The Fox Shift.
"Lord Third," Jiraiya implored. His eyes pierced the robe of the Hokage as he stepped forward. "Let me take care of the child."
The atmosphere inside the Hokage's office was grim and stifling, and the conversation of the three men gave off the aura of unpleasant business being attended to. Even the sky outside decided this was the perfect time for clouds.
Jiraiya was clutching a small bundle of blankets, in which nestled a tiny, newborn baby. "Please."
The Hokage did not turn to face him. He let out a great sigh, pulling the visor of his hat down over his eyes. "Jiraiya, we've been through this."
"Well, let's go un-through this!" Jiraiya's voice rose to almost a yell, but in consideration for the fragile infant cradled in his arms, he controlled the volume. "With all due respect," he continued, his tone more level headed. "I am the boy's Godfather."
The third man in the room, the man with the most uninviting aura of all, sniffed in disapproval.
"Something to say, Lord Danzo?" Jiraiya asked, disdain, etched onto every premature line on his face.
Given the invitation to speak, Danzo tightened his grip on his walking cane, his one eye flashing almost in a wicked glee. "Do you really believe familial ties matter to the fox demon?"
Jiraiya snorted. "You act as though the child himself is the Nine Tails!" His voice was now filled with exasperation.
Neither Danzo, nor the Hokage said a word.
"Minato and Kushina gave their lives for this child!" Jiraiya went on, struggling not to shout. His voice shook, both with rage at the stubbornness of the old men, and with despair. Minato Namikaze had been his student. No. He had been more like a son to him. He had truly believed, that that young man was the one who would bring peace to the world. And there had never been a more kindhearted kunoichi than Kushina Uzumaki.
And, this was how their child was to be treated?
"They had faith in him," Jiraiya said in a quieter, more desperate tone. "They put their trust in-"
"The Nine Tails will remain here under the supervision of Jonin qualified for the task," Danzo interrupted, unmoved by the emotion and sincerity in Jiraiya's words. "In that way, the Anbu will be able to respond, and take immediate action should any issues arise. It will not go gallivanting outside the village where we will be unable to keep it monitored."
Clenching his jaw, Jiraiya turned his attention back to the Hokage. "Lord Third. You support this?"
Finally, the Hokage turned to face him, his expression sympathetic as he moved to take the child from Jiraiya's arms. "It seems to be the safest course of action."
"Tch," Jiraiya muttered under his breath. "Are you forgetting. I am one of the Legendary Sannin! If anyone is qualified to keep the Nine Tails in check, surely I-"
"The matter is settled!" Danzo interrupted yet again. "If there is nothing else, you may leave."
"Have you heard it? That crying."
"Coming from that creepy old apartment."
"It's scary...I feel like the beast is right there."
"What if it breaks loose and attacks the village again?"
"Are we really safe?"
Muttering, muttering, and more muttering. People passing by the apartment spoke in hushed tones, crossing the street to be as far from it as possible. Mothers ushered children past quickly; shinobi kept their guard up. They were all thinking the same thing. Was it really ok to keep the vessel for the Nine Tails so close to the center of the village?
Some said it was to keep it close to the Hokage, and the Anbu. There was also a rumour that Lord Danzo did not want it anywhere the Uchiha, who had been moved to the outskirts of town. The Uchiha situation was a whole other conspiracy theory in and of itself.
Whatever the reason, though, no one wanted the demon so close to their homes.
"Ok, so the bottles are on the side, nappies by the table," a gruff looking Jonin said, pointing carelessly as he gathered himself, ready to leave.
"Will it need anything else?" another, rather nervous looking Jonin asked, looking past his comrade at a large, wooden cot. He could just make out a tiny, sleeping baby, laying with nothing but a thin blanket for comfort. "I thought it would be kept more secure?"
The gruff Jonin shrugged. "It doesn't really do much. You don't need to give it attention. Just feed it and make sure it doesn't start to smell."
The nervous Jonin sighed, as though this was the greatest relief. At least he didn't need to go above and beyond to keep it pacified. The two changed shifts without another word.
It was like this day after day; week after week. Jonin would take turns sitting in 12 hour shifts, reading magazines or making themselves a hot beverage, while the small child remained caged in his cot, left to cry unless he was hungry. They weren't being paid to be affectionate, after all. The extra effort would be a waste of their time.
"Alright," the Jonin who had been so nervous three months ago spoke in a bored, business-like voice. This was his seventh time on shift, and by now he was desensitized to the whole 'ordeal'. His lines were thoroughly rehearsed, and his gestures were automatic. "Bottles on the shelf, nappies by the table."
Pausing, he looked over the young Jonin standing before him, no older than 15. "This your first time on fox duty, huh?"
"The teenager nodded. He may have been young, but Kakashi Hatake was a more than qualified shinobi. He gave the cot a curious look and caught the bright blue eyes of the baby laying inside, one pudgy pink hand in his mouth. There were tear streaks on the infant's face, but, for now, the activity of chewing his own, tiny fingers seemed to satiate him.
