2 - Resettlement
Sasuke's wails blended with the chaos around them as Itachi secured his arms around his baby brother and ran out of their house. People streamed past them from every direction, crashing into Itachi's shoulders and nearly knocking him over. Yet nobody even glanced his way as families stood frozen beside their ruined homes, children screamed for their parents, and shinobi rushed onto rooftops with eyes full of terror.
"All civilians evacuate to the southeast shelter!"
Itachi heard the order over the roaring wind and quickly turned into a side alley, not wanting to be trampled by the adults on the main road as they scrambled towards safety.
He was halfway to his destination when he spotted a girl he recognized from school. She was wandering in the wrong direction, crying for her father, and Itachi raised his hand to call to her when he saw something large in the sky—a boulder!—hurtling towards the house beside her.
"Izumi!" Itachi warned and the girl whipped back with wide, teary eyes while he forced chakra into his feet, increasing his speed as he ran to her. He caught her wrist, dragging her out of the alley and leaping behind a stone wall right as a deafening crash resounded behind them.
Izumi screamed, Sasuke wailed, but Itachi simply held them close as debris flew through the air and fell around them.
Only once he was sure it was safe, did Itachi release Izumi. Though the shaking girl continued to hold his shirt end while he led her through the side streets until they came across a line of civilians on the sidewalk heading towards the shelter.
Up ahead Itachi saw his father standing beside two fellow Police Force members guiding the civilians. His parent caught his eye as he left Izumi to run to him, but Itachi didn't give him a chance to speak as he rushed. "I can't find Akemi."
The panic bleeding from his tone stunned the Uchiha head who had never seen such naked fear on his son's face. Yet, the man hid his concern as he said, "Akemi is alright. I know he is, like I knew you would be."
The panic remained on Itachi's face, the boy's chest rising and falling unnaturally and eyes shimmering with worry.
Fugaku frowned, unnerved by seeing such emotion from his typically stoic firstborn, but he simply said, "Get to the shelter quickly." He turned aside. "Your priority is protecting Sasuke. Let me handle finding Akemi."
The man was certain he'd correctly anticipated and curbed Itachi's desire to run off in search of his twin when his son's lips pressed together and reluctance overshadowed the terror in his eyes. However, the boy's gaze fell on the sniffling baby in his arms and soon all traces of reluctance fled him.
"Hai, Tou-san." Itachi nodded, turned, and sprinted after the group of fleeing civilians. His eyes leaping from one boy to the next in the crowd and heart skipping a beat every time he glimpsed raven orbs beneath strands of black hair. Yet, his mood sunk like a capsizing ship once he climbed the steps to the cave shelter and found no sign of Akemi among the throngs of people huddling inside.
He almost ran back out, longing to see his missing sibling safe, but knew a rash search in this havoc would only put himself and Sasuke at risk. So Itachi hunkered down in the cave, clutched his baby brother close, and held tight to the faith his father expressed in Akemi's wellbeing.
Izumi found him in the darkness, her clammy hand seizing his shirt corner like it was her lifeboat amidst a turbulent ocean while Sasuke cried at the top of his lungs.
Itachi barely noticed either as he watched the cave entrance unblinkingly, waiting for his twin to stride through the door with a crinkled-eye smile and teasingly ask, "Were you worried, Nii-san?"
Itachi waited minute after minute, hour after hour...
He never came.
The attack ended, and the civilians were released from the shelters. Izumi unclasped her death grip on Itachi's shirt, muttering words of gratitude and wandering off while Sasuke slept on soundlessly after crying himself to sleep.
Itachi noticed none of this.
He didn't see the splintered wood and shattered glass where stores and homes once stood. He didn't see the haggard people trudging the same path, crying out for loved ones and receiving silence in return. He didn't feel the rubble under his feet or the heat wafting off the earth, souring the air and leaving bitterness on his tongue. Itachi didn't even notice his mother until he was engulfed in her arms, his head pillowed on her stomach while her relieved tears fell upon his head like rain.
His mother pulled herself together quickly, moving back and setting her hands on his shoulders, asking, "Are you okay, Itachi? Is Sasuke alright?" She crouched to better exam her children, frowning when she noticed the dazed look on her eldest's face. "Itachi?" She cupped his cheek with one hand, gently tilting his face until his eyes met hers. "Itachi?"
Her worry skirted across the surface of the boy's mind, and the five-year old slowly dragged himself out of his trance to rasp. "Where..." He swallowed the lump in his throat and tried again. "Where is my brother?"
Mikoto's face washed itself clean of emotion, and an iron ball of dread settled in Itachi's gut. Mother only ever looked so unemotional when she was feeling the exact opposite.
