10 - Recant

"Hold still," Itachi urged as he pulled down the blue beanie hat over Sasuke's head, his brow knitting with frustration when his brother's spiky hair again bounced the hat back up so it almost popped off.

Itachi sighed, breath a white wisp in the chilly air. "I guess you'll be okay with just your scarf and mittens." He removed the hat and tucked it away in his gray coat pocket while Sasuke blinked, not comprehending the issue.

Yet soon the toddler's face lit up as he gazed at the many food stands dotting the street with red, orange, and yellow paper lamps casting a warm hue down onto the crowds in front of them from strings above.

"Eat now?" Sasuke asked, tugging on Itachi's coat.

The seven-year old nodded. "We can get food as soon as my teammat—"

"Itachi!"

The Uchiha turned to the alleyway behind them and saw Shinko waving beside a sulking Tenma. Itachi's gaze fixed on the boy's pale blue parka before leaping to the girl's burgundy coat and pink earmuffs, having never seen either of them in such casual clothing.

Sasuke shrank back as the two neared, clutching Itachi's coat and ducking behind him. "Tachiii!" He whined, clearly distrusting the older kids.

Itachi set a hand on his brother's head and smiled. "Don't worry, Sasuke, these are just my teammates," he gestured at them, "Shinko and Tenma."

Sasuke cautiously peeked around his legs and Itachi was worried when Shinko's eyes sparkled at the sight of him, but instead of squealing and scaring his brother more, the girl knelt down. "Hello, Sasuke," she reached into her pocket and pulled out a plastic covered meatball stick, "Do you want one?"

Sasuke gasped and snatched the tsukune from her, tearing off the plastic. Though before he could chomp down, Itachi asked, "What do you say, Sasuke?"

The toddler paused, looking between his brother's stern expression and the girl. Then he looked away, cheeks rosy. "Thank you."

Shinko beamed. "You're welcome."

Sasuke glanced at his brother, and seeing him nod, quickly bit into the meatball. The girl giggled at the toddler's eagerness, winking at Itachi. "So cuteness runs in your family, huh?"

The Uchiha didn't know how to respond so simply stared while Tenma opened his mouth to make a snide remark, only for Shinko to send him a sharp look as she stood.

Tenma's mouth clicked shut, expression souring. "So," he huffed, "Are we just going to stand here all night or actually do something?"

"Get food!" Sasuke shook his empty stick, dark sauce smeared around his mouth.

Shinko cooed while Itachi took out a napkin and bent down to wipe Sasuke's face, saying, "We can get food and play a few games," he glanced at his teammates, "If you want?"

"Game?" A wicked gleam entered Tenma's eyes and he raised his fist challengingly. "I'll beat you at every game on this street!"

Itachi's brow rose, uncertain how he had provoked the older boy while Shinko groaned as Tenma ushered them towards the nearest festival game, which turned out to be a dart-tossing competition. Shinko left then to get snacks because, "We all know Itachi has this in the bag," and Tenma glared at the Uchiha while they each bought a set of three darts from the man inside the booth.

Itachi quickly threw his first two darts, both hitting the small black dot on the target's center. However, on his last one he turned to Sasuke and asked, "Do you want to play?"

The toddler beamed, head bobbing, and Itachi picked him up. "Okay, just throw this there," he pointed at the target, "As hard as you can."

He took off Sasuke's white mitten and positioned his brother's fingers around the dart while Tenma scoffed, crossing his arms. "As if he can throw that far—"

Sasuke flung the dart straight into the target's center.

A red alarm light flashed and whirred from on top of the dartboard, the booth owner's jaw dropping as Itachi gaped and Tenma reared back and screeched. "WHAAA!?"

Sasuke turned innocently to his brother and asked, "I win?"

Numbly, Itachi swallowed his shock and nodded. "Yes, we won." Sasuke threw up his hands up and cheered while the stand owner got over his amazement and offered them any of the toys on the booth counter. Itachi let Sasuke choose, the toddler quickly picking a green t-rex plushie with a goofy smile and hugging it close.

Shinko came back at that moment carrying a stack of fried food and steaming drinks in a cup holder, asking what had happened while Tenma watched Sasuke with wide eyes. "He...he's like a mini-Itachi." He stuttered in horror.

The girl raised a brow, but didn't ask again as Tenma observed Sasuke like he was a three-headed alien while the toddler happily tossed his dinosaur plushie up and down.

After that the next two hours passed in a blur, Tenma challenging Itachi to nearly every game they came across and eventually even roping Shinko in their competition.

The girl beat them a couple of times, winning a stuffed panda and a purple butterfly hairpin that lit up whenever she moved. Even Tenma won a few games and walked away with a kunai made of a special chakra-absorbing metal, which he was very pleased with.

"Hey, Itachi."

Sasuke sleeping on his back and an overstuffed bag of prizes hanging off his shoulder, Itachi turned to see Tenma on the dirt road, the festival lights glowing in the distance behind him and Shinko long gone.

The twelve-year old set his hand on his side and scowled, but there was a curious look in his eyes as he said, "Don't think our competition is over just because your brother helped you beat me a few times."

Itachi frowned, yet didn't point out that Tenma had only won games when Itachi let Sasuke play for him.

"That's why you better come with me and Shinko to the next Village festival," Tenma's eyes narrowed, "So I can beat you fair and square!"

Itachi's eyes widened, realizing what Tenma meant, but before he could find his voice, the older boy stalked away. The Uchiha watched him leave, a little smile tugging his lips as he turned and headed home.

At his house, Itachi stopped by Akemi's room on his way to bed, wanting to tell his brother of his success. However, when he knocked, there was no answer, and upon opening the door he saw Akemi's room was dark and empty.

Itachi frowned because his mother had said Akemi came home an hour ago. Yet the seven-year old figured his twin had just stepped out for some fresh air and would be back soon, so slid into his bed and ignored the disquieting feeling in his stomach as he drifted asleep.

Though Itachi startled awake hours later when his mattress dipped and a warm body slid in beside him.

"Lo siento, Nii-san," Akemi whispered hoarsely as if he'd been crying, putting Itachi on instant alert. "If there was one person I could tell everything, I'd want it to be you." He sighed, sounding tired and worn. "But...even I don't have all the answers."

He didn't move, realizing Akemi thought he was asleep, and after a few minutes heard his brother's breathing slow and knew he had drifted off. Itachi wanted to shake him awake and ask what had happened, but soon decided his brother sounded like he needed rest so resolved to question him in the morning.

