Nepenthe - (n.) Capable of causing oblivion of grief or suffering.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Rating: T
World: Narutoverse

For LordMordor

When Itachi woke up this morning, he was already dead. And where does a dead man go to find company?

"Everyone, we have a new member joining us today," announces Pein, the would-be leader.

He's not the one who recruited Itachi, though. He forces himself not to look toward the far corner where a man in an orange mask leans casually against the wall. Sharingan eyes survey the group before him, hunters in the shadows. He is scared, he realizes. Thirteen and alone in the world save for one.

No, not anymore.

Bloody Sharingan hides his fear, warding off the shadows that creep forth to embrace him.

"Uchiha Itachi," Orochimaru croons, stepping forward to size him up. "You look older than I thought you would."

Itachi remembers why he's here. He will not fail in his mission. He cannot.

"You'll be paired with Hoshigaki Kisame," the leader of the group continues.

A blue man taller than any Itachi has ever seen emerges from the group, grinning as though today is the best day of his life. "Don't worry kid. I don't kill my partners like Kakuzu. You're safe with me."

You're strong enough to withstand them, Itachi repeats his mantra again, though he's lost count by now. If he repeats the words, maybe he'll believe them. The Hokage does, after all.

"Konan will get you settled in," Pein continues. "Everyone else is dismissed."

After a pat on the shoulder far too forceful to be considered friendly for a normal human, Kisame tells him they will meet up later. Itachi makes note of every member as they file out. Aside from his own partner, there is Orochimaru and his partner, Akasuna no Sasori, a hideous hunchback who remains silent and seemingly uninterested. But Itachi grows suspicious when his eyes tell him this is not a normal man—hardly a man at all. There is Kakuzu, the one who kills off his partners whenever it suits him. He is alone and doesn't spare Itachi even a cursory glance.


The masked shinobi does not move from his silent post, nor does his two-toned subordinate. Itachi cannot stand the sight of them, but if he looks away he may never open his eyes again.

"This way."

Her tone is no-nonsense but quiet, the picture of someone unused to being questioned. Itachi looks at her and blinks. She is taller than him. She is an excuse to leave without exchanging words with Madara. Itachi nods and follows her out the door.

"You'll need to be fitted for your uniform, which you'll be expected to wear at all times," she continued as they made their way down a winding corridor. "Report directly to Pein on mission status and updates. Kisame will teach you the communication technique."

Itachi slows to a stop as they pass a balcony behind glass doors. The Hidden Rain village is aptly named, he knows, but right now the grey sky roils with unshed tears—cold and distant. And he thinks he prefers the rain to this drear.

"Itachi?" Konan prompts.

He turns to look at her, truly seeing her for the first time. His first thought is not that her hair color is striking, nor her lip piercing more striking. It is not that she is beautiful or plain, if he were the type to appreciate such material trivialities, or even the fact that she is a rare woman in the cutthroat world of missing nin. It is the look in her eyes, as grey and turbulent as the encroaching tempest beyond the glass.

"It stopped raining," he says, quietly so as not to disturb the stillness in the air.

Konan's silvery gaze flickers toward the balcony and the stormy sky beyond it briefly before falling. "It'll start again soon," she says, turning around and waiting for him to follow. "It always does."

Yes, Itachi thinks, watching the bloody clouds flutter behind her against a backdrop of endless night. Yes, it does.

"He's too young."

"We were younger."

"That's different. That was war—"

"So is this. Every day, it's war. Or have you forgotten?"

Konan's eyes are downcast. She is not a strong woman, she thinks to herself, but she is dedicated and loyal, and not many can say the same. She will never abandon the ones who need her. To do so would be a sin worse than everything they'd connived up until this point.


Pein steps toward her and she meets his gaze. If she looks closely enough, beyond the cold skin, the once vibrant orange hair dulled and thinning after years of animated death, she can see beneath those haunting eyes to the fire that once burned within. He is so familiar, yet a ghost drifting between her fingers should she dare reach for him.

Most of all, she misses his laughter.

"Konan." Cold fingers caress her cheek, tucking wisps of blue behind an ear. He is always gentle with her.


Not Yahiko.

He lets his hand drop and turns from her. "Keep an eye on him for now. He has great potential. Madara's right about that much, at least."

Not Nagato, either.

"I don't trust the Uchiha."

Pein stops but does not turn to her. "Then trust me."

I trust you.

How can anyone doubt the word of a god?

When he returns from his bath, Itachi finds the ANBU uniform where he left it. The blood of his relatives stains it, and in this light it is so seamless that he wonders if it's been there since the day he received it. But that's not what stays his hand when he approaches it. The uniform is folded neatly on a chair.

"Itachi," Konan's voice finds him from the other side of the door. "I have some spare clothing for you until your new uniform is ready."

He opens the door and admits her, accepting the neatly folded pants and shirt. "It was you."

He doesn't specify what, but she knows his meaning. "Sometimes it's best to let memories settle and grieve."

There is a pause, and Konan takes the opportunity to excuse herself.

"Thank you," Itachi says, suddenly grateful.

Silver eyes trail in the direction of the tainted ANBU uniform, but she merely nods and leaves. Itachi brings the fresh clothing to his nose and inhales, catching the scent of soap, so out of place among company like Akatsuki. Turning to look at his ruined ANBU uniform one last time, he decides to stash it in a drawer.

He never does wash it.

Itachi is a boy possessed of the kind of power reserved for nightmares, the kind that follows its victims to the land of sun and wakefulness, unshakeable and unforgiving—relentless and deathly silent. What could be worse than dying with no one to hear your final screams?

I shouldn't call him a boy, Konan corrects herself.

He is seventeen now, taller than her, and the boy in him has been flushed out by the violence of this world. She doesn't see him often, as Akatsuki communicate in spite of distance, but she remembers when she does.

He is an oddity of sorts.

"I must remain here," Nagato wheezes, trying hard not to cough. "I won't leave the people of Rain unguarded."

Konan resists the age-old urge to reach out to him, knowing it is more for her comfort than his. "I understand. I'll return soon."

Nagato nods, his relief evident, and Konan takes that as her cue to leave him. His voice stops her at the door.

"Konan… Be careful."

I cannot lose you, too.

She smiles inwardly, feeling queer about the warmth that blooms in her chest. It's wrong to derive emotional satisfaction from his worry, but she thinks she worries so much about him that a little cannot possibly hurt. Unlike her, Nagato is strong.

"Are you ready?"

Konan does not need to look for him. His presence is felt from a distance, oppressive yet barely there; a phantom wind. "Yes."

Sharingan glows softly in the darkness, and Konan feels somewhat comfortable in his presence. Itachi is the most tolerable of the Akatsuki besides Nagato. The youngest member, he is also among the strongest. Perhaps they will get through this with their lives. Nagato seems confident, anyway.

"Earth country is two days' run from here," Konan muses aloud as they step outside. The rain has stopped, Nagato's final parting gift.

