Important: I had to change the Rating to M because I realized that Pain's way of obtaining peace is not going to be very pretty. I apologize for not noticing it sooner.
The rain thundered down around her. Each of her steps was accompanied by a wet squelching sound.
It was the tiny, helpless whine that drew her in, and she quietly followed the heartbreaking wail.
The first thing she saw was the dog. The second the halo of red, dirty hair spread on the ground.
Concerned, she walked closer. A hopeful bark escaped the dog when it sensed her approach and it moved to the side, allowing her to see just what he was guarding.
It was a boy. Or more likely a skinny, malnourished echo of a human child. He was thin, terribly so; his cheeks sunken in and he seemed to be more bone than flesh.
Worried, the girl knelt down next to him. The boy shifted slightly, exhausted eyes blinking up at her.
"Are you okay?" she asked quietly and rummaged through her ragged bag looking for something to eat.
"Here. It's not much, but it's all I have."
Strangely ringed eyes looked at the loaf of bread the girl was offering him. "Thank you," the boy whispered. His voice sounded rough, and his hand was shaky when he accepted the food.
She watched with a gentle smile as the boy wolfed the bread down while still making sure to offer half of it to the dog.
"What is your name?" she inquired softly, "I am K-"
The girl groaned when the merciless beeping of her alarm clock ripped her out of her dream. Just what had she dreamt about? Who was that girl? Who was the boy? And why had it felt so real?
Noriko sighed and forced herself to stand up. She stepped in front of the mirror and frowned. For some reason, the image looked wrong today. Was it her hair? Maybe she should color it.
Blue was a nice shade, right?
Hiruzen dropped his pipe. "Naruto has done what?"
The ANBU currently in charge of shadowing the boy dutifully summarized his report. "Over four hours Uzumaki Naruto has taught himself how to walk on water and made his first successful attempt at nature transformation while still sitting on top of the river."
"Water walking… and nature transformation?"
It was unbelievable.
"Get Naruto," the Third ordered, "and bring him to me."
Nagato stared at the two names on the sheet in front of him.
Uchiha Itachi, clan heir, genius, future S-class shinobi, and a loving brother.
Chino Noriko, civilian-born, talented, and soft-hearted.
He wanted them. Itachi would be invaluable to him and his plans, and Noriko could be taught to complement their skills.
Nagato was not sure why he had zoned in on the girl, but somehow, she felt familiar to him. Almost like an old friend.
The air in front of him shimmered and the translucent figure of one of his clones appeared.
"Have you found it?" he asked, leaning back into his chair.
"I am still looking," his clone answered. "But I am confident that I will find it soon."
"Good, " Pain answered. "Finding Danzo's hideout has the highest priority. We cannot allow him to run around unchecked."
"We will," the clone agreed and ended the jutsu.
Pain rose from the chair and moved towards the window. Danzo had to be kept in check until he was ready to deal with him. He could not allow the man to interfere with his plans.
His eyes flashed coldly. He would obtain peace.
No matter the cost.
Nagato's gaze wandered over the ethereal scenery, his mind rapidly planning his next steps.
He needed to expand his influence. Information was the key. It was power - and power was what he was lacking most at this point.
Without Zetsu and Sasori, he needed to look somewhere else.
A business investment, perhaps.
It would be the best cover for having an extensive net of contacts.
Pain smirked slightly.
How convenient that he had always paid close attention to the countries' economies.
A sudden, soft tingling sensation told him that someone had just set off the detection seal he had placed on his apartment door.
He had a visitor.
Well, it would be bad manners to let them wait.
Nagato was only three streets away from his apartment when he suddenly felt the subtle chakra spike that announced the arrival of a masked shinobi.
The man had not yet appeared within his sight; but Nagato stopped anyway. "How may I help you, ANBU-san?" he inquired and turned around just as the ANBU materialized in front of him.
For a moment, the white mask just stared at him before a monotone male voice answered his question. "Hokage-sama requires your presence. I have been ordered to bring you to him."
Nagato inclined his head. "Understood."
Strong hands picked him up, and they disappeared in a swirl of leaves.
Hiruzen looked at the calm child in front of him. Naruto seemed to be completely at ease and emitted a tranquility that spoke of complete confidence in one's abilities. It was a confidence one usually only developed far later in life.
It was baffling to see it in someone so young.
"You have called for me, jiji?" Naruto inquired the moment the ANBU had set him down.
"Yes," Hiruzen replied and leaned back into his chair. "I wanted to see how you are adapting. We had little time to talk earlier. Have you finished your game with Shikaku?"
Naruto stepped closer and inclined his head. "I did."
It was an unusually reticent confirmation. The Naruto before the… incident would have nodded enthusiastically.
"And did you have fun?" the Hokage probed.
