One Day At the Playground: A(nother) Baby Ninja Story
I started writing this a year ago. I spent a year writing this...
Once upon a time, the Rookie 9 were cute, cuddly little tykes. Back then, Ino and Sakura were best friends, Sasuke's goal in life was to be just like his brother, Kiba's parents wouldn't let him get a dog, Kyuubi was an urban legend, not a classmate, and everything seemed a lot simpler.
"Hey, 'Tachi, do you want to play?"
Itachi stared hopelessly back and forth from his little brother to his textbook. He could have sworn he'd locked the door so precisely this didn't happen. (He'd forgotten that he had taught Sasuke how to pick locks.) "Sasuke-chan, I really need to study for—,"
"But this test is really impor—,"
And then Itachi made his fatal mistake; he looked down, directly into Sasuke's Bambi eyes of DOOM. He felt his will weakening... "What if I take you to the park? You can meet some kids your own age." And it wouldn't hurt you to get out in the sun a little more, either, he added mentally.
At the park, Sasuke ran over to play with a group of kids who were deeply involved with an anthill. Itachi spent several minutes pondering what his mother would do to him if he abandoned his little brother in a playground full of budding ninjas a good four blocks from their home, and came to the conclusion that he wanted the authorities to someday find his body, so he sat down on a bench and opened his textbook. Here the Uchiha brothers' story leaves off, and another's story begins.
One of the little girls was playing quietly by herself when one of the boys, apparently without provocation, walked up to her and snatched her doll away. She made a grab for it, but the boy was bigger than her, and he pushed her down. She, faced with an antagonist of such strength and cruelty, ran away crying.
Everyone on the playground was watching at that point, and two of the little girls, Ino and Sakura, shot disgusted looks at the bully and ran after the girl.
The remaining children stared reproachfully at the boy, who didn't seem to care that even his friends were looking a little disgusted by his actions.
Sasuke kept looking over at his older brother, expecting him to do something, and Itachi kept looking around for some sign of these kids' parents, but he was the oldest person in the whole place. Konoha's lack of parental skill was astounding, and Itachi never missed a chance to marvel at it.
Sasuke was still looking at him, but there was nothing he could do. The girl wasn't Itachi's responsibility, and he couldn't just beat up on a little boy. Now, if he had been picking on Sasuke, the kid would already be past tense, but that was different.
Fortunately, left sans supervision, the kids of Konoha had developed an honors system. One of the kids, a blond boy who barely came up to the bully's nose, stepped forward boldly. "HEY! You just made the sweetest, most helpless girl on the playground cry! I can't let you get away with that!"
The tension in the air eased off as the other kids stared with approval at the boy who had the courage to say what they were all thinking.
"This fight was none of your business," snapped the bully. "Butt out!"
"It wasn't any of your business, either," growled one of the boys who had been playing with Sasuke.
"Shino's right," another one, Kiba, added. "Hinata wasn't doing anything to you."
"I had my reasons," remarked the bully haughtily, obviously feeling no point in explaining these reasons.
"Seriously, Neji-kun," a little brunette girl hanging upside down on a bar remarked. "That's going too far, she's just a little kid."
The blond boy who had started the rebellion stepped towards the bully once more, cracking his knuckles. "You can't just run around here beating up on whoever you feel like. You'll have to answer to me for that!"
The bully rolled his eyes. "I'm not interested in fighting some little brat." He turned.
"Hey, Naruto didn't say you could go yet!" exclaimed Kiba, blocking the other boy's path.
"It's rude to leave without being dismissed," Shino added, joining him calmly.
"Yeah!" a chubby boy declared loudly. "Get back here!"
Ino and Sakura, having retrieved Hinata, jumped up immediately to join in. "We watch out for one another here!" they said. "Picking on her means answering to all of us!"
Seeing there was no remedy except to join in, a boy with a pineapple-shaped head stepped forward, sighing, "Let's get this over with."
