They want this. They don't want this. They contemplate their indecision. The plan is moving without them.

The yonbi is caught, it's time to go to work. Nagato is around, she can feel his mood saturating the air inside the tower, the rooms folding out all around in squares and ajar doors, the darkening silence now, newly after sunset. The speechwriting must not be going well. She finds him in the living room, a blizzard of paper at his feet. Three fingers of scotch in his hand. "No, it's not going well at all..." he says wearily. "I suppose I feel like I'm lying to them. Or Pein is. But I write all of Pein's lines..."

He's watching the blare of the television with fixed, distant irritability. Looking at people, the eyes of the newscasters and witnesses and talk show hosts. Because he feels the need to connect with the people of Amegakure, and it's harder for him to camouflage his chakra and walk the streets. The rain jutsu and the rinnegan can't really put him on this basic face to face level. It's a need she doesn't share. She kisses the messy red spikes piled over his head. And then his forehead, as he looks up at her with silvered, rippled eyes. He tugs her down into his arms; and it's as if they have no problems, they forget the world around them. They have one another.

They have a beast to seal. Nagato worries about an entire set of things that she would never be bothered by. He has a problem with the uncritical worship of the public- because he fears it might go to his head and encourage his worst impulses. He's embarrassed when Pein is misquoted and criticized by the media- because Pein is personal to him and naturally he takes it personally. He sees a contradiction in that, explains tiredly that this makes Pein a hypocrite- or himself a hypocrite. Then commentary on how Pein isn't self-aware enough to hold contradictory beliefs. The upshot of this is that he is still just the same little boy who wept beside her in the neighborhood safe house. Who tore himself to guilty shreds over an act of self-defense. Just the same boy grown into a slightly drunk man, and herself into something harsh and distorted with rage. And yet somehow, they can comfort one another. Always.

No matter what horrible people they are. Monsters, that's the word Nagato uses. He's switched off the noise of the television, and they cuddle, she holds him, and often the familiarity of that is enough. "You're no more of a hypocrite than any other person." she whispers. "And most don't bother to think about it the way you do."

"And I want vengeance as much as you," he breathes, his lips brushing her cheek. "The avenging angel heralds a god of wrath. In action like an angel, in apprehension like a god. The destroyers of the world, you and I. Make no mistake of that. We're in this together." They're both getting entirely off-subject, they need to go to work but...

"At least you feel something." she whispers against his lips. "That's better than cold indifference to suffering. Or to blindly believe in your own righteousness."

"Like Konoha?" He finally pulls her in for a proper kiss. There's a sturdiness to Yahiko's body that reassures her, it's strength and it's warmth. It seems like the flesh and sinew surround him like amour, like Yahiko's last will and testament for their safety.

"Because we want vengeance. But maybe we just want his money to keep the city afloat." This isn't a proper discussion, it's snatches of breath between kisses. He tastes like the scotch, golden and dark and complex.

"Which makes us sound like patriots." Breathless amusement in his whisper. "Maybe we don't really want vengeance at all, we just want to have put our finger on the nuclear button, known that we could have done it. But still be unwilling to actually push it..." He gasps, she's grabbed him through his pants. "...blow the world to pieces..."

"Or maybe we're just comfortable." he muses, after they've put their clothes back on, gotten themselves somewhat presentable for the meeting. "Madara gives us not just warmth and shelter, but a place where we can live apart from the entire world. As long as we stay in this tower, we don't have to look at it, or deal with it. He's careful to give us lots of time alone with one another. Maybe knowing what he's going to do to us, and what he wants us to do just doesn't bother us enough yet. It's still very comfortable for us to just stay here, put up with him..."

And to just go to the meeting and not tangle with Madara at all. Which is what they do.

____

And it's a waste of their time.

