Quotidian ch.7 pt.3

By: firefly

Reaching Terminus pt.3

Dappled sunlight streamed through a window. A warm breeze rustled the curtains on either side of it, making no sound as the thin linen billowed and swayed gently in the wind.

Her bare feet scraped over sand-speckled floorboards, the gently billowing curtains descending back to their place and revealing a black bird on the windowsill.

It took her a moment to recognize it as a crow, the sight inspiring bemusement and faint wonderment as it perched there, watching her silently. Inwardly, she wondered where it had come from, wondered why it chose her window out of the hundreds open throughout the neighbourhood.

They watched each other appraisingly for a few seconds in silence, until Temari vaguely realized that she had somewhere she needed to go. Something tugged at her, beckoning her towards the door, and for some reason beyond her understanding, she felt compelled to see off this creature of bad omens before departing.

Approaching it cautiously, she reached out, brushing aside the curtain and glancing at the open window meaningfully.

It cocked its head to the side. She gestured to the open space, speaking though no sound issued from her lips.

Leave. I have to go now.

It continued watching her with that incongruous head tilt, dark eyes gleaming like obsidian in the sunlight. Then, just as she reached forward to move it, it quietly turned on the windowsill and a moment later, spread its wings before escaping outside.

Temari watched it go, feeling a strange sense of closure she couldn't place, staring after it as it disappeared in the distance. Then she remembered that she had to be going, and let the curtain fall back to its original place.

Wordlessly, she turned and headed towards her bedroom door, feeling an incorporeal tug and wanting nothing more than to obey the silent command.

Her hand rested on the doorknob, turning it and letting the door swing open. Without looking back, she lowered her eyes and stepped through.

When Hidan finally came to, he vaguely wondered if he was in hell.

Burning pain radiated over his entire backside, the sensation only made worse when he realized the burns were being pelted mercilessly by what felt like ice-cold stones. The smell of wet earth and ozone saturated his senses, along with the faint, coppery scent of blood.

He slowly let his eyes crack open, choking back an agonized curse when an attempt to move yielded utter agony from every inch of his frame.

Realizing he was alive, he slowly recognized the hard ice-cold stones pelting his burns to be torrential rainfall, merciless and brutally painful against his skin. Slowly, gingerly, he raised his head a fraction of an inch and stopped when the burned, bleeding skin of his neck screamed in protest.

He tried to flex his fingers, wondering how many pieces he was in. To his astonishment and relief, he managed to clench his fists and curl his toes, realizing he was miraculously in one piece.

Thank you, he mouthed silently, closing his eyes briefly, before he turned his head to look at the extent of damage.

Although he couldn't see his severely burned back and side, he managed to catch sight of two un-detonated exploding notes still plastered to his skin, torn and pulpy from the rain. Lowering his eyes, he found a piece of another exploding note half-buried in the mud, only a third of its original size, marred by scorch marks.

Only half-detonated, he realized with a grimace of pain, clenching his teeth to hold back the gasps of agony as he forced his hands into the frothing mud, pushing himself up to look at his surroundings.

Trembling from the sheer amount of pain, he took a moment to gather his bearings as his vision deteriorated repeatedly into a haze of white, nausea souring the back of his throat. Swallowing hard, he glanced around, seeing nothing but a sea of churning brown, hearing nothing but the thrumming of rainfall. In the misty haze created by the violent downpour, he could hardly decipher front from back.

With a grunt of pain, he forced himself to sit up, reeling momentarily from the agony, and breathing hard to keep conscious, he raised his head, only to freeze when he caught sight of what lay a few feet ahead.

The black fabric of her clothes was the only thing that distinguished her motionless body from the dreary, almost colourless surroundings; most of her frame was submerged in frothing, bubbling mud, rain mercilessly pelting her prone figure.

Hidan stared at her, sitting motionlessly a few meters away, mind utterly blank.

Nearly a minute passed with him staring at the strange, surreal sight, thoughts vacant as if refusing to comprehend what he was seeing.

She's dead, a calm voice finally said in the back of his mind.

She can't be dead, he thought blankly.

She was sick and half-dead before the exploding note went off. She's gone.

