Chapter 3: epilogue: Storm's End
Title: Diem Ex Dei (epilogue)
Genre: General, Tragedy, Romance (?)
Characters: Pein (Nagato), Yahiko, Konan, Madara (Pein/Konan)
Rating: PG-13 (T)
Warnings: Violence/tragedy. Um, maybe very very vague sexuality.
Summary: The rain has ended.
Disclaimer: Don't own Naruto. Much of this is very, very strictly from my imagination.
It is like this:
These are Konan's memories, and this is the conclusion of her story. Their story.
Heaven ends before the world does, and she returns to Rain Country. This will be the final time.
He was burned by the Kyuubi, badly harmed, but Konan knows Pein was invincible. He would have won, had not Nagato's heart finally given out.
It was not the Kyuubi. It was that face. That face, like Yahiko's, and that attitude, just like Yahiko's, and that boy, that stupid boy - who learned from his pain how not to be lonely. Pein saw something which made him doubt himself, but the truth, Konan thinks, is that he doubted himself for most of his life. A god cannot afford doubt. Pein won all battles. He would have defeated any foe, but ultimately, it was his own uncertainty he lost to.
His own humanity.
She buries the bodies. Each one.
When it comes time to lay Yahiko's corpse to rest at long last, Konan sees nothing of her childhood friend in the shell.
She looks. She tries. But it is useless. Yahiko is a shadow in her mind: a smile, a boy's laughter, far away. That is all he is to her now. That is all he has been for years.
For years, she has tended to the body he was born into, as it has lain in the darkness.
When she lifts it into her arms and takes it into the light, it is the first time she sees what was left of Nagato.
The form is so deteriorated, so badly twisted, that she is stunned it has managed to survive as long as it has.
Konan places her head against his, then prepares to finish this; with her own two hands, she shovels the ground with tools made of paper, until she has achieved the depth she wants, and, locking him away in a stone casket, she lowers him into the ground.
Nagato, sealed off from her who loved him most.
(But it was Yahiko you lived for, after a fashion. It was Yahiko you could not let go of.
All those years, I wanted you to see that I was still alive.)
There are bells chiming and children's laughter tickles her ears; adults are milling about the streets, speaking of a dark miracle – a revolution, and many are muttering, some in awe and some in fear and some in hushed joy; there are those who are expectant and hopeful and those who think nothing but ill can emerge from this. Others believe nothing out of the ordinary is transpiring at all. God is in his heaven. All is well.
Dust in the air, and papers, kicked up by people's feet, and lights are flashing – red and green and gold – but there is no rain. Konan walks past the crowds, the children, the dogs and the dust and the lights, and the imposing skyscrapers like the skeletons of long dead monsters. All this strange city which has haunted her, called to her, owned her. She walks, and none recognize her. None call out to her. She has no wings. She wears no flower in her hair. Another face, passing by.
Konan departs from Rain Country and does not look back.
At the border, she creates a fire.
She gently slips her cloak from her shoulders and takes a moment to rub its familiar texture against her cheek. It has adopted her scent, she notes.
Konan throws it into the flames and lets the memories warm her.
A little house. A farm. Pictures. A woman's voice, and the smell of cooking; typical. A man's hand on her shoulder, congratulating her. Noise, like thunder. Solitude. Hiding. Darkness. Arms around her knees as she crouches. Taste of apples. Creaking of the cellar. A boy, and he's alone, like her, and then another boy; muddy, rained on. Talking. Asking questions. Timid. Crying because the food is all gone.
Jiraiya-sensei. Those happier years. Training. Amegakure; impossible structures in every direction, and a sunset on the horizon, and flames. Pein, calm and impassive after the massacre. His smell that night: iron, metal and blood. So much training. Her hands ruffling orange-red hair. Them in the bath, scrubbing one another, no traces of shame or secrecy. The sound of the piercings as they jingle slightly, sometimes; when he turns, just so – more of a tinkle, really. When he touches her back in that way, she stretches like a cat and gives a sigh.
Killing. More of that than she'd have liked, but she is a kunoichi. Smooth glide of blades through skin and muscle. Bodies drop; it's quieter than you'd think, most of the time. But not the interrogation.
Her first time, and she remembers: she sweats, but she can't show it, and the prisoner sweats. Tiny papercuts. Shallow. Right on the nerves. "Do you know how long it will take for you to die from this?" she hears herself say.