Even worse than usual. She had hoped for less yelling, but Deidara simply yells twice as much to make up for Hidan's absence. No one cares that Hidan and Kakuzu are dead, which upsets Nagato. The Leader in fact becomes visibly angry, which worries her. It seems like a show of vulnerability. It would probably be better if the Akatsuki members never saw any particular emotion from the Leader. Then Madara goads Deidara into a full-scale temper tantrum, disrupting the meeting, undermining the Leader's authority. Kisame is directly insubordinate and Konan watches silently, Nagato struggles to regain control. She watches Madara playing the clown and seeding chaos... this is exactly how he destroys things. Destroys people. Deidara rushes off into a fight with Itachi's brother and something about it is...

...yes, it's familiar. The clock is ticking on Deidara now, she thinks. Yahiko's photograph finds her with it's dark gaze, the halo of the Amegakure flag. It's like those paintings with eyes that follow you around the room. Or maybe they really are haunted, maybe they aren't over this loss yet. They have to be ready, she thinks, looking down at the photograph in her hands. It won't be long now.

The meeting is over and she's half-undressed up in their tower bedroom. Nagato is still down in his study, the door closed, so she has decided to not disturb him. She puts the photograph back on their bureau. A wet grey sky beyond the raindrops standing on the windowpane. The sky is so low in Amegakure, they are so high up in the clouds. They are comfortable.

Just this one problem.

Complicity.

And more then that, how they can learn from it, try to keep it from happening again.

And yet, they never really chose to join Madara at all. They couldn't, they were beaten half to death. Then they were numb with grief. Madara simply swooped in, took care of things. Decided for them. Maybe you should talk to someone about what happened, Madara said, after it was all over. She and Nagato just looked at one another, that empty shellshocked look, the empty space between them. They couldn't explain.

And here they are, fifteen years later. Securely under Madara's thumb.

So how did that happen? Maybe they doomed themselves from the beginning.

From the moment the rinnegan burst open the pupils of Nagato's eyes, his eyelids swelling like beestings. Konan drew spirals on the gauze pads taped over his eyes, with a soft oil pencil so she wouldn't hurt him. She was drawn to it's geometric perfection. Nagato was drawn into all kinds of esoteric philosophy, both of them trying to figure out what it was in their own peculiar way. Yahiko peered under the bandages like he wasn't sure if he was grossed out, pleased or jealous. And while Nagato was hesitant to touch it, to delve into it, he agreed to use it when necessary. They all agreed to protect one another. But maybe this is where the big mistake was made. Maybe she and Yahiko shouldn't have encouraged Nagato to use it at all.

And then? Jiraiya left. Faded away into the bands of mist drifting through early morning drizzle. Yahiko became their leader again, and maybe she and Nagato would have gotten themselves together on their own, their training had given them some confidence. But Yahiko was faster, so he got them moving, and off they went back to the little thatch cottage. She and Nagato sized up what they had been left with- a bit of food, the rent paid. Their ninjutsu training. That ghostly trace of fear on one another's face as they exchanged one quiet, despairing glance, Amegakure's long hooked shadow reaching out to grab them by the throat. Yahiko didn't notice. He was on the phone, sweet-talking their landlord into letting them stay a bit longer. Yahiko was good at charming people into giving him things. And maybe she and Nagato shouldn't have let him keep doing it. Maybe they could have found another way. But it worked so well for the three of them. Yahiko was determined to do things his way, why bother to try to stop him?

The two of them couldn't have stopped Yahiko anyway, he could talk them into almost anything. Maybe they'd have a shot at it now, as adults, but as children they were just too shy. And it did work; so did Yahiko's other talent for stealing. They needed to eat, it was no time to argue morality. We do this because surviving is more important. Nagato said. And Yahiko nodded, slapped him on the back, and grinned. He'd been out picking pockets, filching wallets, leveraging his ninjutsu to be an even better thief. His coat was bunched around a big heavy lump. He tossed it down at their feet and it spilled coins and bills and jewelry, gold and silver, the sun flashing over bright metals and the anthracite gleam in Yahiko's eye.

