#1 – You sail away from the light of the world
They return home. Fly southward like black birds of ill omen. Konoha's chickens have come home to roost tonight, he thinks. His smile is as sharp as the tiny sliver of moon.
Amegakure is quietly industrious under it's blanket of rainwater. Towers and columns of steam reach upwards like a million hands. Reaching for the sky, for Pein, for a savoir. His mood has torn the clouds apart. The mist is swept from the high reaches of their tower and it's open statue-hand. The stone rises up to meet him. She floats down after him like a silent paper ghost. Cold white glitters everywhere from that tiny crescent mark in the sky. He reaches up to lift her from the air, set her down beside him.
Pein's heart moves in mysterious ways. Maybe he is a romantic, or at least Nagato is. Pein's clear vision sees all, the darkness of her eyes. The mystery of her, connecting to his half-memories of gospel songs, and the love of god as vast and supernatural. Beyond the human heart and human understanding, lifting the human spirit above the downward pull of the world. The wickedness of the world...
She catches him looking. Turns towards him, and in the silent weight of her gaze is the love that burns inside an angel for god. The sacred flame, and she is both the avenging angel with a flaming sword. The guardian angel who witnesses and protects. The girl he met twenty-five years earlier. The paradoxical gentleness of the rinnegan's ripple. Amazing grace, he thinks watching her back, that saved a wretch like me.
Pein's face is clamped together with tense bolts of chakra. The god is not meant to smile. But she looks-
-and somehow, she is always able to see.
The angel stands, illuminated in wet brightness. Raindrops have fallen off the statutework above them. He reaches down to wipe one from her cheek. He can't fail to kiss her now. Where the entire city could see them.
If it chose to look up, glimpse the patron saints of Amegakure past as it wakes up from it's long bloodied nightmare. They could be pagan gods, he thinks, they could come together in a ritual of renewal for the city. And maybe they could have saved it, been it's protectors. Maybe they would have held hands before the bright flashes of the media. Waved like politicians to the people, the young rulers and parents of Amegakure's bright future.
And that is such a beautiful dream, he thinks.
Pein dreams of suffering, and nothing else. As if this love he feels didn't exist. Or wasn't important...
...in the grand scheme of the world. Where someone is always dying. He kisses wetness away from her cheek. The wind pitches and raindrops fall from the tower above, shower over them. She rises on her toes to lick rainwater from his lips. "The elements conspire," he whispers to her. She delicately kisses a wet trail down his jaw, his throat. "...it's like the entire world encourages us to do this." A droplet clings to the piercing under her lip, he kisses it away. She runs her fingers over his cheeks and his studded ears, her thumbs brush his nosebridge and her wet lips connect to the electrical shimmer of metal in his lips.
And he feels all of it, amplified and thunderous though the machinery that links this body's heart and flesh, Yahiko's heart-
-the human heart in Pein-
-to the heart inside the angel. "We don't need any encouragement." she teases him indulgently. They accept what they are. They know...
..what they're doing. "We killed thousands tonight..." she whispers heatedly. "But now, you'll die-"
"I'll be reborn."
Air whispers out of her as he grasp her in the kiss, deepens it down through the stone at their feet, reverberating all around them. She's pulling apart his cloak, lifting his thorns from his flesh-
-so he can pull her so close, and not hurt her. Not drag her down into the sucking wound of his rinnegan. This impossible mess the world has made of him.
"You'll be with me." he whispers. Her arms around him are like the sheltering wings. Invisible, but always there. Always, he knows...
...she's there. "In the new world?" her affection is like delicate thorns. "In the destruction of the old one?"
"As you were tonight, and in every way.." He sighs, because the poise is all in Pein's blankness. Pein's heart is still somehow Nagato's flesh. And Nagato whispers "If you chose, Konan.."
"Of course I chose to." she says, muffled as she holds him tightly.
"If you want to be with me.." Nagato whispers with desperation he should have outgrown.
"Of course I've always wanted to be with you," she whispers.
And the world's deafening voice surrounds them, it's millions of clawing hands and human frailties and lost causes and common tragedies and broken hearts and the newscasters that will go white with guilty excitement and the papers that will scream in huge black letters. The news will go around the world in a heartbeat-
The world falls silent.
"Nagato, I just want..." she whispers and her hands pull him down.
