A Glimpse of Normalcy

It's dark in the cell they've hauled her in.

She doesn't mind the darkness but the reek of mould and something that's been dead for certainly more than a week is definitely getting to her.

The smell used to gag her. No more, though—you'd be surprised at the things a person could grow used to if exposed to them for a long enough period of time.

She no longer even bothered to wonder about the time—like how long she's been in this godforsaken place, how long has it been since her last meal and how long it would be before her captors came to molest her again.

She shouldn't have trusted them. She knew that she was too different, that her power was too unique for her conservative natured parents' liking. She shouldn't have trusted them even though they were family and it was in the essence of being human to believe unconditionally in those who have brought you up.

Never again could she afford to be human.

Because humans with special talents were experimented on, tormented for their uniqueness and mocked by their peers. She would no longer stand for that. She was a kunoichi, regardless of her untraditional method of battling, and she was strong enough to stand up for herself and to tell the world where it could go with its excess of narrow-minded imbeciles.

Gods, her swollen lip hurt like a bitch. She'd show the bastard who had raised a hand against her who was boss!

… Once the drugs they'd put her on wore off for her to gather her wits about her enough to even try and mould chakra. The fact that the pain they'd inflicted bodily on her did nothing to speed up the process either. You try to concentrate after your freaking family has betrayed you to a bunch of psychotic lunatic researchers who want to tear your body apart if it means they can get their dirty paws on your bloodline limit-like ability.

Her vision was starting to blur. She could tell, even in the complete darkness of her jail; her eyes were swimming as she became very aware of every part of her—every single bruised little piece of her flesh.

The skin of her wrists—once delicate and snow-white fair—was now rubbed raw from the tight shackles that were binding her to the dingy repulsive wall. Both her forearms hurt where they'd endlessly poked her with syringes for various purposes as though she was some dead piece of meat that they were grilling for a barbeque party.

Then again, once they were done with her that was probably the best she could hope to be.

One would think that she'd feel mentally in pain as well as her whole world was crumbling to pieces right before her very eyes—through the act of betrayal it was clear that she no longer had a family, she hadn't had any friends prior to rely on in her time of crisis now and there was practically no one who would miss her when she was gone. If anything, they'd be immensely relieved.

But she didn't care about that.

As a matter of fact, she felt oddly tranquil. But then again that was probably the physical pain getting to her head speaking.

Whatever the reason, she felt at peace.

Or at least blissfully thoughtless.

Even should she die, she had no qualms with that. She hadn't had a reason to live in the first place.

What was there to look forward to in a day full of mockery, taunts and threats just because you're a bit different than the masses of talentless shinobi in your village? What was there to get up for every morning when you have no goal in life, no point to your existence, even when nature had given you a starkly different than all others' skill?

She had never been suicidal—no, taking one's life did not solve problems. But she had lived for so long and still hadn't found a purpose to her life. What did it matter if tomorrow's dawn was greeted by one less kunoichi if she had no future before her anyway?

Because, really, her signature chakra which relentlessly would take only the form of origami paper cranes was not well received, wherever she went. She was a shinobi and depended on her chakra for everything—without it, her career was pointless. With it, people frowned at her, refusing to accept her gift as the amazing trait that it was.

If she couldn't have her origami, she was better off dead. She would not attempt to change just so she could please a bunch of capricious stuck-up bastards.

In this cell of complete silence, there was no light, no hope. She held onto no silly beliefs that someone might come and release her once they had finally caught her. She was a rare gem—a lone precious stone among a mountain of gravel—that they would explore until there was not a drop of life left within her.

Afterwards she would surely be discarded like trash and they would move on to the next unfortunate soul who hadn't done anything to be treated so disrespectfully.

But that was just how life was.

Her fate was sealed, as far as she cared, and she would greet whatever came her way with her head held proudly high, just like any self-respecting kunoichi should.

She was just surprised at exactly what she found herself greeting when the rusty metal door screeched open.

Her cerulean eyes squinted underneath her marine tresses veiling her vision of a heavily cloaked figure standing before her, taller than any of her captors she had been encountered with thus far, posture stout and straight, giving the individual an air of nobility as he towered above her, built frame bathed in faint, barely existent light from the hallway.

The woman had no means to tell time in her pitch-black, despairing prison so she had no idea how long she had been looking into the most mesmerizing pair of ringed eyes she'd ever come across in all her years. It might have been seconds, minutes or hours since this stranger had entered her cell and her life, and they hadn't uttered even one word.

