He comes to her on that final battlefield, after far too many years apart.
Her true form has been mauled as effectively as her frail and illusory vessel, and now they are one and the same- A broken, bleeding, dying creature, clinging to the corpse of the man she has called her master for the last five thousand years. He is cold, and stiff; dead for hours, just like the rest of them- But somehow she is still alive, though she is praying to their God that she be allowed to join them.
Rain has started to fall when she feels his breath on her brow- the light touch of his fingers on her cheek. She can't see him, he isn't truly here, but somehow she knows it's him. She can smell him, faintly, as those familiar yet invisible hands find her gaping wounds and crushed bones and Innocence-rotted flesh.
She tries to say his name, but even the softest breath produces nothing but a fountain of bubbling black blood from her lips, choking her and sickening her with the smell of her own decay.Be quiet, my dear.
How long has it been, since she felt him in her mind, soothing her with his voice and soul like she is a delicate, frightened child? Decades, since she returned to this world. She isn't scared of dying this time, however: She's terrified because now, after it is all finished, she is completely and utterly alone.I want to go home. Can I go with them, please- Please?
She's crying, though the tears have nowhere to go in the mess of dried blood and dirt that covers her face. Mukuro strokes her hair as she shudders, soft, soothing noises in her mind as he takes stock of her damage. She should be dead, by all reason, but even in this state she is far from human.
Something to work with, at least. With time, perhaps, and if the Innocence poisoning her blood loses its power…
The pain is starting to ease, she realizes, as he draws her further into an intangible embrace. She's losing consciousness, slipping away from the grey sky into the dark entrance to a garden she doesn't recognize. But the Earl is not here to greet her, and the others are not either, so she knows she cannot be dead.
He's waiting for her beneath a tree, standing and holding out a hand for her to join him.
All she can do is stare blankly at the scenery of the odd surroundings, at her hands, at the sky, while sinking to her knees in grass she can't quite feel. He comes to her side, kneels before her, searching for any light in her eyes. Rhode doesn't even seem to see him, however- Staring right through him, hands trembling oddly in her lap.They're all dead. I'm dead. The war is over. If I opens my mouth, I'll start choking on the blood again, and smell the Earl--
"Rhode. Come back to me, Rhode."
Catching her face in his hand, gently, Mukuro forces her to meet his gaze. It's unfortunate to see her in such a state, after all this time; broken in ways she was always so certain she was above, lost and drowning in a reality she had never considered a possibility.
"You're in shock, my dear. You've been through quite a bit, but I won't let anything else happen to you now. Do you understand?"
Of course she doesn't. Rhode tries to nod, all the same, even opening her mouth slightly before remembering, remembering--
She looks positively shellshocked when the taste and scent of blood doesn't fill her senses, spill out over his arm.
It doesn't help when he leans in, kissing her gently on the forehead, as if anything more than the softest contact will shatter her into bits.
A sharp inhale, a few blinks of surprise; she doesn't know what's happening, really, or why this odd death-dream is taking such an odd turn. But then she realizes, with the lingering warmth of his touch on her skin, that it's… real.
Rhode blushes furiously, still at a loss for words, but he just chuckles and strokes her hair into place. What a lovely blue dress she's wearing, in this garden he's created for them; she always did look splendid in that shade with her fair skin.
"Hello," he says, as though it's the most normal thing in the world to be greeting her all over again. The expectant look he gives her makes it even more surreal, though after what seems like ages of silence, he gets what he wants.
"… Hullo." Ah, so soft! A bit mechanical, though somewhat expected after the sort of nightmare she's been through. There are more words in there, somewhere, and he waits patiently for her to put them together. "Is this Hell?"
It catches him by surprise, and he laughs aloud at the question- Reaching out, taking her shaky little hands in his own, comforting. "In a way, it is. But you are not dead, and won't be anytime soon."
"But I'm… broken. Dying. And the Innocence in my…"
"Do you believe I would let my partner die in so lonely a place? Such an ugly way?" A soft kiss against her hair, more a nuzzle than anything else; it's working, and he can feel her melting bit by bit from her frozen horror, turning her blushing face slightly away even as she begins to lean into his affections.
"It may take a while, with all the energy it will take to bring you to me. But my world has the means to put you back together, and you won't feel a moment of pain until it's enough for you to bear."
