I'm so sorry (again) for the long delay between chapters. I had originally planned to post mid-September, but while I was backing up the contents of my computer and reformatting my hard drive, the external drive I was using failed. Well, more like Windows failed. I recovered most of it, but unfortunately, the rough draft for chapter 8 was lost.
On that note, I'm also sorry for this chapter. I lost track of where I wanted to go with things and I'm grasping at straws now. Honestly, I'm planning to end this story soon and start a new one that focuses on an older (possibly adult) Natsumi, but I really think you guys would hate me for the way I want to end it. :/
I love how I felt I needed to mention that I was writing as if Tobi was Obito, NOT Madara, and then bam! Tobi IS Obito! That was a big ego boost. xD
tiger2213: Thank you, it feels really good to know I've been able to make someone laugh with my imaginary Akatsuki antics. :3 (btw, the answer to your question is in this chapter!)
I do not own Naruto or any of its characters!
In Amegakure, Pein-sama dismissed the village's customary heavy downpour, allowing the clouds to go their separate ways and the sun to emerge. Although the majority of the inhabitants were taking full advantage of a clear day's recreational possibilities and basking in the unusually warm weather, I was unable to follow suit. I disguised my anxious pacing as interest in the murky water beneath the dock. Perhaps onlookers would mistake me for a fisherman simply trying to decide if the spot is worth the effort of casting a line out.
The scheduled meeting set to occur here was six years in the making; naturally, I was growing impatient each time I picked up on a new chakra signature, only to realize it was the erratic, uncontrolled chakra of a civilian. I noticed that I was staring blankly out over the ocean several times. So much for vigilance, I thought, admonishing myself. What kind of shinobi couldn't even stay on task long enough to watch his own back?
I found myself thrusting my hands into my pockets, wondering what Deidara and Natsumi were up to right now. If I had to guess, I would say Deidara was probably still trying to devise some method for our daughter to infuse chakra into clay without hand-mouths. Once we discovered Natsumi's affinity for earth, he'd started complaining to me about how easy it would have been for him to teach her if she did have such appendages, as if it were my fault. I was fairly certain Deidara wasn't born with his hand-mouths and therefore couldn't pass them on genetically, but decided not to bring it up lest I get banished to sleep on the couch for a week again.
My eyes locked onto a familiar-looking man – perhaps the most familiar person I'd seen in a very long time. Even with the mask that had always obscured most of his face, there was a subtle difference in his appearance that I couldn't quite put my finger on. It must be age, I decided... not that he looked as old as I probably did, but when more than two decades pass without seeing someone, advanced age is to be expected.
"Kakashi... No one has called me that in such a long time."
"I suppose I should call you Tobi," he mused, giving me a look-over. I wasn't wearing my cloak – only standard ninja garb consisting of a flak jacket, long-sleeved navy blue shirt underneath, and pants of the same color. Had I worn a forehead protector, I would look nearly identical to Kakashi among a crowd. I preferred to be nondescript when so many civilians were about.
"Please, use my real name. It's nice to hear it."
"How can I be sure you're not an impostor?"
"I told you the eye was a late present for your promotion to Jōnin."
"Touché. No other living person could possibly know that."
In synchrony, we seated ourselves upon two nearby crates facing each other. I wanted to comment on his uncanny resemblance to his late father, whom I faintly recall idolizing as a child, then thought better of it. We'd just barely bypassed the subject of Rin and it probably wouldn't be a good idea to bring up any other major losses in his life. He sighed and scratched the back of his head, the wrinkles around the corner of his right eye the only indicator that he was smiling.
"I'll be honest, Obito... I'm here on official Konoha business. The Hokage knows the situation and declared you a prisoner of war. The ANBU have been informed, as well as a select few Jōnin, but that's about it."
"I take it your task is to free me from the oppressive clutches of the evil organization known as Akatsuki?"
"You don't sound oppressed."
"Believe it or not, there is camaraderie. We don't have tea and discuss the weather, but most of us are friendly to the rest, show at least some respect, and look out for each other."