She had made her peace with her demise long before he had ever come along and yet, upon feeling the sheer power of the presence of one man, she wanted to live just a bit longer so she could explore more of it; just a few minutes more in his company so she could feel like she had had a purpose in life as well, like he did.

She knew he had a goal the moment their gazes met across the atrociously musty premise because his eyes shined brightly with determination to meet the ends of some obscure objective; the striving for closure of some unfathomable aim was seeded deeply into every fiber of his being. She felt in his aura the urgency of having something important to do that cannot be put on hold for any reason.

And she felt intoxicated by it, needed more of it.

But there was no way that would happen. He was probably going to be her executioner.

At least she would feel no remorse over whether the one who took her life would be worthy of it.

She craved to hear his voice like a man dying of thirst longed for water under the unrelenting sun of the desert. She couldn't place a logical reason to it but she just wanted to know what he sounded like, this person who appeared larger than life.

But there was no way that was going to happen.

Hangmen don't converse with their prey, after all. It's just one of those unwritten rules that everyone knew and acted respectfully to.

He advanced across the mildewed floor until he was standing in front of her, his imposing frame shadowing her from the glare of the light behind him.

Her neck hurt from the beatings she'd received so she couldn't look up to meet his gaze anymore but she could practically feel his soul-searching steely gray eyes on her.

She prepared herself for the potentially lethal upcoming stroke—and it took surprisingly little to prepare for it—and waited. She didn't close her eyes because the world behind her lids—completely dark and holding no promise—and the one beyond them were practically one and the same in terms of her perception of things.

There was no apprehension in her spirit. There was only quiet, calm anticipation.

He crouched in front of her and with a quick handseal from him her cuffs rattled discarded to the ground.

They stood like that, he crouching and scrutinizing her thoroughly and she standing stiffly, stock-still, her penetrating gaze trained on the cold stone tiles beneath the two of them, for what felt like an eternity spent in complete silence that served only to stretch the deed.

She waited for the inevitable to happen patiently, as if she didn't know that her life was about to end any second now, that she would be no more, that she would never again get another chance at finding a meaning to her life.

He was sure taking his time, she decided astutely after a while.

Then the most unexpected thing happened.

"Can you walk?"

He spoke.

She blinked profusely in bewilderment at the unimpressed stone tiles as though even inanimate objects needed to bow down to the will of the most stirring voice there could ever be. It was a deep, rich sound and it resounded with the same power that his aura emanated in generous waves.

It was the voice of someone important, she knew, of someone who knew well his worth and made good use of his many talents. It was the voice of a unique person, a mighty individual who could and was used to bending others to his will, either by means of his quick wit or immeasurable skill.

The thought unique struck her the deepest and made her heart skip a beat with an emotion she couldn't place.

Temporarily thrown off-track by her analysis on him, her mind switched back to full alertness when she realized that he had asked her a question that supposed an answer.

Not trusting her voice to speak aloud, she gave an uncertain nod at which he immediately rose to his feet and majestic full height again.

"Follow me."

His sentences seemed to always be curt and sharp, always straight to the point. She could not see his face but she was sure he wasn't one to mince for words.

All he had done thus far was give her commands and speak standoffishly to her but he had freed her so she could see no reason why she shouldn't do as suited his fancy, for the time being at least.

She pushed herself gracelessly to her feet which wobbled violently and gave out beneath her. She reached out to balance herself against the wall to which she had just a minute ago been bound to until she trusted her still fast asleep legs to carry her weight.

The sensation of the blood starting to circulate properly to her lower extremities was accompanied by unpleasant stinging as usual, as if a thousand needles were stuck in her poor limbs at once, before it passed and she made one then another cautious step.

When she came to her senses she was already out of the accursed facility under a very gray and cloudy sky. There was not even a glimpse of the sun peeking from the thick curtain of rain carriers but the light of day burned her eyes and made her hang her head against her collarbone until she was used to the glare of day.

She looked up again and there he was, standing powerful and important before her, looking at her with a level, utterly unreadable gaze.

She returned the look defiantly, a dignified air seizing hold of her as her lungs filled with the fresh oxygen that preceded a quality downpour.

"What do you want with me?" she demanded snappily, voice curt and straight to the point just as his before.

One of his eyebrows twitched in the space of a millisecond in amusement before he submerged the emotion, leaving no trace of it in his expression or letting it be betrayed by his body-language.

In the light, she could clearly see him, in his wholesome severely pierced glory.