"Kaa-san?" Itachi's voice cracked as Mikoto stood, her face inscrutable.
"He's alive." She slipped Itachi's hand in hers and squeezed it reassuringly, but her words lodged something cold and sharp through his heart.
For they only confirmed Akemi survived, not that he was safe, and even at the tender age of five Itachi knew one could survive plenty of horrendous things and live.
His mother tugged him forward, and Itachi, dreading, followed.
His mother took him to the hospital, leading him up the stairs while explaining it was chakra exhaustion. Akemi had suffered severe chakra exhaustion.
Itachi tentatively entered the room, taking in the barren walls and gray wires hooked up to a heart monitor, the machine connected to the slight figure drowning in the white hospital sheets on the bed.
Itachi had seen this before, seen children buried in white. Baby fat still rounding their cheeks and tiny hands seeking another's to hold.
All of them dead.
All of them gone.
Itachi swallowed thickly, but still couldn't breathe as he approached the bedside.
"I lent him some of my chakra when I woke up... If I hadn't, Akemi would have..." Sarutobi Biwako spoke to his mother in a whisper down the hall, unaware Itachi's keen ears were picking up most of their exchange.
Itachi did his best to block them out as he stood on his tiptoes until he could see his brother's face.
Akemi looked exhausted, dark smudges circling his eyes and a frown curving his lips as he slept. Besides that his twin almost looked peaceful, not stiff and silent like those children in the grave, but tense and quiet like that of a boy so sapped of energy even in his sleep he found no peace.
Yet, better that than dead.
Itachi crawled onto the bed and curled around his brother. He latched onto his wrist, rested their joined hands on Akemi's stomach and laid his head on his brother's chest. His twin inhaled, torso elevating Itachi's head with the motion and lowering it as he exhaled. The cycle repeated while Itachi checked Akemi's pulse along his wrist, and listened carefully to the heart beating beneath his ear.
Not dead. Not dead. I'm not dead, Nii-san.
Akemi's every breath told Itachi, and the eldest whispered back. "You can't die, Akemi. You can't ever die, understand?"
Itachi didn't expect a reply to such a lofty request, and didn't care for one either. Just as long as air filled Akemi's lungs and Itachi never had to bury him in white, that was promise enough.
However, as if hearing him, Akemi exhaled something, lips moving. Itachi leaned in with wide eyes, believing his brother was awakening, as his twin whispered. "Obi...to..."
Itachi's eyes widened, for that was a name Akemi hadn't said in ages.
Akemi's mouth closed and he didn't stir again, though there was the slightest frown on his face as he seemed to fall asleep with the memory of a boy long gone playing in his head.
Four years ago, gray wisps stirred around swollen, black clouds in the sky above ten-year old Uchiha Obito.
The dock's wooden platform creaked while the preteen adjusted his footing, performed the necessary hand signs, and puffed up his cheeks before unleashing a stream of fire across the lake.
He didn't stop, even as he felt the air thinning in his lungs and embers lashing at his tongue. The Chunin Exams were tomorrow, so his fireball needed to be in top form if he wanted to stand a chance against the other participants.
And if his flashy fireball happened to impress Rin, that would be a totally unintentional bonus.
The flaming maelstrom gradually dispersed until only tendrils of smoke passed Obito's lips and the boy dropped to one knee, huffing and puffing with sweat racing down his face. He was beaming despite it all, for that had been his strongest fireball yet, and when Rin saw it she would be so amazed she'd forget all about Bakakashi!
...Not that that was the point...
Obito blinked as water arched through the air, drizzling over his toes while long ripples extended across the lake from over a dozen feet away.
"Huh?" Obito stood, head cocking. Was someone skipping stones out here?
He pushed up his googles to rest over his forehead while surveying the shoreline. Yet, there wasn't a soul in sight. He stretched out his chakra, and still picked up nothing.
Obito folded his arms and shut his eyes. Maybe it had just been a fish, for who else would be out here when the sky was threatening to pour any min—
A child's wail and their desperate gulping of air chilled Obito to the bone as his head whipped up just in time to glimpse a tiny hand flailing above the dark waters before sinking beneath the surface.
Obito didn't think before diving in.
When Obito showed up twenty minutes late to practice, Rin was the first to turn to him with an exasperated sigh and a pointer finger raised to lecture, only to lose all color and gasp upon seeing Obito's drenched state and the shivering toddler in his arms.
"Obito!" Rin cried, and Kakashi's head snapped back, the boy originally intending to ignore Obito's arrival until he registered the fear in Rin's voice.
Kakashi's lazy gaze sharpened then widened at the sight of his Uchiha teammate while Rin ran over to the thoroughly soaked boy.