"If we move quickly, we can make it in less time," Itachi says, buttoning his collar to the brim and adjusting his straw hat low over his face. He is completely concealed except for his eyes, simmering and red.

Konan lets her gaze linger on him momentarily, wondering if this is a good idea.

"Itachi is the strongest of them, and his strengths will complement your weaknesses."

He's also the only one Nagato trusts enough for this.

She wonders why Nagato keeps faith in the young Uchiha, when he seems to spin lies like a tailor spins cotton. She can see it in those eyes that smolder through the fog, the false beacons of a false savior.

The journey is passed mostly in silence, but it's not an uncomfortable sort. At first she thinks him taciturn, but Itachi always answers when she speaks, even if he rarely offers conversation himself. His voice is soft and practiced, as though he could never raise it if he tried. The more time passes, the more she learns about him. He is silent because he listens, reserved because he seeks to observe without drawing attention to himself.

It bothers her, but she doesn't know why.

"We're getting close," Itachi says, eyes scanning the rocky prairie and pine forest beyond it. "He was here just this morning."

Konan knows this. She has sent her butterflies ahead on the wind to catch the scent of a red man tall as a tower. Fear, trepidation, self-doubt... These are not feelings with which she sympathizes. She knows her strengths and, more importantly, her weaknesses. Nagato knows them too, and this is why Itachi is here with her.

"I'll prepare the ambush," Konan says.

Itachi turns to her just as the wind carries her away in thousands of sheaves of paper. They swirl before him and flutter away. For a moment, he lets himself admire this strange power, so unlike any he's ever seen before. When he takes off at a run shortly after, he knows he will be late.

By the time Itachi arrives, Konan already has their target—Han of Iwagakure—in a paper coffin. He is still and silent as the tiny sheaves strangle him slowly. Konan looks on, paper curling along her cheeks and silver eyes narrowed. Itachi watches as dormant chakra flares to life beneath the paper casing, orange and brilliant.

The small sliver of steam escaping between folds is their only warning, and Konan barely has the time to brace herself.

The impact through her abdomen is explosive, and she thinks this is not the strength of an ordinary man. An armored fist blows clean through her, and she disintegrates into a thousand butterflies. Han watches the display, frustrated, but he has little time to appreciate the strange technique. The butterflies fold in tandem and fly at him, this time as a thousand deadly points.

"Damn buggers," Han swears as he executes a round of hand seals. He crouches in a defensive stance as steam seeps through the joints in his armor, searing and damp. The impact of the paper against boiled leather and iron plating is jarring, like the clang of steel on polished stone.

Konan watches the steam with a wary eye, not liking this turn of events. His steam is water-based and, upon closer inspection, slightly acidic. A paper butterfly dissolves in her hand, and she crushes the remains. And now she understands.

I need him to transform.

"I know your game, Akatsuki," Han says through his protective steam shield. "But it'll take more than fancy origami tricks to contend with me."

"If you know why I'm here, then you know your sacrifice is for the greater good," she says, already preparing for her next attack.

Han chuckles darkly at this. "The greater good? Hm, perhaps you're right about that. No one would miss me."

Konan doesn't bat a lash at his response. It is known that most Jinchuuriki despise humanity because they are a source of fear for the very people who gave them their monsters. Why not free them from the ridicule and loneliness?

"Then you won't object to coming quietly," Konan says as she releases another barrage of paper weapons, this time expertly folded shuriken. There must be a blind spot in his defenses where her paper can break through...

"I think not."

A long, white appendage with glowing orange claws breaks through the steam and burns through her attack. Spectral orange eyes simmer behind the wall of steam. He knows her weakness.

As long as he's protected by his steam, my attacks can't hurt him.

Itachi is suddenly by her side as Han slowly approaches, intending to drive her to edge of a cliff face before she can retreat to the tree line. The set to his jaw is hard but calm as he flies through familiar hand seals and takes a deep breath. Raising two fingers to his lips, he releases a massive fireball that rockets toward the encroaching Jinchuuriki.

Han falters, and Itachi's attack envelopes him completely. Konan watches in awe at the largest and most sustained Great Fireball technique she can ever recall witnessing. The heat of it makes her sweat, and still Itachi does not relent. Madara has taught his protégé well. Thinking quickly, she summons her ever-faithful paper and commands hundreds of leaflets to encase the fire and Han within it. After a moment, the fire's output ceases and a compressing ball of smoking paper attempts to shrink more and more as it presses in on its target.

Itachi shoots her a look that could be taken for surprise, but she is more concerned about securing the Jinchuuriki than explaining that she's taken measures make her paper inflammable.

And then the world erupts in a great burst of light and flame before their eyes.

Itachi is blown backwards by the sheer force of whatever has caused the blast. He slams against a tree and falls to one knee, knowing that will hurt quite a bit more come morning. Konan is nowhere to be seen.

"Arrogant humans. You dare to oppose a king?"

The great king beast Kokuo stands nearly thirty stories tall, a noble vision of white as its five tails snap to and fro with a backlash of searing orange chakra. It's the first time Itachi's seen a real Bijuu since the day the Nine Tails destroyed Konoha. Back then it was a nightmare come to life, something orphic and invincible that brought ruin upon them all. This time, he would have to face the terror with only one other ally to support him.

He takes a moment to appreciate the chilling feeling of self-doubt that any legendary beast could incite in even the most skilled shinobi. It's a pause that seals his demise.

"I'll enjoy killing you," Kokuo's inhuman voice booms just as he fires off an energy blast of astronomical proportions in Itachi's general direction.

Itachi breaks into a run, flying through the trees to avoid what will undoubtedly be a lethal attack. Needless to say, he is not expecting the hand that reaches for his and lifts him clean off the face of the earth just as the blast incinerates a two-mile stretch of forest.

He is flying.

More accurately, Konan is flying; he's just along for the ride. The wind whips like a million tiny razors as they climb higher and higher to avoid the aftershock of the blast. Paper wings beat back the rising heat and debris chasing them to the heavens. Itachi tightens his grip on Konan's hand, wondering if he could survive a fall from such a height.

They touch down under the cover of a nearby copse, and Itachi notices a small town not far from here just before they descend below the treeline. There is no time to worry about it now, though.

"He's bigger than I thought he'd be," Konan admits. "But my paper should be more effective in this form."

Itachi peers at her, thinking. "It would take too much chakra for you to surround him completely at that size."

"There's no need for that," Konan says, frowning at Kokuo's colossal form trampling the area and shouting for them to come out and fight. "Strategically timed attacks should bring him down."

Itachi watches as she takes off again, a mere fly on the horizon against a behemoth. He doesn't have her aerial advantage, so he must find a way to fight from the ground up. But first, he will observe her plan.

"Come here so I can eat you!"