For it was exactly the numerous piercings visible above the high collar of his black cloak with ridiculously cutesy red clouds on it that caught her attention first.

There were three barbells puncturing the bridge of his aristocratic nose on both sides. Every inch of both his ears was covered with metal earrings and studs of every sort there was, leaving little actual flesh for the onlooker to see.

Judging by the sheer amount of these that he had in visible places, she dared not venture to think what he looked like beneath that coat.

But it was difficult to let her mind wander about his physical appearance when there was something so magnetizing, something that beckoned to her attention about those hypnotic eyes of his. It resounded with her spirit and struck her to her very core.

The word unique once again popped in her mind on what seemed its own accord.

He now turned to face her completely, no longer her leader, tugging on her by the leash he'd transiently put on her, but somewhat of her equal, though the thought was preposterous due to the obvious difference in skill.

Nevertheless, it was an action that discouraged hostility of any kind on part of either one of them, and provided fructuous ground for civil conversation.

"I'm giving you back your life and a chance to prove its worth." He spoke evenly and lowly—so much so that she had to focus intently on his words to take them in completely. "I can give your new life purpose," he added cryptically.

She couldn't help a light twitch to her brow that she ridded herself of the minute it emerged. There was no chance he could actually know about that, right? She deemed it wiser to just listen for the time being, urging him on with a pointed look.

"Join the Akatsuki," he demanded imperiously then, an odd shadow crossing his clear gaze before it was gone the next moment, as though it had never been there in the first place.

The female couldn't help a distasteful grimace now.

"The Akatsuki?" she echoed, trying the word on her tongue. It felt as foreign as it could get. "Never heard of it."

Her response, it appeared, did not seem to dissuade her 'knight in shining armour'. There was still that relentless insistence in his gaze, the unwavering conviction that she should do as he said; that he knew better what was best for her than she did. Preposterous; she repressed a snort at the thought.

"Why should I join this so-called 'Akatsuki' of yours? I didn't ask for your help in the first place—expecting gratitude for favours that weren't even desired is quite brass, you should know." Her snarky comment did not achieve its ends—he looked just as apathetic as before she'd tried to affront him.

"Your skill would be a great asset to the organization." She flinched unnoticeably at that and had to try embarrassingly hard to keep herself from making false hopes. "If you prove capable of handling the job, you might achieve more than you have ever dreamed of."

"You know nothing of my dreams so refrain from assuming otherwise, if you please," she seethed menacingly, her voice a barely audible hiss.

Her interlocutor did not let her tone faze him.

"I know that you feel unappreciated though." The fury that had writhed behind her cerulean orbs was gone within the instant he said that. Her whole being stood still in expectation, his guesswork—if that's what it was—reaching into the farthest recesses of her very soul. "You go about in your village, frowned upon because of your unique talent and different than most chakra. You get scolded for things you didn't do just because you're not one of them."

Was that really possible? Did such things really happen? Were there really people who could take you back to the surface after you've officially hit rock bottom? She was starting to believe there were because he had plunged his arm right into her deepest insecurities and fears with dead on precision.

"If you come with us, you will be your one and only judge. All that will ever be required from you is complete your assignments dutifully. If you do your job right, no one will bother you about anything else. If you work diligently and make Akatsuki's goals your own you won't need to worry about the world judging you anymore because you'll be far beyond any other organizations' jurisdiction."

She couldn't help an incredulous snort of astonishment and her eyes widening a fraction this time. It was just too much, this that she was hearing.

"Are you saying that you and your merry buddies are going to try and… what?" She struggled for the right word for a mere moment. "Take over the world or something?" When he didn't argue her point immediately, she crossed her arms disbelievingly over her chest.

Big mistake though—she might have been freed from the shackles but the pain was still present, though only dully, in the back of her mind now.

"I cannot believe you. That is impossible," she emphasized, as though he was retarded and needed to be explained thoroughly at a slow enough pace to gauge the meaning of an entire sentence.

"We're not trying to take over the world." He scoffed as much as he was capable without letting any of the irritation show on his face or in his body movements whatsoever. "We're just going to enforce the changes we want in it. We're going to reshape it so it can accommodate our likes in the future."

She stared for the longest of times at him, expecting him to burst in laughter or something, anything, just to show her he was actually pulling her leg and didn't think seriously that such an outrageous thing he conversed so levelly about could really happen.

But he did not even chuckle as he waited patiently for her answer to his ludicrous proposition that she join him and his troupe of equally demented fellows who thought they could make a difference in the world enough to change it as suited their fancy.