They certainly had no arguments about spending that money. They waited by the aqueduct as Yahiko went to fence the valuables, guarded the rest between them. She folded lilies out of bleached paper and Nagato dropped them, their harsh chemical whiteness, into the rusty water of the canal. They watched the flowers drift down into the dark mouth of the connecting pipe. And then, when a refugee sprung up from behind the pumps to mug them, Nagato snapped his neck with a wind jutsu and she put the flower in her hands through his chest. Sixteen petals turned to scalloped razors, opened and spun like an amour piercing bullet. It sawed right though him and came out the other side, all it's petals red and wet and glittering like a mirrorball. Pieces of heart tissue came with it, dark and floppy like leaves. They stripped the body of money, weapons, jewelry- threw the rest into the canal. They agreed that it had been necessary to kill in self defense. And...

...Yahiko was right, they had changed. Nagato had changed. Maybe this was it, the wrong move that put them on the long downhill slide into Madara's hands. Maybe it was this early, this casual. They showed Yahiko what they had done, and he nodded. Good, he said. They had to be willing to defend themselves.

At all costs. And they had to have a certain relaxed attitude to morality. Maybe moreso than any other ninja, since they were without an organized shinobi system to provide any guidelines or enforced practices. Amegakure turned on the law of the jungle at that point. So either they would be willing to do whatever it took to survive, or they'd be killed and scrambled over by some other desperate citizen. It was what it was. So it was necessary.

So was money. Off they went to work as ninja. And had no serious problems finding work at all, their skill spoke for itself. Training by someone of Jiraiya's level was almost unheard of in Amegakure, the shinobi infrastructure was demolished. Yahiko got the contracts for them, and at first they just did little piecemeal missions, bloodless work like guarding property or courier runs. But there was another job a young ninja could do. In Amegakure. And probably nowhere else, but the money was good and it didn't sound that bad on paper. It didn't sound that bad when Yahiko sat them down, said it wasn't a big deal, but... Well, he was just saying, but they could make a whole lot more money. Much faster. If they were still okay with it.

Okay with killing people. Because a child ninja, a child soldier, a desperate starving kid from the streets all added up to a small, agile, harmless-looking and cheap assassin. One the targets almost never saw coming. Yahiko had his speech ready, his survival versus morality argument. But he didn't need it. Nagato said he'd learned to manage his conscience in the face of necessity. Maybe having done it once, it was just easier to do it the second time. Or to contemplate doing it. The only real difference this time was that the target bled violently, they all got splashed. It was a big mess. But they'd never cut anyone's jugular before, they had no idea it sprayed blood like that. They figured out how to get blood out of their clothes and hair later. And at any rate, they got used to it.

So if she's going to play this game of second-guessing their past actions, it was probably already too late by then. They were only ten years old. After that, they killed other people's enemies for a while. They had few advantages over other kids who tried to do this work. They had one another, they had their training, they could endure the emotional kickback better, maybe. They had the rinnegan, so they could handle it when their employers felt it was time to purge the evidence and dispose of the hired murder weapons. They could set Nagato upon anyone, any client who decided it was easier to kill the punk kids than pay them for services rendered. They did that for three years. And maybe that was where they got the idea of just killing anyone who got in their way.

Maybe that was where they started to get comfortable. She remembers what it felt like- like they'd never have to be scared and powerless again. The rinnegan meant they would never starve, and they would also never have to cower in fear. They would never have to endure being terrorized by something bigger and more powerful. They found a nice place to live in a nice area of town. And this was also where Yahiko started to run around with other people, other kids. It was understood that they were not his friends the way she and Nagato were his friends. But the fact remained that Yahiko was a restless thrillseeker and she and Nagato preferred to stay home with their nose stuck in a book. So Yahiko ran the streets and got into mischief with some other kids like himself. Troublemakers. But so was Yahiko. And then Yahiko's troublemaker friends turned into Yahiko's gang member friends. And suddenly they were doing work for gang leaders. Lots of people who needed killing on all sides, lots of clients who'd rather kill the contractor than pay them. And that meant that soon enough they were killing gang leaders, they were purging splinter factions, they were looting entire arms of neighbourhood gangs. And no one could figure out how the hell these kids were doing it.

