Nothing could be worse than winter. It was when the forest hid far within itself and not return until spring. And that was only the life strong enough to withstand the cold while the rest withered and died. A cycle Zetsu despised. The world looked much better during the colorful and fragrant seasons when nature was in full bloom. Winter just looked boring and ugly. Any color only came from snow, mud, and bare trees. Why couldn’t the good seasons stay? Like the plants, he was better suited for those months than this freezing weather. It only drained his energy.
He came near the border of the base. Having just got back from a spying mission and after eleven weeks, nearly three months of working nonstop, Zetsu couldn’t wait to rest. Though he knew it would be impossible for such a luxury. Pein almost always had something, some mission, for him to carry out. If not that, the other members of Akatsuki, save for the shark nin Kisame, tortured him with insults about his appearance and cannibalistic habits. Zetsu wanted to just kill them but that would only prove their point about his temper, now wouldn’t it? Zetsu sighed as he trekked through the deepening night. There was no escaping this tiring and empty existence. He wanted more than anything to have a moment’s peace. Just once, if only once. However, like wishing on stars, it was nothing but silly nonsense to dream of such things.
Zetsu halted mid step. “I smell blood.” Under the smoky scent of the ice and snow was the faint hint of iron. And it was close by. But where? Zetsu looked around. There was no moon, but the snow glowed with its own light. A small, dark mass stood out from the glow next to a tree roughly six feet away. What is that? How the hell should I know? Find out!
He cautiously stepped toward the motionless figure and crouched in front of it. A thin layer of snow lay over a frame of a head and shoulders, and the surrounding snow was slightly melted away revealing the rest of the body. A child? What’s a brat doing practically sitting on top of the base? True. The border between the Akatsuki base and here was within spitting distance. Literally. Perhaps she is a spy. But he never heard of a child being capable of espionage, so that didn’t make sense. All the more reason to get rid of her, the black side responded anyway. Zetsu brushed the toddler’s hair away from her face with his white hand. She was cold as ice. And didn’t move.
Snowflakes fell to her skin, not melting at the touch like they should. Blood crystallized at the back of her head and slowly streamed around her neck to her arms as it froze. So that was where the scent had come from, but even as close as this it was dull and fading as the snow continued to layer. Dead as a doornail. Let’s eat her. How blunt you are. No, the white side interjected. Why the hell not? Both sides of him knew why, though one would prefer to ignore it.
Far within the frozen body, Zetsu sensed a tiny spark clinging to life by a dissolving thread. The child’s underdeveloped chakra. She’s alive. That has never stopped us before.
Zetsu took the girl, who was surprisingly limp for being frozen, into his arms. And she was light, even for moments from freezing to death. “Well?” he spoke aloud. “Put the brat out of her misery already!”
Zetsu gazed at the toddler he held, thinking briefly. “Is it really in us to kill a flower?” The thought stopped the irritableness of his black half in its tracks and replaced it with curiosity. The girl, without a doubt, seemed to resemble a flower in human form. In the darkness Zetsu saw she wore a pale green, long sleeved gown and her skin had an earthy shade. Even her hair varied in tints of light purple, that of common lilacs.
Only, dissimilar from the lilac which naturally blossomed in large groups, she was alone. And when a flower became separated from an intended group or pairing it died within minutes.
Suddenly the toddler’s eyes opened to little more than slits. They were off-white and stared blankly into space. She had no clue as to whether she was alive or not, unaware of what death was or meant. Zetsu found himself holding his breath as her eyes drifted to him. Whether it was due to the lack of energy or something else, she didn’t react save for trembling with the cold. Her eyes closed again.
He felt a stab of pity. Should we help her? Why? The brat will be dead for real in a minute or two anyway, so I don’t see a point. There was no response as Zetsu knew the true thoughts of his other half. He straightened and started across the border.
The snowfall quickened into a blizzard, seemingly angered Zetsu had taken its prey. No matter. This ugly weather had taken more than its share in one night than it should have for a whole season. It could get over sparing one life.