By now, Sasuke was the only one hanging back. (except the girl still hanging upside down, watching everybody, and this seemed to be because there was no safe way for her to get off the bar without landing on one of the others.) He glanced over at Itachi again, who nodded encouragingly. (Yeah, yeah, studying for his test and all, but how often do you get to watch your little brother's kindergarten class beat on some kid?) Sasuke was a little bit behind on the whole combat thing, and his brother was afraid that he would never be much of a ninja, but it wasn't like that was the only available job on earth. (Well, not if you asked Mr. Uchiha, but Itachi didn't like to.)
Still seven angry kids and a half-hearted Sasuke was no laughing matter, even to a budding genius like baby Neji. Very wisely, he took a few steps back, tossing the stolen doll to the ground contemptuously, trying to think of a face-saving way out of this. He even went so far as to turn to his friends, but they seemed to have vanished right before the going got tough.
Finally, as haughtily as he could manage, Neji retreated, saying something along the lines of, "stupid little kids, waste of time,"
The kids cheered and patted one another on the back, laughing and celebrating their victory, glad that one more threat to the Konoha playground had been dealt with, finally dispersing and returning to their games.
Naruto picked up the doll, dusting it off carefully. He had been playing on his own, and now he was by himself again, looking lonely. He walked over to the tree where Ino and Sakura had deposited Hinata after her ordeal and held the toy out to her.
She was staring at the ground, too busy trying to hide her tears to notice him, so he cleared his throat. "Um, I think this is yours."
Wiping a couple of tears away, the girl cuddled her doll and smiled adoringly at Naruto. "Th-thank you," she whispered. "I saw what you did... that was really brave of you."
Naruto smiled, blushing a little. "Aw, it was nothing." The other kids had made it clear to him that had they not stepped forward, Neji would have pounded his butt into the ground, but Hinata recognized him as the real hero; the one who stood up when no one else would. That took real courage, and all the more because Neji was capable of killing him, no, literally, he was a very strong, angry, and unpredictable little boy.
"Hey... Na-Naruto-kun? Do you... maybe want to play house or something?"
"Yeah!" the little boy's face lit up as he sat down next to her. "Awesome! ... er... what's house?"
It was getting too dark to read; the other kids were going home, making plans for the next day and inviting each other over for dinner.
Hinata lingered on with Naruto and Sasuke, who had joined them when his other friends left, not wanting to go home with the news that she had gotten in a fight with her 'inferior' cousin and lost. Again.
"Sasuke-chan! Come on, we need to go home!"
"Daw, but Nii-san! I'm having fun!" Sasuke pouted at his brother.
"Tell you what," Itachi said understandingly, "why don't you bring your friends home for dinner?"
The three children's eyes lit up like little lanterns in the twilight. "Really?"
"I don't see why not." Tonight the Uchihas were having meatloaf, and Itachi hated meatloaf. He hoped the kids were hungry. "Will your parents mind?"
Naruto and Hinata stared at him, puzzled. "What parents?"
"Why would they care where I am?"
Itachi blinked, once again pondering the mysterious ways of the Konoha Child Protection Services. "Well, come on, you three."
"Mom, Sasuke brought some friends over for dinner, is that ok?"
"Sasuke has friends?" Itachi's mother asked disbelievingly.
Itachi nodded. "He met them today at the park."
Sasuke wasn't the most social child, preferring to spend time with his big brother/idol whenever possible, and Itachi could see how glad his mother was that her son had some bona fide friends now. The perfect time for dropping the bomb. "Uzumaki Naruto and Hyuuga Hinata."
It took a lot of effort not to smile at the look on his mother's face. Of all the kids in Sasuke's class, he knew she was thinking. Nobody wanted their kid mixed up with the Hyuuga clan, and then the boy...
Itachi was enjoying this situation immensely. Naruto, as he well knew, was the child sacrificed to the nine-tailed fox. The thing was, Sasuke didn't know it, and Mrs. Uchiha didn't know that Itachi knew it, he had only been a little kid when it happened. And then there was that annoying little gag-rule that kept her from coming right out and telling her sons. She could warn Sasuke to stay away from him for no good reason, a loophole Itachi suspected other parents had taken, but she didn't want to turn him away and not Hinata.
Turning both away with a vague excuse was right out, too. The Hyuugas were proud, powerful, and a little crazy, and she didn't want her clan (or her sons) on their bad side. That was just asking for trouble.