And, despite its preposterousness and incredulity, the idea allured her, god forbid!

"There's no way you can actually change the whole world, no matter how much manpower you have behind you. That's just… unheard of!" she argued feebly, her arms uncrossing themselves as the seed of doubt planted itself in her mind.

"You'd be amazed at the things possible if you just have the aid of the right people." She could tell there was some underlying message in that statement, a promise of some sorts that she couldn't decipher.

It was all she could do to keep some of her little remaining dignity not to flap her mouth open and closed in the perfect personification of a fish as her mind strained to process his offer in its entirety.

It was stark raving mad; the guy was completely off his rocker—there was no way this kind of thing that he preached on about could happen. So what if he had attracted a few semi-talented shinobi? There was no way a handful of ninjas, however suicidally ambitious, could achieve what he had just told her about.

And still she was invigorated by the thought of belonging to a closed society, held together by bonds stronger than blood. She was tempted by the idea of finally having a purpose in life, a use for her power, a group of people with which to hone her skill without being glared at as though she was filth on their shoes.

She didn't just want this kind of thing; she needed it, desperately, as a human being.

She needed a reason to get up every morning; she needed something to pour all her might and effort into. She needed a goal for which to explore her own limits and push on beyond them because that was what being a ninja was all about.

The woman mulled the thought over good in her mind before focusing her sapphire gaze on her interlocutor again, eyes shining with newfound determination as she did.

"I'm Konan," she introduced herself coolly, knowing that she had to explain no further for the individual before her was one of the most perceptive people she'd ever met.

She knew that he was dithering not because he didn't know what she expected him to reply but because he pondered whether he should or shouldn't give her such information at this point in time.

After a stretched, suffocating pause came his equally cool, one-worded response,


And there was no need for any more pleasantries and formalities as far as introductions were concerned on both sides.

She gave a slight, respectful nod with the air of a warrior surrendering her weapons and agreeing to abide by another's will after the brief mental scuffle.

"Lead the way to Akatsuki then, Pein."

And with a last lingering pointed look at her, he did just that.

Whatever her unclear idea on the Akatsuki had been before she'd arrived at their den, this lot was definitely not it.

There was a puppeteer weirdo with a disturbing fixation of expanding his collection of 'exquisite human puppets', as he dubbed it himself. She would have felt more at ease around him even despite his great oddness factor if he didn't look so disconcertingly young.

Then there was a pale-faced one who had an uncanny semblance to a slithering snake however she looked at him. His more worrisome quality though was the deranged look that was constantly in his serpentine poisonously yellow eyes.

The guy with the most extravagant looks was without a doubt the one with the venus flytrap enveloping his body though, whose head when visible was split visually into two halves—one light-skinned, the other dark as a night—that each seemed to have a personality of their own. Konan found him to be a tolerable fellow, once you came to terms with his cannibalistic tendencies.

The runner-up in the strangest appearance awards was unquestionably the one with the countless stitches and pupilless eyes. She hadn't wanted to find out something like that but she overheard someone saying that the stitches were because he was essentially composed of the remains of his late victims. It would suffice to say that she would've been content to live her life without that information.

She took an immediate liking in the most normal looking and withdrawn one upon meeting him. Her impression on the youthful extremely talented shinobi was altered as soon as she heard that he had annihilated his whole clan before joining the Akatsuki though. Not that she believed in the sacredness of family ties anymore—slaughtering that many people and looking so serenely collected afterward just didn't sit right with her.

It was really hard to believe that such dubious bunch of eccentrics was really as capable as she was told.

When the white-faced snake-tongued one almost had his throat slit for speaking before thinking by a hurtled kunai from the last of one of Konohagakure's most famous families and she hadn't even seen him draw it, not to mention throw it, she knew that they were good at what they did.

Konan looked forward to working with them, even if she had yet to get used to the idea of them and their various personality quirks.

When she was finally told what the objective of the Akatsuki was, the woman was quite sure that 'taking over the world' wrapped it up nicely and in very simple terms that even an idiot could understand. She didn't voice her opinion though—she was intrigued to see through whether they would meet their ends or not and her pointless—if logical—criticism wasn't going to help that any.

She was told as-a-matter-of-factly that she would be more often than not required to kill on her missions. She wasn't surprised—considering what the organization was aiming for it was actually self-explanatory. And if she was half the professional kunoichi she deemed herself to be, she wouldn't falter when encountered with the need to commit the deed.

