Characters: Konan/Nagato!Pein (...Well and all that is P/K in general)
Genre: Angst, introspective, hurt/comfort
Rating: R? Maybe? We'll just round up and say R.
Warnings: Medical/illness-related squickiness, Akatsuki spoilers, mentions of past sexings, past character death and one soon-to-be-dead baby, very off religious stuff, and just general depressingness and creepiness.
Summary: [Fic for the theory that the Nagato body is in a coma] The soul was like origami: you had to crease it and contort it to make it flower. You had to break it-- and what broke Konan was Nagato.
Disclaimer: I'm glad to say that I am not Kishi and therefore do not own.
A/N: Another must-write-before-it's-uncanon fic
Today it rains corazón, it’s raining
and for me, life hurts.
“Angel in the Deluge,” Rosario Murillo
On her way to the tower, Konan came across a woman throwing her baby into a pile of garbage. The woman kept glancing furtively from left to right, but still she didn’t notice Konan until they were almost right next to each other– an angel could go unseen when she wanted to. When she finally did realize that not just had she been spotted, she had been spotted by her, she blanched the second sickest shade of white Konan had ever seen and flapped her hands in front of her, her mouth opening and closing wordlessly like that of a carp.
But by the time she had found her voice and begun to gasp out a litany of apologies and pleas, Konan was already level with her, then she had passed by.... Today she had a more important matter to deal with.
Besides, this was a fitting tableau for the day, wasn’t it– a reminder that pain was never distant but woven into the fabric of everything. It wasn’t raining this morning, but the air was full of the sort of wet chill that would soak straight into a person’s bones if they stayed outside for too long. She found herself thinking of the child left with only a bundle of rags and the garbage for warmth: did it cry for the mother who must have already fled? And she also recalled Nagato, Yahiko, and herself huddled together a lifetime ago against the icy rain, shivering.
Things weren’t like that anymore, of course. She no longer scrambled for any sanctuary against the weather or ate others’ leftovers; she was no longer anything like the waif who once clung to life only by a thread. She wanted for nothing and it showed; her clothes were tailored now, satin, silk, and linen. She had grown to be beautiful. Healthy. She still had to stop sometimes and feel herself to be sure she wasn’t imagining it– a luxury of hips and thighs, plump breasts. A person like her could walk along like she were above these streets and their misery and petty-minded evil.
That was, she supposed, always the temptation. But this is the filth we have grown from, isn’t it, Nagato? We are the fruits of the ground that was sown with salt. Let us never forget. (I know that You never will.)
When she reached the tower she let herself in. The door was stuck, the wood swollen with moisture, and it opened only reluctantly, creaking as always. This wasn’t the usual tower, not the one that people cast frightened looks at, hearing whispered rumors and afraid they might glance up to see God staring back at them.
To almost everyone in Ame, this was just another abandoned building, and if the powers that be kept them out of it... Well, it was best not to question those sorts of decisions. Konan was the only person who ever came here. Pein could do this Himself of course; in fact it would have been much easier for Him to have done so. But He never did, because she was Konan and this was her prerogative, her honor.
(Even unknown as it was, this was the most important building in all of Ame. This was where the heart of God dwelt. This was where Nagato was.)
Most of the windows on the first floor were broken. The door was inaccessible for anyone but her and nobody stayed here for very long or got very far in, but of course people were always going to try– beggars looking for a place out of the rain to sleep and kids looking for a thrill and a place they could party in and trash to their hearts’ content. This place must have been ransacked a hundred times over; she thought it was originally a lobby and she had vague memories of armchairs and brass lamps, but everything that could be pried loose was long gone. Instead the floor was now covered in drifts of various flotsam: broken bottles, dead leaves, chicken bones, and food wrappers.
In the summer, moths fluttered happily among the refuse and all year round there were ants and cockroaches. These lower storeys were home to their own ecosystem; weedy little plants were known to grow up wherever the sunlight touched. Occasionally Konan encountered animals of varying shapes and sizes, but mostly there were just the rats. She did everything she could to keep a thick buffer of rat-free levels around the top of the tower– she remembered the days when she wrapped her hands in cloth while she slept so that the rodents couldn’t gnaw on her fingers– but in the lower levels they had free reign.
The upper half of the building was better taken care of. All the rooms were as still as death, almost frozen in time, the door frames cluttered with cobwebs. The only thing not covered in dust was the staircase itself, on which the footprints she left on her previous visits had worn a clear path. There was no heat; she didn’t know if the old radiators would work anymore anyway.
Neither she nor Pein had ever made the slightest move to rectify the situation. They never tried to fix the fact that there were a lot of things here that could easily have been done better, that were done better in the other tower. He and she both understood without ever having to say it: the ambience, such as it was, was its own message.
