I'm soo sorry for the wait! My power went out last night due to a horrible storm, and I probably would have had it up then if it wasn't for that. But this one is really long compared to my last few, so hopefully that makes up for it.
Warning: Lots of baby fluff. Possible OOCness. I tried to keep them in character, at least. A lot of this is taken from my own experience with babies, especially my niece(:
Keep on reviewing! They bring my soul joy and my fingers strength!
Song of the Day: Lullaby for a Stormy Night by Vienna Teng.
Disclaimer: I do not own.
Tell fortune of her blindness;
Tell nature of decay;
Tell friendship of unkindness;
Tell justice of delay:
And if they will reply,
Then give them all the lie.
-Sir Walter Ralegh, The Lie
Home is where the heart is, or so I've heard. But I can't help but feel as if I was carrying my arm on my sleeve as I arrive back at the Akatsuki hideout after a long day of trek. My body was still achy from the previous battle and my mind still healing from the emotion loss. So I made a beeline for my assigned chambers, wary of facing the same explanation Itachi would have to give.
Everything was a down hill battle from here, the memories of Miku which once stung so fierce beginning to dull. I assumed they would always be there, covered by scar tissue and buried beneath years of fresh turmoil. But for now, there was only a void of emptiness leaving a sinking feeling in my gut.
A void the boy I named Kenichi was starting to fill.
However, may I point out that I was only thirteen. A thirteen-year-old orphan, with no experience with proper care on kids below the age of three. Granted, there was that one lame D-ranked babysitting mission. The children had loved me, until they decided to see who could hold me down and spit on me the best. Better hobbies and more discipline is what those brats needed.
Now, with the baby uncurled from his position within my arms, I felt scrutinized under his gaze; as if he were expecting me to do something. He had slept mostly before. I fed him a bit, then he stared at the sky before falling asleep again. What more was there..?
I laughed almost nervously. "I'm, uh, not really sure what to do now," I confessed, scratching the back of my head sheepishly, "...I, ha, never really dealt with children before."
Kenichi's head tilted, as if in disbelief.
"Well, I suppose you can count Konohamaru, Moegi, and Udon - they were three years younger than me. But it's not like they were babies, and maybe the only reason they liked me so much is 'cause I was willing to stoop to their level. Act like a kid, ya' know?"
"Guess it all leads back to the same road, huh? When I was little, I didn't get to act like a kid much. I was too busy worrying about how I was going to eat and wondering if it was poisoned or not, while contemplating if I really cared either way. So when I was around others, I made up for it by acting like a little goof, much to their annoyance." I frowned in my speculation. "People think I'm an idiot. I know I could be a pest, and even downright provoking sometimes. I know this. But being irritating is better than being ignored."
I looked down from my profound speech, only to see Kenichi playing with my clothes, clenching and unclenching the fabric like a persistent tailor. And rather than be exasperated by this, I found myself touched with ginger affection and amusement.
"You didn't understand a thing I just said, did you?" Kenichi looked up at my crooning voice, lips curving into a toothless grin. His hands reached up and started lightly smacking around my face, tapping at my nose and whisker marks with child-like fascination. Chuckling, I lifted him up to my head to better accommodate his search, as he squealed in delight, fingers pinching strands of hair and pulling-!
"Ow." I winced, plucking him down from atop my head. "No!" I scolded setting him back down on the bed, wagging a finger at him. "Bad. No grab hair. Hurts."
I didn't think it was that harsh. But as it was, dark blue eyes immediately began to water, threatening to overflow if I failed to do something quick.
"Ah, no! No, don't cry! I- I-" Well, shit. His lower lip was trembling. "No, no, no don't cry! No, I, please-! Don't-!" I felt like crying myself!
Bowing my head, I made a one last pitiful plea of "Please, I'm sorry!" before preparing for the fatal blow to my eardrums. But it never came. Instead, I felt tiny arms wind around my head and grasp my hair not in exploration, but affection. Startled, I leaned my head up and was met with those blue hues staring at me consolingly.
As if they were saying, Don't be sad. As if he was embracing me because he saw my state of sorrow and wanted to bat it away. I couldn't help but feel a tender rush of fondness for the child.
"Awww, I'm okay now," I assured, hugging him back just as strongly. In reply, the little one blew a raspberry right in my unsuspecting face! "Oh, you little-!"