Kokuo snaps its jaws, barely missing Konan, and the earth shakes with the force of it. Itachi skirts the line of the forest, nearing the battle but refraining from engaging just yet. Above, Kokuo begins to shake his massive hide as though wet.

"Let's see," Konan says, executing a final hand seal.

Hundreds of small explosions detonate one after the other, making Kokuo stumble as they incinerate patches of its white fur. Exploding tags, innumerable, coat the beast like a second skin and rip his flesh as they burst.

"It's not enough," Itachi tells her after nearly six minutes of constant explosions. But if he were a normal man, he would be dead a hundred times over.

Konan flutters, her body only half formed with paper, but she says nothing as the attack settles and Kokuo lets out a vicious battle cry. They cannot beat him like this.

She cannot beat him like this.

"Can your paper withstand something hotter than fire?"

They share a significant look, the one soldiers exchange when the odds are against them and death is at their door. But they don't panic or falter.

"Not for long," Konan says, already forming her hand seals.

"I don't need long."

Paper whirls and whips about in a tornado-like fashion, and Itachi watches as two gigantic chakrams form from the many intricate folds, steely sharp. Konan raises her arms and launches them both at high speed, spinning and merciless.

Kokuo emits a howl that rattles the bones in Itachi's body. The king beast sees the attack coming, and it will not be fooled by such parlor tricks any longer.

Itachi concentrates chakra in his left eye as his right follows the zipping paper chakrams. Just a little closer…

Kokuo attempts to chomp one when it comes in range, but Konan maneuvers it out of reach at the last moment. The chakrams have the speed Itachi's technique lacks, and if they can pull this off—

"Amaterasu," he says as she crosses the paths of her chakrams.

The twin projectiles spin faster even as thick, stygian flames encase them in a whorl of superheated chakra. Kokuo falters, sensing the enormity of the chakra about to impale it as more dangerous even than the chain bombs, and it attempts to gallop out of range. But Konan's speed and skillful maneuvering are one step ahead of the beast.

Kokuo shrieks in pain as the chakrams pierce it, one in the left flank and the other in its neck. Hellfire spreads across its pale hide like a poisonous shadow, and even the great beast's lethal orange chakra cannot tamp it out.

Konan wastes no time at all as she launches into the air once again and releases a fresh gale of paper. It whips and swirls in a hurricane of razor wind, coaxing the black fire to grow and spread. Below, Itachi carefully wipes the small trickle of blood beginning to leak from his eye as he maintains his technique. It's becoming worse every time he uses the Mangekyou Sharingan.

Come on, come on!

With one final shriek, Kokuo stumbles to the ground under a bed of ghost flame and falling paper, erupting into a burst of orange chakra as it reverts back to its host's form. Itachi pulls back his chakra, willing the flames to shrink and fizzle as he steals back their power. This is harder than creating them, he thinks.

Finally, all that is left of the king beast is a column of rising steam and burning paper. Konan and Itachi approach with caution to claim their hard-earned prize.

"For a moment there, I thought you might kill him," Konan comments, her tone unreadable as she uses a bit more chakra to mummify Han's comatose body.

Itachi thinks he's gotten all the blood off his cheek, but even so he keeps a sleeved hand over the left side of his face. Konan is hunched over and breathing heavily, tired from the chakra depletion. Any longer, and they may have both passed out.

"For a moment there, I thought you already had."

They share a sidelong glance as Han is once more pristine and white in his paper tomb. No steam escapes this time as Konan forces the bundle to levitate.

"Nagato will be pleased," she says softly.

Itachi has only heard Pein's true name spoken by Madara, and it surprises him to hear her say it now. Little is known about the mysterious figurehead leader of Akatsuki, other than the fact that he possesses the fabled Rinnegan and is very likely of Uzumaki lineage. Madara never confirms information, but Itachi has learned that silences speak louder than words.

"Do you always call him by his name?" he asks.

Konan focuses her silvery eyes on her temporary partner, softening but not welcoming. "Whenever I can."

She's sad, he realizes. No, heartbroken. Utterly and completely so. How had he not seen it before?

I see those eyes every time I look in the mirror.

"Thank you for your help earlier," he says. "I...wasn't expecting that particular method." This is the second time he's thanked her and meant it. He cannot die yet.

Konan blinks and the stony woman is back. "Likewise." After a pause she adds, "We'll keep it between the two of us."

If he wasn't around Kisame so often, he may have missed the microscopic attempt to lighten the mood. Unable to help himself, a small smirk pulls stubbornly at the edges of his mouth.

The journey back to Rain is more comfortable than the hunt, and neither says anything about taking the full two days to complete the trip this time. It's almost pleasant, Itachi thinks, to still be alive. He has not thought this way since before. Over the glow of firelight with only the stars as their witnesses, he can almost forget the extraction that awaits them back in Rain. There is no burned and battered body with them. Itachi's eyes dance with fire-lit radiance instead of blood and hellfire. The light in Konan's eyes when he briefly mentions he has a brother is stunning.

It is beautiful to forget.

Long ago, when the world around them was breaking but they were still intact, holding onto each other for the promise of life and love, Konan remembers being happy.

"Akatsuki's getting too big for this place," Yahiko said, the excitement evident in his voice. "We're going to have to move the hideout somewhere else."

Nagato smiled a little. "The people of Ame truly believe in your cause."

"Our cause," Yahiko corrected him. "And this just proves it. Everyone wants to join!"

Konan looked up from the flower she was idly folding, silver eyes settling between her two teammates. "Maybe we should start charging for membership. How are we going to afford a larger hideout?"

Nagato seemed to ponder this seriously, looking nervous about this very real problem. Yahiko rolled his eyes and slung an arm around her. "Details, details."

"Someone has to think about these things," Konan said, swatting his shoulder.

"What would I do without you?"

When he nuzzled her hair, Konan fought the urge to push him away; Nagato was only a few feet away. But Yahiko had never had any qualms about wearing his heart on his sleeve, even if it meant embarrassing the both of them. And yet, she couldn't help the traitorous smile that spread across her face even as she tried to stay his wandering hand.

"Maybe we could try taking on missions outside of Ame for more money," Nagato mused aloud. "I hear missing nin do pretty well for themselves if they're good. And, well, I think we're pretty good, I guess..."

"Damn right we are!" Yahiko said, distracted from trying pull Konan closer. "Let's plan our leave tonight. We'll have to do it without alerting that tyrant Hanzo."

Nagato nodded, oblivious as usual to the small hints of intimacy right in front of him. Or maybe he'd learned long ago to ignore them. Why be bothered by something that made his two best friends happy?

He and Yahiko stood up from their table in the corner of a small, dark pub, their usual haunt on the outskirts of Ame where they'd plan Akatsuki's next move. Konan followed them, pinning the newly folded paper rose in her hair. When Nagato saw this, he took her hand.

"Try this," he said, pulling a real rose from an inner pocket in his thick black robe. "I got it earlier today, and I thought it might look nice. The color, I mean, in your hair."