Which is how the rumors started. And how they started to bend rumor to their benefit.

To make themselves seem mythic and more fearsome than they were. It wasn't that the rinnegan was secret so much that no one could really believe it was there, it was easier to believe in child demons, vengeful ghosts of war. Orphans slaughtered, their millions of grasping hands reaching up from the twisted masses of bones, the mass graves sunken into the ocean like buried treasure. Coalescing into three otherwise completely unremarkable children.

Which was also probably where they started to get their reputation.

And where they would reek of blood when they came home. Where they learned to wash it off with rubbing alcohol and lemon juice because nothing else could get the smell off. It was worse than the smell of the fires Yahiko set, or of burning flesh. That memory of smelling like lemons and alcohol for a year and a half is sharply drawn, even more so than any of the victims or their faces. But never mind, she'd rather remember Yahiko putting his arm around Nagato. Singing his song about the boy seeing his friend off, assuring him that it would go fine. The rest was just work, work was necessary. All ninjas make this selective calculation about what to remember. A floating paper flower of a memory. White, unmarked. Dark waters all around it.

Well, anyway. They survived. Nagato came back that night, the task completed, scrubbed his hands with lemony alcohol and threw his clothes into the incinerator because they were stained so badly. The target's heart had burst, but they didn't think too hard about what the rinnegan did to people as long as it made them dead. They repeated that several times a week, five years running then. Lots of work. Because Yahiko was a good hustler and a talented criminal...

And she was a good assassin. So was Nagato. He was actually better at it than either herself or Yahiko, scarily good at it. And you couldn't argue with the benefits. They had an even nicer place to live, in a safer part of town. They could afford all the luxuries they wanted, things they could have never had before. Books and drafting supplies for herself and Nagato, concert tickets and expensive clothes and jewelry and frivolous things for Yahiko, for all of them. It was comforting, and most of all to Yahiko. His family had been poor, after all. He liked to dress well, flaunting their wealth, or what would be wealth. What would become wealth. Status symbols, because they were suddenly starting to actually have status. They were fifteen.

And two things were happening.

The first seemed like yet another phase for Yahiko. His gangster friends had become his party friends. Other young people with their hands on money, whether from being the children of the black market controllers, the syndicate bosses, or from the top level soldiers of the gangs, the winners of the citywide streetfight for dominance. Other soldiers of fortune, Yahiko woud say, and laugh. Like it was funny. He would go out with these people, go to strut their stuff in the glossy enclaves of the criminal rich. That was where the money was, the only money in the entire city. Yahiko would laugh about the police. He would be invited to come to these places, drink and play cards and chase girls. He would be under the wing of someone very powerful. And these people, their complicated world of adult games of money and influence...

...made herself and Nagato feel small and shy and intimidated, even though Yahiko took them along now and then. They just didn't have his easy confidence. They hid in corners, mostly. Nursed drinks they were too young to have. Though this was when Nagato noticed the disconnect with reality.

And whispered to her, leaning in to be heard over the sound system. Because Amegakure by day was all pockmarked concrete and rain beading off rusted metal. These places were like the rippling neon reflecting in the puddles by night. Hidden and otherworldly. The people there glittered, dressed up like an old film noir movie. The syndicates and the crooked cops and the most powerful gang leaders, the militia and the nationalist party powerbrokers. The insurgency's brilliant guerrilla warlords. Their bright talented soldiers as sharp and glittery as a wet blade. Their lieutenants and their muscle and their hard tactical thinkers, their assassins, their gold-plated diamond-studded paramilitary machine. And the three of them just another set of gleaming expensive weapons. Like a fanciful costume drama to blot out the reality outside. Everyone went a little crazy during wars, Nagato said. And immediately after.