Into her heart and-
-Pein drowns, there is nothing in the world except this.
#2 – Everything looks perfect from far away
It's over for the moment. Come down now, he says.
The world screams long and far into the night. Pein must prepare for Konoha's retaliation. Konan prepares for Madara, since even fascination with Uchiha Sasuke couldn't keep Madara distracted now. The loss of Konoha cannot be lost on Madara.
But Madara doesn't appear. Reinforcements from Suna rush to Konoha's side. The images flicker endlessly on the television screen. The explosion, backwards and forwards and divorced from reality. Even though this is what they are, two people coming down from the adrenaline rush of the mission. This is the death of thousands. This is reality, but it somehow seems too distant to be real.
Pein evaporates from Nagato slowly. And as he comes back into focus, always he wants to touch her, talk to her, feel his humanity through hers. And then- anchor himself so he can reach up and help her down.
They pull one another back together. The tower is silent and chilly around them, Nagato has fetched a blanket so they can cuddle together under it. Just the two of them, no different really than the day they huddled together and cried because they were alone and helpless. This power is overwhelmingly real in a way that neither of them can grasp all at once. Nagato has had enough of it for one night, he falls asleep and she holds him. The most powerful dojutsu in the world and he feels like warmth and flesh and blood. They do this and they almost feel human again. Reality stays behind the screen and flickers silently. The reporters cut it into manageable pieces and they control how much they pay attention to it. She watches the witnesses faces start to blur together. She watches Konoha come apart again and again and again.
Finally the afterglow of the mission fades out entirely into a gradual dawn. Konoha will need days to ball up it's fist and strike at Amegakure. Pein can relax back into silent vigilance. Nagato and Konan can be human enough to go to bed.
And dream.. because now it's really happening. Seven tailed beasts, eight if Uchiha Sasuke has come through. And an entire world if they want it.
If they really want it.
If they can take it, Madara said. If they could just find a way to hold what Nagato sees through Pein's eyes, create some way to contain it all the way the flesh of a jinchuuriki conducts a bijuu.
And if they could believe in it, maybe not entirely, maybe not in the morning when reality descends like a cold chill seeping through the walls. But enough.
And the world and it's wars would fall into Pein's hands.
Nagato has stirred as grey daylight slowly fills the room. He rubs his eyes so carefully, because the blood vessels are delicate. They can break. She kisses his closed eyelids. Grounding him there to remind him of exactly what she loves.
He makes a soft sound of contentment.
"Do you feel anything?" she whispers.
He looks with his own eyes at the same footage of Konoha in pieces.
And then back at her, as if to show her that it's Nagato's eyes, not Pein's frozen mechanical glare set into him now.
And he frowns, thinking, because Nagato's feelings are always mixed. Like colors in the rain, they bleed.
"Like I did after Jiraiya." he admits, tiredly. He lies down again and tucks her under his arm to curl up against him. "But I trust myself." He means, he trusts Pein.
And Pein's judgment.
"It just takes a moment for us to get used to it," he says, his voice turning thin with fatigue again. "Being ourselves again."
"Maybe if we were that way all the time..." she begins. But she doesn't know where she's going with that. Nagato's arms are warm, he's always been her first and best feeling of safety. They could seal the world away in one another's arms.
"If I were Pein all the time I'd lose myself." he murmurs sleepily. "And I'd lose you, we'd vanish from one another. So we walk between worlds..." He shrugs with one shoulder. "Like demigods before us. It's the best way to get what we want."
Morning gathers into a heavy noon shower, as Pein's machinery turns over it's clockwork, Nagato holds her now as she sleeps. Considers what he sees as they interview the survivors. Five thousand dead. Pein can feel everything with the raindrops, can find five thousand warm bodies in the city below and offer them up to Nagato, so Nagato can understand.
If they want it, he thinks.
They want it enough. This sacrifice becomes acceptable in Pein's eyes.
#3 - The purpose-driven life
In his human life, Nagato struggled to believe in a higher power. In any sense of order or justice in the universe, any plan or design to anything. Everyone around him suffered and died, and maybe it was all for nothing.
Or maybe it is this simple.
He is Pein. Pein is god.
