Real

BY : Mannah_Pierce
Category: Naruto > Yaoi - Male/Male > Naruto/Sasuke
Dragon prints: 1343
Disclaimer: This story has some of Masashi Kishimoto's characters from Naruto in a universe of my own devising. I do not own Naruto. I do not make any money from these writings.



Heartfelt thanks to my beta and muse, Small Fox. Thanks also to The Horseman of Death because the idea for this story started in a discussion with him.

Thank you to YamanashiOchinashiIminashi, cynaga, morlana, Kyle, Prism0467, v, disembodiedvoiceofthedying, richon, sadie237, ShadyDarling, GreenEyedCat, unneeded, satterb, mikoto-chan, Lonelylulaby and toosweet05 who left a review after chapter two was posted. As I have said before, it is feedback from readers that keep me writing this story.



Real

Chapter three: Minding



Haru was very aware of what Hoshi had said when he had been approved for childminding duties. “You’ll be fine unless they give you Te-chan and Ta-chan.”

He looked at his little sisters. Apparently they hadn’t been involved in making the entire playroom uninhabitable.

Tsuneo and Shou, followed by Nagato, had managed to get through a locked door into a storeroom. Once inside they had played at mixing the cleaning supplies they had found there. There was no evidence that Teruko and Takara had assisted; it was only Shou-chan, Tsu-chan and Nagato-chan who were in the infirmary with chlorine poisoning.

Things like this only happened when neither Kiba-san nor To-chan were there. Kiba-san was having a day out with Choza-san and To-chan had been called away because there was an unexpected visitor and he had to be at Papa’s side.

 

Te-chan was smiling at him, which was scary. Haru found himself wishing he had volunteered to look after Sumiko but Izumo had taken her, Mai and Naomi when he came to get Ayame.

 

Haru accepted that there hadn’t been anyone else to mind them. Papa was still in the meeting; Shi-chan and Neji-san were with him. To-chan was now in the infirmary, as were Haku-san, Konan-san and Hana-san.

Two ships were away on missions; most of those who would be willing and able to help were absent.

 

He hoped Ran was all right. Ran had checked the storeroom, dragged Nagato out and shut the door while Haru had raised the alarm. Now he was in the infirmary being checked over.

Which was why Iruka-san was there rather than here.

Even Hoshi was unavailable; she was having a music lesson. Haru wondered if she would have been quicker than him and Ran to realise that Tsuneo and Shou were up to something.

At least he was in the triplets’ nursery; a limited area that had been checked for hazards by Kiba-san.

 

“Ha-ru-chan?” Ta-chan sing-songed.

“What?” Haru demanded.

“Te-chan crying,” Takara informed him.

Haru looked at Teruko in alarm. He was sure she had been smiling a minute ago but now there were tears running down her face. He crouched down in front of her. “What’s wrong, Te-chan?”

“Want my plushie,” Teruko informed him.

Haru scanned the room. He could see Takara’s plushie, but not Teruko’s. He had been sure they had both had them when they had been standing in the corridor outside the playroom.

She could have dropped it between there and here.

“Haru go find plushie,” Teruko pleaded through her tears.

 

He actually considered it for all of a second. Then he imagined explaining to Kiba-san or, worse, to To-chan and Papa, why he had left Te-chan and Ta-chan alone long enough for them to get up to something.

Instead he cracked open the door, yelled for Kazuki and shut it again.

 

Within a short time, Kazuki scraped on the door. Haru opened it enough for them to talk.

“I’m not meant to be out of our nursery,” Kazuki reminded him.

Haru explained about the plushie.

“You sure she hasn’t hidden it in there?” Kazuki asked.

Haru was certain. That wasn’t how Te-chan and Ta-chan operated. They planned ahead. That was why Tsu-chan was always in trouble while they never took any of the blame.

“If you are quick no one will see you,” Haru suggested. “And if they do, you’ll have to explain.”

 

It seemed ages before Kazuki was back. Te-chan kept crying and asking him to go get her plushie. Ta-chan looked like she was about to start.

Haru was not sure if he could cope with stereo weeping.