Groans. Pants. Screams.
Sobs, finally, when her patience has run out and she sets to work as fiercely as she likes, and she's shaking inside; shaking with fear at herself.
It is not only God who can be wrathful.
"Necessary." Pein's word when Konan returns, asking him, without emotion, if this was right. Her paper can nick from a distance. Never sullies her hands, yet she washes them anyway. In her nostrils, odor of blood and waste and perspiration -
-perspiration, hers, when he holds her down, and she submits absolutely. And she's shaking inside; shaking with emotion. It's quieter than you'd think, most of the time.
(Groans. Pants. Screams.
Sobs, finally. Hers.)
It was always like that. He destroyed people instantly, and often in large numbers. Interrogations were her assigned duty; taking answers cut by cut.
They die as they have killed: Pein, swift and crushing; Konan, slowly, a little more every day.
Konan enters Bird Country, and it is there, of all the unexpected locations, where she encounters Uchiha Madara again.
"Konan," he greets her, arms folded; he is all in black, as ever, but now he wears that orange mask over his face, and his hair is shorter than when they first met.
They stand in the street, between the rows of buildings. There is no flower in her hair. It is undone, and blows about her face. This barren city, like every other; the world will turn her beauty to dust, and it will turn her to dust, because everything dies, and so too will she.
"I have quit the organization, Madara," she informs him, because she knows it is not by chance that their paths have crossed again.
"I wouldn't dream of stopping you from doing so."
Konan tilts her head, arms by her sides. "What do you want with me, then?"
"A moment of your time," he answers, without humour. "Is this how you have chosen to live out the remainder of your life? In this wretched country, in obscurity?"
She does not flinch. She keeps her eyes level with his. She has never cowered before him, and she never will. Even with Madara, Konan sees no need to censor her thoughts.
"You know, I've been thinking - " Her voice is lilting, feigned lightness adding to the cold contempt. " - how strange it was that Uchiha Madara should have been at just the right place, at just the right time, to help those poor orphaned children. If I didn't know better, I'd think you planned for all that befell us."
Prolonged silence, and the wind is blowing, like it blew before, on the day Nagato held her when the world crashed down. Konan looks up, and she is remembering it now; remembering all that has passed.
"If I did orchestrate the events which led to where we are now, then what does it matter? They happened, regardless. They cannot be undone."
"You wanted him to die, didn't you?" She can see, out of the corner of her eye, her reflection in the glass of a shop window. Her expression is haunting: mouth tight, skin pinched over her cheeks, eyes wide. She wraps her shawl about her shoulders; shields herself from the elements. "That's why you sent him to Konoha. For how long were you trying to get rid of him, Madara?"
She spits the name. "You ruined his life, and mine. I figured out that that was what he was trying not to tell me."
"There were many things he was trying not to tell you." She actually thinks she hears him laugh. Maybe it is the wind. "And I assure you, he did not need me to ruin his life. Men like Nagato and Uchiha Itachi, this is how they live."
"Akatsuki is finished. You have lost."
Uchiha Sasuke, the one he counted on, has betrayed him. Even this far removed from the goings-on of Konoha, Konan has heard whispers.
"I have tried, but I will never understand such men," he replies, as if she has not spoken. "Men who feel that their power binds them to larger than life responsibilities. Men who sacrifice everything and live as martyrs. Why, when there is only ever one person whom they truly care for?"
Konan swallows. "I am leaving now."
"And it is always that one person. I suppose not even those who give up their senses of self and identity to follow the path of a shinobi can entirely manage to sever their bonds."
Konan looks ahead, towards the horizon. Never taking her eyes from it, she walks forward.
She will walk past him. She will not flinch.
Were she one step closer to the right, her shoulder would brush his.
Madara turns to her, and whispers, "He only ever talked about you, you know."
She does not move.
"All those things he never told you, because he wanted to protect you. But I heard. Imagine how it feels, to talk to one you hate, because you have absolutely no one else to whom you can confess your secrets, and the one you most want to speak with is the one you most want to spare."
Against her better judgment, Konan turns to face him. He reaches up, removing the mask.
"You think your Nagato was worth dedicating your life to. You think I'm trash, but to whom do all these worthy men come? They hate me. They despise me. But they come to me. It is only through me that their 'sacrifices' can work. But oh, by the day, how quickly they assure themselves that they are just and right. How quickly they distance themselves from me."
