Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of the characters therein.
Warnings: Manga spoilers for Pain's past, and a little bit of PainKonan.
"Art is not the truth. Art is a lie that tells the truth."
Staring down the three masked ninja, Naruto pointed a thumb at his own chest. "You don't know who you're dealing with here! I'm Naruto, a future leader of my village, and I'll never let my comrades be killed by the likes of you!"
The leader of the masked shinobi grunted derisively. "He's just a little brat," he told his two subordinates. "There's no need to be frightened of him."
"I may be just a brat now," Naruto retorted, "but one day I'll end this war and bring peace to the whole ninja world! I'll never give up until I achieve that goal--that's my ninja way!"
Nagato's hands trembled, squeezing convulsively and wrinkling the pages of the book he held. What a load of rubbish! Nagato had always considered Jiraiya to be wise, and had naturally assumed that the older man's writings would contain some of the same wisdom. That was why he had picked up this book in the first place. Yahiko had been killed a week previously, and both Nagato and Konan were heartbroken. They had wandered through the tower where their faction was headquartered like a pair of ghosts, ignoring anyone who tried to speak to them. Nagato didn't really know what Konan was doing, but he had eaten little and slept less. It was nearly three in the morning now, but he felt no desire to sleep. Instead, he walked around the tower, eventually finding himself in a room that served as a library. Gazing absently at the shelves of books and scrolls, one particular title had caught his eye. The Tale of the Gutsy Ninja, by Jiraiya. A small note on the front of the book proclaimed it to be "an inspiring and uplifting tale of hope and determination!" Many times since Yahiko's death, Nagato had wished that his sensei was here. Jiraiya would surely have been able to fill the void he felt in his heart. Jiraiya would have known how to comfort Konan. Jiraiya would have been able to tell them what to do. In the absence of the man himself, Nagato had thought that perhaps his teacher's literary masterpiece could provide some insight.
But he had been disappointed. The story was overflowing with naivete and simplistic optimism. The message seemed to be that if you simply hoped hard enough for something to happen, it would. That determination was enough to overcome any obstacle. That a truly great ninja could always protect his friends, no matter what.
What a load of rubbish.
He had been full of hope, once. He had been determined, once. He had believed that he could protect, if not everyone in the Rain, at least his two best friends. Once.
And where had that gotten him?
You're wrong, Jiraiya-sensei. Belief and hope and optimism just aren't enough. Yahiko had all those things, and now he's dead. And his dream is dead too. The things Naruto says in this book are lies, sensei.
Nagato closed the book and stared at the picture on the cover. An artist's rendition of the main character, Naruto, grinned up at him. The hopeful smile was matched by a confident thumbs-up sign.
It reminded him of Yahiko.
Why is he dead, sensei? You should have been here to protect him! You should have been here to protect all of us!
With a yell, Nagato stood and hurled the book across the room as hard as he could. It flipped end over end towards the doorway just as Konan appeared there. She stretched out one hand, and the pages of the book came apart, melding into her arm.
Konan tilted her head to one side, absorbing what was written on the pages. "Jiraiya-sensei's book?"
It was the first time she had spoken to him in days. He could see that her eyes were red and puffy, and the usually-immaculate flower in her hair looked like it was about to fall apart.
"It's a stupid book," he said. "Jiraiya-sensei didn't understand anything."
"What do you mean?"
"He talks about how you can make any dream come true if you try hard enough. Well, Yahiko tried harder than anyone I've ever met, and he still died. Believing in himself and being determined didn't help him a whole lot, did it?"
Konan was silent for a moment. Then she crossed the room and sat down in front of Nagato. She held out one hand, and a sheet of paper detached itself. Writing covered the paper, and Nagato recognized it as one of the pages from The Tale of the Gutsy Ninja. In her quiet, calm voice, Konan began to read:
"But what good is having dreams, if you die before you can achieve them?" Naruto shot back. "Now that sensei's gone, his dream of a peaceful world is dead too!"
Tsubaki gently laid a hand on Naruto's shoulder. "I don't think that's true, Naruto-san. A dream never dies, so long as even one person believes in it. A dream can outlive the person who first held it, and be accomplished by someone else. As long as you continue to believe in sensei's dream, it's still alive and vibrant."
"But sensei was so much stronger than me!" Naruto protested. "If he couldn't make that dream come true, what makes you think I can?"
"Each generation surpasses the one that came before it. You might not be as strong as sensei now, but I have faith that one day you'll go beyond even what he was capable of. I have faith in you, Naruto-san. I have faith that you will achieve that dream!"
Konan lifted her eyes from the page and met Nagato's gaze. "Not everything in that book is a lie, Nagato. I also believe that a dream can outlive any one person who holds it. Yahiko may be dead, but his dream lives on in you." Tentatively, she reached out and laid a gentle hand against Nagato's cheek. "I have faith in you, Nagato. I have faith that you will achieve that dream!"
Nagato's eyes widened. "You..." He looked away. "I thought that you were angry with me. I failed to protect Yahiko. I failed you."
Konan cupped Nagato's face in her hands and turned him back to her. Her eyes were shining with tears. "No, Nagato. I don't blame you for his death. But I want...I want to give his death meaning. I want to make sure he didn't die in vain. I think you can do that. I believe you can do that. And I promise that I'll be right beside you when you do."
Nagato felt tears welling up in his own eyes. Could she be right? Could Jiraiya-sensei be right? Do I have what it takes to make Yahiko's dream come true? He stood up, pulling Konan with him. "I...I want that too. I can't promise that I'll succeed. But I can try. I can try."
He took one of Konan's hands and squeezed it.
"I will try."
A/N: Fluffy PainKonan is love.