There was a scratch at the door, he opened it and a lilac fox plushie was thrust through the gap.

“You could come in and help,” Haru suggested.

Kazuki gave a ‘you must be kidding’ snort and was gone.

Haru gave Te-chan her plushie.

“Thank you, Haru-chan,” she said with huge blue eyes framed by teary eyelashes.

“Thank you, Haru-chan,” Takara echoed.

By the Lady, they were good. There wasn’t the slightest hint of frustration that plan A of campaign ‘get Haru out of the room’ had failed. Instead they were lulling him into a sense of false security so that he would be more susceptible to plan B.

Haru was sure they had a plan B.

 

After a few minutes Takara started shuffling.

Haru know what that meant; a trip to the lavatory. There were two problems with that. First, wiping other people’s bottoms was gross. Second, Teruko would be left alone in the nursery.

He went over to the shelves and found two pairs of the padded pants that the triplets still slept in case they had an accident during the night.

When Ta-chan saw what he had in his hand the shuffling stopped.

Haru breathed a sigh of relief; he hadn’t been sure that the threat alone would be enough.

 

He decided it was time for a more direct approach.

“I may not remember much about being three,” he began.

It looked as if they weren’t listening but he knew better.

“But I remember when Sumiko was three, so there is no way the ‘cute, innocent babies’ act is going to work on me. The two of you should be worrying about what’s going to happen when Kiba-san finds out it was one of you who opened the lock on the storeroom.”

There was a brief expression of panic on Teruko’s face but Takara nudged her and it was gone.

Haru guessed that they had wiped away any evidence. Sumiko would have. He would have.

“Tsu-chan could have died.” He wasn’t sure that they cared about Shou or Nagato, but he was almost certain they loved Tsuneo; everyone did.

Maybe ‘dead’ didn’t mean anything to them yet.

“You heard him crying,” he tried. “Tsu-chan almost never cries. He was hurt. He suffered pain you two caused. You know what warning signs mean. You knew the storeroom was locked because the stuff inside was dangerous.”

He had their full attention now. Two pairs of blue eyes were focused on him.

He didn’t expect them to crack and admit responsibility. He just wanted them to think about what they had done.

“We don’t like you,” Takara informed him.

He looked straight back at her. “I don’t care,” he replied.

It worked. Haru saw the tiniest hint of self-doubt.

 

After that it was easy. Te-chan and Ta-chan settled into a game of make-believe while Haru sat at the other side of the room so they could ignore him.

Before too long the door opened and To-chan was there. Ta-chan and Te-chan ran to him and he swept them up for a cuddle.

“How are Tsu-chan and the others?” Haru asked. “Is Ran all right?”

“Everyone will be fine,” To-chan assured him.

Haru noticed that To-chan said ‘will be’ rather than ‘is’. “Is Tsu-chan tanked?” he demanded.

To-chan looked at him and frowned, warning him off talking about it in front of Ta-chan and Te-chan. He gave a very small nod.

Haru pushed on. “I think Ta-chan and Te-chan should visit Tsu-chan while he is in the tank.”

To-chan studied him. His whiskers twitched; a sign that he understood the reason behind Haru’s suggestion. If Ta-chan and Te-chan had unlocked the door, it would do them good to see the damage they had caused.

“Very well, we will go now,” he decided. “Haru-chan, you will come with us as it was your idea.”

Haru’s mouth dried. His To-chan was telling him that he had to take responsibility for his actions; if Teruko and Takara were upset and To-chan thought them innocent, he would be in trouble.

 

Tsuneo looked pathetically small floating in the regen gel. Takara refused to leave To-chan’s arms but Teruko pressed her hands and face to the transparent side of the tank.

To-chan waited a good few minutes before reassuring then that Tsu-chan would be fine and should be back with them tomorrow. Then, on the way out of the infirmary, he made sure they walked past the side room where Konan-san and Hana-san were sitting at the tank containing Nagato-chan; it was obvious that Konan-san had been crying.

Haru guessed To-chan had studied their reactions and decided that they had unlocked the door.

 

Everyone was back in the playroom, although To-chan wrinkled his nose when they entered and Haru could hear Kazuki complaining that it smelt bad. Haru could hear the air pumps working; normally he did not notice them.