Yet the next day Itachi woke up alone in bed and questioned if his twin was ever really there.

.

Akemi blinked at the feeling of cool liquid raining on his hands. For a second he thought it was blood, that Hizashi was still bleeding out beneath his fingers, but looking down he saw water washing the red streaks off his skin.

He blinked again, confused by the larger hands holding his palms under the sink faucet, the person's thumbs gently scrubbing gel soap over them.

"You back with us, Akemi?" A youthful voice asked behind him, and what felt like chains uncoiled from around Akemi's vocal chords.

He coughed to clear them while Shisui pulled his hands away from the water and turned off the sink. The older boy let him go and went to grab a paper towel from the restroom wall before returning to dab it over Akemi's trembling hands.

"Huh," Akemi mumbled, slowly remembering he was in the hospital. Yes, he, Shisui, Fugaku and Hiashi went to hospital because Hizashi was dead—

Akemi stiffened, skin paling. Hizashi... Hizashi was dead. Akemi let him—No, Akemi killed him with his reckless plan. If only he had knocked out the Head Ninja of Kumo, even if that would have put him, Hinata and Shisui in danger. If he just—

"Hey, hey!" Shisui snapped his fingers in front of Akemi's face, frowning. "Stay with me, okay?"

Akemi's eyes fell. "Sorry, Shisui-san. It's just Hizashi..." He couldn't get the words out, his guilt strangling him.

Shisui's expression turned neutral. "Akemi..." His voice held nothing but sympathy as he said, "Hizashi isn't dead."

Akemi's head shot up. "What?" He gasped.

Shisui rubbed the back of his head. "I guess you were too out of it to notice, but Hiashi-san's wife showed up and healed Hizashi with her medical ninjutsu." His expression tightened. "He lost a lot of blood, but he's in surgery now."

"With who?" Akemi asked, hope bubbling inside him.

"Biwako-sama." Shisui frowned thoughtfully. "And I think Hiashi-san's wife is assisting her."

Akemi nearly demanded to be brought to the surgery room so he could help too, but he stamped out the childish urge. He couldn't help Hizashi, not when he was still learning the basics of medical ninjutsu and hadn't even performed an actual healing jutsu yet.

Still, anxiety boiled in his veins, urging him to do something, so he said, "Alright." His face turned grim. "I want to see the Hokage."

"Great." Shisui grinned, but it was a terse smile. "Because he wants to see you too." He didn't sound surprised, likely because Akemi told him this would happen as he'd given Shisui the same story he fed Orochimaru, except he said his foresight revealed the Head Ninja of Kumo caused the Nine-Tails Attack.

"And by the way." The seven-year old looked up to see Shisui frowning. "Your favorite councilman tried talking to us earlier." Akemi blanched, realizing Danzo had been near. "But it was obvious you weren't in the mood to be talking yet so Fugaku-san and Hiashi-san convinced him to wait."

Akemi's eyes fluttered, surprised to hear Fugaku hadn't been the one demanding answers.

"Anyway," the older boy turned towards the door, "I can take you to the Hokage now if you're ready."

Akemi scanned over Shisui. "Are you?" He asked because if things went wrong it wouldn't be just him in trouble.

A smirk curved Shisui's lips. "Of course." He pointed at his cheek and winked. "Everyone trusts a face like this."

Akemi smiled back. "You? What about me? I know puppies jealous of these looks!" He threw up his hands and Shisui laughed.

The seven-year old chuckled too while the older Uchiha led him out of the restroom and towards the staircase, going up it and walking into the third floor until they reached Biwako's office. Akemi's joviality faded, sensing the Hokage's chakra signature inside. Still, he reached for the door knob.

Shisui caught his wrist, expression concerned. "If you need a couple more minute—"

Akemi shook his head. "I'm not scared, Shisui-san." His features darkened, black eyes turning to granite and tone scalding. "I'm pissed."

Shisui dropped his wrist with wide eyes and Akemi grasped the knob, pushing open the door.

"—being there proves the Uchiha were helping Kumo! They must have attacked Hizashi to help the Head Ninja kidnap the Hyuga heiress!" Danzo banged his fist on the desk, which the Hokage was sitting behind while a silently fuming Fugaku stood by a stone-faced Hiashi on the side.

However, they all turned as Akemi walked in with Shisui, Danzo swiveling around and glaring at them. "They should be arrest—"

"Hokage-sama," Akemi bowed at the Sarutobi, looking right past Danzo. "I am here to give my report," his eyes slid over to the councilman, "Though I cannot legally do so until all non-witnesses leave the room."

A fire sparked in Danzo's eye, his killing intent leaking out, yet Akemi calmly continued. "My father must be here since this is a Police matter," he glanced at Hiashi, "And it's protocol to talk to the head of a clan when their clansmen is involved with an investigation."

He faced the Third. "The Hokage must hear this since the incident involves relations with another Village," he gestured between himself and Shisui, "And we're both prime witnesses of the crime."

Akemi quieted, allowing the implication to sink in while the entire room stared at him in shock, though Danzo looked livid.

"Why, you—"

"The boy is right." Hiashi interjected smoothly. "Correct me if I'm wrong, Fugaku, but are not all uninvolved parties supposed to be kept separate from witnesses in order to avoid testimony tampering?"

Fugaku blinked, having not expected the Hyuga to address him, but soon nodded. "Yes, that's right."

The Uchiha glared at Danzo, and the councilman matched his stare, but then the Hokage cleared his throat and said, "They are correct, Danzo. You must leave."

The councilman looked like he was going to argue, but stopped as Hiashi's Byakugan flared to life. "I need to know what led to this attack on my clan," chakra burned within his white irises as he hissed, "Do not waste my time."

Tension billowed through the office, lashing around the Hyuga and Councilman, but after a moment, Danzo looked away. "If you wish," his eye darted towards Akemi, "But I advise you to take everything that boy says with a grain of salt."

"Noted," Hiashi said tersely, Byakugan receding while Danzo shot the Hokage a look that said they would be talking later before stalking out the door without noticing how Akemi angled himself between him and Shisui.

"Now," the Hokage sighed, tired gaze falling on the Uchiha children, "I know tonight's events must have been very distressing, but could either of you explain what happened tonight?"