Kakashi's visible brow furrowed. I could definitely understand how someone might be perplexed by the inner workings of Akatsuki. Even I realized how preposterous the idea was. Dangerous criminals acting like regular human beings when not terrorizing nations and murdering half the people we came in contact with? How daft! I lived it every day, so it felt normal to me. On that note, there was one more thing I'd neglected to share with Kakashi.
"That's not what's keeping me from returning, though. This is." The copy ninja observed with keen interest as I withdrew a slightly wrinkled photo from my pocket. It was taken on Natsumi's recent birthday, showing the two of us side by side, my arm wrapped around her shoulders. Her excitement to see the border of Sunagakure in the distance from atop Deidara's clay bird was clearly etched upon her face. After smoothing the dog-eared edges of the photo, I offered it to my former comrade, who discreetly lifted his hitae-ate to study it with his Sharingan eye.
"Your daughter," he presumed, almost instantaneously. It wasn't difficult for anyone to draw that conclusion, given that the majority of Natsumi's physical characteristics were inherited from me. The only real indicators of Deidara were her long, blonde hair and natural tendency to tan.
"Yes. She was born the day prior to Itachi's death."
"She must be an aspiring kunoichi."
"She is. She's talented, too. I'm not just saying that because she's my kid, either. We'll be in trouble when she awakens her Sharingan," I joked, silently wishing that instance wasn't under the same dire circumstances as mine had been. Kakashi chuckled softly.
"Konoha would be a great place for her to grow up."
"I know. It's not her I'm worried about. It's her... mother."
"We're getting pretty lax on our policies. We allowed Sasuke's return with minimal punishment, although the Hokage's soft spot for Sasuke's old teammates was a factor."
"From my understanding, he never directly attacked Konoha if he could avoid it."
"That's true," Kakashi remarked, raising an eyebrow. There was a specific topic I was avoiding and he was certainly picking up on my evasiveness, although he was probably also considering it a potential threat. The fact that I was in a relationship with a man was not the issue; my sexual orientation was hardly relevant. What I was hesitant to explain was my daughter's existence. There were many theories, most of which Zetsu had contributed on his own, yet nothing factual. Then again, there was no mistaking Natsumi's parentage.
"There is something I haven't said. It's complicated. Frankly, it's so absurd that you'd be less likely to believe me if I did speak of it."
"The fact that you're alive is absurd, to be truthful, yet you're undeniably sitting here before me. I think I can handle anything at this point."
"Well, if you say so. It's... it's Deidara."
His half-moon eyes widened with incredulity. I merely glanced toward the ocean, allowing him the time he required to process this. The sun had inched closer to the horizon since we sat down – close enough for it to be approximately five o'clock already. What were Deidara and Natsumi doing right now? I despised leaving them alone for extended periods of time, but this rendezvous with Kakashi was more than necessary. A better life could be waiting for our little girl in Konoha.
"Mommy! When is Daddy coming back?"
"I don't know, un. Sometime tonight."
"But I want him to come home now," Natsumi whined, tugging at my sleeve. She was either bored of playing with the other children or had something on her mind if she was bothering me this much. We were lucky enough to have a child who could, for the most part, entertain herself. I reluctantly diverted my attention from the pile of dirty laundry at the foot of the bed and hoisted the six-year-old up to my hip, squeezing her gently until she giggled.
"I can't just summon him home, Natsumi. I'd like him to be here right this instant, too, but Daddy is busy in Ame."
"How come he goes with Susumu's dad to Ame all the time? It's always rainy there."
"Well, because Susumu's dad is the leader there. The village needs its leader every once in a while."
My answer seemed to satisfy the inquisitive child, at least temporarily, because she sighed and laid her head against my shoulder. She must have worn herself out practicing with the other kids earlier. The two mothers and I supervised while the trio tested their budding taijutsu skills against each other. The age gaps between them would be insignificant as adults, but they were nearly crippling now, although Natsumi tended to be victorious in their training exercises. While her advantage over Konan's five-year-old son was to be expected, I was secretly very proud of her ability to overpower Hana's eight-year-old.