Haku-san was there, despite the fact that Shou was tanked in the infirmary. Haru could imagine Haku-san sniffing and saying that it was pointless sitting with a child who was unconscious.

Haru indulged in a brief daydream about what Haku-san would do to Takara and Teruko if he found out they had unlocked the storeroom. As it was, Ta-chan and Te-chan were pressing themselves against To-chan’s legs because they had realised that Haku-san was supervising the younger children.

“It is very kind of you to make yourself available, Haku-san,” To-chan acknowledged. “What do you say, girls?”

Ta-chan and Te-chan reluctantly let go of To-chan and performed neat bows. “Thank you for looking after us, Haku-san,” they chorused.

“You are welcome, Teruko-chan and Takara-chan,” Haku-san responded. “Haru-chan,” he added.

Haru bowed. “Haku-san.”

Haku-san’s gaze bored into him. He waited.

“The quick thinking you and Ran-chan displayed prevented the incident escalating further. You are to be commended.”

Haru thanked him and went to join the others in the main playroom. To his delight Ran was there; he hurried over. “Rin-san let you out.”

“I didn’t breathe the toxic gas,” Ran assured him. “What was it like minding the terrible twosome?”

Haru pantomimed a shudder and Ran smiled.

 

The two of them and Kazuki settled into their familiar bay. Kazuki began telling the tale of how he had retrieved Teruko’s plushie. The story was full of exaggerations, illustrations and actions; soon Haru was laughing and even Ran was smiling.

Once the story ended Haru saw Ran’s smile disappear a little too quickly.

“You all right?” he asked, anxious that there might be some after-effect of exposure to the gas.

“Biwako-san,” Ran replied.

Now that Ran had drawn his attention to it, he could see that Biwako-san looked weary and sad; she was drooping like a neglected plant. To-chan was beside her, talking to her and trying to cheer her up.

“She is beginning to look old,” Ran observed.

Haru hadn’t met many old people. Klenn-san was very old, but he had lots of treatments to keep him looking the same as he had when he was younger.

“She’s only a hundred,” Haru objected; Klenn-san was almost one hundred and forty. Thinking about it, Biwako-san probably did not start age retard early enough for it to be fully effective. It was easy to forget that most people could not afford stuff they took for granted, like age retard and nanobots.

Ran looked back to him. “I think she’s telling Naruto-san that she’s too old to look after us.”

Kazuki twitched his whiskers. “She is. Kiba-san would have insisted she had back-up.”

Haru had not thought about it. It had always been the same way. Kiba-san did mornings and To-chan did afternoons. They both concentrated on the younger children and Biwako-san supervised the big litter’s education programme like she had Misora’s and Keitaro’s.

Usually Kiba-san and To-chan swapped if one of them had a commitment. Kiba-san was meant to have at least one day off in ten but rarely took them; after today Haru could not imagine anyone ever persuading him to leave the household even in the afternoon.

“They’ll rearrange things and someone else will take more of a role in here,” Ran anticipated.

The most likely person was Haku-san; Haru shuddered.

 

Only it wasn’t, it was Iruka-san. He was there the next morning, talking to Biwako-san, who looked a great deal happier. Haru persuaded Kazuki to do some eavesdropping and learned that Kono-san was going to take Biwako-san on a vacation once Iruka-san understood where each of them was in his or her personal study programme.

 

Haru did not have time to find out much more because Itachi-san had a mission for them. They were summoned to a briefing, which was short, intense and urgent. They each had only twenty minutes for planning and preparation before they were in the simulators and plunged into the scenario.

 

It was a rescue mission with a very restricted window of opportunity. They had only a hundred minutes to make it from the drop off point to the enemy hideout, retrieve their target and return to the pickup point.

To make it worse, Itachi-san had made the target a To-chan clone in a gestator.

Haru found the limited time stressful and having such an important target made it worse. Knowing it was make-believe didn’t help because it meant his heart and his head were saying different things.