"I will never understand what the world did to you that you feel such an all-consuming need to manipulate it, manipulate others, and convince yourself that you are a victim, but you will find no sympathy from me. If that is what you want, look elsewhere."
"I want no sympathy."
"You want vengeance."
"I've never liked you, Konan." He sounds bored. There is no emphasis to the statement. "You are an admirable kunoichi, but you added nothing to the team that Nagato did not already provide for me. And for such a quiet woman, you've never seemed to have a good sense of when you shouldn't speak."
His gaze is hard. The man's face has not aged, but for the heavy lines under his eyes; those eyes again, which once held Konan, but which no longer have the power to capture her.
Madara's skin is prone to catching the angles of shadows, and even with his hair sliced off, there is something feral to his appearance; animalistic, and dirty, like a layer of grime beneath the skin which no amount of bathing would rid him of.
"Why did you do it?"
Sharingans question her.
"Why did you see to it that he was . . . that Nagato was ruined?" She clarifies. "I think I deserve to know that, at the very least."
"The rinnegan," he says, "could have troubled me. Nagato was the child of prophecy. Had he grown up, whole and healthy, none could have stood before him. But as a boy, so long as he was in his right mind, he lacked the will to kill. He was not ruthless enough. In the war, that is death. If it had not been because of me, it would have been because of someone else. I saved him."
"I saved him," he continues, lost in his monologue. "I saved the both of you. It was because of me that he became a god. It was because of me that he learned how to rule and how to be ruthless enough to survive. I would have just as soon seen you dead, but he wouldn't have that, and he was insistent."
Eyes gleam in the autumn light. "He would have done quite a lot to protect you, I think, and if I were . . . as horrible as you think me to be, I could have taken advantage of this."
Konan looks away from him. "You didn't know anything about Nagato, or Pein, that I did not. He didn't tell me much. He did not have to. I don't expect a person like you to understand this. You cannot hurt me."
It is afternoon, and the air is honey gold and burnt red. Leaves of matching colours – and darker – blow by. Konan watches.
"And you cannot hurt him. Or Itachi. They were better than you. They outsmarted you. They escaped you. And I suppose that must burn you, must it not, Madara?" Her eyes narrow. "I suppose that's why you're here."
"Prodigies. There is always a burden in being a prodigy, Konan. Your Nagato. What a miserable man he made himself, because he thought it was his duty to save the world and grind it to dust, both in the same instant, I suppose. He was so adamant that he must prevent future generations from experiencing the same pain as he did, but I know the truth is, he would have wished someone else to take the weight of being the God of this world, had he thought anyone else capable of doing so. Really - "
And he pauses for effect; sighs, drags the next words out slowly.
" - I think, more than anything else, he wanted to be with you, as a man and not a god. But he was too duty bound for that. He did not let relationships distract him. I wonder how it would feel, to be so close to someone, so intimate with them, to be flooded with desire for them, only for them to be forever out of your reach, and all because you feel you cannot turn aside the responsibilities that fate has given you. But I suppose there is no truer definition of a shinobi than one who abandons all that they love in the name of their path."
Konan lowers her eyes, and is silent.
"You think I ruined him? No, Konan. I think you were his downfall. Pein overtook Amegakure in a day. I wanted him to be truly unstoppable, invincible, impassive, and unfeeling. A perfect god, with only one weakness, which I would know. He would have been all these things, but for you."
He grins his hatred.
"It seems all geniuses must have some weakness. Some attachment they cannot quite rid themselves of. You, in the case of Nagato. Uchiha Sasuke, who plagued Uchiha Itachi's existence."
She keeps her eyes on the ground.
"I presume the world took away your 'attachment'."
His grin lessens, curling back and flattening; until Konan thinks she can almost perceive a grimace.
"I took him away. My little brother."
Konan feels the breath leave her body.
"I did what the others could not." He is facing the sky now, as if watching for the rain. "I severed everything which could have made me a human."
"I doubted him, at times," she admits, "if that's what you want to hear. But true faith is knowing someone will come through for you, even when the outward signs are not there. I believed in Nagato."
"History will call him a murderer. A monster. His name will be spoken in curses. He will not be revered as a visionary. Certainly no hero."
"I have little care for what history says."
Madara laughs. It is deep and vibrates through him; poisoned with all the black thoughts of a life dedicated to umbrage. A long life – too many years, too much anguish, too much anger. Konan looks at him and wonders if this is what a man becomes when he surpasses the stay of a mortal life; do the endless years shave compassion and sanity from him, leaving only rot?