As parents, we eventually came to the conclusion that it was better for them to gain the valuable combat experience than to refrain from sparring over something as trivial as age. None of them were strong enough yet to cause serious injury, at least where taijutsu was concerned. Besides, we never let them fight unattended, so there was always an adult to intervene.
"Mommy, why do people die?"
Damn it... the death questions always come up at the most random times. I often wished that children were born with a natural acceptance that death is a routine part of life. Trying to explain it was difficult, to say the least, and often useless. She'd been asking ever since we told her about Itachi.
"It just happens. Some people die of old age, some die of illness, and some are killed."
"Will Daddy die?"
"Everyone will at some point, yeah."
"Will I die, too?"
"You better not. At least not until I'm long gone," I quipped, hoping the humor would distract her. The joke was lost on Natsumi, however. She scowled at me as if I had made an outrageously inappropriate statement.
"Sweetie, it's almost eight o'clock – are you ready for bed?"
"Not without Daddy," she stubbornly replied, sparking the memory of a conversation Tobi and I had not too long ago. We discussed where our daughter inherited her tenacity and he firmly believed it must have come from me, considering his cool, go-with-the-flow nature. He was rarely so adamant about something that he could not be compromised with. When he was, he admittedly had good motive to do so.
"Fine, un. Go play with Momo."
Natsumi wriggled out of my grasp and literally hit the ground running. Sighing heavily, I realized how exhausted I was. Tobi had been gone since sunrise, so I was on Mom duty all day without a single break. Sometimes I wondered what life would be like now if I had never kissed Tobi on the way back from Otogakure. Would fate have brought us together and produced our daughter anyway? Or would we have gone on as mere partners in Akatsuki, never aware of what could have existed between us?
In an attempt to get that depressing scenario out of my mind, I returned my focus to the laundry on the floor. The pile of smelly clothes had probably been fermenting there for at least a week now, if not longer.
"I hate being a housewife," I muttered under my breath, glaring at Tobi's wrinkled shirt. I longed to be permitted to leave the hideout again. Missions meant time when Tobi and I could talk like we used to without having to worry if anyone, child or otherwise, was eavesdropping on us. We haven't been assigned a mission as partners in over four years. It felt very biased, considering Leader still allowed Konan to go to Ame – they even took Susumu with them occasionally, depending on the condition of the village.
As much as I disliked being confined, I figured it was probably Tobi's influence on Pein-sama that kept me from receiving more orders. He could be extremely over-protective, especially where Natsumi and I were concerned. He'd once told me that he was given missions on a regular basis because, as the father, he was the dispensable parent. I was regarded as her mother since I was the one that carried her inside me.
In the open doorway, Hana stood with her hands folded in front of her waist, her eyes flicking back and forth between me and the direction of the kitchen down the hallway. I paused in the middle of shoving clothes into a basket to be washed.
"Is something wrong?"
"Erm... yes, Deidara-san. I'm worried about Momo."
"Why? Has Natsumi done something to her? Here, sit down if you'd like," I offered, clearing the only chair in the room of Natsumi's doll collection. Hana's wringing of her hands and disheveled violet hair indicated to me that she was nervous about something. She appeared apprehensive about joining me, but did so anyway, making a point to close the door. When seated herself, I sat across from her on the edge of the bed. For about a minute or so, she didn't speak. I was somewhat startled when she finally did respond.
"To answer your question, Natsumi has not done anything. She's a joy, as always. It's just that... Momo's been asking about her father. She sees that Susumu and Natsumi have fathers and she wants to know where hers is."
"You don't know where he is?"
Hana made a disgusted expression, vigorously shaking her head. I noticed that she was gripping the arms of the chair so tightly that they began to crack under the pressure. Momoko's father must have really pissed her off.
"No. I don't know whohe is, for that matter. I only wish I knew what to tell Momo."
