A/N: Some quick warnings up front.

-This fic expands the characters and their motives in a way that does not directly (imo) contradict canon. But this is only because canon is very very limited for both characters. This story is speculative and takes extensive liberties in filling in those blank spots.

-This fic does alter the universe around them slightly in one very significant way: it melds certain IRL historical, religious and cultural elements into the Narutoverse and does not rigorously define how they fit within. Kishimoto does not rigorously define his universe to the point where I feel it can support these elements codified into series terms or support a rigorously defined explanation for my own alterations. It's 'a Japanese fantasy world' and it's borders are not very clearly marked. I wanted the characters to be able to analyze their motives in context of these elements. I think that while these elements don't (presumably) exist in the series universe, they are referenced in the mind of the reader when looking at these characters. It's a device that I probably shouldn't have used since it's gotten me into lots and lots of trouble, let me tell ya. But it's too late for me to strip it out. So take fair warning. This fic directly references many IRL elements.

-Just to be clear, I make no claims of special knowledge on any of these subjects. I'm a lazy graphic designer who went to wikipedia. If anything, I actually know very very little about most of them.

So it's a grey area but- I am going to call this one a partial AU. The series universe has definitely shifted in a number of intangible ways in this story. I do feel that the characters are more or less unchanged by this, it really only gives them more information to play with. But I do know that many may disagree. This story definitely takes significant liberties with the source material that may inadvertently harsh the squee for some people. So- please be forewarned.

At one point I collaborated with another author and we shared ideas. I want to acknowledge that collaboration, but I don't want to in any way associate her with the elements of this fic that have pissed people off- that was entirely, one hundred percent exclusively my bad alone.

Konan understands it, though she is the only one who knows.

There is the hidden Akatsuki leader. There is the god realm, Pein-sama. But both are just Nagato.

"Our purpose," Nagato emphasizes to the gathered members of Akatsuki. "is to capture the Kyuubi." He pauses, intones, inflects for dramatic effect. "And get our hands on everything."

He's being the Akatsuki leader and speaking in the Leader's voice. Konan stands at his right hand, because the symbolism amuses both of them. Even if they aren't being the god and angel right then. Even if technically she should be the spirit rather than the son. Nagato prefers to cherrypick his theology. She watches silently.

And he's laying it on a bit thick, in her opinion. Konan watches him gesture, pause again, consider, contemplate which acting trick. The gesture with his closed fist, like the old films of Mussolini? His arms raised, like Julius Caesar? He reconsiders, puts his hand back down. The words alone are emphasis enough.

They are nine buzzing holograms gathered in a deep subterranean pocket. None of them are there personally. She and Nagato are in fact back at their tower at this very moment. Both of them are tired and cold and she's irritable, she anticipates that Nagato will be too once this ordeal is over. The Akatsuki members have been quarrelling. Sasori and his disturbing new partner are giving Itachi a hard time. Kisame has started to pipe up too.

Some of these members are people she and Nagato have barely met, and only through Madara. Some of them are people they are meeting for the first time. Akatsuki has not gathered at all for seven years. Madara has since shifted focus. Orochimaru has left. Nagato is now being interrupted by the loudest one, the blood-jutsu user Hidan. Nagato is trying to use the Leader's voice to quiet Hidan down. Both he and Konan have impassive, blurred, obscured holograph faces, this is all the Akatsuki members can see. Konan, though, has the first twinges of a migraine. And Nagato is shifting under her, his real body is tensing with frustration.

This is, as usual, Madara's doing. Madara has put a lot of loud uncontrollable people into the organization. Madara has also installed Nagato as the leader- officiallythe leader. In reality, he's the zookeeper, she thinks sourly. He's to deal with the interpersonal hassle so Madara doesn't have to bother. She's said so before. But right now, she keeps quiet and lets Nagato try, she knows that this is important to him. Being this leader. For the wrong reasons, she thinks. But she can't condemn him, she's no better. She's mired in this right along with him. They are firmly stuck in this situation, both of them, together.

That's why they can't save themselves.

It's late now. The meeting has gone hours overtime. It's now long past the advantageous window of time in late evening, where they would usually retire to one of their safe houses. It's raining hard now. They will probably stay overnight after all.