Again, Madara's tone is ice. "I am surprised you still exist, Konan. You were always so co-dependent. How is it that you are alive, with no one to live for?"
It offers to tug at her lips, this smile. Though it enters the vicinity of her mouth, the expression ultimately fails her, but the fading light touches her eyes.
"Who says I have no one to live for?"
Absently, she touches her hair. A rather severe frown overtakes Madara's features.
"Really? Let me - "
His hand jerks forward.
As soon as Konan registers the action, she catches his wrist in her thin, delicate grip, but too late.
" - see. Ah, so you are."
She releases (throws, really, as if she's trying to hurl him to the ground by shoving his arm down) his wrist; breath ragged, panting, eyes wide – her composure is wilting; she can feel it sliding out of her grasp like handfuls of flower petals.
"Don't touch me."
"I won't. Don't act so distrustful."
"You just did."
"I only wanted to verify a suspicion."
"You have your verification. Don't touch me again."
Konan folds in on herself, clasping her hands together at her chest and barring her abdomen with her forearms. Like she's praying. God is in his heaven. All is right with the world.
"I don't want to change the world," she says, admitting at last what she has known for years. "I never did. That was Pein's dream. Nagato's dream. Not mine. I only ever cared about him. And now . . . "
She is not one who makes gods. She is not a god. She has no responsibility to society, nations, cities, or countries. She has only the responsibility which she takes on, and she took on less than Nagato did. She knows, now – has always known, somehow, but always disregarded – that she has power, that she had sway over him, but she never exercised it, always took the submissive role; the role of servitude, because he did not want to be swayed, did not need to be swayed.
So she stepped aside, always, and let her soul collapse.
(And this is why Pein refused to vocalize his afflictions: because faith is needed for gods, and he feared his hesitations and weaknesses would cause her to lose that faith. Her faith, which granted him the peace of mind he needed in order to accept that which he felt he had to do, and that which he did.
How he could kill, brutally, without remorse, and know it was all for the greater good, for that good (vengeance) they would see someday, in their new world, and how he could convince himself of that, and not doubt it, so long as she did not doubt, so long as she stood beside him.
How theirs was surely the most devoted -
The most devoted -
Surely the most evil relationship that ever did exist.)
The most harmonious. The most terrible. She regrets nothing.
It is all so clear now.
"Now, I will concern myself with the next generation. My part of it. If others do the same . . . perhaps this world we live in may slowly transform, at last."
"Don't count on it. I've lived longer than anyone. I know that the world never changes."
"And that is the only consolation I have regarding you, Madara," she tells him. "You will never die. Your life, miserable and wretched and devoid of anything good as it is, will go on forever. This is providence's own vengeance. Goodbye."
She walks past him, away - with her chin high and her eyes glistening and the wind blowing through her hair, around her, like a voice, a song, ooo-shaah-shaah, past all her memories and all cities and beyond the veil of rain.
But the rain has ended, and dry leaves crackle beneath her heels.
"Go, then," she hears him murmur; amused, voice lit, darkly, "and enjoy being nothing, for the duration of your days."
The rain has ended.
It is time, at last, for her to remember.
He is smiling. His eyes – eyes like she has never seen before or since, will never see again – are glinting; she has pushed his black hair back, tucked the stray strands behind his ears.
There is sunshine behind him.
Sunshine all around him. Sunshine everywhere.
A promise, from years ago: togetherness, once the storm has ended.
The storm has ended. It will never come again. She knows.
At last, at last, Nagato is free from his pain. At last, at last, he ends; a god no longer. And perhaps, she thinks - as the tears fall and she smiles and stares up at the (endless) sunshine - perhaps this is what she wanted.
Konan folds her final flower, and lets it drop.
"The moment is perfect," he says; like the wind, from lands far away, and she closes her eyes, and sees those eyes, black hair, his face and her hands upon it.
"I know," she answers.
The sky is so bright.
(Opens her arms, parts her lips, and falls into the sky.)
"Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction."
1) I know I didn't warn for character death. I believe a tragedy warning is sufficient. I think character death warnings tend to be spoilery – especially in fics such as this one, which are really only about one or two characters.
2) The ending is deliberately disorienting/ambiguous. Not sure it captured the feel I originally intended, but ah well.