Title: Lullaby and Goodnight
Author: desolate butterfly
Pairings: No real romantic pairings, although there are slight NaruSakuSasu implications
This really has no place in the Naruto timeline, although I've set it after Tsunade's rise to Hokage. Generally I'm assuming that Sasuke was, at one point, dragged back to Konoha and is free to take missions with Team Seven again. Call it AU, call it TWT, call it a Crackfic! Whatever.
Genre: One-shot, touch of Naruto-angst, waffyness ahoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Obviously.
The baby had been screaming for hours.
At first it had been a thin, reedy cry that was almost conversational, but that had long since ceased and the red-faced little brat had begun to shriek and sob in earnest, almost choking on the fat rolls of tears dripping into its gaping, trembling, toothless mouth.
Naruto winced and brought his hands up to cover his ears, trying to block out the wails that were echoing in the small cavern that shielded Team Seven from the night air. It didn't work very well, as his senses refused to ignore the several weeks of training he had gone through in order to make himself acutely aware of all sights, scents, and—unfortunately—sounds. He could only imagine what Kiba, with his super enhanced sensory techniques a la Akamaru, would be going through if he were in the same situation.
Actually, Naruto decided, Kiba probably would have fainted after the first time the necessities of diaper changing were brought to the group's attention.
"Sakura-chan," he whined, "can't you make it be quiet? I'd like to get some sleep after all."
The pink haired kunoichi shot Naruto her usual I-can't-believe-you-are-so-dumb glare and shifted the wailing blue bundle in her arms, trying to find a more comfortable position. A tiny pink fist waved in the air and the gulping sobs seemed to get louder in response to the weary shifting.
Naruto scowled and wished death on all infants. Sakura sighed and rubbed the back of her charge soothingly, wishing for the hundredth time that the pacifier had not been lost in their frantic run into the mountains.
It was hard to tell what Sasuke was thinking—his face remained passively blank—however his white knuckled grip on the kunai he held in his hand suggested that his current thoughts might be more aligned with Naruto's then Sakura's.
"He's hungry Naruto. And none of us are really equipped to help out with that problem, are we."
Sakura gestured to her chest. Her eyes narrowed in anger when his eyes fixated on those slight swells that pushed at the fabric of her dress there for a few seconds too long. Her hands shook as if she would have loved to punch him if only her arms weren't full of screaming baby.
Sasuke coughed deliberately, breaking Naruto from his breast-induced trance before Sakura forgot about the child and pummeled her blond-haired teammate anyway. Blushing, Naruto turned his eyes to the ground in front of him.
"I have rations here," he grumbled.
"Babies can't eat cup ramen Naruto. They need milk or formula. Something you dropped when you stopped to kick that guy, as I recall."
"Well he was trying to throw shuriken at Sasuke! I had to kick the bastard, didn't I?"
"Dobe. I can take care of myself," Sasuke said.
"Oh yeah? Then why do you have that bandage on your arm?"
"That's from the kunai you threw at me."
"I was trying to get the guy over your shoulder!"
"Well your aim sucks!"
"SHUT UP," Sakura yelled, sensing a brawl in the making. The baby in her arms responded to the rising tension by shrieking louder—God, how was that possible?—and kicking its tiny booted feet in outrage. "I don't need to hear three babies yelling all night."
Offended by the slight to his manhood, Sasuke turned his back on his teammates and feigned disinterest. He didn't need to prove himself to a dead-last jerk like Naruto. Meditation would take the screaming and the irritation away. He focused on counting the cracks in the rock face in front of him.
Once Naruto saw that Sasuke would ignore him, he fell into a disgruntled sulk. At least fighting with Sasuke-bastard would have allowed him to pour out his frustrations into a handy outlet. Now all he could do was listen to the little brat scream and plot ways to kill Granny-Tsunade for sending him on this mission.
The plan was simple; escort the Lord Hatoe to his father's house in Earth Country, "dissuade" any bandits from entertaining the thought of kidnapping the guy along the way, and collect a hefty sum for their troubles. The only problem was that Lord Hatoe was only twenty-six weeks old and apparently his father had enemies that Team Seven had not been told about. There was no way that guy with the curved blade at his side and his friends had been simple bandits. For one thing, bandits couldn't have gotten the drop on him and Sasuke like they had.
Assassins, Naruto grumbled in his mind. Why does everyone we escort have to have assassins after them?
There was also the fact that the brat just. Would. Not. Shut. Up. They'd already had to switch camp locations twice because the little Lord's screaming had brought their pursuers straight to them. Hopefully, this high into the mountains, with the wind masking the sounds from the cavern, they would be safe for the night. Though, if the kid didn't quiet soon, Naruto was certain that he would assassinate the brat himself, just to get some peace.
"Can't you give him something else to suck on?" he asked.
Sakura sighed and shook her head.
"I already tried. He won't take anything I give him, and I don't want to give him anything more substantial then water right now. He could get sick and that would be all we need."
"Naruto!" Sakura glared at him again, making him flinch back just a bit. "Don't be so heartless. You'd scream too if you were hungry and cold and surrounded by strangers in a strange place. And he just lost his mother, remember."
Sasuke snorted from his place in the corner, but did not turn around.
"He's a baby. He can't possibly understand what it means to have lost a mother. Not yet, anyway."
The dark edge to that last comment made Sakura squirm in awkward guilt and look to Naruto for guidance. But Naruto had a thoughtful expression on his face.
"I don't know about that," he said slowly. "I remember feeling like I'd lost something important my entire life, even when I didn't know exactly what it was that I was missing until I saw other kids with their parents. The brat might know, somewhere inside."
