Note: Written for the lovely kanarenee, who wanted Pein (Akatsuki leader) and Blue (unnamed member) with the prompt: coping with death. And no worries to the people expecting updates for my other fics—THEY'RE COMING SOON! XD
WARNING: this drabble contains heavy spoilers from chapter 363.
Water stains blossomed on the peeling wallpaper, muddy brown as broken pipes bled onto the cracked floorboards and rivulets of water gradually pooled over the surface. A faint dripping could be heard from somewhere behind him, a fetid odour of mold and corpses fresh in the air as the puddle of water slowly engulfed the spatter of blood.
His eyes followed the diffusion of crimson through the spreading puddle, watching the two liquids swirl into each other before he slowly straightened from his position against the wall, running a palm over the drops of water streaking his cheek as they leaked from the ceiling overhead.
The small inn was silent save for the faint sounds of dripping water as he slowly made his way back to his room, sidestepping corpses and the disarray of broken furniture.
His eyes caught the symbol of the hitai-ate on one of the dead shinobi he passed, and he paused momentarily.
Iwagakure no sato.
Closing his eyes momentarily, he turned his head away from the corpse and the carrion flies that scurried over the familiar village symbol, his hand heavy with the weight of the ring on his right thumb.
His sandals sloshed through the thin pool of water steadily accumulating in the hallway, the sounds of humming insects and faint dripping fading into silence as he turned through the hallway and stopped before the only closed door, raising his hand to rest on the knob.
The ring met the surface with a gentle, metallic click, still heavy and burdensome on his thumb as he slowly pushed the door open.
Pale sunlight streamed through the single window on the side wall, casting a dim, smoky light over the small room and its furnishings. He stood in the doorway, staring unblinkingly at the small bed opposite to his own.
His partner leaned back against the headboard in silence, motionless and shadowed in the dim light. Her shoes were arranged neatly on the floor near the bed, and her hitai-ate lay facedown on the bedside table. Somewhere between the delicate fold of her slim fingers over her stomach, her ring caught the light of the sun and glinted.
He closed his eyes again, erasing the image of the Sei ring that had belonged to Deidara, pushing it from his thoughts like he had with Kakuzu's and Hidan's. His mind fell silent, the quiet turmoil subsiding at the sight of his partner sitting serenely across the room.
He'd finished mourning his subordinates. Now was the time for retaliation, and he planned on succeeding where the others had fallen with the capture of the Kyuubi. He planned on giving the fallen the respect they deserved by completing what they'd started. He planned many things following their deaths.
But not this.
He hadn't planned on needing time to cope. He hadn't planned on dealing with the staggering loss of his organization's best members, one so soon after the other. He hadn't planned any of this—not the violent skew in progress, not this maddening uncertainty.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this uncertain, this deep in thought, this subdued.
His face registered none of this, the thoughts and uncertainty thickly veiled by a mask of vapid complacency as he silently entered the room, closing the door soundlessly behind him.
She didn't stir as he slowly approached his own bed, eyes focused unblinkingly on her reclined form.
Her brow was relaxed, the flower in her hair wilting slightly in the humidity, wisps of blue hair gleaming faintly in the sick light. Her heavy eyelids appeared almost bruised, dark over her closed eyes, her pale skin holding a faint sheen of moisture. The silence was almost deafening.
He could never tell if she was breathing at moments like these, her skin sallow in the weak light, limbs eerily motionless.
Silently, he sank down onto the side of his mattress, arms settling onto his knees, his gaze remaining on her.
There are only five of us now, he wanted to remind her again, in his direct, monotonous way. Only five of us.
But he remained silent, knowing her for what she was, knowing what her response would be, voice smooth as silk and cold as ice.
There was never a need for anymore.
You're mistaken, he'd retort. We've suffered a severe setback in plans.
She wouldn't even look at him when replying.
Progress won't come of pessimism.
Optimism is for fools, he'd tell her.
Then she'd look at him, dark eyes slowly glancing askance at him through heavy lids. Her voice never rose, her words vesper and soft steel.
I am confident.
He'd merely watch her, wordless as she shifted her gaze away again.
There is always the risk of insubordination, he'd finally reply, voice hollow.
Her eyes would remain fixated in that blank, unnerving gaze, staring into nothingness as she contemplated her answer, lips barely moving when she replied. She'd look at him, all that untouchable steel and unwavering determination focused on him, dedicated to him.
I will follow you.
He touched the ring on his right thumb, tracing the character etched in the stone as the heavy sensation of weariness gradually wore away.
Coping, he discovered, was made bearable whenever she reminded him he had her strength. He found it ironic that the quality of trust, an ideal he'd long since abandoned, was what kept him with her.
Her unshakable resolve, her honest words and demeanor, her entirety that was bereft of guile—a quality all too rare in someone of their profession—was in his ownership.
He had her trust and she had his, implicitly so, although whether she knew this or not was a topic that would remain unspoken between them.
There was respect in the way she regarded him, the way she obeyed him. And in exchange there was respect in the way he gave her acknowledgment for her strength, in the way he let her call him by name.
There was respect. There was…
His thoughts trailed off, eventually, ringed eyes remaining fixated on her serene features as he gradually relaxed, the weight of his ring dissipating with the uncertainty.
The mere sight of her there was the reassurance he needed, and he drank in the reassurance through the facets of her expression, watching unrelentingly, mind blissfully silent.
He didn't blink as her heavy eyelids slowly cracked open, dark eyes glancing askance at him knowingly, her voice soft and thick in the silence.
What are you thinking?
He slowly stood up, and he absorbed the reassurance of her calm, expressionless gaze locking with his as he moved towards her.
She didn't move, only raising her eyes to look up at him as he paused near her side.
There was always respect.
Wordlessly, he raised his right hand, offering it to her, wanting the reassurance of an answer even though he already knew what her answer would be.
Will you follow me?
She was never afraid to look away when answering, communicating soundlessly and with more conviction than spoken words could ever offer.
Her small, slender hand settled into his, the metal of her ring warm against his palm.
I will follow you.