around downtown through the weeks and try and get some money to everyone who needs it. Ten, twenty bucks sounds about right. I wanna spread the goodwill to everyone I can but I can't do it alone, so you promise you'll get them for me?"
Frank smiled again. "I promise, youngin."
"Cross your heart and hope to fly?" She insisted, and I noted her word substitution quietly.
"Cross my heart and hope to fly," he grinned good-naturedly.
"Excellent!" It was she who hugged him this time, like an old family member. "Thanks so much Frank. Go out there and be the crusader for the less fortunate!"
Frank blinked. "Right now?"
"Oh, whenever you're ready, of course!" she stated as she got up. I followed suit and stood on my own two feet, politely nodding my farewell.
Frank nodded at her with a smile. "I'll do you proud, ma'am!"
"I know you will, Frank!" she called as she and I made our way back to the wall. I chuckled, amused and proud of her efforts. Shek was incredibly brilliant like that.
Before we made it back, a young girl, about seven in age, started running toward her, and I could see her mother just behind her, trying to catch up to her. "Ana!" she called, surprised.
My ninja friend stood there as Ana ran up to her. "Oh my goodness, you're a real live ninja! Wow!"
"That I am," Sheik smiled. "Thank you for noticing."
"You look like a Kyoshi Warrior!" Ana squealed, and while I knew that Sheik looked nothing like a Kyoshi Warrior, I did state "You have good taste in cartoons."
My ninja friend nodded with a grin, and Ana giggled. "Thank you. Avatar's the bestest show ever!"
The mother approached us, and she instantly spilled out "Oh my goodness, ma'am, I'm so sorry, Ana's a lot faster than she looks."
Sheik chuckled. "Oh, don't worry about it, ma'am. Ninjas often are."
Ana lit up. "I'm a ninja?"
"Course you are, if you want to be! In fact, I think I may have a little ninja something for you."
Sheik laughed again as she reached into her suit and brought out a surprising object- a pile of small, plush hearts. "Here you go, kid, go nuts."
Ana frowned, raising an eyebrow. "I thought ninjas had... different stuff. Like Sure-roo-kin."
"Shuriken? Bah, violence is boring," she laughed, as if the idea was out of the realms of reality. "This is the cool stuff right here. All the cool kids have it."
Ana didn't need much more convincing than that. "Oooooh."
"Now, if you wanna be a ninja," Sheik went on, "here's what you gotta do. Take these hearts, and really sneaky-like, give them to your friends. Don't just give it to them where they can see it, just sneak it into their backpacks or their jackets or their desks. When you do see your friends, give them a hint of who it was from, by being really nice and caring and loving to them. That's what the cool ninjas do."
Yes, it was. Even if they are seen by everyone as a ninja, she was still doing it right.
Ana giggled, squealing as she took the plush hearts. "Thank you thank you thank you thank you THANK YOU!"
"No problem, kid! You go crazy!"
The mother gave a smile to someone who I considered by now to be the world's greatest ninja. "Thanks so much, ma'am. I think you really made her day."
"Cool!" Sheik lit up.
"You have a good day," the mother called to her, and the world's greatest ninja replied with a jubilant "You too!"
As the two walked away, she made her way to the Congress Building, and I followed. Sheik laughed as she admitted "Luigi, there's no denying it. I'm the world's most obvious ninja."
I chuckled. "I guess that's a good thing, too."
"I make it work."
I nodded my reply.
Suddenly, she groaned and sighed, causing me to jerk my head towards her in anxiety. She muttered "Heavens, Lu, I'm gonna need to sit down."
I wasted no time, helping her position herself at the foot of the wall, leaning against the marble. It broke my heart to see her in pain, and for reasons I can't explain, to see her still smiling, although it was in war with a grimace, through it all. I don't see how she could keep so positive through it all, and I was afraid she was keeping a straight face for my sake.
"Are you okay?" I asked, desperate to know.
"I'm fine," she insisted. "Not feeling lovely, but fine."
I accepted that without a fight, although it killed me to hear. I knew it was the beginning of the end of the end. It seemed I had bet her at the beginning of the end. I was worried that it was just my habit of attracting unfortunate souls, but it seemed like she was one of the most fortunate of us all. She embraced it, and at first I was wondering if she was true about it. But I truly think that she really accepted it with grace and... not enthusiasm but expectancy.