Something caught in Kakashi's throat as he made note of the mane of fine, blonde hair on the infant's head.
"Anything else?" he asked, his voice betraying none of the emotion he was currently feeling.
The other Jonin shook his head. "It doesn't really do much. Feel free to ignore it if it doesn't need food." And he left, letting the door click shut behind him.
Kakashi stood for a while, his one exposed eye scanning the room. There wasn't much to do in here, huh? He pulled a book from his shuriken pouch and flopped onto an old, moth eaten cushion beside the table. Flipping it open, he began to read.
Kakashi's eyebrow twitched as a gleeful squeak broke his concentration. He ignored it, turning the page.
"Bo bo bo bo!"
Sighing, Kakashi closed the book and looked over at the cot. Sure enough, the baby was giving him a gummy smile, and reaching through the bars. Another painful pang ran through Kakashi's chest. He couldn't. He just...couldn't look at this child.
Besides. His mission was to make sure he was fed, and to keep tabs on the demon fox. All he had to do was focus on the mission...
"The mission, the mission, the mission! You are so full of yourself, Kakashi!"
"I don't want to hear that from an Uchiha failure who can't even show up on time."
"You guys! Please! Can't you try to get along?"
"Alright, that's enough. Come on. This cat won't catch itself."
"Let's just get this over with. A mission like this is hardly worth my time. But a mission is a mission, and rules are rules."
"A mission is a mission, and blah, blah blah blah blah!"
"Knock it off, you two. Focus!"
Kakashi jolted awake, clutching his forehead and shaking away the disorientation. His book lay open, cover side up, on the floorboards. Picking it up, he unbent a page that had been damaged by its fall. How long had he been out? The clock told him it had only been two hours. Sighing, he closed the book and put it down on the table.
Ignoring the happy noises coming from the cot, Kakashi stood and made his way over to the kettle. But, even as he grabbed a chipped mug, the squeaking behind him switched from cheerful to distressed. The baby opened his mouth wide, and began to cry.
With another sigh, Kakashi grabbed a bottle, preparing it hastily. He hurried over to the cot and hesitated for a moment, realizing he had never actually fed a baby before. He pushed the bottle into the baby's mouth. But all that did was muffle the crying.
Dismay flickered in Kakashi's eye as the baby just spit the milk back out. He withdrew the bottle. "What?"
The baby kept crying.
"What do you want?"
He remembered the words of the other Jonin. Just feel free to ignore him if he isn't hungry, right?
So, he tried.
But he just couldn't do it.
After three minutes of trying to block out the sound, Kakashi finally gave in. He carefully lifted the baby from the cot and held him close to his chest. "Shh..."
For a moment, the baby was shocked. His tear filled eyes gazed up at Kakashi's face as he tried to discern what was happening. But, hearing the soft, rhythmic beating of a heart against his ear, and feeling the entire world rock gently from side to side, he slowly began to calm down. It was an unfamiliar, yet comforting feeling. Closing his eyes, he drifted off to sleep, still letting out the occasional hiccough.
Kakashi gave the child a warm smile behind his mask. "I wonder if anyone has ever held you like this?" he said in a soft whisper. He didn't want to disturb the infant's peaceful slumber. When he finally felt safe enough to place the baby back into the cot, Kakashi quietly made himself a hot drink, then returned to his book.
Time ticked by, passing without much incident. The baby only awoke again to be fed. Kakashi had almost finished his book, when…
Kakashi glanced over at the baby. He was reaching through the bars again, stretching his hands out towards the book.
"This isn't for you," Kakashi said firmly, turning the page.
The baby made a sound of defiance, trying his best to grab for the book, although it was completely out of his reach.
""No." Kakashi said, turning his back to the cot.
The baby's lip trembled, and he began to cry.
Groaning inwardly, Kakashi snapped the book shut, his attention back on the child. "No!" he repeated.
The baby cried louder.
"Oh, for the love of-" Kakashi stood and picked the baby up from the cot. He held him carefully beneath his arms and stared him directly in the eyes. "Why?"
The baby giggled. He kicked his legs gleefully, enjoying the new 'game'.
Kakashi's expression softened. "Alright, fine." He looked down at his book, then back at the baby. "But, not this one, ok?"
Returning the baby to the cot, Kakashi searched the apartment for age appropriate reading material.
No baby books, no baby toys. Nothing. No wonder the little guy was bored.
Kakashi glanced towards the window. It must be early afternoon. The shops would still be open. But...Wasn't it forbidden to take the child outside? Going against the rules of the mission. That was unthinkable.
"Those who break the rules are scum. That's true. But..."
A soft spark in his eye, Kakashi looked at the small child, who had discovered that pulling his feet up towards his mouth was endlessly entertaining.
The baby stopped when he realized Kakashi's attention was back on him, and tilted his head upside down to watch, eagerly awaiting another game.
Lifting one finger in front of his mask, Kakashi whispered, "shh..."
A bright smile spread across the baby's face, as though he was in on whatever mischief was about to occur.