Neither of them can cry.
They survived the end of Pein's dream, which replaced their tears and gave them this life. Konan supposes that they will live, they are still alive. They will live without dreams.
Nagato keeps dreaming. "We can try," he says, stroking her hair. She concentrates on folding rose petals. She agrees to stop drinking her monthly tea, tips the canister of herbs into the garbage. His body is a warm electrical corpse and hers is a dead tree in pieces. Neither of them are twenty years old anymore. He tucks the paper rose into her hair.
It's an empty dream.
"It can't hurt to try." he says, as if disappointment won't hurt him.
She holds him tightly through the long night hours. Keeps her eyes closed and focuses on how he feels inside her. A god could bear disappointment, but a human must be protected. An angel would never feel helpless.
"I'm an adult, and so are you." he says in the humid darkness. "If we can deal with life if we just let ourselves believe that we can." Pein never could say that word without feeling. Believe.
He's still so in love with faith. She looks into his eyes and feels him come inside her, knows that she won't be ready. Neither of them will be, but reality will descend anyway. She closes her eyes.
It will be cruel no matter what she does. She doesn't bleed the next month. Doesn't mention it. Flimsy sheets of paper have to be shielded from the rain. They curl in the summer humidity. Amegakure refuses to release Pein to Konoha, and Nagato tells reporters that Pein will back this up. He stares out at the clouds, phone pressed to his ear. He sits out on his tower for the rest of the day. He talks about karma.
So he does understand. Having taken so much life, how could they deserve to create any? If justice is cruel, it's only because their actions warrant no mercy. There is nothing under the hand she presses to her middle. Empty hopes.
Nagato finally comes to bed, and his hair is wet against her neck. He's lost Pein's silver-lined silences. "We have to persevere," he mumbles blearily. They reach for one another, as always.
For comfort, and now they have nothing else to do. They can loll around their bedroom all day and count the stars together. She traces the skin around his piercings. Listens to him breathe as he feels it. They don't need to draw maps, create jutsu, manage Madara and control themselves.
So they try, for nothing.
Two months means nothing. Maybe her paper jutsu has interfered with her body.
Thinking is dangerous. Memory is full of water mines. Nagato brings her armfuls of white roses but they are less real than the scream of Hanzou's granddaughter. Her baby was euthanized quickly, neck snapped like a kitten or puppy. The mother screamed and clawed at Pein's face. The paper in her hands is the reality she can bear. She focuses on it's clean fold. A crane's white wing.
Her middle turns harder and pokes out under Nagato's hand. Three months and she has to tell him.
The sparkle in his eyes is the knife disappointment will drive into his heart.
"It won't last." she warns him.
"We can try again if that happens." he insists. She shakes her head and when he reaches for her, paper butterflies slip through his fingers. The rain smashes at the roof and she can't hear him shout after her. The butterflies hide up in the tower rafters.
He's out of reach in the rain for hours.
When he comes back in, a butterfly lands on his damp hand.
"Maybe a higher power can help you," he sighs. "The way it's helped me?" Butterflies stream out of the hall and cling to his hair and shoulders, to the hems of his pants. "The world isn't as bad as you think." He strokes the seams out of her cheeks and wants to show her.
He means the summer gardens being planted in ruined neighborhoods. And the community projects painting over damaged buildings. But his television interviews mean that he is recognizable. "This is my wife." he explains. "Pein is like a jutsu, and right now I'm not using it. Thank you for your support." He signs autographs. He takes her away from the crowds. "Did you see the look in their eyes?" He argues that everyone is good on some level.
Even Madara. "And if he is, or could be, we were just misguided." he whispers. He shows her the water lilies planted in the canal. She watches him make polite conversation with the florist as he buys a red chrysanthemum.
And wants to put it in her hair. Curls her fingers around it's ruffled petals in his own. The cross at his throat gleams in the wet sunlight. "We can both be forgiven." he says.
All they have to do is ask. He says she doesn't have to turn to religion, but maybe she should try. But if she's not an angel, what is she? Crumpled paper. Human garbage, just like before. "Don't say that." he hisses. "Don't." His arms clutch her and their fingers crush apart the petals.
She admits that the world can be beautiful, but it doesn't comfort him. "I can't solve this for you." he sighs. "All I can do is be here." He holds her as the sun sets. She folds cranes for the baby. She has to stop thinking of it that way. She folds cranes for the end of this dream, so they can survive it.
Everyone knows now. Nagato politely declines requests for Pein's wife to appear in interviews. "She's busy with personal matters." he says. The crane she folds has a ripped wing.
Nagato wants to talk about naming the baby. He has to stop thinking that way.
