Characters/Pairing: Pein x Konan [with guest appearances by a few others]
Rating: R (M), for pretentious and vaguely described literary kinda sexin'.
Summary: A study in faith and transience, in which you define life by its constants, and the present is built on the grave of the evanescent past. What remains steadfast may be what is most important in this world where salvation lies beyond the dawn.
Word Count: ~4500 - 5000, discounting notes, header, and line breaks.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, and er, I make no profit from fanficcing. :D
She knows the real reason.
Every real reason.
Late, late yestreen I saw the new Moon,
With the old Moon in her arms ;
And I fear, I fear, My Master dear !
We shall have a deadly storm.
-Ballad of Sir Patrick Spence
o. hallowed be thy name
It starts (in one sense; nothing ever really starts, or stops) all those years ago.
Rebirth. From the ashes, and out of the flame. Tabula rasa, yes?
Madara is there.
"That's the plan I have drafted, for now," he tells them. "Or... "
The smile is felt, not seen. His face is hidden behind the orange mask.
"...what you need to know of it, rather. Now. Here's why I'm telling you this."
Konan looks at Pein.
"I need someone to lead this organization on my behalf, and to voice my thoughts in my stead. Don't ask me why. You'll see why, in time."
They don't ask him why. They don't say anything. They're sitting on three overstuffed chairs, and the lamps above are flickering; moths are beating about them, glad for the absence of rain. The air smells of spring, and somewhere, a stringed instrument is being played. Must be in a tower nearby. Its notes sigh through the wind.
Pein is watching nothing.
Konan knows he is listening.
He's like that, really. Lost in the background noise. On a different plane from everyone else, you could say. Fascinated by a reality no one else can see.
"I was thinking it should be one of you," Madara continues. "I'm not picky for which. I don't know how they would respond to orders from a woman. Pein, your jutsu would be needed on many ... occasions, I think, but this role would require considerable oration."
Pein does not answer.
(And behind the mask, she's sure there's a titter that follows)
"You don't seem too predisposed to talking."
"He listens," Konan says.
He hears more than you think.
There's a moth, one in particular, very fat and white, alighting near one of the ceiling lamps. On the cord above the lamp. It inches a little lower.
"Listening has its merits," Madara replies. Matter-of-factly, but like he wants her to know - really know.
And it's then, in that exchange, that Pein sits up. And he does it in his way, which is smooth - not abrupt or jerky or startled, but more like the movement of a cat lifting itself for a better view of a thing, with all the graceful muscles of its spine and the column of its neck. Fluid, like his rain.
"I'll do it," he says.
"Will you?" Madara sounds pleased. "And can you?"
"Good, very good. I'm pleased by your cooperation."
Pein does not speak again.
"And remember, you won't have to do this on your own. I will supervise these things. I will give you the words you need, and we will work on your cadence, if this is a problem, and I will be around." And he's saying it all very quickly, and Konan thinks he likes to listen, too, but only to himself. "But I am giving you the reins of this organization. I trust you to use them well."
There will be dire consequences, if you don't, he doesn't say.
I'm giving you all these problems and telling you to solve them, he doesn't say.
You have to know what to listen for, sometimes. The unsaid is louder, now, than the said.
"The first member we're - " You're. " - going to recruit is Akasuna no Sasori. He might be a difficult go of it."
And Madara tells them what they must do.
"I will," Pein says.
So Madara leaves, and Konan counts the little invisible lines on Pein's face which are not really there. His skin is frozen to youth, forever. Like his frozen eyes, in which she sees -
The door closes with a thud.
She stands up and sees to it that it clicks and locks, under her fingers.
Pein stands and Konan turns around; watches him sigh, invisibly, under all those invisible weights. He goes to the balcony.
Above, the moth descends too low.
Sizzles into death; violently, prettily. A little blaze. Short-lived.
Like it must have wanted.
i. lead us not into temptation
Konan goes to stand beside him. The moon is out (also fat and white); swollen full, partially concealed by clouds, and the sky is a swirling grey lake that tosses and turns.
All is bright dark, like a photo negative.
"I know why you did that," she murmurs, after a while.
"You always know," he answers.
She turns her gaze toward him and he glances sideways and down, making eye contact.
"Are you sure?"