Akemi stepped forward, face expressionless and voice a monotone. "Would you prefer a summary or the full account?" His eyes drifted over to Hiashi. "Because the summary is I was trying to capture the man who stole a Sharingan and used it to unleash the Nine-Tails on Konoha."

Fugaku's eyes widened while Hiashi's features hardened even more. "And while doing so, me and Shisui prevented him from stealing another dōjutsu." Akemi side-eyed the Third. "Which wouldn't have been necessary if the Hokage had listened to me when I warned him about a Kekkei Genkai thief two years ago."

Hiashi turned sharply to the Hokage whose lips formed a line while Fugaku's brow rose. "A Kekkei Genkai thief? The Hokage never reported that."

"Oh, so you want the full account?" Akemi's cool gaze lingered on the Sarutobi. "Or would you prefer to tell them, Hokage-sama?"

His tone was perfectly respectful, yet there was a razor edge to his words and Shisui's eyes flicked from him to the Hokage like he was expecting a brawl.

The Third peered into Akemi's black orbs, recognized the anger there and his face wrinkled with weariness. "So it's about that."

"Akemi is telling the truth?" Hiashi asked in a clipped tone. "He warned you about a Kekkei Genkai thief and you never reported it?"

The Hokage frowned, but didn't answer. "I think it would be best if Akemi explained."

"Can I tell them everything?" The seven-year old asked to be sure.

The Hokage nodded and Akemi's face lightened a bit before he turned to Hiashi and Fugaku. "During the Nine-Tails Attack, I encountered the masked man who summoned the Nine-Tails." Fugaku blanched. "He had a Sharingan eye, but I knew he wasn't an Uchiha because his chakra signature didn't match anyone in my clan. That's why I told the Hokage the masked man must be a Kekkei Genkai thief."

Akemi glared at the floor. "However, I realized the Hokage either didn't believe me or doubted my sensor abilities when his ANBU started monitoring my clan about a year ago. I noticed because I sensed an ANBU I'm familiar with hanging around the Uchiha district and one day I followed him to find a watchtower filled with cameras and binoculars aimed at my clan's compound."

That was only partially true, as he hadn't risked going inside the tower, but he remembered enough of the anime to know he was right.

"It seems the Hokage thought an Uchiha caused the Nine-Tails Attack, and so to clear my clan's name, I decided to take matters into my own hands." He reached into his weapons pouch and pulled out a scroll, laying it on the desk. "This is a list of all the Uchiha who went missing prior to the Nine-Tails Attack, specifically the ones who disappeared during the Third War."

"Why that time period?" The Hokage asked cautiously, picking up the scroll and opening it.

"Because if somebody stole a Sharingan powerful enough to control the Nine-Tails before the Third War they would have attacked Konoha during the war or used it to counter Uchiha on the battlefield. Yet, the Konoha archives only had records of stolen Byakugan being used in Third War battles, not any stolen Sharingan."

Akemi paused to see if his reasoning was accepted, and after a beat, Hiashi said, "That is a logical assumption."

The seven-year old nodded. "Yes, so I narrowed the list down to teenagers and adults since none of the missing children had a Sharingan strong enough to control the Nine-Tails."

"And did this list help you find the masked man?" The Hokage looked up, gaze scrutinizing.

Akemi shook his head. "No," he scowled, "But I bet if you do a DNA test on the Sharingan the Kumo-nin had it will reveal that eye belonged to someone on that list." The Hokage looked suprised, so he explained. "The list wasn't to find the masked man, but to help convict him as the person who unleashed the Nine-Tails."

He looked aside. "To be honest, finding the masked man was partially a fluke." He faced forward. "I assumed since Konoha survived the Nine-Tails Attack, the masked man would return to finish the job one day. I mean, you don't go through all the trouble of stealing a Sharingan, learning to wield it, and unleashing the Nine-Tails on Konoha unless you really want this Village gone."

Akemi looked down, brow furrowing. "But I never suspected the masked man was the Head Ninja of Kumo until I saw his picture in a newspaper. It was how he covered one of his eyes with his headband just like my friend does...to hide his Sharingan."

He looked up. "Still, I only had suspicions until the Head Ninja arrived in Konoha and I recognized his chakra signature. And yes, maybe I should have told the Hokage the masked man was back, but considering what happened the last time I tried warning the Hokage..."

Regret pinched the Third's face while Akemi continued. "So I confided in Shisui instead, and he agreed to help me capture the Head Ninja. Together we took turns tracking him, but before we could make a move we saw him sneaking into the Hyuga district. We realized then he must be aiming to steal another dōjutsu, perhaps because he couldn't locate the Nine-Tail's new container."

Akemi frowned. "We confronted him, but I didn't think we could win against someone that strong, so once we had Hinata we ran and I signaled for help with my chakra." His face turned downcast. "Hizashi-san was the first to show and everything was fine until the Head Ninja snuck up behind him. I...I tried knocking his kunai aside and Hizashi managed to strike him, but..." His lips pursed. "You know the rest."

For a second the room was completely silent, Fugaku mute with shock, Shisui grim and the Third frowning with his eyes closed in contemplation.

"Is this true, Hokage-sama?"

Everyone turned to see Hiashi staring at the Hokage, expression cold.

The Third opened his eyes. "I cannot confirm all of Akemi-kun's story yet." His eyes reflected reluctant acceptance. "But in regards to him telling me the masked man is a Kekkei Genkai thief," he bowed his head, "That is true."

Hiashi's expression didn't change, but the room temperature got twenty degrees colder as he said, "In that case, I'm done here." He turned without asking to be dismissed and started to walk out, but Akemi ran in front of him.

The Uchiha bowed deeply. "Hiashi-san, I'm sorry. I should have knocked out the Head Ninja, then he wouldn't have—"

"Raise your head."

Akemi tentatively looked up, slowly rising until Hiashi's white orbs bored into his ebony ones. "You saved my daughter at the risk of yourself and your friend." His jaw clenched. "And you never should have been in such a perilous position in the first place."

The Hyuga head looked over his shoulder to the Hokage. "A Kekkei Genkai thief, even a potential one, is supposed to be reported to the Police Force. Failure to do so puts the Hyuga and Uchiha clans at great risk since we are often the targets of said theft."

He let his pale gaze sit on the Hokage for a moment before turning back to Akemi. "You did what you could to protect your clan as well as my own," his eyes closed, "And no matter Hizashi's fate, I will not forget what you've done tonight. I will not forget what everyone has done."