And for another moment he merely sat there, staring at her motionless frame with a detached form of shock and disbelief, unable to comprehend this, unable to comprehend that it was over.

Suddenly besieged by a wave of denial, he forced himself onto his hands and knees, gritting his teeth against the pain and bowing his head under the unrelenting rain, silver hair hanging in jagged disarray around his face. Biting the inside of his mouth, he forced himself to crawl forward, ignoring the way spasms wracked his frame, ignoring the white haze that infiltrated his vision and surrounded the landscape in a gauzy halo.

Oblivious to the filth, oblivious to the rain, he eventually made it over to her body, finding it facedown and half-submerged in watery mud, deathly still.

Laboriously, he forced himself to sit up next to her, legs splayed out across the mud as he fought to catch his breath. Then his hands were reaching into the pool of rain and sand, taking hold of her shoulders and shirt and pulling, forcing himself to exert his body to the point of collapse.

When he'd finally managed to pull her dead weight out of the mud, water cascading down her limp arms and from her hair, he turned her over, draping her upper body across his legs, her lower half still submerged in the shallow crevice.

Her face was stark white beneath the mud, the rain eventually washing away the filth and leaving her looking like a corpse. Loose strands of blonde hair were plastered to her pallid cheeks, congealed blood glistening on the insides of her lips. Her lashes were caked with mud.

Motionless, he merely stared at her, waiting for her eyelids to twitch, waiting for her to gasp for air.

Nothing happened.

Numbly, for he wasn't capable of feeling anything in that moment, he pressed two fingers against her neck, waiting for a pulse. The skin remained cold and still beneath his fingertips, and his frustration quickly and abruptly melded with desperation, reaching a boiling point when the unrelenting impact of rain against his entire frame made it impossible to detect a pulse.

All he could feel and hear were the punishing blows of the rainfall, and after a few seconds of fruitless waiting, he let his hand fall back to his side, blinking down at her in detached shock. She remained facing the sky, her limp, upturned hands collecting the rain in little pools in the centres of her palms.

It was over. Just like that.

"You bitch," he croaked, voice hardly above a whisper. "You stupid, goddamn bitch."

Gradually, the shock gave away to anger, and for a moment he wanted to throw her back into the mud, shout at her until his throat was raw, tell her she had no goddamn right to do this to him, tell her this was all fucking bullshit, not right, not right, not right

"Damn it…" he choked out, expression crumpling in anger and despair as he rigidly curled his fingers around the drenched, cold fabric of her shirt, shaking her forcefully.

I'm still here.

Cursing, despairing, hating her as she lay there, serene and oblivious to his dismay, he fisted his trembling fingers in his hair, experiencing a terrifying sense of loss and hopelessness as the landscape dissolved in a haze of brown and blue, disorienting and dizzying rainfall weighing him into the mud.

I'm still alive.

He took fistfuls of her shirt and shoved her off his lap and back into the mud, enraged by the confounding desolation and hopelessness. Glaring hatefully at her serene expression, he watched the rain quickly rise and envelop the side of her face, seeping between her slightly parted lips, surrounding and pooling around her nose.

Feeling his expression cave once more into something resembling anguish and dismay, he forced himself to his hands and knees, ignoring the pain in his back and turning himself in the other direction.

He struggled aimlessly through the thick murk till exhaustion deadened his limbs into stillness, head bowing beneath the weight of the cold rain that continued to fall mercilessly from above. As he fought to catch his breath, he clenched his fist in the mud, squeezing his eyes shut.

Against his better judgment, he raised his head and glanced back over his shoulder. She was nothing more than a black smear on the horizon now, gradually submerging into the frothing landscape. Watching her sink, his eyes suddenly widened, denial striking harder than the cold needles pelting into his burns.

She can't be dead.

Whatever pain he felt was smothered by desperation when he abruptly turned back in her direction, crawling haphazardly through the mud and scrambling to the shallow crevice she laid in.

Reaching down, furious with perseverance, he grabbed her by the collar and pulled her out of the water, putting an arm under her back and lifting her higher, supporting her head against his shoulder when it lolled lifelessly towards the ground. Leaning forward to shield her face from the rain, he roughly moved aside the muddy strands of blonde hair clinging to her ashen cheeks, shifting and securing his grip as he pressed a hand beneath her chin and tilted her head up.