"What happened?!" She hovered over the shivering pair, her hands aglow with healing chakra and eyes darting from Obito to the dark-haired toddler in his arms, uncertain who to help first.
Obito made the decision for her, holding out the whimpering toddler, which she hurriedly accepted into her arms. Although she grimaced when the child's frigid body nipped her skin, Rin hastily whispered words of comfort to the babe as Obito, face drawn and chest heaving, explained through chittering teeth.
"I saw him d-drowning in the lake, g-got him out, but he was crying so hard he c-couldn't tell me where he lived. I b-brought him with me, h-hoped sensei could help him." His eyes skimmed over the training field, but seeing no sign of his teacher, Obito frowned. "Where's sensei?"
"He's late too." Kakashi offered, making Obito jump as his voice came from right beside him.
"D-don't sneak up like that, baka!" Obito clenched his teeth to lessen his stutter, loathing the tremors raking his body and the way his hair drooped in unruly chunks atop his goggles. He just knew Kakashi was going to make fun of him for showing up like a drowned rat, so made sure to glare extra viciously at the silver-haired boy.
However, Kakashi wasn't paying attention to him, his gaze locked on the shivering toddler curled against Rin's chest, the girl having already removed the child's onesie in search of injuries.
"He's not hurt." The green glow faded from Rin's hands, though her expression remained pinched. "But he might get hypothermia if we don't warm him up soon." Before she even finished speaking, Rin was tearing off her apron-skirt, and suddenly Obito wasn't cold so much as very warm.
"Idiot, show some respect," Kakashi hissed, snatching Obito's shoulder and forcibly turning the boy away while Rin wrapped the toddler in her skirt, leaving herself in only shape-defining shorts.
Obito wanted to scream—he was so not ogling Rin!—but his rival's expression stopped him. Kakashi's eyes were narrowed, and his forehead creasing the longer his hand lingered on Obito's shoulder.
"You're freezing," the Hatake boy muttered, softness rounding out his usual barbed tone and leaving Obito mute with shock until Kakashi looked him in the eye and ordered. "Take off your shirt."
Obito gaped, his eyes bigger than plates. "W-what the hel-"
The Uchiha jerked around to see Rin glaring at him with a hand on her hip. "We do not use that language around children!" She gestured to the quiet toddler in her hold, the top of the boy's face poking out from the skirt he was swathed in to stare at Obito.
The preteen might have noticed the analytical slant to the toddler's gaze if he wasn't so busy waving his finger at Kakashi, shouting. "It's not my fault! Bakakashi is being creepy!" His hand dropped while he side-eyed the masked boy, taking an exaggerated step back from him.
Kakashi's face hardened in response, breeze rippling through his hair, but he said nothing as Rin agreed. "He's right, you need to take off your shirt."
"And the rest of your clothes."
Obito nearly swooned.
"Otherwise you could get hypothermia too."
Obito froze mid-flail. Then, slowly lowering his arms, he exhaled. "O-oh." His cheeks warmed, half from embarrassment and half from the fuzzy feelings drawn out by the fact Rin cared about him...that Kakashi cared too.
His dark orbs landed on his rival, and maybe some of his fuzzy feelings showed because the silver-haired boy rolled his eyes and turned his back on the Uchiha.
Barely honoring Obito with a backwards glance, Kakashi explained. "If you get sick, you'll drag us down during the exam... More than usual anyway."
All feelings of gratitude shattered, and Obito's hands clenched. He nearly let Kakashi have it when a soppy, baby blue onesie struck Kakashi's shoulder with an audible plop.
In stunned silence the trio watched the wet bundle roll down the boy's arm, leaving a wet trail on his sleeve. Kakashi caught the onesie before it hit the ground, then quirked an eyebrow at the thrower of said item, which was the currently giggling toddler.
"Baka." The baby pointed directly at the masked boy. "Bakakashi!"
For a moment Kakashi just stared, but when snickers erupted from Obito he quickly glowered. Though he only glared at the baby for a second before swiveling towards Obito, demanding, "What have you been teaching your cousin?"
Obito, bent over and clutching his middle, in a flash straightened up to glare back at his teammate. "What are you talking about? I don't have any cousins!"
Kakashi gave him a look that said he knew amoeba with larger brain cells than him. "I mean him." He nodded towards the toddler. "He's an Uchiha, isn't he?"
"What makes you say that?" Obito growled, getting in Kakashi's face.
"Guys—" Rin held up a hand to ward off the impending argument, to no avail.
"He has dark hair, black eyes, and it sounds like the lake you found him in was the one on the private Uchiha training grounds."
