Author's Note: Am I the only one who thought the whole resolution between Pein and Naruto was the most unsatisfying moment in the entire series? What an insult to make such an amazing villain with earnest motivation to be belittled to such symbolic embellishment. I will try to fix this the best I can.
"Give me an answer!"
The voice was not spoken. It was unleashed. It echoed through across the trees. It penetrated the mind. It struck a young shinobi with a harder blow than any Chidori, any revelation, even any death could possibly hope to achieve. The words were plague – as foul as the iron Nagato spat from his mouth.
"You cannot see things as I do," growled Nagato. "Nor should I have suspected any better, even from one as formidable as you, Naruto. It's with these eyes, these eyes that changed the very foundations of this earth, that I have sight that no one else does. You are blinded by your very nature. My eyes let me see."
Naruto understood. He pried from his enemy's mind the disease, the affliction, the curse that wove itself through the crevices of every cruel action, ever drop of blood and every soulless eye that stared into the oblivion.
Suddenly, everything seemed small. Miniscule even. His opponent, his master, his sensei, his village, his best friend, his comrades, a violet haired girl, even himself. All of them so tiny.
Naruto looked into the ripples of Nagato's pupils and he saw the world.
His friends had died. His role models murdered. His village in ruin.
He saw it all. He saw it all on a single leaf. The leaf was sickly, brown and dying. The wind heaved and the leaf fell. And above the leaf, trees and above the trees, forests.
The forest wasn't burning. It wasn't ending climactically, with every last moment fighting against the foreign power. There was no enemy here. No fire to douse, no entity to blame.
The forest was simply dying.
The young shinobi's mouth dried. There was no fire. There had never been a fire. Only the façade of smoke. Nagato could never have been the envoy of destruction. Orochimaru could never have murdered this world.
All these tyrants and villains, they were smoke - smoke of a fire that would never come.
Fire was not killing the forest. The forest was killing itself.
"And now you see," spoke Nagato softly. "You finally understand. I did not start this war. Nor did any of the Akatsuki, any hidden village, any country or any one person. This war is in and of us.
"I am the leaf," murmured Naruto.
"And we are but smolder," Konan replied.
"But this plan of mine is neither fire nor flame," whispered Nagato. "You fight to save the leaf, Naruto. You may even fight to save the forest. But this forest of peoples, it is unsalvageable."
"And…what is your answer?" whispered the blonde-haired shinobi.
Nagato leaned forward, his chest heaving as he did. "It's not about saving the forest. It's about making these forests mountains! Mountains, my boy! I will make ranges of snowy peaks that break the clouds and touch the very heavens! And people will finally breathe! I will change these forests, dense, overgrown, roots suffocating one another. Prone to cannibalism. Prone to failure."
"You…you'd change who we are!" exclaimed Naruto.
"We are not children of peace, Naruto," confided the weary man. "If peace is the goal, the people we are now will never reach it."
Naruto was weary. He wasn't quite sure whether it was of battles and bodies or of ideas and minds. But he knew the severity of these implications. Every moment of his life, every triumph and every failure. It was about to be turned on its head.
"What is your answer?" asked Nagato again. Naruto heard the desperation in this man's voice. He heard the misery and despair of Nagato, willing to go to war to find this answer.
And Naruto still didn't have one. He felt sick. All these battles he had fought, and what had he fought them for? What answer did he have?
"Like you'd even accept an answer besides your own," Naruto spoke.
"SWINE!" roared Nagato, more furious than any previous encounter on the battlefield. "You dare say that to me after all this? I looked EVERYWHERE for an alternative answer! I traveled to every peak of this world. I spoke to every wise man there was to offer! I dedicated my life to finding another answer! You think I like this? I want another answer, Naruto!"
Naruto closed his eyes. He thought of the people he would never see again. He thought of the countess dead spread across both battlefields and history. He thought of death.
Naruto opened his eyes. He thought of the festivals he had seen with Jiraiya. He thought of the men and women he passed in the village. He thought of life.
"You…you want to cause the world so much pain that it has to change? People have to change? They will change so drastically that humanity and friendship are replaced with peace and fear?" Naruto stated, somberly.
Nagato waited patiently.
Naruto looked up at him. "I have my answer."
"A small smile on the docks," Naruto said proudly.
"A bit of rice when you've lost your lunch," Naruto continued. "Some healing ointment when you're bruised and battered. A free Ramen meal. A…a shared Popsicle when you're…feeling lonely and alone."
Nagato felt moisture pool in his eye for the first time in years. His eyes widened. His jaw hung loosely and his tongue struggled to react.
"A loaf of bread when you're hungry," Nagato whispered, looking at Konan. "A…a cave to stay in when it rains and rains."
Konan's breath began to shake along with her body. The paper wavered.
"A man to take us in when no one else did," Konan spoke quietly. "A man to care for us, defend us, feed us and shelter us…"
"Forgiveness after so much carnage," finished Naruto.
For the first time in the conversation, Naruto witnessed Nagato expression change into something other than the angry and indiscernible. It was sorrow.
"My answer is this," spoke Naruto strongly, standing straight. "Those things mentioned, they didn't just save our lives, they let us live! Where do these things fit in to your plan?"
Naruto approached the Akatsuki leader. "You want mountains, not forests. But mountains can't move. They can't feel. They can't give. They can't take. They…they just are."
"How much is peace worth if there's no one left to live it?" demanded Naruto. "All I know is this. If the choice is between war and everything I hold dear, give me war! Give me war, Nagato. Because the peace you want will kill us all!"
Konan now stood beside Nagato. He looked to the floor and then spoke softly to his life long comrade.
"That piece of bread saved my life, Konan," Nagato spoke, shaken. "I just…I just wanted it to stop! I…I just want to break through the overcast. How else can we get to the peaceful sky?"
"Maybe…maybe one day we'll be from forests to wind," Konan replied, to the blonde's surprise. "Maybe we must…put our trust in him."
"You are truly Jiraiya's student, Naruto," Nagato said quietly. "And…and you succeeded where he could not. Not to defeat me…but to…save me. You're right. I wouldn't have given up that loaf of bread for anything, nor the little cave with Yahiko or the days with Jiraiya-sensei."
"I've made my decision," Nagato said, a smile beginning to form on his beaten visage.
Konan's face instantly dropped. "Are…are you sure?"
"I've never been more certain of anything," Nagato murmured. "Naruto…come here, close."
Naruto hesitated but for a second and them found himself without fear, walking towards the man who would have imprisoned and eventually killed him a few moments ago. Nagato pulled Naruto's head in, the Jinchuuriki's ear at Nagato's mouth.
"There are only ever one pair of eyes of the Rinnegan at any time in this world, Naruto," whispered Nagato. "The Rinnegan is not born."
"It is passed."
The world exploded. White and flame combined as one and consumed the world for but a moment. Naruto opened his eyes.