Konan stared at the red rose, slightly crushed from sitting in his heavy robe all day, but still mesmerizing in its blood-red hue. She'd never been the type to care about material things like this, but the gesture from Nagato, who'd always been a little hesitant to step up and voice his true feelings about things, warmed her heart. Careful fingers accepted the rose.

"Thank you," she said, meaning it. Practiced hands deftly switched the paper flower for its real life inspiration. "How do I look?"

"Gorgeous, obviously," Yahiko cut in suddenly, leaning an arm on Nagato's shoulder. "Right, Nagato?"

"Yes. You're very beautiful, Konan," he said, blushing slightly. He'd never been good at being the center of attention.

Konan laughed, feeling somehow lighter despite the overcast sky and threat of rain that awaited them outside. They walked at a leisurely pace, Konan in the middle as Yahiko talked more about his dreams for Akatsuki and the peace they would bring to this world. Nagato was content to listen, ringed eyes lifted to the sky as though searching for something.

When they made it to the small house they'd shared ever since Jiraiya had saved them from the horrors of war so many years ago, Konan wrestled her courage and tugged on Yahiko's hand just as Nagato switched his frog tile to the face with his name on it. Nagato entered their small abode while Yahiko and Konan remained outside, the former looking slightly confused.

"What is it?"

Instead of answering, Konan rose up on her tiptoes and kissed him, light and chaste, her fingers barely reaching for the ends of his hair. Yahiko relaxed and kissed her back, pulling her close. It was over almost as soon as it had started.

"What was that for?" he said, eyes downcast and soft as he fingered the soft petals of the rose in her hair. "Couldn't wait until we made it inside?"

Even years later when she'd had the time to reflect on that one moment, as stark and indelible in her memory as the deep red of the rose in her hair against the grey-blue backdrop of Ame, Konan could not figure out why the impulse had taken her then. Maybe it was foresight, a premonition before the travesty that would befall them and throw them into a world of blood and chaos. Or maybe it was simply an unspoken need of the heart to pull him in while he was still here. Men like Yahiko had the tendency to disappear, chasing their dreams and never waking again.

"I just wanted to remember," she said, smiling.

Blue eyes watched her intently, a million and one emotions passing through them at once. "Konan, there's something I've been wanting to ask you—"

"Are you guys coming in sometime today?" Nagato called from inside.

Yahiko sighed. "Yeah, coming."

Konan looked at him expectantly, but it was clear that the moment was broken. Disappointment tickled somewhere inside, but she pushed it aside. Whatever it was could wait. At Yahiko's insistence, she reached for her own frog tile and turned it over to the name face. Just as she replaced the tile and Yahiko reached for his own, he froze. Konan turned to him, about to ask why he'd paused, but suddenly she was being forced to the ground beneath him.

The ensuing explosion shook the earth around them with the force of a great earthquake.

What happened next was a jumbled mess. One minute, Yahiko's hand was in hers as he tried to pull her toward the secret escape route behind the fireplace in their hideout. The next, gloved hands grabbed her through the smoke from the conflagration where the roof used to be. She lost Yahiko's hand, and just as she was about to cry out and fight back, someone held a damp cloth over her nose and mouth. It smelled acrid and drew tears from her eyes, but she didn't have time to retaliate because the next thing she knew, she was seeing spots until all the light and heat left her. When she woke next, it was to a sight that had dwelled deep in her blackest nightmares, never quite breaching the realm of reality until now.

"Let her go, Hanzo!"

Bleary silver eyes tried in vain to focus through the pouring rain and lingering effects of the drug used to knock her out. She was standing on a cliff, restrained by something that burned her wrists like hot metal cuffs. The energy even to lift her head more than a couple inches eluded her.

Chakra suppressors?

"I swear to god, if I find out you've hurt her I'll—"

"Big words for a vermin," a rumbling voice said from directly behind her.

Swallowing, Konan blinked a few times and willed herself to wake up and focus. Below, at the base of the cliff, stood Nagato and Yahiko looking ready to spring into action. With some effort, she managed to peer left and right, taking in the sight of myriad uniformed shinobi, Leaf from the looks of it. But why were they here and siding with Hanzo, no less? Her heart sank as she thought of Jiraiya. These Leaf shinobi were not like him, and she got the distressing feeling that they would show no mercy the way her old teacher had.

"Yahiko, Nagato..." Konan tried to shout, but the pounding rain drowned her out. If only she could access her chakra, she could escape and they could deal with whatever was happening together.

"Konan!" Nagato called to her, noticing that she'd finally come to.

"Your little militia group is starting to get in my way," Hanzo said, his grip tightening on Konan. "Yahiko, as the leader of Akatsuki, you will die here today."

Konan felt like someone had just stabbed her through the heart at Hanzo's words. So it had come to this treachery after he'd approached them with a parlay of peace. It was all a farce in the end. They should have known...

"You there, with the red hair! Use this and kill him, and I'll let the woman go."

Rough hands hoisted her to her feet for emphasis, causing wilted rose petals to fall from her hair. Hanzo pressed a kunai to her throat, the sting of it making it hard to breathe. Nagato's eyes were drawn to the kunai suddenly embedded in the earth at his feet, but Yahiko remained stock still and eerily silent.

"No! Nagato don't! Just get out of here, both of you!" Konan screamed. She did not like the looks in their eyes.

"You have ten seconds," Hanzo said, digging the kunai deeper into Konan's throat and making her wince with the sting of steel in her blood.

"Konan!" Nagato yelled out again, desperate for an alternative solution.

"Nagato, kill me," Yahiko said suddenly, his eyes trained on Konan's all the while.

Cobalt eyes, stony and resolved, bore into her, as if willing her to hear him true. No, she mouthed. Anything but this. She fancied she saw him smile a little, but the rain hid his tears.

When Yahiko made up his mind, he was frighteningly decisive.

"Nagato!" he said, jolting Nagato out of his shock.

Konan could not abide this. His decision was selfish, and she could not let him do as he pleased. Choosing to sacrifice himself to save her wouldn't do anyone any good. A life without Yahiko was no life at all. "Nagato, don't do it!"

Nagato bent down to pick up the kunai embedded in the mud as though in a trance. Each movement he made felt like a knife twisting in Konan's heart until she couldn't tell if the wetness on her cheeks was her tears or the merciless rain.

"Do it now, or I'll kill her," Hanzo baited, tightening his grip on Konan and causing her to hiss as the kunai pressed harder against her neck. She dared not swallow for fear of slitting her own throat.

"No..." she rasped.

Nagato looked up at her, lost and despairing. And suddenly, Yahiko rushed him in a blur of orange and black. He reached for Nagato's hand, and just as Konan found her voice to scream at him to stop, her own safety be damned, Yahiko rammed the kunai in Nagato's hand through his stomach.

