Characters: Konan, Nagato, Yahiko
Genre: Death!fic, angst
Warnings: Character death
Summary: Sometimes solidarity is strange thing, even in death. Especially in death. Konan and Nagato only do what they can.
Disclaimer: Have not, do not, and will not ever own.
A/N: I've been wondering how Nagato wound up taking over his dead friend's body, and this fic is the result of that. (Also the result of taking advantage of the fact that we still don't really have much back story on these three.)
That I do this [...]
In what seems to me an act of love.
– “Stung,” Heid Erdrich
It was morning by the time she came back to meet them, a gray and damp morning with no hint of sun, and by then, the dream was already over. It was too late.
She found them sitting crouched against a wall. Nagato was okay, she could tell, despite the blood she could see on him; he was kicking his feet back and forth absentmindedly like a bored child– calm, in a strange way. There was a long dark streak down the side of the wall behind Yahiko, and he did not move. It rained overnight, but no matter: an overhand had preserved most of the blood.
Konan sat down silently in the space between the two. She ran her fingers across the inside of Yahiko’s wrist, began to feel for a pulse, then stopped. This chilly autumn rain made a body cool a lot faster. She let his hand drop.
They sat for a long while, the two of them, (but that was wrong, two was wrong; they stuck together, they were their own nation, and it was a nation of three), and said nothing. She kept her gaze fixed on Nagato or on the ground, the puddles that had welled up with the rain. She didn’t bother to look more closely at Yahiko; she didn’t imagine what sort of wound it must be. What good could that do?
Nagato had lost his sandals at some point, and was rubbing his bare feet back and forth through the wet gravel in front of him. His face was turned downward; he had not turned to look at her yet. Maybe it was easiest for him to float away, to not have to think about it. That was the thing that only he could do, after all: drift out and become something else. It wasn’t a matter of possession, of the sort of short-lived trick that many shinobi could use. He really could be himself and another at the same time.
(The first time they tried it out on a dead dog. She remembered approaching it cautiously at first, circling it; not even the toughest men wanted to risk being bitten by one of the big strays if they could help it. Then she saw the break in its black fur and the sore and the flies and the wind turned so she caught the smell, and she relaxed. She brought it back to him, carried it in her arms as if it were her child.
By the next day, the wound had healed over. That was what it meant to be.)
Ah, but no, she was wrong: in the end he still had to be himself as well. She looked at him and wondered if perhaps the two of them were the most lonely and the most wretched people in all the world.
Had luck been on his side, it would have been raining now. It had been earlier, on and off all night, and by the look of the sky that was going to continue all day. It could easily have happened that way. But it wasn’t raining, and she could still see, through the gap between strands of his hair, the tears rolling down the side of his face in complete– almost eerie– silence.
It wasn’t the first death they had seen (or caused, for that matter), and it wouldn’t be the last; however, witnessing and understanding were two different things. She imagined he was drinking it up through the soles of his feet: the fact of death. She started to reach out to him then stopped. Her hand didn’t make it to his.
“When?” she asked, and her voice came out in a croak that she wouldn’t have recognized as her own. “When did it happen?”
He didn’t reply for a long time; then he shrugged and whispered, “I don’t know. Sometime last night, I guess, but I blacked out again.”
He offered no further explanation. He had yet to meet her eye.
She tilted her head back and looked up at the sky (all the grayness still heavy with rain and all the dead white) and wondered at the fact that she felt nothing in particular save for an all-consuming dreariness.
She willed her mind to go as white as the spaces in the clouds, but even for all her numbness that was not possible. They were strangely seductive, those fields of white-on-gray, and for the first time it occurred to her that she could flee there and cocoon herself, be alone, consoled. –Except that even she and her paper wings were earthbound in every way that really mattered. She knew that.
As if we could fly away.
And she knew that there were so many things that were not in her power to do.
“How?” she asked– the only thing she could do.
Therein lay the horror. Nagato raised his hands and held them palms up, examining them. The blood had dried and was beginning to flake off, but it still marked red-brown lines in every crease of his hands and under his nails.
Finally he looked up, and he looked as scared as she had ever seen him. She thought maybe he was pleading with her, but for what she did not know.