Suddenly being the slowest counted. They had to split the team, sending Kazuki, Yuki, Yasushi and Yoshimi on ahead. They were to scout but If the rest of them did not make it by a specified time, Yuki was going to tackle the security systems on the door.

They all knew that Haru was by far the best member of the team to open the door; they also knew that Haru had never travelled quickly enough to make it in time.

 

Ryuu was carrying his pack and his toolkit. Hikaru ran beside him, pacing him. Kuuya took point. He and Keizo cleared any obstacles from the route.

Haru concentrated on running.

Maybe the simulator was inaccurate and his avatar was quicker than him or perhaps he could run faster given enough motivation. Whatever the reason, he arrived at the door with minutes to spare.

There were two traps that Haru was pretty sure Yuki would have missed.

 

They were in the laboratory and Hoshi was changing the gestator into stasis mode so that Ryuu could carry it. Haru itched to hack into the enemy’s computer but they had decided not to do anything other than the absolute essentials during the mission; rescuing the baby was too important to take extra risks.

There was something moving in the upper far corner of the room. Haru’s first thought was a flyer and he almost called out a warning only to stop. No one else was reacting, not even Kazuki. It was as if they could not see it, which was entirely possible given that it was a simulation.

It was Sai; no one else wore a top like that. However the figure was tiny, no bigger than Haru’s head, had wings and was floating about just below the ceiling.

“Haru, are you with us?” Hoshi demanded.

Sai-fairy or not, Haru was not going to be the reason this mission failed. He gave her his best ‘I am paying attention’ look. “Yes, Hoshi. Sitting on my hands, as instructed. Do you need me to be doing anything?”

“No, moving out in approximately two minutes. Be ready.”

When he looked back the Sai-fairy had gone.

 

They made it back to the rendezvous with four minutes to spare. At the debrief, Itachi-san was obviously very pleased with them. He said that their focus had been admirable.

“What would you have done if the window had been five minutes shorter?” he asked.

There was silence. They all knew that Haru had been performing at his absolute limit. Haru thought about it. Even if he had managed to run faster, his body would have been too far into oxygen debt for him to concentrate on opening the door.

“We could have upped Haru’s speed by giving him oxygen,” Hikaru suggested.

“Or nanobots,” Keizo added.

“Or extra red blood cells,” Hoshi proposed.

“Or we could have had a really fast vehicle,” Kazuki said hopefully.

Haru’s mind started working. “We could have risked a closer drop off point.”

“I could have carried Ha-chan part of the way,” Ryuu suggested in a low voice. “Like I would if he was injured.”

Haru wondered if Ry-chan was capable of that; maybe they should find out.

“These are all excellent ideas,” Itachi-san assured them. “Iruka-san and I will be sharing the individual debriefs. They will happen over the next two days.”

That was new; Biwako-san had never discussed missions with them.

 

Ran wasn’t in the playroom when the debrief finished; Haru suspected it was to avoid having to hear a blow by blow account of a mission that hadn’t really happened. Kazuki went off to work off the excess energy he had bottled up during the simulation so Haru was alone.

The Sai-fairy thing had been weird. He did not know what to do about it. Perhaps Itachi-san was waiting for him to mention it, but there had been no sign of it.

Why would Shi-chan or Itachi-san put it in the simulation? And, if they hadn’t, who had? Sumiko? Was she capable of hacking in and changing the code? Or creating a Sai-fairy virus?

After more thought he decided to look at Sumiko’s simulation of the forest; if she could alter a programme, she would have started with that.

He had been about to inspect the code when Ran joined him. Instead, he started telling Ran about the mission, all thoughts of Sumiko and Sai-fairies forgotten.

 

Next was their midday meal and, directly after that, Iruka-san asked to talk to him. Haru settled into the chair opposite him; he was only used to interacting with Iruka-san as Ran’s parent. His attention was caught by the ring on Iruka-san’s duty finger and he was reminded that Iruka-san only answered to Uchiha-sama.

“This morning’s mission was designed to test you, Haru-chan,” Iruka-san began.

Haru found himself sitting up straighter and concentrating. This was new. Usually it was all about the team.

“Tell me how this mission tested you,” Iruka-san instructed.