But what is a god? He considers it. The rinnegan gives him a changing perception; his eyes are prisms that keep turning, slicing up light differently. There is the religious concept of a god, the philosophical concept of a god, the cultural concept- and none of this means anything to Pein. These are human reasons from a human's viewpoint. They make sense at a human's eye-level, but Pein looks down from the sky. And reaches across it.
Like the scatter of stars. But maybe they are not a random scatter and the world isn't just a tower of happenstance. But Pein doesn't believe in the hand of a designer, or in any hand other than the one that pulls apart the clouds, that blankets the city in rain, that will change the world. End the wars. Pein only believes in himself.
God is an atheist, Nagato thinks tiredly.
God is faithless, even more than the human who created him. It's depressing, at least to Nagato when he looks at it with his human mind.
And it does seem like it's all a delusion. The pathetic revenge fantasy of a hurt little boy.
But if Pein seems a madman, Nagato thinks, that's because the world looks back at him with human eyes.
And human minds that are locked into their humanity. But Pein is like a bird that flies from the cage of his own skull, the blood and tissue of his own brain; he is the air that streams through the towers and carries this city and the lungs and voices and dreams of everyone in it. He is the slowly-forming picture the rain paints in his mind's eye, as it strikes every part of the cityscape. Pein is too much everything for any one human, no matter their strength or wisdom. And it's not that Pein can't tolerate his human self so much as Nagato can't quite get his head around Pein.
And like raw physical pain, that much feeling shuts down the human mind. So only Pein can see both sides of himself, human and god, so clearly as if outlined in rainwater.
Konan tries to help him with this. She has always put her arm around him, helped him to his feet, helped him with his most impossible feelings. She tries, but he watches her struggle. She never prayed at temples or bowed her head, she never burnt offerings to her ancestors or made wishes for the new year. Neither of them could believe in a god that would make Amegakure and let it suffer and torture itself to death, or worse- turn away from it and abandon it to drown in it's own blood. They both withdrew from the world, as if they were already becoming gods, separate, disconnected from it. He turned to water, to un-spilled tears, but she turned to stone. To paper, as if her heart had been ground out of her by the war machine pulverizing the landscape around them. He remembered the gleam of compassion in her eye and thought it had been lost forever, they both had been twisted into different and broken people. But all was restored in the flame of his angel.
After a fashion.
But it was better than before, better than the wreckage of their human bodies. And that's why suffering is associated with enlightenment, Nagato thinks.
It changes you.
He has a changing point of view about it. The prism in Pein's eyes turns like crystal facets, spangled rainbows, the world brightens and sharpens all around him. He becomes sealed into it, as if wired to it electrically, as if made to detonate and change something. The rinnegan turns, promising change. Giving him godhood and with it- all the money and power and hope and dreams in the world. God has plenty of these things. Konan nods, her angel eyes a violent sky blue. She's incandescent with the power Pein reflects upon her.
And Pein looks at Konan and sees her feathers and wings and strength of will, her halo and her hand in his, her place beside him, with him, forever and ever- amen.
"It's everything we could ever want." She says. Their lives, the means to see this dream through, one another.
"Can you believe in me?" Pein asks the angel as she looks back at him, her angel eyes bright like the electrical wheel turning downstairs, powering Pein's tower of intention. The angel kisses his closed eyelids, shows him the light of Amegakure's skyline at night. Shows him where Amegakure sprung back to life under Pein's hands, where water turned into wine, and the power is so real, so undeniable. The rinnegan cuts the light of the world differently and rearranges it, changing things, the colors unfold like a kaleidoscope and Pein appears.
In the body of a human who cannot believe.
Cannot worship this power.
"I have faith," the angel whispers, "in you."
"In suffering?" Nagato argues, because Pein has fled in the face of his human insecurities.
"You say," the angel replies. "that suffering is transcendence."
And that Yahiko believed. Not in god, Yahiko would have cheerfully told them that gods and angels were bullshit. But in doing something.
"I have to believe that he died for a reason," Nagato tells the angel, who watches with her white inhuman face. Like the carved statue of blind justice
"Then all of this did happen for a reason." she says. "Because he gave us one."
A purpose, Nagato thinks.
"I can believe in that," he whispers.
"Then you believe in yourself," The angel replies, her voice as soft as featherdown, her paper enfolding him like her soft heavy wings. Enabling him. Saving him. "And you do believe. As I do."