Upon our return to the hideout, Pein-sama and I went our separate ways for the evening – he to his private quarters and I toward mine. I was downright itching to share the details of my with Deidara before he became too tired to stay awake any longer. Oddly enough, when I reached the doorway, I found him lying spread-eagle on the bed, gazing up toward the ceiling. It occurred to me when I wasn't detected right away that he must be lost in thought. There was a curious way his eyes would glaze over when he reminisced. Those vividly cerulean eyes... oh, how they transformed me to putty in the palms of his hands. I'd heard somewhere, some immeasurable amount of time ago, that those with pale eyes had shallow souls. Obviously, whoever said that never met Deidara.
Even though beautiful was not a very manly word and Deidara would surely take offense to it, that's precisely how I would describe him. He was beautiful and so much more to me. So many facets of his heart and his mind riveted my own soul that I couldn't curb the idea that our souls may be interconnected somehow. Perhaps it was the very first kiss we shared, or maybe it didn't occur until Natsumi's mystifying conception. Whatever the case, I felt that my world would cease to be coherent if I ever lost Deidara. Our spectacular little girl would be the only hope for my sanity in the event that he left me – or worse, perished in battle like many shinobi.
"Tobi? What's gotten into you, un?"
I blinked, suddenly conscious of the fact that I'd been staring blankly at my blonde partner this whole time. My return to reality was a tad bumpy and I found myself leaning against the door frame. Deidara's overt lack of enthusiasm to see me for the first time since early this morning was unnerving, as well. Had something happened while I was in Ame?
"Sorry, my love – I was only admiring you."
"That's nice. You should admire all the laundry I washed today."
I should have known he would be irritated by the time I returned. At my insistence, Pein-sama generally withheld or reassigned missions that were more suited for Deidara and I, entirely because I was terrified of the possibility that Natsumi might lose both of us and grow up an orphan. Deidara resented me for it, as I could plainly see. The ire in his eyes was unmistakeable. I decided I should get on with the details of my visit with Kakashi and entered the room, closing the door for the miniscule amount of privacy it offered.
"I learned that there may be a place for us in Konoha, after all," I said, attempting to circumvent an argument with my most cheery voice as I claimed the empty space next to him. I slid my arm under his neck and pulled him close to me. The fragrance of his hair unnerved me and comforted me simultaneously.
"The Hokage declared me a prisoner of war. They're pretty serious about bringing me back."
"Do they know about us?"
"They do now," I answered. Deidara seemed to consider this silently for a moment, then frowned, evidently dissatisfied with what I'd done.
"I guess you told him about Natsumi, un. What do you think'll happen?"
"Kakashi is one of the most influential figures in the village. I'm sure he'll be able to do something."
"I think we'd be better off moving to a small village where no one's ever heard of us, un."
"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, Deidara."
My heart sank as Deidara's frown evolved into a grimace and he didn't reply right away. I guessed he was wary of the situation, seeing as he had one of the highest bounties in Konoha's bingo book, which was unlikely to be overlooked. Kakashi advised me to hope that those responsible for the ultimate decision were mindful of our daughter. I told him quite bluntly that I would cease communication permanently if they pursued us with intent to capture my partner.
"Why do you want to go back there so bad, anyway?" Deidara demanded derisively. I sighed and snuggled closer to him, pressing him tightly against me. Perhaps he could feel my heart as I felt his.
"Because... truthfully, I miss it. I think Natsumi would be happy there. I think we would be happy there."
"You really aren't Tobi anymore, are you?"
You really aren't Tobi anymore. It was so... accusatory, as if I had done something wrong by remembering who I really was. Had I changed so much that Deidara didn't know me anymore? Did Iknow myself? I must have lost the part of myself that caused him to fall in love with me in the first place. Maybe I could deduce what that was and get it back somehow. For now, one thing was clear – I needed to give Deidara his freedom again or I wouldn't be the only one to suffer his disdain.