For a moment, the sight of her serene features made his brow contort violently in loathing, arms tensing as if to throw her back in the mud. But the hesitation was short-lived.

He briefly searched her features, brow furrowing and eyes squeezing shut in resolve, then lowered his head and closed his mouth over hers.

While shaking with the effort to remain upright under the stabbing pain in his back, the first few attempts to revive her yielded nothing. He shifted once more, bringing her up higher, brushing hair out of his eyes and from her face before trying again, eyes squeezing shut tighter, this time in remorse.

Never had he attempted to save someone's life. The very idea went against the doctrine of Jashin, and he could only hope—pray—that his Lord would forgive him as he tried heedlessly to bring her back, fervent in his attempts despite not knowing full well what he was doing.

Nearly a minute passed before he felt the first trickle of water emerge from her throat, and a thoughtless push against her torso released the rest.

Pulling back, he spat the blend of blood and muddy water to the side before glancing back at her, stunned as water and blood escaped with a faint gurgle, billowing in crimson streams from between her lips.

Turning her over, he let the rest of the fluid drain from her body, glancing around until the sight of his muddied, discarded cloak caught his eye. A moment later, he held it over her head to block the rainfall as he reached forward to press two fingers to her throat.

Within the deafening cacophony of the monsoon, her pulse seemed unfathomably feeble, hardly tangible against his fingertips. But despite its faintness, he felt it.

Not dead. Not over yet. Not dead.

At the sheer amount of relief he felt, his body finally succumbed to the unrelenting pain in his back, forcing him to deposit her limp body back onto the ground as he slumped forward, fighting the urge to pass out. Digging his fingers into the mud, he squeezed till the muck oozed out from between his fingers, the cold a startling contrast to the burning agony razing his skin.

Breathing hard, he took a few minutes to gather his bearings, wordlessly mouthing prayers for strength and guidance. Yet despite that, the despairing sense of hopelessness returned in one vicious onslaught when he raised his head to look at her.

She may have been alive, but it would only be a matter of time before she was dead. He could barely move, let alone attempt to take her back to the village. The most he could do was sit there and feel her feeble pulse eventually come to a stop.

In defeated resignation, he tangled his fingers into his hair, bowing his head and wondering what she'd done to herself to become so ill. Her fingers were limp from where he could see them, his eyes trailing upwards until his gaze fell on her bared left arm. The junction between her bicep and forearm was bruised and mottled, vividly discoloured against the rest of her skin.

Squinting, he moved closer, taking a hold of her arm and raising it for a closer look.

Two tiny, barely discernible crimson dots were visible against the myriad of purple and blue. It took him a moment to realize they were injection marks.

Unthinkingly, he dropped her arm, glancing around till her shoulder pack came into view, a few meters to the left of them. The effort it took to crawl over to it and drag it back nearly rendered him unconscious, but he nonetheless managed to through sheer force of will.

The bag contained wire, kunai, bandages, sheets of paper, writing materials, and a slew of other equipment. And tucked deep inside, contained within a plastic case, were a pack of stimulant injections. Carefully, he removed the plastic casing from the bag, prying it open and finding one lone, intact needle remaining, the amber fluid within the syringe moving towards the top as he withdrew it.

He recognized what it was, and slowly came to an understanding as he glanced between her and the lone injection, realizing just how many she must have administered for the enzymes in her body to start breaking down without them.

A sudden swell of rain nearly knocked the syringe from his hands. Clutching it tightly, he removed the lid on the needle, glancing once more at her motionless frame.

Her face was stark white, a sickly contrast to the blood that continued to stream from the corner of her mouth. Administering the injection now could either help her or kill her, a gamble he wasn't willing to take after coming this far.

There was only one option remaining, and he didn't pause to reconsider when he slid the needle into his own arm.

The surge of energy that followed almost instantly did nothing to stifle the agony radiating over his back or from the wound in his side, but he gritted his teeth and forced himself to his feet, anyway.

