Dolly had taken me with him to retrieve the boy, Aubry suggesting that the parents, or the boy himself, might be more willing to go with Dolly if there was a child close in age that could vouch for him. Dolly had agreed with a scowl, not enjoying the thought of taking me to a ninja village, but had done so anyways.
I was not exactly the best traveling companion, my short legs tiring out far too easily, and Dolly was forced to carry me the majority of the way, though he never really seemed to mind, petting my hair sometimes. Though he did scoff at the style that Die had put it in that day, one that resembled it's stylist too much for Dolly's liking and causing me to constantly push the falling tendrils out of my eyes so that I could see.
Dolly was still carrying me when we reached the city gates and I had flinched back into him when a strong wind had blown a familiar, metallic smell towards us, causing flashes of my Aunt's village to spring to my mind. The smell of blood was heavy in the air and it was far too silent for what Aubry had described as a bustling village.
Dolly's arms tightened around me, the wide sleeves of his clock almost hiding me and he spoke seriously as he had walked us through the unguarded gates.
''If there is any trouble here, I will have to move quickly. Try to not cry out if that happens. We do not need anyone following us back to the base. Do you understand?''
I nodded and huddled further into his chest, clinging to his cloak in case he had to jump away from an attack. It wouldn't be the first time that he had been forced to retreat from an enemy with me in tow. And I usually became sick with the sudden movements if I wasn't prepared for them.
We looked across the village for any sign of life, but all was eerily silent until we got closer to the far side of the village. The high wind was carrying a faint noise to us that sounded a lot like a child's cry. Dolly had stiffened before he had carefully walked us in that direction, following the slowly increasing noise until we were inside of what I was sure was once an immaculately clean house. I was not prepared for the sight that greeted me when I looked down at what lay on the hand crafted rug.
A boy who looked about a year older than me had been kneeling in a large puddle of blood, a well used katana lying forgotten beside him, while his blood splattered fists were pressed to his eyes. The crying sounds I had heard earlier coming from his throat, the sobs wracking his small body.
I swallowed hard and let my eyes follow the trail of blood to the bodies of what I had assumed were his family that were scattered across the room.
An older woman was collapsed next to the door, her hand outstretched as if she had been reaching for the handle, a large gash across her back telling what the killing blow had been.
A man and a woman lay closer to the boy, cuts across their hands and faces telling about their attempts to stop their son, but were unable to do so. Both had stab wounds through their chests, their hearts being pierced through and being the main cause of the blood that the boy knelt in.
I had taken a deep breath, wincing at the metallic taste of it in the back of my throat before touching Dolly's shoulder and having him place me on the ground, making my way towards the distraught boy. Careful to not step on the blood splatters that littered the floor.
I had hesitated only a moment before touching the boy's shoulder and his head had whipped towards me, the hopeful look on his face instantly being replaced with despair when he saw that I wasn't who he wished I was back from the dead. Instead, he spoke to me brokenly, his voice not much more than a sad whisper.
"They're dead. The whole village is dead and I was the one that killed them. I didn't mean to though! The voices and the creatures wouldn't leave me alone and I thought the villagers were something else. I couldn't stand the whispers anymore and I...I killed them."
The boy had chocked on his sobs, having thrown himself into my arms, his blood soaked body staining my clothes and I had looked at Dolly for help, unsure about what to do with the clinging boy.
Dolly had sighed and walked over, far less carefully than I had, and picked up the crying child, telling me to follow as he took the boy away from the carnage, allowing me to cling to his cloak when on a typical day, he would tell me not to show my unease.
By the time that we had returned to Aubry's, it was far past nightfall and the man was pacing the floor impatiently as he had been waiting for our return. He had sighed unhappily when he saw the blood soaked boy, but taken him from Dolly's arms and into his own.
Dolly hadn't left me that night, instead making sure that I was alright in the new house that I would be sharing with the boy and I KNOW making sure that the boy, who was later introduced as Salem, didn't loose the battle against his mind again.
When the morning came and nothing had occurred to cause Dolly to worry, he had left me, giving Salem firm instructions to 'keep a hold of himself' before he had returned to H.Q.
