Author: Elizabeth Culmer (edenfalling)
Summary: Many waters cannot quench love; neither can the floods drown it. Love is as strong as death.
Warnings: death, very light lime
Original Story: Seasons of Cloud and Shadow, by everysecondtues/tuesdayfic
Notes: First, huge thanks to Vicky, who weeded out the worst of my stupidity on very short notice! Second, a virga is precipitation that evaporates before it hits the ground. Third, the summary is a paraphrase of bits of Song of Songs, 8:6-7.
Seasons of Cloud and Shadow (Like the Deserts Miss the Rain)
Once upon a time, there was a princess who had forgotten how to smile.
(She wasn't exactly a princess, and there's a difference between smiling and smiling, but truth has many faces and not all of them deal in facts. Listen to the story. If it doesn't speak to you, wash the slate clean and try again -- you'll find the truth as you go.)
The princess lived in a country made of sand and wind and sky, where water was a distant dream and rain never touched the earth. Maybe that was why she didn't remember how to smile or laugh from her heart -- or maybe she was sad and angry because her family was broken in half a hundred ways. But whatever the reason, the princess was empty inside, no matter how hard she trained or how fiercely she fought for survival.
One day, an evil wizard sent the princess and her brothers to invade the neighboring kingdom, which was made of trees and shadows. While she waited for the signal to attack, the princess met a tarnished knight who didn't much care about chivalry or war, and who rarely smiled himself -- he didn't want to bother unless he had to.
They fought. She lost. It was the end of her world -- if she was weak, the emptiness inside would swallow her.
But the knight had very little use for war. Instead of claiming victory, he surrendered and left the battlefield.
Much later, after the evil wizard was exposed and the war ended, the knight stumbled into a new battle. This time, none of his cleverness could save him from death.
But the princess remembered him. She arrived at the last minute and saved his life. In the wreckage of the battlefield, they shared a smile.
Eventually they fell in love. Neither particularly meant to -- the princess didn't remember how, for one thing, and the knight thought love was far too much bother -- but there's a reason narrative conventions become conventional. They still didn't smile very often, at least when anyone else could see, but after a while they stopped claiming not to care... though they couldn't help wondering, sometimes, whether everything might still go horribly wrong.
At first they alternated visits -- desert to forest to desert -- but once the princess saw a rainstorm, saw water streaming from the sky like tears, pouring down and down into the thirsty earth, she stopped asking the knight to visit her home. Instead, she stepped out into his garden, trying to drink in the rain like the rich, dark earth, trying to bring forth life like the forest brought forth green.
"Come inside," the knight told her. "You'll get soaked, catch the flu, and die, and then I'd have to arrange your funeral -- much too troublesome."
The princess laughed, and took his hand, and went indoors where it was warm and bright and dry. And they lived happily ever after.
(This is a lie.)
"What are you going out for?" he asks. "It's pouring rain."
"Yes," she agrees, and slides open the door.
Rain thrums on the house, patters on the leaves, drums on the ground, assaults her hair and skin and clothes with a thousand thousand tiny needles -- drenches her, drowns her, slicks her cold and damp and utterly, utterly alive.
"Have fun?" Shikamaru asks when she drifts indoors, still lost in dreams of water. His eyes are dark, fathomless, but they drift down from her face, toward her breasts. She pulls the ties from her hair -- one, two, three, four -- and peels her dress down from her shoulders.
"There're towels, uh, towels in the--" he tries, his voice going thick and deep, to match his eyes.
Temari drops her clothes by the open door. She doesn't care who might see. She wants to hear the rain, feel the cool mist wafting in from the garden. "Take off your pants," she tells him. Shikamaru fumbles to comply, his clever fingers for once clumsy and slow. So she helps him, hurries him -- leans down and grabs the cloth as he lifts his hips, slides the pants down and off and throws them away.
"You're dripping on the tatami," he says as she pulls his underwear down the same way. His voice is unsteady; his arms quiver as he braces against the floor. He sits up, runs one hand through her hair, ghosts his fingertips along her cheek.
"So keep me from touching anything but you," she says, and sinks down onto his lap, wraps her arms around him, and breathes in the rain.
He fills the empty places.
"I can write the report. You don't have to face--" Ino said, scratching and scratching at the blood under her fingernails.
"Yes, I do."
"If you need anything--" Chouji ventured, hovering half in and half out of the doorway, hunching in, trying to look unobtrusive.
"I know," Shikamaru said. He inked his brush and turned his back, staring blankly out the rain-spattered window until his teammates slipped away into the gathering dusk.
Mission Report, October 22
Unit 6-Blue (joint Konoha-Suna spec ops team)
Commander: Uzumaki Naruto
Second: Sabaku no Temari
Strategist: Nara Shikamaru
Situation: Unit 29-Green (Konoha scouting team) arrived at base with word that Iwa's army was advancing over the border in a major assault. Uzumaki Naruto and Sabaku no Temari sent word to Konoha and Suna, respectively, but there was no time to wait for reinforcements. We attempted to set an ambush, but a storm broke shortly thereafter, rendering our efforts ineffective.
