"Snow White"


There are no wreaths at the funeral. It had seemed to them too much like surrender.

What there is, instead, are trees, a rich piney scent, and grass, and a cluster of mushrooms just off to the side. There's the rich earth, and there are birds, and they're singing. There's the clear blue sky.

"He was the best," is Sasagawa's eulogy, and there's determination in the set of his shoulders.

"Thank you," Yamamoto says quietly, and there's strength in his voice.

Gokudera says nothing, and there's nothing in him except smoke. He's made his way through an entire pack, desperate for something to do with his hands and mouth, and even though he stands downwind of the ceremony by the time they begin to slowly drift away the clearing's taken on the scent of tobacco.

He makes the last one last a while. Everyone's gone by the time it hits the filter. Like the others, it's crushed out on the ground and then carefully collected, butt and ash, to go back into the pack in his pocket. Like with the others, he nudges the pine needles and dirt over the slight disturbance where he'd rubbed out the flame.

His first funeral was his mother's. He remembers a solemn occasion with everyone in black from around that time, but there were a lot of those. He doesn't know if he's remembering the right thing.

His second funeral was a not-quite-friend's. He remembers that one well. He'd been nine at the time. Adamo, the son of one of his father's hitmen, had been ten, and a stupid ten, the sort of ten that led a kid to mess with a gun even though his hitman dad wanted his family out of the business and had therefore refused to show his son anything about guns, including when the safety was on and when it was off. Gokudera had wanted to feel nothing but contempt at that one.

And then there had been no more funerals. This is his third. In all those years of war and violence and desperation, conflict and greed and blood, the Tenth had kept them all from funerals.

"I guess things are gonna change around here, huh?" he says. Then he remembers himself and his vow that he wasn't going to treat this piece of wood like the Tenth.

"Shit," he spits, reaches for a cigarette and remembers that he's smoked them all.

Up until now he hadn't looked at the coffin, not really. Now that he's addressed it, acknowledged it, he can't do anything but. He makes his way over slowly and presses his fingertips against the polished wood.

"I dunno, Tenth." He tosses his head to the side, a little uncertain twitch over what he's doing. Then he waits. And then he says, "I don't know," quietly, and it's more of an admission than he'd like.

There was a time when he was a kid when he'd liked fairy tales, the really brutal ones. He'd liked them for the way their violence only reinforced his misanthropic nature. Now, though, standing before his boss's coffin, he thinks that back then he hadn't understood them at all.

"Be nice, wouldn't it," he mutters, then draws in a breath and says louder, "Be nice, wouldn't it. If we could just drop you or something, and you'd come back to life. I feel...I dunno." Quieter still, "I dunno.

"Lately, I'd thought you were more the Arthur type, though. You'd rise to take your place, climb out of your own damn coffin..." He tries to smile. "It was a little lonely, truth be told, feeling unneeded like that. I guess you did need us, though, didn't you." He shouldn't have smoked all his cigarettes. He should have brought another pack.

"Be nice, though, if we could just drop you and you'd come back to life," he says, once more, quietly. "Might make up for the way we couldn't..."

He stands there a long time. There are birds still singing overhead, and the wind has brought back the smell of the pine trees. Dappled shadows play on the earth and the coffin's lid.

Gokudera won't bury the Tenth, and he won't let the others. Because he understands now. He understands fairy tales, and he understands the strange nature of hope.

And even though this is no sort of hope at all:

"I swear, Tenth..." His hand finds the cigarettes in his pocket, traces the foil and finally crushes the flimsy cardboard. "If nothing else, we'll have them dancing in iron shoes - I swear you that."

The coffin lies silent. The only sound is the wind in the trees and a far-off woodpecker. Gokudera swallows, and wipes his ashy hand on his pant leg, and turns and walks away from the blue sky towards the world of flowers.