Hiashi's eyes opened to reveal smoldering anger in his gaze as he breezed out the door, taking the coldness with him. Fugaku watched him leave, emotions churning and mind spinning. The Hokage's quiet exhale, however, made his eyes fall on the man, and a grimace twisted Fugaku's face.

The Third was staring at the desk, but must have sensed the Uchiha's disdain for he raised his head and said, "I suppose you have questions."

Fugaku nearly demanded details about the ABNU watch on his clan, fiery accusations ready to fly off his tongue, but he forced himself just to say, "No." His face hardened. "I only have one question. Did you tell Akemi to keep quiet about encountering the masked man during the Nine-Tails Attack?"

Akemi shot him a surprised look while the the Hokage inclined his head. "Yes, to prevent him from spreading fear while we were still recovering from the damage."

"Hn." Fugaku folded his arms to cover up his swirling thoughts because if Akemi had known about the masked man having a Sharingan that likely impacted his actions at the time.

"If you're that paranoid about the Sharingan being stolen...there are a number of laws written in the Program contract protecting all clans from Kekkei Genkai theft."

The Uchiha head recalled Akemi's words a few months after the Attack and how insistent he was that the Uchiha join the Family Exchange Program, which promised protection against Kekkei Genkai theft. Had Akemi been worried about the masked man coming back to harm the clan? Did he want them to join...to protect them?

Feeling ill, Fugaku muttered. "I think it's time I escort the children home."

The Hokage agreed. "I will contact you later if necessary." He dismissed, Fugaku barely hearing him as he left the office with Shisui and Akemi trailing behind.

They were walking to the staircase when a voice called. "Fugaku."

The Uchiha turned to see Hiashi sitting in a plastic chair within a waiting room, back straight and expression neutral. "Do not turn your back on the sun before you see it rise."

Fugaku was taken aback for a second until he remembered what they had been discussing prior to the Hyuga Incident and his eyes fell on Akemi who appeared confused.

The Uchiha wasn't sure what to say, so merely nodded before leaving the hall and exiting the hospital. The sky was still dark outside, a surprise since he felt like he'd been in that office with the Hokage for hours. Yet, the night was still young.

And there was plenty of time to make one final decision.

.

Fugaku knocked on the apartment door, praying the Hatake would be home. It wasn't very likely they were both free at the same time considering the boy's ANBU position and his own busy schedule, but after the offer Orochimaru gave him, he needed to speak to the boy.

A quiet shuffling from inside the apartment made the man perk up before the door lock clicked and slowly opened.

"Fugaku-san?" The silver-haired teen looked surprised, his single eye widening.

Instinctively Fugaku glanced at the boy's covered eye, a low hum of familiarity drifting from the Sharingan beneath his headband.

Kakashi noticed and frowned. "Is there something wrong?" He asked resignedly like he was expecting Fugaku to demand his Sharingan right there in the hallway.

"No, no," the Uchiha shook his head. "I just wanted to talk to you...about Akemi."

The sixteen-year old's shoulders lowered as he relaxed, though his wariness morphed into confusion. "You want to talk about Akemi...like his behavior?"

Fugaku's brow raised because the Hatake sounded like he knew something. Had he also noticed Akemi's disturbing abnormalities? Understood that the creature with a child's face was a threat?

The Uchiha was hoping to get more from Kakashi than Shikaku had given him until the teen crossed his arms and asked, "Is he pranking again?"

Fugaku hid his confusion while Kakashi continued, scowl audible in his voice. "Most of his jokes are harmless and he doesn't do it nearly as much as he used to." He sighed. "I'm sure he'll grow out of it, Fugaku-san."

Mouth a line to hide the fact he was completely lost, Fugaku asked, "Used to?"

The Hatake nodded. "Yes, he used to prank me a lot when he was a toddler. Back then I thought Obito," he gave a barely noticeable stutter, "Put him up to it, but these days I'm not so sure."

...

Eleven-year old Hatake Kakashi sat cross-legged on his futon, a novel in his hands and empty tea cup beside him. He was on the last chapter of a rather gripping story, so barely noticed the quiet giggling outside his window at first.

He assumed it was just the wind or someone talking outside, but when another giggle resounded from the window, Kakashi pulled out of his novel enough to remember his room was three stories up and thus hearing someone directly outside his window was strange.

Kakashi shut the book and set it down, rising noiselessly. He swiped a kunai from his shelf as he approached the window, narrowing his eyes at the shadowed figure he could see through the curtains.

He was certain it was a shinobi using chakra to stand by his window, and though it was probably a Konoha-nin, Kakashi wanted to play it safe so raised his kunai as he yanked open the window.

Raven eyes framed by long lashes blinked at him and Kakashi gaped at the toddler sitting on his windowsill with a camera hanging from his neck.

"Uh... Hi!" The child—Obito's cousin, wasn't it?—raised his hand and the action jumpstarted Kakashi's brain.

He quickly scooped up the toddler, pulling him away from the dangerous ledge and into his room. "How did you get here?" Kakashi asked more to himself than the child while scanning the area outside for the shinobi who had dumped the toddler on his windowsill.

Yet there wasn't anybody on the streets below or on the roof of the adjacent apartment building, leaving Kakashi stumped.

"Baka."

Kakashi looked down to see the toddler pointing at him. "Bakakashi!"

The Hatake gasped, recalling how the toddler had known Obito's nickname for him despite the preteen Uchiha claiming he'd never met the kid before he saved him. Could Obito have been lying? And could Obito have been the one who left the child on his windowsill...as some sort of joke?

Kakashi thought it was pretty risky for a prank, but perhaps Obito had been standing below the window to make sure the child wouldn't fall and Kakashi just hadn't noticed in his rush to grab the toddler. Yeah, that must be it, and now Obito was in some alleyway having a big laugh over seeing him freak out.

"That idiot," Kakashi huffed while the child surreptitiously reached for his mask.

The Hatake regarded him and the toddler abruptly changed trajectory, grabbing his hair. He flinched, expecting the child to pull, but all the Uchiha did was stroke the silver strands.

Kakashi sighed, glancing out his window towards the night sky. "It's late, I should get you back to your parents."

He scowled, realizing he wouldn't have time to finish his novel tonight thanks to Obito as he strode out of his apartment with the toddler in his arms.

...