"To you?" The only part that confused her, even as he brings her hand up to his shoulder, lets her hesitate before weaving her fingers through his hair the way she always loved to do.
"To me. I shall use your door, and my own skills, and you will never be alone again."
She makes a soft noise of surprise as he puts a hand on her waist, pulling her closer- But she is the one who finally rises shakily to her knees, wrapping her arms around his neck and clinging to him as if she'll drown by letting go.
It's brutal, what they have to do to her body to even begin mending her. The doctors cut away the rotting flesh, leaving holes even larger than those left by the Exorcist weapons; piece her bones together with metal pins and plates, like the remains of a violent puzzle.
It takes a year and a half of surgeries to get her to anything close to a livable state. She wakes up for them on her own, with Mukuro's aid, but the machines and surgeons and drug-numbed pain from endless grafts and repairs are too much for her to bear.
It was the only time she felt her physical body, in those two years of recovery.
She had to be sedated after the trauma of her initial awakening; from then on, Mukuro is the one who controls her frail body, does what is necessary for the doctors to see improvement. Six months of recovery, and at last they say she has survived, and will be able to walk again, and can go home.
Despite the painfully slow nature of it all, time did not seem so drawn out in the safety of Mukuro's worlds. While the doctors repaired her body, he was working to repair her shattered spirit. She was far from well when the time came for her to reclaim her body, but there was no denying how much progress had been made.
Though she still lost herself sometimes, in odd silences and memories that interrupted anything else that might be happening, she could finally hold a conversation where she spoke more than ten words at a time. She didn't cry every day, or ask him to let her die- Or, as she put it, 'to see her Family'. She even began to smile after the first year, taking her comfort in his company and the treats he created for her.
He teaches her to use her powers for his breed of illusion, starting with the smallest things; producing a rose for her when those tears began to fall, a bow for her hair when she feels ill from the drugs the doctors use, strong enough to drag at every part of her being.
She lets illusions fall from her hands like watercolors, the crystalline hues of a thing coming into being before she solidifies its essence into tangible reality. A fast learner, worthy of praise and indulgence and affection; he gives her all the affection she desires, lets her sleep in his arms the way she once did every night, corrects her mistakes, holds her wrists and kisses her palms when she starts shaking again, tearing at herself again, until she stops resisting and lets him comfort her.
"It's time to wake up, my dear."
He tells her softly, lying by her side in the midst of a field of her tiger lilies. Rhode has been quiet, today; perhaps she can feel the shift, as the hospital drugs leave her body's system, as it rests in a real bed in a real house, without stark walls and cold air.
"I don't want to."
She's scared. He can feel it as easily as she does, however, and he rolls onto his side to lie just beside her, small frame warm against his chest as he brushes a soft kiss across her forehead.
"Don't be frightened. You know that all dreams have to come to an end."
Mukuro brushes her hair from her face, one arm sliding beneath her head as she settles against him.
"Some things have changed, outside. Your body ages in my world, and it's been a long time since you first arrived."
He leans down again, lingering close enough that she can feel his breath on her lips. She wants to respond, somehow- Ask what he means- but his proximity seems to have blown some sort of proverbial fuse, just as these displays of intimate affection always do. All she can do is try to meet his eyes, while her face is burning with self-conscious embarrassment.
Just as planned, of course. The distraction is all he needs to ease her into the waking world, and by the time she realizes the garden has been replaced by fine cotton sheets, there's more to her body than there was before- But he looks the same, and he is still beside her- And the sudden shift from dream to reality is somehow less puzzling than his physical presence, after all this time.
"Aren't you in prison?"
Her voice is raw from disuse, and he silences her with a quick, quiet kiss. He's amused that she's so confused, hasn't even moved past opening her eyes yet.
"I escaped quite a while ago, my dear. There are more pressing issues at the moment than my freedom."
Aside from the fact that she's been stunned into silence by that odd kiss- A little more than their usual gestures of affection, though she certainly isn't complaining- Rhode is starting to notice the odd things as she tries to move. Her body feels heavier, or perhaps she's weaker; it's larger, and less bony, and she has soft curves pressing against her partner's chest as he leans over her, where nothing had been before.
"How long…?" She doesn't know how to ask the question, or what to ask.