"You know I'm not."
"But you'll do it anyway."
There are so many things to ask, and to talk about, now, because this man drops into their lives and turns everything upside down.
Konan breathes out; puff of warm transparent cloud in the evening mist. Every chord of music is gone.
They lean against one another, his broader shoulder to her thin, bird-like one; body heat leaks through the red and black cloaks they wear like they wear their misfortunes: dried and iron-pressed; no wrinkles, snugly fitting. Second skins. Husks with Madara's designs to sheath their nakedness.
And the drizzle begins.
ii. forgive us our trespasses
Konan knows, but the world does not.
On the first floor of the tower, there is a single room into which the moonlight goes. It is in the centre, an open place of many open windows, where the walls are crumbling and the pipes burst sometimes and the wet sinks in, lapping as high as their ankles. It is here where the garden grows, where the roses crawl all over the waste and rot and ruin and the morning glories entwine and choke the stone like thin green nooses.
She knows who built the secret garden in the tower where the whispered-of god lives.
She knows the god's name, for her lips only (and her lips, for his, only), and that he eats plums in the mornings, three days out of seven, regularly.
He brings the rain that catches in her eyelashes, cold in winter. For one November spell, the weather grows unseasonally warm, as if the Southern countries have panted all over the city.
Then the rain is warm, too, and she holds out her fingers.
On the days when there is no rain, they sit on the stone overhang and she holds out her fingers. His own, with all ten nails newly painted, fold and twist the paper she presents, absently, while their eyes stare out from their silent dead world into the noisy live one below.
Their fingers retrace the lines again and again, until she no no longer knows which of them made what part of the design she holds.
He presses the words into her palms.
iii. forgive those who trespass against us
She is asleep when he returns, curled up on one of those ugly chairs with her head pressed against a pillow full of goose feathers and a quilt wrapping her like a cocoon.
Konan opens her eyes to see Pein standing before her, with his eyes on her face and his hand clasping her white foot.
"He agreed to come?"
She had made most of the plans for this mission; drafted and revised them. He told her to stay behind this time, to watch the tower in his absence - tend the bodies, make sure Madara doesn't try anything, yes, that was the jist of what he said. But he had left his main body in the tower, too. Had locked it up with the others, to conserve energy, and he'd taken another out for this task.
"We eventually came to an . . . agreement," he says, and his thumb massages the bow between her heel and her toes.
She stretches; her body arrests in a prolonged yawn, and her limbs straighten and freeze. Then, she relaxes. Pulls the covers aside. Bares all the length of her legs and gown.
Pein's eyes have a way of doing this thing where they go out of focus, to outward appearances. Silvered white glass, impassive and bleary wet with rippling circles.
If her own eyes go out of focus, those circles seem to Konan to spiral further and further. A mind always turning inside itself.
She kicks the covers off entirely and motions. He sits down beside her.
"The other body is gone," he says.
She lifts the covers and drapes them over his shoulders, and hers.
"Poisoned. It never made it back here. Dead on the side of the road."
It isn't worth it to retrieve the body - he doesn't say, but means.
Konan presses her head to his chest, which moves when he breathes - measured and steady with pressure, in and out. But there is so much pressure.
She knows sometimes he is almost shaking from it, and his almost shaking almost shakes her, and the weight of their feelings almost shakes them both. Because Pein feels. Because Nagato felt more than anyone else in the world, so much that he could never be happy, for being too drunk on feelings, and now he has burnt out all his nerves and all his expressions on these feelings, and he feels through this dead body which is warm against her.
He feels like a tidal wave. He feels like an inferno. He feels like a catastrophe, locked up in his skin.
He touches the back of her neck with his thumbs. Around his fingers, he loops the curling strands which have escaped her bun.
"What did it come down to?" she asks, against him.
"The puppet body he wears."
"You destroyed it, or threatened to?"
He sits up straight and adjusts the covers and pillows that have bunched beneath him, then situates Konan so that she's in his lap, knees on either side of him.
Outside, it has begun to rain.
A soft patter.
"You didn't want to break it," she says.
They sit still as the darkness.
"I saw in his eyes - "
And Pein is all tense with that fatigue and contemplative distress which never comes within miles of his mouth or the lines around it, but which shines through his eyes, and she can see.