I laughed, setting him back down on the mattress and quickly rubbed away the tears pricking the edge of my eye. I was such a sap. Baby gives me one little hug and I was in tears...How pathetic, huh?
I sighed and shook my head, What a mess. Am I already in too deep? Then I looked back down at a head of dark hair and the baby looked up to gaze back. Kenichi reached out for me, tiny hands trying to grasp me so needily, a beseeching action which none could ignore, I thought as I felt my insides melt with adoration.
Haku had been right. To be needed gave you a purpose, and a purpose gave you reason to live. There plenty of people who needed my skill and protection.
But what felt maybe even better, was being truly wanted by another. And with this new warm feeling buzzing inside me, I soon fell asleep with Kenichi curled in my arms.
The Uchiha nodded. He had arrived back to base from his and Naruto's first - and successful - mission. The target had been slain and the money was delivered without issue. In itself, the mission seemed to be flawless(without the more dastardly details Itachi left out). However, he had just revealed to the extra something the jinchuuriki had recently taken in.
"A child? How on earth did he manage to obtain an infant?" Konan questioned absurdly.
"On another note," I interjected, "why did you allow him to bring the baby with him?"
"It was matter I could not forbid," Itachi confessed condemningly, "...It was entirely his decision. However, without his input, I am highly certain the child would have perished."
I am not sure why that part was necessary to put in. As if I would care of one infant's life or death status. What was going on in that Uchiha's mind? Then again, perhaps a tiny, dying part of me was relieved to hear about one child surviving in this pain-abundant world.
"This child," I continue quietly, "...is an orphan, you mean?"
"His mother and only caretaker are most certainly deceased. Father unknown, and no other relative has or would claim him. His caretaker was ostracized from the village, and it is safe to say if his existence was discovered he would meet the same fate."
"Another abandoned life," I heard Konan murmur beside me. "Another child thrown away."
The remark reached inside and grabbed a part of my dying self, clenching at the memories of childhood pain lingering there. Another orphan to fend for themselves. Another discarded child destined to grow up desolate...or die alone.
Just as we had been.
"I am still..." He paused, as if searching for the correct term. "...concerned. Naruto has inevitably become..."
"Attached?" I finished knowingly.
"Very much so." Itachi deadpanned.
"Define 'much so'?" I pressed on.
Itachi sighed, an unexpected sound. "He named the child himself."
Ah. I could barely supress a sigh myself. When you name something, you personify it. It becomes real and then precious and finally irreplaceable. This is why you never name a stray if you have no money to feed it... What a difficult turn of events.
How does this one child manage to cause such uproar so easily? Without even trying, honestly.
Who does that remind you of? Admit it. Who does he sound like when he speaks?
I ignored the contemptuous echo, shoving it back into the catacombs from whence it emerged.
"So what do you suggest, Leader-sama?"
"I suppose we should just leave him be for the time being." I spoke after moments contemplation, feeling strangely irked by the entire situation and the memories it aroused in me.
Itachi's face failed to twitch, no sign of emotion willing to surface his perfect facade - but his eyes did widen a smidge at the inquiry. An imperceptible eyebrow rose. "Keep him?"
"For the time being," I explained, dangerously close to a sigh. "I see no better way of dealing with it as of now. Until I say otherwise, the child is his responsibility and his alone. Understood?" Why did I suddenly feel like a parent assigning punishment?
"As you wish, Leader-sama." Itachi droned, nodding to Konan on his way out. As expected, my friend was quick to appear by my side, curious about the whole exchange.
"You are allowing him to keep the baby by his side?" Konan asked dubiously, quirking a brow me: "Why?"
My eyes linger on the stone of the wall, powerful eyes taking in every dip and curve with passive disinterest. "Why not?" I shoot back, avoiding her question without quarrel.
She notices it and ignores it for now.
"Nostalgic, isn't it?" she comments wistfully. I say nothing in reply. By now we have known each other so long, she knows what I mean with my silence. So the ensuing smile I receive is nothing new.
"I know you feel it, too. The similarity is so strange...but so obvious, especially when you speak with him." The smile widened, if only a speck. "And when you consider he too was trained by Jiraiya-sense, then..."
"Hmm," is all I blurt out in partial agreement. Konan understands, too; we've been through too much together for her not to. "Why don't you go prepare something the child may be able to ingest? I am sure it would help the Uzumaki boy out a great deal."