Results: The line held. 31 Iwa-nin confirmed dead -- 2 jounin (bingo book IDs attached), 1 special jounin (bingo book ID attached), 9 chuunin (estimated rank, no matching IDs), 19 genin (estimated rank, no matching IDs).
Casualties: 8 Konoha-nin confirmed dead -- 3 chuunin (IDs attached), 5 genin (IDs attached). 9 Suna-nin confirmed dead -- 1 jounin (Sabaku no Temari), 2 chuunin (IDs attached), 6 genin (IDs attached).
Follow-up: Uzumaki Naruto organized a temporary truce. Both sides removed casualties, and the Iwa-nin retreated to their lines, across the border. Recommendation that all survivors be given two days rest and recuperation before returning to the front lines.
Shikamaru set down his brush and stared into the gentle rain, empty words glistening wet and black beneath his hands.
Her legs had been gone. Not broken, not torn. Just gone.
He hadn't realized at first; the wound had been hidden under an unnatural outcropping of stone, the same rock that had sliced her in half. Rain had slicked her face, like tears, running into her mouth, choking her harsh, panting breaths.
"The rain got in my eyes; I slipped," she'd said when he grabbed her hand, wondering how on earth he'd made it through alive, with nothing more than a few stabs and scrapes and one shallow, seeping knock on his head. "What a mess. Sorry, Shikamaru."
Her skin had been cool and damp, her hair loose and tangled, her clothes soaked through so anyone passing could see the shape of her body. "I do love--" she'd said. Then she'd coughed, and died, her fingers slack and cold against his palm.
He'd knelt beside her until Chouji and Ino carried him away.
Now, outside, the remnants of the storm fell gently on his garden, without her. She'd never see the rain again.
Shikamaru closed his eyes.
"What do you see in him?" Kankuro asked once when she came home from a diplomatic trip to Konoha, dragging herself thirsty and tired into the harsh, sun-filled bowl of Suna.
Temari let the echo of the monsoon rise up and fill her, felt her fingertips tingle with the sense-memory of Shikamaru's body. His skin was so smooth, like new leaves, like fruit -- ripe and full of water. He was deceptive that way -- underneath, he was as strong as any leather-tough desert traveler -- but he was a child of trees and shadows and rain, not sun and sand and sky.
He saw her pain, acknowledged it, and moved on -- washing the past away to let now sprout and bloom. He saw her.
"I see him," she said.
"That's not an answer," Kankuro grumbled.
"You just don't know how to listen," she said, and swept off to wash away the dust and sand of her journey. The bucket of water she dumped over her head to rinse was a pitiful imitation of a real storm -- lukewarm, slightly gritty, with the bitter alkali flavor that seeped from the cistern stones -- but for a minute she could almost feel Shikamaru's fingers running down her sides in the trails of water, feel his lips press against her temple in the brief ghost of steam.
She took a very long bath.
Kankuro tactfully refrained from mentioning any noise she might have made.
What is necessary to life?
Air. Food. Water.
That depends on how you define life. Shikamaru turns the question around and around, studying its refractions, and fails to reach a conclusion. He needs her; for now, that's enough. He'll think about the future when they get there.
They lie together, nestled in pillows and blankets. Rain thrums on the roof, glides down the pane of the window, rattles against the walls with each gust of wind. Temari's lips part, a finger's width, and her eyes are rapt. Shikamaru ignores the rain and watches her.
He combs his fingers through her hair, rubs circles against her temples. She blinks, tips her head back, and smirks. "Impatient? You?"
"Jealous," he says, and lowers one hand to her hip, walks his fingers across and down, navigating by touch and memory. "What's so interesting about water hitting the ground?"
"I could ask you the same about clouds," she says, and then he reaches his goal, presses, rubs. She gasps. "Sneak," she accuses, but there's no heat to the word. Her mouth softens, smiles, and then she twists around, kisses him, welcomes him in.
They dance, slow and languorous, to the rhythm of salt and water pulsing in their veins. Her fingers lace tightly through his, as if she needs him as fiercely as he needs her. Breath. Blood. Life. Always and forever.
After a time, he sleeps.
When he wakes, she's watching the rain.
Once upon a time, there was a princess who had forgotten how to smile, and a tarnished knight who loved her. For a while, they were happy -- but if you follow any story long enough, it ends in death.
The only question is whether you think the story is worthwhile during its brief flight through your mind and heart. All things end, but death doesn't negate life. The end of a storm doesn't negate the rain seeping into the earth. An ending can shade what came before, but never overwrite it. Even if we forget or ignore the past, everything that happened is still true.
Once upon a time, there was a princess who danced in the rain and refused to think about any time beyond now. Once upon a time, there was a knight who dreamed of forever. Once upon a time, two people were in love. Once upon a time, they died.
This is the truth.
And now I wash the slate clean and begin again.
The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
Ecclesiastes, 1:6-7, 1:9