Disclaimer: D. Gray-Man does not belong to me.
Author's Note: Ack, someone please stop me from writing in sections. It starts out slow, so bear with me. This wasn't as sinister as I would have liked, maybe if I wrote it in present tense (hmm…). It ended a bit too abruptly too, but it was hell to write after the initial start. Eh… anticlimactic to the max.
EDIT: Just rephrased the third before last section.
By a Thread
They say that the plum blossoms bloom when the sky is filled with snow.
"Rinali, please be careful."
The day of exorcist Li Rinali's funeral was the day when the plum blossoms bloomed. It lent the day a somewhat poetic and tragic sense of sorrow that some aesthetics rather liked and appreciated.
River watched the funeral procession with something akin to horror but not quite. There was an intangible feeling of wrongness in the air as he watched the blazing fires of the crematorium roar, casting a burning glow on the fierce carvings on the walls of the hall. It settled over his chest and threatened to smother him with its weight. A chilling coldness froze his tears and numbed his heart, his body, but not his mind.
River wanted to cry as he watched others cry, but every time he opened his mouth he could only close it in fear of letting out that scream that was building up at the back of his throat, and there was that treacherous whisper in his mind that it wasn't over yet.
And as he turned around to look at Komui (to offer meaningless words of consolation) he saw that Komui wasn't crying either.
The two of them had attended too many funerals, more than anyone in this world should have to attend. For as long as River can remember, Komui had never cried at any one of them –not like him, who mourned hard at almost every single one– but River had thought this would be different; this was the funeral of Komui's sister, the very reason why he had joined the organization.
And as their eyes met for a brief second, River decided that the calm he saw on the other's face was unnatural. And for a second River almost reached out to grab Komui by the shoulders to (see if he-) demand why he wasn't crying.
So River turned away from Komui, taking care to keep his hands by his side, almost ashamed of his lack of faith in his long-time leader and friend. But almost against his will, River turned again, because he had to make sure.
And for a second River thought he saw the corners of Komui's lips lift in a slow sardonic smile (sneer) but he blinked and saw that Komui was crying after all. And as he reached out to grip Komui's shoulder (to comfort and to console and to stop-) Komui turned away from him (from them all) and walked away.
River watched him go, and saw how the people parted respectfully for him, some brushing his sleeves as he walked by and murmuring words of support. He also saw some of the people near the corner of the room who pointed and talked about Komui's tearless visage (but wasn't he crying?) and felt a deep irrational worry gripping and knotting his insides as he saw Komui's figure getting smaller and smaller in the distance, the twisted shadows of the corridors seemingly engulfing him in their dark embrace.
And as River turned away he fancied he smelled the sweet scent of the blossoms.
Mourning doesn't last long.
Death was on everyone's mind, and its echoes of sorrow and grief resound through every hollow corridor of the Headquarter. Yet true death itself was just a lingering fragrance, like the faint scent of falling petals, disappearing little by little, negligible through familiarity and eventually forgotten until the next bloom, except by a few.
Life continued for those still alive, and they often found themselves with less and less time to reflect upon the bitter memories of deaths and grief in their own struggle for life.
Everything seemed to have fallen into the same routine afterward, day after day, disturbing in its normality. Before long, Squad Leader River was back to searching through the countless corridors for his wayward boss.
Once he found Komui staring, deep in thought, at the epitaphs in the chapel, glasses folded and tucked neatly into the pocket of his coat, a cup of lukewarm coffee clasped loosely in his hand.
How does the mind of a genius work? River found himself wondering. Does he stare at the epitaph of his beloved sister and see the endless possibilities of unpredictability?
And as he watched, Komui raised a hand toward the altar, fingers splayed and reaching. River could see his mouth moving silently, forgive me.
Komui was a genius, River thought. A genius should realize that some gifts were not gifts at all.
But even a genius made mistakes.
The first day of spring was marked the deaths of three teams of Finders.
Their white coffins lined the Great Hall, as did their friends.
Komui and River watched by the sidelines. River's voice shook and cracked slightly as he asked Komui if he wanted the names of the deceased. One of the dead Finders was his friend. They ate lunch together the day before his mission. River did not think he could read the names out loud without letting loose the sobs that were choking him.
Komui said nothing as he took the clipboard from River's shaking hands and read its contents. River could tell by the way the other man's eyes moved over the paper that Komui was studying each and every name and the information that came with them. River could still see the words in his mind's eyes: James Ashworth, age 31, married, one daughter. Leslie Clayton, age 25, single…
River wondered if he would get any sleep that night. Those who worked in the Science Department often complained about the endless paperwork and research, but they still put their best efforts into everything they did, because it was the only way for them to fight for their cause, for the Exorcists and Finders who risked their lives on the real battlefield. A mass funeral like this usually hailed all-nighters for most.