Konan nods, gathering up her papers, always obeying loyally, even at the most meek suggestion.
"Parting is such sweet sorrow," I quote dutifully, in response to her earlier inquiry, "But he will have to do it. Akatsuki is no place for a defenseless child. It is barely suited for him."
"So why is he staying at all...?" she asked, brow furrowing in incomprehension. "Pein-sama?"
"What harm can he do?" I ask sullenly, focusing on the dull interior of stone. "The child is an orphan born in a less than savory predicament. You know as well as I that...that an ounce of compassion...won't do the child any harm."
There is silence for a short while. Before Konan nods, exiting with as much grace as expected. But as she leaves, I sense the confusion welling within her, and the small twitch of the lips which it causes on her face. We have grown so used to sorrow, how am I not more surprised by this constant expression appearing on her face?
Because I know why it was there. We have grown so calloused through our pain, so detached and disfigured through the evil of mankind...we too were abandoned by the world...and if it had not been for those small moments of compassion and offered kindness...well...
A little care never hurt anyone, I allow myself to justify, before shoving that old part of myself back into the darkness of my psyche where it belonged, Gods have no need for mercy, mind you.
That did not mean they could not bestow if they saw fit.
"What's wrong, buddy?" I cooed softly, bouncing him a bit on my knee. The baby only wailed in response. "Ohhhkay, you obviously don't want to be bounced. How about...we play?"
I had discovered a few days ago when I had first brought him into the hideout that babies were easily amused. Simple games and toys could keep him busy for hours. And being a ninja, games like peek-a-boo and funny faces were a lot more entertaining. Deidara, after hearing about the newest occupant of the dark and dreary hideout, brought in some clay balls to bounce(big enough so he could not ingest them) and small puppets from a man he called 'Sasori-dono.' Itachi even managed to find a rattle, which Kenichi adored. I inwardly pondered if it was his or Sasuke's from childhood, but figured it was too sensitive to ask about.
"I wonder if you'll grow up to be a ninja," I wondered aloud, but cut off that train of thought as he released a particularly loud screech. "On second thought, you're dangerous as it is with those vocal chords!"
"Hm, I guess I could try changing you again...but that would be redundant since that was only ten minutes ago and you did number 1 and 2." I grumbled, as I recalled the first time I had changed the little runt's diaper...
"Language," Konan cooly reminds.
"He can't understand me, anyway," I mumbled in protest, but didn't argue. "So how do I...you know?"
"Change him?" she offered.
"Change him, exorcise him, get rid of that unholy smell." I shrugged. "Yeah."
She didn't even bat an eye. "It is simple once you are practiced. First, you removed the soiled diaper and lift the legs up so that you can easily slide it out-"
"Shit!" I exclaimed upon seeing the mess, pinching my nose in uncontained disgust, "...Is that..[gulp]...is that supposed to be that color?"
"Colors," she corrected, wrapping up the mess and preparing a clean one. "A baby's waste can be the oddest of shades(A/N:wisdom from my art teacher[;). Now, dispose of this somewhere where the smell won't choke you." I nodded and silently decided to find out where Deidara's quarters were.
She then wiped the baby's bottom and powdered him up, leaving behind a clean and nasty-free diaper. Kenichi was still upset.
I nearly pouted in dismay. "Why's he still moaning?"
"The process tends to upset most infants," Konan explained. "Try comforting or bouncing him on your knee." I shrugged, taking her advice. One bounce and Kenichi paused his cries, startled. Another and he began to smile. A few more and he was giggling in content, clapping his hands uncoordinately.
"Hey, it worked!" I said happily, but the kunoichi was already leaving the room. I called after her, "Thanks!"
And her quiet reply of "You're welcome" was given with a small smile on her face.
"Yeah...not changing you again," I declared after the fond memory retreated. Kenichi was still fidgeting, but with his eyes closed he almost looked half asleep. "Maybe you're hungry."
Latching onto that, I set him down on the bed gently, eliciting a cry from the cranky boy. "Hey, hey. Stay here and be good. I'm going to bring you back some food, 'kay?" Saying things in a baby voice was starting to get weird. "Just, stay. I'll be right back!"
Telling the baby to stay put when he couldn't walk was even more weird.
When Naruto left, Kenichi continued to whimper and writhe around, the hunger in his tummy causing him an upsetting discomfort.