Parts of the tower are comfortably furnished, despite the fact that they don't actually live there. But she's shivering, and Nagato's arm is prickling with goosebumps under her fingers. The thermostats are acting up again, the wiring in these towers is old and frayed. The entire substructure of the city is patchy and battered from frequent shelling and somehow the repair work never fully catches up. No amount of wealth or prestige can buy you escape from the decaying shell of Amegakure. Someone will have to go and climb up through the pipes to find the wiring and solder it back together- and this will be a monumental hassle, given how closely she and Nagato have to guard their personal identities. The rain is hammering at the windows and pounding through the concrete walls. Their coffee has gone stone cold. Hidan has stirred Kisame up again. Konan sighs, and Nagato hears her. He rubs her shoulder idly, as if in apology for all of this. Finally he gives up trying to keep the zoo animals in line. He adjourns the meeting.

When they open their eyes, the power has finally gone out. The storm rattles the metal pipeframe of the building and the windows are streaming with rain. They are in one of the more furnished rooms, her study where she keeps her books and scrolls. Hers rather than his, because his is always a disaster area of papers and notes and scrolls and other creative clutter. Neither room has terribly great wiring or reliable heating, even without the latest battery of Amegakure electrical storms.

"I guess I'm in bad mood after all," Nagato sighs glumly, looking out at the storm. He says this in his own voice again, the Leader's voice requires the holographic buzz and distortion to really work properly.

"There was a high pressure system and a cold front in from the north." Konan says, to comfort him. She doesn't blame him. He's tried his best with the zoo animals. This is all Madara's fault anyway.

She disentangles herself from his warmth and his arms. As the first hour ticked by and the power fuzzed in and out, as the furnace stuttered and the cold began to seep in though the walls, he pulled her into his arms. Usually neither of them will bother with the cloaks for these holographic appearances. But tonight he left his on, unbuttoned, forgotten in the ordeal of getting their rowdier members to show up and settle down and be quiet for their first formal meeting. It was warm there, in one another's arms, under his cloak.

"Maybe that's my bad mood for tomorrow, approaching now so it's ready for the morning." Nagato says, crankily now, from the couch where they both sat. He clearly struggled to keep his patience with the Akatsuki members, and now his mood is unraveling. Konan hears it in his voice.

"Nothing but Amegakure business scheduled for tomorrow." she says. "We can sleep in." Good thing, because it's now well past midnight. She hears him sigh. And then the sound of him getting up, getting the coffee cups dealt with because otherwise both of them will forget and there will be fossilized cups of half-drunken coffee all over the place. Madara will see them the next time he waltzes in to inflict himself upon them- and will comment. How adorably scatterbrained they both are. Why, how amazing it is that they can run an entire village. Nagato will cringe, Konan will seethe and- all of that is best avoided if possible. She's watching the storm and folding paper too fast and roughly, wondering why this person is still in their lives at all when Nagato comes up behind her, and slides his cloak around her shoulders.

Embraces her, the piercings in his ear cold against her cheek.

And she turns around and holds him tightly too, avoids his necklace of thorns, kisses his neck gently. If he's upset then she'll tell him that she thinks he does well with Akatsuki- as best as one could with that bunch. She'll do this to inoculate him against Madara's next visit, where Madara will be full of his usual sweet poison-tongued cleverly-veiled cutting little calculated criticisms.

Madara will come to the tower- where they do not live- and for that precise reason.

Nagato kisses her back, very gently, like she might start to split into paper seams. She seems irritable enough to do it, and in his imagination her jutsu is also connected to her mood, the way his is. Well, the way Yahiko's jutsu is. Was. Yahiko was the one who could control the rain. Nagato has had this body long enough now, long enough for it to seem natural and right, like it's his own.