Rain continued its relentless descent on the surrounding desert, making it difficult to find footing in the mud. Despite that, he managed to recover the cloak, resting the shoulder pack on her middle before enclosing her in the wet fabric. A compass he'd recovered from her pack was the only thing that provided direction towards the village, and with it, he drew her up into his arms, leaving both their weapons behind.

Disbelief at his own actions, along with the overwhelming urge to get her through this was the only thing that stopped him from wondering how long he struggled through the endless, unchanging desert.

Nausea surfaced as the gravity of his sin settled in, his only consolation being she was no good to him if she was dead. Jashin had to forgive him. Jashin would forgive him.

The sight of her limp, white hand hanging lifelessly from the cloak was his only incentive to keep moving, long after the effects of the stimulant faded and his own will left him.

By the time the village became visible on the horizon, each gasping breath felt like a knife in his chest, and his knees nearly gave out before he crossed the threshold to the first row of houses in the deserted neighbourhood. No lights shone through the windows, the houses grey and still.

Staggering into the gulley between the first two houses, he finally sank to his knees beneath the eaves, dropping her into the mud and falling back against a stack of crates to catch his breath.

The lack of rain on his skin prompted him to glance at his surroundings; the overhanging eaves were the only thing protecting him from the elements, and a window on the side of the house was mere inches over his head. Lowering his eyes, he narrowed them at the sight of her lying slightly beyond the range of the eaves, vulnerable to the rain that fell mercilessly against her pale, frigid skin.

With barely restrained fury, he moved to his knees and took hold of her, dragging her beneath an awning, fingers curling rigidly around the front of his cloak.

"Appreciate this," he whispered venomously. "You fucking bitch, I should kill you."

As he spoke, rain over-flooded the drain pipe overhead, running down the length of the roof, several drops landing against her pallid face in quick succession. Unthinkingly, he leaned forward to shield her face from the icy droplets, ignoring the sting against his back.

Smaller drops of water dripped from the ends of his hair and landed against her face, and for a long moment he merely stared at her, wanting nothing more than to end this, out of spite and out of loathing towards her indifference.

His efforts to save her suddenly became irrelevant, and the only thing he desired was to see her dead for what she'd put him through.

Unconsciously, his hand rose from his side, fingertips settling against the front of her throat, feeling the cold, slick skin before spreading around to lightly grip her throat.

Her pulse was feeble against his palm.

Hidan tightened his fingers around her throat fractionally, a muted sort of fury darkening his eyes and compelling him to clench his fingers and finish it, forget it, and move on to someone else.

The fragile skin beneath his grip gave slightly as he applied more pressure.

"I should kill you," he repeated, voice hardly audible beneath the rain. "You're useless…couldn't do shit for me."

His arm quaked with restraint, fingertips digging slightly into the flesh of her neck, relieving the pressure only when he felt her barely tangible pulse, the sensation reminding him why he was keeping her alive and why he'd come so far.

Staring at her, his hateful expression eventually receded into one of pained resignation, brow furrowing as his grip grew lax around her neck. It was difficult to fathom that this half-dead, pathetic girl was the same one he'd gotten to know in all the time that had elapsed, difficult to believe that small, bloodstained mouth was the one capable of inciting such malignant maledictions.

Unconsciously, his fingers followed his gaze, venturing up her chin and towards her lips, brushing against the blood staining the soft, pallid flesh. He froze when her eyes slid open marginally, irises nothing more than dim teal gleams between her eyelids.

For a moment he thought she might scream and his fingers tensed slightly against her mouth, prepared to clamp down in case she did.

She remained silent, staring up at him sightlessly, eyes foggy and expressionless. Her lips moved fractionally beneath his fingertips, the sensation eliciting a wrenching ache that nearly made him succumb to his exhaustion. Loose, soaked strands of his hair grazed over her face as he bowed his head, voice emerging soft and hoarse near her ear.

"I should hate you for this," he whispered, fingers slipping into the shoulder pack, gripping the hilt of a kunai. "I should hate you."

She didn't blink or speak, motionless even as he pressed the blade up against her feeble pulse, voice breaking near her ear. "I should hate you…"

Despite everything, despite her failed attempts at killing him and his own overwhelming instinct to end her life and have it over with, he knew there wouldn't and couldn't be anyone else.