Jonathan Taylor, age 29, married. Francis Trevelyn, age 37, married, two children. Thomas Salk…
Komui had stopped reading with a small sigh, and was watching the grieving people.
"It's all so ugly." He murmured, voice so low that River almost didn't hear him.
"The possibilities are endless." Komui said suddenly one day –or night, since sunlight rarely made its presence known inside the Headquarter- when River was researching the Elixir of Life that had supposedly turned up in a small mining town in the North.
River looked up from the thick tome he had been staring at for the past hours and stared at Komui with bleary eyes. "Not really, it's probably bogus, since the man is giving them away for free."
"For free?" Komui's trademark thousand-watt smile was blinding River slightly after a day spent staring at tiny printed words in dusty old tomes. "How much do you think a vial should cost?"
Suddenly feeling very foolish, River realized that he had misinterpreted Komui's words entirely. "I don't know." He mumbled. "But it should cost a fortune."
"A fortune?" Komui's laugh was nothing like the outrageous and maniacal one he let loose as he unleashed his sadism upon some poor Exorcist or other unfortunate souls, it was a small amused chuckle. "It is priceless."
River caught the strange undertones of Komui's words now, and he thought he understood.
"It does not exist." River stared, rather desperately, into Komui's dark unflinching (amused) eyes. It was important, it was imperative that Komui understand what River was trying to tell him. "The dead cannot be brought back to life."
There was a strange expression in Komui's eyes, a strange longing mixed with a strange disappointment, and River realized -and was startled to realize- that Komui was frustrated with him. Frustrated that River could not see what he see, that River could not imagine what he had implied.
Then the expression was gone and replaced by Komui's blinding smile.
"If you say so," Komui sang. "Squad Leader River."
Around the first day of summer Komui made a proposal to the commanders-in-chief: the capture of Akuma for research purposes.
The whole Order protested (we joined to destroy Akuma, to save them).
Komui weathered all the criticisms with a smile. "It doesn't matter," Komui said to River one day when he made a comment on Komui's newfound unpopularity.
"They will never allow it." River said, most confident and somewhat horrified.
Two weeks later Komui's proposal was acknowledged and accepted. River brought the news to an unsurprised Komui.
"It's the means to an end." Komui smiled.
Lower-leveled Akuma were brought into Komui's labs in special containers at the beginning of every month, crates were carried out at the month's end.
The gatekeeper shrieked about rashes.
Komui did not sleep anymore.
He was always awake. The last person leaving always saw him sitting in front of his desk, perusing the day's paperwork lazily, and the first person arriving always saw him in the same position, looking at some reports and sipping coffee, finished paperwork arranged in a neat stack on the corner of his desk.
He spent three hours everyday alone in his laboratories. The Finders standing in guard outside of his labs whispered of hearing tortured screams, one particular talkative assistant swore to anyone who would listen (which was everyone) that she saw Komui dissecting a human body once when she walked into his lab to bring him paperwork.
Around the middle of autumn Komui presented the Black Order with the fruits of his studies: a new weapon that can destroy lower-leveled Akuma and improved armors for the Finders and Exorcists. Finally, Komui reported, expressionless and nonchalant, he had developed a way to suppress and halt an Akuma's self-destructive process.
Lower mortality rate.
Komui's project was allowed to continue.
Everyone avoided his private labs.
River was talking to Johnny when he saw, from the corner of his eyes, Komui walking through the courtyard outside of the chapel, amidst the crimson waves of the fallen autumn leaves.
Once Johnny realized that he no longer had River's full attention he turned around to look at what River was staring at.
They both noticed the blood staining the white of Komui's sleeves.
And as they watched, Komui moved smoothly from the sunshine into the darkness of the corridors, not looking back (forward, only forward). They both recalled the disappearances that happened earlier in the month.
And when they could no longer see the white of Komui's uniform, Johnny turned to River.
"Do Akuma bleed?" He asked.
River had no answer.
"You don't look me in the eye anymore, Squad Leader River."
Komui was nursing a cold cup of coffee as he studied River, there was something weird in his eyes but River didn't notice because he (ironically) was not looking at Komui in the eyes.
"Is there something troubling you?" Komui's tone was mild, but there was an underlying tint of (real) worry (or artificial?) to his words.