"Alone at last, aren't we little one?" A dark voice drawled from the vicinity near his cradle.
Kenichi slowly stopped fussing, poking his eyes open a slit, as if sensing the new presence in the room. Curiously, his eyes slipped open into a wide-eyed stare at the intruder. The poor boy was too clueless to be afraid...
...but he didn't make a sound. As if the stranger's mere proximity was enough to silence his cries, not by consolation but by...well, the infant was not sure what to make of it. He was not afraid, nor was he willing to tread over that innocent bravery either.
"Kenichi, is it?"
Kenichi only blinked. The masked-man had no made no move to hurt him as of yet, but he was still gazing without pause, waiting for something to occur...He could not help but yearn for his more pleasant guardian, with the sunshine hair and pure eyes.
"I had to see you for myself, I suppose," the masked-man went on, casual in tone. It perplexed the infant, for he had never seen this stranger before.
"I think it is time we meet face to face, little one...ne?" Tentatively, the baby watched as the man's arm slithered up to the edge of his swirly mask, halting at the fringe of it, fingers deliberately lingering on the edge.
Finally, after what seemed like one of the longest moments of time, the Uchiha removed his mask and revealed his face to the infant.
And Kenichi stared.
"Kenichi?" I called, after arriving into the room. "I found you a bottle...Eh?"
To my surprise, Kenichi was in fact awake, but not fussing in the least. Upon spotting me, the quiet baby smiled and squealed, reaching out for me and the milk. I smiled despite myself and hefted him into my arms, obliging him with the warm liquid.
"Mah, that's odd..." I commented aloud. "You aren't crying at all. I thought for sure you would be impatient, as hungry as you are." Since, the well-tempered baby in question was now scarfing down his bottle with ravenous intent. "Moody little guy, ain't ya'?"
His only response was an obnoxious gulping sound.
I sighed. Perhaps I was being paranoid. He just so calm and serene...nothing wrong with that, right?
Crying. Eating. Sleeping. Pooping. Positively shitting. Crying. Eating some more, therefore pottying more. Did I mention crying?
Besides all the sentimental aspects of having a baby, and the fun innocent moments of tenderness and comfort we could share, this was about all the lump of chaos consisted of. Like now, where after six diaper changes, two feedings and consequential burpings, and many attempts at slumber the infant would not rest.
He had been like this the past four nights. I was sleep deprived. It is a good thing these walls were made of stone, but when I occasionally took the boy out for a stroll on Itachi's advice, the other members of Akatsuki offered their helpful(slightly threatening) two cents as well.
"Find the off switch, or I find it," A man I learned to be named Kakuzu warned. We left shortly after.
Hidan had offered a prayer. "Lord Jashin, please find it in your mercy to silence this loud-as-fuck child!"
Kisame was less than knowledgable. "Did you try offering it a treat?"
A man I assumed to be who Deidara shortly described as Sasori said, "It is colic, most likely. A time when infants are rendered inconsolable and will cry and cry. Try soothing him as much as possible when these fits occur, or warm milk."
The information was surprisingly accurate, and I wondered how a puppet-shrouded man such as himself could have attainted such...Then decided I was too afraid to ask. I tried the warm milk and found it placated him for a while and allowed me three blissful hours of sleep. Until he awoke again, screaming his head off.
"Aghhh..." I sighed in despair, rocking the bawling child best I could. He was slowing down, but still fussing loud enough to be heard. "Please...just sleep. You were so good until this stupid colic thing...please sleep. Naruto needs to sleep."
My sanity could not take much more of these rattling cries. I would soon be resorting to drastic measures if this didn't let up. Smashing my head against the wall had not always been so appealing, had it?
Maybe try a lullaby? My mind offered.
Do I even know a lullaby? I countered.
But I was shocked to find that I did. Sort of. It may or may not be a lullaby, but it was a song. Somewhere deep within the farthest corners of my mind, I remember it being sung to me...so very, very long ago...For the life of me, I could not tell you who it was who sang it. But I can recall the soft rhythm of it, a hushed tone singing...
"I'm not that great a singer," I apologized up front.
I started humming the tune, visualizing the sound of the song in my head. After a few bars, I felt comfortable enough to start singing, rocking the baby in what I assumed was a soothing motion.
'...Waiting is wasting, for people like me..
Don't try to live so wise
Don't cry coz you're so right
Don't dry with fakes or fears
'Coz you will hate yourself in the end
'Coz you will hate yourself in the end...'