(To know that God Himself resides in such wretched conditions.)
The feelings and memories were already beginning to flow back, making the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. Her heart was swollen with sadness, but she kept her face impassive as always; that was how it had to be done. Allowing emotion to flow outward was a waste of precious energy. You had to press it in on itself until it glowed with power; you had to appreciate it. You had to stop fighting, stop trying to make it better, and just let yourself drown.
If drowning was the goal, she was already well on her way by the time she arrived at the top floor. This door didn’t creak, although she probably would not have noticed if it did.
She stepped into the room, and she saw–
(On some level she must have known this forever. The soul was like origami: you had to crease it and contort it to make it flower. You had to break it.)
–And she saw what broke her anew every time: Nagato. There was only Nagato.
It was a small room, a little sanctuary, and all the furniture was gone save the bed. The blankets rose and fell just a little with each of His breaths; otherwise this room too was quiet and still. Haunting. Konan absentmindedly let her fingers play with a corner of one blanket, then threw them all aside in one sweeping motion.
One look was all it took for her to know– again– that there was no hope.
He was beautiful, once. He was cloaked in the silvery aura of destiny– oh yes, he really was the Destined Child! The magic of it shone through no matter how much he tried to hide it. Well, perhaps she was exaggerating. Maybe nobody else saw it, that light, that something. But she did.
And now it was long gone. This world had seen the demise of beauty; time and sickness had done their work. If she didn’t know, if she hadn’t seen His progression, she would not have recognized him as the boy who was an apprentice to Jiraiya-sensei; He bore more resemblance to the sort of men they had once tried their best to avoid, the ones who looked wasted in a way that had nothing to do with being drunk. She still thought that if she got close enough, she could smell death on their breath.
The woman with the baby didn’t even come close, she realized. He was the absolute sickest shade of white she knew. (Like the belly of a fish, like some pale thing living under a rock.) The curtains in this room were drawn tight; how long had it been since His skin saw the sun? His hair was getting long again, and greasy; she made a mental note that she needed to give Him a haircut sometime soon.
She did what she could. And it would never, never be enough. She was a busy woman; it wasn’t like she came here every day. If they were any other pair of rich, powerful shinobi, they would have a nurse who saw to these things. Konan wasn’t a medic nin, not even close; there was no way in which she was qualified–
–Except that she was the angel and that fact alone made her the only one who could be allowed here. She set up her seals and jutsus and traps a long time ago, because this was sacred space and the thought of someone else trespassing here revolted her. So she kept on doing the best she could; she kept Him warm and changed bedpans and came to terms with the inadequacy of her actions. Nagato had been in this coma– if that was what it was– for a long time now, and there was nothing she could do to rescind it.
(Yes, to know that God lived in a world of cruelty and suffering too. That meant everything.)
“I’ve been thinking. About Madara,” she commented. Her voice was curt, professional; she no longer talked poetry and flowers. She had no bedside manner, but then again, she was convinced that He had no interest in such a thing to begin with.
“Or rather, about ‘Tobi,’” she continued, “I’m sure you’ve been considering the matter too.”
He liked being talked to. He never actually said as much, not out loud, but when she was back with the other bodies she could tell.
And He liked to be touched. That was the worst part, and thus the most valuable. She would sit there next to Him, for a long time sometimes, and run her fingers across His shoulders and around His arms (and He was a fine shinobi once, too, but the muscle had long since wasted away; Konan could wrap her hand around the upper part of His arm and have her fingers and thumb touch) and down His back....
And it killed her. (Like a knife to the heart, every time, she told herself, So stick it in deeper and twist it.)
She knew that there was a tendency that people had to imagine dead friends and relatives as they were when they were alive; they would visit the graves and if they were rich they might even build some great marble monument in honor of the deceased, but the image they put up there would be that of a living face. They tried not to think about the real body, the one in the coffin beneath their feet, its flesh and muscle rotted away to reveal a grinning skull....
No, the dead remained fair, young, and beautiful, gone to some unimaginable paradise.... (But the occupants of that heaven didn’t care what happened in the world of the living. They might be angels as people said, but if so they were angels who wouldn’t even lift one finger in the face of corruption and evil.) It was better to accept the ugliness and drink it in; it was the best badge of honor there could be.
Pein always looked the most at home to her in the Yahiko body. It was ironic. The real Yahiko may never have made it past the awkward teenage years, but he made a handsome man. That body was striking and... poised, somehow. It was like he kept moving even when he was standing still. And when he did move, he did it with a sort of raw grace. Yes, that was right; that was what the dream of Pein meant to her. But that dream, that high had no place here.