She knows, if no one else does.
"- it was all he had left that made him human."
She looks at him. Leans forward and cups his face with her hands.
Her butterfly fingers massage out all the invisible lines of his invisible feelings.
This night, so tranquil now, will not go hence
Unroused by winds, that ply a busier trade . . .
The flower rests on the night-stand.
The window is half-open. There is rain that hides the stars.
"Next time," she says, "I'm going, too."
He doesn't tell her no. He won't. He never does, when she makes up her mind.
It's not often that she sees any reason to dissent from his wishes. They are her wishes, too.
He is she when they're here. Her, with one hand holding to the sheets, and his hand over hers. Her eyeshadow is a mess and she presses her lips together and flexes, squeezes him as deep as he goes, and his hand, still over hers, squeezes her.
Glorious in the twilit rain or the sunlit rain at morning, when her mouth is full of the taste of his sweat and skin. Her eyes, half-lidded, locked staring into his, where emotions look back like diamonds: multi-faceted, cutting into her.
And she can hardly breathe.
Can hardly breathe, because the force of him goes all through her, and the force of her feelings for him goes all through her.
Can hardly breathe, except to call his name. His names.
It's raw and overpowering, when God's will scorches all her paper nerves.
Her other hand buries in his hair as he burns her neck with kisses and rumbles against her like a storm, and they do this for hours, sometimes, matching the electric wetness of the atmosphere with the electric wetness of their bodies. The thunder outside chases the flash as her skin tingles and the pump of her heart jolts her spine and makes her toes curl at every murmur of her name, heavy, from his bruised lips.
Her teeth have tugged every piece of metal.
Pein will pause to lean down further, his eyes entreating. He seeks approval.
And this time it is her who presses her words into him, in open-mouthed sighing kisses.
They are both so over-sensitized that a slight shift punctuates the soft, moist motions with gasps.
I approve, she says, with her clenching muscles. I approve. I approve.
So she prays to her god. Worships with her body until the intensity of him - greater than anything human - overwhelms her completely.
Everything Pein really feels.
She is the only one who gets to see his eyes squeeze closed.
She is the only one who gets to watch his Adam's apple bob when he swallows hard.
She is the only one who gets to feel him come.
For lo ! the New-moon winter-bright !
And overspread with phantom light,
(With swimming phantom light o'erspread
But rimmed and circled by a silver thread)
Pein is standing in the lip of the hallway holding the stem of a glass of wine between his finger and thumb.
This is when Madara tells them who they will recruit next.
Konan does not turn at the sound of the shattering.
She turns a second later, at the silence.
A shower of glass fragments sparkles on the floor like a series of transparent jagged moons, beneath the round light.
Red drains down his wrist like so much blood, and fury sits quietly on his impassive face, on the mouth that will never age prematurely from frowns or smiles.
It is terrible to behold.
You can't see it, is the thing.
It's not there, like a snarl twisting up his features or a grimace. It has no teeth. His lips are a line, not betraying the symmetrical beauty of his face.
You can't see it. You feel it.
It's a demon born of his human childhood - from the time the two of them have vowed to forget. Suffering feeds it. It grows out, and out, all gnarled roots and black toothless mouth, gaping like a vacuum for something, anything to fill it.
It grows and it reaches and its heaviness crushes the room. You will suffocate in its presence.
If she were anyone else, it would frighten her for her safety.
Instead, it frightens her for his.
"I'll go with you," she reminds him.
Through all the poison in the atmosphere, she makes her way to him.
His skin is hot. One day, he is going to go nova. One day.
Burn down the world, my love. Burn down this wretched world, she whispers.
He has elected himself as the one to bring the dawn.
He will end this long night.
She makes the hand signs and her skin falls away. Becomes white and empty.
She could go too far, someday, and blow away forever; pieces lost in a gale.
But it will be his gale.
In this city and country, everything – even the air - bleeds from him.
He heals, in her wings, in five minutes, and returns to Earth. She knows he is back when he grips her face, gently, and tilts her chin up. The tension begins to dissolve.
Amegakure is a battery.
Amegakure is Nagato bleeding.
iv. blessed are thou among women
They wear the rice hats of peasants as they walk through the lands. They make their way to the top of a hill, where Konan sits below a dead tree whose leafless branches are enough to shade her, and Pein stands looking out, with his hand in front of his forehead in the face of the huge red sun.