So, there she was, her baby in the other room playing with the two worst kids in town, and no way to get rid of the little monsters. And it was Itachi's fault, but she couldn't blame him. He was just trying to be a good brother and encouraging Sasuke to make friends... or so she thought.
Itachi wandered into the room where Sasuke and his friends were playing. Behind him, he could hear his mother calling for his father to discuss the situation that had arisen.
The kids were busy playing ninja, and when Sasuke saw Itachi walk in, he tossed a pillow at him. The projectile hit not Itachi, but another cushion that had appeared to take the young man's place.
The kids gasped in startled delight as he reappeared behind them.
"How did you do that?" Naruto asked.
"Do you want me to teach it to you?"
The three little faces looked up at him eagerly.
"Would you really, Nii-san?"
"That'd be awesome of you!"
"If- if you wouldn't mind..."
"No, no, of course I don't mind," Itachi laughed. "You kids should know some techniques, so the next time that your relatives come after you, you'll be prepared."
Hinata blushed. "I don't know why he picks on me all the time," she whispered.
"Aw, don't worry, Hinata-chan," Itachi smiled, ruffling her hair. "It's not your fault. Some kids are just mean... like me!"
The three younger children giggled.
"All right," Itachi said, "Let's get started. You kids know how to focus your chakra?"
"Itachi! Sasuke! Dinner!"
Itachi was rather pleased with himself. He really didn't like taking the time to teach Sasuke anything; no matter how eager the boy was to start, he tended to slack off whenever he had a problem with a new technique, which of course was frequently. After all, skill came only with a certain amount of hard work. However, having the two other kids to compete against really helped. Hinata was very good (Itachi suspected the poor thing spent most of her waking hours training), and Sasuke was determined to beat her, or at least keep up with her. The fox boy was having some problems, but he wasn't giving up, and Itachi found himself hoping some of Naruto's attitude would rub off on Sasuke.
Itachi was the first in the dining room; he wanted to watch the drama unfold between his mother and Sasuke's newest acquaintances.
Mrs. Uchiha had a very drawn expression on her face as the children entered the room. She nodded politely, if somewhat stiffly, when Hinata bowed to her respectfully before sitting down. Naruto seemed to feel that Hinata knew what she was doing, having a crazy family and all, and followed suit very clumsily, for which feats he received the same strained nod.
Sasuke, little innocent that he was, didn't notice the tension at all. "Hi Mom, hi Dad! Thanks for letting Naruto and Hinata come over,"
"Yeah, thanks a bunch!" Naruto said, nodding enthusiastically.
Hinata turned red and seemed to shrink a little, as if sensing the hostility from Mrs. Uchiha, and a little uncertain about the effects of Naruto's burst of emotion. "Th-thank you very much," she stuttered, staring hard at her plate. "It is very kind of you."
"Oh, it's our pleasure," Sasuke's dad chuckled. Itachi looked over at his mother to see if she would glare at her husband, or even hit him outright, but, to his surprise, she was looking at Naruto and Hinata with something akin to pity in her eyes.
Naruto continued to smile obliviously. The boy was a lot like Sasuke in some respects. "So, you guys eat together and everything?" he asked. "That's really cool. It's like a TV show or something."
Sasuke laughed. "Doesn't your family eat together?" he asked.
Naruto shook his head with a grin. "Don't got a family."
"Lucky," Hinata whispered, so quiet that Itachi, sitting next to her, almost didn't hear it. What is WRONG with people here? he thought to himself. He wasn't sure he wanted any part of a community where kids considered HIS family the pinnacle of happiness. He piled some more meatloaf on Hinata's plate.
Hinata and Naruto left not too long after dinner. Itachi offered to walk them home, but they refused, and he didn't push it. He and Sasuke stood at the edge of the yard and watched the two children walk off down the road.
They were almost out of sight when Hinata reached over and grabbed Naruto's hand. Itachi smiled. He loved little kids; they were so sweet.
His favorite little kid grabbed his hand. "Thanks for playing with us today, Nii-san."
"Any time, Sasuke-chan."
"You'd better get ready for bed," the little boy said. "It's late, and you need plenty of sleep for your test tomorrow, right?"