There was a type of person who, after finally attaining the power he had always longed for, proceeded immediately to a state of decadence. She and Pein rooted out the people like that, the bosses, when they took over. They slaughtered them; fools like that were good for nothing else. Pein killed Hanzou and his lot and most of the other upper-ups, but she did her fair share too; she remembered kicking in the door to a famous politician’s house and taking out his bodyguards, marching upstairs to where his family was eating dinner at the most beautiful table she had ever seen in her life (inlaid with goddamn– and yes, God did damn– mother-of-pearl and turquoise) and they all just gawked at her like not one of them could understand why she was there, not even the kids– not one of them knew an angel when they saw one. She felt no remorse, or at least, she told herself that she didn’t, and that was close enough.
She was sure that new leaders had sprung up in the old ones’ places; they had merely gone underground to avoid God’s wrath. She and Pein did what they could to discover and punish them, but some were always going to slip through the cracks. Were they enjoying themselves right now, living it up? (Drinks passed between them and the room was filled with laughter and light, and one of the women laughed and draped herself over the man’s shoulder, murmuring compliments into his ear. And the rings glowed and sparkled on his fingers, and he was so secure in his power....)
But someone like that was undeserving of life; someone like that was nothing compared to Pein (to Nagato). They could not run the risk of becoming that sort of people, and against that this room was their defense. Nagato was their anchor.
She slid her fingers down His chest, where she could feel His rib cage like the ridged surface of a shell, pausing for a moment at each rib.
“You know it must mean something that he decided to actually join the organization, especially under a silly guise like that,” she said, trying to continue the conversation even as her mind was already fuzzy with memory, “I... I’ll want to hear your thoughts, if I could, when I get back. Think about it.”
But she could not help but remember, the memory floating up with an overlay of anguish that clashed with its original sweetness: a hundred hundred lifetimes ago, next to a stand of cattails and a lake, and they only ignorant children who didn’t know but did anyway, and she lost her shirt somewhere along the way and then everything just went from there. And it was sweet, and stupid, and probably a terribly poor effort as far as sex went, but the sweetness was the only part they saw.
And afterward they were lying on their backs for a long time and looking up at the blue, blue sky and the boat-shaped cloud directly overhead. Nagato kept on doing that thing he did with his hair. In retrospect it was all incredibly moronic; they stayed there so long it was a miracle that Yahiko or Jiraiya-sensei didn’t come to find them.
But they were still absorbed in the fact that something– no, Something, with a capital S– had happened.
“Konan, we...” But he didn’t know what to say and trailed off into silence.
He was so cute then. Well, she had thought that for a while. But this was the first time she realized just how, how Nagato he was. (Like we’ve only just actually seen each other for the first time.) Later she would take out the memory of that moment and weep for its loss.
Weeping never accomplished anything. She knew that. Memories changed the more you looked at them; the imagination added things that were never there and the real details grew fuzzy around the edges.
(So twist this one too. Destroy all of your memories of that boy; just let Him be the way He is now, the way that breaks your heart– so keep breaking it; smash it into smaller and smaller pieces until you can’t take it any longer. Like always pull yourself apart... except that here you can’t let yourself disintegrate into paper and be free; you have to hold yourself together until your nerves shatter. Tear yourself to pieces until you’ve passed through all of your torment and come out the other side.
That was what He had done. And so she would follow.)
When was it that they realized that they weren’t going to make it? The three of them came to the city seeking work, thinking that all they had to do was be strong and then everything would work out right. It was going to get better, right?
One day it dawned on them that those things that were once beautiful in them were never going to be recovered. She remembered: the day that Nagato couldn’t even pick up a cup anymore, much less hold onto it (and the floor was littered with ceramic shards); the clumsy way he walked on numb feet; frustration, smoldering like still-red coals; picking fights and ending up deeper in over their heads with Hanzou than they ever meant; hiding, fleeing from place to place; trying to move with stealth when Nagato could barely stumble along, her having to support him; fishing Yahiko’s body out of the river; a sunrise bleak with desperation.
And then there was the time that Nagato closed his eyes and never opened them again, at least not in that body. (There must have been something beyond horrifying about the realization that you were going to live on in your dead friend’s body instead of your own.) Konan had never been able to pinpoint an exact moment, but she supposed that somewhere in there was when he became a god. The God. It was also when she knew that she would be grieving for the rest of her life.
(And she still was. A thousand times over.)
Grief was something she had grown accustomed to. So she took a breath and a moment to compose herself and bent to disconnect all of the tubes and wires. He could live without them for a while at least.
She had one arm supporting His back and the other hooked under His thighs; she could lift Him far too easily. There were children who weighed more.