Not that waking up as a redhead isn't still sometimes a shock. An existential shock, because the face is no longer Yahiko's, and it's not just the eyes either. It's not just the piercings. Konan was not wild about the piercings at first- so I'll cut myself open every time I kiss you?, she said, upon seeing the snakebite studs under his lip- but Nagato was undaunted. If he was going to be shocked by his reflection, he ought to be really shocked. And piercings would have never been Yahiko's thing. He had plenty of stories about his no-nonsense parents and how they disapproved of most things that were too weird, and Yahiko himself could be like a smaller teenaged version of the same at times. What would Yahiko have said? Jeez, you look like a porcupine. Something like that. These pieces of metal are functional, chakra-conductive; but they are also a division, a marking of a new person. Not Yahiko, and not just Nagato as he was before, either. Not Pein- this is a supernatural entity that only sometimes is conjured by the heart and mind of a human. The nature of that heart and mind, he thinks, that's the real question.

And it's completely possible to kiss her and have no one get cut. Even Konan had conceded the point. She adopted a few piercings of her own, a little silver ball under her lip and a ring in her belly button. One other place. She's a bit tense as he holds her, but she's relaxing a little bit as he does this. And he does have to be a bit careful, the piercings under his lip have a sharp point. But it's fine, he's not being Pein right now. He's not being the Leader. He can do this now, he's shaken off the persona- the voice, words, mannerisms, worldview and personality- of the Leader. It's not always easy, to him these things are not just masks or costumes, they are entire states of mind. They're like other, satellite versions of himself. Other people that he didn't end up becoming- but could have, at least hypothetically. A chance to be things that he never was- like commanding, decisive, authoritative. Like naturally, infallibly confident. Like Yahiko.

Maybe that's it. Yahiko could always make other people listen. And while Nagato should probably be disturbed by this thought, right now he finds it comforting.

Though right now Konan has also begun to silently radiate a slow, cold undercurrent of displeasure. It's ironic, really... that she is also able to charge the atmosphere with her moods. And Nagato, for his part, leaves bits of paper and notebooks and post-it notes full of scrawls of his handwriting, unfinished notes- everywhere, scattered all over the tower and in fact every single one of their safe houses like multicolored confetti. They say that married couples begin to resemble one another, he muses, washing out the coffee pot. But then he remembers who said this.

Madara- how sweet, just like a married couple.

And- why don't you make it official? I'll be your witness.

And- never mind. It's bad enough that Madara oozes into their tower, into their business, into their lives. It's too much to have Madara in his own head too.

He's too scattered to handle anything right now anyway, too keyed up with adrenaline from trying to handle Deidara and Hidan- in particular Hidan, who's always a problem- and Kisame too, Kisame being apparently constitutively unable to be serious for even a moment.

Even fifteen minutes.

"It should have taken a half hour." Konan says. "At most. Not three hours. We should have been home by eleven. He's done this to us on purpose."

The he is Madara. The he is always Madara. Except sometimes when the he is Yahiko. This contradiction is somehow both too familiar and disturbing for Nagato to think about. He's tired. He lets Konan go and he contemplates the storm, focuses with Yahiko's body and his water jutsu to see if it's worth it to quell the rain. To even try. When he looks back Konan has retreated to the couch where they both sat. She's gone back to the warm indentation they made in the cushions. His cloak has fallen open, and her hair is starting to escape from it's bun. Her flower is also gone. She has a piece of paper in her hands, and is folding it with practiced speed.

"That new one with the clay explosives," she adds darkly. "..that is definitely directed at us. He's trying to get at you actually. But me too, he makes you upset and he makes me angry. This is how he controls us."

She's complaining about Madara. Calculating and figuring Madara's actions is exactly how she complains about him, Nagato has lived with her long enough to know this instantly. And it's also something he should leave alone. They've had the Madara argument- constantly, for years now, for more than a decade- had it to death. It's not even a real argument since both of them are on the same side of the issue.

But he can't help himself. "The real problem is Hidan. He won't show me respect. I'm going to have to hurt him if this continues."

A snort from the couch, delicate as the motion of her fingers. "He would enjoy it if you did."

But it's too late now, his mood has deteriorated fully. There is something about complaining that is contagious. When she does it, he starts. And when he starts he finds it hard to stop. "He would. And I don't want to hurt him. He knows that, he's trying to force me to do it."

