Chapter Two:

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“If you want her so bad, Tobi, she’s your responsibility.” Pein snarled. He hoped his acting was good- if anyone saw through his façade, it would all be over. The Akatsuki were a deadly organization… any weakness would be used against them.

Dangerous.

Let’ s see now… she looks like a child, around five years old maybe. Too little for the Academy…

Does she even know any jutsus?

Pein soon found his answer. Tobi launched ten shuriken, all aimed at tiny Keiko. This couldn’t end well. What is he thinking?! She’ll die on her first day!

Keiko dodged.

As if it were easy, like a game she was playing.

Remarkable reflexes. I’m impressed, Pein thought. She must have been left to her own devices for far too long, forced to fend for herself and survive by any means necessary. Fighting from infancy. Running.

Keiko, run no longer.

“See, Leader, Keiko is a good girl!” Tobi shrieked excitedly.

 Pein snorted. “She got lucky, Tobi. I doubt she can do that again!”

But, inwardly, Pein didn’t doubt her. She was so small, so innocent, and yet he knew she had the potential to become a true shinobi. And, maybe, follow in his footsteps and become the next leader of the most feared organization in the ninja world.

Or maybe she would just become an impressive chūnin…

No matter. He would deal with that later.

“KONAN! Watch the child!” Pein barked.

Konan grumbled, reaching out for the tiny girl. “C’mere, you!”

Keiko locked eyes with Pein, and his stomach churned. She was all dark lashes and golden irises, more cat-like than human. So innocent it hurt.

Konan marched out of the room, stiff and practiced, with a floppy, protesting toddler in her arms. He was going to get an earful for this later, but damn it, it was just too funny.

Pein’s lip twitched.

*

 “PEIN! WHY THE HELL DO I HAVE TO WATCH HER?!” Konan screeched.

“Because you’re a woman, and women are good with children,” was Pein’s response.

“You sexist bastard! You think that just because I’m a woman, I have to be Mommy all the time?!” Konan screeched.

Pein blocked out the rest of Konan’s rant. He didn’t have the time for such things. He was leader after all.

“Oh, yeah… Pein. Do you honestly think Tobi is smart enough to train a five-year-old? He couldn’t teach her taijutsu, let alone any decent jutsus!”

Pein snorted. Konan honestly thought he would trust Tobi with Keiko? Hell no.

“Kakuzu can handle her when the time comes.”

“Yeah, right. I’m sure he will handle her real good.”

Pein barely registered his arm flying out to meet her face. Konan flipped out of the way, giggling like a school girl.

“Temper, temper, Pein.”

Konan ran off, a mischievous glint in her eye. Inwardly, Pein groaned. He’d exposed his weakness.

Damn it.

*

Pein barely saw the petite brunette now. She was too busy with Tobi, or Konan…. And eventually, Kakuzu. He knew close to nothing about Keiko. She was merely a shadow of a child, flying in on rare days, never staying long enough to make a lasting impression. All he knew was that Keiko was five years old when she first arrived. Now, she was seven. She had been training with Kakuzu since she turned six little over a year ago. Pein kept her away from Orochimaru- that man would only do bad things to someone like Keiko, who wouldn’t question his judgment or disobey a direct order. Pein didn’t dare pry, but he could tell the Keiko had impressed her stoic sensei. Perhaps it was her extreme grasp of acrobatics… or her impressive reflexes. Could she mould chakra? Were her coils properly developed?

Pein had no idea.

It was as if he was feeding, clothing, and housing a faceless, identity-less child, with no name or interests. But Keiko wasn’t like that. Not in the slightest. So why did it feel that way?

She’s just an anomaly, Pein told himself- a charity case almost. She was someone no one wanted, and the Akatsuki was the only place willing to handle her. She didn’t matter, she wasn’t powerful or of an important lineage (that Pein was aware of anyhow). She was just Keiko, the child found in a garbage can by Tobi, the child no one wanted, no one loved…. Unnecessary stress, just another thing to add to Pein’s already full plate.

“Leader-sama,” Kakuzu’s low, deep timbre filled the room.

“Yes?”

“Keiko-chan and I are leaving for the Village of the Hidden Mist.”

“What for?” Pein asked.

“The mission I was assigned- I- well, she can come… she’s good enough now.” Kakuzu explained.

Pein quirked a brow. She’s good enough to go on a mission with Kakuzu? She’s a god damned genin!

“Is she really, Kakuzu? Or is she going to die?” Pein snapped.

Kakuzu’s stoic composure lifted just slightly. “Leader. She is good enough. Really good. And this is an easy mission.”

“Really? You think bringing a seven year old girl on a take-no-prisoners assassination is a fucking good idea?!”

Kakuzu simply turned and left the room.

Pein bit his tongue, and hissed with displeasure. He honestly couldn’t bring her. He just couldn’t.

Pein wouldn’t let him.

“Kakuzu!” He yelled.

Pein sprinted out of the room, eyes frantically searching for any sign of Kakuzu or his pint-sized companion. None.

Damn it.

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