And it made them want to believe in fairy dust. A god and an angel rather than just another pair of politicians. The fantasy was so much more compelling, everyone was burnt out on reality. No one wanted more reality. And neither did they.

But all of that was Madara's idea, they just must have become susceptible to it themselves. Yahiko really got off on it, the idea of themselves as demonic children haunting the night, killing brutally and then burning houses down. It was so out of control. They were out of control right with him.

They were in fact becoming very distracted from Yahiko's ongoing antics. They had some of their own going. They'd always preferred to stay home, to read, to talk, to have long intricate conversations about mathematics and theology, the place where they met in the sacred geometries. This was all a bit too much chat and too little action for Yahko. So he would go out into the neon underworld beneath the black ocean of wet asphalt. And she and Nagato were alone with one another a whole lot. They were sixteen. And anyone else in the world, anyone but the two of them, could see exactly what was happening.

Strangers could see it. The people at the cafes could see it, she remembers half-acquaintances making sly comments. They did sort of know other people too. When the rain wasn't so heavy, when Yahiko had torn the storm system open and the sun was flashing in the puddles, they would go for long walks over the bridges, into the canalworks. Into the fringe of the lower city levels, where the new intelligensia was just starting to materialize. Like a million colorful pieces of a shattered mosaic coming back together. In the teahouses where the street poets and musicians gathered to smoke and drink cheap coffee. The graffiti artists who got colorful waterproof epoxies through the black market, washed the concrete moonscape with flowers and rainbows and psychedelia. They met all kinds of really bizarre people, other weird eccentrics like themselves, but they didn't notice anyone else. They weren't paying attention to anyone else.

Yahiko said, teasing them- you guys are such weirdos, no wonder you have the hots for one another!

Yahiko said- what? Of course it's okay with me. You guys are like my little sister and brother. And I have a date. With a hot babe.

And he said- geez, would you guys just kiss already? And then he laughed as the two of them flushed bright red. He said- admit it. Admit you're in love with one another. They were almost seventeen.

And they were.

____

Something else was happening.

Other than their complete loss of perspective, that is. Because at one point they would have understood that they were powerful for their niche, for their small pond in Amegakure's ocean, but they were certainly not the biggest fish. They survived mostly by not picking fights with people who they couldn't handle, who had strange and fearsome hidden justu of their own. But then they started to like it too much. The rush and power of killing, of feeling like no one could touch them. Like they really were demons, supernatural and fired by unseen powers. When in reality, Hanzou probably looked at them the way she and Nagato now look at their death threats, the pipebombs mailed to city administration, the kind of people who do these things. Either crazies or amateurs or both. Not a threat.

But Yahiko's party friends had turned into his political friends. At first she and Nagato couldn't quite believe this, Yahiko never liked to be serious about anything other than protecting them. He was an unlikely radical to say the least. He'd been a garden variety hustler, he'd wallowed in luxury until he was tired of it. But it was as if he'd finally found something to believe in beyond just their need to survive. He started going to nationalist party meetings. And they slowly remembered that yes, Yahiko's parents had been nationlists. His siblings had been militiamen. The collected wisdom of Yahiko's father was full of things like standing your ground, defending your neighborhood. His entire family had been involved in it. Yahiko had been too young. Well, not anymore.

And Jiraiya had always sort of implied, sort of treated them like they were meant to grow up, survive- do something important. That their lives had some actual meaning. Something other than just being killers for hire. So she and Nagato exchanged glances, slowly, behind Yahiko's back. Yahiko didn't notice. He was hanging a huge Amegakure flag on the wall.

He said- this is our country, not that scum from Kirikagure and Konohagure that come here to cause trouble. We need to take our country back.

He said- I was born in Amegakure, my brother and sister were born in Amegakure, my father and mother were born here, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, everyone.

He said- that piece of shit isn't from here.