Konan thinks to herself that this is not true, that is not how Akatsuki is reacting to their leader. They are not prodding and poking at Nagato as Madara does. They're just treating him they way they would any other authority figure, testing him and his willingness to punish them and force them back into line. There is absolutely no question of his ability to do so, Nagato has had the Leader flex his power enough to convince even that bunch of this. So it's not that they think he can't crack the whip. Nagato believes that there is a deep philosophical difference between the Leader and Pein, and Konan will allow that Nagato would probably be the expert there. But here he's wrong, the real threat presented by the Leader is not at all different from the threat presented by Pein, and Pein is just the blunt-instrument use of power.

Nagato, however, is now too frustrated and emotionally exhausted to become either of them, the iron severity of the Leader or the impassive indifferent force of Pein. Right now Nagato is definitely being Nagato, and warming to his subject at that. "Hidan is bad enough, but Kisame will not listen to me. He won't stop making jokes. I don't know what Sasori hopes to accomplish by harassing Itachi about Orochimaru. And both of them encourage Deidara!"

The name itself is a bombshell, which she should have anticipated, should have not reacted to. But it comes out of nowhere. The precise practiced sequence of folds- skips- just for a second, her fingers slip.

Just for a second. Her face is still, but of course he notices. He says, quietly. "I'm sorry." And moves on. "I don't like this situation with Itachi. I'm not convinced that he isn't funneling more information back to Konoha than even Madara knows."

"Presumably Madara isn't inclined to sabotage his own operation.." Konan replies with factual detachment. But this is Madara she's talking about, so then after a moment she adds "At least, it's not in his best interests to..." She makes a vaguely resigned face, and completes her paper flower. She sets it down and attends to her hair. "Presumably the fun of sabotaging his own operation is outweighed by the fun of..."

"Of taking over the world with his sharingan." Nagato finishes, ill-temperedly. "That's one thing, but if I strangle Hidan tomorrow then we don't catch anything and no one gets to take over the world, for any reason. Though I think if I were to strangle one person in Akatsuki right now it would be- and I'm sorry-" he makes a necessary apologetic glance to just make sure she's all right. "Deidara. And while I'm at it, I might include Sasori in that, for trying to bother Itachi and for not listening to me and just on general principle! Kakuzu would probably approve as long as he got to collect the bounties! And no one likes Zetsu since he's always talking to himself about eating all of us! And Madara-"

He catches himself, by the harsh edge to his own voice. He's crankier than he thought, too. Outside the wind gathers, pulls, roars dully through the walls. Mentioning Madara, being openly angry with him, is a line in the sand. A faultline. Best left and ignored and covered up. Though at least they know why they hate Madara, it's not something they have any problem admitting to themselves.

So much for that discussion, Nagato thinks tiredly.

They quickly decide they're too tired to talk further after that. They go up to what is not their bedroom, but has a bed and a better patch of the furnace. The storm rages on. Under the rock and concrete and faulty wiring, one hundred stories down, seven basements under that, in the machines and the water and the wires and the rinnegan connection, Pein's bodies sleep.

"Don't feel bad about it." she says to Nagato in the darkness. The rain is hammering dully in the background. "It's okay to mention him." To refer to him. Imply him. Invoke his memory. It's funny, when she looks at Nagato now, Yahiko's bright red hair, she doesn't see Yahiko at all. It's just Nagato.

Just Nagato's soft, hesitant voice from the person holding her, the arms she's slept in for the last twelve years. "It's okay to miss him too. I'd feel worse if I didn't.. and if I felt nothing... come here, we should thank him for what he did for us." Just Nagato.

So she kisses him, because he is still alive, and he kisses her, because he was able to stay with her. And those last twelve years have been possible, because of Yahiko. And it is funny, maybe. Maybe it really is twisted to enjoy it, to feel no contradiction, the person kissing her, holding her, undressing her and the hard flesh moving inside of her is Nagato. They have one another. And no matter how cold it gets, it's warm in one another's arms.

Like Yahiko would have wanted.