The next morning Kakashi expected Obito to arrive at team practice raving about how he pranked him. However, the Uchiha barely looked his way as he showed up late with a flimsy excuse about saving a cat stuck in a tree. Still, Kakashi expected at least one snide comment about him freaking out over the toddler on his windowsill until their training ended and Minato-sensei dismissed them.

Kakashi almost thought he had been wrong about Obito and someone else had left the toddler there, but two weeks later the Hatake woke up to a crunching sound.

The preteen shot up in his futon, reaching blindly for the shuriken under his pillow, but he stopped short at seeing Obito's cousin sitting beside him, cheeks stuffed like a squirrel and a bowl of wheat cereal in his lap.

Kakashi blinked owlishly, but soon he recognized the ceramic bowl in the boy's lap and the cereal looked familiar too.

"Hey!" Kakashi glared. "Is that my food?"

"Smaring is careming!" The toddler shouted through his chewing, which the preteen deciphered as, "Sharing is caring."

The eleven-year old's eye twitched. "No, sharing is when you give someone permission to use your stuff, but you took my food without asking, so that's stealing."

The toddler stared blankly at him and Kakashi realized he had used too many big words for him to understand. Therefore, the Hatake gave up and just took the cereal bowl from the child, sternly saying, "No," as the toddler tried grabbing it back.

Then he picked up the toddler and went to the Uchiha district, abandoning the brat at his house door so he wouldn't have to talk to the toddler's parents and potentially be labeled a kidnapper.

The next day, Kakashi again expected Obito to say something during their delivery mission to a nearby town. However, Kakashi's subtle references to the toddler were either ignored or seemed to perplex Obito.

Kakashi's eyes narrowed at the Uchiha while they were walking on the dirt road back to Konoha, wondering why his teammate wouldn't own up to the prank.

Obito, sensing his glare, looked back and scowled. "What are you staring at, Bakakashi!?"

The Hatake searched for signs Obito was lying, yet finding none, he crossed his arms. "I'm not sure, but I think it's an idiot."

It took Obito a minute to realize he was being insulted, though once he did the Uchiha glowered and raised his fist, only for Rin to skip between them. "Kakashi, I got you something!"

She handed him a bundle of blue and pink, flat-faced flowers, which he accepted instinctively, him quickly noticing they were plastic and probably from the gift shop Rin had visited in that town.

"They're forget-me-nots." She winked, cheeks pinkish. "In the language of flowers they represent memories and love."

Kakashi was going to brush her off while Obito wilted behind Rin, his dark eyes jumping from the flowers to Rin's blushing face and soon falling to the ground. However, he started as a rich purple flower was shoved in his face. "And this is for you!"

Obito's eyes widened as he gaped at the plastic flower Rin was handing him. "It's a geranium, it stands for true friendship."

"And stupidity." Kakashi muttered, having read about some flower meanings while studying the Yamanaka clan's abilities. Though Obito didn't seem to hear him as he accepted the plastic flower like it was a priceless gemstone.

Kakashi rolled his eyes and hurried to walk beside Minato, upset that he still hadn't gotten Obito to talk about his cousin—named "A" something, right? He would check once he got home.

...

The two incidents with the toddler were nearly forgotten until Kakashi happened to see Obito at a training field throwing shuriken at a wooden pole while his cousin—Akemi—cheered him on from the sidelines.

The Hatake nearly confronted them right there, but stopped, realizing there was no point since Obito's pranks seemed to have stopped, it having been six months since he last saw the toddler.

However, this proved to be the wrong choice as Kakashi was cooking dinner a couple days later. He turned from the stove to grab a plate from the cabinet only to turn back and find Akemi sitting on his kitchen counter, a bowl of Kakashi's white rice in his lap and chopsticks in hand.

"Sharing is caring," Akemi said, then took a bite of his stolen food.

Kakashi exhaled through his nose and snatched the bowl away from the child before tossing Akemi over shoulder and returning him to the Uchiha compound.

However, that wasn't the end of it like Kakashi hoped, for the boy returned several times in the following weeks. The Hatake put up with the impromptu visits for a full month until finally he just couldn't take it anymore.

Akemi, who must have been three by now, was sitting on his futon with a camera hanging off his neck and cup ramen in his hands when the Hatake arrived home. Kakashi already knew what the boy would say prior to the Uchiha beginning.

"Sharing is—"

Kakashi lunged, snatching the ramen cup away and lifting Akemi by his shirt collar. "Listen up, brat!" He seethed. "I don't know why Obito is putting you up to this, but I don't ever want to see you in my apartment again! I'm sick of your games and I'm sick of you stealing my food and I'm sick of seeing...you..."

Kakashi trailed off, expression turning into horror at the tears welling in the toddler's eyes. The Hatake suddenly realized he had been yelling at a child, a mere three-year old who was now sniveling.

Panicking, Kakashi set him back on the futon and crouched down. "No, no, please, don't cry." He begged while the child blubbered something he couldn't understand.

"What?" Kakashi asked, angling his ear next to the child to better hear him.

And therefore he didn't see the vicious smirk come upon Akemi's face as the toddler grabbed his mask and yanked down.

Kakashi flinched away, reaching to pull his mask back up when a bright flash blinded him. He hissed, blinking rapidly to clear his sight while quick footsteps left his apartment.

"¡Ándale, ándale! Rápidamenteee!"

Kakashi regained enough of his vision to see his window was wide open and Akemi's tiny figure was running off into the distance.

He glowered, realizing the child had tricked him, and shouted out the window. "I know where you live, brat!"

And Kakashi did, so quickly rushed to the boy's house and waited there until Akemi showed up with camera and photos in hand. The three-year old had paled at seeing him and tried to run, using a surprising amount of shuriken and wind jutsu in his attempt.

Yet in the end, Kakashi caught the boy, destroyed the newly-developed photos of him without his mask and left once he made sure the child didn't have copies.

After that, Akemi never broke into his apartment again. Instead, he started knocking on Kakashi's door...at all hours of the night. Though he only tried stealing his food whenever the Hatake went out to eat, always saying, "Sharing is caring!"

Kakashi wondered how the child kept finding him and eventually Minato-sensei explained that Akemi was a sensor-type so had probably memorized Kakashi's chakra signature, making it near impossible to hide from the child.

Though it took two years of dealing with Akemi's antics to make Kakashi go off on Obito for all the pranking he had done in the past as well as blaming him for Akemi's new tendency to latch onto him and refuse to let go for hours.