Naruto paused for a moment, apparently contemplating the answer. It was another development Hiruzen had noticed. Naruto used to answer everything he had been asked immediately. But now the child actually took his time to think before replying.
"Yes," Naruto answered finally. "I enjoyed it. He was an excellent opponent and I've been invited over for another game. Although, we are going to play Go next time."
Hiruzen raised his eyebrows. The jonin commander was not usually someone who requested second games unless he was intrigued.
Speaking of intrigued...
"I am glad that you had fun. I also heard that you made quite some progress with your training. A shinobi passing by saw you sitting on water and manipulating it. I am curious about how you did that."
Nagato suppressed a smirk. So they were finally moving to the key aspect. A shinobi passing by saw him? Well, two could play this game.
"So that's why I felt a chakra spike from the shrubbery," he mused, seemingly in thought, and silently enjoyed the flash of surprise in the Hokage's eyes.
He raised his voice. "Have you heard of the Tales of a gutsy ninja? I found it in the library. I got interested in it because the main character has my name."
Something soft flitted through the Third's face. "I am aware of it, yes. But how is this connected to your progress?"
"There was a fight where Naruto walked on water and used a Suiton jutsu against the enemy. I wanted to see if I could walk on it, too. It seemed like a useful skill to have."
"I see," the Hokage answered, "And your water manipulation?"
"I was already on the stream, so I just tried it. I did not know where to start, so I just experimented. I didn't think it would work."
The Hokage was silent for a long moment. "What you have done," he began slowly, "is not an easy feat. Water-walking is usually the second step for advanced chakra control. Walking on solid surfaces, or Tree-walking, as we call it, being the first step. These exercises are difficult and are usually only taught to genin. That you managed to do this with no kind of instruction or former knowledge, is impressive. The fact that you accidentally completed one of the first steps for Water Transformation on top of it, is astounding. But what makes it extraordinary, is that you did both at the same time. "
The Sandaime leveled him with a serious look and Nagato tilted his head in a manner that hopefully conveyed an acceptable amount of confusion.
"I am proud of your talent, Naruto. But I am also worried about you. You do not have to push yourself so much. It is not healthy to be driven by fear."
"I am not pushing myself, jiji," Nagato replied and moved around the desk to hug the Hokage's arm, moving the conversation to a more personal level. "Iruka-sensei said that its important to eat and sleep. I do that. And I read, too. I feel safer when I train and if I am stronger, I can protect myself and my home."
Nagato chose his wording deliberately. He did not lie. It was just that the word home had a different meaning to him than it had to the Third.
Nagato would do everything to protect Amegakure.
Even if it meant destroying Konoha.
One ninja village less meant one step closer to peace.
Konoha had been the first.
It would only be fitting if it became both the beginning and the end.
The Hokage sighed quietly and Nagato knew he had won. "Very well. As long as you take care of yourself, I shall not stop you."
"I will," Nagato agreed. "Thanks, jiji. It means really much to me."
"I know, Naruto," the Third answered quietly and put his hand on his head. "I know."
The girl was wearing a dirty dress, her small figure drenched by the merciless rain. Still, Nagato had never seen a more beautiful sight. She looked like an angel descended from heaven; carried down to the world by heaven's tears.
Her concerned voice was soothing, the offered food his salvation.
Nagato eagerly broke the bread.
"My name is Konan."
Nagato's eyes snapped open, and he stared at the blank ceiling.
Why was he dreaming of her now?
Agitated, Nagato rose from his bed and walked towards the window.
The sky was clear tonight, and he could see the constellation Cepheus shining proudly above him.
Cassiopeia was glowing just as brightly.
The king and the queen.
Some answers (at least for the Hokage and jh831 ;) ), more mysteries for the rest of us. So, what do you think is going on with those dreams?
You might have noticed that I am interchanging Pain and Nagato sometimes. This is insofar important that it signifies in which role he sees himself in at the moment. The differences are very subtle most of the time. But Pain will always be a touch more calculating and ruthless than Nagato. - Nagato wants peace, Pain is his way to to obtain it.
Blackbird0: Thanks! :-D It won't be too much longer. I can't wait for it. They really have a good chemistry.
TysonG: Thank you! Jup, Nagato won't be stuck inside the academy for too long. Things will be easier once he can move outside the village walls - and Danzo, well. He has made himself a rather strong enemy. I am sure Nagato will take lots of pleasure in foiling all of his plans.
sayaka uzumaaki Yes, it's kind of obvious right now. XD Hm, yes, Shikaku is a wildcard. But then, Nagato does need some kind of challenge. The meeting with Jiraiya will be...rather interesting. To put it mildly.
Guest I am trying to keep Nagato/Pain IC as much as possible. Glad to see it works out. :-D
lil Thanks! :-D I hope you enjoyed this chap.