Kakashi's placid listing of the information came off as arrogance grating on Obito's nerves, especially when he noticed Rin looking impressed, so despite some part of him silently admitting, I thought the kid was an Uchiha too, he yelled. "Don't be stupid! Not every Uchiha has dark hair and-"
They all jumped, Kakashi's hands flying to his weapon's pouch while Rin angled her body to shield the toddler from the speaker. However, they all relaxed upon catching sight of familiar blond hair and ocean blue eyes.
"You found him!" Minato ran over to the trio, skidding to a stop in front of the toddler who greeted him with a tired grin.
Their sensei didn't smile back, simply continued to stare slack-jawed at the boy until Obito drawled. "Uhh...what about him?"
Minato shook his head and his expression tampered to mild surprise. "He's Uchiha Akemi," Obito's face lit up with recognition, "One of the clan heirs. He went missing an hour ago." Minato's eyes shone with sympathy. "His parents found his footprints leading to a lake, and when they couldn't find him on the docks, they started to fear the worst."
He reached out and Rin obligingly handed over the toddler who mumbled drowsily as the man cradled him. "That's why I was late, everyone was called in and asked to be on the lookout for this little guy."
"Well, don't thank me." Rin laced her hands behind her back, grinning and nodding towards her teammate. "It was Obito who saved Akemi from drowning."
Obito blushed while Minato looked surprised before beaming at the boy. "Good job, Obito! I'll be sure to tell the clan head who he can thank for saving his son." He turned to the child slumbering in his grasp and his lips firmed into a line. "Let's put training on hold for an hour. While I get Akemi back to his parents you guys can—" He suddenly noticed Obito's dripping hair, Kakashi's damp arm and Rin's missing skirt. "Caaan freshen up at home before returning here."
Their instructor waited to hear their agreement before taking off. Rin left right after with a cheery farewell, and Obito expected Kakashi to slink off while he was waving her goodbye, so got a good scare when the silver-haired turned out to still be next to him.
Before Obito could figure out how to react, Kakashi tossed the wet onesie to him, which the Uchiha scrambled to catch. "You can give that back to your cousin." Kakashi moved to leave, but suddenly stopped and gave Obito a critical look. "Did your clothes dry?"
"Huh?" Obito glanced down at himself, and was taken aback by the lack of damp spots on his person. "Oh," he shrugged, "Guess the wind dried it." He suddenly smirked at his rival, and pointing his thumb towards himself, gloated. "Ha! Bet you never saved a clan heir, huh, Bakakashi?"
He sprinted away without waiting for a response, and therefore, never saw the lack of a reaction his rival had.
Alone, the boy's masked face angled up towards the overcast sky, and in a quiet mummer, he noted. "But it's not windy."
Kakashi stood there another minute before departing home, never putting together that the wind stopped blowing the second Minato took Akemi away or how the breeze had centered around Obito. And no one realized that the toddler fell asleep because he expended all his chakra drying Obito off with a basic wind jutsu.
The drowning incident was forgotten in the wake of his failing the Chunin Exams. Obito throwing himself into training so fast and hard he forgot about all else until Rin or Minato pulled him away for a mission or team exercises. Kakashi's cool gaze, and the challenging smirk Obito imagined beneath his mask every time they met on the training field, was a sight that only pushed Obito to train all the more harder.
So he threw shuriken at the wood posts until they hit dead center, performed pull-up after pull-up and practiced chakra control while standing on the underside of a tree branch, and soon lost track of the amount of burns he sustained whilst maximizing his fire jutsu.
Yet Obito couldn't stop. He needed to be better, needed to surpass Kakashi if ever wanted to achieve his dream.
Thus relentlessly he trained, never noticing he had a little follower until the day he was a bit too zealous with his chakra usage and collapsed, kicking up leaves as his body hit the forest floor and the world turned black.
When he woke up, he wasn't sprawled on his side or sore like he expected. Instead, Obito was propped against a tree, his jacket draped over his shoulders like a blanket and a small campfire flickering before him.
"What...?" Obito straightened, jacket falling into his lap while his head swung side-to-side. How did he get over here? Where'd this fire come from? And how long was he out?
The crescent moon in the sky, its silver threads shimmering between the tree branches, told him he had slept for at least an hour, but didn't answer any of his other questions.
Obito clambered to his feet, and cupping his hands over his mouth, he bellowed. "Hellooo? Is anyone out here?"
He lowered his hands and awaited a response.
There was none save for a hawk's distant caw.
"Hmm," Obito crossed his arms and closed his eyes, grumbling as he struggled to stretch out his chakra in search of his mysterious helper.
"You shouldn't use chakra so soon."