#4 – And it's you that makes it hard to let go
Konan watches Nagato watch Pein in the mirror.
And the mirror is ugly, it's Madara's taste for high gothic. It's frame is heavy ironworked holly leaves. But it's also a high slab of reflected daylight into their bedroom, in a city where everything looks dingy and overcast. And the rest of their furniture is no better, there's a chandelier downstairs with candleholders, walls full of pipes like they're living in a pipe organ. As if they don't already live in a mausoleum. Or a horror movie. As if the monster built his castle in the guts of an old hydroelectric tower. It's Madara's fault, but most things are.
Nagato is talking to Pein, trying to sort himself out. "I am a monster." he says to his reflection. "And a murderer. And also a savior and a visionary." He looks at Pein as if he expects Pein to fix this for him.
But then his eyes are soft and human again, and they find her in the mirror. She nods. "We are in this together." she adds, to comfort him.
There was a time when they both were new to this waking death, when they liked the inverted pentagrams and the goblets made for goat blood and black masses. They were a lot younger then, and Madara was around to witness their full dalliance with darker religions. And then their painful embarrassment later, when they threw out all the goblets and reversed crosses. When Pein became a god of light instead, and they turned twenty and figured out how stupid they were being. Madara doesn't taunt them about it, at least not openly. He doesn't have to.
But this mirror is where Pein first appeared. Nagato says he rose from the bed and saw himself here. Yahiko's body and messy red hair. But Pein's face, Pein's eyes. Like a miracle, so this mirror is now part of Pein's myth and therefore part of his power. It stayed when the black lace curtains were thrown out. It's ugly and Konan wrinkles her nose when she looks at it, but it's hardly the only ugly part of their history.
So she sits on their bed and watches Nagato watch Pein. Or maybe that's the other way around.
His face is still. And it is Yahiko's face.
With his eyes closed, and in repose, it definitely is. Like a photograph. There are times when she sees him up on his tower, or watches him sleep beside her, and her thoughts say Yahiko. She watches Pein frown infinitesimally, stiffly, because his muscles are all chain-linked through the machinery. A face like a fresh sheet of paper, folding so slightly, becoming another form of himself. He unfolds and Pein vanishes.
Closes his eyes and becomes only Yahiko's body.
"I guess it's only flesh, after all." Nagato is saying. He reaches out to touch the face in the mirror. He bows his head, or maybe it is Pein who falls silent for a moment now. He folds his hands and when he opens his eyes, it is Pein, who stands that way, as if in reverence.
She looks down herself. Her hands folded in her lap and her Akatsuki ring twisted around one finger.
Pein has switched himself off again. Nagato is the one who sighs, rubs his eyes in Yahiko's face. Looks pensively at Yahiko's hand. "He never liked to talk," he says. "So we never did, and I never told him how I felt about him."
Konan knows what he means, though Yahiko could take more emotional chitchat from a girl. But he didn't like things to get sappy. It was hard to tell Yahiko that he was your friend and you loved him, it would make him uncomfortable. So when he had his chance…
..he did what he did. Nagato presses his fingers against the glass.
"I wish there had been another way." His voice is so tight with grief that for a moment, she hears Pein's machinery instead.
"I wish we didn't have to choose." he whispers, his eyes shut tightly now. "I wish we could have the power and we could all still be alive to use it. If I couldn't find another way, what good is it?" Yahiko's spiked hair presses into the mirror as he leans against it. His eyes closed, he becomes Yahiko.
She struggled with it at first, Nagato's eyes in Yahiko's face, Nagato's words somehow reshaped in Yahiko's voice.
Bothering her. And it was because she'd loved him. Been exasperated by him. There were times when he was being stupid and pigheaded, at least in her opinion. There were times when she told him so and he'd start yelling, she'd feel pinned down by the loudness of his voice and the intense blue of his eyes. There was a horrible week where they weren't speaking at all, when his cold anger was worse than his temper and her own turned to sick loneliness. When Nagato looked from her to Yahiko in silent deadened despair. This was the only family they had. One another. When she told Yahiko he was being an idiot and he told her she was being a wimp. There were definitely times when she didn't like Yahiko at all, but she loved him.
Loved both of them.
But not the same way.