From almost that moment on, Salem and I had become something of an inseparable duo, the two of us living in one of the many houses that Aubry owned when he was teaching us about how to control our powers, and returning to the Akatsuki H.Q when we were given time off.
The Leader was not happy when another child had appeared in his organization, but Dolly had waved a dismissive hand and said that he would take full responsibility for Salem as well, claiming that it was a good idea for me to have a friend my age, Die quickly agreeing and it was left at that. Leader unwilling to fight with them about such a thing.
It was strange to me for some time that I got along so well with Salem, the two of us hardly ever fighting or even really becoming more than a bit irritated with each other, and Aubry had chuckled lightly when I had mentioned my thoughts to him. He had explained that Fire and Darkness had always gotten along well together and that it was only normal that Salem and I would feel the same way as the elements that we controlled. That being one of the reasons why he had placed me in the same house with Salem and not one of the other.
Though it was not common knowledge, Aubry's customer base not trustworthy enough to know about our powers and not try to kidnap us or use us to their benefit, the club was really just a front so that those with powers like mine and Salem's could find help if Aubry didn't find them first.
Aubry had said that there was ALWAYS a group that held one of the elements and would ALWAYS make their way to him or someone like him eventually. Kind of like birds migrating to someplace warmer for the winter. It was ingrained in the system and though it could vary when they would arrive, eventually it WOULD happen.
Apparently Aubry was lucky enough that, with the exclusion of Salem, he had found all of the elemental users before they could cause any damage to themselves or others.
There were six of us in total, each of us able to control a different element and suffering through the side-affects that came with such a thing, Aubry teaching us how to control our powers as best he knew how.
Besides myself and Salem, there was Misa, who could control wind. She lived in another of Aubry's houses with Mona, who could control earth.
Then there was Jagur, who controlled light and preferred to live by himself, and lastly there was Yuki, who had already been living nearby with he family and had been the first one that had been sent to Aubry when her powers of controlling water had started to appear.
To keep us the charade that Aubry's was simply a club, we had been put to work. First it had been small jobs, like peeling potatoes or helping take out drinks, but as we became older, we began to be given larger jobs. By the time that I was thirteen, I and the other girls were the main waitresses, while Salem and Jagur either worked in the kitchens or as bouncers, throwing people out when they became too rowdy.
By that time, Salem and I had been kicked out of the Akatsuki completely, Leader having had enough of the both of us and exclaiming that his ninja's were becoming too soft for their line or work, and lived in the house that Aubry had lent us full time.
Dolly and DieDie-Chan visited us almost every week unless they were off on missions, and Weasel Boy checked in several times a month as well, seeming to have become even more family oriented when Salem and I had left.
It hadn't been a secret amongst the Akatsuki that he had a lover in one of the villages and it wasn't a surprise when not long after Salem and I had gone that he announced during one of our many 'family dinners' that he was going to marry the girl and that they were expecting some children. Two months later, he and Dani had been married and four months after that, had become the proud parents to a boy and a girl. Both sporting the typical black Uchiha hair, though the boy gained his mothers blue eyes instead of the common black.
Dolly, on the other hand, had kept his relationship a secret from everyone. Something that I was extremely unhappy about when I had learned about it on my fourteenth birthday, though I quickly forgave him when he told me about the child that he was expecting and about the house that he had purchased only a few minutes walk from my own.
It was only a month later that I got to meet the new addition to my adopted family, a little boy with Dolly's hair and his mother's forest green eyes.
So now after three years, there are typically three small children under the age of five running around yelling for their Aunt Ri, or their Uncle Lem.
It became a normal occurrence for Dolly and Weasel to leave the children with Salem and I when they are forced to go on missions, giving their mothers a small break and time to worry by themselves without having to think about what their children will think.
Because Salem and I still work, more often than not, the little hellions will go to Aubry's with us, scurrying around and playing with some of the other children that are sometimes running around. Aubry had begun to change the lower floor of the club to something more family friendly, though the upstairs wasn't as safe, becoming the designated place where all of the more 'dangerous' customers would sit, away from the majority of the noise of the downstairs. That being the case, the children weren't allowed up the stairs.