"Ahh!" Obito jumped and backpedaled, his foot catching on a weed and sending him tumbling onto his back.
The orange-clad Uchiha groaned while a childish voice above him muttered. "Told you so."
Head swimming, Obito silently agreed that using chakra so soon after fainting from chakra exhaustion might have been a bad idea.
"Are you okay?" the murky shadow perched on a low tree branch above him asked, and Obito shook his head until the shadow solidified into a familiar dark-haired child.
"Hey..." The preteen squinted, gingerly pushing himself into a sitting position while the toddler observed. "Aren't you that kid I saved..." He struggled to dredge up the boy's name, recalling his grandmother once gushing over how cute the clan head's sons were, but unable to remember her saying their names.
Realizing he was getting nowhere, Obito forced a laugh and rubbed the back of his head. "Hehe...so what are you doing up there?" he asked to prevent the toddler from noticing he couldn't think of his name.
The child grinned, and pumping his arm in the air, announced. "Shugyō!"
Obito's brows rose. "Training?" he repeated in shock, leaning back on his palms. Was it normal for a toddler to be training by himself? Obito certainly hadn't started so young, but then again, Obito didn't have parents to teach him in preparation for the Academy. Also, the boy was a clan heir, which meant he was expected to be better than the average Uchiha his age, so maybe it was normal.
The toddler, perhaps tired of being ignored, suddenly sprung off the branch and plummeted to the earth.
"Gah!" Obito lurched up like a rocket and just managed to catch the giggling child a foot over the dirt floor.
"Nice reflexes!" The toddler clapped his hands as if Obito had put on a particularly entertaining show, and breathless from shock, the preteen didn't immediately react, but soon found the energy to scowl.
"Hey, hey, are you crazy? You could have hurt yourself!" He glared at the brat who he could swear was smirking at him, which was a strange sight on such a youthful face. Weren't toddlers supposed to be more oblivious than this?
The child flashed his teeth and whipped out his pointer finger right in front of Obito's face. "Nu-uh! Obito will always protect Akemi." The goggled Uchiha gasped, pupils dilating while the boy—Akemi's words resonated in his head. "I wanna be like Obito-sama, wanna protect people too!" The child stared at Obito like he was daring the preteen to disagree as he lowered his hand.
"Y-you..." Obito's lips flapped open and close while the oxygen ceased flowing in his lungs because...because... Obito had a fan!
Dazed, Obito whispered. "You really mean that?"
"Mhm!" Akemi nodded, face alight with determination. "Let's train hard, Obito-sama!"
The child grinned brilliantly, and hopefully didn't notice Obito tearing up as his fist punched the sky while he shouted. "Hai!"
The firelight reflected in their eyes, tinging their irises gold as a bond sparked between them, twining them eternally.
Obito didn't see Akemi often while the months turned to years and the toddler came to be a proper shinobi-in-training. Although, maybe that was what made the moments they did share so memorable. Their final time together playing frequently in his mind, having been forged when Obito had recently turned thirteen.
He'd just arrived to the training grounds, but didn't get to set a single foot on the grass before Kakashi was staring him down with gray eyes a steely silver and teeth gritted so hard Obito saw their indentation through his mask.
"You," Kakashi hissed, and Obito couldn't stop the squeak from escaping him as he leaned back from his teammate.
"Y-yeah?" Obito gulped when Kakashi leaked enough killing intent to make his legs shake and forehead perspire. Unfortunately they were alone, for once Obito not only arriving on time but arriving early.
And now he would pay for his crime against the natural order of things with his blood according to Kakashi's raging chakra.
"I don't know what game you're playing." Kakashi narrowed his eyes, and for once, Obito found not being able to see his full expression downright terrifying. "But it ends now."
Obito was truly bewildered, but Kakashi ignored him and growled. "You will stop dropping your cousin off at my place during all hours of the night, you will teach the brat that sharing is not always caring, and you will get. him. off. me. now."
Obito was nodding so fervently to every demand, despite not understanding any of them, he didn't see the dark-haired boy coiled around Kakashi's arm like a snake until the masked boy held out the limb. Even then it took Obito a second to convince his body it was safe to move without having the Hatake dismember him.
"S-sorry, Kakashi," Obito breathed a bit easier as his rival reigned in his killing intent, "I had no idea Akemi was bugging you so much." He forced a cheesy grin, and Kakashi snorted in disbelief while Obito reached out to grab the clan heir under his armpits and give him a tug.
Akemi, face lax with apathy, didn't budge.
Kakashi's chakra flared and Obito suddenly imagined the earth rising like a tidal wave and swallowing him whole under the command of his rival's earth jutsu.