"I could choose." she says. "I wonder if he knew that." And he probably did, Yahiko had a sharp sense of the people around him. Yahiko was their friend, but she didn't want to touch him this way, kiss him, she didn't much want to sleep with him. Yahiko said she was his surrogate little sister, he wouldn't have wanted her either.
"He knew how we felt about one another." she says.
She touched him anyway, even though her fingers were broken and her neck wrenched, her body sealed up behind a wall of bandages and splints and sedatives. Nagato was the same, both of them should have died in the beating, but instead only Yahiko had died. Yahiko had acted, forced Nagato's hand. And afterwards she whispered for Nagato and reached out to Yahiko lying beside her, Yahiko's body enfolding Nagato like a suit of armor, gold and bronze and clear polished sapphire-eyes. Just flesh, but it was a gift, it was a barrier. He wasn't sure he wanted her to touch him either, wasn't sure about Yahiko's flesh between them. But she touched him anyway, because she needed to, he needed her to, they needed one another.
Nagato straightens after a moment. The mirror is wet with his tears, like Pein is bleeding, blurring his reflection. She gets up and he turns to lean into her arms.
They did both love him, but you couldn't tell him that, he'd turn it into a joke or he'd be angry. So they never told him and now he's gone.
"But we did have to choose," Nagato whispers. "So he chose for us."
#5 – Follow our stars under a painted sky
"Lie back." The angel whispers.
He shivers. Her voice has silver bearings. Her hands are cold whiteness until she touches him, he feels her heat. She pushes aside the heavy cloak. Her hair tickles his bare shoulder.
She bends down like the arc of her wing. The sky is clear black ice around a full moon. Moonlight will shine into their bedroom. And when he opens his eyes, he'll see her haloed with it.
They are like a divine comedy together, he thinks. A natural disaster. A god and an angel standing against the devil. Working with him, on the face of it. But the devil is out haunting the hurricane alley of Konoha tonight. They are alone, up in their place of refuge, this tower high in the clouds. A simple thing, really. This bedroom. Their bed, and this warmth.
The angel presses him down to the pillows. Her lips brush his forehead, his closed eyelids and the sky begins to mist over. The humidity rises, Pein lies down for her, groans like the god dying on the cross as her lips wet his pierced nipple. Her fingers pinch the other, twist the metal ring delicately. She leaves the steel thorns prickling at his neck. When she bends to kiss him, her finger hooks their chain.
The god sighs as pleasure dusts each pinprick.
"Shh," the angel whispers, and her lips tease him and make him squirm, make him remember his body for once. And not as his weakest link. But as a gateway of feeling, light cut through the rosewindow of a cathedral. The angel bends, wets her lips. She drags a wet trail down his body. Holds him in her hands, teases him with the wet curl of her tongue. A very naughty angel, and it's hard for a god to be overwhelmed by his human body, hard for a god to surrender to his human flesh, it's hard and the angel brushes whispers against him.
And he tenses as if straining to hear.
Reaches for her but she shakes her head. Presses her wet finger to his lips. Presses her wet lips to him and then seals them around him, swirls her tongue down and and her hand twisting and stroking and the god can't hold his silence.
The angel moves away as he gasps for her.
"Shh." the angel whispers, her eyes gleaming. Angels are obedient and protective and they do their god's will. But this one does as she pleases. She takes him in her mouth before she laughs soft vibrations all around him, because the god really enjoys begging for her mercy. The angel is being very naughty. And the god and angel have in fact had a bit too much to drink.
The god doesn't actually mind being a bit drunk. His head drifts and fuzzes out like a thorny halo. The angel teases and teases until he moans as the feel of her breathing against him, and finally she strokes him with the ring of her wet fingers, sucks him in slow hard pulses. Makes him remember the storm turning over, the fluid pressure in the sky. Makes him feel like a wet blade she polishes. Holds him in the white column of her throat as he comes.
Luxuriantly, because Pein's electrified body can feel so much and so deeply, can brand it deep into the base of his spine. Drinking slows it down more. Makes him glimpse angel feathers. White flashes. She's teased so much that he comes and he comes and he can't stop, twists under her. Like the build and build and build of shinra tensei- exactly, like it stops his heart.
Hollows out his heart under her curled wings. "Breathe." the angel whispers. Waits for him to shiver as air streams back into his lungs.
Bends and licks him clean after that. Straightens so he can see her halo. Presses a wet finger to her lips.
