Akatsuki Babysitters

After (Epilogue)

Pein was at his desk, reading through forbidden scrolls and mapping out future plans for his organization.

Well, that was what he was supposed to be doing.

For the past two hours, he had been staring down blankly and twirling a pen in his hands. He looked up at the clock on the wall. 5:36 am. Pein sighed and leaned back in his chair rubbing his face with his hands. It was far too early to try to do any work, but he had to. It had been an entire month since he had buried his own daughter. All those days of mourning should have been enough.

He pulsed chakra to his ring, summoning one of his members to his office. Hidan walked in a few minutes later quietly, despite not being a morning person.

"Whattya' need me for? It's too early." he groaned. Pein raised an eyebrow before tossing his subordinate a small scroll.

"You're going on a solo mission to Kumogakure. It's simple surveillance on a few shinobi, but the country is riddled with war. You'll complete this mission within two weeks. All further details are within that scroll. Any questions?"

Normally at this point, Hidan would whine about getting such a boring mission, but he sighed and pocketed the paper roll.

"No, Leader-sama. I'll have your mission done, no problem."

He bowed and left the room. Pein was left alone with his surprise at the level of respect Hidan had just displayed.

Not once had Hidan ceased his complaints.

Not once had Hidan called him "Leader-sama".

Not once had Hidan bowed to him.

And yet...

Pein trained his gaze back to the papers strewn about his desk. Perhaps his initial plan for his organization had worked far better than he had ever expected. If his beloved daughter had been able to make Hidan give even that up, he could never guess what the other members of the Akatsuki had done with themselves.

"You're happy with your success, I take it."

Konan emerged from the shadows and perused through the bookshelf behind Pein's desk. He let out a silent sigh.

"It is a rather pyrrhic victory. The outcome is what I had desired, but the toll came by much worse than I had anticipated."

She pulled out a book, one filled with old fairy tales, and gazed nostalgically at the cover. Sakura loved this book. As she flipped through it, she saw a single pressed forget-me-not between every single page. At that moment, she couldn't stop herself.

She cried.

As Hidan walked down the hallways, he spotted Sasori in the kitchen, staring down at a plate of food.

"What are you doing?" Hidan asked, taking a seat across Sasori at the dining table, "You don't eat, puppet boy."

But Sasori did not answer, but merely looked up irritably. And Hidan understood.

"You're... human."

"Yes. What of it?"

Hidan was completely dumbfounded.

"You wanted eternity, Sasori. What made you change your mind?" he asked curiously. Sasori scoffed and crossed his arms, leaning back in his chair as he did so.

"What made you clean up that foul mouth of yours?"

"Touche'." Hidan chuckled, surprising Sasori into stillness. Hidan. This sailor-mouthed man who used to grow angry at any comeback or insult that was thrown his way had just laughed like it was nothing. He was just about to remark on such a phenomenon until his eyes landed on the weapon slung across Hidan's back. It wasn't a scythe, but a katana.

"I see you've also invested in another weapon."

"Oh, this? Yeah, I decided that it was time for a change."

Hidan took off his sword and held it out for the redhead to see. Sasori grasped the hilt and slid it out of its scabbard. Once he recognized the blade, his eyes widened, another bout of surprise surging through his veins.

"Hidan, this is a sakabato."

He nodded.

"A reverse blade sword." Sasori stressed, "A sword forged so that the edge that cuts is on the wrong side. No matter how you look at it, you can't kill a person with this sword!"

Hidan smiled lightly and nodded.

"I know."

For a few seconds, their eyes locked. Sasori's incredulous and unbelieving and Hidan's calm and knowing. Eventually, Sasori turned his head and let out his own chuckle as his re-sheathed the blade.

"I can't believe that someone like you could change this easily."

The younger man accepted the sword and adjusted it on his person. He stood and yawned as he made his way out the kitchen. Before he left, he looked over his shoulder, appearing far older than was.

"It's not that, you know. It doesn't take much to change a person like me."

He left, whistling softly to himself. And with that Sasori returned to staring down at his plate of rice and fish. He picked up his chopsticks and broke them apart.

"It doesn't take much to change a person like me..." he repeated. He smirked, "I suppose he and I aren't very different after all."

Later on in the day, Sasori walked to Deidara's room to ask for the carving tools the blonde had asked to borrow about two weeks ago. He knocked twice on the door and entered once he heard a muffled 'come in'. He pushed open the door and received what was the third shock of the day. Deidara was sitting on a low stool, molding a slab of clay into what seemed a woman in a wedding dress. Holding the bride's hand was a child- a spitting image of Sakura. A cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth, but that wasn't the first thing that caught his eye.