They could fly, but they do not. They do not want to waste energy, or draw attention.
Konan marks with a kunai knife a kanji in the tree – this tree, and others they pass – reminding them of their path. She spears fish with origami shuriken.
He makes hand signs to build the fire from a jutsu, the air soon smells of cooking food, and then they eat in silence, giving thanks to no one.
They travel through the green pastures, beside the still water.
You know where this goes.
And they go – through the dead lands, and the sunset lands, past fields where peasant farmers labour beneath the empty noon sky, and the midnight lands where the stars are out and there is no rain, and Konan squints until she can almost see figures etched on the night sky. They are straight and geometric; only a mind would conceive of them, where nature would not.
Look at that, she thinks. That's interesting.
If she could draw lines between those stars, the shape made would be just like the shape of the paper craft she gave him five years before, when his face was something else and his hair was black. Look at that. Isn't that something. Twenty-four stars in this design, Konan counts.
Her finger is grubby with the silt of the river she washed her hands in, black nail polish faded, and she lifts it. Traces her invisible schematics.
"I'll connect them for you," he says.
Or she hears him say. So quietly, so quietly, she could almost think it's the veil of a dream over her senses.
She looks at him. He's looking at nothing. Which means everything.
Because when your eyes see everything, and you look in all directions, it looks to people as if you're looking at nothing.
And when you feel everything, it looks to people as if you feel nothing.
Nagato felt everything.
v. deliver us from evil
In the valley of the shadow of death in the lair of the serpent king, they are unafraid.
There's the boogeyman. You know the one. You meet him as a child, in a time you aren't sure is real, in the hours after midnight and before the sun rises, when you're awake, but you shouldn't be. But you don't really meet him, because he's not really real. And he still slithers up your spine on occasion, for whatever reason. Because what you really feel, slithering, is your own doubt. Maybe. Your own insecurity.
Nagato and Konan met the man with the chalk skin.
Calcium sulfate, it looked like, but Konan wouldn't know that term for years yet.
This was back when there were three of them, and the whole world was wet with their tears.
Back when all things in the world could hurt them. Now nothing in this world can hurt them.
But they still remember the feeling of being prey. And they remember not in words or thoughts. It isn't that calculated. It isn't that complex. It's that slithering, again. You feel the after-effects, even once the memories themselves are a pit. Starlight around a black hole.
She and Pein live in the starlight, always, but sometimes the rain conceals them.
Never mind. Here he is.
It's underground, with the spiders and the centipedes and the moist earth. It's nowhere near God's heaven up in the clouds. Nowhere near at all, but the wetness is still here, and there's this odor in the air of soaked wood that's rotting away, and the man with the white skin sits in his stone chair, eating with his hands things from a bowl that are black and brown and dark red, round and plopping and Konan is not certain how dead these things are, and all she thinks is that she remembers what the girl she used to be used to have to eat, when the war was worst and the food was the scarcest.
The man with the silver-white skin sits on his throne next to the servant with the silver-white hair.
The king of the snakes who upset the children long ago does not look so large, now. He is a worm, underground.
"Why should I care about your little group?" he asks with a sneer, and licks his lips with his too long tongue. "It's nothing to me. I'm immortal."
And his long bone fingers tap on the side of his chair and the man with the silver-white hair whispers to him and he smirks, wider now.
Tap-tap-tap. Goodbye, children. Why haven't you died, yet?
Pein, playing his role as the Akatsuki Leader, says, "You will care, when we gain the sharingan."
Tap-tap - stop.
"The sharingan? You have recruited someone with the sharingan?"
"Soon," is the rehearsed response, ad-libbed to fit with the exact words of the snake king. "Uchiha Itachi will be joining us."
"You lie!" the white man hisses. Hisses. Literally. And doesn't let the lack of natural sibilance in the words stop him. "Why would he?"
"Because of what we offer," he says, as Madara has taught. "Because we can't be opposed."
Pein can play the Akatsuki Leader with the skill of one who is outside of humanity enough to know about it from books, as a kind of conceit, and he speaks like he has read. Or like Madara, who enjoys being a caricature. When Pein plays Akatsuki Leader, he speaks in undiluted theatre, unpolluted and uninformed by real human contact. His transformation into the statue, the god, is whole.