Time slowed to a screeching halt, the rain itself arrested in its cascade to let Yahiko fall first. Konan didn't know when she's wrested away from the kunai Hanzo held to her throat and started screaming, clawing her way toward the cliff's edge. Nagato sank to the earth cradling Yahiko's body, shaking uncontrollably at the realization of what his friend had just made him do.

Oh god no, please...

"Kill them!" Hanzo shouted at the Leaf and Rain shinobi gathered round.

Konan forced herself to stumble toward the cliff's edge, unafraid of the fall if it meant reaching Yahiko and Nagato. She fell with the rain, as though propelled forward by it, until someone slammed into her and carried her safely to the ground.

"Nagato," she wheezed.

"Stay with him," Nagato said, voice hard. He was trying to cover up the pain with fury. He'd done it before, and it had never ended well.

Before Konan could respond, Nagato was gone and repelling the attacks of some twenty enemy shinobi. Konan shifted her attention briefly to Yahiko's comatose body sinking into the earth, and a renewed wave of grief took hold of her. She crawled toward him, every inch feeling like a hundred miles as the reality slowly and cruelly sank in.

"Yahiko," she cried, leaning over him and resting her ear against his heart. "Please, don't leave us."

Gurgling drew her attention, and Yahiko's blue eyes peered at her almost unseeing. Even covered in mud and bleeding from the mouth, he managed a cheeky grin for her. "K-Ko..."

Konan lost her resolve seeing him like this. Sobs wracked her entire body as she used her bound hands to wipe the mud and blood from his face. "Don't do this. I need you."

He just continued to smile up at her, uncaring that the light was quickly fading. "You're s-so...beautiful...when y-you smile."

His words only made her cry harder as the sounds of Nagato's battle grew more intense in the background. She shook her head violently. "Not without you here. There's no reason to smile."

Yahiko took a shuddering breath, his eyes rolling back in his skull as death stole him away bit by bit. "S-smile...for me..."

She tried with all her might, through the rain and tears and the sounds of dying shinobi all around them for a war perpetuated by old grudges and dirty politics. When Yahiko finally let go, Konan pulled him close and smiled into his hair.

"Kuchiyose: Gedo Mazo!"

Nagato's strained voice reached her ears just then, and recognizing the use of this forbidden technique Konan looked up and searched for him. "Nagato, no! Stop!"

But she was too late. The great nightmare summon materialized and impaled Nagato with iron rods, sapping his energy to fuel its terrible attacks. The Rinnegan spun angry and unseeing as the power of the beast obliterated the enemy shinobi. Hanzo was the last one standing after a handful of the surviving Leaf shinobi fled the scene.

"Nagato!" Konan screamed again, but her protests were in vain. He was wasting away before her very eyes and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

It was over moments later as Hanzo joined the rest of the fallen. Only she and Nagato remained among the living. Panting and clearly in great pain, Nagato slowly turned to her. Konan gasped at the sight of him. He looked like he'd aged fifteen years.

Rain and gravity finally won over and her hair bun fell out of its ties. The remains of the rose Nagato had given her tumbled to the earth, and Konan followed it with her eyes as the rain beat it down and down. The crushed flower sank into the mud, the bold red sucked dry by the greedy earth.

Thinking about it now, she wonders if she died that day, too.


Nagato's voice beckons her to turn and look upon him wasting away in his dark chamber. He doesn't like much light in here because it hurts his eyes. Konan wonders if it's for her benefit. He is a grisly sight to behold.

"I'm here," she says, approaching him.

"You were remembering again." It sounds like an accusation, but she knows him well. He is worried about her.

"Yes," she says. "It comes to me at the strangest times."

"Tragedy is a demon that lives inside us. It's quiet, but never completely silent. Don't forget it, or it may sneak up on you and consume you whole."

She knows this well.

"I'm sorry," she says. "I didn't mean to upset you."

Nagato looks at her for a moment, his ringed eyes contemplative and tired. After a moment, he speaks. "I trust everything went well with Itachi."

"Yes," she answers readily. "He was a good choice for a partner in this particular mission."

Nagato nods, satisfied with this. As long as she returns to him whole and safe, he is always satisfied. "So you will not question me again in this."

Konan shifts her weight. "I don't trust anyone but you," she says quietly, knowing this is the answer they are both looking for. "But Itachi is reliable enough."

"Stay alert," he says. "Madara's influence over him is very real."

"And what of his influence over us?"

"Whatever his true intentions may be, I won't allow him to corrupt my divine plan for this world. Men like him want power for the sake of power. I want to change the world. I will save it."

Konan's eyes soften at his words. She believes in him with all her heart, through the loss and pain of death all around them. She has to.

"I know you will."

There is nothing left to either of them but the faith they have in each other.

He doesn't see her again for almost a year, but he hasn't forgotten what it was like to be around her. Relaxing, like the sound of a river on a spring day, but not comforting. There is nothing comfortable about misery save for its tired familiarity.

It is the day Orochimaru tries to overtake him. Itachi sees it coming—it's the only reason he's able to incapacitate the older shinobi so easily. Orochimaru is a force to be reckoned with, but Itachi's eyes let him see beyond the shadows that chase him. He settles it the swiftest and most efficient way he can think of.

"Strong," Orochimaru hisses as he cradles a broken arm, the genjutsu finally dispelled. "The Sharingan is truly unrivaled in its power."

"That Sharingan will never be yours to exploit, Orochimaru," Itachi threatens, voice steady. At seventeen, he is surer of the lies that armor him, hiding the boy inside him.

Orochimaru sneers, his perfect facade slipping as fury and tarnished pride battle their way to the surface. "We'll see about that, boy. You haven't seen the last of me."

"I'll kill you next time," Itachi says. And this, he thinks, is a kill he could relish.

Orochimaru grins, elongated canines peeking out against too-white skin. He doesn't believe him, Itachi realizes.

Let him try me.

The Sannin disappears then, and Itachi wonders what will happen now. Nothing, most likely. Madara will be put off about losing a member, but he's never wanted Orochimaru here. Men like Orochimaru always know more than they ought to, and Madara tends toward paranoia.

Itachi believes Orochimaru's promise that this isn't the last they will see of him.

When Itachi sees Sasori standing alone in the rain later that evening, having lost sight of Orochimaru as the latter fled the village, he is struck by how much he understands that emotion.

"I'm sorry," he finds himself saying before he can help it.

Sasori turns to him, for once unburdened by his puppet armor and exposed as he is meant to appear. "Not as sorry as he'll be."

And Itachi thinks that no matter how far people fall, how black and twisted they become, there will always be meaning to their existence. Someone is always watching, remembering.

Is this what Sasuke feels like every day?

For a moment, Itachi wonders if this is the right path. If this is the best he can do for the little brother he loves more than the village he's traded his life and legacy for. But such thoughts are irrelevant now. He's already fallen, and he has no wings to carry him back up.