Fading out on the last line, I snapped out of my gaze, finding my own eyes drooping closed. What about the melody made me feel so at peace...?
Lazily, I glanced down to see what had become of my antsy charge. And to my complete and immediate surprised, the infant too was soothed by the calming lyrics of the beat. His eyes would open up at times, as if trying to stay awake, but would soon then be forced closed again at his fatigue's persistence.
Wow, I could not help but think, stunned, I really didn't think that would work. At all.
Suddenly there was a snicker echoing in the room and and obnoxious, "Aw, I'm tearing up," out of the blue.
I whipped around and blanched, seeing none other than the notorious one-eyed Akatsuki member leaning against the doorframe. Panicking, I fumbled for some kind of witty retort to save my ass.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Well, that works too. I couldn't even emphasize it too loud, for fear of waking Kenichi was greater than dealing with a possibly blackmailing psychopath.
Deidara sniggered again, enjoying my plight and helpless situation, "Oh, that was so touching, un. The little runt singin' the littler runt to sleep. Adorable, un."
Turning redder than a tomato, for not the first time I wondered when my luck had turned so sour. Karma, why?
"But you were right. You're not that good of a singer." The one-eyed blond laughed, whilst I fumed in anger and embarrassment. So overtaken by my emotions, I did the first thing my instincts urged me to.
I threw a pillow at him again.
13 years ago...
'Take your time, baby, your blood needs slowing down
Breach your soul to reach yourself before you gloom
Reflection of fear makes shadows of nothing
Shadows of nothing...'
"Why are you singing to him now, Kushina?" Minato asked, puzzled. "Little guy probably spends most his days sleeping as it is."
"Are you implying my singing voice isn't beautiful?" Kushina demanded playfully.
Minato grinned sheepishly, holding his hands up in a hopelessly defeated gesture. "No, no, not at all! I swear!" She laughed. "It's lovely, actually. But why so intent on giving our boy-to-be a lullaby?"
Kushina shrugged, rubbing the growing lump on her tummy with adoration. "He can hear us you know," she told him seriously. "I was reading up on it. A baby can recognize it's parents voices even in the womb. So I want him to hear my song...hopefully, it will bring him sweet dreams. They can dream, too, you know."
"Wow," said Minato, newly amazed. "That is something. Mind if I...?" Kushina nodded happily, placing his hand under her atop her bulging tummy.
"Hey there, little guy," he said softly, smiling, "I'm your daddy. Now, I'm not much of a singer like your mom is, that's for sure..." Kushina snorted in agreement. "...but I hope whatever dream you are having in there is nice. And I hope you do remember my voice, because I love you and I can't wait for you to come out and hear our voices up close."
Kushina looked at him lovingly for a touching moment, before bursting into giggles."You're such a sap..." She joked, jabbing him in the shoulder. There was that sheepish grin again as Minato blushed while laughing at his own expense.
But then she kissed his forehead, leaning back with a satisfied gleam in her eyes. "And I love you for it."
"How is Kenichi-kun fairing?" asked a familiar voice appearing from the shadows.
I smiled warmly, first at the peaceful countenance of Kenichi and then Itachi. "Better. The colic seems to be gone. Back to being his usually cheerful self."
"And how are you?" he asked. It was still difficult getting used to people asking about my welfare. Even so, I sighed.
"It's a lot harder than I ever thought," I admitted honestly, rubbing at my reddened eyes, "I guess I never really took raising a child into consideration, though. I mean, I'm only thirteen. Plus, lack of sleep kills a guy."
"Then I think you deserve a break," he announced suddenly. I blinked incredulously, raising an eyebrow at the raven-haired man.
"What?" The absence of sleep did a hell of a lot for a guy's vocabulary. My lips curled in earnest bewilderment. "I thought this was my burden alone...Not that Kenichi is a burden," I quickly admonished, even when the child had no idea of what I've just said, "But taking care of a baby is a lot of work and dedication...and I'm just not sure I can provide for him like I wish I could...like a parent could."
"And that is exactly why you deserve a break," Itachi insisted knowingly. "Because you admitted you're having trouble, rather than hiding in it for fear of blemishing your pride or vanity. Which is wise, considering you only want what's best for the child."
I blinked in surprise. "Really?" He nodded.