Killing had never before been an issue because she had never been trusted with the important enough missions in her Hidden Village. The fact she had never done it before did not mean she would hesitate when what needed to be done needed to be done.

It was explained to her why missions for the Akatsuki were executed in two-man cells and that as soon as she joined, she would become part of one herself.

Itachi was Orochimaru's partner, and Kakuzu was Sasori's. Zetsu specialized in reconnaissance and spy work so he went about on his own.

That left her only one person to pair up with.

She found it rather ironic that she got to be the Leader's partner even though she was a newbie.

Before she was officially recruited in the Akatsuki and given her own ring and thematic attire, she had to sever all ties with her past, they told her.

She didn't answer anything, instead slipping subtly out of the organization's lair into the world again with a task on her hands.

She didn't return again until much later that night, clothes drenched with generous amounts of blood that was not her own.

Her eyes bore no trace of turmoil though, stone cold in their impassiveness as she waited for her verdict, unaware that she had just passed a very difficult test.

A disillusioned girl had woken up that day but a woman with goals and dreams went to sleep that night. That night, a line was drawn across the metal forehead protector that bore the sign of her former Hidden Village—the mark from which a new life would begin for her.

The line that officially marked her as a rootless tree.

The crimson kanji on the ring around her right middle finger gleamed rewardingly in the sparse light of her chambers as she gazed lovingly at it.

She succumbed to blissful slumber soon after, completely content with what the ring represented—her unwavering loyalty to a cause that she would one day truly make her own; her devotion so boundless she had not wavered even for a moment before butchering her whole family of blood traitors.

Their screams echoed in her dreams and, unbeknownst to her, a small smile tugged on her lips. She burnt the memory of those wails for mercy securely in her mind, for reassurance should she ever wonder if she was doing the right thing with her life in the future.

Her first mission for Akatsuki turned out to be a disaster through no fault of her own.

She and Pein were supposed to stealthily steal a few scrolls with infinitely powerful and top secret jutsus from a ninja village not too far from the lair. But they had themselves discovered halfway through it.

Worse came to worst and they had to grab the scrolls and dash out under a rain of chucked weaponry and ninjutsu.

There were no survivors left of the raid of the Village's most precious jutsu.

All that was left for their peers were moist crumpled paper cranes and residual water from the unnatural flood that had occurred the same day as the plunder.

Her first mission for Akatsuki had undoubtedly turned into a disaster but she didn't really mind.

Because her teammate had approved of her ability and given her the closest thing to a compliment she was ever going to get from him for that same disaster.

Konan had never in her life discerned herself as someone ordinary or even remotely normal in any way. She had lived her life thus far without giving it a second thought, as a notion that wasn't even worth acknowledging.

After all, who had time to think of normality when you're too busy shaking off the hunter nin off your back to assure you live long enough to greet the next day?

Years into her recruiting into Akatsuki, when she had finally fallen into a routine of some kind, she found herself mentally pausing at the idea, suddenly yearning for a little glimpse of normalcy in her hectic life as an S-rank criminal.

Sure, she had really nothing to complain about, as no one had ever come even close to capturing her or dealing her any serious damage; she lived decently and could have anything she could come up with.

Her ninjutsu was a far greater addition to the organization's collection of extraordinary talented individuals and she was handier than she could have ever dreamt before, now a solid part of the Akatsuki and holding a perfect partnership with its founder.

Yet some tiny, obscure part of her longed for some semblance of conventionality, if just for a little while.

She needed to feel mediocre for once in her life because every inch of her screamed otherwise—from her naturally marine blue tresses to her uniquely shape taking chakra.

She fixed her gaze onto her partner across the hotel room they were sharing during yet another mission together. He was sitting cross-legged on the mattress of his bed, scroll unrolled before him, his hands flying adeptly into the seals the parchment in front of him depicted.

She watched him half-interestedly as he practiced the technique's hand seals. It was truly amazing how severe he could be with himself, and he was always his worst critic in everything he did. She knew for a fact that he would not stop practicing until he had the sequence down flawlessly, at the perfect pace.

She knew better than to bother him while he was working and risking ruining his concentration. He was a man that rarely raised his voice than its usual even tone but she didn't want to be there when that happened. He had nerves of steel but she preferred not to try their strength, really.

The woman had no qualms about bugging him once he was done though.

"Pein?" She uttered his name, voice barely audible with her uncertainty whether she should explore the topic with him or not. It had been years since she'd first met him—since he'd saved her on so many levels—and the guy was still very much of a mystery to her.