Sasuke's back was ramrod straight as he turned his head to look at Naruto. Black onyx eyes searched the blue ones staring back at him for a while before closing in an expression of careful indifference. But not before Naruto had caught a glimpse of embarrassed sympathy, of something almost like concern.
Naruto would have grinned if Lord Hatoe hadn't picked that moment to raise his wailing to a new pitch. Groaning, Naruto pitched himself onto the ground and cupped his hands behind his head. Maybe if he counted the ripples in the ceiling it would help take his mind off the noise battering his ears.
Sakura rocked the baby back and forth, anxiously offering a finger to the child suck on in lieu of a pacifier, which he persistently refused. The child's face was so red, and he practically vibrated with misery in her arms. She wondered, worriedly, if babies could suffocate themselves with their own incessant crying. It didn't seem possible that the kid was even pausing to draw breath.
Sakura didn't want to explain to Tsunade-sama that they had failed to deliver their charge safely to his father in Earth country because of the lack of a bottle or pacifier. She racked her brain for memories of what her own parents used to do for her when she was upset.
"Sleep, sleep little one, sleep. You're a good baby, so go to sleep now."
Naruto and Sasuke started at the sound of Sakura's high, sweet voice rising over the din of Hatoe's crying. They had never heard her sing before, and although her voice was untrained, it was earnest and pure of tone.
The small Lord seemed to take an interest in this turn of events. His cries softened to confused whimpers as Sakura rocked him back and forth with her own body and sang.
"Do you know where your nurse has gone? Gone to her village, she won't be long."
For Sasuke, the tune was familiar, something his own mother had sung to him when he was still of an age where he could be comforted with lullabies. The sight of Sakura tenderly crooning to the bundle in her arms as she rocked and sang resonated in Sasuke's mind fiercely, and he turned around completely in order to view the scene more comfortably.
Naruto watched as well, feeling almost jealous of the child who had now quieted and was sucking a thumb into his mouth and gazing up at his Sakura-chan with wide, teary eyes. This must have been what was missing, this feeling of utter tenderness and safety, the idea of being cherished and coddled and enveloped in someone's arms, in someone's voice. Naruto tried to remember a touch that had been like that, but all he could come up with were Iruka-sensei's friendly pats on the back, and Ero-sennin's heavy hand on his shoulder. Tsunade-baachan's kiss on his forehead was about the closest thing he could think of, but it wasn't the same. That kiss had been grateful as well as loving. It had come with expectations attached. The caressing that Sakura-chan was providing for the child in her arms was free of such things. It had no such conditions.
"What will she bring baby when she does come? A flute so lovely and a thunderous drum. A thunderous drum."
The Lord's eyes slipped closed and his breathing deepened into the wheezy sighs of an infant asleep. Cautiously, Sakura transferred the bundle of child to the small nest she had made out of discarded jackets and other clothing. The child nestled into the folds of Naruto's orange jacket and grasped the sleeve of Sasuke's shirt in its chubby fist. When he did not stir as Sakura shuffled a small distance from the pile on her knees, she sighed in relief.
"Well, that worked," she said, blushing self-consciously once she realized that her teammates were staring at her with something like awe on their faces.
Sasuke broke free of the spell first.
"Hmph," he grunted, leaning back against the wall where he sat. "Now we can get some sleep. Good work Sakura."
Sakura beamed at this unexpected praise from her crush, but her smile soon faded as her gaze transferred to Naruto.
The boy was curled on his side, face hidden in the crook of his arms. He was so still, so quiet. Sakura might have thought he had also fallen asleep if it hadn't been for the tension she could see in the stiff way he held his back and legs.
Sakura gave Sasuke a questioning look, but the Uchiha prodigy only shrugged in response. How could he tell her that it was the comfort she offered which hung so slightly out of reach that was hurting Naruto? How could she understand the enormity of what she had offered freely to that child with so little thought or consequence? Even Sasuke could not completely understand what it was like for Naruto to view that scene. Afterall, he had a mother once, if only briefly.
Naruto shut his eyes and concentrated on counting backward from one hundred. He hated the feelings that Sakura-chan's song had awoken in him. He hated feeling like an outsider, and intruder into a scene that he was never meant to be party to. He hated the feeling of missing something he never had. He hated the fact that his teammates were probably looking at him with a strange mixture of pity and contempt. More pity from Sakura, more contempt from Sasuke. He counted slowly, willing the burning in his throat to go away, willing the whole world to just go away and leave him in his misery.
Which is why when Sakura placed a warm hand on his forehead he jerked in surprise, almost reaching for a kunai before realizing who the hand belonged to. He blinked up at Sakura-chan, confused. She didn't normally touch him.
"Sleep, sleep little fox, sleep. You're a good ninja so go to sleep," she sang, threading her fingers through his spiky bangs in a gentle sweep that Naruto could feel all the way down to his toes.
"S-Sakura-chan…" he stammered, wide eyed.
She gave him a smile that held no pity in it.
"Go to sleep Naruto," she said, pressing a kiss to his temple. "We have an early start tomorrow, remember? Sasuke-kun and I will take the first watch."
Naruto swallowed heavily, the imprint of Sakura's pink lips tingling on his brow.
"Dobe." Sasuke's voice held no contempt. "Do what you're told."
Naruto smiled and closed his eyes once more. Sakura's hand swept through his bangs a second time before he heard her move away, but the heat by his side told him that she had not gone far. On the other side of the cave, Sasuke took up his post, kunai at the ready, although he did not clench it with the same intensity he had previously.
And if, at some moments during the night, his gaze lingered protectively over the bodies of his sleeping teammates and the smile on Naruto's face, it was no big deal. Only the baby was witness and there was no chance that he would be spilling secrets anytime soon.