“I didn’t mean to,” he said, mouthing out the words in silence before they actually came out, “I didn’t... I wouldn’t. I would never! I know we fought a lot, but I would never have killed him, never. I didn’t want something like this to happen; you and him, you’re the people I would protect with my life! I never would’ve wanted this to happen; I never–
“But I did argue with him, you know. Last night. I don’t even know why now; it was something so stupid.... And then I woke up like this. None of this blood is mine. I wish it were. But I checked because there was more of it all down my shirt, and I don’t have any cuts on me, none at all. But Yahiko.... I didn’t mean to, I really didn’t.
“And I’m so sorry.”
She watched in silence while he struggled with himself, with more words that never made it to his lips. Once again, there was nothing she could do. He must have been running over the weight of this again and again since long before she had gotten here, but all she could think was that none of it mattered. It didn’t.
Maybe Nagato was wrong. No one could know what really happened during the period he couldn’t remember; for all either of them knew, somebody else had killed Yahiko then fled. For all they knew he was innocent, he really couldn’t do something like that–
And it didn’t matter. Yahiko was dead. It didn’t matter how he died, only that he had. No further information could explain that fact away.
He looked up at her again, then past her to Yahiko’s body, and swallowed hard. “What do we do now, then? What happens with...?”
“I don’t know,” she confessed. She hadn’t been thinking ahead. “It’s lucky that you were even able to make it through the night without someone wandering over and seeing. So we’ll have to do something soon. I guess we can make up a story, or... or something. I’ll bring white flowers. Roses, because they’re the best, and calla lilies too. We can both bring them, and we’ll go every week so we don’t ever forget.”
Even as she said it, she knew it would never be enough. Could never be enough. She pictured them walking through a cemetery in the dead of winter, wrapped in long black cloaks and picking their way through a labyrinth of graves; strewing white petals all over the brown winter grass and lighting incense; turning their faces down toward the earth. And none of it would make a damn bit of difference.
They would come and do their mourning, and then the two of them would leave, just like that, because they would have the choice.... And he wouldn’t. He would stay blind and buried, worm-eaten until he became white bone– plain and anonymous.
And she and Nagato were just going to let that happen. If she had the energy, she would have burst into tears at the thought.
Nagato must have been thinking along the same lines, because he murmured, “Remember that time you and I were sick? When we’d only known each other for a couple of months?”
She remembered. Of course she remembered. “And he was being so stupid,” she recalled, “Because he hadn’t caught it and he should have just run away then and made sure it stayed that way.”
“But he wouldn’t. He didn’t abandon us. A lot of the other people who got that died; we... we probably would’ve too if he hadn’t kept coming back and bringing us food and water. God, he... and then I....”
He looked away again.
“I know,” she said, mostly to herself now, “We were always supposed to be together, the three of us. I don’t want to abandon anyone either. Never. Because Yahiko– oh God, oh God, I’m sorry, Yahiko–” (She heard Nagato make a strange, sharp little sound right then.) “He didn’t deserve this.”
(Which also didn’t matter, she knew; even on a cool autumn day like this, a body wouldn’t keep forever: soon, they would have no choice. It would be a forced betrayal. And it was that he didn’t deserve, she thought, he didn’t deserve to die. –And she clenched her hands together, let her nails dig into her skin, and thought, I wish–)
–Then slowly, very slowly, unfolded them, felt every muscle in her body relax, and exhaled.
He didn’t deserve this. And they were three, and they stuck together.
He made a faint, noncommital sound and didn’t look up.
(Had this idea been forming itself ever since she thought of the dog? Perhaps, because everything had to have a reason, and there was something that, out of all the world, only Nagato could do. She understood everything.)
He looked up, and she caught his eye.
Someone had to say it.
“Nagato, you....” And she saw it dawn on him: he opened his mouth soundlessly again (because the words, she knew, were too huge, all-consuming); he began to shake his head; then he stopped and just looked at her. He understood too, and a few more tears slid out of the corners of his eyes.
“Because,” she continued (almost in wonder at her own words), “As long as we’re together....”
She reached out to either side, and this time she didn’t stop. And Nagato’s hand was warm in her own and Yahiko’s cold, at least for a while.
And we leave no one behind.