"It's you," he breathed, squeezing his eyes shut. "I know it's you. It has to be you."

The past two months testified to that; the sleepless nights, the dreams, the sense that divine will brought her to him and kept her there, making her an integral part of his life.

He screwed his eyes shut tighter, forehead eventually coming to a rest against hers, jaw clenched in the effort to restrain the blade from moving across her throat. When the pendant of his rosary came to rest in the hollow of her neck, she finally blinked, the slow brush of her lashes against his face prompting him to open his eyes.

There was no expression there, no real sign of consciousness, but she held his gaze unwaveringly in the long moment that followed.

A surreal sense of stillness descended on the enclosure, the cacophony of rain fading beneath the sound of his ragged breathing.

His grip tightened on the kunai.

Jashin ordained death. She shouldn't have been alive.

A drop of water fell from the ends of his hair, landing against the side of her mouth. Her lips parted slightly at the sensation.

After what she'd put him through, she deserved to die.

The beads of his rosary clinked faintly as he drew them from over his head, pressing the pendant into her palm.

This was never supposed to happen.

He closed his eyes temporarily, breath held in the momentary silence, then lowered his head, lips parting near her ear.

"Stay alive for me," he whispered, and then abruptly flung his arm out, letting go of the kunai and shattering the window overhead.

By the time the shards hit the ground, he had already scrambled to his feet, stumbling through the gulley and towards the end of the enclosure. As the sounds of surprised voices broke through the rain, he slumped down against the wall at the back end of the house, pausing for breath once he was sure he was out of sight.

Even from where he sat, the sounds of startled voices resonated through the rain, escalating into alarmed cries when they moved to the window he'd shattered.

The sound of them speaking her name incited a degree of relief that finally almost drove him to unconsciousness. But as the voices grew in volume and proximity and the force of the rain brought the pain back with brutal vehemence, he was reminded of his surroundings. He couldn't afford to linger.

Against his better judgment, Hidan shifted closer towards the end of the wall, peering over the edge to see the homeowners crouching near Temari's side, one of them taking off for help.

The enormity of what he'd done only sank in once the medics arrived. She was placed onto a stretcher, still wrapped in his muddied cloak. A minute later, she was gone and the gulley was empty.

Hidan slowly moved back to rest against the wall, staring out into the expanse of desert, mind utterly devoid of thought.

He'd just willingly saved a life.

There was no guarantee that there would be a next time. There was no guarantee she'd be alive till then. There was no way of knowing, truly, if she was the one who'd end his life. The sin he committed could have been for nothing.

The pain in his back seemed to subside as he slowly got to his feet, taking a stumbling step forward into the rain, and then another, head bowing beneath the downpour.

His heart—having stopped shortly after she'd slit his throat—wrung out a beat, establishing a slow, weak rhythm as he passed the threshold to the village, walking forward into the desert with his eyes trained sightlessly ahead, slowly, dazedly blinking away the rain.

He had sinned, had committed the most grievous form of transgression imaginable in saving her life. He'd cast aside years of faultless devotion to ensure she lived. He had very well damned himself, and for that reason, he couldn't understand why he felt no regret.

Stumbling to a sudden stop, Hidan turned to glance back at the village, oblivious to the pain of his wounds as his fingers curled into fists by his sides.

He would be back. When he was sure he was ready, when he was sure his time had come, he would return, and his salvation would meet him there.

His lips parted, voice dispersing into the thrumming rain.

"Wait for me."

Then he turned his back to the village, slowly, unsteadily walking forward till he disappeared from sight, swallowed up in the monsoon and roiling desert as Suna slept on, tranquil and unaware.

23 days later.

A petal fell from a wilting daffodil by Temari's bedside table, drifting silently to the ground. The steady beeping of an electrocardiograph was the only sound in the room, along with the gentle shifting of blinds as a breeze drifted through the open window.

Temari stared at the IV drip, trying to count the number of times the clear fluid dripped into the tube connected to her arm.

The nurses had meticulously removed every bit of mud she'd been covered in upon her arrival, waiting on pins and needles for her to come out of the coma she'd been in for the past twenty days.