Orochimaru is theatre, too. A body built with the tissue of lies. Saponaceous skin. Fake, thin, and empty. All corpse worms inside.
The man (boy) with the silver-white hair steps back.
Don't you dare. Konan's eyes narrow as she watches him. Don't you dare.
A flick of his wrist later, senbons hit the ground.
Five senbons, grounded by origami, and the boy is looking down in surprise.
Origami? Really? he's probably thinking. Or maybe he's not thinking anything. Maybe he's still thinking his stealth attack will get through, and it's already failed. Humans are slow.
"You wouldn't have been able to hurt the god realm, anyway," she says. "You won't be able to get anywhere near him, if your intent is to harm."
Konan lowers her head and clasps her hands at her waist. "I won't let you try. If you make another attempt on him, it will be your last."
"A mere test," Orochimaru says with a wave of his hand, and the boy drops to one knee. "If I'm to even consider this offer, I have to ensure that you're worth my time."
"You'll find certain ones among the jutsu you desire, if you join us," Pein says, because he knows the immortal line is a lie.
There is only one immortal in this world. They are already in his employment.
"And you will find the protection that even powerful missing-nin require, to stay alive."
The man, still looking unimpressed, opens his mouth. One nearly expects to see viper fangs in the stead of teeth, or snakes bursting forth from his esophagus.
Then his expression changes.
Inexplicably, until Konan realizes she has lifted her head again, instinctively, and two slender rays of sunlight have found their way into the darkness from some unseen crack in the ceiling.
Even with the rice hat shielding her, he might have – must have – glimpsed . . .
Must have wondered if.
His faux-face settles, but he still wears the mark of one who has been unsettled.
The marbles have scattered, knocked around, and he must be thinking no, surely not.
Just another face. Many people are alike. And who has seen more faces than the one who makes them for himself.
"You look," he begins, "so severe."
Pein does not say anything.
"So severe," Orochimaru says, again, as if chiding. As if he should be clucking his tongue, and shaking his head. "So bitter."
Konan stares, only.
Her face so -
Hence, viper thoughts, that coil around my mind . . .
Her features fascinate him.
She and Pein have a ritual, albeit unspoken, in which she stands before him and his hands roam with curiosity, tilting her head this way and that, but slowly, as if inspecting her health – as if looking into each pore one at a time, as if checking for marks.
She is fascinated, too.
The widening space between his fingertips as they spread over her cheeks and chin -
His cool gaze, his scrutiny, pierces her, as he pierces himself.
Her skin segments and flutters, millimeter-thick. Peels back and blows into the air current.
She is bloodless to his fingers, which are gentle, coaxing from her the sheafs, as she closes her eyes and comes apart for him.
A touch to her chin, the stud there, and her neck, where his hand moves up and down. Dusts her hair back. Smooth strokes to her shoulders.
Konan breaks herself down; leaves her organs behind and rises with him, in her own way.
A sudden gust – his will, no doubt – and she's scattered in the air.
And to describe how it feels, to be disembodied this way . . .
A good start.
Free. In their castle in the sky, where he breathes the storm.
Free. Bodiless, her origami dream, where she will lift in his updraft and their bodies will not hold them down.
Free. Where they have no nerves to hurt.
And all the pain is gone. And they will be safe, here. Forever.
But then his touch passes over her, and with a jolt, she is whole and human.
vi. for thine is the kingdom
The years are passing.
You feel them through what has passed with them.
A decade after Akatsuki's formation and its first team sits in the garden where the moonlight goes.
Where once there was green, there is now withered brown and rot.
The morning glories are no more. Time has taken them on its journey to wherever it goes.
And always, Konan thinks, we are left behind.
Sasori is dead. Hidan and Kakuzu, for whom it was said death would never come. Orochimaru, who abandoned the group, as they had all known he would. Deidara. Nineteen years old.
In the garden lies a grave, hidden from plain sight, covered by the now dry and deceased vines.
"I kept the climate perfect." Pein's palms are full of the brittle flowers. "There was no infestation of insects, or disease. This shouldn't have happened."
He closes his hands. Opens them, holding dust.