It was actually during one of my babysitting days at Aubry's that I had met a teenage boy by the name of Naruto.
He had been traveling with an older man, who's eyes kept wandering towards some of the older girls, looking at them in a way that I had come to understand after waitressing for a few weeks and had grown to hate. I had been about to leave them non the wiser that I had even seen them when Aubry had noticed me, much to my chagrin.
He had called me over, forcing me to leave Dolly's child, Niko and Weasel's children, Riku and Miku, to their own devices and meet the newcomers unhappily.
He had introduced the old man as Jirya before explaining that he and the man had some things to discuss without the boy and asked me to show him around a bit. I had been more than a bit unhappy to say the least, but decided that it was better than staying anywhere near the leering old man. I had huffed before nodding and turned on my heel, tugging the scowling boy along with me, realizing almost instantly that he wasn't happy about this request either.
Instead of mentioning it at that moment, I did as I was asked and introduced him to Salem and some of the other staff members that were working to get the club ready for that night.
It became obvious very quickly that Naruto Uzimaki was an extremely talkative, extremely loud, boy. He kept up an almost constant stream of chatter, hardly stopping to allow me to speak unless I was introducing him to someone, never really remembering their name afterwards. During his rambles he kept repeating a phrase and I finally gave in to my curiosity and asked.
''You keep saying that you will be Hokage. But I don't actually know what that is. We don't have anything like that around here.''
He had blinked at me stupidly for a moment before explaining it to me simply: that it was the leader in the village hidden in the leaves. That the Hokage took care of everyone, and protected the village with his life.
I had laughed at how serious he had become and shrugged as I had replied to his explanation.
"Well, if one of the qualifications to becoming Hokage is to talk a lot, then I can't imagine anyone beating you for the title."
He had laughed at that and I had thought at the time that he really was a nice kid. A little ditsy, but nice all the same. I didn't find out till later that he was actually older than me, his personality making me think that he was at least two years younger.
Naruto had wound up staying two weeks at the house with Salem and I, complaining the entire time about how he should be training and that the 'pervy sage' was wasting his time. The day before he had left, he had said that he was running out of time and I had asked him what he was so worried about and he had looked at me sadly, the first time I had seen him so serious in the two weeks I had gotten to know him.
" One of my friends was brainwashed into believing that this creep could help him become stronger. Something that he has been wanting so that he could defeat his brother that had massacred his clan. So now I'm trying to save him, before its too late. I have to get stronger to do that.''
I wasn't sure that I enjoyed that serious side of the normally hyperactive ninja. Though I had understood why.
''You must really care about this friend of yours, huh? What's his name?''
Naruto had shrugged, seeming to not really believe that I would care about the name. ''
''Uchiha. Sasuke Uchiha.''
My eyes widened as I heard the name of Weasel's little brother, almost choking on my spit as I quickly remembered the information that I had heard about the younger Uchiha. Weasel had mentioned that his brother had ran from the leaf village to join Orochimaru and that on it's own made me think of him as insane and completely stupid. I had constantly asked myself why any person would go off with that creature. Even to get stronger. Surely you could find someone or something else to help.
There was something very wrong with Weasel Boy's brother and I had supposed that it was just my luck to meet one of the people that was working so hard to get the mental Uchiha back to the Leaf Village.
Naruto had noticed my response to the name, having for once been observant and I had cursed silently when he had shaken my shoulder.
''Ria, are you okay?''
I had nodded but still taken a few minutes to answer, getting my voice and thoughts under control.
''Yeah, I'm fine. The name just took me by surprise.''
He stared at me confused..and slightly hopeful.
''You know Sasuke?''
I had shaken my head, having needed to quickly crush any hope that he had suddenly gained that I would know about where his missing 'friend' was.
'' No, not Sasuke. The last name. Uchiha.''
I had hoped that he would leave it at that, the Uchiha name being a rather ominous name around all of the villages from what Weasel had told me once, though I should have known that Naruto wouldn't recognize that and leave it alone.
''Really? How? It's not like you live in a ninja village.''
I had bitten my lip and not seen a way out of the colossal mess that I had walked myself in to. I had sighed and shrugged, deciding that it was better to tell the truth than get caught in a lie later. It wasn't as if he could do anything while in Aubry's territory anyways.