She couldn't even register joy at the realization she was alive when she'd finally opened her eyes, couldn't even bring herself to smile at the relieved expressions of her brothers when they came into the room.

All she could think about was why the exploding notes hadn't killed her, and whether pieces of Hidan's body were still buried somewhere in the desert.

For three days, the nurses and her brothers had kept silent, warned by the doctor that any news presenting possible shock could induce another reaction, and for three days she stared into nothingness, barely speaking as she tried to piece together what she could with the fragments of memories.

The most unsettling was the memory-feeling of cold, wet metal being pressed into the palm of her hand, and for the life of her, she could glean no meaning from it.

She had incapacitated him, that much had to be true. She could only attribute her survival to the fact that his body had acted as a buffer between her and the exploding notes. What she couldn't understand was how she'd been found. The monsoon should have long buried her before help had arrived.

In an effort to distract herself from the troubling questions, Temari looked towards the calendar on her bedside table. Today was supposed to be the day Gaara moved her from the hospital to her bed at home, along with a personal nurse to continue monitoring her as she recovered.

The door to the room finally clicked open and Temari raised her eyes to see a young nurse bustle in, carrying a large paper bag.

"Good morning, Temari-san," she offered brightly, setting the bag near the bed. "We'll be getting you ready to go in a few minutes. I just thought I'd leave your things here."

"My things?" Temari echoed, voice croaky from disuse.

She nodded, taking a moment to read the data on the machines before smiling in approval.

"You're finally out of the woods, Temari-san. It will be nearly another month before you're completely healed, but after this point, there's nothing more to worry about."

"What's in the bag?" Temari asked, hardly registering the nurse's words.

"Your things," she repeated with a smile, tying a knot with the handles and depositing it at the end of the bed. "I'll be getting the stretcher for you shortly."

Temari stared at the bag, expressionless. "They couldn't find my fan, could they?"

The nurse hesitated, looking disconcerted at the question.

"What's in the bag?" Temari repeated.

"Only the things you had on you when we found you," the nurse replied uneasily. "I'm sorry, they're still soiled from the mud—"

"It's okay," Temari cut in wearily, eventually moving her gaze from the bag. "Forget it."

The shoulder pack and the clothes she'd worn were the last things she'd kept on her, nothing else. There would be no point in interrogating the nurse.

The nurse disconnected the IV stand, disappearing for a few minutes and returning with an orderly and a stretcher.

"Do you need anything else, Temari-san?" she asked gently.

Temari shook her head tiredly, closing her eyes.

"Just take me home."

Several days passed after she'd adjusted to returning to the house.

Gaara and Kankuro still refused to address the circumstances in which she'd been recovered, visiting her in her room between meetings and missions, taking her for walks around the hallways with the IV stand when she felt up for it.

The nurse who tended to her feigned ignorance when asked questions, and after a few days, Temari gave up. The bag the hospital nurse had given her rested on top of her dresser, untouched and forgotten.

It was only when she was walking and eating on her own that Gaara finally decided to break his silence.

Having taken time out of a meeting, Gaara sat at the end of her bed while she carefully spooned soup into her mouth. After a while, he raised his head to look out the window, tone impassive.

"You had some questions you wanted me to answer."

Temari stopped the spoon's ascent to her mouth, raising her head at his words.

Gaara turned his head from the window to look at her, watching her face for a reaction as he slowly spoke, knowing what she wanted to hear.

"We found you outside Michiru-san's house, in the gulley next to her window."

The spoon clattered into the bowl, Temari's eyes widening as her brother continued to regard her calmly.

"You were practically in a comatose state when we found you, and we only found you because someone deliberately broke Michiru-san's window."

He paused, his brow furrowing slightly. "Someone put you there for us to find."

When Temari didn't reply, Gaara immediately stood up, concern etched in his features as she paled, her trembling fingers fisting into her lap.

"Lay still," he instructed, taking a step back. "I will bring the nurse—"

"No," Temari whispered, managing to raise her wide eyes, catching his gaze. "No, stay. You have to tell me what happened."