His unruly haired head turned calmly to her, creepily listless gaze boring into her expectantly to show he was listening raptly to what she had to say.

"Haven't you ever wished for a little bit of normalcy with all this constant running and hiding?"

He regarded her query in all seriousness—even though she doubted he could do it with anything less—before coming to his quick conclusion.


His negative responses always had such a cutting edge air of finality about them that no discussion of any sort could continue in the same direction once Pein's concrete 'no' had been imparted on it.

Because the 'no' of Akatsuki's leader truly meant no.

In this case, it also meant that she shouldn't linger on such thoughts herself either.

She still couldn't figure out the guy after spending years by his side but there was no way she couldn't have picked up a thing or two all the while.

Reading the meaning underneath the underneath was one of those things she'd learnt to do when in his imposing company.

They were sitting casually in this nice little café in the pleasant town which they had recently—and quite smoothly, too, if she may add—rid of its Jinchuuriki menace and if it weren't for the genjutsu cast on both of them so they wouldn't be recognized it could have been exactly the shred of normality that she so craved.

But seeing as it wasn't, all she did was brood silently, watching with heavily lidded with exhaustion eyes the snow fall outside, a massive wall-sized window all that was separating her from the whiteness that was the world beyond.

Konan could easily tell without having to check if it was true now when Pein was looking at her. And by the prickling feeling in the back of her head she could tell he was scrutinizing her studiously at current, trying to figure out god knew what.

She'd given up on pondering his uncountable quirks of personality. As a matter of fact, she figured that he embodied everything that she found wrong in her life at present time—he was standoffish, she had practically lived with him for about eight years and barely knew anything about him. And everything she did know about him and his character she had picked up herself from observing his behaviour over such a long period of time.

He was weird in that he had an unnatural perception of the world around him and never chose to impart those impressions of his on anyone, not even her. He rarely spoke and when he did, it always had a great impact on anyone listening.

Now that she pondered it, she had never seen him smile in all the time they had spent by each other.

And that was just sad. It's not as if she had ever been surrounded by normal human beings to actually miss these things but she could certainly use a sincere smile and positive emotion every now and then.

She wouldn't trade anyone from Akatsuki for any mediocre nin (except maybe Hidan, because the guy was obnoxiousness in the flesh and that coming from one of the most patient women there could ever be) but sometimes she just wished she could bend her objectives a little and strive to change them a tiny bit before trying to change the world.

"Do you regret choosing the path you've taken?"

Almost all of their time was spent in silence or in communicating their thoughts without bothering with the unnecessary medium of words and conventionalism and whenever the sacred quiet between them was broken she was usually the one to do it.

So in the rare occurrences when he made an attempt at a conversation—like the one just now—she was always taken aback by his sudden eloquence.

"Pardon?" She said politely, blinking in nonplus at the virtually random question that he had popped at her.

"You were still thinking about the lack of any normalcy in your current life." She'd also long ago given up on trying to fathom how the hell his observations were always so accurate. And thus slightly creepy. "So are you dissatisfied with how it turned out?"

Konan stared into his eyes, searching them and his expression for something she couldn't quite place before she lost herself to the endless depth of the pools of liquid steel. She felt weird for even using such preposterous words to describe someone of Pein's stature, but she found it incredibly sweet and adorable that he worried for so long a time over comments that she'd made off-handily like that.

"No, I don't. I enjoy my life as it is." His brows narrowed and she could tell she hadn't convinced him even before he spoke again.

"Really?" It was amazing how much meaning could be added one simple word when coming out of that mouth of his.

But it was simple little words he said like that which awoke a need to reason her actions to him within her every time he said them so disbelievingly.

"I'm fine. And don't give me that look—it takes more than one whimsical vagary to shake my loyalty to the cause. I just… like to dream about things that will never be." She smiled sourly at him, shifting her gaze back to the beautifully tumbling to the ground snowflakes.

She liked snowflakes. They were just like her—each and every one unique in its own one of a kind shape.

"It's been a while since I had something like it to occupy myself with." She added as an afterthought after a little while, pondering fondly whether the snowflakes were bothered by their uniqueness as much as humans were about their own.

They relapsed in companionable silence again, one of her hands absently stirring her coffee while she stared out the window.

Once they were back to their room, Pein marched straight to the bathroom—he had had to use his monstrously powerful rain-controlling jutsu to cover up their tracks again and that always made his whole body stiff with stress knots that scalding hot water seemed to work out quite nicely—and Konan opted for a seat on the windowsill while she waited for her turn in the shower.

