Disclaimer: Don't own Naruto. Some (hardly any) dialogue taken from Chapter 445 of the manga.
Go Konan. :)
4: Konan. She met a boy and his dog. Sometimes all you need is someone to save.
She clutched the loaf of bread tightly to her chest, fully prepared to defend it with her life, for indeed her life depended on it. It hadn't really been so long ago that this war had started, had it? But already she could barely remember a time when she hadn't regarded a scrap of food as a treasure more precious than any jewel or antique.
Her stomach rumbled painfully as she walked over the rain-beaten stones, but she held her appetite in check, waiting until she'd rejoined Yahiko to dig in. Eating without him was never really satisfying, anyway.
Her hunger growing steadily more unbearable, she broke into a run, sandals slipping and sliding over the wet surface. But never to the point of a fall, because she was used to this – the damp crawling over her skin, the puddles under her feet, the raindrops pattering onto her umbrella, streaming from its ridges in thin transparent lines.
Suddenly she stopped, heart racing slightly, sucking in quick breaths of moist air as she turned in the direction of the noise she'd just heard – a faint yipping, like a little dog's bark. It was probably just another stray, as almost all of them were now, since nobody could afford to keep a pet, but there had been a hint of real distress in the bark, and she somehow couldn't force herself to keep moving without at least checking it out.
She squinted, looking out into the drenching haze that the rain had draped over the scenery, and caught a flash of garish brown-red against the pale, streaked rocks. She took a few careful, indecisive steps forward, then a few more, fighting her own sense of practicality. She knew what Yahiko would say about this. Just turn around, Konan. Whatever it is, whoever it is, you can't help them, and you can't afford to try. Strays can't take care of strays. Not without sacrifices – and we've made enough of those already.
She knew that was true, every bit of it, but she kept moving closer. Finally she managed to stop, her grip limp on the umbrella's handle, staring at the body lying on the ground a few feet away. But it wasn't just that, it wasn't just a body. It was a person – a boy, about her age. A ragged raincoat, blending in with the rocks underneath, rose and fell jerkily in time with the weak, painstaking gasping of its wearer, rain pooling around that red-haired head. A tiny white dog stood beside the fallen boy, shaking and panting with desperation, uttering the occasional bark, each less hopeful than the last. Boy and owner were both giving up.
Somehow Konan couldn't stand that. People shouldn't be allowed to give up just like that – to let the important things slowly drain away with the trickling, evaporating rainwater. Her hunger, her aches and pains and despairs, rose up inside her and formed a bulging lump in her throat, and she knew she couldn't eat that bread now no matter how ravenous she was. Not until she'd done something that she had to do, that only she could do.
Swallowing the lump down with all her might, she breached the remaining distance and knelt down, her clothes rustling damply. She held out the loaf of bread. "Here…eat this."
The boy's exhausted eyes opened, nearly entirely obstructed by his soaked, unruly bangs. He blinked, and with an effort lifted his head a few centimetres from the ground. He was too weary to muster much emotion, but she saw the shock outlined in that thin mouth, those dirty cheeks, and the dim spark in his dark, miserable eyes. And she couldn't help but smile, gently, kindly, for a moment forgetting her own misfortune as she looked at this poor, lone soul.
She knew already she'd done the right thing.
His dry, feeble gulp was audible even over the rain's pattering. "A-Are you sure?" he asked, voice as cracked and spent as his body looked to be.
"Yeah," she said easily, not hesitating.
She reached out to him, taking his arm between her skinny fingers, helping him into a sitting position. It was no difficulty; he was ever so light, as if his bones were made of air. But the way he moved, his shoulders slumping over, limbs huddled together, gave an impression of heaviness, of being bowed over with a great burden. For some reason Konan wanted to let her hand linger on his arm, but she didn't; she had a feeling that if he had been strong enough to do so, he would have rejected her touch entirely. And although she didn't know anything about him, inside she understood why.
He brought the loaf of bread to his mouth, shaking in his frail grip, when suddenly his attention was deflected to the pup in front of him, panting eagerly. He stared at it, mouth slightly open, before carefully breaking the loaf in two and placing one half on the ground in front of the animal with a soft, "Here." He had a quiet, timid voice, barely above a whisper, but it showed his affection for the creature clearly.
Konan was privately astonished that he could bear to give away so much as a crumb, when he was obviously suffering for nourishment. But she liked him better for it, and her smile stayed of its own accord as she watched him gobble down the bread. She couldn't resent him for eating her meal at all; for one thing he needed it more, and for another, the noises he made, ecstatic munching and loud swallowing, were just too amusing. She put a hand up to her mouth to hide a giggle, but he heard it and looked up, wide-eyed.
She schooled her features quickly, afraid that she might have hurt his feelings – he just seemed so sensitive – but to her delight, he hesitated, then granted her a tiny smile in return.
Encouraged, she asked, "What's your dog's name?"
He glanced down at the patched, raggedy pup, who was joyfully devouring its portion of the loaf. "Tiny," he said shyly.
A fitting name indeed. Konan knelt down and patted the creature, who rewarded her with a sloppy lick on the wrist. Its fur was tough and matted with filth, but she could feel the warm pulse of its heart and the surprising strength in its small body, and it was oddly comforting. "Tiny," she repeated thoughtfully. "He's all you have, right?"
Nagato looked at her in silence, then nodded. She nodded back, more firmly, and told him, "Well, now you have me too. And Yahiko – I'll take you to him. Yahiko will save you. He saved me."
She spoke confidently, knowing it was true. Yahiko looked after his and her own survival foremost, but he never turned away hope, no matter how harsh the circumstances, how rocky the journey. And if what she saw in this boy's dark but bright eyes, in this little dog's fiercely wagging tail – if that wasn't hope, then she didn't know what was.
The boy had finished eating, and now he stared at her, wiping a smudge off his wet face. He shifted and leaned forward a bit, saying timidly but earnestly, "You saved me already."
She was taken aback. She honestly hadn't thought about it like that; it was always Yahiko who did the saving, who paved the way with his head and heart. But she realized that the boy was right, on some level; today it was she who had made the choice that counted, who had pulled him up off the ground, all on her own initiative. And it felt kind of amazing. She wondered if this was the most important thing she'd ever done so far in her life; perhaps the most important thing she would ever do.
It was crazy to think of it that way. Yahiko would laugh at her - after he scolded her, that is. But thinking about it made her happy, made her proud. She wanted to do this again and again.
Standing up, she extended her umbrella to cover the boy's head as well as her own, dusting off her knees. "Let's go," she invited him. "I'll take you home."
He brushed straggly hair off his forehead, searching her with that vulnerable gaze, that innocence that she could never be sorry she'd protected, if only for a moment longer. She smiled. "I promise."
She knew it was a vow she would always strive to keep.