He was talking about Hanzou. The most powerful of the warlords, the ruler of Amegakure. The sworn enemy of the insurgency. To even say it was a civil war was to make an intensely dangerous statement. You couldn't say that around Yahiko's new political friends- or around Yahiko for that matter. There were not two civil factions fighting in Amegakure. There was an occupying invading force, and there was a population fighting back. He's from the Mist. Yahiko would say. A cold light in his eyes. Like Hanzou had worn out his welcome about fifty years ago and should be leaving. Oh, he's leaving all right. Yahiko said. In the back of a hearse.

Maybe that was it. The moment it became personal to Yahiko. It wasn't for money or survival when they accepted that mission. The photograph was taken that day, the bright dyed-silk flag in the background. Blue and white. Water and peace. Wishful thinking. Yahiko haloed in the colors of the flag.

In retrospect, Konan can see exactly how that mission order got into his hands. It must have been blazingly obvious to the party leaders, as obvious as it is to her, sizing up Deidara, Hidan, seeing a hothead with a quick fuse and too much carelessness. Someone who's overconfidence could take out a few enemies, maybe pull a few right down in flames with him. Someone who would get himself killed before he could become inconvenient to party goals. Yahiko didn't see, didn't care. He just wanted to get his hands around Hanzou's throat. They did a complicated hit on twenty of Hanzou's best soldiers instead.

Took them unaware, mostly. In their beds, asleep. Drunk and passed out, with their mistresses or with their families, whole houses burned down around them. A nice little flesh wound on Hanzou's operation. And while that was probably enough to do it, Yahiko wasn't happy, he had to keep chipping away at Hanzou, he had to start killing without even a mission order or money to justify it, to put some kind of control on it. She can't claim to have felt any differently. Because Hanzou had started the war, Hanzou had played the factions against one another, Hanzou had pulled dirty tricks to keep the fighting going and tear Amegakure apart to keep himself on top. And it was only what any other warlord did to preserve their power, but it was personal. It was really personal by then.

And that went on for a while, as they remained too insignificant for Hanzou to bother with. Until they were worth the effort, which was when Hanzou had them killed. Yahiko killed. Herself and Nagato almost killed.

So what happened? Nothing happened, nothing new. Nothing any more stupid and violent than all of the other stupid and violent things they did. They all caught that reckless fever of revenge. And when it was all over, there was Madara. Right on time to save them. Like he'd planned it.

Somehow...

So maybe there is nothing they can do now. They are sunken deep into Madara's plans. They've been on this path for a very long time. There's no point in trying to interfere, Deidara will probably be dead within the week.

____

A flat, grey morning. Rain like the sky itself is indifferent. And desensitized...

And feels nothing. And really is a cynical liar, as insincere as Madara's smile. But the fact remains, Nagato thinks, they do use these tactics. Cynical as they are.

They use them.

Nagato writes Pein's speech in the grey drizzle that follows the meeting. At first the city beneath the windowsill looks like the wreckage of factory machines, shiny like mirrors, the rain turns everything wet and the streetlights glint hot halogen orange from the complicated cityface. This complicated plan of theirs...

But when the streetlights wink out, there is only the thick flat mass of cloud. A very dull grey color. And nothing but other greys in the city beneath. But finally he can imagine it, what Pein would say. His imagination is like a flame under low heat, greyness all around it. Understated order to his thoughts. So this seems less delusional and crazy and more like a soft-focus dream.

The meeting doesn't go well at all, and afterwards he's too angry, maybe, to sleep. Anger is not something Pein feels. Or maybe anger is all Pein feels, and because he has no other emotions to compare it to, it ceases to be an emotion at all and is just the nature of Pein's thoughts. Or maybe the human mind behind Pein needs to loosen up a bit, so Nagato stays up, locks himself in his study and gets properly drunk. So all his thoughts are unfocused and soft and fluid... And his imagination can conjure the god. You have to lose your sense of reason to become Pein. You really do have to lose your mind.