Haru ordered his thoughts. “I was the weak link but crucial to the success of the mission. I had to run faster than I ever had before. I had to not get upset because then I would run more slowly.”

“And why was the mission upsetting, Haru-chan?”

“I didn’t like thinking about bad men having a clone of To-chan because it makes me think about what it would be like if we hadn’t got the kits back or if I was still with the Akatsuki.” His throat tightened. “And if we failed, it would have been my fault. I would have been to blame.”

Iruka-san leaned forward and stroked his arm. “You would not have been to blame. The plan was flawed. It expected one of the team members to perform well beyond his or her comfort zone. Itachi-san created a flawed plan to test you.”

It was a comforting thought.

Iruka-san smiled at him. “And you did wonderfully, Haru-chan. You should be proud of yourself. I know that your Papa will be very proud of you when he receives the mission report.”

Haru felt his face getting hot and he looked at the floor. He wasn’t used to such compliments from anyone other than Papa and To-chan. Then he realised that Iruka-san was not saying anything, so he looked up and was caught by Iruka-san’s gaze.

“It will be a challenge to be your teacher, Haru-chan. I know that because I have been queen of a crew with Shika-san in it for sixteen standards. We love him and anchor him to reality. I am proud of that. In return he hides much of what he is in order not to alienate us. I am not proud of that.”

Biwako-san had never talked like that, but Iruka-san was much closer to Shi-chan, Papa and To-chan. “I am probably not a typed-genius,” Haru admitted. “I am definitely not a typed-seven. If I am one, I am a typed-five, like Klenn-san.”

Iruka-san nodded. “Typed-fives usually reject society and isolate themselves,” he acknowledged. He smiled. “We shall make sure that never happens, Haru-chan.”

Haru found himself smiling back.

They talked about many things. They discussed what Haru found interesting and the boring stuff, which he struggled to do well. The only subject Iruka-san avoided was his friendship with Ran.

Haru appreciated that Iruka-san saw the conflict of interest between being Haru’s teacher and Ran’s parent. He was beginning to see why Papa, To-chan and Shi-chan called Iruka-san ‘sensei’.

 

By the time they finished, Haru felt calm, comfortable and happy. He was looking forward to talking to Iruka-san again.

Iruka-san walked with him to the door, a hand on his shoulder.

“And I would just like to say, Haru-chan, that I think the fairyland you created for Su-chan is wonderful. I know that Shika-san is very pleased that you have invested so much time and effort into making Sumiko happy.”

Haru didn’t think he had done that much. He had only had the idea of letting Sumiko play with her virtual friend using a simulator. In fact, he hadn’t looked at the programme or accompanied Sumiko into the simulation since that first day.

Then, as the door closed with him on the other side of it, he realised that Iruka-san had said ‘fairyland’, which was horribly reminiscent of the Sai-fairy.

The sooner he checked on Sumiko’s version of the enchanted forest the better.

 

There as a gap before he was due to be on duty; this div he was with Gai-san doing stuff about weapons and security. He found To-chan, who was busy with the little ones, and asked if he could go on the simulator to check something out in Sumiko’s simulation.

To-chan’s warm smile of approval added to Haru’s sense of foreboding.

 

Haru checked that Sumiko was well out of the way; she was with Shi-chan and Neji-san. He then went into the simulator room, set his usual simulator to access Sumiko’s version of the enchanted forest and entered the simulation.

It was amazing; a little girl’s fantasy. There were flowers and butterflies; fairies and rainbows. It was pastel colours with liberal helpings of gold and silver. The intimidating giant trees had been replaced by silver birches; Shi-chan’s favourite.

There were a lot of sparkles.

When you walked it was like floating on air; Haru suspected he would be able to fly if he tried.

The pony was the final touch. It was white with huge dark eyes, ribbons in its mane and a pink nose. It was exactly the right size for Sumiko to ride.

It had wings.

 

He came out of the simulation but stayed in the simulator. No wonder Shi-chan was impressed.

But if he hadn’t done it and Shi-chan hadn’t, who had? The only possibility was Sumiko.

It looked like Su-chan was far, far cleverer than Haru had ever suspected.





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