“I believe,” the black side broke the silence. “the question is not whether we would be willing to destroy a flower or not,” which they wouldn’t, “but rather, what heathen scum did.”
Commotion didn’t arise as Zetsu entered the base. He wouldn’t expect there to be at this hour. Most, if not all, members would be asleep long before now anyway. It certainly made his life easier, but not by much.
The warm air quickly melted the thick snow clinging to him and the child, causing frigid water to soak him to the bone. He was just able to keep most of the snow off of the girl by shielding her with the baggy sleeves of his cloak, so she stayed dry for the most part. She shook more violently, though her features hadn’t changed in the slightest. Nor had she opened her eyes again. Hopefully she was merely sleeping and not dying in his arms. Of course Zetsu wasn’t entirely sure if he would care one way or the other, but he knew part of him did. Though, before he could make a final decision, he needed to find Pein and take it up with him.
Zetsu walked down a dark hallway with a new urgency in his step. The girl’s shaking had slowly come to a stop, and that meant a decision needed to be made now. He could scarcely sense the dimming life in her as he passed doors to other members’ rooms before coming to the leader’s. Normally Zetsu would have simply phased through the door, but he couldn’t with the girl in his arms. He didn’t know how it would affect her. So he just knocked repeatedly until someone answered.
But it wasn’t Pein. It was his roommate Konan, second in the chain of command. She wore a blue, long-sleeved night gown that matched her disheveled hair. And her irritated expression became apparent when she spoke. “Zetsu? You’re soaking wet! What the hell is wrong with you? It’s two a.m! I outta-”
Zetsu ignored her. There wasn’t time for this. “Where the hell is Pein?”
Konan looked as if she was about to blow a gasket for being interrupted. “He’s out on a solo mission and won’t be back for a while. What’s this about?” Zetsu didn’t have to answer as her eyes drifted to the moments-from-being-dead toddler in his arms. “You better have a damn good explanation,” she said coldly.
He spoke quickly. “I found her abandoned on the border. She is injured and freezing to death. Konan, with all due respect, if something is not done right now she will die! Help her!”
Konan’s expression changed into something Zetsu couldn’t read and she was easing into being wide awake. She moved past Zetsu and said, “Put her on my bed and get her warm. I’ll be right back.” Her footsteps faded down the hallway.
Zetsu stepped into the room and turned on the lamp. It didn’t give much light, but enough that Zetsu could see where he was going and not trip over anything. He pried the sopping wet teddy bear out of the toddler’s stiff arms so it wouldn’t keep her cold and get in the way, and he set her on the bed. After that he found a plug-in heater on the dresser and turned it on the highest setting and faced it toward the bed.
Muffled protesting and a demanding shout came from the other side of the base. Soon Konan appeared in the doorway ahead of an aggravated Kakuzu. Made sense. Of all the members of Akatsuki, though he was mainly the financial adviser, he was also the closest to a medic. What Kakuzu said when he spotted the toddler made Zetsu want to punch him. “You want me to help some insignificant brat?” he growled.
“No, I’m ordering you,” Konan hissed. “The leader may not be here right now, but that makes me your superior while he’s away so get to it!”
“Ugh. Get out of the way!” Kakuzu shoved Konan and Zetsu aside.
Zetsu’s black side about snapped but was kept in check. I want to kill him so much… Don’t lose yourself. It could give him enough reason to kill the girl instead. He watched Kakuzu build his chakra and place his hands on the child to examine and, supposedly, attempt to heal her. Knowing the man’s hatred for children, he didn’t know what to expect.
“Zetsu.” Konan spoke quietly so to not disturb Kakuzu.
“What?” He noticed he had been too sharp, but for some reason he didn’t really care as long as the girl got the attention she needed.
“I will stay here and keep an eye on things, but you need to get rest. And believe me,” she added in such a quiet tone that the old miser couldn’t hear. “Kakuzu doesn’t dare try anything stupid with me around.”