Thinks about it... weaves the thoughts together like clouds, stitching raindrops and blotting out the sky. Why they protect Amegakure and what they promised Yahiko and how a bloody past might have a paradoxical hand in future glory, because redemption is so important to Amegakure. It's been down in the muck and stomped upon by the five shinobi nations for almost a century. The thoughts were too fractured before, but now the words come together and he hears Pein's voice, sees Pein's will. It's like an ayahuasca vision, Pein's black and white theology turning to rainbows and shiny tin-plated stars, technicolor in high definition. Hyper-reality rather than an escape from it. Then the rinnegan ripples down from this state of consciousness, he drinks more, feels better, and goes to join Konan in bed.

Falls into the long post-sealing naps they take together, eighteen hours of heavy restorative sleep and then maybe a day of lazily doing nothing. Cuddling in bed together, curling his fingers around hers as she sleeps, curled up against him. The scotch mist and the flash burns of the sealing headache lose their high color, fade away. Somewhere in the long slant of white daylight over the bed, she wakes as he dozes, her arms come around him. He wakes against her heart, her fingers in his hair. The sun winking out for the streetlights, turning into the darkened mirror, the night cityscape again.

The pattern of dozing and waking slows down his perceptions, and he sinks into the feeling of her warmth, her breathing, the faint hint of chemical flowers from her hair. The way she smells like sandalwood now, woody notes. She's becoming paper as he becomes more like... Something even more abstracted. Like the magical statues of ancient cultures, like the clay golems and the Anubis masks. Graven idols, both of them. Time slowed enough to feel it and not intellectualize it, maybe. Sleeping together in this sense can almost be more intimate. Madara doesn't call. Neither does the administrative chain. The world is silent.

The picture frame has moved. It's been picked up and looked at. And Yahiko's face is like a faded image in the Egyptology books downstairs. Magical, but gone forever. Something like that. Nagato looks at it from across the room, the strange angle and the slow touch of Konan's heart under his ear. Out of reach, lost forever. Sleep weighs his eyelids down, and he considers that there's nothing anyone can do to convince Deidara, you can't make him think that dying before his twentieth birthday isn't the perfect idea. Or won't give him the final blaze of glory he wants. Maybe it worked for Yahiko, he wanted something similar. He seemed at peace in the vision that followed in the stardust, the twilight place of the rinnegan where Nagato saw him, argued with him. Lost him.

Konan probably still worries about it, he can see it in the subtle deepening of shadows on her sleeping face. He knows she tries to make sense of these things, it's her critical faculties trying to reassert themselves and force logic and order out of this... This afterlife they find themselves in. The gods and demon tricksters will send illusions to confound the logical, he thinks. This is the part of his philosophy that loses her, the way her shapes lose him as soon as they vanish into four and five dimensions. This is why the god and the angel have one another...

And from there he can dream about the love and the way it feels and it's dizzy tilt of gravity under him. But not go too far, because then it's a question of whether this is something they bought with Yahiko's death. If it really is a bargain with the devil. And that's not something you want to think of while cuddling with your wife. Your almost-wife. Your wife in everything but a legal document you'll both get around to signing when you're gotten the reek of the devil off your hands.

But the devil always gets you in the end. He puts his hand on Deidara, draws him into the crosshairs of his shadow. A kiss of death, that's the concept Nagato is thinking of. A fatal laying of hands, like the shadow of the angel at passover. Madara cutting Deidara out of the crowded multi-sided personality conflict of Akatsuki. Out of the herd. The Leader looks, his eyes going through Deidara like an x-ray scanner, looking into Deidara's busy blue eyes and seeing it, Deidara growling and quieting down. Looking away.

Like he knows it and he chooses it. So there's nothing anyone can do. No one could stop Yahiko either, and this is just a preternatural echo of him. Out of their control. Like the rinnegan's rose window eye closing, snapping shut like the steel petals of a camera shutter. Being decisive, it seemed, about exactly who would die.