"Now, Akemi-kun," Obito sent the clan heir a strained smile, "You don't want your favorite cousin to be buried alive—"
"You won't be breathing when I bury you."
Obito ignored the threat, giving Akemi another tug. "Come on!" He gritted his teeth, using his full weight to pull. "Let go!"
Akemi giggled, undoubtedly using chakra to stay fused to Kakashi's elbow, and the masked teen's eyes smoldered until Obito tossed up his hands. "That's it!"
Obito latched onto Akemi and threw himself back with every ounce of his strength.
Then promptly fell on his bottom while lobbing a wide-eyed Kakashi over his head.
Obito gasped, watching in horror as his teammate and cousin flew up then came soaring down. The Hatake reacted quickly, tucking in his arm and curling protectively over the boy attached to it. Only for Akemi to smirk, and in a puff of smoke, switch places with a log. Balance thrown off by the shift, the silver-haired teen hit the grass in an awkward roll and crashed headfirst into a nearby tree stump.
Kakashi wasn't hurt so much as nursing a bruised ego when he plucked himself from the earth, abandoning the log. However, the goggle-wearing Uchiha, cracking up so hard he was literally rolling in the grass, wouldn't realize this until Kakashi was lunging at him.
By the time Minato found the pair, Rin had already tended to Obito's fractured arm and was now fixing up Kakashi's black eye.
The jonin sentenced them both to D-rank missions for a week, and the teens refused to acknowledge each other for days. Not until Obito, rosy as a tomato, marched up to Kakashi on the third day, waved his trash picker in the Hatake's face, and boasted he could pick up more litter than him.
Kakashi didn't grace him with a response, and Obito's face fell, genuine hurt stinging his eyes until Kakashi sighed. "I suppose if it gets this done faster..."
The masked boy swung around and for a second Obito thought he was going to be struck, but Kakashi's trash picker merely stabbed a scrap of paper near Obito's feet.
"Hey!" The goggled boy sputtered while Kakashi deposited the trash in his own garbage bag. "That was mines!"
Kakashi crossed his arms and huffed. "Then you better pick up the pace before I beat you."
Obito's mouth fell open, surprise overtaking his face, but soon he held his head high and sneered. "Right back at you!"
The teens dove into their litter-picking with renewed vigor, unaware of Akemi sitting in the tree above them, watching as the duo scoured the sidewalk clean. Behind them the sun dipped into the horizon, its rich orange rays dyeing the orange-garbed Uchiha an even deeper shade of the color until he was a golden child flittering across the streets.
It was an image that haunted Kakashi every time he visited the memorial stone.
And one of the last ones screaming through Obito's head as he tossed Kakashi out the way and the rocks came tumbling down.
Mother was nursing Sasuke in another room when Akemi's face shuddered.
In an instant Itachi was out of his chair and leaning over the bed, breath abated while Akemi's eyes fluttered, closed, and fluttered once more. Then Akemi groaned, eyes falling close again, and terrified his brother wouldn't wake up again if he fell asleep now, Itachi called. "Akemi?"
His twin didn't react, and desperation leaked into Itachi's voice as he called again. "Akemi?"
Finally, obsidian orbs, dull and glassy, opened and Akemi's head tilted to the side, eyes clearing as they met Itachi's gaze.
For a second the twins simply observed each other, recognition crossing the younger's face before he ran an almost frantic scan over the eldest, and Itachi wanted to scold him—he was not the one who nearly died.
Akemi seemed to read his mind, ceasing his search and exhaling softly. "Sorry, didn't mean to worry you," his eyes lowered reverently, "Nii-san."
And there was something about hearing that title, hearing someone acknowledge Itachi as big brother like no one, not even Sasuke yet, could that snapped all semblance of his self-control.
He dragged Akemi off the bed and into his arms, cradling the back of his head and angling it down until their foreheads touched. Itachi didn't speak, nor did Akemi, somehow his twin always knowing exactly what he needed—and to think he nearly lost his precious twin!
Itachi sucked in air through his teeth, eyes squeezing close while he treasured the fact Akemi was here and alive. Not dead.
Two minutes passed before Itachi let go and pulled back, his emotions under lock and key once more.
Akemi didn't question it when his brother moved on, saying, "You've been out for sixteen hours, it's nearly two in the afternoon."
He assumed Akemi recalled the events of last night, and was proven correct when his brother grew alarmed. "Are you okay? Is Sasuke? Mom and Dad?"
Itachi nodded and, upon Akemi's asking, recounted his experience during the attack. It was easy, so much easier stating facts rather than examining the questions plaguing his mind.