"Pein," Itachi answers without turning from the window he's looking out of. The rain is still coming down in sheets even hours after the incident with Orochimaru.

"While I'm aware this circumstance was exceptional, I expect you not to raise a hand against other members of our organization in the future."

Water runs down the glass window in hundreds of rivulets, compelled by gravity to the earth, down and down until it crashes to the ground in billions of tiny explosions. He wonders what the impact will feel like for him one day.

"Of course," Itachi returns evenly. "I don't expect to have any more problems in the future."

"Since Orochimaru's expulsion is technically your doing, I'll expect you to recruit a replacement as Sasori's partner going forward. We cannot function as intended unless we're at full capacity."

Memories of screams of anguish fill his mind, as though he can still hear the cries of the Jinchuuriki and their Bijuu as the souls are forcefully separated in Akatsuki's extraction ritual. With fewer than ten members, they would have to endure the wailing for longer than the allotted three days.

"As you wish."

Pein is silent for a moment before joining him at the wide terrace window. The Rinnegan is supposedly the most fearsome doujutsu in existence, but Itachi wonders how Pein—how Nagato—would fare against the likes of Madara.

Or me.

"Konan praised your role in the capture of the Five Tails."

Red eyes peer at his supposed leader and commander discreetly. Pein is the picture of confidence and raw power, ever composed and unshakable. It makes Itachi wonder how Nagato compares. The chakra flowing through Pein's pierced body is meant to control, not to invigorate. Is Nagato watching him through the walls? What does he see?

"It went rather smoothly," Itachi agrees. "Her technique proved invaluable."

They continue to watch the rain, and Itachi wonders what Pein could be thinking as he follows the droplets with cold, dead eyes.

"You are here because you believe in my cause," Pein says finally.

"I believe our ideals coincide," Itachi says.

"The peace I hope to achieve will not come easily. The world must know pain before any progress can ever be made."

Itachi thinks about this for a moment. "Some might say the world has seen enough pain."

"Some of us have, yes. But those who are ignorant can never understand the meaning behind their platitudes of peace and harmony as long as their armies shamelessly slaughter innocents in their names. This isn't the peace I envision."

Itachi's eyes fall and he feels like laughing, a rarity for him. But the Hokage would never believe him. He would never believe that Pein is not the true enemy.

"People need an outlet for their hatred. Knowing that no matter how foul they become there will always be someone fouler, they sleep better at night."

"It's precisely that kind of thinking I want to change," Pein says, turning to face Itachi fully.

Itachi turns to regard him as well. I wonder if it will ever be so simple. "Then I supposed we have our work cut out for us."

"Yes," Pein agrees. "Which is why I want to ensure nothing gets in the way moving forward."

They share a significant look, and Itachi is genuinely surprised at Pein's audacity. Removing an obstacle such as Madara would be no fool's task. Still...

"A boulder in your path is easier to move over mud than dry earth."

Pein returns his gaze to the window and the torrential waters churning the earth under their power. They share the solitude for a moment before Pein says softly, "Then I'll call upon the rain."

They watch the rain beat the earth into submission in silence for a long time.

When Konan hears about the incident in Konoha perpetrated by Itachi and Kisame, she finds herself inexplicably irritated. And yet, Itachi seems unsurprised when she confronts him twentieth story balcony at the base in Rain.

"What are you trying to pull, waltzing into Konoha like you own the place?" she demands in hushed tones.

"I was after the Nine Tails," he says, as though he is explaining this to a child. "The Jinchuuriki, Uzumaki Naruto, lives in Konoha."

Konan doesn't really buy this. "If I'm not mistaken, that boy is twelve years old. I suppose you and Kisame encountered resistance?"

"A bit."

She watches him momentarily, those red eyes smoldering and hiding secrets she's not sure she'll ever want to know. "Kisame reported the skirmish between you and your brother. I imagine it wasn't easy for your to face him."

"Sasuke is a child grasping at straws. He's not strong enough to kill me. Your concern is unnecessary."

"Maybe not now, but one day he will be," she says, watching him carefully. "You could have killed him then and eliminated the threat. Why didn't you?"

Even as she says the words, she feels herself stumbling upon a carefully guarded secret. Itachi is ruthlessly efficient in all that he does, and yet this debacle in Konoha is sloppy. It isn't him.

"What would be the point? A meaningless kill. He is weak and he always will be."

He reminds her so much of how Nagato used to be that it makes her angry. Nagato never trusted Yahiko and her with the darkness that slowly consumed him until it was too late. Now, as he sits upon his iron throne, he is a god of shadows, and no light can reach him.

"You seem confident about that. What if he surprises you one day?"

Itachi tilts his face skyward, searching or remembering—she's not sure which. "Wouldn't that be something."

The longing in his voice is not lost on her, and Konan thinks she understands something about him in that moment. She is no stranger to doubt, but perhaps Itachi is.

What is he so afraid of?

"For someone with such strong convictions, you sound like you're second guessing yourself."

"Even the strongest convictions fall prey to doubt." He turns to look at her then, and Konan resists the urge to shiver. "You should know."

"I have no doubts about why I'm here," she defends automatically. "Everyone has a purpose. Some seek revenge, others want money and power. But your reasons are harder to place. Why are you really here?"

"For the same reason you are. I want to see a world without war."

"Then you understand that the world must understand pain before it can ever hope to achieve peace. And even then, the cycle of hatred will continue. So long as men are mortal, they will find a way to hate and seethe and kill. That's what Pein believes, what I believe," Konan says. It's a mantra she has memorized for the people of Rain, rhythmic and rehearsed.

"You may be right about the cycle of hatred, that it will always continue so long as humans hold onto their selfish desires. One man's enemy is another man's brother, after all."

The soft curiosity in his voice reminds her of her earlier suspicions. "But you disagree, don't you? Why?"

"I don't disagree. But...if there were another way to achieve peace, a way that doesn't end in the perpetual slaughter of innocents or those acting only to protect the ones they love, what would your god say to that? ...Or rather, what would god's angel say?"

Konan finds that she has no answer for him. There has never been another way, nor has she ever needed one. "There is no other way."

Itachi turns to look out over the ruined city below them. The rain falls in heavy droplets, intermittent but potent. "We all act according to our own convictions. You could say that there are invisible gates called 'perception' between us, and we pass through them selectively."

Konan has heard these arguments before. She is used to defending Nagato's principles, her principles. "But some perceptions are more correct than others."

"That doesn't stop people from believing what they want and turning a blind eye to what they disdain."

Konan never second-guesses Nagato's beliefs. She had never had a reason to question him.

That isn't true.

Ever since Madara came into their lives, she's found it harder to sleep. But looking in from the outside, what can she do but believe in Nagato and see past the encroaching darkness? There is nothing else, which leaves only one question. "What do you believe in, Itachi?"

The rain is becoming more confident with every passing minute until there are a thousand rivers running around and between them, cascading over the edge of the balcony in free-falling columns. Konan doesn't move closer to him, nor does she look away.