"Ah, Sasori no Danna. You here for your tools, un?"

Deidara's hair was short as his, if not shorter.

"... Yeah. Are you done using them?"

"Almost, hm. I just need to finish carving the cherry blossoms on the bottom of the bride's dress. Can you hold up for a few minutes?" he asked as he stared intently at his clay. Sasori stared at the clay masterpiece for a long while before shrugging and walking out.

"Take as long as you want, brat. I can wait."

Deidara paused for a split second before a stupidly wide grin crossed his face. It seems like he wasn't the only one to go through some awfully weird change. He stood up to stretch his legs and walked to his desk to grab an old rag to wipe his hands. Above his desk on the wall was a rather old sheet of paper.

He took the paper reluctantly and gazed at the picture. There was a stick figure with scribbles of yellow on the figure's head, uneven blue circles inside the circle which he assumed were eyes, and a line curved into what resembled a smile. Odd orange shapes sprouted from its back.

"It's you, silly! You have pretty butterfly wings so you can be free too!"

He sighed and gazed out the window. Free, eh? He pinned back the photo and picked up the golden name plate for his sculpture.

Sakura and Kaede

At about noon, Deidara left his room to make himself a sandwich in the kitchen. Kisame and Itachi were in the living area, watching some random show on TV. Kisame was drinking some orange juice, his usual twelve o'clock sake' nowhere in sight.

"What's up, Kisame no Danna, un? Alcohol no good anymore?"

"Nah, I'm not really up for it. It's not as sweet as it was before. Besides, if I keep drinking it, my liver's gonna fail me in the middle of the fight. Itachi-san's already scolded me on that, haven't you, Itachi-san?"

The corner of Itachi's lips quirked upwards.

"If that is what you believe, Kisame."

Deidara rolled his eyes and took a water bottle out of the fridge.

"Could you two lovebirds take your flirting somewhere else, un? Honestly." he sighed. Kisame twisted in his seat to make a snide comeback, but stopped when he noticed the lack of blonde on Deidara's head.

"Oho— someone finally looks like guy!"

"Shove it, hm." Deidara retorted through a bag of chips. He turned his attention to Itachi, "So Uchiha, spar in fifteen?"

"Aa, Deidara-kun." Itachi smiled.

Kisame was on his way to Pein's office for a solo mission when he bumped into Kakuzu.

"Ah, sorry." Kakuzu said before continuing on his way. Kisame looked at the other man's retreating form with raised eyebrows and held in an amused laugh as he continued on his way. Tobi passed him down the hallway and inclined his head in greeting.

He himself was on his way to the greenhouse to inspect some of the new herbs Zetsu had grown. He had to say that he was more than surprised to see what had become of the members of Akatsuki. For the past month, he had seen each and everyone slowly change. So slowly that some of them still haven't noticed it themselves.

Perhaps this was the effect of the short life of Haruno Sakura.

Tobi knew that she was an enigma to this entire organization. Each and every one of them puzzled over her pure innocence and her willingness to open up her heart to people like them. They, of course, had tried their hardest to refuse the love she gave them day by day without fail. But they were completely taken by her four year old charm. Himself included.

Once, back when she first arrived, he thought it was a completely foolish idea for her to be here in the first place. The Akatsuki was no place for a child such as herself and he was positive that she wouldn't last. He was half correct, in a twisted sort of way.

Just like her namesake.

Tobi stepped into the greenhouse to find it completely filled to the brim with white lilies and sunflowers, the entire scene lit up with soft yellow lights. The sight was stunning and absolutely beautiful.

"For her. Because of how much she loved them." came the explanation from the corner of the greenhouse. "You came for the herbs, correct? They're growing over here."

Tobi didn't hear him as he continued looking at the plethora of flowers. Zetsu peeked from around one of the giant bouquets.

"Tobi-san?"

"Flowers have meanings, correct?" Tobi asked quietly, "What do these ones mean specifically?"

"Innocence after death, and warmth and adoration. Fitting, isn't it? Beauty even when the muse is no longer there."

Tobi looked upwards at the darkened sky, specifically at the blotches of infinite stars. No, the muse was still here. She was far off, though, watching them from a distance with a smile on her face and her love in their hearts no matter how many years would pass. For them, they could only hope that one day they could see her again. Maybe it would be in the next life, or maybe much longer than that, but they could wait. Little Sakura Haruno was worth waiting for.

Yes, just like her namesake, a blossom never lasts for long.

But in time, it always blooms again.

~End~

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