I had taken a deep breath before leveling my gaze at the blond boy, seeing him shrink back at my steady look and voice.
''Look, Ruru, can I tell you something without you getting angry, or going all psycho ninja on me? I can't answer your question unless you can promise me that you'll stay calm.''
He nodded, his typical goofy grin spreading across his face, expecting me to tease him or tell him something not as serious as I was intending.
'Sure, Ri. You can tell me whatever is on your mind. I don't go 'psycho ninja' on people unless they really deserve it.''
I had rolled my eyes, knowing that was the best offer that I was going to get and took another deep breath before continuing.
"Naruto, what if I told you that Sasuke's brother helped raise me?''
I had stopped for a moment and looked at him, gauging his reaction. As far as I had seen he had stayed calm and so I had continued telling him about my past. Though I had left out a few details that I didn't want him to know.
There were some secrets that I wouldn't betray no matter if I considered him a friend or not. But I did tell him about Dolly saving me, about how Salem and I were kicked out of the Akatsuki. About just who exactly the kids that I babysit belonged to.
Naruto had listened quietly, far more quietly than I had ever seen him and his brow had furrowed the more I spoke. Never interrupting me and remaining quiet for a few minutes even after I had finished.
I had held my breath, waiting for the explosion of anger and repulsion that I was sure had been building in him silently, though it never came. Instead, he had looked at me closely, that ray of hope that I didn't understand lighting his expression again when he finally spoke.
''You were in the Akatsuki when Orochimaru was there, right?''
I had flinched at the mention of the Snakeman, but nodded all the same, answering hesitantly.
"Yeah...he was still Dolly's partner when I first arrived and continued to be for a few months after my arrival. Why do you ask?''
He had paused for a moment before continuing in a rush, seeming to have to hurry through the words to get them out.
''Do you have any idea where his hideout is? It would help so much to find Sasuke if I knew where that snake's lair was.''
I had sighed and shook my head slowly, having understood after his questions what he had wanted and unhappy that I didn't have the information to help him when I would have gladly have done so.
''No, Naruto. I'm sorry, but I don't keep track of the Snakeman. Out of all the Akatsuki members, he was the only one to really frighten me and so after he left, I was just so excited to be rid of him, that it really never occurred to me that he could and would hurt other people.''
Naruto had seemed disappointed for a moment before forcing a grin and giving me a relieved look.
''So you weren't friends with him?''
I had snorted and rolled my eyes as I answered him.
''Not even close. As a matter of fact, the main reason he left was because of an incident that involved me. And since I know you're dying to know what happened, I'll promise to tell you some other time.''
He had laughed and accepted my words, trying to hide his disappointment, though his immediate acceptance gave him away when he would normally pester me until I gave in.
''Alright, I'll hold you to that.''
I had nodded, more curious about his opinion than I would let on.
''So...you don't mind about the whole Akatsuki thing?''
He had shaken his head and shrugged as if it was nothing.
''Not really. You never joined right?''
I had shaken my head, smiling softly at my remembered stubbornness.
''No. I wouldn't become a ninja or kill anyone. It irritated the Leader and he kicked me out.''
He had smiled and chuckled.
''Good. Then nope, I don't care at all.''
His face had became serious suddenly.
''But, Ria, you have to understand, if they attack my village I will fight, and possibly kill them. I like you, I think we're friends and I don't want to hurt you. But...my village is my home, and I won't forgive anyone that threatens that.''
I had nodded and waved a dismissive hand, not really disturbed by this.
''Yeah, I know that. And I'm not worried. I seriously doubt that you'll get your shot at the majority of them. They won't want to wait that long.''
Naruto had stared at me, his expression confused and I had laughed as I explained myself quickly.
''Alright, here's a secret that not very many people know and that I need you to keep to yourself after I explain it: The only way to retire from the Akatsuki without being hunted down and annihilated, is to die. So, if the members fake their death, and everyone believes that they're actually dead, then they're not considered members anymore. Because everyone believes that they're dead, they can have a normal life with a family, hopefully without having to worry about someone hurting or killing their loved ones in order to get to them.''