"Just remember, there are parents out there much older than you and not so wise as to figure out what you just said. Realizing and admitting to yourself that you are not ready to parent a child is what makes you a good caregiver in essence. It means you have truly stopped to think of the child's welfare and put their interest way beyond your own," Itachi went on.
I stared at him half in awe, half in modesty. "Really?" I couldn't help but repeat.
"Really," he assured. "Now, come. You look like you need a fresh meal to fuel your exhausted system. And I presume Kenichi is hungry as well?"
I snorted playfully, "When isn't he?"
"Like father, like son." I couldn't help but halt and give the Uchiha a crooked smile.
"Was that a joke?"
"I don't joke," he scoffed haughtily. I handed him the baby, to which he took without quarrel, much to my amusement. Kenichi latched onto him instantly, without fear or repulse.
"Are you lying?"
"I don't lie," he said matter-of-factly as the baby managed to grab hold of his zipper and began playing with it.
"Yeah, okay," I rolled my eyes while Kenichi giggled when his playfullness revealed a stray smirk upon a stoic face, "Whatever you say."
"Pein-sama, I wanted to talk to you about-"
"Not now, Konan." I stopped dead in my tracks, truly stunned. Nagato never brushed me off so rudely. What on earth was he so intent on-?
"Pein-sama, what are you-?" But my eyes answered for me. Pein came to a dead halt when upon turning the next corner was a very familiar figure leaning against the wall.
"Pein-san." His masked face glanced in our direction. "And Konan-san. What a pleasant surprise. To what do I owe this visit?"
I wasn't sure, but I could swear there was a hint of mocking in his tone. I felt myself tense in suspicion.
"You know why I have sought you out, Madara," Pein spoke lowly. "What did you do to that child?"
Child? My mind mimicked. Realization dawned sickeningly swift. Kenichi?
"What ever do you mean?"
"Do not play dumb," scoffed our leader. He glared at the masked-man skeptically. "Why did you visit him, Madara? Answer me."
The baby, my mind yelled, suddenly panicked at the thought of it, That man. What could he have done? No, the easier question was, what couldn't he have done?
"Nothing of your concern," Madara chuckled. "Relax. Honestly, I'm hurt. You act as if I'm some common murder. I'm insulted."
"Pardon my insinuation," Pein offered coldly, me watching the exchange with cautious eyes. "Then, enlighten me, what were your intentions with the boy?"
"Unlocking his full potential, perhaps?" He laughed again, to which Pein only glared. "So it is impossible that I was doing the child a favor? Or just visiting him?"
"Only if for your own benefits," I snapped. "Now, tell us." I could swear he was smirking so nonchalantly beneath that mask.
"All right, all right," he drawled airily. "See, I fancy myself a bit of a soothslayer, if you will."
"Oh?" Pein raised an unamused eyebrow.
"Indeed," Madara went on, undeterred by his pawn's dissatisfaction. "You see, I have many visions for the future. And many intentions to proceed with them. But that does not mean I do not foresee some randomnly placed obstacles appearing to thwart me."
"What does this have to do with that baby?" Pein demanded sharply, eyes narrowing. "Unless that child is a possible threat. But why would that be?" His glare intensified. "Is he?"
"Not at all," the Uchiha founder dismissed breezily, but there was a tone in his voice - a note of deception which lingered in the smirk hidden behind the spiral mask. It made me want to seethe in disgust. Even I had morals - messing with defenseless children was a line I refused to cross.
Without warning, he then left in a burst of smoke, leaving Pein with eyes of contempt and me a gut full of dread.
"Go make sure the baby is not alone. And check up on the jinchuuriki while you are at it."
"Sir?" But he is already turning on his heel, ready to disappear, when I-
"Nagato!" I call back. My leader and old friend's form freezes, pausing in his gait. I nearly bit my lip, knowing he distastes me calling him that when we do not have absolute privacy but...
"What do you think he is planning?" I ask lowly. I know he can see the plotting going on behind that mask. It was always there, of course - Madara was as devious as they came. And we accepted that, as for the time being he remained neutral.
But both of us knew that the day would come when Madara's plots would need unraveling, and until very recently, that unraveling had been pushed towards the back of our minds.
However, now the threat seemed dangerous close, though not to them...
"I am not sure," Pein admitted blandly. This, I knew, was not a good sign. I could almost hear the wires crossing within my leader's mind.
