The air was filled with quiet sobs and comforting murmurs as the families of the recently killed ninjas carried their loved ones' cremated remains to their family graves. Snake-Eyes surveyed the scene before him. Deaths, although not uncommon in ninja clans, took a heavy toll on everyone whenever they occurred.
"What are we going to do about Junko?" Billy asked quietly, his remaining eye staring off into the distance. "She needs to be remembered somehow."
Snake lifted his hands. [To be honest, I haven't the slightest idea. I don't know if she'd want to be remembered with Tommy's family, or if she'd want a separate memorial.]
"Poor Junko," Billy murmured. "Poor Tommy."
Snake-Eyes could only nod. It was one thing to lose a lover. Losing a lover and an apprentice was a whole extra burden to carry.
He felt a nudge on his arm, and he looked to his right. Billy stared at him as he pointed at a black figure moving away. "We should go talk to him," he said quietly. "He's hurting."
Snake glanced at a nearby ninja, who nodded slowly in acknowledgement, before going with Billy. They walked silently until they were outside the Arashikage compound. The gravel underneath their feet crunched softly. Billy noted that the Silent Master was making a considerable effort to make noise as he walked. It wasn't easy, but he supposed Snake didn't want to possibly startle Storm, however impossible that might seem.
They stopped several feet away from the Young Master. "Tommy," Billy called.
Storm Shadow turned his head slightly, his black mourning robes fluttering gently in the wind. "I'm going to go look for her."
Billy and Snake exchanged a look. "Then I'll go with you." Billy took a step forward, but stopped when Snake-Eyes blocked him.
[No. I'll go. You stay and watch the compound.]
"Why?" Billy asked without thinking. "It should be my duty to accompany my teacher in a search for a fellow apprentice."
[You're a former apprentice. You're a full-trained ninja taught by my brother; your obligation is keeping the compound in order whenever Tommy and I are out.]
Billy crossed his arms. "Can't Jinx take control?"
[Jinx is still recovering from her injuries.]
"So? She can still talk and order people around."
[She's restricted to bed rest.]
Billy snorted and rolled his eyes childishly. "Big deal. She's going to try to escape soon anyways."
[You obviously haven't been in the company of our ninja medics for long.]
"Brother, Billy, stop." Storm Shadow turned to face them. "You may both come. Kamakura should be returning from his mission any minute now. I've left a note for him to watch over things until we get back."
Snake-Eyes nodded once and started following Tommy. Billy strongly considered sticking his tongue out at the passing ninja until Snake fell back to sign to him.
[Should you find her body, alert me first - not Tommy. I do not want him to see her in that state. It'll give me at least a few seconds to cover her body.]
Billy nodded. His chest felt heavier than before.
It was disheartening to see Tommy wander around the area of Junko's fall, looking just about everywhere and softly calling her name.
"He doesn't believe that she's gone," Billy whispered.
[He's in denial.] Snake-Eyes sighed quietly. [Nothing we say right now will change his mind.]
Billy waded into the river, biting back a yelp at the freezing water. "I-I'm going to d-dive down to see if her body is stuck between t-two rocks or something."
Snake-Eyes just nodded and continued his patrol along the riverbank. From the looks of it, Junko's body most likely buried itself at the bottom of the river, given the height she fell from. If this was so, retrieving the body would be no easy task, as it probably would be in pieces with bits of flesh nibbled away by fish.
Was there a possibility she could have survived? Snake tilted his head back to look at the cliff overhead. With correct form and timing, yes - she could have survived. But the expression on her face and her sob of, "Farewell, my love," before she jumped were indications that she did not plan on surviving.
It certainly was heartbreaking to see her unable to live with herself after seeing the injuries she had inflicted on Tommy, but her death was avoidable. Tommy himself had been tricked into thinking that Snake-Eyes - his own sword brother - was his enemy. Snake had long since lost count of the number of wounds he had received from Tommy. But despite each almost sending the other to the grave dozens of times, once Tommy had broken free from his brainwashing, the two of them made up almost instantly.
Storm Shadow had committed the same offense Junko had, except that it was directed at his brother. Junko should have known that Storm would forgive her.
Then again, her mind was probably shattered beyond repair. Storm had pushed on despite his broken psyche because he had a family vendetta to take care of. Junko... Junko didn't have such motivation. Her parents' deaths had been avenged before she met Tommy.
"Have you found her yet?"
Snake-Eyes leveled his head to look at his brother. [No. She might have washed downstream.]
"Then we'll go looking for her downstream."
Billy climbed out of the river and stood behind Snake, trying his best not to shiver. "Tommy, if she's downstream, then it's likely she-"
"NO." Storm's eyes snapped to his former apprentice. "She is alive! No student of mine just dies whenever they feel like it." He turned on them. "Go back to the compound if you wish, but I'm going to continue looking."
"But it's almost sunset. We should be getting back."
Storm glared at Billy over his shoulder. "Consider this an opportunity to practice searching in the dark." He continued walking along the river.
Billy shot Snake-Eyes a pleading look, but the ninja merely shook his head. It was no use trying to stop Tommy from anything.
Kuruo ran his fingers through his hair tiredly. His legs ached from the day's work and he felt just about ready to collapse, but he forced himself to walk. Ahead of him, a little toddler ran around, squealing with excitement.
The joyous sound of his own child's laughter tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Papa!" Shinju giggled as she ran towards him, a pebble in each of her little hands. "Look at these! Aren't they pretty?"
Smiling, Kuruo bent over and carefully examined his daughter's discovery. "They sure are. Why don't we bring them back home for mama to see?"
"Okay!" Shinju pocketed the two pebbles and continued on her quest for all things smooth and shiny. Kuruo sighed deeply and followed her. His daughter always enjoyed strolls along the river. Unfortunately, most of the time, he and his wife didn't have the time or strength to take her out. It was a shame, in his opinion. Fresh air and an appreciation for nature was something every growing child ought to have.
He inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with the cool air of the evening. Some of his stress melted away with the last rays of day. He had his wife and he had his child. It was nice to know that those were two facts that would never change, not if he could help it.
Kuruo snapped out of his reverie at the worry in Shinju's voice. "What is it, dear?"
Shinju stood very still, her eyes fixed on something on the riverbank. A figure lay there, half-curled up and unmoving. The person's long black hair was a tangled, sandy mess and their clothes hung in tatters from their body. There was a very noticeable trail of red flowing from the body to the river.
Kuruo's stomach lurched and his head swam nauseatingly. "Shinju, look away," he said softly.
The little girl blinked up at him. "Why?"
"Look away," he repeated.
Obediently, she spun around to stare at their footprints in the sand.
Slowly, Kuruo approached the body. "Hello?" he called out cautiously. No response.
He gently brushed the hair away from the person's face, then blinked. The girl - no, woman - looked to be in about her mid-twenties and was quite lovely. She had a few cuts on her arms and side, accompanied by one nasty-looking gash on her leg.
Kuruo felt his heart sink. Had she committed suicide? He wouldn't be surprised if the young woman had been abused and decided to drown herself in the river. Scooting forward, he found her wrist and pressed two fingers below her thumb. She felt cold. Too cold.
Still, he waited with closed eyes, trying to make out a heartbeat. After a while, he sighed. "We need to give you a proper burial," he whispered to the body. "Poor girl."
Just then, something twitched beneath his fingers. Eyes wide, he stared at her hand. There, he felt it again. A heartbeat. Weak, but it was there.
His throat suddenly felt thick and it was difficult for him to swallow. "Shinju," he choked. "Run to the nearest house and call 119. This lady needs help."