What was that hostility in her voice? Zetsu wasn’t sure if he could quite name it. He just nodded and hesitantly left the room.
It took Kakuzu over six hours, well past sunrise, to repair the hundreds of thousands of frozen cells in the toddler’s body and clean and heal the injury to her head and bandage it for extra precaution. If there was any extensive damage, he wouldn’t know until she was awake if she woke up at all. However long she was out in the snow, it was surprising she wasn’t dead already. The girl was still unconscious and her heart barely beat. Chances are she would be dead soon. Konan couldn’t serious about wanting to save this kid. Wasn’t she supposed to be as strict and hard-headed as the leader?
Kakuzu tried to ignore the hot air blasting in his face from the heater. It made the room unbearably hot and he wished he was outside in the blizzard. Right now he was sitting in a chair across the room keeping an eye on the brat, per Konan’s orders while she dealt with that stupid toy bear. That broad made it clear if he let the toddler die he’d never see another dime or the light of day again, but he still kept his distance. It was almost amusing how Konan thought she could cause any serious damage beyond a few paper cuts.
Still, he wanted nothing more than to have the brat die already so he could go back to bed. Seriously, what was the big idea, waking him up at the most god-awful hours of the morning when they knew full well he wasn’t a morning person? Then making him stay awake? It was larceny! And nothing was really explained to him either, which ticked Kakuzu off even further.
It would be nice to know why the kid was here at least, but no. He was being left in the dark. All he knew was that Zetsu was somehow involved and there wouldn’t be a word out of him until he saw fit. Nothing but a load of b. s. as far as Kakuzu was concerned. Well, he’s got to explain sooner or later. Kakuzu glanced at the girl. Who knows, he thought. If she lives and Zetsu doesn’t have a good enough explanation, I just might kill the brat myself for causing me so much trouble.
A high-pitched crying had Zetsu wide awake in a second. What is that?! He sat up and covered his ears as the voices of other members started rising to complain. The ear-splitting sounds made him cringe. It was a good thing he didn’t have the flytrap right now, otherwise it would be akin to having a megaphone tied to his head with all this racket. Do you think it could be the child? Good god! It sounds like someone just stabbed her in the head!</i>
The thought made him pause. No…That old geezer wouldn’t dare… Zetsu threw on a sweater over his t-shirt and left his room to go check on the girl. On his way he was run into by Hidan, who was cussing at the top of his lungs. “Hey! Watch where you’re f**king going, plant freak!”
“Why you little-” He paused as he saw Hidan stomping off toward Konan’s room with his scythe in hand. Zetsu grabbed him by the collar to stop him, but Hidan smacked his hand away and continued. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”
Hidan yelled in aggravation. “Where the hell do you think?! I didn’t order a f**king wake-up call, so I’m putting an end to the damn alarm!”
Not if we get to her first! Zetsu shoved past the Jashinist. Hidan shouted in anger as Zetsu slammed the door in his face and locked it. Now that he was in the room, he realized just how much was going on.
The toddler was indeed awake and crying her eyes out, Konan trying to comfort her without success, and Sasori was holding Kakuzu back with chakra threads that barely kept him from struggling. “Let me go dammit! I’m sick of that brat’s incessant bawling!”
Konan turned to snap at him, then saw Zetsu. “About time you showed up!” she barked. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her and she won’t stop crying long enough to tell me!”
Zetsu stared wide-eyed at how angry she was. Damn, what did we do? We just woke up and she’s already bitching at us! Someone must have ticked her off on a number of levels.
“What makes you think the freak can do anything about it?” Hidan broke into the room, covering his ears as soon as he noticed how much louder it was in here. “He’s just gonna scare the hell out of her,” he shouted over the noise. “Not that stitch-face hasn’t done a good job at that already!”
Wasn’t that the cold, hard truth. If there was one subject that wasn’t exactly Zetsu’s forté, it was getting along with children. They always screamed and ran from him though he meant no harm. It was his overall appearance they were afraid of. He knew this countless times over, but hearing it implied again…it really stung.