"Do you think he is thinking of...harming Kenichi?"
"Maybe," Pein said after a bit of speculation, the threatening thoughts invading his mind too. "Or maybe it is some elaborate plot to get to the jinchuuriki. But either way, if it should come about, it would mean..." He trailed off, but I knew.
...it would mean suffering for the Uzumaki child.
And a possible hinderance for us as well.
Oddly enough, the only two occupants in the room were Deidara and Konan. The blue-haired woman mentioned was engaged in some sort of culinary activity, brewing some unknown concoction and not really paying attention to anyone else. As we entered, Deidara greeted me with a passive nod which I returned. However, upon spotting Naruto with Kenichi in tow, the older blond grinned devilishly. Naruto glared back with contempt.
"Up for some karaoke, Naruto-kun?"
"Up for some sightseeing, Deidara-chan?"
There was an air of tension in the room between the two comically fuming blonds. Being sharper than most and equipped with the Sharingan, I wasn't one to go uninformed of my surroundings. But I felt as though I was definitely missing something here...Ah, well. It seemed childish anyway.
"Uzumaki-san?" Konan speaks suddenly. Naruto turns to face her. "I am stirring a pot of more food for Kenichi-kun now. Some sweet potatoes and apples. Was the last batch satisfactory to him?"
"Oh, yeah!" Naruto beamed, hoisting the baby to a more comfortable position in his arms. "He really gobbled down those potatoes. Apples should be okay, too." Then he frowned, the baby below starting to fuss. "I'm not sure about that other vegetable, though. I fed him that last and he seemed a bit agitated afterwards. I think it made him-"
As if on cue, the baby made an ominous gurgling sound, a proclamation of doom as whatever fluid he had previous ingested became bubbling up and spewed out of his mouth, coincidentally landing on a precarious placed Deidara who was placed right in front of the pair.
"Fuck!" Deidara cried as the puke splattered and dripped across his cloak. "What kind of shit is this!"
"Awww, poor baby," Naruto cooed, patting Kenichi's back, completely ignoring the blond's plight with a smirk. He wiped the infant's mouth on his sleeve, ruffling the child's scalp soothingly. "Do you feel better now?" In response, the baby burped and blinked, before returning to his content state with the toxin now cleared from his system.
Naruto smirked, genuinely relieved. "There now. " Deidara growled darkly, much to the younger's amusement. "Oh come, on. At least he isn't ill! And you have to admit, that was very funny in a cute sort of way."
"Adorable, un." Deidara grumbled with distaste.
"Revenge is sweet." Naruto stated with a wonderous glee.
"And baby vomit is orange," I piped dispassionately. Then, with almost a hint of disgust, "What on earth did you feed him?"
"Apricots," Konan says from the corner, appearing to be distracted by her work. "I mashed some up for Kenichi-kun. Apparently, he has a distaste for those certain vegetables."
"I swear to freaking hell that is the most messed up explanation ever, un! Who gives a freaking baby apricots- And don't you dare be smirking over there Konan!" Deidara snarled, a rippling anger burning through his gaze. "Wait - can you smile?"
"Well, he just emptied himself all over Deidara." The blond snarled again, but was promptly ignored. "Must be ready for another feeding, I suppose."
"I can take him, if you wish," a feminine voice offered, startling all occupants of the room. Naruto tilted his head to stare dubiously at the generous kunoichi. "You look busy, Uzumaki-san." Her clarification did nothing to pacify our reactions. Deidara was gaping at her like she had two heads.
"A-ah, thanks," Naruto said, surprised. Konan nodded and handled the baby carefully and professionally, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I guess maternal instincts applied to devious kunoichi as well.
"Is it wise, allowing her to take your charge so willingly?" I asked when the footsteps of her departure completely echoed out. I didn't think Konan was capable of stooping to such a level, but worse things have come to pass.
"Yeah, what is she eats him, un?" Deidara accused, whilst wiping up some of the mess from his cloak. Which was pretty gutsy, coming from a guy with mouths on his hands. But Naruto merely shrugged it off, unfazed.
"Nah, I don't think..." He trailed off, shrugging. "I just...don't think she would so something like that. Call it my gut, but I say she can be trusted with this."
Simple as that. There was that word again, trust. So fragile and easily torn. Yet I could feel it swelling within me, no matter how I tried to supress it or not. I was actually happy the boy had faith in us, me, apparently more than any other person at the moment.