Finally, he answers her. "I believe people will always chase after their heart's desires, no matter the cost."

Somehow, Konan thinks they are no longer talking about Akatsuki.

"...What will you do when Sasuke comes for you?"

"I'll face him, as an equal and as a brother."

Itachi is an old soul, weary and worn but never quite able to let go. When Konan is with him she can hear clocks among the pitter patter of the rain. Are they simply cataloguing the minutes or counting down to something? And if the latter, what lies at the end of Itachi's time?

What lies at the end of hers?

They stand in silence for a while longer as the world around them slowly drowns.

Later, in the confines of his humble room, Itachi sits on his bed and replays the events of late. Sasuke is stagnating, held back from indulging his hatred by all those around him. The hatred is there, but it isn't enough.

He worries it never will be.

Perhaps this unexpected meeting will remind Sasuke that he has a job to do. Itachi is patient, but even he cannot wait forever. Death is at his door, and he can hear the bells tolling for him in the distance. They are still far but never silent.

But Itachi isn't wasting away. He has something to fill his mind with other than the clocks that tick away in his ear.

"I want to see a world without war."

This is the most honest thing he's ever told anyone. He can't even remember the last time he spoke words untainted by lies and filth. And Konan believed him, questioning only his methods but not his conviction. He can't remember the last time someone really believed him since...Sasuke.

And we all know how that turned out.

Misery is an abyss that separates the afflicted from those who cannot understand. They say that misery loves company, and this may well be so. Itachi is intimately acquainted with misery. He cannot remember a time in his life during which this was not the case. From the horrors of war he witnessed as small child to the curse of his birthright and a destiny simply to die, his only companion has been misery.

But misery also has a way of finding kindred spirits, the way he once found Shisui. Itachi wonders if that is what's happening now. There is no other reason for him to tell Kisame he wants to recuperate at the main base in Rain, rather than in a dingy motel on the road somewhere. There is no reason for her to seek him out whenever he passes through, which is more often than any other member. He thinks he should feel relieved, satisfied even. Maybe a little happy.

All he feels is an empty longing with no clear objective.

There is a threshold waiting to be crossed, but neither of them takes the last step. They merely watch each other from opposite ends of the abyss. Yet they can reach out, their fingertips ghost past each other, so near but so far. It hurts to be so close to comfort but know it can never be attained. Nor should it. Misery loves company, but it only breeds more misery. Itachi suspects neither of them needs any more than they have.

And yet, he reaches farther across the chasm that divides them, wondering what it would be like to reach her. He wonders if he falls as he reaches, will she tumble down after him?

"Everyone should take a moment to mourn the loss of Deidara," Pein says. "He was very strong."

Konan watches on in silence as the rest of the Akatsuki react to the outcome of Deidara's battle with Uchiha Sasuke. Most couldn't care less, and they are not afraid to voice as much. Some are downright hostile, shaming the blonde bomber for losing to a child.

Deidara himself was a child.

But such melancholy thoughts will do no one any good.

Itachi's hologram remains perfectly still, and if not for the burning red of his eyes she might mistake his shadow for a trick of the light. He takes care never to look at anyone, especially her. Especially her.

"Itachi, you should be grateful. Deidara took care of your little problem," Pein continued.

Konan holds her breath as a short silence ensues during which everyone waits for Itachi to say his piece. He never does.

"Tobi also died," Zetsu says from a dark corner.

"Too bad. Tobi was good at livening up our gloom and doom group," Kisame says, his toothy grin making Konan press her lips firmly together.

"Tobi is of no consequence. Shinobi like him are a dime a dozen," Pein says with a tone of finality.

In the short pause that ensues, Konan almost wants to scoff at the lies clogging the air. The majority of the members currently present know Tobi is neither dead nor weak. And yet, they perpetuate the facade to maintain pretenses of hierarchy and power. She almost wants to shout the truth out just to see the others' reactions. Would they lose faith—or fear—in Pein? But she refrains.

They just might.

"You're dismissed. Everyone, remember Deidara's contribution and mourn him properly," Pein says as he dispels the technique.

Konan steals a glance at Itachi, but he is looking away from her, lost in his own thoughts. Thinking little of it, she releases her chakra and ends the projection, waking up back in Rain. Beside her, Pein is silent and thoughtful.

"I don't like this," he says quietly. "Madara could have intervened, but he chose not to."

"He has plans for the younger Uchiha," Konan said, picking up on her partner's train of logic. "The question is what."

"It doesn't concern us. As long as our goal is achieved, the young Uchiha is of little concern to me."

"He's after Itachi," Konan reminds him. "Surely, that concerns us as an organization."

"He won't kill Itachi. That boy would have died if Deidara hadn't let his anger impede his final strategy. Uchiha Itachi will never fall to that boy as he is."

Konan says nothing to this, but for the first time she wants to tell Pein he is wrong. He is wrong. She can feel it in her bones. A tempest the likes of which the Village Hidden in the Rain has never witnessed is coming. But she keeps these thoughts to herself.

Instead, she wallows and waits until he will return to her, and she can pretend everything is all right.

A full week passes before Itachi and Kisame enter the ruined throne of Akatsuki. He has been taciturn lately, more than usual, and Kisame has gotten the message not to goad him. Sasuke is alive, he knows this; he feels it. Sasuke cannot die before him. This is not their fate.

Kisame never comments on Itachi's decision to check in at Rain every now and then. He never brings up the fact that any communication can be easily accomplished via hologram rather than a physical trip to the monochrome city. If he has any opinion on the issue, he keeps it to himself. Itachi can coexist with Kisame because the latter never pries into his personal affairs, and Itachi offers him the same courtesy in return. At most, Kisame will make a passing comment here and there in relation to Itachi's deteriorating health, but never anything obvious. It is impossible to hide the truth from the one person Itachi spends most of his time with. In truth, he thinks he is lucky to be paired with Kisame; the ex Mist nin is reliable and aware, but he never prods or pushes.

"I'm going to scrounge up some food," Kisame says as they pass through the entrance of the tallest skyscraper in the area. "Want anything?"

"I'll be fine," Itachi says not unkindly, his mind elsewhere.

Kisame doesn't question this, and they part ways. Itachi makes his way to his usual room and peels off his Akatsuki robe, damp and heavy with rain water. He takes a moment to survey his Spartan quarters, the pitter patter of rain soft but ever present against a lone window in the woodwork. A small chest of drawers at the foot of the bed holds a few items of spare clothing, as well as a rumpled, bloody ANBU uniform he has never retrieved from its dark corner since his first day here. He almost wants to laugh. Ever since he left Konoha, he's spent more time living in this room than in the individual motels he and Kisame have frequented in their travels.

Home is where the heart is, he thinks, swallowing the bitter taste in his mouth.