There was little more he could tell her. She'd been found at the outskirts of the village, devoid of injuries save for the internal bleeding caused by the stimulants' side effects. There were no tracks they could follow—the rain had taken care of erasing any footprints, and the mud had drowned whatever other evidence that might have existed.

And when Gaara finally asked her why she'd left on the night of the monsoon and where she'd gone, she could give him no answer, though her own memory extended as far back as the moment before the exploding notes had gone off.

Her brother didn't pursue the issue, averting his gaze to the open window and sitting in silence. Temari avoided his gaze, forcing herself to finish her soup, though her appetite had long since abandoned her.

"Temari?" Gaara finally murmured, after a long period of silence.

She slowly raised her head to look at him, gripping the bedspread. "Yes?"

His voice was calm.

"Who was he?"

She stared at him for a long moment, then shifted her gaze towards the open window and the sunlight streaming through. Her eyes traced the windowsill, conjuring a ghost of the crow that used to cross the threshold each night in her dreams.

It didn't come anymore.

"He's dead," Temari finally answered quietly, and said nothing more.

Gaara left the room soon after he'd gotten all he could out of her, looking neither angry nor frustrated with her silence. Rather, her assurance that the cause of all this was gone was all that he needed to hear, and barring further questions, he left her to rest.

Temari didn't know how long she stayed in the same position, gazing blankly out the window as thin clouds passed over the sun, casting shadows across her features.

The exploding notes had been a failure. That was the only thing she could conclude from the fact that she'd survived with minor scorch marks on her clothing, and Hidan had retained the capacity to bring her back to the village.

She closed her eyes, brow furrowing as she recalled his anger and malcontent, the scathing words and contradictions, the way he'd violently flung her into the barricade wall. It was difficult to fathom him carrying her the distance back to the village with his numerous fatal injuries, and even more so to imagine why he'd want to after she'd been the one to inflict them.

His insane belief that she was the only one capable of killing him was not reason enough. There was nothing in him that suggested rationale or compassion. She couldn't understand why she was still alive.

When Temari opened her eyes again, her gaze settled on the paper bag that had been placed on her dresser nearly a week before. Slowly, she reached out to steady herself as she sat up, gradually getting to her feet to retrieve the bag.

A part of her hoped the sight of her equipment might stir her memory, and despite her doubts, she slowly sat back down on her bed and undid the knot in the bag, reaching inside.

Her shoulder pack was the first thing she withdrew, caked with mud and what looked like bloodstains, the sight making her draw a sharp breath as she held it in her hands. It had been done up, and she couldn't remember whether she'd had the time to close it or whether the nurses had done it for her.

With unsteady fingers, she unzipped the bag, turning it upside down and letting the contents fall onto the bed.

A few remaining kunai, stained bandages, ruined paper, writing materials, wire, and the plastic casing of the stimulant injections fell to the bedspread. She stared at the plastic casing, slowly realizing that there had been one needle remaining when she'd opened it last.

When she pried the lid open, it was empty.

He took it, she realized faintly, staring at the empty slot. He must have taken it when…

Realizing the extent of the lengths he'd gone to in ensuring her survival nearly made her sick, plaguing her with an unsettled feeling she couldn't place. Her devotion to hating him, obsessing over him had been far from one-sided, she now realized. The things he'd said, the things he'd done—they were all suggestive of the idea that his obsession had stemmed even deeper than hers.

Temari took a slow, deep breath to calm the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, settling for examining the rest of the material.

The rest of the pack yielded nothing. As she put the items back inside and reached forward to place them into the bag, the mud-caked clothes at the bottom of the bag caught her eye. A grimace worked its way onto her features, and against her better judgment she withdrew it, listening to pieces of dried, cracked mud fall to the floor.

The fabric had become incredibly stiff, so much so she couldn't unfold the layers.

Grabbing the paper bag, she took the clothes into the bathroom, kneeling near the side of the tub as she turned the faucet on full blast. As the tub filled, she traced the convoluted surface of the fabric, wondering why the nurses had kept it.

When there was enough water, she dropped the stiff bundle into the tub, reaching inside to shake the mud out of the fabric. The gush of warm water from the faucet chipped off the stubborn bits of dirt that remained, and as the sediment dispersed from the fabric and sank to the bottom of the tub, she froze.