#6 - Our filthy hands can wash one another
Defeat didn't kill them, it just separated them from their plans.
Separated them from their dream to remake the world.
The dream is over, Konan thinks.
"It was like a nightmare." Nagato mutters. "But it was our only hope for the future." The situation is impossible, he shakes his head. Their physical injuries take up their attention. Konoha is busy with a very big and pressing Madara problem. They have time.
All the time in the world.
They are home, in bloody pieces. Konan is mostly healed, Nagato is not.
Nagato cuts a windy hole in the clouds, stands in the sun that knifes down upon him. He shades his injured eyes.
Pein told Uzumaki Naruto that he needed to accept the reality of the world, the inevitability of war, the futility of any human action. Uzumaki threw this back in Pein's face.
With great force, in fact.
And also shattered Pein's ribs, popped blood vessels in his eyes with air pressure, spouted Kyuubi tails and yelled loud enough to give them both a ringing headache. But that was mostly a formality.
They also made a tactical retreat, but this doesn't make things better or worse. It doesn't make them any less defeated.
With this queasy sense of disorientation.
"I don't know what we'll do now." Nagato said later that night, his voice ground up by a chest of bone splinters.
"We'll have to run Amegakure," Nagato says now, in the sunlight.
The sun gleams in Yahiko's hair like a crown of flames, Nagato's blistered eyes, the clean white bandages around his chest. "The public wants it," he says. "The city doesn't have any other leader. I have this power and I must use it."
And Yahiko dreamed of Amegakure, not of the entire world.
"We promised him we'd fufill his dreams." Nagato sighs, already tiring. His fingers cover his eyes and come away bloody. He has had enough for now. She re-bandages his eyes. Takes him back to bed.
Lies with him in the sunlight. The mirror throws a hot reflection down upon them. He finds her hand, repositions it over his heart.
We are the same people we always were, she thinks. We are exactly what we became divinity to escape.
"But we evolve…" Nagato says. "We changed to become a god and an angel. We can do it again."
She nods, but says nothing.
His hands grip hers tightly. "We know our wrongdoing. We admit it." he says.
She nods, but she knows he can feel the worry in her silence.
And he sighs, feeling it. "…we can't pretend we're not human. We have this power but it doesn't put us above the rest of the world."
So the world is out of their hands.
"Maybe we should think of it as putting down a burden." Nagato says wearily. "Maybe we should thank Uzumaki for freeing us… from our self-imposed exile. We might be happy if we go back to being human."
His tone prickles with hope he's struggling to have and hold on to.
"I don't know how we'll do that." she admits quietly, so only he can hear her.
Neither does he. His silence speaks for him.
His mood shifts so slightly that she doesn't feel it at all. The sun strikes directly at the window, raindrops shine on the glass. Outside, mist halos and radiates gold streamers from the towers.
He's quiet for a moment. Weighing whether to act on his worry or to insist things will be all right and comfort her. She waits, curling her fingers over his bandaged chest.
"We have one another to live for." he tries. Optimism is so unfamiliar that it feels wrong. They both avoid it.
And at least Uzumaki Naruto did stop them. No one could stop them, no one in the entire world. They were like a wildfire, spreading and out of control, like a chain reaction, like an unbreakable cycle-
"Opened my eyes…" Nagato murmurs. His smile is distant. "You know, he really does remind me…"
Like Yahiko came back to set them straight one last time. Uzumaki Naruto is uncanny in his blue eyes, his loud insistant voice, even his age, Yahiko was seventeen when he died. But most of all in his determination.
Pein's eyes must have opened under the bandages, two bright spots of red well up.
Like Pein looks back at her, bloody-eyed, from the bandaged face of her husband.
"I can't stay angry with him." Nagato says, resigned now. "We probably do owe him our lives. And he's right, there is another way…. For us to live. As he lives." The pained crumple of his lips hints at mixed feelings, at Pein's conditional half-smile.
But she doesn't believe in Uzumaki Naruto, especially when her hands are wet with Nagato's blood.
"It means nothing to me unless you say it." she says, changing the bandages. "And unless you believe it."
He doesn't even hesitate. "I do believe it, Konan. I looked into his eyes." He looks back at her, clear-eyed, despite the bruised eyelids and leaking blood. "There is another way for us."
And so there is.