A knock on his door draws him out of his thoughts. He immediately moves to answer it and tries to ignore the twitch of a smile fighting to be seen at the sight of Konan. A moment of silence passes as they assess each other. Silver eyes travel to the Akatsuki robe hanging on a nearby hook, dripping a sizeable puddle onto the hardwood floor. Without a word, Itachi retreats into his room and retrieves a spare from the chest of drawers. It is always chilly in Rain no matter the time of year, and a draft could put him in a sick bed for a week if he's not careful.

Dressed and warm he steps into the hallway where Konan is waiting for him.

"Tea?" she says, already walking away from him.

"Yes." He falls into step beside her.

Ten minutes later they are seated comfortably in a veranda overlooking the dreary city, a steaming pot of tea between them. The alcove is small, but they are perched at opposite ends such that one would have to stand to close the distance between them.

They don't speak for the longest time, content simply to watch the rain fall. Silence is a shinobi's greatest ally, as Itachi knows all too well. But usually silences beg to be filled, and in his case a wandering mind is no friend. Images of the night he slaughtered his family fill the empty spaces; ghostly screams in his ear make him turn, wondering if they're real. Even in sleep he is granted no respite. Sasuke's tears, the fury and hatred for which he himself is responsible chase him like a cancer. Itachi is tired because he has been fighting imaginary demons for so long.

And yet, no horrors can reach him here. When he is near Konan, he can forget his demons and simply watch the world turn.

"Why flowers?" he asks, glancing at her usual hairpiece.

Konan stares into the steaming depths of her tea, thinking. Remembering, most likely. He has his secrets and she has hers. "Rain discourages people. They find it depressing. Maybe they prefer sunshine." After a short pause she add, "Flowers will only bloom with the help of rain."

Itachi thinks on this. "The flower you wear is made of paper. Rain would only destroy it."

Konan does not speak for a long time, and Itachi pours himself another cup. The heat soothes his throat. It's becoming more and more difficult to suppress the side effects, as Kisame has commented upon several times.

"I suppose a hard rain could destroy even the healthiest flower," Konan says finally. "But mine are made to withstand even the harshest storms."

There are secrets in her words, among them and beneath them. He can hear them, dancing just out of reach, but he doesn't ask. Some secrets are better kept buried. Still, he feels the overwhelming urge to reach out to her, but instead grips the armrest of his chair harder.

He'd never reach her as they are, anyway.

Theirs is a place where flowers always bloom and the rain is warm, where old grudges are reconciled and fallen friends never really left. This is where love conquers death and laughs in its face. This is where Sasuke's smile remains intact, and Itachi's too.

"It suits you well," Itachi says so softly he almost wonders if he's spoken at all.

They never speak of it, for fear of shattering the beautiful oblivion. And isn't it exquisite, he thinks, to forget everything, if only for a short time? To linger in this fading sunlight if only to steal shadows of warmth for themselves?

"Thank you," Konan says, the strain in her voice making him want to touch the delicate paper flower in her hair.

Perhaps, he thinks, this is what it's like to be children. But they'll never really know.

When Konan wakes up, she is struck with a dreadful foreboding that makes her hands shake. There is nothing different about today. The rain still falls, Nagato is still plotting and wary of Madara's plans. She is still obligated to run this city on her god's behalf.

Kisame and Itachi are leaving today after a short visit.

Unhurriedly, Konan dresses and makes her way to the kitchen for a small but filling breakfast. There is no one about, as usual. Most of the time, she and Pein are the only ones wandering these halls. Today, she feels the emptiness more acutely than usual.

Something's not right.

What, she cannot say. But her palms are clammy and she is restless, and she's never been one to ignore the omens of intuition, no matter how seemingly irrational. Itachi has come and gone dozens of times and she's never felt such...anxiety until now. It must be due to something else, she thinks. Nevertheless, she resolves to seek him out.

After wandering the lonely corridors for a while, she finds him on the rooftop. The grey sky threatens heavy rain pour, the distant rumble of thunder accentuated by intermittent flashes of brilliant lightning.


He turns to her, but she knows he's sensed her coming before she even made it outside. Belatedly, she notices that he is standing quite close to the edge of the building. One step and he could fall.

"I rarely venture up here, but the view must be the best in the city."

He sounds almost cheerful—at least, as cheerful as Uchiha Itachi could ever realistically sound. It worries her for some unknown reason. He has never been cheerful before.

"It is," she says, slowly walking toward him. "You should have come up here sooner."

He nods, returning his gaze to the panorama currently unobstructed by sheets of rain. Konan draws up next to him, peering over the steep edge to the ground some thirty stories below. She doesn't know why, but she suddenly thinks of the conversation they had years ago about ideals.

"You asked me once if there were another way to rid the world of violence, would I take it."

Itachi regards her askance, prompting her to elaborate on the unspoken question.

"Would you take it?" she asks.

Silver and red meet, and as always Konan feels somewhat exposed in his eyes. Eyes that see through lies, yet weave a world of illusions and nightmares.

"I don't know of any other way."

Invisible clocks tick-tock, tick-tock all around them. At twenty-two, he seems like he is ready for a finale of sorts. She knows that look, she realizes with a spike of fear. She's only seen it once before, but she has never forgotten it.

"It's not too late to find one," she says.

"It will never be too late."

The clocks that follow Itachi strike a cord, and Konan feels as though her whole body is reverberating with their toll. He's lying, she thinks. He's always lying.

Without waiting to think, she steps closer to him and raises trembling hands to his face, bringing them together. The kiss is light and soft, cold as the morning air. But he is real and alive for now, his pulse faint but steady under her thumb. After a moment she pulls away and lets her hands fall.

Sharingan looks down on her, glowing through the morning mist, and for the first time in their acquaintance Konan wishes she could see his true eyes.

"What was that for?" he asks. He is neither angry nor offended, merely curious.

"I just...wanted to remember," she says, a true, sad smile spreading across her face.

"You're beautiful when you smile."

Itachi lifts a hand and reaches for the flower in Konan's hair. His touch is barely felt, but it's there. The angry red of the Sharingan softens, and Konan wills herself to commit this moment to memory. There is a sense of ineluctable finality in his touch.

"Thank you, Konan," he says, a smile of his own threatening to bloom.

Thunder claps overhead as a flash of lightning, jagged and terrible, strikes in the distance. The rain dumps as though the clouds above have burst under the weight of their burden, relieved finally to let it fall upon the shoulders of the earth below. When Itachi turns to leave, she does not stop him. When she sees Kisame and him walking beyond the city limits, she does not call after him. He wouldn't hear her through the torrential rain, anyway.

Anyone watching her would never notice the difference, but Konan knows the heat flowing down her cheeks is from tears, not the rain. As Itachi's silhouette disappears through the thick, grey fog in the distance, the paper flower lodged in Konan's hair remains steadfastly in place. Even the heaviest rain cannot crush it.

This is the last time Konan ever sees Itachi.

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