Just where had Akemi been during the attack? Shikaku-san said he left his place over an hour before the Nine-Tails got loose, so why hadn't the boy returned home? And what had Akemi been doing when he got hurt? No one would tell Itachi, merely stating Akemi was knocked out by falling debris, something that maybe true, but did not explain how Akemi came to suffer chakra exhaustion.
Had his brother been trying to use a jutsu to protect himself? Or to save others only to overtax himself in the process?
Itachi didn't think so, not when he recalled his revelation on the porch last night. Akemi might have foresight, may have even foreseen the Nine-Tails getting loose. So maybe...maybe Akemi had been trying to prevent the attack?
"Woah," Akemi gasped, eyes and mouth wide with childish wonder once Itachi had wrapped up his tale. "You're telling me not only did you protect Sasuke by yourself, saved your future waifu—I mean, some pretty girl," Itachi wondered how he knew what Izumi looked like, "And made it to the shelter all on your own, without a scratch?"
Itachi blinked slowly. "Yes."
Stars shined in Akemi's eyes, and that was Itachi's only warning before his brother glomped him. "You're so cool, Nii-san!" Akemi gushed with Itachi shocked still in his arms. "You're so brave and talented, and I bet you looked amazing last night!"
Itachi's face reddened near imperceptibly while Akemi pulled back to beam at him. "You're the best big brother ever!"
Itachi looked away, used to being praised for his skills and intellect, but unused to being hero-worshiped by his own brother.
"I...I'm sure you were brave too," Itachi said just to get attention off him before his cheeks caught on fire.
However, Akemi's smile dimmed, and he seemed to want to say something when their mother entered the room.
"Kaa-san!" Akemi let him go, running up to and embracing his parent as well as greeting the baby in her arms.
"Akemi," Mother's voice was warm and her smile watery. Although, she was clearly trying to be stern when she laid her hand on Akemi's head, saying, "You shouldn't be up yet."
"Oh, don't worry, I feel fine!" Akemi didn't let her respond as he took Sasuke off her hands and the baby let out a happy shriek.
"Aw, did you miss me, Sasuke?" Akemi chuckled while the infant stretched his tiny arms until he caught hold of Akemi's wide collar and gave it a tug like he wanted to bring his brother closer. "And here I thought you only liked me because you were mistaking me for Itachi," he teased, and Mother laughed.
Itachi watched his family reuniting, smile on his face and shoulders lowering, tension he didn't even notice himself carrying gone at last.
They left the hospital room soon after Biwako-sama gave Akemi a clean bill of health, and both twins held their mother's hands while they walked down the hall. The woman pausing as they passed the hospital's nursery, her dark eyes catching on a blond-haired child behind the glass.
"Kushina..." she grieved.
"I'm sorry, Naruto..."
Itachi turned to Akemi, recognizing the sorrow in his voice despite Akemi speaking a foreign tongue, but his twin was staring at the same newborn his mother observed, and only once they moved away did Itachi notice the guilt marring Akemi's face. He didn't ask what upset his brother while they left the building. Now wasn't the time for answers, so let his brother keep his secrets.
At least, for a while.
Fugaku watched his wife, his children, his entire clan be surrounded. Enemies on all sides preparing to kill—
Fugaku cut off the disparaging thought, rubbing his temples to ease the pressure building there while he again surveyed the area outside the relocated Uchiha compound.
There wasn't much Fugaku could do at this point. Most of the houses were already built and some families had even started moving in.
Hn...to think suspicion and baseless accusations against his noble clan could lead to this...
For half a second Fugaku thought Itachi had returned despite not having left ten minutes ago, but when he looked back it was Akemi standing in the middle of the path. There was an odd smile on the boy's face, and awkwardness to his gait as he approached him, one the man would say stemmed from shyness in a normal child, but normal was a term he kept far from Akemi.
"What is it?" Fugaku asked more curtly than intended, his headache making it hard to remain impassive.
Akemi stopped at his side and leaned back to take in the same sight Fugaku had. After a beat, he said, "It's not too late to save some of us."
Fugaku's head jerked towards his child, whose eyes sought his earnestly. "The Uchiha compound is surrounded, there's no changing that."
The man tensed, for how could one so young have reached the same conclusions as him?
Akemi, encouragingly, brightened. "But you still have time to register the Uchiha clan for the Family Exchange Program."
Fugaku's face wrinkled. "The what?"
Akemi stared at him blank-faced for a moment. Then in a snap his eyes were blazing, and hands on his sides, he groused. "The Family Exchange Program! You know, the stuff I've been talking about since I was three."
The man might have bristled at the sass in Akemi's tone, but witnessing the boy's rare show of anger distracted him from it while his son held up his index finger and quoted from what sounded like a legal document. "To prevent the horrific results of clan inbreeding—"
"How many times do I have to tell you we don't marry close relatives?"