Red silk shone dully through the cloudy surface, encompassing the entire length of the lining as the garment slowly unfolded itself, the fabric billowing through the water.

Heart hammering in her chest, Temari shook the rest of the mud out of the cloth, scrubbing it till she was left with a full-length cloak, the silk gleaming wetly as she slowly pulled it from the water, tracing the cloud pattern in the black fabric. She found that she'd momentarily stopped breathing.

What's in the bag?

Only the things you had on you when we found you…I'm sorry, they're still soiled from the mud—

He put it on me, she thought, feeling an indescribable blend of disbelief and faintness.

It didn't surprise her that no one had noticed the significance of the muddied cloak she'd been found in. Common sense would only dictate that she'd take some sort of covering out into a monsoon. They'd assumed it was hers and kept it.

With trembling fingers, trying to overcome her shock, Temari slowly raised the cloak out of the water, getting to her feet. As water cascaded back into the tub, the sight of a small hole became visible in the back of the cloak. It was a clean cut, as if made by the blade of a knife.

Darker blotches—most likely blood—stained portions of the clouds near the front, testaments to when she'd cut his throat. The rest of it was relatively undamaged, and the fact that she'd been covered in it, the sight and feel of it in her hands and in her home gave her a sense of disturbance she couldn't even begin to describe.

She squeezed as much water out of it as she could, unplugging the drain and bundling the cloak into a ball. Grabbing the bag, she quickly made her way back to her room, locking her bedroom door before unfolding the cloak once more, spreading it over the bedspread.

It looked surreal against the backdrop of her room.

As she stood there staring at it, for reasons beyond her understanding, she couldn't bring herself to throw it in the garbage.

She bundled it up once more, grabbing the bag and preparing to throw it back inside when a faint, clinking rattle emerged from within.

Reaching into it, she felt a cold, unreal sensation bleed into her limbs when her fingertips touched metal. Wide-eyed, she retrieved the object from the bag, stomach sinking at the sound of clinking beads.

Sensation—muddled and faint—metal, something cold, something round, pressing into her palm.

The rosary was intact and clean, the pendant heavy in her hand. For a moment, she couldn't bring herself to move, a plethora of sensations surfacing at the feel of the rosary.


Her knees buckled, fingers tightening around the rosary. Short of breath, she sank to the mattress.


"Stay alive for me," she breathed weakly, closing her eyes and burying her face in her hands, oblivious to the cool beads pressing into her cheek.

He would come back.

She had no way of knowing when or how, but the fact that he'd gone to such efforts to save her and purposely left his rosary dispelled any doubts that lingered in the back of her mind. He would seek her out when he felt the time was right. This would never end till at least one of them was dead.

The beads gradually warmed against her flesh, her shadow curving over the walls as the sun sank outside the window. Gradually, the sounds of children laughing and playing in the neighbourhood infiltrated the room, their voices pulling her from her stupor.

Lowering her hands from her face, Temari gazed at the dark beads in her hand, fingers skimming the underside of the pendant.

Stay alive for me.

The request was something she was willing to grant, she realized, rising to her feet and making her way to the window, casting her gaze out on the children that ran down the street.

She would live. She would make up for the time she had lost. She would thrive. And when and if he ever returned, she would give him what he wanted.

A strange calmness overtook her then as she watched the children disappear down the street, the uncertainty that had haunted her for months gradually receding.

The hatred would remain. It would fester beneath the surface, dormant and reserved for him—only him—and what they had. It would feed her desire to prosper and bring him his end. It would endure, for as caustic and self-destructing it was, she couldn't let go of it, couldn't fall out of it.

Temari took a deep breath, fingers tightening around the pendant.

"I'll wait for you," she murmured.

Another shrill bout of faint laughter drifted up the street. The sun sank down behind the horizon.

She closed the blinds.

When I reach my end of days, it will be with you by my side. Our hands clasped eternal, we will meet the Devil together, you and I. And once we lose ourselves to the smoke and cloying sweetness of a sinner's paradise, I will be content in passing eternity with you, squeezing your hand to the melody of your screams.

This is my promise. This is my undying devotion.

My one, my only,

I will hate you forever.