She faced me, and I knew the conversation was going to take a serious turn. She didn't start with what I thought she'd say though.
"You're going to change the world."
It hit me, right when she said that, and I could feel the tears coming. Before I knew what I was saying, I blurted shakily "But it's so unfair! I always thought you could change the world. I knew you could change the world. You should have..." and I couldn't finish. Couldn't choke the words out.
She wrapped her arm around me as I fought off the tears, and that just made it harder. I was so worried that I was being burdensome, and so I shook out of her embrace. She frowned. "Hey, Luigi, you get back here," she insisted sharply.
"You shouldn't have to be comforting me," I insisted quietly.
"I'm not the one who's going to be sad much longer," she replied.
And she was right. Goddamnit, she was right. I made my way back next to her and she placed her arm back around me.
"Listen," she started. "There was a part of me that always wanted to change the world for the better. But now I can't. And I've accepted that. I'm doing what I can for people now, so that way they can do the job for me. Well, that and I just like making their day."
I sat there quietly, letting her words sink in.
"Thanks for keeping me company," she told me with a smile. "And that's why I wanted to give you one last gift. Unfortunately, it's not physical, but I think it'll help."
I nodded. "Okay..."
She leaned in towards my ear and said "I may not know you that well, but I know enough. You're a kind, brave individual. And don't deny it, you're brave, because you haven't backed down when crud started hitting the fan, and I can't even say that for my lifelong friends. You're one of those people who truly care, and that's why you can change the world. So... change it. For me?"
I gulped my sobs down as I squeezed her hand gently. "I will, Sheik... I will..."
"Thank you," she smiled. "I admit, I have no problem with fading out quietly. My final ninja act."
"If what you told Ana was true," I replied, "then your final ninja effect has already started."
Realization dawns on her face as she tells me "...that's pretty cool."
I took a breath and decided to speak myself. "Sheik, I... never thought I'd have a friend like you. A girl dressed up as a ninja who gave out plush hearts to people in the world's best peace message. But I do. And I'm glad. And I love you for it."
She smiled. "If it helps... I myself am not very sad about it. To quote Dumbledore, it's like going to sleep after a very long day. I'm going to miss you too, a lot, but... the show goes on. It always does. And... thanks for everything, again." At those last words, she grinned again.
I figured it was my turn to encourage her. "You always were adventurous, from what I know," I started. "And you're lucky in this- soon enough, you will find out something the world wants to know and that most of us have decades before discovering."
She laughed. "It's actually really hard to be disappointed, sad, or afraid when you put it like that. Thanks."
"I owe it to you, Sheik" I insisted.
"Nobody owes me anything anymore, Luigi. All those little trivialities have been sorted out."
"Maybe I just want to give it to you then."
"What do you mean?"
I gulped. "Well, you do deserve it. I mean, we may be changing the world now... but you were the one brave enough to start it and not let anything get in your way."
She giggled, and when she started, she couldn't stop. I saw a few tears trickle down her face but she was still smiling. "That's... incredible," she whispered.
"Just like all of us."
"Indeed," she noted. "Just like all of us."
And that was where it ended. We were silent for awhile, eyes closed against the Congress Building, letting the scene fade to black.
Now I'm here again. I'm walking down Fifth avenue, and I'm looking for her, although I know she's not going to be there. I've circled the block twenty times, desperately, aimlessly, hopelessly searching for the ninja clad in blue with hearts, life savings, and bravery. But she isn't going to be there. Sheik isn't going to be here.
I can't comprehend it, though. I keep calling out her name, ignoring the stares I get. She doesn't show up. I call again, Sheik, oh Sheik, please come here, please come back. Still no response. And that's when I give it up, sinking into our spot near the Congress building and letting quiet tears overtake me.
I look up to the sky, even though I have no proof that's where she is. I just want to see her, but I know I can't. I wish I had gotten a picture, at least.
I pull my knapsack out, looking for a book or something that will distract me from my delusions. I dig around, looking for it, and that's when I see it.
My tears increase as I pull out the tiny plush heart, wrapping it around in my fingers. And I remember, I can see her, visualize her so clearly in my mind. I feel a sense of hope, because I know she's changed this world already. I can feel it. And she's probably changing another world right now.
It brings me comfort, knowing Sheik wrote her own epitaph so well, her final ninja act. Executed flawlessly from the one ninja everyone noticed.
Thank you, Mysti. For everything. I love you.