She resumed her snowfall-watching activity from earlier. It relaxed her in some weird way. The snow was just so white and she always associated whiteness with purity and thus with innocence. When had she lost her innocence?

Was it when she slaughtered her family like the pigs they were? No, that couldn't be right—that felt ridiculously right and she was inclined to believe that when one lost one's innocence, it shouldn't feel right.

Was it when she had annihilated a whole village's worth of shinobi then, because her task had required it? No, that couldn't be it—that was self-defense and innocence couldn't be lost through the act of defending oneself.

Had she ever been innocent then? She couldn't find a satisfactory answer to that. And that was truly saddening.

She was mercifully pulled out of her thoughts when a large body entered her peripheral vision and when she looked away from the window she found Pein reclining against the wall right by her foot which balanced her on her perched seat atop the frame of the window.

It was one of those rare moments when she felt a tiny bit closer to him because he was in a loose black sweater and sweat pants that were slightly on the baggy side. It was bemusing how very unapproachable the overall Akatsuki coat made him look.

"You're still thinking of that." His deep baritone startled her out of her reverie, bringing her back to present time.

She reserved the need to scoff at herself for later, when she was alone again.

"I see no harm in that." And she really couldn't. What was it to him, anyway? It's not as if he cared what she fretted over as long as it didn't obstruct her performance as a member of his top criminal organization.


If he did care, he did a hell of a good job at concealing it.

"You waste far too much invaluable mental resource on such matters." She always liked a pleasant little conversation with him because the guy rarely ever opened his mouth for anything other than jutsu practice but she was quickly growing aggravated with this topic.

She had to keep her temper checked though. Her partner valued well mulled over responses and reactions over impulsive behaviour and so far she had been the only one in Akatsuki not to have disappointed him in the matter. She didn't plan to start now.

For some reason his opinion of her mattered a lot more than that of any other person in her life before. And if that wasn't food for thought in itself…

"If you have anything better in mind I should think about in my free time, please, do tell—I'm open to ideas."

She hadn't actually expected him to do anything in response to that. It was just intended to shut him up for good on the topic that was quickly growing old. Both of them were extremely intelligent people so there was surely something better to talk about than her personality issues.

Then again Pein had always been that kind of absolutely extraordinary guy defying any characterization and stereotype. He could find the answer to problems that you never would have thought answerable.

He pushed away from the wall, the beginnings of a smirk tugging lightly on the corners of his lips, his arms crossing as he regarded her with an eye brow raised slightly.

"You really mean that?"

The female Akatsuki member looked at him suspiciously. She had never before heard such a question from him. He should know by now that she never said things she didn't mean. What was he planning that required her explicit permission?

Seriously, the guy was such a dark horse a hundred percent of the time. She just didn't get him.

"I wouldn't say it otherwise." She rolled her eyes back to the window, exasperated that she was even still in this silly discussion. She'd never had such an out of character exchange with Pein before. "Honestly, you're acting so peculiarly today."

Little she knew he was about to make the situation that much more bizarre.

She heard his bare feet—yet another rare event—padding against the parquet floor as he moved forward to her until he was standing right beside her by the windowsill. She thought he had finally let go and decided on enjoying the show of the snowfall with her. Until…


She repressed the urge to sigh in defeat as she turned her tired eyes to him again.

… To find that he was much closer than she'd anticipated.

Her breath caught in her throat even before he leaned in to close the gap between them. Her heart hammered hard against her ribcage in an urgency to run and hide when a sudden fit of self-consciousness seized her but she could almost swear it was standing perfectly still as was her whole body, frozen stiff as a board in moment beyond time.

She'd been kissed before—few though these experiences were—but never before had she felt a simple touch become so intense. She closed her eyes in a blind attempt to rid herself of the awkwardness of the turn of events—it didn't help. If anything it allowed her to get much more into it than before.

They were a two-man cell, they were practically together twenty-four seven for years upon years on end and this kind of thing could throw a spanner in the works of their partnership—it was wrong beyond definition. And yet why was it so hard to feel bothered by those thoughts?

She felt more alive than she had ever felt before just by a little taste of him. She sensed his warm even breath on the side of her cheek, tickling the suddenly hypersensitive flesh; she was very aware of the twin spikes puncturing his lower lip as they pushed not half-unpleasantly against her chin; she inhaled lightly and was immediately intoxicated by the minty freshness that was his scent.

