I don't really know what inspired this...I guess I just felt that my chapter of Pretense wasn't enough, or something. I originally wanted to write a Konan/Itachi moment, but I kind of felt like I would be betraying Pein. Anyway, I wrote this oneshot this afternoon, and I guess I like how it turned out.

Spoilers for some-point-or-other in Shippuuden. Essentially, takes place immediately after Jiraiya's death.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto . Hah - bet you didn't see that one coming!

Lyrics at the bottom are by Hawk Nelson (36 Days).

Lessons New and Old

by LutraShinobi

He let himself in, always polite enough to make some small noise to alert her to his presence. The door swung open and closed in utter silence, but he sank his foot into the uncarpeted floor with about a third more force than usual for his light step, and a faint tap was heard. It was a very quiet sound, but sudden.

She didn't turn around. "You know I don't need that anymore, Pein." He could see her cheekbones move up and down from behind, mouth forming the words with a clear enunciating rhythm. Her legs were curled up beneath her on the floor, long black cloak leaving just a bit of ankle showing, her slender upper body upright as she rested her elbows on the window sill. The dark sleeves fell back, revealing her white forearms, barely visibly scarred by the leftover creases of her paper jutsu.

"I know," he replied. She could always feel him in the vicinity, soundless or invisible or whatever other method he employed. He was a master of deception, mental and physical, but all that was nullified for her. She was his partner.

He hesitated as he made his way towards her, then detoured to his bed and sat himself on its edge. He wanted her proximity, longed to hear the familiar beating of her heart and gentle pulsing of her Chakra, but he wasn't sure if his closeness was equally welcome to her. "He's dead."

She hadn't looked at him once since he'd entered the room. "Jiraiya-sensei..."

Don't call him 'sensei', Konan. "Jiraiya, yes." He knew she was remembering just the same things as he was, if not in the same way. His mind was like a timeline, taking him back to the birth of three orphans in Rain and up to the recently thriving moment of battle with his teacher, year by year, day by day, night by night.

Please. Don't call me a murderer, Konan.

He was one. He wouldn't fool himself into believing that she had never connected the term with him. But you didn't spend your childhood and your adulthood with someone only to place your faith in a name.

"Pein," she said momentarily, as if to contradict him, "come here." He obeyed; a true leader recognized true discipline when he saw it. He sat cross-legged beside her, gripping his knees with his hands, purposely sitting at a level where his head was lower than hers. He had washed himself in the river before coming home (using that word felt strange, but it was right), but he could see now that he'd missed a spot, just under the fingernail of his left thumb. Black blood-rust.

"Pein," she said again, but it didn't seem like repetition. Her tone was so different; softer, consonants more hushed, but swelling with fortitude. No one else ever spoke his name besides Madara, and Madara never said it like that. Madara didn't care how he said anything to anyone, as long as they believed him; and he didn't even care if they believed him, as long as he could manipulate them. Konan believed herself when she talked, and Pein learned from her.

"Look at me." He lifted his head, and his compelling blue eyes met her lined, dark ones. They held no sympathy for him, or for Jiraiya-sensei (he couldn't get rid of the honorific even in his own mind). But the empathy inside was sure and pure; she knew what it felt like to win a losing battle. When you began with a loss, even a victory couldn't make it up to you completely.

She squatted a bit more, descending to his seated height. "Nothing lasts forever, no matter how sad, or happy, or stupid, or real it is. That can be a good thing, or a bad thing; it's always going to be one or the other." She was serious, but a smile was playing around her thin lips - she was getting close to making her point, and as always, her words meant something to her as well as to him.

Pein sighed, almost indistinguishable from a regular breath. "He taught me that."

"Yes," she agreed. She blinked at him, a flurry of thick eyelashes and glimmering depths. "But I learned it mostly from you."

They spent a long, but short moment staring at one another, he with surprise and she with knowledge. Then he shifted, turning with his back pressing against the wall, a few spikes of auburn hair poking up above the window sill. She mirrored his position, bumping shoulders with him as she moved. She smiled at the contact, and gave him a very light, but nonetheless unexpected, nudge with her arm.

"Yahiko and Nagato are gone forever. Is it so strange that their teacher should follow them?" It wasn't the kind of logic that he was partial to, but his own wisdom had left him in the lurch, and he was willing to trust her on this one. After all, she had done him the same courtesy many times in the past.

He realized something. "Yahiko and Nagato are gone...but Konan...is still here." He turned an expression of wonder on her: how had he never seen? How had he never thought about what one constant meant in this continuous equation?

She held his gaze, confirming it for eternity. "Some things last longer than others, you know, Pein."

He nodded slowly, relaxing against the wall. He still didn't think that happiness was quite appropriate, but contentment was enough. The past was gone for all time, and it was somewhat his fault, but that was fine.

Now was enough.

All is lost but not forgotten
One by one, the fights we've fought
And soon we'll be back on the road again.