With my history and all, I would have thought it would have taken a bit more coaxing than that. Especially being aware of his friendship with Sasuke. Surely, being his assumed best friend, he would know of what I've done...? Does he not resent me for my actions whatsoever?
A righteous Konoha-raised boy should hate me by standards alone, demon born or not. If anything, it is appalling that he feels no anger towards me...I ignored his plight as a child like any other calloused villager and slaughtered my entire clan. By morals alone he should despise me...
...but he didn't. It was a mind-boggling fact I could not seem to wrap around.
There is no need for his compassion, I concluded indefinitely. I was beyond redemption. I knew this. My brother knew this, every ninja or villager alike who had heard my tale knew it. What did this one jinchuuriki child not understand?
I did not expect to receive forgiveness, least of all from my only remaining family member. I acknowledge this and accept this. I live by it. So one battered child, alone like myself, decided to look past my ungodly mistakes in favor of the kindness I've shown him.
It meant nothing. I could care less, I told myself. Emotions were useless now. I was a tool all used up, worn out by my previous masters. My only fate now was to die by the hands of my vengeful kin.
"Itachi?" asked Naruto, breaking me from my reverie. I turned so that my attention was focused on him. His face instantly brightened and a light grin touched his lips. "You want to...get something to eat now?"
"Oi," Deidara snapped indignantly as I nodded, "What about me?"
"What about you?" I snorted indifferently. Naruto burst out laughing, a genuine sound so forgein to my ears. It was real laughter...the kind I might have had once. The kind I heard friends, family, and superiors utter once. Long ago, when I still had the life in me to laugh...
Though, it was quite humorous.
Deidara, meanwhile, was ready to pop another vein. "You brat, you really are asking for it, un! At least Itachi isn't-" A single eye glanced over curtly, only to do a complete back track and widen in blatant rage, "-don't you dare be smirking at me you goddamn Uchiha! What is with these passive assholes suddenly gaining senses of humors at my expense!"
Naruto laughed more, a sound to truly accentuate his age. The smirk that split across my own mouth was uncontainble, much to the older blond's dismay.
A serendipitous smile graced my lips.
It meant nothing.
So I told myself.
I heard Konan arrive before she entered, my deft ears catching the breeze of wind as she stepped into the chamber, the soft thump of the infant swishing in her hands the testament of his safety. I did not bother to turn until she was fully by my side, only to look and find myself staring into dark blue orbs of wonder.
"I told Uzumaki-san I would take Kenichi-kun for a bit," she informed me. "And I thought you may want to check on the baby, make sure he was unharmed..."
A soft hand came out to touch my face. The child stared, unaware of my god-like status, my power, my ability to kill him on the spot if I so wished - completely oblivious to pain. He would learn one day, of that there was no doubt. But for now he was untainted, unconscious to all the world's plight.
And it was a beautiful thing.
And I was so utterly tired of beautiful things being destroyed.
Then the hand went away and the warmth quickly fled. I caught myself before I could frown at it's loss and briskly turned. I knew Konan was slightly guilty for the act, knowing the effect it would have on me and doing it for that exact reason. For she too, knew what needed to be done. As did I.
"Send him to me, then." I tell her, referring to the jinchuuriki.
She nods, the baby chirps innocently, and nothing more needs to be said.
Er...sort of a cliffhanger, but not really. By the way, the events in this chapter didn't all happen in one day, more so over the period of a week or so, maybe a little more.
Babies have this thing about yanking hair, specifically my long hair. How my niece managed to do it with her feet, I'll never know...Also, sweet potatoes were my favorite as a baby, so my mom tells me! And yes, the baby can hear in the mother's belly. That's why my sister always yells at her boyfriend for cursing around the fetus(:
I tortured Deidara a bit in this chapter. I couldn't help it, it was too much funXD
*Parting is such sweet sorrow* is a famous Shakespeare quote, one my favorite poets(:
Also, if you didn't know, the lullaby is Wind by Akeboshi, the first Naruto ending. A beautiful song you must listen to, I think. And I had to pat myself on the back for the MinaKush tidbit too!
Put a lot of Nagato and Konan interaction this chapter. I feel like I've been neglecting them, which is a shame 'cause their important to the plot and I really love their characters.
Next time: We are going to a Hidden Village! And I'll give you only one hint: Bring your beach toys!