"From affecting Konoha's next generation," Akemi continued like he hadn't heard him, "Members of all clans, who are unmarried and seeking romantic companionship outside of their own clan, are encouraged to enter the Family Exchange Program. All participants, including clan members already wedded to clanless partners or those deriving from a clan besides their own, will be provided housing among a clan of their choosing as long as they meet the qualifications determined by each clan head. It is our hope that the Family Exchange Program will not only unite the citizens of Konoha like never before, but shall increase the chances of new Kekkei Genkai formation in the offspring produced by Program participants. If you have any questions, please visit your clan head for further direction."
Fugaku gazed at his son, feeling very much like he opened the door to find a very pushy salesman on the other side. Akemi's face returned to its default placid expression while he waited for Fugaku to compose himself, which became increasingly difficult once the name of the Program rang a bell in his head.
"Wait..." Fugaku looked up, recalling a moment from months ago, and his eyes flew open wide, the clan head barely stopping his jaw from hitting the ground.
Fugaku couldn't believe it. He'd heard about the Family Exchange Program during the same meeting he been told the Uchiha were being relocated. Councilman Danzō hadn't sounded happy when he mentioned the Family Exchange Program was moving forward, and they were adding a group of houses to numerous clan settlements for Program participants to move into. Fugaku had been so upset over his clan's forced relocation, he'd barely given the Program a second thought.
"So you see, Tou-san." Akemi drew him from his thoughts, expression determined. "If you enter the clan into the Program, some Uchiha would get to live outside the compound. Send only the civilian members if you're that paranoid about the Sharingan being stolen, but I must say, there are a number of laws written in the Program contract protecting all clans from Kekkei Genkai theft."
Fugaku's eyes narrowed at the boy, the man no longer sure what he was looking at.
"Besides," Akemi didn't notice his father's look, "If worst comes to worst, wouldn't you rather some of the clan survive?"
The question struck an unsettling chord in Fugaku, for while it was posed as hypothetical, the way Akemi said it made the worst sound inevitable.
"Wouldn't it be better to have mixed Uchiha rather than no Uchiha carrying our clan into the future?"
Fugaku didn't reply as his thoughts spiraled furiously. It was a great plan, a perfect plan. If his clan entered the Family Exchange Program, some Uchiha would fall under the umbrella of another clan, and while some may be willing to take advantage of the recent distrust towards the Uchiha, few would be so bold as to threaten say the Nara or Hyūga.
It was a good move, almost like the Family Exchange Program had been made just for them...
"How did you convince the Council?" Fugaku asked warily, wondering how he had missed his son creating a Program of such magnitude. Then again, he didn't interact with Akemi nearly as much as he did Itachi, and the middle-child rarely came to him for anything beyond training advice.
Akemi shrugged. "Shikaku-san is my friend, Akimichi-san agreed in exchange for the recipes to the Latino dishes I've had him taste test, Kakashi just wanted to get me to shut up, the Yamanaka marry outside their clan fairly often already, Kushina heard about it from mom and was really ecstatic about it." A wistful look crossed the boy's face before he recovered. "And me and Hiashi-san have great talks."
"Hn." The clan head grunted to cover up how shaken he was by the words of what was supposed to be a nearly six-year old, but no...no way a mere child had achieved so much...
Akemi misinterpreted his silence as a request for elaboration. "It all began when I met Hiashi-san at a udon stand, and asked him if he agreed that Uchiha were vampires—"
Fugaku held up his hand and the boy obediently quieted. The father felt torn between shooing the child—if Akemi truly was one—away and demanding Akemi explain how he knew so much.
Knew too much.
His wife robbed him of the choice by calling Akemi in for lunch, and Fugaku was left to sort through the mess in his brain on his own. His second son was proving to be the source of a hundred mysteries, and Fugaku couldn't ignore the boy's strangeness anymore. Not when the child had established connections to nearly every clan, and was even on friendly terms with the Third Hokage's wife.
Then there was the medical report Fugaku received the night Akemi was brought to the hospital during the Nine-Tails attack. Akemi had suffered chakra exhaustion and mild bruising, nothing too worrying until one read that Akemi's eyes showed signs of chakra strain. Many Uchiha had experienced a similar phenomena that night, but all of them had the Sharingan while Akemi showed no sign of possessing their bloodline limit.
Fugaku wasn't sure what this meant, wasn't sure what any of this meant, but certainly, he was going to find out.
Thanks to the overwhelming support you guys gave the first chapter, I managed to get this chapter done early :D
Next time find out what exactly happened to Akemi during the Nine-Tails attack.
Until then, stay safe!