“I didn’t do one damn thing to the brat!” Kakuzu interjected, still trying to pull away from Sasori’s chakra threads. The puppet himself had a calm expression as always. “She just woke up and practically started screaming her freaking head off!”
“Hah!” Hidan taunted. “I’d scream too, if I woke up to your ugly face!” The two immortals were now arguing profusely, and there was no sign of either of them letting up.
“SHUT UP, ALL OF YOU!” Konan yelled. Everyone was instantly silent, save for the girl who was only slightly quieter due to her obvious exhaustion. “So far, the only people in this room who haven’t pissed me off yet are Sasori and the kid! Either keep your mouths shut or I’ll send you on the worst missions I can think of, and I promise They’ll. Be. Brutal!”
Heheh. They’re in trouble now. Yes, but we are also on her bad side. So? Not as much as they are.
Konan glanced to each of them, obviously waiting for someone to make the slightest move and defy her. She only allowed the toddler to continue her blubbering ruckus. Seeing everyone back in check, Konan coldly barked her orders. “Sasori, get Kakuzu out of here and keep him restrained until I can deal with him later.”
Sasori nodded. “Right.” He used the chakra threads to force Kakuzu to march out the room. Of course, Kakuzu cursed and struggled all down the hall.
“Hidan!” Konan glared at him. “Put that damn scythe away!”
The Jashinist looked like he was about to protest, but evidently changed his mind. “Tch. Fine.” As he left the room he mumbled under his breath.
“Okay,” she said after taking a deep breath. “Now that I can hear myself think….Zetsu, at least try to figure out why she’s so worked up.” She gave the crying toddler a sympathetic glance. “I’ll get everyone else to shut it and bring them up to speed ‘cuz I can still hear their yapping. If she feels up to coming and joining everyone else later on, which I doubt, by all means go ahead and bring her. It’ll be a thousand times simpler to explain the situation all at once so we won’t have to again, save for the leader whenever he gets back.”
Zetsu didn’t say anything as Konan closed the door behind her.
“Sh-she s-so m-mean!” Tears rolled down the toddler’s cheeks and she tried rubbing them away with a fist. Her voice was strained and quiet.
“Only when someone makes her angry.”
She gasped and glanced around wildly. “Wh-who’s there?! W-where a-are you?!”
Well, well. It seems the injury to shorty’s head caused a concussion. Zetsu sat on the edge of the bed; the movement causing the girl to flinch and whimper like a frightened animal. If she didn’t calm down she would only waste whatever little energy she had. He saw the light blood stains on her skin and wondered about the extent of damage the injury to her head had caused. “Can you see at all?”
She rubbed her tired, watering eyes. “I-it a bunch of f-fuzzy colors….”
Basically shapes and shadows. That was good news. It meant the blindness was only temporary and would eventually wear off. As a plus, she couldn’t see how he looked. He could deal with that aggravation later. “Is that why you were making such a massive racket?” The toddler nodded slowly, and Zetsu could hear the joints in her neck creaking from the strain. He expected the response to stop there, but she started jabbering like a mad bird.
Her stutter and tears faded as she went on and on about how when she woke up, Kakuzu, or as she copied how Hidan addressed him as stitch-face, immediately began shouting at her. And then Konan, a.k.a. dragon-lady, shouted at him and then at her for making so much noise. According to the girl, only “a little bit” before Zetsu showed up did Konan actually start trying to calm her. But she was already too scared of “dragon-lady” to talk so she kept crying because she couldn’t stop. It was almost amusing how hysterically irritated and mad she sounded as she was no longer scared or upset. And her interpretation of Konan just by the way she sounded and also copying Hidan’s insult to Kakuzu was priceless.