Kakashi didn't kick a bigger fuss about the child merely because he held hope that in a couple of years the brat would bore of hounding him.

And that probably would have happened if Obito hadn't died.

The Hatake stood at the funeral for the lives lost during the Third War, the eye he didn't deserve burning beneath his headband. He felt Akemi staring at him during the funeral, but in the end, the four-year old never came over. The kid probably blamed him for letting Obito die, which was fine since Kakashi blamed himself too.

Just like when Rin died months later and Kakashi didn't dare attend her funeral. How could he when he saw Rin's face every night, scorn in her eyes and blood dripping off her lips?

Kakashi had no right to mourn her, so the day of Rin's funeral Kakashi spent his time wandering aimlessly through the Village, and in the weeks that followed, he continued to do so.

It wasn't on purpose, as sometimes Kakashi intended to arrive at the grocery store only to look up and find himself before the memorial stone or Rin's grave. Yet it was hard to focus these days, the world a blur of sounds and colors Kakashi no longer paid attention to as he went through the motions of life. The only thing the Hatake could see with clarity were Rin's accusing eyes and Obito's bloody grin.

Occasionally Minato and Kushina would break through his blurry vision too, inviting him to their place for dinner. However, Kakashi didn't want to see the sadness in their eyes, knowing it was his fault they were suffering. Or worse, he might go to their place just for them to accuse him like Rin did every night in his dreams.

Fortunately, it became easier to avoid them once Minato was instated as Hokage, the man no longer having the time to track him down. Thus, Kakashi returned to his routine of waking up to Rin's scorn and falling asleep to the smell of burning flesh as his hand sliced into her heart.

Throughout this, he ignored Guy's attempts to challenge him and whoever kept knocking on his door every night.

Soon Kakashi became so accustomed to his routine that he thought he was dreaming when he woke up one morning and saw not Rin's face highlighted by his Chidori's lightning, his own horrified reflection in her eyes, but his bedroom ceiling.

The Hatake's vision swam as he sat up, muscles sore from yesterday's mission and body weak like he hadn't eaten a full meal for days—wait, had it actually been that long? He couldn't remember.

Regardless, Kakashi went into alert at hearing pots and pans clattering in his kitchen. He picked up a shuriken, wondering why the intruder was being so loud while he crept up to the kitchen. The Hatake peered around the wall, ready to throw his weapon, yet froze at seeing the child standing on a stool and stirring something in a pot on the stove.

"It's almost ready," Akemi said without looking back while Kakashi lowered his shuriken.

"Akemi?" Kakashi whispered hoarsely, throat dry since he'd just woken up.

Wordlessly Akemi picked up the boiling teapot off the stove and poured the chamomile tea in a cup on a saucer, handing it to Kakashi. "Go to the dining table, breakfast will be ready soon."

Kakashi might have protested, but he was certain this was a dream—after all, Akemi hated him and wouldn't be this nice to his cousin's killer—so obediently he went to the table. He sipped idly on the tea, and gasped at the divine taste of honey and sugar mixed in the warm liquid. When was the last time he tasted something so good?

Akemi soon came to the table with a bowl of hot oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon and blueberries. He set the bowl in front of Kakashi and then sat across from him, wearing the most serious expression he'd ever seen on the child.

Kakashi stared at the food, marveling at how real the dream meal appeared.

"If you don't like it." The Hatake looked up at Akemi. "I can make something else."

Kakashi squinted, noticing Akemi's side of the table was bare. "Where's your breakfast?"

Akemi's features went blank. "I will eat after you eat."

The Hatake raised a brow, starting to consider this wasn't a dream and Akemi had came to poison him. His distrust must have showed because Akemi cocked a brow and asked, "If I wanted to poison you, wouldn't I have played along and eaten some of the food to make it less suspicious?"

Kakashi frowned because he did think the boy was smarter than that, so said, "Okay, then why aren't you eating?"

"Because you aren't." Kakashi's eyes widened while Akemi's face filled with sympathy. "You haven't eaten anything but food pills for weeks."

Akemi bowed his head, bangs shadowing his eyes. "So I'll eat once you eat."

Kakashi stared at him in disbelief, which gradually became suspicion because why would Akemi care what he was eating? Why would anyone care if Friend-Killer Kakashi was eating?

The thirteen-year old folded his arms. "I don't believe you." He pushed the oatmeal away to show he wasn't falling for the child's ploy.

Yet Akemi gazed evenly at him and repeated. "I'll eat once you eat."

The Hatake huffed, glaring when the boy remained at the table after two hours had passed. The kid only got up to throw away the cold food, Kakashi watching to catch Akemi sneaking a bite. Yet the boy merely dumped the oatmeal in the trash and returned to the table.

Akemi didn't move again, not even when his stomach started growling. Kakashi munched on a food pill during the evening, offering one to the boy just for Akemi to decline.

Night fell and the Uchiha had him send a message to his parents to let them know he would be staying at Kakashi's for the night. The Hatake only agreed because he was sure Akemi would break sometime during the nighttime and eat something.

Therefore, Kakashi woke up early the next day and seeing Akemi still curled up in his spare futon, went to the kitchen to find what Akemi had eaten. However, all of his food was untouched and there were no dirty dishes in the sink. Still, the boy could have gone out to eat while Kakashi was sleeping.

This didn't seem likely once Akemi woke up and stumbled to the kitchen like it had taken all his strength to walk. He was probably faking it, Kakashi thought as the boy boiled green tea, cooked bacon strips and toasted bread, setting the meal on a plate and placing it on the teen's side of the table.

"How long are you going to continue this charade?" Kakashi demanded, refusing to sit down while he glared at the boy who was sipping a cup of tea.

Akemi, face slightly pinched yet mostly serene, said, "I will eat when you eat."

Kakashi's hands curled into fists and he sent the boy a scalding glare. "I have a mission," he spoke through gritted teeth, "Stay here and keep playing pretend if you want."

The teen stomped out of the apartment and slammed the door behind him, grumbling about how far the boy was taking this prank. He half-expected Akemi to have gone home by the time he returned late in the evening, so started at seeing the boy reading a medical textbook at the table.

Kakashi glowered. "You ate something, didn't you?"

"Have you?" Akemi asked, not replying to the accusation.

This only made Kakashi angrier as he ran to his kitchen and again checked for missing food. Yet, again nothing seemed to have been touched.

"I bet you went out to eat," Kakashi tossed over his shoulder.

