by LutraShinobi

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Never have, never will.

This is a story that was inspired by one of my other fics, Faded Red Clouds, and my interest in the two mysterious characters of Pein and Blue (from Akatsuki). It got off to an odd start, but for once, I actually have a sort-of plan for the story. Not up 'til the very end, though. Anyway, read it, try to understand it, and please review and share your thoughts with me.

Chapter 1 - Better

The first time she ever saw him was at the park, one summer's day, when the sun shone in all its glory and she was too young to see the darkness behind it. She was three and a half; so was he. She noticed him right away, because he wasn't playing like the other children. He wasn't gliding down the shiny silver slide. He wasn't flying back and forth in the air on the swings. He wasn't even crouched in the sandbox, busy building his own civilization. But he looked as if he would get up and do all those things, and enjoy them too, if he could. For the moment, however, he sat alone in the grass at the edge of the trees, hugging his knees to his chin.

His hair was short, but it stuck out at every angle in little spikes. And what a colour! A rich brown, mixed with a feisty red - golden russet, like the autumn leaves. Auburn. His eyes were irresistible too - they were a sparkling sapphire blue. They reminded her of light reflecting off the sea on a sunny day. Or how she imagined it, anyway; she had never seen the sea. She doubted that he had, either, but as she watched his face with avid interest, she somehow found it difficult to believe that he hadn't.

"Who is he, Father?" she asked, tugging on her father's shirt and pointing. He followed her gaze and his eyebrows lowered, adding wrinkles to his forehead. There was a moment of silence before he answered in a deep, grave voice, "Don't concern yourself with him, Blue."

She almost pouted, then remembered that her mother had told her that real kunoichi never pouted, or cried, or complained. They "discussed matters in a calm, dignified manner". She tried to fix her features into an expression that matched what she thought that meant, and said evenly, "That wasn't a proper answer, Father."

"Don't be rude," her father told her shortly, and spun her small, lithe figure around so that she ended up with her back to the fascinating boy. But she craned her neck backwards and caught a glimpse of him. His eyes were aimed towards her now, and she felt an inexpressible thrill at the knowledge that he was watching her, too. Maybe he was asking himself, just as she had asked her father, Who is she?

"Blue," her father said sharply, distracting her. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and forcefully turned her away, blocking her vision with his elbow. She sidestepped, twisting out of his grip, and managed a brief wave in the boy's direction before her father, glaring now, stepped in front of her and pulled her hand down.

"We're going home now, Blue," he said, his voice quivering with displeasure. She could sense one of his obedience lectures coming up very soon, and she walked out onto the street with a stubborn flick of her dark blue hair.

But, just before her father had obscured her field of sight with his body, she had seen the boy's hand raise by his head in an unmistakable wave - returning the greeting.

Blue smiled all the way home.

The first time he ever spoke to her was at the Academy, in the springtime, when the flowers were shooting upwards, but slowly, and he could still see the shadow of winter and feel its bite on his skin. He was seven; so was she. He had been aware of her all day, catching glimpses of her out of the corner of his eye. The glimpses weren't enough, but they showed him the details - most of them. Her straight indigo hair, lightly brushing her shoulders, her dark, quick eyes, shadowed by heavy, bold lids; those features were memorized by now. Still, he hated just having to glance - he wanted to stare.

Sometimes he permitted himself to look up, to see her face head-on. Sometimes she would be looking up too, looking up at him. But she never waved; she knew better than that. And if she had chanced to wave, he would have known better than to wave back.

It was better, he thought, as she hovered on the edge of his peripheral vision, for it to be this way. It was better for him to know he didn't belong, he wasn't one of them, and for him to accept that. Pretending was no good once you knew reality. When you were three and a half, pretending could be your reality. When you were three and a half, you could wave back. When you were seven, you kept your distance.

Another girl walked past him without acknowledging his presence in the slightest, the eleventh that afternoon. The only people who ever did acknowledge him were the men with the rough voices who took him away every now and then. "Pein," they said, "Come with us." And he came, and sometimes they fed him, or trained him, or gave him books to read. But mostly they tested him. Mostly they hurt him.

He stood up. Almost everyone had left already, and he had to base everything on what the others did. He would never be like them, but they were his only foundation.

He had taken just one step when a voice behind him said quietly, "Pein."

He turned, hardly daring to believe it. He knew better. But still he said, "Blue?"

She was there, exactly like the picture in his mind. Except that his mental image didn't speak, and her lips were moving, and sound was emerging. "Where are you going?" She seemed genuinely curious, but he couldn't be sure. Was she still pretending?

"Home," he replied automatically. Home was a safe, familiar thing to say, because everyone knew what it meant, even if he didn't. He had taught himself what to say, how to make sure that people thought they understood. But she wasn't going to let him get away with it.

"Where is home?" she wanted to know. He was stumped. No one was supposed to ask about home. He wasn't supposed to have to reply.

"You don't have to answer if you don't want to," she told him. Her eyes were looking him up and down, deciding what kind of home he should have, disregarding what he actually did have.

He knew he wasn't obligated to answer. But he wanted to. He wanted the questions to keep coming, and he wanted to be able to explain. He knew better than that, though. He looked down, avoiding her gaze, then snapped his eyes back up to meet hers. What if she never approached him again? What if this was the only opportunity he would ever have to see her face, close to his? It would be better that way, of course, but he still had to ask, What if?

But now she was the one to glance away. "Good-bye, Pein," she said. Good-bye was another safe thing to say. Even he knew what that meant.

As her body grew smaller and smaller until it turned into a dark blob on the horizon, he vowed that he would find out. He would find out where home was, and when he knew, he would tell her. Maybe he would even take her there. He hoped it would be a beautiful place, possibly beautiful enough for her.

Home. He would always be on the lookout for it, even though he knew better than that.

A/N: Wow, Pein and Blue really didn't sound like they were three and a half or seven. It's just so hard to imagine them as kids... sorry about that. And I know this was appallingly short, and I didn't explain anything properly, but keep in mind that this could be considered a kind of prologue, and those seem to be shorter and more obscure than actual chapters. The next chapter will most likely be longer, and won't keep you in the dark so much. Hope you liked it, and please, please review!

P.S. Does anyone else find that they get most of their inspiration for writing between 11:30 and 1:00 at night?