She began coughing and her weakened status became even more apparent. “Alright, alright,” Zetsu held up a hand, hoping she would notice the movement and see it as a sign to stop talking. “Cool your jets before you end up killing yourself, runt.” He could see she was having trouble breathing properly and stressing herself out. Surely her body wasn’t nearly recovered enough to withstand such excitement right now. How she was even able to wake up so quickly, or at all, was an oddity in itself.
“Huh?” She paused for a second, as if she realized something and looked around, her white eyes wide. “Who w’s that?” She had noticed the voice Zetsu used to speak to her the third and fifth time was different than the first, second, and fourth.
Instantly Zetsu’s mind raced and he didn’t know how to respond, the thought never occurring to him that he could pass over the question and change subject. Damn. What now? He didn’t think of how to explain having, in a sense, two minds. “I…uh…” Zetsu scratched his head and stared at the floor. How are we supposed to explain it? Don’t ask me, I have no freaking clue. He barely noticed the bed shifting slightly with the toddler’s movement, but he ignored it. Should we try? Hell no! You know how everyone reacts to our appearance. What we see as normal, they see as a total freak show. On top of that we take “split personality” to a completely different level. So? That doesn’t mean we have to be rude and ignore her question. Sure it does! Besides, whether she understands or not she’ll just be freaked out of her stupid little head and run away-
They stopped mid argument as Zetsu flinched when he suddenly felt the girl’s small fingers brush the black side of his face. He almost swatted her away when he turned, but forced himself to be calm and not react in such a way. The girl flinched again at his movement and pulled away. “I sorry!” she yipped, struggling to keep her balance on her knees in the dip of the mattress caused by his weight.
What the hell was that about? Zetsu thought for a second. I believe she knew you were angry with her. Good! I don’t like being touched! She’s a child for crying out loud. What do you expect? Curiosity killed the cat, his black side fumed. Oh, get over yourself. It startled me too. Not just because he had never known a friendly touch from any human being, but that the toddler would even consider being this close. It had to be because she was blind, that she couldn’t really see him. Or maybe she really was as stupid as his black half implied, even for a toddler, and wasn’t really getting what she was dealing with. That had to be it. But part of Zetsu didn’t want to believe it was that trivial.
The girl spoke up after being quiet for several minutes. “Why’s there two colors? S’it paint?” she asked in curiosity.
“Neither,” Zetsu said, noting there wasn’t a single hint of fear in her eyes from a second ago. “It’s just how we are.”
She tilted her head and gained a confused expression. “We”?” The girl sat back on her heals and folded her arms, then quickly unfolded them and took frantic-sounding breath. “I dun’ get it.”
Zetsu stifled a sigh of exasperation. Damn this was difficult. The only way he could figure to explain to this child the reason for his appearance because of his split persona would take years just for an adult to comprehend. The chances of a toddler coming to the same conclusions with an explanation, let alone on her own, was ten thousand to one if it came that close. She was, more or less, blind after all.
Zetsu jumped when the toddler gasped and shouted “Panda!”
“Excuse me?” He turned his head to see her pointing directly at him, wearing a wide smile.
“Black an’ white! Panda!” she said again.
Now it was his turn to be confused. Is she calling us a bear? I guess so… That’s so stupid! You rather she calls us “freak”? ....Point taken, but I refuse to be equated to some stupid animal. “We are not a damn panda bear,” he scolded.
The toddler narrowed her eyes and loosely folded her arms. “Panda,” she stated.
“No… “Zetsu”. The name is “Zetsu.”
She shook her head. “Panda!”
Zetsu sighed. Obviously she wasn’t going to change her mind. He ran a hand through his hair. “Alright! You win, squirt!”
Giggling, the toddler held on to her ankles and rocked back and forth a few times. “Panda~, Panda~, Panda~” she chimed before yawning and rubbing the back of her head and whining. “It hurts.”
Zetsu smirked. “I said you would hurt yourself if you didn’t calm the hell down, didn’t I?” The girl nodded. What was unbelievable is how normal she was acting despite her pain, as if nothing was wrong. It was as if she barely noticed how abnormal her situation was. Of course, there was always the possibility she really didn’t.