So they assume. Because Yahiko is gone, Yahiko has passed into the afterlife. Assuming there is an afterlife at all. Assuming there is a spirit that animates the flesh of the body. Assuming that there are gods and angels that care, or any that don't care, but still exist. Assuming there's anything to believe in at all; she prefers hard logic, Nagato mostly uses theology as an alibi and Yahiko wouldn't have given a damn about gods existing or not. Ironically, none of them were ever very religious.

And Akatsuki scatters, attends to their hunts.

Deidara is out there somewhere, completely oblivious. Only Madara would know.

Deidara is new, one of Madara's big new finds. He's loud, forceful, spirited, restless, his temper is as hot as his enthusiasm. His hair is blond, at least. Not the same at all. But his eyes are bright and hard and piercing, this and his personality makes the resemblance far too close for comfort.

The next day, village business is going on as usual. There is trouble from the south, but this is routine now. Nagato throws down the newspaper in a momentary fit of irritation that is also, by now, routine.

"They called us sectarian warlords- again. I am- Pein is not a sectarian warlord, that is precisely not the point of what we're doing here. Am I being unclear? Am I somehow failing to articulate our guiding ideology? Do we have to send them another press release?" he says, among other things, before finally stalking off outside.

The rain is pounding the city. It's hard enough to cause damage in some areas and Pein really ought to do something about that. Nagato goes out on his statuehead to see if Yahiko's jutsu can fight a weather system intent upon hail. Konan checks in on the village bureaucracy, she and Nagato have delegated much of their leadership down a vast administrative chain. Then she is free to read and to be alone with her paper and her thoughts. The rain lightens, somewhat. Nagato comes back in, soaked. It seems as if even the mighty Pein can't fight a high pressure system, gods still can be defeated by the weather.

Yahiko, Nagato thinks, would have parked himself outside and stubbornly hammered at the sky until it caved for him.

Yahiko would have just made it do what he wanted.

Deidara unsettles both of them.

Maybe it's fitting that Deidara is the one who comes through.

With the Ichibi, extracted from the sandtrap of Sunakagure.

He probably should have expected this, but still Nagato is quietly amazed. He and Konan have run possible approach scenarios for separating this village from their Kage. But the village is like a reinforced anthill. Or a stacked termite's nest, all built upon a flat plane of sand, no good strategic approach points, miles and miles of crystal clear sightlines in all directions. And the place is even more militarized than Konoha. Maybe it's fortunate that everyone in Akatsuki is at least partially crazy, you'd have to be out of your mind to attack Sunakagure head-on.

Which is apparently exactly what Deidara did.

But the call comes, Deidara yelling carelessly in their ears with his report. He has the Kage. His voice is loud and forceful in the same way, but it's the sheer nerve that really reminds him, Nagato thinks. Yahiko always just walked right up to things and demanded they do what he wanted.

But this time the meeting is different, easier. Nagato is getting better with the persona, the Leader's voice and the way to use it. When he summons the stone monolith, even the loudmouths quiet down and raise their eyes, gleaming in the semi-darkness. Suddenly even they have nothing stupid or insolent or disruptive to say. It really is effective, he thinks a bit sadly. Power. Just pure unadulterated power.

Faith isn't the key. Power is. It opens doors and borders, he muses to himself as he gets the Akatsuki members in order, ready to begin the sealing. As if that's all that matters, that's all anyone needs to stop resisting, to stop obstructing, to believe. To go along with what he says. Raw power. Pein's iron fist.

Pein wouldn't care one way or another about Deidara or a dead friend, the past- anything. Pein has no emotions and ultimately no thoughts. He is just power.

Still, in Nagato's mind, Pein is less than his own heart, his own emotions. This must be a strength, Nagato has always believed it was. Even when Yahiko called him a big wuss, he just blinked, uncomprehending. Everything to him was feeling. And that the rinnegan was given to such a person surely must be mean something. All that power put into the hands of someone who does not- cannot- worship it.

Still, maybe Konan is right, maybe they are too vulnerable about Yahiko. If some loud missing-nin from Iwagakure can get to them this way...