He has to stop calling it that. He nuzzles her neck and kisses her, won't let her go. He has a surprise for her. It's not more roses, instead it's red paper from the finest paper mill in the city. "Because it means good luck," he says, handing her the first sheet. Mixing his superstitions.
"It doesn't matter how you get there." he says, placing the red lily in her hair. "It doesn't matter which god it is, whether it's Pein or this." The edge of his smile is like a tiny green leaf.
But the tower smells like formaldehyde and mothballs. Nagato decides that she needs a change of scenery and rents a house in the green hills outside the city. He helps her out of the palanquin and presents it to her proudly. She keeps her hands away from her belly, but the lump is starting to pull on her. The house is painted sunny yellow and it's flagstone garden and rooms full of flowers mock them both. Who exactly are they fooling?
She blots her tears with red paper, for lack of anything else. She tells him that she isn't crying. The paper becomes a red crane with a scarred wing.
Four months and her own body mocks her and encourages this vain little hope.
Nagato arranges her cranes on the windowsill. There are too many to fit, even on every windowsill in the house. "How does it matter if the world isn't all bad?" The angel would have said nothing. The angel would have let him avoid the issue. "How does that change us?"
"I can't make you believe it." he whispers later, as their mingled sweat dries. "But this doesn't mean nothing." His hands slip under the covers and clasp over her stomach.
"We didn't do anything wrong." she says. The rainfall swallows her words entirely. The way Konoha's wrongdoing eclipses their own. Hanzou's wrongdoing washes away the bleeding corpses of his grandchildren. "Can your god forgive that?"
Everything they touch is dead, her fingers are mummified trees and his body is moved by black pieces of chakra. They still smell like their tower and the heavy scent of flowers can't cover it. Nagato dries her tears, and his fingers are only the illusion of warmth.
"Hope is dangerous." he allows. "But we can't live in fear."
But happiness is like a religion, she thinks. You have to believe in it.
The cranes don't fit anywhere now. Nagato is threading them on a string. "Make a thousand if it makes you feel better." he says. His kisses say that no, it's not foolish. And that he believes she just needs more time.
He hires people to bolster his point.
"You're in excellent health," the doctor says. "It's very unlikely you'd lose this baby at five months."
"You can believe her, or you can believe me. Or you can look at the world. Or your cranes." Nagato says after he takes her home. "Any of these will do."
There is no point in folding a 1001th crane.
"Could you make flowers?" Nagato asks. He hangs the string of cranes over the cradle. He says that making the house beautiful is a lot easier than trying to create world peace. He can almost laugh. His optimism is now like the candles he lights.
"This is our eternal flame." he says, and manages to smile about it. The bedroom is long and subdivided, and by night the candlelight picks up curls of incense floating above shoji doors. The baby kicks and keeps her awake. She puts the lilies on her nightstand and beside them in bed, and folds the fresh pieces one-handed. Her other arm curls around Nagato as he sleeps amid red flowers. Everything is fragile.
An angel could hold it together.
"You're just as stubborn as Yahiko was." Nagato whispers to her, chuckling. "No wonder you stood by me."
He is repenting for Pein's crimes publicly. The newspapers print his letters. As he dips his pen in fresh ink, she folds tulips; and then fish, dragons and monkeys. Their gardener has brought in lacquered pots of violets and tiger lilies. She makes paper animals to live under their shade.
Everyone knows who they are. Their hands are filthy with blood. But the doctor is more surprised by the house than either of them. "Making your little one a zoo, are you?" she laughs.
The gardener doesn't look twice at Nagato's piercings. "Ninja dress strangely," Nagato shrugs. "And pay well." The acupuncturist focuses on her bare back as he sterilizes his needles. He admires the placement of Nagato's bolts and speculates about reiki. But only as Nagato pays him. The newspapers fill up with letters answering Pein.
Nagato reads these to her and cuddles her under his arm. He arranges her animals. Sun glimmers on wet leaves outside. He says peace is real no matter how you find it.
He visits the paper shop again and comes back with prints of ladybugs and blue ducks and children with parasols.
She looks at their little ink faces. "Don't be afraid." Nagato whispers. "It is happening."
Seven months and the baby will live. Nagato considers, holding her heavy lump up between his hands. "She, I think." he muses. "And no rinnegan, thank kami."
His cross remains as he thanks their ancestors. She closes her eyes and can imagine Yahiko's hands where his fingers knit. She can remember her father's blue eyes that were the same as her own. And the way Nagato looked like his older sister. In the city centre, monuments are being built from white marble. It will be tended to avoid rain damage and algae stains. So many people have died in Amegakure that it seems impossible, but names are found and chiseled in.
