Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto anymore than I did in Chapter 1.


20. Loyalty

"So, my name is a precious memento of him! I can't just give up and stomp on this memento! I will become the Hokage! And I'll make sure there's peace for Amegakure too! Believe in me!"

He wants to. He really does. He wants to believe that there can be a permanent peace, a true peace, not the approximation he'd meant to impose through fear and raw power. But everything he's done for the past ten years has been based on the assumption that true peace is a pipe dream. For the sake of his cause, he'd desecrated the body of his best friend, turned his lover into a cold-blooded killer, snuffed out hundreds of lives.

There had been times when he'd questioned whether there might be another way. Whenever those questions arose in his mind, he'd violently shoved them back down. They were only distractions, the remnants of the naive child he'd been before he took the name of Pain. At least that's what he'd told himself.

Now, though, he's forced to conclude that there was another reason he'd been unwilling to consider the possibility that his chosen course of action might be misguided. If he accepted that premise, it would mean that everything he's already done has been for nothing.

If I believe in him, and in the true peace that he and Jiraiya-sensei believed in, what will I have left? My purpose will have been faulty, I'll have been leading Amegakure down the wrong path all this time, and peace will be no closer than it was when I started!

He can feel chakra thrumming all around him, making the fine hairs on his arms stand on end. The layers of paper that form their hiding place rustle, a signal from Konan that she's ready to shred the boy into a million pieces at a word from him.

And there is his answer.

If I admit that I've been wrong for all these years, what will I have left?

Her. He'll have her.

From that first moment when she handed him a piece of bread, Konan has always been by his side. She's followed him into battle, into danger, into sorrow, into pain.

She's followed him into the most powerful ninja village on the planet, and she shows no sign of leaving now. Even if he says, "We were wrong; we need to start over," she'll still be there.

"Nagato..."

She looks worried, and he wonders if the same thoughts have been going through her head. Has she too been wondering what she'll be left with if she gives up the goal she's dedicated herself to since that long-ago day when the three of them became two?

Me. You'll be left with me. And I'll fix it for you. I'll take the first step on a new path, one that will lead to real peace.

"I couldn't believe in what Jiraiya believed in. Or in the man himself. But you chose a different path. In you, I see a different future. I will believe in you, Uzumaki Naruto."

I will believe in you because I believe in her.


A/N: Well, here it is: the last chapter. It's taken me two years to write this fic, and I've really enjoyed it. I hope all of you enjoyed it too.