Then again, that's Madara for you. Madara would twist a knife in his own back if he thought it would hurt us, Konan says. And Nagato winces, but she's not wrong. Nagato almost has to wonder at Madara, because he seems to be so pure in his intent. As if simply being selfish and self-aggrandizing and rapacious was a religion, it demanded endless sacrifices. Madara does it so completely that it's almost an art form. The grand master of warmongering. The master of destroying everything around him without thought or restraint. And while Nagato really should pity him, mostly he's angry.

Mostly he's depressed, actually. Madara is like a black hole sucking all the hope out of the room, out of his thoughts, out of the world at large. Mostly angry... still sometimes he does pity Madara. And the ritual to extract the Ichibi is long, three days. He has plenty of time to think about it.

Plenty to keep his mind occupied; so many unstable energies in the air and restless people to keep quiet and focused, the jutsu to keep steady and proceeding. The plan is starting now. Before it was all theoretical, but now they actually have their hands on a tailed beast.

"Feeding time at the zoo," Konan observes acidly.

Deidara is silent and still, his hands locked into the seal. He no longer resembles Yahiko. The ritual wears on. Nagato quells the disruptions. Konan is impassive even under the hollow black buzz, the rainbow moirés of the hologram.

No one notices. No one knows their past.

Except Madara. Coming calling like the ghost of Christmas past. Rattling his chains. Trying to rattle Nagato, actually. Trying to yank his chain. Always succeeding.

"Deidara? Oh.. well I though he would be a nice surprise for you. You describe your lost friend so well..." Madara has a smile like a shark.

Konan throws him out into the rain for that, but it's too late. The damage is done. He got his jibe in. Nagato always assumes the face and the manner and even the mindset of Pein for these involuntary little visits. But it's no use, Pein is sometimes just a cover story for Nagato anyway. Pein is just a force that destroys things. Words go right through him, and Madara gets what he wanted, he gets the dagger right through Pein and into Nagato's back.

Into his heart. And in Konan's, because when Madara's really gotten a good shot in, he gets both of them at once. Two birds with one stone, she thinks, watching him stroll out into the rain. His cloak swirling in the restless winds. He's whistling a cheery tune.

And then he's singing after a moment, in the voice that will become Tobi's eventually. Though they haven't met Tobi just yet. At the time this is just new and bizarre. And like a punch in the gut. "...I get all the news I need from the weather report, I can gather all the news I need from the weather report..."

Which sets Konan's teeth on edge. This is Madara in a nutshell. This underhandedness. If they confronted him he'd just plead wide-eyed innocence. He'd say I happen to like the song, I don't see why you're so upset... oh, how clumsy of me. I'm so sorry, I forgot. And never mind that they told him, years ago, that this was Yahiko's favorite song, the song that Yahiko loved to sing about himself, goofy and off-pitch and too loud and joyfully because that was Yahiko, that was the way Yahiko was. And in their grief they believed in Madara's sympathetic ear, leaned on it, told him. Told him about Yahiko, and now that grief is twisting a knife between Konan's ribs. After all these years. She hopes Nagato didn't hear.

"..wait, is that...? Is he..?" She hears his tired, heavy quiet sigh. It's quiet disbelief. "He's such a bastard."

"Understatement." Konan says with tense, sudden anger. "Understatement, understatement, understatement.." she could go on saying it for some time and it wouldn't even come close. Her teeth are clenched.

Meanwhile the concrete well of the streets have picked up the resonant rich tone of Madara's voice, fading off as he strolls away. "..heeeey, I've got nothing to do today but smile.."

"I wish this body could strike him with lightning." Nagato mutters. He shuts the door and locks it.

"Maybe Pein should pay him a visit." Konan says icily. She plays with her Akatsuki ring, Nagato can see her doing it. Twisting it. She might not even be aware she's doing it consciously. "Isn't there some.. scriptural nonsense for this? 'Man cannot comprehend the ways of divinity? No one can know the hour, nor can they know the day'..?"

Yes, something like that, Nagato thinks.