"I couldn't save them."
His eyes turn toward the grave.
There are two names on the tombstone. There is no body inside. One name for one who is dead, lost to the world completely. One name for one who has been left behind. One body worn in remembrance. One body hidden in the twilight of the rain.
So Pein is almost comically and cosmically complex. Nothing so clean as one death, or even two. He's all these people, made of all these deaths. You ask which is the real body.
The answer is: Amegakure.
Amegakure is where he has lived and died. Amegakure is his corpse and his beating heart. Amegakure cries his tears and bleeds his blood down into the gutters, washed down by the storms. The architecture frames his bones and the wind is his voice.
In his castle in his tomb in his many bodies with his one lover and his one life, human and god. He is the leader of this land and the leader of Akatsuki; someday, in all likelihood, the leader of the new world. Everything to everyone.
And most of the time, nothing to no one.
He is always someone to her.
They both know she is the only one for whom he is ever really someone, not some concept, or some figurehead, or some entity of power and destruction and ideology.
He is the someone who was there with her as a child.
In her most distant memories, he is there.
There is no era before him. There are no secrets they have not shared.
And she understands it all.
"All past," Konan says, softly. "We live in the present."
It was with Orochimaru's arcane knowledge that they increased the capacities of the body transfer. Made everything more efficient. So he betrayed Akatsuki, as Madara had foretold, but not before Akatsuki gained something from him. Information was the point.
"In the past . . . " Pein begins, and lets the sentence drop.
She walks toward the grave, eyes never leaving the names carved in the granite.
"Nagato was weak, and could not save his friend."
"Because he lacked the will, and the courage. Because he was so insecure."
Konan swallows hard at these words, at the images that come unbidden to her mind's eye. Her hands remain steady.
"I think - "
She turns to him, and walks to where Pein sits. Step by step, heels clinking on the wet floor, Akatsuki cloak trailing behind her. And once she has reached her destination – once she stands before him – she crouches down; kneels.
" - that he did save one friend."
She holds up her hands; open and empty, as if she hopes to catch the rain.
"I think he protected her. I think he upheld his promise."
Visions of them as children; her hands as they are now, exactly in this position, but smaller. Her hands, holding the clear flower of a candy wrapper. And him, as he was in those days. Their friend. But those days have passed. Buried here are their memories. Their old lives. And you don't live in photographs.
She looks at Pein, who is perhaps Nagato's truest mausoleum.
Cut through, metal, mechanical, with his marble features and his frozen eyes which are always visible, now, and which never cry, now; not ever. Not anymore. Yet the imprint of Nagato remains; a ghost on his lips, in his tone of voice as he speaks; in the way he crumples inwardly when things go wrong, and in the way he gazes over the village, in his scrutiny and his questioning and his need for all the answers. In his grief, and his inability to disguise it.
In what he has sacrificed, to keep them safe.
"Konan, tell me."
He stares at what she has left behind.
"Tell me. Am I going too far?"
She glances over her shoulder, then back.
His hand slides over hers.
"Burn it all down," she says. No flinch. No doubt. No hesitation.
Just her, holding his very real hand and looking into his very real eyes. The children are all dead, with no photographs to mourn them, but they are alive, and they are here. Endless buried pasts and lives. Endless are those who have yet to die.
But they are here. With one another, as they have always been.
This is the constant which holds together their transient reality.
"I'm here. I'm here. And I'm not going anywhere. Let's pray, Pein."
On the grave, there rests a bed of white roses, newly made.
Someday, Konan thinks – someday very soon, they will lay this world to waste. And with the dawn, from the ashes of the blaze, real flowers will bloom throughout the land as they have not done in Rain Country since before the long wars and the long, miserable rains.
She knows who built the secret garden in the tower where the whispered-of god lives.
Their hands, together.
references for this work: "The Lord's Prayer", and "Dejection: An Ode" for the line breaks.
(yes, I realize Pein's body shtick draws more off Buddhism than Christianity; it was the kind of religious faith/zealous theology that I was attempting to represent with the refs. - and actually Pein's image of destruction does sorta make me think of Revelation . . . am I the only one who gets that vibe? Maybe I'm just odd there . . . )
thx to Winter Weatherman for some of the lines; collabing really helped.