River said nothing at first, his thoughts tumbling upon each other in tumult.
"No I-" River winced slightly before wetting his dry lips, "I'm just a bit tired, that's all."
"Really?" Komui took a sip of his cold coffee and winced, sounding completely unconvinced.
"It's just that- just that, I-" River ran a hand through his hair nervously. "It's been a pretty hectic lately, and with what happened to…" He trailed off helplessly, realizing where their conversation would ultimately lead to.
You can't avoid the subject forever, River plowed on determinedly after a pause, you can't go on forever wondering if he- "With what happened to-" River choked, what was he hoping to accomplish? What did he want to know? How was he going to ask?
A deadened silence followed, and River's unfinished words seemed to have left a vacuum in the air, with nothing to fill the void. River was looking at the floor, covered in loose sheaves of papers. (Komui, did you-)
"Squad Leader River," Komui finally sighed. "It's not healthy for you to worry so much, especially over such things."
River looked up. Komui smiled.
"It's under control." He said.
Komui was spending more and more time in his private laboratories. The scientists hardly ever saw him anymore. They left new paperwork on his desk, and the next day they found the signed and finished reports on their own desk, done some times during the night.
They never saw him in the cafeteria, and the door to his room looked untouched everyday.
His absence fed the rumors; the rumors grew until everyone had their own idea of what was happening to Supervisor Komui Lee.
The entire floor smelled vile, like disinfectant and chemicals and blood. The guards shifted nervously when River approached, but knocked and opened the doors for him nonetheless.
Komui looked perfectly healthy, but River could read something unnatural about the lines of Komui's body. He was somewhat irked to see Komui smiling that small amused smile at him, as if the other man already knew what he was thinking.
Komui peeled off his bloodstained gloves calmly, lazily, cruelly showing River without words what he was doing. His body hid the operating table from River's sight, and River struggled to stop himself from craning his head to see what was on it.
Then slowly Komui moved aside to reveal the mess on the table behind him.
River choked and gagged. Carcass, corpse, entrails, body, so utterly scientifically cut apart that he couldn't even tell what it looked like when it was alive (was it ever alive?), yet the strange anatomy told him at a glance that it was undeniably not a human.
Komui chuckled at his horror, because he understood everything River felt, because at some point in this little project of his (long ago) he was River. He was horrified, disgusted, ashamed, he moved past that point long ago.
"Was there something you wanted," Komui sang. "Squad Leader River?"
River fought to keep his dinner down. He was afraid of what would happen if he opened his mouth (screaming, shrieking, accusing), and Komui waited patiently for him to get his bearings.
Finally he lifted the coffee pot he had in his hand. "I brought you coffee." He said in a strangled voice.
"Thank you," Komui laughed. "But I don't have a cup."
River wished the Exorcist luck on his mission and watched him leave.
"There are no Exorcists in the Headquarter right now." He turned and said to Komui.
"Oh?" Komui smiled.
River frowned, he didn't ask what Komui's intentions were, nor did he warn Komui what would happen if they were nefarious.
Because even if they were, they both knew River would be too late to stop him.
The alarm rang in the middle of the night.
River woke from his uneasy sleep with a gasp.
People scrambled into the corridors, disorganized and disorientated. They looked at each other in confusion and fright, oblivious to what happened and unable to comprehend. The shrill screams of the alarms sending chills through their body and grinding their bones in an icy orchestra.
Then the first Akuma crashed through the wall.
River was running, harder than he had ever before. They were screaming and arguing with each other, should they congregate together to fight the Akuma or should they scatter to confuse them? Who was in charge?
They were still arguing when the Akuma descended upon them.
A figure detached himself from the shadows, cradling a smaller body in his arms.
He walked forward and did not look back.
The official report stated that three Akuma escaped from Komui's lab. The Finders and the scientists brought down two with Komui's new weapon. The last one managed to evolve, but inexplicably self-destructed before dawn. The casualty was less than expected but damaging to the Order: four Finders, seven scientists, and the Science Group Supervisor, Komui Lee.
His body was never found, but then again, if he was killed by the Akuma's poison… It was speculated that he was the first one to discover the Akuma's escape, and he was the one to raise the alarm, but unfortunately was killed in the process.
And River said nothing about the papers he found in Komui's labs.
They were, after all, a priceless gift.
The gentle night breeze swept the spring mist to the ground, hiding the pond under a layer of silver fog and giving the fantastical impression that the gazebo they sat in was floating above the ground.
"Have some tea?" He offered, smiling.
"Brother," she grinned, and flicked a sugar cube at him. "You know I can't."