The following morning, I awoke to the usual sounds of chaos emitting from the kitchen. Based on the smell, Tobi was cooking something delicious, so I willingly rolled out of bed and wandered toward the enticing scent of breakfast. Sometimes I wondered if he was under the impression he could get on my good side with food... and damn it, it worked. If nothing else, he was an excellent cook; no one ever had anything negative to say when he spent half an hour or longer in front of the stove.
"You're up early," I grunted, peeking over his shoulder. There was a myriad of bacon, eggs, and what appeared to be french toast on the skillet. My mouth watered, prompting me to reach between his arm and his torso to sample a small strip of bacon. The glare I received in response was intimidating enough to make me recoil.
"I have a surprise for you after breakfast," he announced, the glare replaced by a cheerful grin in the blink of an eye.
"After breakfast," he repeated brusquely, grabbing a second spatula to keep up with the large amount of food on the skillet.
Since surprises were few and far between, I chose not press the matter further. I took a seat at the table next to Kisame. Fortunately, Kakuzu and Hidan hadn't been around for quite some time now, so meal times were peaceful and those of us with children needn't worry about them potentially being sacrificed by the Jashinist. I believed Leader-sama was purposely keeping them busy for that very reason. Another plus was that Hana and Momoko could join us at the table since the "zombie combo," as Kisame had affectionately coined them, were not present.
I instinctively said thanks when Tobi placed a plate in front of me, and for once, I waited until he sat down in the chair next to me with his own plate. I was genuinely surprised when I looked up from the appetizing bacon to see that everyone else – even Leader – was showing our cook the same courtesy. Things sure had changed in the past six years.
However, once he picked up his fork, we all began our eating ritual, which essentially consisted of shoving food unceremoniously into our faces as rapidly as humanly possible. There was little to no conversation during this process. Not for the first half of everyone's plate, anyway.
"Where's Natsumi?" Susumu inquired between forkfuls of scrambled eggs.
"Yeah, where's Natsumi?" Momoko echoed, her eyes darting back and forth between Tobi and I. In seconds, everyone was staring expectantly at us. It dawned on me that I hadn't seen our daughter in her bed when I woke up.
"Zetsu-san is doing some tests with her. I made sure she had breakfast beforehand."
Great. My daughter is alone with a cannibal. My appetite mysteriously vanished.
"Is she sick?"
"No, Momo-chan. She's okay. It's just some routine tests," Tobi replied nonchalantly. Everyone immediately lost interest and turned their attention back to their food.
I devoured the remainder of my bacon in a hurry, hoping my retreat to our room would prompt Tobi to follow me so I could inquire about the aforementioned tests privately. I deserved to know if there was something important happening to our daughter, after all. When I put my plate in the sink and excused myself, Tobi did the same, as it was now Hana's duty as the newest member to wash the dishes after meals. The door barely latched shut before I started in on him.
"Would you like to tell me what's going on?"
"We have an assignment."
"Cut the shit, Tobi."
"Natsumi is fine. Zetsu's still obsessing over her... and we really do have a mission today."
"Tell me about this mission, then, yeah," I sighed, choosing to disregard Zetsu's pursuance of what was unquestionably a pointless endeavor. Our child was physically and emotionally normal for her age. The plant-man would have a better chance of finding the explanation to her existence in Tobi and I, although I was reluctant to voice that opinion aloud. I was afraid he might take it seriously.
"We're supposed to eliminate a hostile faction outside Ame. Leader estimates fifty or so of them advancing on the village... of course, if you're not up to it, I can handle it solo."
"Let's get dressed, un," I suggested, choosing to disregard his comment about "handling it solo." There would be plenty of time to handle himbefore and after we decimated the enemies, preferably with ample explosions.
I wish I could say for sure when I'll have the next chapter for you guys, but I can't seem to make any promises about that without something going wrong. So, I'm just gonna say it'll be here when it gets here and hopefully there won't be too much of a delay. xD
If you're interested in my current plans for the end of the story, feel free to PM me and we can discuss it privately. I'm genuinely interested in satisfying my readers and I don't want to do something stupid.
Please review so I know if this chapter was as shit as I feel like it is or not.