She was enjoying herself so much that she couldn't help but wonder how long exactly had she been longing for him to do that?

Better yet, how long had he wanted to do just that? She had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn't that he had just decided to do off the top of his head when she'd dared him to.

He pulled away much too soon for her liking, a perfectly human and expressive smug smirk on his face as he took a step back and regarded her with his arms crossed—when had he uncrossed them in the first place?—yet again.

"There's something to think about in your free time that I approve of."

And without another sound, he padded back to his bed to resume scheming Akatsuki's next move, leaving her to stare dumbfounded after his retreating back.

Konan was plainly certain that there was something wrong with the guy that day. There was no other explanation for his inexplicable behaviour.

And yet she was elated beyond reason, even though her leader might be going bonkers.

She found it rather cute that he worried so much over her to even try to suggest a solution to her problem.

More than that she was content that she now had her hands so full that she barely had time to bother with yearnings for normalcy.

When she had nothing to occupy herself with—and even when she did, if she had to be perfectly frank—she found her mind wandering to him again and she had a feeling that this was what school girls felt like when they were crushing after the 'coolest guy' in class.

And she felt like a part of the herd for the first time in her years.

It was exhilarating to finally have something in common with normal people.

Much more exhilarating were her ideas of the things she could do to him that were brought to the forefront of her mind after that kiss they shared though.

A few months more found Konan perfectly worry-free because all her problems had been solved rather creatively.

One might wonder why that was.

All one needed to know was that those few months found the star members of the Akatsuki sharing more than a fleeting kiss every now and then.

Their fervent kisses led to vehement make out sessions. Clothes were lost during those and before either of them realized what had gone on they were atop the bed or up against a wall—because it didn't matter where really—her slim thigh hoisted up by one strong arm as they consummated their unflagging insatiable passion for one another.

An oblivious onlooker might be surprised that such reserved perpetually withdrawn individuals like Pein and Konan could possess such fervour in bed but Konan herself found it quite understandable.

They were constantly pressured by expectations, by images and others' opinions to be people who they weren't really sure they wanted to be, restrained and given no right for acting upon impulses or urges for fear of messing up anything they had worked really hard for.

When it was only the company of the other, they needed no pretense, no excuses, no masks. They were allowed to be themselves, to be who they pleased, to do as they wished.

All Konan had ever really wanted and needed was to follow his lead, even if it meant going to the ends of earth and beyond. She had entrusted her life to him because he had saved her when no one else would and a bond of immeasurable strength had been born from that moment on, only thickening as time wore on.

It had just taken her a while to realize that she was no longer content by simply being his tag-along on missions, his partner on perfectly business-related terms only.

She wanted him; all of him. She accepted him as he was, with all his kinks, imperfections and odd habits. She believed in him, as she would never be able to believe even in herself. She trusted him, with not only her life but anything she could ever put on the line.

She was ready to bring the world to its knees and bring it to him on a silver platter to do with as he wished if it would only mean he would award her with a single sincere smile, just a miniscule show of human emotion that she would cherish till the end of her days.

He had given her something much more unique, much more fantastic and special that she couldn't have dreamt of before.

He was hers now and she was his and he made sure she knew that with each tender touch, with every single kiss, through every sharp thrust as he plunged deep within her. He was a possessive man who did not like to share and it flattered her to feel that in everything he did for and with her.

Her most favourite moment in their steamy lovemaking was when he reached his climax—his movements becoming jerky and frantic as his body went on autopilot when wave upon wave of ecstasy made him shudder in pleasure in her, his shoulders squaring, his back straightening as a cord, bulging overexerted muscles stiffening and a strangled sexy mixture between a moan and a grunt exited his throat while he adorably burrowed his face in the crook of her neck.

She loved basking in the glory of the aftermath with him, tracing lazy circles on the small of his back while he struggled to regain his breathing, droplets of sweat dribbling down the side of his face, gasps for breath slightly raspy from severe abuse of his voice.

Konan could safely say that she had nothing to worry herself about because those moments they shared, this side of him that he would ever let only her see, were all the glimpses of normalcy she ever needed to catch.

DHA: And, done! Hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I wanted to communicate many ideas but I have no clue how many of them made it across to you… Oh well. I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. Please pardon any illiteracy on my part if you see any. Opinions and reviews are strongly encouraged! If you have any questions that were not answered in the story, leave a logged in review (because those are the ones I can reply to as soon as they arrive) and I will explain anything that needs to be cleared up. Thank you for your attention!

Entry for IceCrome's Pein/Konan contest!