Akemi shook his head. "I'll eat when you eat." He flipped a page in his book and went back to reading while Kakashi rolled his eyes because he knew the boy had eaten.

The next morning Kakashi woke up and saw Akemi was already awake, hunched over on his futon and clutching his stomach like it pained him.

"Stop acting!" The Hatake barked as he rose and went to check his kitchen, throwing open cabinets and searching through the fridge.

Akemi limped after him, watching as the teen threw the refrigerator door shut with his chest heaving. Again, there were no signs his food had been touched, meaning the boy must have snuck out to eat again.

Kakashi whipped towards the child with a snarl, but stopped, eyes widening as Akemi's gaze went unfocused and the the boy swayed before catching himself on the counter.

"Please," the teen scoffed. "You'll have to do better—"

Akemi's eyes rolled back and his hand slipped from the counter as he dropped face first onto the floor. Kakashi watched in stunned amazement, feeling the vibration from the collision.

It...it felt a little too real, so Kakashi called. "Akemi?"

The boy didn't move.

The teen took a step forward, then another and another until he was standing by the child and crouched. "Akemi?" He shook the boy's shoulder and a low groan erupted from the Uchiha as he shakily turned his face, revealing a bruise already discoloring his forehead.

Kakashi pulled back, realization slamming into him. "You...you really fainted?"

Akemi blinked sluggishly. "Is that what happened?" He pushed himself up into a sitting position and panted like he'd used up all his energy for that little movement.

"Kakashi."

The teen flinched, having never heard the child call him by name.

"What...would you like for breakfast?" Akemi asked, looking curious.

"What?" Kakashi shook his head. "Are you crazy? You fainted, we need to take you to the hospital."

"No," Akemi sighed. "You can't...they'll make me eat."

Kakashi nearly screamed that Akemi needed to stop playing, his prank wasn't funny, but...but the kid wasn't joking...was he?

Something fragile shook inside the Hatake as he asked, "Why?"

Akemi cocked his head, so Kakashi elaborated. "Why are you doing this? Why do you care what I eat?" His breath hitched before he yelled. "Why does it matter!?"

The Uchiha's face crumpled. "Don't you get it?" He stood on shaky legs and wobbled over to the refrigerator, pulling out a carton of milk and grabbing a cereal box from the counter. "Remember what I always said..."

He poured the cereal and milk into a bowl and placed it on the ground, pushing it towards Kakashi.

"Sharing is caring." Akemi beamed.

The teen felt something fracture inside him, hearing the unspoken words. He cared. Akemi cared about Kakashi, and he didn't deserve it, didn't deserve forgivenes—

"It's not like you could have predicted the future." Akemi sliced through his thoughts, an odd gleam in his eyes. "So stop acting like it's your fault Rin and Obito are gone. That isn't your burden to bear."

The Hatake couldn't respond, his voice was clogged and he wouldn't know what to say even if it wasn't, so the teen simply sank down onto the floor and reached for the spoon in the bowl. He glanced at Akemi, and the child sent him an encouraging grin, causing determination to enter the Hatake's eyes.

Kakashi scooped up the cereal, pulled down his mask, and ate.

...

Fugaku stared at the boy while the he stood awkwardly in the apartment doorway, gaze on the floor.

Realizing the teen wasn't going to say more, Fugaku quietly said, "I see... So that's why Akemi is your friend?"

Kakashi looked up. "Yeah..." He sighed, ruffling the back of his hair. "He's one stubborn kid."

His gaze hardened a little. "I know it's not my place to tell you how to raise your son," his tone lightened, "But go easy on the brat, okay?"

Fugaku frowned. "I'll think about it."

He turned and left as the Hatake pulled the silencing seal off the apartment wall and closed the door, oblivious to the Uchiha's turmoil, which had only intensified.

.

Fugaku saw Shisui off at his house and then continued down the stone path alongside Akemi. The moon beamed down on them, giving their dark hair silver halos, which shimmered as they walked.

Neither one spoke, and Fugaku knew he wasn't the only one uncomfortable. He could tell from the boy's hunched shoulders and the way he kept out of arm's reach. Akemi didn't trust Fugaku, and the suspicion was mutual.

The man stopped near the forest edge, and Akemi didn't notice for a second, but once he did the boy stopped too.

Akemi didn't turn around as Fugaku asked, "Did you make the Family Excahnge Program to protect the clan?"

The seven-year old looked over his shoulder, raising a brow. "Did...did you just give me the benefit of the doubt?" He fully turned around with his hands on his sides. "Huh, it's almost like you think I'm a human being who deserves human decency or something."

The boy glowered, sarcasm clear. Yet Fugaku didn't let the disrespect get to him, knowing he'd instigated the response as Akemi's expression grew serious.

"I made the Family Exchange Program to protect the Uchiha." Fugaku's brow shot up, but Akemi added. "And the Hyuga, and the Nara, and every other clan." He shrugged. "The Program is to help everyone, not just us."

Fugaku's eyes narrowed. "Why?"

Akemi sent him a skeptical look, and for a moment didn't seem inclined to answer, but eventually said, "Because people are stronger when they're united, and if we divide, none of us will live very long."

"And why do you care what happens to us?" Fugaku asked, fed up by his inability to understand.

"Us?" Akemi scoffed. "I don't really care what happens to you." Fugaku scowled. "Or me, for that matter." The man's mouth fell open. "Uchiha Akemi might disappear one day, and that's that, but I'm going to make sure my brothers have a home where they can be happy and safe before that happens."

His eyes turned sharper than kunai. "And nobody is going to stop me from reaching my goal."

Fugaku rubbed his temples. "I... I don't understand." He admitted, a sardonic smile crawling onto his face. "No matter how much I investigate, no matter who I ask, I just can't figure you out."

The boy regarded him. "Does it matter what I am?"

Fugaku blinked in surprise as the child asked, "Does it matter that I'm weird? Or that I might not be human?"

Akemi looked down, his bang shadowing his face. "It's okay if you don't know 'cause I really don't know myself." He turned aside. "All I know is Uchiha Akemi was born different, born smarter and more aware than a normal baby. I don't know why, but I do know there's a reason. I do have a purpose."

He faced him expressionlessly. "Do whatever you want, Tou-san. Treat me like a stranger, treat me like a son, hunt me down or do nothing at all." He shook his head. "I don't really consider you my father, so whatever you do won't hurt me."