“I think You’ve lost weight again,” she commented as she turned and pushed the door further open with one foot, “We’ll need to do something about that; I think we might as well call in a doctor. We can’t bring him here, of course,”– she could feel the taboo– “But we could give him the details and take care of him if he decides to cause trouble with them.”
Making her way down the stairs to the next floor with Him in her arms was another thing she had gotten used to; she no longer walked with a constant apprehension that she might bump His head against the wall (now she maneuvered the two of them so that His head rested on her shoulder, where it belonged) or missing a step and sending them tumbling. She was much better than that.
Thankfully, the water still worked. She set Him down on the bath mat and started the bath running. This was probably an old building, which explained why the water always had a few flecks of rust in it, but at least it ran hot. It would do. Konan shook off her cloak (the wide sleeves would only get in the way) and washed Him– scrubbed Him clean, shampooed His hair, shaved Him (nudged His head back up so He wouldn’t drown).
She noticed that the bedsores had gotten bad again; she would have to do something about that too– which was pathetic because Pein was the strongest of all, and yet here she was taking care of Him, making sure He didn’t get too sick.
(This was her communion: the exchange of what petty comfort she could give for His greater gift of pain.)
And then she dried Him off; she bandaged up His sores. After rummaging through the linen closet and finding her favorite blanket (the blue one) she wrapped Him up in it– He must be cold, especially on a day like today– and hefted Him into her arms again (except that heft wasn’t the right word because He was so light now, so light that she had become afraid).
The rooms on this floor weren’t completely disused, not like the rest of the tower was. Her favorite was the corner room with the peeling wallpaper, and she went there now. It must have been a study of some sort once; the walls were lined with towering bookcases. The books themselves were gathering dust and cobwebs; she sometimes wondered whether she should pull one of them off its shelf and read to Him, but she doubted He would be interested in that sort of thing.
His mind was occupied with His own vision of the future, taking it apart and putting it back together again, examining it from every angle. She was never sure what He was thinking at any one time, but when He stood and stared at the sky she could see His mind working on some infinitely distant thing. That was the sort of mind He had.
So she just sat on the sofa and wrapped the blanket around the two of them. She pulled her legs up off the floor and curled her toes into the cushion. She let His head fall onto her breast. She stroked His hair as it began to dry. She felt the gooseflesh on His arms and drew the blanket closer around them.
There was a reason she liked this one best: they said that in the most distant ages, long before even the Sage of Six Paths, the priests and wise men held the color blue as the most sacred of all (the color of the sky, the color of that which was ripped away from the earth). And the wisest of them all were those who had been wounded and maimed, torn to pieces and then put back together– shorn of health or beauty but fraught with power.
The day she learned that was the first time she believed her own beauty to more than a mean, hollow thing; she could remember standing in front of a mirror and twirling round and round with a sense of awe, admiring all of a sudden: blue.
It was the most appropriate color for Him. (There was her reasoning for that, but then there was also the idea of blue as the color of sadness. That one was fitting too.)
Absentmindedly, she said (barely a murmur, truth be told) her first sentimental thing of the day. “Oh, my dear sweet one.”
And she paused and then she continued in a whisper, “What are we going to do?”
She knew she couldn’t answer that question.
(Because she was a capable woman she could assist in the management of Akatsuki for as long as she was needed. And she could hand out judgments on Ame. And she could love, or like, at least, Pein. And she could agree wholeheartedly with everything He said. And she could want the Yahiko body, the feeling of it against her skin, and pierced nipples pressed against her breasts. But the day she couldn’t come here and face this would be the day she would know she had lost it.)
They sat together for awhile more, and she said nothing. She rubbed her thumb in circles against His open palm. Time kept on flowing past, until she sighed and made up her mind and stood up at last. She gathered up the blanket and tucked it back into the closet; she put her cloak back on. And she brought Him back up to the top room in the tower and laid him back down on the bed, reconnected all of the tubes and needles that would keep her God alive. She piled the sheets and quilts back on top of Him, tucked them in around the edges, and hoped that He wouldn’t be cold.
“I’ll be seeing you later,” she promised, and then she leaned in and kissed Him. And she was quite sure she had never tasted anything quite as disgusting as His mouth. But she had never complained, and she never would.
Leaving this place was the one of the few things more painful than coming in. (It’s like being run through with a sword: it makes you bleed both as it comes and as it goes.) Konan turned her back and did it anyway, making her way quickly down all the flights of stairs, back down to where the rats scurried and chattered. She didn’t lock the door behind her; that was a seal she made a long time ago and had long since stopped worrying about.
She encountered no one as she walked home (or to the place where she lived, and that wasn’t the same thing, not really). Overhead, the sky was a pale, wintry blue between the clouds and the sun had come out; the day seemed to have dried out a bit. But somewhere, she knew, it was raining.