XIII: Hell and Heaven
When Karura went into labor with Gaara, it was 10 weeks too early.
She awakened Hirohiko at 4:00 in the morning, her water broken, and Hirohiko could barely stay collected he was so anxious. He snatched on some clothes, picked her up bridal style, and teleported them to the hospital.
"Help her!" he ordered the instant his feet touched the ER's floor.
Nurses and orderlies sprang into action.
Eight grueling hours later, Karura was exhausted, and Hirohiko found himself staring at the tiniest baby he'd ever seen.
"Are you sure he'll make it?" Hirohiko asked, worried. Sweat dripped down his temple from the stress and fear. He'd stayed at his wife's side the entire time, holding her hand, letting her squeeze his hand, and generally feeling ill with trepidation.
"He's adapting," Chiyo told him.
Hirohiko didn't feel all that reassured. His stomach was still cramping from his apprehension.
Chiyo paused. "This is the third child. So far, he's the only one compatible. His upbringing with require great care."
Hirohiko didn't care about that so much at the moment as he did whether Gaara would live at all.
"Let me see my baby's face." Karura's voice was weak. Too weak.
Hirohiko was instantly panicked. He whirled toward her, taking in her pasty complexion; his heart skipped a beat. "Are you all right, Karura?"
She seemed too winded to reply.
The med nin laid Gaara on Karura's pillow, and she inhaled deeply. "He's so tiny," she rasped.
Hirohiko watched them for a moment, torn between worry for Karura and fear over Gaara's prematurity.
The med nin leaned in close to his ear, whispering. "Karura-sama's heart rate is dropping."
The words burned themselves into Hirohiko's ear as though he might hear them forever in his mind. "Do something! Hurry!" Hirohiko grabbed the front of the man's robe he was so panicked.
But before the med nin could even react, the heart monitor fell flat.
After they tried and failed to resuscitate her, Hirohiko ended up bent over her body, sobbing uncontrollably. Chiyo rested her hand on his shoulder, trying to soothe him.
But Hirohiko was in hell.
For twelve years, Hirohiko was in hell. The hell got more bearable, and responsibilities kept him distracted. But a spouse's death scene in a movie could curdle his supper in his stomach, and at night he felt lonely.
His better half was gone.
For a moment, there was nothing but flying gold dust, Orochimaru, snakes, and the sword of Kusanagi. Hirohiko felt his chakra running low; his bodyguards were down.
Then there was pain.
Hirohiko opened his eyes to whiteness.
He was standing utterly alone on what appeared to be the cracked mud flats of Wind's desert. There was no horizon, no sand, no buildings, no people.
Hirohiko didn't even hear ringing in his ears.
He looked down, but there was no blood. His gold dust was gone. His Kazekage kimono and haori jacket had been replaced by a simple white yukata. He held up one hand, looking at it. "Is this me?"
And yet it did feel like him. More like him than he'd felt in a long time, as though something bad had fallen away.
A gentle hand touched his shoulder, and Hirohiko turned to face the person, surprised. He had thought he was alone, after all.
Karura stood behind him, smiling at him.
"Karura!" Hirohiko threw his arms around her, hugging her closely.
"Hirohiko." Karura ran her arms around his waist, holding him tightly as well.
Hirohiko understood he was dead, then. Dead, and by some miracle, in heaven. Without a mortal body to contain his soul, he could see clearly what had gone wrong and why. He ended up sobbing on Karura's shoulder, spilling out the story, apologizing.
"You're forgiven," she whispered, rocking him back and forth. "Here, you're forgiven."
It took him a bit to comprehend that. Karura held him as he did.
Finally, sensing that a piece of her spirit was not present, Hirohiko straightened. "Part of you is . . ."
"With Gaara," Karura verified. "Part of me stayed behind to protect him."
Hirohiko reached up and cupped her cheek. "You are amazing." Yashamaru and he had always held the suspicion that Karura's will had remained in Gaara's sand, but now he had proof. "What love!"
"The same love you gave me," Karura said, smiling.
Unable to help himself, Hirohiko hugged her again. She wrapped him up in her arms. For a long time, they simply clung to each other.
Finally, holding hands, they walked into the white light, talking of Gaara, of Kankuro, of Temari. Of Yashamaru and Karura's parents and their marriage, their first date, even the first few times they ran missions together. The white light grew brighter as they walked, and Hirohiko felt cleaner and cleaner, as though the dirt of the passing world was slipping away.
This time Hirohiko understood he was Home, and heaven was home, at least in part, because Karura was there.
A/N: I imagine that during the Edo Tensei, which is after all an unholy jutsu, Hirohiko doesn't remember anything of heaven or death as long as he's trapped in a body again.
I also imagine that Yashamaru is at the house with Kankuro and Temari during Gaara's birth.
Direct dialogue at the beginning is adapted from the VIZ translation. Not mine!
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