"I don't know where Pein's mechanical life support would come from then," he sighs. "I don't know who would pay Pein's utility bill for the generators." He and Konan fund half of Amegakure's infrastructure themselves. So they'll loot their own treasury? Fail to pay the electrical bill to themselves? Amegakure's economy is a tightrope. And Madara's money is lifeblood, life support for five bodies and one entire village. "I don't know who would find Pein another machinist. I don't know where even Pein would find a locksmith capable of keeping Madara out, should we steal his equipment... "

But he knows that she's well aware. He knows why she needs to say things like that, even though she knows. He knows, he understands her. She understands him. They understand this situation, Madara is like a cancerous tumor grown deeply into your body. Ingrown into them both. You could try to hack him out, but you'd probably kill yourself in the process.

But you thought about doing it anyway. Every single day.

"That's it." Konan is saying. "We can't allow this anymore." she looks over to him, to his eyes which somehow she's gotten used to. When Nagato hasn't even figured out how to look at himself, not really. His reflection is complicated.

...Yahiko's face in the mirror. The slow endless hypnotic ripple of the rinnegan.

"No, we can't leave ourselves open like this any longer." Konan whispers, close to him now, his hand on the door frame, and her hand covering his, their nails painted black, fingers entwining.


Nagato gets himself back together and becomes Pein, becomes pure power, fire rather than flesh, feels the muscles in his face take up the illusion, freeze as if carved from marble, like the impassive face of a stone angel.

Passive, he thinks. Impassive, yes. But passive too, Pein was born in Madara's hands. Make no mistake of that, he reminds himself. Never lose track of that.

But it's strangely comforting, being within the impassive existence of the god. Feeling nothing. Power and carved marble, absolute clarity- nothing else, no other thought or expression. Like Konan's face, in fact, white and perfect, her eyes hooded and somehow there is a mystery to it, her assumption of the face and role of the angel.

So Pein and his angel go down to the machine room. Nagato and Konan lock every door they can get their hands on first, Nagato and Konan are both noted for their intense paranoia. But that done, the god and the angel descend... into the underworld, Nagato thinks. In the deep stone basements, the machines hum sonorously. The water trickles. It's soothing. Nagato can close his eyes, anywhere, feel the fluid ripple of the rinnegan connecting him, opening up the doors of his mind to other eyes, other hands. The ambient sound of this room.

The hidden body is the one that's clouded for him. It's there, yes- he can feel it. Occluded. There. It's just the sensory signals of the other bodies in the way. But if he closes his eyes- his eyes in Yahiko's body- concentrates. Yes, he can feel it. His own body, it's connecting rinnegan eyes, in the carefully constructed web of machines and chakra and water. His heart skips, or maybe it's the body's heart. The two hearts as one. He feels it when Konan touches it.

The body. His old one. It hasn't grown, but somehow it's hair seems longer. Konan thinks so, though she knows that it's hair probably isn't growing, it's not really alive anymore, not in that way. Instead it's frozen in some kind of suspended twilight sleep of aliveness. Caught in the ripple of the rinnegan, some kind of intermediary state. Some position on the wheel of life. She doesn't know which, and even Nagato with his theological scrolls isn't sure himself.

Nagato was growing his hair out a bit then. He was seventeen. This body is biologically adult, but it's still seventeen, it's hair is still long, Nagato standing beside her is now thirty-two this year. So is she, his birthday is in September and hers in in February, they are almost the same age.

The body's hair spreads out around the white face of a boy of seventeen.. a black halo, she thinks. A droplet of ink dropped into clear water. A crushed paper flower, one side of the origami sheet wet black, the other midnight blue. Ripples form and crisscross the white skin as she pulls her hand out, the droplets fall, Nagato's hand comes around hers and their fingers are wet, entwined like they have a million times before. In terror or passion or solidarity. Or just because they are together.

"I do thank him." she whispers. Because no matter what else is going wrong in their lives, they are together. Nagato assuming the persona of Pein is still Nagato. Nagato assuming the persona of the Leader is also still Nagato. Nagato is the one putting his arms around her as she twirls the body's dark hair around her hand, then traces the line of it's jaw with her wet finger; there is no question of this in either of their minds. All of these things are just other faces that are still Nagato. Just droplets in the ocean, ripples in the endless circulation, the spinning wheel, the closed circle of the rinnegan, just faces and one person at the center of the wheel. Six faces, twenty five years of knowing that person. No confusion, she thinks.

Yahiko's face is just one more.