Fugaku was stung while Akemi's dark orbs bored into his own. "Though I ask you to consider the people you might hurt if you hurt me."

Akemi turned and began walking away, saying, "And you should probably stop playing with snakes so much." He gave a pointed look towards the forest and frowned. "They tend to bite the hand that feeds them." His short figure disappeared down the road, leaving Fugaku gaping.

Though soon the Uchiha head scowled and glared at the woods. "Orochiamru," he hissed.

Seconds passed before a pale man stepped out from the trees, eyes bright and teeth bared in a crooked grin. "Well, well, it seems Akemi-kun is on to us. Could he have sensed me at Police Force Headquarters?"

Fugaku's gaze simmered. "Shouldn't you be upset?" His jaw clenched. "I thought you wanted him dead."

Orochimaru's smirk widened. "I never said that."

Fugaku tried retorting, but the Sannin continued. "I said I would 'rid' you of the boy and 'remove' him from your life." A low chuckle rumbled from his throat. "You're the one who assumed I meant to kill him."

The Uchiha's eyes widened, recalling that Orochimaru had never specified he would kill Akemi.

"I went along with your mistake, but really," Orochimaru's voice sizzled with eagerness. "I was thinking of taking the boy under my wings."

Fugaku was taken aback as Orochimaru's tongue slid out of his mouth, salvia dripping from it. "Akemi-kun would have been out of your life, and would have become a permanent part of mines."

Disgust curling in his gut, Fugaku raised his fist. "You're insane!" He glowered, coming to a decision. "And I think it's time you left now."

Orochimaru cocked an eyebrow. "Does this mean our deal is off?"

Fugaku's response was chucking four shuriken at the man. The Sannin easily angled his head away, but already Fugaku had wove the hand signs and was blowing roaring hot flames at the snake.

Orochiamru didn't bother dodging and the fire struck him, the force knocking him into a tree where he yelled while his body burned and bubbled until it collapsed into a formless mound.

Fugaku ended the jutsu, Sharingan eyes locked onto the burnt pile of mud next to the tree.

"Mud clone?" The Uchiha grunted, scanning the area.

"Fugaku-san."

The Uchiha pivoted, kunai raised as he spotted Orochiamru standing on the electrical wires high above. "If all Uchiha are vipers, what do you think that makes Akemi-kun?"

Fugaku flung his kunai and it soared towards Orochimaru, the man smirking as the blade neared, but disappearing a second before it could strike him.

"It makes him a dragon."

Orochiamru hissed behind Fugaku, shunshining away when the Uchiha whipped around.

Fugaku's scarlet orbs darted back and forth across the street and electrical poles, but it seemed this time the Sannin had truly left. The Uchiha's eyes faded to black as he exhaled harshly, forming a white puff in the winter air.

Alone, the man's eyes fell to the scorched ground and the burnt mud by the tree. Fugaku had...made a mess, hadn't he?

His dark eyes fell back to the floor, memories of the conversations he had with all of Akemi's friends rolling through his brain until he remembered something, which made him freeze.

"When a man looks for evil, he will find evil..."

Mikoto had cautioned him, quoting an old tale that had been passed through the Uchiha clan for centuries, and now standing alone in the cold, Fugaku understood why she had.

"Just like Tatsuo, huh?" He grinned sardonically.

For like the character Tatsuo in the story, Fugaku had gone looking for evil and he found it, but it wasn't where he thought it would be, and if he had been a little more open-minded perhaps he would have realized this sooner.

.

Shikaku slid open the door and stepped out onto his porch, plopping down with a beer in hand as he gazed at the rising sun. He took a sip from his drink before asking, "Long night?"

Akemi, lying back on the porch, arms folded under his head and eyes closed, said, "The longest."

Shikaku swirled his beer bottle. "Need a drink?"

Akemi's nose wrinkled. "Alcohol at six in the morning?" He cracked open one eye. "I never liked that stuff back when I was physically twenty-two, and this body is too young for it anyway."

The Nara shook his head. "Barely became old enough to drink and now you have to wait another thirteen years before your old enough again." He sighed. "Sounds like hell."

Akemi opened both eyes. "Yeah, sometimes it is." He sat up and stared towards the golden sunrise. "But I've got faith everything is going to work out in the end."

Shikaku raised his beer in agreement and took another sip right as someone knocked on the door. The Nara moved to stand, but Akemi waved him down.

"I'm pretty sure he's here for me." Akemi smiled. "Thanks for breakfast, Shikaku. I really appreciat—"

"You're babysitting next Tuesday."

"I take back all of my gratitude and the good vibes I was mentally sending you."

Shikaku shrugged. "You're still babysitting."

"I hate you."

Shikaku gave him a thumbs up while he sipped his beer and Akemi went to the door, opening it to find the one he sensed.

"Hey, Akemi." Shisui sounded oddly reserved as Akemi walked out and shut the door behind him. "I wanted to talk to you about your eye thing."

The seven-year old's face lit up. "Oh, yeah! You learned something about them, right?"

Shisui nodded and turned. "Let's go somewhere private."

The older boy led him a training field surrounded by a tall chainlink fence. "Wow," the younger Uchiha gawked while Shisui pushed open the gate and entered. "This kind of looks like the 44th Training Grounds."

Shisui smirked. "Yeah, we call this place the 44th's cousin because it looks so similar." He leapt up onto a giant tree, its branches covered in moss and massive roots three times Akemi's size.

"Does it have dangerous animals too?" Akemi sprung after him.

"No," Shisui shook his head, leaping up onto a higher branch and then another. "It's really only the trees you have to watch out for."

"Why the trees?" Akemi landed beside Shisui, the sky bright and sunny behind him since they were right below the treetop.

"Well, you see that moss?" Shisui pointed down and Akemi looked at the green foliage under his sandals.

"If you're not careful you can slip on it and—"

A fist punched Akemi's gut, the boy choking with wide eyes while Shisui stared coolly at him. "Fall."

Akemi could do nothing as his body teetered back, his feet slid off the branch, and he plummeted to the ground below.


And that concludes the first stage/chapter of Akemi's life in the Naruto world! It took me a year to get the story here, but I couldn't have done it without all of your support, so thank you :)

Also, just to let you guys know, my pen name will be changing soon, so don't be shocked if you see this story under a new author's name.

Next time: A new chapter begins! Akemi takes up new responsibilities as the massacre and enemies alike draw ever closer...

Stay healthy, everyone!