The sky was grey. The storm clouds had gathered overhead. He could feel the wind whipping his body. Let the rain come, thought he. Let it cleanse me of this terrible sin.
It had been a week since he learned the truth. He was yet to recover from its effects. The initial shock had passed, but now he avoided thinking of it. His older brother grieved openly. He wished he could too.
He wanted it to come, the shower. He wanted to stay there and let the waters soak him, to let the river rise up and to cover him. Jalasamadhi. Death by Water. It was as good a way to go as any.
Except that he could not. He was not free. He had never been. And for the first time, his bond with his brothers seemed like a fetter.
He saw his friend stand near the river. He wondered what he was doing there. To what departed soul did he commune?
He approached him hesitantly. He stood still as a statue, his yellow robes flapping in the wind. His dark complexion seemed to merge into the atmosphere. He stood for a moment, admiring the beauty and the stillness of the man who held his heart and his soul.
"Arjuna," Krishna spoke then.
Arjuna did not wonder how Krishna knew he was there. When had he not known? When had he not been ready to assume all of Arjuna's burdens as his own?
He walked towards Krishna. If anyone could give him peace, it was Krishna. If anyone could make him forget the terrible deed he did, it was Krishna.
They stood near to each other. Neither spoke a word. But they had never needed words. Their relation had always been beyond words. It was a connection of their souls. Arjuna always thought it had existed before time and was beyond time.
Krishna's hand reached for his and they stood there, their fingers intertwined. Arjuna looked at their hands, joined together. They were the same colour, he and his cousin. It was difficult in the dim light to see where Krishna's hand ended and Arjuna's began.
"I told you to do it," said Krishna softly. "He was unarmed and standing on the ground. He had asked you to desist in the name of dharma. I told him he deserved nothing. I reminded him of all his worst deeds." He paused. "I made him die with the memory of his worst deeds."
"You knew he was my brother." It was not an accusation. Arjuna had never accused Krishna. He had always followed. He was not about to change now.
Krishna nodded. In the darkness, Arjuna might have missed it. But he could feel the tightening of Krishna's fingers on his.
It seemed to him that the darkness around them was so complete that they seemed part of it. Both Partha and his Sarathy were absorbed into the darkness.
What is left for us to do now, he wondered. They had succeeded in their mission. They had cleansed the earth and made it possible for dharma to reign in the form of his older brother.
A bitter smile twisted Arjuna’s mouth. Always before, Yudhistira had been thought of as the eldest brother. But not now.
Their eldest brother was dead. Killed by him.
As the first drops of rain fell, he felt Krishna drop his hand to put his arm around Arjuna as if to protect him from the elements.
But then, Krishna had always protected him, shielded him, helped him, guided him. Without Krishna he was lost. A body without soul.
The rain strengthened, accompanied by lightning and thunder.
"Come, let's go!" Krishna shouted above the rain, dragging him towards the tents.
Arjuna followed as he always did.
Back in Krishna's tent, Arjuna dried himself and dressed himself in the spare set of clothes he always kept there. During the war, they had spent most of the nights together. It had been convenient to keep a spare set of clothes in each other's tent.
Now, Arjuna looked at Krishna and saw the deep seated grief in his eyes.
"I destroyed him." said Krishna. "You only put him out of his misery."
"I don't understand." Arjuna was confused.
"He loved me." Krishna’s voice was so quiet, Arjuna had to strain to hear it, above the muffled sounds of rain from outside. "He trusted me. But I-"
Arjuna stared at Krishna, not understanding the words he spoke. His brain was in a whirl. He had known Krishna had other love interests. They both had. But that had all been women. Somehow, he had never imagined another man in Krishna’s life.
Not even in his wildest dreams had he associated Karna with his friend. His eldest brother whom he had slain. And his best friend, his lover for so many years. It was something he could not digest.
Silence stretched between them, a silence which held long years of trust and friendship and love and somewhere, in the deep recesses of Krishna’s heart, a face as bright as the sun.
Krishna smiled sadly. "He died, not knowing I loved him. He died believing my words."
"You loved him," repeated Arjuna stupidly. He could not wrap his brain around it.
Krishna looked at him. "My heart belonged to him. Only to him. But my soul was yours. And I could never sacrifice my soul to please my heart."
The words washed over him like a wave. There was a time when it would have thrilled him to hear Krishna's soul belonged to him. But now it only evoked a grief that left him empty.
"I cannot forget," murmured Krishna now. "Though I wish to."
He had come to Krishna, hoping to forget.
Arjuna placed his hand on Krishna’s. It seemed to him, a ghostly hand was there between their entwined fingers.
Arjuna leaned forward and wrapped his arms around his friend, shutting out the ghost of the one he had killed. "Then let us both remember," he whispered before fastening his mouth on the other man's.
Outside, the rain's fury had settled into a steady downpour.