"Here," Nagato says, guiding her past huge slabs full of writing. His fingers trace the characters of Yahiko's last name.
"No one knows how to be a mother, dear." the midwife assures her.
"Eight and a half months." the doctor says.
"This will help with the pain." The acupuncturist twists a needle in her fingertip.
Nagato talks her out of refusing anesthetic. "That's no way to find peace. I should know."
He holds her against him through the nights so her neck and back aren't strained. Lying on her stomach is impossible. She can't eat anything but miso, seaweed and peanut butter bananas on crackers. Rice turns her stomach.
She looks over the baby name book, licking peanut butter and crumbs from her fingers.
"How about Chiyoko?" Nagato suggests, bringing her a fresh plate and tea. Butterflies flutter brightly against the deep greens of their garden.
The baby kicks her like she means it.
It's easy to say that no one knows how to be a parent. Konan has no idea where they'll find a school. And what if the other children find out about Pein from their parents?
She can't believe they'll just live in a house like everyone else. She can't believe they're actually married, legally and in the eyes of Nagato's religion both. But her ring stares back at her with it's clear diamond eye.
But. All the murdered people still lie in Amegakure. All the little bodies of children are still floating under thick layers of algae and the restored buildings. Even ten thousand tons of quarried marble can't quiet so many angry ghosts.
An angel would never have to ask for forgiveness. She's so huge that her legs are weak under her, and Nagato helps her walk to the shrine for Hanzou's family. The shrine attendant recognizes him and glares, scalds the back of her neck with disapproval. This must be a relative. Nagato goes over to be a politician, to find words for his regret. She hears his voice break with sincerity. She doesn't look to see if the attendant believes him. There are so many flowers in the heiden already because Amegakure is following Pein in his attack of conscience. Their bed is like this now, full of paper flowers. She lays her armful down.
Kneels to pray for that mother and her dead child. Nagato's hand falls on her shoulder. He ignores the attendant, his arms come around her.
Eight months and three weeks. The only thing better than bananas and peanut butter is bananas, peanut butter and chocolate.
Nagato threads her thousand red flowers onto gold twine. The artist they hire knows how to do the lucky ceremonial knots as well. Maybe it's meaningless. Their child will sleep under a paper rainbow of cranes and flowers. She leans in the doorway to balance her lump, watching the artist paint a jungle onto the walls. Meaningless pretty colors? She lies propped up on pillows and naps in the sunlight. The baby kicks under her hand like she can't wait another minute.
"These are pretty good, actually." Nagato says, trying one of her crackers. The newspaper crumpled at her feet is beside itself over Pein's wife's pregnancy. There is a huge article devoted to name suggestions from the public. She makes a large grey rhinoceros out of the page as the doctor and midwife speculate. They both agree it will be soon.
She watches the candles burn for Hanzou's dead children. Others for the Konoha children who Pein meant to throw on the fire. Nagato has written a letter of apology to the Konoha Hokage. Maybe this is meaningless, but he sleeps more soundly. He sleeps with his hands linked around her, embracing her huge belly throughout the night.
Holds her tightly through the pain and blood that stains their sheets. As the midwife and doctor argue over medical procedure, the acupuncturist keeps the reporters out. The gardener smokes with them outside.
Her name is Akahana, for her red hair. She has blue eyes and a miniature version of Yahiko's snub nose. Nagato holds her damp bundle and stares dumbfounded at the little red fists that wave under his nose. Konan listens to the giggles and squeals and baby noises mix with the sound of the rain. Her fingers are still damp with blood and sweat as she folds a tiny flower. The red paper will hide her fingerprints.
The astrologist consults charts and dips ink stones before stamping them on a gold-edged scroll. Fire tiger. The color of summer and phoenixes, the heart and restless leaders. "This one will be a handful," he jokes.
It seems like such a small set of problems, finding a school, a private life, a way to explain themselves to their daughter. Maybe she won't even care when she grows up. It's as if they've spent their lives kicking and screaming, pushing the world away.
The reporters are finally let in. One of them has an armful of paper cranes. From the people of Amegakure, she says, wishing Pein and his wife a thousand years of happiness for their new baby.
Nagato says that it can't hurt to have two. A second chance, he says. It doesn't hurt to have two chances at happiness.
The world smells of damp milk and figures out how to yank on her hair. The world refuses to sleep through the night and chews on Nagato's fingers. The world must be half-monkey because she loves bananas. The world smiles and giggles and reaches for the cranes with tiny fingers.
The world doesn't care what they were and opens it's arms to them.