Faded Red Clouds

by LutraShinobi

Disclaimer: Inventory check time! Story: check. Plot idea: check. Naruto: -blank-

Chapter 1 - He Knows Them

Pein rolled over on his cot and his forehead slammed into the bedpost with a dull thunk. He let out a groan of pain and irritation and brought his hands up to his face, muffling his voice as he asked the wall, "Why am I here?"

"Because you went to sleep here last night," the wall replied sharply. Only it wasn't the wall, it was the blue-haired female occupying the bed next to his own. Pein sat up and groaned again, more quietly this time. "That's not what I meant."

His partner rose as well, asking wearily, "What did you mean then?" She had an idea that she had already guessed, but she knew Pein and therefore knew that he was the kind of person who needed to talk. Being the leader of an organization as high-flying and ambitious as Akatsuki, he often talked, as in making plans and giving orders, but his job, demanding as it was, rarely gave him the opportunity to really talk. That's where she came in - she let him talk, let him spew out all of the thoughts that battered his brain until the sides of his head threatened to crack under the onslaught. And for Pein to talk, he had to be asked.

Pein ran his fingers through the spikes that formed his unruly auburn hair and his multicoloured eyes, oddly childlike, found her steady gaze. Although he didn't say a word or smile, even a completely clueless bystander would have been able to tell that he was thanking her for her patience and understanding of him.

He looked her over now as he did every morning, as she sat on the edge of her bed, mattress rumpling under her weight, bare toes scraping the floor. "Blue", they called her. It was not her real name, but it was what she went by. Pein was one of the few she'd trusted with the knowledge of her true name, and by now he might have forgotten it - he wouldn't know, he never tried to remember.

Blue couldn't really be justly described as beautiful, but if anyone had called her anything less, Pein would have felt compelled to argue for some reason. She had short, unevenly cut indigo blue hair (hence the name), decorated with a white flower ornament. The first day he'd seen her, also the day he'd recruited her to Akatsuki, she had been wearing that flower, and she hadn't taken it off since, that he knew of anyway. Her dark eyes were heavy-lidded, but it didn't hamper their piercing gaze. A silver stud jutted out under her lip. She was slim, but too muscular to be called slender. Blue was a true ninja in mind and body, and didn't pretend otherwise.

Pein was often puzzled as to the nature of his relationship with Blue. They were partners, but that was obvious. They weren't friends, however - he knew that. Whether they were more or less than friends, he could never be sure of. At moments like these, he was positive they were more, but there were times when he'd say less. Some days he thought they weren't even acquainted.

He suddenly wondered if she thought about him this way too, and as he always did when feeling self-conscious, he lifted his hand to touch the six piercings that lined either side of the bridge of his nose. The black studs didn't really suit the rest of his youthful, handsome face, but they were a part of his identity as Pein, Akatsuki Leader.

"Well?" Blue prompted him. Her patience was fairly plentiful, but it had its limits.

Once again, he said nothing, but his unique eyes apologized to her for the wait. Then he lay back, stretching out his body and resting his head on the pillow. "What I meant is..." he began, hesitating. "Well, why am I still here, I guess. Here, as the Leader of Akatsuki."

"Why wouldn't you be here?" Blue asked calmly. She could tell he was in turmoil - he normally had minimal difficulty in clearly communicating his thoughts to others, especially her.

"Well, Akatsuki's been going for a while now, hasn't it?" Pein mused. "But I was young when I started it, and I didn't look ahead into the future. Not far enough, anyway." He stopped again, gaze locked onto the ceiling.

"Get to the point, Pein. Stop trying to take the long way around - it annoys me. Are you trying to break it to me gently or something? Because I'm not that kind of woman." Blue hated it when people played games with her, and it was doubly irritating when Pein did it. He should know by now that she preferred the head-on approach.

"I know. I'm trying to break it to myself gently," was Pein's honest confession.

"You act so weak sometimes, Pein," Blue said. It was a simple statement of fact - he did.

"Mm," Pein said noncommittally. He was never offended when Blue insulted him. Coming from her, it was more like constructive criticism. He sighed. "What I'm trying to say is, Akatsuki has had its run, and it was pretty long and pretty good while it lasted. We accomplished a lot of successful missions, we made some important discoveries, we even became famous."

"But now you think we're at the end of our run." Blue's voice had gone robotic, to make sure Pein couldn't sense her feelings. He scowled. Why did she hide them from him when he needed them most?

"Well, yes," he said. "I mean, Sasori was killed by an old granny and an amateur kunoichi, and he was more skilled than Deidara. If that's not losing our touch, then I don't know what is. And Orochimaru ditched us."

"That snake bastard? He's no loss." Blue snorted - she had never liked or trusted Orochimaru; with reason, as it turned out.

"You have a point. But, I don't know, everything just seems to be...fading. In a way, my dreams for Akatsuki have come true. And in a way they haven't, and I know they never will. Nothing lasts forever, and I don't like to drag things out. I don't think we're as great as we once were. As I thought we once were, at any rate. I'm not sure what's diminished so much these past months, but something definitely has, and with it went my passion for this organization."

Blue was silent for a moment. Then she said, "You realize you haven't yet provided me with one solid reason for abandoning Akatsuki, right?"

"I don't have any solid reasons, Blue," Pein said seriously, almost sadly. "But I've always found that it's the shadowy, blurred reasons you have to watch out for the most."

"Well..." Blue teetered. She knew Pein desired her advice, but that didn't change the fact that she didn't really have any to give. "It's your call, Pein."

Pein nodded, slightly disappointed but also slightly higher in morale. He had expected this. Blue rarely gave him advice. Guidance, yes, but not advice. She obstinately refused to make his decisions for him. Her words had, however, assured Pein of one thing - she didn't quite understand him, but she had faith in his judgment. Wherever he went, she would be there. Not following him - she would be there ahead of him, waiting. That was how things stood between Pein and Blue. How things had always stood, but sometimes they both needed the reassurance. They didn't need to hear it - they just had to feel it.

"Let's get up, Blue. After all, Tobi will be calling everyone for breakfast right about now." Right on cue, Tobi's good-natured squeal rang shrilly in the halls. "Breakfaaaast!"

Pein smiled briefly at his accurate prediction before ducking out the door to head for the kitchen. Blue watched him go, thinking, He knows them so well.

Somehow I feel like Pein and Blue were really out of character, but that's not really possible since we haven't exactly seen their character, not enough to come to any solid conclusions anyway... For some reason, this fic feels like a oneshot, even though I don't intend it to be one. As usual, I really don't know what I'm trying to achieve in writing this - I don't plan, I just kind of...write. And you know up there in the disclaimer, where I said "Plot idea: check"? Yeah, um, well, if you're asking "what plot?", you're exactly right :P I have some blurred, half-baked ideas floating around, which aren't always that useful (but if you believe Pein, then maybe they're the best kind). Oh well, I'll try. The feedback I get will probably determine whether or not this fic is continued. Anyway, thanks for reading, and pleasepleasepleaseplease review! I'm on my knees here! Thank you :)