Naruto had raised his eyebrow, his expression skeptical.
''So they're just going to fake their deaths and turn over a new leaf? They won't try to hurt anyone anymore?
I had laughed and nodded, knowing that it would sound hard to believe for anyone that hadn't actually gotten to know these men like I had.
Naruto had shrugged, still not believing me, but willing to play along.
''I just thought that most of them were just killers who didn't care about anyone.''
I had laughed and shaken my head, knowing that he wouldn't believe me completely, no matter what I said.
''There is more to them than just that, but even I have to admit that they wouldn't hesitate to kill someone if they feel like they have too.''
He had nodded and shrugged.
'' And you're sure that these fake deaths actually work?''
I had nodded and frowned, quick to reply and make sure that he knew the repercussions if others found out.
''Yeah, but, Naruto this is a secret. Okay? If anybody finds out that that's what is going on they will start looking into this, and the whole scheme will be blown. We can't have that happening, understand?''
He had grinned and hit his chest hard as he replied.
''Don't worry, Ri, I can keep a secret. Believe it!''
I had laughed at his enthusiastic phrase and shaken my head, watching as he jumped at Salem who had just walked into the room, the both of them starting a small scuffle on the living room floor.
Naruto had left early the next morning, his perverted teacher saying that they would do more 'training' on the road and I had rolled my eyes at what I thought was an obvious lie.
I had thought that my life would go back to normal after that, Dolly coming to visit me the day after and telling me about his and Die's new mission to steal the Kazekage from a village allied with Konoha. He had asked if I would watch Niko and I had of course agreed, admitting to Dolly that Niko was always my favorite child to watch and having him reply that 'of course he is. You are both my children and Itachi is just like a distant uncle.'
Before Dolly had left I had asked him if he would be initiating his 'plan' anytime soon and he had smirked faintly as he nodded and replied.
''It will be very soon. I just found out that I will become a father again, and I can't have my children being raised around headquarters. I was lucky with you turning out rather normal, but I'm not sure any other child would do the same and Niko is beginning to ask question as to where I am when I am gone.''
I had nodded and given him a goodbye hug before taking Niko inside, asking what he wanted for dinner. He was hungry and I needed to fix food for him and my garbage disposal of an adopted brother.
It turned out that Dolly's 'plan' included a girl named Sakura from the Hidden Leaf Village and his own Grandmother. He had fought against them, making it seem as if he had wanted to win before barely moving in time to avoid a deadly blow.
He had pretended to be dead, neither Sakura or his Grandmother believing that he could have survived such a blow and a hiding Aubry had waited until they were gone before he drifted out of the shadows and dragged his hurt friend to a hidden place for some much needed medical attention.
When he was patched up, Aubry helped him to the house where his wife, Rosa had been living for some time now and Salem returned Niko to them, everyone that mattered in the surrounding ninja villages believing that he was dead.
A month or two after Dolly's 'death' it was said that DieDie-chan had been killed as well, people believing that the Akatsuki members were being picked off slowly. Though Aubry's has a frequent blond visitor that insists that art is fleeting and will argue with Dolly for hours on the topic while they both drink in the upstairs before they make their way back to their houses only a small ways away from each other.
It took far longer than any of us wanted for Weasel's plan to come together, putting a lot of strain on Dani when he was sent out on missions. The younger Uchiha was taking his time on becoming strong and Weasel, despite the vast amount of patience he had, had started to become anxious.
It came almost as a relief when Sasuke had made his move and Itachi had made his appearance, everyone believing that the younger brother had succeeded in his revenge against the elder.
Dani had left me to babysit their children at their home before going to retrieve her hurt husband, having had a large amount of medical training before she had ran off with Weasel. Their house was further away from Dolly's, but still only a short walk away.
I was happy enough with my life to have all of the men that had helped raise me only a short walk away from me, all of them living happily and without the worry about being hunted.
Life, however, does not stay the same for anyone, and as much as I had wished for things to stay calm and steady as they had been, my rollercoaster ride of a life had started when I met the rambunctious blond in Aubry's. I had been steadily climbing to the top and was about to be dropped and spun around in a whirl that would leave me confused.